Monday, 7 January 2019

Vocal Skyline Rocks the Frari on Epiphany - Venice, Italy

Vocal Skyline rocks the Frari - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) Vocal Skyline, the Venetian choral group, rocked the Frari on Epiphany, kicking off the New Year with a seismic shift. It was the most astonishing concert I have ever seen in a church on a sacred holiday, with tunes by Michael Jackson, Abba, Queen, Cold Play -- even "Mad World" by Gary Jules -- mixed in with more traditional fare, all somehow fitting profoundly into the theme of the Epiphany, updated for contemporary ears. Thanks to the creative team of  Cristina Pustetto, Marco Toso Borella and Giacomo Franzoso, the sold-out audience was brought to its feet.

It took over a century to build the immense Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, which  was consecrated in 1492 -- back when Christopher Columbus was sailing the ocean blue, just about to discover the New World -- to put things into perspective. The Frari is full of singular masterpieces like Titan's Assumption and the tomb of Canova. The cavernous interior makes for some extraordinary acoustics.

Vocal Skyline - Frari - Photo: Cat Bauer
Vocal Skyline not only sings, they move. The lighting is dramatic. Director Marco Toso Borella is a dynamo -- jumping, clapping, singing, dancing -- conducting the group with one hand in heaven and the other on earth, with Giacomo Franzoso rocking it on the keyboard. The whole production was a refreshing way to celebrate the Epiphany, the day the three Magi visit the Christ child.

Have a listen:



There were plenty of disappointed people outside the door who did not make it inside, so if you are in Venice, check out the Vocal Skyline site to see when they next plan to put on a show. The tickets are free, but to be sure of getting a seat, pick them up at least the day before the performance, if not sooner. 


After Christmas in Venice, there is a short pause before we segue to Carnevale. The show must go on...

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Happy New Year 2019 from Venice, Italy! (And what about that new arrival tax?)

Happy New Year from Venice, Italy - Photo by Cat Bauer

(Venice, Italy) We start the New Year in Venice with the news that a new law has passed, and day-tripping tourists will now be charged a fee from €2.5 to €5 -- up to €10 during the highest season -- to enter the city. It is not yet clear exactly how the fee will be implemented, but anything to ease the burden off residents, to me, is a good thing.

Last year the living situation in Venice was unbearable. Cruise ships, busloads and boatloads full of day-trippers dumped off people in Venice for just the day with more gusto than ever. These somnambulant masses moved through the city in huge hordes led by unorganized tour guides, and clogged up the calli, bought next to nothing, ate fast food, and left tons of trash in their wake. Their goal seemed to be to take selfies to post on social media and score more likes. If these masses paid an arrival tax, it would help to compensate for the destruction they cause.

Luigi Brugnaro, the Mayor of Venice, said the money for the arrival tax will go to increasing the amount of work for trash collectors and street sweepers, the overtime of firefighters and to reduce taxes to encourage more residents to stay put in town and stop the exodus from the historic center. “The arrival tax is now law,” he said. “We will establish a balanced and shared regulation that protects those who live, study and work in the territory.”

Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro accompanies workers to collect trash - Photo: Città di Venezia
Due to its unique structure, trash collection in Venice must be done by hand and by boat. It is extremely expensive, and residents have long paid far too much to keep the city clean. There are just over 50,000 residents and about 30 million tourists every year.

The trash collectors in Venice are like family; they come to our doors every morning, rain, shine or acqua alta, with a cheerful greeting to start the day. This has been a pet project for Brugnaro, who wanted to cut down on the amount of seagulls, mice and rats that feast on the garbage. The result has been that, for two years in a row, Venice has scored first place of all metropolitan cities in Italy for separating trash into recyclables; dry waste is transformed into solid fuel and used to produce electricity.

Do I agree with everything that Brugnaro does? No, but I have seen with my own eyes that the city is much cleaner under the new system, and if the mayor does something positive for Venice, it must be acknowledged.

Unlike the dramatic headlines of flooded Venice that blare across the media, this type of positive news never seems to reach the international press, nor is it a topic of discussion by out-of-towners on social media who prefer to quibble over garbled definitions of the "arrival tax" in the English-language press.

Is New York City an "open city?" Is San Francisco? If you want to enter New York City, every vehicle must pay Port Authority a toll every single time it enters; without an E-ZPass it is $15. (It is free to get out:-) That sure sounds like an "admission fee" to me. In addition, NYC has many hotel taxes - Occupancy fee, Occupancy tax, Hotel unit fee - going toward this and that. Or take San Francisco -- it costs between $4.75 to $8.00 to go over the Golden Gate Bridge, which turns a profit. In addition, hotel fees in San Francisco include a 14% occupancy tax, a 0.195% "California Tourism" fee plus a 1.5 to 2.25% "Tourism Improvement District" assessment. Why should Venice be any different? I see no reason why Venice cannot charge day-trippers an "arrival tax," "entry toll," "admission fee," or whatever you want to call it in English for the added costs the huge influx of tourists add to the maintenance of this city. (I would imagine that you would still be able to jog over the causeway and enter for free.) 

In any event, I really hope it works.  It is one step to prioritizing those of us who actually have real lives here in Venice, with real problems, not faraway fantasies conjured up by romance novels and picture books. Venice is the most beautiful city in the world, but it is because a lot of people work hard to keep it that way, and, in reality, that costs money.

May your New Year be bold, bright and beautiful with lots of positive energy and a renewed spirit of cooperation!

Happy New Year from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Tuesday, 25 December 2018

Merry Christmas from Venice! 2018

Merry Christmas from Venice 2018 - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) Venice is a Catholic city, with churches in every campo, and bells atop steeples ringing hourly throughout the town. Founded in 421 A.D. just around the time of the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, Venice naturally leaned toward the East to the Byzantium Empire in Constantinople, whose official state religion was Christianity. Its isolated position and seafaring merchant nobility allowed Venice to create a unique brand of Catholicism, with its own myths and traditions, which I just love.   

Basiica of San Marco just before Midnight - Photo: Cat Bauer
Saint Mark the Evangelist is Venice's patron saint. His relics are in the Basilica of San Marco in Piazza San Marco. His symbol, the winged lion, is everywhere in the city -- even on the Venetian flag. Saint Mark wrote the Gospel according to Mark, and founded the Christian Church of Alexandria in Alexandria, Egypt, one of the most important centers of Hellenistic civilization, and the intellectual and cultural center of the ancient world.

In 828 A.D., a couple hundred years after the Muslim conquest of Egypt, some Venetian merchants went down to Alexandria, stole Saint Mark's body, and brought him here to Venice after they learned that the Muslims were plundering Christian churches and turning them into mosques.

Jesus Christ on the Pala D'Oro
Saint Mark's tomb is on the high altar inside the Basilica of San Marco right below the Pala D'Oro. During the High Holy Days like Christmas, the Pala D'Oro, the "Golden Cloth," is turned toward the congregation, its Byzantine enamel sparkling with gold and silver and precious jewels. Combined with the soaring voices of the choir, the exotic scent of the incense and the glow of the candles, it is one of the most magical and spiritual places to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ during Midnight Mass.
For what shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?
---Jesus Christ, Mark 8:36
Merry Christmas from Venice,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Saturday, 22 December 2018

The Italy of Photographers - 24 Artists' Tales at the New M9 Museum in Mestre-Venezia

Italy of Photographers at M9 - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) The Italy of Photographers. 24 Artists' Tales is the first temporary exhibition specially developed for the new M9 Museum, a structural masterpiece designed by Sauerbruch Hutton that has transformed the heart of Mestre. Curated by Denis Curti, the distinguished art director of Casa dei Tre Oci, the exhibition in the enormous space on the third floor of the museum examines the 20th century as seen through Italian photography.

I wrote about M9 a couple of weeks ago:

M9, the New Multimedia Museum of the 20th Century in Mestre, will Blow Your Mind


M9 Staircase - Photo: Cat Bauer
The contributions of 24 singular Italian photographers capture their own perspective of 20th century Italy, each one adding their unique story with a specific project. For example, the revolutionary Venetian psychiatrist Franco Basaglia chose images shot by Gianni Berengo Gardi and Carla Cerati that documented the tragic conditions of mental institutions and included them in his 1969 book Dying of Class, a militant essay that would result in the landmark passage of Law 180 or the "Basaglia Law," which closed down all of Italy's psychiatric hospitals, replacing them with a range of community-based services of rehabilitation and prevention. The Basaglia Law had worldwide impact after other countries followed the Italian model.

The 24 Photographers
From Letizia Battaglia's Mafia in Palermo to Gabriele Basilico's Milan. Portraits of Factories to Mario De Biasi's The Fifties, all 24 artists allow us to see Italy through his or her eyes and lens.

In addition to the photographs on display, the exhibition includes a vast documentary archive about each individual artist, including video-interviews and documentaries, as well as about 100 books that the public can browse.

Denis Curti - 24 Artists' Tales - Photo: Cat Bauer
The exhibition is accompanied by a beautiful catalogue published by Marsilio. From the introductory essay by Denis Curti:

"Seen all together, these photographs design a 'tranvsersality' that contributes to understanding the future. No prediction. Such 'transversality' does not just contain information. More importantly, it contains an invitation to look at the world from different points of view. And often, also present is a stage that, amidst lights and shadows, suggest what generated the change. Because photography is no doubt an ambiguous language, but it is also a concentrator of relationships and a distributor of doubts. In this sense, perhaps the photographers represented in this exhibition were never modern. At most, they were always advanced, the anticipators of a future time, pertinent narrators, the builders of emotional perimeters, capable of seeing memory as a prejudice. 
In the end, the leitmotif in all these stories is enclosed in that precise desire to give up the urge to say more than what reality actually holds within. 
It is the awareness of those who well know that if a thing is not photographed, then that thing does not exist. Because the world, seen from close up, always looks new and different."

The Italy of Photographers. 24 Artists' Tales opened to the public today and runs through June 16, 2019. Go to M9 for more information. (At the time of this writing, the English translation had not yet been posted.)

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

The Beat Goes on at Hotel Danieli in Venice

Christmas Tree at Hotel Danieli - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) American literature had always fascinated the Italian writer Fernanda Pivano (1917-2009) ever since she was young. She made her mark by translating the strange words coming from the States into Italian, opening up her countrymen's minds to what was happening across the ocean. She hung out with Hemingway and Bob Dylan, and brought the radical words of the Beat Generation to Italy, becoming a crucial part of their revolution.

On Tuesday evening, December 11, I was a guest for the performance of Art/Beat - from the Beat Generation to Contemporary Art presented at Palazzo Dandolo, better known as Hotel Danieli. The spectacular 14th century hall was transformed into a stage, and we were treated to excerpts from Allen Ginsburg's Howl, Jack Kerouac's On the Road, and William S. Burroughs' Junkie and Naked Lunch, daring landmarks that liberalized the publishing industry in the United States.

Howl, which Ginsberg began writing  in 1954 and published in 1956, is considered one of the great works of American literature, and starts off like this:

 I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz,
who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and saw Mohammedan angels staggering on tenement roofs illuminated,
who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes hallucinating Arkansas and Blake-light tragedy among the scholars of war,
who were expelled from the academies for crazy & publishing obscene odes on the windows of the skull,
who cowered in unshaven rooms in underwear, burning their money in wastebaskets and listening to the Terror through the wall, ...

Art/Beat at Hotel Danieli - Photo: Cat Bauer
The show was directed once again by Lorenzo Maragoni, with performances by Giulia Briata and Josh Lonsdale, who also was responsible for the text -- which included a meeting where Fernanda Pivano and Jack Kerouac battled wits. Giorgio Gobbo crooned tunes of the times accompanied by his guitar -- the same crew that brought us the Shakespeare evening last month:

Juliet texts emojis but Romeo forgets his smartphone: Shakespeare in Venice at Hotel Danieli



I will confess that I had a bit of a difficult time accepting the tall, thin, blond, waspy British Josh Lonsdale's interpretation of the heavy-set bearded gay Jew from New Jersey, Allen Ginsberg, who I actually met many years ago, having grown up in New Jersey myself. And the "howl" was more like a "meow," not ripped from the actual anguish of someone like Ginsberg who was born into such a time and place. (Although I was alive, and in the same place, even I was too young to fully grasp the war in Vietnam.) However, Lonsdale did an admirable job in trying to understand the situation on an intellectual level, several generations down the road. I applaud him as a talented 26-year-old from an utterly different culture (UK) trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together in yet another utterly different culture (Italy). He has a curious mind, and is an interesting writer, and is off to a good start. 

Afterwards, the excellent cocktail dinner by Executive Chef Alberto Fol featured themed plates like "Anarchist Organic Chicken" "Peace & Love Prawns and "On the Road Lasagnette." To me, the best was the "Beat Baccalà (codfish) with cannellini bean cream -- I had two helpings, it was so delicious. The service was excellent, with empty plates being whisked away moments after they were enjoyed. There was plenty of champagne and wine -- even vin brule for the season -- and divine desserts. 

Peace & Love Prawns - Photo: Cat Bauer
Right now, Hotel Danieli is all decked out for the holidays, looking elegant and homey, with a real Christmas tree whose scent wafts through the lobby. Venice is spectacular these days, with few tourists and many friends home for the holidays. Mixing such a rebellious topic with the holiday spirit against the grand backdrop of Palazzo Dandolo was a bit revolutionary in itself, but somehow it worked, and a splendid time was had by all.

Art/Beat - from Beat Generation to Contemporary Art is part of a collaboration between the Hotel Danieli, the Teatro Stabile del Veneto and the Chamber of Commerce of Venice and Rovigo, a cultural project whose aim is to promote Venice's uniqueness and cultural and artistic heritage

We were informed during the dinner that there will be another performance in February -- what the show will be remains a secret, so stay tuned!

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Sunday, 2 December 2018

M9, the New Multimedia Museum of the 20th Century in Mestre, will Blow Your Mind

M9 - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) Two Venetians that I greatly respect told me that I had to go to the opening of M9, the new multimedia Museum of the 20th Century in Mestre because it was the most exciting thing to happen in a long time. I resisted because I think Mestre is one of the least attractive cities I have ever seen, especially from the point of view of someone who lives in Venice, the most beautiful city in the world.

Well, I went. M9 is something so astonishing, revolutionary and impressive that it is difficult to put the experience into words. It has completely transformed the heart of Mestre. I was there for five hours, and did not even see half of it. In fact, I will let the late Cesare De Michelis, the respected editor of Marsilio Editori who published the catalogue, explain better than I can:

"M9 is precisely this: a large-scale metropolitan urban intervention encapsulating the creation of a multi-functional and socially, economically, and culturally integrated complex in via Poerio featuring a shopping center, offices, and architecture distinguished by a categorically contemporary and strongly authorial design centered on edutainment, as still rarely experienced in Italy. 
...The truth is that it is not a museum and should not even try to be one. It is a game, an adventure, a labyrinth, something that cannot be seen in its entirety. As with an encyclopedia, you move from one entry to another, along a route that follows personal inclination and curiosity. Were it an encyclopedia of the twentieth century, it would have to be lived, read, touched, walked up and down."

De Michelis commented on the sorry state of Mestre due to its rapid, chaotic development:

"The modern approach operated without rules or planning, spread like wildfire, overcame resistance and obstacles, and ignored all notions of aesthetics and functionality. The result is there for all to see -- Veneto's first new city, the largest and most populous, became a housing and accommodation mass defined by its poor quality and lack of services. ...Increasing discontent led to four referendums on the separation of mainland Venice from its insular, lagoon-based twin and, in the 1970s, the mainland city began to look like unfinished business in need of redevelopment and freedom from too many polluting and degrading constraints."

M9 - Photo: Cat Bauer
M9 is the flagship project of the Fondazione di Venezia, which invested 110 million euros(!) in the relaunch and development of mainland Venice. Polymnia Venezia, a special-purpose vehicle of the Foundation, was responsible for its creation and development.

Designed by the Berlin office of Sauerbruch Hutton, M9 was presented during FREESPACE, the 16th International Architecture Exhibition of the Venice Biennale curated by Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara. If you saw the Sauerbruch Hutton offering at La Biennale, you must see what an architectural project looks like when it actually comes to life. It is mind-blowing.

Courtyard of former convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie - Photo: Cat Bauer
There are seven buildings, three of which were newly constructed on property that once belonged to the military. There is a 280 square meter (over 3,000 square feet) cinema/auditorium on the ground floor with 200 seats with Virtual Reality visors. There is an awesome staircase that leads to the permanent exhibitions on the first and second floors, then up to the immense space on the third floor for temporary exhibitions. The basement is for technical spaces, storage and parking. It is running on solar energy produced by 276 solar panels. There are 63 geothermal probes that produce 100% of heating and 40% of cooling energy. Six new pedestrian routes connect the space to the rest of the town, plus there are four large spaces for events.

Maria Elisabetta Alberti Casellati, President of the Italian Senate - Photo: Cat Bauer
There were plenty of dignitaries in attendance, including Maria Elisabetta Alberti Casellati, the President of the Italian Senate, the first woman to have ever held the position; Alberto Bonisoli, the current Minister of  Culture, and Luigi Brugnaro, the current Mayor of Venice. Brugnaro said that "M9 was a museum of the Italian people," and thanked the former mayor Massimo Cacciari, under whose leadership the project had originated, for all he had done, saying that Cacciari was not able to attend, but sent his regards.

In the catalogue, Guido Guerzoni, Project Manager and CEO Polymnia Venezia describes his satisfaction that despite difficulties along the way "the original museum project has remained almost unaltered...." and uses strong words to describe the impact of social media, fake news and the Internet upon genuine knowledge and research:

"A museum is not a company or a space designed for amusement or leisure. It is, quite literally, a house in which to learn and be shaped, to forge the values of citizenship and promote the benefits of on-going education. It is a mission that can be pursued in many ways -- some engaging and fun, with the strongest possible focus on the needs of all audiences -- but one that a serious institution never loses sight of because its fulfilment equates to having the utmost respect for our personal raison d'etre. Something that is being threatened by a rising scorn for historical truth, intellectuals, memory professionals, and institutions that protect and promote memory, at a time when the most superficial form of self-learning ("I read it on the Internet") believes it can compete with knowledge gained through decades of study, where a Facebook post carries the same weight as a carefully researched scientific or academic article, where experts are branded insufferable blowhards, and the 'mainstream media' are corrupt hucksters peddling fake news."

M9 - Photo: Cat Bauer

THE PERMANENT MUSEUM


So, what, exactly, is inside this museum that challenges the concept of what, exactly, constitutes a museum?

From the press notes:

"The twentieth century was the century of greatest contradictions: incredibly rapid improvements in the quality of life for millions of people went hand in hand with the most terrible tragedies.

In just over a hundred years -- just a blip in the history of humanity -- the entire planet changed forever: the countryside was abandoned as cities expanded, cures were found for many diseases, life lasted longer and education spread further, work became lighter and resources increased, democracy took hold and human and social rights were defended.

But the twentieth century was also a time of the most horrific barbarities: two world wars with millions of dead, the destruction of entire countries, the Holocaust, genocides, nuclear bombs, widespread pollution and environmental catastrophes.

Italy was no exception. The twentieth century disrupted the way of life of its people, which had remained much the same since Roman times: at the time of Unification in 1861, there was nothing to suggest the huge leap forward that was on its way. At the same time, Italy suffered two world wars and two decades of dictatorship, the loss of rights, persecutions and all-out civil wars. All these contradictions shaped the Italy we live in today, and they formed our lifestyles, and our culture and identity."

Mastering Italian at M9 - Photo: Cat Bauer
M9 uses the pronoun "we" to describe the exhibition from a first-person Italian point of view, and is broken down into eight different sections, each with its own curator, and is presented in both Italian and (thankfully) English:


  • 1. THE WAY WE WERE -- THE WAY WE ARE. Demographics and social structures
  • 2. THE ITALIAN WAY OF LIFE. Consumption, traditions and lifestyles
  • 3. THE RACE TO THE FUTURE. Science, technology, innovation
  • 4. MONEY MONEY MONEY. Economics, work, production, and well-being
  • 5. LOOKING AROUND. Landscapes and urban habitats
  • 6. RES PUBLICA. The State, institutions, politics
  • 7. MAKING THE ITALIANS. Education, training and information
  • 8. WHO WE ARE. What makes us feel Italian


It is a complex maze, and feels just as De Michelis described, like wandering around an encyclopedia. My point of view as an American is utterly different from someone who is Italian and lived in 20th-century Italy where war was reality, not an ocean away and before my lifetime. For me, it was a great immersive experience to see life through Italian eyes, and I think everyone who visits Italy should visit M9 to gain some knowledge. Much of M9 is interactive, with games, Virtual Reality, surround cinema, etc., so it really is like a educational multi-media encyclopedia.

M9 - Photo: Cat Bauer
I gained a new respect for how responsible minds and hearts can still come together to create museums in the current climate as "an antidote to the poison spread by ignorance and dishonesty," as Guerzoni writes. I was concerned that the new hostels and hotels being built in Mestre would create even more mass tourism in Venice, but perhaps tourists seeking an educational experience will spend some time gaining knowledge at M9 instead, learning more about the Italian culture they are visiting. For sure it is a positive step to improving the conditions in Mestre. You can be certain that I will visit the Museum of the 20th Century again.

Go to M9 for more information.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog