Archive for San Marco

Apr
25

70 years free

Posted by: | Comments (2)
Every year the city places laurel wreaths at the most important patriotic monuments. The most elaborate one, with an aureole of palm, is placed at the tomb of Daniele Manin.

Every year the city places laurel wreaths at the most important patriotic monuments. The most elaborate one, with an aureole of palm, is placed at the tomb of Daniele Manin.

April 25, as I have reported on other occasions, is a double holiday in Venice: The anniversary of the liberation of Italy after World War II (this year marking the 70th milestone), and the feast day of San Marco, the city’s patron saint.

And gentlemen must acquire a long-stemmed red rose (the "bocolo," in Venetian) to bestow on their lady love(s).  Here, gondolier Marco Farnea buys two -- one for his wife, the other for his gondola.  It's an extra-festive occasion, too, considering it's his name-day.

And gentlemen must acquire a long-stemmed red rose (the “bocolo,” in Venetian) to bestow on their lady love(s). Here, gondolier Marco Farnea buys two — one for his wife, the other for his gondola. It’s an extra-festive occasion, too, because it’s his name-day.

Either of those facts deserves reams, and reams are ready and waiting, thanks to phalanxes of historians.

I simply want to keep the world apprised — yes, I modestly claim to keep the WORLD apprised — of a date that deserves remembering.  And here, it’s remembered twice.

First, the roses:

Marco pushes off with the next boatload of clients, the two roses lying at his feet.

A quartet of firemen leaving the ceremony of the flag-raising in the Piazza -- one is already armed with his rose.

A quartet of firemen leaving the ceremony of the flag-raising in the Piazza — one is already armed with his rose.

The Red Cross sells the roses at a booth in the Piazza (as well as sending volunteers around). All for a good cause.

The Red Cross sells the roses at a booth in the Piazza (as well as sending volunteers around).  All for a good cause.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Independent rose sellers are all over our neighborhood all day. They sell mimosa on International Woman’s Day and umbrellas when it’s raining.

Yes, National Liberation Day is important, but this Venetian store makes it clear that tomorrow it will be closed because it's San Marco's day.

Yes, National Liberation Day is important, but this Venetian store makes it clear that tomorrow it will be closed because it’s San Marco’s day.  Any other reason is just extra.

Someone placed a bocolo on St. Paul's altar in the basilica of San Marco. I'm baffled, but I'm still glad to see it there. And no, you're not supposed to take pictures in the basilica. I'll never do it again.

Someone placed a bocolo on St. Paul’s altar in the basilica of San Marco. I’m baffled, but I’m still glad to see it there. And no, you’re not supposed to take pictures in the basilica. I’ll never do it again.

And second, the liberation itself, as seen in Venice.

The arrival of the American troops in Piazzale Roma on April 29, 1945.  Lino remembers running there with his friends, everyone was saying "The Americans are here."  He asked for chewing gum, like all the other children, and he got it, too.

The arrival of the Allied troops in Piazzale Roma on April 29, 1945. Lino remembers that everyone was saying “The Americans are here!”  He ran with his friends to see them, and they all asked for chewing gum, and they got it, too.

 

Comments (2)
May
07

Stendhal syndrome in San Marco

Posted by: | Comments (1)

The Pala d'Oro started out as a relatively modest silver panel commissioned by doge Pietro Orseolo in 976-978 A.D. It was expanded by doge Ordelafo Falier (1104), and over the centuries it grew into this ponderous rectangle 11.4 feet (3.5 meters) long and 6.8 feet (2.1 meters) high.

I can tell you precisely when was the last time I sat and looked at art. It was Easter morning, and I wasn’t in a museum.

We were sitting in the front row of the basilica of San Marco and the occasion was the elaborate festal mass.  The sermon was well underway.  I had had every intention of listening carefully, because it was the new patriarch’s maiden voyage and I had been curious to check his rigging and navigation skills on one of the biggest days of the year.

If you’d like to know more, you’ll need to ask someone else.  Because while he didn’t drift into uncharted political or theological waters (I’m finished with this metaphor now), as his predecessor used to do, he wanted to convey a message I couldn’t follow, and he was in no hurry to finish it.  It was the religious equivalent of the stationary bicycle.

To be fair, he could just as well have been reading the Government Printing Office Style Manual, because the basilica of San Marco is an Olympics-level competitor if you’re trying to get somebody’s attention.  So I made the most of being installed in my seat for a while, and let my eyes wander around the opulence of the basilica itself.  And where my eyes wander, my brain tends to follow.

The story of Christ's temptations is presented in its barest essentials, but nothing has been left out, up to and including Satan giving up and flying back down to Hell.

I love this lion. He's just one small part of the gleaming mosaics on the ceiling and walls, which cover about 86,000 square feet (8,000 sq/m). I'm convinced that Venetian mothers for centuries implored their daughters to marry a mosaicist. They'd have been fixed for life.

After scanning my usual favorites (the mosaic depicting the Temptation in the Wilderness, the bug-eyed lion of San Marco in the Prophets Cupola, the relief on the small marble altar outlining Saint Paul’s crisis on the road to Damascus), I let my eyes settle on the Pala d’Oro.

One usually has to pay a small fee to go behind the high altar to see this prodigy, but on major feast days it is rotated to face the nave.  Of course, when you’re seated out there you can’t discern much detail, but even from a distance you can tell it’s something phenomenal.

As I gazed at it, I let my eyes slide beyond the extravagant assortment of enamel medallions, and the myriad (1,927, actually) precious and semi-precious stones, and its gleaming golden surface, dazzling though it all may be.

What I saw were the hundreds of people involved in making it, and how hard the work was, and how much it cost.  I don’t mean the bills that were presented to various doges, or what its total price would be today in round dollars, if such a thing could be calculated, which it probably can’t.

I mean the money every single person earned who was involved in this project, bearing in mind that what we see is the result of additions, substitutions, and renovations over centuries.  If thinking of Accounts Payable seems crass, it probably wasn’t so crass to the artists who made it.  Art is many things, but toward the top of the list is the word “business.”  I doubt that any more than .0035 percent of all the art in the world was made for free.

The number of individuals who contributed to this prodigious creation is similarly difficult to calculate, along with their vast amount of skill, effort, and imagination. So let’s take just one person.

I’m thinking about a master enamelist. First, there are the years he spends as an apprentice, doing the scut work, making mistakes, throwing things out, learning little tricks, getting yelled at.  He learns how to work with wire, with glass, with color, with fire. After I don’t know how long, he ‘s good enough to get the commission to do five saints (let’s say).

So he goes home to give his wife the good news, and tells her how much he’s  going to be paid (and when!).  And they stay up late feeling happy and trying to decide how they’ll spend the money — finally buy that horse? Pay the butcher? Order their daughter’s wedding dress?

Then I thought the same things about the artist who applied the baroque pearls (years, labor, etc.). Then I stepped back one step to the merchants who sold and bought the pearls (years, labor).  And the person who brought the pearls from the Persian Gulf to Constantinople.  And the person who dived for the pearls.  (I stopped short of imagining the oyster making the pearls, but you’re free to go ahead.)

Then I thought about the gold-leaf beaters and appliers. (This is no small thought, considering that the Pala d’Oro consists of gold in  many forms: repousse’, cast, applique’, chased, stamped, matted, and filigrees, not to mention granulation and beading.)  The gold merchant.  His wife and kids.  The camel-driver and ship’s captain who carried the gold.  Their wives and kids. The gold miner.  His wife and kids.

The central medallion depicts "Christ Pantocrator," a classic Orthodox/Byzantine depiction of Christ as the Almighty, or Ruler of All. This piece alone would have kept a number of people busy.

So I probably missed an excellent sermon while I was imagining spouses and offspring and extra food and new shoes and sick grandfathers and quack doctors and on and on, through the whole infinitely expanding intricacy of the connections between just about everything.

So whenever I see a few square inches of art (frescoes, mosaics, marble statues, kilim carpets, whatever), I sometimes unleash my mind and let it roll around like a Weazel Ball among centuries and countries and people.

I came back to my immediate surroundings when they passed to take up the collection.  Speaking of money.

So the goldsmith comes home and his wife asks how his day went, and he says "Excellent -- I finished the wings. Tomorrow, the seraphim." I deduce that this is an image of Ariel, one of 12 archangels represented in the throng. The garment is reminiscent of the Byzantine emperor's robes.

 

 

 

 

Categories : Venetian History
Comments (1)
Feb
09

Carnival, the first stage

Posted by: | Comments (2)

I’m not a big fan of Carnival in Venice.    The only bigness I can evince where this annual demolition derby is concerned is a jumbo-size package of the old Aristotelian pity and terror.

Last year there was a sort of dancing metal raptor to give the crowd at the Piazza San Marco some sensation of movement.

Last year there was a sort of dancing metal raptor to give the crowd at the Piazza San Marco some sensation of movement.

That’s not completely true: I don’t feel pity.

But this year I decided to take a different approach.   When Carnival erupted last Sunday (after several premonitory tremors) I thought I’d imagine it was something that could be fun, amusing, diverting, worth the trip.   Not for me — I’ve figured out how to make it fun for me but it doesn’t involve costumes or the Piazza San Marco — but  just going with the idea that  it could be entertaining for the thousands upon thousands of people who come to Venice expecting to enjoy themselves, at least, if not enjoy everybody else.  

By which I mean, enjoy being squashed like a grape in a winepress by your fellow humans.

So far, it’s working.   I had a fine time on Sunday afternoon.   But that’s because I made a point of not going to the Piazza San Marco.   The Gazzettino reported that some 90,000 people were there.   They certainly didn’t need me, even if there had been room.

The first years I was here I did go, at least a few times, to the Piazza San Marco, the gravitational center of the festivities.   It was all so new and strange, and memory reports that there weren’t   quite so many thousands.   Memory may be lying but it was fine anyway.   Perhaps the novelty of the situation carried me over the crush, as it may well do to people today.

I dress up, I walk around, I pose, therefore I am.  It doesn't exactly cry out "whirl of gaiety."

I dress up, I walk around, I pose, therefore I am. It doesn't exactly cry out "whirl of gaiety."

Then there was a hiatus, partly because I didn’t enjoy the winepress experience and also because what was going on there seemed strangely unfestive: Loads of people in  costume (95 percent of which seemed  to be identical),  walking around just looking at each other, striking attitudes, or taking pictures of each other with or without tourists posing next to them.   The nadir  is occupied by  the people in costume who charge money for allowing themselves to be photographed with your cousin or your kid.   And they can make a bundle.  

Another exciting moment.

Another exciting moment.

The details are sometimes lovelier than the whole costume.

The details are sometimes lovelier than the whole costume.

Dressing up as an ancient monument deserves a tip of the hat, or whatever she's got on her head.

Dressing up as an ancient monument deserves a tip of the hat, or whatever she's got on her head.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then we came to Castello and I discovered something of the way Carnival was, decades ago, before the event was trampled by the tourism behemoth.   Kids and families and dogs, and relatively few tourists.   And did I mention the kids?

A princess, a fairy with gauzy green wings, and an animal I still haven't identified.  This is more like it.

A princess, a fairy with gauzy green wings, and an animal I still haven't identified. This is more like it.

 

Put an aristocrat behind the wheel and just get out of the way.

Put an aristocrat behind the wheel and just get out of the way.

 

 Perhaps I’m going senile, or perhaps it’s because the confetti-throwing and occasional Silly String-spraying and strolling around have no evident commercial focus, but I think  the downtown version of Carnival beats San Marco in straight sets.    Here, if you see somebody taking a picture of a person in costume, it’s almost certainly a besotted relative.

Still trying to get the hang of how to make it spray.

Still trying to get the hang of how to make it spray.

   

 

 

 

 

Still trying to get the hang of how to make it spray.

A costume, a large bag of confetti, and a parental equerry to carry it for you as you perfect your bestrewing technique. He's having more fun than ten photographers.

Dressing your kid as a skunk (probably Bambi's friend Flower) doesn't seem like a compliment, but when he's this cute it probably doesn't matter what you put him in.

Dressing your kid as a skunk (probably Bambi's friend Flower) doesn't seem like a compliment, but when he's this cute it probably doesn't matter what you put him in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just a little bit of face paint, artfully applied by one of the many artful appliers in and around San Marco. But it's enough.

Just a little bit of face paint, artfully applied by one of the many artful appliers in and around San Marco. But it's enough.

 

I

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you start to look around, you begin to notice how little it really takes to dress up and play Carnival.   There were people who were looking great with only a hat, or  a wig, or  a moustache or whiskers scribbled on with a black marker– even  the simplest mask imaginable just barely covering the eyes.   No plumes, no sequins, no layers of painted papier-mache.   It really works.

 

Or just a mask, and never mind the fancy garb. This is a version of the classic mask of a Zanni, the clever and/or foolish servant in comedies of the Commedia dell'Arte.

Or just a mask, and never mind the fancy garb. This is a version of the classic mask of a Zanni, the clever and/or foolish servant in comedies of the Commedia dell'Arte.

The first Sunday of Carnival (February 7 this year) was Opening Day, one of the maximum moments, as you can imagine.   The others are Fat Thursday (Giovedi’ Grasso), and Fat Tuesday (Martedi’ Grasso).   And the weekend between them.   If the weather is beautiful — as it was on Sunday — it can feel like a party even if you don’t do anything special.   If it’s really cold, overcast, windy or rainy, obviously the merriment becomes shredded and forced.   This isn’t Rio.

Next chapter: I’ll be tossing out  a few festive fistfuls of   history, gathered from a large bag of brightly-colored bits of trivia.  

Here’s a sample.   “Confetti” here refers to the sugared almonds which are given to wedding guests.   What speakers of English (and French, German, Spanish, Swedish and Dutch) call  confetti    — brightly-colored bits of paper — here are called coriandoli   (ko-ree-AN-dolee).     Why?  

Because back in the Olden Days, Carnival revelers would toss all sorts of things around or at or on each other — eggs full of rosewater was one hugely amusing toy to everybody except the women who were on the receiving end.   People would also toss various tiny  edibles, particularly coriander seeds, which were used in pastries.   Then they became  bits of sugar pretending to be coriander seeds.   Only much later — in 1875 — did flakes of paper begin to be used instead, which is an entirely different story.   People who  had always called  the flying fragments of food “coriandoli” merely transferred to term to the newer-fangled form.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Comments (2)