5:30 AM- Walking to the train station. The stars are bright in the pitch black sky. It feels like the middle of the night. I have that twisted knot of excitement in my stomach that I always get at the beginning of traveling.
8:00 AM- The Swiss countryside [mostly mountains] flashes by the train window. We pass lakes of mist in fields, and I see a crack of sunlight between two mountains. The teachers hand out folders with little exercises- sketch this, write a poem about a train journey [mine was hybrid German/English because I’m good, but not that good]. I skip two because they’re too complicated, and the people sitting next to me are asleep. Ah well. What a shame.
Some Later Time- We cross over into Italy- I miss it, and only realize about an hour later because I can’t see any mountains. It’s still nice and misty.
We change trains in MIlano, and continue onto Venice. The sun is out, and I sit for three hours staring blankly at the country flashing past. Ahhh, Italy.
My first glimpse of Venice is a stretch of blue water, rippling between hot sunshine and cool shadows. The city, brown and orange and white, stretches out in the background. We disembark at the train station, and walk out into the sun, with the jerky, close knit movements of a group of kittens. I’m instantly glad I bought a backpack as we walk through the cobbled streets- it’s ridiculously crowded, and every fifty meters we climb up and over a bridge- I now know that Venice has 409 bridges.
The narrow streets are lined with stalls, mostly selling the same things- touristy postcards [I came home with nine], keychains, scarves, and thousands of masks- everything from the most expensive crafted leather handpainted animal carnival masks to three euro white paper masks with glitter hot-glued on. I bought a paper mache blue and gold music patterned one. Venice- truly the city of masks.
After dumping our bags in the hostel we walked through more streets and over more bridges to San Marco, a very beautiful big old church. We went in and looked around, then went back out and apparently talked about the architecture for a while, and then went back in. I didn’t really pay much attention to the teachers, to be honest- whenever I’m in churches, especially old churches, I always feel very small and quiet- I’m not particularly religious, or spiritual, but I actually did sit in San Marco and pray for a few minutes. I don’t really know why. I think it might have something to do with the gold encrusted cupolas.
Then we had free time- I went off with Julia, Chantal and Marko to wander around the main few streets- and I had my first slice of proper Italian pizza, which may have tasted amazing and completely so much better than all other pizza, but I was really really hungry so it could have tasted just like a Dominos or something.
After the slice of pizza we actually ended up going to McDonalds for dinner- which may sound completely crazy and why-would-we-do-that-we’re-in-ITALY, but I got a pretty decent meal for four euros, which is quite cheap so, I don’t really care.
The next morning was quite chilly and misty. We got on a boat, and swooshed down the side of Venice, all the houses facing us. Everyone was bundled up in jackets, but I stuffed mine in my bag, and wore only my short sleeved dress, because the cold air felt beautiful against my skin. Mist was still hanging around, and there was an eerie stillness to the city, despite the canal being pretty crowded with boats already.
We arrived at the first part of the Biennale- an International Art Exhibition held once every second year in Venice. We went to Arsenale- it’s a part of the exhibition, comprised of many different buildings, each assigned a different country, each holding examples of modern art from that country. Now, I don’t know about you, but I really love modern art. And yes, we got plenty of time to wander around by ourselves, so I was REALLY happy.
There were a lot of really interesting ‘pavilions’, as they were called. Some really stood out to me, and some were all right in their own way, but just didn’t catch my imagination. Others were probably really interesting to some people, but felt disconnected, or just boring. So plenty of variety.
The Russian pavilion was the first one we went to- it was loosely based around the myth of Dante. The first part was decorated to look like a cavern, and only women were allowed to go in. We were given clear plastic umbrellas, and huddled in the center of the cavern. The roof of the cavern was open, and all the guys [and some girls] had climbed up the stairs and were looking down on the us. Suddenly, it started to rain coins- they dropped down from a box in the ceiling, and thudded onto our plastic umbrellas. Everyone shrieked, but despite the fierce velocity of the coins, nobody was hurt. Afterwards, we were told to collect the coins and place them in a bucket, which was then winched up, and coins were poured into an ingenious little rig that took them back up to the box in the ceiling. I can think of some certain young men who would have loved to play with that machine all day!
The rest of the Russian pavilion above the cavern was comprised of a man sitting on a saddle on a roof beam, eating peanuts and throwing the shells onto a big pile on the ground, and a rose in a medieval toilet style box. Most people seemed really confused by it all. I don’t know. I think that being able to enjoy modern art has a lot to do with the individual’s opinion of how exactly you are supposed to enjoy it- in depth interpretation, visual enjoyment, artistic snobbery, ‘i don’t get it’, etc.
Another house that stood out to me was the Great Britain pavilion. It was a multi media exhibition- some giant, beautiful paintings on the walls, a very high definition movie (of an eagle, an owl, some kids jumping on an inflatable Stonehenge, and two cars being wrecked], free cups of tea [yeah I think that was my favorite part] and lots of photographs around the walls of moments from when David Bowie toured America in the seventies or eighties. It was quite vague. There were also some Russian coins, but I was still too focused on the free cups of tea to try and understand that bit.
The American house was amazing. Built as a smaller replica of the Washington State House, the outside was covered by an intricate web of rope, sticks, bits of rubbish, everyday objects, all wound together to create a beautiful but strange decoration. Inside, there were maybe seven different pieces of art- all made using the same everyday objects, hundreds upon hundreds of tiny little details- piles of sand, tiny matchboxes with things in them, bits of string balancing buttons…incredibly stimulating for anyone’s imagination.
There were lots of other amazing pavilions, of course- I could write a blog post for each one, but I’ll stick to those three for now- some of the other amazing ones are too difficult and complicated to explain. All in all, it was a very amazing exhibition, and I’m so glad I got to visit.
At about five thirty we were set free, and I decided to walk back along the waterfront with Runa and another girl. The sunset was amazing, and even though we got a little bit lost, we made it back in time for dinner- we met up with a bunch of other people, and went to a little restaurant where I ticked off another thing from my “Typical Foods Of A Country” list. Spaghetti!!! A 7.5 euro portion that still left me hungry, but we got free bread so I filled up on that. The meal ended up costing me eleven euros, because it was two each for the bottles of water, and we had to pay for the cutlery [??]. Ahh, Europe.
The next morning we separated into groups, and my group took another boat ride to Murano- the place with all the beautiful glass! Or, the place famous for making lots of beautiful glass things. Our first stop was a small glass shop where we watched a man blow glass. It looked like melted toffee- thick, pliable, gloopy- and it was amazing to see him twirl and twist a blob of glowing orange liquid into a small rearing purple horse. I bought a small cheap necklace from the shop because, um, it was pink and had flowers and it was handmade, so, several good reasons there.
Then we went to a glass factory, where we watched more glass blowing. For maybe ninety seconds I thought that I would like to blow glass- oh, how easy they made it look. But then I remembered that you don’t win Oscars for blowing glass. Or you might. I have no idea.
Next stop was an old church, much smaller than San Marco, but just as old. Inside there was a baby being christened, but in a side room I actually lit one of those candle, and thought about LGBT youth in general, but specifically those who have committed suicide, because I couldn’t think of anyone I knew who had died recently. We then went and looked at the outside of the church, which we sketched, and I realized that I can’t draw for anything. Then we all went off to have lunch. I had coffee and a fried panini in a tiny, crooked cafe all by myself, whilst studying the framed foreign currency on the walls and listening to pop music from the early 2000’s crackling from a tiny radio. Like, this is something that I actually did, and wow, I love that my life is suddenly some sort of travel slash soul searching novel.
We took the boat back to the main city [Mulano is sort of separate- most of Venice is actually just islands interconnected by canals and bridges, but Mulano is actually only accessible by boat], where we met up with all the others, and visited Part ll of the Biennale thing. This one was called The Encyclopedic Palace, and I really wish that I’d had more time to look around because we only got about an hour.
This is what Wikipedia has to say about The Encyclopedic Palace:
“The Encyclopedic Palace of the World (Il Palazzo Enciclopedico del Mondo) is a mixed media, sculptural model that was created by self-taught Italian artist Marino Auriti in the 1950s. Now housed in the American Folk Art Museum, New York City, the work was conceived by Auriti as a building to “hold all the works of man in whatever field, discoveries made and those which may follow”.
It is made of wood, plastic, glass, metal, hair combs, and model kit parts and was created by Auriti, a mechanic, over the course of about three years. His first love was architecture and he dreamed that the 11 feet (3 m) cylindrical model skyscraper would one day be built on the National Mall in Washington D.C.. It was built on a 1:200 scale, but had it been constructed it would have stood 136-storeys high, making it the tallest building of its time. Auriti acquired a patent, exhibited it in a storefront and a bank lobby, but it was then housed in a warehouse before being donated to the museum.
The Encyclopedic Palace was chosen for exhibition at the 2013 Venice Biennale by artistic director Massimiliano Gioni, who also chose it as the title for the show. He commented in an article in the New York Times that it represents “the impossibility of capturing the sheer enormity of the art world today”. Gioni also noted that the choice of the Encyclopedic Palace contains an autobiographical element, in that being asked to curate such an exhibition places an expectation to create the “perfect picture” that captures the whole of modern art. “
Yeah so basically just a massive exhibition with a lot of really awesome modern art.
I spent most of my hour watching an film about a group of young women at an all female college in America being interviewed about various topics such as sexuality, family, politics, feminism, the future, and I think I may have cried a tear of happiness, because it seemed to sum up most of what I want my life to be- just being around a lot of women who talk about important interesting things while chilling on a sunny lawn.
There were also some cool sculptures. But then I had to hurry back.
Again, we walked back along the waterfront, and through the tiny, bustling streets. Some shops were closing in the twilight, but others were open, and the smell of pizza and sewage intermingled in that classic, Venice smell.
I went and did some shopping for the morning, and then while most of the others were outside
getting drunk playing hide and seek, me and a couple of other sensible girls sat on our beds browsing Facebook and Twitter. But we, too, went to sleep very early the next morning.
The next morning we had a couple of hours before we had to meet to go to the train, so, yep, shopping time! I got a few bits and bobs, a scarf and a mask for me, some lunch, and the final item off my Italian food checklist- a gelato! I only had about twenty minutes before I had to go back to the hostel with everyone, and most of the gelato places were closed because it was Sunday, so I ended up rushing into a cafe and blurting at the waiter “Gelato grazias!” [Hey, I was in a hurry!] It came looking pre made and frozen, but oh my god, it was good. Frozen yogurt and ice cream over frozen berry syrup, sprinkled with frozen pink berries. I sat outside, blinking at the grey, misty sky, wishing I’d bought my jacket because it was already cold before I started wolfing down the gelato. I finished it with five minutes to spare and rushed back to the hostel, glad because I was thinking of what Mum had always said “Oh, you’d love Italy, Hannah. The land of pizza, pasta and ice cream. No interesting flavors, no spices, nothing to worry about. Yes, you should definitely go to Italy one day.”