Quote of the week
Venice once was dear,
The pleasant place of all festivity,
The revel of the earth,
the masque of Italy.’
– Lord Byron.
A few more memories from Venice. So many famous people have travelled, and written, about the city. One of the most famous romantics, Lord Byron, stayed three years in Venice between 1816 and 1819. He had to leave England that year, due to various scandals around his person. The summer of 1816 saw Byron at Villa Diodati at lake Geneva, together with his friends Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Claire Clairmont, and John Polidori. 1816 has been called “The Year Without Summer” in Europe. The weather was affected by the eruption of Mount Tabora in Dutch West Indies (present-day Indonesia) in April 1815. It led to dark and rainy conditions. This talented group of people entertained themselves with a writing competition. Who could write the most frightening story of all time? Out of it came two novels, John Polidori’s The Vampire, and above all, Mary Shelley’s famous Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus. One of the classics in literature.
In search of Lord Byron
In November 1816, Lord Byron arrived in Venice and rented the Mocenigo Palace on the Grand Canal. He lived there with 14 servants, 2 monkeys, a fox and two mastiff dogs. In the old days people were not travelling ‘light’. To visit the palace was a must, and I was happy to see that it was open to the public. When we entered the palace we asked in the shop if this is where Byron lived. She said no it is not. We were rather confused, since the same information came from several sources. I thought I heard the lady say “Casa Nova” and thought there might be a newer building next door. Martin, who is fluent in Italian, heard that “he was a Casanova”. Well, I guess this is true as well, and a very suitable nickname in Venice.
For the time being we settled with what we had. The Mocenigo palazzo is from from the beginning of the 17th century, and built in gothic style. It was the residence of the Mocenigo family, who was one of the most important families in the city and had several members who were Doges of Venice. That is always a sign of great importance. It was given to the city of Venice by the last descendant in 1945, and today houses the museum of textiles and fabrics. It is a beautiful palazzo, and, I imagine, quite a typical one. It has great salons decorated with frescoes, paintings and other artefacts. Well worth a visit.
Somewhat later we realised that there are two Mocenigo Palaces; the Casa Vecchia and the Casa Nova. We had been to the old one. We were really eager to see how Byron had lived so, a day later, we headed towards the other house. I think we spent two hours trying to find the way to the house. In and out of small alleys which ended nowhere. It is a grand palace situated on the other side of the canal from the old one. Asking around, nobody knew where the palace was; it did not even help asking google map. The alleys were just too small. Finally, we did find the house, at the end of a small alley, and it turned out to be a private palace. So much for wasting two hours, and missing lunch. We could just look at the wonderful roof terrace where we could imagine Lord Byron lying lazily among the sofas, sipping a glass of wine, or champagne, entertaining his guests, and getting inspired to write. It seems he did finish Child Harold’s Pilgrimage here and started on Don Juan.
Byron has left his mark in many places in Venice, but the most well-known might be the bridge that is connecting the Doge’s palace to the prison cells. It got its name in the 17th century, when prisoners passed through the covered bridge on their way to the cells. Their last opportunity to see the beautiful sight of the lagoon. Obviously, it was done with a big sigh. It was only in the 19th century that its name became more commonly used, after Lord Byron’s referens in his Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage:
“I stood in Venice, on the Bridge of Sighs;
A palace and a prison on each hand;
I saw from out the wave of her structure’s rise,
As from the stroke of the enchanter’s wand:
A thousand years their cloudy wings expand,
Around me, and a dying Glory smiles
O’er the far times when many a subject land
Look’d to the winged Lion’s marble pines,
Where Venice sate in the state, throned on her hundred isles.’
The truth is, as always, less dramatic and more down to earth. By the time the bridge was built there were not many prisoners held in the palace. It is more beautiful to look at it from the outside than from the inside, which might be the whole idea.
Musings this week
We have had a couple of days with music here in Innsbruck. One evening we visited the Landestheater for the opera Boris Godunov by Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky. I have never seen, or heard, it before. It was very dramatic and powerful, highlighting the events and life of Boris Godunov (1552-1605) and the dramatic times in Russian history that has been called the Time of Troubles. Fantastic singing, and stage decor.
I had a little bit of troubles myself during the performance. Someone around me had emptied half a bottle of after shave, or something similar, on himself. It smelled so strongly, I could hardly breathe. First I thought it was the man in front of me. But, when Martin moved right, where there were two empty seats, the man and woman behind us changed places, so the man was sitting behind me again. It was not as bad as before, but still. In the second act we moved one seat further right and the couple went back to their original seats. I could breathe again.
The next day we attended the symphony orchestra under direction of Fabio Biondi They gave a performance called “Mozart in Milano”. Mozart used to go there and play. It contained not only Mozart, but a few other Italian composers, which were new to me: Sammartini, Monza, Scaccia and Brioschi. The music was beautiful. The concert hall is situated in the newly built House of Music in Innsbruck. The setting was fantastic, with a huge window behind the orchestra, where a big tree was lit up, and with the Hofburg (the Castle) in the background. Spectacular. This is probably as close as we get to the Aurelia borealis in the middle of Europe.
We were sitting in the middle of a row, and funny enough most seats around us were empty. Like if a big group had not come. At least we didn’t have to worry about strong after shave, I said to Martin. In the second act, surprisingly, we ended up three rows closer to the stage. Obviously, I had mistaken the seats in the first act. Now we were surrounded by people everywhere. Luckily, non who had emptied their perfume bottles this evening.
Ja vi har väl sätts på ”Little library” då. Bor också i Limhamn. Vad heter du?
Var bor ni permanent?