What a terrible difference five weeks makes. A little over a month ago, Porter and I got on transatlantic planes and didn't think about our safety any more than usual in this post-911 world. She was actually heading to Paris, but then decided to cut that part short to rendezvous with me in Venice. That would be a huge treat any time, but when tens of thousands of people are trapped in fear or traveling for their lives or headed to the purgatory of camps (they were five weeks ago, too) and planes are going down or under threat, it seems downright wild and extravagant.
We've been binge watching France 24's live feed for days and days, a complete obsession with the mounting situations...everywhere. By now many of you have seen the touching video of the Parisian dad comforting his little boy about the "bad guys" who have guns. "They've got guns, but we have flowers," the dad says in beautiful, lilting French. We all wish that were enough. But it still brings tears to your eyes. So, in the name of flowers and European culture and wine and travels and otherworldly craftsmanship and all the joys in life, here are a few images of magical Venice which seem even more precious now.
The city really is a labyrinth with tiny (or enormous) treasures in every little nook and cranny. Google Maps is crazy there; it's almost like getting directions to walk through your house. Even with that help, it's possible to miss entire "hallways"...or wings. Swing a left at the closet, scoot around the corner, but stay close to the wall, now enter the bathroom, but sneak through the laundry shoot. It doesn't matter, though. It's all beautiful. So beautiful. And it's fun to get lost.
The tides are high in October, so if you go then, definitely bring tall rubber boots and leave your hotel or palazzo at the crack of dawn or around 2 p.m. We arrived in the evening and didn't know this morning high tide situation would be so dire the next morning so we were trapped for a bit (it was ok, we just relaxed and had great chats). But with wellies (acquired at 2:05 p.m.), no water could stop us.
Old marble and brass doorbells that look like futuristic lady robots look out from doorways all over town.
Here's Porter outside the Fortuny Museum, which might be our favorite of all time, as far as contemporary art museums in old grand palazzos go. Design legend Axel Vervoordt and Daniela Ferretti, the museum's director curated the exceptional show, PROPORTIO, for the 2015 Biennale, which ends Sunday. The mix of classical pieces, furniture, architecture and high modern work perfectly together and the lighting (natural and faux) could not be better. If you can make it in the next couple days you must go! But for the 99.9999% of other people who are reading this from their offices, the catalog (a tome) should be considered a desert island coffee table book. You can order it by emailing Axel Vervoordt's shop here. It would be an ideal holiday gift for anyone with eyes. Photos of the exhibit are sprinkled below.
We were so, so lucky to make it there in time to see the Biennale exhibits. Countries have exhibits in galleries and private homes all over town and the museums put on special shows, but the main attractions are at the Arsenale (the massive old Venetian arsenal complex) and the Giardini, where the art fills the gardens and the country pavilions built for the Architecture Biannale. America does excellent art presentations, too, but you just cannot beat seeing modern work inside a 12th century industrial complex and ship yard. Or in the case of Marni's exhibit, Becoming Marni, a former Benedictine abbey, Abbazio San Gregorio, that dates back to the 9th century. Curated by Carolina Castiglioni, creative director of Marni’s special projects, and architect Stefano Rabolli Pansera, it features 100 wooden sculptures by self-taught Brazilian artist Véio.
Marble covers almost all surfaces around Venice; anything else is tarrazzo. Here my feet stand on the entry floors to the Officer's Club at the Arsenal.
The Belgian Pavilion at the Giardini portion included "Fissures in the 'Sanitary Cordon': Hospital Architecture and Urban Segregation in Lubumbashi, 1920-1960" by J. Lagae, S. Boonen and M. Liefooghe.
The hotels seemed quite pricey for average rooms, so we AirBNBed, per usual and were so happy. We found a suite at the the Palazzetto San Lio in the center of town with terrazzo floors, a beautifully frescoed ceiling and full marble lobby for a couple hundred dollars a night. Here's Port checking her phone after a long day of wandering.
Of course there are exceptions, but in general, do not go to Venice to gorge yourself on heaps of incredible food. It's nice, decent food, but nothing you'll moan about later. That said, there are two must-go places along the Rio Della Misericordia. For eats, Paradiso Perduto, a rustic neighborhood tavern, serves up wonderful local Venetian fare (fish). We ordered the grilled fish platter and received basically a full-day's catch. It was also warm enough to eat outside on the canal and watch the locals sail past in wooden boats with their dogs standing up, heads in the breeze (lucky dogs). A couple doors down, every European (French and Scandinavian) hipster under 40 (the age bar keeps getting higher) in the entire city seemed to congregate at Vino-Vero, a tiny, incredibly curated wine bar. On the first night we went, this great three-piece jazz band threw down a stage on top of a boat and played for hours.
The François Pinhault Foundation runs two of the other most spectacular examples of contemporary-art-in-reall-old-spaces spaces: Palazzo Grassi, the last palazzo built on the Grand Canal before the collapse of the republic in 1797, and Punta Della Dogana, the former customs house (seen above and below). It's worth seeing both simply for the architecture. The art makes them even better.
The Belgian Pavilion at the Giardini.
Nicola Samorì's Archivio della Memoria, 2015 at Arsenale.
An oddly somber-looking me + whale spine.
Elisabetta Benassi's M'FUMU, 2015, cast ceramic plaster, steel, ink and one book (King Leopold's Soliloquy by Mark Twain, 1905)
Porter ascending the stairs at the Palazzo Grassi.
The floors of Santa Maria della Salute.
Marzipan at Rosa Salva, an excellent, classic Venetian bakery. Fish shaped marzipan makes the brain do funny things, but they are like little works of art.
Porter outside the Naval Museum (which is closed for renovation).
Porter splashing through a miraculously empty portion of St. Mark's Square. Behind me, they set up miles of platforms for the tourists, which was necessary unless you had knee-high boots. Many people buy these bright orange or turquoise balloon-like covers for their shoes. They're certainly better than having wet feet, but you look like you're in 1/3 of a hazmat suit. Just buy boots for about EUR10 more.
More evidence of the water levels in Piazza San Marco. Here the waiters at the Gran Caffé Quadri stand in waders, bemoaning their flooded marble HQ. Porter and I were horrified at the potential damage with water sitting about four inches deep inside. But the marble has stood strong since 1638.
We did most of our shopping in book stores all around town. Many of the shops in the city center are the typical luxury chains (at best) and most are tourist tchotchke pushers. But there are a few gems and beautiful menswear shops. The best design store we came across: Entrata Libera. There's a very high-end design shop of the same name in Milan, but there's no trace of this Venetian version. But here it is.
[Porter + PROPORTIO]
Porter leaving Harry's Bar. She had a bellini and I went with an €18 negroni. One must sip at Harry's and go anywhere else for any form of booze. But you can get a spritz (Aperol or Campari) for about €4 everywhere, which sounds almost free in comparison and pose a threat if you enjoy "bargain drinking."
[The floor of our palazzo]
A rare shot of both of us together (on the Grand Canal).