Tuscany in the rain

I haven’t written for a while, oh for lots of reasons. Lazy being one major reason.I realized just now that I started a post on Ravenna, but only got as far as a title. I was very tired that night. I did post photos and some comments on Facebook if anyone is interested. Gosh, those mosaics were so awesome!

We took the train from Bologna to Florence on Thursday morning, found the Budget Car Rental office and waited along with lots of other people for a bit more than an hour before we left for our agriturismo in a snappy Fiat 500L. Driving a manual transmission felt awkward for a while, but it came back quickly. Kind of fun, except in slow traffic.

In less than an hour we were in an idyllic courtyard of a working vineyard/farm run by a dynamic woman named Carla. She gave us a tour and explained that straight agriculture is too hard a way to make a living these days, but tourists fill in the gap very nicely! This place, Tenuta di Mensanello, has both rooms and full apartments. We have a room and breakfast and, if we want dinner. We do want dinner!

This morning, after another sumptuous breakfast, I was looking around for some locations to do a bit of watercolor later in the day and discovered one of the apartments which was unoccupied, with the key in the door. Naturally, I walked in and Bill stayed outside.I figured I wasn’t going to trash anything, so who would mind? The place had a living room/dining room/kitchen and 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. Nothing fancy, but really livable. You could easily make meals and then one can always choose to eat 3 courses+ dessert for 22 euros right next door!

The sun was out this morning, unlike yesterday. Yesterday , Friday I think, we drove to Siena, about 40 min from here. We found parking and hiked up into the city proper. I had been there once before, but nearly 30 years ago, so it was pretty new to me. Besides, everywhere in Italy, tourism has escalated and become the dominant cultural form.There are highly organized parking lots all outside the city walls proper, with plenty of parking, for a price.

Siena is pretty big, compared to Venice,but the sheer numbers of people in groups, with headphones , in small groups with a guide, or just like us, a couple, was staggering.We began our visit by having a bit of refreshment at a cafe on the Campo plaza. The rain was light at first and the tourists on the Campo were milling about. Then it let loose with bucketloads of water pouring down and the plaza emptied fast. We were under a large umbrella and stayed put. I tried to draw the Campo, but gave up in frustration. As soon as the rain lightened, the crowds moved back in. The Campo, where the annual horse race called “The Palio” is run is large, irregular and the tourists kept getting in the way! then we decided to head for the enormous Gothic style Palazzo Publico to see the frescos and other interior pleasures.

The building itself is a wonder- built in the 14th Century, it was the government center, the City Hall of it’s day. In the manner of the time, the city fathers commissioned frescos, paintings, decorative work on the plaster, the inlaid marble floors and intricately inlaid and carved wooden benches from local and not so local craftspeople. Much of the art is therefore more or less secular. Church and state were firmly intertwined then and so , along with allegories of good and bad government ( fantastic! What images of debauchery! Fields gone fallow, dead bodies in the streets, buildings in collapse!) are huge paintings of Mary, of Jesus and many many biblical scenes. I’ll put some pictures on Facebook.

No photography is allowed inside, but really, without a flash how much harm can e done? I really really loved the image of a knight on horseback at one end of a huge room ( the other held Mary and company, lots of gold). I waited for th guard to wander off and took a few pictures. I noticed another woman trying to do the same thing, so I “spotted” for her and nodded when th guard was away again. Later I chatted with her and discovered that she is a recently retired art history teacher from  Dundee, Scotland.

We thought it was time to go to see the Duomo,or main church and have lunch on the way. Up a steep street we spotted a cute place, with awnings and clear plastic “walls” on a small piazza and walked in . We ordered some, home made pappardelle with a sauce of wild boar ( for me) and fusilli pasta with a caper sauce for Bill- both delicious. And then the rain started trying to drown everyone again! Sitting on one side was a youngish couple from Augsburg, Germany and on the other side a young woman from NY there for a wedding on Saturday. We all hung out and had dessert, and coffee and waited for the heavy rain to let up.

The Duomo is truly amazing. A fantasy of black and white stripes in side and out, with really intricate Gothic style white marble carved into all sorts of shapes on the facade with added shiny gold and red and green marble accents.There is never too much gold or marble in Italy! Inside, the floor is enough to make you keep your eyes on the ground. And, Donatello’s famous “St. John the Baptist” sculpture is in there too,looking really different from the other statuary, with his shaggy hair and shredded clothes. All of the other Saint-types are much better groomed! Lots of people were in there, but it is just huge and has side chapels larger than my house, so it wasn’t too densely occupied in most areas. Visually overwhelming I’d have to say. LIke a lot of dessert.

We skipped the other “must-do”sights and wandered off in the direction of the car, eventually locating the gigantic underground, sort-of, parking structure. On the way home, with traffic and road construction, it felt a bit more familiar than I’d like to feel on vacation, I have to admit.

Today, as I mentioned earlier, it started out sunny and clear. That didn’t last long. We went to see Volterra and then San Gimigiano, each about 20 K from our home base, but we went from one to the other. I had read about Volterra, it’s Etruscan history, the alabaster carving tradition, but I wasn’t prepared for the crowds! In addition to the normal Saturday visitors, there was some kind of car thing going on. Some antique one, some middle aged sports cars, some I don’t know what, were roaring through the narrow streets of Volterrra. We wandered around a bit, decided to skip the museum but went to the rather modest Duomo to look around. Outside in the small plaza was the starting point of the car thing, so inside the church you could hear engines racing, people shouting and horns honking.

Idid enter a small “stampa” studio, shop. Thanks to Barbara Vanderborght I knew that word means fine art printing. Lovely woman there, and I bought 2 small prints. God knows what I’ll do with them, but I wanted to support her and I like them a lot.

We decided to head on to San Gimigiano and have lunch there before checking it out. We got there in about 30 minutes and then spent another 3o mins looking for parking.We had lucked out in Volterra, but here it seemed hopeless.Hunger was driving us and so we decided to leave and find lunch somewhere else and return, or not tomorrow. As it happens with karma, once we decided to leave, on our return pass by the lot, there were at least 10 spaces ( by the digital sign) available! So, we parked and found a pretty decent late lunch of veal scaloppine for me and artichoke risotto for Bill.

As often happens, with food in  our tummies, we had the courage to explore the town. One of our plans had been to attend a concert Sunday evening in San Gimigiano. But the difficulty parking and the hordes of tourists were making us reconsider.

With the help of the tourist office we located the place where the concert will be and learned that we can wait until tomorrow to buy tickets, and make a last minute decision about going or not.

Tourism is the most important industry in much of Italy, certainly true in San Gimigiano – the tourist office woman told us so! Tourists are everywhere we have been, certainly Venice, and Vicenza and Bologna. But I know how to navigate through Venice in ways that avoid most major tourist spots. I know that there are zillions of tourists in Venice at the same time I am there, but I have made my peace with that. It must be difficult for the actual Venetian to live there anyway, what with everything coming in on a boat. And fewer people actually live full time in Venice every year.

It must be acknowledged that tourism brings money into the community and takes away the sense of the community itself. When the inhabitants of a town can no longer walk down the Main Street to shop because of the hordes of tourists, is it still their town? But the money that tourism brings must pay for a lot of the services that people want, clean streets for one. I don’t know the answer. If I had to live on Pier 39, dodging tourists every time I went out of my door, would I stay in San Francisco?

Pray for some sun tomorrow. Bill and I would love to stay around this farm for at least part of the day, to paint in my case, or walk more in Bill’s. If it rains again, there is not good place to “hang out” other than our room, on the bed. We’ll see!





Published in: on September 17, 2016 at 8:47 pm  Leave a Comment  

A scare re:iPad, then Bologna delivers

Sunday my iPad refused to charge. I looked at the Internet for help, finally arranged a call from Apple for Monday morning. Nope,nothing the nice guy in Dublin could do,I’d have to take it to the nearest Apple Store which happened to be in Bologna, our next destination.

After a longer than  anticipated train ride ( our first train to Padua was late and we missed our connection), we arrived hot and sweaty at our Bologna hotel. The very helpful front desk clerk assured me that the Apple Store was not a long walk at all, and so , after collapsing for an hour , we set off with it in a bag on my shoulder. A very nice, helpful young man at the very familiar looking Apple Store, asked me what I was there for and I told him. We tried to plug it in there, but nothing happened. I was worried. Coming back right at 9am was suggested. In a last ditch effort, the nice Apple guy took a kind of paper clip-like wire device and poked around in the slot where the fire-wire connector goes. I didn’t see any unnatural “stuff” come out, but he offered to plug it in again, have us wait for 10 min. And see if anything different happened.I was doubtful. But it did start charging again! Who knows what was wrong, maybe some “belly-button” type lint got into it, it is 3+ years old (ancient for an apple product).

We stopped and had dinner and plugged the baby in and Voila la- 100% in the morning!!

Our hotel is in a pretty good location,  not exactly right near anything, but kind of near lots of things. This morning we walked down the same busy street, Via Independencia, we walked last night to go to the Apple Store.On both sides of the street the buildings lower floors are a series of arched loggias. Block after block , with shops and cafes all sharing a polished terrazzo sidewalk and enormous columns you can walk for long distances without ever being in the direct sun,nice in the late summer heat here. We did venture out of the shade to explore the center of the city based on the on-line tour of a former Fulbright scholar who lived here a few years ago. She was concerned that there was so little available to guide first-time visitors to Bologna, a city that she had come to love. For about 2 hours we followed her suggestions and saw a lot of the city center’s historic spots.

The main public library, for example, was at one time the stock exchange, then a basketball arena. In the last 20 years, Roman ruins were discovered underneath the building and in excavating them a decision was made to open it up to the public. One can look down through glass tiles in the lobby of the library, and then you can go downstairs and walk just above the ancient stones and tiles on metal walkways! Totally cool!

The huge church which makes one side of the public square, the Basilica di San Petronio.It is really, really big- hard to see just how large from the front. The building was begun in 1390 but still is not quite done! The facade is rough brick above and elegant white and pink marble below.According to legend, the Pope at the time learned about the plans for this really big, really elegant church and stopped it- fearing it would rival Saint Peter’s in Rome. Jealousy is a tyrant! The interior however is finished, my how it is finished! Marbles, frescos, gold leaf, and a pair of the saddest faced lions ever carved are all in there among the 22 chapels. There is also a strange “thing”, a Meridian Line that was installed into the floor as a sundial in 1655. I associated meridian lines with Celtic Mystics in Great Britian ( having encountered a few there), but this served a different purpose. Telling time and apparently it is very precise, for that sort of thing.

We went upstairs into what had been the first consolidated building for the University of Bologna from the 1500’s until 1803. It housed the medical school, hence the Anatomical Theater where cadavers would be dissected on a marble slab in the center of the elegantly wood panel led theater space. Students would listen to the lecturer who sat at a high lectern explaining what was happening. The room has a carving of Neptune on the ceiling and a pair of carved men who appear to have had their skins removed so as to reveal the muscles underneath hold up part of the lectern’s canopy.

The hallways are resplendent with paintings and especially with thousands of coats of arms  and names of students and with dedications to famous teacher/physicians going back hundreds of years.

Bologna feels very different than Vicenza. For one, it is about 3 times the population. Then the architecture is heavier, solid, massive. Although the theme around here is arcades, which make for a lot of similar feeling streetscapes that have space between the storefronts and the streets. The Centro, or city center of Vicenza is really nearly car-free and rather peaceful. Bologna is full of buses, motor scooters, taxis and people ! so much busier than Vicenza. I like it enough for our short visit, but I’m not sure I’d be in a hurry to return.

Late this afternoon, we took a short taxi ride to the Modern Art Museum, or MAMBO, which also houses the Museo Morandi. Giorgio Morandi was born here in Bologna and seldom left the place. He lived with  his 2sisters for his entire lifetime, which allowed him to do his work and to be distracted by the demands of ordinary life,like cooking meals or paying bills. By all accounts he was a generally nice man who  just wanted to be left alone most of the time. He did teach etching at the Fine Arts Faculty of the University, and he sold  a lot of work in his lifetime as well. According the the film at the exhibit, his sisters managed all of the money and he had no idea how much he had accumulated. When, in his late 60’s he proposed buying land and building a house n the  country near where he and his sisters had rented in the summers for many years, the architect proposed a house of some distinction, befitting a by then very famous painter.Apparently, Morandi asked for a piece of paper and a pencil and drew a very simple box-like house and told the architect that was what he wanted! Poor frustrated architect !

Seeing dozens of paintings and etchings and quite a few drawings and watercolors gave me a renewed appreciation for the work he produced.Keeping forms and color simple, he communicated through subtle line and shape. Sometimes the forms of the bottles and bowls are cramped together, sometimes spread out. Sometimes the light seems to radiate from the painting, sometimes they are nearly monochrome. Bill was kind of surprised to finally see this work, since I had raved about it. Hmm, was his response. He said that he could understand how, as a painter, I might find it interesting. Bill is a very patient man! We walked back to our hotel from the museum, now with a bit more understanding of Morandi and of Bologna.

Tomorrow we get up early and take a 8:50 train to  Ravenna to see the famous mosaics in a bunch of buildings. I may be too tired to write tomorrow night, or maybe not.

Thursday we again take a train, this time to Florence where we pick up a rental car and head directly out of town to our “agritourismo” not too far from Siena, for 4 nights. Then to Florence and the last 5 days of our trip. Can’t believe we are half way through.

Ciao and comments are welcome!




Published in: on September 13, 2016 at 8:24 pm  Leave a Comment  

Castles, castles everywhere

No posts for a few days and here’s why. In Venice our internet went out Thursday afternoon and never returned. Friday morning we packed up and climbed over the one bridge between us and the best vaporetto to get us to the train station. Riding in the crowded boat with our luggage next to a young mother with her two kids and lots of tourists, I experienced my usual sadness about leaving my favorite city. There is nowhere like Venezia and a part of my heart responds to it every time I am there just as it did the first time I stepped out of the train station in 1987.

Arriving in Vicenza for the weekend we met up with friends Meike and Davide and their son Jordan. Meike is a young woman I have known since her teen years in San Francisco. Her Mother and I were in a book group together for many years and we all belonged to Or Shalom, the very progressive synagogue in town. She even babysat for Andy and Ben a few times. Meike met Davide while an undergraduate studying at the University of Padua and for them, the relationship has worked out for the long term. Settling in Vicenza, having a baby, buying a house all the life highlights of any young couple, but in Italian. They are hosting us in a delightfully helpful way and we appreciate it immensely.

Our small hotel is in the historic “Centro” of Vicenza,within the old city walls. We are just a block off of the Corso Palladino, the main pedestrian shopping and strolling street. It is busy with local shoppers as well as tourists at all hours of the day. Except for 1:30-4,because most shops close then for the  afternoon.It can be frustrating if your time is limited and you want  to get things done, but that is the way of life here.People don’t seem to want to be in a hurry. At home, everyone seems to be busy as a matter of course. Here, I just  don’t think that “busy” would be the response to the”How  are you?” Question that everyone asks so routinely. “Fine” is more likely.

Saturday Meike took us to see some of the Palladian villas close to Vicenza. The one we did see, “La Rotunda” was amazing ( the other was closed.  For a wedding). Its symmetrical, square shape topped with a huge dome, is a beautiful example of Palladio’s concept of returning to the classic forms in architecture. The interior of the dome as well as the  other ceilings in the building are covered with elaborate decoration, paintings and patterns that somehow seem at odds with the architecture’s simplicity. But maybe that is just my bias for “less is more”modernism. The setting of the house, on a hill surrounded by open fields has been maintained despite so many changes since it was built in about 1566. Still, standing on the terrace in the back of the house, looking  out, one  can easily delete the road passing between two rows of tall trees and see what Andrea Palladiio saw. The house is privately owned and is used by the owners regularly. One living room, furnished with comfortably upholstered chairs and sofas was especially inviting for a nice hour of reading with a breeze coming in the open windows. Alas, it was not offered!

We had lunch  at Meike’s home and got to see how Italians live today. Their place is really large, with 4 bedrooms and 3 baths on 3 levels with a small back garden and a garage. Lunch was a variety of different “flavored” of a kind of filled pasta I had never seen  before. Round, thickly filled pillows about 2″ in diameter filled with ricotta and prunes, one with ricotta and zucchini and one with a tomato flavored pasta and filling. Delicious ! With salad and Parmesan cheese, of course.

We left their house with their car so that we could drive ourselves to Marostica for our evening’s special event, the “Human Chess Game”. Based on a mid 20th century story set in Marostica, the town has produced a week-end long series of performances one time every 2 years since the 1940’s. It is a spectacle that involved about 600  residents of this small town(abut 13,000 population) about 30 minutes from central Vicenza. Arriving just after 6pm, we easily found parking next to the Castle and set off in search of dinner. Our first choice was fully booked ( we didn’t think of reserving ahead) but then another restaurant decided that it could accommodate us in about 30 minutes. We wandered off and looked at the historic, 14 century stone walls and high castle that surmount the hill above the City. Dinner was lovely and we made our way to our seats high in the temporary grandstands erected all around the main plaza of the City. The event begins at 9pm, well into the dark evening. The pageant includes about a dozen mounted horses, some of which take part in the  chess game, some just seem to be atmosphere. There were lots of men throwing long handled colorful flags around, children in scenes of medieval village life and a devil character whose role was amusing, if unclear to me. A monk in a brown habit wandered around with a small donkey as well,again unclear as to his role but definitely picturesque!

There was fire all around the chessboard on the pavement of the plaza to start, and fireworks at the end as well.The chess game was played with people as the chess pieces including 2 train-bearers for each Queen, a wonderful “Castle” boxy wooden structure on wheels for each castle and of course, Knights on real horses for the Knights. The horses did not always want to stand still on their squares and needed to be lead around a few times to calm them down. When it was all over, the lights turned the plaza reddish pink, fireworks shot out from the top of the Castle and then more fireworks spilled over the wall of the Castle like a waterfall, very beautiful. We eventually got out of the  parking lot, after waiting for many busses to fill up and depart first. By the time we got back to our hotel it was nearly 1am.

Look for some pictures on Facebook. I’ll try again to set up the wifi so that I can load photos directly to the blog. But not right now. Davide is coming any minute to show us around the Centro and then take us home for a home-made carbonara pasta using eggs from chickens they keep at his garage!

tomorrow we leave for Bologna.




Published in: on September 11, 2016 at 10:48 am  Comments (1)  

New-ish art and definitely Old Art

We tried to leave the neighborhood early this morning, but I foiled the plan by getting into a fascinating conversation with a craftswoman whose storefront I have been looking into for 5 days. Finally I just said, I want to go in. The ever patient Bill said, “then go” and I went. She , Lauretta, makes beautiful objects using grosgrain ribbon sewn onto linen and cotton textiles. She has bags of all sorts, large and small, and some dresses. These were really lovely, but somehow I feared the space that they would take up and a future of sitting on a shelf with lots of other bags I already own. She also makes jewelry out of glass, resin,wire and even ribbon. I was attracted by some of her necklaces,so we started looking at the different styles and colors. She asked where we were from and we told her San Francisco. Oh, I’m moving to Texas in January! , she volunteered.

It turned out to be a wonderful, I hope, love story. She met a young man when she was 17 and he was 21, on the beach on Lido. He had family in Venice but had grown up in South Africa. They spent a day together, and, as she said, had one kiss.

She was a native of the Venetian Lagoon, with family history in the glass industry going back generations. Eventually, she told us that in her mid-30’s she adopted a daughter from Peru, spending 3 months there in the process. Clearly not a woman fearful of breaking with convention!

He moved eventually to the US and settled in Texas, near Dallas. Last year, his sister moved to Venice to work and somehow met a friend of Lauretta’s. The connection was established and Lauretta and a friend flew to Los Angeles to meet this man, again. Apparently, the spark was still there!  they met again somewhere else( neither Bill nor I can recall the details) and decided to marry after she moves to Texas.

She was so excited, but I thought “oh my, this could be awful! Venice to Texas without ever visiting!” We wished her well and purchased a necklace and some earrings and were on our way.

In order to reach the Palazzo Grassi, directly across the Grand Canal from our vaporetto stop Ca’Rezzonico, there used to be a Traghetto, or public gondola service. For whatever reason, it has been discontinued at that location. In fact Bill discovered by some research, there used to be 30 or so Traghetto locations, now there are 7 ( but since the  one near us is listed, we know it is more likely 6,if that). So, we could either walk over to the Accademia bridge, not so far, but through extremely crowded streets that we fought our way through on Monday to get to the Gugenheim, or take a vaporetto one stop. We chose the boat.

The Palazzo Grassi  is now an exhibition space currently housing a large show of varied work by the late German artist Sigmar Polke.We made our way there eventually, stopping yet again for me to  look in a shop that caught my eye. Honestly, not  that much attracts me here. So much is more kitsch than art or good craft.I did buy some gorgeous earrings, enough said.( the theme of purchases is small , is that obvious?)

Sigmar Polke work varies from small “studies” of color on canvas, to water media “drawings”on notebook pages, to room sized paintings using everything from paint on canvas to resin and wood veneer on polyester that becomes translucent. There were also 2 videos.

The building is spectacular- an 18th century palazzo with intricately decorated ceilings and inlaid marble floors. It fronts onto theGrand Canal and has nice campo next door. It was all great fun.

Our next stop was the Scuola de San Roco, and Il Frari church both on the other side of the Grand Canal.  Back on a vaporretto for one stop,taking us across the wide Grant Canal. So much of the pleasure of Venice is the incredible variety of watercraft one sees. From those hulking cruise ships to a tiny one man kayak, lots of “working boats” delivering goods and people to job sites and water taxis and private motor boats of all sizes, the Grand Canal is never a dull place to be. Even the smaller canals, of which there are hundreds, the water is full of entertainment all day and well into the evenings.

The Scuola de SanRoco is an enormous 3 story structure near the church of the same name. The Scuole Grandi, of which there are 6 are unique to Venice.

From Wikipedia:

The Scuole Grandi (literally “Great Schools”, plural of: Scuola Grande) were confraternity or sodality institutions in Venice, Italy. They were founded as early as the 13th century as charitable and religious organizations for the laity. These institutions had a capital role in the history and development of music. Inside these Scuole were born at the beginning of 16th century the first groups of bowed instrument players named “Violoni”.[1]

It also happened that the commissioned some of the best artists of their time to decorate the interiors. San Roco, begun in 1516, contains many paintings by Tintoretto as well as others of his time, and amazing wood carvings lining the gigantic and incredibly elegant meeting rooms upstairs. The ceiling is covered with paintings made to be seen from below that depict Biblical scenes. The walls are also completely filled with amazing paintings showing mostly the life of Christ. It was humbling to be there, even though I had seen it before. It’s so much to take in that 2 or even 3 visits is not too much.

I Frari is a gothic church, started in the 14thCentury and made of brick, very unusual here, for a church. Again the scale is hard to explain. A person feels very small in the building, very inconsequential , which I suspect was the plan. Huge memorials to artists like Canova  and Tintoretto are on the sides. In a side chapel is a 3 part altarpiece by Bellini which depicts Mary and Jesus as a baby and is one of the most serene images of Mary that I have seen. She looks like a proud Mama, holding her son. a normal,attractive, calm woman. Just lovely.

We walked back to our favorite campo, Santa Margarita and had a drink and some olives while we talked about the day and had a few moments of imagining spending maybe a month here, sometime. I don’t think I’d get bored, and Bill feels the same. It’s a tiny place, really, but so incredibly dense that to get to really know it would take a long time.Despite the tourists, the unique charm of Venice still works for me. Imagine the evening without cars, no noise other than occasional boat motors, dogs barking,kids playing , people talking in their houses that you can here as you walk along home. Peaceful, beautiful, my heart feels good here. Tomorrow is our last day,we have to leave by 11 on Friday morning and head to Vicenza.



Published in: on September 7, 2016 at 9:43 pm  Comments (1)  

Torcello and MUURano

We made our way via 2 vaporetti to the island of Torcello, my 3rd visit. First in 1992, then 1999 and now. Lots has changed, but not the main reason for visiting. Torcello is the northernmost of the “Northern Islands” of Murano,Burano and Torcello and the least visited, or it used to be little visited. One goes there to see the 11th century mosaic walls of the Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta. In ’92 and ’99, no one seemed to be watching what was happening on the island. Anyone could just wander into the church. Now, there is an admission charge and no photos are allowed. ( I did take a couple with my cell phone,just because. Besides, no flash and no mosiac is going to be hurt by a photo, and I did buy some postcards anyway!).

The main deal is the “Last Judgement”, which must be at least 25feet high and 20 feet wide, composed ,I read , of over 1,000,000 tesserae( the individual pieces of glass used to make the mosiac). In horizontal bands stories of good and evil, Christ’s miracles and that old devil and his Hell are depicted in beautiful shining gold, lapis lazuli blue , reds and lots of shades of Browns and black. If I could put photos in, I would. I urge you to go on -line and look it up.

At the other end of the small building is Mary holding baby Jesus, in a nearly solid gold field. It’s breath-taking! there are saints in a band below her, but she is the main thing. On either side of the curved area where Mary and Co. are located, in the corners,  is the Annunciation. The Angel is on the left, pointing to Mary. On the right is Mary, with her hand out, as if to say, Oh no! This doesn’t sound like a good idea at all!

And the floor is just exquisite- marble inlaid in complex patterns. All of this is nearly 1,000 years old. Sigh. Just lovely.

We looked around a bit more at some old stone carvings, including a “throne” which certainly dates to the early years of the church. It’s outside and everyone takes their picture in it, me too!(See Bill Fall’s Facebook page).

Lunch was next, before heading to Murano where I had never been. On the gently curving brick path from the boat dock to the church were 4 appealing restaurants. I don’t recall more than one before.(that really is about all that is on the island. No town, just the few people who take care of the historic stuff and I suppose, some of the restaurant people.)

We chose the place closest to the church, for no great reason, mostly because it was set way back from the path, in a lovely garden. Oh my, what a great choice! We sat outside in a kind of pavilion with matting on the “roof” and white light fabric hanging from horizontal bars all around. The fabric was gathered at each post, but the breeze caught it and it bellowed out. I only took pictures with my camera, not the phone and now I can’t add them darn it! The food was as lovely as the atmosphere. It is called Ristorante Villa ‘600 and I highly recommend it.

Lunch was just dreamy and we had to hustle to make the next boat to Murano, because they only run once an hour. As we got on , several people asked the deckhand if it stopped at Burano. He said, very slowly MUURano, not BURRano. I can only imagine how many times he is called upon to answer that same question. The vaporetto people are unfailingly polite and courteous, amazing given the crowds and difficult tourists.

My reason for going, finally, to MURano was to visit the shop of Mariana and Susanna Sent, sisters who design and manufacture what is to me the most intriguing glass in Venice.While I can’t bring home anything large( we just don’t have places for more physical objects), they produce fabulous jewelry! I knew the address from their website and figured, “how hard could it be to find on a little island like Murano?” Ha! After asking several different people, who gave us different directions, and walking for about 30 minutes, we finally found a woman walking her two dogs who knew how to get there. It involved another boat ride and then a short walk. Finally – we entered through a serene white marble courtyard containing a small pool on which “floated” several large clear glass bubbles. Their work is most known for the clear glass bubble necklaces that they sold to the NYMOMA a few years ago.They are lovely, ethereal and elegant.  Their aesthetic, clean, simple high contrast at times, excellent materials is very appealing to me. I did buy two necklaces and some earrings. I’m very happy! As we were about to leave the slight raindrops turned suddenly into a thunderstorm. We hung around chatting with the saleswoman, a native Venetian who lives between San Marco and Rialto, of all places! Eventually it seemed to lighten up enough to to head for the dock,only 10 minutes away. I had an umbrella, Bill had a big waterproof hat, so off we went. As soon as we came around the corner, the wind picked up and we got drenched!

Home finally, we took off our wet clothes and collapsed for a while. Out to dinner in our favorite Campo Santa Margarita- full of life and not too many tourists ( we don’t count, of course!).

Tomorrow San Rocco, Il Frari and then the Palazzo Grassi for an exhibit on Zaha Hadid, the amazing architect who died recently. And then, who knows?

Only 2 more days in Venice. I think I have Bill hooked, we may come back again, maybe for 2 weeks? 3?



Published in: on September 6, 2016 at 8:39 pm  Comments (1)  

A Dorsudoro Kind of Day

A Dorsoduro kind of day

I hate to sound whiny, but I seem to be fighting off some kind of upper respiratory bug that settles into my chest in the evenings. Last night, as tired as I was, I slept poorly, waking several times. Bill got up too, we read for a while and then both of us fell asleep until nearly 10!

Once we got moving, we strode off in the direction of the Peggy Gugenheim Collection which is in the same “neighborhood” as our apartment, but faces the Grand Canal quite near the pointy end of the lower 1/3 of Venice. It was about a 20 min walk, including dodging an awful lot of tourists with cell phones out. It’s a beautiful walk,through narrow calles, under “sottoporteghios” or covered passages and over lots of small bridges.

The museum is entered through a garden which holds lots of sculptures and Peggy’s grave. And the graves of a great many of her pet dogs( all listed with their dates). The cafe has moved since I was there last, 9 years ago, more out of the way, but it still has good food. Service was slow and we were anxious to get going on the art viewing. The Museum space is a mid-sized one-story palazzo where Peggy lived for about 30 years, befriending and collecting the works of many of the major artists of the first half of the 20th Century. She even married one- Max Ernst, for a while. She has a lot of his paintings. Also Picasso, Braque, Leger, Klee,Kandinsky,Brancusi,Dali, de Chirico, Mondrian, Magritte,and lots of others. My favorite room is the Jackson Pollack space. It contains 5 pieces, each from a different period in his rather brief career. It also has a small sofa which allows a visitor to sit and experience the paintings in a more relaxed manner. And the windows look out at the Grand Canal!

We spent a few minutes in each room enjoying the art and looking at the photos of the rooms when Paggy lived there. Her books and African sculpture , her bedroom with a headboard by Alexnder Calder!

Leaving Peggy behind, we set out for the church known as Salute, an enormous white domed structure very near the end of the Dorsoduro peninsula. It happened to be the time of the afternoon Vespers, with live organ music! Nice addition to our visit to the 17th Century structure. It is more subdued than most Venetian churches, no gilding at all! Lots of nice paintings of religious scenes. Beautiful pristine white stone dome above a marble tiled floor in an extraordinary spiraling pattern .

From there, and right next door, is a new “museum”, a private one founded by the guy who owns the holding company that controls many of the luxury brands of clothing and leather goods and shoes that are advertised in places like Vogue. We all read Vogue don’t we? In any case, the guy has assembled an enormous collection of contemporary art and somehow managed to convert what had been the old customs building, the Dogana da Mar,into a first class art exhibition space. The current show, a curated slice of the collection has some work I was very impressed with, but a lot of others that left me pretty cold. Lots of fun to wander through the rooms which very in size and shape much more than in a purpose-built museum.

From there we walked along the pedestrian path looking out at the basin of San Marco, at some amazing yachts, at cruise ships being tugged through the Guidecca canal, and towering over the architecture in any direction. It is such a shame that Venice allows these ships to come so close to the city. They alter the perception of the space, not to mention dumping thousands of visitors into the city at one time, mostly in the San Mark’s Square area. We have avoided that part of Venice so far, but maybe Thursday morning will get ourselves up early and see if we can get into the Basilica di San Marco without waiting in a long line.

Stopping for a glass of Campari and some cheese along the Zattere walkway around 6pm, we rested and planned for our trip tomorrow to the northern Islands of Torcello and Murano and probably Burano, just because it’s there! I’ve been to Torcello and I’m excited about re-visiting the 12th Century mosaic of the Last Judgement along with other beautiful sites.

More tomorrow .




Published in: on September 6, 2016 at 5:55 am  Leave a Comment  

Jewish history and Regatta!

I didn’t sleep well at all last night so this morning was a bit rough. I powered through the day, but now, at 9:40pm, I’m pretty near exhaustion. I’ll do my best to relay our day, in part because it helps me remember. Each day of travel has so many aspects that writing every night is the only way I can keep track. Even here in Venice, on my 6th visit, there is so much to learn and to experience!

We made our way to the Ghetto, the original “Ghetto” from which all others are named. In Venice, the  rather small island where Jews were allowed to live was originally the site of a foundry, or “geto” in the Venetian dialect. Sometime before 1500 there was a small population of Jews living in the area. After the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal starting in 1492 thousands of Jews fled to other areas of Europe and the Middle East. Many settled in Turkey among the Moslems ,some went to England, and some to Venice. Venice was an independent city, there was no “Italy” until the mid 1800’s. Somewhat like San Francisco, Venice has a history of diversity as it’s trading reach was enormous- across the Mediterrean and into Asia as well as Europe. Jews were useful as commercial go-between screens and as bankers since they had developed systems of currency exchange to facilitate the flow of goods from different parts of Europe. In Venice they were allowed to have one of 4 “professions”- pawnbroker, sales of cloth( schmatta), commerce and medicine.

By 1516 the New Ghetto was established in Venice and the population had reached around 4000 people. The space was small, so building owners added extra stories to their apartment buildings. A the top of several of the buildings are the synagogues, 2 Ashkenazi, 2 Sephardic and one Italian. We were allowed to visit 3 of them, the two Ashnenazi and one Sephardic, the “Levantine ” one. The Spanish synagogue was open yesterday for prayers, but not today for tours. It was a hot afternoon and climbing up to the top floor of these really old structures required some stamina. There were fans going in the sanctuarys, but it was hot!

The synagogues all shared a similar format, more typical of Sephardic than of Ashkenazi synagogues. The “Bima” or speaking area was separate from where the Torah’s are kept, the “Ark”. In most Sephardic synagogues the Bima is a raised platform in the middle of the synagogue space. In each of these, it was at one end of the room, opposite the Ark. Ashkenazi synagogues generally have the Ark on the Bima, but not here. As the tour guide pointed out, these synagogues were designed and built by Gentiles,not Jews.  There were no Jewish architects or craftsmen, so local people,more familiar with the construction of Christian churches were hired. And, as people became successful, the congregations wanted to display their status with the most popular styles of stone and wood carving. In all of the synagogues we saw the elaborate decorations are unlike an other Jewish structures in Europe. Gorgeous marbles, gilded wood and silver hanging lamps along with carved wood pews give these places a formal and incredibly elegant feeling.

After the tour we stopped briefly for lunch outside at a simple cafe run by an Egyptian (right across from one of the synagogues!),then we headed for the Grand Canal to find a place to watch the ceremonial passing of the Doge’s barge along with many others. A great many people were in Renaisance era costumes. Others were rowing standing up on long narrow boats. After the formal procession there were to be races in different categories of boats.

We found a spot right at the vaporetto stop, in front of a church which appeared to be abandoned, hard to tell. There is a raised area, perfect for sitting. On my Facebook page I have tried to post photos. The Internet connection here is very slow and I’m still not seeing the pictures.

There was a long long wait before anything happened. And it was hot, in the direct sun. I drank all of the water I had with me, and Bill offered to go and find me some more! Such a gentleman! I was worried that I might miss the beginning of the procession if I left and Bill is faster than I. The event was supposed to start at 4pm, but we weren’t sure which end of the canal was the beginning. Finally at around 4:30 music blared out from somewhere and the magnificent barges carrying th Doge of Venice and his attendants, floated by. These were unlike any watercraft I’ve ever seen! Gilded, carved with fantastic animals( darn this internet, I do have pictures  and I’ll work on adding them as soon as I can). The people were all in Renaissance costumes waving at the crowds of people lining the long Grand Canal. Then there were lots and lots of other boats mostly rowed by groups of people from clubs, all standing up to row!  Many were in costumes of one sort or the other, some period some related to a profession. Some boats were decorated with fishing related stuff,like traps and nets.Others were featuring produce , and some were kind of pirate-like.

It was a great event, and then we had to walk all the way across Venice to our apartment since the vaporetto service was suspended until  about 7:30pm. Thanks to Bills’s excellent navigation, we arrived back on Calle Lunga de San Barnabas in about 45minutes. That included quite a few bridges (up lots of steps and down lots of steps) and my knees are registering serious complaints. Dinner was at a lovely place outside on the near-by Campo San Barnabas, really about 2 flat blocks along a narrow “street”. Watching people pass by is great dinner entertainment.

Tomorrow we may start to visit some of the famous churches in Venice.  They have amazing art as well as general decoration. One day we will visit Murano, the glass island and little Burano( famous historically for lace, now for being lovely) and then to Torcello, one of my favorite places.

And then there is so much to do and only 4 more days!



Published in: on September 4, 2016 at 8:45 pm  Leave a Comment  

Venice, never a bad place to be

We slept really well last night. It may have had to do with the wooden shutters over the bedroom windows that blocked all the light, and then the jet lag factor. We were slow getting going today, but that was fine with both of us.

Our first project was picking up our vaporetto (water bus) pass. We decided to get a 7 day pass and bought it on-line, only to realize that it is the same price in person at a vending machine. It really doesn’t matter, but it saves a lot if we end up using the boats more than 8 times in 7 days. We may, or not, but it gives me the feeling of freedom to take the boat whenever I feel like it.

On the way to get the passes, we realized that we had left the print-out in the apartment, so Bill, the faster walker, went back to get it while I stayed , sort of, in the last place we stopped. I ended up returning to Campo Santa Margarhita, where there are benches and some shade and where I met two lovely older men. I sat down on the bench next to them, nodding hello. After a little while the man closest to me said that he and his friend were talking about what they liked to eat. He preferred fish and his friend ate only meat. They were both quite tall, 6’or so, and it turned out that they were both basketball players in their youth, for the Milan professional team.

One man, in a white shirt, said good by and headed out of the square,while the other man,in an orange shirt, continued to chat. His friend had to go home to lunch, his wife was expecting him, he said. The man in the orange shirt didn’t mention a wife, so I suspect he was widowed or perhaps divorced. He told me, with great enthusiasm about how he had gotten to know Bill Bradley in Milan. When Bradley was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford, he would come to Milan on weekends to play basketball with the team! This man from Venice played until he was 30 , then became a high school physical education teacher in Venice. He followed Bradley’s political career and knew that he had been a US Senator. He really was lovely to talk with and I may run into him again, I do hope so.

Our next leg of the day’s journey was to find a COOP store and see about buying a SIM card for my phone. I had been told that the offered the best deal. We went to two of them, no luck. Then we stopped at a tobacconist who told us that only the phone companies sell them now. Oh well, we will tackle that later.

We stopped for lunch at a trattoria near San Polo church, sitting outside, drinking lots of cool water. While there were lots of tourists, at least some of them were speaking Italian, so it didn’t feel too familiar! Venice has so so many American tourists, also Russian and everyone else. Still, in some places farther from the Rialto-San Marco area one can feel the sense of life here. Everyone is walking, all the time,everywhere. There is no alternative. You can’t hail a taxi if you don’t feel up to the subway, like in NY. Of course, being San Franciscans, we are aware of the lack of hills! Still there are bridges to climb up and down if you want to go anywhere except a tiny area. I’m amazed at the older folks, carrying their bags of groceries and doing what they have always done- walking.

We took our first vaporetto ride and headed for a nap. Call it jet lag, call it hot weather, I was weary. Lying on the bed, with the window open I dozed to the sounds of a symphony being played at rather high volume from a house across the canal. The occasional boat started up, a gondola or two passed by with laughing tourists , and I heard it all,but nothing was annoying. I drifted sleepily along. Venice is a dreamy place.

Dinner was at a wonderful, very Venetian, restaurant about a 5 minute walk from our apartment. My Brooklyn friends,Steve and Julie, recommended it from their May visit here. We loved the food, the atmosphere, the staff, the other diners! There was a bachelorette party outside,on the bridge.  We were seated at the end of a long table and a family of 5 sat next to us. Lovely kids, beautiful and nice parents.

We walked another 10 minutes to the Zattere, the long wide sidewalk that follows the huge Guidecca canal. My goal was the Gelateria Nico, where we ordered a couple of ice cream treats ( affogato for me- decaf espresso over vanilla gelato, heaven!) and something with some fruit and ice cream for Bill. We sat at a small table facing the water and watched the parade of dozens of watercraft passing before us. From a huge cruise ship (totally out of scale with Venice, awful to see) to tugboats, car ferries, vapretti, to speedy bouncy small boats, some taxis some private transport. Nothing better in my experience!

Walking back took just 10 minutes or so over a couple of bridges, along a canal, through a narrow passage to our front door. Lovely first full day in Venice.

My desire to post photos is at odds with the Internet in the apartment. I need to be able to connect to transfer images from the camera to the iPad, and so far it refuses to cooperate. When I can, I will. In the meantime I hope to put some photos on Facebook which I can do easily from the phone. I prefer the images from my camera,so I don’t know how I will resolve this. Stay tuned!



PS. Bill also has a blog on WordPress: Billtravels.wordpress.com. You can follow him,too. We write about different things naturally, so it’s kind of like a stereo experience to read us both!

Published in: on September 4, 2016 at 8:09 am  Comments (1)  

Back in Venice, sigh

We left San Francisco Thursday  afternoon for Amsterdam’s airport where we changed planes for Venice. The flight was fine, only 9 1/2 hours SFO- Amsterdam, not bad compared with Istanbul or Dubai, recent very very long flights we have taken. I watched a couple of movies, including “Demolition” with Jake Gyllenhall, which I enjoyed more than I had expected.

Getting to our rented apartment was more of a hassle than I had expected. My memory of my last visit here in 2007 was that the transfer from airplane to boat-bus was pretty easy, just a short walk from the terminal to the dock. Things have changed at MarcoPolo Airport in the past 9 years and will be changing more, based on the construction going on. We wandered around quite a bit looking for a sign for “Dock”. Not a lot of signs were visible until you were on the right path already.

We eventually found the correct line to be in, only to find that the size of the boats available this afternoon were all rather small, so lots of people were waiting a long time for transport into Venice. It all worked out and Giulia met us at the Ca’Rezzonico Alilaguna stop and we followed her along the Callelunga de San Barnabas to the front door of the apartment building.The place is just fine for the 2 of us. It has one bedroom and one bathroom and a kitchen. The living room/dining room has an air-conditioner which seems to do an adequate job. We dropped our bags and found our way to the Campo Santa Margarita where we relaxed with a bit of limonata(me) and red wine ( Bill) until we figured we had better get up and go to the supermarket before we fell asleep in the chairs on the Campo!

Trying not to over buy, we limited ourselves to breakfast items and then stopped at a produce stand in the middle of the Campo for some grapes and peaches. I so enjoy interacting with people, even over buying fruit that all of these encounters are a pleasure for me. Bill has been studying Italian for a few months and I’m confident that he will be the main speaker on this trip, but I’ll keep on doing my version of communication, even if my pronunciation is wrong!

After an hour or so of collapse, we found a nice near-by Osteria for dinner. I had Two kinds of shrimpy things, prawns and gamberetti which are like small lobsters, with grilled vegetables. And some red wine. A nice entry to Venice.

Tomorrow we have to decided which direction to go- to Rialto via Campo San Polo and many many tiny alleyways, or towards San Marco via the Accademia bridge and Campo San Stefano and lots of other tiny, impossible to believe “streets” and sottoporteghios ( covered walkways) and paths along canals, and always bridges, lots of bridges!

More tomorrow.Buonanotte!




Published in: on September 2, 2016 at 8:05 pm  Comments (2)