For lovers of Venice September 5 2018 is a date to look forward to and one that you don’t have to travel to Venice to enjoy. It sees the publication of Bella Figura Publications’ latest volume: Dream of Venice in Black and White.
Since 2014, Bella Figura’s founder JoAnn Locktov has been indulging the appetite of Venetophiles everywhere with her high-quality picture books, Dream of Venice and Dream of Venice Architecture, which will now form a trinity with Dream of Venice in Black and White.
The photographs in the first Dream of Venice come with delicious sides of anecdotes about Venice from such luminaries as Woody Allen, Erica Jong, and director Nicholas Roeg of Don’t Look Now fame. The latest volume has been stripped of words, just as the photographs have been stripped of colour, save for an introduction by Venetian writer Tiziano Scarpa.
Venice is a city where one overdoses on colour from the unbelievable turquoise of the canals in the eastern side of the city, to the terracotta rooftops marking the shape of the Venice from the air. Photographing it in black and white forces the reader into a different way of looking at Venice anticipated by Scarpa’s different way of looking at Venice and her people in his brilliant, if occasionally fanciful, introduction.
Taking away Venice’s colour emphasizes the fragility, but also the timelessness of the city, which are two themes many of the photographs explore. We see Venice as she appears for a few days each year in the winter, when as Scarpa says, ‘the sky… [is] … the same color as the flagstones.’ In Dream of Venice in Black and White, Venice is trapped in an eternal winter. But this is an apt metaphor for the much-vaunted decline of Venice even if it has been a very long winter.
The depopulation of the historic centre of Venice may only recently turned exponential, but it started in the seventeenth century. By the eighteenth century, Venice started taking on many of the characteristics that we now associate with theme parks and was to some extent a prototype Las Vegas. When the Republic fell in 1797 Venice lost its original purpose and began its transformation into a white-elephant city. The title of Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice resonated well in the nineteenth century as it was one step away from Death of Venice.
The photographs in this book will break your heart with their beauty coupled with the realization that, if Scarpa’s introduction is correct, the Venetians and their way of life depicted here will soon disappear. Even ugly realities are transformed and transfigured, such as the arresting image of ‘The Old Man in Via Garibaldi’ by Alain Harmon. At least two of the photographs show images that must be on all tourists mobile phones, the view through grille of the Bridge of Sighs, and the basilica of Santa Maria della Salute as viewed from the Accademia Bridge, but again they are made unfamiliar by the lack of colour.
All the details known to residents of the city are highlighted in the book. Seagulls, dogs, nuns, the contrast between young and old, and walking. Walking for Venetians takes on a new significance since it is the primary mode of transport around the city. Even if you take the vaporetto or have your own boat, every journey requires a surprising amount of walking.
My favourite photograph in the book entitled is entitled ‘La Serenissima’ (an adjective that was coined to describe the Venetian Republic but which has in recent years come to refer to the city). An old woman, in a winter coat reminiscent of the robes worn by renaissance Venetian patricians, walks along the fondamenta on the Giudecca. For me, she is the young woman that renaissance and baroque painters used to symbolize Venice grown old and wandering the streets, the ghost of past glories.
Once again, JoAnn Locktov has created a masterpiece that you will not be able to put down. You’ll be drawn into the book’s point of view, each photograph a meditation on Venice past, present, and future. And if this is not reason enough to buy it, like all of Bella Figura Publications’ books, a proportion of the proceeds go to support Venice, this time in the form of the IKONA photo gallery. But to find out more about that, you’ll have to buy the book and did I tell you that you can from September 5?
DISCLAIMER: Bella Figura Productions supplied me with a free digital copy of Dream of Venice in Black and White in return for an honest review.
Italians and Italian cuisine
We are all familiar with the videos plastered all over the Internet of Italians reacting badly to foreign versions of Italian cuisine and threatening to send a hired killer, or worse their grandmother, to track you down. Most of these videos are highly exaggerated, or staged, and say a lot about the Italian sense of humour. However, it is true that Italians, more than any other nation, seem to get genuinely upset when someone messes with their traditional food.
29 June, a Roman holiday
Today, 29th June is the feast day of Santi Pietro e Paolo, the patron saints of Rome. Therefore, in the city, it’s a Roman holiday and one that the locals take seriously. Everyone gets the day off to roam the city and eat street food, and the celebrations culminate in a huge firework display, the girandola in Piazza del Popolo.
A couple of weeks ago I did a post on the movie Summertime with Katharine Hepburn and Rossano Brazzi, which was filmed in and around Campo San Barnaba. In the post I said that Rossano Brazzi’s shop from the movie was now a toyshop, Lanterna Magica, but that it was always closed when I went by. Well, a few days later, I was passing by and it was open, so I went inside. Scenes had been filmed inside the shop and I wanted to see what it was like now.
Once inside I spoke to the ladies running the shop and explained why I was there. They instantly pointed to some stills from the movie that they keep pinned on the wall behind the counter in case anyone asks. We had quite a long chat and they encouraged me to run around the shop and take as many pictures as I liked.
In the film, the shop has a mezzanine upstairs. This has now been turned into a full floor but they have retained a hole in the middle with a copy of the metal railings to retain a bit of the original atmosphere.
Anyway, here are some picture of the shop. It’s actually a pretty nice toyshop now so if you’re passing drop in and say, ‘Hello!’
Strictly speaking, cotognata , isn’t for Christmas but for San Martin which falls on the 11 November. However, people make such a lot of it that there’s often a lot of it still around at Christmas, and to be honest, it’s so delicious, why not eat it every day?
It’s essentially a quince jelly (quince is called mela cotogna in Italian) which has been left to dry and has almost the consistency of fudge. Originally it was made in the shape of Saint Martin, but nowadays it’s made in small metal tins, similar to French barquettes.
If you’ve never cooked with quinces, be prepared for your whole house to be filled with the most delicious, sweet, fragrance, somewhere between soft fruit and citrus with notes of fresh apples. Once made, you need to leave the cotognata to dry out covered in cheese cloth or a tea towel for at least a week. So, if you want to make it for Christmas, it’s best to start now
Sometimes cotognata is called persegada but strictly speaking, persegada is made with peaches rather than quinces (persega is Venetian for peach). If you don’t have access to quinces, peaches make a great alternative.
We know that they’ve been eating cotognata in Venice since at least 1300 when it is first mentioned in a recipe book. A version of the recipe given by Domenico Auda in a book published in Venice in 1674 is identical to how it’s prepared today.
- 2kg /4 1/2 pounds quinces (mela cotogna)
- 1 lemon
- 700g / 1 1/2 pounds sugar for every kilo / 2 pounds of cooked quince
- Wash and peel the quinces.
- Cut them in half and place in a large pan of water.
- Cut the lemon in half and add to the pan.
- Bring to the boil and simmer for one hour.
- Drain, keeping the water, and allow to cool.
- Remove the inner part of the quince including seeds.
- Purée and weigh the cooked quince.
- Put in a large pan with 700g (1 1/2 pounds) of cane sugar for every kilo (2 pounds) of quince.
- Add a ladle of the cooking water from earlier.
- Bring to the boil and cook for about half an hour, stirring occasionally.
- Pour the mixture into molds.
- Cover with muslin or a teacloth and leave somewhere cool to dry out for a week.
- Turn out of the molds and enjoy.