Sunday, January 29, 2017

21st Anniversary of Teatro La Fenice Fire in Venice

Fire at Teatro La Fenice
(Venice, Italy) Teatro La Fenice, Venice's opera house, was destroyed by fire twenty-one years ago, on January 29, 1996, a case of arson. Like the mythical bird, the beloved theater rose from the ashes more splendid than before, once again filling Venice with music and wonder.

Teatro La Fenice
The ancient Greek myth of the phoenix is present in many cultures, from Native American to Russian, Japanese, Arabian, Egyptian and Chinese. It was a symbol in early Christianity. The phoenix reminds us that out of destruction comes rebirth and resurrection, and that the end is a new beginning.

A few years ago, I took a photo of a bird in the Venice lagoon striking a "La Fenice" pose, almost like it was auditioning to be the poster bird of Venice, which I will share with you again.

Venice Lagoon Bird Strikes "La Fenice" Pose

Venice lagoon bird strikes La Fenice pose - Photo: Cat Bauer

(Venice, Italy) In the early morning hours, this bird in the Venice lagoon struck a "La Fenice" pose.

As we all know, La Fenice means, "the Phoenix," the bird that is eternally reborn, that burns and then rises from the ashes. The phoenix is a royal bird, associated with the sun.

The name of the opera house here in Venice is called "La Fenice," one of the most famous opera houses in Europe. It has burned and risen from the ashes more times than we can count.

The phoenix is one of my favorite symbols. They say it is a mythical bird, but I like to imagine that it's real. 

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Arctic - The Final Frontier - Dramatic Photos of a Vanishing World at Tre Oci in Venice

Iceland © Ragnar Axelsson (1995)
(Venice, Italy) The climate on Earth is changing. It is an awesome thought, one that most human beings have difficulty processing, so we choose to ignore it. Three master photographers, however, have gone to the Arctic and stared the phenomenon straight in the face, recording the images to share with the rest of civilization.

The Arctic. The Final Frontier (Artico. Ultima frontiera), curated by Denis Curti, the artistic director of the Tre Oci, presents 120 powerful black and white images captured by Paolo Solari Bozzi (Rome, 1957), Ragnar Axelsson (Kopavogur, Iceland, 1958) and Carsten Egevang (Taastrup, Denmark, 1969). Three documentaries are also on show, Sila and the Gatekeepers of the Arctic by Corina Gamma from Switzerland, Chasing Ice by Jeff Orlowski from the U.S., and the Last Ice Hunters by Jure Breceljnik & Rozie Bregar from the Czech Republic.

What is the Arctic? It consists of the Arctic Ocean, and parts of Alaska, Canada, Finland, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Russia and Sweden. Greenland, the world's largest island, is part of the Kingdom of Denmark, with a small population of about 56,000 (the same as tiny Venice); 88% of Greenland's inhabitants are Inuit. The United States offered Denmark $100 million for Greenland after war, but Denmark refused to sell.

81% of Greenland is covered by an enormous ice sheet, which is rapidly melting. Greenland is rich with mineral and natural resources, including diamond, gold, precious gemstones, hydrocarbon, rare earth metals, lead and zinc. There could be oil and gas fields up there, too. To put things in terms Americans can relate to, it would be as if a handful of Native Americans were sitting on a bunch of precious treasures the world lusts after, armed with sled dogs and harpoons.

East Greenland, Scoresbysund © Carsten Egevang (2012)
Carsten Egevang is here from Denmark with his two very blond, blue-eyed sons, one of whom was born in Greenland. Trained as a biologist, Egevang was awarded a PhD in Arctic Biology at the University of Copenhagen -- one of those climate-change scientists we hear so much about. He lived in Nuuk, Greenland's capital, from 2002 to 2008, and returns at least three times a year. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to speak to a credentialed individual who is actually there on the climate-changing scene.

Egevang said that when he first started taking photos of Greenland, he was drawn to the beauty of its landscapes, the icebergs, the Northern Lights and the arctic fauna. If he captured a human being or a man-made object, he tossed it out. Now his mission is to document how the natives of Greenland still rely on the nature that surrounds them. He captures the interactions between the people and the animals there, depicting them as elements of the breathtaking landscapes.

Egevang said, "When we hear about climate change, we think it is something that will happen in the future. It is happening now. The sea ice is melting and the temperature is 20 degrees higher than normal."

I asked him how to present climate change as something people could relate to, something in which they had the power to intervene. He said that we could compare it to smoking. Within a relatively short period of time, human beings have completely changed their behavior toward smoking, which, at one time, seemed nearly impossible to accomplish. We must change our behavior toward fossil fuels, or risk being overwhelmed by nature.

Peter Egevant with his father's photos - Photo: Cat Bauer
I spoke to Egevang's 14-year-old son, Peter, who was born in Greenland, and lived there until he was four. He had recently returned there with his father after an absence of about 10 years. I asked him how it had changed. Peter said that it was difficult to recall because he was so young when he left, but he remembered that "everything was white when I was little. Now it's green. ...and the snow bears -- I don't remember this word in English -- the snow bears are dying." He pointed to a bear in one of his father's photos. "Polar bear?" I offered. "Yes," he agreed. "The polar bears are dying."

Paolo Solari Bozzi, Kap Hope, Scoresbysund, East Greenland, 2016 © Paolo Solari
Carsten Egevang said he was in a remote village with about 400 inhabitants when, astonishingly, he bumped into the photographer Paolo Solari Bozzi and his wife, Marina, "two Italians with shiny clothes." Paolo Solari Bozzi was on the eastern coast of Greenland between February and April 2016, recording the everyday life of a populace "that has chosen to live in a difficult environment."

I left for Greenland thinking that I was going to meet the Inuit with their bear and sea furs. But I soon realized that it was not going to be like that because today the Inuit wear Western clothing and their kids all own a cell phone. The Inuit are going through a delicate transition phase that is causing them to abandon centuries-old traditions, replacing them with those of today's world. Their grandparents still lived underground. Some say they were better off then than they are now because at least they were sheltered from the harsh weather that their small wooden houses imported from Denmark can't keep out when the wind blows over 200 km an hour.
Nenets, Siberia © Ragnar Axelsson (2016)
The third photographer, Ragnar Axelsson, or RAX, was born in Iceland in 1958 and has been a professional since he was 16-years-old. He has dedicated his career to documenting the fate and people of the North, "hunters, fishermen and farmers of the circumpolar area who live on the fringes of the habitable world." He believes that the traditional culture of the Arctic people is disappearing, and will not be able to resist the disruptive effects of the larger forces of economy and climate change.

It happened in Thule some twenty-five years ago. As I was walking by a small house, I noticed the old man who lived there standing at the front door, looking at the sky and sniffing the air. Every morning for five days, I saw him standing there in the same spot, always sniffing the air and staring at the ice of the fjord that was melting. I couldn't understand what the old man was saying, he just kept muttering the same words over and over, so one morning I asked a friend to come with me and translate his thoughts.
What the old man was saying was: "It shouldn't be like this, something's wrong. The big ice is sick." What he wanted to tell me was that the ice had never been like this before, that it shouldn't be like this. Those potent words spoken by a wise old man moved me. That man had always been a part of nature, and he was worried now because he sensed a change in the air.
Thule, Qaanaq, Greenland © Ragnar Axelsson (1987)
I also watched Chasing Ice by Jeff Orlowski, the powerful documentary which tracks James Balog, the Fine Art and Nature photographer, and his dramatic use of time-lapse photography to capture immense chunks of ice sheets cracking and crumbling into icy lakes.

When you watch a glacier disappear in front of your eyes, it makes a deep impression. Mankind has been successful at harnessing the power of nature over the centuries, but what is happening is so majestically horrifying, so immense, and so rapid, it is almost as if God is issuing a new, greater challenge: Clean up your act, or get wiped off the face of the earth. The flood is coming, we can be sure, but, hopefully, this time we have the wisdom to contain it.

The Arctic. The Final Frontier - Artico. Ultima Frontiera runs at Tre Oci from January 15 through April 2, 2017 and is a MUST SEE -- even if the building were empty, the 1913 neo-gothic beautifully restored structure is something to see, and they are always doing some cool photography thing. Go to Casa dei Tre Oci, for more information.

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

Friday, January 6, 2017

Clock Tower in Venice - The Magi Appear! Epiphany 2017

Clock Tower in Piazza San Marco on Epiphany
(Venice, Italy) Today, the Angel Gabriel, blowing his horn, appeared out on the Clock Tower here in Venice, followed by the Three Magi, who bowed and saluted to the Madonna and Child, something they only do twice a year-- today, the Epiphany, and again on Ascension Day.

Clock Face - Photo: Musei Civici
The Clock Tower, or Torre dell'Orologio, was inaugurated on February 1, 1499, more than 500 years ago. Rich with symbolism, the Venetians designed an astronomical clock, which moves through the signs of the Zodiac, as well as keeping time.

Photo: ReidsItaly
On the top of the tower are two enormous bronze statues known as the Moors, more than eight and a half feet tall (2.6 meters) -- one old, one young -- two Wild Men who swing a hammer to clang out the passage of time. The Moors are nude under their sheaths of vines, and are well-endowed.

Beneath the Moors on the top of the Clock Tower is the winged Lion of San Marco, the symbol of Venice, holding an open book. Originally, there was a statue of Doge Agostino Barbarigo kneeling before the lion, but when Napoleon's soldiers invaded Venice in 1797, down it came.

Photo: Heather McDougal - Cabinet of Wonders Blog
Gabriel and the Wise Men used to come out every hour when the clock was first constructed, but they haven't done that for centuries. Now, they emerge just those two days a year, and if you are not there at the precise moment to witness it, it is over in a flash. Otherwise, the doors where they exit and enter show the hour in Roman numerals on the left, and every five minutes in Hindu-Arabic on the right.

Photo: Venezia Unica
Gabriel and the Three Magi came out today, bells clamoring throughout Piazza San Marco. For the rest of the year, they reside inside the clock; you can see them if you take the Clock Tower tour. I went on the tour many years ago when I wrote a piece about it back in 2008 as the Venice Insider for Ninemsn, and I thought it was fascinating. Back then, interesting, quirky people took the Clock Tower tour:

Cinderella Bells

Only a handful of people usually show up for the tour of the inner workings of the newly restored St Mark's Clock, which was first inaugurated on February 1, 1499 by Doge Agostino Barbarigo. Five hundred years ago, Venetians built an astronomical clock that had five planets which moved around the earth (only the sun and the moon remain), two Moors that struck the time two minutes before and after the hour, and three Magi that circled the Madonna. For half a millennium, a watchman actually lived with his family in the Clock Tower; the last one left in 1998. After almost a decade of arguing about restoration procedures, the clock was finally up and running again in 2006. Aga is the name of one vivacious and informative guide who does English tours. A visit to the clock tower also offers one of the most spectacular views of Venice.
Photo: Musei Civici

I have long become accustomed to telling time by the bells of Venice. I don't wear a watch; the bells tell me when to wake up, when to go to sleep, when I am running late, or ahead of schedule.

Giant Wild Men clanging an enormous bell... The Lion of San Marco.... The Madonna and Child... the Angel Gabriel and Three Magi circling... An astronomical clock that moves through the signs of the Zodiac.... constructed during the Renaissance in Venice... Things to ponder during the Epiphany.

From the Cambridge Dictionary:



uk /ɪˈpɪf.ən.i/ us /ɪˈpɪf.ən.i/ literary

a moment when you suddenly feel that you understand, or suddenly become conscious of, something that is very important to you

a powerful religious experience

Of course, the Epiphany is also the day of the Befana, which I have written about many, many times before:

Befana 2014 - Epiphany! Venice has got the Relics of St. Nick!

Happy Epiphany,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Monday, January 2, 2017

The Symphony of Venice - Happy New Year! 2017

Virgin with Child and Angels by Sansovino - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) At its best, Venice is like a symphony, filled with playful violins and blaring trumpets, haughty flutes and noble French horns. Strings, brass, woodwinds and percussion blend together to create a colorful composition, with church bells chiming in the background, and an occasional piano or harp chortling through.

Many elements try to join the dynamic orchestra; some blend in beautifully, adding rich textures to the music. Others, however, play off-key, or are in the wrong tune, or do not realize that the tempo has changed. The orchestra is clever at handling these discordant elements, and keeps on playing on.

There are adagios and allegros, with thunderous crescendos, and whispers so soft that you can hear the sparrows sing. The water lapping in the lagoon underlies the entire composition, like a liquid Gregorian chant.

There is a conductor, but you can't see her -- she is somewhere on high, close to the sun.

The New Year Just After Midnight - Venice 2017


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