Tag Archives: art

L’Arte di Venezia

29 Sep
29 September 2017.
Art museums are not high on my list these days. We’ve seen so many. I could live a long time without ever seeing another Egyptian sarcophagus and contemporary art usually leaves me laughing and perplexed, although we have viewed the magnificent Peggy Guggenheim Collection three times. E basta.

Biennale venue, Giardino.

But when you wander into Venezia in the middle of the Biennale, it only seems fitting to take in the event. In this, our tenth trip to La Serenissima, we unintentionally coincided with a Biennale year. So we went. Luckily we got the senior discount.
The venue at Giardino is lovely. I had no idea there were permanent pavilions. In many cases, the building eclipsed the art. Russia’s site and exhibit were very “1984.” That was our favorite of the paid-for venues.
There were some charming pieces around the city that were for public enjoyment. We did not get to hunt down all of them but saw several we liked.

A small portion of Russia’s monochromatic installation.

Korea’s pavilion. The exterior was the best part.

Super-sized and shiny, this rhino contemplates Venezia across the Laguna.

Coinciding with the Biennale was an exhibit at the contemporary museums Punta della Dogana and Palazzo Grassi, a first-ever event where one show completely filled both venues: “Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable” by Damian Hirst. Three of Hirst’s pieces were visible in Venezia outside of the museums and they were crazy, huge, classical-looking works of art reminiscent of much we have seen throughout Italy. That drew us in. How could this be contemporary art?

One of Hirst’s classical pieces on public display.

It is a big joke. Hirst created a fantasy about a treasure trove of items collected by a freed slave, Cif Amotan II (an anagram*) These are wonderfully displayed, many in a before-and-after manner: encrusted with sea life, barnacles, etc., then polished and gleaming after restoration. The Guardian called it “art for a post-truth world.” Click on any photo for a better view and caption.
Hirst went so far as to stage elaborate underwater photography of the salvage operation of some pieces. All of the curation supported the myth in detail. Only when one read the fine print about the materials used was the gag given away: granite, marble, resin, MDF, gold, silver….
We thought it was brilliant, although many critics were appalled. Hirst has the last laugh as people are pouring in to see it and reportedly many pieces have sold. I hope so: he spent £50 million of his own money and ten years putting the show together. When you are wildly successful, I guess you can take risks.

We stopped on Mazzorbo for lunch at Alla Maddalena. A far cry from Venezia proper.

I have to mention a lovely experience we had away from the crazy crowds. This is one of the reasons people should stay longer in Venezia: to get away from San Marco and enjoy the islands where the Venetian Republic was born.

A short vaporetto ride from Venezia is peaceful Mazzorbo, incorporating a wine resort, Venissa. Might have to contemplate staying here some time.

We often visit the laguna islands, but this time we went to Mazzorbo, specifically for a quiet lunch on a perfect day. While most people head to Burano, we got off one stop early on quiet Mazzorbo. The terrace at Alla Maddalena was full, mostly with people arriving by water taxi. And they were having the taxi wait while they dined! We only heard one other table speaking English. Seemed to be lots of Italians in the know about this place. Prices are reasonable and it was far more charming than the places we usually eat on Burano. No reservation? Plan on eating inside which is where the walk-ins were escorted.

My delightful lunch at Alla Maddalena, a mixed seafood grill. Ric had lovely grilled eel.

It was a bit of art-focused trip, more so than usual for us. Punctuated by terrific meals and of course lots of walking in one of the world’s greatest cities for wearing off pasta.

Joseph Klibansky bronze turtles entitled “Baby we Made it.”

Newest shopping opportunity in Venezia, T Fondaco dei Tedeschi in a 16th-century building. Can you say high end?

Sunrise on the Grand Canal.

*I am a fiction

Of man and machine

29 Jun
29 June 2016. Finding statues from the Roman Imperial Era is easier than finding a seat on the bus in Rome. Every museum is loaded with the statues of this era (and earlier), all by unknown artists, mostly slaves who were primarily Greek. Many of these statues are beautiful marble copies of Greek bronzes and they are EVERYWHERE. They are so common that unless you are an art historian, sooner or later you just pass them by. Statues with broken noses, exposed breasts, and missing arms and penises become quite ordinary when you see them everywhere. Until you go to Centrale MontemartiniHere the artwork is juxtaposed (I love using that word) with the machinery that once was used to produce power.
Machine works surrounded by ancient works of art.

Machine works surrounded by ancient works of art.

Dionysus, 4th century B.C. I love the juxtapositioning with the industrial site.

Dionysus, 4th century B.C. I love the juxtapositioning with the industrial site.

Huge resconstructed mosaic floor at Centrale Montemartini.

Huge reconstructed mosaic floor at Centrale Montemartini.

Centrale Montemartini was the first power plant to produce electricity for Rome, starting in the early 20th century, on the banks of the Tiber. A 15-minute walk from Stazione Ostiense brings you to this lightly-visited corner of Rome. The machinery has not been removed: rather it provides a startling backdrop for the Roman Imperial Era statues that are a part of the vast collection of the Capitoline Museum. In fact, this museum started as a temporary home for works the Capitoline could not accommodate. 


Head of a colossus, female. from 101 B.C....

Head of a colossus, female. from 101 B.C….

...and her foot. Ric demonstrates proportion.

…and her foot. Ric demonstrates proportion.

Whether you favor twentieth-century machinery, classical marble statuary, or a peaceful location, Central Montemartini has something for you. After a visit, saunter on over to Eataly for a nice lunch and some shopping before hopping the Metro, tram, or bus back to the throngs of tourists in the Centro Storico.
Fabulous mosaic from Anzio, 1st century B.C.

Fabulous mosaic from Anzio, 1st century B.C.

Missing body parts...perhaps the heads and arms are in a different museum. Franco Tosi was the machinery manufacturer. Still in business.

Missing body parts…perhaps the heads and arms are in a different museum. Franco Tosi was the machinery manufacturer. Still in business.

Most popular post

2 Feb
I have to laugh every time I look at my blog’s stats and see that once again, “Naked in Italy” has been viewed. I published the post in May of 2014. It has been far the most widely read and seems to have endured in popularity. I can only imagine the sophomoric minds who are Googling “Naked Italy” and coming up with links to my blog as well as whatever perversions they were chasing. 
Venus After the Bath, a stunning nude by Giambologna, on display at the U.S. Embassy in Rome.

Venus After the Bath, a stunning nude by Giambologna, on display at the U.S. Embassy in Rome.

So just for giggles, I am republishing it in case some of you newer subscribers happened to have missed it. 
Naked in Italy from May, 2014.

Paris bits and pieces

1 Apr
By now I am used to functioning in two languages. I understand most of what I see in print in Italian, with the exception of the newspaper as it is written in run-on sentences with obscure terminology and archaic verb tenses. When someone speaks directly to me, I understand most of what they are saying if I get the context to start. When I need to communicate me la cavo (I get along) even if my grammar is not perfect.
When we embarked on our trip to Paris I was hit by the realization that I would not understand much of anything from menus to street signs, and I certainly would  not understand spoken French.  Going to France was the most foreign thing we had done since we first traveled to Italy in 2010.
We found ourselves speaking in an odd combination of Italian and English. I am used to speaking Italian to our servers, technicians and shop people in Italy, so that’s the first language that sprang from my lips, combined with mangled French pronunciation. “Prendo il boeuf bourguignon, per favore.” I could not get past grazie to merci until mid-week. In one restaurant, we mixed up languages sufficiently to have the waitress convinced we were Italians who spoke little English. When we said “Merci bonsoir” at the end of the evening, she cheerily replied “Grazie, anche a te!”
There was little hope for me in pronouncing French street names. My Italian-addled brain insists that “Place” must be pronounced PLAH-chay. Once in awhile we’d hear Italian being spoken by other visitors and it was a joy to hear and understand.
Shopping in a French market reminded me of our first trip to Italy when we tried to figure out what things were. Like in Italy, lots of offal was available, from tripe to lambs heads (sorry vegetarians). The Super U was rather ordinary, but some of the shops are magnificent. We found ourselves taking a lot of pictures of store windows and displays.
Here are some Easter treats. Each store had a theme: fish, chickens, cows, even a little mole poking his head above the ground. All gorgeous and expensive. Click on any picture for a slide show.
Fashion windows are creative and the bakeries difficult to resist. The bejeweled athletic-style shoes are Dior. I love the ducks sporting sunglasses and the colorful men’s accessories. Ric showed no interest in blue shoes.


Avocados, artichokes and cabbages are arranged attractively. I wish I had taken a picture of the huge strawberries artfully displayed. In the Place du Madeleine area, boutiques with high-end chocolates, teas, cheeses, and wines seemed like museums. 


We also found time to see the major sites as we wandered the city. At the end of seven days of tromping about Paris my pedometer reported 162,222 steps. We covered some ground, but there’s so much left on the list that we must go back…but later in the spring so we can enjoy the gardens and maybe take our coats off. 

Naked in Italy

27 May
That title should make the read-rate for this blog go through the roof.
The other day I was in the gym. Having finished my workout I went to the very small locker room, where my first act is usually to wash my hands since I’ve been touching all sorts of equipment. Right in front of the sink was a naked Italian woman, chit-chatting with a couple of other women while she donned her black lace panties. I was not going to ask permesso to go to into the very small area by the sink, squeezing past her naked self. As she went to put on her bra, her cell phone rang and – I kid you not – she took a 5 minute call with one boob in the bra and one boob out, still blocking the sink.  I changed my clothes and went on my way, shaking my head.
Venus After the Bath, a stunning nude by Giambologna, on display at the U.S. Embassy in Rome.

Venus After the Bath, a stunning nude by Giambologna, on display at the U.S. Embassy in Rome.

Body image and nakedness in Italy is a culture shock for American women I have spoken to. The attitude towards the body is much more open in Italy than in North America. Whether in the locker room at the gym or at the doctor’s office, unabashed nakedness is taken for granted.
Most North American men – or men from anywhere for that matter and as far as I know – don’t give a rip about taking off their clothes in front of other men. Man boobs or not, they change and shower openly from what I am told. Not so women in North America, right?
I respect the openness with which Italians treat the body. There is little or no modesty or self-consciousness, which is somewhat refreshing, but frankly I don’t know where to put my eyes when confronted with the naked conversation.  
Another time I came into the locker room to get changed before working out and a young woman came out of the toilet stall, naked but for her shower flip-flops. (God- forbid she should get a fungus while walking around the locker room naked.)  I tried to suppress my surprise but I am certain my jaw dropped a bit. As a hung-up Americana I don’t even potty at home completely naked. Naked is for the shower and certain bed-time activities. “Buongiorno! Come vai?” she said.  Where do I put my eyes?  I think I chose a corner high and to the right.
Is this narcissism? “Look at me! I am in your way and I am naked!” She may or may not have a body one wants to see naked…. And regardless, where the heck am I supposed to put my eyes?
I have become somewhat used to doffing my clothes in a medical situation, although luckily I have been able to take care that my mammographer is not a man. (Yup, many of them are in Italy. See Things Are Different Here.) When I expressed a desire to NOT have a male mammographer the nurse said to me “What do you care? They’re only breasts.” Yes, but they are my breasts, and I like to be the one to select who touches them.  After last year’s experience I made a point of selecting a facility where the doctor herself does the mammogram and sonogram. Still, when one gets a mammogram here there are no little pink capes over your shoulders. You enter the x-ray room, strip to the waist and belly-up to the machine. This is followed by a walk to an adjacent room where you get a sonogram, sometimes involving two specialists if consultation is required. And no one explains what’s going happen. In the U.S. one would expect the doctor to say “I’d like to call in Dr. So-and-So to have a look. Do you mind?” and she would buzz someone to come in. Here, a door to a busy hallway will suddenly open and someone you’ve not met while clothed will walk in and start examining your breasts with no introduction.  Thorough, though: No one is taking chances that they will miss anything. After the exam you sit there bare-breasted while having a conversation about what was or was not found.
Perhaps Italy's most famous nude, David.

Perhaps Italy’s most famous nude, David.

Whether for skin cancer checks, a visit to the cardiologist for an ECG, or to the vascular surgeon, one just slips out of the appropriate garments while chatting up the doctor and perhaps while dressing after the exam has a conversation about vacation, or family, or life in an embassy. Very convivial. Actually I like the system a great deal in that one has the full attention of the physician. But it took some adjusting to not having privacy for undressing and dressing and occasionally having a door unexpectedly open and others arrive on the scene unexplained.
The lack of privacy also extends to the pharmacy. Hell, there isn’t even a word for privacy in Italian.  Everyone hears everyone else’s symptoms and problems. You do not walk into a pharmacy and peruse the shelves looking for your own solutions or symptoms. You have to ask the pharmacist for whatever you might need. Everyone in the store will know what you came to buy. Sort of a different form of exposure.
In the U.S. we are so concerned about privacy. God-forbid someone would overhear the pharmacist give instructions on how to take an antibiotic or how to apply that anti-fungal cream! Once I had to sign a privacy statement when they gave me instructions at the people pharmacy on how to administer a medication to my dog. In locker rooms we are shy and at the doctor’s we expect gowns and drapes, introductions and explanations before anything is looked at, probed, or handled.  
It’s certainly not that either approach is wrong. It just takes some getting used to flaunting your “stuff” in public. And I still don’t know where to look when chatting up naked women in the locker room. 
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