Our last full day in Venice was spent lavishly, as we eagerly soaked up the last of the golden rays and Italian warmth.
Throughout the weekend, I was on the lookout for a quintessential, albeit sometimes cliché, souvenir of Venice : something made from Venetian glass. While the most authentic Venetian glassware is still made on the island of Murano, I wasn’t able to make my way over there, so I had to settle for something made on the mainland. But I was loath to get something that was mere tchotchke from one of the many hundred “gift stores” found on every street-corner. I wanted something special, handmade, in the ornate and elaborate style that is so representative of Venetian glass. Which is why I took my time throughout the weekend to compare stores, prices, quality, etc. On our last morning, something out of the corner of my eye drew my attention to a tiny storefront tucked away on a little street. Now this was what I was looking for – something obscure, not too gaudy, and of good quality. Not too showy. I walked in, and a man was sitting at a tiny desk, carefully constructing a beautiful goblet with birds at the handle. I chose two colorfully geometric perfume bottles – one for myself, one for my dear Mama, who has not been to Venice (yet!). I wanted to give her something specific to Venice that she could see and think of my time there.
We were on our way to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection when we made the quick stop at the glassblower’s, so we continued on to the museum from there. The Peggy Guggenheim Collection is known as one of the finest collections of modern art in the world; not only is the artwork stunning, but the location and the building is a masterpiece in and of itself. The collection is housed in Peggy’s own Venetian residence with a beautiful view of the waterfront. She herself led a very interesting life, and you can read more here.
Artwork by the likes of Picasso, Braque, Duchamp, Mondrian, Kandinsky, Klee, Ernst, Magritte, Dalí, Pollock, Calder, and more grace the walls. One follows the flow of visitors through the house, and every room is as pleasing to the eyes as the next. All the pieces are placed with such care, and the clear, cool aesthetic suits it well as the pieces themselves are sometimes quite busy.
Outside on the private porch, one can watch the boats glide by on the Grand Canal, and from inside the house, the iron-wrought windows provide a unique perspective of the same view.
We took our time going through the museum and appreciating every piece, so by the time we made our way through the permanent collection and the special collection about Picasso’s On the Beach pieces, it was well into the afternoon.
After the museum, we stopped briefly into the small basilica of Santa Maria della Salute, whose exterior is, in my opinion, more impressive than the interior. One can see the church from across the Grand Canal, and I was curious to see what the imposing yet grand structure held, and what its story was. In 1630, Venice was struck by a devastating outbreak of the plague. Miraculously, it survived, and the city of Venice vowed to construct a church dedicated to Our Lady of Deliverance / Health (Salute in Italian) in gratitude for her watching over the people of Venice and sparing them. The interior was skillfully made and with careful artistry, but the exterior definitely catches the eye, and many an artist has paid homage to the church as it is now inextricably linked with the Venetian landscape.
Along the way we passed countless stores selling all sorts of beautiful things, but one in particular caught my eye (the wares of which are pictured below). We stopped in, and my friend bought a pair of earrings; I admired the bottle-stoppers because I think they would make such a good gift, but they were so heavy, and I had to refrain from purchasing because I didn’t want my suitcase to be too heavy ! Better luck next time.
One of the things on our list that I absolutely had to see was the site of the current Alliance Française in Venice. It is housed in the Casino Venier, a stunningly beautiful building with a surprisingly nondescript exterior. It’s inconspicuously located just under the Ponte dei Bareteri, and we had to triple-check the address because we weren’t certain that it was there. Just as we were about to go in, a lady came out and we asked her if it was the Alliance Française inside, which she confirmed. We walked up the stairs along which the wallpaper was peeling and the ceiling was showing signs of wear and tear .. but they opened up into a beautifully ornate room. The Casino Venier was once a real casino, but in a slightly different sense of the word. Casino in Italian means “little house,” and the casinos in Venice were just that – tiny, cozy, intimate places that people went for a good time, either for discussion, entertainment, dancing, sometimes debauchery, and sometimes gambling. So in a similar fashion, the Casino Venier opened its doors for the Venetian society in the mid-eighteenth century.
The Casino Venier, as the home of the Alliance Française, now holds classrooms instead of lounge rooms, but the central room is still evocative of its heyday. Faded gilding lines the ceiling and walls, and cozy chairs invite visitors to sit and imagine a time gone by. There was a temporary exhibit of illustrated portraits of famous influential women, and a table offered pamphlets of French-cultural events in the city and more information about classes and workshops at the Alliance Française. My curiosity satisfied, we traipsed down the stairs to explore more of Venice before daylight was lost.
Next on the list of places to see was the Ca’Sagredo Hotel, that was featured in the film The Talented Mr. Ripley starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, and Matt Damon. Peeking out of the alleyway next to the hotel entrance were these immense fingers ! We walked closer and saw that it was part of an artwork called Support made by Lorenzo Quinn.
Below is the explanation of the piece, written by the artist:
Venice, the floating city of art and culture that has inspired humanity for centuries, is threatened by climate change and time decay and is in need of the support of our generation and future ones.
As the young grow in hunger for knowledge and action, so does their ability to spread ideas and inspire us all. The hands of a child, representing our present and future, supporting life and culture, hold the historic palazzo of Ca’Sagredo in Venice – the birthplace of my mother and my wife, a city to which I feel deep connection, love, and gratitude.
Sitting one day on Ca’Sagredo’s terrace, viewing the scene of the Grand Canal and reflecting on art, history, and our responsibilities, I was inspired by the vision of Support rising from the waters, greeting and protecting us all.
The realization of this artwork is a fulfillment of a dream and a hope that we all share in our hearts.
To finish the evening, we splurged on a nice three-course dinner together in a cozy restaurant, and then treated ourselves to a concert of Antonio Vivaldi’s pieces by a group called Interpreti Veneziani. They were incredible ! We were on the edge of our seats the whole time, and the musicians played with such vigor and enthusiasm it was hard not to smile the whole time. Hearing such magnificent music in Venice – the birthplace of Vivaldi – felt like a luxury. I was so glad to have come to this amazing city, and I can’t wait to return one day.