Monday, April 02, 2007

Venice, Italy - 8-11/02/2007

In England, if it doesn't rain for three days, a water shortage is declared and lawn-watering is banned. Similarly, three centimetres of snow here are likely to touch off confusion, panic, chaos and train delays. Luckily, the train delays didn't happen this time, so we got to the laughably- and geographically-incorrectly-named Charleroi Brussels South Airport in plenty of time. With natural disaster averted, it was only right that we create our own.

After landing at Treviso, we attempted to take the Ryanair bus to Venice. Unfortunately, the only took cash and we had no cash. The only ATM was out of order and, at 12:40, the teller at the currency exchange shop had already decided that those extra 20 minutes he was supposed to work just weren't worth it. Luckily, we had just enough money to take a local bus to the
train station. From there, we took a train to Venice.

When we got there, maybe an hour later, we asked how to get to Marghera, where our hotel was situated, reportedly "10 minutes from Venice." The startled looks we got in reply didn't bode well. It took me a little while, but I finally figured it out: Venice in Italian is Venezia, but we were in Vicenza. You can see the problem. Another lengthy train ride later, we were in Venice, for real this time.

The final piece of good news was that our hotel was indeed 10 minutes from Venice, but by car. And 30 by bus, way out in some no-man's land of a tiny village on the edge of an industrial zone, on the continent. After empty, annoyance-fueled threats to the hotel clerk, we resigned ourselves to our fate, dropped off our luggage, got back on the bus and went into town. It must have been around six o'clock when we finally got there, and we walked around beneath a light, cold drizzle.

The Carnival was starting the following day, but the city seemed strangely empty. We strolled through a sparsely-populated San Marco Piazza and waited in line only a few minutes to get into the basilic. A few days later, on Sunday morning before heading back to the airport, we ventured to the piazza again to take in some of the Carnival festivities and only narrowly escaped death by crowd suffocation.

Aside from the city itself, its folded-membrane-like structure of tiny streets and canals and Raboso Piave wine (red, chilled, ever so slightly fizzy and tasty, just shy of being sweet), what I enjoyed most was the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. I'm not entirely sure, but I got the impression that she used to live in the canal-side appartment the exhibit is in. There were some photos of her lounging around that made me intensely jealous and admirative. Just because you can nonchalantly hang Picassos and Pollocks in your living room, doesn't mean it'll look good. Hers looked really good.

Kandinsky's "Empor" radiated an incredible, balanced peacefulness, quite different from the more explosive and aggressive work of his I've seen. I saw my first in-person Pollocks, too, but didn't get much more from the one drip-fest than I had looking at the cover of Free Jazz, which was pretty disappointing. My first live Mondrian, too, which was exciting. The painting, pared down to white, black lines and a dash of red at the bottom, was really funny. In a Dutch minimalist way, admittedly.

Lots of other great stuff informally scattered around (a Malevitch paired with something similar by another painter provided for an interesting contrast in the production of block colours, for example), another favourite being a Francis Bacon study: a chimpanzee on a box, with a
solid fuschia background, how could you not love it?

In the same room, two Giacomettis: a white, surprisingly full-figured woman suggested that he possessed a good-humoured side, while opposite, the eviscerated beetle titled "Woman With Her Throat Cut" battled that notion. Max Ernst's "La toilette de la mariée," I absolutely loved, unlike some of his (or Dali's) other more ponderously Symbolic/Surreal work on display. The mask aspect fit in with the city and the use of monsters reminded me of the great Hieronymus Bosch.

I'd discovered Bosch in Lisbon, and was delighted to encounter him again in the Palazzio Ducale. He's like a late 15th century Jim Henson. I can't imagine how his work was received at the time: it's as if he took all the scary bits from paintings, sculptures and Bible stories, threw them all together into outsize extravaganzas and them made them even more horrific. Special effects and horror movies tend to become quaint after a while, but Bosch's work seems really, really twisted, scary and overflowing with imagination, to me, even today. I bought a sort of magazine (in Italian - the proper books were way too expensive) about him, and it seems that he created blissful visions of Eden that were just as good. I bet he sucked at regular landscapes, though.