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December 2007 Archives

December 10, 2007

And now I'm home...

What an amazing trip! I keep thinking that someday I’ll go to Venice and feel complete and decide that it’s time to move on to another place. Well, it didn’t happen this time…I’m just as fascinated with that city as ever and already am thinking about when I can go back next year.

I didn’t get my wish to see snow, but that's okay. No acqua alta or rain either except for a soft drizzle one evening. Instead there were lots of cold but sunny days, perfect for taking photos of churches and cats and street shrines. I did LOTS of walking, and searching for some of the more obscure churches took me to places I’d never seen before. I went inside 45 churches! I know that sounds like a lot but that’s only about 4-5 per day. And I even discovered some new ones that I didn't know about....I'm going to have to go back and update my earlier blog entries that list "all" the churches.

A highlight for me was going to mass in Basilica di San Marco on Saturday, Dec. 8, the feast of the immaculate conception. The Patriarch of Venice performed the Mass and he’s just got good vibes overall– he even gave a message in English. The best part was that the Pala d’Oro was turned around and facing the congregation. This only happens on high holy days; I was so happy that I got to see it. All the lights were on and the mosaics were glowing, and there were flowers and incense and a choir singing up in the gallery…it was just so incredibly gorgeous in that great old cathedral.

I met so many wonderful people and connected with some old friends, and had some great food (my favorite restaurant, La Zucca, was closed for repairs; I sure did miss that pumpkin flan but it forced me to try some new places; reviews to come).

I just wasn’t inspired to blog while I was there. In fact, I spent ten days with no phone, no TV, no newspapers, and only about five minutes a day on the Internet to email my family and tell them that I was okay. It was a nice break from technology and the “real world”, and I think I needed it.

I did keep a journal and as soon as I gather my thoughts and organize my photos, I’ll have lots of stories to share. So stay tuned!

December 13, 2007

Inside a Shrine to the Madonna

So as I said, I walked and walked and walked and took lots of photos along the way. Taking pictures of Venice is challenging; she’s just too photogenic and it’s easy to get carried away. But I did have my primary focus (churches and campanili) along with my other obsessions: cats, street shrines and tabernacles, holiday decorations, Byzantine details, fossils and floors, Madonnas, mosaics, angels, and funky monsters.

Occasionally my interests converged and it was very cool.


I found this tabernacle shrine to the Madonna inside a sotoportego in Dorsoduro. It’s a nice one and I snapped a few photos. But then I walked closer to look inside and what I saw startled me, then made me laugh.

Continue reading "Inside a Shrine to the Madonna" »

December 14, 2007

Cuore in mattone (heart in brick)

sotoportegoBefore my trip, I read a sweet little book called The Other Venice by Predrag Matvejevic, recently translated from Croatian to English. It’s a dreamy, poetic book by a guy who obviously loves Venice very much and loves obscure details as much as I do. Nice black-and-white photos by Sarah Quill too.

There’s a chapter about “wall flora,” the herbs and weeds that grow in the crevices of all those old buildings as well as info about the outdoor sculptures and reliefs all over the city. My favorite parts are the stories told to the author by an old blind Venetian man; this is one of them:

Near the Salizada del Pignater…as you pass through the Sotoportego dei Preti, you’ll come upon the “heart in brick” (cuore in mattone). Press it and make a wish; in a year at the most your wish will be answered, if it’s respectful and harms no one. The city’s old inhabitants have taught this to their grandchildren and they in turn to theirs. ‘Go and make sure it’s still there.’

Well, thanks to the maps on Venice Explorer and some good luck, I found the "heart in brick" in Castello not far from the church of San Giovanni in Bragora. And yes, I pressed it and made a wish. We’ll see what happens.


December 17, 2007

Angel with porcupines

Angel of Benediction in Castello

One of the things that makes Venice so magical for me are all of the “right place, right time” and “kindness of strangers” experiences I have when I’m there.

I spent the first three days of my trip roaming around Castello, a sestiere I’d spent little time in on previous trips. I'd read about this Angel of Benediction sculpture and managed to find it with only a normal amount of difficulty (in other words, I was very lost and then all of a sudden, I saw the angel!). It’s in a residential area north of the Arsenale on a calle that’s named for it.

So I was standing there looking at it, and an elderly Venetian gentleman came along. He began talking to me and when I told him that I was American, he switched to excellent English.

angel“I’m glad you found our angel,” he said, and proceeded to tell me the story. The Venetians stole the angel from Anatolia in Eastern Turkey, he said, and a family named Rizzo put in on the archway above the entrance to a sotoportego, along with the reliefs on either side. They don’t show up well in my photos, but the reliefs are porcupines (or maybe hedgehogs?), which was the insignia of this family. The man showed me the family’s palazzo which is one of the oldest in Venice (13th c.) and told me that the way to identify the oldest buildings is to look at the chimneys (the round ones are older than the more common tulip-shaped ones).

The man also told me that when Napoleon conquered the Venetian Republic and began taking art away, many Venetians began hiding their art, and the Rizzo family bricked up their porcupines. Then the family left or forgot, and the porcupines weren’t unearthed until about a hundred years later when some repair work was done on the sotoportego. He told me that there’s probably other street art in Venice that’s bricked over and hasn’t been re-discovered yet. I love the thought of that!

I spent a very pleasant 10 minutes or so with this very nice man who took the time to give me a little tour of his neighborhood. You can’t plan stuff like this, you can only be grateful when it happens.

Angel with porcupines

porcupine detail

Porcupine or hedgehog?

The World Heritage website has an article about the 1999 restoration of this angel.

December 20, 2007

Venice in December

Blue Xmas TreeI’ve been to Venice in September, October, May, and now twice in December, and winter is my favorite time to go. It’s less expensive, for one, and quieter, and much less crowded with no lines to get into places and no cruise ships dumping thousands of people out. It’s cold but not THAT cold and really, if I’m going to be walking for hours each day, I’d rather it be cold than hot. There are a few downsides too, like shorter days, no dueling orchestras in Piazza San Marco, and eating dinner inside (while it was warm enough to eat lunch outside a couple of times, it was much too cold to dine alfresco at night). But overall, the positives outweigh the negatives for me.

One of the things I like most is seeing all the holiday lights and decorations. I love this little blue tree I found in a corte in Castello. Here are a few more photos.

The glass tree in Piazza San Marco by day


Continue reading "Venice in December" »

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