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recycling the cinema, part 3

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So, we’re all back from coffee and bathroom breaks?  Let us continue this peregrination along the path of the cinemas Lino remembers from earliest childhood, or from however old he was when his mother would give herself some time off and take him to the movies at Campo Santa Margherita. Or when he and his friends would head for the parish halls, or patronati, on Sunday afternoons.

Let’s start here:

This long building behind the wall, which now belongs to the Hotel Belle Arti behind the Accademia galleries, was part of the monastery associated with the Istituto Cavanis, a school which still occupies the palace across the street.  Like some other religious institutions, “the Cavanis” would show movies, just one of the assorted entertainments that were organized for the parish families.  Lino headed here with his friends every Sunday afternoon.

The former entrance to the cinema has been plastered- and pictured-over.

Going around a few corners, we pass the still-lamented (by me) former Cinema Accademia.  I went to some American film here during my first year in Venice and remember absolutely nothing about it because I spent the entire time translating the amazingly banal dialogue for Lino, who eventually went to sleep (dark, soothing atmosphere….).  We didn’t go the movies for a long time after that.

Whole generations of people have passed this place since it closed, and I don’t know how many remember what was here before it became just another community notice board.  By now, Venice is wallpapered with shutters of all sorts, thoroughly spray-painted or otherwise enhanced.

“Cinema” still barely discernible…

Followed by something else written above the doors. It’s like trying to read an eye chart drawn in Mayan hieroglyphics.

An eye chart gracefully surmounted by these forgotten pieces of wrought iron. Did lamps once hang from them?

Neatly folded behind this important corner at Campo Santa Margherita was the Cinema Moderno.

The entrance to the supermarket facing the Rio Tera’ dei Pugni would hint at its having been the entrance to the Cinema Moderno. But no! (Zwingle’s Fifth Law: Never Assume. Zwingle’s Corollary: Abandon logic, it’s useless baggage.)

This was the entrance, fairly far down the campo’s long side.  Over time, local artists have dedicated their talents to embellishing the doors.

I’m sorry its mosaic elegance doesn’t come through as I’d have wished. If I’d had a ladder to climb, things would have been different.

The truncated belltower of the former church of Santa Margherita is known to anyone who has crossed the eponymous campo. I can tell you nothing about its truncation, but I can tell you that the attached church just behind it was, in Lino’s day, the “Cinema Vecio” (old cinema). And the door we see was the cinema entrance.  Lino jokes that they’d go to see films like “La Fuga del Cavallo Morto” (the escape of the dead horse).

The ticket booth was just inside to the left, and outside stood a man making and selling “franfranica,” which according to Lino’s description resembled (or was) taffy.  It was a large mass stuck on a nail that gravity drew into a long thick strip which the man pulled out and up and let it stretch down again.  He sold candy apples and caramelized pears and other sorts of sweets.  Until the “talkies” appeared, Lino’s father (who was an engineer and drove a steam-powered train from Venice to Trento), would make extra money  by reading the title cards aloud during the show.  Almost everyone had finished elementary school, but Lino’s father had finished middle school.

The porticoed doorway is now the main entrance to what originally (14th century) was a Catholic church. It was closed in 1810 and used for various “profane” purposes which I haven’t yet identified. In 1882 it became the Evangelical Lutheran church (a congregation which now meets in the former Scuola dell’Angelo Custode at the Santi Apostoli).  At some point it became a cinema, and ultimately was renovated as an auditorium for the University of Venice/Ca’ Foscari.

The battle of the fading inscriptions continues.

On this side of the church/cinema a little old lady set up a small stand on movie days and sold candy organized in little compartments.  During the intermission, someone else would stroll the aisles with a tray held on a strap around his neck, selling more candy — “caramelle” in Italian and Venetian and calling out “KAH-ra-MEEEEEEEH.”  He also sold toasted pumpkin seeds, whose husks were destined to fall to the floor.  “You can imagine what it was like for the sweepers,” Lino said.

About halfway up the building’s wall is this row of extraordinary heads. Were they sculpted as a sort of apotropaic rampart? Brought here from elsewhere? Just left over from… what?

Whatever they are, they’re great.

The cinema at the Frari bore many similarities to the one at the Cavanis. As you see, there is a wall and a longish building; these are found at the far end of the spacious compound which houses the basilica of the Frari, two cloisters, some buildings and some garden.  Here we are the “some buildings and garden” end, on the Calle Drio l’Archivio, the street behind the Archives.  The friars organized things, but anybody could buy a ticket and watch to their heart’s content.

The Cinema Quirinetta was in a place which I doubt you’ve ever noticed because I doubt you’ve ever walked by here. It’s pretty remote from the usual tourist territory, but of course your usual locals knew all about it.

The tour ends here.  I’m sure there are other places which Lino doesn’t remember, or never went to.  Maybe some of my Venetian readers will offer some other information, which would be great.

Before I ring the curtain down on this triple-feature, I discover that I left out a cinema that belonged on yesterday’s list.  It’s on the Strada Nova a few steps from the Santa Sofia traghetto dock/Ca’ d’Oro vaporetto stop:

It says so proudly: Cinema Teatro Progresso.  Now you can buy shampoo and lipstick and toilet- bowl cleaner there instead.  Certainly more useful, though perhaps not quite as enjoyable as a night at the flicks.

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recycling the cinema, part 2

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As I mentioned in my last post, Venice used to be infested with movie theatres, but time and tide and commerce wait for no man, and we all know that cinemas stay in business on a margin thinner than tissue paper.  But it wasn’t always so.  Lino took me on a walk around Venice to discover the movie theatres he remembered from days gone by.

Launching our voyage of discovery were two plaques I had long since noted (I can’t remember why I was there) on a meaningless little side street between San Marco and San Moise’.  These announce to the few people who pass each day that two extraordinary events in Venetian history, and the history of theatre/spectacle/opera/public performances, took place there.

This spot was the site of the Teatro San Moise’, which like many cinemas was born as a regular theatre, with a stage and sandbags and so on.  It had been established (as many theatres were) by a noble family — in this case, the Giustinian of San Barnaba — as an opera house in 1640 and, though small, was highly influential.  (In 1668 it was enlarged to 800 seats.)  Vivaldi and Albinoni and other musicians, Venetian or otherwise, held concerts of their music here, and it was also used for entertainments of the commedia dell’arte.  In 1818 the theatre shifted to puppets, then was rebuilt as the Teatro Minerva.

There is nothing that even hints at an erstwhile theatre except this doorway:

I detect that this door now leads in a semi-secret way into the Hotel Europa Regina.  Passing beneath this mythic goddess must — I hope — exert some positive influence on somebody.

Back to the plaques.  The first one commemorates the defunct theatre in its musical incarnation:

It says: “From the theatre of S. Moise’ which stood here the evening of 3 November 1810 the genius of Gioachino Rossini 18 years old with ‘The Marriage Contract’ his first opera happily began his flight toward immortal glory.  The Comune 1914.”

And just a few feet away, on the same wall of what is now partly shops and partly apartments, is this:

It says: “Here stood the Teatro Minerva (once San Moise’) where on the evening of 9 July 1896 the first public Venetian projection of film by the Lumiere brothers took place.  On the first centenary the Comune of Venice 1996.”

As must be clear by now, movie theatres came, and then went.  Their relatively brief life here was glorious.  Following are most of the cinemas that Lino remembers.  He didn’t favor me with any reminiscences about the back rows.

This building on via Garibaldi was once a cinema (though by the look of the bishop carved over the main door, that wasn’t its first job). I presume that the entrance to the theatre was under the bishop, but I knew it for years as a massive big store called “Il Bottegon” which closed last year. (Pause for respectful silence.)  The shop entrance was the central gray steel gate, and it went on forever inside, crammed to the gills with everything you could ever need except pencils and paper.  Anyway, to create this amazing emporium the renovators just ripped everything out and put in vast shelving, and left the projection room intact; it loomed above the cash registers, with the unmistakeable medium-sized square hole for the projector clearly cut into the sheetrock.

Bird’s-eye view of the photo above.  The map scheme will continue; I hope it’s helpful.  It seemed like a good idea when Lino suggested it.

Behind the church of the Pieta’ and across the street from the Hotel Bisanzio was the Cinema Arsenale.

The former cinema here is now an elementary school named for General Armando Diaz.

This trattoria across the street next to the church of San Zulian was once the “Olimpia.”  I’ve seen this space go through a few different versions (the erotic museum didn’t last long), but never saw it as a cinema.

The “Ridotto” was famous in Casanova’s day as one of the more noted gambling houses cum brothels. Lino went to a New Year’s Eve party here when it was a theatre (it never evolved into a cinema). It has now been digested by the Hotel Monaco & Grand Canal.

“Il Ridotto” at Ca’ Rezzonico by Pietro Longhi (1701-1785) gives an idea of the atmosphere in a ridotto, especially when wearing masks was permitted.  There were a number of “ridottos” in assorted palaces, duly painted by the artists of the day.

The desperately trendy Caffe Centrale was once the Cinema Centrale.

Happily for us, nobody bothered to obliterate the traces of what appear to have been a series of signs. I can make out the skeleton of the word “spettacolo.”

And I detect “centrale” here.

The Scuola Grande di San Teodoro lived a brief portion of its long life as a cinema named “Il Massimo” (the greatest, the maximum). There were a number of movie theatres operated by churches or monasteries, and this would, I surmise, have been run by the remnant of whoever is responsible for the building.

Plenty of people, including me, still refer to this supermarket as the Cinema Rossini. I remember it as the place where Lino and I saw “Titanic.” I nagged him into going because everybody in the galaxy was talking about the dang thing, and then we were walking to the theatre one gray Sunday afternoon and I suddenly had qualms. I said, “I don’t know if I want to see entertainment about a huge tragedy…..” to which he replied, “You wanted to go, we’re going.” And we went.

The theatre concept is hanging tough, though — the supermarket is at the feet of the “Ponte del Teatro” and is bordered by a street named for “la chiesa o il teatro” (the church or the theatre — you get to pick?). A Multisala Rossini has been built behind the supermarket, so the movies live on, if in somewhat less imposing surroundings.

The magnificent Teatro Malibran, named for the extremely famous soprano of the 19th century, Maria Malibran.  It was inaugurated in 1678 as the Teatro San Giovanni Grisostomo by the Grimani family and was the most splendid opera house in Venice for many years.  After the fall of the Venetian Republic in 1797 it became the Teatro Civico, deteriorated, was restored in 1819, continued to deteriorate, was renamed  Teatro Emeronitto and reopened in 1834.  But it was still a mess; when the diva Malibran came to sing in 1835, she renounced her fee, telling the management it ought to spend the money on the theatre.  I don’t know if the work was ever done, but they did change the name in her honor.  (Meanwhile, she spent most of that year singing at La Fenice.)  I don’t know at what point it became a cinema, but Lino remembers it in that incarnation. It is now very much restored to its former theatrical glory, and many productions of various types are staged here.

Yes, the Hotel Nazionale near the train station on the Lista di Spagna used to be a cinema. Lino went there once when he was 8 or 9 years old with his mother’s cousin, who was a fireman.  On Epiphany — which translates as “more candy and presents!!” — the firemen organized a big party for all the children in the firemen’s families. Lino says that many organizations put on this kind of party for their members’ children — the railway workers also did it. When they called his name he went up onstage and got candy and also a hobbyhorse.  Movie theatres were ideal for this kind of party because they were big, lots of space for all those little Venetians.

Let’s stop for coffee.  The next episode will be a wander around Lino’s old neighborhood on the other side of the Grand Canal.

Categories : History
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recycling the cinema, part 1

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The former Teatro Italia, in all its glory, majestically surveying the Campiello de l’Anconeta on the Strada Nova.

A ridiculous amount of movies has been made in Venice over the last 100 years or so — Wikipedia lists 114, but that is a paltry and inaccurate number because the list omits many films, as well as the many films that have been made here in languages other than English.

For example, there is “Viaggi di Nozze” (“Honeymoons”) starring Carlo Verdone in which he plays an insufferable doctor who takes his bride to Venice on their honeymoon, but by the time they arrive in their suite at the Danieli Hotel he has become so unbearable that she throws herself out the window just to get the hell away from him. There is the fabulous “Vacanze Intelligenti” (“Intelligent Vacations”) with Alberto Sordi, in which he and his fruit-selling Roman wife end up at the Biennale in the summer heat and she, exhausted, collapses under a tree and is mistaken by the public for a work of art.  There is also “Les Enfants du Siecle,” a French film about George Sand and Chopin in which Lino repeatedly rowed an old boat loaded with oranges past the facade of Palazzo Pisani-Moretta.  These are just random examples, but you see that the list could go on and on into German and Spanish and probably Russian and, for all I know, Tongan.

But while we’re all accustomed to Venice being the star of innumerable movies, you may never have asked yourself if anybody ever went to the movies in Venice.  They did.  A lot.  Back before cell phones roamed the earth and everything electronic took over people’s brains, going to the movies was just as much prime entertainment here as it was in Boring, Oregon and Sweet Lips, Tennessee.  Perhaps you imagined the Venetians spending their free time floating around in boats, singing folk songs, but most people were sitting in the dark watching crazy things happen on a big square of silver-coated cloth.  Venice was rife with movie theatres.

I managed to see a few movies in my early days in Venice (dubbed in Italian, as is almost always the case here), before the few remaining theatres gasped their last.  A few small ones are hanging on, showings listed each day in the Gazzettino.  “La-La Land” is here, with subtitles in Italian.  Martin Scorsese’s “Silence” is also here (or was, a few days ago), in English.

All this has come to mind because of the renovation and reopening of the Teatro Italia, shown above.  Ever since I’ve been here this splendid edifice has been closed, silent and empty.  But there are plenty of Venetians who have vivid memories (especially of the back rows, I’m guessing) of the decades when it reigned as a movie theatre.  Now people who go there will be having vivid memories of the mortadella and the rigatoni, because it has been revived as a supermarket belonging to the Dutch supermarket chain, De Spar.  To its credit, the company has retained and refurbished the frescoes (did your hometown movie theatre have FRESCOES?), adding a touch of glamour to your search for scallopine and cheap wine.

A view of the interior when it was a movie theatre.

Let me give you a glimpse of this transformed emporium of fantasy and thrill, but I’m not going to stop there.  As usual, I let myself get carried away, and so in the next episode I will be conducting a tour of the movie theatres that Lino remembers from the days of yore.

The sign at the entrance advises customers that there is video surveillance, it is forbidden to smoke, and furthermore forbidden to take pictures. The first two notices are normal, but the third gives one pause. Are they concerned that people will be snapping selfies by the salame?

If you thought the exterior was amazing, just take a look at the entrance. As you see, I snapped some pictures before the guard politely told me that he would permit me to do this, so technically I wasn’t breaking the law.

Do not omit to admire the frieze as you wander into the store.

The decoration of the entryway.

Mere lobby lighting. Wow.

The space where the screen loomed has now been frescoed over. Pay no attention to that man behind the fresco…

Make sure you’ve written down your shopping list, because you’re never going to remember everything you need in this dazzling environment.

Laurel wreaths, or bunches of grapevines, or whatever the roughage is, looks wonderful on somebody’s head. Above the soft drinks.

This, not so much.  Sketchy for a theatre and even more so above Aisle 3.

The balcony AND the projection room. Extremely cool.

What is so fabulous isn’t that there’s a supermarket that looks like this (though of course that’s great) — it’s that there was a theatre that looked like this. I’d have gone and not even bothered to watch the movie.

Categories : History
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Lino’s version is as basic as you can get,  and even a three-inch square is enough to hold you for several hours.  Chestnut flour, water, a pinch of salt, a scattering of rosemary.

Regional cookery is one of the zillion things that Italy is so proud of and so admired for. (End of preposition storm.)  But the funny thing is that a dish will be super-famous as being from one place, and then you discover its stolen-at-birth sibling in a completely different region, and then you discover it again, and again, and sometimes even again.  The reason is simple: People all over Italy have the same needs (eating) and many of the same ingredients, and what develops is something like a theme and variations.

Take castagnaccio (kas-ta-NYA-cho).  Perhaps its most noted version is from Tuscany, but there are variations from Naples, Corsica, Emilia-Romagna, Liguria, Piemonte, Calabria, and even the Veneto — anywhere there are chestnut trees, in fact.  The names may change along the way — baldino, pattona, ghirighio, castigna’, pane di castagna, migliaccio, gnaccia, and in Venice, “gardo” — but the essential ingredients originally couldn’t rise beyond the gravity pull of poverty: chestnut flour and water, and a little olive oil.  Then came raisins and pinoli nuts and sugar, even wine and milk and orange peel and chocolate.  But I don’t see how you can improve on the basics, which produce something super-dense, not too sweet, and loaded with winter-useful calories (193 per 100 grams).

Chestnuts were the perennial backup when you had no more flour of any sort, and not even polenta.  When the countryfolk would burn the effigy on Epiphany (the “befana”), eyes used to be fixed on the direction the sparks flew.  People still look, but now it’s more like a game, though it wasn’t always so. The doggerel makes that clear:  “Se le falive va a marina / Tol su saco e va a farina / Se le falive va a montagne / Tol su saco e va a castagne” (if the sparks fly toward the sea (east), take your sack and go to make flour (the wheat harvest will be good) / If the sparks fly toward the mountains (west), take your sack and go gather chestnuts.”)

But like so many other “poor” dishes, castagnaccio is apparently being rediscovered by people who have had enough of smoked salmon and foie gras (just an expression — does anybody still eat foie gras?).  Anyway, Lino is impervious to fashions and fads.  He’s always eaten something, he’s going to continue eating it.  Every so often the urge for castagnaccio will strike him and off he goes to acquire some chestnut flour.  It is reliably available at the ever-amazing Mascari.  (Full disclosure: I have no connection with this shop.)  He doesn’t add either pinoli nuts or raisins, but sticks to the bare bones of the recipe, with a sprinkling of rosemary.

Lino remembers that there was a little shop at the corner of the Riva degli Schiavoni and Calle de la Pescaria which sold slices of gardo and also a “cake” made of chickpea flour.  That was all, he sold nothing else.

The nameless shop is now the Ristorante Bar Vittoria and I would doubt that they offer anything chestnut-like to their customers.

As it happens, however, a bar-cafe in via Garibaldi has recently taken up the baton:

It says “Castagnaccio alla Toscana with raisins, pinoli and rosemary” and “Cecina alla Livornese,” that is, “cake” made of chickpeas (ceci) in the style of Livorno (also in Tuscany).  That is a subject I’m not pursuing today.

The internet is full of recipes, but here’s the simplest version of castagnaccio, if you want to chance your arm:

Ingredients:  750 ml water, 500 gr chestnut flour, some fresh rosemary “needles,” a pinch of salt, 6 spoonfuls of extra-virgin olive oil, to keep it soft.

Heat the oven to 200 degrees C or 350 F. Put the flour in a bowl and add the water slowly while stirring.  Spread a little olive oil on the bottom of the pan.  Pour the batter into the pan and bake for one hour.  (Note: The pan, or casserole, or whatever you’re using, shouldn’t be so broad that the batter only barely covers it.  Use your judgment, but bear in mind that this isn’t going to rise.) The surface of the final product should have slight cracks or fissures.

Modify it as you wish, of course; I’ll never know. In fact, the heathen thought of topping it with whipped cream or ice cream did cross my mind, but I quashed it.  We like the basics here.

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Categories : Food
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