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Venice - another trip report (deja vu all over again)

Venice - another trip report (deja vu all over again)

Old Apr 30th, 2013, 02:57 AM
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Old Apr 30th, 2013, 07:09 AM
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We visited the Goldoni museum - Goldoni was the Andrew Lloyd Webber of his day, and there's a nice statue of him in Campo San Bartolomeo, just off the Rialto bridge. He looks like a good natured gent. If one was a student of theatre, and spoke Italian, then the museum would be interesting, alas I am neither. But it allowed access to the lovely, much photographed courtyard which dates I think from the 15th century, and the well head features a hedgehog The rooms of the museum are set up as if Goldoni and friends had just left, an empty wine decanter, playing cards scattered on the table, so there's something of an impression of how he lived. There's also a map showing all the houses where Goldoni lived in Venice, about a dozen places, and the various play houses where his works were performed, some twenty venues in all. Goldoni wrote about 250 plays, the dramatic parallel to Vivaldi, who pumped out the music, or the Strauss factory in Vienna.

The sacristy of the church of San Polo always draws me in. The sacristy contains a Stations of the Cross by Giandominico Tiepolo, I think his first big commission. The paintings are pretty brutal in their realism, the story of the trial, crucifixion and resurrection told in the standard fourteen works. There's no "Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild" depicted here - it's the story of an activist, something of a political show-trial, a troublemaker being dispensed with. Anyone who threatened the Roman revenues, "render unto Caesar", and tipped over the tables of the money changers was not going to be let off lightly. Pontius Pilate had a colony to administer, and trouble makers were never going to be tolerated. The Ascent to Heaven shows Jesus rising completely under his own steam, no supporting angels or putti, not much in the way of haloes and a pair of soldiers looking on in stunned amazement.

Tiepolo's work did not find favour - that's not the way the story is meant to be told - so the paintings went un-hung for decades.

They are brilliant, disturbing too.
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Old Apr 30th, 2013, 07:58 AM
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We are seeing more visitors as Spring advances, cruise liners, large parties following guides with flags on the end of a car antennae. A picnic at Malomocco seemed a good idea, a bit of space, some longer horizons. Vaporetto to the Lido, and then bus. Hopped off when it looked interesting, and walked over to the wall that keeps the Adriatic in its proper place. The wall is a huge structure, extending for kilometres, rocks the size of those cute little Mercedes two seater cars that you see on the streets of Florence. Behind the wall, and a much lower elevation, are the remains of the Malomocco fortress, which was maybe the place that the French fleet was fired upon, starting some serious troubles for the Venetians.

It's strange - you'll find strange huts erected just behind the wall, maybe fishing shelters, or maybe erected by people unwilling to pay the rent for beach huts at the Lido. Many cyclists, and the bike ride from the Lido to Pallestrina would be an easy trip - as flat as a pancake.

Back to a crowded Venice, very crowded around the Rialto. Some visitors asked us how to find San Marco, one of the better signposted places in Venice. We were headed that way, so they walked with us.

Lou told them that San Marco was just near that old building, past the bridge over the canal where the gondolas are, but I don't think they got the joke. Maybe they were too footsore, and "It's the truth not to everyone" anyway.

"Are you off the ship?" they asked.
"No, we're staying here for a while."
"How long for?'
"A couple of months", we replied.
"What do you DO for two months in Venice? Do you go shopping?"

We didn't know what to say, but we thought about it. Yes, we do go shopping.

Memo to self:- DO NOT GO SHOPPING FOR THE NECESSITIES OF LIFE AT THE COOP SUPERMARKET IN SAN GIACOMO AT 7:00 PM UNLESS YOU WANT TO SPEND TWENTY MINUTES IN THE LINE FOR THE CHECKOUT."
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Old Apr 30th, 2013, 08:24 AM
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Lovely, PSA.
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Old Apr 30th, 2013, 11:07 AM
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"Are you off the ship?" they asked.
"No, we're staying here for a while."
"How long for?'
"A couple of months", we replied.
"What do you DO for two months in Venice? Do you go shopping?">>

priceless.
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Old May 1st, 2013, 12:04 PM
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You can get lucky.

Four years ago, we met Annelie, who has a linen shop in Calle Lunga, San Barnaba. Lou made some purchases there, and struck up a friendship of sorts. If you are thinking of buying some really fine linen, then Annelie is the place to go - and her English is perfect.

Two years ago, Lou asked Annelie how she might meet an Italian, an Italian who might talk with Lou in Italian, and who might in turn wish to improve their English.

Bingo.

Lou met Martina. They shared drinks, spoke broken Italian and much less broken English, and a friendship formed. Martina has been studying Arabic at PhD level, native tongue is Italian, has French, English (even more now) and Arabic. Emails to and fro over a couple of years, could Lou review and comment on the language that Martina's used in the abstract for her thesis, that sort of thing.

We were delighted to have Martina and her partner Alberto to "our" place for dinner last night. It made us feel a bit connected, a bit "local" to be entertaining a pair of fine Venetians. All sorts of insights into life in Italy, Venice, Lebanon, a real insight into Venetian life. Alberto is studying Ancient History, doing a detailed examination of the fall of Constantinople in about 500 BC, relying on texts in Greek and Latin. If nothing else, it gives one a feel for Mediterranean culture, the antiquity of it all. It's specially impressive for we Australians, as we have about 200 years of European settlement - newcomers on the stage.

Yes, you can get lucky. You just have to be in a place where luck finds you.
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Old May 2nd, 2013, 02:54 AM
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May Day, May 1st (Workers of the World Unite, hums the Intenatonale), and we proles were given access to the Venetian State Archive.

The first rule of archiving is not to discard ANYTHING. So the archive has some 78 kilometres of shelving, holding documents dating from the 13th Century. Nobody ever discarded a single piece of paper, so one could find the contract documents for building the Salute, or even the sewerage system.

Interesting - when each Doge relinquished the office, or died, there was an official audit of their period as Doge. A reckoning of how much revenue came in, how much was spent by the city, and how much was retained by the Doge. All documented, to ensure that the Doge was not creaming off any revenue. One might wish that the same system applied to this day, an excellent way of keeping politicians relatively honest - Obama, Cameron, Gillard et al might be more careful with the treasury.

There are the specifications for the Doges hat, plans, parchments, books, court records, the lot. Doge Dandolo (who had the Crusaders invade Constantinople as a pay off for the Venetians providing shipping) decreed in 1283 that something should be done about creating a catalogue, and the catalogue has been maintained.

There must have been an army of scribes, creating records about everything, licences to start a printing press, sell fish, operate gaming tables, ensure that gondolas were painted black. There would have been agreements for the supply of paper, red tape, ink, gold leaf for illuminated manuscripts (which are spectacular), even goose quills.

This prole was amazed by it all, such a well managed heritage. And we had access to the courtyard that you can see from the Frari, and the internal courtyard that you can't see. It must be the most complete written record of any administration, ever.
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Old May 5th, 2013, 12:50 PM
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"Nuovo" in Venice is relative. "New" just means that whatever it is is is not as old as whatever came first. So the Lazzaretto Nuovo is the second lazarette - dating from 1486. The first lazarette, was located near the Lido, used to house (and bury) plague victims. But if you are going to have a lazarette, a quarantine station, it's better if it's a bit isolated.

In the Middle Ages, the island was owned by the monks of San Giorgio Magiore, who erected a church dedicated to San Bartolomeo. But in 1468, the Senate decreed a lazarette should be established there. Maybe the monks were compensated for losing their island - or maybe not. It is, after all, Venice.

The construction was significant - documents from 1576 details the it is "endowed with a hundred rooms, and from afar resembles a castle". There was housing for returning sea-farers, a facility for disinfecting cargoes (smoking with aromatic herbs like juniper and rosemary, and salted water and vinegar used as disinfectants), the whole facility with a Superintendent and a doctor, who would maybe have sick people, suspected of plague, sent to the old lazarette, where the would die.

The disinfecting building was 100 metres long, the longest structure in Venice after the rope walk in the Arsenal. There was housing, each house with its own fireplace, crews could be segregated, a bakery, a well. All in all, the lazerette was a big industrial facility. One imagines that wool and cotton would be disinfected at a lire/kilo rate, and even paper documents were disinfected. There are documents on display that show the tweezer marks from when they were held for disinfecting.

Cargo and crews were held in quarantine for forty (quaranta) days, hence the name quarantine. One can imagine a returning Venetian crew, held on the lazarette for forty days, their families tantalisingly close across the lagoon.

Come the 1700's and the island was progressively abandoned. The French forces under Napoleon fortified the island, and there are a pair of powder magazines, built of Istrian stone, which is pretty well impervious to water, good for keeping the powder dry. The fortifications include loopholes in the wall, as if an infantry charge was expected. The age old problem of commanders always wanting to fight the last war, rather than the next.

So we visited the Lazaretto Nuovo http://www.lazzarettonuovo.com/ today, and it was fun. There have been extensive archeological works done there, uncovering relics from the Bronze age, and bits of Roman mosaic, a significant graveyard that has seen mass burials, the base of three enormous bakery ovens, artifacts from the Napoleonic times. The large, 100 metre long, fumigation shed, the Tezon Grande, has been restored and re-roofed. There is graffiti on the walls of the shed, people commenting on the election of Doges, ships coming from Cyprus, the sort of stuff that bored people write to this day. But then, they were written with iron oxide, which has survived.

Worth a visit. We had an Italian guide, a young man of about 24, whose father first took him to the Lazarette when he was aged 10. He became hooked on the place, has ben part of the archeological works there, and was a great guide. The museum, house in the fumigation shed, ahs some interesting things - for instance, the racing gondola, donated by the winner of the 1908 championship, and a couple of fish wet storage traps, built like a small boat, drilled with holes so they would sink.

Guided tours Saturday and Sundays. Free (but a donation of a euro bank note would be a kind gesture, as the custodians of the island are doing a great job).
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Old May 5th, 2013, 01:46 PM
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Peter, I love your trip reports and I know Venice well. Hate to quibble but it bothers me a bit that you quote Enrico Dandolo in 1293. A far as I know he was killed in the 4th Crusade in Constaninople in 1204. Unless you are quoting his descendants?
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Old May 5th, 2013, 01:47 PM
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Great report! I think you have to be "open" to luck as well. So many travelers don't have your sense of adventure!
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Old May 5th, 2013, 02:11 PM
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Giovanni Dandolo was Doge 1280 to 1289. He was grandson of Enrico of Constantinople fame. The gold ducat was first minted during Giovanni's period as Doge.
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Old May 5th, 2013, 02:14 PM
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Gertie, apologies. I referred to the wrong Dandolo doge in my original post. Enrico invaded Constantinople, Giovanni started the archive.
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Old May 5th, 2013, 05:43 PM
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The curse of the pedantic historian Peter! Dandolo's grave (? memorial?) is in the Aya Sofia in Istanbul.
The Venetian State Archive is only open to proles on May Day? Sounds like a must for next year. There are so many places you mention that I haven't been to. Lazzarotto, and Malomocco half way to Chioggia have been on my list for ages, you have given me new inspiration.
Did you see the Palladian villas outside Vicenza? We went there to get over the crick in our necks from the Giottos in Padua. This was before only 25 people were allowed in... Sounds like times have changed, certainly time to go again.
And as for cruise ships and shopping, @#$%^&*.
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Old May 9th, 2013, 02:40 AM
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We took a day trip to Treviso, about half an hour from Venice on the train. Nothing spectacular to report, although the citizens of Treviso would likely disagree. Treviso is sometimes billed as an alternative to Venice, the layout of the city being dictated by canals and waterways.

But they are not really canals - the river Sile has dictated the shape of the town, and often you'll come across torrents, mill races and water wheels, appearing seemingly from nowhere, disappearing under an apartment building. The river Sile was diverted to create the moat around the town, and also a number of streams running through the town - and each of the streams would have had multiple mills on them. Mill wheels, water powered forge hammers, and a mill pond with now exceptionally well fed ducks on it.

A good escape from a somewhat crowded Venice, and a really pleasant town to just stroll around.

We are staying very close to Campo San Giacomo dell' Orio, and finally visited the church today. It's a little jewel, a fine ships keel roof, paintings of various Saints, frequently having something of an unhappy time. A mix of architectural styles, Byzantine floor plan and columns, later Gothic which contributed the ships keel roof, Renaissance apses. A work by Veronese, the whole church quite a contrast to the soaring gothic of the Frari.

My DK guide says that the church is a focal point for a quiet part of Santa Croce - and the DK writers must never have visited the Campo on a warm evening. The Campo is alive with kids, scooters, soccer balls, games of chase, little kids running micro garage stalls to sell off unwanted toys. I've always thought that the "dell' Orio" had something to do with gold, and I was wrong. The screed in the church says that "orio" is a corruption of the Latin word for swamp. San Giacomo in the Swamp does not sound nearly so attractive. The DK guide says that the name may derive from a laurel tree (alloro) that once stood near the Church.

Who knows?

The truth not to everyone, I suppose.
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Old May 9th, 2013, 07:14 AM
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We have been doing the museum and gallery thing a bit. The monastery on San Lazzaro, with its Armenian works and connections, the Accademia, the Ca' Rezzonico and the Castel Vecchio in Verona. It's hard to know where to start with a description.

There are seventeen monks in the Armenian order on San Lazzaro, plus a lay person who seems to do a lovely job of maintaining the cloister. Napoleon decreed that the monasteries of Venice should be closed, but spared the Armenians as that monastery was seen as an academic institution. (Or maybe the island was not seen as being useful for fortification, so he excused it.) We saw the refectory where the monks eat, tables set for their dinner. Sixteen monks eat together, in silence, and the youngest monk is tasked with reading the Bible to the more fortunate senior monks.

The Armenians take pride in two things, one spiritual, the other more temporal. The temporal - the contribution by Lord Byron to writing the first Armenian / English dictionary is well regarded. Byron was feeling bored and, lacking soduku, thought that a dictionary might keep his brain active for several months - a slight understatement. Armenian script does not use characters found in any other written language, and Byron's brain would have been well exercised. Despite Byron's somewhat questionable moral status (huge debts, numerous scandalous relationships, and a rumoured relationship with his half-sister) he was embraced by the Armenians, and a well tended plaque attests to this. it is recorded that Byron swam from the Lido to his digs in the Ca' Rezonico, his gondola following with his clothes - maybe he was cooling his brain after wrestling with Armenian.

On a more spiritual plane, the Armenian plane, the Armenian Christian church is said to be the oldest in the world. The Armenian church was founded in the shadow of Mt Ararat, grounding place for the Ark, in about 300 A.D. It's interesting - the focus of Europeans, when looking at the early church, is mostly towards Rome (I'm maybe maligning many students of scripture here, sorry) but it is the Eastern church that came first. The Armenians follow the Eastern rite of service, with the altar shrouded during service. A lot of new information for this (lapsed) Presbyterian.

The Armenians have a museum with a most eclectic collection, probably the most notable artefact being an Egyptian mummy, draped with an exquisite glass bead carapace. There was once an Armenian press on the the island, doing all sorts of serious printing, plus labels for vermouth bottles, according to Morris. The press is now shut down, but plans are afoot to create a printing museum on the island. Not only do they have the presses, they also have the contracts for procuring the presses, bills of lading for the delivery to San Lazzaro, warranty documents, commissioning records, the lot. Many several hundred years old, so it will be a great display once it opens. It will tell the story of the development of typography, taking into account that the Armenian press at one time was printing in about twenty different languages, including Chinese.

We saw a copy of the first book ever printed in Armenian - there are only four copies in existence, and the copy on San Lazzaro has been recently conserved. Our guide did the conservation work, and was rather proud of her work, for good reason. She is a specialist at conservation of works on paper, and I suppose that in the conservation field, there must be specialists for every medium, canvas, paper, vellum, fresco, oil, watercolour, acrylic. In the same way that artists specialise in a particular medium.

There is a great, recently restored, Tiepolo, immediately recognisable as coming from the Tiepolo clan, a treasure, reminding me immediately of the Tiepolo collection in the Church of San Polo. If you have the time, the monastery is worth a visit.
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Old May 10th, 2013, 09:51 AM
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We spent a couple of nights in Verona, staying at a B&B, La Finestra sull'Arena
Vicolo Tre Marchetti, 28 37121 Verona +39 331 3504289. I'm happy to recommend this place, about 50 metres from Piazza Bra. There's a small apartment, on the top floor, 78 steps up from the street, the payoff being that we had a view of the top of the arena from the skylight in our bedroom, about 20 metres away. Breakfast was good, the usual yoghurts and packaged brioche, but also there is a bread maker with a timer - we awoke to the smell of fresh bread drifting up the stairs.

We ate one night at one of those places where the menu is on the street, and one is accosted by the waiters. An OK meal, with beef carpaccio on rocket leaves which was very good, followed by lasagna with a veal sauce. Throw in a bottle of wine and a salad and the tab was about 75 euro, and we were well fed.

We also had a meal ("had a meal" is a bit unfair as the meal that we had was excellent) at Locanda 4 Cuochi, Via Alberto Mario 12, again near Piazza Bra. I'm not sure how the four chefs divide up the labour in the kitchen, and they really do it well. We shared a polenta starter (they plated it as two portions in the kitchen), and we both ate piglet cooked with myrtle. A slightly woody taste, complementing the piglet perfectly. This was served with agretti, which looks a bit like succulent grass, and I can't describe the taste, as it's nothing like I've ever had before. Agretti is said to be the oldest green vegetable in cultivation, and grows in the south of Italy. Shared desert of profiteroles served on zabaglione and coffee. Tab less wine came to about 60 euro, the best value meal we've ever had in Italy, and amongst the best.

A compact menu, five starters, five primi, five main courses, five contorni, half a dozen desserts. A wine list that starts at about twelve euros a bottle. Interesting - we had strolled in to make a booking, and they picked us as English speaking - so we had a menu in English rather that Italian. But it's the same menu as the Italian speakers receive. Closed Mondays and don't do lunch on Tuesdays, and they don't do pizza either.

We rode the hop on / hop off bus and enjoyed it. The commentary was good and informative, including info such as there used to be barges on the river with water wheels mounted on them for milling flour. Handy, as the Adige floods, so a miller could drag his barge out of the river if it was at risk. On the Ponte Nuove, there are grooves worn into the stone where mooring lines have been pulled.

If you don't know what to do in a city, just walk uphill. This has worked for us in Rome, Florence and Verona. So we walked across the Ponte Pietra (pietra = stone), past the church of San Stefano, and fetched up at Castel San Pietro, where there is a secluded public park, with remnant fortifications. About a billion bricks have been laid to fortify Verona - the sheer tonnage of firewood to burn them must have kept teams of wood cutters in business. Good place for a picnic, great views, worth the climb.

Words about Castel Vecchio to come - I'm still wrapping my brain around the impressions of visiting there. It was pretty special.
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Old May 12th, 2013, 03:37 AM
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peter - glad that you are still making your fascinating discoveries, culinary or otherwise.

I am very interested in what you have posted about agretti - I have seen it in Italian markets, but never knew what it was, or what to do with it.

Next time!
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Old May 12th, 2013, 06:52 AM
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DH and I had the same response to Treviso, peter. We based in Verona and enjoyed it very much--looking forward to your impressions.
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Old May 12th, 2013, 07:22 AM
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Anne, to cook agretti (we found it at the Rialto yesterday, and apparently it has a very short season - several weeks only).
Cut off the roots and brown stems.
Steam vigorously for about three minutes.
Toss with a little olive oil.
Serve
Enjoy! As best I can describe, it tastes green, succulent, a tiny bit nutty and salty.
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Old May 12th, 2013, 08:39 AM
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Peter, it sounds so much to me like samphire [a seaweed that grows in brackish water], which also tastes green and salty!

it also has a short season from about now to the middle of July. After that it's too tough really.
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