May 24, 2005
Last Gasp - Well, almost...
We knew our spring would fly by this year. We have filled up our final days with visits and visitors. When we haven’t been on the road ourselves, we have people traveling to see Ireland with us. It has been a rich and exciting time. On Friday morning Kate and Danny arrive along with a couple of friends, and on Saturday nephew Steve arrives. After that the Koesters come through, and then we are packing to move back. During this brief hiatus in our busy schedule, while Mark is grading his hundreds of exams, I want to share with you some of our recent experiences.
I was back in the States in April for some work at PDS and visits with family and friends. That was the most recent time I saw the little grandbabies, Janie and Xander, in person. They are thriving – eating, sleeping, growing, and learning about the world. They coo and smile, and they are discovering that they have some control over the little fingers that they manage to land in their mouths. They can aim their hands at things beyond their little bodies and grip with some intent these days – not everything is random anymore. And aren’t they cute, to boot?
When I finally returned to Ireland towards the end of April, finally, in the end – a series of mis-steps/delays that thankfully took place on my last, rather than my first, trans-Atlantic commute of the year, an almost funny story as events conspired against me – Mark and I packed up to hop over to England. He was invited to give a talk at Oxford, and we added in a few extra days so we could get museum fixes in London and time to wander Oxford itself. We had amazingly hot weather in London where we pounded the pavement to take in a wonderful international exhibition on the International Arts and Crafts Movement at the V&A, the Tate Britain where we got some prep for our trip to Venice via a Turner, Whistler and Monet exhibit (they had all spent time painting/drawing in Venice as well as London) and the Tate Modern. I walked myself into some good blisters (despite all my Irish walking this year). We are always drawn to water, and it was interesting to see what is and is not beautiful along the Thames.
We also found our way to water in Oxford where the punts were cozily tied up.
We were put up at Pembroke College where we had a lovely room that we approached from the courtyard.
One of my favorite discoveries were the carved heads on the outside of the colleges, not to be confused with the rapt faces of Mark’s audience at his talk.
Mark shared the introduction to his soon-to-be-released, America's Uncivil Wars: The 60’s Era from Elvis to the Fall of Richard Nixon. We also stumbled across Oxford University Press, his publisher, or rather, the British cousin of his publisher in the US. I haven't seen Oxford University Press's US digs, but I suspect they present themselves slightly differently.
We had to hustle back from England to pack up for our big trip of the year to Venice - with my sister, Anne, and our friendly, neighborhood glassblower, Tom Stoenner. We had been looking forward to this for years, and we had a fabulous time. Tom took us to Murano where Dino Rosin, a master glassblower, with the assistance of his son, demonstrated his work, sculpting/forming a female torso. We felt quite honored to be included in this special experience. Our other days were spent in more predictably tourist pursuits.
We rented an apartment in Dorsoduro, a residential sestiere but within easy reach – if you don’t get lost – of most major churches and museums in Venice proper. We lived right above Tonolo, a famous bakery, and we would open our shutters each morning to the sight of the tiled roofs, the sound of San Pantelon’s bells and the aroma of fresh baked goods.
We took turns going downstairs each day to choose the morning pastries. Would you be surprised to hear that we were successful in our choices every day? We spent our days exploring, usually ate our meals out (save for a few fabulous ones we cooked ourselves in our tiny, little kitchen), and then played bridge late into the evening.
We had a great time walking and stumbling on, not in, various canals.
Venice is not faring well with its battle with the water level, and many former ground floors are clearly under water these days.
Mark was our map guy, and it turned out someone really did have to have a nose in a map the whole time. What a confusing city. Each sestiere has its own numbering system, and, while the numbers may go in order on one side of the street, the numbers across the way can seem totally unrelated. A good knowledge of parishes takes you a long way.
We loved watching to see how people live modern lives on ancient waterways. Tomatoes are sold off the boats loaded with produce.
We saw Guinness being delivered to Murano
as well as styrofoam for shipping all the glass.
And how does Venice deal with garbage? Little plastic bags of trash are set outside in the calle early each morning, picked up and put into a wheelbarrow of sorts, and then a boat with a crane lifts those bins and empties them into her hold with a great crash.
We came across a traffic light in our neighborhood along a busy canal.
Gondolas still serve tourists, primarily -
with their signature ferro or bow ornament.
We spent a few days riding vaporetti (water buses), and end of the day photos from the water captured the amazing light off the buildings in the Giudecca.
On the last day, after Anne and Tom had flown out, Mark and I got to watch the Vogalunga, something we had never even heard of before – and couldn’t figure out until we got back here to our computer and Google! The lower section of the Grand Canal was closed, and boats from all over Europe – kayaks, canoes, dragon boats, gondolas,
shells, dories – race some 30 km north across the lagoon to Burano and return coming through Cannaregio to St. Mark’s Basin – where, this year, a monster cruise ship sat in the lagoon and watched.
It was quite a sight.
As in much of Europe, people may have washing machines, but they still hang out their laundry to dry. After Tom's run-in (run-off?) with a pigeon, we were reluctant to hang our laundry outside, but the Venetians are undeterred. We saw many clotheslines -
including the chic, all black wardrobe,
the classic, well-balanced and tasteful line,
confident lines strung across a canal in the ghetto,
and clotheslines that fade out, overwhelmed by the colorfully painted houses on Burano.
With all the canals and former canals that have been paved over and made into walking areas, there is not a great deal of soil for growing flowers and trees in Venice. Some campi have central trees like the campo del Ghetto Nuovo. Venice's ghetto is the source for the term itself, which originally meant an iron foundry. It designated the area in which the city's Jewish population used to be confined.
Many houses have eye-catching window boxes or vines clinging to their walls.
There is a garden in Castello where this wonderful lion sits happily above a pool full of sunning turtles.
In addition to the art glass blown on Murano and the junky glass, some of which comes from Murano, we saw glass in other forms. Many of the churches have little bull's eye panes of glass. From the outside they look clear.
With light coming through them some panes show yellow or a pale purple.
There are newer bull's eye panes that have lovely variety.
There was always something new to notice - rooftops like San Marco and the Doge's palace,
campanile like San Pantelon's right outside our window,
and neighborhood churches. We visited Santa Maria dei Miracoli with its elegant,light marble inside and out.
Both times we went by weddings were underway. I restrained myself from photographing the bride and groom, their guests and the charming flower girl...
When we were not outside exploring, we were inside churches and museums. Titians and Tintorettos washed over us… but my favorites were Carpaccio’s flat, detailed compositions set in Venice, chock full of the details of life. The mosaics on the floor at Murano’s church, S. S. Maria e Donato, had a Byzantine feel to them and were indeed that old. San Marco’s mosaics glistened outdoors
and, when lit each day for an hour, the indoor mosaics sparkled as well. We all found marble tiled floors, old and new, that were spectacular. Now and then we would stumble on a lovely, simple of piece of sculpture. We dubbed this pigeon-repelling number Our Lady of Acupuncture.
People caught our eyes, too. We played Name that Nationality while we lunched at outdoor cafes, trying to identify country of origin based on apparel, pocketbooks and backpacks. This has become increasingly challenging as multi-national clothing companies homogenize dress. You can still learn a lot, though, just from checking out people's shoes.
What do you think?
And here is a new way to keep track of your school group.
We made one trip out of Venice, taking the Eurostar to Verona. Anne was feeling pretty cocky after we managed to successfully purchase our tickets. We zipped through the countryside in our rather posh train to arrive in Verona with its strong Roman presence.
Mark, Tom and I clambered to the top of the Arena. It has been through a lot in its two millennia - from earthquakes to gladiatorial games and naval engagements for which it had to be filled with water. Now it has a rather pedestrian function, operatic productions.
I felt like Anne had made the wise decision to stay put mid-way as I grabbed a hold of Tom to make my dizzying way down the pink marble steps and tiered seats.
After a sensational and reasonable (in comparison to Venetian prices) mid-day repast, we walked the city through its medieval streets.
The River Adige makes a U around the central city.
We were allowed to take photographs in churches here. This is one of two hunchback font bearers in Saint Anastasia...
But what really captured our attention there were the marble floors in all their great variety.
I think this is called tumbling blocks when it is used as a quilt pattern,
and this one is trickier.
Look at the motion in this one.
We also visited the Duomo which had wonderful carvings on its Romanesque exterior.
This is Jonah with a rather dragon-like whale a hold of him.
Saint Elena is alongside and holds the remains of an earlier Christian basilica, including mosaic floors
and a lovely fresco of a protective Madonna.
We packed a great deal more into our one day in Verona and loved the scale, character and architectural periods of the city. Our nine days in the Veneto were chock full, and you can count yourself lucky that I have restrained myself from sharing all the hundreds of photos I took! You know, Anne and Tom took photographs, too. I bet you could ask to see theirs as well.
We returned from Italy to Dublin with Mark’s first ton of exams graded, and he has set out to work on his next round. Lest you feel bad for us being stuck back in Ireland all by ourselves, I will assure you we were not on our own long. Jane Ferguson flew in a couple of days later. That is another story, and I am hoping I have time to tell it before we get busy again.
Posted by gretchen at May 24, 2005 02:09 PM
Gretchen -- Your travelogues are so wonderful! It makes me long for Italy. And the twins look just terrific. Can't wait to see you back home. Love, Jill
Posted by: Jill Lundquist at May 26, 2005 07:07 PM
The photos are fantastic as well as the narrative.
Makes me want to get lost in Venice again with the crazy numbering system. Love, Di
Posted by: Diane Kang at May 27, 2005 01:54 AM
Dear Gretchen -
Your photos continue to be wonderful. Jerry and I have been talking about going to Venice this year. However, now I feel I have already been there!
Love to you and Mark.
Posted by: Kathy and Jerry at May 27, 2005 03:21 AM
I have so much fun reading your blogs!
Posted by: Anne Elizabeth at May 27, 2005 04:45 AM
Thanks for another wonderful trip. I lost my heart to Venice last summer and it was lovely to see it again.
And the babes look terrific.
Posted by: Mary Ann at May 31, 2005 10:44 PM