Venice & Moonlight

The opportunity to visit Venice as the guest of Nancy Goeschel and the companion of Sharon Chickanzeff presented itself this June. I left for Venice on Iberia Airlines on Memorial Day, 31 May 2004. The flights (NYC to Madrid, Madrid to Venice) were mostly uneventful. I got to Venice about 1 p.m. on the 1st of June, took the bus into the city and walked to the Ca’ Lioni in which Nancy rents the apartment on the piano nobile for May and June. The Ca’ Lioni is on the Grand Canal near the Rialto Bridge and dates from the 13th century. The staircase newel post has a small lion. The fountain in the courtyard was unfortunately covered with a construction fence. cf. Venice: an architectural guide by Guido Zucconi (p. 30) or

Nancy’s apartment has four full-height double windows on the canal with small balconies. It is at a bend in the canal so you get a view toward the bridge as well as a long view to the West -- lovely for evening sky watching. The apartment also has a long hall along the side with windows over a small canal. The hall is so long that Nancy’s boyfriend (Lee McElfresh) responded “the kitchen or Mestre, whichever comes first” when asked “where are you going?”

Sharon and I stayed in the servant’s quarters at the back of the apartment. No problem. Since the Ca’ Lioni is on a small courtyard away from the main route between the Rialto and the Strada Nova, it was quiet. There were other windows across the small canal and one heard the gondoliers with their riders, but gently.

After I settled in and we had a snack, Sharon and I walked around a bit, mostly getting acclimated to the neighborhood and probably paying my first visit to the Billa grocery store. Later, we four went out for supper at Milion, nearby. It was the first trial of fegato alla veneziana (calves liver, Venetian style, served with polenta, the theme meal for the trip).

On Wednesday, Nancy and Lee left for a couple days at Lago di Garda, while Sharon and I went out adventuring. We visited San Giovanni e Paolo (San Zanipolo, in the Venetian dialect version), a lovely gothic church of fabulous brickwork. The Scuola Grande di San Marco, with a wonderful marble facade, is attached and serves as the entry building for the Ospedale Civile (municipal hospital). The Colleoni statue was, alas, wrapped in construction fences. As we entered the Scuola building and stopped at the hospital entry gate, Sharon said she was glad we were only visiting (more anon).

The next stop was Santa Maria dei Miracoli, an incredible marble church. Many marbles of different colors with pronounced veining, and a high altar. We hear it’s a favorite space for weddings. On to San Francesco della Vigna with a facade by Palladio and interior by Sansovino, and a splendid cloister. Lots of miscellaneous wandering too. I had been to Venice on a couple day trips from Vicenza in the mid 1980s; this trip was especially desired because it would give an opportunity to really be in Venice into the evening. As we meandered, we happened on the restaurant Arcimboldo which had been recommended by Dawn Henney; we didn’t stop then (it wasn’t the right time) and didn’t make it back there.

We went to supper at Vini Da Gigio, off the Strada Nova not too far from the apartment, and had a lovely dinner of mutton (Sharon) and tuna (me). It was a very good meal. After supper, Sharon went to the apartment and I decided to go over to Piazza San Marco to look at the full moon over the plaza. It had rained earlier and there was some high water in the plaza. The moon was full and lovely over San Giorgio Maggiore across the canal from San Marco. I rounded the corner to look at Santa Maria della Salute. It was wet underfoot and -- kaboom -- my feet went out from under me. When I checked my condition, my arm looked visibly fractured. I fell right next to a water taxi stand and the taxi drivers had cell phones. They helped me to a bench, found a bag of ice, and phoned the ambulance. I didn’t have the phone number at the apartment but one of the taxi drivers with sufficient English helped me get the landlady’s phone number and she gave me the apartment number. I told Sharon about my state but that I didn’t know where I was going and would call her when I knew anything. The water ambulance came in a few minutes and I was taken to the emergency room where I was the only “guest.”

Meanwhile, Sharon decided she’d try to find out where I’d been taken. After calling a few hospitals, she got through to the emergency service and they recognized my name and told her I was at the municipal hospital, yes, that place where we’d been earlier in the day. She arrived just as I was finishing up. We walked home -- it was 2 a.m. by this point -- in the quiet streets of Venice, under a full moon. Lovely. Now, I don’t say you SHOULD break your arm in Venice but the circumstances of this adventure could not have been more propitious.

Bathing, eating, taking pictures, and most everything is more difficult one-handed but it was not my writing hand and the setting was easier in the apartment than it would have been in a garret.

The next day, I spent a lot of time at the galleries of the Accademia. Fabulous paintings: Tiepolo “Castigation of the serpents”; Carpaccio’s virgin with saints and historical paintings; Veronese; Tintoretto (lots of Tintoretto here and everywhere); Bellini madonnas; French drawings in a special show upstairs. I also went over to San Giorgio Maggiore and the Redentore, both Palladio churches, including going up in the tower of San Giorgio from which you can look over at the Piazza San Marco. Nancy and Lee returned, so there was lots of comisseration about broken arms along with tales of lovely vistas at Lago di Garda and the big car on the small roads with tunnels. Sharon and I had supper at Giorgione where the fegato alla veneziana was served with delicious soft buttery polenta.

On Saturday, Sharon and I went out to the airport to see if we could get our flights home changed to the same flight. No luck. Sharon was going down to Rome for a few days and was feeling she could give that up in order to help this poor one-armed person get home. She had a fabulous visit though so I’m glad she didn’t miss that part of her trip to Italy.

After we got back from the airport and had some pizza, we went to the Ca’ d’Oro. The collection included some wonderful Bernini terracottas and labors of Hercules by Maderno. And a fine painting of Saint Sebastian by Mantegna. The porches on the Grand Canal are also most congenial. Sharon went home and I went on to San Stae (the dialect version of S. Eustache) -- a wonderful neopalladian church with large clerestory windows. The light was incredible, as it so often was. The skies are dynamic in Venice. Lee cooked dinner (Saturday, too busy at the restaurants) for the group, including Paulette, a British woman who has spent much time in Venice.

Sharon had an appointment with her masseur on Sunday morning so I accompanied her to the Lido. After a bit of beachside strolling, I came back to the city and then walked over to the Fondamente Nuove to get the boat to Torcello where there is a wonderful complex of romanesque buildings (a basilica, smaller church, remains of a baptistery, some leftover monastery structures). The view from the basilica tower is over the lagoon and is lovely. That evening, we four had dinner at the Trattoria alla Madonna, a seafood restaurant known for its specialties like fried sardines (thanks for the recommendation, Christie).

The next morning, Sharon and I hoped to get into San Marco but the line was again way too long. We went to the Museo Correr and Sale Monumentali, across the plaza. The Sale are grand Napoleonic salons, staircases, and hallways with decorations by Canova and others. The Museo Correr collection included a wood and wax model of Titian’s tomb by Canova. There were also bunches of school kids in the Correr since it is partly a historical museum. At some point, Sharon and I also went through the Palazzo Ducale which has some great spaces including staircases and an inner courtyard. Sharon didn’t much like the prison which you enter across the Bridge of Sighs.

Monday afternoon, I meandered off to Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, another great brick gothic church. Inside is Canova’s tomb which is based on his design for Titian’s tomb (a pyramid with approaching mourners) which was delightful to see after seeing the Canova model in the morning. Titian’s tomb is in the Frari and it is nice but rather ordinary architecturally. The interesting thing is the appearance in the background of his painting of the Assumption of the Virgin which is over the altar of that church. Also in the Frari is Titian’s Pesaro Madonna and a great Bellini Madonna altarpiece. You can stand in one position and see both Titian paintings, probably his best religious paintings. You can also stand between the Canova and Titian tombs and look to the altar with the Titian Assumption. Swoon.

From the Frari to the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, where there are a million Tintorettos in glorious settings. The Palazzo Ducale also has a lot of Tintoretto wall painting but the Scuola is more magnificent. On to the Ca’ Rezzonico, another Grand Canal museum and former residence. The Rezzonico has some good Longhis and Tiepolos, as well as a third floor with oodles of academic paintings, some interesting, many not so.

The next guest at the apartment arrived our last evening, and we five had supper at Montin, under the arbor, near the Accademia. More fegato, rather more americano but with polenta.

On Tuesday, the time to depart had come. I stuffed most everything into my rolling suitcase. Lee helped me get to the airport, and then he took the slow boat back to the city so he could get some photographs of the lagoon. Flying isn’t so much fun in an over-the-elbow cast. As we neared New York, I picked up on a nearby conversation and arranged with a fellow Manhattanite for help onto the bus to Grand Central Station (thank you, Jocelyn). My normal trips to the airports are via subway and bus which seemed a bit too much effort one-handed.

Venice was lovely overall. I didn’t get any sidetrips beyond the lagoon done, though I had contemplated Padua, Vicenza, Malcontenta, Trieste, Ljubljana, and other places. That’s ok, I did get to see a lot of Venice. I’d rather do it with two arms free of “gesso di Venezia” but I don’t really regret any moment. The cast is now off, I’m doing exercises and going to the physical therapist. I also got to wear the cast to Orlando for the annual conference of the American Library Association. Daniel and I happened to get the same flights and he helped me with the trips to and from the airports. He was (not too) disappointed that I didn’t need much help.

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