What I'm Reading/Watching Archives

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.


January 18, 2008

San Antonio shrine

green shrine

This lovely green free-standing shrine is dedicated to San Antonio (St. Anthony), and it’s another very well-cared for shrine with a nice painting inside of the saint holding the Christ child. It’s in Cannaregio on the way to Madonna dell’ Orto and has a sign saying it was built in 1668. The vast majority of the shrines in Venice are dedicated to Mary, with St. Anthony a distant second. It makes sense that he’s the next most popular image since he’s a local saint who’s buried in his own church over in Padua.

san antonio


Thanks so much to Leslie for telling me about this book – Shrines: Images of Italian Worship by Frances Mayes and Steven Rothfeld. It’s a beautiful little coffee table book with photos of shrines from all over Italy. It arrived in the mail yesterday and I immediately retired to the couch with it (is there anything better than getting a new book?!). I recognized most all of the Venetian shrines pictured in the book except for another large San Antonio shrine that I’d love to find.

There’s another very cool green shrine in Venice that I haven’t seen except in photos – this one that’s out in the lagoon somewhere. Here’s another great photo of it. Just amazing.

And I also want to see this incredible Madonna and Child that Kathy (trek capri) found. Her photos of Burano are beautiful.

green shrine

February 11, 2008

Cats In Venice

Cat in Castello

Woo hoo! I created my first Slow Travel photo album which you can see here. It took me a long time to figure it all out, but it’s one of those things that will be much quicker and easier the next time I do it.

So this photo album shows all the cats I met on my December trip. There are quite a few considering that I saw none on my first couple of trips in 2002 and 2003. I went to Venice expecting to see lots of cats, mainly because I’d read Jan Morris (The World of Venice) who described Venice as one of the world’s great cat cities and painted a picture of all these loved and coddled colonies of cats being taken care of by Venetian cat ladies. In 2003, my friend Susan and I were so puzzled by the lack of felines and joked that Venice had “gone to the dogs” because we saw hundreds of astonishingly cute little lap dogs all over town but not a single cat.

Well, it turns out that Morris wrote her book in the early 1960’s right around the time that an organized campaign to get the feral cat population under control began. This work was led by an animal welfare organization called Dingo.

I’m reading a book called “Helena Sanders and the Cats of Venice,” a biography of the British woman who founded Dingo in 1964. I’m going to write more about this later when I finish the book but it’s a fascinating story. In a nutshell, the numbers are rather staggering:

"Twenty years, it took, to reduce the cats of Venice from a miserable and sickly multitude numbering 68,000 or so to a stable and healthy population of around 6,000."

The Helena Sanders bio was published in 1989 and I think that the population has decreased even more since then.

I’m happy to say that all the cats I met in 2007 looked healthy and well fed.

March 21, 2008

Opening lines

Sandrac and Andasamo blogged about this great topic, and I decided to chime in too with a few opening sentences from books I found here at my house. It's cold and rainy this morning, and it's going to be a loooong day as we wait for the Heels to play tonight at 9 pm, so collecting these was fun!

“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.

Little Women
Louisa May Alcott

From the old and pleasantly situated town of Maienfeld a path leads though green, shady meadows to the foot of the mountains which look down from their majestic heights upon the valley below.

Johanna Spyri

Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
J.K. Rowling

I woke up with a start at 4:00 one morning and realized that I was very, very pregnant.

Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year
Anne Lamott

In the great green room there was a telephone and a red balloon and a picture of the cow jumping over the moon.

Goodnight Moon
Margaret Wise Brown

When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow.

To Kill a Mockingbird
Harper Lee

It was a bright, defrosted, pussy-willow day at the onset of spring, and the newlyweds were driving cross-country in a large roast turkey.

Skinny Legs and All
Tom Robbins

There were 117 psychoanalysts on the Pan Am flight to Vienna and I’d been treated by at least six of them. And married a seventh.

Fear of Flying
Erica Jong

Continue reading "Opening lines " »

April 10, 2008

A Venetian Bestiary


Jan Morris’ The World of Venice was one of the first books I read about Venice, and it remains one of my all-time favorites. Beautifully written and packed with detail, it captures the spirit of the city in all its magical and glorious strangeness. Plus, Morris did quirky things like go through the modern phone book to see how many of the Doges’ names are still in use; I love trivia like that!

(Answer: There were 120 doges between the years 697 and 1797 with 67 different last names (the job tended to run in families). In 1960 when her book was published, Morris found 39 of the names in the phone book. She did add the caveat that some might be descendents of servants rather than of the doges themselves).

Morris wrote another book, A Venetian Bestiary, in 1982. It’s a charming book about the animals of Venice, both real and imaginary. So there are the actual animals (pigeons, cats and dogs, sea birds, and strange sea creatures for sale in the Rialto Market), and also animals depicted in art like all the many lions, the four horses of San Marco, San Teodoro’s crocodile, Carpaccio’s little dog, the horse on the porch of Peggy Guggenheim’s house, and all the various dragons and monsters scattered all over the city.

VenetianBestiaryThe book was out of print for some time (I found a used copy on Amazon). Then in December, I saw a new edition in several bookshops in Venice. But buyer beware – this new edition doesn’t have any pictures! My copy has lots of color photos and reproductions of paintings, so I recommend looking for a used copy if you’re interested. Here’s what the cover of my copy looks like. It’s a wonderful book.

A note about the photo at the top: I took a picture of every cat I saw in Venice because they are so rare. The city is so filled with cute dogs that I just couldn’t give the dogs equal time, and instead I took only one dog's photo (it’s very representative of the level of canine cuteness you see all over town).

September 2, 2008

Sister Wendy

The experiential test of whether this art is great or good, or minor or abysmal, is the effect it has on your own sense of the world and of yourself. Great art changes you. – Sister Wendy Beckett

Story of PaintingThe inspiration for this blog entry came from a discussion in the comments over at SandraC’s blog that made me want to introduce Sister Wendy to anyone who hasn't "met" her yet! “Sister Wendy’s Story of Painting” is a BBC series that I watched on PBS when it was first shown in the 1990’s and then I bought the videotapes so I could watch it again and again. It's such an awesome series. Sister Wendy is one of my heroes because she talks about art from her heart and from the perspective of the bigger picture (why art is important, how art can enrich our lives). She's such a fascinating woman and a great teacher.

But what an unlikely TV personality she is! Sister Wendy lives a “contemplative life” of complete seclusion and prayer in a little trailer on the grounds of a monastery in the U.K. She became a nun at age 16, went to university and taught for a while, and then in 1970 at age 40, she went into seclusion. A contemplative life includes two hours of work a day, and Sister Wendy’s work for several decades was studying art on her own. She published a few articles and somehow was discovered by the BBC who took her on the road all over Europe (and later, America) to make these wonderful shows.

She’s an amazingly free thinker (for a nun!), a great storyteller, and she can be very funny and surprising. One thing that makes the series so powerful, I think, is the fact that she’s such an art lover and when they were filming her, she was seeing many of her favorite paintings for the first time in person, and you can tell that she’s very moved at times.

Continue reading "Sister Wendy" »

September 25, 2008

Ancient Mysteries: The Miraculous Canals of Venice

Ancient%20mysteries.jpgThis is an episode of an A&E television series, filmed in 2005 and hosted by Leonard Nimoy, aka Spock. I rented it from Netflix.

Fascinating show – I recommend this one to anyone who loves Venice. Some beautiful scenery, of course, but also an excellent explanation of how such a magnificent city was built on what is essentially a big mucky swampy lagoon.

The show emphasizes how very improbable it is that a city was created in such a hostile environment with no fresh water, no building materials, and no place to grow food. The early Venetians fled into the lagoon around 400 AD to escape barbarians invading the mainland, and the seed of Venice’s eventual wealth was salt, the first product that the Venetians traded. At that time, salt was “edible gold” and much in demand not only for cooking but also for its ability to preserve food. And in order to sell their salt, the Venetians had to become expert boatsmen (and boat builders) and it all evolved from there.

Continue reading "Ancient Mysteries: The Miraculous Canals of Venice" »

October 20, 2008

Shrines in "Bread and Tulips"

Thanks to SandraC for the idea for this post! I rented the film "Agata e la Tempesta" after reading Sandra's review of it. Wonderful movie! I really loved it and seeing it inspired me to rent "Pane e Tulipani" (Bread and Tulips) again since it had been several years since I'd watched that one. Both films are by director Silvio Soldini, and both star the beautiful Italian actress Licia Maglietta.

Well, I know Venice better than I did the first time I saw "Bread and Tulips," and I saw two shrines in the movie that I'd taken photos of when I was in Venice last year. When I mentioned this to Sandra, she suggested that I post the photos on my blog, so here they are!

This first shrine is in the scene where Rosalba meets the plumber/detective who her husband had hired to track her down in Venice. They agreed to meet in Campo do Pozzi (campo with two wells) which is a real campo in Castello where this shrine is. It's hard to tell in my photo but the Madonna inside this shrine is the one from Titian's painting of the Assunta.

street shrine2

And then when Rosalba runs away and the bumbling "detective" tries to follow her, they go by this shrine, also in Castello.

bread and tulips shrine

Thanks to Sandra for recommending "Agata." Both of these movies are a perfect way for Italy lovers to get a fix in between trips. Sandra is currently blogging about her recent trip to Umbria and Tuscany; she has some wonderful photos and stories about many off-the-beaten-path towns and churches that she visited, so check her blog out too if you need an Italy fix!

November 2, 2008

Some great advice (and the 2008 Rubber Dodo Award)

Salon posted another funny article by Anne Lamott ; this one is called “No Time to Cry Wolf” and includes some great advice about how to survive these last nerve-wracking, nail-biting days before the election. Here’s what she recommends:

…find a good charity site where you can send whatever you can afford. Send what you can to Planned Parenthood in the name of Sarah Palin. Send what you can to Obama's campaign in a swing county in your nearest swing state. The Republicans are wrong: You don't always lose if you share. You actually get really, really happy.

Well, this sounded like a great idea to me. I’d already given to Obama, and I’ve been fretting about the environment lately, and global warming and polar bears. I know that the Bible says that God gave man dominion over the earth and all its creatures, and I've been thinking about that and how not everyone interprets that in the same way. I think that "having dominion over" means that we need to take care of the earth and its creatures, it doesn't give us free reign to trash the place. And I don't think shooting wolves from airplanes is what God had in mind either.

So I got on the computer and went in search of a reputable organization that was doing something to help Alaskan wildlife. And it didn’t take long to find exactly what I was looking for!

Here's the mission statement for The Center for Biological Diversity:

"At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature — to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.

We want those who come after us to inherit a world where the wild is still alive."

I checked them out on Charity Navigator and learned that they have the highest rating (4 stars). And then I explored their website and found this press release:

RubberDodoAward_Palin.jpegAlaska Governor Sarah Palin Wins 2008 Rubber Dodo Award

Palin Has Sought to Remove Endangered Species Act Protection for the Polar Bear, Suppressed and Lied About State Global Warming Studies, and Denied That Global Warming Is Caused by Greenhouse Gas Emissions

“Governor Palin has waged a deceptive, dangerous, and costly battle against the polar bear,” said Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity.

“Her position on global warming is so extreme, she makes Dick Cheney look like an Al Gore devotee.”

“Palin’s insistence that Arctic melting is ‘uncertain’ is like someone debating the theory of gravity as they plunge off a cliff,” said Suckling.

“It’s hopeless, reckless, and extremely cynical.”

Continue reading "Some great advice (and the 2008 Rubber Dodo Award)" »

November 11, 2008

List of Donna Leon books (in order)


In yesterday's comments, Sandra said that she had inadvertently bought one of the Donna Leon mysteries twice because it was republished with a different title. The same thing happened to me - I bought what I thought was a new one in Venice and then realized I already had it back home. It took me a while to track all these books down because some were out of print for a while, in the US anyway, but I did manage to find and read them all (though not in order).

I work with a bunch of readers (and mystery readers in particular), and we are always passing books around the office. Everyone loves this series, even the people who've never been to Venice. And if you're a Venice lover, these are essenziale.

So here's the list with duplicate titles in parentheses.

Continue reading "List of Donna Leon books (in order)" »

November 24, 2008

The Cats of Mirikitani

catsofmirikitaniThis is such a wonderful film! I had a lump in my throat and misty eyes through much of this movie even though it's not a depressing story,although parts of it are very sad. It ends up being a poignant and uplifting tale about “the healing powers of friendship and art.”

It’s the story of Jimmy Mirikitani, a Japanese-American artist who, at age 80, was homeless and living on the streets of New York City. After 9/11, his friend Linda Hattendorf (the filmmaker) moved him into her apartment because the air was too toxic for someone living on the streets. Linda not only helped him with the bureaucratic challenges of getting help and a home of his own, but also helped him revisit his past and ultimately heal wounds that came from losing his family during WWII, both in Hiroshima and in the US internment camps where Jimmy and many other American citizens of Japanese ancestry were imprisoned.

I didn’t know a lot about these camps, and it’s just so unbelievable that there were concentration camps here on American soil (with American citizens put into them). I read somewhere that the US government has some serious karma from its treatment of Native Americans and also for slavery; I’d add the treatment of Japanese-Americans to that “bad karma” list.

The DVD has some bonus features that are definitely worth watching. I loved seeing the opening of Jimmy’s first art show. And I especially loved the scenes that show his return to Hiroshima, where he attended a memorial service for the victims of the atomic bomb. So sad and beautiful and moving.

The movie’s website says that Jimmy’s doing fine (he’s now 88 years old) and that he continues to make art, not war.” Good for him! Throughout the film, he’s shown creating his art. He's such a character, so gifted, and his work is so beautiful. A few of his paintings are shown here.

It’s such a powerful story. Sometimes getting your heartstrings tugged is a good thing! Thanks to my friend Pam for recommending this film.


January 29, 2009

John Ruskin (1819-1900)

“Among the many strange things that have befallen Venice, she has had the good fortune to become the object of a passion to a man of splendid genius, who has made her his own, and in doing so has made her the world’s.” – Henry James

Ruskin plaque

This memorial plaque is on the Zattere on the front of Pensione La Calcina, where Ruskin stayed for four months in 1877 on one of his many extended trips to Venice. Here's the translation:

John Ruskin
Lived in this house, 1877

High Priest of Art
In our Stones and in our San Marco
In almost every monument of Italy
He sought at one and the same time
The craftsman’s soul and the soul of the people

Every marble, every bronze, every canvas
Each of these things proclaimed to him
That beauty is religion
If the virtue of man inspire it
And the people’s reverence accept it.

The Council of Venice, In Gratitude
January 26, 1900

Continue reading "John Ruskin (1819-1900)" »

April 22, 2009

Happy Earth Day !

Earth Day 2009: The Green Generation

A few photos from the Earth Day parade that I went to this past weekend at Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival of Music and Dance in Silk Hope, NC. It's such a wonderful festival in beautiful rural North Carolina - I heard lots of great music but this parade was my favorite part. Puppets created by NC artists/activists Paperhand Puppet Intervention whose mission statement includes:

Our vision is inspired by our love for the earth and its creatures (including humans) as well as our belief in justice, equality, and peace.





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August 31, 2009

Homer's Odyssey

Homer's Odyssey

An awesome book! I haven’t enjoyed a book this much in a long time. It’s just one of those books that fills your heart to overflowing and makes you glad to be alive. I loved it.

You might think that reading about a blind cat named Homer would be depressing but no. Homer lost his eyes to infection when he was a two-week old kitten; a few weeks later, Gwen Cooper adopted him and the adventure began. Homer is an amazing cat with great courage and a big heart, and being blind doesn’t slow him down one bit. There are so many funny stories that made me laugh because I know what’s it’s like to live with a feline whirlwind. When tiny Homer chases an intruder out of Gwen’s apartment, you can’t help but cheer for him. At first you think that Homer was lucky that anyone adopted him but the more you read, you realize that Gwen is pretty lucky to get to share her life with such a wonderful animal. I’m madly in love with Homer and also with Gwen’s two other cats, Scarlett and Vashti.

There are so many miracles in this story – starting with the vet who decided not to put the kitten to sleep. Then there’s Homer’s incredible ability to connect with people and infuse them with his own joie de vivre. But best of all is the fact that Homer was adopted by a great writer who could tell his story so beautifully and share him with us. I hope lots of people read this book!

Continue reading "Homer's Odyssey" »

September 22, 2009

A few scenes (and a meal) from the Farmer's Market


The first day of autumn - I can't believe it! It sure doesn't feel like fall here in NC today - it's warm and muggy. While I love fall and its colors and the cooler temperatures, I sure am going to miss the tomatoes. They're not completely gone yet though - my tomato plants have slowed down but I'm still getting a few cherry tomatoes, and there are plenty of tomatoes at the market. I'm trying to eat as many as I can before the first frost. Love the colors in the photo above.

One good thing about buying from the people who actually grow your food is that they can tell you how to cook things you've never tried before. Here's a meal I made a couple of weekends ago using two brand-new (to me) ingredients.

First are padron peppers. When I saw the sign that said "Spanish tapas peppers," I knew I had to try them. The farmer told me to saute them over medium high heat for about 10 minutes and then put some coarse salt on them. He also told me that these are sometimes called roulette peppers since every once in a while, you get one that's really spicy! These are so tender that you don't have to remove the seeds and stems, you can just cook and eat them whole. Delicious (and I didn't get a super hot one this time).

padron peppers

Here's a case where you can't judge a bean by its cover (or shell). I was familiar with Christmas lima beans because they are pictured on the cover of "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver (a great book!) and I was excited to find them for sale at the market. The farmer told me to shell them and then simmer for 10-15 minutes until tender. They are easy to shell because the beans are so big and as you can see, the beans inside are absolutely beautiful.

Christmas lima beans

Christmas Lima beans

Continue reading "A few scenes (and a meal) from the Farmer's Market" »

March 4, 2010

Steals sadness and washes you clean...

San Giorgio Maggiore

"Face masked, heart bare, she is a thief, this Venice. All limpid and luminous, she contains you in honeyed arms and dissolves longing. She steals sadness and washes you clean. A Byzantine in a Gothic dress, a golden Renaissance princess perfumed with cloves and sprung from a swamp, she is the untimid testimony to the greatest will and conceit of our kind. Once you hear her secrets - unselfconsciously told, echoing, scuttling across wet stones - you are richer, poorer, more vulnerable, and, somehow, unassailable. She provokes and invites; she is open when she is not sealed, mad with contrast and contradiction, rousing all but the most pinched of souls."

- Marlena de Blasi (from her cookbook, Regional Foods of Northern Italy)

March 9, 2010


Young%HeartA quick rave about this documentary - I enjoyed this film so much that I watched it twice before sending it back to Netflix. It’s about a senior citizen chorus (average age: 80 years young) who are immensely talented and inspirational. The film chronicles a couple of months of rehearsal in preparation for a big show, and you get to know several of the chorus members very well. I fell in love with all of them.

It’s hilarious in parts, also poignant, and has me hoping that I can find a similar community when I hit my Golden Years. Speaking of “Golden Years”, their cover of this classic David Bowie song is incredible. Part of the fun of watching the film is seeing what songs they do next….don’t want to spoil all the surprises, but they do NOT perform the slow easy listening tunes you might expect from senior citizens. They ROCK and do awesome versions of songs by groups ranging from Talking Heads to Coldplay to The Clash (!). A wonderful film with a lot of heart.

You can watch the film’s trailer on the Young@Heart Chorus website.

April 28, 2010

The new Donna Leon book

I know I'm not the only one who has been counting down the days until the new Donna Leon book was published. A Question of Belief is the 19th in the Commissario Guido Brunetti series set in Venice; I started reading it last night and can't wait to get home from work today so I can get back to it. There is nothing better than having a new book that you really want to read!

This year, another book was released on the same day as the latest novel, a cookbook written by Donna Leon's best friend and native Venetian, Roberta Pianaro.


It's a beautiful book with recipes that I'll actually make (not too complicated, in other words). Throughout the cookbook, there are excerpts from the mystery novels - passages that focus on Brunetti's love for food and family. Many of the recipes from the novels, like Paola's famous apple cake, are featured in the book.

Each section begins with a "culinary story" by Donna Leon. My favorite so far is the story of a day she spent picking plums and tomatoes on Sant' Erasmo, Venice's garden island.

Continue reading "The new Donna Leon book" »

July 13, 2010

50th Anniversaries


There are thousands of books about Venice, more than anyone could read in a lifetime, but without a doubt The World of Venice is my favorite of the ones that I've read. It's the kind of book you can pick up, turn to any page, start reading, and be transported. It's so beautifully written and completely captures the crazy magic of Venice.

This year marks 50 years since it was first published, and author Jan Morris returned to Venice to celebrate the anniversary. Her rather bittersweet reflections are published here.

Another book celebrating its 50th Anniversary is To Kill a Mockingbird, a novel I read many times when I was in school. I read it again last weekend to celebrate the anniversary and also to see if I liked it as much as I did many years ago. It's always interestesting to re-read a book you loved - some of them don't hold up so well, but this one did. I enjoyed it just as much if not more. It's a story with so much heart. And don't we all wish we'd had a father like Atticus?!


August 10, 2010

Adventures with Ruth (in Venice)

Last weekend, I watched the Venice episode of Gourmet’s Adventures with Ruth, a series showing on my local PBS channel. It was a wonderful show, mainly about food but with some lovely scenes of Venice interspersed with the cooking class that Ruth Reichl and actress Dianne Wiest took with Venetian contessa Enrica Rocca.

The show opens with the bells of Venice, always a magical sound. There’s some nice footage of the Rialto market, and another scene where they go to eat chichetti and drink a Spritz. They also visit the incredible San Polo chocolate shop, VizioVirtù. The dishes they made included shrimp risotto and tiramisu. I was inspired to make the peperonata in saor (pan-fried bell peppers). Mine came out a bit soupier than the photo on the Gourmet website, but the flavor was fantastic.

Peperonata in saor

Continue reading "Adventures with Ruth (in Venice)" »

February 3, 2011

Two new books

I didn’t do a lot of shopping when I was in Venice in November, but I did buy two new books. First is Venice Osterie by Venice resident, Michela Scibilia. This is actually the third time I’ve bought this book; she updates it every couple of years and so now I own three different editions. Like any city, Venice’s restaurant scene is constantly changing, and I’m glad that Michela continues to keep us up-to-date. It’s fun to compare editions and see what new places have been added and which ones got dropped.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is going to spend more than a few days in Venice. I haven’t been disappointed in any of the places she’s sent me to (and she doesn’t only review the higher-end places like some standard guidebooks do). Plus, the the book is lightweight and travel-friendly with excellent color photos, a glossary of food lingo (with both Italian and Venetian), and very good maps. Many of the photos show the owners at work, which gives you a good sense of the vibe of the place before you go.

You can find Venice Osterie in most any bookstore in Venice but make you sure you buy the most recent edition (2010, Version 5.2) as I did see copies of the older editions around town too.

And speaking of dining in Venice, A Lover of Venice’s “My Favorites” page is an excellent overview of Venetian cuisine plus reviews of some great places to go. I'll have more to say about some of the places I ate sometime soon.


Secret Venice is the other book I bought and what a great read it is! I was so glad to have this book to read on the plane…it made the time fly by on that long flight back home. It’s a very well done and comprehensive guide to lesser-known sights with lots of cool trivia; I’ve already added a bunch of these “secrets” to my “next time I'm in Venice” list. The cover says, "Five years of research have gone into the compilation of this exceptional guide, an opportunity for all who love Venice, as well as Venetians themselves, to leave the beaten track far behind and rediscover the most extraordinary city in the world."

This book is one of a series that includes other cities such as Rome, Paris, and Barcelona; I’ll definitely consider buying another one if and when I end up going somewhere else.


July 8, 2011

PhotoHunt: Near


This week's theme is "Near."

We are getting near the end of the Harry Potter saga. The final movie (HP7 part 2) comes out next week; my nephews are very excited about it and so am I!


Thanks for visiting and have a nice weekend.

You can find more Photo Hunters and join the hunt here.

August 3, 2011

Nini the famous Venetian cat


It's funny to me that a cat who lived in Venice over a hundred years ago is still "alive" and well in stories and art.

I just finished reading a recently-published children's book called "The Famous Nini: The Mostly True Story of How a Plain White Cat Became a Star." It's a charming book with nice illustrations; you can watch a trailer on the author's website here.

I first learned about Nini from Jan Morris, who wrote about this "international celebrity" cat in both "The World of Venice" and "A Venetian Bestiary." Nini lived in the late 19th century and belonged to the owner of Caffe dei Frari. He held court in the cafe but was also a roaming neighborhood cat who spent time mousing in the Frari church across the canal and in the nearby Archives of State.

For some reason, Nini became famous, and visitors to Venice stopped by to meet and pay homage to him. He had his own guest book in the cafe, and among the many famous people who signed Nini's book were the composer Giuseppe Verdi, the king and queen of Italy, the czar of Russia, and even Pope Leo XIII. When Nini died of old age in 1894, there was a wake honoring him, with many tributes to "a gentleman, white of fur, affable with great and small."

The cafe is still open today, but evidently Nini's guestbook was sold and is now lost. There is a circa-1932 painting of Nini on the cafe facade which shows the cat reclining with his book and a cup of coffee. Long live Nini!

Caffe dei Frari

Nini the Cat

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August 26, 2015

Venetian Light


“That the light of Venice differs from that of any other place there can be no doubt, but to discover precisely how it differs is a task that has baffled both writers and painters. (It is worth noting that, whereas most of the best paintings of Rome are by foreigners to the city, only the Venetians have been able to capture the atmosphere of Venice: even Turner and Monet failed, hard though they tried).

It is not, save on fine winter days, a particularly clear light and never as sharp as that of Greece. Usually it is slightly powdery and at evening can take on a rare apricot tinge. One of its peculiarities is that the intensity seems to derive as much from the horizon as from the sun – the result no doubt of reflection from still waters. I, for one, am prepared to leave it at that and accept it as a mysterious enchantment, for mystery is the essence of poetry.”

Hugh Honour, The Companion Guide to Venice


October 2, 2015

The Venetians


"We have much to learn from the historical parade of varied characters who so reflected Venice's rise and long, long decline."
- Paul Strathern

I enjoyed this "new" history of Venice. It's not comprehensive (and it's a bit heavy on naval battles), but I liked the author's focus on Venetians who are not only the usual suspects (Marco Polo, Vivaldi, Casanova) but also those who I'd never "met" before.

I enjoyed learning about Nicolo Barbaro, a Venetian physician who was in Constantinople in 1453 during the Siege and whose diaries tell us much about that epic war. "Game of Thrones" fans will be interested to see the parallels between the Siege and the fictional Battle of the Blackwater in the second GOT book, Clash of the Kings.

Another Venetian who was new to me was Leon da Modena (1571-1648), a poet, scholar, rabbi, and compulsive gambler who lived in the Ghetto. A fascinating character!

And then there's Sofia Baffo, born into a noble Venetian family in 1550. Her father was the governor of Corfu when it was still part of the Venetian empire. In the early 1560's, she left Corfu on a boat on its way back to Venice and was kidnapped by pirates who sold her to the Sultan's son who added her to his enormous harem in Constantinople. The son eventually became Sultan, and she became "first wife" (bash kadin, chief woman of the harem), and she used her influence and power to help Venice in its seemingly constant struggles with the Turks. When her husband died, she had 18 of his 19 sons strangled so that her biological son would become the next Sultan. In 1602, she herself was strangled. Instant karma?

"The Venetians" also has the most detailed account I've read of the life and times of Caterina Cornaro, Venetian noblewoman who was briefly the Queen of Cyprus. What a sad life she had. The Venetian Republic used her badly, sad to say.

Another Venetian woman I met was Laura Querini who entered (or was forced into) the convent of San Zaccaria in 1584 when she was 15 years old. She and a friend painstakingly dug a hole in a storeroom floor in order to allow boys to sneak in for visits and romance. They were caught and it was quite a scandal!

I also met Lorenzo da Ponte (1749-1838), a Jew who converted to Catholicism and became a priest (which didn't stop him from maintaining an active romantic life). He was briefly the priest of the church of San Luca but was eventually exiled from Venice because of scandal. He went to Vienna, hung out with Mozart, and ended up moving to New York City. Welcome to America!

So I recommend this book to any and all Venice lovers. It was fun to read!

October 20, 2015

Smithsonian Journeys: Venice


The Winter 2015 edition of Smithsonian Journeys Travel Quarterly is all about Venice! I'm looking forward to reading this soon.

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to Churches in Venice in the What I'm Reading/Watching category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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