Posts Tagged 'italy'

venice revisited

For several reasons, I have been consistently falling into daydreams about Venice in the past few weeks. One reason is the smell of warm weather which reminds of me the anticipation of going to Veneto last spring.  Another is a square two inch picture of a comforter laid on a window sill over a canal in Venice which I spotted while skimming a book for thesis. I immediately remembered that I had taken a picture across the same canal.  You can reach it by walking down a bright, wide but quiet street with a brick wall on one side and houses on the other. The street ends under a building next to the canal with no steps leading down to the water.

Left, picture from the book Collapsibles. I sat just beyond the picture on the right side of the canal across from the one-story high wall. Right, my photo of the one-story high wall.

Venice, despite its winding streets and consistent architecture, manages to remain distinct from street to street. In contrast, suburbia developers, who have constructed endless winding streets and incredibly consistent architecture, have created repetition and anonymity. (Maybe the new urbanists have done better?)  Venice succeeds in creating a sense of place and identity because it has much more variety than surburbia (obviously), not just in color or materials, but also (more importantly) in architectural forms/spaces. This is achieved through a lack of standardized street dimensions, organic growth, layers of uses, and layers of time amongst other things that I have yet to unravel.

I would love diagram/catalog Venice to dissect its spatial patterns, but that would be a self-torture as well. The question really is if I go back to Venice again (the dream…), how do I want to study it now that I have an intuitive grasp of it? What are the forms and patterns of Venice that be applied elsewhere and how does that translation happen? (I want the diagram of Venice somehow. This paragraph also makes me think that I have been brainwashed by MIT. Do I really need the diagram? I feel like there must be something that is between the diagram and J Wampler.)

In any case, another reason for Venice daydreaming is wanting to edit the photos from the trip using my new skills from darkroom. Darkroom printing has made me conscious of the level of manipulation and control possible in a photograph which in turn makes Photoshop more fun (partially because digital is so much faster). Also, I am curious about the emotional difference of a black and white photo and a color one.  Some experiments of color and b/w below and flickr for more.

It looks old and full of character in color, but in black and white it is battered and used up.

rainy to moody, dark, and mysterious

cute pool party to glamorous gathering


half truths about venice

There were warnings before I left for Venice: I hope you are good with maps, it’s impossible to navigate.  You’ll get hit on a lot.  The food is terrible there. It’s so hot, you don’t even need clothes.

The warnings, it turns out were true, but somewhat inaccurate.

It was blazing hot our first day in Italy as we dragged our luggage up the hill in Monselice, but cold enough for long pants and sweaters for the rest of the week. My only pair of jeans which were unfortunately white became increasingly colored as I sat at the end of streets eating pizza next to the rio or in the shade of a church in a large campo sketching (dirt, grease, graphite = irreversible stains).


Jackets, scarves, long pants and warm cappacinos to shield against the cold. In Padova outside a surprisingly good illy cafe. Photo credit: Reem

The Venetian men, for the most part, greeted with a  “ciao bella”  and a genuine smile which felt complementary and unthreatening as they glided by on their boats. Far less questionable than anything that happens in Brooklyn or the Bronx.

Depending on your luck, a young handsome Italian with stylish sunglasses will call "ciao bella!" to you from his boat.

Depending on your luck, a young handsome Italian with stylish sunglasses might call "ciao bella!" to you from his boat.

As for navigation, Venice is quite impossible to navigate with a map but not impossible without one. We found that walking in the general direction of something with the sun as our guide was a far less frustrating and more colorful way to get around Venice given ample time, comfortable shoes, and willingness to enjoy ambling into dead ends. When time, shoes, or lack of patience was a factor,  a few  ‘Dove Campo ____?” set us back on the right track. But more often,  pride was in the way of asking, so we wandered through rhythmic changes of dark and light until we came up that bright open space we were looking for.

An attempt at an artistic map of the streets I wandered down off one of the biggest campos in Venice. The city is small streets some as wide as one person connected by small square and big plazas.

An attempt at an artistic map of the streets I wandered down off one of the biggest campos in Venice. The city is small streets some as wide as one person connected by small square and big plazas.

When it came to food, the best and worst of my trip were both in Venice. The worst:  pizza in  Campo S. Margarita at a cafe with orange chairs. It was undoubtedly on the same level of New York Public School lunch pizza – the thick and flavorless crust, bland cheese, sauce reminiscent of tomatoes only because it is red.  There were other terrible things in Venice like places that charge 4.50 euro for a cappacino or gnocchi with salmon that could have only come out of a can.

On our last night in Venice,  I was brought to a tight, cozy place called Osteria ai Quattro Ferri just off of Campo S. Barnaba. The menu was all italian, hand written which made it all the more impossible for the Californian couple next to us to decipher with their electornic dictionary (they were actually much more versed in the ways of Italian menus and explained a few things to us).

I have no pictures of food at Quattro Ferri sadly or a sign or anything! When we went back for lunch the next day, a waitress dog was there as the watch dog for the restaurant. He was my favorite dog of the trip: dignified and loyal. Here he is asking for a stomach rub.

I have no pictures of food at Quattro Ferri or a sign or anything! When we went back for lunch the next day, a waitress' dog was running around the restaurant looking dignified and alert. Here he is asking for a stomach rub.

We gave our order to a tough looking Italian hostess for mista verdura and a pasta that we pointed to at random. The grilled mixed vegetables were deliciously flavorful. The  pasta we choose was apparently spaghetti with tomato sauce and small-lobster like crustaceans (or were they large shrimps? I forget) In my memory, however exaggerated it may be, the tomato sauce was magical,  richly infused with full  seafood flavor, and good with the house red wine. Somehow the food, the atmosphere, the waitresses made me feel as if I had reached some small nook that existed there because it is Venice and Venice is wonderful and not because it is  good business to feed hungry travelers.

I went to Venice three times this summer. Once for the first time as a day visitor, another as a night-life partier, and for a third time as a passerby whizzing through Venice on my way somewhere else. Each time the city seemed to unfold and fold back in different ways reavling that what I had thought was truth to be untruth or at best, half-truth.


adventure one: due to weather, anisha and i are rerouted from delta to alitalia on a direct flight from boston to roma then to venezia. it was more fun this way in the end i think, and no one’s luggage was lost.

at the roma airport, my first observation of italy was more than half of the men were wearing suits and the jackets and pants fit them well whatever their body shape may have been. and the fabrics! everything from heavy cotton to linen and a whole range of blacks, tans, and pale blues. they look good.

adventure two: from the airport, onto a bus to venezia – mestre where essentially all the venetians live. we find the train station using a combination of english and broken spanish. at an automated machine, we buy the ticket five minutes before our train is supposed to leave, but we have no idea what platform until we ask a girl with punkish piercings. we sprint up and down two flights of stairs getting from platform one to platform nine with two backpacks and three suitcases between the two of us to find the doors to our train closed. except for one. we run again, throw our luggage in and jump on about 10 seconds before the doors close.

adventure three: on this very hot day, we get off at monselice, an hour south-west of venezia outside of padova. we know the hostel is at the base of the hill, so we walk towards it (there are no directions from shun when we spoke with him briefly from a pay phone except “i know it’s hot, but i would like you guys to walk from the train station to the hostel). after dragging our luggage across not very smooth cobblestone for 20 minutes, we arrive near the town center and there is shun having a nice salad in the shade. and so begins the veneto experience.


In a few weeks, I am leaving the country for the first time in five years. Five years is too long.

Five years ago, it was Paris, Biarritz, and the beginning of the Santiago de Compostela trail. I usually spend a good portion of the day in my head daydreaming about something or mulling over some specific moment or exchange with someone, but while I was in Paris, I did not daydream even once. I was physically and mentally there. I did not realize it until we were leaving Paris on the train to Biarritz.

This summer, it is three weeks on the Veneto Experience in northern Italy with the enigmatic Shun + a week somewhere else. Suggestions for the somewhere else?

google driving path between towns

The towns I will be staying in, connected by Google driving paths

For me, it’s not about the architecture or Italy but act of traveling, learning to be a traveler, explorer and observer. I want to come back understanding how to observe and more, to come back needing desperately to travel again. Hopefully, it will inspire me (and give me courage) to work abroad after MIT. That is the dream, anyway.

The most appealing part of the Veneto progam is that Shun encourages us to go through Venice alone. Being alone and being in cities is my childhood in some ways and the two combined is always wonderful.

Appropriately, I’ve already bought my moleskine – sketchbook paper, bound in portrait orientation. I would be very proud of myself if I filled the whole thing while I was there.

In the next chaotic and rushed two and half weeks, thoughts of walking through streets in comfortable sandals and hot weather with a glass of white wine at the end of the day will be keeping me going. Ah, the vino will be so great!

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