The latest interruption to afflict this blog has been brought about by my attendance at the Venice Art Biennale (see under Venice under Perambulations). I had to go. It’s an institution. There is nothing quite like a bit of art to take your mind off things, particularly when it is located in Venice, a place at this time of year when the sun never seems to set. Co-incidentally York Art Gallery, where there’s been an exhibition which included sketches by Turner and Ruskin of Venice, I was reminded (if one needs a reminder) that Venice is portrayed as an historic loci of artistic sensibility – and maybe that sense is still there, if you can get away from the disgorged denizens of gargantuan cruise ships that is, and of course those dreadful watercolours street traders sell. I suppose they do sell, since there are so many sellers.
Despite the fact that I took my sketchbook I found myself curiously uninterested in the subject. It’s been done to death, and apart from forays into the cool of churches, where suitable statuary offered itself as subject matter, I was content just to gaze and soak in the ancient, crumbling brick and stone, avoiding at all times the Rialto Bridge and San Marco. But perhaps it’s in these places that I’m missing something – here is the new subject matter, the ever flowing multitude of humanity, self-obsessing in its ever self-reflecting lense.
Anyway, enough of that! I escaped to Florence, where the cruise ships don’t sail. Or so I thought. Happily I soon accidentally found myself in an Irish (sic) bar where the TV screens were filled with a game of Florentine football. The game was preceded by a parade through the town of a long column of medievally dressed chaps in pantaloons and various regalia (and some women in great finery). I wondered if it was a saint’s day or something, but it was just part of the build up to the game, held in a nearby square. The game itself made rugby look like croquet, a virtually no-holds barred bare knuckled fist fight, combined with all-in wrestling, kicking and general male flouncing fought between splendidly, biceptually well endowed aggrovistes (a new word I’ve just invented for the occasion). Having spent a good part of my afternoon in the Uffizi Gallery, contemplating the medieval, here was a live show of untamed animal medieval behaviour. Fairly gripping stuff, all the more so since it appeared to be genuine. Ambulance crews were there in force. What men will do for possession of a bleedin’ football. I wonder if English folk who like a bit of blood sports might not take this up as an alternative to fox hunting?
Speaking of which, I have by and large enjoyed the continental European experience of not giving a flying f**k about the hunt for a new Tory PM. We want to be peripheral – so we are peripheral! In one easy step, we have conquered Europe! By leaving it! Yippee! No more Jacques Delores! He still runs Europe doesn’t he? Seriously - do we not suppose that there is nothing more important to the continental Europeans than what mighty England is up to? Barnier and Co. can come on all nonchalant about not re-opening the Brexit negotiations, but we know better, and that’s because we basically created the E.U. in the first place. France can have as many republics as it likes, but half of them have come and gone since Her Maj has been on the throne.* As for Germany, when was the last time you bought a bottle of vino from there? BMW might brand some of its cars the ‘Mini’ but who designed the original Mini? Eh? Assigioni, that’s who, a Brit through and through. Seriously, how I’d love to see Farago used as the ball in a Florentine football match.
*This is not quite literally true, but almost.
In Florence you can buy a decent bottle of wine for less than five Euros. A combination of that and a surfeit of ornately decorated churches evokes an idea what the Renaissance was all about. These were two observances – wine and church – which ordinary people could indulge in. There must have been a lot of ‘spirit is willing, body is weak’ about in those days. Given what we now know the Catholic Church got up to, and priests got away with until very recently, one can imagine the divine spaces here in Florence filled with quotidian drunken, licentious behaviour under the gaze of the beatific saints and the Virgin Mary herself. As Mephistopheles said (Marlowe version): ‘Why this is Hell, nor am I out of it.’ Now I wonder if Florence hasn’t got too many churches – like Venice perhaps – and some of them will be silently crumbling as their Masses disintegrate into entropic unbeing. Their cloisters now lead to gift shops and cafes where wishes can be fulfilled in real time.