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Cat Bauer has lived in Venice since 1998. She was a regular contributor to the "International Herald Tribune's" Italian supplement, "Italy Daily," and is the author of the novels "Harley, Like a Person" and "Harley's Ninth," published by Knopf.
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(Venice, Italy) The directors of some of the most prestigious museums in the world met at Palazzo Ducale, the former headquarters of the Venetian Republic, on Monday, October 13, 2014 to compare notes about how they ran their institutions -- how they are funded, where their focus lies, and the responsibilities of museums in today's changing world -- in a conference entitled, CULTURAL HERITAGE: INTERNATIONAL EXCELLENCE AND THE CHALLENGE FOR ITALY. All agreed that museums belonged to the people, places where visitors come looking for answers. In addition to our own Gabriella Belli, the Director of the Fondazione Musei Civici here in Venice, present were Michail Piotrovskij, Director of the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia; Martin Roth, Director of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, UK; Gabriele Finaldi, Associate Director of the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid, Spain, and Paolo Baratta, the President of Fondazione La Biennale in Venice. It was fascinating to learn how museums are organized in different parts of the world, and how tangled the bureaucracy can become.
Up from Rome was Dario Franceschini, the Italian Minister of Cultural Heritage himself, who recently changed a bunch of laws about how State museums in Italy are run -- for example, they are now free the first Sunday of each month; the major museums are open until 10:00PM on Friday nights; you can now take photos; people over 65 now must pay; there are new tax credits, and more.
State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg
Museums around the world have acquired their treasures by different means. Russian Empress Catherine the Great laid the foundation for the State Hermitage Museum, purchasing a huge amount of Western European works of art in 1764, seeking to bridge the gap between Russia and the West. The Victoria & Albert Museum had its origins in the first World Expo, "The Great Exhibition of 1851" in London, an idea of Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria. The beginnings of Prado in Madrid were due to Queen Maria Isabel's passion for art; she died in 1818, a year before Museo Nacianal del Prado opened. And when it comes to Italy... well, Italy was not even a united kingdom until 1861, and Venice itself was not annexed into the Kingdom of Italy until 1866, and add to that the Vatican... so Italy, as usual, is complicated.
Back in the days when I wrote for the International Herald Tribune's Italian supplement, Italy Daily, about 15 years ago, I had to navigate between the different museums and cultural centers here in Venice, and sometimes it was baffling. Back then, each museum had its own bureaucracy, and just finding the person who had the power to streamline my mission was a labyrinth. However, in 2008, a foundation was created called Fondazione Musei Civici with just one founding member, the Comune of Venice, which has made an unbelievable difference in the ability of the immense artistic wealth of Venice to become more accessible.
According to their site: "The Foundation manages and promotes a museum system that is detailed, complex, but rich and financially sound; it enjoys total administrative and managerial independence – under the control of the Steering Commitee – thus allowing operational and planning agility, considerable transparent entrepreneurial motivation, an efficient and rational corporate structure, and the ability to unite and recruit resources."
I think Gabriella Belli, the Director of the Musei Civici, is terrific. She seems to be everywhere all the time, with an energy that is indefatigable. Venice has a whopping 11 civic museums, each with their own unique treasures and personalities: the Palazzo Ducale, the Correr, Ca' Pesaro, Palazzo Mocenigo, Palazzo Fortuny, Ca' Rezzonico, the Clock Tower, Carlo Goldoni's House, the Natural History Museum, the Glass Museum on Murano, and the Lace Museum on Burano. Overseeing all those institutions takes an enormous effort, and Belli does it with grace and efficiency. In addition, Venice has private foundations and museums with its own collections, as well as museums run by the State and the Church, and after a period of adjustment, most of the cultural institutions in the city now have a genuine spirit of cooperation and comradeship.
The conference opened with greetings from Walter Hartsarich, the President of the Fondazione Musei Civici. He spoke about how it was a crucial time for cultural heritage in Italy, and how courage was necessary to meet the new pace, and new needs. Next up was Vittorio Zappalorto, who was appointed Special Commissioner to Venice after our mayor was arrested for corruption. Zappalorto said that now that the division of labor between the comune, province, region and state is clear, there are no more excuses to perform badly, and that Venice wants to provide an example to the world for sustainable tourism.
Doge's Palace - Venice
Gabriella Belli said that Venice is really different from any other city. Its very beauty is caused by its frailty. There are more than 500,000 works of art in its collection, a huge concentration in a small area. Belli said that they wanted to get away from the approach that exhibitions are the same for years -- Venice's visitors are visitors of the world, and they compare Venice to museums all over the world. Venice now has the capability to change its headline exhibitions quickly, and has reorganized the permanent collections. Belli stressed that the Civic Museums belonged to Venetians; that it was their heritage, and they were encouraging more visits from residents in Venice and the mainland.
The Winter Palace - State Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia
Michail Piotrovskij, the Director of the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg in Russia spoke next. Venice is the new headquarters for "Ermitage Italy" located right in Piazza San Marco, the result of a cultural exchange between State Hermitage and Italy. Piotrovskij said he was glad they were in Venice. He said, "We are in St. Petersburg, founded by Peter the Great. We are not in the center of Europe, but we are part of European culture."
We should remember that St. Petersburg was the imperial capital from 1713-1728 and again from 1732-1918, created by Peter the Great beginning in 1703 on barren marshland (much like Venice) to integrate Russia into Western Europe and seize a Baltic port, his "Window on the West." So, for more than 200 years St. Petersburg was the capital of Russia, until the communist revolution. Then, the Bolsheviks, lead by Vladimir Lenin, stormed the Winter Palace -- which is now part of the State Hermitage Museum -- during the October Revolution of 1917, moved the capital to Moscow, and changed the name of the city to Leningrad after Lenin's death in 1924. It was not until the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 that Leningrad changed back to St. Petersburg, which is still recognized as the cultural capital of Russia.
Piotrovskij said he was concerned that there was a new Iron Curtain being erected between Russia and other countries. He said that museums need to be defended from conflicts, and they were building bridges even if all other bridges are destroyed. They have a good relationship with Venice, and he wished that the UK and France would follow suit -- that we needed to maintain bridges of friendship. He said, "The government tells me, 'You can't live in a museum.'" Piotrovskij replied, "Better to live in a museum than a shipyard." He said he loved living in a museum. "Living in a museum is beautiful."
Museo Nacional del Prado - Madrid, Spain
The Museo Nacional de Prado is Spain's national art museum, and has spent the last 15 years in transformation, expanding its structure and the number of employees, according to Gabriele Finaldi, the Associate Director. In the early half of the 1990s it was the "Inferno of Europe," and now is a sleeping lion ready to wake up. It contains the royal collection -- Titian's works purchased by the Spanish crown are housed there, in addition to the finest collection of Spanish art on the planet. In the mid 1990s it changed its legal status; all its officers became direct employees, and it now can participate in business, similar to the Bank of Spain. Finaldi said that 60% of foreigners visit the permanent collection as opposed to 40% locals, whereas a temporary exhibit attracts 60% locals and 40% foreigners. He said it is also a contemporary museum. "Goya was still alive when his work was put into the museum."
Victoria & Albert Museum - London, UK
Martin Roth, the Director of the Victoria & Albert Museum, declared, "I believe in museums." He said a museum is never the same, and changes with the culture and politics. He said the V&A was a brilliant idea by Prince Albert, an ongoing World's Fair, and that a museum is an open institution for everyone; it belongs to us all -- from the taxi drivers, to the Queen, to the green grocer. Since the UK has had such a huge influx of refugees, they have created exhibits to reflect those cultures -- "If you are a refugee, come to the V&A." He said their Board of Trustees is completely independent, and he didn't like the US system where you buy yourself onto the Board. He said he had a friend in the US who was going to retire from a Board because it was "too dangerous." Roth said, "It's not supposed to be that way!" He said the V&A was a local museum for a global audience, and that it attacted a lot of young people who came just to hang out. All museums in the UK are free. He said, "A museum is never a business, but you can run it business-like."
La Biennale - Venice, Italy
Paolo Baratta, the President of La Biennale, Venice's Contemporary Art Festival, said "No monarch left me a legacy." He said that Italy's history was completely different. Italy was once composed of many city-states, and the various monarchs collected art. When the small states fell, there was widespread pillage. Unlike the V& A and the Hermitage, which were aimed at creating museums, in Italy, the goal was to keep the objects safe.The government appointed superintendents who had prefecture-like powers. They protected assets owned by third parties, and the focus was on the monetary value of the work.
The Venice Biennale was the first Biennale in the world, created by a group of farsighted thinkers in 1893. There are now 157 Biennales worldwide. The focus is on research and discovery, and the relationship with the past -- to read the present with historical depth. Baratta calls La Biennale a "Wind Machine," a machine of desire whose primary urge is to give form to the curtain that has been thrown over us. The focus is not on the monetary value of the work, but on cultural research.
Dario Franceschini is the Minister of Cultural Heritage under Italy's newest, and youngest, Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, who is set on making sweeping changes to a country wracked with corruption and stifled by bureaucracy. Former Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, was forced to resign over numerous scandals in 2011; his Minister of Culture, Giancarlo Galan, was just sentenced yesterday, October 16, to 34 months in prison and a €2.6 million fine for charges of corruption linked to MOSES, Venice's flood barrier.
Franceschini said there needs to be a central role for culture, which, at the present, does not exist. He said there must be a common European identity that can only take place through culture. He said we must build a union, an institute for dialogue, when politics can't talk and borders are difficult. He said we must convince the decision makers that investment in creative institutions can overcome the crisis. Art collections are closely linked to territory, and investments need to be made in their unique nature.
He said we should adopt sustainable tourism, and that we are temporary owners of a heritage that belongs to humanity. He said that before businesses had no incentives to invest in art and museums -- now they do.
The conference continued all afternoon with speakers on the local level. Pierpaolo Forte, the President of the Museum of Contemporary Art Donnaregina in Madre, Naples summed it up: "We are dwarfs on the shoulders of giants. There is a danger to worship our history more than our future."
As it has throughout the centuries, Europe needs to stand firmly and courageously on its rich cultural heritage as the foundation in moving toward the future. The future is now.
John Galliano for Christian Dior - Ball gown - Tribute to Luisa Casati
(Venice, Italy) A video of John Galliano's 1998 tribute to Marchesa Luisa Casati for Christian Dior rocks as you enter the ground floor of Palazzo Fortuny. Kohl-eyed fashion models vamp down marble stairs, draped in divine creations that were inspired by a woman who was born more than a century before. A green ball gown dominates the center of Palazzo Fortuny, the large crystal image of Marchesa Casati by Anne-Karin Furunes pensive in the background. Welcome to the world of The Divine Marchesa - Art and life of Luisa Casati from the Belle Epoque to the spree years. It's Autumn at Fortuny.
John Galliano for Christian Dior - Tribute to Luisa Casati
The Divine Marchesa, Luisa Casati, proclaimed: "I want to be a living work of art!" and succeeded in her goal. Born in 1881 into one of the wealthiest families in Italy, she was electric, outrageous and eccentric, ahead of her time. For the first three decades of the 1900s, she was Europe's most astonishing celebrity, a muse and inspiration to some of the most important artists, fashion designers and thinkers of the era. Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, the founder of Futurism, called her, "The greatest Futurist in the world."
Bronze of Marchesa Casati with Greyhound by Paolo Troubetzkoy, 1914
Luisa Amman was born in Milan on January 23, 1881 to an aristocratic family; her father, Count Alberto Amman was of Austrian descent and made his fortune in cotton; her mother, Lucia Bressi was Austrian and Italian; her older sister, Francesca, had been born almost exactly one year earlier on January 22, 1880. Early photos reveal a perfectly proper aristocratic family, spending their time doing perfectly proper aristocratic things. Then, on April 15, 1894, Luisa's mother died (I have yet to uncover the reason how) when Luisa was just 13-years-old, and then, on July 11, 1896, her father died when she was 15-years-old, making Luisa and Francesca the richest orphans in Italy -- at impressionable ages.
In 1900, Luisa continued her proper aristocratic life by duly marrying Marchese Camillo Casati Stampa, and producing her only child, Cristina, the next year. Then, in 1903, Luisa met the flamboyant writer, poet and playwright, Gabriele D'Annunzio at a fox hunt; he was 18 years her senior and lover to Eleanora Duse. Luisa became his lover, and started her transformation into a living work of art.
Luisa Casati as Empress Theodora
The English-speaking world first met Luisa Casati in a 1906 gushy travel memoir called Glimpses of Italian Court Life - Happy Days in Italia Adorata written by a wealthy Bostonian socialite with the heavy handle of Tryphosa Bates-Batcheller, who fancied herself a singer. Tryphosa published a series of letters dated December 26, 1904 through April 20, 1905 that she wrote to her mother, father and an "intimate friend" while on holiday in Italy. In the introduction, Tryphosa explains to her fellow Americans why European titles should be paid attention, even though the young country has done away with them.
"I venture to add a few lines of introduction, as it seems to me there exists among a certain class of people, particularly in America, a misapprehension as to the value and meaning of titles. True it is, that in a democratic country like our own, there is little place for the consideration of this subject; but democratic as we Americans are theoretically, practically it is well known that we all respect a foreign title without any definitely expressed reason to ourselves. ...Had George Washington been made an emperor, the signers of the Declaration of Independence might have been made dukes or princes; but our forefathers began with other names: hero, patriot, statesman are the titles of the New World, for we are a New World and a young country."
Tryphosa was a well-connected Catholic, even scoring an audience with Pope Pius X and an invitation to meet Her Majesty, Queen Elena of Italy, complete with instructions on what to wear ("visiting dress with hat" and, for her husband, "morning dress, frock coat"). Her memoir flits from visits to the estates of this countess or that princess, interspersed with an occasional visit to an historic site. She first sets eyes on Luisa Casati at a Bal de Têtes at the Grand Hotel in Rome.
Luisa Casati as Empress Theodora
On March 2, 1905, Tryphosa writes: "It was supposed to be a ball characterized by the fancy dressing of the head and hair, but, as a matter of fact, most of the women came in elaborate and beautiful costumes. Far and away the most elegant and most beautiful costume was worn by the Marchesa Camillo Casati, of the famous Casati family of Milan. She was dressed as the Empress Theodora, in a perfect fitting princesse gown of cloth of silver heavily embroidered in gold. The costume was an exact reproduction of one worn in Paris by Sarah Bernhardt a short time ago. The Marchesa wore on her head a crown formed of eagles, and had some of her diamonds set up in a large diamond eagle, which was her only corsage ornament. Two or three ropes of her wonderful and famous pearls hung loosely about her beautiful neck, and altogether she was quite the most stunning persona at the ball. She is a handsome woman, tall and slight, with a beautiful figure and splendid carriage. Her hair is a light chestnut color, and she is always pale, though her paleness is of that attractive sort that does not indicate ill-health. She is said to be one of the best dressed women in Rome on all occasion."
Our American socialite runs into Luisa Casati again on March 23, 1905, writing: "We have just come in from the last hunt of the season, and a very pretty and brilliant sight it was, too. ...You remember about my speaking of the Marchesa Casati with her lovely gowns and jewels, but I forgot to say then, that she is one of the finest horsewomen in Italy. I am sending you a little picture that shows her in her long leopard-skin coat, just as she rode out in her carriage to the meet before mounting."
You can read Tryphosa's exuberant tome, Glimpses of Italian Court Life, online here.
La marchesa Casati by Lorraine Brooks, circa 1920
That stodgy aristocratic world would soon be either shocked or delighted by Luisa Casati's antics. By hooking up with D'Annunzio as a lover and a father figure, things were bound to get freaky, and they did. The "light chestnut" hair described by Tryphosa became flaming red locks. Luisa darkened her eyes with black kohl, dilated her pupils with belladonna and wore lives snakes around her neck for jewellery. She began a whirlwind existence between Paris, Venice, Saint-Moritz and Rome.
Marchesa Casati with Giovanni Boldini and a man in masquerade at Ca' Venier dei Leoni, Sept 1913
In 1910, she rented Palazzo Venier dei Leoni on the Grand Canal in Venice (the next dynamic diva to move in would be Peggy Guggenheim) and threw outrageous parties where the guests smoked opium as she carried on openly with D'Annunzio -- who said she was the only woman who astonished him. She walked her pet cheetahs with diamond-studded collars around Piazza San Marco, completely naked underneath her furs.That same year, D'Annunzio published his novel Forse che si forse che no (Maybe Yes, Maybe No), basing the character Isabella Inghirami on Luisa Casati.
La marchesa Casati by Augustus Edwin John, 1919
Was the Marchesa Luisa Casati simply a spoiled heiress, a Madonna or Lady Gaga-type who lived a century ago, all style and no substance? The exhibition suggests that The Divine Marchesa was, in actuality, a performance artist ahead of her time:
"But she was not only bizarre and over the top, theatrical and chameleonic, megalomaniac and narcissistic: new studies published for the first time in the exhibition catalogue duly recognize a more consciously “artistic” aspect by tracing her activity as a collector and acknowledging the aesthetic scope of her actions and masquerades, which anticipated performance and body art."
La marches Casati by Man Ray, 1922
In the circles Luisa was keeping, populated by some of the most fascinating artists, writers and thinkers of her day, perhaps using her wealth to outfit herself with costumes by people such as the great Russian scenic and costume designer Léon Bakst of the Ballets Russes, the French fashion designer Paul Poiret, and, of course, Fortuny himself, allowed her to pal around with the avant-garde.
Luisa Casati wearing Paul Poiret, 1913
One of the most fascinating things at the exhibition was a book of photos entitled LUISA'S PRIVATE ALBUM compiled by Daniela Ferretti, the Director of Palazzo Fortuny, from the archives of The Casati Archives, overseen by Scot Ryersson and Michael Yaccarino, authors of two books about Luisa, Infinite Variety: The Life and Legend of the Marchesa Casati,and the family-authorized The Marchesa Casati: Portraits of a Muse.LUISA'S PRIVATE ALBUM gives an intimate look at the Marchesa's life through personal photos. The chapter headings are: "Childhood Fantasy," "Wife and Mother," "Luisa Alone," "Dream Houses," "Friends and Lovers," "Fur, Fang and Snakeskin," "Role of a Lifetime," "Media Darling," and, finally, "Last Act in London." The album is the most revealing thing about a woman who seemed bold and outrageous in public, but in private moments appears timid and shy. LUISA'S PRIVATE ALBUM is upstairs on the second floor on the long table.
Serpent Necklace by Cartier - yellow gold, white gold, diamonds and turquoise
Luisa blew her entire fortune transforming herself into a "Living Work of Art," and died poor in 1957 in London at age 76, with only a few friends. However, if a work of art is something that last through the ages, The Divine Marchesa still inspires artists, performers and fashion designers today, from Cartier's line of jewels, to John Galliano's fashions for Christian Dior -- the high-end Marchesa fashion line by Georgina Chapman and Keren Craig is a direct homage to her -- and many, many others.
Luisa Casati, The Divine Marchesa, was a comet that collided with Earth, then orbited out into the Solar System, leaving behind a trail of cosmic dust that reverberates today.
The Divine Marchesa Art and life of Luisa Casati from the Belle Époque to the spree years From October 4th, 2014 to March 8th, 2015 Palazzo Fortuny, Venice CLICK FOR MORE INFORMATION
(Venice, Italy) Venice was truly the City of Love this weekend as George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin married at the Aman Canal Grande. Photos of the wedding were tightly controlled, so the only opportunities for the paparazzi and the public to snap a shot were as the couple traveled by water-taxi, or entered and exited venues. People lined the Grand Canal for hours hoping for a glimpse of the couple, cheering and waving whenever they appeared. The sunlight sparkled on the water, liquid diamonds that set the backdrop for a long weekend of glamour and romance.
Palazzo Papadopoli - Clooney wedding night
I think it is terrific that the power couple married in Venice; it is the kind of energy that spotlights Venice at her best. George Clooney comes regularly to the Venice Film Festival, so I've had the good fortune to see him at press conferences, and think he is an honorable, intelligent man with a great sense of humor and charm. I've also written about the Aman Canal Grande for CNN Travel, and think it was the perfect spot for the wedding -- Palazzo Papadopoli is more like an impressive home rather than a hotel; in fact, the family who owns the palace still lives on the top floor.
UNLOCK YOUR LOVE crew at the foot of the Accademia Bridge
As the Clooneys celebrated their new life together, Venice also was busy starting anew. In support of NATIONAL CLEANING DAY 2014, a day that civic-minded groups throughout Italy come together to tidy up the country, citizens in Venice spent Sunday painting over graffiti, cleaning the trash from the waters of the canals and chopping off the unattractive "love" padlocks that couples have clamped onto bridges throughout the city.
Venetian writer Alberto Toso Fei cutting off a "love" lock
I was part of the UNLOCK YOUR LOVE group, coordinated by Alberto Alberti, and spearheaded by the Venetian writer, Alberto Toso Fei, who also seems very adept with a pair of bolt-cutters.
#UnlockYourLove in Venice
We began at the Accademia Bridge, which has been covered with unsightly padlocks for years (a personable photographer who was waiting for an exclusive shot of the Clooney wedding party was perched at the top with a very long lens). As a portion of the UNLOCK YOUR LOVE group sliced off the padlocks with gusto, and another part explained what we were doing and handed out flyers, I asked couples from all over the world to express their love with photos instead of locks. People were happy to oblige as I snapped away with my very old cell phone.
#UnlockYourLove in Venice
#UnlockYourLove in Venice
The larger group that coordinated Venice's CLEANING DAY activities is called the Associazione Masegni & Nizioleti Onlus, which is headed by the divine Cecilia Tonon. "Masegni" are the paving stones you walk on when you come to Venice, and "nizioleti" are the black and white rectangular street signs you see all over the city that indicate the names of the squares and streets.
#UnlockYourLove in Venice
#UnlockYourLove in Venice
This is what the Associazione Magesni & Nizioleti Onlus group does:
"We are a group of citizens who care for Venice, its cleanliness, its livability."
#UnlockYourLove in Venice
#UnlockYourLove in Venice
"We keep an eye on our streets and intervene where there is graffiti, padlocks (lovelocks), evidence of lack of respect for Venice and for those who live in this city and love her."
#UnlockYourLove in Venice
#UnlockYourLove in Venice
"We gather together those of us who love Venice and want to improve her."
#UnlockYourLove in Venice
#UnlockYourLove in Venice
"We have removed padlocks from the bridges, and we have pushed the City Council to take action against this anti-ecological fad."
#UnlockYourLove in Venice
#UnlockYourLove in Venice
"We remove graffiti tags and degrading treatments from the walls and the Istrian stone."
#UnlockYourLove in Venice
#UnlockYourLove in Venice
"We promote the restoration of chipped and damaged nizioleti."
#UnlockYourLove in Venice
To find out more information about the group, go to their website, or find them on Facebook HERE or HERE.
And when you come to Venice, be sure to express your love with a photo, instead of a padlock. Upload the photo to the internet, and it will last forever. But the padlock will be cut off. As one visitor said, "It's bad karma."
Severed "love" locks in the trash
I rarely have a reason to interact with the visitors who come to Venice, so it was a lot of fun to talk to people from all around the world. Most people were pleasant, and seemed to genuinely be having a good time. With the sun dazzling the waters, and the Clooney wedding playing in the background, it was another magical moment in Venice, the City of Amore.
George Clooney & Amal Alamuddin after civil ceremony
Luca Massimo Barbera, Philip Rylands & Heinz Mack on rooftop terrace at Peggy Guggenheim Collection
(Venice, Italy) Six rooms at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection contain chunks of a creative earthquake that happened in Milan between September 1959 and July 1960. Back then, two young artists, Enrico Castellani and Piero Manzoni, joined forces to create the Azimut Gallery, together with an art review called Azimuth. The result rocked the art world on its axis; the aftershocks are still felt today. In AZIMUTH/H - CONTINUITY AND NEWNESS, Curator Luca Massimo Barbera inserts that creative earthquake into the artistic graph, providing a road map for young artists to navigate their way through the galaxy - what came before, and how the world of art arrived at the point where it is today.
I am a Saint by Lucio Fontana (1958)
Even though Azimut/h only existed for eleven months, from September 1959 to July 1960, as the world pivoted into the new decade, it connected post-war neo-avantgarde thinkers not only in Italy, but on an international scale. It was a new concept of art itself. The first room at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection contains works by Italians Lucio Fontana and Albert Burri, French Yves Klein, Swiss-French Jean Tinguely, and Americans Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. Azimuth featured Rauschenberg and Johns before most of the world knew they existed.
Artist's Shit by Piero Manzoni (1961)
Adding to the mystic of Azimut/h was the death of Piero Manzoni (1933-1963), who died young of a heart attack at the age of 29. He created 90 cans of "Artist's Shit" or "Merde d'artista," which have never been opened because it would devalue the work -- an irony since they were created as a parody of consumerism -- the cans were priced by weight based on the value of gold. The most recent can sold in 2008 for £97,250, about $150,000 or €124,000. (Do you think Manzoni is chuckling in the Afterword?)
White Surface by Enrico Castellani (1959)
Enrico Castellani (1930-) was the more conservative and intellectual of the two artists. He said, “In the cultural climate of that time, and despite the fierce polemics existing between groups of diverse cultural extraction, it wasn’t at all uncommon to exchange the documents of our reciprocal experiences. This is how the first issue of the review came about, in the spring of ’59, and it is an anthology of what was valid and what could be criticized at the time, albeit with glaring omissions that were to some extent remedied by the activity of the gallery [...]. In our work we took a dialectical position with a ‘partial’ synthesis of the historical avantgarde. The second issue of Azimuth and the resulting gallery exhibitions are a product of this stance. They both come from a discrimination and from a co-option. The discrimination is based on everything that we feel is compromised about the historical avantgarde; in light of this differentiation one co-opts the results of the experiences held to be valid.”
The Joy of Calvin by Heinz Mack (1963)
Castellani went on to become part of the ZERO movement, founded by the Germans Heinz Mack and Otto Piene in 1957, and joined by Gunther Eucker in 1961, whose aspiration was to transform and redefine art after World War II. It has since morphed into an international network of like-minded artists from Europe, Japan and the Americas, and will have its "first large scale historical survey in the United States" opening on October 10, 2014 at the Guggenheim in New York City entitled: ZERO - COUNTDOWN TO TOMORROW, 1950s-60s.
Luca Massimo Barbera and Heinz Mack (with interpreter)
Heinz Mack's first Italian solo exhibition was at the Galleria Azimut in March, 1960. He said: “[Manzoni] brought a dozen girls, one more beautiful than the other, and they all wore sunglasses, something that was certainly crazy at the time, since they were not yet in fashion. Some sunglasses seemed as if they were made by hand. Then the girls said in front of the television audience: yes, so much light is emanating from Mack’s work that wearing sunglasses is necessary. Today one would call this a trendy joke.”
Heinz Mack spoke at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection on September 19th, and it was riveting. He spoke in German, and it was interpreted in Italian, so let's hope I got most of it right:) He said that what happened back then was a real phenomenon. There was no way to communicate like there is today, and yet all these artists in different parts of the world were working on the same wavelength. After the war there was a vacuum that needed to be filled and artists had an obligation to fill it. After such devastation, without spirituality, with enormous suffering, the artists were optimistic.
He said it was not a "team work" like today, but that they worked alone, yet with friends. To experience the reality that you are absolutely alone in this world, and then to meet like-minded artists gave them a sense of security. It confirmed the Light.
Light is extremely important to Heinz Mack. Light is like the heart; miraculous; happiness. It is a metaphysical phenomenon. It is immaterial, a miracle of this world. After World War II, the artists wanted to defend the concept of Light.
The Sky Over Nine Columns by Heinz Mack
Those words moved me deeply, as had Mack's The Sky Over Nine Columns that I saw on June 4, 2014 on the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore. I thought that if all these artists could still see the Light after growing up during the horrors of World War II, surely we can still see the Light today. I spoke to Heinz Mack after the discussion (and some of the best fried prawns I have ever eaten -- the delicate batter was like biting into a bird's nest) and told him that he had saved my life with the Light reflected on those golden columns, after all the darkness we had been experiencing here in Venice -- it was the same day that the mayor had been arrested for corruption. Heinz Mack asked if I were an artist, and I said I was a writer. I told him that his columns had moved me to tears, they were so filled with joy. He said, "It means a lot to me to hear that."
Heinz Mack said, "If we don't see the light anymore, then we are dead." This time, we were speaking in English, so I know exactly what he said.
The Goddess with the Head of a Sacred Donkey and her Sweet Daughter, the Spring of Thebes
by Fernanda Facciolli
(Venice, Italy) The artist Fernanda Facciolli is convinced that our planet Earth once worshiped mother goddesses and the elements of nature. The moon, mountains, trees and waters were deities to be revered. Before the Classical Greek priests of Zeus of deliberately rewrote the story in about 480-323 BC and gave us the gods on Mount Olympus, there existed a different group of gods adulated by the Archaic Greeks, centuries before. The Sphinx was an actual mountain, Cadmus, grandson of Poseidon and the founder of Thebes, was really a subterranean torrent, and Semele, the mother of Dionysus, was the personification of the moon.
Before the Olympic gods, the Archaic Greeks worshiped a matriarchal religion, inspired by the beauty of nature they saw around them. Shepherds gazed upon mountains and saw animals and sleeping goddesses, giving them distinct names. Waterways were gods and goddesses that gave life -- rushing rivers were masculine; gentle springs were feminine; two rivers of equal size that flowed together in a common bed were man and wife.
Jocasta, Oedipus and the Dragon of Thespiae or
The Main River of Thebes floods his Mother the Spring during a terrible tempest at Thespiae by Emmet
When Classical Antiquity came along, the patriarchal society repressed the Archaic goddesses and rewrote the myths, transforming Hera into the shrewish, jealous wife of the almighty god Zeus, who originally was simply Hera's husband. Demeter, Zeus's older sister, was reduced to obeying her brother's will. Zeus' wine-loving son, Dionysus, was originally the female Dionysa. Even though the name was changed from feminine to masculine, Dionysus kept the clothes that Dionysa wore, and her long, flowing hair. This radical transformation of the Archaic, matriarchal vision of the world into the Classical, patriarchal point of view emerged in Greek philosophy, art, and literature, providing the basis for European civilization that still exists to the present day.
Fueled by her determination to uncover clues to back-up her conviction, Fernanda and her husband, who uses the nom de plume "Emmet" as an artist, traveled to Greece in 2012 guided by Periegesis, the ancient text of Pausaias (110-180 AD), who, in turn, had made a similar journey influenced by the even more archaic writings of Hesiod (750-650 BC). Using scholarly research, original theories and their artistic abilities, the two artists present a new way of examining what lies under the foundation of our civilization.
CON PAUSANIA SULLE TRACCE DI ESIODO
Quando gli Eroi erano ancora fiumi, i Giganti erano ancora montagne e le Ninfe erano ancora fonti
FOLLOWING PAUSANIAS IN SEARCH OF HESIOD
When Heroes were rivers, Giants were mountains, and Nymphs were watersprings
What the couple discovered in Thebes and Boeotia inspired a series of paintings, accompanied by a text published in three languages -- Italian, English and Greek -- by Marcianum Press, with a preface by Paolo Leoncini, the distinguished former Professor of Italian literature at Ca' Foscari University, Venice.
The Island of Ogygia or
When the City of Thebes was an Island in a Lake and her Name was Ogygia, the Ancient by Emmet
For those of us who need to brush up on our Greek history, just who were Pausanias and Hesiod, and where is Thebes and Boeotia?
In ancient Greece, Thebes was the largest city in the region of Boeotia, as well as a major rival of Athens and Sparta. According to Fernanda and Emmet, Boeotia -- the region that gave us the mighty Hercules -- wasthe real birthplace of most of the original Greek myths and legends -- stories that were later rewritten..
Even in ancient times, there were travel writers, and Pausanias was one whose words have come down to us today. Also a geographer, he was from Lydia, an area of Greece that is now part of Turkey, and lived around 900 years ago, about 110-180 AD. Before he traveled to Boeotia, Pausanias had been to visit the pyramids in Egypt, to Jerusalem and to Rome, among many other places. He not only wrote about the people and sights he saw, he was also fascinated by the myths and history that had created the cultures he was visiting. He wrote a ten-volume set entitled Hellados Periegesi(Description of Greece), and focused on ancient Greece and its holy relics, gods and sacred objects in their local context, rather than the contemporary Greece under Roman rule he was visiting. Even though he was a follower of Zeus, he was open-minded about cultures that followed different gods.
Hesiod was thought to be a Greek poet who lived around 750-650 BC in Boeotia, around 800 or 900 years earlier than Pausanias, or about 1800 years ago. Like any good travel writer, Pausanias used the writings of the local poet Hesiod, among others, as part of his research to uncover the ancient past of the area he was visiting when he went to Boeotia.
Menestratus, Cleostratus and the Dragon of Thespiae or
Mother-Moon, Daughter-Spring and the Terrible Storm that Flooded the River at Thespiae
by Fernanda Facciolli
In 2012, Fernanda and Emmet traveled to Boeotia for 14 weeks, and used the research of Pausania -- who had used the words of Hesiod -- to step back nearly 2000 years into Archaic Greece. Fernanda, a Venetian, has had a long fascination with ancient myths. Now a pixieish 64-year-old, she literally ran into Emmet more than 50 years ago when she was a young teenager late for art class at the Liceo Artistico Accademia and he was an older student. All the other girls were already wearing stockings while she was still in knee socks. As she dashed off down the hall, Emmet thought: "That is the woman of my life."
After being married to others, and careers spent teaching art, ten years ago Fernanda and Emmet found each other again. Emmet developed a passionate interest in his wife's philological studies, and became her trusted supporter and adviser, bringing his own interpretations to her work.By examiningname origins and journeying to the source, the couple attempted to reconstruct local religious beliefs in Ancient Boeotia before the advent of the Olympian godsbased on their own scholarly research, intuition and imagination.
The Sphinx of Thebes by Fernanda Facciolli
There was only one Sphinx in Greek mythology. She had the head of a woman, the body of a lioness, the wings of an eagle and the claws of a gryphon. The monstrous Sphinx guarded the entrance of the city of Thebes, asking all travelers the famous riddle to allow them access: "Which creature walks first on four, then two, then three legs?" Everyone who got the answer wrong was killed until Oedipus came along, answered the riddle: "Man," killed the Sphinx and carried her body into Thebes on the back of a donkey.
Fernanda and Emmet disagree with that interpretation. Tracing the origins of the Boeotian word for "Sphinx," they deducted that the mount where the Sphinx had her sanctuary was once covered by a lush oak forest, and the correct name of Mount Sphynghion, the Boeotian hill of Thebes, should be "The Mount of Oaks." Instead of Oedipus, the King of Thebes, killing the Sphinx, he was actually leading the triumphant goddess into Thebes on the back of the sacred donkey, which was held in high esteem for the milk it provided, similar to human mother's milk.
The Lion and the Lioness or
The Animal Face of the Sphinx and the Lion of St. Marco by Emmet
And as for the depiction of the Sphinx as a hybrid, lioness, woman and eagle? What Fernanda and Emmet saw with their own eyes inspired some of their most profound work. One day, as they were looking towards the mountain, they suddenly saw an enormous natural sculpture, a mountain molded in the form of a winged goddess about to rise out of the plain on powerful wings. The next morning, as they were driving to the west of Thebes, they turned and looked back at the sacred mountain to say farewell. Instead of a winged lioness, the head of the Sphinx had transformed into the supine profile of a woman gazing up toward the heavens.
The winged lioness had revealed her true essence as a goddess of the earth.
The Human Face of the Sphinx or
The holy procession up the face of the Sacred Mountain by Emmet
Fernanda Facciolli and Emmet will present FOLLOWING PAUSANIAS IN SEARCH OF HESIOD - When Heroes were rivers, Giants were mountains, and Nymphs were watersprings on Tuesday, September 23, 2014 at the Biblioteca dello Studium Generale Marcianum at 5:00 PM by invitation only. The artists' work can also be seen at Galleria Il Dictynneion in Campiello del Sole, San Polo 911, every afternoon, or by appointment.
CON PAUSANIA SULLE TRACCE DI ESIODO
Quando gli Eroi erano ancora fiumi, i Giganti erano ancora montagne e le Ninfe erano ancora fonti
(Venice, Italy) Some reports complained about the lack of Hollywood shazam at this year's Venice Film Festival. No worries -- I think the star power that will soon descend on the Venetian lagoon will boil the waters when George Clooney marries Amal Alamuddden here in Venice.
The Swedes have already infilitrated our homes by way of IKEA. Now, in addition to Electrolux buying GE, the Swedes also soared this week by winning the Golden Lion for "A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence," by Roy Andersson. I was initially intrigued by this film, but eventually walked out in frustration a bit more than halfway through. To me, it belongs in the theater, not on the big screen. It needs a live audience living in-the-moment to really pull off what it's trying to accomplish, which was brilliant, but film is the wrong medium. Obviously, my opinion is in the minority.
In eleven or so days, I saw 22 feature films, and more than half of 4 others. That is an intense amount of film watching. The wonderful thing about the Venice Film Festival is that we get to see films from every corner of the planet, films that people have literally risked their lives to make. It really puts things into perspective, and it is a great honor to watch history in the making.
Iranian filmmaker Rakhshan Bani-Etemad wins Best Screenplay for TALES
I lived in Hollywood for about 20 years. I love Hollywood movies because I like the structure, which is based on the Hero's Journey. At this year's festival, I saw a movie I had not planned to see simply because I went early to get a seat for the Paoslini and Burying the Ex press conferences, and stumbled into the press conference for Theeb. On the panel were a group of Bedouins, part of an Arabian tribe who lives in the desert. I was fascinated and went to see the film. It was truly a Hero's Journey told through the eyes of a young boy. When the film was over, Theeb got a 10-minute standing ovation. It also won the Best Director award in the Orizzonti section.
Considering what you in the States will actually have the opportunity to see, my Top 10 recommendations are as follows:
1. GOOD KILL starring Ethan Hawke, directed by Andrew Niccol 2. THE SOUND OF SILENCE, documentary by Josh Oppenheimer 3. 99 HOMES starring Michael Shannon & Andrew Garfield, directed by Ramin Bahrani 4. THE HUMBLING starring Al Pacino, directed by Barry Levinson 5. BIRDMAN starring Michael Keaton, directed by Alejandro G. Inarritu 6. SHE'S FUNNY THAT WAY starring OwenWilson, directed by Peter Bogdanovich 7. CYMBELINE starring Ethan Hawke, directed by Michael Almereyda 8. NYMPHOMANIAC: VOLUME I - DIRECTOR'S CUT starring Charlotte Gainsbourg, directed by Lars von Trier 9. OLIVE KITTERIDGE starring Frances McDormand, directed by Lisa Cholodenko 10. BURYING THE EX, directed by Joe Dante
Here are the official awards:
The Awards at the 71st Venice International Film Festival
The Venezia 71 Jury, chaired by Alexandre Desplat and comprised ofJoan Chen, Philip Gröning, Jessica Hausner, Jhumpa Lahiri, Sandy Powell, Tim Roth, Elia Suleiman and Carlo Verdone having viewed all 20 films in competition, has decided as follows:
GOLDEN LION for Best Film to:
EN DUVA SATT PÅ EN GREN OCH FUNDERADE PÅ TILLVARON
(A PIGEON SAT ON A BRANCH REFLECTING ON EXISTENCE)
by Roy Andersson (Sweden, Germany, Norway, France)
SILVER LION for Best Director to:
for the filmBELYE NOCHI POCHTALONA ALEKSEYA TRYAPITSYNA
(THE POSTMAN’S WHITE NIGHTS)
GRAND JURY PRIZE to:
THE LOOK OF SILENCE by Joshua Oppenheimer
(Denmark, Finland, Indonesia, Norway, United Kingdom)
for Best Actor:
in the film HUNGRY HEARTS by Saverio Costanzo (Italy)
for Best Actress:
in the film HUNGRY HEARTS by Saverio Costanzo (Italy)
MARCELLO MASTROIANNI AWARD
for Best Young Actor or Actress to:
in the film LE DERNIER COUP DE MARTEAU by Alix Delaporte (France)
AWARD FOR BEST SCREENPLAY to:
Rakhshan Banietemad and Farid Mostafavi
for the film GHESSEHA (TALES) by Rakhshan Banietemad (Iran)
SPECIAL JURY PRIZE to:
SIVASbyKaan Müjdeci (Turkey, Germany)
LION OF THE FUTURE – “LUIGI DE LAURENTIIS” VENICE AWARD FOR A DEBUT FILM
Lion of the Future – “Luigi De Laurentiis” Venice Award for a Debut Film Jury at the 71st Venice Film Festival, chaired by Alice Rohrwacher and comprised of Lisandro Alonso, Ron Mann, Vivian Qu and Razvan Radulescu, has decided to award:
LION OF THE FUTURE – “LUIGI DE LAURENTIIS” VENICE AWARD FOR A DEBUT FILM to:
COURT by Chaitanya Tamhane (India)
as well as a prize of 100,000 USD, donated by Filmauro diAurelio e Luigi De Laurentiis to be divided equally between director and producer
The Orizzonti Jury of the 71st Venice Film Festival, chaired by Ann Hui and composed of Moran Atias, Pernilla August, David Chase, Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, Roberto Minervini and Alin Taşçiyan after screening the 29 films in competition has decided to award:
the ORIZZONTI AWARD FOR BEST FILMto:
COURT by Chaitanya Tamhane (India)
the ORIZZONTI AWARD FOR BEST DIRECTOR to:
Naji Abu Nowar
for THEEB (Jordan, U.A.E., Qatar, United Kingdom)
the SPECIAL ORIZZONTI JURY PRIZE to:
BELLUSCONE. UNA STORIA SICILIANA
by Franco Maresco (Italy)
the SPECIAL ORIZZONTI AWARD FOR BEST ACTOR OR ACTRESSto:
in the film TAKVA SU PRAVILA (THESE ARE THE RULES)
by Ognjen Sviličić(Croatia, France, Serbia, Macedonia)
the ORIZZONTI AWARD FOR BEST SHORT FILM to:
MARYAMby Sidi Saleh (Indonesia)
the VENICE SHORT FILM NOMINATION FOR THE EUROPEAN FILM AWARDS 2014 to:
PAT – LEHEM(DAILY BREAD) by Idan Hubel (Israel)
VENEZIA CLASSICI AWARDS
The Venezia Classici Jury, chaired by Giuliano Montaldocomposed of 28 students of Cinema History, chosen in particular from the teachers of 13 Italian Dams university programmes and from the Venetian Ca’ Foscari, has decided to award:
the VENEZIA CLASSICI AWARD FOR BEST DOCUMENTARY ON CINEMA to:
ANIMATA RESISTENZA by Francesco Montagner and Alberto Girotto(Italy)
the VENEZIA CLASSICI AWARD FOR BEST RESTORED FILM to:
UNA GIORNATA PARTICOLAREby Ettore Scola (1977, Italy, Canada)
GOLDEN LION FOR LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT 2014 to:
JAEGER-LECOULTRE GLORY TO THE FILMMAKER AWARD 2014 to:
(Venice, Italy) "Good Kill" by Andrew Niccol would win the Golden Lion, if it were up to me. I don't know what the odds of that happening are, since it is the last film in competition to screen, and the critics and the audience already seem to have made up their minds, the critics rooting for "The Look of Silence," the documentary by Josh Oppenheimer (which was also my favorite before I saw "Good Kill"), and the audience for "Birdman" by Alejandro G. Inarritu.
But the Jury, headed by the famed French composer Alexandre Desplat, is still out, and with actors as diverse as Tim Roth and Joan Chen on it, as well as Pulitzer Prize winning-author, Jhumpa Lahiri, we cannot predict how they will decide. The esteemed members of the 2014 Jury of the Venice Film Festival have won and/or been nominated for so many Academy Awards and other prestigious honors that I can't even begin to tally them all.
Alberto Barbera, Director (left) Alexandre Desplat, President of Jury - Variety party at Hotel Danieli - Photo: Mirco Toffolo
Members of the International Jury of Venezia 71:
Alexandre Desplat (President) - French film composer Joan Chen - Chinese and American actress, screenwriter and director Philip Gröning - German director and screenwriter Jessica Hausner -- Australian film director and screenwriter Jhumpa Lahiri - India American author born in London Sandy Powell - British costume designer Tim Roth - British actor, screenwriter and director Elia Suleiman - Palestinian film director and actor Carlo Verdone - Italian actor, screenwriter and director
Ethan Hawke and January Jones
"Good Kill" moved me deeply; I wept throughout much of the movie. It is a powerful depiction of a F-16 fighter pilot played by Ethan Hawke, who no longer risks his life in Afghanistan and Iraq, but has been reassigned to piloting drones in an air-conditioned cubicle in the desert near Las Vegas. He now fights the war on terror by remote control for 12 hours, and goes home to his wife (a terrific performance by January Jones) and kids the other half of the day.
Ethan Hawke gives one of the best performances of his career as Major Tommy Egan, who is having extreme difficulty adjusting from the dangerous life of a fighter pilot to a man whose co-workers now include gamers chosen for their ability to play video games in a shopping mall. The movie is set in 2010, and starts with the drones controlled by the Department of Defense, with definite rules of engagement. Then Egan's unit is chosen to take orders directly from the CIA, and the rationale for the orders to kill start getting freaky. A disembodied voice (a chilling Peter Coyote) comes on the speaker phone: "Just call me Langley," and explains why it's now okay to kill innocent civilians. After the kill, the unit is then required to count the number of dead bodies.
After a stressful day on the job, Egan cranks up the music and zooms home, the artificial worlds of Las Vegas looming in the background. Even though Egan is always low-key, and never talks about his work at home, the effect the job is having on him starts spilling onto his family. At a barbeque, a friend asks Molly, Egan's wife, if he ever gets angry. "Yes," she replies. "He gets even quieter."
Ethan Hawke stars as a drone pilot fighting the Taliban from the Nevada desert in writer-director Andrew Niccol's timely psychological drama
Andrew Niccol, Ethan Hawke, January Jones, Zoe Kravitz (who gives a great performance as Egan's co-worker with real credentials) and producer Zev Foreman (who also produced the Academy Awarding-winning film, "The Hurt Locker") were all here in Venice for the press conference. No one has made a movie about drones before; we have no idea what this new form of warfare is all about, or the affect it has on the people who must perform it, and their families. Andrew Niccol said that he is not anti-drone or pro-drone, he wanted to make a movie about what it is. We keep hearing about "signature strikes." What are they, actually? Ethan Hawke said that his grandfather fought in World War II and never had to count the damage he did. What are we asking these people on the front line of the new modern warfare to do?
The panel was asked if the military had helped with the project, and the answer was no. "It's difficult to make a military movie with no support from the military." Zev Foreman said that he had given the script to the Department of Defense, who had cooperated when he made "The Hurt Locker," but that the "PR machine inside the DoD does not know how to handle the issue." There is a rivalry between the DoD and the OGA (no one inside calls it the CIA, but the OGA for "other governmental agencies") about who runs the drone program.
Andrew Niccol and Ethan Hawke both stressed that it was a cautionary tale, and that the emphasis in the film was about the people who have been placed in this situation. Drones are bringing about the death of pilots who actually know how to fly a fighter jet. It made me think: what will the world be like when there are no more top guns? How many more human experiences will mankind lose? They are taking all the fun out of being a human being! Riding a stationary bicycle in a gym while watching a digital landscape go by is not the same as feeling the wind in your hair and smelling the grass on a winding country road.
I thought the film was practically perfect, from the performances, to the directing, to the cinematography and the music that set the tone. I was riveted. "Good Kill" is a MUST SEE.
(Venice, Italy) The divine Uma Thurman was in the audience last night for the world premiere of the 3-hour Lars von Trier Director's Cut of Nymphomaniac: Volume II, although she is not in the movie. However, she is in the 2-hour 35 minute Director's Cut of Nymphomaniac: Volume I, where she blows everyone else off the screen with her impressive appearance in one amazing scene. Thurman is a wife who shows up with her three kids to confront her husband who has decided to abandon them and move in with nymphomaniac, Joe, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, who was also in the audience for both films.
Charlotte Gainsbourg - Venice Film Festival
Celebrities are always in the theater to watch their films after making their red carpet appearances, so that was not unusual. What made it different is that usually they are in the Sala Grande theater, up in the non-balcony (the Sala Grande doesn't have a closed balcony that separates the stars from the audience, only stairs and a rail.) Industry professionals can't attend the prime-time evening screening in the Sala Grande, only the public. By the time the red carpet arrives, the press has already seen the film and listened to the celebrities at a press conference.
What was unique about Thurman and Gainsbourg watching Nymphomaniac with the audience, is that it screened in a different theater, the fabulous freshly-restored Sala Darsena, which, in the past, was limited to the press and industry professionals. The Sala Darsena has no balcony at all, just three different levels of seating. It was once an open-air arena, and now it is a totally cool theater with 1400 seats, sort of retro-contemporary hip with a fantastic sound system.
President Paolo Baratta in Sala Darsena
I had never seen either Nymphomaniac before, and went to both films, which is a total of five-and-a-half hours of Lars von Trier's revolutionary work. The first one started at 2:00pm, and I arrived at Sala Darsena just couple of minutes before. Steppenwolf's Born to Be Wild was cranking and a bunch of security guys were there. I asked the guy who checked my badge what was going on, and he said he had no idea. I was going to wait outside to see, but the film was about to start, so I went in.
Nymphomaniac: Volume II
I was surprised to see that the theater was packed. I thought I saw Alberto Barbera, the Director of the Venice Film Festival, in the audience, and I knew something was up. Then, the music exploded, and the delegation of Nymphomaniac paraded through the door -- including Charlotte Gainsbourg and Stellan Skarsgard,who also stars. The delegation entered into the center of the theater, a dynamic entrance, which would not work for all films, but was perfect for Nymphomaniac. The audience got to its feet and roared. I happened to be sitting in the same row as the delegation, although in a different section, and it was riveting to watch the film with the people who had made it.
Stellan Skarsgard at Venice Film Festival
I thought the Director's Cut of Nymphomaniac: Volume I was one of the most amazing films I've ever seen, a movie that finally addressed female sexuality in a mythic way. Lars von Trier had said his ambition was to create a film that had the characteristics of a literary novel. The first part succeeded in doing that, especially if we consider that a nymph is a divine spirit that animates nature. Skarsgard stars as a seemingly compassionate bachelor named Seligman who finds a beaten Joe lying in an alley and takes her home. He tends to her wounds, and listens as she tells her life story. We watch Joe grow up, and experience the touching relationship she had with her father, who is played by Christian Slater.
Nymphomaniac: Volume I
At 7:00pm, the Director's Cut of Nymphomaniac: Volume II was much darker; to me, it lost direction because it became too masochistic. Earlier, during a bizarre press conference at which von Trier was present only cyber-ly by iPad through lifelines relayed by Stellan Skarsgard, he said: “Everything that is masochistic in the film is me,” said von Trier (via Skarsgard). “The women, to a certain extent, is some of [von Trier], but every time something masochistic is shown, it’s [von Trier].” That was the problem. The masochism felt imposed upon Joe's character, not something that had developed organically. The nymph stepped out of Nymphomaniac, replaced by a satyr.
The reclusive—and controversial—filmmaker vowed to never speak publicly after his ‘Nazi’ scandal at Cannes. But he broke it to discuss the uncut version of Nymphomaniac at the Venice Film Festival (kind of).
There was a glimmer of hope near the end of the film, but it was not to be. For me, it would have been more satisfying if von Trier had had the courage to follow the sun -- since he was brave enough to make the film in the first place -- but instead he wimped out and opted for the darkness.
(Venice, Italy) Al Pacino looks and acts like the legendary movie star he is. Pacino is 74-years-old, but has the energy of someone 30 years younger. One of the things that makes Al Pacino so unique is that he is a movie star from New York, not Hollywood. During one of his two press conferences today, when he was asked to comment on Hollywood, he said, "I don't know and I never did know what Hollywood is." He said he had a relationship with Hollywood that was not unfriendly, but not really clear. He said the people who were running the studios these days were different -- not better or worse, just different, and that times had changed. He said he had even gone to see an action figure flick (I forget which one) with one of his kids, and really enjoyed it.
Al Pacino & Chris Messina (Photo: David Azia)
Al Pacino likes to talk. He gives even the simplest questions long, complex answers, winding paths through a forest of riches, which is fascinating to experience firsthand. It is like going to the theater.
Greta Gerwig & Al Pacino in The Humbling
Pacino is here in Venice with two films this year, David Gordon Green's MANGLEHORN and THE HUMBLING, directed by another legend, Barry Levinson, based on the Philip Roth novel. The storyline is:
"Simon Axler is a famed stage actor who becomes depressed then suicidal when he suddenly and inexplicably loses his gift. In an attempt to get his mojo back, he has an affair with a lesbian woman half his age. Before long, the relationship causes chaos as people from the romantic duo's pasts resurface in their lives."
The character, Simon Axler, has isolated himself in the country, and someone asked if Pacino had based the character on his own life. Pacino said, "Of course it's based on my life. Once you're famous anonymity goes up in value."
Barry Levinson said it was it was literally like making a home movie because they shot the movie in 20 days in and around his Connecticut home. I thought the film was terrific, and that Pacino hasn't been in such fine form in years. I pretty much agree with the review in Variety, which said: "Pacino, who seemed to have awakened from a long acting coma when he played Dr. Jack Kevorkian in Levinson’s 2010 HBO movie, “You Don’t Know Jack,” seems similarly rejuvenated here, in what’s easily his best bigscreen performance since Christopher Nolan’s “Insomnia” in 2002."
Simon Axler may have lost his mojo, but Al Pacino most definitely has not.
(Venice, Italy) An average American family is thrown ruthlessly out of their home in Orlando, Florida at the start of Ramin Bahrani's powerful foreclosure drama, 99 HOMES. It was no accident that so many Americans suddenly lost their homes -- it was outright corruption, another scheme by the greedy to make money off human misery, which comes as no surprise. But it is extremely satisfying to watch how the vultures did it up there on the big screen.
At the press conference, Bahrani was asked if he set the film in Orlando, Florida on purpose, and he said, "of course I did." He went down there to do research, and after two or three weeks, he was dizzy from the corruption. He said, "I never saw so many guns in my life."
Andrew Garfield, Ramin Bahrani & Michael Shannon
Here is the DIRECTOR'S STATEMENT: The 99% is a global phenomenon. The common man around the world can no longer do hard, honest work and expect to thrive against systematic greed and corruption. When faced by the firing squad, does a man join hands with his executioner? Is there any choice to make other than a deal with the devil?
Andrew Garfield & Michael Shannon
Michael Shannon is one of my favorite actors, who always manages to bring a layer of humanity to the most unsavory characters. He plays Rick Carver, a heartless estate agent who represents the banks, tossing people and their possessions out on the street the moment the moment a judge -- who is also part of the corrupt pyramid -- signs the order; in Florida, the judgment speeds by so fast that they call them "Rocket Dockets."
Andrew Garfield is Dennis Nash, a hard-working single-dad who can do most any job in construction, and lives with his widowed mother (Laura Dern) and son in the simple Orlando home where he grew up. When the building market collapses and he loses his work, he is told by the bank not to make a payment; he misses three, and the next thing he knows, he, his mother and his son (Noah Lomax) are crammed into a cheap motel, surrounded by other evicted families.
(Venice, Italy) THE LOOK OF SILENCE is the riveting companion film to Josh Oppenheimer's Academy Award-nominated 2012 documentary about the 1965-66 genocide in Indonesia entitled, THE ACT OF KILLING, which I have not yet seen. It is not necessary to see The Act of Killing to appreciate The Look of Silence, which stands alone.
On screen, Adi Rukun, the protagonist of The Look of Silence, who is an optician by trade, watches scenes from The Act of Killing in which members of the civilian militia enthusiastically reenact how they chopped off people's heads, slashed open their stomachs and chests, cut off their penises, sliced their throats, drank their blood, and then threw them in Snake River, all with the intent of cleaning the country of "communists." Adi's older brother, Ramli, was one of over one million victims; the difference between Ramli and the others who were slaughtered is that Ramli's death had witnesses.
Adi's parents today
Adi was born after his brother's murder when his parents were middle-aged; they are now both in their 100s. His mother is still wracked with sorrow over the death of Ramli; his father is blind and senile. The Indonesia genocide has been propagandized and covered-up -- to this day, the survivors have been terrorized into silence.
Oppenheimer's 2012 documentary The Act of Killing helped to break the silence. The Look of Silence goes further when Adi confronts those responsible for his brother's murder, not with anger, but with a deep desire to understand their motivation. Adi is not out for revenge: he wants to know why the family he grew up in is so traumatized and afraid. He wants the killers to acknowledge what they did, and to apologize, so the entire country can move forward. His story represents more than one million other Indonesians.
I don't know what is more astonishing -- that Oppenheimer actually got the killers -- who are still in power in Indonesia -- to boast about their acts on camera, or that they seem to feel absolutely no remorse whatsoever, and seem to have acted with complete impunity. It is as if they literally have been brainwashed to believe they have done something wonderful -- they giggle and laugh as they describe their sadistic murders. There is nothing normal or human about it.
"I did not know if it was safe to approach the killers, but when I did, I found all of them to be boastful, immediately recounting the killings, often with smiles on their faces, in front of their small grandchildren. In this contract between survivors forced into silence and perpetrators boastfully recounting stories far more incriminating than anything the survivors could have told, I felt I'd wandered into Germany 40 years after the Holocaust, only to find the Nazis still in power."
Joshua Oppenheimer's film about Indonesia’s mass murders of the Sixties is a shattering voyage into the jungle of human nature
At the press conference, the last question Oppenheimer was asked was what his plans were for the future. He was evasive. Also, earlier, Oppenheimer had not answered a journalist who asked him if he thought he could have made the film in the United States -- he is an American based in Copenhagen, Denmark, and has pushed the US to acknowledge its role in the genocide. I, too, was curious what his answer would be, so I asked him after the conference (due to time constraints.) I said, "Josh, you didn't answer the question. COULD you have made this film in the United States?" Oppenheimer seemed genuinely bewildered. "Did I get asked that? Maybe that's the answer to the last question. Maybe that's what I'm going to do next."
BIRDMAN directed by Alejandro G. Inarritu, starring Michael Keaton
(Venice, Italy) The transitory nature of power and glory are the themes of both BIRDMAN and THE PRESIDENT, the opening films of the 2014 Venice International Film Festival.
BIRDMAN or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), directed by Alejandro G. Inarritu, stars Michael Keaton as a movie star who once achieved international fame by playing the superhero "Birdman," and is now trying to revive his career by betting everything, including his Malibu house, on a Broadway show, starring in, directing, producing and adapting a Raymond Carver short story. BIRDMAN has received mostly positive reviews, including a bunch of raves.
This year’s Venice film festival begins with Alejandro González Iñárritu’s showbiz satire, a film as jittery, shallow and occasionally inspired as its hero
I'm with The Guardian on this one. I just wasn't sure what key we were in. Black comedy? Drama? Magical realism? During the press conference, Inarritu said he wanted to step out of his comfort zone, and that he realized for the first time that you could laugh on a set. He said he was terrified, but was happy to have done it.
He did some get great performances out of his actors. Emma Stone in particular was impressive, playing Keaton's daughter, Sam, just out of rehab. At the press conference, Stone said she'd "learned more on this movie than I've ever learned," and wanted to do it all over again.
Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, who shot Gravity, does the same thing to New York City as he did to outer space -- makes us feel like were are really there. Time Square, Broadway, the St. James Theater... I could smell the city. Amy Ryan, who plays Keaton's ex-wife, said that "New York is another character in this film."
When I think of other satirical films like, say, NETWORK, that aroused such a depth of emotion in audiences throughout the world, I don't think BIRDMAN matches that level of engagement. But if we compare it to yet another superhero action film, then it does reach the level of "inspired."
(As I write this in the press room, it is difficult to tell who is making more commotion -- the crowd roaring as the celebrities arrive on the red carpet, or the anti-cruise ship demonstrators protesting in the street below.)
THE PRESIDENT directed by Moshen Makhmalbaf
THE PRESIDENT, the opening film of the Orizzoni (Horizons) section of the Venice Film Festival by the Iranian director, Moshen Makhmalbaf was shot in Georgia, and is in the Georgian language with Italian and English subtitles. It opens with the dictator of an unnamed country holding his young grandson on his lap and illustrating how much fun it is to play with power when the boy complains he doesn't want his grandfather's job, he wants an ice cream. Grandpa picks up the phone and orders that all the lights in the major city below be turned off. Instantly, the city goes black. He hands the receiver to his grandson, who orders that all the lights be turned back on. Flash! The city lights up. The grandson then ordersall the lights off once again. Again, the city goes black. But when the boy orders the lights back on again, nothing happens. The city remains black. And so starts the beginning of the revolution...
Dachi Orvelashvili and Misha Gomiashvili
His Majesty (as The President is called by everyone) and his grandson, are forced to flee their palace and disguise themselves as ordinary citizens, experiencing firsthand the pain and destruction the dictator's leadership cost his own people.
Mohsen Makhmalbaf offers a didactic morality tale about a fallen autocrat and his innocent grandson fleeing murderous revolutionaries bent on vengeance.
During the press conference Makhmalbaf, who lives in exile in London, said he wanted to illustrate that not only the dictator, but the revolutionaries turn to violence. When you remove a dictator, the violence and thirst for revenge remains among the population, creating a vicious cycle. Variety said it expected more from Makhmalbaf; again, I disagree. Even though the message seems "obvious," given the state of current events, not many nations seem to grasp that simple thing.
(Venice, Italy) Frances McDormand has had a diverse and distinguished career so far, and it's about to reach new heights. Instead of complaining that Hollywood doesn't provide great roles for women -- especially older women -- she did something about it herself. McDormand optioned the Pulitzer Prize winning novel Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, and is playing the title character in an HBO mini-series by the same name, which she also executive-produced, along with Tom Hanks, Gary Goeztman and Jane Anderson, who wrote the screenplay. Directed by Lisa Cholodenko, Olive Kitteridge will air in on HBO starting this November. The official site is here. I've always loved Frances McDormand's work, and admire her as an actress. When she was here during the Venice Film Festival in 2008 to promote Burn After Reading, she was witty, intelligent and funny. This year she will be honored with the Persol Tribute to Visionary Talent Award2014 on September 1st, and then Olive Kitteridge will have its world premiere here in Venice.
Alberto Barbera, the Director of the Venice Film Festival said, “The originality and immensity of Frances McDormand’s talent is well reflected in Olive Kitteridge, a project which she herself initiated, optioning the novel by Elizabeth Strout, and of which she is also executive producer -- another great manifestation of her vision, which we honor today with this award. Thanks to her long-standing experience in theatre, film and TV, dedicated to the search for truth, the career of Frances McDormandis not only that of an extraordinary actress, but also reflects her consistent vision of art and of the world that is positive and aware, often in contrast with today’s prevailing value system”.
It always surprises my Hollywood friends to learn that the Venice Film Festival is the oldest international film festival in the world. Founded in 1932 by Count Giuseppe Volpi, the first festival brought celebrities flocking to Venice from all around the world. Greta Garbo, Clark Gable, Fredric March, Wallace Beery, Norma Shearer, James Cagney, Ronald Colman, Loretta Young, John Barrymore, Joan Crawford, Vittorio De Sica and Boris Karloff were all on hand to add dazzle to the event.
The first film to be screened in 1932 was Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Rouben Mamoulian. Back then, the Venice Film Festival was not yet a competition, but it presented such films as It happened one night by Frank Capra, Grand Hotel by Edmund Goulding, The Champ by King Vidor, Frankenstein by James Whale, Zemlja (Earth) by Aleksandr Dovzenko, Gli uomini che mascalzoni… (What Scoundrels Men Are!) by Mario Camerini and A nous la liberté by René Clair. The audience selected what they liked best: Helen Hayes won favorite actress; Fredric March, favorite actor; best director was the Soviet Nikolaj Ekk for Putjovka v zizn, while the best film was René Clair's A nous la liberté. By creating a new cinema division within La Biennale, Venice's international art festival, the Venice Film Festival helped to raise cinema to an art form. The official name of the festival is the Mostra Internazionale d'Arte Cinematografica della Biennale di Venezia or the "International Exhibition of Cinematographic Art of the Venice Biennale."
Nowadays the public can attend screenings for the 71st Venice International Film Festival by buying tickets with a click of the mouse. Visit La Biennale's website for the films that are screening, how to by tickets, and everything else you need to know by clicking here. The 2014 71st Venice International Film Festival runs from August 27, 2014 to September 6, 2014. See you at the movies! Ciao from Venezia, Cat Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog
(Venice, Italy) Robin Williams left this planet under the energy of the Supermoon, leaving the rest of us stunned, yet full of deep, warm memories of a genuine human being, a man bursting with joyful cosmic energy during his time here on Earth. He was alive, worked hard, and kept the rest of us awake and on our toes. If anyone was The Little Prince personified, it was Robin Williams, and it was lovely that his daughter, Zelda, shared a quote fromAntoine de Saint-Exupéry’s classic book:
“You – you alone will have the stars as no one else has them…In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if al the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night…You – only you – will have stars that laugh.”
Rest in peace, Robin Williams
Tomorrow is August 15, Ferragosto, a holiday created by Emperor Augustus in 18BC, which means "August's rest." Long before the Romans decided it was better to join 'em rather than beat 'em and convert en masse to Christianity, the day was celebrated to give workers a much needed rest after their long labor, and to celebrate the Diana, the goddess of the moon, women, birthing and the hunt.
Assumption of the Virgin by Paolo Veronese (1586)
Centuries later, the Catholic Church declared it was also the day that Mary zoomed straight up to heaven, and that is where we will take up the story for Flashback Summer! with a post I wrote just about six years ago on August 16, 2008 (and many times after that):
(VENICE, ITALY) Yesterday, I found myself in a miraculous position -- alone, on my knees, on the high altar of the Basilica in front of the tomb of Saint Mark, the brilliant gold of the Pala D'Oro shimmering in the background.
August 15th is Ferragosto here in Italy, and also Assumption Day, the day that Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, was assumed into Heaven. It is an ancient pagan festival combined with a Catholic holiday.
From Wikipedia: "Ferragosto is an Italian holiday celebrated on August 15. Originally, it was related to a celebration of the middle of the summer and the end of the hard labour in the fields. In time, the Roman Catholicism adopted this date as a Holy Day of Obligation to commemorate the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary—the real physical elevation of her sinless soul and incorrupt body into Heaven.
Before the Roman Catholic Church came into existence, however, this holiday was celebrated in the Roman Empire to honor the gods—in particular Diana—and the cycle of fertility and ripening. In fact, the present Italian name of the holiday derives from its original Latin name, Feriae Augusti (Fairs of the Emperor Augustus)."
Many Catholic holidays and images can trace their roots to already established Roman celebrations. This year, the full moon also coincides with the holiday. Combine that with a partial lunar eclipse later on today, and we have some heavy duty cosmic energy.
As I've said before, some of the inspiration for my novel, Harley's Ninth, came from my fascination with feminine solar energy, which, to me, is dynamic, creative and sensual. I have never been comfortable with the image of the Virgin Mary presented to me in my youth, and spent a long time researching the changing image of the female throughout the millennium. In fact, my young protagonist, Harley Columba, creates a new Madonna out of oil and canvas, and names her the Madonna of the Sun.
Yesterday morning, I heard the church bells ringing, loud and long, commanding everyone to come to church -- or at least remember that there was something else to do that day except have a barbecue on the beach. Without planning it in advance, I threw on a dress and headed to the Basilica. That, too, is a little miracle -- that I can dash off to the Basilica of San Marco if the mood strikes me.
I caught the tail end of one service, and decided to stay for the next. I asked one of the ushers for some candles so I could light them at my favorite Byzantine icon, the Madonna Nicopeia, who also stars in Harley's Ninth. The Madonna Nicopeia used to march at the head of the army of the Holy Roman Empire, so I think she is not a shy girl.
I gazed at all the images inside the magnificient Basilica and thought about the state of the feminine in this day and age. To me, it feels like we are about to start spinning in another direction -- that the heavy hands that have been driving the world are about to lose their grip on the wheel.
Here is a blurb from Stephan A. Hoeller's The Gnostic Jung and the Seven Sermons to the Dead about how Carl Jung (one of my heroes) felt about Pope Pius XXII's decision in 1950 to declare Assumption Day a dogma of the Church:
"Toward the end of his life Jung perceived a sign of the times of great significance in the declaration of the assumption of the Virgin Mary made by Pope Pius XXII. At the same time when Protestant theologians, and even some Catholic ecumenicists, threw up their hands in horror because of this new evidence of old papal mariolatry, Jung hailed the Pope's apostolic constitution, Munificentissimus Deus, as an evidence of the long-delayed recognition on the part of Christendom of the celestiality, if not outight divinity, of the feminine. In Answer to Job he went on record, writing that this recognition was welling or pushing upwards from the depths of humanity's unconscious and that it could have a deeply beneficial effect on human affairs in terms of world peace. The elevation of the Virgin, he said, was an evidence of a very real 'yearning for peace which stirs deep down in the soul,' and it would act as a needed compensation to the 'threatening tension between the opposites.'
I'm with Jung on that one. I think it would be nice to make August 15th an international holiday.
In any event, it is a rare occasion when the Pala D'Oro faces out toward the congregation, and something awesome to see -- if you are ever in Venice on one of the high holy days, I strongly recommend you make an effort to see it.
It was quite an honor to kneel at the tomb of San Marco, directly in front of one of the Pala D'Oro, one of the world's most sacred icons, which is about 900 years old. The sheer power of a wall of gold beaming at me... I felt all that power, all that sacred energy wash over me.. it was like taking a cosmic shower... I am optimistic for the future.
(Venice, Italy) Six years ago today I wrote a post about Corte de Cà Sarasina, the very first neighborhood I lived in when I first moved to Venice back in 1998, which happened to have a miracle Madonna right outside my door. In fact, within that post, I included the very first article I had ever written for the International Herald Tribune's Italian supplement, Italy Daily, which was published on January 12, 2001 when Italy still had lire and 9/11 was a nightmare waiting in the future. So this is a flashback within a flashback -- we are zooming back 13 1/2 years. But Corte de Cà Sarasina lies in a Venetian time warp; not much changes there (except a lot more people seem to know about it). I don't think you will find Rosie waiting to make you a gondola out of lace anymore, but there is still laundry flapping from the windows, and the mystical Madonna still works her magic...
(VENICE, ITALY) I haven't always lived on the Grand Canal. When I first moved to Venice back in 1998, I lived way down in Castello in a tiny ground floor apartment in Corte Sarasina, off Via Garibaldi. It was sort of like living in the Bronx, I imagine. I had just moved here from Hollywood, and thought doing my own laundry would be romantic. (It has since lost its charm.) Corte Sarasina is important because it has a Madonna that works miracles, andI can personally vouch for her authenticity:)
Ten years ago, the people of Corte Sarasina did not have many Americans living among them, so I was kind of a novelty. They were friendly, warm, good-hearted people.They spoke Venetian dialect, not Italian. I didn't speak a word of Italian, let alone Venetian, but somehow we managed to communicate with our hearts.
Every afternoon the old women would put their chairs out in the corte, do their lace work, and chat -- their lace-making style was different than Burano because they were from Pellestrina. They took good care of me. Once I decided to wash my sheets. I asked my neighbor if I could use her laundry line. Since it was a ground floor apartment, you had to hang the laundry with clothes pins, then sort of hoist it like a sail. Well, I couldn't hoist it up, and blocked the entire corte. The old women came and took my laundry away from me, and told me to go away -- I had an appointment close to Piazza San Marco. You have to understand that even though it's only about 15 minutes by foot from Via Garibaldi to Piazza San Marco, some people in Castello haven't been to San Marco for thirty years. So, to them, I was going on this great adventure. While I was up there, I bought them a box of chocolate to thank them.
When I got back to Corte Sarasina, all my laundry was flying from their windows! It was a sight to behold. They had divided it up and shared their laundry lines. (That image you see is not Corte Sarasina, but it looked sort of like that.) After it was dried and neatly folded, they sent over a representative, Rosie, to deliver it. I offered the chocolates, but Rosie refused. Then five minutes later she was sent back to get the chocolates. You can just imagine that conversation: "What? You didn't take the chocolates? Get your butt back over there and get them."
Next, I saw Rosie sitting out with the others, making something new out of lace. I asked her what it was, and she went on and on in Venetian dialect. Of course, I had no idea what she said. I thought, "She's either making a gift for her granddaughter's First Holy Communion, or a fish." It turned out that she was making a gondolier rowing a gondola for ME!!! I am looking at it right now, and if I had a camera (which I promise I will buy), I'd take a photo of it and show you. It's one most precious gifts I've ever received.
The very first article I wrote for the International Herald Tribune's Italy Daily was about this Miracle Madonna of Corte Sarasina -- in fact, it's how I got the job. I did a quick search to see if there are any images of the Miracle Madonna available, and it turns out that there are! All the images you see here (except the clothesline) are from a blog by a woman named Anne called, "Churches in Venice," and can be found at: http://www.slowtrav.com/blog/annienc/2008/01/corte_de_casarasina_shrine.html
Apparently Anne wants to know what's up with this shrine, too. Since I own all my copyrights, I'll post what I wrote (with a little editing) back on Friday, January 12, 2001. (But I did NOT write that headline:) So, let's take a little trip into the past...
Cocktails and Prayers Answered in VeniceThe Castello Neighborhood Holds a Mystical Madonna, a Mystifying Accent and a Proud, Venetian ApertifTucked away in a quiet section of Venice, there is a Byzantine Madonna who answers prayers, or so the story goes. She's been gazing down on Corte de Cà Sarasina for centuries, dating back to the beginning of the 1600s.
Corte Sarasina is off Via Garibaldi in the Castello district of Venice. It's one of the few remaining neighborhoods where Venetians outnumber the tourists. Every morning, locals scramble to buy fresh fruit and vegetables from a boat docked in the canal at Fondamenta Sant'Anna, and haggle over fish at the little market at the entrance to the Public Gardens.
Back in 1807, Via Garibaldi was transformed into a rio terra, a canal that was filled in and turned into a street, by Napoleon's invading forces. On the right-hand corner, at No. 1643, there is an inscription commemorating the home of the famous navigator, Giovanni Caboto, otherwise known as John Cabot. This where Via Garibaldi -- and a whole other Venice -- begins.
Castello is a working-class community, originally inhabited by fisherman, shipbuilders and lace-makers. Laundry flaps across the calli and the canals. Men gather around newsstands; mothers promenade with their babies, stopping to chat and coo.
A fun place to eat on this colorful boulevard is Trattoria Giorgione, on the right side of the street. Lucio Bisutto serenades his customers with Venetian folk songs while his wife, Ivana, cooks some of the best fish, risotto and vongole in town. A little further down on the left is Bar Mio where patrons sit outside and have a spritz, a drink rarely ordered outside Venice. It's usually sipped during lunch or after work at around 7 P.M., but is available anytime, especially for those on vacation.
There are at least three kinds: "spritz con Select," "spritz con Aperol" or "spritz con bitter." The spritz con bitter consists of white wine, Campari and a "spritz" of soda water. Those who prefer a sweeter drink ask for Aperol. A spritz con Select (the accent lies on the first syllable) is sweeter still. Any self-respecting spritz arrives accompanied by a cube or two of ice, an olive, and a lemon or orange peel, together with a little bowl of chips or nuts.
Stumbling on the scene, Corte Sarasina would seem inhabited mostly by elderly women who spend warmer afternoons sitting outside on folding chairs, chatting and stitching lace. They speak Venetian with a thick Castello accent, the same undulating rhythm as the water lapping in the lagoon. "Rosie" is the ringleader, and she is in charge of the wish-granting Madonna, tending to the fresh and artificial flowers around it and straightening the altar.
A wood painting protected by a sheet of glass, the Madonna of Corte Sarasina greets the faithful from inside a grande sacello, a small brick and plaster structure with a typical Venetian red tile roof. On her head is a crown imbedded with imitation gemstones. A strand of white beads dangles around her face. She is surrounded by statues of Jesus and various saints, the plaster type found in a mortuary store.
Every morning, Rosie shuffles out of her apartment a few doors away and unlocks the shrine. The Madonna is open all day from 8 A.M. to 7P.M., seven days a week, although at lunch time the Madonna takes a nap like most of the folks in Garibaldi. If you arrive during lunch time, visitors need only unhook the little chain that latches the double green doors, swing them open, say a prayer, deposit their lire and close her back up. There is a small wooden box on the inside of the left-hand door to make contributions. A suggested donation is 1,000 lire (one euro by 2008 standards:), which goes to purchasing fresh flowers and maintaining the sanctuary.
No one knows who created this peculiar Madonna, but many believe it was the work of a madonnaro, or street artist from the early 1600s, and was a traditional way for the living to remember the dead. To this day, she is very much a part of the local community.
About a year ago, the locals took it upon themselves to restore the shrine. Lino Scarpa, a friendly, wise fellow, said the elderly women of Corte Sarasina begged him to do the restoration. "I repainted the doors, the statues, added some color to the lips, that sort of thing," he said.
Amazingly, many of the locals say they haven't made the trip from the Castello district to Piazza San Marco in years, even though it's only a 15 minute walk away. "Everything a person needs is down here on Garibaldi," Mr. Scarpa said. "Fish, vegetables, good places to eat, good bars, good people. The gardens are here, the lagoon is here. The sea is a quick boat trip away."
So, there you have it. It's the work of a street artist, maintained by the locals. Sometimes I've wondered whether one of the major restoration groups around town should restore her, but she might loose some of her magic. Many times aspiring writers ask me for advice. I'll tell you my secret -- all you have to do become a published author is give the Miracle Madonna of Corte Sarasina one euro, and you're on your way.
(Venice, Italy) In these hazy, crazy days of summer, I am going to be lazy and publish a rerun of a post I wrote just about six years ago in July, 2008 -- the year I first created this blog -- before most people in Italy (and other parts of the world) knew what a blog was. I've had other blogs before this one, but Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog was when I decided to blend what I used to do when I wrote for the International Herald Tribune's Italian supplement, Italy Daily, with my personal thoughts. These days, you can throw a rock out the window and hit someone who is writing a blog about Venice, but back then, there were only a few...
(VENICE, ITALY) When the Director of the International Center for the Study of the Architecture of Andrea Palladio in Vicenza begins his lecture with a not-very-flattering quote by John Ruskin about his subject, you know you're in for an exciting ride.
Professor Guido Beltramini did just that in the Giorgio Cini Foundation's Palladian refectory yesterday, and it was one of the most fascinating lectures I've heard in a long time. He was part of the Save Venice, Inc. Palladian Gala, which culminates at Hotel Cipriani's Granai tonight with the celebration of our most beloved Venetian holiday, the Festa del Redentore, complete with fireworks. (Each one of these topics could be a blog in itself, so I am going to give you a brief overview, and delve more deeply in the future.)
Professor Beltramini said that last year on November 30th, the kick-off of the 500 year anniversary of the renowned architect's birth, many local architects in Vicenza held an anti-Palladio demonstration. The projection screen then flashed up a picture of Andrea Palladio that had been doctored to give him horns! Professor Beltramini said it was about time we had a look at this part of Palladian architecture, and the dark forces that generate the upper harmony. The windows that are eyes; the doors that are mouths are countered by the belly of the building. He spoke about the "heart of darkness" and the unconscious, and showed us a photo of a brutish faun on the floor, saying no visit to a Palladian villa would be complete without a visit to the underground vaults. The lecture covered the Villa Rotunda in Vicenza, the nobility who supported Palladio, his early life, and much, much more.
It is the ancient argument -- who is more powerful? Man or Nature? Does Man impose his Will on Nature? Does Man work together with Nature? Does Nature impose her Will upon Man? Or, most importantly, what is Man anyway? Who are we and what are we doing on this planet?
People constantly ask me why I moved to Venice, and I reply that Venice is a magnetic center. The more you study Venice, you will find it is not just about canals and gondolas. The palaces and churches were designed with esoteric principles. As was the Art. As was the Music. As was the Literature. Etc.
"Andrea Palladio was born in Padua on St Andrew’s Day, 30 November, 1508. To celebrate this quincentenary, the Centro Internazionale di Studi di Architettura Andrea Palladio, Vicenza and the Royal Academy of Arts, London, with the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), are mounting a major exhibition. It will open in Vicenza, (palazzo Barbaran da Porto, 20 September 2008 – 6 January 2009), it will then move to London (Royal Academy of Arts, 31 January – 13 April 2009) and will close in the United States of America in Autumn 2009. ... Jefferson’s house at Monticello will be presented."
Well, apparently we have run out of money in the United States of America, and the Washington D.C. leg of the exhibition has not been confirmed, and may well be cancelled. Makes you wonder... doesn't it? Well, I most definitely intend to go to Vicenza to see it this fall, and strongly suggest you all try to catch it either here or in London.
Another interesting tidbit about Palladio: as hard as he and the nobility who supported him tried, he didn't make it into Venice until he was about 60-years-old, and even then, he only designed buildings on the outskirts of town, like the Churches of Redentore, Zitelle and San Francesco dello Vigna -- which, if you remember, I have written about before:
After the lecture, the Save Venice, Inc. folks bravely climbed into a wild boat, rearing against its ropes, docked outside on the Island of San Giorgio. It was pouring rain, and the waves were ghastly, but off we chugged to the Church of Redentore itself, where I have spent a lot of time behind the scenes with the Capuchin friars, an Order close to my heart. (In fact, you will find a Venetian Capuchin friar in Harley's Ninth:) We were given a brief tour of the interior by the scholars Professor Deborah Howard of Cambridge, and Professor Frederic Ilchman of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Now, you might think that scholars are stuffy, but I actually hang out with them, and they always amaze me with their wit, humor and ability to bring the past alive.
The Church of Redentore was built in honor of Christ the Redeemer to save Venice from the plague, which wiped out ONE THIRD of the population, including Titian himself. Professor Howard said we must remember the time it was built, and what, exactly, were the sins from which the Venetians thought they needed redemption. One was that they did a lot of trading with the Muslim countries. (I can think of several others:) The Venetians had tried everything, and as we know, when all else fails, the only thing left to do is to pray. In any event, it WORKED! The end of the plague on July 21, 1577 is what we are celebrating tonight with what is usually the best fireworks in the entire world exploding over the lagoon. Venetians from all over the Veneto arrive in their boats to watch the show. The fondamenta on the Giudecca is lined with tables and Venetians eating traditional food. Terraces and balconies are filled with revelers. The Lido has their own party going on over there. It's a big Venetian party, and deserves its own blog, which perhaps I will give it in the future.
After the Church of Redentore, it was onto the Church of Zitelle, and then a lunch at the newly restored Zitelle convent, now the magnificent five-star Bauer Palladio Hotel & Spa. I have known the Chair & CEO, Francesca Bortolotto Possati for a long time -- and no, I am not related to the Bauer Hotel:) But I saw the convent many years ago, long before Francesca restored it, and I will tell you that she did an amazing job (the photo you see is the garden where we had lunch -- the rain had stopped and the Sun came out!). She is also the International Chairman of Save Venice, Inc.. Something you should know about Francesca -- she puts her whole heart into all her projects with the purest intentions, and works tirelessly to help this city. For instance, despite all odds, she launched the very first solar-electric boat on the Grand Canal, which runs from the Bauer Hotel in the historic center, across to Zitelle.
Here is a little excerpt from something I wrote about Zitelle for the International Herald Tribune's Italy Daily years ago:
"Santa Maria della Presentazione, or Le Zitelle, was once a home for maidens famous for their skill in creating punto in aria Venetian lace. Founded in 1599 on the premise that impoverished, good-looking virgins were doomed to a life of sin unless someone intervened, the convent had strict entry requirements: the virgins had to be between the ages of 12 and 18, very healthy, very beautiful, and have a graceful, lively demeanor. The girls received training that prepared them not for the nunnery, but for marriage. The three-story structure, built on a Reformation model with a cloister behind the church and two wings near the Giudecca Canal, is currently undergoing restoration. Plans exist to convert it into a hotel and conference center, retaining much of the original structure, and to bring the large botanical garden back to life. The wellhead in the courtyard bears the coat of arms of the aristocratic Loredan family, and dates from the early 14th century when the Loredans were granted possession of the property by the Venetian Senate."
And something you should know about Save Venice, Inc. -- I have never seen the organization more vibrant and alive. There is a new contingency from the West Coast in the United States, which I strongly recommend those of you out there support, plus the Old Guard from New York, Boston and the South, etc. If you're looking for a charitable organization to stash your cash, your dollars will not only beautify Venice and its structures, but the soul of Venice itself.
Ciao from Venice, Cat P.S. I am back from Redentore. At the last minute, I decided to watch the fireworks with the Guardia di Finanza in honor of Bruno Abbate. Bruno was a renowned boat builder in a traditional family business, and he made some boats for the Guardia -- their party was next door to Save Venice over at Cipriani's. Bruno died last week at age 57. His birthday is one day before mine. We are Leos. Last year about this time, I had the great honor to be with Bruno on his yacht you see there during his Primatist Trophy with a group of friendly folks -- seriously, I was taking the Sun on that very cushion in the back of his boat. It seems incredible that he is now gone. Last year was the first time I had met him... he was such a generous man; he enjoyed sharing his great wealth. We zoomed all over the coast of Sardinia during the morning, paused for lunch and a swim, then zoomed some more in the afternoon to the next stop. Every evening there was some kind of spectacular. Bruno genuinely loved human beings from every walk of life. He created an enormous family called Primatist People, providing lots of jobs and lots of fun. When Bruno showed up, the world came alive with helicopters swirling overhead, and music, music, music -- he was like fireworks personified. The great explosion at the end of Redentore tonight reminded me of Bruno... Even though I didn't know him well, when you spend a week on someone's boat, you form a kind of bond.... he touched so many lives... Thank you, Bruno, for granting me the privilege of being one of the Primatist People, if only for a moment.
After the fireworks, I was swept back into another world -- the Cipriani Olympic-size pool where there was music, food, drinks, dancing.... It was strange... one of the first articles I had ever written for IHT Italy Daily was about the Redentore party at that very pool, back in 2001 -- it seemed almost frozen in time with the same stock characters wearing the same outfits.... as if that party has been going on for centuries during Redentore, and will continue for centuries in the future.
Tonight, however, I met a vibrant woman from Los Angeles, Francesca DeMarco, who had never been there before. She said: "I've seen fireworks at the Rose Bowl. I've seen fireworks at the Hollywood Bowl. But I've never seen fireworks like these!" I said, "Francesca, I am going to quote you. Are they the best fireworks you have ever seen in your life?" Francesca said, "YES!"
(Venice, Italy) Magic Moments was one of Burt Bacharach's very first hits, and that is what he gave the full-house audience at La Fenice on Sunday night, July 20th --- some very Magic Moments. Sung by Perry Como back in 1958, Magic Moments reminds us how long the 86-year-old Bacharach has been providing background music for the highs and lows of our lives. Baby it's You by the Shirelles in 1961, and again by the Beatles in 1963, and again by the Smiths in 1969; Blue on Blue by Bobby Vinton in 1963; Walk on By by Dionne Warwick in 1964; Wishin' and Hopin' by Dusty Springfield in 1964 were the beginnings of the world's love affair with Burt Bacharach, which continues to this day -- after collaborating with Elvis Costello and appearing in the Austin Powers films, Bacharach was embraced by another generation.
Bacharach gazed out at La Fenice and remarked how beautiful the theater was; what a wonderful setting. And La Fenice did look especially beautiful on Sunday, the day of Redentore.The mood was festive and anticipatory -- after all, the man is 86-years-old; how well could he possibly perform? It turned out: very well, indeed. Burt Bacharach exceeded expectations with one of the best shows I have ever seen in my life. Yes, his voice cracked, and he had some difficulty walking, but he played the piano with ease, and his band was tight; he called them a family. In fact, his very young son, Oliver, who looked like he was about 20, had joined him on the tour on keyboards. Bacharach was emotional when he said how much it meant to have his son with him.
Interior of La Fenice
Burt Bacharach and his posse opened the show with What the World needs now is Love, which was first a hit for Jackie DeShannon back in 1965. The audience clapped with joy, everyone from the plateau up to the tiers at the top of the opera house. With so much tension in the world these days, that simple message written by lyricist Hal David, who died in 2012 at the age of 91, was especially poignant: "What the world needs now is love, sweet love, it's the only thing that there's just too little of." Here's a clip from In Performance at the White House after the team won the Library of Contest Gershwin Prize in 2012:
Bacharach remarked that the movies have been very good to him over the years -- it is astonishing how many of his songs were written for soundtracks, such as Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Alfie, Arthur's Theme from Arthur, and who can ever forget Tom Jones belting out What's New Pussycat as frenzied women tossed their panties on the stage. The Look of Love is probably my favorite Bacharach song, full of romance and sensuality; it has been recorded by many artists over the years. Here's the original version by Dusty Springfield from 1967 James Bond film Casino Royale.
There were so many hits, it is not possible to list them all, but you will remember: This Guy's in Love with You by Herb Alpert. I Say a Little Prayer by Aretha Franklin and then Dionne Warwick. I'll Never Fall in Love Again. Close to You by the Carpenters. One Less Bell to Answer by the Fifth Dimension. Walk on By. Only Love Can Break a Heart. Always Something There to Remind Me. A House is Not a Home. And, of course, That's What Friends are For with Dionne Warwick and the whole gang.
Burt Bacharach was here in collaboration with the Venezia Jazz Festival; his early background lies in jazz. In fact, the Venezia Jazz Festival is filling the whole town with excellent music throughout the second half of July. Venezia Jazz Festival is the Venice section of the larger Veneto Jazz Festival, which has been organizing jazz performances throughout the region since 1988 with international stars like Keith Jarret, Bobby McFerrin, Paolo Conte, Norah Jones, Pat Metheny, Wynton Marsalis, Sting with the Symphony Orchestra of Teatro La Fenice, Cesaria Evora , Paco De Lucia, and Gilberto Gil appearing on the scene.
Burt Bacharach ended the evening with an audience sing-along of Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head, the entire theater standing on its feet, applauding with genuine appreciation. Bacharach said, very sincerely, that he had really enjoyed himself; that we were a great audience, and that he had a very, very good time. He walked slowly off the stage, the band still playing, as his young son, Oliver, waved at the crowd from behind the keyboards.
Thank you, Burt Bacharach, for all the Magic Moments you have given me in my life. I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to have heard the Maestro at the beautiful La Fenice -- and to be reminded that I believe in love, Alfie.
What's it all about, Alfie? Is it just for the moment we live? What's it all about when you sort it out, Alfie? Are we meant to take more than we give? ...or are we meant to be kind? And if only fools are kind, Alfie, then I guess it is wise to be cruel. And if life belongs only to the strong, Alfie, what will you lend on an old golden rule? As sure as I believe there's a heaven above, Alfie, I know there's something much more -- something even non-believers can believe in... I believe in love, Alfie. Without true love we just exist, Alfie. Until you find the love you've missed you're nothing, Alfie. When you walk let your heart lead the way and you'll find love any day, Alfie, Alfie.
(Venice, Italy) The visionary gallerist and art collector Ileana Sonnabend left behind a treasure trove of art when she died in 2007, eight days shy of her 93rd birthday, and a good chunk of her collection has found a "European Home" here in Venice. From today, May 31, 2014 through January 4, 2015, seventy pieces from the hundreds of works on long-term loan from the Sonnabend Collection that have been housed here in Venice since 2013 are now on show on the entire second floor at Ca' Pesaro, Venice's International Gallery for Modern Art.
Eat Death by Bruce Nauman (1972)
Ileana had a daring eye, and many artists are now household names thanks to her championship. Together with her former husband, Leo Castelli, she shaped post-war art both in Europe and North America. From Neo-Dada to Pop Art, Minimal Art to Arte Povera, Conceptual to Neo-expressionism, and up to contemporary photography, artists such as Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Jeff Koons, Jasper Johns, and Jim Dine achieved an international level of recognition due to her efforts.
Ileana was born into luxury in Bucharest, Romania; her Jewish father, Mihail Schapira, was financial adviser to the king; her mother, Marianne State-Felber was a refined, intellectual Viennese. As a child, Ileana was dropped off at museums to look at art while her mother and older sister, Eve, shopped for clothes. When Ileana was 17-years-old, she met Leo Castelli, who was born Leo Krausz in Trieste, Italy to a Hungarian-Jewish banker; his mother was the Italian heiress Bianca Castelli. Leo was a voracious reader who spoke many languages, who, at the time of their meeting, reluctantly worked for an insurance company, positioned there by his father. Ileana married him a year later. Ileana remarked:
"Since I found my life rather stifling, I had only one wish: to get married. As a child, I always knew that someone would take me away. I met Leo. He wasn't like everyone else. He was going somewhere. He was going to leave Romania, and as I wanted to get out of Romania at any cost, I married him."
The young couple moved to Paris in 1935, Leo getting a job, again through his father, in banking, which he found as boring as insurance. He began womanizing, and Ileana tried to keep an open mind, taking a lover of her own -- their new daughter's pediatrician. Ironically, Ileana would spend her days shopping at Elsa Schiaparelli, designer to the elite on Place Vendôme. Thanks to Ileana's father, who loaned Leo the money, he, without Ileana, opened a gallery in 1939 with his friend and partner René Drouin located in between the Hotel Ritz and Schiaparelli's boutique. The Surrealists flooded in -- as did the war. The Castellis fled to New York, where Ileana's father had bought a townhouse, and where, years later, Leo would open his first gallery in his and Ileana's apartment. During the war, thanks to his many languages, Leo was employed by the OSS, the US intelligence agency, and stationed back in Bucharest, while Ileana enrolled in a French literature class at Columbia University. There, while studying Proust, she met the only other person who could speak French: Michael Sonnabend.
Leo's war contribution made him a US citizen, and he returned to New York, becoming a partner in a knitwear firm -- again, thanks to his father --and dealing art privately on the side, while continuing his womanizing, leaving Ileana depressed. But they shared a strong bond when it came to contemporary art. Together they went to visit Robert Rauschenberg's studio on Pearl Street. Rauschenberg went downstairs to get ice from a refrigerator he shared with Jasper Johns; the Castellis met Johns, and Leo exclaimed he wanted to give Johns a one-man show. Johns' show opened at the Castelli Gallery in January, 1958 and transformed contemporary art; Rauschenberg's show opened two months later. The Castellis divorced in 1959.
In 1960, Ileana married Michael Sonnabend. They moved to Paris and opened a gallery, the first show again by Jasper Johns, introducing Europe to the new American art. The shows were well-attended, but the critics and dealers were harsh, resentful at having the center of the art scene moved from Paris to New York. Leo often supplied Ileana with artists, but she also had her own eye, with strong encouragement by Michael, and showed artists such as Jim Dine and Claes Oldenburg. Andy Warhol's first European show opened at Gallerie Ileana Sonnabend in January, 1964.
When Robert Rauschenberg won the International Grand Prize at the Venice Biennale in 1964 -- the first American to do such a thing -- all hell broke lose. Leo Castelli was accused of manipulating the jury. The week before the opening, he had been holding court at Caffè Florian with his second wife; Ileana and Michael Sonnabend were only tables away. The United States of America had thundered into the world of contemporary art.
Then, in the late 1960s, the Sonnabends hired Antonio Homem, a Portuguese student, as gallery director, who was said to be a kind of alter-ego to Ileana. In the early '80s, they adopted him -- something unusual as he was then in his 40s and had a son of his own, but looking toward future, it would legally make things easier to transfer.
Ileana's Paris gallery stayed in operation until the mid-80s, but in 1970s, the Sonnabends made their presence known once again in New York. Ileana reversed the trend she had started in Europe, introducing Americans to Arte Povera, European artists such as Gilberto Zorio, who used throw-away materials to create their work. After she opened a gallery on Madison Avenue, Leo convinced Ileana to move down to SoHo at 420 West Broadway back when it was a wasteland of empty industrial space inhabited by artists who valued the high ceilings and natural light. On September 25, 1971, four galleries opened at 420 West Broadway, Ileana one floor above Leo, starting another revolution in the World of Art.
The art scene next moved to Chelsea, and in 2000, Ileana opened a gallery there with her adopted son, Antonio Homem, who is co-curator of this current exhibition, Da Rauscenberg a Jeff Koons Lo sguardo di Ileana Sonnabend, along with Gabriella Belli, Director of Venice's Musei Civici.
Even though they would divorce and marry others, Eleana Sonnabend and Leo Castelli would remain lifelong friends, their respective galleries promoting American art in Europe, and European art in North America. Ileana had her own distinct eye and her own specific taste, and is gently coming into her own after living in the shadow of her flamboyant ex-husband. Ileana gathered together an immense collection of precious art, while Leo was more about the deal. Together with Peggy Guggenheim, these distinct individuals helped to transform the World of Art after the Second World War.
From Rauschenberg to Jeff Koons The Ileana Sonnabend Collection From May 31, 2014 to January 4, 2015 Ca’ Pesaro – International Gallery of Modern Art, Venice CLICK FOR MORE INFORMATION
(Venice, Italy) Giorgio Orsoni, the Mayor of Venice, was arrested for corruption on June 4th, the same morning I was arrested by the golden grandeur of The Sky Over Nine Columns by Heinz Mack on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, one day before the preview of the 14th Venice International Architecture Festival. The divine beauty of the monumental columns was an enlightened contrast to the dark forces that constantly seek to debase Venice, the most beautiful city in the modern world. When asked to comment about the mayor's arrest during the opening press conference, Rem Koolhaas, the Director of the Architecture Exhibition, said, "It is an incident that fits perfectly in the overall picture."
This year, for the first time, the 65 nations that participated were asked to focus on a common theme: Absorbing Modernity. Koolhaas said that he wanted to take the liberty to look at subjects that are not normally examined. Each nation had complete freedom within the theme. As the research progressed, it became clear that every single nation had been destroyed and rebuilt at least once, and that absorbing modernity was more like absorbing the blows of an opponent.
I've grown to love the architecture exhibition -- over the years it has developed into something wondrous. As a lay person living in Venice who knows next to nothing about architecture, it is fascinating to take a glimpse into that world. Every other year, when the architects descend upon Venice, they breathe fresh, creative life into the city: businesses stay open late, hotels and restaurants are packed with interesting and exciting energy, the streets are filled with zippy conversations -- even the vaporetto driver popped open the front window and started singing as he zoomed across the lagoon. From yachts to backpackers, wizened wise ones to the mini-skirted chic, the joint is jumping with openings, cocktails and parties. It is a stark contrast to the armies of zombies dumped off by the monstrous cruise ships who follow mindlessly behind a guide holding a contrivance-on-a-stick.
How to create an architecture exhibition that appeals to both the professional and the general public has always been a challenge. It's not like film, music, theater or dance, mediums where an audience is used to being entertained. By incorporating those elements of La Biennale -- theater, film, music and dance -- plus focusing on research and a common theme, Koolhaas and La Biennale have found a genius solution to create an exhibition that appeals to all.
Koolhaas made an interesting remark during the press conference -- that the nations found working together on the same theme a "relief," and that it became an orchestra of different voices. After wandering around the exhibition, I began to understand what he meant. Each nation found a way to tell their own story about the events that had occurred in the past 100 years that shaped them into what they are today, and which is reflected in the architecture -- dreams that were never completed, compromises that were built, and the occasional creation that fulfilled the original idea. Subjects that have been taboo for decades were openly addressed. The heavy hand of war and politics upon existing cultures that, in turn, affect architecture was emphasized. I was struck by how much influence governments and their policies had upon architecture, something I've never really thought about before.
The Russians were hilarious, all decked out in hot pink, mimicking an international trade show called "Fair Enough," with sales people and stalls that showcased 20 different Russian companies, such as a travel agency that organizes international tours which focus on the influence of Russia around the globe, or a company that specializes in contemporary "neo-Russian" architecture. I loved the "Dacha Co-op," a company that believes "that all people deserve storage space that they can live in that's customizable to their own tastes and located in a relaxing atmosphere outside the city." In other words, a tiny second home. I spoke to an architect from New York, and she said she thought Russia was the best exhibition she'd seen; in fact, everyone seemed to appreciate the sense of humor -- because, really, with Russia's critical situation in the world today, a little humor goes a long way. The jury seemed to agree, and gave Russia a Special Mention "for showcasing the contemporary language of commercialization of architecture."
Special Mention - Russian Pavilion Fair Enough: Russia’s past our Present
As as American, I was riveted by the US pavilion, OfficeUS. Its mission is to "critically reflect on the production of US architectural firms abroad, while simultaneously projecting a new model for global architectural practice open to all of us." The pavilion is set up like an office, in fact, is an operating office, its walls lined with hundreds of folders in chronological order detailing US projects abroad during the last 100 years. The curators say it is “an active, global, experimental architecture office that researches, studies, and remakes projects from an onsite archive of 1,000 buildings and the 200 U.S. based architecture offices engaged in their construction.”
I was born in 1955, so I opened a folder and began to read an article from the January 1955 edition of Architectural Forum, a publication now defunct (1892-1974):
"The year 1955 finds the US building industry hard at work in almost every country of the free world. Our architects and planners are creating whole new towns from teeming India to tiny El Salvador. Our engineers and contractors are building new dams and power plants in Turkey and Afghanistan, new refineries in Sumatra and Ceylon, new highways in Columbia, new hospitals in Iran and Peru. We have opened gleaming new embassies and consulates in a dozen capitals, big luxury hotels in a dozen more. What is the significance of this tremendous activity? First, it means we are building up the basic welfare of other nations, creating climates unfavorable to communism, readying countries for industrialization and democratic independence, making them prosperous enough to buy more of our products. Second, our industry and commerce are expanding in search of new sources of raw materials, new markets for finished products. To serve increased travel and trade, hotels and stores are springing up along the new commercial routes.
Third, we are helping build defenses for ourselves and our allies.
And fourth, we are keeping up strong governmental and public relations through our official missions: new embassies, consulates, libraries, information services."
WHOA. I could not believe that I was reading about a scheme in a publication written nearly 60 years ago that clearly and precisely outlined what the United States was doing abroad -- it seems like it would have "Confidential" marked all over it today. The sections called ECONOMIC AID and POINT FOUR were especially pertinent to current affairs in Afghanistan:
"By late 1948, thanks to the Marshall Plan, Europe fairly crawled with members of the US construction industry. Architects went abroad to advise on the planning of industrial plants and housing to give the benefit of their experience in expanding the US wartime industrial machine.
... In some instances, the various US aid programs overlap. For example, in Afghanistan, a $75 million project calling for construction of two dams was largely funded with Export-Import loans while Point Four financial assistance to the same country has been showing previously nomadic Afghans how to use the 400,000 newly irrigated acres that dams will create. This project, begun in 1947 by Morrison-Knudsen, is just winding up and is typical of the kind of situations that US firms find themselves in when they work on aid project. Examples: 1) M.K. used 60 local workers for every US national employed and had some unusual problems to contend with as a result. For instance, the Afghan version of the coffee break consists of two prayer periods each day on company time in addition to three prayer sessions on the workers' own time. 2) The transportation difficulties were enormous and getting 17,000 tons of equipment into the middle of this backward Asian nation accounted for about 25% of the project's cost. 3) Despite Point Four work in Afghanistan, M.K, found it necessary to start its own model farm in one area just to show local farmers how to use the new land -- certainly an unusual venture for a construction crew."
Which particular businesses were booming abroad?
"...In the field of manufacturing and assembly plants, General Motors is probably the leader of all US investors abroad with its 27 plants in 17 nations and its $191 million expansion plan for Europe alone. Other fields marked by other blue-chip investors: Pan American (through Intercontinental Hotels) with its 15 foreign hotels, Readers Digest with its publishing plants in 14 countries, E.B. Squibb (today Bristol-Myers Squibb) with 17 factories around the world and (my personal favorite) Coca Cola with its ubiquitous bottling plants."
HOW BIG THE FUTURE? pretty much sums up the Foreign Policy of the United States of America back in 1955 -- not much seems to have changed:
"Although the scope of our private operations abroad seems large, it is actually small when measured against the undeveloped state of most of the world and the prewar investments made by Britain when she occupied our present position as leader of the Western Alliance."
The curators say, “We are setting a stage for the architects and visitors to address and respond to the most pressing architectural anxieties of the last one hundred years," and I found their attitude refreshing. Looking at the policies of the United States abroad in terms of history really gave me a new perspective on why our country is in the position that it is in today.
Despite the mayor's arrest, the opening of the Venice Pavilion, Sonnets in Babylon by Daniel Libeskind went smoothly. Libeskind is a Polish Jewish architect and artist, who holds both US and Israel citizenship, and is the master plan architect for the reconstruction of the World Trade Center site in Lower Manhattan. "Some never-before-exhibited drawings by Libeskind, created by hand from pen and sepia-toned washes of coffee, comprise the principal element of the pavilion." Libeskind said his exhibition was dedicated to the citizens of Venice, "the most fantastic city in the world," and emphasized that "cities are made out of people."
Fundamentals, the Venice Biennale 14th International Architecture Festival directed by the brilliant Rem Koolhaas runs from June 7 to November 23, 2014. Click here for more information.
18th Century Goldoni-type Sunglasses with Mocenigo Coat of Arms (Vascellari Collection, Italy)
(Venice, Italy) Two hundred years before John Lennon made wearing round lenses all the rage, Venice was busy setting a fashion trend all its own. Long before the rest of the world discovered the danger of ultra-violet rays in 1870, Venetian opticians were 120 years ahead of the curve, producing emerald-colored sunglasses to protect the eyes of the nobility and Commanders da Mar (of the sea) from the harmful glare of reflected light as they navigated the waters that surrounded them.
For the first time in the history of spectacles, the exhibition "Spectacles Fit for a Doge" at the majestic Sale Monumentale in the Marciana Library gathers together glasses from museums and private collections to examine a vital point in the history of eyewear.
The Doge was the ruler of the Venetian Republic, and a pair of sunglasses, complete with carrying case, which bear the Coat of Arms of the aristocratic Mocenigo family are featured in the exhibition, dating back to the time when Doge Alvise Giovanni Mocenigo was the leader from 1763 until his death on New Year's Eve, December 31, 1778.
Goldoni-type horn-rimmed spectacles with eyelet-shaped temple pieces and silk sunguards. Venice, 1760. (Vascellari Collection, Italy)
Venetian opticians were the first in Italy to produce eyeglasses with temple pieces that reached to the ear, holding the lenses more comfortably on the nose. To offer more protection, pieces of silk were attached to guard against the sun. No one knows for sure why they were called "Goldoni" glasses, but it is assumed that Carlo Goldoni, the famous Venetian playwright, was known for sporting a pair of the hip glasses as he tooled about town, much like John Lennon did two centuries later.
Oval lady’s-glass painted in Venetian lacquer colors using decoupage technique already fashionable among Venetian carpenters at the end of the 17th century. (Ingrid and Werner Weismueller, Germany)
The vetri da gondola or da dama (for ladies) were mounted in a frame similar to a hand-held mirror, and probably evolved from a monocle; they were modified to be used by wealthy women and children to protect their eyes while on outings in a gondola. The exhibition also features glasses created solely for entertainment, such as the vetri da avari (glasses for misers) with a kaleidoscope effect that turns one coin into many, and the "Parisian," scissor-type lorgnettes named after Parisian dandies that stopped people on the street and blatantly gave them the once-over through a pair of comical lenses.
"Spectacles Fit for a Doge" is curated by Roberto Vascellari.
Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana Sale Monumentali
SPECTACLES FIT FOR A DOGE Sunglasses in Eighteenth-Century Venice June 14 to July 13, 2014 Venice, Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, "Sale Monumentali" Click for more information
Meanwhile, over at the Carlo Goldoni Theatre, another all-Venetian production is getting underway. The "Goldini Experience" is an homage to the great Venetian playwright, Carlo Goldoni. Set on the last night before the scribe left for Paris, and the last night of Carnival, Giuseppe Emiliani, who directs the show, has taken chunks of Goldoni's own text and compiled the prose into a collage of comical encounters between Goldoni and people who stumble into his orb. Using the original Venetian language, the show will also have English subtitles, making it accessible to both locals and tourists alike.
The Goldoni Experience opens on June 21, Art Night Venezia, (when most of Venice's museums, churches, galleries and foundations will stay open until 11pm or midnight with free entrance!), with two shows at 7:30 and 10:00PM, and runs throughout the summer, with additional shows in October and November. Full price tickets are €35, with sizable reductions for residents, students and families and may be purchased at Teatro Goldoni and Hellovenezia.
Press conference for the GOLDONI EXPERIENCE
Schedule June 21 - 7:30pm and 10pm June 24 - 7:00pm June 27 - 8:00pm
July 1, 8, 15, 22 at 7:00pm July 4, 11, 12, 18 at 8:00pm
August 5, 12, 19, 26 at 7:00pm August 1, 8, 15, 16, 22, 29, 30 at 8:00pm
Sept. 2 at 7:00pm Sept. 5, 6 at 8:00pm Sept. 7 to be announced
Oct. 31 at 8:00pm Nov. 2 to be announced
THE GOLDONI EXPERIENCE Fresco of Venice Scenes of Daily Venetian Life in the 18th Century Teatro Stabile del Veneto Carlo Goldoni Click for more information
Bust of Sebastiano Venier by Alessandro Vittoria
"Many small things make many great things."
Sebastiano Venier (1496-1578) is one of Venice's most beloved historical figures. After defeating the Turks at the Battle of Lepanto, he became Doge. They say he died of a broken heart when a fire heavily damaged the Doge's Palace. Now, thanks to the efforts of the Venice Club of the International Inner Wheel, one of the world's largest women's organizations, the marble bust of the Venetian hero has been restored and stands proudly once again inside Palazzo Ducale over the Staircase of the Censors, in front of the door of the Armory. Manuela Savoia Rizzoli, the President of the Venice Club expressed the desire that Venetians return to their heritage and said, " It's a small thing, but, for us, it's a big thing."
(Venice, Italy) Art Night Venezia, the night Venice throws opens her doors and invites the public to view her treasures for free, is now in its fourth edition, and it gave me the chance to revisit some of the city's hippest happenings, plus take in a few I hadn't had the chance to see. This year, Art Night Venezia fell on June 21, the summer solstice, and it was invigorating to see masses of people strolling about the city until all hours, making the rounds to museums, galleries, foundations and other notable venues, clambering up and down the steps of ancient palaces to feast on a boundless supply of contemporary creativity.
I was at the cocktail reception for "Art or Sound" over at the Prada Foundation on June 4th, and it seemed like everyone in town for the opening of the architecture exhibition was there, too, so I welcomed the opportunity to visit under calmer circumstances.
In June 2011, the Fondazione Prada reopened part of Ca' Corner della Regina, the 18th-century palazzo that was built on the ruins of the palace where Catherine Cornaro (1454-1510), the Queen of Cyprus (and one of Venice's most fascinating historical figures) was born, after an impressive restoration. With "Art or Sound," the public finally has access to the stately second floor.
Curated by Germano Celant, the exhibition is like wandering into grownup fairytale with two floors of the palace packed with more than 180 artifacts based on sound -- paintings and sculptures, musical clocks and birdcages, a fairground organ and music machines, real and imaginary musical instruments that date back to the 1500s, and up through today. The craftsmanship of a stunning white marble with guitar with intricate black marble-paste inlays (1680) by Michele Antonio Grandi made me marvel at the capacity of human beings to create such exquisite objects.
The exhibition examines the influence of sound on art for the past 500 years or so; particular attention is paid to artists of the 20th century. Ulf Linde's 1963 replica of Marcel Duchamp's ball of twine With a Hidden Noise (1916) is there; Man Ray's photograph of a metronome Indestructible Object (1923) is there, as is Salvador Dali's chalk-on-paper Métronome (1944); John Page's musical score for Variations I (1958) is there; one of the coolest objects is Laurie Anderson's phone booth, Numbers Runners (1979) where a line of visitors wait their turn to pick up the phone and listen to what's on the other end of the line.
I didn't have time to visit my favorite island, the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore, during Art Night Venezia, but I had practically been living there during the opening of the architectural exhibition; the superb exhibition The Santilanas at the Stanze del Vetro is always free. Hiroshi Sugimoto's The Glass Tea House Mondrian is located in front of theRooms of Glass; both were open late during Art Night Venezia.
Glass Tea House Mondrian by Hiroshi Sugimoto
During the press conference on June 4th, Pasquale Gagliardi, the Secretary General of the Fondazione Giorgio Cini emphasized that the mission of the foundation was to be a bridge between the East and the West, and The Glass Tea House does just that, bringing the ancient Japanese tea ritual to Europe. Sugimoto, who lives in New York, said that the Japanese were very different from Americans, who put all their wealth in their house. When invited into a Japanese tea house, only a very few select art objects are on display, precisely selected by the host for the guest. There is no talking; it is a graceful, silent ballet performed on one's knees as the tea is prepared and then drank.
According to Sen no Rikyu, the Buddhist monk who established the tea ceremony rules in the sixteenth century, the basic principles are harmony, seen as proportion and relation; respect, seen as dignity and communion; purity, seen as openness and willingness to welcome and serenity, seen as meeting and sharing.
Sugimoto designed a limited edition glass tea bowl specifically for the exhibition, which was blown by the Murano maestro Simone Cenedese. Sugimoto has agreed to return to Venice in the fall to work with the Murano glass blowers.
I finished up Art Night Venezia over at the Teatro Goldoni for the free 10:00PM performance of The Goldoni Experience, which I previously wrote about here. Carlo Goldoni, the famous Venetian playwright, specialized in poking fun at his fellow citizens. The play is set on the last evening of Carnival, and the last night before the playwright, in the form of one of his own characters, the merchant Anzoletto, leaves for Paris. For anyone interested in Venetian culture and commedia dell'arte, it is a MUST SEE. The show is in the Venetian language, but it has English subtitles -- actually super-titles, as the translation is projected above, not below, the action -- which makes viewing the production a bit of a challenge, but opera fans should have no problem.
I really enjoyed watching all the Venetian machinations that don't seem to have changed much to the present day; it is in the Venetian character to conspire and manipulate; I think they are born that way. Servants plot against themselves and their masters; aristocrats cheat on their wives; wives plot revenge. After all the comical exploitations, the show ends on a dramatic note as the fourth wall breaks down and the 21st Century bursts onto the stage. It is a heartbreaking love letter from the Venetians to the world.
Art Night Venezia 2014 included more than 400 free events, with about 100 cultural institutions opening their doors for free, and was organized by Ca' Foscari University and the City of Venice. With strong solidarity, the cultural institutions of Venice united and gave everyone in town a night to remember. The website of Art Night Venezia is in Italian, but if you click the word sedi at the top, that will take you to the venues or locations, and if you click the word eventi... well, that is the same word in English -- events -- except that the male plural in Italian uses an "i" instead of an "s."
Andrea di Robilant with Venice Music Project at Church of San Giovanni Evangelista
(Venice, Italy) If you have ever been in Venice when the spirits of the past make an appearance in the present, you know how wondrous it can be. On Friday, June 27, all the elements came together to create a magical evening when Andrea di Robilant, author of A Venetian Affair, told the story of his ancestor, Andrea Memmo (1729-1793) and his clandestine love affair with the alluring Giustiniana Wynne (1737-1791). The Church of San Giovanni Evangelista where the Venice Music Project is based was the venue. Interspersed perfectly between the story were Baroque melodies played by the Venetia Antiqua Ensemble on original instruments, with soprano Liesl Odenweller bringing alive arias that were composed during the same era.
Andrea Memmo was the oldest son of one of Venice's wealthiest and most powerful families -- he was Andrea di Robilant's great-great-great-great-great grandfather. In 1919, the author's grandfather, also named Andrea di Robilant, inherited Palazzo Mocenigo, one of Venice's most magnificent palaces. Andrea's father, Alvise, found a carton of letters up in the attic, and they turned out to be be love letters written by Andrea Memmo to Giustiniana Wynne -- in secret code. Father and son worked together and broke the code, but Andrea's father was murdered during the project, and Andrea carried on alone, resulting in the New York Times notable book, A Venetian Affair - A True Tale of Forbidden Love in the 18th Century. Giustiniana Wynne was the illegitimate daughter (her parents later married) of a British father, Sir Richard Wynne, and Greek-born Venetian mother, Anna Gazini. Giustiniana was the oldest of their five children, and was raised solely by Anna after the death of Sir Richard.
Giustiniana met Andrea Memmo at Palazzo Balbi, the home of Joseph Smith, the British Consul and Canaletto patron, and the two fell passionately in love; she was not quite 18; he was 24. (Giustiniana called him Memmo, and I will, too, since there are an abundance of Andreas in this story.) When Giustiniana's mother, Anna, learned of the affair, she forbade it, wanting to preserve her daughter's reputation. Venetian society at the time dictated that the oldest son of a patrician family must marry into Venetian nobility. But Memmo was head-over-heels in love, as was Giustiniana, as their letters reveal. To communicate, the young couple developed a written secret code, as well as a sign language, and bombarded each other with love letters delivered by a boy named Alvisetto. They dashed all over town, hoping for a glimpse of one another. Anyone familiar with Venice can picture the scene depicted in one of Memmo's letters:
Yesterday I tried desperately to see you. Before lunch the gondoliers could not serve me. After lunch I went looking for you in Campo Santo Stefano. Nothing. So I walked toward Piazza San Marco, and when I arrived at the bridge of San Moisè I ran into Lucrezia Pisani! I gave her my hand on the bridge, and then I saw you. I left her immediately and went looking for you everywhere. Finally I found you in the Piazza. I sent Alvisetto ahead to find out whether you were on your way to the opera or to the new play at the Teatro Sant'Angelo so that I could rush to get a box in time. Then I forged ahead and waited for you, filled with desire. Finally you arrived and I went up to my box so that I could contemplate you -- not only for the sheer pleasure I take in admiring you, but also in the hope of receiving a sign of acknowledgment as a form of consolation. But you did nothing of the sort. Instead you laughed continuously, made loud noises until the end of the show, for which I was both sorry and angry -- as you can well imagine.
The music performedbetween the intervals in the story moved the action along seamlessly. Pieces composed by Vivaldi, J.A. Hasse and Benedetto and Alessandro Marcello provided the soundtrack to the love story. Memmo desperately wanted to be with Giustiana, and tried several schemes to make that happen. When the elderly John Smith's wife died, Memmo directed Giustiana to seduce the old man in the hopes of making a marriage, thereby opening up the possibility for Giustiana to be seen in the company of gentlemen -- since she would be a properly married woman. At first Giustiana was outraged, then saw Memmo's logic, and made the attempt. She writes:
I've never seen Smith so sprightly. He made me walk with him all morning and climbed the stairs, skipping the steps to show his agility and strenth. [The children] were playing in the garden at who could throw stones the furthest. And Memmo, would you believe it? Smith turned to me and said, "Do you want to see me throw a stone further than anyone else?" I thought he was kidding, but no: he asked [the children] to hand him two rocks and threw them toward the target. He didn't even reach it, so he blamed the stones, saying they were too light. He then threw more stones. By that time I was bursting with laughter and kept biting my lip.
My favorite letter was the young Memmo's sexual fantasy about his beloved:
As I lay in bed alone for so long I thought of the days when we will be together, comforting each other at night. This idea led to another and then to another and soon I was so fired up I could see you in bed with me. You wore that nightcap of yours I like so much, and a certain ribbon I gave you adorned your face so sweetly. You were so near to me and so seductive I took in your tender fragrance and felt your breath. You were in a deep sleep -- you even snored at times. You had kept me company all evening long with such grace that I really didn't have the heart to wake you up... but then a most fortunate little accident occurred just as my discretion was exhausting itself. You turned to me at the very moment in which you dreamed of being in my arms. Nature, perhaps encourage by habit, led you to embrace me. So there we were, next to each other, face to face and mouth to mouth! Your right leg was leaning on my left leg. Little by little the beak of the baby dove began to prick you so forcefully that in your sleep you moved your hand in such a way the thirsty little creature found the door wide open. Trembling from both fear and delight, it entered oh so gently into that little cage and after quenching its thirst it began to have som fun, flying about those spaces and trying to penetrate them as far as it could. It was so eager and made such a fuss that in the end you woke up.
It was not long before Memmo's scheme was found out -- Venice being the gossipy town that it is -- and Smith, furious, banished him from Palazzo Balbi. Undeterred, Memmo then plotted to marry Giustiana secretly in the church, and the church was happy to oblige, eager to capture such a notable young nobleman. But when Memmo seriously considered what he would lose -- his entire life and career -- he reconsidered.
He next decided that he would marry Giustiana legally, in front of the entire world -- all he needed to do was to change the law itself. He was not the only young man who wanted to move the oligarchy into modern times; there were other aristocrats in the same spot, and Memmo had the wealth and power to do it. He came very close to persuading enough nobility to join his cause until a document was found in the Archives revealing that Giustiana's mother, Anna, had been deflowered by a Greek in her youth, and that was the end of that.
Andrea di Robilant and Liesl Odenweller
In the end, both Memmo and Giustiana married others, but remained lifelong friends; Giustiana even went to Memmo's daughter's wedding. Memmo became governor of Padua and Ambassador to Constantinople; Giustiana married Count Orsini-Rosenberg, the Austrian Ambassador to Venice, and then became a writer. Although they have been gone for more than 200 hundred years, their great love story lives on.
Titian's Assumption at the Frari
As we left San Giovanni Evangelista and headed toward dinner, a chorus of angels filled the night air. The door to the Frari was wide open, and Titian's Assumption of the Virgin glowed as if it were lit by heaven itself. We entered the enormous basilica and learned it was a free concert -- a perfect coda to a perfect evening in mystical, magical Venice.
(Venice, Italy) This past week, from July 7 to 12, Venice was the digital capital of Europe as Italy kicked off its turn at the Presidency of the Council of the European Union with Matteo Renzi himself, the Prime Minister of Italy, arriving here in Venice on Tuesday, July 8. From Digital Venice 2014:
“Digital Venice 2014” is a high-level meeting, hosted by the City of Venice and promoted by the Italian Presidency of the Council of the European Union with the support of European Commission – DG Connect, that will gather policy, industry and innovation leaders from all over Europe to trace the road to a growing, sustainable digital economy.
The event, intended to be held every year, takes place at the start of the Italian Presidency to mark the emphasis placed by the Italian government on digital innovation as the key to sustainable economic development and boost to new employment. A “Venice Declaration” summarizing vision and recommendations will be presented by the Italian Presidency to be tabled at the next Digital Council..."
The European Union is a strange creature, and is still in the process of becoming. The United States began with 13 original states, and those states rebelled against Great Britain for taxation without representation. They declared that they were independent on Independence Day, July 4, 1775, and then created a Constitution in 1781, which we still argue about nearly every day -- in English, the language that everyone in the United States of America is supposed to speak.
The European Union originated under very different circumstances. It was created after World War II to ensure that such killing, devastation and destruction never happens again. According to the European Union website, "Europe Day" is May 9, and celebrates the Schuman Plan presented by French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman on May 9, 1950. Then, on April 18, 1951, six different nations, all with their own languages and cultures -- Italy, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg -- agreed to place the coal and steel industries under one common management so that no country could make its own weapons of war and turn against the others. Bitter enemies, who just a few years earlier were massacring each other, decided they were going to become friends. Italy and Germany were on one side, and France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg were on the other. So for Robert Schuman, who was born in Luxembourg, and was a member of the French Resistance and nearly thrown into Dachau, to decide to become friends with Germany just five years after the Nazis were defeated, shows what a civilized, forward-thinking a man he was.
The European Union was built on a foundation of peace. There are now 28 countries that belong to the EU, many of which used to be part of the Soviet Union. Absorbing these Eastern European counties into the West has not been simple. To use Latvia as an example, in recent history, it was an independent republic, then forced into the Soviet Union in 1940, then invaded by Nazi Germany in 1941, then went back into the Soviet Union until that collapsed in 1991. It became part of the European Union on May 1, 2004, together with Poland, Hungary, Lithuania, Estonia, the Czech Republic, Cyprus and Malta.
When I first moved to Italy in 1998, there were still border controls in Europe, which meant each time you drove into another country you had to stop and show your documents. It would be as if each of the 50 states had their own border patrols, with their own attitudes. Imagine driving from New York to Florida, and getting harassed when you reached South Carolina or Georgia because you were a Yankee. We can imagine that an army composed of Californians would be very different than an army composed of Texans. It is sometimes difficult to understand the people from Louisiana if you are from Connecticut; imagine if each state had its own language. Europe was like that once; now there are no borders, but each country still maintains its own language and culture. There is a joke:
Heaven is where the police are British, the lovers French, the mechanics German, the chefs Italian, and it is all organized by the Swiss.
Hell is where the police are German, the lovers Swiss, the mechanics French, the chefs British, and it is all organized by the Italians.
Member states of the EU
Just as Americans fiercely believe in the individual rights written in the Constitution, so do Europeans believe they have certain rights. The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union lists those rights, some of which might surprise Americans. There is no right to bear arms, for example, but there is a right to life, and no death penalty. "No one shall be condemned to the death penalty, or executed."
No one is allowed to be tortured: "No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."
As in America, everyone has the right to freedom of expression, but Europe goes even further, protecting the arts, academics and sciences in particular -- fields which oppressive governments like to restrict: "The arts and scientific research shall be free from constraint. Academic freedom shall be respected."
There is a right to education, a right to unionize, and a right to medical care. There is a right to freedom of peaceful assembly. One right that interests me personally is the right to property: "No one may be deprived of his or her possessions, except in the public interest and in the cases and under the conditions provided for by law, subject to fair compensation being paid in good time for their loss."
Importantly, there is a right to protection of personal data and "such data must be processed fairly for specified purposes and on the basis of the person concerned or some other legitimate basis laid down by law. Everyone has the right of access to data which has been collected concerning him or her, and the right to have it rectified."
In terms of history, the United States is an adolescent, only 238 years old, and often behaves like one. Europe has been around for millennia, and understands well the horrors of war, and the extreme dangers of spying on innocent civilians and the attempt to control a population by fear and intimidation, which is one reason why its Fundamental Rights differ from the United States -- Europe lived through the Nazi invasion.
Which brings us to the Internet of Everything, the conference I attended on July 8 as part of Digital Venice 2014, which was presented by Roberto Masiero, Co-Founder of The Innovation Group, and by. Cisco, which was represented by Agostino Santoni, CEO of Cisco Italia. Cisco is really pushing the Internet of Everything, or the IoE, and says that it is a $19 trillion global opportunity. Since Italy is still in a recession with 12.6% unemployment, and a whopping 45% youth unemployment rate, the idea of a new arena for growth is particularly exciting.
Apparently there is an Internet of Things (IoT) and an Internet of Everything (IoE). Cisco says that the IoE is not its trademark, or its architecture, but if you google the Internet of Everything, you get Cisco, whereas if you google the Internet of Things, you get... everything. The sector does, indeed, seem to be exploding. Huge investments are being made; Forbes says that "influential conversations" about the Internet of Things have increased 70% between late March and early July of this year.
First -- what IS the Internet of Things? It will connect everything in the world, including people, to the Internet. Billions and billions of things. From Forbes: The new rule for the future is going to be, “anything that can be connected, will be connected.” But why on earth would you want so many connected devices talking to each other? There are many examples for what this might look like or what the potential value might be. Say for example you are on your way to a meeting, your car could have access to your calendar and already know the best route to take, if the traffic is heavy your car might send a text to the other party notifying them that you will be late. What if your alarm clock wakes up you at 6 am and then notifies your coffee maker to start brewing coffee for you? What if your office equipment knew when it was running low on supplies and automatically re-ordered more? What if the wearable device you used in the workplace could tell you when and where you were most active and productive and shared that information with other devices that you used while working?
That sounds a bit too much like Big Brother for my taste, though when applied to a "Smart City," it makes more sense. Traffic lights would be connected so you wouldn't have to wait unnecessarily for a green light at 2:00 in the morning. Trash cans run on solar energy would alert their collectors when they are full. Self-driving cars mean no more accidents, though how it will prevent a tractor tailor from jackknifing on the LA freeway, I have yet to understand.
The problem, of course, is security and privacy, and someone who was not a techie, Gerard de Graaf from the European Commission, brought that up in his keynote speech. He said a lot of politicians don't get it, and that tech scares them. They need to be shown: HOW CAN THEY ACHIEVE THEIR AGENDA? He said that we could not build a 90% bridge; it must be a 100% bridge, and that all the pieces of the puzzle must be put in place -- he compared it to doing a jigsaw puzzle with your kids, to complete the entire thing only to discover that three pieces are missing. He said that his home is his castle, and that the IoT will know everything about our lives. We will be connected but incredibly vulnerable, and it could easily disrupt our societies.
Since Google and Facebook and other American giants are attempting to gain the lead on the Internet of Things, and since we have already seen how the United States government has abused its data, to me, the top priority must be security and privacy.
you would think the US government would put a brake on it, but no. Just a few days ago Germany kicked out the head of the CIA. According to the Voice of America: "Analyst Pawel Swidlicki of the Open Europe research organization says that could get worse unless the United States stops spying on Germany. 'German public opinion will only continue to harden against the U.S., which would have very negative implications for quite crucial issues, like the EU-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, currently under negotiation,' Swidlicki said."
The reminders of World War II still permeate the air in Europe today. Less than three months ago, on April 25, 2014, nearly 30,000 residents of nearby Vicenza here in Italy were evacuated due to the discovery of a humongous "Blockbuster" bomb dropped during WWII by the British, found, ironically, in the Peace Park next to the recently-expanded US military base -- expanded to the outrage of the residents, who created Peace Park to block further expansion. How the citizens of Vicenza feel about the USA in their midst: Peace Park... today continues to be a social laboratory of participation that combines anti-militarism with an affirmation of common goods. But the park is not the only result. Vicenza is no longer the same, and the United States has to reckon with a city ever less hospitable, so much so that holidays once important for friendly encounters with the local community—such as the Fourth of July or Halloween—are now occasions when the sites under the Stars and Stripes close up, forced to guard themselves against the antagonistic citizenry.
The damage that has been done by the United States must be repaired immediately before moving toward the future. As has been illustrated time and again, the USA has infuriated the entire world with its disrespect and interference. We have learned the USA has tortured, assassinated, used extraordinary rendition, droned women and children, killed innocent civilians and is spying on completely innocent people going about their everyday lives. I, myself, have been targeted on a personal level, and I can attest that the USA has trampled on my rights to an outrageous extent. Like an alcoholic in denial, the USA seems incapable of realizing the damage it is inflicting on the rest of the human race. That is the reality of the situation, and it must be addressed, not covered-up and avoided. It is dysfunctional behavior, and it needs drastic intervention.
Even before Germany kicked out the CIA station chief, Angela Merkel kicked out Verizon.
Support is growing to grant Edward Snowden asylum in Germany. Perhaps that is the solution that is needed. He seems to know a bit about technology:), and has proven that he has integrity and great concerns about security and privacy. If the United States refuses to grant him asylum, it is a waste of talent to keep him in Russia when he has knowledge that could help create a solid foundation for a technological future in Europe. If Europe wants an edge, offering a safe haven to the rest of the world where innocent data and innocent personal lives are free from governmental interference would be a way to start.
If we are seriously talking about a new $19 trillion "global opportunity," that opportunity must be founded on sound moral principles, trust, transparency and integrity, otherwise it will be a world in which no one wants to live, no matter how perfectly toasted our bread is.
(Venice, Italy) The Festa del Redentore, or the Feast of the Redeemer, the festival that Venice has been celebrating every year since 1577 to give thanks for deliverance from the plague is coming up on Saturday, July 19 and Sunday, July 20. I have written about the festival many times before; here is an excerpt from last year:
Church of the Redentore
...between 1575 and 1577, Venice was ravaged by the plague, which wiped out nearly 50,000 people, almost a third of the population. The Venetians became convinced it was divine punishment for their sins. Desperate, powerless to stop it, in the midst of the desolation, on September 4, 1576, the Venetian Senate voted to ask the Redeemer, or the Redentore, for help, vowing to build a magnificent temple in thanksgiving. They commissioned the great architect, Andrea Palladio, to design the church, and on May 3, 1577 the Patriarch of Venice laid the cornerstone.
And it worked! Just two months later, on July 13, 1577, the plague was declared officially over. After it was consecrated in 1592, the Church of Redentore was placed in the charge of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin. Every year the Doge, the Patriarch and the Senate walked across a pontoon bridge to attend Mass on the third Sunday in July, grateful for all the good they had received.
This year, Grassi+ Partners, who do marketing for The Luxury Collection, one of my sponsors, sent over a press release describing how their hotels in Venice will celebrate the evening. For me, the best place to be in the entire world on the evening of Redentore is in Venice. Whether you are in a tiny boat with your lover, on the island of Giudecca with the locals or at a 5-star hotel with a group of friends, if you are in the right venue, and with the right people, it is an exceptional experience. Venetians know how to celebrate their own holiday, but for those of you (with money) from out of town who want to watch, here are some suggestions:
Terrace at Club del Doge - Gritti Palace
The Gritti Palace - A Luxury Collection Hotel
Guests can dine on the terrace of the Club del Doge restaurant or Bar Longhi with spectacular views of the lagoon lit by the wonderful fireworks display. Chef Daniel Turco masterfully combines local ingredients in two tasty menus designed specifically for the occasion.
Club del Doge:
Price: € 405 per person, includes a welcome Ruinart Bellini cocktail and a 6-course menu (including service charge and VAT). Drinks not included.
Price: € 240 per person, includes a welcome Ruinart Bellini cocktail, a selection of snacks, a first dish of lobster, and a bottle of Champagne "R" de Ruinart at the table (tax and service included)
Private table at La Cusina - Westin Europa & Regina
The Westin Europa & Regina
Guests can dine at Bar Tiepolo or enjoy the menu of the gala dinner at the La Cusina Restaurant, or in the comfort of the private terraces in each suite, watching the amazing fireworks display that lights up the spires, domes and bell towers of the city with kaleidoscope colors and reflections.
Time: 19:30 Price: € 210 per person, includes typical Venetian dishes of fish and Champagne (covered, service and 10% VAT included)
Restaurant La Cusina:
Price: € 410 per person, includes gala dinner and selected wines (service and 10% VAT included)
Price: € 495 per person, includes gala dinner and selected wines (service and 10% VAT included)
Guests can dine at the Restaurant Terrazza Danieli; the gala dinner will be accompanied by spectacular views of the lagoon of Venice, which becomes an open-air theater where you can admire the kaleidoscope of colors, lights and reflections that illuminate the spiers, domes and bell towers of the city. Guests will be delighted by local ingredients superbly combined by Chef Dario Parascandolos in a tasty menu that combines the sophistication of Venetian cuisine and sparkling entertainment.
Restaurant Terrazza Danieli
Price: € 590 per person, includes a gala dinner with a 7-course menu and wines selected by our sommelier (tax and service included)
Guests can entertain themselves starting at 6:00PM in the beautiful gardens of The St. Regis Bar with DJ music, Moët & Chandon tastings and the mixology of Alessandro Carà accompanied by tasty snacks. Afterwards, at 8:00PM at the restaurant Acquerello, Chef Roberto del Seno delights guests with a 5-course menu accompanied by perfectly paired wines selected by our Head Sommelier and live jazz music, ending with the magnificent spectacle of fireworks at starting at 11:30PM until midnight.
For those who wish, the party will continue after midnight until 3:00AM at La Dolce Restaurant with a DJ set at the poolside, Veuve Clicquot Champagn , cocktail mixology and raw and smoked delicacies.
Price: € 390 per person includes welcome drink at the St. Regis Bar, 5-course dinner with live jazz music and paired wines / € 150 per person includes "late night celebration" at La Dolce Restaurant / € 950 up to 6 people, includes gala dinner at Gazebo Privé with personal butler service; supplement of €150 for each additional guest.
Of course, you can always do what the Venetians do and make your own food, bring your own boat, and watch the fireworks explode over your head from the waters of the magical Venice lagoon, and give thanks that we aren't all dead from the plague. Yet.