Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Venice and its Pigeons

(...) The birds are part of the spirit of place. They are the grey stone come alive and rendered soft to the touch.
Venice - Peter Ackroyd

Have I gone mad  voluntarily taking pictures of pigeons from below?
No: I only dared because they were ART, more precisely the work of Maurizio Cattelan.
Admittedly, without risk of being the target of these mischievous birds, I appreciated their ubiquitous presence at the Biennale' s Italian Pavilion.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Of Venice and Love Letters

Sometimes, when I'm in a terrible mood, I write love letters: not the typical declaration of love for a silly boy. 
I have done that maybe a couple of times with disastrous results (something in the message must have been interpreted like "ÿou're an ass and that's why we get along so well"). Digressing...
So, I write love letters to things I am sort of infatuated with.

Soon I'll be traveling home and home means the country facing (or offending) Venice.
We could debate here if Venice is a man or a woman, but I believe this is in the hand of the lover and not in the essence of the city itself.
Anyway, I will try to spend some good time on the island and I am very excited about that.

Whenever I mention to Berliners about Venice I am asked whether I know if Berlin has more bridges than Venice...
I smile.
Venice is small. Nonetheless there are so many things to wonder that it becomes immense, in an imploding way.

Palazzo Zenobio

I studied in Venice and I was working there shortly after graduation,  so I know how to move around, but it was a process. Does it take longer if you walk your way through the calli to get to a point, if you take the boat, or if you cross a bridge?
You need some practice and nothing is so obvious.

Since I moved to Berlin and I only visit twice or three times a year, I also had to cope with lots of the problems that any first time tourist has: where to eat, where to stop, what museum to visit, join the crowd (almost never an option) or go off the beaten path?In other words: how do I enjoy my time in a place that's so packed with stuff to see without losing my mind, spending too much money and (because I have kids) use space and energy in the most efficient way to avoid the total meltdown.

Not a public sleeping place, but an art installation

I take my time. But I walk fast. Because, honestly, is there a bigger affront to a Venetian than to walk slow?
It's not only a waste of time, it's suicidal like throwing yourself on the tracks just when a rush hour train is passing, it makes the crowds grow and get nervous ("Camoma" is a nice Venetian word to describe a slow walk or attitude and yelling "Move on with the Christ else the procession gets crowdy" is very common, if a bit blasphemous...)

I walk where I know I don't have to deal with too many tourists. Don't get me wrong, I love tourists: they always ask me for information. Just, I like quiet places and this is where you can find me.
I like visiting the oldest European ghetto (ghetto is a Venetian word) or the campi where tourists don't make it, physically and psychologically. You can't just do everything and see everything, even in such a small city.

Fountain at Campo del Ghetto Nuovo

For this time I'll be happy if we can make it to the 54th Art Biennale, the art exhibition everybody is talking about right now. Back in 2008 my daughter and I visited; I was pregnant, so this was especially tiring for me and my three year old. The pavilions which host the international art works are situated at the Gardens and at the Arsenal (which is the end of the world).

 The Arsenal

Of course I decided to take the Vaporetto; but I had a stroller which made things only more complicated, especially on our way back, when Carlotta fell asleep in it while we were in the cabin and there where steps to do and people to hurt.

With time I have learned that the most important things are: take it easy, have very comfortable shoes, find a nice campo to drink water from the fountain - yes it's drinkable -  eat some ice-cream on the bench, get very detailed information about the three or four must see museums and churches and let anything else come as a surprise. Every corner has something to offer. 
Consider mastering the four basic directions and move through calli and campi with this is mind: the borders are always near, you are surrounded by water so you can't escape; you might not find a place immediately, but you'll find it eventually.

Note: the streets in Venice have special names. Calli are narrow streets, campi are the squares.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Jellyfish - We Are All a Bit Otaku

Jellyfish: such an annoying being in an open environment, once you put it in a tank - illuminated by a blue light - it becomes one of the most fascinating sea creatures.
That' s not a suggestion to try and do the same with all the annoying people you know, of course!

One would almost think it belongs to an imaginary world, with its hypnotizing elegant fluctuation, its tentacles being like the "laces of a princess' dress" in perpetual motion.

episode 1 from the anime

I wonder whether the author of the manga Kuragehime (the Princess Jellyfish) shares with me a similar fascination for jellyfish tanks: the manga begins with a flashback of the protagonist gazing at jellyfishes (which should explain her later fixation) and the plot revolves around the life of a group of otaku girls who isolate themselves from the world and exclude men from their dysfunctional utopia, each fully immersed in her own obsession.

But what is an オタク (otaku)?
The word generally means geek, so if you are a techie, a groupie, or you can entertain yourself talking exclusively about a certain subject, you have the requisites to be an otaku. 
The level of this geekiness, though, varies from the genuine and healthy enthusiasm to the obvious, all pervading obsession which - at least in Japan - throws a light on a society with a strong alienating force, or sometimes extreme malfunctioning relationships between sexes. Or both.

You can get a clearer explanation of what otaku means at Facts About Japan and at Kotaku
More about the manga Kuragehime

Some interesting articles about alienation and the otaku culture
Revenge of Japan' s Nerds
Love in 2-D

Jellyfishes shown to be Effective Predators

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Kaffee, Schwarzwälder Torte and Bookbinding

Some time ago I was invited to have coffee at our friend Frauke's place.

Having a coffee in Germany - as you might imagine - is a different ritual than having a coffee in Italy, which is where I got my "coffee-initiation".

In the first place, it's usually a bit later in the afternoon - around 4 or even 5pm - and it almost always includes some cake topped with whipped cream (Sahne). If you ask about the reason, you will most certainly hear these words: "Else (the cake) is too dry".
Whatever that means, you have the chance to wash it down with some cups of coffee (cups which can be as refined as those in the picture above or just simple mugs; in both cases you' d have enough fluid to make your bowels soft).

The special occasion for this coffee was Frauke' s birthday, but I was forgetful - and kept unaware - enough so instead of a present I had some work for her (a bit embarassing!): two old books in need of a little restoration!
In fact, Frauke is a bookbinder...

The volumes I entrusted her are a German Saga book which is supposed to be circulating in my husband's family for ages and an illustrated 俳句 (haiku) book with zero value but beautifully illustrated. I definitely will post about the haiku book when it's ready...