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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…

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