Nova: Saving Venice

The PBS show Nova centered on Venice this week in a show titled Saving Venice, exploring Mose and other ways that Venice is attempting to protect the city from high water. I learned some new things, getting to see just how wooden pilings were tamped into the lagoon mud to support the buildings. And did you know that Venice’s salt marshes, if they were healthy, could hold more vast amounts of CO2? If only the large ships going into Porto Marghera weren’t destroying them…. Most astonishing was the proposal to pump salt water deep under Venice into the aquifers, slowly raising the entire city.

While the show got a number of things right, I know that the story is much more complex than they showed. There was no mention, for example, of the corruption and delays that kept the Mose gates from being completed decades ago. And there was little time spent on the cruise ships and the vast damage they have done. Still, I hope that people will watch this program to gain a better understanding of the lagoon ecosystem and the urgency to protect it.

Watching this and hearing a story from a kiosk owner on the Zattere made me proud to have collected stories from Venetians who lived through the 2019 acqua alta in my book Venice Rising. Hearing first hand stories is essential to caring enough to make a difference.

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Venetian Emoji #15

Okay, I’m stumped by this one. What’s going on here? What emotion is this emoji showing? Or what character does this one remind you of?

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In Casanova’s Footsteps: Rome–Palazzo Ottoboni-Fiano


Facade of the Palazzo Ottoboni-Fiano

This is the site of the Palazzo Ottoboni-Fiano, at the Piazza di San Lorenzo in Lucina address #4, which Casanova visited in 1770. He had received a letter of introduction written by the Venetian nobleman Signor Zulian to his sister, the Duchess of Fiano, who lived there. Lucrezia Ottoboni-Buoncompagni-Ludovisi (née Zulian) had married the Duke of Fiano in 1758.  When Casanova presented his letter of introduction and first met the Duchess, he explains, seemingly with admiration, “She was an extremely ugly woman, not at all rich, but with an excellent heart; having very little wit, she had taken the course of being amusingly malicious to prove that she had a great deal of it.”

The Duchess hosted sumptuous dinner parties, with seven to eight intimate guests each time. “I was not admitted until a week or ten days later,” Casanova writes, “when, all of them having met me, they seemed to value my company.” The Prince of Santa Croce served as the Duchess’ cavalier servante, her escort and admirer (a common practice in Italy at that time); Casanova writes that “the Prince was a handsome man, elegant in his manners and with a sufficiency of intelligence….” The Prince’s wife was thus served by Cardinal de Bernis, whom Casanova knew well from his time in Venice and again in Paris. But we’ll come back to that story later.

In his memoirs Casanova says that the Duchess, upon their third meeting, told Casanova that her husband was impotent, “babilano” in Roman dialect, he explains (though Trask’s footnote states that the term is borrowed from Babilano Pallavicini, a Genovese man whose marriage was annulled for his impotence). “But she did not say it in a a way to make me conclude that she did not love him or that she wanted to present herself as a woman to be pitied,” Casanova added, “for it appeared that she said it only to make fun of a confessor she had who had threatened to refuse her absolution if she continued to do everything she could to make him potent.” This fun witticism shows how quickly Casanova was allowed into the Duchess’ confidence and treated to her sense of humor.

All of these characters and more attended dinners at the Palazzo Ottoboni-Fiano. It’s also known as the Palazzo Peretti Ottoboni Fiano, adding the previous owner’s name, or later the Ottoboni-Boncompagni, displaying heraldic symbols of the two-headed eagle and the dragon for those two families.

Another view of the Palazzo on the day I visited it in 2018.

(Quotes from Casanova’s History of My Life, translated by Willard Trask, Vol. 12, Ch. 1.)

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Street Art / Venetian Stylin’ #10

I found this series in the Santa Croce neighborhood, near Rio Marin. There was another that I didn’t capture, which had a euro sign, and I bet there were others that I didn’t pass by. If anyone sees more, please send photos and I’ll post them!

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The Narrow Streets of Venice

I walk around Venice so much that I often don’t think about how narrow some streets are. But on a walk this June I was struck by how narrow this street really was. Look at how this man’s shoulders nearly touch the walls?

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Gondola Stuff: Metal Bracket

What is this–some kind of metal hinge or bracket? No, it’s a gondola!

These handmade gems, along with many other items made from bits of flotsam, were in the window of the shop across from the apartment where I stayed this summer. The owner, Luciano Buggio, hangs out in his shop daily, greeting everyone as he navigates the narrow lanes inside his shop. The window claims that it’s a shop for furniture restoration, but Luciano’s card reads “restauro e riclicio ricreativo” or restoration and creative recycling (or something like that. Google translate came up with “restoration and recreational recycling,” but I don’t think that’s what Luciano had in mind.)

The armada, with a sampling of plastic water bottle flowers behind it.

There are spray painted plastic flowers in vases made from plastic bottles, earrings made from bottle caps, and a world of people and creatures formed from bits of metal, wooden dolls made from chair legs. I think some things haven’t been moved for years. Out front, wooden bookshelves bulge with faded books and postcards, and paintings hang from the wall. There’s even a wooden stand with paper “prints” for sale. I use the term loosely. Some of the offerings are watercolors or other drawings, but there are also some paper rectangles with blue dots or silhouettes of red flowers. I bought a couple to use as wrapping paper. But as Luciano started to roll up the paper and secure it with a rubber band, like you would an art print, I stopped him, saying there was no need, as I would use it to wrap my book. He looked insulted, then explained that the blue dots were created when he spray paints the centers of the plastic flowers he makes. These dots and silhouettes are artworks themselves, he implied, so I quickly scuttled my book and walked out with an unfolded piece of spray painted paper.

I just want to dust everything and look at every little strange item in this shop.

Luciano is also apparently a theoretical physicist. His card reads “fisico teorico” and directs you to his website, which contains articles on electromagnetic radiation and the celestial spheres. (Those are two different topics, in case it wasn’t clear.)

I should have taken more photos of this place, but it just means that you’ll have to check it out yourself. It’s just around the corner from San Giovanni Evangelista, at San Polo 2423. Bring your coins: If Lucciano isn’t there, you can drop some coins into the wooden box to pay for the books, postcards, or art prints. But if you want a metal gondola or other creature, be sure to meet the artist in residence.

This gondola is not known for being seaworthy
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Amazon Day in Venice

This is what it looks like when the Gray Santa (this would be the Amazon truck at my house) arrives in Venice. No truck. Boat instead. And fondamenta.

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Admonishment 2

You’ve been warned!

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Real Life or Art?

These chairs were outside one of the Arsenale Biennale venues.

I contend that they were more artistic than some of the art on display.

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Street Art / Venetian Stylin’ #9

Saw these near Campo San Francesco della Vigna. My first reaction was to think “how untraditional and un-Venetian” but then I quickly changed my thinking. Venice is in peril. It needs its young people and new ways of living and thinking. This street art shows that the community is vibrant and engaged. Cheers to that!

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