Across the River and into the Trees

It has been so long since I wrote. It’s taken me all day also because WordPress is so complicated – they couldn’t make it more difficult if they tried! However, over the past year or so I have been largely unable to relay my thoughts and put pen to paper but the morning I woke up and thought I must, my entire computer system crashed and it’s taken weeks to fix mainly because I lost all my programmes and I cannot reinstall them because they are now largely out of date. Technology changes so fast and I keep going until one day I can’t work my machines any more. The problem is not quite fixed either but I’ve found a solution. Unfortunately it has also been a financial blow especially after my recent trip. Is Mercury retrograde or what?!

Lettie in the garden before the rain in May 2021
Arriving into Venice across the lagoon May 2021
Bridge of Sighs from the Courtroom on the left to the Prison on the right. The convicted Felon walked across the bridge 1962 (from unknown photograph album Lettie bought some years ago)

Hemingway’s sad book is the title of this post and is set in Venice. I wanted to drink and dine in The Gritti and Harry’s Bar and realise all the things I had heard but knew them to be unlike how they were in that book. So I soaked up as best I could the magic of this brave, mysterious city that was once known as the most Serene Republic of Venice or La Serenissima that twists and turns at every corner so that you can never quite remember a maze where some streets lead straight into the water.

Campanile and Palace of Justice Venice Aug 1962 (from unknown photograph album)
Rocco at the Gondelier Ticket Office would be just left of photo above but there has been not much demand

I have always wanted to go and I thought why not? 

Basilica di S.Marco Centro Italia Gros Tel 075/8004833 Visiva

Go before the tourists return, the cruise ships loom in the distance and start advancing across the lagoon and the city turns into Disneyland.  I thought break away and go when it’s amber.  I met a couple of true Venetian vintage dolls who showed me and my companion the sights – Luisa and Rocco.

Luisa on the Rialto Bridge which we walked over every day
Rocco the Gondolier

I have seen my boss very nearly die in March so with his enthusiastic response that I should – I went for the Bank Holiday weekend after the wettest cold May I can ever remember.

I took my camera and told Border Control I was on business.

Before I left I read and watched anything I could from books to films (I must have seen Don’t Look Now at least ten times) to Death in Venice to a Katharine Hepburn’s Summertime.  I had to include a trip to Al Gatto Negro on Burano where the chef Angela Hartnett went.  I said hello to the chef Ruggero Bovo after tasting the risotto which was the best I had ever tasted.  The stock consists of all the small delicate creatures of the lagoon fused to create a flavour distinct, local and extraordinary.  I felt I was immersed in the entire history of the lagoon itself when I tasted it.

Lusia outside the Gatto Negro Burano
The bow of our boat heading to Burano Venice May 2021

The Sunday lunchtime crowd seemed to consist of rich Venetians who get on their fast boats from the mainland and head straight to lunch.  We were on a vintage low powered wooden boat that went at about 10mph at high speed.

Sightings of families and couples collecting clams is common on Sunday – the lagoon is not deep

Our guide kept saying this is ‘Wave Pollution’ as we tossed and turned every time one of these speedy boats passed us by – “Look at the coast of the lagoon there it’s completely worn down by these boats.  People go too fast!”

The particular crowd at lunch I couldn’t stop watching consisted of a group of linen wearing silver haired elderly gentlemen in designer shades who looked like film directors with their wives or girlfriends (of variable ages) who in turn were dressed up to the nines for a sunny lunch.  The whole table was smoking, laughing and drinking.  As they left, the ladies all in heels, the men with cigars perched still on their mouths, the waiters and the Head Chef came out to say goodbye and everyone in the restaurant nodded their heads.  Who were they? Fascinating!

Jan Morris’s excellent book on Venice began it all.  I had never been aware of this remarkable book but I was hooked after reading it. The masterpieces found in the churches were astounding from this Bellini to Tintoretto to Titian. Rather than posting photos of these which will never do justice I will just include a couple of things that caught my eye. Of course this one is very famous:

Postcard Venezia Chiesa San Zaccaria Giovanni Bellini – Sacra Conversazione (1505)
Postcard of Chiesa San Zaccaria Cripta della chiesa del x secolo
Photograph of Fury in Scuola Grande di San Rocco (Patron Saint of plague) allegorical sculptures in walnut by Francesco Pianta – these were extraordinary and were on the wooden benches around the fantastic Tintoretto panels
Hercules in La Scuola Grande Sala Terrena May 2021

A more recent book Venice, an Odyssey: Hope and Anger in the Iconic City: Hope, Anger and the Future of Cities by Neal E Robbins is extensive (he interviewed 500 people mostly Venetians for the book) and excellent.  My friend and I who had done his research on the food side and dined at the restaurants he mentions in his book mostly frequented by Venetians. Having such a knowledgeable companion and because I studied history we spent hours in very few places. We both agreed to go slowly.  It is so beneficial to have someone who knows every Bible story and Greek myth ever written; his scholarly reading up on architecture was so good he could write a book about it. And the food….oh my goodness…

Osteria da Alberto Venice
Bottega de Masceri since 1984
Postcard Venezia Il Carnevale (c) Edz.Ardo Venezia (Kina Italia Milano)
Luisa in front of Basilica San Marco – no tourists!
Basilica of San Marco San Marco Square Campanile Bell tower at right from photographic album 1962

I sat on the roof of San Marco Basilica for nearly an hour on my own waiting for the Astronomical Clock to chime just beside me.

Piazza San Marco La Torre dell’Orologio (c) 1999 by Storti Edizioni sri
St Mark’s Clock in St Mark’s Square Venice
On the roof high above Piazza San Marco May 2021
On her balcony above St Mark’s Square May 2021
The Horses of St Mark’s probably date back to 2nd or 3rd AD and are beautiful
Inside San Marko’s Basilica May 2021
The roof of Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana
Piazetta S Marco with Palazzo Ducale on left and Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana on right. Its considered bad luck to walk between the columns

I went to the square at 7am in the morning and visited the fish market.

Rialto fishmarket Venice

I found lesser known areas where the children play football after school against the walls of the churches and the families congregate and chit chatter. So much magic to be found around every street corner.

Venezia Camp e Chiesa di San Gacomo dell’Orio (c) Storti Edizioni sri
Photograph Campo e Chiesa di San Giacomo dell’Orio today
Chiesa San Giacomo dall’Orio Venezie unmarked
An old fashioned stationary shop. The man inside with his friend said “once he goes there will be no more shops like this”. This is where I bought many of my postcards just off Chiesa San Giacomo dall’Orio

In our hired boat we went to the little known islands, such as a beautiful Franciscan Monastery and a little frequented fort, travelled through Murano back into the lagoon and swam.


Lettie in front of the Byzantine medallion of an emperor one of the trophies the Venetians brought back from Constantinople in 1204 is still visible today (but almost nobody notices it) set into a wall above the doors of the small court of Campiello de Cà Angaran
View from the little visited Napoleonic fort that guards the Lagoon
The Fransiscan Monastery San Francesco Island
San Francesco Island
We did not stop in Murano but sailed through

My last stop before my ferry back was Caffè Florian the oldest cafe in the world and a fitting end and a delicious breakfast. I left Venice and I am aware of the great problems that continue to endanger the city’s future. I saw a poster declaring No Mafia leave us alone Venice is sacred and I saw the anti-cruise ship posters which I am vehemently opposed to. I looked across at the industrial Marghera where many live, I know there are mixed feelings about new nationalities coming in and taking local artisan and business away, that there is corruption and controversy over Moses Dam. I know the city is sinking. It’s that double edged sword of needing tourism for sustaining a living and just having far too many and I came away without a solution. My friend and I felt the only way would be to allow students to come if they were there for educational purposes otherwise tourists should perhaps pay a very much larger city tax which might put many off.

Basilica San Marco 1962 from anon photo album
Caffè Florian the oldest cafe in the world built 1720 has been struggling due to lack of tourists

Aside from Venice I loved the Nest Collective which might just be the laziest festival in the world for spectators. My friend and I lay down with a cider and let the music wash over us. I am non stop playing Sura Susso by Tili Saba now. I couldn’t believe it when I said did he know Seckou Keita and he said that he was his brother! What a small ‘Kora’ world!

At the most relaxing festival I have ever been to ‘Magpie’s Nest’ 5 June 2021 organised by The Nest Collective

I really hope to release my next album on Here & Now Recordings with David Baron on 12.11.21 – a palindrome. It will include Bright Lights, Shoot the Breeze and Waiting among other new tracks and I am very excited.

In 1980 on this date of 12 November, the Voyager 1 spacecraft flew by Saturn and sent footage back to earth.  It is now 14 billion miles away on a mission to the further reaches of interstellar space and is the most distant manmade object from earth.  It’s camera was turned off in 1990 but it still sends transmissions to earth.

The Golden Record aboard Voyager 1 featuring 90 minutes of music along with a record player is intended to be played when it hits a new planetary system (in about 40,000 years) to communicate to extra-terrestrials. The music on this record includes Bach, Beethoven, Chuck Berry, Blind Willie Johnson and music from Georgia, Bulgaria and Peru.

To the hope of unlocking this world and letting the good times roll again….xxx

Iapetus A Satellite of Saturn. Taken by Voyager 1 on 12/11/80 at a distance of 1.9 million miles Universal Pictorial Press photo (Ref ‘ ‘ ) Nov 1980 Universal Picture Press New Bridge Street Real photograph

About lettiemusic

Part time artist based in London
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