Header image by Natalie Rapoport. Antoni Gaudi. Sagrada Familia. Barcelona.

Monday, December 16, 2013

I am dreaming of a white...

Everyone is Dreaming of a White Christmas at this time of year, except maybe Ausie friends who are now at the peak of a blooming summer, or maybe even them.
Bing Crosby’s timeless crooning always plays a magic. Jingle Bells and Santa Coming to Town enveloped all radio stations and shopping malls. Festive tunes seems are pouring from the open refrigerator and I caught myself humming those tunes. Really they create the mood, sweet and sentimental, but therapeutic nevertheless, homey-cozy-child-like feeling of a miracle anticipation. 
And it’s snowing heavily like it should do in December.
And I’m dreaming of a white …Venice.
After nearly melting there in August I’m wondering what it would be like being there in winter? What does it look like under the light snow on a foggy day?
Probably quiet, slightly deserted comparing to numerous high season crowds.
It should be windy and a bit chilly and absolutely magic.
built in more then a hundred years 1649-1758.The Venetian Baroque gem with beautiful marble facade. Since 1936 is the venue Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia housing the XVIII century Venetian art. 
Ca' D'Oro THE most Venetian Renaissance windows
Santa Maria della Salute (Our Lady of Health) built in 1631-1681. 
The construction in Dorsoduro sestiere started amidst devastating plague wave, hence the name of the church facing San Marco.
And though Venice is colorful in abundance I’m dreaming of her in white…a winter fairy tale, rather melancholic and quiet than full of multi language noise and clanking and shuffling. I’m happened to fall in love with this formidable city.
The most photographed corner of Doge Palace

Doge Palace Courtyard
View from Doge Palace gallery on San Marco Piazzetta 
Doge Palace
The Doge Palace Courtyard

Ca' D'Oro 
is the most magnificent palazzo on Grand Canal even without lost gilt decoration once adorned facade when it was built in 1428-1430 for the prominent Contarini family. 

The city almost completely deserted by locals who gave up struggling with influx of tourists and left for good to the Mestre, mainland part of todays Venice.
Who could blame them.  The whole infrastructure of a normal city like schools, grocery stores, doctors offices, small business, etc., etc.  disappeared. The city largely became unlivable: hotels-restaurants-souvenir shops. Turning rapidly into a Disney theme park, a Veniceland, a dreadful perspective the current mayor of the city foresee as Venice’s inevitable future.   This crucial decision expects to bring investments for restoration and sustaining. And what it would be: a lifeless architectural monument? Another make believe imitation as in Las Vegas? Those 60 thousands (out of 180 a few decades ago) still bravely holding the fort, host staggering 20 million tourists a year (!!!)

Source here 

The fragile Serenissima is hopelessly defenseless against danger imposed not by floods and time, but by humans. Venice lives of tourism but the overwhelming numbers are killing her.  Someone has coined the problem: "loving Venice to death". Impossible dilemma. UNESCO World Heritage officials call mass tourism outpour a double-edged sword. So much so.
A few years ago started the protesting movement No Grandi Navi against the colossal cruise ships, those huge sea monsters gangs that hoover over a tiny mermaid, spilling over about 50 000 tourists daily. Tourists that have only a few hours to checkmark the highlights and create a horrible stampede between San Marco and Realto. 
There’s no such thing as strolling promised by the guide books. Slow leisurely walk and admiration is taken away, replaced by running for life or being smashed or flown with the crowd.

 Source here
Not only the pictures are hideous: whales against thin fin tropical fish, dwarfing beauty against King Kong beast
 Source here
Source here
These giants in the lagoon cause major water displacement, vibration shock waves and tides are extremely damaging to centuries old buildings. And these daily invasions create havoc in space limited and extremely fragile city, as cruisers-paratroopers are running around wild, hardly having time to learn something about this unique place on Earth, just snapping photos and souvenirs. Who can possibly enjoy such a trip? No wonder the locals see us tourists barely as guests but more as a mob.
There are so many port of calls on Cruisers itineraries, why the most beautiful one has to suffer the most of all? Why these giants are allowed to come so dangerously close to the little golden fish.
Aerial view of Venice
Can’t help but I see it like the most hilarious scene from Finding Nemo, when ‘Dory Speaks Whale’. How I hope the ending won’t be the same one day.

At last some (very few) positive changes and restrictions demanded by the city were agreed upon by cruise industry moguls and will be slowly implemented by 2015. A partial but invaluable success of the rescue mission. The humble beginning brings the high hopes…

As to my Holiday wish.. oh how I’d love to greet the New Year in Venice, somewhere in dimly lit café, with my small family warming hands over the hot cups of delicious hot chocolate and see chocolate mustache on my son’s face… dreamy… 

How would you like to celebrate  a New Year?

*All images unless noted otherwise are © Natalie Rapoport

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Venetian windows

Venice is incredibly photogenic and picture perfect from any angle, on every corner and every step at any season. It’s a given and anyone who ever has been there at least once couldn’t agree more.
Since XVII century Venice became a key destination for young nobles in their European Grand Tour , especially for English gentlemen it was almost a must to crown an educational journey with a prolonged stay in Venice. And they brought home a lot of knowledge: glittering and grim, profound and superficial, reflecting on splendor and dark secrets, with larger than life experience and confident they had seen it all. Unforgettable memories.
Throughout centuries deeply thoughtful and curious travellers left sketches in letters, diary notes, vivid memoirs full of action and rear moments. Those threads of the past and brilliant notions weaved over time a beautiful tapestry of Venetian history.
And though Venetians themselves a known, like no one others, for documenting each and every tiny bit of their political and material existence from the very beginning in VIII century, kept and preserved in tons of paper in archives. All that is more of burocratic facts interesting for researchers to reconstruct the story line how Venice came to life and sustained it’s power and survived decline. But it would shed little light on how they lived and what makes the essence of Venice, it’s soul, it’s glory,  it’s heart.

Wit and talented travellers, often succumbed to Venice’s charms, left wonderful mosaic evidence, their views on series of events with fairy tales and cruelty, legends, anecdotes, art and architecture.

This is where P.Ackroyd’s book about Venice sprinkled with meaningful and bright quotes and full of astonishing facts comes handy.
In the city where solid ground surface is a luxury and a rarity, streets are extremely narrow and elaborately intertwined in the narrowest alleys and passages. Only wealthy houses could have hidden inner courtyards to escape secluded domestic life. And of course magnificent palazzo like Ca Rezzonico had grand courtyards and even gardens. 

But  for common venetians balconies where a walking luxury, a way to reach out, to see the beloved city, hear the neighbors, find the news, eavesdropping for secrets, catch the gossip, feel the pulse of a daily life and poke a nose into privacy of the nearest fellow citizens, quite often in arms reach. As much as public life was bound and webbed with secrecy, the private life of venetians was very much deprived of privacy.

The cobble stone alleys, golden-ochre walls, green shutters were behind this jasper bib necklace, here
Venetian unique arched windows and lacey masonry of balconies deserve poetic ode to praise their beauty and crumbled charm. They are simply fascinating. It’s like looking Venice in her beautiful, mysterious eyes.  Glass clad tall windows of palazzo, shimmering, thick and hardly transparent , often open in the night  to show off splendor of the interior with frescoed ceilings and opulent venetian chandeliers.
The color palette of the walls inspired me  to make this colorful glass necklace, here.
Or wide open in the summer heat the dwellings windows with flower boxes and crumbling, peeling shutters . Those facing canals have bright awnings: blue, green, striped, to smooth a bit sun’s harshness and almost unbearable brightness and shiness of waters splashing and sparkling at your feet. But who would complain?
                                    The grandeur of Palazzo Rezzonico

How I love this antique glass shimmering with rainbow sunset colors .
Another pendant inspired by arched windows, here.

It’s so easy to believe that in old times the hardest crime in Venice was to betray Venice in some way (not even a slightest remark or critique) and it was the harshest punishment not to be executed but to be expelled from the city forever. Nothing at all could be harder for a venetian than not ever to be there to see this glorious beauty again...

Have a lovely weekend. See you soon.

*All images © Natalie Rapoport

Friday, September 13, 2013

Murano glass jewelry.

Glass is Venice’s coat of arms.Venice is flooded with glass shops, it’s a given , shops catering to tourists and all kinds of budgets. Shop windows are sparkling, glittering , shimmering  and tempting: you MUST buy a tiny piece of Venice as a souvenir. Sellers are loud and persistent, it feels like the one giant glass bazaar.

It’s not an easy task to find an authentic boutique carrying genuine collection, with a knowledgeable owner who would be happy to chat with you  about  traditional venetian bead making techniques and jewelry styles. If you are in pursuit of a real deal  it’s much better to wander away from central sestiere to Dorsoduro or Cannaregio, where  in times bygone glass makers worked, away from crowds, that’s where many sought after treasures are hidden.

Glass making for centuries was so vitally important  for venetian wealth and glory  that it actually became a synonym: Venice – sea – glass…

The early glass artifacts found there were attributed to  4th-7th centuries. By 12th there was a guild of glass artisans and in 13th  century the glass blowing  was an established industry and due to high fire risk was moved forever to the island of Murano.  By mid 14th century prosperous city-state, without any natural resources needed for glass blowing, became a unique glass producing capital of the world.

The finest sand for the venetian crystal  masterpieces was imported from Syria and later from Fontainebleau in France.

However, did you know that Venice was the first to manufacture mirrors since 15th century and by 17th Murano masters could produce the largest mirrors in the world?

At this time Venice so favored all sorts of goods displays that  she was the first to install  large glass shop windows  dressed with special artistic care.

Vases, chalices, goblets, bowls, chandeliers, crystal stemware, lamps, mirrors, window glass, eye-glasses, elaborate luxury objects and of course mosaics and at last beads – this is where Venice became an unsurpassed leader by 17th century.

In fact beads for jewelry making and skillful faux gemstones brought the fortune  to the state of Venice. If it wasn’t Alexandre Dumas who coined “Cherchez la femme” it should be venetians to say “cerca la donna” as this  ornamental industry remains the most flourishing up to our days.
The problem is that low key Murano jewelry is sold everywhere in Venice and you have to search thoroughly to find something special. The other problem is that myriad of  ready to wear sets are made in traditional styles (I already have a few in my collection), but I was looking for something exquisite ,  contemporary Murano loose glass beads or a pendant where tradition comes alive in modern design.

And I’ve got lucky!  In Cannaregio on La Strada Nuova there was MY boutique : elegantly designed interior, exclusive gallery style display in the window, the silver haired owner looked like Franco Nero, friendly smile. It wasn’t just a boutique, it was a museum of Murano jewelry as there were authentic antique Murina pieces on display with astronomic prices attached of course. Seeing my genuine interest (though I mentioned right away that I can only enjoy and appreciate the beauty) he started to open the locked drawers where on the velvet trays were laid out  unbelievably beautiful (and unapproachable) necklaces and beads made up to a hundred years ago by famous glass makers. Wonderful colorful examples of various  techniques. Live tradition in its very best. The owner insisted I should at least try a necklace, irresistible temptation… A sigh...

 And when I was about to leave with heartfelt thanks  he showed me a tacked away small contemporary collection and very unusual pendant  nobody was interested in and that was it.

Exactly what I was looking for (and affordable too)!

The image doesn’t do the justice. It’s even more beautiful and exquisite.

Very unusual honeycomb technique. It's more like a coral in glass.
Just a few steps into history of Murano glass jewelry making.
The first glass beads appeared in early 14th century were skillful imitation of precious gems. They were cut and faceted and soon became  and important trade commodity. Various techniques emerged, variable palette introduced and patterns developed  to stay in use since then.

Beads were translucent and opaque, more colors were added to the molten glass and stretched  into a cane which was later cut into bead size pieces. That’s in short how Chevron and Rosetta techniques were invented. In fact  since 1600s the tiniest Conterie beads for embroidery and  colorful Rosetta beads were in such a high demand  and highly valued especially in colonial lands and Africa that they  were used as a currency and got the name trade beads.

Naturally Venice regarded and guarded the glassmaking secrets as the top state secrets. Stealing or disclosing  manufacturing  secrets or even run away was  considered a crime against the state, the worst of all in Venitian law system  and the shortest way to a death penalty.

The most famous bead technique is Millefiori “a thousand flowers”. It still is the most popular technique  widely used in jewelry and  decorative objects making.

Beside the heavy solid glass beads there are blown glass beads much lighter, in endless shapes and color combinations. Extremely fragile  tiny masterpieces.

There are gold, silver or copper foil intrusions in glass which produce stunning shimmering effects. Popular for pendants and candy size beads called Caramella for that matter.
And the last to name a few are Lamp work beads, each individually made and decorated with colorful applique in traditional ornamental patterns.

This a very brief history of Venetian glass beads.

One can’t get enough of watching this glittering and mesmerizing glass sea  reflecting glorious palazzi and a sea of glass reflecting all of this incredible beauty.

This contemporary piece inspired by Murano pendant I designed with lava rondelle.
More details or to buy here

Have a wonderful weekend my  friends.

All images © Natalie Rapoport

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Melting August in Venice

Gelato vendors prospered in the middle of an early August heat wave and cheerful gondoliers giggled at melting tourists.
Venice is still there! Not submerged into the sea, thanks God! Beautiful, mysterious, seductive and addictive with all those belissima and serinissima in place. Fantastic illusion, mirage in the sea, creation of minds and hands, souls and hearts. Architecturally a sporadic splash and unstoppable improvisation of inventive citizens famous throughout the centuries for their entrepreneurial talents and exuberant nature, curiosity for novelties and entertainment.

Though venetians were expert navigators and cartographers since early 13th century and soon after Guttenberg’s invention the best map printers  who shaped the knowledge of the world creating detailed picture of far away lands.  But nevertheless Venice is a “city where map and reality rarely meet”.* Absolutely!
Unmappable maze of calli, riva, sotoportego, piazzetta, campo, the narrowest alleys and whirling passages, unnamed, untamed. You simply can’t ask for directions because you most likely won’t see locals and fellow tourists are as admirably puzzled as you are. Even GPS  becomes so dizzy and confused that it looses a grip which drives some tourists crazy. This is fun. Forgetting the map and agenda is the only way to discover Venice or better to say to approach as it takes much more time than most visitors ever have just to feel the ambiance.
Venice is majestic! Especially on early foggy mornings…mmm….
…So after visiting San Marco, Rialto and surroundings, having traveled the Canale Grande enjoy to be lost in the labyrinth, preferably before darkness falls.
I can actually believe if someone claims to know Paris or London, Chicago or NY, Amsterdam or Barcelona etc. etc. as a palm of his hand. It’s quite possible to know one’s ways around the city and not only the tourist’s highlights or daily routs.
It’s possible when the city can be mapped. The layout doesn’t need necessarily be geometrically crisscrossed or centering around the historical town core. But there should be a plan, any plan, a terrain view. It could help when streets are visibly named and houses numbered.
This is exactly why I won’t ever believe even a venetian that he REALLY knows his/her city, maybe just a neighborhood. This is utterly unlikely. Impossible! Even for a private tour guides who are on a friendly ground within certain part of the city I won’t make an exclusion.
Venice is full of surprises, especially off the bitten tourist paths.
Even if you think you are following the most detailed map from those pitifully narrowing books like 10 TOP of Venice you’ll be surprised where you end up making lots of discoveries along the way.

Canals, gondolas, vaporettos almost sinking under passengers influx, arched bridges over smaller canals, weathered doors and seasoned walls, terracotta red rooftops, patinated stones and unforgettable unique venetian windows and balconies, the carved lace of venetian architecture, colors crumbling and fading away , and majestic eternal beauty resurrecting over the time again and again.
Venice is well-known to be so unbearably photogenic and rich on visual stories that you don’t even have to look through a viewfinder or even point to shoot. Just press the button in sync with every step might as well suffice. 

See you soon with more venetian posts  and I promise to invite you to beautiful Prague too.

Next time: Murano jewelry.

All images © Natalie Rapoport