Wednesday 29 August 2012

Sole Delight

Inside the church of San Sebastiano they are rehearsing for a concert. Otherwise we are totally alone. All around, in what surely must be one of the most beautiful interiors to be found in Venice, the paintings of Paolo Veronese, rich in colour, postively glow in the morning light. Here joy abounds in the splendour of textiles, the transparency of glass, the opalescence of gleaming marble in column, turret and tower, the fullness of figure, the whole a pageant of sixteenth century life.

the somewhat unassuming facade of the church of San Sebastiano which belies its interior

the warm, redbrick frontage of the church of the Madonna dell' Orto in Tintoretto's parish

Across the Grand Canal we revisit the Gothic masterpiece of the Madonna dell' Orto with its Greek marble columns in imitation of watered silk. This was Tintoretto's parish church, and here he is buried close to his vast and truly magnificent works of 'The Worship of the Golden Calf' and 'The Last Judgment' which fill the lofty chancel walls. But most wonderful for us, and of which we never tire, is the 'Presentation of the Virgin' over the Sacristy door with its pre-Redemption world cast in shadow whilst the Virgin child, Hope of Humanity, stands poised at the summit of a flight of steps, radiant against a Venetian sky. Again we are alone.

one of the wonders of Renaissance Venice, and indeed the world, Santa Maria dei Miracoli

the approach to the church of the Redentore, Palladio's mathematical wonder, on the Giudecca

No-one disturbs us either in the exquisite Santa Maria dei Miracoli or in the Scuola di Santa Maria del Carmine where, for €5, we are permitted to gaze with certain wonder at the wondrous ceiling in the upper salone painted in 1744 by Tiepolo. With a lightness of touch, and employing the shimmering pinks and blues so characteristic of his work, nevertheless the deep piety of this great eighteenth century artist reaches out to the observer some 250 years later. We cannot resist the purchase of a keepsake, a picture postcard, of 'Un angelo salva un operaio devoto alla Vergine'.

a mediaeval archway, pre-dating the present building, in a quiet Venetian courtyard

the narrowest street in Venice, Calle Varisco, to be found in the Cannaregio district

a scene which is so quintessentially Venetian and yet one which remains largely unseen

But in all of this there is a great sadness. Or so it is for us. It is a well known fact that the number of trippers, for such alas they are, now daily outnumbers the resident population. For Venice has become an acquistion on the tourist trail. A city to be ticked off today, for tomorrow will be Florence and the day after, Rome, before the flight home.

a typical Venetian street scene which, away from the crowded tourist trail, stands deserted

a side canal, one of many, many similar, to be found beyond the reaches of the Grand Canal

a sixteenth century well-head in the Campo della Maddalena with today's washing set to dry

With cameras clicking, posed pictures of each other, water bottles protruding from ubiquitous backpacks, these sightseers follow furled umbrellas from the Rialto to  the Piazza San Marco plugged in to earphones through which a commentary is relayed, their only engagement to check a text message on a mobile telephone. Not a Baedeker in sight! Meanwhile, a mediaeval city of church, palace, scuole, calle, court and canal passes by. They look but they do not see.

church and calle so closely connected in a city which can never be fully understood or known

the Porta della Carta dividing the Doge's Palace from the Cathedral church of Venice at evening

Such is the paradox that this loveliest of all cities remains, for the most part, a beauty unseen. And as we wait for our bus under a darkening Tiepolo sky at the Piazzale Roma, we mourn the fact that within a few hours at The Accademia the Titian exhibition will open. And we shall be gone.

N.B. We shall hope to return to the Serenissima with a future post.

Thursday 16 August 2012

Flies in the Ham and Wasps in the Jam

What became of the wasps was never made clear. But, dead or alive, a reward of 6d was offered for every queen wasp delivered to the factory gate throughout the soft fruit season. And even now, all of these years later, it is possible to recall the boiling vats of sweet, sticky jam, the workforce, mainly of women, immune to the stings of those narrow waisted, black and yellow striped, social insects which swarmed overhead, and the urgency which accompanied a new delivery of raspberries or strawberries freshly picked from the fields.

a marmalade label 'signed' by George Hattatt

Acquired by George Hattatt in the early years of the twentieth century the Jam Factory, or to give it its proper title, The Hampshire Preserving Company Limited, had, by the end of the First World War when, as in the 1939 - 1945 War, it was considered a 'protected industry', become a huge success story exporting jam, marmalade, tinned fruit and vegetables all around the world.

a label for tinned raspberries

a label for tinned plums

a label for tinned carrots

And for the people of Romsey the factory was to become one of the largest employers in the town, its chimney stack a rival to the Abbey tower, its siren drowning the Abbey bells.

aerial view of the factory with chimney stack and yard at centre

And still to be heard is the vexation and annoyance at home at the 'downing of tools' of domestic staff, both indoor and outdoor, whose presence was summoned by the siren as additional labour was required with the arrival in the factory yard of some new consignment of fruit.

As a child there was always the thrill at a weekend, with machinery standing idle, of permission, crouched on a wooden tray, to ride the rollers which stretched, to young eyes of the time, into an endless distance, throughout the long packing sheds. Or, weekdays, to marvel as sealed tins shot along tight runs, gathering speed, paste and labels, before finally coming to rest, housed neatly in dozens, in cases ready for transport.

the original Tudor office building of the factory

the factory offices fronting the road - the gate to be seen on the right

Once older there would be the occasional visit through the outer offices, typewriters clattering in what were, in fact, rather fine Tudor buildings, into The Office where, from a huge oak desk, the wheels of industry would daily be set in motion.

But by the mid 1960s the fortunes were in decline. A change in eating habits - people no longer went home to bread and jam - outmoded machinery and a loss of profitability led to its closure. Today, were we to return to Romsey, there would be few left, we imagine, with memories of those wasp collecting days.

Here in Budapest, sole inheritors of a legend, we day after day rotate the date calendar which once, sitting on his desk at the heart of the factory, George Hattatt would turn, doubtless dreaming of his expanding empire.

George and Ethel Hattatt, pictured in 1939, and the original date calendar - now in Budapest

N.B. We are indebted to Chris Levy of 'Woodley net' for allowing us to use photographs in his possession in this post.

Wednesday 8 August 2012

Extraordinary People

In the course of two lifetimes spent, for the most part, in the public domain, it is perhaps to be expected that the lives of many thousands of people have connected with us over the years. With many the connection has been mercifully brief, with a number, circumstances dictated that the relationship remain on a formal footing, with others it has been like star spangled ships passing in the night, whilst with others firm and lasting friendships have been forged. However, with a few, a notable few, the contact has altered the axis of our lives, a lasting impression has been indelibly printed, our souls have been touched. In these instances life is destined never to be the same again on account of these extraordinary people.

'Extraordinary People' a novel by Paul Gervais first published in 1991 by HarperCollins

Following our recent visit to Paul and Gil at the beautiful Villa Massei, we detected a definite shift in the orbit of our world. To spend time with such consummately creative and cultured individuals has been, as may readily be imagined, a wonderful experience.

Paul Gervais pictured on the front steps of the Villa Massei during our recent visit in July

Paul's first degree in English Literature is reflected in his voracious appetite for reading, the titles of which fill the 'stacks' which line the bedroom corridor and cover every available flat surface throughout the house. However, only under duress does he mention his own published poetry collection, 'A Garden in Lucca', his self-deprecating account of the development of the gardens at the Villa Massei, and his novel 'Extraordinary People' which was selected as a finalist for the prestigious PEN/Faulkner Award in 1991.

Paul's collection of poetry, 'Thoughts That Come In Words', and 'Un Giardino a Lucca'

The poetry, dedicated to his long term partner, Gil, is touchingly tender, capturing the essence of a loving partnership with a sparsity of line which is as technically brilliant as it is powerful. And, in the novel, 'Extraordinary People', we were moved to tears by the delicate portrayal of the descent into dementia of Meg, a principal character, based, we suspect, to some degree on a relative.

Gil Cohen pictured in the shade of the loggia of the Villa Massei during our recent visit

Gil, too, is a man of immensely artistic sensibilities coupled with a social conscience which is as practical as it is endearing. People are instantly drawn to his warmth, openness, generosity and genuine concern for others. He has volunteered his time and energies to work with young people in a variety of situations, including the most challenging of circumstances, in the belief that they may be inspired, supported and encouraged to lead fulfilled lives, as he feels fortunate to have been able to do.

'A Garden in Lucca' seen on our bookshelves - the passion of a lifetime of Paul and Gil

And then, in the last few hours of our recent visit and before we departed, we were afforded a private view of Paul's studio: a white space filled with Art; colour washes in a rainbow of hues; bold lines; mass and void manipulated by the hands of a visual artist; egregious, exotic, emphatic. Extraordinary!