Posted by: jeanne | April 2, 2015

a(nother) night at the opera

on wednesday morning, francis and i got to do the tourist thing, and went down to san marco to see the basilica.  we had done the same thing with renee, but this time we left jim and connor at home.  jim gave me instructions to get good photos of the mosaics on the front of san marco, because he has an idea for a painting and wanted pictures of the story of how the venetians stole the body of saint mark.

while we were out, connor had an epic day seizing some kid’s light saber on the playground and refusing to give it back, so jim had to pick him up and carry him home, and then go back for his scooter and ball, which he had to leave on the playground.

anyway, as we got off the vaporetto at san marco, i noticed two full-sized cement trucks on the barge parked at santa maria del giglio, and paused to take this photo.  when i showed it to jim later, his main remark was how nice the light was on the salute church.


instead of walking francis around the garden of san marco, which has a small bridge, i decided to take him in behind san marco, close to the shopping street of calle larga 22 marzo, which i usually try to avoid.  we didn’t actually get to that street, because we were not that far from san marco; rather we were on the edge between the two areas, a place with expensive stores, but also narrow streets.  anyway, we saw this really expensive jewelry store with a window full of skull rings.  for rich goth types, maybe.


and then we were in san marco.  not a very crowded san marco, either.  and it was just before noon, so we got to experience the thousand bells that go off from every church in venice.  or so it seems.  it’s probably just the bells of the clock tower and the campanile, and maybe san zaccaria behind san marco, and maybe even san moise on the other side of behind san marco.  i’m not sure.  so many things i’m not sure about in these narratives.


because it was a really far walk from one end of the piazza to the church, francis decided he needed to sit down, and suggested a cup of coffee, when i suddenly decided to go to the correr museum to see if they participated in first sundays (when the museums open for free).  so i told him i would meet him there, and went up the two flights of stairs to the entrance to the correr, where it stated NO PHOTO just like it does everywhere in venice.


the entrance guy kindly explained to me that yes, they were doing first sunday even tho it was easter sunday, but no, the correr and the other san marco museums were not participating in it anyway, and i would have to pay the 17 euros that would get me into all four museums in the piazza.


so i took a picture of this nice tromp l’oeil painting, one of several lining the walls of the staircase, and went back to join francis in front of the florian bar on the piazza.


the florian is famous in myth and legend as an extraordinarily hip place to be seen, and/or a hugely expensive tourist trap, depending.  all sorts of people have drunk and eaten there thru history, from way back in casanova’s time all the way up to today, when francis became the latest hipster to have coffee there.  for myself, i couldn’t conscience it.


but francis has a double espresso, and i drank the water provided.  and we listened to the orchestra (4 piece) playing a medley of show tunes from my fair lady.  the bar across the way also had an orchestra, and from what we could hear, it was a higher class of show tune, but let’s not be picky.


i mean, after all, we were supporting starving artists to the tune of 6 euros added to the bill, and it only worked out to 15 euros for a cup of coffee.  actually, francis mentioned later on in the week that he’d been charged wildly varying prices for a cup of coffee everywhere he’d been in venice, from one euro at a little outdoor stand on piazzale roma to ten euros somewhere i’m not sure where.  the cover charge didn’t count as the price of coffee.  to francis.  to me it was all outrageous, and that’s why we tend not to do coffee sitting down, except for when we’re too damned tired or cold to stand at the bar and pay local prices.  still, cioccolata calde tends to cost from 2.50 to 4.50 depending on where we have it.

SONY DSC girls taking a selfie in the window

i insisted that francis see the inside of the cafe before leaving, and since the cost of a cup of coffee included a trip to the bathroom, i volunteered to go first.  but the bathroom was up a flight of very steep and narrow stairs, so i recommended that he just go in and sail past the waiter at the entrance as if looking for the bathroom or a friend, and have a look around.


the place reminded him of a bar in barcelona; same period, same over the top decorations.


so then we made it to san marco, and paused in front of this nice lamppost to take a posed photo of francis, for posterity.  i had actually stopped to take a picture of the lamppost when he indicated it, and then was amused to find that his hand gesture meant i should take a photo of him.  silly me.


inside, we stopped to admire the marble walls and francis listened to a guide discussing the marble in spanish to a group of tourists.  did you know that the marble only looks random, but is actually matched panel for panel on the other side of the cathedral?  no, i didn’t.

we walked around for a bit, gawking.  when we arrived in the cathedral, they were busy turning out all the lights on the inside, which made for a distinct change in color and visibility, so i took numerous photos of angles i had already taken when we were there with renee.

SONY DSC useful for flagging down vaporetti, perhaps

i gestured toward the pala d’oro as a possibility – price 2 euros – but it was behind steps, and maybe francis wasn’t that interested, because tho it was nice to look at it was only an altar.  so then we went into the treasure room.  cost 3 euros.  but i had never been in there yet, and was curious, and francis was definitely interested.

what a strange place that was.  full of relics.  and holy relics means bones.  tail bones, arm bones, hands, fingers, skulls, the foreskin of jesus, you name it.  all fabulously jeweled and encased.




this case featured two skulls, a vertebra, an arm bone, and the bones of san pietro orseolo, doge of venice, and a bunch of unidentifiable bones of who knows whom.


this one was my favorite, the famous monkey’s paw.  no, wait.


the other room of the treasure section had about 150 liturgical items, all in gold or silver, with jewels and encrustations, carved and polished and gaudy as hell.  the items ranged from glass plates to stone plates to jewel encrusted plates, to gold plates.  and cups – chalices, i mean.  a lot of them in sardonyx, which i thought was funny, given the history of the church.  your tithe dollars at work.


so after awhile, we got tired of wandering thru san marco, and headed across the way to the campanile, which i was anxious to get up and photograph from the top of.  francis teaches english in barcelona.  that last sentence was just to annoy him.


this is the view from the campanile to the north.  the viewing platform is up at 60 meters, tho the peak of the campanile goes to 100 meters.  you can see the clearest view i’ve had yet of the alps beyond venice.  wonderful.


however, my camera quit immediately after taking this shot.  i got a disk full error message, and had only taken 300 shots or so.  i’m supposed to have 8 gig on the card, so something was wrong.  i fixed it by reformatting the card after i got home, but it didn’t help me take the other three directions, or even get closeups of all the buildings.  for instance, you can just see the bovolo in the middle right of the picture above.  can you see it?  no?  it’s a small round building just…there.

so i have to go back.  two caveats if you’re going up to the top of the campanile.  the first is, make sure it’s a calm day at ground level, because the wind – omg.  this poor little japanese girl got the embarrassment of her life when the wind did a marilyn monroe on her skirt.  the other caveat is not to go at the top of the hour, because the bells over your head actually ring, and that’d be deafening.  we heard them go off right after we got back to ground level (there’s an elevator), and were very grateful for the camera malfunction, because i’d have still been up there taking photos.  i figure there’s at least 100 shots up there on all four sides.  but what a view.  you can see all of venice, all of the lagoon, all they way to the alps.  and it makes the structure of venice a lot more clear when you can see it all.  francis tried to test my knowledge about what church is this, and what church is that, but i said i don’t know after the first couple.  i actually didn’t know there were as many churches as there are, but of course there’s basically one church per island of old, and even after the canals were filled in, the churches remained.  until napoleon, of course.

so, no camera, and i’d forgotten to take either my cellphone or the gopro, which i had originally planned on, but then thought – nah – so we went back to sant’elena and decided to stop for lunch there rather than some other place i was thinking of behind the san zaccaria and/or arsenale stops.  and it’s a good thing that we did.  we found connor and jim at the playground, so took them to the little place next to it that serves good, cheap food, and had just ordered when jim motioned behind me.


it was the first huge enormous cruise ship of the season.  i’d looked up the schedule, and there wasn’t anything supposed to be coming into town until the 6th, but here it was.  i’d seen a tugboat going out to lido as we got off the vaporetto, and thought that was strange, because i hadn’t seen a tugboat in all our weeks here.  but i didn’t really think it was important because there were no cruise ships due in port until after easter.  but there it was, cruising silently along the canal up toward san marco.  i hurried to the water’s edge to take pictures, deleting random photos of the treasure room as i went, and managed to snap four shots of it as it went past.  it’s at least 10 storeys, and absolutely dwarfed everything else on the lagoon waters, as well as the buildings of venice.

when i looked it up later, it turned out to be the test run of the brand spanking new viking star, built right here in marghera.  unfortunately it didn’t sink or run aground.

cruise ships were banned for a minute after a horrific accident.  they cause great damage to the structure of the city because of the wakes, the displacement, the fumes from the engines, the vibrations, the sudden influx of thousands of tourists who spend minimally (on trinkets rather than meals and beds) but clog up the streets and bathrooms of the city.  and they’re a big eyesore.  people here hate them.  but some politician got bought off, and now they’re to be allowed again.


but connor was oblivious, as he had a hot chocolate to keep him happy.

then, after a nap, francis and i went out to see the opera, thanks to marie’s generous gift of memberships to the musica a palazzo program (where you buy an expensive membership rather than a ticket, presumably so you can come back again if you like).

while we were on the vaporetto, at arsenale or giardini stop, i watched as these tourists were standing in the way of the disembarking passengers, taking a selfie on a stick.  this old lady got off the boat and walked past them, and actually reached up and angrily swatted the selfie stick as she passed.  i couldn’t stop laughing, tho the other passengers seemed not to notice.  that was one of the only times i’ve seen venetians express their annoyance by anything other than scathing looks or a sullen refusal to give way when tourists are trying to jostle past.


speaking of crass commercialism, this billboard has popped up overnight.  since we got here, it’s been a big white panel in the middle of a replica of the church that’s underneath it.  that’s what they sometimes do when they’re renovating a building, put up a picture of the building on the protective screening.  and it looks like the church that’s under it, except for the white panel.  at first i thought it would make a great screen for showing movies during carnival, but that never happened.  and now i know.  it’s an ad space.  and they’re advertising clothes.  how charming.


so we got to the san marco vaporetto stop an hour before the show opened its doors, and decided we had time for coffee, but every place we stopped into that said bar/restaurant had only the restaurant open, and the bar was closed.  the first such bar had this amazing shop across from it, selling very gaudy merchandise, carnival costumes, expensive venice souvenirs.  it was overwhelming, so we pushed on, and found coffee in a little place around the corner.


i got this picture as the sun was going down, just two bridges from the palazzo.


and here’s the palazzo again.  i had brought the gopro in case the musicians were the same as last time, when we had so much fun watching them – moreso than the actors, who were enacting camile – i mean la traviata.  i especially enjoyed their antics during the death scene, when they hammed it up to relieve the tension.  however, this time the piano player was someone else, and the comedic aspect was missing.


but that was okay, because the barber of seville is so much more entertaining.  it’s an opera buffe, which means it’s full of buffoons, and they all hammed it up.  i had a great time, and francis clearly enjoyed himself.

the whole experience is pretty amazing, since they are opera singers, and sing opera style, at great volume.  unlike the singers in la traviata, however, these actors were able to vary their volume, and so it wasn’t a spit in your face kind of overwhelming experience, but rather an intimate glimpse from right there on stage, as extras.  it got so intimate that the bass father figure handed one of the audience his little lap dog to watch during one scene, the girl sat in some guy’s lap for a moment, and  handed the lady next to me her mirror in order to primp into it, and they repeatedly included a 10 year old boy in their interactions.  this was a welcome change from ignoring the audience altogether; indeed they played off the audience whenever possible.

when we walked in, the woman who takes tickets (and also doubles as every nonspeaking character, there second to the left) took our membership cards and marked our names off the list, and then asked for 105 euros, as if we hadn’t membership cards already.  but the whole idea of the membership cards is that you can come back for less than half price – 35 instead of 75.  and she was quite surprised when i corrected her.  so obviously the whole membership thing is a scam to justify higher prices, but fine, it worked for us this time.  maybe we’ll keep the cards for use next time, or maybe they’re only good for a year.


i had done my research, and found out that we were due for high water for the very first time since carnival, so instead of hopping on the vaporetto, we decided to wander down to san marco and have a look.  in fact, the water right outside the door was sloshing onto the pavement when we left the palazzo.

so we stopped at tarnowska‘s american bar, where some die hard patrons were enjoying a late drink or three.  we ordered two gin and tonics (12 euros each) and some food.  the bartender told us there was egg and anchovy bruschettas, and we thought that was a great idea, but he brought us a couple of toasted ham and cheese sandwiches instead (6 euros each).  i was kind of disappointed; the sandwiches were bland, and the clientele dodgy.  we sat across from three guys and a girl who gave the impression of being conmen and prostitutes all having a jollly time after fleecing customers all day long.  one of the guys was trying his lines on the girl, who clearly wasn’t having it.

IMG_8553 not the hookers and conmen i’m talking about

so then it was on past san moise and along the walkways to san marco.  there wasn’t any water on the street, so i walked there, but francis had to have a reason to say he’d been up on the passarelle, so he walked on them.


when we got to the piazza, the lights were off the basilica and campanile, but were on the surrounding buildings, so there was enough light to take photos.  i was interested to see the square with half a dozen people there, after midnight, taking photos of the high water.


and after much persuasion, got francis to pose for one more picture.  thanks, francis.


the next day – what on earth did we do thursday morning and afternoon?  i think we worked on our painting, and took connor out to the playground, and francis wrote postcards and read his book down at the bar, where he was determined to eat as much italian food as he could, because he lives in spain and you can’t get decent italian food there.

anyway, he must have come back after lunch, and we all took naps, and then at about five we headed for the vaporetto to go to an art show.  it was a special art show, as it was dedicated to the work of an american painter.  we’d been told about it by our printmaking friends, and caroline forwarded me her invitation, which required an rsvp.  now, back home, we go to art shows without any notice or response, invitations or lists.  we just show up.  but because this one was in a hotel, and thus a private exhibition, the hotel demanded a list, and we had to rsvp.  so we did, and there followed an incredible email correspondence where the assistant wanted to know how we heard of it and declared that we weren’t on any list she had.  for a moment it looked like we wouldn’t be allowed entrance.  but it turned out fine; at the last minute she contacted us and said of course we were welcome.  i emailed back just in case, wanting to know the dress code, because at home we show up in our paint stained work clothes and think nothing about it.  but she told us we should be elegantly casual, so we all got done up in our finery – including connor in his three piece suit.  he wanted to know if that was his carnival costume, and after some thought i told him it was a costume of a sort, but he couldn’t wear his cape.


the venue was at the design ca’ pisani hotel, where we had actually stopped to ask directions to the art supply store that had been in the same spot since 1810 and was now gone.  it’s a small world.  it’s at the back of the accademia, and i had to go looking for bags again, so we left francis at an outdoor cafe overlooking the grand canal, where he had a double espresso and read his book while i dropped jim off at an art gallery specializing in prints and etchings, and i went looking for the shop where the bags were on sale, which was closed for the evening, even tho the sign said it should be open.  oh well.  so we went and collected francis, and weren’t the only ones to show up on the early side of the opening time, which was 6.


the artist was maggie siner, and she paints plein air, oil on linen.  we spoke to her when she came in, aided by an introduction from one of her friends.  she’s a delightful person, very friendly and forthcoming, and very helpful.  she told us that the gallery scene here is mainly for tourists, and that most of her work is sold in galleries back in the states.  so we can stop looking for representation here, basically.  there are a few galleries here that show works by expat artists, tho, so we still have to check them out.

the food was delicious, but it was also food science food, so i expected a reaction to all the bits and pieces.  jim didn’t have anything, having taken a peanut butter sandwich to the vaporetto with him, but francis and i chowed down, as is the right and tradition of starving artists at an art opening.  connor ate as well, tended by a lovely waiter who doted on him until the crowds descended.

jim and i talked to several people, americans or canadians.  one was a visiting professor on sabatical, several lived here, one the wife of a painter i never got the chance to talk to.  they obviously live here in venice, and i probed a bit and was basically jealous.  the interesting takeaways i got from these conversations were that lots of people arrange to be here part of the year and go home part of the year, which means it’s doable and affordable.  i just have to figure out how.  the other thing i got was that people really do come here to paint the light.  too bad i don’t do plein air.  but i really liked maggie’s paintings, and am thinking of how i can loosen up and achieve good results.  encaustic, that’s how.  i’ll have to figure that out myself.


we got out of the exhibition at the height of the crowds, tho we had to tear connor away from his impromptu game of football being played on the floor with the stuffed animals of another little boy.  it was coming sunset when we got out, and so we took several photos on the way home, because the light was just beautiful.


it was full moon, as well, with another eclipse in the works that we wouldn’t see because it was visible only from the west coast of the states, and not from europe at all.  but undoubtedly we would feel it, if only in the intensity of our dreams.


the next day is friday, and i have more to report on francis’s stay, so i’ll get to that, hopefully before he goes home on tuesday.


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