When I was in Venice last year for the Biennale of Architecture, I was very fortunate to have the following conversation with Danish “superstarchitect” Jefe Anglesdottir (JA) and public intellectual Colin Dribbles (CD), secretary emeritus of the British Society for the Promotion of Bad Writing about Venice (BSPBWV). A generous grant from that august society paid for three Camparis (one without soda, as explained below) and an afternoon’s shoe leather and conversation.
Venice has a secret; it is a great city for runners. Typically the urban runner faces a conundrum. Running in parks is safe and healthy, but quickly grows boring. Running on city streets can be diverting, but the staccato disruption of crosswalks frustrates any possibility of getting into a rhythm. The runner fantasizes: what if there were a city riddled with paved passages too narrow for cars, with squares, courtyards, beautiful buildings and water? What if it were completely flat? Running, especially early in the morning, reveals a different Venice, before the tour buses disgorge. As the Venice runner veers away from the broad fondamenti and seeks out the most obscure rami, a false sense of speed is created by the narrow passages and a simple run starts to feel like a video game. With no possibility of getting hit by a car, the Venice runner is free to concentrate on the sensory landscape of the city — the handcarts which collect garbage, the delivery boats full of roof tiles or toilet paper and underneath it all like a private drum roll the sound of your own footsteps on the worn pavers, mostly gray but edged with smoothed white stone wherever there is a step. It is advisable to always carry a map, but the Venice runner’s game is to notice enough details, not the names of streets but the spatial quality of them, to remain relatively un-lost.
It's been some years since I've been in Venice, and I found the state of the Piazza S. Marco disturbing. I was appalled by the huge ads for clothing and champagne which dominated both the Piazza and the Piazzetta — now the subject of a formal protest published in the Art Newspaper ("Ads of Sighs," The Art Newspaper, Friday, October 8, 2010), to which the mayor of Venice, Giorgio Orsoni, has given a reply worthy of Glenn Beck...
iave’s and Verdi’s adaptation of Dumas fils’ La dame aux camélias is ubiquitous these days, both in regional companies and the major houses, but for some time it hasn’t caught up with me...until now. It is without a doubt regrettable that the audience draw of a handful of operas pushes outstanding less familiar works from the repertoire, and La Traviata is one of the most egregious culprits, but a cast, staging, and musical direction of the calibre I witnessed at La Fenice this Sunday afternoon make all these considerations irrelevant and make it impossible to resist La Traviata as an extraordinary masterpiece that touches basic issues in us all: the life of women in society, the faith of young men in passion, the blindness of good intentions. The results are genuinely tragic, and a performance like this goes far beyond the usual ritual and can genuinely move us.