Archive for Events

One feels the imminence of the opening of the annual contemporary art exhibition in the way one feels the approach of a heavily-laden barge on a body of still water.  (Hint: A barely perceptible surge of energy which produces only the faintest wave, but you know it’s caused by something very big.)

One of the earliest indications of the oncoming event was this.

For the past 10-14 days the impact zone delimited by via Garibaldi/Giardini/Arsenale has experienced similar increasing energy manifested by more people outside drinking at bars, more people dragging suitcases to hotels and apartments, MANY more people clogging the supermarket aisles, almost all of whom don’t look much like the locals.  They are more uptown, more trendy (hair, clothes, makeup, accessories — the full catastrophe, as Zorba said about something else).  They walk around looking at each other and at themselves — I don’t know, I can just tell that they’re looking at themselves.  The Venetians seem to be invisible to them as they occupy a stage on which the curtain is about to rise.  It’s an interesting sensation to be in the same place as someone else and yet not be in the same place at all.

None of these musings is intended to be pejorative.  I’m just attempting to convey the altered atmosphere, the shifting of the rpm’s in the old zeitgeist.  And why would there not be such alterations?  The Biennale (founded in 1895) now runs for seven months of the year, and is worth 30 million euros.  The article I read cited that number but didn’t clarify how it breaks down, but as I look around, I’m guessing that at least 28 million euros are spent on vaporetto tickets and taxis.  And drinks and ice cream cones.  The joint is definitely jumping.

120 artists from 51 countries are featured, including plucky little Kiribati, out in the Pacific Ocean, where each new day officially begins.  There are 85 “national participations,” according to the press release, strewn about the city from the national pavilions at the Giardini to 260 other spaces wherever they might be claimed, from non-practicing churches to literal holes in the wall.  There are 23 “collateral events,” 5,000 journalists, and a healthy number of luxury yachts ranging from big to astonishingly ginormous.  So far, so normal.

What follows are some glimpses from the past few days, bits that show what the arrival of the Biennale looks like.  This is not an encyclopedia because life is short and my interest in the subject likewise.  I was impelled to put this together merely to give a resident’s-eye view of the proceedings.  There will certainly be more jinks of various heights in the next few days (Opening Day is officially Saturday, May 13), but I won’t be trying to keep up with them. I’m covering this entirely by whim.  It’s my new operating system.

A bishop and a polar bear in a gondola captioned “I’ve got a sinking feeling.” That makes a sort of sense, I suppose, if you really insist on sense. But where does Bambi come into it?

Then housekeeping began to spiff up some areas which had been crying for spiffage for quite some while. This was an abandoned sea-pine glade till they wanted to make it prettier for the monster metal rhino. Did I not mention him?

Here he is, being assembled, installed, fed, whatever they had to do to get him ready.

This may well be art, but my hat is permanently off to the person(s) who hammered the metal to form this creature. They have to be amazing.

The tail alone is like something out of “Game of Thrones.”

Not far away is this creation. This is not the first large hand rising from the earth (or pavement) that I’ve seen here, though this is more modest. Years ago there was a huge concrete hand about ten feet high that remained reaching upward from the Riva degli Schiavoni for years. I know that our dreams are supposed to exceed our grasp, but this version is more friendly. It’s almost like a wave.

These hands, however, will be crawling out of the water and up the walls of the Hotel Ca’ Sagredo till November. I wonder if the people inside can sense them?

Meanwhile, in the park next door to the rhino, these creations have appeared. As in all of these discoveries, I don’t know who did them, where they come from, what the inner significance is, or what they cost if I want one for my porch or lawn. I’m just showing them as one sees them in a casual stroll on the way to the gelateria. Anyway, I’m fairly sure the explanations would only baffle me.

Not that women in swimwear require any explanation.

Other premonitory signs include these helpful stickers on the ground near the Giardini vaporetto stops.  Directional signs are always needed, especially really sophomoric ones.

As expected, the big yachts are parking along the Riva dei Sette Martiri. I have never seen anyone except the crew, but probably the big parties will be this weekend.

I want this one. I want it to take me to Ultima Thule.

The next yacht over has mysteriously (if indeed only crew is aboard) accumulated big sacks of garbage. This is the last of about ten that was dropped into the special barge they engaged to take it away.

Traveling aboard the more mundane vaporetto reveals more art works that continue to rise. At the Accademia Bridge, in the garden by Palazzo Franchetti, a festive reception is underway to celebrate the raising of the bronze dead tree.

I’d like to be able to talk to Titian for a minute. I’d like to hear him say “I always wanted to make something like that, but nobody would let me.”

Here’s what’s intriguing about a man standing alone dripping water from melting ice onto a dead mackerel: There is absolutely nothing — no sign, no acolytes, no flyers — to elucidate what he’s doing. There’s something refreshing about that. I mean, does everything have to have an explanation? Ice. Mackerel. Figure it out for yourself.

Or, an hour or so later, just ice. Is this a statement about glaciers, climate change, the end of the world?  Or just the usual metaphor for the brevity/meaning/fragility of life?  Perhaps, to paraphrase whoever it was, sometimes a pile of melting ice is just a pile of melting ice.  I hope he ate the mackerel.

And speaking of performance art, Tuesday evening we were coming home after 10 PM and came upon a rehearsal for something which was well underway in viale Garibaldi.

It is a group from Korea; the woman in the center is a dancer, the two men holding the illuminated umbrellas are very muscular, and the effigy in the center is a framework supporting priestly or godly garb, but with no one inside. The photographer was shooting the stately advance of the dancer to wafty mystic music coming from somewhere.

A closer look at the effigy and the beef. And the umbrellas, which were screamingly bright.  The two men had to remain in this pose even as the dancer moved slowly away; there was a small but persistent chilly breeze blowing, and I began to feel sorry for them. As soon as there was a break, they were bundled up in full-length quilts.

She moved slowly and deliberately to the singing by the woman at the end of the strip of runway, who was producing a sort of eerie throat music.

A story line or narrative did not suggest itself, though her movements were lovely.

I tried to devise a coherent theory of what was transpiring, but what I saw was what you’re seeing. The white veil kind of complicated the situation in my imagination.  When she finally reached the hieratic singer, she turned and moved slowly back toward the men and the effigy. This all took about an hour.

Nevertheless, the area has been pullulating with visitors, to the special joy of the local bars and restaurants.

The white marble strip is the normal (and legally certified) limit of the outdoor tables at this bar/noshery.  But these days, as long as there’s space, tables are filling it all the way down via Garibaldi.

When it’s closing time at the exhibitions and everyone has drunk and eaten their fill, it’s time to take the vaporetto uptown. As you see by the line, either they or the ACTV were not prepared for this moment. Yes, they are waiting to board the next vaporetto. And the next, and the next…. It’s as crowded as Carnival, only people aren’t laughing.

Dress code: Anything, as long as it’s black. Someone who didn’t know that this is the indisputable color of art-gazers and -discussers might suppose the city was in mourning.

Surveys reveal that black is the color most commonly associated with mourning, the end, secrets, magic, force, violence, evil, and elegance.  Mainly, it’s the color that everything goes with.

Red! Somebody just made a wild and dramatic bid to be different!

So on the one hand we have these clusters of  trendiness (everyone on their cell phones, as always — I couldn’t wait long enough to see if anybody ever talked to anybody who was sitting right there with them) …

…. and on the other hand, the antidote to the glossiness of it all was standing in front of the pastry shop, evidently dressed for Act III of Swan Lake on Mars. I say it every year: the Biennale is more entertaining than Carnival. During Carnival, people dress up and pretend, but at the Giardini in May, people dress up and they aren’t pretending at all.

 

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Mar
31

What news on the Rialto?

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Thwarted terrorist attack, that’s the news.

I suppose it was only a matter of time.  Three men and a minor from Kosovo, who have been in Italy for two years with regular “green cards,” had been organizing a suicide mission on or near the Rialto Bridge and — the radio reported today — possibly the Piazza San Marco and/or even the basilica of San Marco.

The Veneto, one learns, is on a sort of corridor connecting the Balkans to Europe.  Other potential events and/or connections along this axis have been monitored for months.  Last November, according to “La Nuova Venezia,” the government received a warning that ISIS had sent some Balkan terrorists to strike a blow in Italy.  The choices of place and time are many, of course, but the fact that Venice would be brimming with tourists for the Easter holiday offered many positive aspects to the here and now.

As one of the four said in an intercepted phone conversation, “With Venice you’ll immediately win paradise because there are so many nonbelievers here, put a bomb at Rialto.”  One reader may be thinking of a world-class monument, another may be thinking of how many people would have been on the bridge.

In any case, the newspapers are full of interesting details which I totally do not feel like repeating.  I only wrote this post because it seemed important to report this development.  It’s certainly more important than most of the other things you’re likely to read — or not — about Venice these days.  Acqua alta?  I’ll take all you’ve got.

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Feb
28

The Carnival spirit

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As I may or may not have ever mentioned, Carnival has lost most of what little appeal it ever had for me.  That is why I have made very few photos of this event this year.  Or last year.  However, my not being interested in Carnival as she is practiced here doesn’t mean I don’t know how madcap it could be for the thousands who come to enjoy madcappery for a few days.  The knell rings at midnight tonight, as you know, so tote those frittelle and haul those masks.

Here are just a few images from the past few days, things that made me smile.  That’s my version of Carnival.

A few mornings ago, I cast an affectionate eye on our little boat across the canal. It has been sprinkled with confetti from time to time, which has made it look cheerful.  I may not dress up, but I’m all for the boat looking giddy. But there was something on the plastic cover…

It’s something all dressed up as a dead rat. How original! And repulsive!

I may be the last person to have discovered this little trove of hats, most of them of the gondolier variety, arranged on a wall at the squero of San Trovaso. Venice, city of a million hats and behind each one a story….

In the center we see the two hats of Janus, in straw: “Dopo” (after) and “Prima” (before).  Perhaps we’re meant to read from right to left.  Or maybe time is running backward.  It sometimes feels like that.

This succinct note, on a closed newsstand in Udine last Sunday: “‘Dear’ petty thieves, on the third time you’ve come here you still haven’t understood that there isn’t any money here to steal.”  It’s not a joke but it still makes me laugh — not at the owner, but at the thieves.

Don’t even imagining laughing here. Her strategic position in Campo Santa Maria Formosa, on the trajectories from San Marco, Rialto, the Fondamente Nuove, Oslo, Cape Town and Zagreb, have stretched her to the limit. I don’t think this is a Carnival joke. Just buy the newspaper and move on.

If I had stayed up all night trying to compose a picture (in my mind, on canvas, with crayons, whatever) that said “Carnival is over,” I couldn’t have come up with this. Sorry it’s so perfect because now you’re all feeling sad.  Never mind, it’ll be Easter soon.  The chocolate eggs are beginning to appear and Lent hasn’t even started yet.  Gad!

 

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Jan
19

Let me try to explain…

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Being by yourself can be lovely, when the sun is shining and there isn't too much wind.

Being by yourself can be great, if the sun is shining and there isn’t too much wind.

Several readers have written their reactions to my post about Ricky.  And in answering them, I have sifted through my brain and realize that I neglected stressing some important points in my account of the hideous homicide, the main point being why I wrote about it at all.

I let myself get somewhat carried away by the grisly details (like every reporter currently working in Venice, evidently — the newspapers have surrendered entire pages to this epic). That was wrong.

The reason I did this was because (A) like almost everybody, I’m fascinated in a repulsive way by stories like this, but (B) more to the point, I reacted to him as somebody I sort of know.

Venice is a village, as I often point out, and you get caught up in dramatic stories involving people you know, or (more often) to people known by people you know.  Ricky is only ten years younger than Lino, and his family home was a few doors down from where Lino lived. They’d see each other here and there, and while he was obviously somewhat unbalanced even when young, Ricky was just part — obviously a somewhat unusual part — of the neighborhood.

Lino says Ricky had a generous streak (the Mestre neighbors keep repeating how he always tried to do things for people).  Lino remembers one day he was slaving away in his boat, trying to get the outboard motor to start.  Ricky stops and says “Hey, I’ve got a motor inside.  Come get it, you can borrow it.  You can have it.”  Lino didn’t take the motor, but he remembers the offer.

The story continues to unfold, producing more terrifying details, but I’m not going to repeat them because what it is is sad sad sad.  I didn’t make that clear.  He was born crazy, and he has spent his life either struggling against his craziness or sometimes giving in.  This is not an excuse, but everyone quoted in these endless articles talks about what a solitary person he was. He was “tremendously alone,” as one person put it; he didn’t have anybody watching out for him. Whether or not you’re taking your meds, loneliness is a killer.

No more about Ricky from me, unless it’s something we all need to know.  Of course I feel bad for the woman and her family, but I also feel bad for uno dei nostri — one of ours.

IMG_1004.JPG alone

 

 

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