Saturday, June 30, 2012

Piazza San Marco, Venice

After a nice, relaxing breakfast at our hotel (the typical continental breakfast with rolls and pastries, cereal, yoghurt, coffee/tea/juices), we headed out to find the number one tourist destination in Venice, Piazza San Marco.

Since the Vaporetto (public transport on the canals) workers were on strike, we had to go on foot. We followed many tight streets that seemed little more than alleyways and eventually came to the piazza.

Our first view of the Piazza

We were impressed with the size of the empty space, which is something of a commodity when much of the town is more or less floating. Since it was still relatively early in the morning, too many people hadn't gathered. We were hoping to make it to 9 a.m. Mass at the basilica, but we arrived a little late. We only got as far as a side chapel and listened to some of the Mass from there.

Coming out, we admired the Torre dell'Orologio, the main clock for the piazza.

A whole building just for a clock, who else would do such a thing?

Clockface with unusual items

It is interesting to note that the clock runs on a 24 hour cycle in Roman numerals and also displays the Zodiac and the phases of the moon. The clock originally was made for sailors' use as well as regular citizens. It was completed in the 15th century and legend has it the two inventors, after completing the mechanism, had their eyes gouged out to prevent them from making a duplicate. Yikes!

Then we got in line to tour the main part of the church. We had fun looking around and being silly while we waited the 15 or so minutes to get in at 9:45.

The front of San Marco

The side of San Marco

Lucy rode on my shoulders for a bit, till she said, "Daddy, why are you so wet?" That got a good laugh from all the English speakers in our vicinity. She eventually got down and danced around for a bit. Jacob did his best to look charming too.

Lucy rides high (if not dry)

Jacob smiles

I smile for photographer Jacob

Lucy in the midst of a silly dance

At the front of the line, we discovered that we couldn't take our diaper backpack into the church. Mommy took it off to the bag check building about a block away. Luckily, we were allowed to wait at the front of the line for her return. Others went in past us. I noticed that some of the women didn't meet the modesty standards for Italy (i.e., no bare knees or shoulders in church). The workers handed out inexpensive brown paper cloths that must have been about four feet square. Women were then left to their own devices to devise an appropriate cover-up. In the interests of modesty, I took no pictures of such women.

We enjoyed the church. Admittance was free, though there were charges for going to see the treasury, the upper walkway, and the Pala d'Oro, the 10th century altarpiece of stunning beauty and opulence. I guess that's how they pay for the electricity and the cover-ups. We went to the treasury, which contained many relics and reliquaries. Also, many chalices, patens,  candlesticks, and other church paraphernalia were on display. It was quite impressive. The children's energy was starting to flag, so we didn't take in the other paid parts of the tour.

The main body of the church is rich with mosaics from various periods and with various themes. Hardly an inch was left uncovered. In fact, many of the windows had been closed up to provide more space for mosaics. It was inspiring viewing. I can't remember if photography was not allowed or I just forgot to take pictures. It looked wonderful and I would recommend a visit.

Coming outside, we sought a snack to perk up the children while we took in some of the other exterior art.

17th century mosaic depicting Christians taking St. Mark's remains from Alexandria

The theft of Saint Mark's relics is an interesting story. When the Muslims were overrunning Egypt, some crafty Venetian merchants schemed to steal the relics from Alexandria. They hid the bones in a box which they covered with pork. Hence the nose-holding Arab in the mosaic, who missed his chance to keep Christian relics from falling into Venetian hands.

Also, it was a tradition for traders to bring back something to decorate the church, hence the assortment of stone used. Many statues were given, including some horses stolen from Constantinople and a sculpture called the Tetrarchs, a 4th century Egyptian statue said to depict Diocletian, Maximilian, Valerian, and Constantine.

Horses of St. Mark (copies of the originals which are inside)

The Tetrarchs, c. 4th century

By now, Jacob was out of energy, though he did ask me to take a picture of the people looking out of the Campanile (bell tower, as opposed to the clock tower).

Jacob resting on Mommy

Campanile windows

On our way back to the hotel, we saw the music museum, a statue of Niccolo Tommaseo, and another ornate church into which we did not go, San Moise Profeta.

Admission is fee, but we didn't go in

The pigeon is real!

Saint Moses the Prophet

Back at the hotel, mommy held the fort while I went for a quick tour of the nearby Jesuit Church, which will be covered in the next blog!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Book Review: Titans of Chaos

Titans of Chaos is the slam-bang finale to John C. Wright's Chronicles of Chaos. Having finally escaped from their English boarding school (which is really their prison), the five orphans from alternate Chaotic dimensions are on the run. After a harrowing attack on the cruiseship QEII, they race across the planet Earth and cross over to other planets in an attempt to find a spot where they can safely and peacefully live out their lives. But will the Greek gods let them?

The story is action-packed. It's a fun ride, especially the middle third or so of the novel, which is an extended fight/chase sequence. Mostly it's the main character, Amelia Windrose, trying to escape from every mythical thing that can be thrown at her. The chase is imaginative and exciting. The final battle for their freedom is also very satisfying.

The storytelling is still chock full of pseudo-science, pseudo-magic, and more mythology than I could keep track of. It's not so important to track every detail, though it might make for more rewarding reading. The book is a wild ride and a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy.

My reviews of previous novels in the series are here and here.

Now that the year is half over, I thought I'd check on my progress on the 2012 Reading List Challenge. I seem to be doing really well. Of the 15 books I said I wanted to read, I've already read 10. Still to be read are Stephen King's On Writing, three of Lloyd Alexander's Prydain books, and Tolkien's The Hobbit.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Dinner and Film Location in Venice

After finishing our boat tour of Venice's Grand Canal, we went in search of dinner. Jacob had one objective in mind: tortellini. The first restaurant we stopped in had plenty of pasta but none of it was stuffed. And also the second. And also the third. We were almost ready to give up when we came upon a famous square that had a restaurant that suited our needs.

Jacob shared tortellini with his sister while Mommy had pizza and I had ravioli. The only challenge was the tortellini came in a cream sauce and Jacob likes his in tomato sauce. We asked if they could changes sauces and the waitress politely declined. Luckily (or craftily), my dish had a tomato-based sauce. I dipped Jacob's pasta in my sauce and all was right with the world.

We saw a museum on the other side of the plaza that looked familiar.

San Barnaba, where X marks the spot

If you've seen Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, this is the "library" where Indy found some clues in pursuit of the Holy Grail! Mommy and daddy were excited to see this though the kids were not appreciative. We may show them a clip from the movie when we get back. Or they get older.

On our way back to the hotel, Lucy asked for ice cream again, like at lunchtime. Since it was her birthday and we are such great parents, we stopped for another helping of cool, creamy goodness. This time Lucy had a cup instead of a cone and she was especially happy. We walked back to the hotel by a different route, going down the tightest road we ever found.

Cosy Street

Back at the hotel, Jacob had his snack (since he doesn't like ice cream) and we went to bed excited for our next day in Venice.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Grand Canal, Venice

After nap time, we did a boat tour of the Grand Canal in Venice. Though it wasn't exactly a tour. The boat was one of the standard public transports (the Vaporetto), so we didn't have someone telling us the history, names, and fun anecdotes of the various places we passed. So I will do the best I can with what knowledge we have picked up from being in Venice for a few days and from reading guide books.

We started off where we had lunch at the Ponte dell'Accademia. The number 1 boat cruised up the Grand Canal back to the bus station where we began our Venice experience.

The Grand Canal is THE major highway in town

We saw lots of amazing buildings to see along the way. They are charming even without any history behind them.

Lots of parking and nice arches!

A long row of houses

The number 1 boat makes many stops along the way at little stations like the Rialto station.

Fancier than any bus stop in England!

We saw some of the more common sights around here, namely guys hanging out, gondolas taking tourists for rides, and canal-side dining.

These guys need beers!

We did not do this, alas!

We did dine by Canal-side, but not at this restaurant

We saw another of the bridges, the famous Rialto Bridge (at least, the guide book said it was famous).

The Rialto Bridge

Many other bridges of all shapes and sizes can be found in Venice.

Side canal with pedestrian bridge

A large Klimt exhibit was in town, possibly sponsoring the Ponte degli Scalzi

Trees! Oh, and a bridge too.

The train bridge is not very pretty at all

Another random bridge

We became curious about the traffic laws that governed the canals, especially when we saw many cryptic and not so cryptic signs.

Do not enter, if you have eagle eyesight.

Gondolas only?

One way/no motor boats?

7 is the speed limit?

Another common sight, that would be more common the next day when the Vaporetto workers would be on strike, was the water taxi.

Just a little bit of yellow in the window to let you know

A lot of churches are found along the Grand Canal, including one named after our daughter!

San Lucia!

San Stae

San Simeone Piccolo

Artistic works are also on display from the water, though not as much as you would think.

That little one is pretty life-like

Whoops, that's not art, it's a train station!

On our way back to the hotel, we saw another massive, gleaming yacht that Jacob wanted to ride. If only they would sell us some tickets!

This was not on the Grand Canal, in case you were wondering

It was fun to ride around Venice to see some sights from the water.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice

While the wife and children were napping on our first day in Venice, I went to the Gallerie dell'Accademia to see great Venetian art from the 14th to the 18th centuries. It was an amazing experience.

The ticket office is downstairs. Following a twisting staircase, the visitor comes to the art on the first floor.

Unmarked statue at the staircase landing

The first room is quite striking, with an amazingly decorated ceiling. Most of the art here is from the 14th century and follows a more Byzantine style.

Art from churches--altar pieces, frescoes, etc.

Original decor of the room

A painting of mendicants admiring a Gethsemane fresco!

Our Lady with child and admirers, including angels with instruments

After the first room I lit upon the idea of taking a picture of the little title cards that go with the paintings, so I will be able to provide a little more information on subsequent paintings. How come this has never occurred to me before?

First up is this interesting crossing of the Red Sea from the book of Exodus.The Jews are dressed in contemporary 16th century garb, which I always find interesting.

Andrea Previtali's Passaggio del Mar Rosso (Passage through the Red Sea), 16th c.

Next we have Tintoretto's Creation of the Animals, with God whisking through creation making all sorts of nifty creatures. I like the playfulness of the divine being at work.

Jacopo Robusti detto Tintoretto's La Creazione delgi animali, 16th c.

Here's a Visitation of Mary and Elizabeth from the Venetian school. My favorite part of this is the suggestion that their meeting is building a new creation, embodied by the new building being constructed right above them.

Visitatzione from the Venetian School, 16th c.

Later, I saw an inspiring ceiling. Most ceilings just have paintings on them, but this one includes a lot of sculpted bits that are also painted. The work must have been extremely difficult.

God with four evangelists

I like this Madonna and Child, not just because it has the unusual sleeping child. The serenity on the mother's face is quite touching.

Giovanni Bellini's Madonna with Sleeping Jesus, 15th c.

Further on was a nice, large altarpiece.

Altarpiece by Bartolomeo Giolfino, 15th c.

This huge painting took up a whole wall. I love the use of depth through the placement of the columns and the use of sunlight. The painting looks like you could just step into it. Unfortunately the natural light in the museum is shining on the top left corner which ruins the effect in my picture. I don't know anything about the story behind the painting other than it is the Evangelist Mark (patron of Venice) healing Aniano.

Giovanni Mansueti's San Marco risana Aniano, 16th c.

Another topic you don't see too often is Saint Peter's crucifixion upside down. When he was sentenced to death by the Romans, Peter asked that he be crucified that way because he felt unworthy to die the same way that Jesus did.

Luca Giordano's Crocifissione di san Pietro, 17th c.

This round painting is another rare topic, the discovery of the True Cross by St. Helen (Constantine's mom!).

Giambattista Tiepolo's La scoperta della vera Croce e sant'Elena, 18th c.

The above artist, Tiepolo, seems to be a genius at filling unusual spots. There were four different corner pieces like the one below, all depicting different people looking down into a gallery.

Tiepolo's Devoti affacciati ad una loggia, 18th c.

This next one is another bit of whimsy from an unknown artist.

Musical Family by unknown artist, 16th c.

Jacob's favorite part of the museum probably would have been the staircase that was not in use, so it's lucky that he was napping instead.

Winding stairs, artist unknown

After this visit to the Gallery, I headed back for a quick rest before everyone else woke up.