Friday, December 20, 2019

Good News from Venice: The Royal Gardens have Re-Opened!

The Royal Gardens in Venice Pergola Photo by Cat Bauer Venice Blog
Strolling under the pergola - Opening of the Giardini Royali in Venice - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) After surviving wars, occupations, revolutions and neglect, the Royal Gardens in Venice, the Giardini Reali, re-opened on Tuesday, December 17, 2019. Thanks to five years of effort under the wise, loving and passionate guidance of Adele Re Rebaudengo, president of the Venice Gardens Foundation, the public once again has a place in Venice to pause and reflect, surrounded by greenery, flowers, birds and bees.

After Napoleon had conquered Venice, he thought that the perfect complement to his new Royal Palace in the Procuratie Nuove in Piazza San Marco would be a Royal Garden. So he had the 14th century public granaries knocked down, where the Venetian Republic had stocked their wheat.

That was the beginning of the Royal Gardens, which are on an island surrounded by canals and the Basin of St. Mark. 

From 1797, Venice was tossed back and forth under French domination, then Austrian, then French, then Austrian again as the garden was being developed. When the dust settled, a drawbridge had been built in 1815 over a small internal canal to provide access to the gardens from the Royal Palace, which also allowed gondolas to glide by.

The architect Lorenzo Santi had been put in charge of building the Royal Palace, recommended by the great artist Antonio Canova himself, and it was Santi who put the final touches on the gardens, complete with a wooded grove, flowering plants, greenhouse, potted citrus trees and a tree-lined avenue along the Basin of St. Mark. At the end of the avenue, Santi placed the Cafehaus, a neoclassical pavilion. All this was off limits to the public and reserved for the court.

The Generali Group is the main partner in today's restoration project thanks to incentives from Art Bonus, which gives tax credits to those who support culture with charitable donations. The Generali Group was founded in Trieste in 1831. The next year, they opened an office in Venice in Piazza San Marco in the Procuratie Vecchie building, which is where they are still located today. Generali is a major player in the global insurance market. .

Venice was not thrilled to be under the rule of Austria, and revolted in 1848 under the revolutionary leader Daniele Manin, a jurist and passionate statesman. Generali was sympathetic to the cause, and took the winged Lion of San Marco as their symbol rather than the Hapsburg eagle. They did this right under the nose of the Austrians who were located next door in the Royal Palace aka the Procuratie Nuove in Piazza San Marco.

In 2017 I wrote a post which gives the layout of the land:

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

The Venetians briefly drove out the Austrians and elected Daniele Manin as president of the re-created Republic of Venice. But the Austrians came roaring back and re-took Venice in 1849.

Needless to say, the Venetians were enraged. To calm everybody down, in 1857 Emperor Franz Joseph allowed the public to walk along the avenue flanking the Basin of St. Mark, but they could not go inside the gardens, which were used exclusively by the court. So iron bars were built to separate the path from the gardens. (Can you imagine such a thing? The Venetian public were given permission to walk along their own lagoon while the Austrians partied inside the barred-off garden.)

View from Sissi's window in Museo Correr on Dec 4, 2019 - Photo: Cat Bauer
But now that the public could walk along the avenue, where was the court supposed to stroll? To solve that problem, an iron and cast iron pergola that ran the length of the gardens was constructed to provide a shaded private walk, adapted from a temporary one that had been built to welcome Emperor Franz Joseph and Empress Sissi when they had first arrived on the scene in November 1856. But when Sissi lived by herself in the Royal Palace in Venice from October 1861 to May 1862, she revoked the permission. (If you visit the Correr Museum, which is what the wing of the Royal Palace morphed into, you can look out Sissi's windows and pretend you are an empress trapped in her rooms.)

In 1866, Venice became part of the Kingdom of Italy, and the Savoy monarchs let the public walk along the edge of the water again. In fact, an iron bridge was built so it could be accessed from Piazzetta di San Marco. The drawbridge connecting the gardens to the palace was rebuilt in 1893.

After World War I, on December 23, 1920, the Crown ceded the Royal Gardens to the State Property Office, which entrusted them to the City of Venice, who threw the gates wide open. They also opened the drawbridge in the former Royal Palace, so you could stroll right from Piazza San Marco into the gardens.

Then Mussolini came along and suspended the drawbridge. And then the Nazis came to town.

During World War II, a concrete bunker was constructed right in the central area of the gardens. 

After the war, as the decades progressed, the gardens were neglected until the pergola was in ruins, the drawbridge unusable -- frozen in a raised position -- the gate rusted and crumbling, the trees diseased, and the greenery and flowers wild and chaotic. Hordes of tourists invaded the gardens, munching on sandwiches and drinking Coke. The Cafehaus had transformed from coffeehouse to headquarters of the Bucintoro Rowing Club, to air terminal(!), to an info point for the tourist office until it was closed and abandoned. The whole place was a wreck.

On December 23, 2014, the State Property Office entrusted the management of the Royal Gardens to the Venice Garden Foundation, who began its recovery, and is now responsible for its care and conservation.

Inauguration of Venice Royal Gardens - Photo: Cat Bauer
On December 19, 2019, the Royal Gardens re-opened to the public. Paolo Pejrone, the renowned landscape architect in charge of the garden project said, "It takes a lot of courage to create a garden like this, and even more courage to open it in the middle of December. Creating a garden in a lagoon is not easy."

Why didn't the gardens flood during the Acqua Granda of November 12, especially because they are located between Piazza San Marco, Venice's lowest point, and the mouth of the Grand Canal? Pejrone said it was because Napoleon, foresighted emperor that he was, ordered them built high to protect them from flooding. Pejrone is also looking to the future, and populated the gardens with sustainable plants, shrubs and trees that require little water and provide plenty of shade.

Luigi Brugnaro, the Mayor of Venice, was at the inauguration and said that the project had the full support of the current administration. Dario Franceschini, the Italian Minister of Culture, was also on hand and said, "It is a beautiful story of love and generosity."

The Coffee House at Royal Gardens - Photo: Cat Bauer
The Cafehaus is once again a coffeehouse and eatery, thanks to the support of the Italian family-owned company, illycaffè. Andrea Illy, the chairman of the premium coffee company and grandson of the founder, was at the inauguration. (If you haven't heard of illycaffè before, you could soon, as they are considering expanding into the United States.) The elegant pavilion of Istrian stone was restored to its former glory under the direction of the Venetian architect, Alberto Torsello.

Royal Gardens in Venice, drawbridge, photo by Cat Bauer Venice Insider Blog
Standing on the drawbridge - Photo: Cat Bauer
The first thing I did after the press conference was head over to the newly restored drawbridge and take a photo. It was a thrill to walk from the gardens right into Piazza San Marco. 

The Royal Gardens are located in one of Mediterranean Europe's most important bird areas, which will be a small oasis where resident birds can build their nests and where birds migrating to East-Central Europe can rest before continuing on their journeys. There are two beehives that will make it possible to witness the behavior of those fascinating creatures up close and personal.

The concrete bunker was demolished. The pergola was rebuilt. The greenery and flowers restored with:

New plantings:
22 trees;
804 shrubs;
6,560 flowering plants;
3,150 bulbs;
68 climbing plants.
Trees being treated: 7
Diseased or dead trees replaced: 19

Philippe Bonnet & Adele Re Rebaudengo - Photo: Cat Bauer
Philippe Bonnet, the CEO of Generali Group, was also at the inauguration, and said their work was only partially complete. Generali wants to cure the planet, and is restoring the Procutarie Vecchie, with a design by David Chipperfield, which will house its ambitious "Human Safety Net" project. The Human Safety Net supports families, children and vulnerable communities, and is a movement of people helping people, "inspired by the idea of ‘chain aid’, where those who benefit may one day give back to someone else, creating a ‘ripple’ of positive change that extends worldwide with limitless potential."

The Procutarie will be open to the public for the first time in 500 years, and will include exhibition spaces, offices, workshops and an auditorium. The restoration will use original Venetian materials and craftsmanship from local tradespeople. 

When the entire project is complete, Piazza San Marco will be utterly transformed, all the way to the edge of the lagoon, welcoming the public with open arms. Let's hope the public responds with respect and appreciation, and treats Venice with the dignity she deserves.


Open from Tuesday to Sunday:
from April 15 to October 15, 8.30 a.m. - 7.30 p.m. (last entry at 7.15 p.m.)
from October 16 to April 14, 9.00 a.m. - 5.00 p.m. (last entry at 4.45 p.m.)
The Gardens are closed: Mondays, December 25 and 31, January 1, the last Saturday and last Sunday of Carnival, Easter Sunday, Saturday during the Feast of the Redeemer (3rd Saturday in July).

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

Sunday, December 15, 2019

The Day Before the Venice Flood: Joe Tacopina & The Venice Football Club at Palazzo Ducale

High water boots under the table - Joe Tacopina, Paolo Romor, Mariacristina Gribaudi, Matthew Senno - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) On the afternoon of November 12, 2019, an intimate press conference was held in Palazzo Ducale to announce the Agreement between the Venice Civic Museums Foundation (MUVE) and Venezia FC, the Venice Football Club. The conference had been postponed an hour due to seasonal flooding in Piazza San Marco, and we all arrived wearing our acqua alta boots. 

Little did we know that later that same evening Venice would be hit by the worse flood in over 50 years, from which the city is slowly recovering.

But that afternoon, the mood was festive. The Agreement was to promote the historical and artistic heritage of Venice internationally, and to increase awareness among the children of the youth sector of Venezia Football Club, who come to Venice from all over the world.

To those who live and work in Venice, it was business as usual for a November afternoon. To Joe Tacopina, the dynamic attorney from New York and owner of Venezia FC, it was a novelty. He jumped up on his chair and exclaimed, "What other city in the world can you wear high water boots to sign an Agreement?"

High water boots in Venice are a great equalizer. If you want to move around the city during acqua alta, everybody must wear them -- doctors, lawyers, shop owners, fishmongers, counts and countesses. There is a certain charm about businessmen in suits and ties wearing knee-high boots to a meeting. Although it may seem peculiar to the rest of the world, in Venice, it is part of life.

Pierluigi Penzo Stadium in Venice - Photo:Pierluigi Penzo Stadium La Nuovo di Venezia e Mestre
What is Venezia FC?

Venezia FC is Venice's soccer team, founded on December 14, 1907. For much of their existence, they have played in Serie A and Serie B, the two top divisions in Italy; they currently play in Serie B. Their home stadium, the Pierluigi Penzo, which was built in 1913, is the second oldest in Italy. The stadium takes its name from a World War I Venetian aviator, and is down on Sant' Elena, the island at the eastern tip of Venice. Part of the vision for the team is to build a new world-class stadium on the mainland.

Who is Joe Tacopina?

Joe Tacopina is a high-powered, high-profile celebrity defense attorney, representing clients like  Meek Mill, Jay-Z, Maroon 5 and former New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez. Tacopina is based in Manhattan and grew up in Brooklyn, the son of Italian immigrants. He is the father of five, has a passion for soccer, and bought Venezia Football Club in October, 2015. He is a present, hands-on owner. I found his New York style and American energy refreshing. Have a look at this very effective YouTube clip to learn more about the man and the Venice Football Club:

I know next to nothing about soccer, except to appreciate how gorgeous the players are, and was puzzled as to what it had to do with art, culture and Venice's civic museums. So I asked Tacopina.

"I want to strengthen the rapport with the city. I fell in love with Venice five years ago. Wherever you look you find beauty. Just look where we're sitting right now! I have to pinch myself. I want the players to understand the importance of the jersey they are wearing, and gain an understanding of the rich history and culture of Venice over the centuries. I want them to have a sense of pride."

As well as the professional soccer team, Venezia FC is developing its Venezia Football Academy, which has programs for young people on a local and international level. In addition to kids from the surrounding area, students participate from all over the world -- China, the U.S., Canada, Australia, South Korea, Vietnam, Mongolia, Finland and Oman. The international clubs come to Venice for a couple of weeks, and in addition to polishing their soccer skills, have the opportunity to visit Venice's museums.

Think about it -- if you were a 14-year-old aspiring athlete from the U.S. who traveled all the way to Venice to improve his or her soccer skills, and were brought to the awesome Palazzo Ducale so you could understand centuries of Venetian history -- how mind-blowing would that be?

Mariacristina Gribaudi gets a Venezia FC jersey - Photo: Cat Bauer
At the end of the conference, Mariacristina Gribaudi, the President of MUVE and a powerhouse herself, was presented with a jersey with her name on it. She whipped off her jacket and slipped it over her head (she's got a tattoo!).

Gribaudi is the mother of six -- she and her second husband are a modern-day Brady Bunch, combining their kids from previous marriages into a solid family unit. She is also the Administrator of the family business, Keyline, founded in 1770 and based in the Veneto, which produces door and car keys, as well as key cutting machines on a global scale. 

In addition to running MUVE and Keyline, Gribaudi's passions are young people and women -- one of the first things she did as MUVE President was install Baby Pit Stops at the museums where you can pop in and tune-up your baby: breastfeed and change a diaper. If you can understand Italian, here's a YouTube video:

Mixing sports and culture? I think it is a terrific idea, especially with these two passionate individuals at the helm. The Venice Civic Museums has a rich educational section, offering programs and adventures for adults, kids, schools and families on a local and international level -- not just for soccer players -- so if you're in Venice with the family, discover what programs MUVE has to offer. Developing the educational program and encouraging kids to enrich their knowledge of Venetian heritage is a powerful tool to creating a strong foundation for future generations.  

Go to Educational Services of the Venice Civic Museums for more information.

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

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Life & Death on December 8: The Madonna of the Sun, John Lennon & the Feast of the Immaculate Conception in Venice

Harley, Like a Person
(Venice, Italy) When I created the teenage protagonist, Harley Columba, I wanted her to have a deep connection to John Lennon, so in my first novel,  Harley, Like a Person, I made her birthday on December 8th, the same day that John Lennon was assassinated. Even though Harley was raised Catholic -- drawing from my own background -- at the time I wrote the novel back in the 1990s, I had no idea what the significance of that day was in terms of Christian history, nor in the history of many other religions.

I've never felt particularly close to the concept of the Virgin Mary, which was far away from the reality of my experience of what being female entailed. To me, it was a product of the patriarchy, designed to suppress the sacred feminine energy. I did a lot of research, including journeying to Turkey to study the concept of the female throughout the millennium, arriving all the way back to the 8th millennium BC. 

I wrote a long post about my wanderings way back on March 19, 2008:

Oh, Madonna!

Harley's Ninth - illustrated by Philippe Lardy
So, in my second novel, Harley's Ninth, Harley, who is an artist, has an idea for a goddess of her own creation, and decides to capture her idea in a sketch for an oil painting. She calls her goddess, The Madonna of the Sun -- "...a sexy Madonna, a modern Isis, a new Amaterasu, the Japanese sun goddess..." 

Meeting at the Golden Gate by Giotto (section) - 1305
Only after moving to Venice did I learn that December 8th is a national holiday here in Italy: the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a holiday that seems to have been utterly forgotten in the United States. It is one of the most important Marian feast days in the Roman Catholic Church, and is celebrated world-wide. It honors the day that Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, was immaculately conceived

This was a revelation to me, as I had confused the Immaculate Conception with the virgin birth of Jesus Christ.  

But it was not until I saw the MAGISTER GIOTTO exhibition at the Scuola Grande della Misercordia in 2017 that the idea of the Immaculate Conception hit me on an emotional level. Some scholars think that the great artist Giotto di Bondone captured the moment of the Immaculate Conception in his Meeting at the Golden Gate, when Mary's parents; Joachim and Anne, who were long-married but childless, first met each other after receiving the news -- separately -- from an angel that they would have a child who would grow up to be the mother of God. You can read more about the moment in a post I wrote about Giotto: 

The Most Powerful Kiss in Art: Do you know what MAGISTER GIOTTO in Venice is?

The Beauty of Venice, December 2019 Photo by Cat Bauer Venice Blog
The Beauty of Venice, December 2019 - Photo: Cat Bauer
Venice itself is a female city, which is another thing that makes it distinct. The Venetians who constructed this city created churches and images, institutions and organizations to honor the Madonna, and appreciated the sacred female energy in their own quirky patriarchal way. As Venice once again lifts up her skirts and gets back to business after the destructive November 12 flood, it would be greatly appreciated if her honor and strong resilience was respected by all. 

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

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Venice After the Flood - The Wisdom of The Black Madonna on the Feast of the Madonna of Salute

The Black Madonna - Panagia Mesopantitisa, Venice - on the Festa of the Madonna della Salute - Photo: Cat Bauer
The Black Madonna - Panagia Mesopantitisa - on the Festa della Madonna della Salute in Venice - Photo: Cat Bauer
The Feast of the Madonna of Salute is the most Venetian of holidays. This year, the festival holds special significance as Venice rises together as a community after surviving the worst flood in recent memory.

It was as if Mother Nature herself was enraged by the condition that Venice was in and whipped up a ferocious storm, commanding the attention of the entire world. The world responded with concern and solidarity, wrapping Venice in a warm embrace.

Now we give thanks to the Panagia Mesopantitisa -- Madonna the Mediator -- the Black Madonna on the high altar in the Church of Madonna della Salute. Venetians from all over the Veneto arrive in the city to offer their presence and prayers to one of the most beloved and powerful icons in Venice. The Black Madonna pulses with wisdom and spirituality like a direct message from Mother Nature into your heart.

There are many theories as to the origins of Black Madonnas. The one I like the best is that she is the ancient Earth Goddess converted to Christianity.

Let's hope this new appreciation for Venice stays in the hearts of the millions of travelers who visit the city each year, and that they treat her with awe, respect and admiration upon arrival. As a visionary city that has existed for more than 1,500 years inside a lagoon, Venice has much to teach those who wish to learn.

Here is a post I wrote six years ago, in 2013, which will give you some background and history of the festival:

Festa of the Madonna della Salute in Venice

The Black Madonna - Panagia Mesopantitisa, Venice - on the Festa della Salute - Photo: Cat Bauer
The Black Madonna - Panagia Mesopantitisa, Venice - Festa della Salute - Photo: Cat Bauer
(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.

Church of Redentore - Photo: Cat Bauer venice blog
Church of Redentore - Photo: Cat Bauer
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:

Church of Madonna della Salute - Photo: Cat Bauer venice blog
Church of Madonna della Salute - Photo: Cat Bauer

"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.

Click to continue reading:

Festa of the Madonna della Salute in Venice

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

Monday, November 18, 2019

The Exploitation of Venice + Anniversary of the Death of Valeria Solesin + Great November 2019 Flood

Piazza San Marco between the floods - November 14, 2019 - Photo: Cat Bauer
Venice is an impossible dream that became physical reality by the collective imagination of enlightened souls. From the salt marshes of a lagoon arose the most beautiful and surreal city mankind has ever created... Magnificent palaces along the Grand Canal... Publishing capital of the world... Center of trade... Merchant ships... Headquarters in a pink fairy-tale palace... All nestled inside a protective lagoon, like the arms of a loving mother who must be defended. 

It is a privilege to live inside Venice together with the phantoms of the past, and with that privilege comes the responsibility to maintain her beauty, culture and well-being.

It is an even greater privilege to visit Venice and witness her impossible beauty, if only for a brief time. Some people see Venice just once in a lifetime -- if ever -- and some people return time and again. Visitors to Venice bear an even greater responsibility to treat the city with respect and admiration. Visiting Venice, no matter how often, is utterly different than actually being a resident of the city, and all the gifts and burdens that come with it. 

Candlelight vigil for Valeria Solesin in Piazza San Marco - November 18, 2015 - Photo: Cat Bauer Venice Blog
Candlelight vigil for Valeria Solesin in Piazza San Marco - November 18, 2015 - Photo: Cat Bauer

Four years ago today, thousands of citizens of Venice and the Veneto gathered together in Piazza San Marco for a candlelight vigil to honor Valeria Solesin, one of Venice's brightest young stars. Valeria had grown up in Venice, and was a Phd candidate at Sorbonne University when she was killed in the Paris terrorist attacks on Friday the 13th, November 2015.
That poignant evening was a moment of great solidarity when citizens from every walk of life, old and young, rich and poor, male and female, from different political parties, different religions, races and nationalities, came together to illuminate the darkness, holding thousands of candles in thousands of hands.

Since it was a mass gathering, we were warned about the threat of another terrorist attack, but we all went anyway, defying the danger and bonding in love. All differences were put aside and the community united as one. Valeria Solesin represented the best of Venice.

If a woman from a foreign country was present, by chance, at that sacred candlelight vigil, and then later exploited the moment in an attempt to influence the narrative of Venice to promote her own agenda... only an outsider with the darkest moral character could commit such a treachery.  To spread deliberate lies about such a sacred evening is pure evil.

Here is the link to the post I wrote on November 19, 2015:

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

Piazza San Marco November 2019 flood - Photo: Stefano Mazzola via The Atlantic
Venice has just survived another tragedy after her protective lagoon was consumed by the raging sea, a condition created by climate change and mankind's interference. The flooding affected just about everyone, everywhere, so there was a feeling of community as people cleaned up the damage. There was also anger over MOSES, the flood barrier that was supposed to protect the city, but has been wracked by corruption and is still not functioning after 16 years and billions of euro spent. The system that was supposed to protect the city was utterly useless. 

Venice has the potential to once again become an international showcase of mankind's greatness, a city of cultural, ecological and technological advancements. There is a layer of Venice that already exists at this level, which is being suffocated by mass tourism and selfies, and exploited by social media.

They like to say that Venice belongs to the world. If so, it is the duty of humanity to preserve Venice's knowledge and beauty for future generations. Every single person who visits this impossible city bears a solid responsibility to put the needs of Venice and Venetians above their own interests. The exploitation of Venice must stop.

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

Sunday, November 17, 2019

How is the Banksy Migrant Child Mural holding up after the Venice Flood? (And the Miracle of Church San Giacometto)

Banksy Migrant Child November 16, 2019 Photo by Ed Bulloch for Venetian Cat Bauer Venice Blog
Banksy Migrant Child November 16, 2019 Photo by Ed Bulloch for Venetian Cat -Venice Blog
(Venice, Italy) There have been all sorts of reports about the Banksy Migrant Child mural being submerged during the floods in Venice. Last evening, I stopped by to see what condition the mural was in.

Luckily, Ed Bulloch and his wife and daughter, visitors from the United States, were already there, and Ed had a good camera. I asked him to take some photos for me, and he generously obliged -- thank you, Ed. The family had sought out the mural because the daughter was an art lover, and had tracked it down using Google maps(!), which gave them the general vicinity. But they had found the actual location on their own. The family had some great navigational skills, especially because it was already dark.

The photo was taken about 5:30pm on November 16, 2019, and the mural looks in pretty good shape. We wondered what Banksy had used to preserve it so well. I told them that the Fondaco dei Tesdesci at the foot of the Rialto Bridge had once been decorated with frescoes by Titian and Giorgione. Now a DFS luxury shopping center, it was inaugurated on August 1, 1508 as the headquarters for German merchants. Whipped by the sirocco winds -- the same winds that whipped Venice on Tuesday -- the frescoes only lasted a few decades. Let's hope that the Banksy mural -- and Venice itself -- lasts longer than that.

Here is the original Bansky mural from Banksy's site:

It seems that now there are more exposed bricks beneath the child's knees, but I don't know if that had happened prior to the flood. There is a photo on Alamy taken on September 11, 2019, and it looks like the bricks were already exposed at that time. I can't put that image in this post without paying for it, so click over to Alamy if you would like to see for yourselves.

I originally wrote about the Banksy mural on May 25, 2019, which you can read here:

Banksy Crashes Venice and Improves the Neighborhood

Flooded Acqua Alta Bookstore, Venice - Photo: Emiliano Crespi/ANSA ABC News
As most of the world knows, Venice was hit by its worst flood in 53 years on the night of November 12. In less than one week, there have been three exceptional high tides above 140 cm; on Tuesday the tide peaked at 187 cm (6.14 ft), just under the record of 194 cm (6.36 ft) set in the disaster of 1966. It has been an extreme roller coaster ride, with emotions rising and falling in rhythm with the extreme tides of the lagoon. I have gone from rage to tears, to hope and laughter, and then to confusion and questions, and am now waiting for the dust... er... water to settle.


Many people have asked me what they can do to help. There are lots fund raisers on social media in which you can participate, some more legitimate than others. As usual, there are so-called "experts" who have never lived in Venice -- or even Italy -- trying to grab control of the narrative. I understand that people all over the world want to do something to help. What I would suggest is that unless you are confident about your contribution, just stay Zen and let everyone recover, and then make an informed decision.

Because I am an author, I that feel books, documents and written information are more precious than gold. Reading and culture are necessary for civilized societies to come together and understand each other. So much of our knowledge today is possible because wise thinkers from the past made deliberate efforts to safeguard books and manuscripts.

The fund raiser I will support will go to help restore the book stores and libraries in Venice. It is still being organized because it wants to be completely transparent and accountable -- something that has been difficult to do with all the confusion. People have been spending most of their efforts cleaning up one flood after another, let alone have time to access the damages. So if you are interested in supporting the written word, stay tuned, and I will keep you updated.

Closed Due to Disaster (Thank you, MOSE) Photo: Cat Bauer Venice Blog
Closed Due to Disaster (Thank you, MOSE) Photo: Cat Bauer
On Thursday afternoon, between the Extreme High Tides, I went around town to see how everyone was doing. The water had been very democratic, invading everyone, so there was a feeling of comradery as people cleaned up, along with a sense of fury at MOSES, the flood barrier that has been wracked by corruption and still does not function after 16 years and billions of euro. I suggest you read Why Venice is disappearing by Jeff Goodell in the Rolling Stone to get a better understanding.

"But the tragedy of Venice is about more than climate change and the power of rising seas. It’s about how bad engineering, combined with greed and incompetence, can make the climate crisis we are facing so much worse."

Church of San Giacometto interior during Nov. 2019 floods - Photo: Cat Bauer
High & Dry - Church of San Giacometto interior during Nov. 2019 floods - Photo: Cat Bauer
I ended my journey at Rialto, and went into the Church of San Giacometto to say a prayer. San Giacometto is the oldest church in Venice, and it is my favorite, along with the Basilica of San Marco. Tradition says that San Giacometto -- which is a nickname; its official name is San Giacomo di Rialto -- was originally consecrated in 421 A.D., the year Venice was born, right at the very spot where Venice was born at noon on March 25.

I was astonished to find the interior perfectly dry and undamaged! It was really like a miracle. At first I thought my senses were deceiving me. I wondered, how could that be?

It just so happened that the Giuseppe Mazzariol, the President of the Acriconfraternita di S. Cristoforo e della Misiericordia was there to answer my questions. He said that under Doge Marino Grimani, the Venetians had raised the floor in 1601 to counter the acqua alta, which is why it was cozy and dry centuries later.

Just think -- 400 years ago the ancient Venetians were wise enough to prevent one of the worst floods in the history of Venice from damaging the precious church far in the future!!! That is some pretty foreword thinking. If only the current leaders of Venice and Italy had the same wisdom...

So there is something you can do -- if you are in Venice, stop in the Church of San Giacometto and say a prayer. It might be the only hope we have.

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

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Honoring Death in Venice - A Bridge Across the Lagoon

Dante's Barque by Georgy Frangulyan in Venice, Italy - Photo: Cat Bauer
Dante's Barque by Georgy Frangulyan - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) A haunting bronze statue floats in the Venice lagoon between Fondamenta Nuove and the Island of San Michele, where Venice buries her dead. Two figures stand in a boat. The figure in the front seems to challenge his taller companion, looking back at him, face to face, while his outstretched arm points in the opposite direction, toward the Island of the Dead.

"Dante's Barque" was created by the renowned Russian sculptor, Georgy Frangulyan, after he saw the image in a vision. The two figures in the boat are Virgil and Dante, living souls who journey through the underworld in Dante's Divine Comedy. Frangulyan said the island of San Michele "is a point on land from which the path to the other world -- and for certain souls, the way back -- may be traced with some clarity."*

Frangulyan said he remembers going past the Island of San Michele, and he just saw this "thing" -- a vision. "I saw it, and then began to look around -- there were so many people standing there, I thought they'd see it at any moment... sometimes you get this extra-clear image of something, and that's what happened. I understood that this place was the only place for this to happen."

The floating sculpture grew out of a small sketch that Frangulyan drew of his vision back in 1998.  He designed a pontoon system that took into account the risk of flooding, and the danger of the boat going under. He originally planned to have the sculpture complete by 2000, in time for the new millennium, as an event to commemorate the changeover.

However, one cannot simply plop a sculpture into the Venice lagoon, and after making its way through bureaucracy and permissions, it was finally installed in 2007. Some say it is Dante and Virgil crossing the Acheron river, the boundary between the entrance to hell and hell itself, but, if so, I wonder -- where is Charon, the ferryman of Hades?

Bridge to the Island of the Dead, Venice Italy - San Michele cemetery
Bridge to the Island of San Michele - Photo: Cat Bauer
This year, for the first time since 1950, there is a floating bridge that connects Fondamenta Nuove to the Island of San Michele, and until November 3, Venetians and residents have the bridge to themselves since you must have a Venezia Unica card to get across. After that, it is open to the public until November 10.

It was a moving experience to walk across the lagoon and to the cemetery on All Saints Day. I have always felt a deep connection to San Michele, and after having lived in Venice for over two decades, have personal connections to certain tombs. There is special poignancy in tending someone's tomb, but also a kind of comfort and joy. They say the veil between this world and the Otherworld becomes thin at this time of year, allowing spirits to pass through more easily. It is a beautiful celebration and remembrance of those who have gone before, and going across the water by foot instead of by boat made the experience even more meaningful.


The atmosphere on All Saints Day was festive, with thousands of people, old and young, making the journey across the new bridge. In addition to the locals, it seemed like many Venetians had arrived from the mainland, toting flowers and candles to honor the ancestors. It was well organized, with an information booth just inside the entrance equipped with maps detailing where every tomb was located in case you forgot where the nonni were. Around 4pm I asked the girl who was counting the entries with a clicker how many people had come, and she said about 13,000. Finally, a place where Venetians outnumbered the tourists!

There were colorful plastic watering cans around the fountains, brooms and movable ladders with wheels so that all the tombs could be attended to. It may sound strange, but San Michele at this time of year is a cemetery full of life, where the living and the dead truly share the same space and time.

Perhaps, what Georgy Frangulyan said is true: that Venice's Island of the Dead is the one place on land from which the path to the other world -- and for certain souls, the way back -- may be traced with some clarity.

Bridge to the Island of the Dead, Venice Italy - San Michele cemetery
Visiting the ancestors - Photo: Cat Bauer
I just checked, and was surprised to see that I have written about the Island of the Dead at least five times before, starting back in 2010, so if you would like to learn more, just click the links:

The Island of the Dead - Venice, Italy

All Saint's Day and Ludovico De Luigi's Great Day

Island of the Dead - San Michele, Venice - All the Saints and All the Souls

Cat Bauer

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Adam & Eve + Mars Get Complete Makeovers and New Lodgings Thanks to Peter Marino & Venetian Heritage

Adam & Eve + Mars by Antonio Rizzo, restored by Venetian Heritage - Photo: Cat Bauer
Adam, Mars & Eve by Antonio Rizzo - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) Adam & Eve and Mars were in very bad shape. The three icons, crucial to the story of humanity, were showing their age. The marble masterpieces were created by the Veronese sculptor, Antonio Rizzo, around 1470-1490, more than 500 years ago. For centuries, they adorned the Foscari Arch in the courtyard of the Doge's Palace opposite the Giants' Staircase, the official entrance to the palace, also designed by Rizzo.

As the years ticked by, the white marble turned to black due to atmospheric pollution. Fingers and toes cracked. Adam broke an arm. At the beginning of the 20th century, Eve was brought inside and replaced by a bronze copy. After World War II, between 1953 and 1955, Adam and Mars were also replaced. The originals were better off inside, but they still were black and broken.

Enter art restorer Toto Bergamo Rossi, the Director of  Venetian Heritage, a non-profit organization dedicated to safeguarding the cultural legacy of the Venetian Republic. Bringing the marble trio back to their former glory became one of his missions. He spoke to the American architect, Peter Marino, the new Chairman of Venetian Heritage and said they would need about €225,000. Peter was convinced that the restorations were vital after Toto told him that Adam & Eve were the first nude free-standing public statues in the Republic of Venice.

Venice, Italy - Jonathan Hoyte & Peter Marino - Photo: Cat Bauer
Jonathan Hoyte & Peter Marino - Photo: Cat Bauer
The restoration team was headed by Jonathan Hoyte, an American restorer. When I first saw Jonathan at the presentation on Friday, October 25, I recognized him immediately -- he had been part of the first Cleaning Day in Venice in 2012 when a group of volunteers organized by Masegni & Nizioleti removed graffiti from a building off Strada Nuova. I told him I didn't realize back then that he was a professional!

Jonathan said that the statues were black because of pollutants and previous restoration treatments -- there were even remnants of wax from when the plaster molds to create the replicas were made -- and that they had tried several methods to remove the grime. They finally settled on a laser treatment, the type they use to remove tattoos. It is astonishing how the laser removed the black layers, restoring the precious Carrara marble to a beautiful sheen.

Cleaning Eve - Photo courtesy Venetian Heritage
The statues looked so impressive standing there in the Sala dello Scrutinio, the great hall where elections were held during the Venetian Republic, that Gabriella Bella, the Director of Venice's Civic Museums, said that there is where they will stay.

Venice, Italy - Sala dello Scrutinio, Palazzo Ducale Photo: Cat Bauer
Sala dello Scrutinio, Palazzo Ducale, Venice - Photo: Cat Bauer
So not only did Adam, Eve and Mars get complete makeovers, they got grand new lodgings as well -- another reason to visit the Doge's Palace. Thank you Venetian Heritage for bringing the statues back to life. Go to Palazzo Ducale for more information.

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

Friday, October 18, 2019

Venice Fashion Week Kicks off with "The Very Last Layer" by Romi Loch Davis

Giulia Mazzon in "The Very Last Layer" by Romi Loch Davis - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) Venice Fashion Week kicked off with L'Ultimo Spessore (The Very Last Layer), a poignant tableau vivant by South African fashion designer, Romi Loch Davis. The standing-room-only audience at the intimate Magazzino Gallery of Palazzo Contarini Polignac was entranced as layer upon layer of Romi's unique designs were revealed until only an elegant chemise remained. It was a song created from fabric.


you tailored a robe
of many colours for me
a biblical gesture
layer by layer
piece by piece
texture by texture
the seams were painfully frayed
weak defenses
tacked together
like crests
almost scars

you were engraved in me 

---Romi Loch Davis

L'Ultimo Spessore by Romi Loch Davis - Photo: Cat Bauer
Romi's wistful text was read by actress Rosanna Mantese, while the haunting notes of  violinist Luisa Bassetto accented the story of lost love and the discovery of hidden fire: "The ultimate depth. The regenerating footprint of love." Giulia Mazzon moved from fragile-and-desperate to brave-and-hopeful as Luna Pesce removed each layer of clothing, attaching and detaching angel wings... a gauntlet... a crown.

Skeleton of my Soul from L'Ultimo Spessore by Romi Loch Davis - Photo: Cat Bauer
Perhaps the most moving passage was a section entitled SKELETON OF MY SOUL, in which the model was stripped down until she wore only a seamstress's pattern, "the essential layer, the underlying layer of myself..."

Romi Loch Davis (right) with Gigi Bon - Photo: Cat Bauer
It was a beautiful start to Venice Fashion Week, now in its ninth year, which has been growing ever more impressive. A project by Venezia da Vivere, "Venice Fashion Week presents sustainable, tailored, Made in Italy and international fashion through fashion shows, conferences and exhibitions taking place in hotels, art galleries, boutiques and artisan ateliers."

Venice Fashion Week runs through October 26 and is part of Le Città in Festa cultural program of the City of Venice, and actively shares the #enjoyrespectvenezia commitment. Go to Venice Fashion Week for the calendar, map and further information.

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

Monday, October 14, 2019

"L'Antipapa Veneziano" by Gianmaria Donà Dalle Rose - Venice vs. Rome -The Battle Between Church and State

Galileo displays his telescope to Doge Leonardo Dona and the Venetian Senate (painting by HJ Detouche, c. 1754)
(Venice, Italy) When Galileo Galilee first invented his telescope back in 1609, within 24 hours he was with Doge Leonardo Donà and his advisors demonstrating his new invention at the top of the Campanile in Piazza San Marco in Venice, brought there by Fra Paolo Sarpi, the cutting edge Venetian theologian and humanist. As Doge Donà gazed at the ships far away on the Adriatic sea, Galileo emphasized the tactical advantages of being able to see enemy ships hours sooner than with the naked eye.

Galileo would go on to discover the moons of Jupiter and observe the rings of Saturn. His discoveries confirmed the Copernican theory that the Earth and other planets revolved around the Sun. This put him in direct conflict with the Roman Catholic Church, who taught that the Earth was the center of the universe. He was condemned for heresy, and lived out his days under house arrest. Unbelievably, it wasn't until 1992 that the Church admitted its treatment of Galileo had been wrong. 

This is an example of the dark power the papal authority had over Catholic Europe during the time of Doge Leonardo Donà.

Gianmaria Donà Dalle Rose at Ateneo Veneto - Photo: Cat Bauer
Gianmaria Donà Dalle Rose presented his book L'Antipapa Veneziano (The Venetian Anti-Pope) about his ancestor, Leonardo Donà (1536-1612), the 90th Doge of Venice, to a packed house at Ateneo Veneto on Thursday, October 10th, supported by authors Ario Gervasutti and Walter Mariotti. Doge Donà was the leader of the Republic of Venice from January 10, 1606 until his death on July 16, 1612. During his rule, the battle between Church and State came roaring to a head.


Under Donà's predecessor, Doge Marino Grimani, two clerics had been tried, convicted and imprisoned in Venice for crimes such as rape, fraud and murder. This was a shock to the system, as previously members of the clergy had always had Vatican immunity. Pope Paul V declared that the clergy were outside the jurisdiction of the Venetian Republic, and demanded that the prisoners be handed over to the ecclesiastical authorities, who would take whatever action they deemed appropriate. Venice knew that if they released the prisoners to the jurisdiction of the Vatican, their crimes would go unpunished.

Venice had also challenged the Holy See by passing a law restricting Church building -- in a small island city like Venice there were already numerous ecclesiastical buildings, which paid no tax -- there was room for no more -- but Pope Paul V wanted the law repealed. During the fall of 1605, these arguments raged on, growing exceedingly more heated as the year drew to an end.


Doge Grimani died in 1605 on Christmas day, the same day that a missive from Pope Paul V arrived. Leonardo Donà was elected Doge on January 10th. In addition to being a seasoned diplomat, Donà was part of a group of scientific thinkers who met regularly in Venice, whose members also included Galileo and Fra Paolo Sarpi. Even though he was a Catholic prelate, Sarpi was a firm believer in the separation between Church and State. Sarpi was appointed official counselor to the Venetian Senate, and drafted the replies to the papal briefs.

Both sides refused to budge. Pope Paul V was outraged, and called Venice's actions heresy. The Holy See ordered Venice to hand over the clerics or face banishment. They were given 24 days to submit or the Pope would excommunicate La Serenissima.

Venice doubled down. They threw out the Papal Nuncio, the Vatican's Ambassador to Venice. Doge Donà retorted that as Doge of Venice, in temporal affairs he recognized no superior power except the Divine Majesty itself and told all the patriarchs, archbishops, bishops, vicars, abbots and priors throughout the territory of the Republic to continue to celebrate the Mass. On Sarpi's advice, Donà banished all the Jesuits, Theatines and Capuchins from the Republic of Venice, declaring: "We ignore your excommunication: it is nothing to us."

Venice had been excommunicated in the past. This time she was challenging the Holy See's authority in secular matters. In spiritual matters, Venice wanted to remain part of the Church. Paolo Sarpi wrote countless letters and held endless debates, defining the boundaries between what fell under celestial matters of the Church, and what were secular matters of the State. He was called before the Inquisition, but refused to appear.

The clergy in Venetian territory continued to celebrate Mass; the churches were teeming with more worshipers than ever. Other nations began taking sides. It was decided that France would mediate. Eventually, Venice agreed to release the two clerics to the French Ambassador, but reserved the right to judge and punish them. They refused to let the Jesuits return. Finally, Pope Paul V lifted the Interdict. Venice, under Doge Donà, had won the battle between Church and State. It was the last Interdict in the history of the Church.

L'Antipapa Veneziano by Gianmaria Donà Dalle Rose published by Giunti Editore
On October 25, 1607, Paolo Sarpi was stabbed three times, but survived the attack. The would-be assassins fled to Rome, where they moved openly and freely, and were never charged. Two more attempts were made on his life, which he also survived. Sarpi died in his own bed on January 15, 1623. His last words were "Esto Perpetua" -- "may she endure forever," referring to the Republic of Venice. These words were recalled in an 1820 letter by John Adams to Thomas Jefferson when Adams wrote "I wish as devoutly as Father Paul for the preservation of our vast American empire and our free institutions."

On July 16, 1612, Doge Leonardo Donà collapsed during a heated debate in the Collegio, the main executive body of the Republic of Venice, and died an hour later at the age of 76.

Gianmaria Donà Dalle Rose signing L'Antipapa Veneziano - Photo: Cat Bauer
That's a brief part of the story. For the rest, we'll have to read the book. The Donà family can trace its origins back to the beginnings of Venice. It is astounding that members of the noble family still exist today, and that one of them has written a book about his distinct ancestor. Right now, L'Antipapa Veneziano, published by Giunti Editore, is only available in Italian. I am looking forward to reading the English edition when it comes out and learning more about the life of Doge Leonardo Donà and the critical times in which he lived. Bravo Gianmaria!

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