Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Whose Flag is it Anyway? Drama in Piazza San Marco on April 25 ends with Music

April 25 - Piazza San Marco - Photo: Cat Bauer
April 25 - Piazza San Marco - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) In Italy, April 25 is a national holiday, Liberation Day, commemorating the end of the Italian civil war, and honoring the Italian troops that fought against Mussolini and the Fascists (Italy) and the Nazis (Germany), during World War II, putting it very simply. In Venice, it is something more: it is also the Feast of Saint Mark, Venice's patron saint. It is a politically charged day in Venice because many people in the Veneto region wish to be autonomous, which has been labeled a "Venexit." Others are more moderate, and simply wish to preserve the Venetian culture and language. So all sorts of elements get tangled up together.

On Saint Mark's day, men give a single rose to women they love. This tradition, the Festa del Bocolo, originated in the eighth century -- long, long before Liberation Day -- when the daughter of the Doge fell in love with a troubadour. Seeking to overcome the class difference and prove his worth, the troubadour went off to war. He was mortally wounded, but plucked a rosebud before he died, entrusting it to his comrade to give to his beloved. I wrote a detailed post about it in 2014, when a thousand Venetian residents formed a human rose in Piazza San Marco, which you can read here:

More Venetians than Tourists in Piazza San Marco and Open Arsenale

The flag that you see fluttering from balconies all over Venice -- the flag that waves in Piazza San Marco itself -- is the red and gold flag with the winged lion of San Marco holding an open book. The words say: "Pax tibi Marce, evangelista meus," or "Peace be with you Mark, my evangelist." The winged lion is a symbol of St. Mark, and the open book signifies that Venice is at peace. 

There is another red and gold flag, one with the winged lion holding a sword. This supposedly signifies that Venice is at war. (Or that it is angry:-)

Every year on April 25, Venetians, most from the Veneto, make the journey to Piazza San Marco to wave their flags. The local press labeled them the "nostalgic" group. This year when I arrived in Piazza San Marco, there was a new blue and gold flag on the scene with the winged lion holding an open book. I asked some Venetians what it signified. They said it was the flag of the land, whereas the red flag was the flag of the sea.

None of those interpretations are official. 

April 25 - Piazza San Marco2 - Photo: Cat Bauer
April 25 - Piazza San Marco - Photo: Cat Bauer
Everything was peaceful in the piazza, with people milling around as some musicians from La Fenice on stage cranked into Vivaldi. Then, from the distance, shouting was heard and a new group waving more portentous flags poured into Piazza San Marco from the XXII Marzo entrance. Their flags portrayed the winged lion wearing a black hood and holding a sword. They took over the center of the piazza, causing all sorts of commotion.

By this time, I was completely bewildered as to what was going on, and which flag signified what (I am on the Festa del Bocolo team:-). The blue and red flags seemed to get along, but this new hooded flag was greeted with shouts of "Fuori! Fuori!" "Out! Out!" I asked a man holding a red flag what the hooded flag meant, and he called them communists. Later, one local paper called them the "no-global" group; another paper described the lion as wearing a Zapatista, a symbol of resistance. Shouting ensued, but no one was violent. A handful of riot police arrived wearing blue helmets and jackets; they weren't those scary all-in-black police; they almost seemed to be enjoying themselves.

Police in Piazza San Marco - April 25 - Photo: Cat Bauer
Next, drums could be heard in the distance. This time, through the XXII Marzo entrance came soldiers wearing old-fashioned uniforms and carrying rifles with bayonets. Here comes the Cavalry! The soldiers marched around Piazza San Marco, then straight through the center of the hooded flags, who parted peacefully.

Here is a YouTube clip I made that captures a bit of the excitement:

Then the Consigliere alle Tradizioni Giusto, which translates to something like the "Advisor of Correct Traditions" and Luigi Brugnaro, the Mayor of Venice, came on the stage to address the crowd. The basic message was that classic music speaks the language of everyone. That Venice was a great city open to everyone, liberated for everyone. At that point, the crowd was no longer agitated, but enthusiastic. 

Then, the musicians from La Fenice kicked again into Vivaldi, and the band played on.

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

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Did you know there are Royal Gardens in Venice? You will soon!

Cynthia Pre݁fointaine, Vista aerea dell'Area Marciana, Venezia, 2015
(Venice, Italy) The Royal Gardens of Venice are hidden in plain sight. If you start at Harry's Bar and walk along the water of the Bacino di San Marco to Piazza San Marco, the gardens are on the left. But many people pass them by because they are in such a state of disrepair -- there is not much greenery beckoning you to come inside and enjoy a bit of nature. All of that is about to change.

I was privileged to be invited to the press conference for the Restoration Project of the Giardini Reali on April 7, which was attended by many prominent local individuals, including the mayor, Luigi Brugnaro, as well as the heads of various organizations. Thanks to a partnership between the Venice Gardens Foundation, a new non-profit organization headed by the dynamic art curator, Adele Re Rebaudengo, and Assicurazioni Generali, the venerable Italian insurance company whose symbol is the Lion of San Marco, the gardens will be brought back to life.

Anna Regge, acquerello 2017, Veduta dei Giardini Reali dalle finestre del Museo Correr
Adele Re Rebaudengo said:

"When restored, the Royal Gardens will be formal and precise, in keeping with its historic nineteenth-century design, but at the same time filled with the unexpected. It will be a garden where visitors will walk in the shade of its long, centuries-old wisteria covered pergola, and, hidden from view by dense screens of evergreens, will discover the vast, intimate, timeless path that crosses the rebuilt drawbridge and leads to the Correr Museum, in a renewed dialogue with Piazza San Marco and the Marciana area. It will be a meeting place open to the profound qualities of the arts, where nature and artistic languages unite to safeguard the garden and all its living elements. ...A place for thought; silent entry into a world in which there is space for harmony, contemplation and productivity."

Piazza San Marco (from the Campanile)
Let's get our bearings. That is Piazza San Marco. On the right side, the Caffè Quadri side, is the Procuratie Vecchie, or "Old Procurators,"originally built in 12th century, then rebuilt in the 16th century after a fire. On the left side, the Caffè Florian side, is the Procuratie Nuove, which means "New Procurators," which were completed in 1640. In the center wing there used to be the Church of San Geminiano, which Napoleon demolished in about 1810, and built the Napoleonic Wing of the Procuraties.

What is the office of the Procurator of San Marco? During the Venetian Republic, the procurators were nine powerful legal officers whose duties were so complex it would take a book, not a blog post, to examine. Their lifetime appointment was the most prestigious office after the Doge. A fascinating tidbit is that even after the fall of the Venetian Republic the office of the Procurator of San Marco was not abolished, and still exists today.

Royal Gardens seen through Empress Sissi's window in Museo Correr - Photo: Cat Bauer
After Napoleon invaded Venice, he decided that the Procuratie Nuove was going to be the site of the Royal Palace, and began construction in 1808. When Venice came under Austrian rule, that is where Empress Sissi stayed, a woman who has fascinated the world for centuries.

These days the Correr Museum inhabits the Procuratie Nuove, which is entered through the Napoleonic Wing. The Royal Gardens are overlooked by the Correr Museum, the imperial chambers of the Royal Palace, the Archaeological Museum and the Marciana Library

The Generali Group was founded in Trieste in 1831. The next year, they opened an office in Venice across the Piazza in the Procuratie Vecchie building, which is where they are still located today. Generali is a major player in the global insurance market. According to the press notes: "In 1848, leading individuals in the company embraced the cause of the Republic of Daniele Manin, a hero of Italian unification. In the midst of the struggle for unification, the company chose to use the lion of Saint Mark as its symbol, rather than the Hapsburg eagle." Generali has decided to rediscover their roots and revitalize their presence in Venice. By restoring the Royal Gardens, Generali is beginning a journey to honor the past of Piazza San Marco and safeguard its future.

Paolo Pejrone - Photo: Cat Bauer
The architect of the garden is the internationally renowned Paolo Pejrone. When I heard this, an idea popped into my mind.

I have recently become obsessed with Rosa Moceniga, an ancient rose that the writer, Andrea di Robilant, had discovered growing wild on his ancestor's property, Alvisopoli, a little town created during the Venetian Republic by his great-great-great-great grandfather, Alvise Mocenigo. Andrea had found a silvery pink rose with a strong, sweet fragrance growing in the wilderness while researching his book, Lucia: A Venetian Life in the Age of Napoleon. He was determined to find out how the rose had gotten there, and traced it back to the time that his great-great-great-great grandmother, Lucia, had spent with Empress Josephine Bonaparte in France, which had inspired another book, Chasing the Rose, which I found to be surprisingly compelling.

I thought: The perfect circle for Rosa Moceniga would be for the rose to be part of the Royal Gardens. I sent Andrea a text message: "I am at a press conference. Generali is restoring Giardini Reali. Wouldn't it be PERFECT to include Rosa Moceniga?" Andrea responded: "Yes, it would! Ask them!"

During lunch, I found Paolo Pejrone sitting in the corner. I said, "Do you know Andrea di Robilant?" He smiled. "Yes." "Do you know Rosa Moceniga?" "Yes..." "Don't you think it would be PERFECT if Rosa Moceniga was in the Giardini Reali?" Pejrone burst out laughing. "Yes! Yes!"

Now, you are going to have to read Chasing the Rose to find out why it is so perfect, but once you do, I am sure that you will agree. Rosa Moceniga is such a strong and powerful rose that she has survived for centuries unattended, growing in the wilderness all on her own. But Rosa Moceniga's real home is in the Royal Gardens. In fact, I recommend reading the book to better appreciate how important the reawakening of the Royal Gardens in Venice is -- to have a magical, formal garden in the heart of Venice will bring nature, grace and elegance back to the soul of the city.

Francesco Neri, La Coffee House - Il Padiglione del Caffe݀ dei Giardini Reali, Venezia, 2016
The Coffee House of the Royal Gardens, where the press conference was held, and where we had lunch, will also be restored. What is astonishing is that after living here for all this time, I never knew it had ever been a coffee house!

I also had the pleasure of finally meeting Erla Zwingle, a writer and blogger who has lived in Venice even longer than I have, and whose clever blog, I am not making this up, I highly recommend. Read what she has to say about Regrowing a Garden.

The restored Royal Gardens are set to open towards the end of 2018.

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

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Fallen Angels Unite! Celeb Photographer David LaChapelle Comes out of the Forest - Lost+Found at Tre Oci in Venice

David LaChapelle and Pamela Anderson at Tre Oci - Photo: Cat Bauer
David LaChapelle & Pamela Anderson at Tre Oci - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) When David LaChapelle was a toddler, his glamorous, free-thinking mother dressed him up with paper angel wings. A Lithuanian immigrant, she worked as a waitress and factory employee, but had the soul of an artist, and saw God in Nature. His father was a man of the Church. Put those two together, and you get David LaChapelle, the brilliant photographer who has emerged from the forest in Maui to bring his New World to Venice.

News of Joy, 2017 ©David LaChapelle
Before the opening yesterday at Casa dei Tre Oci, LaChapelle spoke to a packed auditorium of enraptured art and photography students at Ca' Foscari University on Monday about the journey his life has taken. He started painting and drawing as a child. He dropped out of school at age 15 and moved to New York City, went to art school in North Carolina, became hooked on photography, and never went back to painting and drawing. He told the students that he had limited means in the beginning, and used what he could afford: a small camera and natural lighting, with friends who posed as subjects.

David LaChapelle at Ca' Foscari - Photo: Cat Bauer
David LaChapelle at Ca' Foscari - Photo: Cat Bauer
He moved back to New York City and lived in the East Village in the early 80s, which he said was Paradise. At that time, I lived in the West Village, and I, too, can attest that it was Paradise. The Village was pulsing with exciting energy, crammed full of artists, actors, musicians, poets -- every color of sexuality and nationality -- everyone was there, and free to create. It was a magical time.

Then AIDS struck and Paradise became the Inferno. Many vibrant friends withered and died. LaChapelle's boyfriend died, and he thought he would die, too. So he turned toward metaphysics to make sense of it, and started creating images to share before he died -- not for money, but to leave something behind. Then Andy Warhol asked him to work for Interview, and flipped his life around. Since people weren't buying his photos, it allowed him to earn money doing something he loved. 

Archangel Michael: And No Message Could Have Been Clearer by David LaChapelle (2009) Photo: Cat Bauer
After working for 30 years with different magazines and photographing some of the most important celebrities on the planet, LaChapelle began to question consumerism and capitalism. He moved to a forest in Maui, and went back to doing analog photography and painting on negatives; he did not use a computer.

He told the students that he always followed his intuition, and that artists are unplanned, not like, say, lawyers, who go to school, get a degree, and practice law with set rules. He said photography stops time. These days, the world feels faster with all our technical devices, and that it is important to make a place to find your own voice, and listen to your own heart and intuition away from the world that drowns it out.

He said, "To this day, if I do an ad, I use that money to fund myself. I am not a slave to the Art World, I am free. I am my own benefactor. I don't worry about getting hired. I want to say something that matters."

The First Supper, 2017 ©David LaChapelle
I was incredibly moved by the new photos. There is such a feeling of joy, hope, and spirituality mixed with humor, sexuality and love. LaChapelle came to Venice with his friend, Pamela Anderson, who has become more fascinating as she approaches her 50th birthday on July 1st, toning down her look, and cultivating a relationship with Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange.

LaChapelle said he was trying to bring some real beauty to the world, and touch people much like music does. With Lost+Found at the Casa dei Tre Oci, David LaChapelle has achieved his goal.

Lost+Found is at the Casa dei Tre Oci from April 12 to September 10, 2017 -- and if you don't think you know who David LaChapelle is, you do. He directed this video of Sergei Polunin dancing to Hozier's "Take Me to the Church." Like a Wise Man, he put it up on YouTube without Sergei's knowledge, who was going to quit the business. It went super viral. I think he saved Sergei's life.

This post is dedicated to the memory of Jon Steinbacher, an angel that left this planet far too soon.

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

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Unbelievable! Damien Hirst in Venice: Best Seen Through the Eyes of a Child

Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable by Damien Hirst - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) What is most interesting about Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable is that Damien Hirst has hit upon on a creative principle innate to novelists: you can create a fictional story; you can create characters -- you can create an entire world -- and bring that world to life.

The wonderful thing about books is that each reader uses their own imagination to interpret the story and the characters with the words the author provides. There is a magical transformation that happens in the mind of a human being that can turn the novelist's words into vivid images, allowing us to enter into another world that sometimes feels as real as the one in which we actually live. Reading a book is different from watching a movie or a play. When we read, the story is not outside, but inside one's mind.

Will viewers step into a fictional world populated with physical objects that an artist has created?

Damien Hirst has invented a story that goes something like this: In 2008, a wreck was discovered off the coast of East Africa, full of precious works of art. It was the ancient ship called the Apistos, or the "Unbelievable," of the great collector, Amotan, who had once been a slave from Antioch, and lived around the year 200 AD. The Unbelievable was on its way to a temple built by Amotan, now a freed slave "bloated with excess wealth" to house his fabled treasures, when it sank. The immense wealth of the great collector was submerged in the Indian Ocean for about 2,000 years, heavily encrusted in corals and other marine life.

Proteus with Three Divers by Damien Hirst - Photo: Cat Bauer
The shows inside the Punta della Dogana and Palazzo Grassi exhibit the sculptures and artifacts in three different stages: some in the condition in which they were found, some after restoration, and some contemporary museum copies which imagine the works in their original, undamaged forms. In addition, there are also underwater photos, which illustrate how the works looked when they were in the Indian Ocean. There is also a booklet that explains the myths and origins behind the works. The Shield of Achilles is there; the Severed Head of Medusa; the Skull of a Unicorn. There is also Mickey Mouse, and characters from The Jungle Book and Transformers.

Got that?

Proteus by Damien Hirst - Photo: Cat Bauer
That Damien Hirst believes the story he invented is without a doubt. As he told Will Gompert of the BBC: "For me, the show is totally about belief. You can believe whatever you want to believe. I believe the story of the collector from 2,000 years ago. I've spent so much time on it that it's not a lie. ... I just believe it. You have to believe it... If I close my eyes, I can see this guy. And you're going to tell me that's not real?"

As John Lennon famously said, "A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together becomes reality."

The Collector with a Friend by Damien Hirst - Photo: Cat Bauer
Since the works were obviously done by a contemporary hand when seen through adult eyes, I imagined how the story would look through the eyes of a child, wandering through the cavernous halls of the Punta della Dogana and the immense Venetian palace, Palazzo Grassi. Luckily, I stumbled upon a couple of kids, and asked them their opinions. The girl, around six, with red hair and blue eyes was shy, and said that she liked it. However, her brother, about eight, was more enthusiastic; he thought it was great.

"Do you think that the objects are real, or do you think that the artist created them?" I asked.

He laughed. "I don't care!"

If you'd like to know more, Katherine Tyrrell at Making a Mark "a top art blog for artists and art lovers" has compiled an excellent round-up of the exhibition with links to reviews, including this one.

Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable. Damien Hirst, curated by Elena Geuna at Punta della Dogana and Palazzo Grassi runs from April 9 to December 3, 2017.

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