Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Thanksgiving in Venice Celebrates the Black Madonna - The Feast of the Madonna della Salute

Unde Origo Inde Salus MDCXXXI in Church of Madonna della Salute - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) To me, the beautiful rose mosaic in the center of the Church of Madonna della Salute is one of the most powerful points on the planet. Officially, the public can only stand on it one day out of the year, and that is on November 21st, the Feast of the Madonna della Salute, the Feast of Our Lady of Health. On that day, I like to make my way through the crowded church and align myself with the female Madonna energy beaming down from the heavens.

The rose mosaic is under the enormous chandelier in the center of the dome. In the mosaic is a bronze circle engraved with the words Unde Origo Inde Salus MDCXXXI, which means "From the origin comes salvation, 1631."

The Church of Madonna della Salute was built in thanks for ending the plague of 1630-31, and dedicated to the Madonna, under whose protection Venice was created in the first place -- or so the story goes -- so it made sense to ask her for help.

And on the high altar, in all her glory, is the Madonna, who happens to be Black.

In 2013, I wrote an in-depth post about the Black Madonna and the Festa della Salute, which I will share with you again. And for everyone all over the world that is freaking out over the US presidential election, I strongly suggest you ask the Black Madonna for a little help. Happy Thanksgiving!

Festa of the Madonna della Salute

(Venice, Italy) During the fifteen years I've lived in Venice, I have rarely missed the Festa of the Madonna della Salute on November 21. Most of the city, and much of the Veneto, makes the trek over the pontoon bridge from Santa Maria del Giglio next to the Hotel Gritti Palace and over to the Church of the Salute on Punta della Dogna to light a candle (or two or three) so that the Beloved Black Madonna will protect our health.

The plague first struck Venice in 1575. Desperate for relief, in 1577 the Venetian Senate decided to build a church in honor of Christ the Redeemer if God would end the plague. That worked (for a while), and the city of Venice has the magnificent Church of Redentore to show for it.

Unfortunately, the plague returned only 55 years later, so Doge Nicolò Contarini and the boys decided to build another church, this time pleading to the Virgin Mary for help. After all, the Republic of Venice was feminine, and under the Madonna's rule -- or so the story goes. On October 22, 1630, Contarini ordained the church be built; the 26-year-old architect Baldassare Longhena won the competition to design it; work started in 1631 and was finished in 1687. Longhena wrote:

"I have created a church in the form of a rotunda, a work of new invention, not built in Venice, a work very worthy and desired by many. This church, having the mystery of its dedication, being dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, made me think, with what little talent God has bestowed upon me of building the church in the ... shape of a crown."

The centerpiece of the awesome Salute Church is the Panagia Mesopantitisa, a very wise Byzantine Black Madonna, who never fails to fill me with deep emotion. The Panagia Mesopantitisa gets all dolled up for the occasion, and puts on her finest jewels. If we can understand where she comes from, perhaps we can understand why the Venetians built such an impressive church.

Photo: Wolfgang Moroder
The Panagia Mesopantitisa is from Candia, which was a Greek city originally named Chandax on the island of Crete. The Venetians bought the city for strategic purposes back in 1204 after the Fourth Crusade, and colonized the town. They held onto it for 465 years until 1669 after losing the famous War of Candia (1645-1669), a 21-year battle with the Ottoman Turks for possession of Crete.

The city is now named Heraklion, and is again part of Greece, and that is where the Eastern Orthodox Black Madonna named Panagia Mesopantitisa comes from. I like to think that the Venetians of that era might have been a little sorry for the part their ancestors played in the Fourth Crusade by giving her such an honor.

From the Venice Comune:

"The Festa della Salute is probably the least "touristy" of the Venetian festivities and evokes strong religious feelings among the city's inhabitants. 

The holiday is, like the Redentore, in memory of another bout of pestilence, which lasted for two years from 1630-31, and the subsequent vow by the Doge to obtain the intercession of the Virgin Mary.

Even today, thousands of inhabitants visit the main altar of the imposing Salute Church on November 21 to give thanks, and a strong symbolic tie remains between the city and the Virgin Mary."

Wood carving on seat - right
After you buy your candle, you bring it inside the church and hand it to one of the candle lighters -- if left to our own devices, there is a strong possibility we would burn ourselves up given the size of the crowds.

Next I always stand directly in the circle beneath enormous light fixture that dangles directly from the center of the church and get one of my power charges for the year.

Wood carving on seat - left
(Those elaborate wooden carvings on the choir stalls behind the high altar were so bizarre I had to take a photo of them.)

The crowd surges against the high altar until the young guards controlling the scene allow everyone to pass. You then wander back through the Sacristy, where you can buy little prayer cards and rosaries and gaze upon precious art by Titian and Tintoretto, and the first Pope John Paul's vestments -- who was, of course, Venetian, and died after only 33 days as Pope. For some reason, seeing the sweet Papa's actual clothes made me teary-eyed.

Then everyone pours back out down the steps and over to the endless stalls of sweets from Sicily and enormous balloons for the kids -- for Festa della Salute is a day when every kid in Venice proudly marches through the city clutching their carefully-chose balloon.

One great thing about living in a Catholic country is that there are many miracles and White Magic floating through the air, and Venice definitely has its own interpretations and rituals. So far, the Madonna della Salute has worked her magic, and kept me healthy and protected under extreme circumstances, so here is a little prayer to share:

Maria, salute degli infermi, prega per noi.

And remember, when your Republic really gets into trouble there is only one way out: SAY YOU'RE SORRY AND THEN BUILD A SPECTACULAR CHURCH GRAND ENOUGH TO CATCH THE EYE OF THE MADONNA OR JESUS CHRIST! It works! 

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

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Rivus Altus - Max Farina Shoots the Rialto Bridge

Max Farina at Work
(Venice, Italy) It was natural that a photography exhibition called "Rivus Altus" would catch my eye. Rivus Altus, or Rivo Alto, means "high bank," a cluster of islands that would eventually become the center of the Republic of Venice. Rivo Alto morphed into Rialto, the commercial center of Venice. At that location on the Grand Canal, the Venetians would go on to build one of the most famous stone structures in the world, the Rialto Bridge, completed in 1591.

In the 21st Century, the top of the Rialto Bridge became photographer Max Farina's office for two years.

RIVUS ALTUS - 10,000 Visual Fragments from the Rialto Bridge in Venice is the result of that labor of love, with much of the funds coming from Kickstarter.

In 2013 and 2014, Massimiliano Farina, architect and photographer from Milan, traveled every month to Venice and set up his outdoor office at the top of the Rialto Bridge, capturing the collective urge of humanity to take a photo from the famous location, as well as the panoramic view itself. The Rivus Altus project is a dialogue between the Panorama and its Observers.

The Observers
From the same position, day and night, for 264 shooting hours, Max photographed the "Rialto People." Using two cameras joined by a metal clamp, he simultaneously photographed the same subject and scene using two different zooms, techniques, movements and time exposures, depicting 15,963 people. The fragments were linked in diptychs, and printed in black and white.

Cat Bauer in front of the Rivus Altus panorama - Photo: Max Farina
Cat Bauer in front of the Rivus Altus panorama - Photo: Max Farina
During the same time period, Max clicked thousands of photos of the Grand Canal from the top of the Rialto Bridge. He chose 78 of those fragments to create a colorful wall of photos on pads of photo paper, seven meters long. That wall of photos, an enormous panorama of Rialto, is the focus of the Rivus Altus exhibition. Visitors are invited to rip off the top photo of any of the 78 fragments -- like ripping the top sheet of paper off a pad -- revealing a different angle of the same shot underneath, and creating a constantly changing panorama.

Cat Bauer - Rialto apartment
As you regular readers know, my beleaguered apartment is located right on the Grand Canal at the Rialto Bridge, and, sure enough, Max had photographed it every month for two years. I flipped through all the photos, hoping that Max had caught a significant moment in the Battle for the Heart of Rialto. Unfortunately, nothing special was going on during that time; it was closed and shuttered in every photo. I told him that it was too bad he hadn't started shooting in 2009 or 2010 because he would have captured quite a lot of excitement!

The Last Supper - Boga Foundation
In addition to Max's photos, the Boga Foundation has collaborated with a series of Homini sculptures, including The Last Supper. Two works from the Foundation's collection by the renowned Swiss artist, Alberto Giacometti, are also presented as a tribute to the 50th anniversary of his death.

Another element of the exhibition is the sound installation designed by Giampiero Sanzari. The bells chiming in the distance from Piazza San Marco, a vaporetto grinding to a halt at the Rialto stop, the roar of the tourists, the calls of the gondoliers, the water lapping on the Grand Canal -- all the cacophony that is the background music of the Rialto Bridge -- adds a deeper dimension.

Photographer Max Farina at Rivus Altus
The top of the Rialto Bridge is one of the points on the planet where humanity pauses to snap a photo and record its presence. Max Farino takes that experience to a higher level, and records humanity in the act of recording itself.

I thought Rivus Altus was totally cool.

Rivus Altus- 10,000 Visual Fragments from the Rialto Bridge in Venice
Photography project by Max Farina
Through November 27, 2016
10am to 7pm
Free Admission
Cultural Center Don Orione Artigianeli
Zattere - Dorsoduro, 909/A

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

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Remembering the Venice Flood of 1966 - Aqua Granda 50 Years On

Venice 1966 high water - Photo: Comune
(Venice, Italy) Friday, November 4, 2016 marked the 50th anniversary of the devastating 1966 flood in Venice, and nearly every organization in town has done their part to remember the day, coordinated by the Venice Comune in a program called "Aqua Granda."

On November 4, 1966, Venice and Florence were hit by dramatic weather conditions: rain, wind, high tides, melting snow. The Arno River burst through its embankments in Florence, and the waters of the Venice lagoon rose up over more than 6 feet, inundating over 75% of the city. When the waters finally receded, both cities were without food, gas or electricity. Florence was covered with a thick oily mud, and 101 people had lost their lives.

For 22 hours, Venice was completely isolated from the rest of the planet. The ground floors of 90% of the city were flooded, trapping people in their homes. When it was over, thousands were left homeless and fled to the mainland, never to return, starting an insidious exodus out of the historic center.

Crucially, both Renaissance cities were treasure chests filled with precious works of art and rare manuscripts. Museums, galleries, churches, archives, and libraries containing many of mankind's highest achievements were damaged or destroyed. 

Marciana Library
The flood waters in Venice also washed away the blinders that had hidden how dramatically the ancient city had been neglected and allowed to fall into decay, shocking the planet into action. The General Conference of UNESCO, which was meeting at the time, decided to launch an international campaign to safeguard the precious city. 

Throughout the world the call for help went out, and the World of Art and Culture flew into action, forming committees and raising money. Many organizations formed in 1966 still exist today, like the American Save Venice, Inc., the French Committee to Safeguard Venice, and the British Venice in Peril Fund. 

Ted Kennedy in Venice
On November 4, 1966, Ted Kennedy, then a first-term Senator from Massachusetts, was in Geneva when he received a phone call from his sister-in-law, Jackie Kennedy, urging him to go to Florence, which he did. He then came here to Venice on November 16, together with Ambassador Fred Reinhardt, and surveyed the damage, some of the most serious to manuscripts housed at the Marciana Library.

Marciana Library
Through November 27 there is an exhibition Venezia 1966 - 2016 in the Sale Monumentali of the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana where you can view newspaper clippings, Marconigrams (I'd never heard of a Marconigram before, a message sent via radio), photos, and other records of that fateful day.

Ritorno in Piazza by Anna Zemella at Olivetti Store
At the Olivetti store in Piazza San Marco there is a photography exhibition, Return to the Piazza, by Anna Zemella and curated by Jane da Mosto that runs through January 8, 2017. Jane has also written an excellent book, together with Giannandrea Mencini, entitled Acqua in Piazza, which explains in clear language everything you would like to know about acqua alta, and how it affects Venice. Both books have been published by lineadacqua, a publishing house in Venice.

The projects, part of L'acqua e la Piazza, are promoted by FAI, the National Trust of Italy, in collaboration with Associazione Piazza San Marco and Venice IUAV Architecture University, and curated by We Are Here Venice. Instead of revisiting the flood, L'acqua e la Piazza tells a story about the relationship between Venetians, the water and Piazza San Marco.

Another nifty part of the project is a blue line on many Venetian businesses that marks how high in centimeters the 1966 water level reached, from +84 on the Caffè Quadri, to +101 on the Gritti Palace Hotel, to a whopping +143 on the Galleria Ravagnan.

Aquagranda at La Fenice
La Fenice commissioned a new opera, Aquagranda by Filippo Perocco, which opened the season with the world premiere on Friday night. Set on the island of Pellistrina, which was hit hardest by the flooding when the sea broke through the Murazzi, a dam built of Istrian stone by the Venetian Republic, the opera runs through November 13.

Photo: Wolfgang Moroder
Alberto Nardi, of the renowned jewelers, Nardi, which has been located in Piazza San Marco for nearly a hundred years, wrote a poignant forward in Acqua in Piazza. Nardi is also the Chairman for the Associazione Piazza San Marco. Here is an excerpt:

"...When the acqua alta recedes, the shopkeepers of the Piazza are left with the repetitive, relentless task of cleaning up after the dirty water, already dreading the next tide. They anxiously follow the various forecasts, hoping that the wind will die down and that the bad weather will be less violent than predicted. Often -- in recent times I should say too often -- their hopes go unfulfilled as the water, slowly but inexorably, rises again, spreading to every corner of the Piazza.

All this creates psychological damage, which I consider even more harmful and insidious than the obvious economic damage. The frequent occurrence of these events renders the mind sluggish, as if the indomitably adaptive Venetian spirit has given way to an inert acceptance of what, instead, should never be accepted.

It must never be accepted that Piazza San Marco will continue to be flooded... 

To see all the Aqua Granda events, go to Venezia Unica.

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