Journal

Venice Revisited

Where would you most like to go if you were to take a trip somewhere now?” has become a familiar refrain in these lingering days of Covid-time travel restrictions. Some people answer with the name of some exotic place where they have never been; others, like me, will reply with déjà-vu desire to revisit a place they love and yearn to see again. If that love coincides with the shared love of a romantic partner or marital mate, the answer will come from the depths of the soul. In my case it is the entire Italian peninsula from Venice to Sicily in the company of Ted Rogers, my husband and travel partner for the past forty years. For this reason, my recent rediscovery of the diaries I kept on these trips has provided me with an especially happy journey on an idyllic stretch of Memory Lane. It is appropriate therefore that in today’s journal entry I share with you my day-by-day account of our honeymoon in Venice in June, 1984 and its anniversary repetition in July, 1985.

In reading these, it will become obvious that, on all of our trips abroad, Ted, a successful CEO and investment-firm partner in the business of industrial management, treated me like a princess. At the same time, it will be apparent that our travels were never sybaritic spa vacations and that our itineraries were focused instead on satisfying a thirst for first- hand education in art, architecture, and urban and landscape design. Where else to begin recounting highlights than with the story of our honeymoon in Venice, which was preceded by a two-day stop-over in Paris.

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1984 WEDDING TRIP TO VENICE

Paris, Sunday, July 1st, 1984

Arrived last night on the Concorde and, not sleepy because of the time change, we walked up the Champs Elysees and watched the nocturnal throng. It was one o’clock in the morning, and the street was as crowded as Fifth Avenue at mid-day. By two o’clock we were ready to go to bed in our curtained alcove in spacious, comfortable Room 364 of the George V Hotel.

Betsy and Ted in Giverny.

Today we woke up to perfect weather and decided to hire a driver and visit Monet’s Garden at Giverny after Ted had taken his usual morning run. Once on way we watched the scenery as we drove northwest toward Rouen through poppy-spangled fields of wheat past an abandoned steel plant, a quarry, and other industrial sites following the Seine to the town of Vernon where the driver let us off near the entrance to Monet’s house. There we walked through its brightly painted rooms filled with Japanese prints – Hirosige, Utamaro, etc. Lovely. Outside we wandered past a riot of summer roses, more poppies (these horticultural species are pastel rather than bright red like the wild ones we saw on our drive to Vernon), and blue delphiniums in narrow borders along gravel paths. An underpass carried us beneath the noisy roadway to the Japanese bridge and pond covered with water lilies, a sight made famous by Monet’s numerous paintings of it. When we returned to the car, and the driver suggested that we have an outdoor lunch at St. Cloud in one of the western suburbs of Paris. A good idea. We were seated in a small privet-bordered compound in the parc L’Oasis with French families around us. The children were adorable – one little girl had made a brush of grass with which she was tickling her mother.

After lunch we drove through the Bois du Boulogne, Neuilly- sur-Seine, and then stopped at the Tuileries where we spent an enchanted hour with Monet and other Impressionist artists in the Jeu de Paume Museum and afterwards paid our respects to Le Nôtre’s bust and strolled through the Tuileries before walking back to the hotel.

Monday, July 2nd, 9:00 PM, Gritti Palace Hotel, Venice

Here we are now in Venice, and I must stop for a few minutes because Ted wants to borrow my diary and, while I am getting dressed, write something about the way he greeted this fine day in Paris.

Monday, July 2nd, 9:30 PM, Gritti Palace Hotel, Venice, Ted Rogers

My day began at 5:45 AM while my new bride was still asleep. Had a most pleasant run of 7 ½ miles. It started with dawn breaking over the École Militaire as I ran toward the Tour Eiffel. Then over the Seine to the foot of the Palais de Chaillot. Turning right I followed the Seine, stopping to inspect the Alexandre III Bridge, past the Grand Palais and Petit Palais to the entrance to the Louvre, then around the Louvre, back through the Jardin de Tuilleries and past the Place de la Concord. Then smack up the middle of the Champs Elysees at full sunrise. No cars. I owned it with bursting health. Stopped under the Arc de Triomphe to view back through long shadows, the Concord and the Tuilleries. A plaque under the Arc was laid by the Allies on August 25, 1944, my tenth birthday. Ran back to awake my Joy at the George V. Full of Paris, myself, and love.

July 2nd, 10:00 PM, Gritti Palace Hotel, Venice

Following Ted’s morning run and our breakfast in the hotel we topped off our stay in Paris with a walk in the Jardin de Luxemburg with subsequent stops at the Pantheon, Notre Dame, and Saint Chapelle. Unfortunately, tourists were just crawling all over Notre Dame, moving about the nave and side chapels and encircling the altar, while the service that was in progress. The small sixteenth-century statue of the Virgin with the Christ Child hiked up on her out-thrust hip is encrusted with flowers and bathed in the light of a hundred votive candles. The smell of hot wax and old stones and centuries and centuries of humanity circling two lily-filled urns. Outside the gargoyles appear to be straining to spring free of the imprisoning stone and on the central tympanum of the West portal the damned, with pained expressions on their faces, are being herded by devils off to hell, while the saved souls, with beatific expressions on their faces, stand in line for their heavenly reward.

We enjoyed an outdoor lunch at Pré Catalan in the Bois de Boulogne before heading to Charles de Gaulle Airport. Then, an hour-and-a-half later we were in Venice and, seated in a water taxi with our luggage beside us, looking at the wake made by this novel form of motorized transportation. After disembarking at the dock a few feet from this prestigious and luxurious old hotel, we registered and then settled into our beautiful second-floor suite. After unpacking our belongings we went downstairs and enjoyed a delicious meal on the hotel’s adjacent deck, which overlooks the Grand Canal. We watched the gondolas carrying the same tourists ply back and forth past us. After we had eaten our dessert of fresh fraises des bois (wild strawberries are now in season) with crème fraîche, a great summertime treat, we strolled to the Piazza San Marco, which was filled with milling youths, some kicking the soft-drink cans that everywhere litter the garbage-strewn square.

Tuesday Afternoon, July 3rd, Gritti Palace Hotel, Venice

We are now a threesome: Ted, Betsy, and Hugh, Hugh being Hugh Honour, author of The Companion Guide to Venice, and what a delightfully erudite and helpfully instructive companion he is! Looking on the back of the title page as I write this, I concur with the editor of the remarkable Companion guidebook series, who says that each volume is “written in the person of the author, who knows intimately the places and people of whom he writes and is able to communicate this knowledge and affection to his readers.”

Today Hugh insisted that we become acquainted with the Sculole, the Venetian guilds, specifically the Sculoa di San Giovanni Evangelista, built to the design of Mauro Conducci at the end of the fifteenth century with an absolutely wonderful staircase leading up to an “over-dome.” We could spot from down where we stood a weird temporary sculpture and a bearded young man in the office of the American Committee to Save Venice and the Scuola de San Rocco. Instead of climbing up the stairs to look at the building from that elevation, however, we visited the nearby Franciscan Church of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, or simply “I Frari,” as it is commonly called. It is an austerely simple church containing three extraordinary masterpieces, one of which is Titian’s 1518 Assumption of the Virgin over the high alter where Hugh calls our attention to its “opulence of colour – reds as rich and glowing as oriental rubies, yellows of heavy beaten gold, blues of lapis lazuli.” He then has us draw our eyes to Titian’s Madonna of Ca’Pesaro with the frank stare of a child of the Pesano family gazing out at us. Following this, we are astonished by Bellini’s 1488 Virgin and Child with Saints set into a serene and beautiful domed space that continues the architecture of its frame over sacristy altar.

The Sculoa di San Rocco behind I Frari offers a total Tintoretto experience. Here the artist (his name comes from his father’s occupation as a dyer of fabrics) expressed his mystical devotion in two great series of paintings, one in the opulent upstairs chamber and another in the downstairs gallery. Hugh sums up Tintoretto’s style by calling our attention to “his delight in foreshortening, his artificial use of light to emphasize action or suggest spiritual content and remarking on his delight in foreshortening, his artificial use of light to emphasize action or suggest spiritual content rather than to reproduce a natural effect, his penchant for oblique composition, his preoccupation with the movement of the human body, running, swooping, and soaring, and his use of subdued, subaqueous and sometime weirdly unrealistic colour.” I came away with the impression that Tintoretto’s devout genre of mannerist composition must have had a major influence on the work of El Greco.

We had a very good lunch at Trattoria La Madonna and, later, a pleasant, if unexceptional, dinner at Il Antico Martini next door to to the Teatro Fenice.

Wednesday Afternoon, July 4th, Gritti Palace Hotel, Venice

This morning we slept late, then enjoyed a delightful breakfast on the hotel loggia’s deck watching the morning traffic gaily plying the sparkling waters of the Grand Canal. (This may sound tourist-corny, but I would rate this scene with the powder-soft Venetian light enveloping La Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute at the tip of the Giudecca island on the opposite side of the canal the most gorgeous imaginary postcard scene I can think of.

After breakfast, with Hugh holding us by the hand, we headed for Piazza San Marco, stopping first next door at the hotel Santa Maria del Giglio, the extravagantly Baroque church built between 1678 and 1683 by Giuseppe Sardi, the Roman architect who was active in Venice at this time. Here his patrician patron was Antonio Barbaro, who was bent on self-glorification as a former Venetian general and governor.

The church’s delicately designed white and gray interior makes one think of the churches of Christopher Wren. At the opposite end of the scale of opulence, the cathedral of San Marco is so ethereally beautiful and endlessly fascinating an offering of storied treasures that we were unprepared even by Hugh who had already extolled its “sultry opulence, dark and mysteriously vibrant with the swart glimmer of gold and ruby.” We spent the better part of two hours climbing and crawling and looking at various parts of it, especially the several centuries of mosaics spanning the hieratic Byzantine style to the drama of the Baroque. Looking down from catwalks we admired the inlaid marble floors patterned like oriental rugs.

Thursday, July 5th, A Morning at the Accademia and an Afternoon on the Waters

Today began with a clear rosy sky after yesterday’s rinsing rain. We spent a satisfying morning at the Accademia, paying particular attention to the wonderful series of paintings of the Madonna by Bellini; Giorgione’s cautionary La Vecchia adjacent to this artist’s famous Tempest, which is strange, lovely, and lyrical but hard to appreciate because of being behind glass; the monumental Veronese Last Supper; more mystical Tintorettos to add to list of the ones we saw in the Scoula di San Rocco; and Titian’s famous Presentation of the Virgin, which was painted particularly for the space it occupies.

By noon we were off with our motorboat chauffeur bound for Torcello in the Venetian Lagoon. Here is where refugees from Altium, the ancient town founded by people called the Veneti, settled in the Lagoon in the twelfth century and built a wonderful Byzantine cathedral to replace two prior ones that had been erected on this island. Before prowling around its great architectural treasure we had lunch outdoors beside a garden at the Locanda Cipriani, a wonderfully rustic inn with the same management as the deluxe Cipriani hotel on the Giudecca.

Once inside the Cathedral after a delicious meal of broiled fish and a green salad we discovered that it was fine to be giving Hugh the day off when we had the pleasure of meeting another art historian, Peter Brown, a professor at Princeton, who was giving a group of interested tourists an erudite tour in which he was explaining the iconography of the church’s marvelous mosaics. As bystanders, we learned from him that the meaning of the word cathedral derives from the Bishop’s cathedra, a throne behind the altar. Here beneath a soaring elongated Virgin is the cathedra, which is ascended by a steep brick stairway. His face alight with intelligence and love for his subject, Dr. Brown (we like to think of him as Hugh Honour’s cousin Peter) is discoursing on the Last Judgement mosaic covering the opposite wall. In it we see to the left of Christ a river of fire, which descends into an inferno where the unfortunate damned are being punished. To the right of Christ, the smugly beatific blessed are gazing upward in happy anticipation while still the dead are still climbing out of their graves with surprised looks and wild beasts and sea creatures are disgorging those who will receive proper burial. Intimate in scale compared to its opulent successor San Marco, the Torcello cathedral is a profoundly moving glimpse of the medieval religious mind.

After thanking Peter for his lucid lecture we depart for the island of Burano, which consists of a fishing village of gaily painted houses that can be explored in half-an-hour. Back on the water, before returning to Venice we made a brief stop at San Francesco del Deserto, a small, peaceful island in the Lagoon on which is located a Franciscan convent founded in 1230. In the evening, we indulged ourselves in the ultimate tourist attraction, which turns out not to be touristy at all, for who can explain the deep romantic pleasure of being rowed in a gondola in the sunset glow of a Venetian evening down the Grand Canal and then back through the quiet, now dark side canals with the person with whom you are in love.

Friday, July 6th, our first-week Anniversary

After breakfast we went by water taxi to the section of town next to the train station where we were met by the driver whom we had hired to take us to Padua via the Brenta Canal road. Along the way we were able to admire Palladio’s Villa Malcontenta from the outside before stopping at Stra to see the Palazzo Pisani. Here the most famous attraction for visitors is the Laborinto, a maze made up of a tall hedge-enclosed circular path with nine concentric repeating patterns and many dead ends surrounding a small tower in the center. Not surprisingly, we got lost and perplexedly turned one way and then another before regaining our bearings. Once inside the palace, we walked with astonished admiration through the airy spacious rooms with their frescoed walls, some with design motifs reminiscent of the ones in Pompei; spare neoclassical furnishings; and a dazzling ballroom with a 1762 trompe l’oeil ceiling by Tiepolo. Magnificent!

Leaving this worldly splendor, we proceeded to Padua where we paid our respects to Donatello’s Gattamelata, the great 1447 bronze equestrian statue, which was installed in 1453 in front of the Basilica di San Antonio, where it has subsequently served as a prototype for all equestrian monuments in Western culture.

Our main purpose in going to Padua was to visit the Capella degli Scrovgeni, also known as the Arena Chapel, where Giotto ushered in the Renaissance with his fresco cycle of scenes depicting solid three-dimensional figures in expressive dramatic detail within each scene in the cycle depicting the Life of Christ and Life of the Virgin within the story of Salvation. Ted and I were simply stunned after gazing for almost an hour at the solidity of the figures within the frescos as we tried to discern the narrative that Giotto’s Biblical compositions conveyed to their original illiterate worshipers. Fortunately, we had the whole chapel to ourselves and, after gazing at the paintings as an iconographic ensemble we were able to look closely at the murals in the whole cycle panel by panel as we moved our eyes along the two side walls embracing the central aisle from floor level to the bottom of the ceiling vault overarching the nave. After we had lingered at the entrance to the chapel studying the murals on its embracing side walls, we agreed that we did not want to end our Giotto experience but needed a rest in order to continue. Going outside we found a bench in the park that occupies the footprint of the former arena and rested in a state of blissful awe, talking to one another about what we had just seen. I then remembered that entry to the chapel was not time-structured and we hadn’t needed to purchase tickets to gain admission in the first place, so after resting on our park bench for half an hour, we entered the chapel again. I no longer had the stamina to linger over each mural in the cycle but was again sufficiently alert and respectful of being in the presence of the origins of Renaissance art through Giotto’s genius that I would not raise my camera to my eye but instead tried to store everything we had seen in my mind’s visual-treasures vault so that I would be able in the future to give narrative descriptions like the ones I have just written in these journal pages.

It would seem impossible to be thrilled by more Renaissance glories at this point, but our route took us to Castelfranco and the High Renaissance as demonstrated in Giorgione’s Virgin and Child with Saints Francis and Liberale. We gazed for several minutes at the idyllic background landscape before the coin-operated spotlight (a Italian lucrative electricity-saving means for visitors trying to gaze at works of art in darkened churches) blinked off and Ted found no other lira in his pocket with which to restart it. Outside darkness was gathering, so it was time to head for the picturesque mountainside town of Asolo and its pleasant Cipriani Inn where we were registered for the night. Awaiting us there was a full moon, a sky full of stars, a pretty garden, and Dom Perignon champagne. We two kids felt lucky and happy to be alive.

Saturday, July 7th, Back to Venice with a stop at Villa Masere

Having said goodbye to our hired driver in Padua, we now had a rental car in which we could start experiencing Palladian villas en route And what a wonderful way is was to begin with the Villa Barbaroso (also called the Villa Volpi) or, after it location, the Villa Masere. I had arranged a private tour for us there, and we were met by the a fine-boned, English-speaking Italian lady, apparently the current owner, who conducted us through a series of airy light-filled rooms with breathtaking frescoes by Veronese and a garden that boasts a stunning nymphaeum. Best of all was the greeting Ted got from a litter of exuberant spaniel puppies outside.

Home again – the Gritti Palace Suite has started to feel like a second home – in time for lunch at the wonderful Ristorante Barbacani in the Calle del Paradiso, where the proprietor, who is also the chef, prepared for us a delicious meal of pasarelle with porcini mushrooms and charcoal-grilled fish. After this noontime feast, we spent the afternoon exploring the Doge’s Palace and then visited the linen shop Jesurum where we bought a set of beautifully embroidered hand-woven linen placemats and napkins (I like to fanaticize that this kind of meticulous needlework is done by shortsighted nuns in a textile workroom in some convent).

The purchase of another gracious-dining delight occurred today by serendipity when we were walking down the street back to the hotel and looked into a store window where saw a display of crystal tumblers with colorfully varied decorative designs. It was easy to see that they were hand-blown contemporary examples of the famous Venetian craft of glass making practiced on the island of Murano. We bought a dozen and gave our New York City address to the salesperson after he said that it would be no trouble to have them shipped to us.

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OUR ANNIVERSARY TRIP ONE YEAR LATER

I am happy to say that I was a diligent diarist on the remaining blank pages in my original Venice travel diary, which should provide a certain continuity in the record of our previous trip and this subsequent account of our activities and impressions while revisiting the City of Light and La Serenissima one year later. Please note that when I was sometimes not able to write a daily basis, I would make a running account covering several prior days in a single entry, usually penned while in flight to or from Paris or Venice. Such conflation of prior days is to be found in the one below, which reveals that we began with our Anniversary trip with a two-day layover in Paris.

July 30th, 1985, Aboard Alitalia Flight 605 from Paris to Venice: A summary of our last two days in Paris and subsequent six days in Venice

Yesterday we enjoyed a perfect June morning at Bagatelle amid the roses, clematis, waterlilies, and lovely green lawns. Then we strolled in the Parc Monceau along with the fortunate French from the adjacent neighborhood in the 16th Arrondissement and afterwards had a light lunch at an outside café opposite the Luxembourg followed by a treasure-crammed two hours at the Louvre before returning to the hotel and getting ready to go to the airport to catch our flight to Venice.

Departed Room 420 in the Geroge V Hotel two hours ago after a pleasant brief visit with logy Lisa, who had herself just got to Paris after an all-night tourist-class flight. As for our own Paris arrival experience on Friday, it consisted of an almost identical routine as the one last year. The same driver we had before was on hand to meet us at the airport. Then, after checking into the hotel, we tucked ourselves in bed after a snack of salmon, caviar, and tea.

On Saturday we drove into the French countryside, this time through farm fields of wheat, potatoes, corn, lettuce, and strawberries en route to visit Vaux-le-Vicomte and Fontainebleau. The chateau at Vaux-le-Vicomte is perfectly lovely and has more human-scaled proportions than the Palace of Versailles. And, while the garden of Versailles is more extensive and filled with iconographically symbolic sculptural tableaux composed of such mythically themed heroes as the Sun God Appolo, avatar of Louis XIV, Le Nôtre’s full genius as the father of the widely influential French classical seventeenth-century landscape design style was already realized in Vaux-le Vicomte’s layout according to Cartesian mathematics. Here in a curvilinear boxwood-defined pattern of flowing green arabesques set against reddish raked gravel instead of bedded flowers cannot be distinguished by my eye as a design that is different from that of the chateau’s original parterre de broderie as depicted in contemporary engravings.

After two hours of walking down the principal allée leading to the Cascade and beyond it to the greensward with the giant gilded sculpture of Hercules presiding over the great allée-defined axial view back to the chateau’s beautiful dome, we decided it was time to return along it to the principal exit through the main entrance’s massive wrought iron gates with large pillars framing the noble architecture of the chateau’s stone façade.

Our next stop was for lunch at the expensive but charming inn in Barbizon forest, which is so named for the Barbizon school of French nineteenth-century nature painters. Thanks to my having been an art history major at Wellesley, I am able to recite their names here: John Constable, Camille Corot, Claude Lorrain, Jean-Françoise Millet, Nicolas Poussin, and Théodore Rousseau.

After taking a short survey of the forested area and its bucolic surroundings where these artists once set up their easels, we were ready to return to the hotel and pack for our departure for Venice.

July 1st – July 6th, Venice Revisited

Five days of walking and gliding in gondolas – we were passionately besotted by the magic of light and color and miracles of art and architecture! The first day we devoted to the Settocento with a visit to the Ca’ Rezzaonico with its trompe l’oeil Tiepolo ceilings, extravagantly Baroque furniture, and delightful frescoes of Commedia dell’Arte Pucinellas On the following day we saw another settocento palazzo, the Albrizzi, a proud old relic of bygone wealth and aristocratic splendor, now a private residence grown decrepit for lack of sound maintenance.

During our walks around various neighborhoods, we especially enjoyed the Cannaregio, the old Jewish quarter and within it the Madonna dell’Orte church made of rosy bricks and beautiful dove-grey columns. It boasts a Bellini painting of the Madonna and child and several large paintings by Tintoretto, including Saint Agnes; Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple; Adoration of the Golden Calf; The Last Judgement; and The Four Cardinal virtues.

The other church of particular architectural interest that we visited in the Cannaregio is Santa Maria dei Miracoli. Built between 1481 and 1488 by Pietro, Lombardo, it is a prime example of the Venetian Renaissance. With its colored marble, false colonnade on the exterior walls, and semicircular pediment, it was for us rewarding destination. After this unique ecclesial design experience, we walked back to the Piazza San Marco where we were excited to gaze again at the celestial shimmer of the Basilica – this time with some good preparation for the iconography, thanks to a very good slide show next door. Crawling along elevated catwalks drinking in the meaning of the mosaics and gazing down at the beautifully patterned floors was as thrilling as last year.

Back “home” at the Gritti we couldn’t have been more comfortable or the management more kind. Then there are the pleasant meals to remember, including the one at Arturo, a small restaurant near the Fenice; a chance encounter on the Gritti waterside loggia with Inger and Oz Elliott, which turned into two bottles of Dom Perignon and a lot of animated conversation about the Far East; a trip into the Veneto to the home of Paolo and Florence Maarzotta (friends of our New York friend Gabriella Fanning) with a stop along the way at Palladio’s final architectural masterpiece, the Teatro Olimpico (1580–1585) in Vicenza. (The theater was closed but we were able to sneak in by a side door); and lunch at Osteria dei Friari near Campo San Paulo, to and from which we were chauffeured by gondola.

From Venice, we drove in our rental car to Ravenna. It was moving to see the Early Christian basilicas with their old mosaics depicting the immemorial biblical stories. I had wanted to view these fifth and sixth-century Byzantine mosaics ever since I was a sophomore at Wellesley where I first encountered images of them in my Medieval art course, and I was certainly glad to be doing so now.

Our last stop was Bologna before driving to Milan to catch our flight back to New York the next day – solid, brown substantial Bologna with sidewalks built as a series of wide porticos attached to buildings, two remaining historic watch towers and academic and culinary fame. Before having dinner of tagliatelle al ragu and other traditional Bolognese items on the menu, I took a walk in a nearby park where I made friends with a little boy playing beside my bench. This was a nice note on which to end this second- honeymoon trip to Italy, feeling a surge of happiness knowing that I would see my own, now thirteen-year-old, boy David the next day.


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