Beware the tides of March!

I know I promised you TED but sometimes I’m not to be trusted!  

How can I resist?  It’s the Ides of March.

ides.jpg  In 44 B.C. “Caesar summoned the Senate to meet in the Theatre of Pompey on the Ides of March. A certain seer warned Caesar to be on his guard against a great peril on the day of the month of March which the Romans call the Ides: and when the day had come and Caesar was on his way to the Senate House, he greeted the seer with a jest and said: “The Ides of March has come” and the seer said to him softly: “Yes, the Ides of March has come, but it has not passed.” 

Plutarch’s  “The Life of Julius Caesar” (Later on that auspicious day, as the Senate convened, Caesar was attacked and stabbed to death by a group of senators who called themselves the “Liberators”)

The soothsayer’s warning to Julius Caesar, “Beware the Ides of March,” has forever imbued that date with a sense of foreboding.Despite unseasonably wet weather and ominous clouds, on the 15th of March one year I ventured to Venice. Yes, Venice, notorious for flooding – particularly in the month of March! I learnt however that in Venice, flooding has little to do with rainfall; the place is sinking and it is the tides that lap at its doors.   The city lies in the middle of a shallow, marshy lagoon, 117 little islands in fact, connected by 150 canals, joined by 400 bridges on top of which man has constructed architectural confections that are a magical combination of majestic and quaint. It is surreal and enchanting and I fell in love the moment I set foot outside the train station.

The Roman calendar organized its months around only three days, Kalends (the 1st day of every month), Nones (the 7th day in March, May, July, and October but the 5th day in the other months) and Ides (the 15th day in March, May, July, and October but the 13th day in the other months). The remaining, unnamed days of the month were identified by counting backwards from the Kalends, Nones, or the Ides. For example, March 3 would be V Nones-5 days before the Nones. Woa! This confusing system continued to be used to varying degrees throughout the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance.

The vaporetto ride down the entire length of the exquisite Grand Canal to the hotel revealed a place of impossible beauty tempered with crazy contours. As if floating on a wavy bed, centuries of movement has given it a topsy turvy, bendy wendy feeling, so that at first glance it looked like a slightly drunken sailor, lurching this way and that, oblivious to drowning in its own briny brew. Was that the movement of the boat or was that balcony really tilting to the left? Forget the leaning tower of Pisa, this entire city has a sobriety problem and is apparently sinking into a watery grave. Hiccup!

veniceflood1.jpgThe problem is not new – Venice has been sinking for hundreds of years. The cause of the problem is twofold: naturally rising sea levels and the unstable bedrock that the city sits on. With so little ground to build on over the centuries, thousands of wooden pylons have been driven into the mud perforating the ground like a kitchen colander. Without the presence of oxygen, submerged wood doesn’t decay, so there it is; a city built on a nest of sticks. Of course there are various attempts to toss the city a life raft and save this World Heritage site, but permanent residents are abandoning the place in droves and there is danger of Venice becoming purely a pleasure boat for tourists – a floating Disneyland!

On closer inspection Venice was wickedly seductive, like a voluptuous paramour, bosoms spilling out of a dress that fit her years ago, trying to hide the wrinkles of time with an extra dash of rouge. My kind of girl! Venice has a colorful past, famous during the Renaissance for its high class courtesans and licentious morals. (Casanova was born in Venice – need I say more.)Florence feels like a prudish old maid in comparison, stolid and pious, full of religious art that all starts to feel the same after a while. Venice on the other hand is a work of art! Because of it’s geographical proximity to the Byzantine Empire, Venetian architecture has a refreshingly exotic flavor, lots of curlicues, delicate filigree, exuberant ornamentation in contrast to the somber, lumpish lines of the Florentine Palazzi built to look like fortresses rather than homes.

b-117.jpgMy Venice pick – a visit to Peggy Guggenheim’s former home – the stunning Palazzo Venier dei Leoni on the banks of the Grand Canal is intimate and personal and full of her collected works of the “greats” of the 20th century, Picasso, Dali, Chagall etc. as well as a stunning sculpture garden where her doggies are buried alongside the Henry Moore! An “Art Tart” for sure, at the age of 21 Peggy Guggenheim inherited a small fortune and proceeded to indulge it on Art and Artists. She loved Art and she loved artists, figuratively and literally. Her autobiography claims many affairs with artists; her conquests included the surrealist painter Max Ernst and the writer Samuel Beckett. Naughty Peggy!

What is Venice most famous for these days? Ironically, Contemporary Art. Every second year since its inception in 1895, the city plays host to the World’s most famous Art event. – The Venice Biennale. Check it out at It is basically a giant Art Expo with over 56 countries represented by over 100 artists who must all be chosen by their countries. The Expo is mainly housed in a vast warehouse space divided into International pavilions. A big hit of the most recent Biennale was this 1000 kilo sculpture made of stainless steel pots, pans and utensils by Indian artist Subodh Gupta, floating outside the Palazzo Grassi on the Grand Canal. “I made the work in response to the stories I read in the news about how soup kitchens in Paris were serving food with pork so that Muslims would not eat it. It was a strange and twisted form of charity that did not continue for long but raised conflicting ideas of giving and the way we have become now.”subodh-gupta-vs-damien-hirst.jpg

Gupta’s piece (on the right) – ironically entitled “Very Hungry God” seems to be a play on the infamous piece by the current “enfant terrible ” (brat?) of the International Art world Damien Hirst. His piece, on the left entitled “For the Love of God” is a skull encrusted with over 8600 real diamonds, the most expensive piece of contemporary art ever with a value over 50 million pounds. Hirst, who was recently ranked as THE most powerful individual in the contemporary art world by Art Review magazine, is reputedly worth around £100m. His most famous work is a shark preserved in formaldehyde. Not everyone is impressed. According to Robin Simon, editor of the British Art Journal “All of Hirst’s works are stunts – but this one is just a more expensive stunt. It’s vacuous nonsense.”

WooHoo! Couldn’t agree more!

Happy, Happy Ides of March, Love Ones – but BEWARE!

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