Sunday, 31 January 2016

The Veneto - Community Christmas Traditions

Venice is the capital city of the Italian Region "The Veneto" which extends from the Adriatic Sea to the lower slopes of the Dolomite Mountains.  We enjoyed our 3 day stay with friends, the Feletto family, in Conegliano.  The Feast of Epiphany (the 12th day of Christmas) was still a couple of days ahead so many Christmas decorations and presentations were still on display.

Our introduction to the tradition of "Presepe" began in the parish church of "Maria di Fatima".  Individual churches, or indeed whole villages as we would soon see, prepare "nativity scenes" translating the story of Christ's birth into a local setting, or using unusual materials to make an imaginative scene.  There is intense competition between towns and parishes.

"Presepe" of the City of Conegliano (a scene of about 3 square metres)
Town folk go about their business, oblivious to the arrival of the Holy Family.
The Holy Family arrive at the coastal village like refugees on a raft
The miller works at his mill, grinding grain.
Il Molinetto della Croda
The Molinetto is a 17th century water mill which was used to grind corn until 1953 when it was abandoned.  The mill was purchased by the local Council and revived as a museum, complete with a working millstone.  It hosted a "presepe" which attracted many small scenes prepared very imaginatively  from a variety of materials.  It is built on bedrock beside a small stream in the Lierza valley, about 10km north-west of Conegliano.

The old corn mill beside the stream
Ears of corn used as Christmas decorations
The restored milling mechanism still grinds corn to produce corn flour.
Freshly ground corn flour

An imaginative and thought provoking nativity scene
A scene built within a lantern.

Scene built within a recessed frame

A typical farm house of this region with family living areas,
storage rooms and barns for the animals in winter.
Each window showed an aspect of rural life (next image)
Through the small window of the farmhouse.
Another rural scene

This nativity is set in a model of Il Molinetto itself.

On the next day we set off again for a drive through the hills to the north-west of Conegliano.  Despite the cold and the occasional light rain vignerons and farmers were pruning their vines.  Although some red varieties are grown, this area predominantly produces grapes for the local specialty of Prosecco wine which may be "tranquilo" (still) or "frizzante" (semi-sparkling; well known in Australia).  Nowadays the name "Prosecco" is often reserved for the wine itself and the grape from which it comes is called "Glera" but some lesser percentages of other varieties can be added.

About 15 km from Conegliano is the small farming town of Mura.  Its residents take the "presepe" competition seriously.  Away from the main road was the "presepe" trail which took us past dozens of scenes from many types of local materials.  Some folk have a great deal more artistic imagination and craft abilities than I have.

The main street of the small town of Mura in the Veneto, Italy.

If not for the electricity cables and TV antenna
 this could be a scene from centuries ago.

With icy winds and snow lying about, this hardly seemed
 to be a good place to try to grow what appeared
to be a banana plant.  The plant obviously agreed.
Hand knitted nativity scene.

Small figures set amongst the rocks in the garden.

The figures have been placed inside this hollow in the
tree trunk.  (see next image for a closer look)

Figures in a bucket

Figures in a wicker basket.
Now that's what I call a real wooden star

Street side nativity (see below for detail)

Amongst the wine flasks and barrels at the wine press.

Nestled against the large curved pumpkin.

A lot of dedicated effort went into preparing for these two ornaments - but I'm sure it was enjoyable.  The modern metal caps frequently used these days for wine bottles wouldn't have quite the same effect.

From Mura we went on to the small town of Cambai for lunch, but that is outside of the theme of this Blog page.

As we had been driving around the country side we had seen many stacks of trees, waste wood and old building timbers.  These were for another tradition with ancient roots.  In centuries past it was a celebration on January 5th to mark the Winter Solstice after which the days would begin to lengthen.  Traditionally an effigy of an old woman was burned on the fire - once the old woman (representing the year) had gone the new year could come in.  Now it is a community activity celebrated with a bonfire.  Food (and not just bread or special festive loaves) is eaten and wine drunk as people watch the flames from the bonfire light up the sky.  Traditionally the direction of the smoke and embers predicted how well the next season's crops would fare.

Watching the bonfire

His first "sparkler"

Judy some of the Feletto family watching the fire.
Lorella, Egidia and Ludovico and children.

Friday, 29 January 2016

Venice - Back to Sea Level

South to Venice
After a few days "at altitude" in the mountains of Switzerland and Austria it was time to travel through the Brenner Pass and down to Venice on the Adriatic.  Venice has many associated titles and nicknames.  Perhaps the best known are  "La Serenissima", "Queen of the Adriatic", "City of Masks", "City of Bridges", "The Floating City", and "City of Canals".  Some are exotic, others sound so dull, obvious and common place.  I especially like the title used for centuries by the Republic of Venice: "La Serenissima" or "The Most Serene Republic of Venice".  "Serene"?  Really?  Venice's rich history seems, at times, anything but serene.  This was our 3rd visit and I still find Venice fascinating, amazing, surprising and even serene, especially at night on the Grand Canal.
Piazza San Marco and the Doge's Palace
One remark, attributed to Napoleon, called it "the drawing room of Europe".  The magnificent Basilica San Marco sits at one end, facing into the square bounded on 3 sides by graceful buildings of white marble above protected arcades.  Although its component buildings were built over several centuries and are in different styles it is wonderfully harmonious.
The arcaded buildings on the right side (northern) of the Basilica

The Campanile.  Built 1537-46, rebuilt after its collapse in 1902.
Seaward face of the Doge's Palace.
Decorative features of the Palace stonework.
The capital (head) of each column tells a story
Two large granite columns dominate the seaward entrance into the
 Piazzetta which leads into the much larger Piazza.  They carry the 2
symbols of Venice - a statue of St Theodore and the winged lion
which is the more well-known symbol which represents St Mark
Many of the decorative figures around the column's base are badly eroded
The Campanile, columns and Doge's Palace at the entrance of the Piazzetta
seen from the Basin where the Grand Canal opens out into the main lagoon.

Ponte dei Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs) leads from
the judicial areas of the Doge's Palace to the
grim cells, many of which are below water level
Out and about .......

A section of the fa├žade of the Chiesa Santa Maria
Zobenigo with quite unusual decoration for a church.
The Barbaro family endowed a church but ensured that it reflected the glory and
achievements of a remarkable family that included successful generals, admirals, judges,
diplomats, ambassadors, authors, scholars, senior churchmen and high government officials.
The Venetian equivalent of the local car repair shop.  Gondolas
are brought in for a bit of repair work and a paint job.
The romantic gondolas are for tourists or special occasions.  The
"vaporetto" or "water bus" is the mainstay of public transport in Venice.
Our local city council maintains a fleet of cars for
official use; in Venice it's a fleet of motor launches.
Brightly painted houses along a small canal on the island of Burano
about a half hour ferry ride from the main islands of Venice.
 Venice by night ....

The famous Rialto Bridge was almost hidden behind scaffolding and
advertising material.  From the bridge you could not even see the canal.
Diners brave the cold weather to eat "al fresco".
Was there ever a more beautiful City Hall than this?  Ca' Farsetti was
built in the 13th century by the heirs of Doge Enrico Dandolo who
died in 1205 during the 4th Crusade and is buried in the upper
gallery of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople (Istanbul)
The famous Basilica Maria della Salute on the Grand Canal
Basilica San Marco, New Year's Night.  On the previous night the Piazza
had been full of thousands of people welcoming in the New Year.
Venice by day ....

A cold morning in the piazza. There are only a few
tourists and, amazingly, even fewer pigeons.

From the cold of the Piazza we went upstairs to the Correr Museum.  The building at the far end of the piazza (as seen from the Basilica San Marco) was the last to built.  Napoleon commissioned it in 1810 to serve as palace and administrative centre for the Vice-regent.  It later became yet another of the Habsburg palaces after Venice came under Austrian control.  The building eventually came under state control and was used to house the important collection of works bequeathed to the city in 1830 by Teodoro Correr.  The collection has been expanded by later donations and now it exhibits a wonderful collection of artworks, clothing, jewellery, decorative weapons, important documents and various artefacts.
Part of the elegant coffee shop in the Correr Museum

The opulent ballroom with it's musicians' gallery (below)

The "weekly lunch room" of the Austrian Empress Sisi

The Doge's Palace ....
The title "Doge" is a Venetian dialect word related to the Latin "Dux" or "leader".  He was the ruler of the Republic of Venice - the ecclesiastical leader, military leader and chief magistrate.  He held the position for life and (officially, at least) no member of his family could be associated with the position.  For over 1050 years from 726 until the end of the republic there were 120 Doges, elected by a complex process intended to stop the rigging of elections. 
New regulations for the elections of the doge introduced in 1268 remained in force until the end of the republic in 1797. Their object was to minimize as far as possible the influence of individual great families, and this was effected by a complex elective machinery. Thirty members of the Great Council, chosen by lot, were reduced by lot to nine; the nine chose forty and the forty were reduced by lot to twelve, who chose twenty-five. The twenty-five were reduced by lot to nine and the nine elected forty-five. Then the forty-five were once more reduced by lot to eleven, and the eleven finally chose the forty-one who actually elected the doge.  None could be elected but by at least twenty-five votes out of forty-one, nine votes out of eleven or twelve, or seven votes out of nine electors.  A detailed description of this process, and the ceremonial procession that followed, is preserved in Martin Da Canale's work Les Estoires de Venise (English translation by Laura K. Morreale, Padua 2009).
The Doge's palace is an elegant building adjacent to the Basilica San Marco.  It was a home, palace, council chamber and courtroom.  At various times sections were destroyed by fire and rebuilt. The grand public rooms and entrances were elaborately decorated to impress visitors with Venice's wealth and power.
This statue of the Tetrarchy was probably looted from Constantinople
as the heel missing from one was found in Istanbul.  This represents
the 4-fold division of power when the Roman Empire was split into
Eastern and Western halves.  The two bearded figures represent the
"Augusti" (senior emperor) and the others represent the "Caesars"
 (younger emperor).  They now stand beside the Porta della Carta.

The inner courtyard, well heads and (at rear) the giant staircase.
The Giants' Staircase (1484).  This is the last of the original
four such staircase leading to offices along the colonnades.  The
giant figure on the left is Mercury (the god of trade), the other is
Neptune (the god of the sea).  These symbolise Venice's source of
wealth - aggressive trade supported by sea power.  Impressive!

The "Scala d'Oro"  - The Golden Staircase by which high
ranking visitors were led to the upper floors of the palace.
  The ceiling is gilded stucco, completed in 1559.

The Hall of the Great Council.  Destroyed by fire in 1577
but rebuilt to its original state between 1578 and 1594.

The hall of the Senate

Keeping Venice clean ....
Garbage/rubbish collection is more complex than just driving a collection truck past the houses as is done at home.  A high proportion of the city's population live in multi-story dwellings on narrow lanes.  They leave their small bags of garbage outside the doors where they are collected by runners who carry then to  push carts which are then pushed to collection points on the sides of the canals.  The carts are emptied into large containers.  The collection barges come to the collection points and hoist lifts the containers which are emptied into the barge for removal and disposal.  Now you know (or maybe you never even wondered).

Removing the city's garbage.

 Next Blog - travelling around the Veneto Region, north of Venice.
Paul & Judy
January, 2016