Sunday, 22 October 2006


Venetian Wall (Oil on canvas, 40 x 40 cms)
I went to Venice for a week in 1997. This painting was one of the results of that trip and I've wanted to go back ever since. Earlier this year, I sold a picture for a decent price, so Patsy123 and I decided it was time to go back, this time for two weeks.

These are just some thoughts I wrote down shortly after our return

Venice was everything I remembered and more. I think I could happily live there. Even the heavy rain we got in the last couple of days didn't put me off. Indeed, while Buddy K and his wife were with us for a few days, we were hatching a plot to go back for a visit in the Winter (of some unspecified year).

The little bridges over the canals showed up a minor disadvantage of roller-cases. "These damn bridges," said an exasperated American tourist. "Why didn't they just build everything on the same level?" By which I guess she meant they should have raised the ground level by at least twenty feet - this, in a city where the ground level is already supported on piles driven into mud.

We wandered for hours every day, side-tracked by little alleys that might lead to a dead-end or a canal, but could just as easily open out into a delightful little campo, with kids playing in the pools of rainwater.

The Jesuits were not popular in Venice during the Republic, but when they were eventually given more permanent status, they really pushed the boat out in building their first church there - Gesuiti. It's the most vulgar palace of kitsch imaginable. They coated the entire inside with green and white marble, inlaid so as to look like the finest curryhouse flock wallpaper. And the balconies have huge swags of drapery all carved from green and white marble. The weight of all this grandiosity means that the church has suffered from subsidence ever since

Looking at paintings took up a greater part of the trip this time.

The Peggy Guggenheim is always worth a visit - Max Ernst's "Robing of the Bride," Picasso's "On the Beach" and Robert Motherwell's "Personage," to name but three I was glad to see again.

And the great collection in The Accademia. Amongst the many treasures there, of course, is Paolo Veronese's "Feast in the House of Levi" which eventually inspired a Monty Python (or was it Secret Policeman's Ball) sketch

But this time, ah this time I got to see the Tintorettos. After a spell-binding time with Titian's "Assumption of the Virgin" in the Frary, we went round the corner to the Scuola Grande di San Rocco. Blimey. After agreeing to the contract for the first painting there, Tintoretto (who,incidentally, is alleged to have been able to tell the difference between forty different reds) accepted a commission to spend his life filling the place with yet more. There are somewhere around sixty pictures by him .And all of them breathtakingly daring in their use of composition, perspective and light.

I like the description in The Rough Guide of the first picture to greet you as you enter (although it was painted in later life):

The tempestuous 'Annunciation', with the Archangel crashing into the room through Joseph's shambolic workshop, trailing a tornado of cherubim...

... scaring the life out of Mary who was getting on with her sewing. You can see the picture here.

The trip was not without its mishaps. I'd completely forgotten about the Mosquito Menace, and was bitten rather badly before we could get to a pharmacy to buy preventative measures and oils and unguents. Even with those, however, they got to me, and I do tend to respond rather unfavourably. As a result of a bite on my finger, I woke up in the middle of the night with a hugely swollen finger and a signet ring inclined to cut off the blood supply. I managed to keep it from turning blue, but had to find a jeweller the next day who could cut off the ring for me

A couple of days later, I woke up with my face badly swollen on the left side. Took two or three days for the swelling to go down with the aid of yet more stuff from the pharmacy and I was forced to go round with what, in my childhood days, would have earned me the ultimate insult - a fat fyess.

Later in the holiday, I evidently let one of the little buggers get up my right trouser leg when out to dinner. The next day I had 8 bites on the leg which gradually developed into coffee-saucer sized scarlet areas of painful itch

Despite all of this, I never wished I was anywhere else. One day we went to the Lido to look at some rather neglected Art Nouveau houses. Within minutes of getting there, we were pissed off with the automobile traffic and yearning to getting back to Venice itself where you can wander about and never think of getting run over.

Oh, and just about everything else. One night, the four of us went to a concert in Chiesa San Vidal in Campo San Stefano. Given by a group called Interpreti Veneziani who performed Vivaldi's Four Seasons, a Mozart piece and Folies d'Espagne by Marin Marais. It was splendid -- especially the Four Seasons, each of which were led in turn by one of the four violinists; and the Marais, when the cellist took centre stage and played the cello with every inch of his body, flinging his sweat-soaked long hair at the audeince

And then there were the bottles of Prosecco, glasses of spritz with Campari, plates of fegato, bowls of fish soup overflowing with mussels, clams, prawns, squid, and langoustine, excellent grilled sea bream, buns and pies, the fun of travelling everywhere by vaporetto, and above all, helpful pleasant people who never seemed to feel it was more than their job's worth to help where they could

I can't wait to go back

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