Wednesday, November 30, 2011

La Serenissima

Venice is beautiful at all times, but the nights, with their desolate streets, tiny alley ways, beautiful lights, blustery passages are what make Venice her most radiant.  There weren't many tourists when I was visiting due to the time of year, but when they left with the sun, the city completely changed.  In 'The Aspern Papers' Henry James wrote that Venice was like a large apartment, with it's streets as it's hallways, it's piazzas and courtyards it's rooms.  You never really leave the apartment.*  And that feeling really is true.  As I was walking down a tiny, dimmly-lit street back to my hotel (after a last minute decision to go to La Fenice!), passing an odd Venetian returning from work, it really felt like I was just in the back passage of an old villa passing a fellow worker.

I spent too long a time trying to capture the spirit with these pictures.  If you had been on the Grand Canal last week you would've found a boy laying stomach-down on a dock trying to set the shutter and capture a pleasant view at the same time.  But alas!  no one was around to find him there, which made him love the city even more.

*Read this lovely quote in 'Venice is a Fish' by Tiziano Scarpa.  If you go to Venice, I highly recommend you make this book your first companion as I did.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Tra: The Edge of Becoming

Venice.  Venezia.  Venexia.

Are there words to describe this absolutely breathtaking city?  No, in fact the whole time I was wandering aimlessly through the salizade and calle I kept on trying to find the perfect word.  As of yet, nothing.

I'm still uploading and editing my photos so I'll share a little something I wasn't able to photograph.  The Palazzo Fortuny was hosting a show curated by Axel Vervoordt, and as he was so admired by my former employer I felt it my obligation to see what his show 'Tra' was all about.  First off, the Palazzo Fortuny is a crumbling (quite literally) palazzo where the great Renaissance man, Mariano Fortuny, set up shop creating sculpture, textiles, photography, paintings, clothing, architectural renderings, etc etc.  The man was a genious, and honestly I knew close to nothing about him before going.

The first floor was darkly lit, displaying a few pieces of art contrasting greatly, a modern video installation together with an ancient Southeast Asian sculpture etc.  The room was in Vervoordt's traditional Wabi Sabi style, old floorboards, dark walls, minimally earthy.  I was starting to feel a little disappointed, as much as I love him.

A corner of Fortuny's workplace, not during this Installation but gorgeous nonetheless

What awaited me, though, on the second floor, Mariano's studio, completely forced those thoughts out of my ignorant brain.   Fortuny's studio is a thing of beauty in itself.  Imagine his gorgeous textiles covering every inch of wall, while the Eastern lamps he designed hang from the ceiling.  But to add on top of that, Axel has filled the room with art from every time, every corner of the Earth, placing them in these beautifully lit rooms in a way I think only Fortuny could have thought up.  A Flemish masterpiece of the 17th century, next to a Kandinsky, next to a dress designed by Fortuny, next to surgical table filled with enlarged crystal organs. I was breathless, my heart was palpitating, I was wishing I was there with someone who would feel my same sentiments, clutching their arm lest I faint. 

Chen Zhen, Crystal Landscape of Inner Body (2000)

Room after room beckoned my exploration and it was a pity the museum was closing as I could have spent more hours trying, attempting to take it all in.  The final floor (I skipped one, interesting yes, but not significant) was the attic, with exposed beams, and Fortuny's first studio, before he gradually took over the entire Palazzo.  Among the sculptures of Man Ray, there was a labyrinth in the middle designed by Vervoordt himself.  Each tiny alley led you to something different all in his unique, inimitable style.

So do you want to go?  I wish I could take you with me all again, but alas! the installation ended this Saturday along with the rest of the Biennale.  I recommend you buy the book, something I think I will have to do at a later time.  I'm so glad I thought to visit the show right before it closed, powers within must have guided me.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Return of the Soldier

A long, long time ago: last spring, when I was staying in Italy the first time, Thomas from My Porch, was kind enough to send me books in English.  They are not easy to come by, and my desperate suplication must have pulled some heartstrings because he sent over five books, all of interest to me, and not commonly found in Italian bookstores.  The bad news was once my visa expired, I had to escape into the night disguised as a gypsy, ruturning to United States unscathed, meanwhile the package of books arriving at my old apartment.  Such is life.  Imagine my excitement, though, where upon arriving not only did I get to pick up my old things, I also now had five new books in my possesion!

The first I picked one morning last week was 'The Return of the Soldier' by Rebecca West.  At first glance, I was sceptical.  I normally don't like war stories, and the cover made it look like a story similar to something my dad would read.  But how wrong I was!  Chris, a soldier of the Great War, returns home with no memory of the last 15 years.  Three women wait for him.  His cousin Jenny - the narrator of the story, Kitty, his wife of ten years, and Margaret, the woman he was in love with as a young man.  Imagine being Kitty, the wife of someone who has no memory whatsover of her looking on as her now childlike husband can't help showing affection to his young love.  This brief but incredibly beautiful story shows the struggle of doing what's right despite wanting something else.  Incredibly poignant and gripping - I nearly missed my stop twice whilst reading this.

Here is a quote I loved when Chris first returns home:

He was looking along the corridor and saying, 'This house is different.' If the soul has to stay in its coffin till the lead is struck asunder, in its captivity it speaks with such a voice.

I fell in love with this book, and am curious to read more Rebecca West, have you read any of her others?

*           *          *

Yesterday, I sneezed in class and one of my students enthusiastically said: CHEESE!  He meant to say 'Cheers' which still wasn't correct.

*          *          *

Tomorrow I'm going to Venice!  Taking classes, teaching and teaching equals a lot of giving of energy and no recieving.  As a closet introvert, I start to detest anyone who strikes up a conversation with me when this happens, which I hate about myself.  To aid this I'm off for a few days to somewhere I've always wanted to go, especially after reading 'Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell.'  I'm bringing along 'Venice is a Fish,' an excellent book to reread written by a Venetian, 'Wings of the Dove,' by Henry James (I'm not sure this is a good idea-he bores me so) and some comedies by famous Venexiano, Carlo Goldoni!   A prossima settimana!

{Editor's note:  My friend Carrick (CC Blair the Younger) read this post and said it sounds like I'm having a mid-twenties crisis. Ha! Please don't think that...just a brief...moment of refreshment!}

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Sunday look-at-oneself in the mirror and other curiosities

Last week, as I mentioned earlier, I encountered this painting firsthand at the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana.  In the somewhat cavernous galleries of the collection, there we find Caravaggio's Basket of Fruit, lit up like the gem it already is, begging us to touch it even though the old security guard is breathing down our inquisative necks.  I, of course, didn't touch it and didn't have to.   It's beauty, luminosity and clarity really took my breath away, reaffirming my tempestuous love affair with Caravaggio.

Later at home, doing extensive research on him (on wikipedia) I found out how old he was when he painted this masterpiece.  Not the 50-something like I expected, not even 30-something.  He was 24 years old.  Twenty four.  Two four.  ie: My age.  How can someone be such a master of something at such a young age?  What did I do wrong?  Is being a master of something even on my horizon?  On anyone's horizon?  I'm not expecting answers, but if you do perchance have one or two, I'm all ears.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A sojourn in the classroom

As most of you know, along with studying Italian, I've been supporting myself by teaching English.  I've been enjoying it more that I expected, and although at times draining, hunger-inducing and mind-knumbing, I'm wondering why I haven't been doing it longer.

Sometimes my students really make me laugh, and although it's wrong to laugh at their mistakes or when they say something funnily, I just can't help it.  Thankfully Italians are very easy to laugh themselves.  I have a group of students on Saturday mornings that are all about eight years old.  No one in the school wants to teach them, but they really make me laugh, so I take them gladly.  Especially since I have to teach the class in Italian, I get my ample share of being laughed at.

It can be humbling at times, though, humble for whom I don't know, but when I'm correcting a Milanese man who owns a multi-million euro company, I can't help but feel a bit sympathic for him.  Here I am, 25 years old, correcting his "I don' will know when to happen," where by day he is in control of hundreds of people around the world.

Last night, I was playing a group activity with basic-intermediate English, with the group divided into two teams.  They had to complete simple sentences, "I was brought up..." what's the past participle of 'buy,' spell "proficient," etc etc.  The turn was to a dark, Sicilian security guard, very manly with a very strong resemblence to Jon Lovitz.  I asked:  "I used to be...?"
After one minute of silence he responded:
"I used to be... blonde."

I seriously almost peed my pants I was laughing so hard, and the whole class was on the floor with me, including the serious Russian with the Hermes bag who never smiles.  Moments like that, stupid as they are, really make everything worth it.

Image: NYPL

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Suzanne Jongmans

...So that her highborn kinsman came
And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre
In this kingdom by the sea....

-'Annabel Lee,' Poe

Some Poe to accompany gorgeous photographs by Dutch artist, Suzanne Jongmans.  Vermeer would be proud.  For more, please go heerwarts

Monday, November 14, 2011

Se una notte d'inverno un viaggiatore

Sometimes you need to give a book a second chance, just like anything else.  When I first read 'If on a Winter's Night a Traveller,' it was the middle of the summer in Rhode Island.  With good reason I had a hard time getting through it.  In fact it lay unfinished on my shelf for years.  Now that I'm here in Italy, in country that at this very moment has no government, the book couldn't be more perfect.  This book celebrates the reader, reading, books and everything exciting about the written word.  It also celebrates the confusion of living in Italy.  'You' the reader find a book, but unfortunately after finishing it's first chapter realize it's unfinished.  When you start another, that book also changes after the first gripping chapter.  And so on and so on.  Confusing?  Of course, but Calvino so brilliantly writes 10 first chapters in completely different styles, each capturing you in it's pages.  I think I appreciated it so much because it reminded me of everyday life here.  For everything thing you apply for, with seemingly perfect papers in hand, always leads to a chase for something missing.  I really loved this book, and as my friend Anzie is proof, you don't need to be in Italy to love it...but it helps.

A nice quote about the joy of reading, for you dear readers always stuck in a book:

In other words, it's better for you to restrain your impatience and wait to open the book at home.  Now. Yes, you are in your room, calm; you open the book to page one, no, to the last page, first you want to see how long it is.  It's not too long, fortunately.  Long novels written today are perhaps a contradiction: the dimension of time has been shattered, we cannot love or think except in fragments of time each of which goes off along in its own tragectory and immediately disappears.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Beatrice d'Este

Duchessa di Milano, Ambrogio di Predis

A brief glimpse of what I found the other day at the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana.  An amazing gallery and library started in 1618 by Cardinale Borromeo, it also houses a huge collection of Leonardo's works, including the Codex Atlanticus.  On display in an ancient room filled with books you can't help but be impressed by Leonardo's brilliance.  Maybe it's just me but I always sort of pass by Leonardo, 'Oh yes, Mona Lisa, The Last Supper, I know I know' but seeing all of his detailed astronomical sketches, his neat but illegible notes, made me want to know so much more about him.  How many times, I wonder, have I missed an opportunity to learn about him?  I'm determined to discover more about him, and also Cardinale Borromeo and his clan, the Visconti family, and the Sforzas.  It's hard to walk down a street in Lombardy and not pass something owned, built or conquered by these three families.  Even my header: The Isole Borromeo (above) are still owned by the Borromeo family!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Dove sei!?

What's my excuse for not blogging?  There are too many to count!  But in order to not sound repetitive and dull, we move on.  Not only is my new apartment warm, cozy, overlooking a courtyard of trees, but it has the internet which means regular blog posts will be the norm.

I wish I could say my life has been filled with days shopping Via Spiga, enjoying an aperitivo on the Navigli, then enjoying a dinner of prawns, Emma Recchi-style at Cracco Peck but it has all been much less glamorous.  Just now, things have finally settled down and I seem to be able to breath.  New job, new school, new responsibilities, endless paperwork and new apartment all equaled one big headache, but it's pretty much all taken care of now, and I can now enjoy myself.

Milan is one of those cities where you find something new and beautiful everyday.  Unlike Rome, Venice or Florence where the beauty is all upfront and ready to see, you have to look for it in Milan.  On a daily basis I find a new stunning courtyard to peak into, I hear about another museum or church I must visit, or pass by a new pasticcieria where a brioche filled with chocolate cream is waiting for me.  It's a rainy day today, only the beginning of a rain-filled winter, but it adds to the Gothic feel of it.  (Being one who terminally looses umbrellas, though, not so romantic) There are so many things I want to see, and not just in Milan.  Scattered around the city are great little towns filled with hidden gems, and with my monthly All Lombardy Pass, I'm going to try and explore as many as possible.  Won't you join me?

The rain has abated a bit, I'm going to run to the store to buy a drying rack for my clothes, and some tea and eggs!