Sunday, February 10, 2008

Je Parle Tres Mauvais en Francais

And I can't write it either.

Today I am running around with Nadi. He is cool.

He is also, I discover, the guy who manages the hostel computers. There must be a sign on my head: "Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to write software..."

Whatever. We have a quick breakfast and then head into Old Nice, otherwise known as Veille Ville. I warn him that I am absolutely going to annoying the bejesus out of him all day with taking pictures of everything. He says he will agree to be annoyed all day if I agree to speak French all day. Oh Brother. You don't know what you're in for Nadi, but it's a deal.

Veille Ville is every bit as charming as the French Riviera's reputation suggests:

Oh Fountains in Europe. American fountains generally suck, have you noticed?

My first French Candy Store. Sweet.

After wandering the old town for a bit, we hike up to the Chateau on the nearby hill. The Chateau is only moderately marvellieux but the views are magnificent.

The Seagull just flew into the frame...So Cool!!

While the Chateau itself is in fairly unimpressive ruins, lots of cool art has survived. Check it out:

Then, still more views, from the top of the Chateau and making the descent:

Them Riviera Folks do Love the Big Boats.

Also, pretty unfamous monuments are everywhere and, as with most of Europe, all monuments to anything are VERY LARGE. Yowza.

Incidentally, this is a Fax/Copy Store. Not bad, eh?

So, Nadi and I have lunch, it's fine but not amazing. I have French Onion Soup and Nadi has a mound of Steak Tartare as big as a football. Even he can't finish it and I'm not much help. But it is tasty. After lunch we find a Chocolatier/Salon de Thé.

Oh. My. God.

Y'all ready for this?


No Words.

Only Tea. And Coffee. And Chocolate. Oh Dear God YES Chocolate.

By the time we finish our afternoon teatime, twilight has begun. The already fairly tasteful Ferris Wheel seems downright chic as night begins to fall.

Goodnight Carnivals Everywhere.

After we head back to the hostel, I decide to stay longer in Nice and then go straight to Pau, rather than go to Marseille in between. I do the train research, extend my Villa reservations, email Andrea to tell her when my train arrives, do some more budgeting and general trip organization... all the while, about ten VERY drunk Australians play "I Never" right behind me. Ah, the life of a Hosteler. Time for bed.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

On the Road Again

Well, almost. While it was originally my plan to get gone early Friday morning (It's friday morning, oh good grief), I suddenly find myself with super secret Venetian gift missions which need to be accomplished. Which also gives me an excuse to mail my dead weight to Brendan rather than carrying it around for several weeks. So today, I have decided, will be a day of making tomorrow better. And if that means an extra day wandering the streets of Venice, well, it is difficult in the extreme but I shall selflessly bear the burden of it.

I go to the train station, I discuss scheduling options and I obtain the correct train reservations to use with my Eurail pass. Then, I shop. Oh The Horror. The Horror. Had I all the euros in everywhere I could spend half of them in an afternoon in Venice alone. Gifted and encumbered, I head to the post office. I am prepared for difficult negotiations. Right. I am inadequately prepared for the ACTUAL difficulty involved with using the Italian Postal System. There is a strange tendency for people to insist that you do not actually want what you have just told them that you do. Sigh. Ultimately I win. The Italians were fools to think they could convince me of anything. I am a Rock of Conviction and Insistence that things Go My Way. And Annoyance. Oh ye Gods the poor Italian Postal Workers. But it all turns out okay in the end. Hopefully my package will beat me home.

Brendan, may all other sound engineers give him their fancy microphones, has scanned my tax documents and sent them to me. So I do my taxes online from the hostel in Venice. E-filing=sweet. Direct Deposit=Very Sweet. Amount of my actual refund=Depressingly Small. Doesn't the IRS realize I AM TRAVELLING?!!! People I know really need me to buy them cool stuff. That they didn't ask for. Like a Tea Cosy covered in Cats! (Truly, I actually did buy that for someone while I was in Canterbury, They know who they are. But it's really VERY cute! I promise!) Alright, fine, perhaps having to budget properly is for the best. Whatever.

Having explored train options, I have another mission. Figure out where I am going. I had thought that heading straight from Venice to Andrea's house in Pau would work, but the Trenitalia people tell me the shortest trip there is to take the train all the way north to Paris and then transfer to another train which takes me to the very southernmost part of France. The Trip involves 3 transfers and takes a total of 19 hours 51 minutes. Retarded. So, I have made train reservations which allow me to spend about two hours in Milan, and then arrive in Nice around 8pm. The Nice Station is a common transfer station on the way to Pau, and as everyone learned from the musical The Boyfriend: "It's Nicer in Nice" and everyone should "Do the Riviera". Well, technically "The Riviera" referred to in the musical is a dance and not a place but my point stands. Nice calls and who am I to say No? So, now I know that I will spend tomorrow night in Nice... I just need to find a place to sleep. comes to my rescue: the Villa St. Exupery (awww, like Le Petit Prince, how cute), which is on the all the "Top Ten Hostels" Lists, has as a bed available. And Free Internet. For 16 Euro a night. Booya Indeed.

I book my bed at the Villa, get all my stuff packed for tomorrow and spend the next several hours hanging out with the hostel kids. We all drink gallons of Port with the Brazillians, (right after Natalia showed up, Venice Fish got a flood of Brazillians. Who woulda thunk.) We laugh it up, eating and drinking into the wee hours. Then we all crash. I sleep like an anvil but when my alarm goes off at 8am I am up in a flash. Gotta get on the road...Milan and Nice are calling! I shower, grab my things and say goodbye to Venice Fish. Then I have my very last cappuccino at
Antica Correfazione di Caffe. Sob. As I walk through Venice on the way to my train at Santa Lucia I get a few final pictures of Venice morning loveliness:

The Gondolier who does business in front of the Hostel.

Images of animals and people gracing the walls of old buildings.

A typical old building on the water in Venice.

Venice is truly breathtaking all day every day. I promise myself I will return.

I catch my train, and figure out my game plan for my two hour blitz of Milan on the way there. I arrive in Milan, check my bag at the station, get on yet another of the many fabulous metro systems of my journey and before I know it I am at the Duomo metro station. I discover that I have accidently arrived on the last day of MILANO'S Carnevale Celebration.

Billboard/TV next to the Metro tracks, advertising the festivities. Oh Man.

Then I get above ground:

So much for hitting the Duomo in the off-season. Jeez.

So I walk around the Duomo for a bit. The line to climb the stairs is 49 Kilometers long so that's out. But if you can ignore the millions of screaming children with cans of silly string, there's still a bunch of pretty things.

Ah Italian pidgeons. No statue is complete without them.

I also got to mosey about the Galleria. Pretty Spiff.

The Galleria. Home of Insane Designer Clothes.

I have a gelato in front of the Duomo and then head back to Milano Centrale to catch my train to Nice. I would like to take this opportunity to point out that the Milanese idea of a sensible building to house a major train station is bonkers.

Um, excuse me. You may not realize this but your train station has epic pillars of doom. Little weird. Thought you might want to know.

And then inside:

No wonder Milan rules the high fashion world. They think this is how you should check the time in a train station.

Anyway, I get on my train to Nice without much hoopla. I fall asleep and wake up just before Nice, utterly disoriented. On the list of odd things about "The Villa" where I'm supposed to stay in Nice: it says online to call them when you get off the train and they will pick you up from the tram station. Bit strange but whatever. I call the number and get a generic French answering service. Hmm. I'll try again in a bit. I hunt around for where I'm supposed to go next, can't figure it out, go back to the payphone and try again. The receptionist picks up. I explain my confusion about the next step of their directions. She's a bit stumped, cannot figure out how to explain what a tram is. I now know. I had never thought of the Muni as a tram, just a differently abled bus. I am strange. So it goes.

The Villa is a bit bizarre (some things are incredible, other things are surprisingly difficult. Using your key to open the door to your room, for example.) but the food is cheap and excellent. Dinner for less than 6 euros and a large selection of wines by the glass at 1 euro per glass. Tonight the main course is an enormous plate of chinese chicken and vegetable stir fry. Thank God because I am so starving right now. Over dinner I meet a cool French Nigerian guy. I don't know his name but he's gonna show me around Nice tomorrow. Which is Sunday. Yikes. I crash now.

Coming Soon: The Niceness overwhelms me...

Notes? Notes? What Notes?

Thursday, February 07, 2008

There Are No Words which Fully Express the Awesomeness of Today

I have explicit instructions from the endlessly magical Patricia about the most painless and expedient way to reach Burano and make my 10am appointment at the Museo di Merletto. I leave the hostel about 8:40 and head to the Fondamenta Nuove Dock to catch the 9:08 Vaporetto to Burano. A few mild panics later I am seated on the correct waterbus and Burano bound.

I arrive at the island and kill a few minutes observing the morning rituals of the local shop owners getting ready to open for business, and at 10am I peer into the window at the Museo di Merletto. The front door is opened almost immediately by a gentleman who asks (in Italian, of course) if he can help me. I introduce myself in broken italianglese and he immediately ushers me into the building. He is an andministrative employee who apparently doubles as a security guard for the charmingly small museum. It's clear very quickly that he speaks virtually no English, but introduces himself as Alberto and valiantly conveys the basic museum layout and policies using English and Italian. He guides me to a starting point in the first of the four rooms which comprise the museum's permanent collection and leaves me to roam.

The lace is absolutely, breathtakingly magnificent. Really. The quality and condition of every single piece displayed is staggering. STAGGERING. I cannot begin to express how amazing it feels standing in the presence of such a large amount of lace, which took so many master lacemakers so many millions of hours to create. But the most powerful impact of all comes from examining the condition of the pieces and understanding the intense amount of reverence and care that has gone into the handling and storing of these pieces over sometimes hundreds of years since their creation. No member of the Lacis family, all of whom have spent years helping American lace collectors restore and care for abused lace, could possibly fail to be profoundly moved by the radiantly pristine collection at the Museo di Merletto.

After the first half hour of salivating over complex pictoral scenes in needlelace, a smartly dressed woman arrives and I meet Dott.ssa Prendin, who speaks Italian, French and German fluently but almost no English. Thus, she speaks to me mostly in French because I understand it better than Italian, while I speak to her primarily in gestures, because I'm frequently more accurate in mime and sound effects than in English anyway. (Seriously, I so need to learn Italian, it is so totally super cool.) Dott.ssa Prendin is perfectly sweet and charming, though somewhat shellshocked by the degree of my enthusiasm for the collection (I'm sure no one who knows me can possibly imagine an Italian Lace Curator finding me overwhelming. Baffling.). She leafs through several out of print copies of books published by the museum and finds me several English descriptions of pieces in the collection. Sweet. I am officially in heaven.

The signs on the walls are very clear about the photography policy but i cannot resist snapping just a few. Flashless, basically none off them come out. Serves me right.

Alberto and Dott.ssa Prendin are knee deep in paperwork in the museum office when I realize that I've been there almost two hours and I really ought to get out of their way. I head over to thank them for their hospitality and Dott.ssa Prendin hands me a lovely lace book published by the Museo di Merletto and explains it is for the Lacis Museum Library. Oh will Jules be pleased, even if he somehow, magically, already has a copy in the collection. I ask if perhaps she might sign the copy for Jules. She is momentarily stumped and says her English is not good enough. I laugh. Sign it in Italian! She seems a bit bemused but signs the book (in Italian) to Jules Kliot and LMLT on behalf of Dott.ssa Chiapperino and the Musei Civici Veneziani. I thank her and Alberto profusely, carefully wrap the book up and pack it into my backpack, and make my way back out into the streets of Burano.

My Buranese Lace adventure complete I catch the waterbus back towards Venice, stopping at the island of Murano,where the insanely gorgeous glass comes from. Check out the exhibits in the street alone:

Sort like a classier version of the "Left my heart in SF" contest.

Even more impressive in person.

I wander about and peer into the window of one of the glass foundries. After a while one of the Glassworkers notices me, pulls me into the building and shows me where to stand to have the best view. I quietly stand and watch the glass artisans at work, not wanting to be a bother.

The glass guys totally flirt with me while they work. Tee Hee.

One amazingly deft master artisan introduces himself to me. His name is Gianni. Like the other Glassworkers, he speaks virtually no English but from time to time he will look over at me, smile, and raise his eyebrows, signalling that he is about to do something particularly fun-to-watch. Although I am attempting to be unobtrusive, within minutes my position near the door is discovered by other tourists milling about and soon about 9 or 10 of them are standing next to me, snapping photographs and talking over the roar of the fires. I am totally engrossed in deciphering the process I am witnessing. Several tourists arrive and leave again. Gianni speaks with none of them.

The supervisor who ushered me in comes back over and gives me a funny little glass flower made of scraps. It's very cute, if perhaps a bit wonky looking, but I'm the only one standing there who gets one and the other tourists look jealous.

It's good to be me.

After I have seen all the phases of the glass crafting which are visible from my vantage point, I catch Gianni's attention, hold up my camera and say " Gianni, Per Favore?". He smiles, eyes twinkling "Si...Rebecca" and totally hams up the next few minutes for me. My pictures do not do him or his work justice. I'd like to blame it on the light but it's probably me.

The Glass is putty in Gianni's Hands.

A glass artisan turning a similar vase as it heats up in the fire.

A buff glassworker rolls molten hot glass on a metal table. The collection of naked-girl posters on the wall of his station is pretty impressive too.

After I get all the shots I want, I wave goodbye and give a heartfelt " Gratzie" to the workers in earshot. Several of them, Gianni included, grin and call "Prego" back to me and I slip out the door.

Walking down the paths near the foundry, some finished examples of Glass Artisan Handiwork are on display:

I have watched them work for nearly an hour but I have no idea how they achieve this level of detail.

The glassworkers have perfectly captured Oliver's constant expression.

I spend the rest of the afternoon hopping all around Murano, checking out all the awesome glass shops and spending absolutely no money. Cough cough.

Then I hop on the waterbus and head back to my little hostel in the heart of Venezia.

Goodbye Isle of Glass.

I have a fluffy formaggio pastry with a cappucino for my midday snack and do not spend any more money at all. Ahem.

Then I head back to the hostel and leave again almost immediately for a very late, light, Italian lunch with hostelkids Fabian, Nick & Danee (Australian) and Natalia (Brazillian). I have an excellent pizza with mushrooms, prosciutto and mozzarella. Everyone else orders the lasagne. But my pizza is better. Ha.

During the meal Nick tries to teach me to use the timer on my camera. The concept of focusing continues to elude us, but whatever.

L to R: 3/4's of Natalia, me, Danee, Fabian and 1/3 of Nick

We all head wander about, killing time with gelato tasting, and wine shopping for dinner (the complimentary dinner at the hostel is always B.Y.O.B). Then it's back to the hostel and as there's very little nightlife (everyone is still recovering from Carnevale) we watch I Know Who Killed Me with dinner (Awful), and Juno with our after-dinner glasses of Port (Awesome). And then everyone retires to bed.

Coming soon: The Road is Callin' My Name...

Notes: ASL, The Cat and the Funeral, Gianni-Technique, Murano Politics etc.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Il Museo di Palazzo Mocenigo

Okay, as most of you know, I am on the Board of Directors for the Lacis Museum of Lace and Textiles in Berkeley. The President of the Board is Jules Kliot, who was my boss for the eight and a half years I was in the textile business, and is kind-of like my other dad at this point. At the last Board Meeting he gave me a copy of some correspondence he'd had with Paola Chiapperini (one of the directors of the Musei Civici Veneziani) with regard to their Lace and Textile Collection. He figured I was gonna be in Venice, I should go meet her and send my regards.

Well I am in Venice. Carnevale ended yesterday. I have a clear duty. Today, I will hit the Museo di Palazzo Mocenigo and try to give my regards to the infamous Chiapperini. I allow myself to sleep a bit (Hey, I'm recovering from Carnevale, okay?). I drag myself out of bed and get ready to make my daily pilgrimage to the Awesome Cappuccino Store (see previous posts). The view is so charming I have to take a picture.

View From the Window at Venice Fish.

Cappuccino fortified and armed with the results of my web search and a map of Venice, I make make my way toward the Palazzo Mocenigo. It's a pretty loopy path and takes awhile but everything is so fun to look at I am unbothered by the passing of time.

View from Bridge One of Four en route to the Museum.

There is something very fey about all these male statues. I confess it's pretty adorable.

Bridge Three of Four. So Cute!

At last I find the museum. I get in for a few euro and wander about happily. The booklet says: "The beautiful Palazzo Mocenigo was once the 18th Century home of the Mocenigo family, one of the most influential families of the Serenissima, who gave seven doges to the Republic. The Palazzo is now a museum with many displays of textiles, books and furniture as well as period clothing ". Oh it so does have all that and more. Embroidered 18th Century waistcoats that make you feel faint. Honestly.

They keep the place pretty dark (which is good, means the fancy textiles will last longer and all) and of course you're not allowed to use a flash, so most of my pictures are blurry as hell. I did get a fairly good shot of the sassy Venetian Point Lace.

40 to 70 hours to make about 1 square inch. That's Commitment.

The Book Store is at least as awesome as the exhibits. My Italian is terrifyingly limited but the woman running the bookstore today, Patricia, speaks impeccable English. I ask about Paola, Patricia says Paola's schedule is so busy that it's impossible to know where she'll be on any given day and she rarely has any time to meet with people. Oh well. I've written lengthy compliments into their guestbook and I now have her email, I'll drop her line and hopefully next time I can set something up in advance and actually get to meet with her.

Patricia asks how much longer I'll be in town. I confess that I had intended to leave tomorrow, but I may put it off a day so that I can see the Museo di Merletto, and I tell her my story about arriving Tuesday right after closing time. Her face falls. She is so sorry, she says, but, due to the worrisome state of the old building, the Museo di Merletto is closed for renovations until November. She tells me the decision to fix the building at last happened so suddenly that there probably isn't even a sign up yet. I'm so gonna cry. I've spent the last two days trying to convince myself that I could miss the Lace Museum this time. As soon as she say the words I realize what a silly thought that was. Burano is the mother of Needle Lace. Needle lace is THE lace. Who knows if I will ever make it to Venice again? Swallowing my disappointment, I ask about the House of Goldoni, also on my list. It also, apparently, frequently contains the elusive Chiapperini. I ask if Paola might be at Goldoni tomorrow. Patricia says hang on, picks up the phone and dials. She converses for about three minutes in Italian while I look at books. She covers the mouthpiece to tell me that Paola won't be able to see me tomorrow, but Paola says she will call the Security Guard for the Burano Museum and tell him to let me in at 10am tomorrow if I still want to go. Excuse Me? I think someone just offered to open a Museum just for me. This is how Michelle Pfeiffer must feel all the time. YES, YES, YES, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, YES! I would love to be at the Museo di Merletto at 10am tomorrow please tell Paola thank you, thank you, thank you! No problem, says Patricia. She tells me to be there at 10am and the security guard will have my name and be expecting me. I thank Patricia profusely, purchase the Mocenigo book and head out.

They are opening the museum for me...





Oh Man. This is so cool.

I dance my way back to the hostel.

I have dinner at Venice Fish with the remaining Kool Hostelkats and borrow Lindsey's computer to catch up on some online stuff for free. Nice. There's a Russian/French/Swiss mother and her eight year old daughter staying at the hostel (No really, They both speak three languages...Nuts). The daughter, whose name is Melanie, is so not done with Carnevale style partying. She speaks no English at all but after dinner she brute forces everyone in the house into Follow-The-Leader-Crazy-Dancin'-Melanie-Style. She won't hold still so every picture is blurred but I love them anyway.

Melanie-the-Priceless, owning the dance floor.

Exhausted from dancing and drinking, everyone goes to bed early. Good night!

Coming Soon: Lace Museum!

Notes: There are no notes today :)

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

I Can See Clearly Now

Oh Holy Mother of Someone. The rain has actually stopped for Mardi Gras. Sweet!!!!

My original plan for today was to find Chiapperino of the Museo Civici Veneziani today in my role as Board Member of the Lacis Museum of Lace and Textiles, but it is the last day of Carnevale and THE SUN IS OUT! I cannot possibly be expected to do the right thing under these circumstances.

I decide instead to spend the day with 3 hostel kids: Spencer (Australian), Jamie (American) and Lindsey (American). Our plan is to hang out and be groovy, catch a show at San Marco's and be back at Venice Fish (the hostel) for dinner.

As we head towards San Marco it's clear that I am not the only one the weather has affected.

Venice is ready to party!

Then we get to San Marco's:

Blue Skies smiling at me, nothing but...

Another wonderful side effect of the suddenly spectacular weather is all the spectacular costumes which descend on San Marco's Square. Against all probability, the vast majority of stunningly costumed people also have a flair for performance. I am so in heaven.

In the midst of all the wandering through amazing costumes I stumble upon the tiny-family-of-maskmakers' shop which Mary had insisted I would adore. Mary, as sometimes happens, is so very right.

I am so in love with this woman.

At this point we decide to catch a late lunch on the Rialto. We find an adorable restarant with tables available right on the water and decide to eat there even though it's a bit on the pricey side. It is the beginning of February and I am wearing a tank top as I eat to-die-for porcini pasta on the edge of the Rialto in Venice. Oh supreme spiffitude.

A Sunbeam, My Lunch and Jamie's Cleavage.

After lunch we mosey back in the direction of the hostel, stopping to watch part of a traditional Romanian dance performance at San Marco's. And we grab a we bit of chocolate for later.

Venice: All around pretty Artful.

Dinner is great, once again, and our cool partying band of Hostelers is getting bigger all the time. Mike and Eric are over for dinner again and they convince Alberto and Mimo (the guys who run the Hostel), to be our guides to the coolest last-night-of-carnevale party. While people are getting ready I cajole Mimo into finding me a sewing kit and I sneak some gathers into my train so it no longer hits the ground. Mike snaps a quick photo of me in my wild Carnevale getup.

I swear this didn't look Catwoman-ish at all in person. Huh.

Alberto leads about twenty of us to a small square near the Rialto, where there's a little stage blazing with colored lights and an obviously Italian band doing mostly 70's American Dance Music Covers. The band plays such formidable classics as Hot Stuff, Play that Funky Music, We are Family... the Italians are in heaven. After a little more than an hour of wild masked dancing and Prosecco, I'm getting a bit tired of the sleazy Italians following me around, so Mike and I head off to San Marco's to find the other half of the hostel crowd. We realize our foolishness the minute we arrive. Walking around San Marco's looking for people is a NON OPTION. The ginormous square is so packed with partyers that anything other than standing still looking at someone's back is a non option. We hang out for a bit, and I confess to Mike that I have not actually had real italian gelato yet. Mike rolls his eyes. These California girls. No priorites. (Mike is bartender from Florida). We spend the next hour wandering in and out of different parties in the hunt for late night gelato. We are finally successful and I dive into Cappucino and Creme Caramel gelato. Sigh. I love Italy. We meet back up with Jamie, Eric, Sean, Sasha and Ryan on the walk back to the square, dance less than an hour and collectively decide that we are too exhausted to stand up another minute. Thirty minutes later I am in bed. Hallelujah.

Coming soon: Desperately Seeking the Director of the Palazzo de Mocenigo

Notes: Mimo, Security Guards, Policemen...