Venice of the Doges & billboards

Buzzed in the night by mozzies, we woke late to rain, pedestrians with umbrellas in the muted Venetian light, the sounds softened by rain, the umbrellas and wet-weather gear a peremptory affectation, given the interval between rain-drops, their density and the degree of penetration gained into the narrow chasms between buildings. In other words, we could venture out and not get wet, while everybody else looked paranoid. Large people wrapped up in cellophane coats as if escaped from dry-cleaners.

We were bound for Chiesa di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari. An austere façade greeted us. St. Mark’s Basilica without its marble weeds. A soaring medieval brick edifice. Late medieval, fourteenth century. With a Campanile and convent in back, an inaccessible cloister. And pay-to-enter.

The air sucked out of the lungs on stepping out into the extraordinary volume of the Church. Like an inside runway. And its monuments.

Next to the Canova monument I remember, the completely unedifying edifice of the monument to the Doge, four gigantic moors in pristine white knickerbockers and shirts, like Southern black slaves, supporting the catafalque with tasseled pillows on their shoulders. Over a green exit sign. And Death, doubled, popping up, skeletal and scary and other grotesqueries making one wonder if he was pleased, the Doge.

Arches of the nave and transept spanned by guiding wooden beams, horizontal, the height being so great they do not detract from the vista. A question of proportion. Of what you can get away with architecturally before it looks forced, over-engineered, or too ethereal.

I Frari just a great big Gothic church. Super-size-me Gothic. Not high Gothic. More modest. With the weird accretions the Gothic is good at absorbing, nonetheless. Not then for its involution of line. For its shed-like work-a-day simplicity on which the elaborations of the Baroque – of the seventeenth century, as evidenced here – do not press so hard as to break, aesthetically.

I was struck by the monument to Monteverdi. And, in the side room, the Giovanni Berlini, with its great facial indexes. And the Doge Dandolo catafalque, fourteenth century.

Somebody struck up on the organ from the choir stand in the middle of the transept. It saw us round the rest. Noting the simple wooden coffin of the priest of the church, the only one, halfway up the wall in the armpit of the cross, right, facing the altar.

And of course, as before, the modernity of the work. The spookiness of the place. Both that and the number of artists commemorated, as a class. Titian. Not so striking as Canova’s pyramid, with its door-to-death ajar, as if a return were imminent.

We circumnavigated the Frari taking in the lived-in-ness of the area, poked our heads into the Scuolo di Rocco, kitsch, and headed out for the Academia Bridge to cross to the Doge’s Palace. We stopped at an exhibition of Hubble Telescope images over the way from the Institute of Science, Literature and the Arts. Exited after, from the cosmic timelines, slightly disconcerted to be in Venice but having had a free toilet stop, always a plus.

In Campo San Barnaba we came to a flea market. Sorely tempted by a mint Zorki 4, clear Jupiter 8 lens, with a jammed shutter, the stall owner priced at 100 Euros. Interesting the degree to which the analogue photographic culture still prevails here. Made to appear all the more appealing for the lack of immediate digital communication with back home, or web, that snap-snapping in digital format would want to count as one of its assets. Not in Italia, where the cost of internet use for the itinerant precludes the benefit presupposed by our choice in bringing only that format.

As you will notice if you venture into these over-long writings. They were intended as daily, or so, updates, but have backed up because of the lack of easy access to the web. For which I apologise. But again find culturally interesting.

Why set off from New Zealand thinking digital is the way to go? When for immediacy of contact via image postcard is still more practical?

The Doge’s Palace, or building, more simply was expensive to enter. But full of treasures. Silk textures of wall-coverings. Ceiling decorations of a young Veronese. Tintoretto, ever-present here. The armoury extensive. The weight given to the Ten (Council of Ten – CX) pervasive, in the nasty way anti-terrorist measures have become just something we live with, like, you know.

Like the Basilica, the palazzo worked at a human scale, even with the vast room where Tintoretto’s son, Dominico, had completed his father’s work in describing paradise on an exorbitant scale, wave after wave of sainted personages, separated by froths of clouds, crashes of symbolism, Venetian and Christian, spouts of allegory.

The prison cells were we are told traditionally lined with larch wood, organised around a central courtyard, after the construction of the new prison, connected by the Bridge of Sighs with the Organs of Justice. Pointing to a quite paranoiac society in terms of its readiness to incarcerate. Possibly not. But the prisons, and systems of institutional – architectural – intimidation, are extensive. Almost Byzantinely so.

A note needs to be posted over these notings that the view from the Bridge of Sighs suffered from the an extreme form of the blinkering that now occurs in the Piazza di San Marco. On either side of that that view, supports of billboards. Looking out from the bridge – a left-to-right of pure blue – blue ganzfeld. And when we were on the loggia of San Marco’s Basilica, what was it? Moet? Some luxury product wanting to be identified with the space. Immemorable for perhaps having been upstaged by that other defining attitude of our time, restoration, the hardware of keeping the Campanile afloat, erect, solid? I don’t know. But a decent-sized cordon around works. Edifyingly unedifying works both: advertisements for companies who will pay for placement in the historic environs; for works which will support the traffic attendant on such places.

Such odd trade-offs. Made more evident for that the Italian state does not seem to see fit to put money into what is a mere tourist attraction?

And I would define my use of the concept of postmodernity here as the tendency to VANISH INTO ITS OWN FORM or REPRESENTATION of experiential or phenomenal AFFECTS. Which touristic sites obviously do. And advertising placards clearly exacerbate. Or maintain in negative disavowal.

Hence there is no irony about the presence of the giant billboards in St. Mark’s Square. They are only anathema.