Saturday, May 28, 2011

Venice Part 3: Modern art and performance art

The Peggy Guggenheim Collection is housed in a little one storey Venician palace not far from our hotel.  It was supposed to be as big and grand as the palace it faces across the Grand Canal but for an unknown and much speculated reason (possibly the neighbours' influence in 18th century circles) it never got higher than the basement and ground floor.  Many many years later Peggy moved in and started to amass her collection around her.

From the street side you enter a little courtyard full of sculpture and statues,
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And then some more modern glass and mirrors

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I don't have a photo of my favourite; a wishing tree where wishes were written on little pieces of paper and hung off the branches. There were wishes for world peace, wishes for happiness, and wishes from all over the world. My wish was a little closer to home (I'm not telling or it won't come true).

Inside the rooms were cool and plainly decorated to show off the art to its best advantage.

I'm fairly picky about modern art so I skipped a few rooms that didn't have anything to hold me and lingered more in others. There's no photography allowed inside the rooms so these photos are borrowed with thanks from the Peggy Guggenheim website and the links underneath each will take you to the appropriate page.

Agostino Bonalumi's Black

(here) is one that I just wanted to get inside and have a good look at to see if it's really concave or whether it's just an illusion (it's concave and it moves around the room with you).

Lucio Fontana Spacial Concept

(here) which I spent ages staring at to decide whether the black is a painted stripe or a slit in the canvas.  Conclusion: a slit. I know that seeing it just as a picture you think 'oh anyone could do that, how can it be classed as art' but in the flesh there's something more to it; it's a very engaging piece of art if it was simply an artist's tantrum.

Hundertwasser Shelter
(here), the inspiration for a whole line of Regia yarn

Jackson Pollock Alchemy

(here) I've loved Jackson Pollock from afar for years but this was the first time I'd come face to face and it was completely wonderful. I could have spent hours looking at them, close up, far away, somewhere in the middle.

The photos are good but nothing can really convey the texture; it's chewy and thick and you just want to dig your fingers in and squish it. It's no wonder they've got all of them under glass.

I'm not sure what Kitty made of modern art; she liked the ones with bright colours and then she went for a little snooze in her carrier until we ended up back in the shop where she woke up to be petted and cooed over by the shop assistants.

And while she napped away the heat of each afternoon, I sat on our balconey and knit:
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I finished a little cardigan while we were there, and it's since gained some buttons and had a gentle block. Kitty had three new cardigans that need a photoshoot so I'll have to hope the sun's shining next time she's in an amenable mood.
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It was sunny every day until the last day when after we came back from our early morning trip to Piazza San Marco when the heavens opened, and there was a sudden need for brollies.
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H bought me a lovely red umbrella with little white hearts and a white frill and I loved it unreservedly. I twirled and sang singing in the rain and it was big enough to keep Kitty and I nice and dry all the way to her toes.
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It was too big to fit in the suitcase so we had to leave it in Italy and I was quite sad. H has promised me a replacement but I've got to do some serious research to find a proper replacement.

And now, to round off my picture tour to Venice I have one more photo. You see cruise ships come to Venice, towed in tightly fore and aft, rounding past San Giorgio Maggiori and down the Zattere to the sea port, and well, they're just a little disproportionate:

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Monday, May 23, 2011

Venice Part 2: Fish and Food

Venice isn't really known for wonderful food, and apparently the rest of Italy thinks it the country cousin on the gourmet front but either we hit lucky or it's more stereotype than truth because everything we had was wonderful.
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(four cheese pizza for lunch with a slice of brie on top)

Every evening we headed down to the seafront at Zattere and tried out the restaurants there.  I had turbot and aubergine, spaghetti and clams, fusilli with scallops and courgette, and a gorgeous aubergine pizza.  H found a wonderful steak which I think he had at least twice, and a series of pizzas and Kitty tried mouthfuls of our meals (minus the seafood) and laid waste to a bowl of veggie and the bread basket each night.
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And one night we sat next to an American couple who were very taken by Kitty (who was in full-on flirt and charm mode), and while we were talking to them their pudding arrived, and well, it was inevitable that we would follow suit:
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Creme Brulee, made with a slightly lemony custard that was one of the most delicious things I've ever eaten.

The source of all the lovely seafood became clear when Kitty and I explored the Rialto markets one morning.

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Coming from the Rialto bridge you meet the fruit and veg stalls first; heaving with ripe fruit and smelling sweet and clear.
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I think these were described as Sicilian tomatoes.  Whatever they were we bought a kilo (after my request for one was slightly misunderstood) and they were fantastic, sweet and juicy and perfect for Kitty who loves her tomatoes.
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From the fruit market you come around the corner to two tall stone buildings with giant canvas awnings over the arches.
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And inside is deep sea treasure
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It was amazing, and huge. If we ever go to Venice again I want to rent an apartment so that I can cook all sorts of wonderful fish every night.  Although given that I can identify only about half of what was there, perhaps it is better to let the restaurants do it.

All our wandering fully justified some extensive sampling of gellato. Our favourite came from a shop called Grund (no idea what it means) which did the best pink grapefruit sorbet, although a combination of tutti fruiti and pistachio from another shop on the seafront ran a close second.

Pistachio seemed to be one of my food of the trip.  Apart from the ice-cream, on our first morning out we bought a pan pistacchio,
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which while deliciously almondy and chocolate chippy
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perhaps spent a little too much time communing with the green food colouring, and if pistachios came near the mixture they went through on stilts.

And then we found what came to be my regular cake shop, with giant meringues in the window (seriously they're the size of a ball of sock yarn)
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These little sweets only just lasted long enough to be photographed, we have a ricotta custard slice on the left and a chocolate dipped fruit tart on the right.
One our final trip they hadn't put the little signs out saying what each cake was so I picked the most adventurous looking.
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This was the nicer of the two, chocolate, sponge soaked in some sort of booze and cream. Perfect for eating on the Vaperetto in pouring rain.
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And last but not least, my last cake in Venice, essentially a coconut macaroon on top of a chocolate tart. Bizarre but quite nice.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Real Wedding of the Year

Mary Batsgirl and her Evil Stevie got married yesterday in a lovely relaxed ceremony with plenty of family and friends to cheer them on.  It was both perfect and perfectly them and H, Kitty and I had a wonderful day.

We had the chance to hang out with old friends who I hadn't managed to see since before Kitty was born and we got to meet Clare (aka Jiva) in person for the first time which was fantastic.  Oh, and we all had our cameras there...

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The Dinosaur and the Lovely Other Dinosaur
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The Bride looking radiant (as well she might having walked down the aisle in gravity-defying platform heels).
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Kitty having a lovely cuddle from Rachel
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The cake - chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate! Our table had some of the dark bottom layer and it was amazing.
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The obligatory wedding photo - with someone else's back in it
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Expert cutlass-wielding by the happy couple
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Kitty enjoying yet more cuddles, this time from me (and full credit to H for taking the first ever photo in which I'm in focus!)

And now we come to the most serious set of photos.  Mary has been slaving away over her needles for months now making small purple rectangles, and we at last got to see them in all their glory:
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As sails on the pirate ships that decorated every table
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They all had different cable patterns and looked fantastic
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Especially when followed by a wake of chocolate coins or a treasure chest.
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As I've said before it was just right and our little family wishes you all the best as you set sail together (it wouldn't be me if I didn't go for the obvious pun would it!)

Friday, May 20, 2011

Twinned with Wolverhampton

We've just got back from a wonderful six days in a stunningly beautiful city:

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H's art teacher has an apartment in one of the outer islands of Venice and we travelled with a whole group of his fellow artists (and travelling spouses) for a three day outdoor sketching class, although we added in a little extra time to spend time as a family and for some flights expressly designed to coincide with Kitty's nap schedule (such as it is)
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Venice is loud and peaceful and busy and relaxed and always always colourful and as I want to do it justice I might have to do a little judicious dividing so that this doesn't end up being the world's longest blog post ever and crash the internets. (That and we live in a tiny village about as far away from the exchange as possible and Flickr and our broadband service must be allowed to commune for a while).
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I want to say that Venice is unique, that if you were plopped there suddenly you'd know exactly where you were in the world but because it's so low rise, all the buildings apart from churches and the occasional tower are about the same height or slightly lower, when you look across a canal it seems 2D; there's just nothing behind it to give perspective. Looking down the Grand Canal from the Accademia Bridge on the first evening we both decided that we were either in Venice, or on a really big film set, or possibly some casino in Vegas which H says has a mini Venice complete with canal all in a really big shed.

What you can't replicate on a film set is the atmosphere (and the smells). It might be warm breezes and bright sunshine going to my head but Venice seemed to us to have a very laid back atmosphere and with all of its little passages and twisty corners with a flash of water at the end it reminded me so much of Dartmouth (the nearest town to my parents in Devon); sea air, a relaxed attitude to life, and the kind of light that you only get where the sky bounces off sea, and stone, and pale painted houses.
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The buildings in Venice are beautiful in a 'chabby chic' kind of way.

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The underlying building will have classic proportions and graceful arches down to a boat dock, but then the paint's peeling on one side and the shutters are worn and faded.  And then you've got the graffiti. I don't know whether it's the locals, or tourists deciding to make their mark but just about every building has spray paint swirls along it somewhere
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and the bridges are all 'tagged' with little padlocks with names and dates.

I initially thought they were for artists to lock their bags to while they painted masterpieces but H assures me that it's the 'yoof' of today (and yes, I am almost 31, I can call teenagers 'yoof' from a verified position of antiquity).

Kitty and I went to Piazza San Marco on our first morning and found it hot, crowded, dirty and full of people milling about, people queueing to get into something special or people queueing to queue.  We gave it a wide berth after that until Sunday morning when H had a cunning plan and got us up at 5.30 to go and see the Piazza properly.
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It was cloudy and cool but it was also almost empty and we finally got the chance to see it as the architecture intended, and after H finished a quick sketch, and took a hundred or so pictures on my camera, we slipped through those enormous heavy doors for the 7am Mass at San Marco's.  I know that the sermon included the Italian for all (tutti), St John (San Giovanni) and St Mark (San Marco) but other than that I couldn't tell you what it was about. Kitty on the other hand thought it was marvellous.  So marvellous in fact that she started to chatter back (and at that point we made a reverent but hasty exit).
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To be honest we were so busy in the weeks leading up to our trip that we hadn't done the prep work we usually would have done and we entered Venice with some brief instructions on how to find the water bus from the airport and a small pocket Italian phrase book. By that point I'd made a conscious decision that I wasn't going to go here there and everywhere and try to cram every museum, every important building, and every painting into a five day trip. For one thing, Venice is a bit keen on buggy defying bridges and so by the time I had Kitty loaded in the carrier on my front and a backpack on the other side to carry the changing bag, and the suncream and the water and the baby water and a snack and the phrase book, and then the camera slung off to one side, I looked far too much like a pack pony to want to meander around a gallery.
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Instead we didn't bother with a map but set off in whatever direction we fancied, relying on the fact that Venice is a four direction city; there may be lots of little alleys but you're always turning at right angles so it you have a relatively good sense of direction and a good visual memory for places that you've been then you can't get lost.The only exception was a trip with Kitty to the Peggy Guggenheim collection.  Not what you'd expect in Venice but a really good collection of modern art - more on that another day.

One of the things we loved about our wandering was finding little quirky bits of Venice.
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Many of the window boxes overflowed with scarlet geraniums and may well have converted me to their merits, and that I'm confident I could grow successfully.

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I don't think anyone owns a whole house in Venice, it's all apartment buildings with gorgeous shiny brass doorbells
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to make a silly self portrait.

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Our hotel was on a little side canal on Dosoduro that ran from the Grand Canal down to Zattere (that's the view from our balcony on the first morning) and it was a perfect location, quiet and calm and out of the tourist bussle and yet five minutes from the bridge over to the exciting touristy bits and a quick walk down to Zattere where we sat on the seafront every night trying out a variety of restaurants for supper.  It was the Hotel American Dinesin and I cannot praise them highly enough.  We had a cot in out room for Kitty and every morning the maids would make up her bed and arrange her teddies in a little circle at one end for her, and in the breakfast room they brought us a really nice high chair with a decent tray and asked us whether there was anything special they could get her.  It's fair to say she had them wrapped around her little finger.
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Actually I think most of the Italians we met adored our little girl, we could scarecely go a 100 yards in some places without someone saying what a pretty baby she was (bella bambina), asking her name or age or tickling her feet. Kitty and I met one older gentleman on a ferry one morning who rescued her hat from flying off into the canal and H got a huge surprise later that evening when we walked past him again in front of a bar and he rushed up to say hello again.
Zattere is the bottom of one of the main islands of Venice and it runs as a long seafront all the way from the entrance to the grand canal and San Salute to the port for the cruise ships at the other.  We tried to eat up by the Rialto bridge one night but it was too crazy busy and after waiting for what felt like hours for service we scooted back to one of our favourites.
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Most of the restaurants have very little space inside and we ate on pontoons built out into the canal.  It's much more glamourous than it sounds I promise.
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And as the sun set we could watch the skies and see the lights come on across the way and it was perfect.  I can see why it's such a honeymoon destination, and we could spot the honeymoon couples a mile away (hand in hand, he dressed normally, she in something chic - usually a smart dress and pretty sandals) but I think it was great for our little family.
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I'll come back another time to show and tell more about the food because that deserves a post of it's own, but for know all I have to say if that if you don't know Wolverhampton let's just say it's punching above its weight.