Sunday, April 27, 2014

More Venetians than Tourists in Piazza San Marco and Open Arsenale

Human Rose in Piazza San Marco, April 25, 2014
(Venice, Italy) April 25th is Italian Liberation Day, which commemorates the end of the Second World War. But in Venice, long before there was a united Italy, April 25th was the Feast of Saint Mark, Venice's patron saint. On that day, during the Festa del Bocolo, or "Festival of the Rose Blossom," men give a single rose to the women they love -- their wives, girlfriends, friends, mothers, aunts -- any woman they care about. And behind that tradition is a wonderful Venetian legend.

This year, to celebrate the day, about 1,000 residents took to Piazza San Marco to create a human rose. It was part of an ongoing project by the Venetian artist Elena Tagliapietra and the Venetian author, Alberto Toso Fei to bring alive stories and traditions of Venice's past in 13 different venues -- the rose was the sixth event. Toso Fei read the legend of the rose in three languages -- Italian, English and Venetian -- while volunteers, including yours truly, formed a magnificent rose in the center of the square after having the red rose painted on our faces.

Cat Bauer & The Rose Tattoo
Here is the story:

A noblewoman, Maria Partecipazio, and a troubadour, Tancredi, fell in love. But Maria was the daughter of the Doge, and marriage to a troubadour would never have her father's approval. In order to overcome the social class differences, Tancredi went off to war to find glory and raise himself to the higher social level of his beloved. 

He served as a valiant soldier under Charles the Great in the war against the Moors, but, unfortunately, was mortally wounded. As he lay dying in a pool of blood by a bed of red roses, he plucked a rose for Maria Partecipazio and asked his comrade, Orlando, to take the blossom to his beloved Lady in Venice, stained with his blood. 

Orlando kept his vow, and arrived in Venice the day before the Feast of Saint Mark. He gave the rose to Maria Partecipazio as the last message of love from the dying Tancredi. The next morning, Maria Partecipazio herself was found dead, the red rose lying on her heart, finally joined with her beloved in the celestial world. Since that time, Venetian lovers use the symbol of the red rose blossom to pledge their love. 

So, creating the human rose in Piazza San Marco is a symbol to remind the world how much Venetians deeply love their city. After we took the photo the people in the bell tower waved to us on the ground, and the rose people waved back. We waved and waved until everyone broke into spontaneous applause; then we clapped and clapped, and it really was an emotional, beautiful moment.

Later that afternoon, Venetians from all over the Veneto defied an order not to gather in Piazza San Marco and arrived waving their flags. On March 16th, the same day that Crimea voted to secede from the Ukraine, the Veneto had symbolically voted to secede from Italy, sending a strong message to Rome that they felt overtaxed and unappreciated. Luca Zaia, the President of the Veneto Region, gave his full support to the demonstration, saying that it was not political but a manifestation of identity. "Seeking to ban the party of the Veneto from the heart of the Veneto -- Piazza San Marco -- on the feast day of Saint Mark, is not only incomprehensible, but offensive and insensitive."

Lucio Chiavegato, a secessionist who had been released from prison last Friday for allegedly plotting to take over Piazza San Marco with a homemade tank (click to read the story in The Local), arrived with his wife to attend mass in the Basilica of San Marco with Patriarch Francis Moraglia, saying "we have invoked the protection of Saint Mark, which makes us free from the occupying State."

View from Austrian tower
Meanwhile, down at Arsenale, Rome meets Venice halfway. On February 6, 2013, Italy gave Venice back a chunk of Arsenale, the enormous area where the Venetian Republic once was able to whip out up to two ships per day. For the past three days, April 25 to 27, much of Arsenale has been open to the public. Called Arsenale Aperto alla Città or "Arsenal Open to the City," the different entities that are now based in the Arsenale decided it would be a good idea to let the residents know what was going on down there.

A collaboration between the City of Venice, ACTV (the vaporetto and bus system), VELA (part of ACTV, which distributes tickets to Venice's cultural organizations through HELLO VENEZIA) Consorzio Venezia Nuova (the State Concessionary for the protection of Venice and its Lagoon, whose head ended up imprisoned for corruption), La Biennale (Venice's international artistic organization) Magistrato alle Acque (Venice's water authority), Instituto di Studi Militari Marittimi (the Maritime Military Institute) and Thetis (a consultancy and system integrator company, controlled by Consorzio Venezia Nuova), the event included conferences, boat rides, rowing lessons, history lessons, pottery lessons for the kids, a spectacular view from the old tower built by the Austrians when they occupied Venice -- I even got to sit inside the MOSES CONTROL ROOM, headquarters for the moveable dams that are supposed to rise up and protect Venice from acqua alta, or high water, then disappear under water again when the danger has passed.

The folks who make wine out on San Michele, the cemetery island, were there; the Afghans who make food from the Orient were there; the anti-cruise ship people were there, as were bunch of other creative folks; there was live music and real life transported to Arsenale. (Let's hope it's not a ploy to distract everyone's attention from the Rialto and Piazza San Marco!)

Pottery lessons a big hit with the younger set
Today, a hodgepodge of different interests call the Arsenale their base. And now Venetians get to play down there, too. Let's hope there's no fighting!

Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

People in Glass Houses Should Drink Tea - Hiroshi Sugimoto's First Architectural Project in Venice

(Venice, Italy) Le Stanze del Vetro, or The Rooms of Glass, sent over this press release about Hiroshi Sugimoto, the renowned Japanese photographer -- who also designs architecture -- and his project that will open during this year's International Architecture Exhibition. As usual, it is so clearly written that I will let them speak for themselves -- I have added the images except for the one at the top. It sounds like an impressive event!

A joint project of Fondazione Giorgio Cini
and Pentagram Stiftung

Le Stanze del Vetro

Venice, Island of San Giorgio Maggiore


Glass Tea House Mondrian
by Hiroshi Sugimoto

Japanese artist Hiroshi Sugimoto's first architectural project in Venice, designed for Le Stanze del Vetro on the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore.

On June 6th, the “Glass Tea House Mondrian” will open to the public on the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice. The “Glass Tea House” is a temporary pavilion designed by the Japanese artist and photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto as part of the activities of Le Stanze del Vetro. Hiroshi Sugimoto is known worldwide for his black-and-white photographs, and for the first time ever he is to design an architectural building in Venice.

The “Glass Tea House Mondrian” is a project by Le Stanze del Vetro which was made possible thanks to the support of Sumitomo Forestry Co. Ltd., and Fondazione Bisazza, in collaboration with Asahi Building-Wall Co. Ltd. Special thanks to Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia for lending archaeological artefacts and to Cattaruzza Millosevich Associated Architects for having overseen each phase of the design and construction of the pavilion.

Appropriate Proportion by Hiroshi Sugimoto
Concurrent with the opening of the “Glass Tea House Mondrian”, the Fondazione Bevilacqua La Masa will host  an unprecedented retrospective exhibition of Hiroshi Sugimoto’s architectural photographs at the Palazzetto Tito: this exhibition, together with the "Glass Tea House Mondrian” at Le Stanze del Vetro, will place this world-famous artist and his commitment towards the built environment at the center of the Venice art scene this season, befitting the new expanded format of the Architecture Biennale.  

The “Glass Tea House Mondrian” is a new initiative from those organized so far by Le Stanze del Vetro, broadening its horizons, and involving internationally renowned artists to plan and design an architectural pavilion in the area in front of Le Stanze del Vetro, following the example of the “Pavilion Series” of the Serpentine Gallery in London.

The “Glass Tea House Mondrian” by Hiroshi Sugimoto is inspired by pre-modern abstraction, as perfected by Sen no Rikyû, in the Japanese tradition of the tea ceremony. The Pavilion consists of two main elements, an open-air landscape and an enclosedglass cube. The landscape (approximately 40 meters long and 12.5 meters wide) follows a path along a reflecting pool leading the visitor to a glass cube (2.5 x 2.5 meters), inside which the traditional Japanese tea ceremony will be performed regularly.

The glass cube will host two visitors at a time together with the tea master, while spectators can watch the ceremony from outside the glass cube. Original tea utensils for the “Glass Tea House Mondrian” were designed by Hiroshi Sugimoto and fabricated by traditional artisans in Kyoto.

Lightning Fields by Hiroshi Sugimoto

Useful information
Glass Tea House Mondrian
Opening on June 6, 2014
10 am – 7 pm, closed on Wednesday
gardens in front of Le Stanze del Vetro
Isola di San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice
free admission
Original tea utensils for the “Glass Tea House Mondrian” were designed by Hiroshi Sugimoto and fabricated by traditional artisans in Kyoto:
Shuji Nakagawa / Nakagawa Mokkougei Shiga Studio
Takahiro Yagi / Kaikado
Supervised by So’oku Sen/Mushakoji-Senke Tea School
In cooperation with Kyoto University of Art & Design
Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Monday, April 7, 2014

Venice Literary Festival - Crossroads of Civilization - Incroci di Civiltà 2014

(Venice, Italy) Crossroads of Civilization, Incroci di Civiltà, Venice's international literary festival wrapped up its seventh edition on Saturday, April 5, 2014. Once again, the writers spoke about how we need good literature more than ever. Caryl Phillips from Great Britain nailed it when he said, "Google is not knowledge. Google is information. ...Our brains are becoming increasingly narcissistic. Literature is needed as a counter-balance."

Reading good literature encourages our brains to process information and transform it into real knowledge. Good writers impart knowledge gathered from deep within themselves, transforming it into a feast that humanity can savor. As the world twitters away, those of us who still make time to read good literature dine on satisfying sentences and sumptuous words, a meal that leaves a lasting impression.

Unfortunately, because of schedule conflicts, I was not able to see all the writers I wanted to -- especially Raja Alem from Saudi Arabia, whom I had met back in 2011, but the conversations I was able to attend left me encouraged that Venice's literary festival continues to thrive. Especially heartening was the large number of students in attendance -- the University of Ca' Foscari here in Venice is a valuable contributor to Incroci di Civiltà.

Here are the writers who attended and their countries, stimulating diverse, international conversations about how the world looks from his or her unique point of view:

Naomi Alderman - Great Britain
Raja Alem - Saudi Arabia
Salwa Al-Neimi - Syria
Massimo Carlotto - Italy
Patrizia Cavalli - Italy
Arne Dahl - Sweden
Rita Dove - United States
Abilio Estévez - Cuba
Ge Fei - China
Rhea Galanaki - Greece
Peter Greenaway - Great Britain
Jhumpa Lahiri - United States
Abdolah Kader - Iran/Holland
Daniel Mendelsohn - United States
Carlo Petrini - Italy
Caryl Phillips - Great Britain
Marc Scialom - Tunisia/Italy/France
Sergej Stratanovskij - Russia
Noémi Szécsi - Hungary
Uwe Timm - Germany
Olivier Truc - France/Sweden
Varujan Vosganian - Romania
Binyavanga Wainaina - Kenya (unable to attend)

I did manage to see David Mendelsohn over at the Teatrino di Palazzo Grassi (and bumped into Martin Bethenod, Director of the Francois Pinault Foundation, for the second time that day -- earlier in the morning he was at Le Stanze del Vetro on the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore presenting I Santillana - Works by Laura de Santillana and Alessandro Diaz de Santillana, the outstanding exhibition he conceived; everyone is talking about it; it is a MUST SEE). Mendelsohn was interviewed by Pietro Del Soldà, of Radio Rai 3, who spoke in Italian while Mendelsohn responded in English.

Mendelsohn is an American critic, author, essayist and classics professor. His 2006 memoir has a notable title -- The Lost: A Search for Six Among Six Million. With a background in Euripidean tragedy, he applied his talents to search for the phantoms that were haunting his family: six of his relatives that disappeared during the Holocaust.

Mendelsohn said his problem was how to tell a story that everyone already knew. He was a critic sitting in his pajamas, writing reviews, when he decided to delve into his family's history. He kept reminding himself to keep a narrow focus and stick to the story: "There's never been a story about my family before." His six relatives were representative of the six million Jews who disappeared during the Holocaust. Since his background was in Hellenic studies, he called upon his old friends Herodotus and Homer for help, and used Ring Composition for his structure. This fascinated me, and I knew I had to have his book. But Daniel Mendelsohn is such a riveting speaker that his book was sold out both in English and in Italian. (I will have to get my hands on a copy by other means:)

This incredibly educated, well-traveled, enlightened American man said something that struck me as an American woman who has lived in Europe for sixteen years. While doing his research, Mendelsohn realized how remote Europe was to the United States; that Americans are oblique to Europe. I have noticed the same thing. He said every American is haunted by another history... growing up in a small town in New York State, who visited his relatives in Miami for a couple weeks every year, he kept hearing about "the Old Country," "the Old Country." He said, "Even educated Americans like myself don't understand it." Now he is an American who finally has discovered what the Old Country is.

While traveling in Eastern Europe, every town he visited had a mass grave. It was a question he was repeatedly asked: "Do you want to see the mass grave?" Mendelsohn remarked, "Your whole country is a cemetery!" His relatives were from a small town called Bolekhiv in the Ukraine. In 1890, there were over 4,000 Jews living there; only 48 survived World War II.

Mendelsohn's brother, Matt, who did the photography, wanted to see Auschwitz; he did not. He was amazed when they were driving along the highway and saw the signs for "Auschwitz." "Imagine growing up in a country where the names are places of genocide!" His brother responded: "You grew up the same way." Mendolsohn said that where he grew up in New York State, everything was named after Native American tribes. After I processed the enormity of that thought, I was stunned. That is also how I grew up, surrounded by Native American names -- Pompton Lakes, my little hometown in New Jersey, was named after the Pompton tribe. Although the Indians left a deep impression on my childhood, it was a romanticized version of history -- wearing moccasins, walking toe-heel, toe-heel, gathering berries in the forest. But, in reality, it was genocide. An entire people were wiped out according to plan. The definition from Merriam-Webster:


noun \ˈje-nə-ˌsīd\

: the deliberate killing of people who belong to a particular racial, political, or cultural group

Mendelsohn said that 9/11 was the first chance America had to feel like Europe. If you are a regular reader of Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog, you will know I just wrote the same thing last week when I commented on the book The Hôtel on Place Vendôme:

"Here in Europe, you can still feel the echoes of the World Wars, something that only a handful of today's Americans understand. The wars touched the lives of everyone in Europe, many of whom are still alive today. The pain of 9/11 shook the world, Americans in particular, but the event itself was isolated to a section of New York. The World Wars were anguish ramped up to the umpteenth power as country after country fell under the control of the Nazis and Fascists. It is almost unimaginable that such a short time ago France was under German rule; the Nazis were bombing Great Britain, and the US and the Soviet Union were allies -- the Soviets were the first to liberate the Jews from Auschwitz."

Daniel Mendelsohn said that the ancient Greeks were alert to the terror in the world, and that Americans have an infantile desire for closure, packaging everything to feel good. He said that there is not always a redemption, and instead we should ask, "How can we heal? What if there is healing?"

Mendelsohn was inspired by Marcel Proust, and closed with these thoughts: "Without pain, life is tasteless. Pain is the salt that gives life flavor. Pain is a necessary ingredient in the soup of life."

Click for The Lost by Daniel Mandelsohn on Amazon

Click for Incroci di Civiltà on Facebook.

Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog