I spent a couple of days in Palermo, a few days in Rome, a few days in Venice and also took a day trip to Florence.
Forte di Belvedere, in Florence had a special exhibition which included the giant skeleton, Calamita Cosmica by Gino De Dominicis. It’s a giant sculpture that looks particularly impressive with Florence’s skyline as a backdrop.
I went on a tour of Rome’s Colosseum. I had been there before (way back in 1999), but this time I was able to see the underground area where they kept the animals – they even used elevators to bring them up to the arena.
Venice is one of my favorite cities in the world. Such a beautiful city. I got an all day ticket for the water bus and went up and down the Grand Canal.
Mark Twain’s reaction to a gondola ride in Venice where the gondolier started singing: “I’m a pilgrim, and I’m a stranger, but I am not going to have my feelings lacerated by any such caterwauling as that. If that goes on, one of us has got to take water.”
From the 18th Century Venetian memoirs Count Carlo Gozzi:
It was pronounced a musty and barbarous prejudice to keep women at home, for the supervision of their sons and daughters, their hirelings, their domestic service and economy. Immediately, the women poured forth from their doors, storming like Bacchantes, screaming out “Liberty! liberty!”
The streets swarmed with them. Their children, servants, daily duties, were neglected. They meanwhile abandoned their vapoury brains to fashions, frivolous inventions, rivalries in games, amusements, loves, coquetries, and all sorts of nonsense which their own caprices and their counsellors, the upstart sages, could suggest. The husbands had not courage to oppose this ruin of their honour, of their substance, of their families. They were afraid of being pilloried with that dreadful word, prejudice.
I went out to Burano, an island near Venice, which is famous for its painted houses.
If you think your country’s election system is complicated, John Julius Norwich’s A History of Venice details the Venetian election process:
On the day appointed for the election, the youngest member of the Signoria was to pray in St. Mark’s; then, on leaving the Basilica, he was to stop the first boy he met and take him to the Doges’ Palace, where the Great Council, minus those of its members who were under thirty, was to be in full session. This boy, known as the ballotino, would have the duty of picking the slips of paper from the urn during the drawing of lots. By the first of such lots, the Council chose thirty of their own number. The second was used to reduce the thirty to nine, and the nine would then vote for forty, each of whom was to receive at least seven nominations. The forty would then be reduced, again by lot, to twelve, whose task was to vote for twenty-five, of whom each this time required nine votes. The twenty-five were in turn reduced to another nine; the nine voted for forty-five, with a minimum of seven votes each, and from these the ballotino picked out the names of eleven. The eleven now voted for forty-one – nine or more votes each – and it was these forty-one who were to elect the Doge. They first attended Mass, and individually swore an oath that they would act honestly and uprightly, for the good of the Republic. They were then locked in secret conclave in the Palace, cut off from all contact or communication with the outside world and guarded by a special force of sailors, day and night, until their work was done.
So much for the preliminaries; now the election itself could begin. Each elector wrote the name of his candidate on a paper and dropped it in the urn; the slips were then removed and read, and a list drawn up of all the names proposed, regardless of the number of nominations for each. A single slip for each name was now placed in another urn, and one drawn. If the candidate concerned was present, he retired together with any other elector who bore the same surname, and the remainder proceeded to discuss his suitability. He was then called back to answer questions or defend himself against any accusations. A ballot followed. If he obtained the required twenty-five votes, he was declared Doge; otherwise a second name was drawn, and so on.
I also visited the Acqua Alta bookshop, one of the world’s most bookshops (and one of the few where you could arrive by boat). There are books stacked into a gondola, into bathtubs and even a staircase made of old books.
On instructions from the State Inquisitors and promulgated a month later by the Council of Ten, what had been a choice now became mandatory. All women, foreigners excepted, had to wear masks in the theater. In the Council’s decree, issued in late 1776, prostitutes were not the primary concern. It was the dangerous immodesty of the supposedly decent classes. As the Council warned, the “excessive liberty and license of females” were a primary cause of moral decadence.
– Venice Incognito by James H. Johnson
There was also a special exhibition on in Venice – The Treasures of the Wreck of the Unbelievable, an amazing exhibition of sculptures and artwork presented as though they had been recovered from a 2000-year-old wreck.
Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable – Damien Hirst’s decade-in-the-making Venetian extravaganza – is as unbelievable as his title implies. I have never seen a bigger show in my life. The artist has filled not one but two museums with hundreds of objects in marble, gold and bronze, crystal, jade and malachite – heroes, gods and leviathans all supposedly lost in a legendary shipwreck 2,000 years ago and now raised from the Indian Ocean at Hirst’s personal expense. It is by turns marvellous and beautiful, prodigious, comic and monstrous.
There was even a giant statue of Kali fighting the hydra.