Tuesday, December 25, 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, December 22, 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, December 12, 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, December 2, 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


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

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

A World Without Venice and Rhinos? Magnificence vs. Luxury

Pietro Longhi, Clara the Rhinoceros, 1751
(Venice, Italy) Both Venice and the Rhinoceros are endangered species, ravenously desired and unthinkingly consumed by a proliferating consumer class. That was the gist of the symposium on November 24th at Palazzo Contarini Polignac entitled Beauty and the Beast: Venice and the Rhino.

The rhinoceros has walked the earth for more than 50 million years, and is the world's oldest living mammal. Its horn has become one of the most costly luxury items on the planet -- a rhino is killed every eight hours to satisfy demand. The rhino horn has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for millennia, but increasingly it is being used as a status symbol to display success and wealth.

Humans have projected all sorts of miraculous attributes onto the rhino horn, just as humans have projected all sorts of fantasies onto the city of Venice. According to legend, Venice was founded on March 25, 421 A.D., nearly 1,600 years ago. Its monumental churches and impressive palaces still stand after centuries, nestled inside the lagoon. Nowadays, each day an average of 60,000 tourists descend upon a city composed of 54,000 residents. Both the rhino and Venice are in danger of becoming extinct.

Palazzo Contarini Polignac
Catherine Kovesi of Emporium is a historian of early modern Italian history at the University of Melbourne and was the organiser and curator of Venice and the Rhino, which kicked off with Bikem de Montebello, the Managing Director of Palazzo Contarini Polignac, giving us a fascinating history of the palace.

In 1900, American-born Winnaretta Singer (1865-1943), heiress to the Singer sewing machine fortune, bought the 15th-century palace on the Grand Canal as a birthday gift for her husband, Prince Edmond de Polignac, a composer of music, who died shortly thereafter. Winnaretta was a great patron of the arts, and Palazzo Polignac was the center of her extraordinary contributions to the cultural life of Venice, a city both she and Edmond cherished. Today, thanks to the efforts of the de Montebello family, Palazzo Contarini Polignac remains a vibrant center of Venice's cultural life.

Catherine Kovesi & Gigi Bon - Venice & the Rhino - Photo: Cat Bauer
Catherine Kovesi's focus is on debates surrounding luxury consumption in the early modern world, and is a lover of Venice herself. One day, while wandering around the city, she stumbled upon Mirabilia, the art studio of Gigi Bon, an artist who feels closer to the rhinoceros than to people. In fact, Gigi's rhino sculptures so riveted Catherine that they inspired the symposium itself.

In 2017, worldwide luxury retail sales totaled 1.2 trillion euro. Personal luxury goods -- the core of the market -- have grown 191% since 1995. Catherine took us on a journey that started with the long history of the word "luxury" compared to the word "magnificent." Centuries ago, luxury was a vice, not a virtue, and meant "excess" and was used to describe people who overly indulged; luxuria meant "lust," and was a sin linked to women. By the Elizabethan period the word was associated with adultery.

Magnificence, on the other hand, described the elite who spent on a large scale for the greater good, which was expected of members of the aristocracy. Speaker Lynn Johnson, Founding Director of Nature Needs More said, "Follow the money." There are more than 150 churches in Venice. Venetians did not need another church, yet they built magnificent houses of worship and enhanced them with precious works of art. The pursuit of luxury was practiced by the mediocre and those with vain ambition. The magnificent believed true success is what you left to the world.

Mass-produced souvenir picture of Clara produced by Van der Meer
One of a kind: Clara the rhinoceros in 18th-century Venice and the tale of a missing horn was a pre-recorded video presentation by Glynis Ridley of the University of Louisville, who, unfortunately, could not make it to Venice. In 1741, a Dutch sea captain named Douwemout Van der Meer obtained a female Indian rhino calf named Clara, whose mother had been killed by hunters. When Clara was a month old, she had been adopted by Jan Albert Sichterman, the director of the Dutch East India Company, and grew up wandering around his property, becoming quite tame.

Sichterman either sold or gifted Van der Meer with Clara, who took her on a grand European tour where she became a sensation, appearing before emperors and kings. She was only the fifth rhino seen on European soil since the fall of the Roman empire. In 1751, en route to Venice for an appearance at Carnevale, she shed her horn, captured in the painting of Pietro Longhi (photo at the top). Glynis Ridley was a winner of the Institute of Historical Research Prize for figuring out just who the heck that rhino was at the 1751 Venice Carnival.

Shih Li-Jen & Rhino sculpture at Vernissage - Photo: Cat Bauer
The symposium brought together an international group of scholars, artists, poets and writers, who explored the intersections between Venice and the rhino. Other speakers included Jane Da Mosto, an environmental scientist and Executive Director of We Are Here Venice, whose topic was Venice: A Fragile and Resilient City; Sophie Bostock of the Orientalist Museum in Qatar, who spoke about Clara in Qatar: The story of a Meissen porcelain; Bruno Martinho of the European University Institute, whose topic was Rhino horns and scraps of unicorn: The sense of touch and the consumption of rhino horns in early modern Iberia; and Sabrina Ardizzoni of the University of Bologna who presented the Taiwanese sculptor Shih Li-Jen: His Oeuvre, and his vision of the rhino and unfettered consumption. Shih Li-Jen said, "My goal is creating rhino sculptures to inspire people to help save these creatures."

Rhinoceros, detail from mosaic floor, St Mark’s Basilica, Venice, thirteenth century.
Photo ©Mark Smith
The earliest representation of a rhinoceros in Venice is in the Basilica of San Marco in the 13th-century pavement close to the altar of the Madonna Nicopeia. As a child, Gigi Bon was so fascinated by that rhino that she identified more as a rhinoceros than as a little girl. For over 25 years, she has developed her unique vision of the profound links between her own identity, the city of Venice and the predicament of the rhinoceros. It is believed that particular image of the rhino was inspired by Marco Polo's description of his travels to the Island of Basma of what he thought were unicorns:

"There are wild elephants in the country, and numerous unicorns, which are very nearly as big. They have hair like that of a buffalo, feet like those of an elephant, and a horn in the middle of the forehead, which is black and very thick... 'Tis a passing ugly beast to look upon, and is not in the least like that which our stories tell of it being of as being caught in the lap of a virgin; in fact, 'tis altogether different from what we fancied."

Cat Bauer with poet Ronna Bloom
Sprinkled throughout the symposium was the inspirational poetry of the Canadian poet Ronna Bloom, Poet in Residence at Sinai Health Toronto, which she read beautifully. I found it deeply moving. Ronna's poem about Venice, Gracious Hospitable City, captured perfectly the unique, almost inexplicable love that so many people seem to feel about Venice. I am always amazed at how many people fall in love with Venice, some to the point of obsession, and how many frequent visitors -- who don't live here -- become possessive of the city, like jealous lovers pining from afar. In contrast, Ronna's pure poetry struck just the right key:

by Ronna Bloom
I appeal to the gods of the lagoon, to the dirty filthy spirit
of boat spume and masks discarded,
Help me understand Venice.
To Fondamente Nove which ends at the water: throw me in.
To the man who took my suitcases on board answering his cell phone,
"Mama, dimmi." Speak to me.
I appeal to the resistant force inside
who holds her secret heart secret
so no one can make a Las Vegas Doge's Palace of her love.
"Everyone loves Venice." And I nod.
But does everyone have a hidden life revealed to them
in the mirror of a place they've never been?
A place that's cherished and also grieved?
I knew I had to come, but for years avoided it,
as though beauty were a wound I couldn't look at.
Remembering Rilke, beauty is the first touch of terror we can still bear.
How to care for a place being shipped into the sea by its keepers
sold to the highest bidder and
offered as a knock-off of  itself to those who don't know?
While the ones who do know
age perilously on the slow #1 vaporetto to work --
or from human overwhelm, take a cart into the calle
and ram it into a group of zombie-eyed walkers
with small flags from around the world --
or who host every minute they walk out their door --
or restore paintings in the back of Accademia to repair the sky.
Whose dogs' back legs shake like spider webs as they crouch --
and whose stringed instruments break the fragile air
the way the high tide siren does --
who still marvel at their own churches, arches, light and water
with anyone who'll look, whispering the beauty is free --
and lean out their tired windows and smile.
Respect does not mean being left alone, but cared for.
Who can answer that in a language everyone will understand?

The symposium stressed that a new conversation is needed. That the Academy needs to talk to industry. That the Academy needs to talk to conservationists. That the conversation needs to move away from battling the feeders of consumer demand towards understanding consumer motives. That creating empathy in consumers is probably a losing battle. That conservationists need a new paradigm.

Venetian artists: Fabrizio Plessi with Gigi Bon at Vernissage - Photo: Cat Bauer
Afterwards, there was a Vernissage for Rhinoceros: Luxury's Fragile Frontier in the Magazzino Gallery, Palazzo Contarini Polignac's exhibition space, featuring the art of Gigi Bon and Shih Li-Jen, and the poetry of Ronna Bloom, which is open to the public until December 21, 2018.

I haven't spent such an enlightening and educational day in a long time, surrounded by intelligent, thoughtful and magnificent people. Venice needs more symposiums like this. Kudos to Catherine Kovesi and Bikem de Montebello for organizing the event, and thank you to all the speakers for imparting their gems of wisdom.

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

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Remembering Venetian Valeria Solesin, Killed in the November 2015 Paris Attacks

Graduation day in Piazza San Marco - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) One of the perks of graduating from Ca' Foscari, Venice's university, is that the ceremony takes place in Piazza San Marco, one of the most breathtaking venues on the planet. On November 16th, thousands of friends and relatives witnessed young students take that monumental step on their life's voyage.

Three years ago today, the residents of Venice gathered in Piazza San Marco for a much sadder event: the candlelight vigil for Valeria Solesin, a 28-year-old Venetian PhD candidate at Sorbonne University, killed by ISIL on Friday, Novemember 13, 2015 in the Paris terrorist attacks.

I will never forget that evening when so many citizens of Venice gathered together in solidarity for Valeria. It was an extremely emotional and poignant moment, with thousands of candles lighting up the dark. Here is an excerpt of a post I wrote at the time:

Candlelight Vigil for Valeria Solesin - Venice Victim of Paris Terrorist Attacks

Candlelight Vigil for Valeria Solesin in Piazza San Marco - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) Thousands of people gathered in Piazza San Marco last evening to honor Valeria Solesin, a young, beautiful, intelligent Venetian woman, one of Venice's -- and the world's -- brightest stars, who was senselessly murdered by Daesh aka ISIL in Paris on Friday night. We gathered to remember all the Paris victims, but especially Valeria, a hometown girl. About seven thousand residents of Venice, young and old, made the journey to the center of the city to hold aloft twinkling points of light, illuminating the darkness that has descended on the planet. Many Venetians arrived with their children.

Valeria Solesin
Valeria Solesin represented everything good, empowering and compassionate about Europe. She was a brilliant young woman, who deeply believed in peace, not war. Valeria grew up in Venice, graduating in 2006, then got her degree at Trento University. For the last four years she lived in Paris as a PhD candidate at the prestigious Sorbonne University, studying sociology, with an emphasis on family and children. For years, she was a volunteer for Emergency, an Italian NGO that provides assistance to the civilian victims of war -- the extreme opposite of everything ISIL represents. She was killed at the Bataclan concert hall at age 28.

Click to read the entire post.

Graduation Day 2018 in Piazza San Marco - Photo: Cat Bauer
An award in Valeria's name is now in its second edition. The Premio Valeria Solesin is a competition for students at Italian universities inspired by the young Venetian researcher. Prizes go to the best Master's research theses on "Female talent as a determining factor for the development of the economy, ethics and meritocracy in our country," a topic to which Valeria had dedicated her work. It is open to students of 34 top Italian universities, public and private, and is supported by 14 companies, with Allianz Worldwide Partners promoting the 1st prize. Winners of the second edition will be announced on November 27, 2018.

Valeria Solesin was doing important work on the role of women in society. It is an extreme tragedy that her life was stolen from her at such a young age. Let us hope that the memory of the young Venetian woman inspires others to follow her path, and that positive female energy helps to balance the planet.

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

Saturday, November 10, 2018

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

Shakespeare in Venice at Hotel Danieli - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) William Shakespeare, the world's most famous English playwright, set one third of his plays in Italy. This rich exotic backdrop allowed him the freedom to tackle difficult subjects that might have been taboo on his native soil.

On Friday evening, November 9, I was a guest at the magnificent 14th century hall of Palazzo Dandolo, home of Hotel Danieli, and the stage for Shakespeare in Venice, a Journey through Shakespeare's Works, a condensed, contemporary version of five of the Bard's plays set in the Veneto.

The Merchant of Venice at Hotel Danieli - Photo: Cat Bauer
The quirky production, directed by Lorenzo Maragoni, whizzed through Romeo & Juliet, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Taming of the Shrew, Othello and The Merchant of Venice in about an hour with two young actors, Giulia Briata and Josh Lonsdale playing all the parts. They were accompanied by Giorgio Gobbo on guitar, who tossed the audience into a farcical key by singing the Beatles' Here Comes the Sun in falsetto when morning dawns and Romeo must flee Juliet's room after their wedding night.

Josh Lonsdale is not only an actor; the 26-year-old Brit also wrote the text. One of the best bits was when Juliet, about to drink the poison, sends Romeo a text message complete with emojis (smiley face, kiss, kiss) warning him that she is not dead, and not to overreact. Unfortunately, Romeo has forgotten his phone, and does not get the message...

Cocktail dinner at Hotel Danieli - Photo: Cat Bauer
After the performance, guests were treated to a cocktail dinner created by Chef Alberto Fol featuring food inspired by Shakespeare in Venice with tasty morsels like Insalata di latti di seppia con sedano e olive, Gallina Padovana con saor di cipolla, Zuppetta di pesci dell'Adriatico and Anatra arrostita alle spezi Orientali con salsa Peverada on the menu.

Dessert table at Hotel Danieli - Photo: Cat Bauer
Shakespeare in Venice 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 through Shakespearean theatre and Post WWII nonconformist literature. Next up on December 11 is Art/Beat - from Beat Generation to Contemporary Art, a commemoration, in English, inspired by the term "beat" coined by Jack Kerouac 70 years ago, and performed by two actors and two musicians.

For reservations contact:
Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Alone in the Doge's Palace - Venice, Italy

Palazzo Ducale Doge’s Palace at Night- Photo: Cat Bauer Venice Blog
Palazzo Ducale at night - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) Tonight I was alone inside the Doge's Palace with only the phantoms of the past. I had come from a book presentation in the Doge's Private Chapel. It was not the first time I have been alone inside Palazzo Ducale.

When I first arrived in Venice twenty years ago, I was fortunate enough to have an access-all-areas pass to the Doge's Palace to do some research, and could wander freely through the rooms rich with the Renaissance. I met a lot of ghosts.

Golden Staircase - Photo: Cat Bauer
There are so many tourists cramming the halls these days that I forgot what it looked like. Tonight, as I descended the Golden Staircase, I saw -- really saw -- a section of the floor for the first time, an optical illusion 5D Mary-Poppins-jump-through-the-pavement floor that threw me off. The floor did not seem solid at all. For few moments I thought I would tumble through the spaces and into another era, and come face to face with the Doge.

5D pavement inside Doge's Palace - Photo: Cat Bauer
I found my footing in present reality, touched marble, and continued down Sansovino's Scala d'Oro. I met a female attendant leaning against the loggia. I was still dizzy: "What they built... what they built... so many years ago."

She was pragmatic. "Well, they didn't build it all at once. They built that section in 14th century; and that section in the 15th century, and that section in the 16th..."

"Yes, but, what have we actually built these days, in the year 2018?"

She thought, then said: "The Calatrava Bridge and MOSE."

I haven't had such a good laugh in a long time.

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

Monday, October 29, 2018

Acqua Alta - Exceptional High Water in Venice, October 2018

Flooding in Venice, Italy - Photo Cat Bauer - Venice Blog
Acqua alta on the Zattare in Venice - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) We are having our first acqua alta, or high water, of the fall season, and it is a doozy. I can't remember it being this high since back in 2008, ten years ago.

There is a siren that goes off to warn the citizens of Venice that acqua alta is expected, which starts with a shattering air raid wail, then segues into four ascending harmonic tones that sound something like Close Encounters of the Third Kind. With each ascending tone, anxiety rises. We usually have one or two tones. Three is bad. Four is almost unheard of. Today we had four. On top of that, it has been raining on and off all day with strong, gusty winds.

High water in Venice, Italy - Photo by Cat Bauer - Venice Blog
Fallen trees by Accademia - Photo: Cat Bauer
Officials say that the water level reached just about 160 centimeters today, which is "exceptional." They measure the high water level from point zero at Punta della Salute, which is where the mareograph, an instrument for recording the rise and fall of the tide, is located.  Most of Venice -- 97% of the town -- is at more than 100 centimeters, so normally when we have acqua alta, we put on our rubber boots and go about business as usual since there are only patches that flood -- in fact, many times we don't even put on our rubber boots if we know the area well enough to navigate.

Only certain areas are lower than 100 cm -- the lowest point in Venice is right in front of the main entrance of the Basilica of San Marco in Piazza San Marco, which is 64cm, and always floods. But when we have exceptional high water -- over 140cm -- that means 90% of the town is covered by water.

Flood Rates of Venice in Relation to High Water Levels

+100cm - 3.56%

+110cm - 11.74%

+120cm - 35.18%

+130cm - 68.75%

+140cm -  90%

The information I am using from the Province of Venice's Turismo Venezia does not list tides over +140cm, but we can imagine that at +160cm, nearly the entire town is covered by water. This does not mean that we are under water, but there is water in almost every calle in town. Here is a photo of the calle outside my door, which never gets high water, even at +140cm. I was only millimeters away from the water coming in my house! I wonder if in the future there will always be water in the calle, and that to live in Venice you will have to put on rubber boots just to get out the door.

Water in the calle - Photo: Cat Bauer
The water rose so high that they cancelled the vaporetti except out to the islands. Schools and museums had already announced they would be closed today and tomorrow. We were told to stay inside, but nobody seemed to listen, including me. I managed to navigate well enough up until about 2:30pm, but gave up when the water went over my boots at Rialto. There were guys right inside the vaporetto stop selling those noisy plastic colorful boots to tourists for ten bucks a pair.

Flooding in Venice, Italy - Photo by Cat Bauer - Venice Blog
Intrepid travelers at Bar da Gino during acqua alta in Venice - Photo: Cat Bauer
The tourists in town were in good spirits, and seemed to treat it like a great adventure. Of course, for businesses it is not an adventure at all, but a lot of stress, hard work and clean-up. Even Gino's by Accademia which is open all day from 6:00am to around midnight gave up and closed around 2:00pm, leaving some intrepid travelers munching on some pizza as the water lapped around their feet.

Here is a YouTube clip of the Zattare, which became part of the lagoon, and was not possible to navigate without thigh-high boots as early as 12:45pm.

Another four-alarm siren went off as I wrote this. The winds are gusting. Exceptional acqua alta is also on the agenda for tonight and tomorrow...

Go to the Province of Venice High Water Information Centre for more information.

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

Sunday, October 14, 2018

It's a First in Italy: Léon Bakst, Acclaimed Set & Costume Designer of the Ballets Russe, at Palazzo Cini in Venice

1909 Amoun costume for Michel Fokine in Cleopatra - design by Léon Bakst - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) The Ballets Russes has always intrigued me. Originally conceived by ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev, who is buried here in Venice on the island of San Michele, the itinerant company never performed in Russia, beginning its adventure in Paris in 1909.

The Ballet Russes grew out of the World of Art movement, founded in Russia by artists opposed to the prevailing culture -- a talented group that introduced "Russian Colour" in music, choreography and the figurative arts. In addition to Diaghilev, the founders of Ballet Russes included Léon Bakst, who had created a name for himself as an art editor and childrens' book illustrator before tackling set and costume design for ballet. Other prominent members included the renowned Vaslav Nijinksy, considered the greatest male dancer of the early 20th century, and Michel Fokine, the groundbreaking Russian choreographer and dancer.

In 1909 Bakst visited Venice with Diaghilev and Nijinksky. That same year he joined the Ballets Russes, which debuted with the ballet Cléopatre performed by Anna Pavlova, Tamara Karsavina, Ida Rubinsetin and Michel Fokine, who was also the choreographer. 

Cleopatra costume design by Léon Bakst for Ida Rubinstein, Paris 1909 - Photo: Cat Bauer
"The greatest success of the season is Cléopatre. The theatre was packed even on the closing nights and the result was surprising every time, earning 34,000 francs a day." 
Letter by Bakst to his wife Lyubov Gritsenko, June 30, 1909.

"In my apartment Ida Rubinstein met Diaghilev and the entire troupe of the Ballet Russes artists and it was then that she was invited to perform in the 'Russian Season,' in Cléopatre, and later in Shéhérazade. For a year I couldn't make a real dancer of her. She was very unemotional in the roles of Cleopatra and Shéhérazade, but thanks to her striking appearance she managed to achieve unusual forms and a very profound image."
Letter by Michel Fokine to Frederick Beaumont, January 1, 1925

The Fondazione Giorgio Cini Institute of Theatre and Opera and the Saint Petersburg State Museum of Theatre and Music present the exhibition of Léon Bakst, built almost entirely around Bakst's stage and costume designs from the large collection of his work in the Saint Petersburg Museum, now on show in Italy for the first time. In addition to Bakst's designs, the exhibition is complemented by rare theatre programs and other iconographic items from the archive of choreographer Aurél M. Milloss, presereved in the Fondazione Giorgio Cini.

The exhibition made me greatly appreciate the organizations that somehow manage to preserve the monumental moments of mankind throughout war and strife, suppression and revolution. It seems that no matter how hard the forces of obstruction try to repress these precious jewels, industrious individuals manage to squirrel them away.

Léon Bakst. Symbol of the Ballets Russes, curated by Maria Ida Biggi and Natalia Metelitsa is at Palazzo Cini until November 19, 2018. Go to the Fondazione Giorgio Cini for more information.

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

Sunday, October 7, 2018

What are those Photos around Venice? "Water, Future, Life" - Ten Years of the Elena Trevisanato Foundation

Brehane, elderly woman from Obal village - Photo by Axel Fassio
"We were resigned to the necessity of migrating, without knowing where to go. Today we are here, our village is prospering and we can live on our land. Water keeps our roots and our traditions alive."
Brehane - an elderly woman from the Obal village

(Venice, Italy) Ten photographs. Ten stories. Ten months. "Water, Future, Life," ten photographs by Axel Fassio tell ten different stories in an itinerary that weaves throughout the heart of Venice and Mestre for the next ten months to raise awareness of the ten years that the Fondazione Elena Trevisanato has been doing good deeds in Ethiopia.

Zahi, village chief of Darwoanji - Photo by Axel Fassio
"Since the day we got water, it is not only the history of individuals that changed, but the history of our entire community. It has been a dream come true. It is like we are born again."
Zahi, village chief of Darwoanji

Elena Trevisanato died very young, at age 19, when she fell off a horse. Her family spun their grief into gold by setting up the non-profit Fondazione Elena Trevisanato, which has transformed the lives of about 135,000 people by bringing water, new schools and health care to villages in the Somali Region of Ethiopia. With images and words, ten villagers reflect upon how their lives have been transformed by the Fondazione Elena Trevisanato.

Asma, student from Darwonaji village - Photo by Axel Fassio
"Education is the light of the world."
Asma - 12-year-old student from the Darwonaji village

The exhibition began on October 5 on Salizada San Samuele where the ten photographs were sprinkled throughout various businesses along the street. It will continue until July 2019, culminating with an auction next September. Here is the itinerary:

  • October 2018: Salizada San Samuele
  • November 2018: Campo Santa Margherita
  • December 2018: Campo San Giacomo dell'Orio
  • January 2019: the island of Giudecca
  • February 2019: the Rialto Fish Market
  • March 2019: the center of Mestre
  • April 2019: vaporetto stops along the Grand Canal
  • May 2019: Campo San Giovanni e Paolo
  • June 2019: Forte Marghera
  • July 2019: Fondamenta Misericordia

At the inauguration next February, there will be an event at the Rialto Fish Market open to all. The Fondazione Elena Trevisanato believes that the Rialto Fish Market is a historic space that is synonymous with work and tradition, as well as the future and life of all the citizens of Venice.

Selam, patient at Darwonaji health center - Photo by Axel Fassio
"The presence of the hospital ward has greatly improved the assistance we receive. Today, the dispensary of our village is a real place of care."
Selam, patient at the Darwonaji health center

Photographer Axel Fassio is a "globetrotter since birth, a Venetian by adoption." He has exhibited throughout the world, from Europe to the United States, from Argentina to Sri Lanka and Kenya. His images have been published in National Geographic, Der Spiegel and The New York Times, the Discovery Channel and BBC Travel. He has lived and worked in Africa with NGOs and the United Nations.

Everyone involved is volunteering their time, energy, spaces and other resources to turn the spotlight on the foundation created by the Trevisanato family to memorialize Elena, their daughter and sibling. Fondazione Elena Trevisanato has transformed the grief of one tragic young death into a movement that gives life and hope to thousands. 

Fondazione Elena Trevisanato onlus
Santa Croce 252
30135 Venezia
Tel.: +39 041 522 61 36

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