Hidden Gifts

Secret Venice

In Venice, the alleys and walls, the art and the people have layers upon layers.  Like a living museum, the city retains its ancient function amid modern hubbub. For example, the gondola ride used to be a way to get around in 16th century Venice. No longer is this a way to get across town: this quintessential Venice experience is just for the tourists.

merchantGondolas took on a different meaning when I saw them in an ancient light this evening. Our artist residency hosts screened Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice” at their home, reviving a sense of Venice in a different dimension. Being a period film, Venice and the canals in the 1500s invigorated the imagination. The merchants and party-going Venetians felt like real people here with us from another time.

When we took a gondola ride, I had the moment several times, “we’re doing this!” For some this is a silly tourist attraction – for me it was a moment in a timeless age. Gently rocking on the canal, our boat coursed through the veins of Venice. We saw algae-covered canal walls and the decaying steps to private alleys and homes. We were backstage at the production, seeing the place at its grimy roots, behind the shiny facade of shops and souvenirs. Here being newly wed, feelings of marriage and love come alive within the spirit of romance on the canal. There is love.

17883777_10102161090768822_6519381393271106091_n.jpgWe are sharing love being enjoying sights with our friends as well. There is a special joy in having your close friend whom you share so much memory and longevity with. To see a new place together forges a deeper connection and different perspective.

The memories of the acting studio and her experiences in the acting world invigorate creative passion in me that I don’t experience with many people.


unnamed.jpgKim brought us to one of the most fascinating places in Venice. This prosperous and debaucherous city-states was ruled by dukes at one time. They ruled from a waterfront monument containing the most majestic courts – Doge’s Palace. Not surrounded by moat or surrounded by walls but part of the city. We went inside – I have never been surrounded by more depth and opulence in my life. The height of the ceilings of gold and endless oil paintings.

We noticed that on one wall, the paintings had hinges. That means they swing open. I have to know: what is behind there?!  I have researched a bit about the possibility of secret passages in the Doge’s Palace and the best I can come up with is the Secret Itineraries tour. The tour explores “the rooms and chambers where the delicate work of some of the most important bodies in the Venetian administration was carried out.”  I think that’s a nice nod at secret spaces in the palace, yet something tells me there’s lots left unexplored there. One look in the haunting cells of worn stone and iron bars cast a darker tone to the inner workings of the palace.  We don’t plan to take the secret tour, which is fine. The imagination is sometimes more powerful than real experience. Plus, the experiences we’re taking rom the trip have many layers of their own.

A Gift

I am not one for souvenirs.  I like bringing home art or an item I can wear to remind me of a place… so I do like souvenirs. I am not into “stuff:” keepsakes that gather dust. Give me a functional item for the kitchen or in daily life, and I’m interested.  Being so inspired by the art in Venice I can’t imagine what I would take home that would remind of this. IMG_4244 (1).jpg

We’ve visited so many sights and experienced the most profound art. I wept hearing Vivaldi’s “Le Quattro Stagioni” (Four Seasons) by Interpreti Veneziani in the San Vidal church the other night. The beauty pulled a vulnerability out of me. Part of me recognized itself in the adagios and the musicians. They let their violins sing to them so beautifully. Their faces, nestled against the body of the violin, torqued and smoothened in deep listening. I remembered what passion is. What that really means – I felt it in me. I remember acting, and being so in tune with my instrument. To feel moved to tears to live fully in expression of life, to feel emotions without resistance and to share it so that others may feel it too.  I shared with Thomas I feel inspired to remember what art feels like again. I guess Venice does that. I have within me the love and fascination with drawing, dancing, painting, making music, throwing ceramics, acting, writing.  “Do you think you can dedicate yourself to art again full time?”  My mind meets this thought with serious contemplation and a drive to commit and expand in art.

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Seeing others in their craft certainly inspires the drive to make art. We visited the quiet and crisp island of buried families, a cemetery whose inhabitants’ lives were summed up in some cases by a crumbled tombstone. Some artists rendered paintings here, the greens of grass and trees and the greys of sky and stone.

The sights awaken the senses and imagination. Making memories are like souvenirs. And they inspire creativity. When it comes to creating ourselves, we found a chance this week. A Venetian artist, Marina, offers a journal-making workshop to the artists in the residency. I wouldn’t have thought much about it without the positive reviews by John, the organizer, and his descriptions of how meaningful the journal is for him. That did it.

Making journals is meaningful to me because I am such an avid journal-writer.  Buying a journal from Venice didn’t occur to me – taking one home that we made had special significance.


I took step-by-step notes with diagrams to retain the nuances of the technique. Surely the Venetian approach to making journals has its own approach that define it.

Thomas and I loved the process. We began by working with nice Fabiano water color paper sheets. The paper was to be cut and folded by hand (or by knife but never scissors, in order to preserve the rough edge). We used needle and twine to sew English Cross stitches to bind the booklets together. We made paste and bound the booklets together with parchment. We handcut the leather. The attention to detail, care for the materials and the fine points of measuring led to a beautiful experience inside the journal itself. In addition to gaining an especially personal souvenir and creative experience, we are empowered with a bit of knowledge and skill.

Oddly, this photo of us upon completion shows the colors of our journals and somehow the colors of us.  Thomas with his transporting blue eyes chose the one that reflects him. I was in the back room before the workshop and passed the leather shelf. The red strip partially hidden under folds of leather on a shelf spoke to me. The material stopped me in my tracks and I had to touch it. I didn’t know this was the leather we were to work with and yet I claimed it when I learned there was only enough for one journal. We were meant to be together. I couldn’t be more in love with the journal, and with the ability to share the process of making one.  Thomas and I agree of journal-making workshop would be a wonderful souvenir gift for our friends when we return to the U.S.!


Published by jchmcpherson

Arts, Education and Writing

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