Sunday, April 1, 2007

Graduation Gift -- Italy (Part I)

In 1984 my daughter S graduated from high school at the age of 17, so the summer before she started university we took her to Italy. My son, G, was working as a summer student in the Physics Department so did not come with us.

We flew into Venice and, having picked up a rental car, stayed this time in Mestre, the nearest town to Venice, nearby on the mainland. Each day we travelled by bus into Venice and found this extremely convenient on the whole.

For the next few days we hit the high spots of Venice, walking everywhere in the auto less city or travelling by the vaporetto or water bus. We even took a tragetto (lit. crossing) ride across the Grand Canal. Because there are so few bridges, at certain places a gondala will ferry you across the canal for a small fee. I finally got to see inside the Basilica di San Marco, which is built on the plan of a Greek Cross and so richly decorated inside and out with precious marble, bronze statuary, and fabulous mosaics that it carries the name of chiesa d'oro or church of gold. Its most precious treasure is a golden altarpiece, the Pala d'Oro, richly studded with thousands of precious stones.

We explored Piazza San Marco, the only large square in Venice, home to thousands of pigeons, and situated directly in front of the Basilica. Its interesting buildings with their elegant arcades include a 15th century clock tower and incredibly expensive outdoor cafes and stores. Everywhere you see the winged Lion of St Mark, which is the signature of Venice and seen above is the one on the clock tower. Nearby, the beloved Campanile or bell tower, which collapsed in 1902, after 1000 years, was lovingly reconstructed as it was previously. We toured the nearby Palazzo Ducale, the Doges' Palace, the seat of power for centuries, and an incredibly beautiful building, filled with a wealth of art work and statuary.

However, I think for the three of us, a major highlight of our Venetian trip was a visit to the Peggy Guggenheim Museum of Modern Art, situated on the Grand Canal. Peggy, a collector of contemporary art , bought the house, Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, in 1949 and lived there with her dogs, until her death in 1979. She and her dogs are buried in the garden at the rear of the palazzo. The interesting thing about this museum is the 18th century building, unfinished, with only one storey, and a wonderful terrace which faces the Grand Canal and is decorated with sculptures. The rear garden also has works of Henry Moore and Max Ernst who was her husband and others sculptors. The collection of art itself is priceless, including works by Picasso, Kandinsky, Klee, and a whole room of Jackson Pollock. Above, you see S with her father, enjoying the terrace on the Grand Canal.

My daughter was fascinated by the Venetian masks made famous by Carnivale. There were mask shops everywhere in Venice but they were very expensive. She bought a blue and white ceramic face, not really a mask one could wear, and a golden paper maché one, unfortunately not traditional, but charming none the less, which you can see here.

Before we leave Venice I want to say a few words about its desperate situation. The population is decreasing, with tourism the only industry. The city is sinking dramatically, with flooding occurring more and more. In 1900 the city flooded 10 ten times a year. Acqua alta, high water or high tides, they call it. But now there are about 40 to 60 floods per year. At an expected cost of 4.3 billion euros, mobile barriers are to be built at the openings between the lagoon and the Adriatic Sea, which may or may not work and for how long, no one knows. The buildings are decaying and often the canals stink. But still the tourists come, not only for the uniqueness of this Italian jewel of the Adriatic, but for the monuments of an era of prosperity unlike any other in Italy. They also come to see the art works of the great Venetian painters like Tintoretto, Titian, the various members of the Bellini family, Veneziano, Canaletto. An international movement is trying desperately to save Venice. Who knows if they will succeed? But we will all lose something precious if they do not.

Five times in all I have visited Venice, twice with groups led by a young Venetian woman, born and brought up there, but now departed, as have her parents. La Serenissima, the most serene, as it is known, is a city like no other. Visit while you still can, it's worth it.

The graduation gift story will continue.

13 comments:

ipanema said...

Thanks for sharing this. The detailed description brought me there already.

That's very true, "travel while you still can". Ok Italy, you'll be on my list! It's been there for a long time I think. Hope one day it will come true. :)

Hootin'Anni said...

OH, I so envy you....for our kids graduations, we took them to Old Mexico....would I ever have loved to be with you and your family at the Guggenheim Museum!!! Wow!!

I'm here from the blogger over 50 blogroll. Hoping you have a glorious Sunday.

jmb said...

Hi ipanema,
I hope you get there someday too. As the Italians say vale la pena, it's worth it! My favourite place.
Regards
jmb

jmb said...

Hi H'anni,
Thanks for stopping by, Mexico is good too, but you can't beat Italy for the history.
Regards
jmb

Steve G said...

A facinating post. My wife and I have been to Venice twice. The first time with an Italian friend and the second time on a tour with my visiting brother and his wife. A place that everyone should visit at least once, before it is swallowed by the water.

jmb said...

Hi Steve,
Thank you. It is a wonderful place, except for the dog waste all over the streets. Seems to be getting worse every time I go.
Regards
jmb

Cathy said...

Thank you for another great story. I wish I could one day visit all these places you have been. but, I think living them through your stories will have to do...:)

Lee said...

Interesting post, jmb. I'd love to go to Venice, particularly around carnivale time. Did you go to "Harry's Bar" and have a Bellini or two? I always make Bellinis Christmas morning. I love them! :)

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Beautifully described, jmb and beautiful photos, too. I've visited Venice but not the Guggenheim Museum so was very interested in what you say about it. Must go back there one day.

jmb said...

Hi Cathy,
Well I hope you get there one day too. But we all have different places we want to visit and can't go everywhere.
Regards
jmb

jmb said...

Hi Lee,
I too think Venice at Carnivale time would be incredible. Sorry, I didn't get to Harry's Bar, not once in the five times. I'm a museum type myself.
Regards
jmb

jmb said...

Hi WCLC,
I'm afraid the old photo of the Guggenheim terrace leaves a lot to be desired. It is a bit faded and I had to scan it. The building is incredible, we really loved it and could imagine living there. Her guests arrived by gondala at the stairs you can see in the photo.
Regards
jmb

Mary said...

Wonderful - can't wait to get back there in July. A 91year old lady at our church is flying to Venice on Thursday this week to stay with her daughter who married a Venetian about 40 years ago - she's so looking forward to it. My daughter bought loads of ceramic masks which she displayed on her bedroom wall for many years. Your descriptions are truly wonderful. Thank you, Mary