I liked this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale. In fact, I thought it was wonderful. This could, possibly, be something to do with the fact that the curator, David Chipperfield, is my number one favourite architect at the moment: what he did at the Neues Museum in Berlin was masterful. But I think it’s also something to do with the relief of finding a show which is full of ideas which are grounded, rather than concepts which are… well, wildly self-indulgent – the usual Biennale fare.
And it could, of course, be flavoured by the fact that we had a hard, hard partying three days – huge fun to emerge from our rural backwood for that.
Chipperfield’s theme – Common Ground – was taken to heart and worked around, seriously, in all its various declensions. In the Arsenale bit especially, but in the national pavilions too. We were terribly efficient about the former, dutifully going round the lot. I loved Zaha Hadid’s exploration of her interaction with engineers, the stark, rusted steel desert houses of Rick Joy, the truly inspirational wooden slat tower by O’Donnell & Tuomey… so much to mull over.
We were slightly less diligent about the national pavilions in the Giardini, not because we didn’t want to do the lot but because time became so very tight. The US pavilion, with its Spontaneous Interventions, filled me with delight and hope – not all the 124 examples of bottom-up initiatives grabbed me but a fair number of them were inspiring… simple things like hanging red swings in unlikely places or putting “I wish this was” stickers for people to express their needs and desires on empty shop fronts. Or the San Francisco Garden registry where anyone with a vegetable patch can post news of over-abundant harvests on the ‘surplus alert’ ticker – exactly like I want to do here in CdP.
On Monday evening, after our patient plod around the Arsenale, crowds were so thick at the Guggenheim collection that we fled quite speedily – after the obligatory glass of bubbly and a quick whizz around the Charles Seliger exhibition (he will never be my favourite artist). But I must say I like the Guggenheim garden, with its intimate feel given by those high brick walls.
After a brief stop-over at an exhibition space somewhere deep in Cannaregio – where architect Alain Moatti had clearly already been celebrating for a long time when he talked us in rather confused, giggly fashion through his plans for the makeover of the first landing stage of the Tour Eiffel – we rushed back to San Pietro in Castello for a noisy, convivial dinner at the long table on the terrace of the newest addition to Ilaria and Giorgio Miani’s rental empire. That’s where we were staying. Stunning position. I love the villagey feel of San Pietro.
On Tuesday, we moved down-market, decor-wise – to the old-aunt’s-furniture-filled apartment on the Lido where L is spending the festival, sharing with a clutch of reviewing buddies. Overtones of student days. But the parties shifted up a gear.
What we managed to squeeze out of the day – between lengthy breakfast, moving house, retrieving vital items left behind in San Pietro and so forth – was dedicated to the Giardini section of the Biennale, plus a hard-hat visit to the Gritti Palace, a hotel I have devoted so much negative copy to in the past (frayed, gloomy, resting on its very famous laurels) but which is now undergoing a complete renovation. On Tuesday, it was no more than a massive, super-dusty building site. I love building sites.
Then we rushed back to the Lido to change, for the fantastically smart party and dinner which loomed later. No hairdryer of course in this spartan flat. Nothing to do about my bird’s nest of restless-waves-in-the-wrong-place. I tried not to think about it. Same tactic for my feet where, bravely, I donned what I call high heels. Most normal people would call them pathetic stumps. To me, who never wears anything un-flat, they are towering. And out I tottered.
At Palazzo Corner Spinelli, the Rubelli family were hosting a party for the Giò Ponti exhibition there. It wasn’t new Giò Ponti. Is anything? Iconic bits and pieces that we’ve seen before. All very nice. Far more exciting were the great swatches of Rubelli’s splendid fabrics, hanging around the walls to be stroked and coveted. I wanted almost all of them.
At which point we were far too late to hop across to San Giorgio Maggiore to the opening of the Carlo Scarpa show at the Fondazione Cini’s new glass gallery, so we made – me feeling ankle-sore and increasingly unstable – for the Danieli roof terrace and the Variety party instead. Good call. Many friendly faces, much catching up. The Bond theme music was far too loud, but the mood was buoyant.
And so on to dinner and the serious business of the evening – business so very serious that I had even dusted off my heels for it. Along we tottered (well, I tottered – L seemed to be bearing up quite well) to the appointed jetty by San Marco to be ferried across to the waiting yacht. I staggered off the launch and made for the steps up to the deck. “Eh, no signora, prego, le scarpe.” My shoes? What about my shoes? All around, piles of abandoned footwear. And climbing the steps, a procession of bare-foot people. A vintage yacht. Teak floorboards. No shoes, of course. Why hadn’t I thought? Why had I bothered?
On board, film stars and directors, designers and socialites, perfectly coiffed (oh dear, my lack of hairdryer…) but disarmingly shoe-less. It’s a great leveller. And makes thing somehow almost conspiratorial and oddly homely – a lovely ice-breaking feeling of being all in it together.
Sipping champagne, moored off the Punta della Dogana with San Marco and the whole lagoon laid out for your private pleasure, crowds of slebs (most of whom I failed to recognise). Not, all things considered, bad.
So coming home to the mouse in the pantry was a brusque awakening. There has been rustling in there for days, but I was busily pretending it was … er, a breeze? No. Finally last night I put some rat poison down. The rustling has now subsided. Which is good, I suppose. But now I know that somewhere there’s a dead mouse lying in ambush. Usually I am barefoot and glasses-less in the house, living in a gentle haze. But the thought of finding my foot resting on a putrefying mouse is less than pleasant. So I’m properly shod and keeping everything in sharp focus.
Which also allows me to watch the rain clouds which have deposited (just a little) more rain on our parched property. More on the way, they say.