Baby-less mini-break in bellissimo Veneto

Venice gondola

For my birthday in late November Andrea and I escaped for two days and a night to the Veneto region. It was my first night ever away from Peanut and I have to admit it was perfectly divine. Turns out I am not one of those parents who have trouble disconnecting when away from their baby. 

We spent the first day in Venice at the international contemporary art blitz that is the Biennale, getting in just under the wire to catch one of the last days of its five-month run. 

We took it easy and restricted ourselves to the pavilions of the Giardini, forgoing the vast Arsenale complex.

We got super lucky with the weather; it was a gorgeous, crisp and sunny autumn day. Overall, this year’s show didn’t blow my socks off, but there was enough variety to keep it interesting and fun.

I agree with most critics that the stand-out piece was Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla’s Track and Field.

I love Laura Cumming’s description of it in the Observer:

A Centurion tank flounders on the lawns of the Giardini, massively overturned, its undercarriage exposed like a giant cockroach beneath the blue Venetian sky. The gun barrel, laid flat, looks no more lethal than a limp proboscis. But as you gingerly approach, the whole machine abruptly starts up into motion, propelled by a runner on a treadmill harnessed to the tracks. Deafening, violent, shocking even in its impotence…

I’m afraid I was rather disappointed by Canada’s contribution this year.

Maybe I should’ve read Sara Angel’s effusive preview in Maclean’s (“Canada is about to rock Venice”) to put me in the right frame of mind to appreciate it. Instead I approached it blank and was decidedly underwhelmed by Shearer’s exhibit. Inside, the only work I liked was The Fauves from 2008-09 (i.e. not made for Venice).

I was excited to see they were selling cloth bags with Shearer’s “poem mural” from the pavilion’s entrance printed on them, until I read the poem. My desire to show off and support CanArt was outweighed by my unwillingness to sport a bag featuring the words “…fucked and quartered erection…" Maybe that makes me a prude. But the in-your-face crudeness also struck me as rather unoriginal.

I was far more amused by Christoph Schlingensief’s mischievious grafitti on the facade of the German pavilion next door:

Another piece I liked a lot was Angel Soldier by Lee Yong Baek, the artist chosen to represent Korea. What at first blush looks like flowery wallpaper is actually a soldier in unconventional camouflage:

When we left the show, it was moodily dark and foggy, the night-time feel still a surprise for only 5:30pm:

The next day, we stumbled upon the most delightful castle-turned-Veneto-villa not far from Padua, the Castello di San Pelagio. It houses the Museo dell'Aria, a museum on the history of flight.

The museum was closed when we arrived so we passed the time waiting for it to re-open by lunching in their restaurant, which we had all to ourselves and turned out to serve amazingly yummy food and wine.

The museum was quaint and vaguely interesting (for someone with little background or interest in the subject). I did perk up to learn about this spunky Italian pioneer woman pilot:

What really charmed me were the gorgeous grounds of the villa, which we also had all to ourselves. With the fog and the labyrinth and the secret garden it was all just impossibly romantic. I couldn’t stop taking pictures.