30 August 2014

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Outside Venice station, on the heavily trafficked stretch leading down to the Lista di Spagna, two super-equipped ciclo-tourists (northern European? American?) are gingerly pushing wizz-bang bikes, looking bewildered. Did they forget to factor in lack of roads?
  Venice was packed this week, and not only because the Film Festival was getting under way. I’ve noticed in other years that August can be quiet: people seem worried, somehow, that intense heat will make the city smell noxious, or tease out a Death In Venice miasma of bacteria. But word, evidently, has spread that this summer is an exceptional one of cool and unexpected rain – with the occasional very unseasonal acqua alta – and the obvious places were throbbing (the quieter places were thankfully quiet, as always). So it was wryly funny to pitch up at one of my favourite cafés, Da Bonifacio, one afternoon for a cake-eating date with C, only to find that it was chiuso per ferie (closed for holidays) until the end of August. Most of the year the local press rubs ashes into its head and wails about tourist numbers slipping; this summer has been particularly woe-laden, as rain drove off the towel-and-sunscreen masses from the Lido and kept weekenders at home. But tourists in town can’t be allowed to keep Venetians from their hols. You really have to wonder.
   The municipal gardeners – if such a thing exists – were vacationing elsewhere too, I reckon, because what little green there is in that oh-so-urban city was knee-high and oozing dog dirt. Shall I rant? I’ll restrain myself. Suffice it to say that in the (competently maintained) Biennale grounds, in the Arsenale and Giardini, I surveyed many exhibits with many aerial photos of many cities around the world. And I sought out any green lungs at all in these: often difficult, but never totally in vain. There’s always, everywhere, one patch of what from on high looks like immaculate green. But it’s always, frustratingly, a football pitch.
   0830GWe came late this year to the architecture Biennale (where we were overtaken by a scuttling Richard and Ruthie Rogers as we made our more musing way around the central pavilion in the Giardini). I enjoyed the exploration of the minutiae of construction – how ceilings have thickened to take the infrastructure hidden in them and windows have thinned out and bent and straightened; of a world of balconies and lifts and loos; and of the psychological insight provided by a wall loaded with door handles (why didn’t Wittgenstein forget thought and stick with design? how can Philippe Starke live with his own absurdity? how did RRogers feel when confronted by his own pedestrian offering? was it mere pretention on Rem Koolhaas’ part to leave a blank space beneath his own name or has he really never doodled a handle?)
   I had the feeling in many of the national pavilions that curators had been traumatised by Koolhaas’ regimentation, unable to break from within the bounds of didacticism and exposition to deal with his ‘absorbing modernity’ theme. But there was little clutter, and hardly any ‘look at me, they call me an architect but really I’m an artist’ silliness at all. And there was good didacticism as well, the fascinating type that draws you in and leaves you thinking.
   As L was there for the film festival, I felt I should see some movies too. So I did Birdman (dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu) and The President (dir. Mohsen Makhmalbaf). The former was good but could have been better: I would have blue-pencilled the obvious (did we really need the bird? We got the point from the start) and let the absurd talk for itself more. Still, it was entertaining and Michael Keaton was very good. The latter, when I emerged from the cinema at well after midnight, left me feeling dissatisfied: a long Russian fairy-tale shaggy dog of a film about corruption and (dis)interested love and power and many other things. But the more I thought, and think, about it (and I do keep thinking about it, which already says much) the more I think it may have some of the trappings of a great film. I’m glad I saw it anyway.

I returned after three days away to over a kilo of ripe ripe raspberries. It’s hard not having our big freezer (the new one gets here Monday): there’s no room in the small one we have been lent to keep the ice cream maker cold, otherwise those raspberries would have become sorbet very swiftly. But I’m filling the small freezer space we have with bags of berries. If the plants keep producing like this – and they are bowed to the ground under the weight of not-yet-ripe fruit – I’ll have enough to make jam. I’ve never done raspberry jam before: we generally consume them too quickly. (Another novelty, sorb apple jam, is dripping through the muslin bag as I write.)
   I returned, too, to a wasp invasion: behind every shutter, inside every door and window frame, huddles of wasps are jostling for position – not quite building nests as far as I can tell but clearly bent on making that particular spot their collective home. I open shutters gingerly now, with a big can of wasp-zapper in hand, ready to react before they blunder towards me, cantankerous. It is blundering, though: they’ve been few and far between all summer, and though they’re making up for lost time now, they’re doing so in a sleepy way as if already ready for winter lethargy.
   Lethargy is the opposite of what I’m aiming for now. It’s odd: usually the end of the CdP Palio signals a period of tomb-like silence in town, as people recover for the excitement and wonder what they’re going to do until Christmas. But this evening as I walked through the pedestrian area en route to a winebar rendezvous, my ears were caught between four competing PA systems: the youth beneath the big awning opposite the football pitch, the sounds pumping from the Café degli Artisti, the strobe-accompanied accelerated liscio sounds from the garden of the old-blokes’ bar and the disco beats being cranked up by a soi-disant DJ at the Caffè Marconi: all at top volume, all trying to drown each other out, all drawing crowds… and all making me pleased I was headed elsewhere. Though I have to admit, my feet were definitely inclined to dance as I hurried to my appointment. Had I had C there to embarrass, I would definitely have indulged; as it was, dancing with myself seemed a trifle sad.
   With some money in the bank after the sale of the Rome apartment, it’s time to get my act together and do long-put-off things here. If I can just slot that bit of life in between the garden jobs – mine and other people’s – that are looming over me, all will be fine. It promises to be a busy autumn.

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About Gardens, Food & Umbria

I am a garden designer, working throughout central Italy. I have lived in Italy for over 30 years – for many years in Rome but now in the wilds of Umbria where I have fixed up one wreck of a house, am working on another, and tinker endlessly with two and a half hectares of land, some of which is my garden.
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