Monthly Archives: September 2013

Venice, Through the Eyes and Words of Venetian Francesco da Mosto

If you are thinking about visiting Venice, or just curious, I highly recommend watching the BBC’s four-part documentary Francesco’s Venice. The series, presented by Venetian-born Francesco da Mosto, provides a fascinating, historical overview of Venice. The da Mosto family ties to Venice go back to the 5th century, when they were wine-makers. Francesco da Mosto, an architect, historian, author, sailor and film-maker, is passionate about his home city. He paints an enthralling portrait of it as only an insider can.

Venice, Through the Eyes and Words of Franceso da Mosta

The segments, titled “Blood,” “Beauty,” “Sex,” and “Death,” chronologically cover the key events, players, architecture and artworks that shaped Venice. In “Blood” we learn of Venice’s beginnings. In “Death” we are told about the effects of today’s tourism industry on the city.

Da Mosto also brings in personal references. At one point, he takes us inside Cà’ da Mosto, a palazzo dating from the 13th century. It was in his family for several hundred years and the birthplace of Alvise Cadamosto, a merchant explorer. In 1456, Cadamosto was one of the first Europeans to land on what are known today as the Cape Verde Islands.

Originally broadcast by the BBC in 2004, the series is currently available on DVD. Riveted by the documentary’s imagery and dialogue, I watched the first three segments back-to-back late one evening, finishing up with the 4th the next morning.

Should you be thinking of setting down roots in Venice, perhaps a home such as Palazzo Cà’ da Mosto could be yours. While it’s in need of extensive restoration, consider it the price for the beautiful views you could wake up to each day.

Ca da Mosto

Photos via (site no longer active)

Venice, Through the Eyes and Words of…

Venice can readily be experienced from afar through the eyes and words of others; through incredible paintings, stunning photographs, entertaining films, classical and contemporary literature. This past spring, I experienced the vibrant, mysterious mood of Venice first hand.

Venice Aleksandra Ekster 1924

Venice Венеция,1924. Aleksandra Ekste (1882-1949)

It was a splurge trip, kept short to compensate. With just under 48 hours to spend in the city, my itinerary included strolling about the Piazza San Marco, taking in the Palazzo Ducale, Palazzo Fortuny, seeing the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, and a visit to the Luigi Bevilacqua textile house. Venice Grand Canal

Within minutes of stepping off the Vaporetto, in search of my hotel, map in hand, I became lost. I knew that I had to take a left turn, it’s just that I was looking for a narrow street not a crevice.

I stayed at the Hotel Al Reali, choosing the hotel based on its location and positive reviews.  It’s only a few minutes walk (not including extra time allotted to taking wrong turns) from both the Rialto Bridge and Piazza San Marco.

The reviews reflected reality. My room, service and dinner at the hotel restaurant were top-notch. Architectural details of the 17th century palazzo are found throughout the small hotel. My room, was well-appointed, comfortable and spacious. Plus, it overlooked a canal. During a few minutes of downtime, I visited the cosy ground-floor library, perusing books about Venice’s history, architecture, art and artists. Venice Door and GondalierAfter checking in, I headed over to Piazza San Marco (along with a throng of other tourists making their way through the narrow, twisty lane ways). Over the centuries, many artists have painted scenes of the picturesque and historically significant square. The artworks enable us to step back into the Venice of yesterday. If you swap the Venetians seen in Gentile Bellini and Canaletto’s paintings below with modern-day global tourists, you could be looking at scenes from today.


Procession in St. Mark’s Square, 1496. Gentile Bellini (1429-1507)

Canaletto Piazza San Marco

St. Mark’s and the Clock Tower, Venice, c. 1735-1737. Canaletto (1697-1768)

Gentile Bellini  and Canaletto were both Venetian and both from families of prominent artists. Both were prolific artists of their times. Unfortunately, in 1577, a fire destroyed much of Bellini’s work. Canaletto’s actual name was Giovanni Antonio Canal. He became known as “little canal” to differentiate his artwork from that of his father. While Bellini was best known as a portraitist, many of Canaletto’s works depicted daily life in Venice. Wealthy British, many on their “Grand Tour,” snapped up Canaletto’s paintings almost as soon as the paint was dry.

Across the front of Basilica di San Marco are a series of domed alcoves. Each features brilliant gold and coloured mosaics. The one shown in the photo below, dating from 1660, is of the arrival of St. Mark’s remains in Venice.Venice Piazza San Marco Mosaics

Much of the ornamentation seen on the exterior of the Basilica di San Marco was acquired through invasions.

Gladiator Sculptures and Lion Bas-beliefVenice Basilica Roof LIne DomeThe bottom left photo is of the 4th century Roman porphyry sculpture called “Portrait of the Four Tetrarchs.”  The sculpture was likely looted from Constantinople in 1204 during the 4th Crusade. Tetrachs and Gate

Did you notice the white-coloured foot? A section of the original sculpture is missing. Archaeologists came across the missing foot in Istanbul during the 1960’s, giving substantiation to the looting theory. It’s now part of the Istanbul Archeology Museum’s collection.


The entryway, called Porta di Fiori, in the photo above is on the north-side of the Basilica. The Moorish architectural influences add a beautiful rhythm to the building. The nativity scene above the door is 13th century.

The four bronze horses shown in Sickert’s 1901 painting were sacked from Constantinople during the 4th Crusade. Some scholars believe they’re of 4th century Greek origin. Others, based on the high copper content of the statues, say they are Roman. Napoleon whisked them off to France in 1797 after invading Venice. They were later returned to Venice. However, what you see now on the basilica’s exterior are replicas. To protect the ancient bronzes from the elements, they are safely displayed inside. Venice Bronze Horses

A few dozen oohs and ahhs later, it was time to find a spot for dinner. Quite hungry, I opted for the convenience of the first available table that I came across. Surprisingly, given Venice’s reputation for high prices and poor service, my meal was affordable (at least relative to Swiss standards) and the service and food quality were reasonably good.

On day 2, I decided to visit the current art exhibition “Manet, Return to Venice” at the Palazzo Ducale instead of touring the palace buildings. Manet’s Grand Canal of Venice was one of the masterpieces on display.

Manet Grand Canal

The Grand Canal of Venice (Blue Venice), 1875. Edouard Manet (1832-1883)


Grand Canal in Venice, 1908. Claude Monet

Two other paintings of the grand canal (sadly not on display in Venice), Monet’s above and Turner’s, at the end of the post, are among my favourites. The soft blurring of colour and light in the paintings elegantly capture the grand beauty of the city.

After viewing the not-too-crowded Manet exhibit, I ate lunch on the terrace of a canal-side café. I enjoyed watching the gondolas glide by as I dined on house-made gnocchi served with fresh spring peas and a delicate white wine cream sauce. Watching the impressive manoeuvres required to lift a large refrigerator out of a boat across the canal had me wondering how if many deliveries land in the water and whether there is a retrieval service.

I spent the afternoon enjoying the contemporary artworks on display that The Peggy Guggenheim Collection. The collection is located in the low palazzo seen in the photo of Grand Canal below. You can read about my visit and Peggy Guggenheim’s connection to Venice here and here. Venice Grand Canal and Orthodox Church

My evening meal the hotel’s Alle Corrone restaurant was excellent. The restaurant offers seasonal Venetian cuisine.

Dinner was briefly interrupted by the sounds loud clanging at the canal-side door as hotel staff worked quickly to slide a metal barrier in place to guard against the rapidly rising water level in the canal. By the time dinner was over, the square leading to the the hotel was under about four inches of water. This is the acqua alta, or high water effect. The night manager said the water would continue to rise for a least another hour, partially due to the full moon. Venice High Water and Door Panel

Day 3 arrived all too quickly. I spent the morning at the Rialto Market. The liveliness and colours of the market warmed the chilly, rainy day.

Across the canal from the market is Ca’ D’Oro.  The palace’s lace-like loggia panels are reminiscent of the Alhambra’s Moorish architecture.

Ca D'Oro

William Merritt Chase painted Ca’ D’Oro in 1913. His painting is titled “Venice.”

Ca’ D’Oro, or Palazzo Santa Sofia, onstructed between 1428 and 1430, is now an art museum. Built for the Contarini family, one of the founding families of the Venetian Republic, the Venetian Gothic façade was once covered in gold leaf, thus the origin of the d’oro reference.

The world’s “most beautiful city” had humble beginnings as a series of scattered fishing settlements. In the 6th century AD, the area was a haven for Italian refugees, gradually expanding to become a major trading centre for exotic spices, sumptuous silks, precious jewels and metals from the East and South.

By the early 1500’s Venice’s craft guilds were known for their high-quality silks, beautiful brocades and velvet, exquisite gold work, glass work, including eye glasses, and armour. Wealthy Venetian merchant families built grand palaces and sponsored talented artists.

With Columbus’ arrival in the new world and Portugal’s discovery of a new ship route to India via Africa’s Cape Horn, Venice’s trade monopoly with the East ended, sliding the city into an economic decline. By the late 17th century, tourism became an important source of revenue for the Venetians,  with wealthy young men travelling to Venice while on their Grand Tour of Europe.

Today, some argue that the current level of  tourism, at 60,000 visitors per day, is harmful to the city, creating high environmental and social costs.


Before leaving Venice, I did venture into a tiny Bevilacqua shop, a treasure chest of exquisite silk upholstery textiles. Touring the Palazzo Fortuny is still on my wish list. As I learned all too late, it’s only open during special exhibitions.


Venice. William Turner (1775-1851)

Visiting Venice wasn’t on my bucket list. I’m glad I went. Mysterious, vibrant, proud and beautifully captured in the following poem by Anna Akhmatova (1889 – 1966).


Gold dovecote by waters,
Tender and dazzlingly green;
A salt-breeze sweeps away
The gondola’s narrow wake.

Such sensitive, strange eyes in the streets,
The bright toys in the shops:
A lion with a book, on a lace pillow,
A lion with a book, on a marble pillar.

As in an ancient, faded canvas,
The sky is a cool, dull blue…
But one’s not crushed in the crowd,
Nor stifled in this damp heat.

To further experience Venice through the eyes and words of others…

  • Photography books: Venice: City of Art, Serenissima: Venice in Winter, Francesco’s Venice: The Dramatic History of the World’s Most Beautiful City
  • Films shot in Venice: The Italian Job (2003), Bread & Tulips, (2000), Death in Venice (1971)
  • Some literature set in Venice: The Merchant of Venice, Death in Venice, Vaporetto 13, plus a lot more – this blog has an extensive list and provides reviews written by the blog author, Jeff Cotton.

Camargue Red Rice with Fennel Tomato Confit and Grilled Dorade Royale

Camargue France Flaminigos Bull White Horses Salt

Photos: Flamingos by Enric Perich, Black Bull by Michael Osmenda, Horses in the Wild by efilpera, Salins du Midi by Giovanni Tabbò

A protected region since 1927, the Camargue, in Southern France, is known for pink flamingos, black bulls, wild white horses, along with fleur de sel and many varieties of rice, including white, black, red, round, long and short.

In celebration of the start of the rice harvest, marked by a Rice Feria in Arles this weekend, I put together a Camargue inspired harvest main course for you. On the menu is Red Rice with a Fennel and Tomato Confit and Grilled Dorade Royale.

I tracked Camargue wild red rice down locally in Switzerland at Globus.  You can also order it online through a number of sellers. Or, substitute black wild rice, just adjust the rice to stock ratio and cooking time according to the rice producer’s directions.

Dorade Royale is a flavourful, meaty-white fish found primarily found in the Mediterranean Sea. Perfect for cooking whole (watch for bones when eating). If you want to know more about this, and other varieties of fish, perhaps check out this great blog that I came across, Better Know a Fish. It’s written by Ben Young Landis, who notes he “is a science communicator by day, amateur cook by night, and fish geek 24/7.”

Camargue Red Rice with Fennel Tomato Confit and Grilled Dorade Royale

Camargue Red Rice with Fennel Tomato Confit and Grilled Dorade Royale

Red Rice with Fennel Tomato Confit

Adapted from a this recipe on the Riz de Camargue website. Camargue red rice should be cooked just until done, the rice grains will be slightly chewy and not fully split open. The rice has a pleasant nutty flavour.

100 g  ( 1 cup) Camargue red rice
150 g ( 1 1/4 cup) fennel (about 1 small bulb), cut in small dice
1 shallot, finely diced
65 ml (1/4 cup) olive oil
50 cl (2 cups) vegetable stock
1 bouquet garni (thyme, parsley, bay leaf and basil)
150 g ( 1 1/2 cups)
tomato (about 2 medium-sized), cut in small dice
25 g (a bit less than 1/4 cup) pine nuts, lightly toasted
10 black Nyons olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
10 ml (2 teaspoons) fennel seed
leur de sel and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Few sprigs of fresh flat-leaf parsley, minced

In a heavy-bottomed medium sauce pan, sauté the diced shallot in 15 ml (1 tablespoon) olive oil until translucent; add red rice and sauté for 1 minute, then add the bouquet garni, pour in the hot vegetable stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cover and cook for 50 minutes; don’t stir the rice, do check it occasionally near the end of the cooking time.  There should be no liquid left after cooking. Remove and discard the bouquet garni.

About 25 minutes before the rice has finished cooking, heat the remaining 50 ml (3 tablespoons) of olive oil in a frying pan, add the diced fennel and cook over low heat for 20 minutes. Add the diced tomatoes, chopped black olives, pine nuts and fennel seeds, heat until just warmed through.

To serve, place rice is a serving dish or on individual plates, top with fennel and tomato mixture, season with fleur de sel and freshly ground pepper. Garnish with minced fresh parsley.

Serves 2   Preparation time:  15 minutes   Total time:  1 hour 10 minutes

Dorade Royale (aka Daurade, Sea Bream and Sea Bass, plus a lot more)

I’m a fan of keeping it simple when it comes to fresh fish, allowing its flavour to take the stage.

2 each 250 gm (1/2 lb) whole fresh sea bream, scaled and gutted
Fleur de sel and freshly ground pepper, to taste
15 ml (1 tablespoon) olive oil
Slices of fresh lemon, to garnish and season

Sprigs of fresh rosemary

Heat up your grill or barbecue to medium-high (I check the temperature by holding my hand, palm down about 2 inches above the grate, if I can hold it there for 3 seconds before it gets too hot, then the grill is ready). Season the inside and outside of the fish with the fleur de sel and freshly ground pepper. Drizzle on the olive oil. Grill the fish for about 3 – 4 minutes per side until the flesh is opaque.

Serve the cooked fish whole with slices of lemon and a sprig of fresh rosemary.

Note: I used a lightly-oiled stainless perforated grill sheet when cooking the fish. If you place your fish directly on the grate, lightly brush some oil on the grate first.

Serves 2   Preparation time:  15 minutes Total time:  25 minutes