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					Venice Lights

Impressions at Many Times
     By Richard Barnet
  Venice and travel are intimate. People from
everywhere travel to and in Venice. Venetians are
   often great travellers—think of Marco Polo!
             A Prayer For Travellers
May you always have a good idea where you are,
  A means to figure out where you are going,
            Strength for the journey,
                  A good visit,
    And the courage to leave when its time.
 Our wanderings have brought us to this pretty little
backyard in Guidecca. There are many, many gardens
  tucked away in Venice. But a relatively small place
 such as this might have reminded our Irish visitor of
    the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries of how
crowded with people much of Venice was, and of how
 hard it could be to find big, open spaces. He wrote:
 The quality folk of old Venice Are fully addicted to
  But with no place to play They can only display
          Their elegant rackets, to menace.
  Was he mocking his new friends, or sympathizing
    with them? Or perhaps both? ( Venice is less
   crowded today—it has a declining population.)
San Giorgio Maggiore from the Venice
Santa Maria della Salute and Venice Basin from San
                 Giorgio Maggiore
San Marco and Venice Basin from San Giorgio Maggiore
San Giorgio Maggiore and Venice Basin from San Marco
   Venice is a city, like all cities, of stories, legends, and
   dreams. There is a story that a wealthy visitor in the
   sixteenth century—the great age of Titian, Tintoretto,
Veronese, in music the Gabrielli’s—spent three months in
  Venice and enjoyed himself immensely. He swore he
would always return to Venice, as long as God gave him
 breath, and perhaps even after that. He told his friends
  and acquaintances that he could hardly enumerate all
that he come to love and enjoy about Venice. He praised
 the people he had met, from he most humble socially to
 the most exalted—the people of power, including those
     with the power of art: writers, musicians, painters,
                sculptors, architects, actors.
He praised, the food, the drink, the grand public celebrations, the
         many beautiful and noble public places, the private
      celebrations—masques, parties, dinners, orgies, gondola
    expeditions through the thousand waterways of the city at all
   hours, but especially at sunset, night, and dawn. Venice is, he
 said, a city before all others he knew, in which it is possible to be
  on the one hand most in company with other people, and on the
    other hand most alone. And he praised the women—ah! The
                           women of Venice!
  But, he said, one thing troubled him: that in all these joys and
 wonders—and in some sorrows, too—he had never been able to
   be sure what and where was the heart of Venice. But later he
    did come to understand where is the true, and universal, and
   ageless heart of Venice, as my pictures will show. And as you,
                        too, will come to know.
But first, let’s look at some places that our visitor to Venice in the
sixteenth century considered might just be the true, the real heart
of Venice. Venice, city of art, history, and magic has changed so
little in the four centuries since then, that many places appear

today almost exactly as they did four or five hundred years ago.
The paintings and drawings of many Venetian masters, including
Canaletto, Guardi, and Canelloni attest to that. So marvellously,
as we look at Venice right now, we see it very much as our visitor
did—not so long after the Americas were “discovered” by

    The first place we will look at is Piazza San Marco. The West
front of the cathedral Is where now everybody poses for photos.
Standing there, you are in the Piazza—Napoleon Bonaparte called
it the finest drawing room in Europe. If you go into the Cathedrale,
and look down and around, you will see in front of you the Piazza.
Its big, right?
If you look hard left, you will see on a balcony on the front of the
      Cathedrale the bronze horses of St. Mark (San Marco), the
   patron saint of Venice. Past the horses, you see ―‖Little‖ Piazza
   San Marco, then the Venice Basin, and San Giorgio Maggiore in
   the distance. Everywhere are famous and grand views—but do
    you think Piazza San Marco is the heart of Venice? Perhaps it‘s
                       a little too big and public?

     Then maybe we should consider Rialto Bridge? After all, it
   connects the two most important land masses of Venice. Or
   how‘s about the interior of San Michele, the cemetery island
   (cimetario on the vaporetti boats}—after all so many famous
       people are buried here, including the great composer
  Stravinsky and his wife—but , that‘s a bit grim! Or how about
 Lido—the beach—that could fun! Ah well, I guess none of those
 will quite do, anymore they did for our sixteenth century friend!
                 So, let‘s keep looking, my friends.
Piazza San Marco, in front of the Cathedrale, Todd
and me, July, 2000. We‘re brothers. We‘re also friends.
Piazzetta San Marco, looking from Cathedrale balcony towards
Grand Canal
(piazzetta means ―little place‖—so this ―Little San Marco—but its
pretty big—right? Indeed, it is one of the great places of the
The Horses of San
Piazza San Marco, seen from the Cathedrale balcony.
Napoleon called this wonderful place ―the finest
drawing room in Europe‖—and he knew most of them
well, having seized them at the cost of about three
million soldiers killed, and who knows how many more
millions of civilians?
San Michele—cimiterio. a beautiful, quiet
This is one of the old parts. Some parts of San
Michele are rather crowded.
And I’ve heard it isn’t so easy to get buried
there at all! The composer Igor Stravinsky and
his wife are buried side-by-side in this garden.
People place stones (a mark of respect) and
flowers on their graves. Stravinsky’s music is
always fresh!
Rialto Bridge (over the
Canal). We only see half of the central and oldest bridge in Venice here. We see
plenty of the old, leaning prison, at the edge of the canal. Legend tells us that it
leans because the prisoners always crowded trowards the windows on the water.
This was to get cooler air, and especially to view the passing boats and people—
always a favorite Venetian pastime.

Another legend tells that prisoners went to that side to see the prostitutes on the
quay, and maybe carry on with them a bit, even through the bars. But this is a
false legend—because so many of the ladies of that persuasion were in prison
with the men—not to mention the hookers who were at least nominally male—
or transsexual. Interesting place—old Venice!

One Venetian cleric, hearing that the
Archbishop of
Canterbury had referred to Venice as “a modern Sodom and Gomorrah, a
cesspool of every sexual vice and license”, replied: “It is not Sodom and
Gomorrah. Compared to our beloved Venice, those were boring. But I’m sure
the honored Archbishop of Canturbury knows very well about sexual cesspools.”
Let’s not get totally carried away with this quest to find some place that feel to
us unequivocally like the best choice for “the heart of Venice”—whatever that
may mean! Let’s instead look around Venice via photo slides (transparencies)

I’ve taken there during many visits over a period of twenty years   !--although I
took most of them during the summers of 2000, 2001 and 2002. In them you’ll
see once or twice my friends Laura
Redmond and Todd Barnet (my brother). I was with them in Venice in 2000.

The real subject of these slides is the beautiful lights of Venice in many
different places in the city at may different times. We’ll often see light reflected
off water, for example: sky, clouds, buildings and boats reflected in the canals
and other waterways.

 The great (and lesser) painters of Venice for many centuries often depicted
these reflection scenes, as have other painters from all around the world.
Often we can compare scenes today in Venice, and find them uncannily like
centuries’-old paintings. But there are many other views I’ll show you, including
ones of some of the open public places, which are usually called“campi”
(singular: campo), which translates literally as “fields”. ENJOY!
Doorway into courtyard near Giardini (the
     Gardens)—medieval Venice
 Campo Santa Margherita (or maybe Campo Santa
               Maria Formosa)

    Visitors to Venice—like travellers and tourists
everywhere—may see much of physical Venice, but
 not learn about the city‘s wonderfully rich history,
customs, and culture. Of course Venice is an Italian
 city, but like so many other places in Italy it has its
    own unique ways, too. There is still a unique
    Venetian dialect and accent, within the Italian
language. Venetian is the language of command on
    Italian naval vessels. Throughout much of its
history, Venice was a great naval power, sending its
  commercial and military ships over much of the
world. It was the capital of the Republic of Venice—
   really, it was a Mediterranean empire with many
Santi Giovani and Paolo, with statue of Colleoni by Verrochio
                In this church, as in many
               churches throughout Italy,
                     there is an amazing
                   wealth of great art. In
                 many places throughout
                the world, art lovers go to
                 museums to see the art.
               In Italy, they are at least as
                  likely to see it where it
               was originally installed, in
                    a church. The Italian
                  cities that are probably
                richest of all in visual art,
                and therefore in art inside
                 churches, are Florence,
                      Venice, and Rome.
 This is an oceanic research vessel at the marina at
    San Giorgio Maggiore. It is connected with the
Univesity of Venice. Exploration has always been part
of the Venetian spirit. Right now, we are explorers of
           Venice, like the couple stroling.
My friend Laura at the lighthouse,
    at San Giorgio Maggiore.
      Boats at marina at lighthouse at San Giorgio Maggiore
To visitors today, Venice often seems calm, even strangely quiet
   for a modern city—unless of course, one is caught up in the
 bustle of the tourist crowds around San Marco! In past times,
    however, and even today at gathering places for native and
 adopted Venetians, there is a typically Italian—and specifically
Venetian—love of conversation and music. Also, there is a great
     Venetian tradition of satire, including through composing
     verse—poetry. Thus, aspects of the very institutions that
Venetians love and depend on—including family, neighborhood,
  city, and even Church, may be teased and satirized. This is all
 seen so well in that great Venetian and Italian gift to the theatre
    of improvisation, the Comedia del Arte. Our somewhat Irish
    visitor to Venice, noted earlier, paid tribute to this Venetian
tradition of creating loving satire by doing something that came
rather natually to him as an Irishman—writing limericks! Himself
      a Catholic, in some of his limericks he pokes fun at the
 sometimes foibles and excesses of persons in and around the
         Church. It is an Irishman‘s way of being Venetian!
  La Dogana di mare—that means the customs—
  duty—collection place for all goods arriving in
  Venice by sea. It is at the end of the sestiere of
Dorsoduro, that is, jutting out into the Venice Basin
   almost between San Marco and San Giorgio
Maggiore. It is no longer used as a customs house.
 But when you go there, the experience is that you
              are between sea and sky.
 Smell the sea, feel the eternal wind, rejoice in the
 views of Venice and water all around you, love the
changing hours of the day and night. Go in different
Let‘s continue rambling around Venice, sometimes
  by foot and sometimes by boat. We‘ll ride the
     vaporetti-the ―water buses‖—just like the
Venetians. Of course we‘ll get lost at times—that‘s
 part of the fun! We‘ll navigate—bring a map and a
  Rio San Barnaba. The great American painter John
Singer Sargeant worked here. He painted the church of
   San Barnaba—you see it peeking out like a Greek
temple. He loved to paint the reflections in the water, in
.The scene probably looks as it did in Sargeant‘s time –
             about a hundred years ago.
  I took this slide from the Ponte dei Pugni—‖the bridge
of fists‖. It was so nicknamed for the fistfights that took
 place here, between rival factions of men. The fighters
 were tough men, and they would knock each other right
into the water. That created problems for men who were
            unconscious, and/or couldn‘t swim!
    There was so much loss of life and limb, that the
        authorities banned these fights in 1705.
     Morning on the Grand
Canal—‖where shall we go today?‖
its nice to stroll right over to the Guidecca Canal.
Maybe the church called Gesuati—after the Jesuit
order—on the right will be open. It has wonderful
 paintings—like most of the churches in Venice!
 Some of its paintings are about the travels and
    works of the Jesuits all around the world.
 Or perhaps we should just keep walking around the
     ―streets‖. We‘re bound to come upon many
  beautiful places. Some of them will be very quiet,
because far fewer people live in Venice now than did
    in earlier centuries. Perhaps that‘s part of what
 makes it so hard now to feel that we have contacted
 ―the heart‖ of Venice—that so much of its bustle for
the many centuries of its glory is gone! Some people
  deride it as ―a museum city‖! Does it really have a
     heart now that it is no longer the center of an
  empire—no longer the center of empires political,
   and intellectual, and artistic? Did many families
  once live in this very quiet ―street‖ in sestiere San
   Back on the Grand Canal we see such a common sight:
 tourists taking a rather expensive gondola ride on the Grand
  Canal. Is Venice then only a gigantic museum, indoors and
   out? Everywhere? A ghost—perhaps a sad ghost—of its
          former self? Can a ghost even have a heart?
But isn‘t sort of a Venetian undertaking to wander and think?
 To muse, to reflect on what we see even as the water of the
canal or lagoon reflects the boats and buildings, the people
                          and the sky?
   Are we then becoming a bit Venetians ourselves? A bit
perhaps as did that visitor in the seventeenth century—or was
                 it in the sixteenth century?
 I believe he was Irish, at least in part. Did the Moorish-style
    building on the right inspire him to write this limerick?:
   An Imam decidedly urban Fell under the spell of good
bourbon. Though forbidden the thrill, He sucked up his swill,
            Until he had drowned in his turban.
  That‘s the back of my friend Heather, walking in
sestiere Canareggio. This part of Venice actually
  has lots of people living in it. You can see that
some have hung their washing out to dry! So take
comfort, and stop feeling so lonely and forlorn in
                    old Venice!
   Here‘s a Baroque
     church with a
   wonderful façade!
  Look at the play of
 sunlight and shadow
     on the façade!
Shouldn‘t we stop and
 look inside? Or shall
 we just keep walking
 in this beautiful light
  Here is almost a crowd of strollers and shoppers in Campo
 Santi Apostoli. In earlier times in Venice, as in much of Italy,
 so many places were named after Christian saints, and there
  were so many clergy about, that many people engaged in a
generally good-natured ―ribbing‖ of members of the clergy. In
that spirit of wholesome fun, our somewhat Irish visitor wrote
                    the following limericks:
   The Episcopal Bishop of Lister Is really a rare human
twister. He seems so upright, And even uptight, ‗Til you
              see him in bed with his sister.
A clergy name of O‘Hammel Is deeply involved with a camel.
He pursues this romance From Egypt to France, And vows
                 he will marry his mammal.
    Do you like these
  limericks? So what?
   Here‘s another one:
 Some boys were skate-
boarding in Venice And
  quite unaware of the
menace, Of lewd-minded
  priests, Who look at
them as feasts, And are
  wicked as Dennis the
 That‘s Rialto Bridge seen through a crowded
section of the Grand Canal. Notice the play of
light reflected back from the Canal on the boat
nearest to us. Is it like the play of our thoughts
as we wander, and look, in this beautiful—and
confusing—city? Is perhaps the experience of
 all really good thought also the experience of
 some degree of confusion? Yes, but only for
the brave. Small minds know certainty, better
         minds know options and doubt.
 If Rialto Bridge is ―the heart of Venice‖, does
   that mean the heart of Venice is a crowded
                 shopping strip?
  Back by the church of the Gesuati, at sundown,
    after a day of wandering, and exploring, and
thinking, perhaps we can relax from our questions,
   and enjoy the peace of the evening. Enjoy the
broad, peaceful sidewalk of the Zattere, and a good
 cappucino or two at my favorite café that you see
by the steps in the distance, and even the hope that
  the good people you see here are not vexed by
 questions that have no answers, or sorrows that
have no solace, or nightmares beyond the reach of
    comfort, even if they are not on skateboards.
Yes—but to have a
story we need our
 whether they are
on water or on our
   The church of San
Zeccaria in sestiere San
     Marco, with its
  wonderful paintings
inside, including one of
   Bellini‘s greatest.
  Is it the heart of old
A canal near the church
of San Zeccaria, with a
 leaning church tower.
 Why isn‘t it famous as
  the Leaning Tower of
Pisa? Why? If you ask a
Venetian that, the most
  polite answer you‘re
   like to get might be
 something like: ―Who
       washes your
Could this very spot be
   the true heart of
So, we‘ll continue wandering around Venice through
these pictures—just about as if we were really there.
             Where shall we look next?
        How about THE VENICE BIENNALE?
  It‘s the famous international art show that‘s held
every year. Some of it is intenational pavllions in and
            around Giardini (―the Gardens‖).
  The part that I‘m going to show you is mainly from
 Arsenale, which is the now unused shipyards where
the Republic of Venice built her warships until Venice
             was conquered by Napoleon.
What great spaces are there for showing art! But how
 quiet and deserted—even desolate—were some of
           them when I was there in 2001.
But first, here‘s an installation in a pavillion at Giardidni
 And here‘s another installation at Giardini. Its an
image from the Russian pavillion. I believe it refers
       to Russian monks, perhaps sleeping.
Here’s the poetry bicycle from an outdoors pathway
                    at Arsenale
Steel sculptures by Richard Serra at Arsenale
Stone sculptures—and shadows cast by the
          windows—at Arsenale
More: stone sculptures at Arsenale
Here’s a big hanging sculpture, in the biennale, at Arsenale
…also at the biennale…
   Abortion Boat at the 3001 Venice Biennale
  Maybe this strikes you as odd, but here it is: a
 tribute to a woman doctor who organized a ship
     that goes to the coasts of countries where
abortions are illegal and/or unavailable. The ship
 stays offshore (I guess beyond the 3-mile limit),
and then women who want an abortion somehow
   get out to this ship, and get a safe abortion. I
  believe the doctor is Dutch, and is known as a
person of great energy, principles, and courage—
 although, obviously, many people disagree with
       both her convictions and her actions.

   By the way, isn‘t this a wonderful industrial
           setting—the old boatslip?
       Here‘s a last slide of the Venice Biennale
It doesn‘t show any art that‘s been placed at the show,
but just a corridor. That‘s why I‘m showing it to you—
to show you how dramatic Arsenale itself is—that this
  show is not only the works of art on exhibit, but this
                 haunting place itself!
   Now that we‘ve seen something of the Venice
Biennale, we are more than just tourists who make a
           visit of a day of two to Venice.
Let‘s now take what we may call a gondola ride of the
    mind, and see if we can find the ―real heart‖ of
          Venice—or at least get closer to it!
 By the way, this canal is one of the oldest parts of
 old Venice: either sestiere San Marco, or Castello
Let‘s start a that place which many persons assume
   to be the heart of Venice, anyhow—Piazza San
Marco. Let‘s start with some people, including some
     very serious children, feeding the pigeons.
Here’s another slide of the kids feeding the
      pigeons, at Piazza San Marco.
    Again, kids feeding pigeons at Piazza San Marco.
And here’s still another slide of kids feeding pigeons at
  And may Piazza.
San Marco—thethis slide of these serious children, children
   serious yet at play, help us to understand in our own
  time what our somewhat Irish visitor to Venice finally
                 came to understand in his time.
  He came to understand a truth about ―the heart of
 Venice‖, and thus by extension of our understanding,
   a truth about he human heart—our heart—itself.
 He came to understand that once you fall in love with
  someplace, or something, or someone, you carry it
                  or them with you.
   And if it, or they, return your love, then your hearts
  are always in the same spiritual place, wherever you
He came to understand that you may find the heart of
Venice in so many places, even in these empty chairs
  at a café in Piazzetta San Marco (do ghosts of old
 Venice—or of tourists—sometimes linger at them?).
By the way, that‘s a bit of Sansovino‘s famous Library
                  in the background.
Or, you may dream the heart of Venice while loafing
  with your friends by the Grand Canal, or sleeping
there because you are all to broke to afford a rented
   room to sleep in, and still get something to eat!
 Or, you may fine the heart of Venice in the Ghetto
Nuovo, while contemplating the memorial to the Jew
of Venice who were murdered in deportation by the
               Nazis, in World War II
  You may find the heart of Venice to be
Campo Santa Margherita, or these children
                  in it!
By the way, in 2002 a group of us stayed for
 9 days at the Hotel Antico Capon, there.
We were there on a course/trip offerred by
 the College of Mount Saint Vincent, and
taught by my friend Fr. John Vigilanti, and
                by myself.
Or maybe for you, the heart of Venice is
 to be back with your family at Piazza
   San Marco, feeding the pigeons.
 Remember the secret: once you love
Venice, the heart of Venice is where you
      are. It is wherever you are.
Where you are is Venice, and Venice is
           where you are.
Wherever you go, you take Venice with
 you. You don‘t have to try—it just
   happens. That is what love is.
Venice is where you are, and where you are
                 is Venice.
( Those are two different things,,although
          they are connected.)
  Here are Todd and Laura in Piazza San
    Marco, in front of the Cathedrale.
 But by as much as they love Venice—and
by no more—they are in Venice right at this
  moment now, and wherever they are is
I guess for me, often I feel the heart of Venice—my heart—
when I am thrilled by light. And often for me, that happens
    when I see beautiful light reflections (are they ever
             anything but beautiful?) on water.
  Do you wonder why,like that man of the seventeenth
       century I keep mentioning, I love Venice?!
Here‘s a summer storm over San Michele—the Isle of the
  Here‘s very delicate, silver light on the
 Grand Canal. That‘s the great church of
 Santa Maria della Salute across the way,
with its magnificent treasures of paintings
by Tintoretto, and so many other artists—
    and its amazing inlaid stone floor.
Here‘s my friend Laura at
Santa Maria della Salute
Here‘s that storm over the Isle of the Dead,
      seen through boats and a pier.
The clear daylight of Venice allows us to see well
these reliefs of Nazi cruelty, at the Ghetto Nouvo
The beautiful light inside
 Cathedrale San Marco
Again, the light inside Cathedrale San Marco
 And here‘s looking down the Grand Canal, from
Academia Bridge, towards Santa Maria della Salute,
                    at night.
The light—and shadow—play on this little bridge over
                    a canal
These Venetians know their sunlight well
 Venetians and NYU art students in the shadows—
    but seeing the light—at Punta della Dogana
Venice is a universal city; it is known all around the
world, and visited by people from everywhere. Like
   other universal cities—New York, Paris, Paris,
   Berlin, London, Beijing, Kyoto, Moscow—it is,
finally, incomparable. For example, one might call
 Bruges, in Belgium, with its canals, ―the Venice of
 the north‖, but one would never refer to Venice as
             ―the Bruges of the south‖!
 Venice travels well! For those who love Venice—
Queen of the Sea—are often there in their thoughts,
  though elsewhere in body. Or they are thus in
    multiple places, in spirit, at the same time!
              Perplexing? Amusing?
Two gondolas in the morning light on the Grand
 Laura pets a cat near Ghetto Nuovo

Laura, woman of Venice. Cat of Venice.
    Love in a Venetian Apse
Our Wonderful, possible imaginary Irish visitor to Venice
so many years—centuries—ago, penned this (an apse,
incidentally, is an architectural part of a church). It
reflects—as does water the sunlight—his enduring
fascination with the Venetian love for composing light,
satirical verse:

The holiest of acolytes may lapse
When tweaked in the right, wrong synapse.
And though it sounds rotten,
They so often have gotten
In trouble, right here in the sunniest apse.

 Venice, love it and leave and it, you can‘t. You
  are it! May you find your own Venice, if you
 haven‘t already, even if you never set foot-- or
                  boat-- in mine!
Venice Lights
Venice is where you are, and
where you are is Venice

   Dedicated to Nell Maslin

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