Monday, 14 September 2015

Venice - the Lido

There is so much to see and experience in Venice that a good guide book is an essential thing to carry in your pocket.  But with some guides you'll need a big pocket!  A little book that I came across recently is the Dorling Kindersley guide to Venice.  It measures only 7cm in width, so can be slipped into the pocket of your jeans.  It is very cleverly designed, full of informative descriptions of the major sights and has a fold-out section of maps at the rear.  There is also a section offering the tourist useful Italian phrases.

I didn't need a guide book in 1998 as I had with me two good friends. These were Dario, whose family lives in a small village near Mestre, and Michele from Castelfranco.

For those of you new to this blog, this post is one of the last few in the series describing the researching of my novel The Door of Perarolo (starting with the February 2014 post  The Birth of the Piave). 

I would like to thank all of you for your continued feedback relating to this blog.  Fabio Romagnoli, who lives in Marseilles, contacted me through facebook  to ask why I'd omitted to mention the Notte Famosissima  in the last post of this blog.

The Processione del Redentore in 1910 [courtesy Luigi Boatto]

This was in connection with the Processione del Redentore as shown in the 1910 image on the left.   
Sebastiano Giorgi's account on the Venicexplorer page tell all.  Here is a small extract:

For the "famous night of fireworks", between the 3rd Saturday of July and the Sunday after, thousands of Venetians and visitors come to celebrate, in the S. Mark´s basin swarming with boats crowded with people who bring typical culinary delights. Beginning on that Saturday morning, people engages with the organisation and preparation for the Redentore Festival. Foods are cooked for up to 20/30 people; candle-balloons, leafy branches and other trinket are hanged on the boats, terraces and rooftop loggias. From eleven to midnight, after the gastronomical moment, the firework show starts on the most beautiful stage ever realized by man. There is no other place on the world, where the light of fireworks may enlight with its colours a mirror of water like that of the St. Mark´s Basin, with the reflection of the Ducal Palace, St. George, the Columns of Mark and Todaro.  

The full article includes lots of photos of the fabulous firework display.  I'm not sure how the event would have been celebrated in the 19th century, when the Reverend Alexander Robertson was resident in Venice. A wealthy visitor at that time might well have put up at the Grand Hotel on the Canal Grande - this advertisement is from Robertson's informative book Through the Dolomites from Venice to Toblach.  

The Grand Hotel towards the end of the nineteenth century. [Through the Dolomites from Venice to Toblach]

So... electricity and steaming British toilets.  What more could be more comforting and secure?

The Ponte San Biasio delle Catene [© P.A.G. 1998]

What we (Dario, Michele and myself) wanted next on that first Sunday of September was to visit the Lido (where the film festival is held every September).  Then we planned to return to watch the Venice Regatta which is always held on the first Sunday of this month.

The Lido [Venezia, Carta della Provincia, Litografia Artistica Cartografica]

So we took the vaporetto (a 'water bus'), which on its way  across the lagoon passes by the Ponte San Biasio delle Catene.  

Vaporetto route from San Marco to the Lido [Venezia, Carta della Provincia, Litografia Artistica Cartografica]

Turner's sketch of the entrance to the Arsenale
 from across the Rio dell'Arsenale [Tate Gallery]

In the last (August 2015) post I discussed the Venice Arsenal - in particular the Old Arsenal, which dates from the 12th century.  In all probability millions of galleys were manufactured there over the following years and sent down the narrow passage of the Rio dell'Arsenale and thence into the lagoon.  This stone bridge, the Ponte San Biasio delle Catene, which marks the spot, is relatively modern - erected in 1936. It is close by the Museo Navale (see the map above).

You can view the entrance to the Arsenale Vecchio via the Italy Guides' website and compare it with this drawing in Turner's sketchbook from his first visit to Venice in 1819 - the bridge from which you take your view in the Italy Guides' wonderful rotatable scene is the bridge seen in Turner's faint sketch above.

L'imbarcadero seen on a hand-tinted postcard
You could, in the early twentieth century, have caught a tram at the imbarcadero (or approdo as written on the postcard) on the Lido, where the passengers alighted the steamboat from Venice. 

The tram network at the Lido operated between 1900 and 1940 to serve not only Venetians but the expanding tourist industry of that period.   

Detail from 1903 postcard [courtesy Luigi Boatto]
These electric trams were the descendants of the early horse-drawn trams that operated on the island.  I have to thank, once again, Luigi Boatto for sending me this (right) and other images for this post.

The electric trams themselves were replaced by a a trolleybus network in 1941. The trolleybuses conveyed tourists around the Lido until the disastrous floods of 1966 destroyed the infrastructure.

Grande Albergo Ausonia & Hungaria [© P.A.G. 1998]
Like the people leaving the steamboat in years past we strolled from the landing stage and made our way away inland from the shore of the lagoon.  We passed by the Grande Albergo Ausonia & Hungaria with its unique multi-coloured mosaic facadeBuilt in 1907 and given its position just a short distance from the beach, the hotel was popular with wealthy travellers from all over Europe
Grande Albergo Ausonia & Hungaria in earlier days [courtesy Luigi Boatto]

Closed during WW1, the hotel reopened in 1920.  In 1932 the first Venice International Venice Film Festival  took place at the Lido.

Palazzo della Mostra del Cinema [courtesy Luigi Boatto]

This image (above) from an undated old postcard shows the exhibition building; the overhead trolleybus wires indicate that he photo was taken prior to the 1966 floods - probably (judging from the clothes being worn) in the 1950s.

Still going strong - Il Palazzo della Mostra del Cinema in 1998   [© P.A.G. 1998]

1998 was the 55th year of the exhibition, and in the first fortnight of this September while I'm writing this post, the 72nd is in full swing - finishing on the 12th September.

A knees-up outside the Lido's Casino  [© P.A.G. 1998]

I thought it was about time I introduced you to my two companions, so I set up my camera on its tripod, started the timer, and we posed outside the Lido Casino, nowadays - eat your heart out 007 - closed.  The truth was, the Lido's days of fame and glory were slipping into history.  (But in 2008, a refurbishment of the whole of the Lido complex was announced, worth £75 million pounds in UK currency, and the building is now an art gallery.)

Now, tell me, what chance was there do you think of that lady's pushchair parasol covering all three of our faces in the field of view just as the shutter clicked?  If you take enough photos eventually... you hit the jackpot!

The Hotel Excelsior [© P.A.G. 1998]
However... our knees are still visible, so allow me to introduce the knees of my companions. On the left, under smart blue jeans, the knees of Dario Masiero; in the centre, below some stylish Italian shorts, the knees of Michele Berton; on the right, beneath a pair of faded old football shorts, the knees of P.A.G.

We decided to try for a photo again a little later, on the return leg.  

A little south down the seafront from the exhibition centre we came across the magnificent Hotel Excelsior. Currently, a night in this five-star hotel will cost you £241 - but the wifi is free! This makes the Grande Albergo Ausonia and Hungaria (4 stars) seem a snip at £146.  

The towers of the hotel are round the back, where there is access to private moorings for the boats of the film stars and the seriously rich.  Dario told me that there's a tunnel under the road where, after stepping off his boat, someone with such financial clout can gain access to the hotel.

I took two photos (below) from the street, to the right of a stone balustrade; the white-hulled boat to the left is seen more clearly in the second of the two photos.

Boats for the well-heeled members of society?  [© P.A.G. 1998]

You can also (photo below) glimpse the balustrade.  The area shown in the two pictures I took in 1998 is very private - no possibility of access by riff-raff such as Scottish academic in inappropriate mufti.  

No one here wearing old footie shorts...  [© P.A.G. 1998]

I wondered about tunnel that Dario mentioned from that day on, but it wasn't until last week (September 2015) that I saw literally the whole picture... 

The Excelsior in times past  [courtesy Luigi Boatto]

It was then that Luigi Boatto (thanks, Luigi!!) sent me this image - the old postcard above. You can see in this picture people standing on the exact spot from which my photos were taken in 1998.  

The Hotel Excelsior - another view [© P.A.G. 1998]
You can also see that underneath the stone balustrade there is a building next to the entrance to which stands a man -probably a hotel employee in uniform.  Compare this with my 1998 photos - the striped poles are still there, but in my images you can see that an extra landing stage has been added, with an awning leading to the front of the stone building - which suggests that the entrance is now there, rather than at the side. This is undoubtedly the gateway to the tunnel that runs under the road, allowing guests to step off their boat and walk directly to the hotel without having to rub shoulders with folk of lesser means.

The Excelsior first opened its doors in 1908.  The image on the right gives more details of one of the hotel's twin towers. The Excelsior was designed by the famous Venetian architect Giovanni Sardi, who saw his masterpiece completed in a mere 17 months.  Film stars such as Errol Flynn have stayed there; so have, in their lifetimes, the Duke of Windsor and  Winston Churchill.

Beach bathing at the Excelsior Palace Hotel [courtesy Luigi Boatto]
Of course, it helps to pull 'em in if you have your own private beach, which the Excelsior and many other hotels have. We would have loved to have had a paddle in the warm waters of the Adriatic, but the time had come for us to retrace our steps. 
Outside the exhibition centre for the Film Festival I tried for another photo of Dario  and Michele - but this time it was a hand-held shot as the timer had failed us so spectacularly at the previous attempt.

Michele and Dario join the stars [© P.A.G. 1998]

Dedicated to the Porters' Union?  [© P.A.G. 1998]

Inside the building there was an exhibition of art - lots of sculptures of figures straining under the weight of cones, cylinders, cubes, spheres... it was beyond my understanding as an academic working in the sciences.  I looked around to see if I could see an enlightened face... and failed.  

So I fled through to the back entrance of the building and snapped a photo of the Adriatic.

A last glimpse of the Adriatic  [© P.A.G. 1998]

At the sharp end on a trip around the lagoon [© P.A.G. 1998]
It was time to quit the Lido. Dario and Michele decided that it would be a good idea if we hired a boat to take us on a trip around the lagoon before we went to watch the start of the Regatta.  

So we did.  But more of that in the next post...

Note: This blog supports readers of The Door of Perarolo, a historical novel set in Cadore, Italy in the early nineteenth century.  You can examine feedback from readers in the UK here and in the US here.  The Door of Perarolo is a Kindle ebook comprising 140 chapters.  It can be downloaded from Amazon sites worldwide. The launch post of this blog gives further details.  The second post provides links to maps, etc.

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