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.!


Art: Good Thoughts Shine

If you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely. – Roald Dahl

A friend posted this quote: I keep realizing how true it is… it’s not hard to do in Venice!

Art and Life

IMG_4126Good thoughts arise constantly surrounded by beauty and in the company of the person who inspires feelings of love. Thomas and I agree Venice is unlike any place we have ever been. There are so many layers to it. Everything is old, almost frozen in time from a thousand years ago. The place hasn’t been updated since. In fact, next to me Thomas is browsing real estate here (someone’s fallen in love with Venice!) and the flats with modern updates are gratefully few. Those alley-facing apartments whose stone arch doorways are filled with glass may be a modern take on Venice but they stand out and don’t do justice to the natural beauty of the architecture.

We’ve been on an art tour and haven’t stepped foot yet in a gallery or museum. Why? The art is all around us. I can share a few types of art that I’ve seen.

Food as Art


In the student district of Dorsoduro outside the art store, we crossed the bridge where casual people engaged in conversation. In pairs of two, from art students to businesspeople to Italian grandmothers, they lounged on the canal parapet eating cicchetti and sipping wine.  We went in to Al Bottegon and did the same.

The famous cicchetti is pictured here with me insanely excited to eat!  Nettles & brie on one baguette slice, tuna salad on another, cream of pistachio, smoked trout and deviled egg with mushroom to name a few. Take the white wine with you in a plastic cup.

Surroundings as Art

IMG_4110On the way to the vaporetto (the “city bus” canal boat), this sight arose. I felt a haunting familiarity feeling when looking back into the inhabited water between these houses. Like a novel with characters I know, like a story I’ve read before. These moments surround a person as you move through the city.



The Torcello Cathedral on Torcello island nearby has a different kind of art. These are murals are one of the most ancient in the area.  The art here took my breath away.

img_4118.jpgIn this mural of Jesus with archangels Michael and Gabriel, I felt a resonance. This was in the transcept chapel to one side of the main area. It spoke to me because the archangels signify much in life – specifically these two.  I had a sacred moment, and like art will often do I felt the mural conveyed meaning and purpose. The visit to the cathedral generated conversation problematizing organized religion and examining the spiritual life that type of art may yet inspire.

There are stories too in spiritual places like this. Like the legend about Attila the Hun’s throne: whoever sits in this chair will soon be pregnant with child. Our group leader, John, found great amusement in sharing this story with us- after seating me in the chair.  Knowing Thomas and I are newly married and hope to raise children together, this brought joy and laughter to us all.

A different island, Burano is historically a fishing village. The houses are registered by color and cannot be changed without a permit. Collectively they bring a different kind of joy. Thomas and I shared a moment of joy that our friend Mary caught.

Walking home from the day, we took the long way home. Winding through the streets, our steps stopped upon hearing a beautiful sound. High-pitched tinkling like raindrops streamed from this man’s water-glass instrument. He had us spellbound. Gaining new spectators, the man started a new song:  “Yesterday,” by the Beatles. The sounds rose into my heart and raised the strings of vibration within me. Pure music affects the heart.

Artists’ Art

Lastly, the artists on this residency have come here to be inspired. Venice supposedly has more art here per capita than anywhere in the world. For the visiting artists, they can receive some of the inspiration and genius in their own work. Hans has carried the camera backpack everywhere we go, and propping a wooden plate on a stand in front of various structures. Tonight, he shared a few works with the group via email since we were curious about his use of what I now know is a pinhole camera. These are by Hans Silvius.

As a university photography professor, he seemed trustworthy in his approach to taking photos. I saw these photos just before writing this post, and I am grateful to gain his perspective on the compositions and objects of his creation. Now I know what he is looking at and for, as we tour around places looking at – and making – art.

Mary Claire Moloney is a painter and a former kindergarten teacher – like a disproportionately high number of other people on the tour (my going count is over 20%).  She likes to paint en plein air (outside). A painting of hers that she will install in the Venice show is below.She told me tonight as the two of us listened to musicians and enjoyed a glass of wine by the canal that she thrives on the social experience of art-making and wished to create in the company of others. Since the fellow artists here have their own focus, she searched for inspiration. Having once been avid in water-based oil paints, I felt a call to join her. What better way to enjoy art in Venice than to paint by the canal? We have a date to paint together next week that excites us both!


Benvenuto in Venizio


AM: Artist Colony

We sat around our friend’s apartment eating pizza bites, olives and sparkling water this afternoon. The window shutters opened into the room inviting the air from the stone alleyway below, and distant din from the streets.  Starkly missing was the sound of traffic, as there are no cars in Venice. The room was filled with artists from around the world, about a dozen or so people gathered in Venice for a monthlong artist residency.

palazza san marcoWe’d met up this morning at the center flagpole at the Palazzo San Marco. The artists hailed from Australia, Montreal, New Zealand, Holland, a woman whose family comes from Egypt, and from the U.S. – Montana, California and Idaho. Being here with a group feels more like being with locals, oddly. Thomas and I would normally would cobble together a mental list of places we want to experience, and follow our noses as to what arises during our stay.  The leaders of the residency, John & Souheir Rawlings of Art & Soul, have been to Venice 35 times in 1-6 month stints each time. With the benefit of their cumulative several years here, we get a deeper dive into experiencing Venice. Meandering through the palazzo to other areas, John narrated to us some history and stories.

We found ourselves in the afternoon in a more intimate setting to meet each other formally. Some of us stood, some sat all in a loose circle. As we began our introductions, the windows to the street closed and we honed in on each others’ words. One by one, Lori, Karen, Daniele, Hans, Uma and others spoke about what they are about. Fascinating that each focused very little on the artistic craft aspect. The energy and intention of the circle felt more about genuinely connecting with one another as humans: gathering to be, rather than to do. I was humbled – inspired – by the very human element to this residency. What a great start to the trip.

PM:  Date Night

Facades of old houses on Calle Gradisca Cannaregio. VeniceTonight we walked from our apartment in Canareggio along the Strada Nova near the Grand Canal. We looked for a place to have dinner, and a little spot down a side alley caught my eye. It was totally empty, yet we sat outside the small establishment facing a little wine shop. The tuna carpaccio was succulent with arugula. We dipped our bruschetta in hearty olive oil.  We’ve been eating more bread in the past two days than most months…but we are in Italy, come on.

450px-SpritzThe Venetian signature drink, “spritz” usually has liqueur and white wine – or prosecco. I’m partial to fizzy prosecco. While I found the drink flat, Thomas thought the drink was delicious!

My favorite part was when our conversation was interrupted but an elderly accordion player. Thomas and I had been absorbed talking about electromagnetism and water-powered cars. It was a carry over from our late night conversation yesterday about time-space dimensions and the expanding universe. All of a sudden, the sound of an accordion burst into song next to us. We find intellectual conversation exciting, and after all, it’s our honeymoon. The accordion man is not pictured but this guy gives you an idea.

accordionI felt the music vibrate in my chest, like bubbles of light dancing around my heart. With the lilting and curving sounds, mournful and sweet, I felt a smile spreading. First from within, then across my face.  Thomas didn’t notice at first, as he was mid-explanation about atomic principles.  I couldn’t hold back the grin; the accordion player won me over. After the song, the man extended the tiniest hat you’ve ever seen to request payment. Moments later, as Thomas balked at the 3 Euros we paid for such a short song, I still felt the music and joy resonating in me and all around the alleyway. I told him, “No way! I loved this beautiful experience. The joy I got from that is well worth 3 Euros – and more!”

Thomas laughed and agreed. We heard him move on to his next customers the next street away, the same song playing distantly. Venice.