Postcards from Italy

Apologies for both my Beirut allusion and my ten-day absence from this blog. I was writing my second conference paper of the month, and then I was in Venice, drinking Campari and soda.

I’ll probably never like Campari, even if I drink it while sitting in a Venetian campo watching little Italian boys kick a football against a centuries-old wall. But I liked the Campari-soaked olive that came in the glass, and I liked everything else about Venice, too. Except the fake-designer-purse vendor who shoved me aside while fleeing the police.

This was my second time in Venice; my first was the better part of a decade ago, in March 2008. During our spring break from Oxford, my friend Maud and I spent ten days touring Venice, Rome, and Florence, living on smoked mozzarella and hazelnut wafers from the grocery store. In the subsequent six years, I’d often describe our stay in Venice as two of the best days of my life. But after I arrived this time, I realized that I couldn’t remember what we’d done. I had a vague sense that we’d been to the Accademia and the museum of eighteenth-century art in the Ca’ Rezzonico, but when I visited them earlier this week, they didn’t feel at all familiar. Neither did the inside of the Doge’s Palace, or the Rococo jewelbox of the Gesuiti church, or the Titians and Tintorettos (Tintoretti?) at Madonna dell’Orto and Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari. When I really thought about it, I came up with only a few clear memories of those two days: buying matching bead necklaces in Murano, looking at a fashion magazine in the room of our bed-and-breakfast, eating chocolate-hazelnut gelato on a bridge at night. Memory is strange, and Venice is very good at playing tricks on it. You might say it’s a city of diffused effects, not discrete experiences. Or you might say that I’m not very observant. In any case, I was determined to remember more this time.

My conference was held in a palazzo in Cannaregio, the northernmost (and least touristy, not that that means anything in Venice) of the six sestieri or neighborhoods of the city. Yes, the British university that hosted the conference owns a palazzo in Venice, and yes, this was the view from the balcony:

Inside, there was a huge, beautiful mirror that I photographed on the second morning of the conference, when, true to form, I got lost on the way, showed up after the panels had started, and had the main room to myself:

The mirror is an appropriate symbol for Venice, because it’s a city that stares back at you. There are faces carved everywhere, tucked into niches and looming over façades. I lost count of the number of times I glanced up and met a pair of marble eyes. The eyes of this lady, for instance:

And this gatekeeper (saved on my computer as “doorbeardo.jpg”):

And the multitude of faces on this sixteenth-century ceiling in the Accademia:

This visit also rekindled my unhealthy love for needlessly ornate Baroque sculpture and architecture. Until the seventeenth century, Venice was a perfectly nice Gothic-Renaissance city with lots of Middle Eastern and Byzantine influences. The Ca’ d’Oro, built between 1428 and 1430, is one of the best examples of this quintessential Venetian look:

Then the seventeenth century happened, and Venice collectively decided that every structure needed a marble façade or gate or altar bristling with angels, crosses, and bronze sunbursts.

Looking through a window at a private courtyard in Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari.

“Seriously, why use one color of marble when we can use four?”

 Monument to Girolamo Cavazza in Madonna dell’Orto.

“Is it even a church unless it has at least three marble people balancing on the roof? Yeah, I didn’t think so either.”

 1709 façade of San Stae at dusk.

I never took an art history or architecture class in college, and Venice made me wish I’d had some kind of formal training. I need to find a reliable book on Baroque and Rococo architecture, at the very least.

Speaking of adornment, let me admit before we go further that I bought no makeup in Venice. I wanted to, but I didn’t see a lot of places that sold it. Every farmacia‘s beauty selection seemed limited to things like cellulite balm and plantar-wart cream. One evening we walked past a store advertising Diego Dalla Palma’s summer collection, but it was closed, and I never got the chance to go back. As a sad consolation prize, I did manage a photo:

But Marks and Spencer also carries DDP, and they’re a five-minute walk from where I’m staying in England, so I don’t feel too deprived. My went elsewhere, mainly to gelato.

This cone of glory, from a place called Gelateria il Doge in the Campo Santa Margherita, contains “nocciotella” (nocciola, or hazelnut, plus Nutella) and “crema del Doge,” an orange-creamsicle-custard flavor studded with candied orange peel and chocolate bits. Needless to say, I insisted on having gelato every day but one.

Another theme of my trip: dogs. I saw far more dogs in five days in Venice than I did in two and a half weeks in England. This shaggy creature was dozing on the piazza where we ate our gelato.

I even saw a man take his little dog into a restaurant bathroom, though I suspect that was an extreme example of Venetian canophilia.

Though I didn’t buy makeup, I did wear it. For my conference presentation, I even wore a red lipstick: NARS Velvet Matte Lip Pencil in Mysterious Red, my favorite matte blue-red forever and ever, or at least until the pencil gets sharpened into oblivion. I wasn’t even the only red-lipsticked woman at the conference; there was an Italian academic wearing a vibrant, glossy blood-orange shade. And yes, I picked up one of the ubiquitous lacy tourist scarves. I thought it gave my outfit a nice mid-seventeenth-century touch befitting the subject of my presentation. Please excuse awkward angle and hotel lighting.

I’m still hoping against hope that NARS makes Mysterious Red permanent, since their matte lip pencil range needs a blue-red that isn’t a white-based near-neon (Dragon Girl) or a dark berry (Cruella). I never allow myself to buy backups of makeup, but I do sort of wish I’d bought a second Mysterious Red last fall.

On my nails I wore my favorite polish of all time, OPI Eurso Euro. It’s a rich lapis blue that lasted four days without chipping, which is absolutely unheard-of for me. I’m impressed when a polish lasts two days on me, even with base- and topcoat; four is firmly in dark-magic territory.

After the conference, I revisited a look I’d played with in this post: NARS Lhasa and Habanera on my eyes, NARS Coeur Battant on my cheeks, and NYX Butter Gloss in Peach Cobbler on my lips. I thought the bright watery tones were perfect for a city of lagoons and stained glass. The earrings are from Anthropologie and, like the scarf, are part of my ongoing attempt to channel a van Dyck or Lely painting.

It was a wonderful trip, full of more beauty than the human mind could absorb or process. Luckily I had my robot mind, i.e. my iPhone, to help me out. We’re all cyborgs now, after all.

I should be back to a regular posting schedule this week–that is, as “regular” as my posting gets. It’s been a while since I’ve bought any new makeup, and I just got paid; see you when my consumer lust is satisfied. Ciao!

7 thoughts on “Postcards from Italy

  1. Ahh, so many happy things about this post! My memories of Italy: smelly night time gondola ride in Venice, my dad spluttering over the price of a coke for me (I was five, it was something like $10USD), me biting clean through said glass of coke (I was fine), me grabbing some random guy's hairy leg thinking it was my dad. Good times!Well done on your conference papers! And hurrah for fellow red-lipstick wearing academics.


  2. Ooh, I haven't tried it with Bad to the Bronze, but I should! I think the plum shade would look beautiful with bronze. And I love your Venice stories. There's certainly no shortage of hairy male legs in that city.


  3. I… You…*bangs down whiskey and soda* For Gods' sake, woman! Must you always post such ridiculously awesome posts? :-POk, so, honestly, there's way to much in this post that I want to respond to – if I make the full comment that's in my head, my comment may be longer than your post's text, and that seems rather self indulgent. Thus, I will restrict myself to the following: Eurso Euro is indeed epic, Italy is too awesome for words (although my visit to Venice was consumed by an epic blizzard and the Acqua Alta, so there you go ;-)) and I'm pretty sure after this post that I need Peach Cobbler lipgloss and some gelato…not necessarily in that order. 🙂


  4. Ahhhhh, so jealous of Venice and gelato and faces. I loved lazying through this post. Will have to return to peruse the pics more closely and study those marble faces.And I'm really happy you ran into a fellow dramatically lipped academic!


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