Walking back to our apartment – canal, then an alley, then space. That’s the progression of a walk in Venice.
Venice can can get overwhelming: the sun, the crowds, the art, the beauty…how much of stuff like this scene above can you take? Sometimes you just have to flee the city.
Fortunately, The Lagoon beckons. Within it, are several islands: Murano for the glass manufacturers; the cemetery; Burano, a small island community of brightly painted houses; and Torcello, about a thirty-minute boat ride a way. It’s a rather forlorn, marshy place, and practically no one lives there any longer, but it was the place where the people of the Veneto first sought refuge from the Hun invaders. It grew into a city, but poor resource management led to the silting of their lagoon, bringing mosquitos and malaria, and bad fishing. They up and left for what became the city of Venice. The citizens of the new city, practical to the core, looted Torcello for its stone, we would say recycled, so only a few buildings remain.
Not quite the Grand Canal of Venice, but at the end of the walk, there is a nice surprise.
I am not talking about Cipriani’s, the tony restaurant outpost of the ‘famous’ Harry’s Bar that is right down the path from Santa Maria Assunta, but the mosaics inside that church, seen in the left of the photo below. The structure on the right is the Fosca Basilica, and it is quite plain inside.
The counter-façade of Santa Maria, i.e. the wall inside of the main facade, is covered with a Byzantine-style mosaic of The Last Judgment that is incredible. (The photos are not mine.) The one below shows the final trumpet raising some of the dead, including a few that met their ends in the jaws of large fish.
The dead do not have it easy in these scenes of judgment.
Better make sure that you are on the right side of the scale used to weigh souls!
It took a while, but I finally made it back to Venice, La Serenissima, my favorite city. This picture of San Marco was taken before the place was truly mobbed in the afternoon.
The view from the living room window of our apartment is quite peaceful. It’s in a 17th century palace, seeminly on another planet from the tourist hubs of the city. Well, everyone wants to see the same things, and who can blame them?
The small plaza, or campo, outside the palace is adorned with this nose piece from a shell that lodged in the wall when the uprisings of 1848 were being put down. At that time, before Italy was a unified and independent country, this territory was ruled by the Austrian Empire. The inscription below the shell piece is a quotation from Gabrielle D’Annunzio, the proto-fascist adventurer-poet, denouncing the odious barbarians, the Austrians. He later engaged in a famous venture to ‘liberate’ another small city from the barbarians after WWI, an inspiration to Mussolini for his March on Rome.
Seaweed glistening in the sun, thick and green, a sign of health. The canal waters seem cleaner than I remember from my last visit.
I see a lot of this sort of architectural gimcrackery around my neighborhood. It’s all EPS, expanded polystyrene foam. The illustration below isn’t all that different from sales materials of 19th century Victorian gingerbread builders, but they used factory-cut wooden ornament. (Sometimes wood posed as structural stone.)
I am especially taken with quoins; I have always liked them, the massive, protectors of the corners of buildings.
Adolf Loos knew it all, and denounced it with his characteristic verve in this essay from Ver Sacrum (1898), Potemkin Village. He was attacking the new Ringstrasse of Vienna, with its neo (pseudo) baroque splendor.
Yes, literally nail on! For these Renaissance and Baroque palaces are not actually made out of the material of which they seem. Some pretend that they are made of stone, like the Roman and Tuscan palaces; others of stucco, like the buildings of the Viennese Baroque. But they are neither. Their ornamental details, their corbels, festoons, cartouches, and denticulation, are nailed-on poured cement. Of course, this technique too, which comes into use for the first time in this century, is perfectly legitimate. But it does not do to use it with forms whose origin is intimately bound up with a specific material simply because no technical difficulties stand in the way. It would have been the artist’s task to find a new formal language for new materials. Everything else is imitation.
Another downtown favorite, just around the block from the Corbin Building. This is the Keuffel & Esser Building, built for the firm of K & E, maker of pens, drafting supplies, and slide-rules (Anyone ever use one of those? Before my time!) Now completely obscured by scaffolding, but soon to be revealed in all its glory.
This is the NYC Landmarks Commission report.
I had noticed this building pre-9/11, and wondered about it. It was black with soot, but there was something of interest there. It is The Corbin Building, by Francis Kimball, considered one of New York City’s first skyscrapers, although it is only eight stories high! Now the exterior has been lovingly restored as part of the rebuilding, and improvement, of the hideous Fulton Street subway stop. (Many a wretched hour I have spent at that stop, trekking futilely from hall, to stair, to platform, in search of the proper train. So far, I have seen a vast improvement.)
The restored building will include the pyramidal towers seen in this old photo, which have been missing for decades. The restoration brings to light the beautiful tones of the cleaned stone, which contrast with the ornate, Moorish terracotta designs, and the Victorian cast-iron relief of the bay windows.
It’s been there for four years, but yesterday was the first time I’d seen it: the Wisteria Room, created by Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer. According to the info plaques, wisteria flowers are associated with welcoming. The room was created for a French engineer, a connoisseur of art nouveau. The lighting in the installation is not this bright, and it is difficult to get a sense of the wonderful color of the murals. Fantastic, nevertheless!
For a critical judgment of The Fountainhead (1949), I bow to the courtly derision of Bosley Crowther’s review from that year:
…a more curious lot of high-priced twaddle we haven’t seen for a long, long time.
With little to go on in the way of drama, he [Vidor] has worked for his emotional effects with clever cutting, heavy musical backing and having his actors speak and behave in solemn style.
I watched this film on the suggestion of Ducky’s Here who made this comment on my post regarding my abandoned attempt to read Atlas Shrugged. I agree; it’s a must-see. There’s nothing like it, and since Ayn Rand was directly involved in creating and approving this film treatment, it sheds yet more light, if any is needed, on the essential kookiness of her ideas.
At the core of the story is a tale of sexual dominance and submission. In the scene above, Dominique tells Roark that she will not, cannot be subdued. He, the Male Principle, replies that it depends on the strength of the adversary. She’s doomed, and she knows it. Nothing can keep her from going to his apartment, where he calmly awaits her submission. But she cannot endure her slavery to passion, so she ‘escapes’ by marrying a man she doesn’t love, and whom she regards as corrupt.
Roark is supposed to be the noble man of ideas, suffering the derision of the Mob. He wanders, solitary, like a samurai, following his code, not caring about his enemies. His arch detractor, Toohey (rhymes with phooey) accosts him, and tries to engage him dialogue, just for the satisfaction of it, but Roark doesn’t even give him the time of day.
Toohey is an evil, hypocritical, power-hungry, ‘collectivist’ who despises people, loves humanity, and spares no means in pursuit of his ends. In short, a socialist, and a sort of comic Stalin-in-waiting figure. How amusing that the picture on the wall in his office here is a portrait of John Locke. Rand getting cute with the production team, no doubt.
This scene also gets at the essential absurdity of this film and its story. Toohey convinces a hack architect, a former classmate of Roark’s, to try to design a big project. The hack can’t do it, and he begs Roark to design it for him, “just like you did in school.” So, this habit of academic and professional fraud is natural to Mr. Roark, the honorable egoist? And when his design is changed, he blows up the buildings, careless of property (John Locke would vomit) and human safety. He gets off after an amazing speech to the jury in which he regurgitates Rand’s cockeyed philosophy. (The speech is amazing for its length – Rand must have insisted on it. The delivery is wooden.)
We may also wonder why, if “the masses” are so stupid, which is the point of much of Roark’s speech (they always denounce the geniuses who bring them gifts), why do they acquit him? Apparently they can think?
The fountainhead refers to the spirit of the individual from which flows all human good. Roark’s is polluted with plagiarism from his schoolboy days. And maybe I’m asking too much from a Hollywood flick, but why is Roark’s trashy work seen as so avant garde, when by 1949, the International Modern Style was the favorite of corporate tycoons everywhere?
I am a civil engineer, so I cannot help but be thrilled at the sight of the Calatrava PATH terminal taking shape (the elliptical foundation in the middle of the photo) beneath my window at World Trade Center site – it will be amazing! And the memorial park itself is pretty nice too – I visited it for the first time last week.
Of course, the base of the Freedom Tower looks disturbingly like Godzilla’s foot stamping on Bambi, but no matter. They’ll fancy it up…a bit.
In the end, as I gaze down at the massive construction site, with more people and money moving in and out of it than some entire countries no doubt, I wonder about that PATH building: let’s forget the money-losing tower for now. What is it for? Penn Station handles more than seven times the number of passengers, and this terminal will do nothing to increase capacity. It will simply look fantastic. Is it worth $3.5 billion, and counting? That would buy a lot of nitty-gritty upgrades for the cars and tracks that actually move people around the city.
I have to conclude that it’s a colossal waste of money, what used to be known in architectural circles as a ‘folly’. All those bridge and train tolls gonna rise…$3.5 billion and counting. We will pay for the megalomania of the PA NYNJ directors. From the Wiki article:
A large transit station was not part of the 2003 Memory Foundations master plan for the site by Daniel Libeskind, which called for a smaller station along the lines of the original subterranean station that existed beneath the World Trade Center. Libeskind’s design called for the space to be left open, forming a “Wedge of Light” so that sun rays around the autumnal equinox would hit the World Trade Center footprints each September.
In early 2004, the Port Authority, which owns the land, modified the Libeskind plan to include a world-class transportation station downtown that was intended to rival Penn Station and Grand Central Terminal.
For a little perspective, consider that Grand Central, completed in 1913 for $80 million, $1.9 billion today, has 44 platforms, on two levels, and 67 tracks. It was built with private money, and marked a tremendous advance in the design of complicated rail terminals, besides being a Beaux Arts monument. The PATH terminal will have, uh…four tracks?
If I go back to using the PATH, I will go from Hoboken, left and center, to NYC, at the right, in the photos below.