Squeezing In The Football

A couple of week-ends ago, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I went up to London to stay with a couple who have been friends of ours for a few decades.  They live in Chiswick and the territory is familiar to us since we lived for several years in the 1990’s in nearby Kew.  The stay with them was a chance to catch up on our respective lives and those of our offspring, to observe recent neighbourhood changes, to share views of current issues and re-discover a couple of walks that we haven’t done for years.  We had a great time.

We went up to London on the Friday morning and parked outside our old house in Kew.  There was then time for me to visit Tate Britain and see the William Blake exhibition there, and for LSW to head into central London to peruse the shops there.

Jacob And The Angel By Sir Jacob Epstein

Jacob And The Angel By Sir Jacob Epstein At Tate Britain

It seems that William Blake was somewhat of a mystery during his life-time and remains so today.  I enjoyed the cleverly displayed books of illustrated poems and his apparent pre-occupation with the darker aspects of myth and religion.  I liked the combination of big works with grand gestures and delicate pieces with intricate engraving.  The narrative of his topsy-turvy life was interesting too but, for me, too much of his motivation was left unexplained – perhaps because there is no definitive view on what he was trying to achieve.

William Blake Engravings At Tate Britain

William Blake Engravings At Tate Britain: ‘Christian Drawn Out Of The Slough By Help’, ‘I Sought Pleasure And Found Pain’ and ‘House of Death’

As it happens, I also struggled with finding a real point to the popular and much publicised ‘Year 3’ exhibit by Steve McQueen in the main hall of the Tate.  This was a huge display of hundreds of traditional school class photos showing all Year 3 children in London schools.  I confess I didn’t ‘get it’ although I understand that many of the participating classes will now visit Tate Modern to see their photo and also, hopefully, kindle a love of art.

Steve McQueen's 'Year 3' Photographs At Tate Modern

Steve McQueen’s ‘Year 3’ Photographs At Tate Modern

On the Friday evening, our male football loving host and I eschewed the possibility of going to see his football team play an evening game.  Instead, we relaxed over excellent food and rather too much good wine and chatted.  However, I had forewarned the company that I was committed to seeing my team – Forest Green Rovers (FGR) – and two of our sons at Leyton (Orient) the following afternoon.

On the Saturday morning, following a satisfying carbohydrate and coffee breakfast, we went, fully fuelled up, to The Wallace Collection in Manchester Square.  I had visited this lovely, free museum earlier this year when seeing a Henry Moore exhibition there.  This time, I focused on the paintings on the first floor which I didn’t remember from my earlier visit.  What was especially interesting about this was that several were of Venice which LSW and I had visited only a week or so previously.  The paintings by Canaletto and his school of artists, brought home what we had felt during our Venice visit: that Venice has hardly changed in centuries.

Venice Cityscapes By Canaletto and School Of Canaletto In The Wallace Collection

I left the others at the Wallace Collection, with their plans for lunch and a visit to the Antony Gormley exhibition at the Royal Academy, and headed east to grimier terrain in Leyton.  It was great to meet up with Middle Son (MS), Youngest Son (YS) and one of his friends there.  The game itself was thrilling and FGR achieved a hard fought and rather fortunate 4-2 win.

Forest Green Players Celebrating Their Win At Leyton Orient

Forest Green Players Celebrating Their Win At Leyton Orient

We left the ground buzzing with football excitement and the sons started talking about seeing the late afternoon Premiership football game in a nearby pub somewhere.  Two of our party were sporting distinctive FGR shirts so prudence was forcing them to think of pubs away from Leyton where Orient fans wouldn’t be drowning their sorrows.  They settled on Bethnal Green a couple of tube stops away.  That was on my way back to the hospitality in Chiswick so I went with them.

I love football (you may have noticed!) and I wanted to both spend more time with YS and MS and see the Premiership game too.  So, almost without really consciously deciding anything I sleepwalked with them out of the tube, out of the station and into a grotty but TV-equipped pub to watch the game.

As the first half progressed I wondered about the second pint of (awful) beer and whether I could stay a bit longer without annoying LSW and our hosts back in Chiswick.  My decision making was forced by a text on our family group-chat from LSW who was wondering where I was.  While I was pondering a response MS, YS and his friend burst out laughing.  YS had already posted a picture of me, clearly in a pub and looking at the text on my phone.  I was rumbled!

I sloshed the second pint down and left the pub at half time.  I arrived back in Chiswick in time to have got away with squeezing in the football.  I settled back into our hosts’ wonderful hospitality, still excited by my team’s win and armed with news from MS and YS.

Next day was calmer.  We had a relaxed walk around Chiswick down by the Thames and topped up with alcohol at a local pub before indulging in Sunday lunch.  Good times indeed!

Chiswick Views

Venice: Waterworld!

Earlier this week Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I experienced being in the midst of a natural disaster and human tragedy for the first time.  We have seen forest fires from a distance and the damage they have done, seen chronic pollution in Delhi, and seen widespread flooding and wind damage.  But we hadn’t seen anything so dramatic or as awful as the tidal flooding that we witnessed in Venice.

Rialto Bridge And Flooded Pavements Near Our Hotel

Rialto Bridge And Flooded Pavements Near Our Hotel

We finally arranged our oft postponed city-break and were sanguine about the fact that the weather in our destination city, Venice, was forecast to be rainy for all three days of our visit.  After all, we reasoned, there will be loads of churches, museums, galleries and restaurants to visit and waterproofs and umbrellas would enable reasonably comfortable walking through the streets.  In practice, the weather wasn’t as bad as forecast anyway.

View Of Isola Di San Giogio From Near Piazza San Marco

View Of Isola Di San Giorgio Maggiore From Near Flooded Piazza San Marco

We first became aware of another difficulty as we arrived at our hotel from the airport in our taxi boat.  As it deposited us outside the hotel we immediately saw that there was water about 6 inches deep on the pavement between the jetty and the hotel steps.  We looked bemused, considered our inappropriate footwear, and were told the water would subside in 30 minutes.

Within a few minutes, we were approached by someone selling temporary galoshes that fitted over our shoes and trousers.  We procrastinated long enough to halve the price (the salesman knew the tide was going out) but bought a couple of pairs.  LSWs were a stylish black, mine a lurid blue.  They were ugly and identified us as naïve tourists but proved to be the most vital purchase of the holiday.

By the time we had checked in, the tide had gone out.  We fuelled up at a modern hipster café called Farini and spent the rest of the day walking past the dense strips of classy palaces, around the drying streets and along the canals strewn with elegant gondolas.  Even wrong turns proved to be sources of picturesque views.

Some Of The Myriad Of Views Of Canal-side Buildings

Some Of The Myriad Of Views Of Canal-side Buildings Gradually Crumbling In The Face Of Rising Sea Levels But Retaining Wonderful Charm

We walked over the nearby Rialto Bridge and then south to the astonishing Piazza San Marco (St Mark’s Square) and the incredible Basilica Di San Marco which dominates it.  The crumbling grandeur of the palaces along the main canals and the casual beauty of the residences along the tributary canals were awesome.  There was just so much that looked unchanged, apart from wear and tear, since it was built centuries ago.

Basilica Di San Marco (Before The Worst Inundations)

Basilica Di San Marco (Before The Worst Inundations)

Piazza San Marco

Piazza San Marco (With Seagulls)

We rounded off our first, long day with a walk around the old market buildings and a very friendly and pleasant bar (Ancora).  By this time even the main thoroughfares were empty since the majority of tourists had retreated to their hotels outside of Venice.  The city was almost eerily quiet and strangely romantic despite the day’s flood and the threat of more.

Grand Canal and Market Buildings At Night

Grand Canal and Market Buildings At Night

Venice was proving to be everything we had anticipated but we both confessed that the scale of the consistent attractiveness of the combination of water and old brickwork or stone, at every turn, had taken us aback.  Venice is an amazing city.

Watery Dead-End But Picturesque Nonetheless

Watery Dead-End But Picturesque Nonetheless

Inside Basilica Santa Maria and Basilica Dei Friari

Next morning brought an even higher tide (mainly caused by a combination of the moon’s position and winds piling sea water up in the Adriatic).  We had to shuffle out of a hotel side-door in our galoshes to get to Farini once more for breakfast.

The rain intermittently pelted down and the streets were flooded with the tidal water but we set off again to Piazza San Marco.  This is the lowest part of the city, and the walk to it and then the view of the lake that the square had become, gave us a dramatic picture of the scale of the ‘acqua alta’ as this seasonal flooding is called.

Piazza San Marco Under Water

Piazza San Marco Under Water

We sloshed on past inundated shops, through a number of flooded streets and squares, to the wooden Ponte Dell’Academia and then the Gallery Dell’Accademia.  This gallery was excellent.  It was full of medieval religious works which have retained astounding depth of colour.  There were also wonderful ceilings, impressively large sculptures and landscapes by famous Italian artists and others I was unfamiliar with.  Surprisingly, there were very few other visitors and the visit was a relaxing break from the hiatus in the streets outside.

Ponte Dell'Accademia

Ponte Dell’Accademia

A Room In Gallery Dell'Accademia

A Room In Gallery Dell’Accademia

We continued our walk through the streets as the tide receded and spent the evening in the bar with wine and snacks.  Armed with the following day’s tide times, we tried to plan our last full day around our pre-booked and much anticipated trip to the Peggy Guggenheim Gallery of modern art.

Next morning, all togged up with our waterproof coats and trusty galoshes, we arrived at hotel reception to find we were too late; the tide was higher than ever.  We would have needed thigh-height waterproof trousers to negotiate the pavements outside without getting soaked.

Flood Water Lapping Over The Hotel Steps

Flood Water Lapping Over The Hotel Steps

By the time the tide had receded enough to venture out it became clear that Venice had suffered a dreadful blow.  That afternoon, as we paddled through the streets once more, it was clear that the water levels had been far higher than previously – in fact higher than they had been for over 50 years.  The shop keepers who, the previous day, seemed to be taking the flooding in their stride were, by now, looking shocked, drawn and depressed.  The stock in the shops, from tourist trinkets to cashmere jumpers and pricey shoes, was ruined or at risk and those sweeping the out of their premises, knew they were in for more days of periodic inundation.

Traditional Sugar Biscuits, Harmonicas, Ice Creams, Masks, Gloves and Sweets

Venetian Shop Windows: Traditional Sugar Biscuits, Harmonicas, Ice Creams, Masks, Gloves and Sweets – All At Risk From The Tidal Floods

The art galleries, including the Peggy Guggenheim Gallery, were all shut as their staff focused on protecting their contents.  The shops were closed for business and almost all restaurants were shuttered up.  Bars and bacari – stand up cafés – were opening as the afternoon wore on but we needed to sit down having missed out on breakfast and lunch and having walked through the water for a few hours.  Fortunately, we stumbled upon a pizzeria high and dry on a bridge and its unexpected quality and our hunger was a winning formula for us.

Locals At The Bar With Wellies

Locals At The Bar With Wellies

We brought forward our planned departure next morning by a couple of hours to avoid the next big tidal inundation.  The sun rose beautifully and then shone down on the city for the first time in days but we knew there would be little respite for the people of Venice.  We both felt sad for them.

Clearly, there are huge challenges to maintain the buildings in the city – both the headline tourist sights and the everyday shops and houses.  The project to protect the city from the tides with a huge set of lagoon barriers, is many years late and the will (and probably money) to complete it has seemingly faltered.  The international publicity associated with the latest flood disaster may re-galvanise efforts but one wonders how long the sea can be kept at bay as Venice sinks and sea levels creep up as global temperatures rise.

Ponte Dell'Accademia

Ponte Dell’Accademia With Basilica Santa Maria In The Distance

LSW and I would love to visit Venice again.  There was so much more to see than we managed this time.  We didn’t see the city at its best but it was still incredible and at least we have seen it much as it has been for centuries.  Unless drastic action is taken internationally and locally, that may be a privilege unavailable in a few decades time.

View From The Taxi Boat

View From The Taxi Boat