Saturday, 22 October 2016

Letter from Venice (18) 22-10-16

The posters tell me the Quartetto di Venezia are to play two of Beethoven’s Rasumovsky quartets in the classy surroundings of the Cini Foundation on the island of San Giorgio, opposite San Marco. They are sold out online but it says that returns may be available an hour before the concert at the box office. I walk down to San Zaccaria to get the 15.49, number 2 across to the island. I also walk straight into a demonstration. On my way down I noticed gondoliers wrapped in Venetian flags and now, on the broad Riva degli Schiavoni, I encounter a full scale protest around the triumphant equestrian statue of Vittorio Emmanuele II who was the first King of unified Italy. The protesters wave large blue or burgundy flags bearing the golden lion of Venice. High on the bridge towards San Marco a larger flag is being waved amongst the tourist hordes. I stop one of the demonstrators to ask him what it was about and a history lesson begins with me always conscious of my need to be on that boat. Over his arm he has a number of t-shirts with the word ‘VENEXIT’ printed on it and he is delighted when he learns I am English because of our BREXIT. The proud independence of La Serenissima Repubblica, he explains, lasted eleven hundred years until 1797 when Napoleon rolled into town, later rolling out and leaving Venice to the Austrians who then fought for it at the time of Italian Unification. A plebiscite was held on this day, the 22nd October, in 1866 whereby the people of the Veneto voted to join the new greater Italy but these guys insist the vote was rigged and, now, want to re-establish the region as an independent state. He refers, gesturing at the statue, to the ‘merdoso’ Vittorio Emmanuele and proudly tells me this demo is illegal. I notice that the female figure of Italy at Vittorio’s feet now clutches a Venetian flag. I thank him and, to the sound of bullish chanting, withdraw towards the boat pier where I discover I have missed my boat.

Arriving on San Giorgio I am directed to the back of the island behind the church. At the box office my name is put around number 8 on a waiting list and I mooch around hopefully until 10 minutes before the start of the concert. Names are read out and some don’t respond, and then my name is read out and I am delighted to get a ticket. We walk through a hall and then a courtyard to enter the very modern concert hall – Teatro Lo Squero. It is set in an old brick building with a wooden pitched roof. There are about two hundred chairs and a raised dais at the front. Behind this is a wall of glass which extends a little way up the side walls. Framed in the window is the lagoon and the Giardini Pubblichi on the other side. A passenger liner, attached to two tugs, draws across the window. It is MSC Magnifica on board which my family and I had been six months ago. I sit next to a friendly elderly couple who come from Trento. He wears an orange tie.

The Quartet make their entrance. They are middle-aged men in ties and dark suits and take their place against the wonderful backdrop. The music is ravishing. They begin at 5pm against a blue sky and end, with the stage lights on, against an indigo sky and lights all along the Giardini Pubblichi. Afterwards the whole of the concert hall seems to crowd onto one number 2 boat. When I alight at San Marco - San Zaccaria the wing of the Venetian lion at the base of the nationalist monument is still draped in the Venetian flag.

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