March 2008


The good thing about being basically off line for a week was that I had the opportunity to read more books than usual. The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt had been on my TBR pile since last summer so I threw it in the suitcase, along with some other books, to take on my trip this past week.

Probably best known for Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Berendt takes on the wonderful city of Venice in a look at the modern day city as well as the Venetians in one of the most interesting books I have read in a while.

Venice is a city I have visited on five occasions that I can think of off the top of my head, although it could be more, if I include the odd day trip. The first time was on our honeymoon in 1961, the last time in 2002. On two occasions I was in the company of a Venetian, now living in Canada and once in the company of a teacher of Fine Arts. I have always enjoyed the city, its buildings and the art treasures it has to offer its visitors.

So it was with a certain familiarity of the city that I read this book. Not for the first time, Berendt arrived in Venice in February 1996 for a lengthy visit three days after the fire which destroyed La Fenice, The Phoenix, the last opera house remaining in Venice and a beloved symbol for the Venetians. La Fenice was originally built on a new site as a result of a fire destroying its predecessor in 1792 and a subsequent legal battle. It too burned down and was rebuilt in 1836. It certainly has a history of rising from the ashes like the phoenix. Berendt interweaves the story of the fire, the investigation into the cause of the fire, the subsequent arson trial and the rebuilding of the theatre, which was reopened in December 2003, with stories of some very intriguing residents of Venice some of whom he interviewed and came to know.

He introduces the first of these at the beginning of the book, Count Girolamo Marcello, who gives a wonderful quote.

“Everyone in Venice is acting,” he told me. “Everyone plays a role, and the role changes. The key to understanding Venetians is rhythm, the rhythm of the lagoon, the water, the tides, the waves. The rhythm in Venice is like breathing. High water, high pressure: tense. Low water, low pressure: relaxed. The tide changes every six hours.” He also said, “Venetians never tell the truth. We mean precisely the opposite of what we say.”

As the book progresses with the story of fire at La Fenice and the subsequent events which unfold like a mystery story, even the rebuilding was very dramatic as one contractor after another was replaced, Berendt tries to discover the truth and along the way he presents some very fascinating stories and people central to life in Venice, including a fourth generation expatriate family, the Curtises who have lived in the Palazzo Barbaro, since the 1880s and who played host to Henry James for his time in Venice.

He gives a detailed account of Ezra Pound who lived for many years with his lover Olga Rudge in Venice. In fact he rented their house for a period of time. But as well he tells tales of the many Venetians he encountered, from members of the nobility to the dogged prosecutor, Felice Casson, involved in the long investigation into the fire and some of the city’s more ordinary citizens. I found it a very compelling read and devoured it in two days.

A few facts from this book about Venice that you may or may not know:

Venice has the cleanest air of any city because there are no cars and methane gas which burns cleanly is used for heating.

It is also the quietest city with a sound level of 32 decibels, while for the average city it is 45 decibels, again because of the absence of traffic.

There are 443 bridges in the city of Venice, although I have seen other figures bandied about, including 500.

During his occupation of Venice, Napoleon razed to the ground 176 religious buildings, 80 palaces along with their decorations and art treasures and his agents confiscated 12,000 paintings and sent them Paris where they now reside in the Louvre.

The Venetian Mafia control the water taxi business in Venice, along with the money lending operation in front of the Municipal Casino, which incidentally residents of Venice are not allowed to enter due to a very old statute still on the books.

The permanent population of Venice has now shrunk to 70,000 although an estimated 7 million tourists visit the city each year.

Well why don’t you read the book for yourself? I do recommend it highly although the tone might be considered a trifle gossipy, however I found it fascinating.

You may also be interested in the list of the ten books that John Berendt thinks are essential reading on Venice and I found this fascinating site which has a fairly exhaustive list of books on Venice, both fiction and non fiction.

Oh yes, the title. After a piece of an angel fell off the church, Santa Maria della Salute, a sign was put outside, “Beware of Falling Angels.” Only in Italy.

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The good thing about being basically off line for a week was that I had the opportunity to read more books than usual. The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt had been on my TBR pile since last summer so I threw it in the suitcase, along with some other books, to take on my trip this past week.

Probably best known for Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Berendt takes on the wonderful city of Venice in a look at the modern day city as well as the Venetians in one of the most interesting books I have read in a while.

Venice is a city I have visited on five occasions that I can think of off the top of my head, although it could be more, if I include the odd day trip. The first time was on our honeymoon in 1961, the last time in 2002. On two occasions I was in the company of a Venetian, now living in Canada and once in the company of a teacher of Fine Arts. I have always enjoyed the city, its buildings and the art treasures it has to offer its visitors.

So it was with a certain familiarity of the city that I read this book. Not for the first time, Berendt arrived in Venice in February 1996 for a lengthy visit three days after the fire which destroyed La Fenice, The Phoenix, the last opera house remaining in Venice and a beloved symbol for the Venetians. La Fenice was originally built on a new site as a result of a fire destroying its predecessor in 1792 and a subsequent legal battle. It too burned down and was rebuilt in 1836. It certainly has a history of rising from the ashes like the phoenix. Berendt interweaves the story of the fire, the investigation into the cause of the fire, the subsequent arson trial and the rebuilding of the theatre, which was reopened in December 2003, with stories of some very intriguing residents of Venice some of whom he interviewed and came to know.

He introduces the first of these at the beginning of the book, Count Girolamo Marcello, who gives a wonderful quote.

“Everyone in Venice is acting,” he told me. “Everyone plays a role, and the role changes. The key to understanding Venetians is rhythm, the rhythm of the lagoon, the water, the tides, the waves. The rhythm in Venice is like breathing. High water, high pressure: tense. Low water, low pressure: relaxed. The tide changes every six hours.” He also said, “Venetians never tell the truth. We mean precisely the opposite of what we say.”

As the book progresses with the story of fire at La Fenice and the subsequent events which unfold like a mystery story, even the rebuilding was very dramatic as one contractor after another was replaced, Berendt tries to discover the truth and along the way he presents some very fascinating stories and people central to life in Venice, including a fourth generation expatriate family, the Curtises who have lived in the Palazzo Barbaro, since the 1880s and who played host to Henry James for his time in Venice.

He gives a detailed account of Ezra Pound who lived for many years with his lover Olga Rudge in Venice. In fact he rented their house for a period of time. But as well he tells tales of the many Venetians he encountered, from members of the nobility to the dogged prosecutor, Felice Casson, involved in the long investigation into the fire and some of the city’s more ordinary citizens. I found it a very compelling read and devoured it in two days.

A few facts from this book about Venice that you may or may not know:

Venice has the cleanest air of any city because there are no cars and methane gas which burns cleanly is used for heating.

It is also the quietest city with a sound level of 32 decibels, while for the average city it is 45 decibels, again because of the absence of traffic.

There are 443 bridges in the city of Venice, although I have seen other figures bandied about, including 500.

During his occupation of Venice, Napoleon razed to the ground 176 religious buildings, 80 palaces along with their decorations and art treasures and his agents confiscated 12,000 paintings and sent them Paris where they now reside in the Louvre.

The Venetian Mafia control the water taxi business in Venice, along with the money lending operation in front of the Municipal Casino, which incidentally residents of Venice are not allowed to enter due to a very old statute still on the books.

The permanent population of Venice has now shrunk to 70,000 although an estimated 7 million tourists visit the city each year.

Well why don’t you read the book for yourself? I do recommend it highly although the tone might be considered a trifle gossipy, however I found it fascinating.

You may also be interested in the list of the ten books that John Berendt thinks are essential reading on Venice and I found this fascinating site which has a fairly exhaustive list of books on Venice, both fiction and non fiction.

Oh yes, the title. After a piece of an angel fell off the church, Santa Maria della Salute, a sign was put outside, “Beware of Falling Angels.” Only in Italy.

HIGH

I am afraid my photo this week is pretty lame but the archives yielded only this one which was vaguely on the theme. The Totem Poles in Stanley Park reach HIGH into the sky and HIGH above them, in the clouds, a small plane was passing by. Click on the photo to see it.

I know, I know. Very lame. It’s not even an especially good photo. I have better ones of the Totem Poles but no plane in them.

HAVE A GREAT WEEKEND EVERYONE

NB: I’m publishing early and I’m travelling Saturday so will return visits on Sunday

HIGH

I am afraid my photo this week is pretty lame but the archives yielded only this one which was vaguely on the theme. The Totem Poles in Stanley Park reach HIGH into the sky and HIGH above them, in the clouds, a small plane was passing by. Click on the photo to see it.

I know, I know. Very lame. It’s not even an especially good photo. I have better ones of the Totem Poles but no plane in them.

HAVE A GREAT WEEKEND EVERYONE

NB: I’m publishing early and I’m travelling Saturday so will return visits on Sunday

Puerto Vallarta is my preferred stop on this cruise and in fact I quite liked it when we stayed here for a week twenty years ago. Certainly there have been quite a few changes in those years, although then, as we did at Mazatlán, we stayed at a resort way out of the main area, with its own private beach.

The ship docked at a brand new cruise ship terminal and nearby there was a constant stream of traffic to and from the airport. Opposite, on the portside, was a Walmart’s store, of all things and adjacent a very large modern air- conditioned mall, but from our deck we could see a very large marina and close by were moored two very large private motor boats, each with its own helicopter on board. How the other half live! Being a fair way out of town we caught a cab into the downtown area.

Puerto Vallarta is a city of 350,000, halfway down the Pacific coast of Mexico and well below the Tropic of Cancer. The town sits on Banderas Bay, at 25 miles wide one of the largest and deepest bays in the world. With its average temperature of 80 degrees year round and 345 days of sunshine the city attracts more than 3 million visitors annually.

The first Europeans, the Spanish, came to the bay in the 16th Century where they were met by 20,000 native people who had ceremonial weapons decorated with brightly coloured flags and thus the bay was named Bahia de Banderas. In the mid 1850s families came to settle on the Rio Cuale, especially after gold and silver were found in the hills surrounding the area and while the town grew slowly it was the choice of a property in Puerto Vallarta in 1962 by director John Huston as the setting for his film version of Tennessee Williams’ Night of the Iguana that brought the sleepy town to the forefront of the news. The stars of the film were Richard Burton and Ava Gardner but accompanying Burton was his lover Elizabeth Taylor and with this affair being the gossip sensation of the time the spotlight fell on the town, as news media gathered here to cover the romance.

Elizabeth bought a 9-bedroom, 11-bathroom home, Casa Kimberley, high above the town, as well as the house across the lane and a bridge was constructed joining the two. Yes, I climbed the equivalent of three blocks of stairs to find the house which is now run as a bed and breakfast. I can’t believe I did that but we did see a few other tourist huffing and puffing up the steps.

Other Hollywood stars followed Burton and Taylor to the town which was discovered to be a perfect tropical paradise and from there it grew into the popular tourist destination it is today, with development still galloping along as there is new construction underway everywhere.

The Rio Cuale divides the town into two sections, the southern side being purely Mexican while the northern side has the more tourist areas and upscale stores. The Malecon, an 11-block seaside promenade gives a wonderful view of the bay and the waves crashing onto the beach which was sandy in parts and very rocky in others. As in San Diego, the city has placed many modern bronze statues along the promenade which adds to the ambiance. Several of them incorporate interactive computers which will give you information about restaurants, hotels and things to do. Unfortunately it was almost impossible to read the screens because of the bright light.

Several locals had built huge sand sculptures above the tideline by the promenade and they were busy spraying them with water to keep their shapes. I don’t know how long they had been there but one was a remarkable larger than life size representation of the Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci. The detail was very good and it obviously required an enormous amount of effort. The ubiquitous donation boxes were nearby so we donated to each to reward their initiative. Perhaps the sculptures were made cooperatively and several take turns preserving them.

What I found quite pleasing was the vast number of Mexican families who were enjoying themselves on the bay front, wandering along eating ice cream and taking photos of their young children who enjoyed scrambling on the statues. A lovely cool breeze came in from the bay, making the heat quite tolerable and along the Malecon were erected several tent like covers with seats underneath, where strollers could sit in the shade and enjoy the view of the bay. We walked along until we came to the Rio which at that point has an island in its centre, Isla Rio Cuale, which divides the river into two arms which are virtually small creeks. The island has a small museum and restaurants situated in the shade of trees and many craft shops are located there too. We spent some time wandering the island before we returned to the city streets to visit the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which was rather small but attractive, especially the exterior.

The streets of the old town themselves are cobble stoned and a rough ride for the cars which traverse them. Spanish style whitewashed houses with wrought iron balconies line the streets and bougainvillea vines are everywhere as is usual in this part of the world. I found a lovely frangipani tree in full bloom in a little lane off the beaten track, surviving in a very restricted corner.

The region has many things of interest to see, with a small privately owned zoo and botanical gardens nearby and of course there are the ever present water activities with many tour operators willing to take you out for a pleasant day’s touring or cruising. We even saw people going for a sail on the Marigalante Pirate ship which looked like a lot of fun, especially for children.

One interesting thing I read about which takes place here was the Sea Turtle preservation initiative whereby 96 percent of the eggs will hatch with the help of the region’s release program. From May to September thousands of sea turtles arrive on the nearby beaches to lay their eggs which are gathered each night by beachfront resort staff and are transported to a safer location. 30 to 70 days later the hatchlings emerge and they are released back onto the beach by resort staff and guests.

Well if you want to go to Mexico my choice from these three destinations would be Puerta Vallarta, even though it is more crowded in the city itself, it seems there are many more things to keep you occupied should you tire of relaxing and doing nothing.

Today we are back at sea, on our way to San Diego where we will fly back to Vancouver on Saturday. I hope you enjoyed travelling along with me and I will post photos later which will add a bit more interest to these bald word posts. This one may or may not be accompanied by an image. Only the gods of the internet know for sure, it is surely a mystery to me. What works one day does not the next, no matter what I do.

I will be posting for Saturday Photo Hunt tomorrow night, early as usual. The post for HIGH was prepared before leaving and should be no problem as all I have to do is hit publish. Am I tempting fate by saying that? I hope to visit everyone on Sunday to find out what has been going on in your lives. See you all soon.

Update: Thanks to Maui girl I have corrected the spelling of Puerto Vallarta not Puerta Vallarta as I had decided to rename it.

Look below for the post about Mazatlan.  The images were posted in a different way, via email.  The first is the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and the second is a rather charming street scene I saw along the walk. 

Look below for the post about Mazatlan.  The images were posted in a different way, via email.  The first is the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception and the second is a rather charming street scene I saw along the walk. 

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