Sunday, November 26, 2017

She Keeps Me Inspired

I get lonely—and then remember her embrace. She is a floating dream of centuries. As I walk through her narrow passages, I never tire passing over little bridges that span canals. In the water she is reflected as if in a mirror. Her resplendent features are past their prime and sometimes in disrepair, but there is no doubting her grandeur. This is why so many flock to her gates even now after 1000 years.

She keeps me inspired.

Her deep, husky bell chimes resonate the air punctually each day. They remind me of SPIRIT. She has 140 churches. Most seem vacant and hallowed, yet alive.

Her air can be foul but more often I inhale deeply the fragrance of the sea lagoon and am glad.

She has been home to famous artists like Titian, Tintoretto, Vivaldi . . . the poet Ezra Pound buried in her cemetery.

I am like her. Knowing glory and ruin. I wonder sometimes if I am reaching higher ground or sinking. We keep going . . . creating, embracing all, and holding in reserve too.

“When I went to Venice, I discovered that my dream had become–incredibly, but quite simply—my address.” -Marcel Proust

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Grab The Moments

My first week of one month in Venice seems to have flown by quickly. Sometimes I want to grab the moments and make time stand still. I feel I am in a special situation—living in a city I love, one that people the world over are attracted to visit.

From my apartment overlooking a busy "calli" or pedestrian avenue, I walk down a flight of stairs and open a door to the heart of the city. Within moments I am at Rialto Bridge, the main walkway across the Grand Canal which divides Venice and also serves as perhaps the grandest thoroughfare in the world.

Water busses, called vaporetto, travel up and down the Grand Canal, taking passengers. I have a boarding pass that I brought along from my previous stay but to my surprise I have barely used it. I am walking instead.

Today has been typical. I woke from nine hours of sleep at about 9 o'clock, made breakfast with eggs and prosciutto ham, and coffee. Then to the fish market, which is the main one, and only a couple minutes away. This being Saturday, it was very busy. I chose the fish stall I like best and waited in the crush of people, with my eye on some fresh "pesci". As I stood, something caught my attention—some of the fish were still alive and thrashing around on the ice. I felt a pang of sorrow for the little creature taken from the sea and dying in front of my eyes. A woman next to me bought a wide assortment of fish, squid and lobster. I imagined she owned a restaurant or something. Next I went to a nearby stall selling vegetables and bought fresh broccoli.

I was now very near the Rialto bridge, and went to take some photos. I have developed an odd hobby. I take pictures of people taking "selfie" pictures. If I stood on the bridge from morning until night I could probably make about 1000 photos of people, mostly couples, taking pictures of themselves, most often using poles with their smartphones attached. Some folks get a bit annoyed that I am in on their intimate moment, but today a Chinese man had a good laugh when he saw me taking a picture of him and his friend taking a picture of themselves.

On the way back, I stopped for a "pasticceria" pastry and "macchiatto," a type of expresso coffee with dollop of foamed milk on top.

Back at the apartment, I got back to work on a painting I am making. I bought my linen canvas at a local art supply store I like. In my kitchen I work on a sturdy marble table under good light, with additional light from windows nearby. Mid afternoon I stopped to nap for about forty minutes.

Usually, just before sunset I go out walking and take photos. Yesterday I took some pictures of gondolas moored along the Grand Canal, their silver prows gleaming in the fading light. But now, my painting was demanding attention so I did not go out. I finished the first stage, called an underpainting. The subject is from a photo I took of a "ponti" or small bridge over a canal. It is stone and just at the top two women are lounging. Behind them tall old buildings loom upward in the darkening twilight. Some windows are lit with a warm glow, and a street disappears behind.

Dinner was the fish and broccoli.

Haven't decided whether to go out. It's just me.

Sunday, November 12, 2017


In the early evening, my brother and I walked up to the long line of people at the Icelandair ticket desk at Dulles International Airport outside of Washington DC. He glanced above the counter and noticed a sign with a number that said "flight cancelled". "Is that your flight?" While I stood at the end of the line with my luggage, I checked my itinerary. It was.

My brother Wade and family
 I was heading off to Paris after visiting with him and his family for a few days. I only had a short while in Paris before I was to arrive in Venice, Italy for a month. Venice beckoned me with its season of "nebbia" or fog. Now, I was in another kind of fog.

My brother went to watch at the ticket counter and reported back that people were being re-routed and given hotel rooms for the night. We hugged goodbye.

By the time I arrived at the desk, the agent was obviously frustrated and edgy. She gave me a flight on Air France for the following evening—24 hours later. With a hotel and meal vouchers. I felt at a loss, as if in a muddle. The path in front of me became more obscure that evening as I checked online and could not locate my itinerary. I tried calling Icelandair. The calls kept dropping. When I reached a bot, it said 80 people were in front of me. It was around midnight. I hung up and crashed.

At four AM I woke and tried calling again. 60 people in front of me. I lay in bed listening to the announcements and music. 52, 48, 37, 22, 18, 11, 4 . . . voila a human voice! Air France out! British Air in!

Hotel Saint Andre Des Arts, lobby
The next day I arrived in Paris, delayed by about thirty hours. I took the metro railway from the airport and arrived at Hotel Saint Andre Des Arts, a place I have stayed before. In the lobby I was greeted by Fred, the desk manager who remembered me warmly. The fog receded.

I had planned to go to Versailles, the former seat of political power in the Kingdom of France from 1682, when King Louis XIV reigned. Now I lacked time, having two days instead of three. So I did what I love best: wandered the city and made street photographs.
Now I am in Venice. My apartment is in a lively central neighborhood, close to the famous Rialto Bridge that spans the Grand Canal.

My second night here was Friday. I fell asleep but was wakened by lively people walking on the pavement below my window. Weekend nights produce more revelers into the early morning hours. I could not fall back to sleep. Eventually I moved to a small bedroom in the apartment rear and flopped onto a tiny bed.

At eight in the morning I was wakened by a text alert. It was my friend Cristiana: "Nebbia right now."

What a happy surprise so soon!

Sunday, November 05, 2017

A Sense Of Gladness

I was on a metro train streaming underneath Washington DC from my brother's house in Maryland when I began seeing familiar stops. (I grew up in DC.) My plan was to go to the Washington Monument and the National Mall to re-visit the broad spaces and wondrous memorials. As the train approached Dupont Circle, on a whim I decided to get off and walk the familiar streets, something I have done only a few times in the last forty years. Soon I was at The Phillips Gallery, standing in front of a Vincent Van Gogh painting. How wonderful! As if a great gift had been thrust into my life. Van Gogh made the painting using his famous slashing bold strokes of color. It depicts workmen in a rural village during autumn, toiling under trees brilliant with yellow leaves. Houses are nearby, with women dressed in black walking by. The masterpiece bursts with energy.
Last time I was at the Phillips Gallery an entry fee was in effect. Now it is free. A sense of gladness filled my soul. I could walk away from the Van Gogh, go downstairs and sit in a room that was like a chapel—filled with Mark Rothko large sized color field paintings. Or I could go upstairs and visit one of the most famous of Auguste Renoir's oil paintings—the impressionist masterpiece called Luncheon of The Boating Party.

Back on the pavement, I walked about a mile to the mall, seeing familiar streets and corners along the way. I passed the Corcoran Gallery of Art, where I took art classes on weekends as a teenager. In a few minutes I came to grassy fields and a crowd of people—mostly Chinese tourists. They were animated. Looking in the direction they were aiming their phones and cameras, I saw the south side of the White House. Surrounded by barriers and immaculate grounds, it seemed lonely and far removed from public life.

The next day, Friday, my brother took off from work to join me in taking an art odyssey. Together we went to one of my favorite museums in the world—The National Gallery of Art. By good fortune a spectacular special exhibit called Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting was being featured. First, my brother wanted to see early gothic and renaissance art (12th century AD - to about 1527). He is not religious so I was mildly surprised. Yet he stood in front of many of the paintings, slowly admiring the fine details, gold leaf, and sacred storytelling. Me too. I could see Rembrandt masterpieces across the hall and made my way there to stand in awestruck rapture. I imagined the past breathing its secrets into the present. Suddenly it occurred to me, gazing at a delicately painted hand, how often in my earlier years I had studied it. 

In a room nearby is a portrait painting by Leonardo da Vinci, titled "Ginevra de' Benci" it is of a 15th-century Florentine aristocrat woman (born c. 1458). It is the only painting by Leonardo on public view in the Americas.

The Vermeer exhibit was like icing on the cake. It is an ultimate gift to stand so close to masterpieces of another age in human history.

Wade left me for an appointment late in the afternoon. I remained in the museum, wandering among the deep and glorious collection of art.

Tonight I leave for Paris.