Saturday, April 28, 2012

Quiet Day, Short Post

Friday in Venice began with reading, moved to a nearly deserted beach for some quiet sun, then ended with a crescendo at what is known as the church of Antonio Vivaldi on Venice's southern waterfront, a few blocks east of San Marco Square. Of course, here in Venice blocks are marked by water, not pavement. It's Saturday morning now and we hit the road for Rome, via, well —— only my travel planner knows for sure. There isn't a travel web site Katie does not know and love.

About the reading(s) I'll have more to write once I put my thoughts together. While reading the second half of Ross Douthat's good Bad Religion, I also finished a book I first read 40 years ago, by Alan Watts. What possessed me to pick up the old popularizer of Eastern spirituality? I am writing a memoir of my long, winding road to the Catholic Church, and I wanted to recapture some of the thoughts that led me away from Christianity in the first place. Watts was one of the early signposts pointing toward the wilderness. Reading him again four decades later, I scratch my head and wonder how that happened. But we'll sourge Alan in a later post.

The Lido of Venice is a place I also visited 40 years ago, under dramatically different circumstances. For that view of the strand that serves as both resort and breakwater for the city, you'll have to read my memoir. About yesterday's visit, there's little to say, except that Katie swam and I held the towel. The water, she told me, was even colder than the water in Maine, where she swims twice daily for several weeks each August, while I watch from the deck. The Adriatic cold did not deter her. Me, I kept my hiking boots tightly laced, observing from a safe distance and shivering under four layers.

The crown of the day was a concert at S. Maria della Pietá, familiarly known as Vivaldi's church. The composer was born in 1678 and died in 1740. "His" church was not completed until 1760, so why he owns it or ever did is unclear. George Frederick Handel and Johann Sebastian Bach were both born in 1685, seven years after Vivaldi, and last night we heard chamber music by the three composers, played by seven enthusiastic members of I Virtuosi Italiani, led by Alberto Martini, maestro di concerto al violino. I have never seen a solo violinist sway with quite so much conviction as did the maestro last night, like a cobra with a movement disorder rising from a basket.

Katie and I are not exacly concertgoers. We have been married 28 years and lived separately north of Boston longer than that, but the only time we have ever been to Boston's famous Symphony Hall was for a Judy Collins concert. By that time, in the mid-1990s, Collins was about as old as Vivaldi. Who knows where the time goes?

So buying tickets for last night's concert, which I did on our first day in Venice, surprised even me. But it just seemed the thing to do, and it was. What an enormous sound a single violin or viola can make in this small ovoid paragon of Italian baroque (cobbled that phrase together from Wiki, of course)! With an ornate altar tucked into a short sanctuary, and a quartet of religious paintings in the four corners of the room (including an unusual Crucifixion with three men at the foot of the Cross), the Pietá resembles a concert hall more than a church. There is no evidence that it is used for anything but concerts today.

About 120 people sat comfortably in the antique wooden pews to hear a Handel overture, a Bach concerto, and Vivaldi's Le Quattro Stagioni. I gather that "The Four Seasons" is to Venetians something like what Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline" is to Red Sox fans at Fenway Park. You could feel the smiles spread over the 120 assembled faces as Maestro Alberto lept into the first movement of La Primavera. Two violins, a viola, a cello, a bass, and a harpsichord strained to keep pace. The entire septet was sprightly and even playful. In the second movement of "Winter," with its recognizable pizzicato violins, the second violinist did what I took to be a Mark Knopfler impression, with a likeable smile that said it was all in fun.

When I entered the hall and saw the program of the evening's music, I rolled my eyes: It looked to be a long night. But we were out in less than 90 minutes, thanks to the upbeat tempi. Katie and I were upbeat too, as we walked to the vaporetto and returned to our apartment in Cannaregio for our last night in Venice.

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