Just kidding. Lamentations seem no longer to apply to the spiritual life; if you feel a lamentation coming on, it’s usually related to politics or family members, certainly not to yourself.
But Ash Wednesday (“le ceneri“) is still a crucial day in the Christian calendar, and even though people have become very lax about denying themselves meat today, the day remains a vestigial holiday for the butchers. Those few that remain. Those even fewer who maintain the Old Ways. Of course, the public can still buy all the meat it wants at the supermarkets, so closing the butcher shop is by now just a symbol. But a good one, if you have turned your thoughts toward penance, even for just a minute.
Of course, there’s that famous gap between the letter and the spirit of the law, and I’d like to share an amazing menu for your consideration. It was displayed in an expensive restaurant in Udine right across the street from the Patriarchal Palace and adjoining church, and I supposed that the proprietors might be wanting to look good for the patriarch even though the rank of patriarch is no more, and the archbishop lives a 15-minute walk away.
I have never seen a menu created and advertised as being for Ash Wednesday (I thought bread and water pretty much covered the nutritional options, or at least week-old beans and a frightening lettuce from the back of the fridge). The idea of promoting a day of renunciation with items as listed — EVEN THOUGH THEY DO NOT BREAK ANY RULES (except in spirit) — seems totally in keeping with the zeitgeist, and times being what they are. I mean, there isn’t any clause saying you’re only allowed to eat horrible food. I THINK the notion is that you shouldn’t be wallowing in your food fixations for one little 24-hour cycle in the entire year. But then I think: If the owners were inclined to give such a gracious nod to contrition, they might at least have lowered the prices. Why should the customer always be the one to repent when the bill comes?
The restaurant is named “Allegria,” or “gaiety” or “jollification.” Bear that in mind as you read on. From the top: The antipastos: Steamed mussels and clams with pepper; herring; creamy stockfish; mixed fish antipasto; “rati” (for which I am still seeking the definition, though at merely 2.50 euros it can’t be anything astonishing). First courses: Chickpea and octopus soup; spaghetti with clams; “tuffoli” (a pasta somewhat like rigatoni, but shorter) with codfish, small tomatoes and taggiasche olives; barley and beans, a typical dish of the Friuli region, in which the city resides. Second courses: Stockfish in the style of Vicenza; small medallion of turbot with braised vegetables; cuttlefish confit with artichokes; red “rosa of Gorizia” radicchio with anchovies and aged Montasio cheese; “lidric cul poc” is an extremely prized type of wild radicchio with hard-boiled eggs. Dessert: (I’m sorry, what? You get dessert on Ash Wednesday?) “Bonet” of hazelnut with crunchy things, usually amaretto cookies. A “bonet” is a typical Piedmont confection like a very firm creme caramel; marinated pineapple (I’m guessing in some sort of fabulous liqueur) with coconut gelato. I’ll tell you what: If you have lunch here you’re going to have plenty to talk to your confessor about. Go look up “gluttony” and see if there’s a loophole for the day of the ashes. I myself will be going off shortly to confess the sin of envy.
“Wednesday Closed: Ashes” — this sign behind the lamb chops and veal roast looks like it’s announcing a party. Parties were yesterday, buddyroe. You’re supposed to be serious today.
And sing a few verses of “I’ll be seeing you, in all the old familiar places” to the frittelle. (I’ll be looking at the moon, but I’ll be seeing frittelle…..). They’re the demon poster children of Ash Wednesday combining so many things you can’t have anymore. You know, everything worth living for, which is code for “fat and sugar.” Technically speaking. I’m sure there’s a loophole somewhere.
I discovered this little hieroglyphic of happiness in a small campo. Let not the wholesome spirit of spiritual discipline (sounds better than “giving up for”) distract us from the beautiful things that didn’t get the memo about deprivation.
Ditto this cat, in deep meditation and Vitamin D absorption. Satisfied with the simple things in life. Perhaps dreaming of finding a rat on a boat someday.
Ditto the first few violets of the spring, also benefiting from the sun. They’re not thinking about anything, which is what makes them so wonderful, in addition to being beautiful, making perfume and being good to eat when candied.
One violet, complete with morning shadow. Things are looking up.
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!
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.
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.