Monday, 20 June 2011


Jan Morris entertainingly described the history of Venice as a transition from power to luxury from luxury to flippancy and from flippancy to impotence. But the Venice of today, where I recently spent a week, is on the ascendancy again.

There are real craft shops doing great stuff, the Biennale is in in full swing and once you’ve overcome three shocks one has a deep sense of admiration that billions of dollars have been well spent on restoration
The shocks are economic -the pound/euro parity – so a couple of beers cost £15; iconoclastic - the cruise ships (Voyager of the Seas which has over 3,000 guests and is 14 stories high slid past on the Giudecca Canal and nearly gave me a heart attack because there are no skyscrapers in Venice except these) and finally commercial, the posters and African market traders of knock-off designer labels in St. Mark’s Square. The 96 sheet ad for Citroen was particularly nasty, the Louis Vuitton knock-off bags a close second.

Pseuds’ Corner would have a field day with the arty fliers. Here are just some of them:
“One of a thousand ways to defeat entropy”;
“The cloud of unknowing”;
“Permanently becoming and the architecture of seeing” (this one authored by Julian Schnabel, the US film maker and artist) and from the Canadian exhibit at the Biennale itself – (Canada clearly got out of bed the wrong side that day)
“Triumphant secretion sculpted in foul mist
Dehydrated spectral birth at war with false metals”

Even the local Casino got in on the act with this: “an infinity of emotion” – yes that’s what you get with your chips on the tables of Venice.

The city is glorious – learning, effortlessly reaching back a thousand years and forward to a world of art and experiment, of hand craftsmanship and of car-free and Vespa-less perfume. Venice feels quite modern and self-confident in some ways, a world apart from the wrinkled old lady I first saw over twenty years ago.

Look at Venice today and see how once great can be reborn as the capital of conferences, global art, fashion and opera. There’s the odd jolt and tacky moment but it felt young, experimental and fun; a place in which to learn rather than a place in which to decay or die.

And maybe it’s a place to use as a new paradigm – one of restoration and hope.

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