Food Buzz

Because maybe you do care what I had for lunch...

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Venice, Part III

Janet and JaneAnne are right about visiting Europe in the winter. Last time I was in Venice was nearly a dozen years ago at the height of the tourist season, July. It was completely overrun with tourists. This time we were practically the only tourists around -- it was just us and the Venetians carrying on with their lives. Venice has mild weather in general, though you do need to prepare for the acqua alta -- rains can flood the city sometimes.

Our next day (Wednesday) took us just outside of Venice. We took a bus to Padua to see the Scrovegni Chapel (also known as the Arena Chapel) with its sublime frescoes by Giotto. I didn't take any pictures, but you can sort of get an idea from this website. The photos don't do the chapel justice -- those blue walls and ceiling are transporting. I was taken with the intimate emotionality of the paintings -- these little moments, from the kiss between Joachim and Anna to the anguish of the mothers as their infants are murdered.

We had a while to digest this experience on the bus as we traveled to Vincenzia to see the Villa Rotunda. It's located on a hill, and you can just see a monastery in the distance. Following that we had a delicious meal at Osteria Jodo in Maser -- more about that later.

After our lengthy lunch we concluded the day at Palladio's Villa Barbaro. For me, Verocchio's gorgeous frescoes completely upstaged the architecture. Yet I chose to photograph this sette. It's attractive enough, but what the hell was I thinking?!?

On Thursday we were on our own, so Jasper and I toured the world-famous herberia and fish markets while Lane went to the Accademia. I dearly wanted to bring home some of these beautiful, long-leafed radicchio, especially since it's the specialty of the season, but at least I got to try some at one of our dinners.

Then Jasper and I sought out a pastry shop I'd read about, Pasticceria Collusi, where I bought some of their tasty doughnut-shaped cookies (a little like shortbread, but not as rich and sweet -- wonderful). They had cakes and cakes of focaccia Veneziana, a heavenly-smelling sweet bread. I wanted to buy one to take to Geneva with us, but I didn't think it would survived the voyage. Oh well, sigh, perhaps next time we're in Venice.

But here I am talking about food and I said I would hold off. Following our separate adventures Lane and I went to Piazza San Marco and, after observing the awful swarms of pigeons we toured the Doges Palace.

By this point we were suffering sensory overload. Seriously, those of us who grew up in suburban America in the late 20th Century -- we're not used to seeing this much art and this many highly decorative surfaces. In fact, our trip to Venice got me thinking about this situation.

America has had a love affair with the plain and simple since its beginning, save for the Victorian era and that brief flirtation with psychedelia. Particularly since the second half of 20th century it's been straight lines and even surfaces. Add to that our lack of a painting tradition relative to Europe -- do we even know how to look at decorative surfaces intelligently? We cling to "mid-century modern" and the like because its the shortcut to stylish, modern, and tidy interiors, but do we also cling to it because we don't trust ourselves to do anything more visually complex?

These ideas are simplistically put here but it's a subject I've been meditating on and that I'd like to return to at length sometime this year. Back to Venice.

Our adventures continued that evening -- we had cocktails with a countess! A couple in our party met this countess at a party in Rome, and she invited them to visit while in Venice. It just happens that she is also a childhood friend to Piero of our pennsione. One thing led to another and we were all invited to see a real Venetian palace inhabited by the same family since the 16th century! It was filled with all sorts of little painting treasures and had a spectacular view of the Palazzo Grassi. In fact, it was the best way to see Olafur Eliasson's fun light sculpture. The countess was very sweet.


janeannechovy said...

I read about Olafur Eliasson in the New Yorker, and then last week saw one of his pieces (a big stainless-steel bouquet-looking thing) at the Baltimore Museum of Art (there was also a really cool installation with styrofoam peanuts, garage door openers and blowers). Love him.

Anonymous said...

If we ever make it there, we'll have to go in Winter. I can tolerate crowds but after awhile I get a nagging headache.

I would love to see these pieces up close and personal. I love your makes me feel like I'm there.