Tuesday, June 13, 2017

DAY 270: Venetian Holiday

Hello readers! So, so sorry for the massive delay--but I have so many photos and commentaries to share this time around, so hopefully it's worth it!
Spoiler alert... I did this again. From a gallery in Vienna, unrelated to the Biennale but also just hilarious.
Teaching ended a few weeks ago, so I spent the first weekend of June in beautiful, dreamlike Venice! I know, I know, I probably referred to Vienna as a dream earlier on this blog. And it still is! But it's more of a realistic dream, where things are a little more magical and special but still grounded in reality. Venice, conversely, is like the dream having a dream. Dream squared. Dream-ception. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera... it's unreal. The streets and alleys are so narrow, the bridges so quaint and picturesque, the buildings in those bright, red-clay and tumeric-yellow colors... 

I first went to Venice in March/April of 2007, so it was literally over ten years ago. I went for my Bat Mitzvah trip--since I was about as social back at age 13 as I am now (read: not enough for Bat Mitzvah parties), my family decided not to have a party and we took a trip to Italy over spring break. This was when I was becoming an expert on the Italian Renaissance, so I naturally gave my parents tours all over the museums of Italy.
Here is a really blurry photo of me and my dad in Saint Mark's square in spring of 2007, back when I was practically an infant with braces and a head small enough for most hats.
Venice is... wait for it... another TEN-HOUR BUS RIDE from Vienna. I lied when I said I wasn't going to do another bus ride like that again. But it was still a better option than having to change trains a bunch of times, which would have been more expensive and just as long in duration. I left Vienna in the morning from the Hauptbahnhof (howpt-baahn-hohf), the main train station in the city, from the same spot where I'd caught the Berlin bus. I am basically a pro at international bus travel at this point.
Give me charging ports and a wifi connection and I'm basically good to go on any trip.
The bus ride itself was completely fine--I slept on and off, listened to an album I reviewed for PopMatters, and worked on a review for Paste. So basically... exactly what I would have done had I just stayed home and not taken a TEN-HOUR BUS RIDE. I did eat a lot more junk food, but I always end up eating more in general when I do this kind of travel because I never know when I'll have time to get a proper meal at a stop or whether it's just a ten-minute bathroom break and protein bar kind of pause.
Massive Nutella jar that I didn't buy, but holy crap so much Nutella. THREE KILOGRAMS OF SOLID NUTELLA.
On the bridge from the mainland to Venezia...
I was pretty sore when we finally pulled into the Venice station, so I decided to walk to my hotel to stretch my legs and get my blood flowing. I like to walk as much as I can when traveling, both to see the city and to avoid spending money on transit, and since Venice doesn't have subways or buses near the Grand Canal, I figured a gondola ride would be massively overpriced. The sun has finally decided to stay out until around 9pm, so walking the 30-minute trek to my hotel with my suitcase and bags at around 8pm was no hassle at all. After checking in and getting my stuff dropped off into my little single room, I headed out to grab some dinner (I had pasta, of course) and walked around a little bit as the sun finished going down.
Every view looked like this and I wanted to scream a little.
My hotel bathroom had a bidet! ... I think?
Cute little bookstore I ducked into that was still open this late on a Saturday night! (It wasn't that late, but it would have been late for homebody Vienna, who likes to finish shopping by 6pm on Saturdays...)
Time for Venice day one! 

So I came to Venice originally not really having a concrete plan of what to see, which was silly, I know. But I put two and two together and realized that the Biennale, aka the massive show of contemporary art that happens in Venice every two years, was going to be on display when I was there, so I pre-ordered a ticket a few weeks before I left. After all, now I can definitely rock that fancy "oh, well, I did so enjoy the Biennale when I went in 2017--the [insert name here] was a little gauche, but it was so stimulating over all" art critic/curator cred. Also, because of the massive, massive scale of the exhibitions, I was interested in how the curators would tackle making so many artists and so many different works come together in a cohesive way. It seemed quite the Herculean task.
I made someone take a photo of me on the main bridge. But they did a good job!
Aaaand here's me (not on the same bridge) ten years ago, squinting against the sun.
Day one was Biennale day, then, so after walking about forty minutes from my hotel I arrived at the main exhibition hall, which was divided into seven pavilions, all with a different theme, then walked over to some of the country pavilions. The whole display was big and bold and very keen on overwhelming the viewer with large-scale installations in dazzling colors and textures. (I don't like to repeat images I share, so you can check out my summary posts on Instagram.)

Yes, you walk through the GIANT HAND.
Hall of mirrors, anyone?
I have to say I liked the country pavilions on the whole better than the themed pavilions, because they were much more coherent and concise (but that was in their nature). Over 100 countries, many of them with large buildings in a park-area, picked the best of their home artists and put on shows. It was kind of like the costume aspect of The Hunger Games, actually, because some of the buildings themselves also reflected their countries. So on that first day, I went to the American, Japanese, British, Korean, Venezuelan, Italian, Chinese, Canadian, Spanish, and Nordic pavilions, to name just a few.
The American pavilion naturally looks like someone stole it from the University of Virginia.
Venice day two!

So... I dun goofed on this one. Since it was Monday, I didn't realize the Biennale would be closed. I often forget that things are closed on Mondays, for whatever reason, because I've always had to go to school on Mondays, so Mondays are an "on" day just like the other weekdays. But never fear: Venice has plenty of art that was viewable on Mondays! So I decided to walk to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection first, where I'd been with my mom back in 2007, and waited in a relatively long line (twenty or so minutes, but I hadn't had to wait at all for the Biennale) to get in and see the works. There was the permanent collection, of course, but also a really luminous and lovely show by Mark Tobey, which I was not allowed to photograph (sad face). Since it was the summer, the place was crawling with interns--no one I had any mutual acquaintances with, but it wouldn't have surprised me if there had been--giving tours, taking tickets, and generally standing around being helpful. It made me feel both older and wiser (as I've graduated from undergrad and was older than these kids) and nostalgic for my days as an intern...
I call this the Screaming Creature. It's supposed to be a lion--I just found it very amusing to look at. 
No, Italy. THIS IS NOT OKAY. ITALY IS SUPPOSED TO BE THE CAPITAL OF FASHION AND WE ARE NOT BRINGING BACK SPAGHETTI STRAPS OVER TEE SHIRTS AGAIN. NO.
Not a part of the Biennale--just a lovely contemporary show of glass in an old palazzo. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE when people stage contemporary shows in older buildings. It seems to require a lot of creativity to make sure the effect isn't totally incongruous or jarring, and honestly, it seems like a challenge I would love to undertake in the future.
Loved seeing this Dustin Yellin in the glass show. I actually saw his works a few years ago and wrote about it here--before he was in the LA Times and everything, so it's really cool to see him succeeding abroad.
I went to a few other smaller country pavilions that were open on Monday--some of the countries don't get their own buildings, and so they're scattered around the city and have more discretion about when they want to be open. So, all in all, not a mistake to include a Monday in my trip--just maybe something I definitely should have checked first.

Venice day three!

I went back to the Biennale to check out the pavilions I missed last time, and saw the Australian, German, Finnish, Austrian, Venetian (which gets its own pavilion, for some reason), Polish, Greek, Brazilian, Romanian, Serbian, and Dutch pavilions, to name a few. The Austrian pavilion was a lot of interactive fun, but the Finnish pavilion was, of course, the weirdest. (I listen to Finnish music, so I can confidently say that the Finns' artistic output is on the oddball side.) 
I don't even know how to describe the narrative of what was going on in the Finnish pavilion, but it involved video art, animatronic talking spherical forms, and lots of discussions of Godliness.
Austrian pavilion. I have to get over my sheer terror of accidentally breaking something in an interactive exhibition. There are just so many more of them in Europe than I've probably seen in all my life in the United States. I wonder why the approach to contemporary art is so different across the Atlantic? 
The Venetian pavilion was purposefully gaudy and kind of overwhelming in a bad way, but I have to think that was the point. It was just all covered in gold and shiny surfaces and was extremely loud and hard to look at. I did like this dress though.
In the German pavilion, we were elevated a good foot and a half above the normal floor, standing on panes of glass that freaked me out. Even though I know it was structurally sound, I kept worrying that I was going to fall through a panel or something. 
Ah, my favorite country: the country of Swatch, which got its own sponsor display in a prominent spot in the park.
The next morning, I woke up at an excessively early hour to leave Venice--checking out took exactly zero time, and I'd already packed the night before, so even after walking the half hour to the bus station, I had about an hour and a half to wait before we left. This was an active choice on my part, as my family can tell you, because I like to have two hours of waiting time at the airport after I go through security, just to be on the safe side. I like to be early! 

Walking around the deserted streets of Venice at 6:30 am was rather romantic--just the sound of my loud footsteps and the clatter of my rolling suitcase until I got to the part of the island with buses and trains. I did see a cute little birdie, as pictured below, which was a nice break from the endless pigeons of Venice, who will come for your food even if you are at the table at the time, and you have to scream at them to leave.
I am no orinthologist. Someone get my aunt, uncle, or Jonathan Franzen on the line to identify this bird for me.
So that was my trip to Venice in a nutshell. I ended up having spent exactly the right amount of time for me, and I didn't feel like I'd missed out on anything when I left, unlike Prague, which I really only had a day or two in to explore properly. I guess I'll have to see what Venice is like in 2027, because at the rate I'm going, that would be when I visit it next.

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