Field Trip: Sketches From Venice, Chapter Three

In her last chapter, Ruth Dillon gets off the Biennale beaten track and samples San Zaccaria, Italian reggae and the famous Venice Regatta…

Archetypes, art and religious ephemera: how to travel around a city such as Venice? What soundtrack could we compile to such a journey? Maybe a mix of David Bowie, The Next Day, a little Lou Reed, Street Hassle, The Small Faces, Imperial Smoke City and The Stones…

A soundtrack is optional, but when in an unfamiliar city a touch of the familiar often helps. Imagine viewing a Tintoretto or a Palladio inspired façade with Dexter Gordon or The Herbaliser, simple but unequivocal fun. Ms. Mina Bihi and I found our way into San Zaccaria an immensely ornate space, a church with a mixture of gothic and renaissance architectural styles.

The church holds many religious relics, but our trip was solely to see the work of Antonio Gambello, a sculptor and architect who brought a gothic sensibility to San Zaccaria, which is a rare find in Italy. The paintings and frescoes on display are truly the works of masters. Bellini, Tintoretto, Van Dyck and Castagno sit resplendent in a semicircular gable and supporting side quadrants. Tile works from the 12th century are still visible, and much of the gothic gilded altar pieces were paid for by the nuns who lived adjacent to the church.

“We sat in awe of the art, whilst normal Venetians dropped in and out to pray, reflect and escape the throng of Venice in late summer”

This is a small indicator of the individual wealth of the Roman Catholic Church, the largest patrons of the arts in renaissance Europe. Napoleon looted this church and countless others when he entered the city in 1797; many of the artworks then resided in Paris until they were liberated some twenty years later. We sat in awe of the art, whilst normal Venetians dropped in and out to pray, reflect and escape the throng of Venice in late summer.

Our evening was of a completely different flavour: pizza and conversation, Venetian style. A grand family get together, with over twenty Venetian’s sharing jokes, music and food. The style and panache of Venice is easy to understand when you realise Italy holds more tailors per square mile than anywhere else in the world.

But it isn’t the style of the Venetians that holds you; it is their warmth and carefree attitude. I was told that after Mussolini, Italy tried to bring Italians together by establishing one lingo… the Venetians opted out. They have their own lingo and it has helped them to retain an earthy sensibility, which is not dissimilar to northerners or New Yorkers really.

“Fort Marghera is one of the biggest military outposts, hosting music festivals, art events and some pretty awesome installations”

So to Saturday eve, Venice and reggae. Venice is connected by a series of waterways and lagoons. Dotted all over Venice are ancient Forts; which, in days of yore, were military strategic outposts. Today Fort Marghera is one of the biggest, hosting music festivals, art events and some pretty awesome installations. Here ‘Sir’ Oliver Skardy, Italian reggae artist, formerly of Pitura Friska (Wet Paint), plays. Hardy is one of a hardcore crew of reggae artists whose songs are in Italian or Napolitano, which is no mean feat.

Italian reggae to the un-tuned ear was an experience to be sure; we rocked out for a few hours, skanking and swaying amidst the late summer night air. Then off to another music event, a small drive away, where we hit the outdoor nightclub, another surreal experience: kids pumped up on heavy bass, rocking Italian-style. Just two minutes walk away was the alternative stage, with more authentic Venetian tunes, and less-bass-more-politico-pop.

There is far too much to fit into another paragraph, but suffice to say we did attend the annual Venice Regatta, an historic and colorful event. It is said the race was originally a welcome to Caterina Cornaro, Queen of Cyprus, who forewent her inheritance to become a resident of Venice in the 14th Century.

Sitting at the Grand Canal we watched the race, and then slipped into a back street for more ristretto. Our last days in Venice were spent with friends, Pedro, Jennifer, Simone, Katia, Vincenzo, Michaelo and Spada. We did decide to take one last trip to see some more art, but it was Monday, and like Tate Liverpool, galleries in Italy are closed too on Mondays. So we joined the tourist throng, ate more pizza and pasta, and let’s just say we did stay up very, very late and had some extra curricular fun… Venetian style.

Ruth Dillon

Images courtesy Mina Bihi

Sketches From Venice, Chapters One and Two

Venice Biennale 2013: In Pictures

Venice Biennale and Tea at the British Pavillion

Posted on 19/12/2013 by thedoublenegative