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Monday, May 23, 2011

Arriverderci Venezia

There was at least one more museum, that we stumbled upon our first day. It was a collection of old musical instruments, displayed in an old decommissioned (if that is the proper word) church. And that is all the museums I can recall at this moment, although I feel like I may have neglected to recall one or a couple.

This doesn’t count the Doge’s Palace, or the Basicila of San Marco, or any of the other churches we went into. There are an enormous number of churches, every couple of blocks I would say. I don’t know how many of them are still used, regularly or at all, for either services or other events, like concerts. WE did stop into several when we noticed the doors were open as we were walking by. One was the second church the Pope had visited, beside St. Mark’s, and where we had seen them making preparations before his visit, and then dismantling them afterwards. That was Santa Maria della Salute. Apparently, this church had been built as thanks for surviving the plague. There were Titians and Tintorettos there, but unfortunately I didn’t read the guidebook until afterwards! We were too busy looking at the beautiful marble mosaic floors and also watching them haul back into the church all the benches they had taken out for the Pope’s visit.

Our last night, we decided to take a boat ride around much of the city, and up the Grand Canal, courtesy of our boat passes. We certainly weren’t the only folks doing that. There were tourists of all ages and speaking quite a few different languages, but also as many locals who I assume were just on their way home or visiting. I can’t decide if the canal is more beautiful by day or by night. One interesting thing to observe at night, in our own neighborhood as well as on the Grand Canal, is how many buildings are unlit at night. We know that many places are owned by foreigners who are there sporadically and/or rent them out at times. We also heard that many buildings are abandoned because it is too expensive to renovate them or restore them. But who owns all of these places? Or do they revert to the city at some point?

There are so many things I still want to know about Venice. And despite the nine days and saturation of museums, monuments, etc. places we didn’t have a chance to see and/or would love to visit again.

Well, it is definitely time to wrap up this Venetian chronicle. I have lingered over it, knowing there is more I want to say. But we have been home over a week now. I am still reading the next to last of my Venice related reading, a book called Venetian Stories. I know I have mentioned it here before. Then, there is still one more Brunetti detective novel on the Kindle. I will certainly read it, not sure if directly after the current book or not. I think I may actually enjoyed the Brunetti as much as any of the other Venice novels. A funny anecdote: when we were waiting in St. Mark’s Square for the Pope, Loring was reading the Brunetti book, the only paper book either of us had with us on the trip. A photographer happened by, and took a pic of Loring reading the book, chuckling and saying he noticed the title: Murder at the Fenice( the famous Venice Opera House) So maybe there’s a photo out there of Loring reading and awaiting the Pope.

A few last impressions:

Gondola shape pasta in a food store. Now we just have to find the right occasion to cook it. It’s multicolored, red colored by tomatoes, green by spinach, and black, from squid ink.

The Pope riding around St. Marco’s in a golf cart after his speech , or something that looked like one. I keep meaning to look up whether whatever vehicle the Pope is in is the Popemobile, like Air Force One. If it is, then would the gondola he rode in also be the Popemobile? The Popedola?

The variety of boats – gondolas, of course. Water taxis. The vaporetti, or water busses. Ambulance boats, police boats, fire boats, supermarket delivery boats, private motorboats tied up in front of houses, including our own little canal. Boaters navigating past each other amazingly through narrow canals.

Streets so narrow that people passing each other have to turn sideways. Workers wheeling all kinds of materials down those passageways in two wheel carts.

Venetian blinds: I had wondered at various times in the past where the name derived from. (Well, obviously from Venice, but why?) While we were there, I looked online and found surprisingly little info. A Wikepedia entry, of course, with lots of info but nothing about the name. And a site by a “Venetian blind specialist” ie a blind company, which indicated that the origin wasn’t known. Then, in one of our last days there, we went to a Museum that had a beautiful 19th century gondola in its lobby (actually, piano nobile, the immense front to back first floor of palaces, which this had been). I had read in one of my novels references to how in past centuries the gondolas had a small enclosed area in the center, called a felze, for privacy and/or protection from the weather The gondola in the museum had, sure enough, a felze, with Venetian blinds around the sides. The Wike entry for gondolas, which I later looked up, does indicate that the name comes from the gondola’s felze.. Once I started looking, I did see blinds in numerous windows, in Venice and also in Murano.

And lastly, a continuation of my quest for Canaletto:
While in Venice, I read online that there had been a Canaletto exhibit in London, which closed in January. What I didn’t realize until we got home is that the exhibit is now in Washington DC, the only other place it is going. But only through this weekend! So, guess what we are now considering? Yes, a weekend trip to DC. Weather permitting, Loring will fly us down there on Saturday. And weather not permitting, we may go by commercial flight. A bit crazy. All the way to Italy, to come back home and then find Canaletto in the US.

I’ll sign off now. Not sure when I will write again. This blog began as a way to share my experience volunteering in Ukraine at the cemetery where my greatgrandparents are buried, a few years ago, with friends and family, rather than the emails I used to write. Then I backtracked to document some of my other volunteer experiences.
I would have written about our family + 2 trip to Jamaica last year, but we had no internet access. Perhaps I’ll go back and write about that. If we do go to Washington next week, I’ll take my handy dandy little netbook and write from there. (about Canaletto!!) Or maybe I’ll expand beyond travels, who knows. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Of orphan girl choirs, Vivaldi, Venice related literature, and Peggy Guggenheim.

Friday, on our way home. We are now in transition, at the airport in Zurich after a 50 minute flight from Venice. On our way in, we took the the bus and then the waterbus. This time, we took a waterbus the entire way, about a 45 minute ride from the stop near our apartment. The waterbus came right into the airport. Despite our nine days in Venice, taking a boat directly to the airport still seemed strange. There we were on the water, with planes landing directly over us.
We had a pleasant last morning at our place, which we needed to vacate at 11am. No need to go anywhere, the apt. was as charming as anywhere else, especially sitting on the balcony. Well, maybe not quite as beautiful as some vistas on the Grand Canal, but beautiful enough. I was reading, on the Kindle, my last electronic present from Loring before this, the delightfully portable netbook I am writing on now. Loring was reading a book on his Kindle, about a guy taking a drive across China, and intermittently reading excerpts from it. Clearly not on the same theme based literature binge as I am. He was also enjoying observing the woman across the canal from us, who apparently kept poking her head out the window every time she heard a boat. Finally a man came by, parked and tied up his boat under her window, let himself in with a key. Boyfriend, Loring concluded.
I have read, or read parts of, four different books with Venice themes since we have been here. The first was a decective novel based in Venice, written by an American woman who has lived in Venice for a long time. This was the first in a series, written about 20 years ago, that now comprises about 20 books with the same character, an amiable Detective Brunetti. For some reason, th e first in the series was not available via Kindle, so I bought a 20 year old paper copy. I have another in the series on the Kindle, and liked the first enough to read another at some point.
Venice themed book #2, which I am still not finished with, and have gone back to now, takes place in the 18th century and involves young women who are orphans that sing in one of the girls choirs that really existed at the time. Vivaldi is a character in the story, and it is partially based on truth. I had tried to find the church/ orphanage at which it takes place in my guidebook, but although many churches are listed there, this wasn’t. Finally, just a couple of days ago, Loring was looking at the schedule at a vaparetto stop, and I wondered over to look at the nearby church, and there, to my delight, was “my” church, the Santa Maria della Pieta! Complete with placque on the side to indicate that Vivaldi had worked with one of the orphan girl choirs there. We wandered all around the building, but couldn’t find a way in. I read later, online, that there are concerts there at times, and a requirement is that at least one piece played must be by Vivaldi. Part of the building is now a preschool, we could hear children’s voices, and that seemed very appropriate.
I only stopped reading that book part way because I wanted to check out the other Venice related books I’d brought. Next was a romantic novel taking place in two time periods, the present and the 1500’s. The theme was an Italian-American woman searching for her roots in Murano, becoming a glass blower and finding a handsome Italian man ,and getting pregnant. It was embarrassingly overwritten, but I was having fun reading particularly good/bad parts out loud to Loring. Interestingly, a small part of the story also involved the orphan girl choir at the church of la Pieta. I did finish it, and we visited Murano while I was in the middle.

But, before finishing the glassblower book, I also started #4, which is called Venice Stories. It is a series of stories focusing on individual characters in present day Venice. According to the review I read, the stories come together, but that hasn’t happened yet. Now I am back to finishing book two, the Vivaldi orphan choir book, which I may finish before we get home.
So, now having summed up my reading material, let me get back to describing more of our adventures.
Yesterday morning, we began with walking to Piazza St. Marco, and going to visit the quite impressive Basilica. It is free to go in, but once you do get inside, there are charges, ranging from 2 to 4 euros each, for various of the areas. We skipped some and visited others, including the small museum, which also lets you out on the balustrade from where you have an impressive view over the plaza. Most beautiful are the incredible stone mosaic floors, and then all the guilded mosaics on the ceiling. You can get quite close to parts of the ceiling when you go upstairs. They truly are magnificent, overwhelming really. Like lots in Venice, well worth braving the crowds to see.
After more walking around the city, we went to the Guggenheim museum yesterday afternoon. This was Peggy Guggenheim’s home until she died in, I think, 1979. She had been collecting an eclectic variety of modern art while she lived there, and opened the museum, in the garden I believe, while she still lived there. Her ashes are buried in the garden, along with those of many of her dogs.

I will continue this at some later point, probably at home, as it's time to board our flight back to Boston. Good thing I am not superstitious, or at least, not about this. Today is Friday the 13th!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

In search of Canaletto

It is now Wednesday evening. Tomorrow will be our last day here. The weather has been perfect, absolutely perfect, every day. I almost hesitate to write this, but now that there is only one day left, won’t worry so much about jinxing things!
We have started each day fairly leisurely, waking about 7am for coffee and breakfast, reading a bit, sitting on the porch, and leaving home between 9 and 10 am. Last night I did laundry and hung it up outside the kitchen while I was cooking dinner. This morning I took it down while the coffee was brewing. When I am travelling the simplest tasks assume a pleasurable aspect they don’t have at home. I wish I could capture that feeling and bring it back with me. Actually, when I think about it, doing laundry is one of the chores I do actually enjoy at home. I think it is something about the folding and organizing, as though it helps me organize my thoughts and my life. I actually wrote a poem about that a while back, and read it at an event recently in Beverly, organIsed by the local art school. It is an ongoing series of presenting poetry in unexpected places! The first one had been at the swimming pool at the local Y. The one I read at was, naturally, in a Laundromat. It was surprising how many people had poems referring to laundry!

After breakfast today, fresh bread with fig jam, we began with a long walk over to the Biennale grounds, where a famed art exhibition takes place every two years. It is a park, one of the few green places in Venice, and quitelovely. Of course the entire city is so beautiful that one hardly misses the green. Every day I look at over each vista and through each narrow alleyway, and can hardly believe this is real. It looks as much like a painting as an actual place, really a Canneletto painting, despite the small intrusion of antennas and satellite dishes. And, did I mention, tourists?! We sat for a while on marble steps leading down to the canal, the first few dry and white, the lower ones algae coated, and read our books. (Actually, our Kindles.) And watched the comings and goings of people and boats.
You walk through an alleyway, with weathered shutters,and ancient niches with statues, and, yes, Venetian blinds, and laundry hanging, and the end of the alley opens up on a small canal or perhaps the incredible Grand Canal vista.
Yesterday, we went in search of Caneletto, among others, the famed Accademia Art Museum. Went through rooms of medieval guilded Crucifixions and Annunciations and other impressive pieces, but could find no Canelettos. My guidebook had specifically mentioned them, among other famed works by Tintoretto, Bellini, Titian, etc, etc. Saw many amazing works, but could find none of Canelletos remarkable panoramas of the city. I finally asked a guard, who pointed to a smallish painting almost directly in front of us, and said, I was sure I understood him right, this is our only Canelletto. Later, after we’d left the museum, I insisted we go back and look again. We had finally come across two rooms with panoramic views and incredible details, by several painters whose names I didn’t know, Carpaccio, Manueti, and … But still no Canelettos. I asked one more guard, who first thought I was looking for the toilettas. (so much for my attempts at Italian) and then said what the other guard had, that the museum only had one. I later looked online, found one other reference to the museum having multiple, but also several other sources that said that it had only the one, and that there are only four of his total in Venice. Go figure! Many are in England, where he lived for some time, several are at the Louvre, which is probably from where I am familiar with them, and a couple are in Boston, one at the MFA and one at the Fogg.
No problem, though, although I am troubled by the misinformation in my guidebook. Shall I write to them? I am now so enamored of the other paintings I did discover in those two rooms at the Accademia!
Well, time to head out for dinner. We have reservations at a place close to here that was highly recommended by the guidebook. Uh-oh, now that I think of it! We tried to go there several days ago, but it was packed, so we made a areservation for tonight. I asked the host if she could recommend any place else, she said, there are many restaurants in Venice, but none ike this, she hoped! We shall see.

Monday, May 9, 2011

It is now Monday, day five of our Venetian sojourn, about half way through. Each day we have headed out in mid morning, after coffee, bread and jam, and fruit at home. We have had a destination each day, and have spent a large part of the day just wandering, the best way, it seems, to see the city. Guide books had warned to expect to get lost, even with a map. Don’t know if it’s our attitude, or our superior navigating abilities, but we haven’t really felt lost, perhaps because we don’t much care where we are going. We have gotten everywhere we want to go, often without even consulting the map. Of course we come to lots of dead end streets and canals, but that’s fine. The first couple of days we walked everywhere. On Saturday we got 7 -day transportation passes which are good everywhere, including to Murano, where we went today, and to the airport. So now, we just hop on a vaparetto, or waterbus, whenever we feel like it. Once or twice we didn’t even decide where we were going, just went for the ride.
We’d thought we’d eat our big meal at midday, out, partly because lunches are less expensive, and then cook dinners at home. We have been cooking dinner here, every night except last night, when we went out for a wonderful meal. (Venetian sardines, spaghetti with clams, some kind of fresh whole fish for which we were charged by the weight, and tiramisu, all of which we shared, all of which was delicious, but the best part was the wonderful owner, gregarious and helpful) For lunch, though, we have just been having pannini at small restaurants or take out places, and then gelato most every day!
On Saturday morning, we headed first again to Saint Mark’s, to see what progress had been made in preparation for the Pope’s visit. The huge advertising signs draping parts of the buildings around the piazza had been draped over with equally huge white sheets. I’d thought the Doge’s Palace would be mobbed, but it wasn’t at all. No line, and we had no problem getting in, although they were closing early that day because of the Pope, and it wasn’t going to be open at all on Sunday. We toured the palace, very impressive, lots of ornate rooms and painted ceilings by people like Tintoretto. Unfortunately (I guess) the “secret itineraries” tour, which is separate, and, according the guidebook, the most interesting part, is booked solid through next weekend, after we leave. I looked online, and tix were available, at a premium price. Reminded us of trying to get concert tickets at home. Scalping is international, apparently. My favorite part was the Hieronymous Bosch painting of hell, with all his gruesomely imaginative demons torturing people in various innovative ways. No postcards available, unfortunately.

We left St. Marks, where there was lots of security, and also Red Cross tents set up in the courtyard. We’d bought a museum pass, good at 11 museums including the Doge’s Palace, for only 3 euros more than the palace entry itself. A good deal. There are lots of museums that aren’t included, but we’ve already been to three, including the glass museum on Murano today, and will probably go to one or a couple more.
The glass museum was great, featuring a history of glassmaking and pieces ranging from the first century AD to pieces made in the 21st century.
There are several other museums we want to go to, including the Accademia, where there are the famous Canelletto paintings that epitomize, in my mind at least, the view of the city. There is also the Peggy Guggenheim modern art museum, and another much more modern art museum.
One more museum we visited, yesterday( I think!) was a rather quirky place called C’a Pesaro . Located in a grand palazzo, it had two separate collections. One was modern art, and the other part was the collection of a wealthy Venetian who had travel to Asia for two years in the late 19th century. He purchased and sent back all kinds of things, lacquer tea sets, armor, etc
Out to the Lido, a separate island, famous for its beaches, and for the Venice Film Festival. We walked to the beach, where it was warm enough to take a nap in the sun, which we did. Best part there, though, was that there was a kite festival, with some of the more innovative kites I have ever seen, lobsters and seahorses and some flat banner kites in the form of people, in black and white. Strange to see cars there, although many people seemed to be using bicycles, a perfect place for it. They had bicycles for two and for four for rent, and I was tempted.
Back to the city. Speaking of bikes, we read that the only people who are allowed to ride bikes in Venice are kids under twelve. What an unusual rule, but definitely sensible. Unicycles, apparently, are allowed, however.
So, Murano. I have been both looking forward to visiting, and dreading the possibility, which seemed likely, that it would be totally overrun by tourists, like we found Capri to be a few years back. Not so, although there were certainly plenty of tourists, and more than enough shops selling glass of every kind. Loring very kindly allowed me the time to peruse what was close to every necklace in town, and I wound up buying several (Thank you Mom, your birthday and Mother’s day gifts have been put to good use!) I also wound up talking to quite a few merchants, particularly the ones who made their own beads.
My original hope had been to buy individual beads, particularly types that I hadn’t seen online, to use in making my own creations. Ironically, the few places that sold loose beads charged more than the ones I could order. And most of those beads weren’t the ones I would have wanted, anyway. So I tried to focus on pieces that I couldn’t make myself, and to just observe some of the more interesting and creative designs.
We did find a couple of “furnaces” open, and were able to observe them making , and also packing for shipment abroad, parts of chandeliers and some other pieces. At one of the places, which was one of the high end companies, there was a pot of glass scraps. It wasn’t clear why they were sitting there, so I asked, and to my delight was told it was fine to take some, just to be careful because they were sharp. So now I have a glasses case filled with brightly colored shards. I am thrilled!

Well, back to other events. We went back to St. Mark’s at about 6pm on Saturday. The Pope was due to arrive at 7. The square was full of people, but not mobbed. I was very surprised. We staked out our spot not far from the platform, directly in front of the press area. When the Pope finally arrived, about an hour late, we had a clear view of him. People had been getting antsy, and some began to chant, “Benedicto, Benedicto!” It felt like a rally or a sports event.
Finally, his Eminence (that is what you’re supposed to call him, right?) did arrive. Everyone was holding cameras over their heads and shooting blindly. It reminded me o f the crowds visiting the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, and not being able to actually see her.
A man (perhaps the mayor, or some Venetian religious official? spoke for a few minutes, and then the Pope was speaking. Loring asked me, he’s the one in the red, right? I informed him he was the one in the white! He spoke for about five minutes, and that was it. We, of course, had no clue what he was saying. Then, he was paraded around the plaza in a golf cart like vehicle, no bulletproof glass or anything, waving . Right behind him were a couple of Red Cross guys pushing a stretcher on which there was a defibrillator, which we found prett y amusing. Luckily, he had no need for it.
The next day there was a mass and also the Pope was transported down the Grand Canal in a gondola. I know there was some controversy about which gondeliers were going to have the honor. I’ll have to follow up on what happened with that. In retrospect, it might have been the better event to be on the Canal and watch him go by. But unfortunately, I now can’t get the “Benedicto” chant out of my head.
On Sunday, having done the Catholic thing the day before, we went to the Jewish ghetto. This is the original ghetto, where the word actually came from. The word originally meant foundry, because that is what had been located in the area. The Jews were relegated to living there in the middle ages. There were Jews that had come from Germany, also from Spain, and other countries. There were seven small synagogues, because each group had its own. You can still tour three of them, which we did. There are no Jewish stars, because they predate the use of the star. Each synagogue had five large windows, which represent the five books of the Torah. That is how one recognized the building as a synagogue from outside.
There is really no Jewish community in the ghetto anymore, only about 20 Jews live there. There are about 450 Jews in Venice. But the ghetto is still regarded as the heart of the Jewish community, and people do come for services. Two of the synagogues are still in use, one in the summer, and another (because it has heating) in the winter.
I bought a Murano glass dreidel from a man named Davide who had a store in the ghetto. He sells glass menorahs, mezzuzahs, and stars. They are made in Murano, and his sister decorates them. He and his sister are two of the Jews still living in the ghetto. His family has been in Venice since the early 1500’s.
Tonight is the earliest we have returned home, around 5:30. Loring cooked dinner while I was writing this. This apartment is so wonderful, quiet and comfortable, with a small balcony off each room, including the bathroom. The washing machine, believe it or not, is on one of the balconies! It is a pleasure just to spend the entire evening here. There’s a second bedroom we are not even using. It is in a quiet residential neighborhood, but very convenient to everything. ThereS a supermarket two blocks away, and a produce stand less than a block away, where we’ve bought asparagus, artichokes, string beans, cherries, grapes, tiny tomatoes, and more! Lots of restaurants, gelato stands, etc very close by.
More in a day or two…

Friday, May 6, 2011

May 2011
Venice, Italy
It was a dark and stormy night. We arrived after midnight and had to swim to our apartment. Global warming had flooded all of Venice and destroyed all of the artwork. Why did we not know about this?
To be continued………………

I did not write the above; Loring did. But now I will begin my chronicle of our Venitian sojourn. Those who have read this blog before will know that I write when I travel. I began the blog in 2008, when I went to Ukraine to work on clearing the Jewish cemetery where my great grandparents are buried, in the city now known as Chernitzvi, during my great grandparents and grandparents time as Czernowitz. I subsequently went back and chronicled my adventures on several other of my previous volunteer trips, and then forward to document subsequent trips.

This is the first time I will be writing about a trip that doesn’t have a volunteer component.(except for an overnight trip to Vermont last summer.)

I have only been to Venice once before, when I was 17, on part of “the grand tour”, my first trip to Europe. It was the summer between my junior and senior years of highs school. It was also my first time on an airplane. At the time, my mother had never been on a plane. She tells me now that it was her idea for me to go to Europe, because she was concerned that I was shy and withdrawn and she wanted to do something to encourage me to come out of my shell. I guess it worked.
My major memories of that early trip here include arriving by overnight train, early in the a.m. to the sound of our tour leader (myself and 7 other girls) frantically urging us to wake up, and tossing our suitcases out the train windows before we exited and before the train left the station. Then I remember standing in the middle of some plaza, perhaps St. Mark’s, and trying to find out where a bank was, so that we could change money, so that we could take one of the waterbuses wherever we were going. I have a vague memory of riding along the Grand Canal, and that’s about it.
I have resisted, or not considered, anyway, coming back since, although I have been to quite a few other parts of Italy, Rome and Florence, Siena, the Amalfi coast, Pompeii. I think it’s because I have regarded Venice as such a tourist mecca, that I thought I wouldn’t enjoy it, that it wasn’t a real place as much as a Disney-esque recreation of itself. But a couple of things changed my mind in the last several years. One, I read a remarkable book, by John Berendt. the same person who wrote Midnight in the Garden of Evil, called the City of Falling Angels. It is a true story that reads like fiction, beautifully written, that describes the city so hauntingly that it has stayed with me since. The second reason is that I have used Murano glass beads in some of my jewelry, both modern beads, and vintage ones from necklaces I bought in antiques stores and online, and disassembled. I have wanted to visit Murano, the glass makers island just a few minutes boat ride from Venice. I am, though, prepared to be underwhelmed by what I fear will be a place overrun by tourists. So far, I have looked in the windows of many a store here selling bona fide Murano beads, and many selling knock offs as well. I have only found one place thus far, though, that sells individual beads and not just already made necklaces. We will see if I can find any on Murano, or if I will have to go back to buying my Venetian beads online from US importers!

We are staying in an apartment here, in a quiet corner of the city (yes there are some, although much of the tourist route is teeming with people. ) Can’t be totally snide, as we number among them. But, I have to highly endorse the concept of staying in apartments, for numerous reasons. One, you really do get a better sense of the city. We are cooking many of our own meals, going to the local markets and supermarket, which are just a block and two blocks away. Second, the amount of space. We have a kitchen, dining room, living room, bedroom, and a second bedroom we are not using. We also have balconies in most every room, overlooking a small canal and several small passageways. It is a wonderful place, I congratulate myself for choosing well, after perusing online listings for probably hundreds of apartments Last reason is cost. The apartment is less expensive than most any hotel room, and add to that the fact that we don’t have to eat any more meals at restaurants than we want to.

This is one of many places we have rented apartments or houses, including a Polish resort town, Krakow, Prague, the Amalfi coast, Paris, rural France, southern Spain. They have all been good experiences, with the one exception of our Krakow apartment owner, who refused to return our deposit because the refrigerator handle fell off when we opened it. The apartment itself was wonderful. I did blacklist him on the website, for whatever difference it might have made.
Well, back to Venice. Yes, it is swarming with tourists, and it isn’t yet summer. But it is worth it. The city is incredibly beautiful. Like other overtouristed places I have been, such as Prague and Machu Picchu, its beauty surpasses its overabundance of visitors. I am glad I have finally come back.

This is our third day here, of nine. We have spent most of our time walking so far, have only visited one museum, a special exhibit on one of the famous Murano glassmakers, who we learned about recently while watching a movie about Dale Chihuly, the famed American glassmaker currently featured in a remarkable exhibit at Boston’s MFA. More about Lino, and probably Chihuly, later. I am delighted to have seen a poster advertising the exhibit as we arrived at the airport.

And, speaking of posters, there is a momentous occasion occurring here tomorrow, Saturday, and Sunday. The Pope is coming! I saw another sign, in front of a church in our neighborhood, the day of our arrival. Loring and I were astounded, and I had to read the poster a acouple of times to make sure I understood it. Then, when I thought about it more, I wondered how momentous an occasion it really was. This is, after all, Italy. Perhaps he comes here often. But reading online, it seems that the last time a Pope was here, the last one, was in 1986! Can this really be? I will have to check further.

It is interesting to watch the preparations. In St. Mark’s Square, they are erecting scaffolding and sound systems . He will be holding an outdoor mass there. In another plaza, this morning, they were grouting in between stones that, as Loring said, had probably not been grouted in centuries. And setting up cameras from Vatican TV, building a new little bridge from the canal onto the plaza, etc. There was a barge full of potted yellow flowers that we are sure will be set up around the plaza when the other work is done.

I stumbled upon an English language blog about Venice written by a journalist who has written about Venice, and many other places, for publications like National Geographic. She met an Italian man on one of her tripsto Venice, and now lives here. She wrote a very entertaining blog entry about how the gondoliers had been competing for who would have the honor of transporting the Pope the short distance between his stops. They had their various reasons for suggesting themselves, such as one who said it came to him in a dream that it should be him.

Funny thing is, if I had not stopped to read the poster, I don’t know if we would even know if the Pope was going to be here. We will probably head towards St. Mark’s tomorrow, but I can’t imagine we will get anywhere near. Will they have jumbotrons? Will people be camping there overnight for a spot? They don’t even allow people to sit in St. Mark’s Square. (Not that people seem to pay attention to the signs, we didn’t.) I am guessing that is to prevent large groups of people picnicking. On the other hand, several enormous advertising panels for things like coffee and fashion apparel drape various walls of the buildings surrounding the plaza, very jarring and, to me, much more inappropriate than people sitting down.

Well, I will end here for now. Check back in a day or two to read about our further adventures and audience with the Pope!