Solitude and Solace

A few thoughts stimulated by sleep deprivation on an “overnight” Trans-Atlantic flight.

In A Room of One’s Own, author Virginia Woolf referred to personal time as “solitude“.

Gretel Erlich’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Solace of Open Spaces, addresses the impact of being enmeshed in known places and relationships versus being apart, unleashed from the chaos of human community found in the “familiar”, as a source of solace.  Her new close neighbors in Wyoming were measured distant in both miles and in understanding of reality.  Solitude can be found there, perhaps even as a location-specific parameter of solace, but not a substitute for it.

Solitude or Solace? (c)2012 Randy D. Bosch

Solitude or Solace? (c)2012 Randy D. Bosch

These concepts, inexplicably for me, are often confused.  Each summarizes in one word a state of being that, appropriately applied, seems essential at various times for a sound and balanced life.  Essential to life whether one finds solitude voluntarily or through coercion, whether dispensing or receiving solace actively or passively.

Solitude evokes visions of a different environment than the “day to day” repetition of life.  A beautiful, exclusive neighborhood named Solitude exists a few miles from where I lived for a decade.  That Solitude is claimed by some residents to be renowned for its internicine warfare between neighbors who demand that their governing definition of  “Solitude” be observed to a degree of pietism which their neighbors, The Others (also known as Those People), had best adhere.  The stridency with which that solitude was pursued was purported (to put the best construction on claims) to include spying on neighbors, to reports (not always fictional) of incredible, mind-boggling acts by neighbors on their land and within their homes or blatantly on the streets and byways, to alleged retaliatory actions both anonymously and “in your face”, resulting in governmental intervention and lawsuits – some even justified!

Peyton Place may seem an enclave of solitude in comparison to how many perceived this place!  Yet, I need not single out that Solitude, for most “neighborhoods” of any definition on this Earth are its cousins to some degree of separation!  That Solitude is better than most.

The lid of civility on the boiling cauldron of “free will” is fragile indeed.

Yet, the overwhelming majority of the people in “neighborhoods” are upright, generous to a fault, of good repute at the city gate, fine stewards of the land, and wonderful in societal settings.  Does your “Solitude” have a demanding, dictatorial new humanism, New Enlightenment, “my way or the highway” edge – because you are smarter, richer, better educated, better bred than “the other” with whom you disagree, must endure or, heaven forfend, share?

Solitude definitions from two on-line sources are instructive. offers “a state of social isolation; the state or situation of being alone; a solitary place.” proposed “…a state of seclusion or isolation; i.e., lack of contact with people. It may stem from bad relationships, deliberate choice, infectious disease, mental disorders, or circumstances of employment or situation (see castaway).”  I had anticipated finding definitions that would also describe “a time out for one who does not play well with others”, as in “solitary confinement”.

The solitude that is part of the open spaces in which Gretel Erlich found solace is not always found in the dominant paradigms!  The positive side of solitude and its value to an individual are rather far down the list in most general reference works, although “Public Solitude” (an apparant oxymoron) and “Fortress of Solitude” touch upon that aspect.

Solace, on the other hand, evokes images ranging from sympathy, tender care, respite from distress, and the like.  To be even-handed about the matter, two on-line dictionaries have the following among their primary definitions of solace:

Solace definitions also abound, with offering “Consolation: the comfort you feel when consoled in times of disappointment; … Comfort in disappointment or misery; … Comfort: give moral or emotional strength to’, and sharing “Comfort in sorrow, misfortune, or distress; consolation. A source of comfort or consolation.”  Someone looking for the solace defined there would probably not benefit from pursuing the overwhelming “search engine” sources, a voluminous list of movies and recordings.

Another definition sees solace as “an easing of grief, loneliness, or discomfort.”  That result can also be seen in Gretel Erlich’s book, and seen as something that may be found in what many others would take to be painful, lonely or uncomfortable places where separation from family, friends, routine and recognized things might be overwhelming.  In Solitude.

Many modern stories dwell upon grief, loneliness or discomfort, and sometimes all three.  They demonstrate that solitude is a personal state found in cities among all that is familiar as well as in unfamiliar and pastoral settings.  Gretel Erlich recounted an interval in life precipitated by grief, loneliness and discomfort that found solace not among the familiar, whether places, things, or friends, but in the unfamiliar and among strangers as well.  Yet, it can clearly occur…“alone in the crowded room”.

What brings these clearly different concepts and realities together in a meaningful way?  Certainly, there is no panacea to be found through this juxtaposition neither paradoxical nor oxymoronic, but sometimes both.  Perhaps we each need to ponder both in our own ways… and allow others space and time to do the same, even during a fleeting midnight crossing of the point of no return … in solitude, seeking solace.

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Venice – My Favorite Bridge

Which ponte is my favorite bridge in Venice?  The easy answer, of course, is “The one I can see from the one I am standing upon” (not blocking traffic, of course) at any given time, day or night.  In reality , with well over four hundred bridges from which to choose, within a barely six square mile plus outliers territory and including a surprising number of “ponte privato” locations, plus a few periodic ponte that spring up for special events like the Festival of Redentore, a finite selection – even a de rigure “Top 10” listing – may be an unachievable conceit.

Ponte della Rialto (c)2015 R.D.Bosch

Ponte della Rialto (c)2015 R.D.Bosch

The task, actually a minor labor of love, is not dissimilar to picking “the best” National Park, or “the best” City – well, that would without doubt be Venice among cities, and a credo that each Park is the best at or for many things and therefore simply incomparable with others!

Bridges!  The temporary Ponte di Accademia, only temporary for about eight decades, has become beloved by many (and vandalized by too many love lock fiends).  The railing free Ponte del Diavolo in Cannaregio and its namesake on Torcello intrigue many, and terrify equally, although some purists would not allow the one on Torcello to be counted as “of Venice”.

Ponte della Accademia (c)2015 R.D.Bosch

Ponte della Accademia (c)2015 R.D.Bosch

The Ponte de Rialto and the Ponte de Sospiri (“Bridge of Sighs”) are the most famous and most photographed for various reasons.  Each is dear in its own way.  Even the relatively contemporary wooden bridge across the Rio dell’Arsenale is worthy of praise, perhaps boosted in ranking by the great access it gives to Paolo’s Osteria in Campo dell’ Arsenale.

Ponte della Sospiri (c)2015 R.D.Bosch

Ponte della Sospiri (c)2015 R.D.Bosch

Yes, sometimes it is the view from , the destination reached, the festival celebrated that inspires.  The bridges designed by outstanding architects like Scarpa and Botta accessing the Palazzo Quirinale inspire, requiring an annual pilgrimage to also partake of their wondrous work inside the Foundation.

I confess, my favorite really is the bridge I am on at any moment along my walks through La Serenissima!

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Brodsky’s Love Affair with Venice

Brodsky’s Love Affair with Venice

Joseph Brodsky, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Poetry, was interviewed in New York in December 1979 by Sven Birkirts.  Paris Review published the interview as “Joseph Brodsky, The Art of Poetry No. 28”.  In that interview, ranging over Brodsky’s life and work, Birkirts asked him to specifically address his “…love affair with Venice.”  Brodsky stated, in part,

“…the place is so beautiful that you can live there without being in love. It’s so beautiful that you know that nothing in your life you can come up with or produce—especially in terms of pure existence—would have a corresponding beauty. It’s so superior.

Venice - A Graspable Degree of Arbitrariness (Brodsky)  (c)2014 R.D.Bosch

Venice – A Graspable Degree of Arbitrariness (Brodsky) (c)2014 R.D.Bosch

“It is interesting to watch the tourists who arrive there. The beauty is such that they get somewhat dumbfounded. What they do initially is to hit the stores to dress themselves—Venice has the best boutiques in Europe—but when they emerge with all those things on, still there is an unbearable incongruity between the people, the crowd, and what’s around. Because no matter how well they’re dressed and how well they’re endowed by nature, they lack the dignity, which is partially the dignity of decay, of that artifice around them. It makes you realize that…

what people can make with their hands is a lot better than they are themselves.

Birkirts asked if, when in Venice, Brodsky had a sense of “history winding down,” and if that was “part of the ambience”.  Brodsky replied,

“Yes, more or less. What I like about it apart from the beauty is the decay. It’s the beauty in decay. It’s not going to be repeated, ever. As Dante said: ‘One of the primary traits of any work of art is that it is impossible to repeat.’”

Venice - "Impossible to Repeat"  (c)2014 R.D.Bosch

Venice – “Impossible to Repeat” (c)2014 R.D.Bosch

The beauty is in decay, an impossible to repeat primary trait of the work of art that is Venice.

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Venice Quilt

The Venice Quilt. 

There is a pattern to this Quilt, assembled and nurtured for over 1500 years.  Most observers wonder if there is a pattern, how it can be seen, traced, and comfortably used.
The Venice pattern was formed through the creative absorption and transformation of classical values, periodically cleansed, refined of corruption and impurities to regain its rightful course – refined by the Lagoon, the Sea, distant lands and cultures, and by Venetian innovation.  Those creative values drew from Venice’s mainland Roman heritage, infused with Byzantine order, far before Florence became a cultural and political force.  Venice is something that the Florentine Renaissance  could simply never understand, could not stand to leave alone.
Quilted Walls, Quilted Plazas (c)2015 R.D.Bosch

Quilted Walls, Quilted Plazas (c)2015 R.D.Bosch

More than a few alterations have occurred over the centuries as pieces were added to the quilt, island by island, stitched together by bridges.  A few rents have also occurred in the fabric, like the Rio Novo and the Strada Nova.  Some parvenues stitched in chunks of their own design and desire, and continue to do so, like the Giardini Publicca, Ferrovia Santa Lucia and Piazzale Roma, or straightened a seam perhaps best left alone, like the already infamous “fourth bridge”.  Perhaps a few have, intentionally or not, beneficially finished a ragged patch in the completion of Piazza San Marco, or repaired a tattered or missing binding on the Fondamenta Nove and the Zattere.  You, and history, have the liberty to judge those things.  There is no competition against other urban quilts.  Venice is unique, one of a kind.
Guggenheim Patchwork (c)2015 R.D.Bosch

Guggenheim Patchwork (c)2015 R.D.Bosch

Quilt!  In Venice?  Of, course!  The pattern of sun-dappled wavelets found again and again as the inspiration for built Venice in its tessarae floors, masegne calli, campi, sacri, even the Palazzo walls – reflecting the very light of Venice from the Sea.
The Venice Quilt is illuminated by the sun and the moon.
Repairing the Quilt - Piazza San Marco (c)2015 R.D.Bosch

Repairing the Quilt – Piazza San Marco (c)2015 R.D.Bosch

In any media or application of patterns, “course correcting” is necessary,  whether assembled in cloth, plowed into a fallow field, or built into a community.  That endless challenge as exhibited throughout Venetian history reminds me of the lesson of “tacking” at sea to accommodate tides, winds, obstacles and foes.
There is no straight path from “Point A” to “Point B” at sea, in the mountains, in your city, or in Venice.  Any passage through the labyrinth of Venetian calli requires exquisite tacking skills on the sun-danced wavelets of masegni and tessarae.  Over time, with practice, your course will vary due to lessons learned, changing seasons, sightings of landmarks, or the ever-moving flotillas of tour groups and school children.
Navigating Venice is  like sailing in the Lagoon. 
On land, in Venice, that tacking benefits from using campanili as bricoli, ponti as runs before the wind –dritto, siempre dritto!,campi as leeward bays – not calm but perhaps becalming, to ease the constant, necessary course adjustments en route to any destination.  They also enrich the journey immeasurably, allowing you to revise any plotted course opportunistically to imbibe things newly observed or finally recalled.
A non-narrative approach to Venice – the one place that inspires in each moment, in every turn with a pattern so complex yet so comfortable.  Paradoxically, a non-repeating pattern.  Venice is unlike any other Quilt you will ever find.
Wrap it around and lose yourself in its warmth!
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Venice Paths

“Andare per le podere” means “reaching hidden areas by following secret paths, thus heightening the visitor’s sense of discovery and expectation”, according to Jacopo Fasolo in “Another Venice”.  This rings true for me whether that secret path is long known to me yet only shared with true friends or if it is my first journey along it, filled with anxiety about ever reaching my intended destination and with anticipation of new revelations in route along with a new way to arrive at my goal.

How “optionality” abounds in Venice in this sense!  Are you seeking to stand pondering “Unde Origo Inde Salus” at one of those too rare times when you are allowed to reach the center of the great dome?  Then, take a new, perhaps secret, path to the Salute each time you set out with that hope.  Your journey may be rewarded, graced with new discoveries along the route that will stand in honor in your memories even if the Origo is not explicated for you that day.  You can always find Salute, and you will earnestly hope to remember how to “andare per le fodere” on the way, along the many ways.

Origo is Near - Are You on the Secret Path? (c)2014 R.D.Bosch

Origo Is Near – Are You on the Secret Path? (c)2014 R.D.Bosch

In Venice, each path will have a new treasure awaiting you, beckoning from different portals in different directions, if you recall the secret, if you are prepared to find it.

Some of those paths are on land and some are on water.  Along one, in a contemplative garden corner, you may rest from your trek on a polished granite bench into which is carved, “Go where people sleep and see if they are safe.”  Ponder that plea for a while.

Go Where People Sleep and See If They are Safe

Go Where People Sleep and See If They are Safe

Another path will take you past a commanding viewpoint below a great golden orb, where you may find people milling about with a look of loss in their eyes, asking the empty sky and sea, “Where is the boy with the frog?”  You might reply, “Gone away, down a secret path.  Go, see if you can find him.  Andare per le fodere.”

Boy with Frog - Venice 2009 (c)2009 R.D.Bosch

Boy with Frog – Venice 2009 (c)2009 R.D.Bosch

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The Abbey of Santa Maria de Pomposa

Rising out of the vast flat agricultural fields and wetlands of the very large and ever-changing Po River delta, equidistant from Ravenna, Chioggia and Ferrara, yet only about six miles from the Mare Adriatico, the Abbazia di Santa Maria de Pomposa is – perhaps because of that relative isolation – an extraordinary survivor of more than 1400 years of turmoil and change, and an extraordinary exemplar of its time and still extant religion.  In fact, the Abbey’s peak was in the mid-1100’s, beginning hundreds of years of decline, for the Po River outlets radically shifted their course over decades of Spring floods, ruining the soil due to incursions of brackish Lagoon waters and the spread of malaria in the wetlands.

The Abbey was abandoned in 1671.

Eventually, health and environment improved to the extent that private agriculture again flourished in this part of the Delta.  In the 19th Century, the property was acquired by the State and, with its immense value recognized, restoration has continued to this day.

Pomposa (c)2015 R.D.Bosch

Pomposa (c)2015 R.D.Bosch

Although much of the highly detailed brick complex as seen at its greatest is still, and will likely ever remain, in ruin, the great abbey church and its atrium (designed by Mazulo), the soaring campanile (designed by Deusdedis in 1063), much of one cloister, the great refectory, the capitular hall, various support spaces, and the courthouse remain and were restored, to be observed and its peak Romanesque design pondered in our time.

Wise stewards have not allowed “modern” development to encroach on this marvelous place.  Parts of the original 800’s church and surrounds are still very visible, as is the expansion supervised by St. Guido during his abbacy from 1006 to 1046 A.D.  The campanile, designed by Deusdedis, was begun in 1063 (historical detail sources: the Abbey Museum; Di Francesco, Carla, “Pomposa – History and Art of the Abbey”, Italcards, Bologna, n.d.,; and simple observation, including noting that Deusdedis “signed” the Campanile!).

Pomposa 11thC Brickwork (c)2015 R.D.Bosch

Pomposa 11thC Brickwork (c)2015 R.D.Bosch

Sadly, but apparently necessarily to prevent collapse, the 19th Century “stabilization” project inserted a series of walls dividing the atrium and dividing the side aisles of the church itself, so that the original vast open 2-aisle Basilica design is compromised.  Beyond that…

What remains is what was there in 1046

Inside, flawlessly executed marble mosaic floor inlays abound, often overlooked because of the compelling, cycle of painted frescoes encircling the church on two and sometimes three levels above.  These are the stories of the Bible, and those who have studied the Bible can quickly recognize almost all of the stories by name! Our reaction was, after a while, “Of course!!!”  In an era of laboriously copied scrolls, and even into an era of increasing book publishing late in the Abbey’s active life, the populace possessed few books.  A visit to the Abbey, or contemplative study and worship by the monks, would readily use the frescoes to share – to “read” the pictures in order or by subject, Old and New Testament, to bring to life and word the key Biblical stories, from Adam and Eve to the Ascension of Christ.

There are also frescoed scenes from the lives (and martyrdoms) of early Saints that  were studied – and sometimes emulated (even if against their will) by the monks of Pomposa. As is not uncommon in a major church of this era, the inside wall of the front entrance, known as a “counter façade” – visible when standing with one’s back to the apse and high altar (and it is truly  a “high” altar here…) – displays a huge frescoe of the Day of Judgment at the Second Coming of Christ.  Pomposa’s “The Last Judgment” is equal in its frescoed glory and sobering detail to the phenomenal mosaic “The Last Judgment” in Santa Maria della Assunta on the island of Torcello in the Venetian Lagoon. You may ask, “How many frescoed scenes grace the Abbey?”  There are fifty-nine on the Nave walls alone, plus many more in the apse including its walls and semi-dome, the counter façade, on buttresses and columns, headers and arches, plus literally hundreds of meaningful symbols.  You have to read the book!

As to what remains of , well, the remains, an extensive collection of the most meaningful of them slumbering in the major Dormitory in the surviving cloister, in an extremely well-curated set of at least 176 displays.  It is a very, very large Dormitory! The adjoining Capitular Hall is also fully frescoed  The Refrectory displays the remarkable “new” 14th Century frescoes, covering the “old ” frescoes in the large room.  What a loss this seems, but every house would best receive a fresh coat of paint every 300 years or so… The final building remaining is the Court House.  In the feudal system extant during most of the Abbey’s active life, the Abbot administered justice over a fairly substantial territory assigned to it.  Exterior decorative elements originally attached to the exterior disappeared over the centuries, but the basic structure is original, and appears quite “modern” today despite its more than 900 year existence.

Pomposa was a Benedictine community, believed to have been founded in the Seventh Century, eventually certified by Pope John VIII as being directly under Rome’s jurisdiction, but later declared it royal and independent by Holy Roman Emperor Otto III … an unexplained oxymoron – but when you are the Emperor…

Pomposa is one of the most remarkable places

in all of Post-Roman Empire Europe.

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Tuscany Hill Towns: Monte San Savino

The Medieval hill town of Monte San Savino in Tuscany is due east of Siena, located on a commanding hilltop rising above the Valdichiana (Chiana River Valley), about 2 kilometers west of the A1 tollroad.  The ancient core of the town is crowded within a remarkably well-preserved wall with most of its historic portals still intact.  The area within the wall barely exceeds 800 feet by 1000 feet in dimension, and contains the works of several remarkable Renaissance architects and artists.

The famed Renaissance sculptor and architect Andrea Contucci, known by his “professional” name, Sansovino, was both born and buried here, after a long and productive life designing a number of the major public structures in Venice.

Walls and gates

Monte San Savino - The East Wall   (c)2013 R.D.Bosch

Monte San Savino – The East Wall (c)2013 R.D.Bosch

The Medici Gate – on the north, of course!

Monte San Savino - The Medici Gate (North, of Course!)     (c)2013 R.D.Bosch

Monte San Savino – The Medici Gate (North, of Course!) (c)2013 R.D.Bosch

Antonio San Gallo also worked here, providing the visitor with a nice game of “scavenger hunt”.  Giorgio Vasari designed the northern gate, Porta Fiorentina, designed for the Medici, a then “modern” replacement for the Medieval gate and a necessary pronouncement of the hegemony of Florence.

The main street, Corso San Gallo, enters town via Porta Fiorentina to run south-southeast for the full length of town, first passing Piazza Gamurrini and the Citadel (Cassero) with its local museum, on its way by the de rigure mid-town Loggia de Mercante (designed by Sansovino) across from the church of Sant’ Agostino with its Sansovino-designed cloister, then the Palazzo Communale, or town hall (designed by San Gallo as a residence for the then-Cardinal of the church).  The citadel tower and campanile soar into the deep blue Tuscan sky.  Sant’ Agostino is worth a visit, including time to ponder Vasari’s remarkable altarpiece, The Assumption, near Sansovino’s gravestone.

Monte San Savino Towers (c)2013 R.D.Bosch

Monte San Savino Towers (c)2013 R.D.Bosch

Monte San Savino - The Portico                              (c)2013 R.D.Bosch

Monte San Savino – The Portico (c)2013 R.D.Bosch

South of the church, the Corso bends at Sansovino-designed Piazza di Monte, perhaps not coincidentally located by his family home!

Monte San Savino is a small and fascinating town – small enough that if you do not pay attention, you will soon be rushing through Porta Roma at the south end,

Of course … Headed toward Rome.

The solution (of course) is to simply reverse course and spend a casual day in this peaceful, pleasant place.

Monte San Savino

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Robert Burt, Artist of Mystery, Adventure and Joy

The subjects of Robert Burt’s paintings are almost entirely found through his experiences in the Desert Southwest of the United States and northern Mexico.  Although I had become aware of his art over the course of the past several years through gallery event advertisements and the occasional brief article about his work in art magazines.

Robert Burt (c)2013

Robert Burt (c)2013

I had never observed an original work until the day I first met him in person at the Arizona Fine Art Expo 2012 in Scottsdale, Arizona.   My conversations with Robert Burt have continued every Winter since then, including at this year’s Expo.  One of a number of  large Winter-Spring art expositions in Maricopa County, this Expo strongly encourages the selected artists to be on site and at work as much as possible to interact with attendees.

“Come back any time, I paint every day”, he told me.

He may need to provide a chair! 

This week, surrounded by an array of very colorful and illuminated acrylic paintings of iconic Southwestern landscapes and buildings, Burt was deeply engrossed in painting the sky in another outstanding work.  Although photographic representations of his work give the impression of relatively smooth and seamless color fields, Burt’s brushwork imparts an intentional texture that in many cases is the most detailed part of a work. As his biography states,

“It is Robert’s desire to create paintings that convey a bit of mystery and adventure, leaving the feeling of joy”.  

Amidst the apparent yet deceptive simplicity of his style, each work conveys a sense of arrival and place, often as viewed from the middle distance.  Is the subject a building, an iconic automobile form reminiscent of the post-War ’40’s, an orderly copse of trees, or a rural road winding sinuously through golden hills like the swells on the sea?  The subject may be part of a tableau of several or all of those components, all rendered with a keen comprehension of the quality of light in the desert and a certain knowledge born from experiencing the scene.  In reality it is his reduction of the landscape he sees to “elemental and powerful components” that is compelling. 

Robert Burt’s reductionist style allows viewers to more easily enter into each scene in the sense that he experienced it, telling a story without revealing all the details. The positioning and angle of approach to his subject matter leaves the viewer with a sense of “mystery and adventure” as he intends.  The entirety of a tale is not illustrated, and the implied movement through a scene, around or past the objects within it, is not fully revealing of it, but hints at “more of the story” just around the next curve in the road or corner of a serendipitously placed landmark structure.

You, the viewer, have been granted the privilege of completing the story.

And, the buildings are landmarks of the Southwest – not in the “tour guide” or “architectural masterpieces” sense, but as obvious representations of the iconic, simple and unique historical buildings that are found within it.  They do less to occupy the landscape than to inform it for the viewer and impart delight. “It took me thirty years to learn to paint simply”, he said while he was simply painting another story of light, color, adventure, mystery…

And joy.

(The Arizona Fine Art Expo is open everyday 10am – 6pm from January 16 to March 29, 2015.  It is located at the southwest corner of Scottsdale Road and Jomax Road in north Scottsdale, Arizona, and features about 100 artists, many to be found painting, sculpting, jewelry making — and talking to visitors — on any given day.)

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“Dream of Venice” – A Book Review

Dream of Venice, photography by Charles Christopher, edited by Joann Locktov, forward by Frances Mayes, with 37 contributors.  Bella Figura Publications, 2014.

Dream of Venice

Dream of Venice

“Venice is a state of mind” wrote Frances Mayes in her stunning Foreward to this exquisite book on Venice, concluding with “You are the dreamer.  You are the room.  You open the door over and over”.

The secret is out among those who have taken the time to live the dream, to truly experience Venice again and again, to consciously infuse the place into memory, to let Venice possess a part of them.  Venice is a state of mind, a dream, and most importantly, a door that you open over and over again.

JoAnn Locktov has choreographed the extraordinay photographs by Charles Christopher with from-the-heart commentary by a cast of renowned dreamers, who have all also realized their own creative dreams and shared them with the world, to create a remarkable exhibition of coupled word and visual pictures that speak to the essence of La Serrissima — that is, Venice.

There truly is no other place on earth like Venice.  Many fabulous cities compete for your attention, and entice you to explore their own unique histories, culture, places and mythos.  Many alluring towns and stunningly wild places do the same. We can enjoy and perhaps even love them for that.  Venice refuses comparison; she disdains all competition; she demands your attention; she requires you to experience her always and only on her own terms.

Venice is  to be cherished  for her cheek, her incredible and inescapable history, for her display of riotous overindulgence side by side with her imperfections and decay.

Within,  one may experience the most modern of the fine arts, science, commerce and relationships, perhaps even tolerate (but not appreciate) its tourist hordes because they help frame the extremes of the place and Venice’s long-suffering tolerance of us.

“Dream of Venice” reads the dreams of those who cherish this place in a way not paralleled in many – if any – publications in recent times, and shares that reading with us in a book that is in itself a work of art.  Those dreams and the reality of Venice cannot be readily translated by or comprehended by many – including, sadly, that horde of tourists.  The authors deeply comprehend and translate with precision.  Their efforts may convict those teetering on the fence between indifference (fear?) and fascination to be boldly open to the mystery and reality of this seemingly impossible floating City-State, the last remaining outpost of the Roman Empire for more than 1500 years, the heir of storied Constantinople.

Venice?  Relevant?  Going strong?  Despite day-trip masses, mega-cruiseships, rising waters, fleeing residents?  The answer is, unequivocally, “Yes” (shout it!).   Venice has reinvented itself many times in response to seemingly existential challenges, and prevailed over “conventional wisdom” of those “experts” who do not know its roots and strengths, who have never had the Dream.  Save us, and Venice, from their formulas and  conceits.

“Dream of Venice” gives strong evidence, in its portrayal of Venice’s sublime yet often unconventional beauty and complexly paradoxical physical reality, that this mirage on the waters will be sustained for another millenium or more.

Dream of Venice.  Share the dream.  Accept the reality.

During one long-ago sojourn in Venice, a restaurant owner – a Venetian! (now an old friend!) – worried that we were still in his osteria long after the cruise crowds, daytrippers and tour herds needed to be in their safe accommodations, locked away in fear of the dream of Venice.  We told him that we were back again, independent and staying.  He pondered, stared, nodded gravely, and simply stated with conviction,

“Then, you understand.”

JoAnn Locktov, Charles Christopher and the 37 contributors have also invested in comrehending Venice – letting Venice have her way with them.  The proof is in their words and images – They Understand.

Devour “Dream of Venice” and, if you find yourself drawn into the dream, even if you have not yet made a commitment to let Venice have her way with you, you will be rewarded by the experience.  If the tales it tells and the images it reveals trouble you, are beyond comprehension or ability to be moved, if Venice pushes you away…       Venice will always draw and welcome the rest of us, drawing us back into the dream.  Venice will patiently wait for you to find you have awakened into that dream.

In the interim times between those when Venice shares herself with us, we have this extraordinary work, “Dream of Venice”, to help keep the dream alive.

Thank you, JoAnn and Charles for sharing your understanding and love for Venice!

Dream On!

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Venice Pavilion at the Biennale 2014 – Sonnets in Babylon by Daniel Libeskind

Venice has its own permanent pavilion at the Biennale, adjacent to those of many nations.  This is not only appropriate because the Biennale is in Venice, but because Venice was an independent nation-state for over 1000 years – until Napoleon conquered it in 1798.

That Venice shows independence in selecting its Biennale exhibits regardless of the annual theme, be it Art (in odd years, of course) or this year’s Architecture theme of “Fundamentals”, is also appropriate – the host’s prerogative, as it were.  Whether art or architecture, I have always found Venice’s exhibition to be extraordinarily well-conceived, seamlessly curated, and always a remarkable Surprise! catalyzing continuing review.

“Se non ti aspetti l’inaspettato, non lo troverai; e difficile da ricercare e complesso.”  Erodoto*

This year, Daniel Libeskind, internationally recognized innovator in architecture and urban design, was selected to prepare Venice’s exhibition, perhaps because “…he is renowned for his abiity to evoke cultural memory in buildngs of equilibrium-defying contemporaneity” (from the brochure prepared for the exhibit).


A "Sonnet in Babylon" Libeskind - Venice 2014

A “Sonnet in Babylon” Libeskind – Venice 2014

This manifested itself as

“A meditation on the origins and destiny of form in architecture.”

A staggering array of 101 Libeskind drawings are exhibited – the “Sonnets in Babylon”.  The final production greatly enlarged and screenprinted his hand drawn pen and coffee grounds-infused sepia-toned wash drawings on glass panels.  The interior wall of the pavilion is a great semi-circular curve.  The 100 drawings are arrayed at angles along that wall, “…so that light is reflected and refracted between surfaces like biomorphic prisms.”  It was a fantastic three-dimensional graphic and curatorial presentation.

Sonnets in Babylon - Libeskind - Venice 2014

Sonnets in Babylon – Libeskind – Venice 2014

“The drawings depict a space in frozen flux, a kind of “favela of the mind” or metamorphic city of the future.”

We are told that Libeskind uses these Sonnets to raise “the question of whether ‘Form is disappearing into ‘Techne’ or continually emerging as the permanent expression – indeed, the fate – of human beings.” 

The work was exquisitely drafted and carefully arrayed in chapters, yet “arrayed without order or hierarchy”. Daniel Libeskind even provide the extremely extensive – and witty -“Recipe” for the work, as well as an excersie assigned to his IUAV students (the School of Architecture in Venice).

I elected to keep thinking about his question.  After retrospection and introspection, yet unexpectedly, I found my answer to be…

“Either or, neither nor, or both.”


*”If you do not expect the unexpected, you will not find it; for it is hard to be sought out, and difficult.” Herodotus

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