Monday 26 September 2016

Venice Notes

Well, the week in Venice was wonderful (what else could it be?) - and there were even butterflies: tiny Long-Tailed Blues were flying everywhere, along with more familiar Red Admirals and Commas. I had the most satisfying tour of San Marco I've ever had, thanks to the excellent queue-jumping system and the fact that the balcony overlooking the Piazza was open. The glittering mosaics inside never looked better - I'm sure they've improved the lighting since my last visit - and the crowds were at quite bearable levels.
 There were also things I was experiencing for the first time (in getting on for 50 years of visits to Venice), including a visit to the cemetery island of San Michele. The more recent parts feel very much like warehousing for the dead, who are mostly represented only by tablets (with photographic portrait and tribute of artificial flowers) arranged over every surface of numerous massive slab-like blocks. It is, if nothing else, a potent reminder that the vast majority of us humans are dead. However, the older and less crowded parts of the cemetery are more atmospheric, and in the Russian/Greek section are the graves of Igor and Vera Stravinsky (two large but plain horizontal slabs) and that of Diaghilev, a grander affair, touchingly hung with votive offerings of ballet pumps.

Also on San Michele, hidden away in the Protestant section, is the remarkably unostentatious grave of Ezra Pound - a small incised tablet in danger of being overgrown by vegetation, but still evidently attracting the odd floral tribute. (Somewhere among the Protestants, too, is the grave of Joseph Brodsky, but we weren't able to find that one.)
 Another Venice first for me was a visit to the Palazzo Fortuny, home of the great textile designer whose dresses were made of such fine silks that it was said you could pass one through a wedding ring. Naturally I was expecting a display of gorgeous textiles and dresses - but alas, the Palazzo, when we eventually found it, had been taken over by an extravagant display of the Contemporary Yarts at their most tiresome, including a massively dreary installation devoted to stirring our consciences over Syria and such. I was neither stirred nor shaken.
 Elsewhere some Fortuny textiles were indeed present, but hung in dim light and mostly behind works of Contemporary Yart, or indeed behind the so-so paintings of Fortuny himself. Whether it was just bad luck to find such a state of affairs at the Palazzo Fortuny I do not know, but it was certainly a sad disappointment.
 And then there was the Acqua Alta bookshop, which I didn't even know existed but just happened to spot as we were walking past. This is up there among the most eccentric, not to say mad, second-hand bookshops I have ever come across, in parts less like a bookshop than some kind of junkyard. However, despite appearances, many of the shelves are actually quite well organised - which is more than you can say for some bookshops I've known. The impression of chaos, however, prevails - especially when the dishevelled proprietor is wandering about the premises, cigarette in gesticulating hand, talking apparently to himself in a voice raspingly harsh and guttural even by Venetian standards (which is saying something). There's more about Acqua Alta - which has quite a cult following - here.
 And there will be more about Venice here in my next post...

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