Somewhere in Venice

If getting lost is the essential Venetian tourist experience, I nailed it today. Unfortunately, getting lost led to more frustration than charming off-the-beaten-tourist-path moments. After finally finding the Frari we listened to our tired feet and hopped a vaporetto headed to San Marco and got to at least see the glories of the Grand Canal. Even better, we got onto a Lido-bound vaporetto with seats in the front so we could catch the breeze as we watched the traffic in the Laguna. Back in Venice proper, this picture is one I noticed someone else taking and decided it was a good one. If I had to find the spot again, I might be able to do it, or I might not. I can see it’s going to take some time before I love the reality of this place as much as I’ve loved the idea of it.


Limonaia in Gargnano

This building, known as a limonaia, is an active relic of the technology used to grow lemon trees along the western shore of Lake Garda. Apparently the Franciscans began this work several centuries back, and it continued into the 19th century, when a variety of factors (depending upon which source you read) brought it to a close, leaving these prominent and distinctive structures to gradually deteriorate, or to be renovated and reused as houses (with lots of tall pillars in the gardens). An elaborate process of covering the front and sides of the structure with boards (and if necessary lighting fires inside) protected the citrus trees during cold spells in the winter. This industry supplied central Europe with citrus fruit for centuries. A more complete description is available at (this comes up in Italian, links to translate to German or English are at the upper left hand corner of the page.)


Fresco from the Sanctuary at Montecastello, Tignale, Italy

Yesterday’s 20 km walk from Sermerio to Gagnaro was a challenge for us, not least because the treads were coming off my boots and, despite mitigating efforts with the Trail First Aid Kit, I was feeling the blisters I had developed on the previous long hike. Part of the hike involved an hour-long “steep and vertiginous at times” climb of Monte Cas, high above Lake Garda. Since I can become very anxious on narrow ledges with long drops, I heeded their advice to shorten the walk by skipping that section, meeting up with Jim at the Sanctuary of Monte Castello (which I could reach by a shorter, steep hike through the woods on the side away from the lake). I spent a relaxing portion of an hour eating my lunch and exploring the sanctuary, which the tourist information says features frescoes from the School of Giotto (although nowhere in the signage at the sanctuary does it say this–perhaps because the lower part of the church is closed off and so only one of its frescoes may be seen from the gated entrance). This fresco, of the Virgin Mary being crowned by Jesus, occupies the prominent position behind the altar (and a wooden soasa, or pillared structure). The wall on which it is painted curves it at the top, so the photograph has a somewhat strange perspective at the top. I did not find this image in a quick search of Montecastello fresco images online, so I am posting it as the image for yesterday’s hike.


Lake Garda from Sentiero del Ponale

For today, a scenery picture. I could have continued the archaeological theme with an image of one of the fascinating bronze age stele in the museum at Riva del Garda, but it seemed like time to show the scenery. Because thunderstorms were predicted, we avoided the higher elevation Cima d’Oro hike in favor of the “gentle and exhilharating descent” from Lake Ledro along the Sentiero del Ponale to Riva del Garda, which sits at the northern end of the largest lake in Italy. We shared this route with quite a few mountain bikers, who had to exercise caution since an error in judgement could result in a spectacular fall hundreds of feet down to the lake.


Theatre Fragment

A Detail from one of the carved stones of the old Roman theatre in Verona. We saw several of these on the grounds of the ruins of the theatre (of which enough survives that they can mount classic plays during summertime). Temperatures were in the 90’s, so we faded faster than we would have liked, spent more time in the cool space inside the large churches, and deeply enjoyed the artisanal gelato that we found near the Ponte di Pietra.

Review of Schwarzenberg Schubertiade recital by Mark Padmore and Paul Lewis

Mark Padmore and Paul Lewis at Schwarzenberg, Austria

Sunday, June 17, 2012, Angelika-Kaufmann-Saal

I recently visited Schwarzenberg, Austria,  with a Martin Randall tour that combines a wealth of Schubertiade concerts and recitals with walks in the surrounding Bregenzerwald Alps.  The first Lieder recital we heard was Sunday night’s performance by tenor Mark Padmore and pianist Paul Lewis of some Beethoven songs, including An die ferne Geliebte, and Schubert’s Schwanengesang.  Our tour lecturer, Richard Wigmore, noted that the entire performance could perhaps be characterized by the title of the Beethoven song cycle, as so many of the Schwanengesang songs talk of separation (either physical or emotional) from the beloved.

In that light, it is possible to see the opening songs of Beethoven as setting up the “happy” time of the relationship, as “Mailied” celebrates the awakening of love in springtime,  and “Neue Liebe, Neues Leben” shows ambivalence about the inner change this brings to the poet.  This was followed by the spiritual musing of “Abendlied unterm gestirntem Himmel”, before the artists launched into An die ferne Geliebte, as a possible hint at the reason for the unexplained separation that is the subject of the song cycle.  I found these songs less pleasing in Padmore’s voice than, for instance, the Schubert Heine songs that came later in the program.  His vocal technique allowed for neither a heroic ring nor a smooth clear tone at the top, so the climaxes of the songs could sound a bit strained.  In An die ferne Geliebte, in which Beethoven was exploring a return to simple, folklike  melody as he began his final compositional period, much of the musical interest is actually in the piano, and Paul Lewis, who has had an extensive career as a solo pianist (including the complete Beethoven sonatas), gave that part the constant presence that it requires to tie the cycle together and give musical impetus and word painting to the heartfelt, but by no means brilliant, text.

Schwanengesang, performed without interruption (other than a break for applause between the Rellstab and Heine songs), formed the second half of the program, and here the two artists (who have recorded the piece to some acclaim) really shone.    I should first mention Paul Lewis’s magical handling of the water effects in “Liebesbotschaft” and of the fog in “Die Stadt” (to name only two places where I was willing to break my concentration to make notes).  There were some spots in “Aufenthalt” and “Der Atlas” where Padmore’s low notes didn’t quite cut through the piano, but he had powerfully ringing high notes in “Der Atlas” (proof that he doesn’t always need to cover them), as well as a magically transparent tone in “Am Meer”, creating the numb memory that led to a perfect ratcheting up of the drama on the final line “Vergiften mit ihren Tränen”, which is taken by scholars to be a metaphor between being poisoned by the girls tears and the onset of venereal disease.  I have heard the Heine songs taken in different orders; here the ordering was: “Der Atlas”, “Ihr Bild”, “Das Fischermädchen”, “Die Stadt”, “Am Meer”, and concluding with “Der Doppelgänger”, where again the drama was built beautifully through flawlessly smooth dynamic changes.  After a pause, Lewis broke the desolate mood of the previous piece with the gentle opening of “Die Taubenpost”, and Padmore, whose hand gestures through the recital had been stable but showed sign of tension, opened his hands to the audience as he asked us if we also understood “Sehnsucht”, as if coming back to himself following the storm of the Heine Lieder.  Paul Lewis maintained a constantly brooding presence throughout the recital and the bows between sections, lightening up a bit during the numerous enthusiastic curtain calls that followed the performance, no doubt providing much gratification to the performers, but failing to tempt them to follow this long, demanding sing with any encores.

Why I went to the [Maine] Woods, Where I Lived, and What I Did

My recent trip to the Northeast Corridor included some great theater, visits with family and friends, and a welcome dose of crisp fall weather with beautiful foliage. I’ve written about the theater but not about the adventure in which I stretched myself the most: my quest to visit the mountain where Henry David Thoreau first experienced nature as a superhuman, impersonal force. During the many years we lived in New England, I only caught sight of Mount Katahdin once, from a distance as we drove by on I-95 at the end of a trip to the maritime region of Canada.

My interest in Thoreau was revived on last year’s northeastern trip when I revisited Walden Pond one glorious autumn day.  I’ve read Robert Richardson’s excellent “intellectual biography” of Thoreau and given some thought to leading a discussion class on Walden, which may come about in January.  Jim was anticipating a busy workweek in Boston, and it seemed like a good opportunity to slip off and spend a few days in Maine. (more…)