Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Day 22: Venice

It is cooler and overcast this morning–rain is threatening–as I make my daily run for the great breakfast rolls.
Today we are off to the Accademia….we take the vaparetto down the Grand Canal and we can see that the water is higher in many places than it has been, although it is not yet an ”acqua alta” which is predicted for Friday.
We get a nice look at the Rialto Bridge as we continue down the canal
and of people crossing the canal in gondola “buses”–traghetti–which ferry passengers across the canal so they don’t have to go out of their way and cross one of the three bridges.
The Accademia is the premier art museum in Venice and has an amazing collection of the most important painters of the Venetian renaissance. The gallery was actually started by Napoleon in the early 19th century when he took some of the major paintings out of churches and established the “secular” gallery. The collection, which includes works by Tiziano, Tintoretto, Carpaccio, Bellini, Giorgione, Tiepolo and many others, is truly spectacular. We are completely blown away by a number of the paintings. My favorite is the Veronese “Feast at the House of Levi” which is like a Last Supper on steroids. The painter was reprimanded by church officials when he submitted his “Last Supper” and directed to make changes to make it less “secular”. The artist’s response was to change the title and leave the painting intact. It is a huge canvas, covering a whole wall, and the “supper” is just the center of a much larger scene complete with “infidels, i.e. Turks” and other objectionable material. For someone like me who “collects” Last Suppers, it is amazing.
But the Veronese has lots of competition in the Accademia….Giovanni Bellini’s paintings–both large and small–are beautifully executed with wonderful faces and incredibly rich historical detail.
This “Procession in St. Mark’s Square” is by his brother Gentile and is endlessly fascinating.
The other painting that I was most impressed with was a very disturbing Tiepolo work called “The Bronze Snake” which has truly shattering imagery of death and destruction.
I could go on but there are just too many pictures that could be mentioned. In any case, we really had a great morning in the gallery and will certainly go back on future visits to Venice.
After the Accademia, we stop at a bar/cafe–the Bar Torino–for lunch. We had passed by it yesterday when we ended up at the wine bar, Enoteca Al Volto. In addition to the usual sandwiches, they have large dishes of freshly prepared pastas and risotto available and many Venetians come in for a quick lunch eating while standing at the bar. We sit at a table and I have a sandwich while Diana has the risotto. It is a delicious and economical lunch.
We then head for Piazza San Marco…..after twisting in and out of the narrow streets, the first sight of the very large piazza and the imposing Basilica is quite stunning. Even though it is one of the most familiar scenes in Italy, it is still very impressive.
There are not too many people in the piazza today, so it is no problem to get into the basilica. We pay our 3 euro admission to go upstairs to see the horses, walk around the balcony and visit the museum. The horses that are placed over the entrance are very impressive replicas, but you can see the c. 3rd century BC originals in the museum. The closeup view of some of the mosaics is interesting and the view over the piazza is very good.
You can get a much better view of the interior mosaics from the balcony and you can really appreciate the vastness of the church from above. Downstairs, we walk through the church and take a look at the Pala d’Oro–an incredible gem-encrusted gold altar piece

(not my picture)
and wish we could see the mosaics on the walls and ceilings as well as they appear in this picture.
(not my picture_
Leaving the basilica, we head back to the apartment by taking the vaporetto around the eastern end of the city….past the public gardens, the soccer stadium, the Duomo (the church was not that influential in the Republic of Venice so the Pope’s headquarters were historically located in the far reaches of Venice) and acres and acres of shipyards.
Dinner is at another neighborhood place called Ai Quaranta Ladroni (Forty Big Thieves). It is decorated in an underwater motif which is a bit strange, as is their policy of only serving pastas in portions for two people. However the food is good and the staff is very pleasant. We end up not having pasta…Diana has an order of very good fried “moeche” (small local soft-shelled crab) and a delicious whole grilled branzino. I enjoy my mussels and clams in a light tomato sauce and another very good “frittura mista”. We have a good pinot grigio from Friuli and for dessert, I have an indifferent semi-freddo and Diana has one of her favorites–”sgroppino”–which is a loose lemon sorbet mixed with vodka…very refreshing.
It’s a pleasant walk back to our apartment through the peaceful Cannaregio neighborhood.


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