Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Morning coffee with new friends at the Kastellorizo house.

This morning at 10.30am I will entertain, Nick P, (lawyer, author and historian) Nick (author and historian) and Vasilis B. I have prepared Turkish pears poached in red wine with cloves, cinnamon and hazel nuts to be served with ricotta and yoghurt with nuts soaked in honey. In addition I have cooked my old favourite galetemboureko. The conversation twists and turns, island matters, international events, personal stories and anecdotes. We have a very delightful visit, just the four of us. A lot of laughter and joy.

We decamp to take a look at Nick and Helene Ps' recent house renovations. We make our way up the stone steps towards the church. A double doorway on a slope signals our arrival. The house is original and very beautiful, deep wooden window frames and panelled ceilings. Nick takes time to show me all the original features, pointing to clues as to each room's function-a store cupboard of large proportions to display a collection of fine plates. "Ah, must be a reception room", and so we make our way up the winding stairs. Both Nicks share a deep interest and knowledge of island architecture and island life. They show me how islanders used their spaces, bantering about this and that detail. Their enthusiasm makes looking at this house so much more meaningful.

We decide to extend our walk to include a tour of other island homes, some in shocking states of disrepair, others restored and loved. We find remnants of French and Italian occupation in architectural details, named buildings-faded, facades hinting of French style and grandness, a scrap of render, split to reveal past paint layers. A square, once thick with the noise of commerce and kafeneon, now a shady byway. It is as if the stones whisper to us of past lives. The Nicks' commentary renders the past concrete. All evocative and immediate. I am in another world. A wonderful couple of hours are passed in this way.

We are very much enjoying ourselves. 2.00pm has taken us by surprise. Nick P suggests he kerasi us for a light lunch at The Olive Garden. We order colokithakia diganites, aubergine from the forno, garlic dip, salad and sparkling water. It is very good. We peel off to go our separate ways.

Tonight Costa and Anna Pavlos are hosting a night with singer Evangelia Xenopoulou.

We plan a small dinner, Costa, Anna and I at Coumenos under the vines at 8.00pm before guests arrive at the house on the limani at 10.00. We make our way back to Costa's and sixty or so guests and passers-by clump in doorways, in the kitchen, sala, anywhere - we are packed in.

The singer makes a speech wishing Anna a speedy return to the beloved island and then begins her Kastellorizian songs of loss and joy. She is a delightful square of beauty, blond with a wide pink mouth. There is dancing and eating and greeting of old friends. I meet Nick and Pauline M from Sydney, relatives of Nick and Irene M, neighbours when I had a business in Surry Hills, Sydney. "Please pass on my good wishes to Nick and Irene. Many years have passed since I have had contact, yet my memories of them are strong and good". Close to midnight we say our goodbyes. It has been a blessed day.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Learning Life's lessons on Kastellorizo

Monday 26th September, 2011.
This morning at 9.30am Berdt will come to install a curtain rail on the first floor. We discussed it last night and in true German style has it worked out to the last millimeter. My job last night was to paint the rod and fittings.

I take a peek outside my front door. Bernt is sitting on the chair outside. "I am early he observes." Precision is Bernt, in a polite and considerate form. Ah...come in, only by a few minutes, I note. We set about getting the rods spaced and drilled. We enjoy chatting about Munich, the lakes, sailing and house renovation on the island. We have a bit of adjustment to do, so Bernt returns to his house for extra tools while I prepare our lunch and set the table.

We have a delightful lunch of baked onion, eggplant and peppers, poached zucchini and tinned tuna, poli-sporo bread and olives accompanied by iced water, fresh apple and halva follow. We are always in conversation about something, this meal it is the EU. I'm reading 'Why Europe will run the 21st century' by Mark Leonard and I have a bundle of questions for Berdt who has a financial and legal background and is well qualified to help me understand. I find him very interesting on the subject. We part for siesta time.

Around 4.00 I head off for my swim at the point. On the way back I pass the fisherman who lives next to Helene's new house, Michealis Nittes. He is attending to his fishing lines. He squats on his step between two large plastic bowls, each filled neatly with spiralled line. Ti kanis? I venture. "Valo kenurio. Ti tha Kano, ine to thoulia mou." I'm putting new hooks, what can I do it's my lot. This is the same fisherman who was surrounded by twenty cats the last time I passed. I smiled in wonderment at the brood. He responded "Obos ine Psaria, gates ine conda, brepoun na fagoun ke aftes". Where there are fish, there are cats. They need to eat as well....Yes, I thought. So it is.. Afto ine. So it is... A favourite island saying.

Underpinning these stock phrases are the remnants of the very ancient concept of Fate, stretching all the way back to Homer. Fate in the sense of 'meant to be'. In our frailty we can invoke the wrath of more powerful beings, nature and nature's wild forces - a life order and acceptance of it are an inevitable aspect of being. Nuances of language colour the effectiveness of these exchanges between us. It is the way we, Michealis and I recognize and accept the 'state of being' as lived on this rocky island. We will have more of these conversations. They will serve as a kind of neighbourly accommodation.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Kastellorizo Museum then Lunch at the Olive Grove.

Sunday 25th September, 2011.  A new day. Roosters crow the morning awake. I make my way to the rock for my morning swim with my book of short stories by Charmian Clift, 'Mermaid Singing'. Hannah rightly decided it would be good island reading material. Charmian is writing of Kalimnos in the 50s. Vestiges of her characters inhabit Kastellorizo.

I have decided to visit the museum today. I have heard the embroideries and artifacts are worthy. As I approach the museum attendant welcomes me. Ella kouritsi mou. Ella mesa. With that he hands me a tissue, I tilt my head- ya ta Yialya sou. "To clean your glasses." Thelis nero? Oki epharisto. As I move to cross the courtyard he picks a sprig of basil and fragrant geranium, pressing it into my hand. The fragrance lasts all the way through my visit. The collection are fragments, mere scraps from the layers of occupation. The courtyard walls, remnants of the Italian crusader occupation.

I hear the church bell chime 1.00pm. I make for The Olive Garden restaurant, opposite my house run by Damian and Monica. Under the vines, cats at my feet, I order a lunch of broccoli poached with carrots and onions, mushrooms with feta and pepper and a horiatiki salad with a bottle of Retsina, dry white wine cured with pine resin. It is truly delicious.

At the tables near me I hear the French, deep in conversation, to my right a German table, out of earshot an English couple. Nick and Helene P arrive. We are all drinking. Siesta will follow. Couples lean toward each other in conversation, eating and drinking, tinkles of phrases, languages out of reach....and the lap, lap of the limani always a glance away.

I have made arrangements to have my hair washed and dried at 6.00pm. We meet at the furno as Thionisia doesn't know my house. I provide the shampoo and conditioner, she provides the dryer and some hair products. 8.00E. 6985931561. We get started. I place chair next to the shower and we begin with the hose. I make the usual polite enquiry. How many children? "No children, I've only been married a year. I'm waiting for my husband to grow up." I like her style.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Exploring Paliocastro Kastellorizo

Wednesday 21st September, 2011. Today Frank and I will walk to the island high point and ancient fort of Palaiokastro. I have my reference book by Norman Ashton, Ancient Megisti. I will be looking for a 2nd century inscription carved in the rock face below the Kastro:

"This is a monument to Timon. Let no-one do it harm or erase it. But if this is not so, let him be sinful in the eyes of Daimon and to the Gods of the Underworld."

Greek playwrights invented tragedy. I have no wish to tempt the Gods of the Underworld. We will just look and remember Timon.

The Roman chronicler, Titus Livius of Patavium (Padua) compiled a massive history of Rome in 142 books, Ad Urbe Condita. In the few books that survive there are three references to Megisti, all in the context of the events of 190 BC~during the Syrian War.

We have wonderfully evocative fragments from it such as:

".....the Rhodians sent Chariclitis with twenty beaked ships to Patara and Megiste harbor."


"....Polyxenidas, on hearing of the battle had left Ephesus, and after having sailed with his fleet all the way to Patara in Lycia, being in fear of the posting of Rhodian ships which were at Megiste, After disembarking onto dry land with a few men he made the journey to Syria on foot."

From such scraps we know that the Romans and ancient Greeks utilised the strategic positioning of Megiste and it's safe harbour from the 4th to the 1st century BC. A Lycian Tomb, high on the rock face tells its story of occupation. In such fragments are this ancient rock's importance recorded.

On the way back Frank and I call in to visit Bernte for a glass of cold water. He has had a house on the island since the the 80s and visits as many as three times a year. His house is delightful, a small garden overlooking the tall pines. A large top floor room is set out with beloved pieces of inherited furniture, a grand gilt mirror and an exceptional bureau of inlaid wood, reading chairs and family photos. A bolt hole.

We three agree to lunch at my house. I offer them the remainder of the tomatoes yemistes. Yes! They bring Retsina and we have a delightful time eating and drinking- again! I sleep deeply and awake at 8.00pm, dress for drinks on the limani with Voula and friends. It is a warm night. A puff of air fans the bay. There is a murmur of diners sampling the restaurant's fare as I walk towards the Kastellorizo Hotel. Voula is there with Wendy, Charles and Richard, Kastellorizo regulars from the UK. The Ouzo is deliciously refreshing at this time of the day. We chat and I take my leave to meet with Triandafilia Kalafatas, my Athenian neighbour. Together we stroll the limani till we reach Vassilis cafe for coffee and iced water.

A clap of thunder, lightening, then rain. We beat a retreat inside. The rain is dramatic and cleansing. It will clear tomorrow.

Thursday 22rd September, 2011. I awake to sunny skies. Frank and I will go to Aios Giorgos for swim, a small swimming island with what passes as a beach. The water here is clear and blue. For three Euros we hire beach lounges and for a few hours chat and swim. Frank is good company, a retired journalist and translator, he has a vast knowledge of music and literature spanning English and German. He lived in England for four years, writing for papers there. We never run out of things to discuss. He is interested in the performances I have seen recently in Vienna and New York.

Tonight a group have been invited to Costa's birthday sweets at 10.00pm. Anna and Emanuel, Chrissie and John, Amy, son ...Conahan and partner, Matthew, a Greek singer, Fandouri, Nick and Helene P and Basilis and Nick B.

Anna P has cooked baclava, orange cake and a flan. It is served with hot black tea.
We leave around 1.00pm.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

The Blue Grotto, Kastellorizo.

Sunday 18th September, 2011. I have organised a group to come for drinks tonight at 8.00pm. This will be the first time I will entertain. I'm glad to have the four extra chairs and the crockery set, now all unpacked and settled into their places. It took me a bit of searching in Athens to find the set I wanted. Now I notice it has the mark Chateau Valmont. I'll look it up and see if I can find out more about the company.

I've cooked spanakopita, prepared a plate of two large slabs of Turkish cheeses with grapes, local bakery poli- sporo bread, bean, garlic and lemon dip, and my favourite cocktail of the moment, Cointreau with champagne. The guests are:
the Germans: Bernt (near Munich), Sabrina, (Neuremberg), Frank and Heikou, (Hamburg).
Costa and Anne, Linda, a friend of Costa. Sculptor, New York, Marion, Bill and Linda, Basilis and Nick B. It is a great night. Everyone happy and laughing.

Tuesday 20th September,2011.
Frank, Heiko and I have organized a 9.00 am boat ride to the Blue Grotto with Giorgos of Little Paris Restaurant. A fine day with a hint of cloud cover. We breach the point then head off around the island coast passing vast slabs of red,white cliffs, sharp and jagged. A two masted sailing vessel passes us headed for the harbor. We wave. I look across at the island archipelago, rocks jutting out from this wondrous Mediterranean sea.

Giorgos cuts the motor and I see the cave opening. Oh! It is but a slit above the waterline. Surely we can't have room to enter. "Lie down, lie down". We do as instructed and glide into the hole in the rock, just.... As our eyes become accustomed to the light, we see a vast cathedral cave souring above us, the rock face worn with water, a semi circle, vast in height, lit by an iridescent blue body of water, bright and glowing. All is silence. We sit for a minute with just the lap, lap of the boat. It is truly magical.

We have our swim in the brightness, the cave slit brilliant with white light, the water blue- green and sparkling. We take our pictures as remembrance and head off back to the harbor.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Drinks on Kastellorizo Bay

I awoke early for the 8.00am boat to Kash with captain George. Still feeling very seedy. I have a yearned for hair wash and then drag my nana shopping trolly up the hill to the Friday food market. It is as splendid as I remember. Huge mounds of bright peppers, greens, fruits, spices. It is all here in abundance. I found the cheese stall and selected a beautiful goat feta and a milder sheep's cheese. I had a choice of around six types, made variously from cow, goat and sheep's milk. The same vendor also has an excellent selection of olives. I love the taste of the wizened black ones and order half a kilo. Watermelon, grapes, oranges, peaches, plums and grapes are in season. I see numbers of green leaf vegetables, beautiful marrow and peppers and always mounds of deep red tomatoes.

On the way down the hill, I call in to see Ermit, the antique dealer and find a very good Horiatiki cupboard suitable for the kitchen entrance. He has given me a price of 500 Turkish lira (around $300.00A). I think I should get it, but I'd like to pay less. I'm hopeless at bargaining. My heart isn't in it. I make the mistake of identifying with the seller. I plan to offer 350TL and see what happens.

I've been invited to drinks at Marion M's house on the limani. I arrive around 9.00pm. The guests are largely island home owners who have made Kastellorizo a large part of their lives. Harvey, Sydney, Chrissie and John A, Sydney, Gus and Beryl, Sydney, Anne and Emanuel, Perth, Vasilis and Nick B, Canberra, Serena and partner Dario, Perth, German, John and Diane K, Sydney. Betty T, Sydney.

Marion serves Moet, beers and ouzo. As we catch up on each others news, sounds of a distant restaurant's music floats across the bay, harbor craft bob, catching the moonlight and there is Venus-companion to the moon, high above, splendid and bright. The bulky grey silhouette of Turkey is bleak and flattened tonight. This bay never fails to move me. There has been talk tonight of Turkish planes flying overhead on exercises. We don't like this talk. Someone changes the subject pretty snappy. The Paleo Castro is lit making it's stone golden and beautiful.

Harvey has been to Venice for the biennale- almost exactly the same dates as me! Vasilis and Nick have come from Berlin on route to Kazzie, full of excitement for the architecture and galleries they saw, particularly in east Berlin.

We are called to a table laden with sweets of all descriptions. I have contributed a galetemboureko. I love cooking in my new kitchen. It is minute and very convenient. I'm very pleased with the result. I get a few compliments.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

No Street numbers or street names on Kastellorizo.

Had my morning swim without incident. I could hear Dimitri working, but managed to walk by unnoticed.

Real estate agent,Costa P called by this morning for a coffee. We discuss a number of court cases. Eight to fifteen years in Greek courts is not unusual. A very litigious society. Mafia style vendettas! What can be gained from this madness. People pinching land, squatting in another's property, and so it goes on. It reminds me of the Dickens novel Bleak House, a story of Chancery Lane courts where families are driven to madness or ruined by their lawyers and sedentary judges.

I head off to the post office to collect mail. When I get there the post mistress makes copious notes of the details of my house. Yellow, wood shutters, opposite Athena Park with a Pitharia planted with oleander and lavender. As there are no addresses on Kastellorizo, the post mistress must rely on her local knowledge to deliver the mail. She writes this information in a book.

I have arranged to meet Triandafilia Kalafatas (Athenian) to measure her house. She is all at sea with the design, so I hope a floor plan will help. It takes around three hours. Her three story house is all but a ruin, with very good harbour views from the top floor. I think it will be spectacular, however her neighbour has built on the thoroughfare adjacent to her and the other one has built against her wall and blocked off one of her windows! This is syrup to the Rhodes lawyers-they can string this stuff out for years.

I'm suffering with a bad flu. I retreat home, make a lentil soup and head to bed.

Thursday 15th September, 2011.
Yiannis tiled the kitchen window nook and the sink and surrounds for 100 Euro. I'm still flu bound and miserable.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

My Shirley Valentine day on Kastellorizo.

I have arrived at Kazzie to a pile of furniture and boxes. They landed just as I was leaving the island on my last trip in July. Cousin Helene negotiated their safe transport to the house and here they are awaiting me. I spend a delightful few hours unpacking, sorting and cleaning.

I'm starting my routine of a morning swim at the rock and then my walk around the bay of Mandraki before I breakfast. This morning I have a good swim and begin my walk to the bay. I make my way up the familiar stone steps alongside a house, clearly in the throws of renovation.

A man clad only in blue underpants comes towards me bearing a long ladder. He is beaming. "Come see what I do. I make house." I am not at all interested, however his enthusiasm is overwhelming so I follow. He shows me his work with such pride, pointing out the details. "Three years I work on this house." We see various rooms. They seem to have no particular function. Seems a bit of a mess to me. Can the owners have given him license to do this? He opens a door to a small room featuring the largest electricity board I have ever seen. "This room for lovers, you see has lock". Oh no! I can see where this is going. I bid my goodbyes and re-start my journey. "Wait for me. I go to Mandraki also." Oh really... By now he has put some shorts on. I'm a bit relieved.

As we are walking he invites me to teach him English. He is working on Kastellorizo while his wife and two sons remain in Rhodes. One is a qualified chef, the other is studying Medicine. Dimitri,(we know each others names now) is working to pay for his son's tuition, his wife remains in Rhodes to look after them, despite them being adults.

Now I am really bored and my eyes begin to glaze over. Suddenly he stops, turns toward me and standing tall, hands spread wide across chest says "I am big man." Oh no! We are facing each other now and I begin to notice he is very handsome, walnut brown all over, a white expanse of teeth growling at me. I feel like he is about to club me and take me to a cave. I am not up for a Shirley Valentine experience so I play dumb to the overture. I say something really silly. Dimitri hardly notices.

I have met the Kazzie version of Zorba, ready to take on every woman on the island, never mind their age or circumstance. A feeling of deep disappointment sweeps over me. I love my morning routine. Will I now have to duck and dive to avoid this love starved country boy?

I suppose we all have these D.H Lawrence moments when the directness of the experience takes you by surprise. The Shirleys are welcome to him. I'm in a rage!

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Goodbye Venice

I'm leaving the group and the security of the Luna Baglioni today. It has been sensational. We are peeling off now to go our separate ways. I leave for Athens on Aegean Air at 10.30am on route to the Kazzie house. I eat my last breakfast in that beautiful breakfast room. The water taxi arrives at 8.00am.

He bundles my scrappy luggage on board, no trouble. The whole of Venice is enveloped in heavy mist. How will he navigate? This thought has not occurred to him. We belt across the water, banging the tops of the waves in great jolts, spray crashes high, spectacular. I see he has the wipers on and has wrapped a beautiful scarf around his neck. Like all Italians he has a way with clothes, even these work clothes: we pass other craft. Now we see the jetties of Venice Airport. People are waiting to get on. They are on their way to Venice...lucky things. I pay my 110 Euro.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Dining at Il Gondolieri Venice. Famous since the fourties.

A truly wonderful day at San Marco, Correr Museum and the Ducal Palace.

Dinner at Il Gondolieri, famous since the 40s. A signed Man Ray photo graces the wall above our table. It looks like the sort of place Hemingway drank and ate. Clearly it is well known and loved. We have a starter of spicy meat with creamed potato, risotto, steak then a creamy custard. I'm sitting with Sally Manford, Stuart Miller and Sheldon Coxon. Marlene presents Stephano with his gift and some words of appreciation. Micheal Manford adds his own thanks, noting Stephano and the other guides' passion for their subject.

Saturday 10th, September, 2011.
Today I re-visit the Biennale. I make my way towards a film installation by US artist John Mackay. It is about time, and time within time, a very layered piece of great complexity; he has spliced sections of commercial films together where references to time appear in speech or clocks-for example 10.45am. The drama time moves as 'real' time moves. It is fascinating and subverts my prejudice towards video works. I routinely give them a miss! I lunch on the Grande Canale. Marinaded sardine fillets with braised onions, pine nuts and sultanas, grilled baby octopus, marinaded squid and prawns. I have a glass of light local wine and a salad.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Locanda Cipriani, Venice.

Stayed up drinking with Marco, Terry and Veronique at the Baglioni cocktail bar. Good conversations on early Italian cinema, Tennesee Williams and Gone with the Wind. Veronique tells us about her beautiful mother's career as an advertising model. Veronique sat on the lap of Anthony Quinn as a 12 year old, listening to his stories, while her mother was modelling! and she had other brushes with Hollywood-sandwiches with Patricia Neill! Its a good end to the night. Roll into bed after 1.00am.

We assemble in the foyer at 9.30am and make our way towards St Marks Square along the Riva Degli Schiavoni. Cross two bridges, canals, always glimpses of canals. People everywhere. They are photographing each other, posing, buying postcards. Most people are on their way somewhere. It is quite mad. The Canale Di San Marco is full of craft scudding here and there. We have arrived at the Ponte Della Pieta. Stephano and Glass historian, Rosa Barovier Mentasti will be our guides on Murano today.

The ride takes us around the fish tail end of Venice, past the Isola Di San Michele with it's church and cemetery to the Murano jetty. A neat square, Piazza alla Colonna then a stroll along the Fondamenta Dei Ventrai. Shops and factories line the canal. We are guided through the VANINI factory by staff and the curator. They take great care to demonstrate their attention to every phase of the glass making process. It makes their glass prized by collectors and institutions. We marvel at the glass blowers' skill.

I wish we had more time to explore other factories, lunch awaits. The group assembles at the jetty awaiting the Vaporetto. We will lunch at Locanda Cipriani on the island of Torcello, can't wait.

A table is set in the centre of a lawn. Waiters are serving Bellini's, pink and sparkling. This is refreshing and a good introduction to the famous Locanda gardens. We spend some time wandering, drinks in hand. This garden is well loved: a green herb garden with lemon verbena, herbs, garlic and chives, bright green clipped lawns, arches with walkways, beds of annuals. I glimpse the other patrons, families bunched in laughter. They are sitting under vine covered loggias. I can hear the clatter of cutlery, lunch chatter, wait staff busy and efficient, great platters held aloft. In the distance small rural buildings and cypress trees bright in the midday sun.

We dine on a starter of squid served in it's ink, a linguini pasta with vegetables bathed in a light creamy sauce, then pan fried fish fillets, golden and white with shaved zucchini. A dessert version of Zabiglione finishes this wondrous meal. I order a small expresso.

We walk back alongside the canal past coloured traditional houses, shuttered and silent. Wide fields grassed, empty but for a line of cypress. We are lost in our own thoughts.

Now a rural retreat, the island of Torcello was once the centre, pre-dating Venice as an important locus of trade and worship. The first Basilica, workshops and houses were here. A tiny rural community service the small number of tourists who abandon the glittering attractions of the grand canal and explore this ancient settlement. Occupied since the first and second centuries by Romans, Torcello has many stories. The bones of the gospel writer Mark were bought here from Alexandria before they were housed at St Marks.

The Church buildings and interiors have had successive layers of occupation and renovation. Consecrated in 639AD, a major refurbishment was undertaken in 1008 and then in the 1600s. The form we see today is the sum of these successive layers. Stern and austere the inside decoration is ablaze with gold and finely coloured mosaics, the largest being The Doomsday mosaic, The Last Judgement.

In beautifully ordered imagery the mosaic shows the Apostles, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, the Damned of Hell, Archangels, martyrs and monks. Here the full drama of the cost of sin is played out. A green Lucifer sits with the Anti Christ on his knee, while the Archangel drives the proud, the lustful, the envious, the misers and the indolent into the fires of Hell with his lance.

For those who are devout; the glory of the heavenly court, Christ the judge, surrounded by angels and Apostles promise the soul, life into eternity. It is a giant work covering the full height and width of the Church. In the Apse opposite the Virgin and child with the twelve Apostles. The church is dense with stories, all in mosaics of exceptional quality. It is a wonderful experience to be in this ancient space. I'm so glad not to have missed it.

Tonight Stuart and I will go to a performance of Verdi's, Rigoletto at a Palazzi. We head off at 7.45pm for pre-performance drinks and find a good bar adjacent to the Hotel Bauer. The entrance to the Palazzo in a little obscure, we eventually ring a doorbell and click, we're in! We are seated with sixty others in a small room. An orchestra of piano, two violin and a cello accompany the singers. At each scene change the performance moves into another room. The singing is very good, though Stuart with his expertise in ears, noses and throats, detects strain in the soprano's vocal chords! Gilda is sung by Scilla Cristiano, Rigoletto, Andrea Zese and the Duke by Orfeo Zanetti. It is a delightful performance and a lot of fun.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

The Venice Biennale

We are due to meet at the columns at St Mark's Square at 10.00am before we set off for the Venice Biennale at the Giardini and Arsenale. Red and I have a delightful sparring chatter as we make our way there. We manage to buy a very good rapper hat for her to set off the Japanese designer gear she favours.

One of the highlights of the 54th Biennale is the French artist Christian Boltanski's work, CHANCE, made up of the works, The Wheel of Fortune, the Births, The Deaths and Be New. <> or for further information <>

Christophe Schlingenseif's work in the German pavilion is also a do not miss. A Church of Fear vs. the Alien Within. These works document his work over a period of time, particularly his confrontation with cancer and the impact on his body. Better than it sounds.

Mike Nelson's work at the British Pavillion is a standout. Creating a link between two great former mercantile centres, Istanbul in the East and Venice in the West, Nelson transforms the British Pavillion building a labyrinth of rooms. He has removed the roof structure of the building. We are amazed. We are in a past, once ours-a post industrial factory perhaps. Tools of trade dusty and forgotten, small abandoned rooms heavy with age and accumulated dust. The impact is cumulative and powerful.

We bump into Anthony Gormley. I remind him that my nephew, George Kailis worked with him on the Menzies project. He remembers George with gusto and I promise to pass on his good wishes.

We break for lunch, Stephano's favourite restaurant when he was a student and still exceptional in the Venesian food pantheon. Trattoria Corte Sconta, Calle del Pestrin 3886.

A table has been set for us in an enclosed courtyard under the vines, now heavy with green bunches. A starter of marinaded tuna and white swordfish with celeriac and juniper berries, served with Proscheto and sparkling water. Bowls of Vongole follow flavoured with ginger and lemon, platters of local seafood arrive, minute shrimp crisp and orange, marinaded octopus, stuffed baby squid, small crustasions accompanied with crispy bread.

Dessert, a pale peach coloured parfait of passionfruit served with wild strawberries, minced paw paw, mint and passionfruit. This is food like no other. A feast of flavours and served with such grace. I am sitting with Marlene Stafford and Veronique Ramen. We discuss the gallery fundraising program. This is Marlene's baby.

The afternoon is filled with more artwork spotting. Argentina was a find. Sculptures of giant proportions in grey concrete. I'm back at the hotel now. Tonight we dine at the Lido. What will I wear?

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

The Brenta Canal Venice to Padua.

I am recovering from the meal last night. We started with carpaccio, followed by something that was nearly carpaccio, smoked meats on a bed of parmesan and salad leaves, pasta funghi, spinach crepes, steak fillet, sorbet and creamy dessert. It is a struggle to do credit to all these courses. I am seated next to Elizabeth Vinnicombe opposite Gene Tilbrook and Anne Seghezzi. The talk is of books and relationships. We catch up on each other, getting to know you.

Despite the feast of last night I find myself rocking up for breakfast. It is set in a long room of rather grand proportions, a painted ceiling and walls, by Tiepolo's student no less! A great oval buffet is set up in the middle of the room, loaded with breakfasting things. I take the fruit, grapes and water melon. Deliciously fresh.

It is a big day of villas and churches. We are not sure our vaporetti will arrive. There is a general strike and everything is upside down. General chatter as we consider our fate. Stephano has it sorted. The drivers arrive on time. We have a fascinating ride along the canals, passing villas of all descriptions, slipping into the working part of the city till we arrive at a jetty where a bus is waiting to take us across the causeway to our first destination of the day.

Villa Foscari (La Malcontenta), designed by Andrea Palladio was commissioned by the Foscari twins Nicolo and Alvise in 1558. Remarkably, the villa is still in the ownership of the family after many twists and turns. It is now part of the World Heritage Site that takes in the canals of Venice and the villas of the Brenta Canal connecting Venice to Padua.

We approach from the rear of the building. It is typically square, pedimented with tall, elegant columns, looking more vast because of a deep base that supports the structure. It is at once austere and classic. Inside the home-like proportions of the spaces are revealed. It is a complete surprise, a jewel of wonderful frescos by Batista Franco and Giambattista Zalloti. The central passage has become a generous room with all other rooms peeling from it. Tiny painted spaces with a window and a writing desk, comfortable bedrooms, a cosy sitting room. This is a bolt hole of magnificent conception. Henry 11 visited as did Doges and other Venetian nobles.

These villas served as country residences, a retreat from the often unhealthy city centre that was Venice. Many were attached to vast landholdings given to the growing of wheat for domestic consumption and were surrounded by agricultural buildings. Foscari is not one of these it is for pleasure, entertaining family and important guests.

We wind our way beside the Brenta Canal. Avenues of pale trees, gardens generation upon generation have nurtured, villas grand and small and in between scraps of houses and shops. Villa Pisani is our next stop. Versailles like, it's vast network of rooms and furnishings are built to impress. A vast pool stretches between the main house and the stables, clipped and manicured gardens all of green.

Padua is close, I'm very excited. Giotto's frescos were a subject of study when I was at art school. Did I do an essay on them? Must have-they are so detailed in my memory. The Betrayal of Judas, Lamentation over the dead Christ, Joachim among the Shepherds and The Last Judgement are deeply etched in my memory. I was familiar with the language of this cycle even then. The Greek Orthodox Church at Parker Street has versions of it.

The Church itself is spare and beautifully proportioned, deep red flat small bricks. We are seated in the black glass holding pen for a preparatory video before we get our fifteen minutes inside.

Silence as we twenty enter this holy place. Deep in concentration we each study and pause. In Giotto's golden hands the medieval tradition of Christus patiens is inverted into humanism and passion. His brush traces the face, solid in grief. We are witness to these events. Such a radical shift from the heavy formality of iconography and medieval illumination.

Nothing of this experience disappoints. We are in the presence of a great and moving cycle of works, like an opera, building one note on the other till we are completely immersed in the work and the artist's vision. It has been truly transporting. An experience I will carry with me.

I fall asleep around seven and wake at seven, refreshed by my baby sleep.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Galleria Dell Acadamia and Punta Della Dogana, Venice.

We are a group of twenty. We breakfast, then head off to the Galleria Dell,Accadamia, housed in the ancient Scuola Della Carita and reconfigured church buildings. Guides, Katerina and Stephano will walk us through the collection. They are passionate Venitians, tracing the flow of powerful families and influences. Venitians did not recognize the authority of the Pope, such was their confidence and power.

Their elected Doge and councillors protected the strategic importance of Venice as a funnel for goods coming from the east and cities such as Alexandria. It made the city fabulous wealth. They sent envoys - the first resident diplomats to Contantinople and other centers where Venitian mercantile interests were important. Venitian artists painted Islam into their works - a culture they knew well. Ottoman rulers commissioned Venetian artists to record them in portraiture. Differing from other Italian centers of painting, Venitian artists noted the cultural exchange in their depiction of religious stories pertinent to their city. The cosmopolitan, open nature of Venitian culture is evident.

As a complete contrast we make our way to the Punta Della Dogana, the ancient Customs House. Set on a peninsular across a small stretch of water from San Marco square, the space has been transformed by architect, Tadeo Ando, to house Francois Pinault's astounding collection and exhibition program. The curator walks us through the current exhibition In Praise of Doubt and The World Belongs to You. pointing to uncertainties posed by the works. It is intriguing. Now most of us are thinking of lunch. Breakfast seems a long time ago. We are ushered into the gallery restaurant for carpaccio on rocket, smoky and light, followed by coffee and chocolate flan. We each receive a catalogue of the exhibition. It has been wonderful.

We have a few more stops to look at important churches and walk the squares of the old residential precincts before we make our way to the private house of Nathalie De Corso and her husband for afternoon drinks. They are good hosts, showing us their roof garden and home, set on the canal. It has been a good walk to get here. I have been chatting to Micheal Manford, whose parents were neighbours of ours when I was a child. They built their house in 1957 when I was ten. I remember it going up. I feel ancient. Walking back to the hotel we pass squares facing the canal. Spare church facades plastered in fine tones of whiteness and soft greys with flourishes of acanthus leaves on grand columns. Walls of small flat red bricks, worn and ancient. A washing line hung with white and always water.

We are led back to the hotel to prepare for dinner at the Ristorante Do Forni, San Marco.
What will I wear?

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Venice with Art Gallery of Western Australia Foundation friends

On the first Sunday in September, Venice is packed with visitors who come for the gondola races on the Grand Canal. Sleek black craft of competing teams fly across the water ending east of San Marco Square. I have joined Chris and Ian Fletcher. We plan to catch a vaporetto from the airport to the Luna Baglioni jetty. We signal a driver: Ah signora, today is festival, we try and drop you near hotel. As we approach the archipelago we see the problem. Water police are stopping the vaporetto's from crossing near the San Marco area. Nothing for it but to leg it the last stretch. Up and down bridges, down small snatches of lanes, corners, shops, dead ends. At last we find the hotel. I sink into my bath and sleep deeply.

Tonight we dine at the Monaco Hotel on the canal. It is a chance for our group to meet each other and break bread. We assemble at our waterside table for drinks. Slowly the courses emerge, salmon, salad, fish fillet with leak and shaved potatoes. The sky claps dramatically. Lightening and rain drive us inside for desserts. I glance at the company. We are acting out an Agatha Christie novel, set here in Venice. Inspector Poirot will join us soon when the beautiful but troubled Lavinia is shot dead in the powder room.