We've moved from Baltimore, Maryland USA to Venice, Italy in pursuit of living our dream!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Keeping up with the news: Another terremoto this morning

At 10:34 am this morning another earthquake hit Northern Italy, and we felt it here in Sant'Elena.  I was reading a book sitting on my bed when I felt the bed move back and forth quite a few times. On occassion when a large cruise ship passes by our building will rattle a bit, but this was different. I looked up, and the glass chandelier above me was swaying side to side, side to side.

Wanting to know if others in the area had felt it, I posted a message on Facebook where I was sure several of my local friends would see it. Sure enough, others in Venice and right out side Venice on the mainland in Mestre had felt it also. Magnitude 5.2, depth 10 km.  The news reports some damage, no loss of life.   The epicenter was in the vicinity of  Massa and Carrera, located a bit north of Florence and east of La Spezia on the Ligurian sea below Genoa.  I waited for an aftershock but felt none, thankfully.

Later in the day I noted that there were aftershocks, LOTS of them.  Every few minutes since the first earthquake there have been much smaller shocks, most registering between 2-2.5 on the Richter scale. The latest one was just 23 minutes ago. We haven't felt any of those here. Thankful.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Veritas.(truth).... not really.

Yesterday in the mail I received our current trash/water bill from Veritas, the water utility company.  The bill was a harsh reminder of a recent, very unpleasant, visit I paid to the Veritas company. On the days when I feel even slightly like I am beginning to belong, some administrative nightmare jolts me right back to reality. No, I am not, and will probably never, fit in here. Does that stop me??? No, never.

Here's a recap of my latest adventure with the Italian adminstrative devils (opps, I meant darlings :) ).  When we moved into the new apartment back in October, one of the tasks to be done was have accounts set up at each of the utility companies.  The electric and gas companies were easy. I filled out the paper work and our real estate agent faxed all the documents over to them. The water/trash company, Veritas, wouldn't accept a fax, I needed to see them face-to-face.

I  had geared up for the visit, practiced all the Italian I might need to make myself understood, and made sure all of my documents were filled in properly, including the authorization form for them to deduct our payments directly from our Italian bank account. My visit went surprisingly smoothly. Perhaps that should have been a big red flag. I naively took it as my ability to communicate in Italian had improved dramatically.  The months went by. We received our electric and gas bills in the mail with no problem. We never received any statements from Veritas. I wondered if this was a problem, but figured, what the heck, those payments come directly from our bank account. Still I would have liked to have received a statement.

About 3 weeks ago, Veritas jolted me right back to reality.  Around 11 am one morning, our doorbell rang. Thinking it was the postman wanting to be let in, I buzzed open the front door. From downstairs came a yell, "Signora!!!!!".  The guy downstairs was summoning me to join him. Down I went, to discover this guy had a registered letter for me, from the water company. First bill I had ever received. He opened the letter in front of me, and explained that I had an overdue water/trash bill that must be paid in 24 hours or the water would be turned off.  He also explained exactly what I needed to do to make sure this was accomplished properly, which included paying the bill, then faxing a copy of the receipt to the water company. I should have listened to my internal warning bells. I KNEW something wasn't right!

I immediately walked down the street to the nearest Tabacci (tabacco shop. Yes, you pay bills there), and had him fax of the receipt for me. Step one completed, I could at least sleep that night.

The next morning, I paid a visit to the Veritas office at Piazzale Roma, armed with copies of all my documents. After queuing up and waiting an hour, it was my turn. I stepped up to the sportello (counter, in Italian- there's nothing sporty about this at all), and proceeded to explain my little problem to the girl on the other side of the desk.  When I asked if she spoke any English, just in case things got over the limit of  my command of Italian. She responded "Not much", but smiled and yelled over to Diego, down the row of sportellos. Diego, she told me, speaks pretty well. He's now my lifeline call in case I need him.   After a bit of exploration on the computer, she discovered what the problem was. Statements had been mailed, but they had been sent to my name at an address in Treviso, not Venice. She was perplexed.  She then went  to a back room and returned with an enormous red binder. She flipped through all the account folders in the binder, pulled out my account, and sure enough, the original documents submitted on the day I set up the account have the correct address in Venice on them.  Someone made a mistake entering data into the computer, thus the address of Treviso. That explains why I never got any statements. Also, the information to set up direct payment from my bank account was correct on my forms. It just never got done by whoever processes that stuff at Veritas. So there we have it. Nothing was done right. We discovered the truth- Veritas!!!

I was expecting an apology. None came. Before I left the office we verified that the address was now correct and that future bills would be mailed to me.  I crossed my fingers and sent a prayer to Saint Anthony- the patron saint of lost things and missing persons, and left the Veritas office.

St. Anthony, and Veritas, came through. The latest bill arrived just fine.

New Secret Garden update

Our secret garden had a milestone event today- I finished ripping out the thousands of brambles and all the remaining weeds! Finally, all the beds are cleared.  I have 2 gi-normous piles of crap still to bag up and haul out to the trash pile, but that's work I can live with.  Our "orto" has been planted. Now we'll spend the remainder of summer evenings watering and watching the crops grow.

 The zucchini bed. Lots of  tiny flowers already forming. 

 The pepper bed, with lovely little peppers. Eggplants, tomatoes and corn are all growing nicely. 

Next year I see more roses, and an iris bed or two. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

It's official- No more Venezia Official Store

On April 25 Venice celebrated both Festa di San Marco and Italian Liberation Day. Venetians had one more thing to celebrate- the completion of the renovations of the Bell Tower. Finally, after a few years of construction we would all be able to enjoy the square sans barriers around the Campanile.  Or so we thought.  Mysteriously  the "Venezia Offical Store", an unsightly structure of glass and metal, appeared at the foot of the Campanile.  The purpose of this structure was to sell tickets to the new Manet exhibit and tourist souvenirs.

Between that time and now the Venetians mobilized, organized a new Facebook page, via il Gabbiotto dal Campanile, and got a petition circulated online asking the city government to remove this gabbiotto (booth). The square is a UNESCO world heritage site, and as such, a modern (and quite tacky )booth isn't quite appropriate to be at the foot of the Campanile. Furthermore, it's not like we needed one more location to be selling tourist trinkets. There's plenty of that. I joined the Facebook page instantly, signed the petition and passed it along. And in doing so, I felt like I belonged. Finalemente!

It didn't seem as though the local government was paying much attention to the uproar  created on the Facebook page. Local newspapers were printing daily articles noting the increasing numbers of Facebook fans to the page, and the rising number of signatures to the online petition.

And then there was the article yesterday. What a surprise. A  pleasant one. I wanted to get up and start singing "Ding Dong, the wicked witch is dead!"  The gabbiotto beneath the Campanile is to be dismantled. Soon.  A much smaller one will make an appearance under the portico of the Doges Palace where tickets will be sold, and will be removed mid August when the Manet exhibit has ended. Only tickets, no trinkets.

I'm impressed that a movement of the people was the catalyst behind something good happening for a change. It makes me hopeful.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Biennale 2013 - The Encyclopedic Palace

As I mentioned in my last post, I now have my permanent Biennale pass, which allows me entry into any of the Biennale exhibits anytime between June 1 and the closing day, November 24.  With this in my possession, I decided to go spend a few hours soaking up some culture yesterday.  Mike still needed to get his pass, which required him to show up in person with his identification documentation. Off we went to  the Giardini ticket booths as soon as they opened at 10 am. Our plan to go early paid off- the lines were short, no one cut in front of us, we moved quickly. Before we knew it, we had a second pass in hand. 

We'd taken a look at the exhibition maps the other day and had already decided to begin our Biennale exploration at the Arsenale.

This year Italian born Massimiliano Gioni, the youngest curator of the Venice Biennale, chose the theme Il Palazzo Enciclopedico after Italian-American artist Marino Auriti's concept of a museum (the Encyclopedic Palace) to contain all the world's knowledge. The exhibition, The Encyclopedic Palace, housed at the Arsenale, includes works by 92 artists (hope that's correct, I counted the list) from around the globe.

The exhibition hall is huge, it's contents almost overwhelming.  My plan was to carefully view each exhibit, pay attention to which artist did which work, and to read whatever information was available for each exhibit. I took notes. I took photos. I looked. I learned. I liked. I disliked.

There were many exhibits that were videos, and in general these did not appeal to me. I can't even put my finger on exactly why, they just did. After watching a few of them, I found I was quickly walking past these after just a moment or two perusal.

Here's my list of likes from this collection, in no particular order:
Lin Xue, Hong Kong, 1993-1995 untitled scroll - ink drawings using bamboo pen, with incredible detail

R.Crumb , Philadephia,2009 Illustrated book of Genesis- a monumental number of illustrations depicting the entire book of Genesis, including who begat who, with Crumb's interpretation of what every person looked like.

Shinichi Sawada, Shiga Japan, clay figures and masks.

Matt Millican, Santa Monica California- collage on paper and cotton, Learning from that Persons work


Pawel Atthamer, Warsaw Poland, 2013 - "Venetians " - Polyethelyene Resin and metal sculptures . A collection of 90 scultures

Yes, I really enjoyed all the Venetians!

And for the winner of the Dislike category?  Here you go:

This is part of a series of works by Carol Rama of Torino, Italy, painted in 1939.  Each of the paintings were a bit disturbing to me. Can you guess what rating I might have given this?  You got it.

Following several hours inside this main exhibit, I visited the nearby exhibits of the Vatican, exhibiting for the very first time this year; United Arab Emirates, South Africa, Republic of Kosovo, Turkey, Kingdom of Bahrain and the Republic of Indonesia.

My favorite of these ?  Definitely the exhibition of the United Arab Emirates titled Walking on Water by Mohammed Kazem 2005/2013.  You enter a chamber surrounded by the images and sounds of a very rough dark sea. You feel as though you are lost at sea, and even though you are stationary, you feel very wobbly upon leaving the chamber. An interesting experience.

Outside the Biennale exhibit spaces, here in Castello you can't escape art. The latest installation  to arrive on Via Garibaldi- a line of blue tempra paint. I've witnessed more than a few locals having some choice words to say about the blue line.  After this morning's rain- no more installation!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Biennale Blogs

It's that time of the year  when the entire art universe descends on Venice for the International exhibition of contemporary art. In reality, it's held every other year, on the odd years, hence the name "Biennale".  On the even years, there is a Biennale, but for Architecture instead.

Each country that wishes to exhibit can do so, and selects some of it's most notable artists for the honor of exhibiting here at Biennale. There are 30 permanent pavilions located at Giardini ( the public gardens in the district of Castello) to house the exhibitions of returning regular countries. Other exhibits are located in the Arsenale, as well as all over the rest of Venice in non-used churches, palazzos, and other rented spaces.

This year, the 55th Biennale, kicked off a few days ago. I have to admit that having spent the last 5 years living way on the other side of town in Santa Croce, I barely noticed the onslaught of the art world at Biennale time. I have attended bits and pieces of Biennale before, but have never done the entire exhibition. I'm about to change that statistic.

Truth be told, I'm not much of a contemporary art fan.  Probably not the wisest statement for me to be making, in as much as I am married to an artist, and have a daughter with a fine arts degree who is a budding artist herself. Nevertheless, it's the truth. I'm not a great fan, but I have been known to be a critic. Mike is a pretty good realistic painter who took a turn to the dark side years ago when he decided he preferred to paint abstract instead. Again, remember I have already mentioned that I am not a great fan of contemporary art. It's not so much that I am not a fan of it, it's more that I just don't understand it. Ok, so fairly often when Mike would bring one of his abstracts up from his studio, I'd give my opinion, using what I called my "Crap scale". I'd rate his pieces Crap, really crap, total crap, and pure unadulterated crap. It was just between us, and all in fun.  (In reality, Mike's abstracts are very good. He's had several exhibitions, sells his work and had had several commissioned pieces).

Living near both Arsenale and Giardini, it's been hard to miss all of the Biennale preparations going on around us for the last 2 weeks. I almost felt a little left out not having been to any of the big exhibitions before, so I decided this year would be different.  I researched my options for tickets and discovered I can purchase a "Permanent Card" which is available for residents.  I even tried to purchase the ticket on the Biennale website, only to find out that advance purchase of this particular type ticket isn't allowed. I have to wait until June 1. Guess where I will be on June 1. That's right. You'll find me at the ticket office at Giardini waiting patiently in line for my own pass for this season.

My plan is to hit each and every exhibition, both the permanent pavilions and all of the collateral locations all over Venice. Biennale runs from June 1, the public opening date, until November 24. This week are the   opening events that are open only to special ticket holders and the press, and all of the gala pre-opening events that are invitation only.  You'll see my coverage of the exhibitions here on my blog as I experience all of it myself.

Who knows what I'll learn by exposing myself to something new. It's bound to be an interesting experiment. And- I plan to use my "Crap" rating scale only if necessary, but modified slightly to fit the circumstances. For Biennale it will be  Crap, Really Crap, Total Crap, and Crappissimo (that's Italian for "the most crappy").  Again, it's only in fun, and just between us. I know that this is an exhibition for the best of the best in the art world, and I have the utmost respect for the talent of these artists and newcomers.


Yesterday I stood in line at the Biennale ticket office at Giardini to purchase my season pass. I had already had a very long day, and the line seemed endless, but I was determined to find the patience to accomplish my task and go home with pass in hand.

Slowly, slowly, slowly the people ahead of me in line got their business taken care of. We inched forward. Just as there was only one couple ahead of me, I noticed a woman dressed entirely in red appear in front of me. She looked at me, I raised my eyebrow, she said, "Oh, I'm just here to join up with my friends", and pointed to the couple ahead of me. Ok, I could handle that.

A minute later, another pair of women put themselves in the line between me and the couple at the window who are just about to complete their transaction. I told these two women that the line is way behind me. One of them, with a very distinct French accent, proceeds to tell me that her friend has been waiting for her to arrive, and was standing off to the side of our line chatting with other people while she waited. So now that she's arrived, they are taking their turn at the window.  I explain again that  the line starts at the back. This woman proceeds to say she is taking her turn now, in front of me, given that she has finally arrived, and her friend has been in the "waiting line" over to the side for awhile. There is no "waiting line". I, and all the people behind me, have been in the only "waiting line" there is.  I told her I didn't understand this other "waiting line concept, her friend was over there chatting and was not in line" but she wasn't cutting in front of me. I'd waited, and it was my turn. This woman again decides she is going to educate me on how it is ok for her to cut into line because her friend was chatting while waiting for her.  This is a new one for me. She was mighty persistent, but  I stood my ground.  She kept trying, and finally asks " Are you this aggressive in your daily life? "

Funny, in my opinion, she was the aggressive one, attempting to push her way into the head of the queue.  I declined to respond. The look on my face said it all. What did she do? She cut into the line in front of the person just behind me, who let it all happen without saying a word.

I did not have a good first foray into the world of Biennale. But I did walk away with my permanent pass in hand, mission accomplished. Here's to better Biennale days ahead.

Secret Garden update

No rain today (big surprise), and you would have thought I'd take advantage of the clear skies to get down into the garden again. Not today. I gave myself a day off to spend a few hours at the Biennale exhibits (more on that in my next post ).  We did go down for a look-see, hoping to notice some progress. Luckily I remembered to grab my camera on my way out the door!

Here's the new tomato bed, filled with heirloom tomatoes, cherry tomatoes and some big round tomatoes we hope will be perfect for thick slices on summer sandwiches. 

The first of the tomatoes on the vine!!

The zucchini bed. Too early to spot any zucchini's, but everything looks like it's getting bigger.

The pepper and eggplant bed along the side garden wall. 

First of the peppers!

Roses blooming today. Another first!

View of the front half of the garden.

The back corner finally cleared.  Now I can do a little dreaming about what this might look like in a year or two.