Armchair Travel – Venice

San Michele – The Isle of the Dead

When I was working on the Stravinsky post last week I knew that I had at least one photo of his grave site in Venice from a trip back in 1999. The problem was finding it – and a real problem it was. It was stored somewhere on a back-up drive that could only be accessed from my old MAC (2009). In my search I ended up doing something that resulted in having to do a system restore from a backup. (Always have a back up!!!!!!) But find that photo I did as well as some wonderful photos from an incredible three day cruise of the lagoon of Venice in a restored fishing boat. But more about that another time.

Before embarking on the cruise we spent several days strolling through Venice and renewing our love affair with La Serenissima. And that included a visit to Isola di San Michele, the cemetery Island. (Note that the photos were taken with one of the first digital cameras I owned and resolution was nowhere near what is is today. Also I was trying to use some of the more artsy effects that were available for a few of the photos.)

A view across the Lagoon to Isola di San Michele – the cemetery island of Venice.
photo: Wikipedia – Source: Current restricted for “sock puppetry”.

Fortunately back in the late 1990s Venice, in general, wasn’t the madhouse that it was to become and very few tourists made the five minute journey on Vaporetto 41/42 from Fondamente Nuove to Cimitero. Most of the passengers disembarking where carrying flowers to honour family or friends buried on the Island. As I have remarked in the past I am an inveterate “tombstone tourist” but always consider that respect must be paid to the deceased and privacy given to their loved ones.

Isola di San Michele is certainly amongst the most peaceful and beautiful cemeteries I have wandered through. Created at the command of Napoleon in 1804, it was designed by Gian Antonio Selva and opened in 1813. Strangely though there has been a Jewish cemetery at San Nicolò on the Lido since 1386 AD until Napoleon’s decree four centuries later there had been no common Christian place of burial. Prior to the inauguration of San Michele burials had been in church floors for the wealthy or under paving stones for the merchant class – not the most sanitary of practices during Acqua alta. What happened to the poor or plague victims doesn’t even bear thinking about.

“The church at the corner of the island is beautifully cool, austere and pallid, and is tended by soft-footed Franciscans … The cemetery itself is wide and calm, a series of huge gardens, studded with cypress trees and awful monuments.

“Not long ago it consisted of two separate islands, San Michele and San Cristoforo, but now they have been artificially joined, and the whole area is cluttered with hundreds of thousands of tombs–some lavishly monumental, with domes and sculptures and wrought-iron gates, some stacked in high modern terraces, like filing systems.”

The World of Venice – Jan Morris


As Jan Morris, wryly but almost affectionately, says some of the monuments are in glorious bad taste and indeed others have almost the air of filing cabinets. One of the most touching sections is the Children’s Cemetery – row after row of small monuments, often topped with cherubs, and niches in columbaria and vaults.


There are two Accatalico or Non-catholic sections: the Reparto Greci (Greek Orthodox) and the Reparto Evangelico (Protestant). Side by side these two burial grounds are separated from the rest of the cemetery by enclosing walls.

As I mentioned earlier in the week Igor and Vera Stravinsky are buried in the Greek Cemetery. A few feet away is the tomb of Sergei Diaghilev, the great Russian impresario.


The Protestant Cemetery has an air of neglect about it – overgrown shrubs, uncut grass, and toppled grave markers. It could be thought of as being either Gothic romantic or just plain rundown.

When we visited many of the graves were recent and the dead that occupied them in 1999 would no longer be there today. Though certain families have vaults and plots the Isola is only 62,000 m2 (670,000 sq ft) and space is at a premium. Remains are exhumed after 12 years and either cremated and moved to a columbarium or the bones are taken to an ossuary.


Towards the end of the 20th century the need for additional space was recognized and in 1998 a competition was held to design two sections adjacent to the existing Isola. Given the vagaries and machinations of local politics work was not begun until 2004 and finally completed in 2017. Pictures suggest that compared to the old cemetery there is a sterility to the design that is at odds with the picture that Jan Morris paints. Once the world is once more open to travel I have every intention of return after all they gave the city the name Venetia as if to say Veni etiam – Come again!

The word for April 13th is:
Ossuary /ˈäSHəˌwerē/: [noun]
1. A container, room or building in which the bones of dead people are placed.
Mid 17th century: from late Latin ossuarium, formed irregularly from Latin os, oss- ‘bone’.
Though we in North America may find this a strange practice it has been common in Europe since – as witness the Latin ossuarium – early times.

Armchair Travel – Lisbon

The Pomp of Portugal – III

It can only be imagined what the appearance of the next coach had on the spectators both papal courtier and Roman commoner. Though we have no way of known what the two lost coaches looked like the sight of the gilded Ocean Carriage glistening in the sun of a Roman afternoon would surely have been the highlight of the procession.

The Quirinale Palace in 1754.
From Guiseppe Vasi’s book on the finest palaces in Rome – courtesy of Roberto Piperno at Rome in the Footsteps of an XVIIIth Century Traveller – a truly remarkable website.

The procession began at the Ambassador’s residence at Piazza Colonna proceeded down the Corso and on to the Quirinale Palace, the residence of the Pope and seat of the Papal Court until 1870. The Palace was to serve as the residence of the King after the Risorgimento and with the declaration of the Republic in 1946 became the official home of the President.

Though we don’t know the exact path it was probably a circuitous route that gave much of Rome the chance to watch in admiration and wonder. The entire procession was meant as an allegorical depiction of the place in Europe that João V felt he was entitled to as “Master of Conquests, Navigation, Commerce and Ethiopia, Arabia, Persia and India.” And nowhere is that more apparent than in this carriage celebrating a major achievement of Portuguese maritime history: the rounding of the Cape of Good Hope.

The ocean carriage

Again designed in the open “Roman” style the body is gilded wood and iron embellished with silk velvet, silk brocade, and gold and silver thread.

On the front drophead the images of Autumn and Winter flank the coachman’s seat and a cluster of acanthus leaves forms the foot-board.


Unfortunately the photos I took of the Ocean carriage did not turn out all that well and a few ended up in digital limbo somewhere. Where I could I used the photos I had taken but in several cases I have raided the Museo


The coach was restored in 1998 and old skills and techniques were revived to duplicated the rich working in gold thread on the red silk velvet. The straw stuffed seats are covered in cloth of gold silk brocade. Unexpectedly the thick leather straps that suspend the coach body on the carriage works are wrapped in silk velvet embroidered with gold thread. Even without the allegorical statues and carving the body of the carriage proclaims wealth and importance.

The rear drophead celebrates the rounding of the Cape of Good Hope in 1488 by Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias. Though Herodotus claims that a Phoenician expedition accomplished the task around 600 BC the Portuguese triumph is lauded as the first in modern history. It opened the sea route to Africa and Asia for the Portuguese traders. Other European nations were to soon follow.


Continuing the theme on the front of the carriage Autumn and Spring flank the god Apollo. The sun good strikes his lyre, no doubt singing the glory of Portuguese mariners and their achievements. And perhaps the odd word of praise to João himself.


Across a globe that rests at the feet of the god two old men clasp hands: the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet.

Needless to say the formal entry of the Marquis of Fontes created the desired effect. As did the news he gave Pope Clement after kneeling to kiss his slippers and present his letter of credence. He announced the birth of the new Infante and gave full details on the rescue forces that João was sending to defend the Vatican States against the threat of an Ottoman invasion. It was reported that the Pope gave “great demonstrations of benevolence and joy” and elevated the Archdiocese of Lisbon to the title of Patriarchate. An honour only previously granted to Venice. And Portugal was recognized as a major player on the world stage. João’s 5000 cruzados had been well spent.

The idiom for January 26th is:
Cutting corners
To undertake something in what appears to be the easiest, quickest, or cheapest way, especially by omitting to do something important or ignoring rules.
The idiom appeared in the mid-1800s and appears to be a quick way of plowing several fields by omitting the corners. However there is no advantage and it is often detrimental if part of the crop hasn’t been sown or treat.
João and Don Rodrigo certainly didn’t cut any corners in their efforts to impress the Papal court!

Arm Chair Travel – Lisbon

The Pomp of Portugal – II

João V
Domenico Duprà – 1717
Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga

Unfortunately I could not find any record of the order of the procession for D. Rodgrio’s formal entry into Rome on July 8th, 1716. Nor could I find any details on the two lost triumph carriages or the ten accompanying vehicles. We can be sure that the attendants, postilions, coachmen and footmen would have been elaborately attired. Though of course the Ambassador, his family, retinue, and lesser mission officials would have outshone everyone in displaying the sophistication, magnificence and royal power of a king who at the time ruled over a vast empire.

As well as celebrating Lisbon the next carriage again was a reminder to everyone at the Holy See, and by extension in Europe, that Portugal was a principle defender of the faith.

The Coronation of Lisbon Carriage

All of the carriages were in the open-bodied Roman style with wood and iron body works. The trappings are leather, bronze, silk brocade, silk velvet, gold and silver threads, gold galloon, and rye straw. The allegorical woodwork sculptures in baroque style show traces of gilt highlights which suggest that perhaps like the Ocean Carriage it was gilded.

The velvet elevated coachman’s seat (no doubt stuffed with rye straw) oversees a cherub or guiding spirit who seems to be urging the horses on. The coachman is flanked by the allegory figures of Heroism and Immortality who are being garlanded by two cherubs.


I am guessing that the laurel crowned figure on the left is Heroism while the figure on the right wearing a crown much like what is given saints of the period is Immortality. I did search for attributes of these figures in baroque iconography but could find nothing concrete – or even gilt plaster!!!!

The body of the carriage is adorned with red silk velvet inlay with the embroidery on the door panel worked in brass and gold thread. The interior is upholstered in red silk with floral motifs in gold and silver thread.


On the drop-head of the rear wheel set, is the image of Lisbon crowned by Fame and Abundance. At Lisbon’s feet lay the symbols of the defeated Ottoman foe, and the conquered continents of Africa and Asia.


Given that the entire procession was meant as a glorification of João the question may arise why Lisbon is a woman? Simple explanation: in Portuguese Lisboa is a feminine noun. Abundance holds a cornucopia of fruit and flowers indicating the natural wealth of the country. As well as a coronet Fame bears the trumpet that will announce the glory of Lisbon to the Papal court and the watching world. And no Baroque carving would omit cherubs to wreath the scene with garlands.

The imperious Lisbon points her sceptre at a crescent moon being devoured by the winged dragon of the House of Braganza. And at her feet grovel the source of much of her wealth – Africa and Asia.

As splendid as this carriage was – and it does attest to the skill of the Italian wood carvers – there was one even more resplendent yet to come: the Ocean Carriage.

The word for January 15th is:
Galloon/ɡəˈlo͞on/: [noun]
A narrow ornamental strip of fabric, typically a silk braid or piece of lace, used to trim clothing or finish upholstery.
Early 17th century: from French galon, from galonner ‘to trim with braid’, of unknown ultimate origin.

Arm Chair Travel – Lisbon

The Pomp of Portugal – I

Don Rodrigo Anes de Sá Almeida et Meesses (1676-1733)

It will come as no surprise to both my faithful readers that I love a parade. In years past I have shared processions from what was the Golden Age of New Orleans Mardi Gras, Santa Claus Parades from my childhood and even the odd religious procession. However few processions could have outshone the cavalcade that introduced Don Rodrigo Anes de Sá Almeida e Menesses, 3rd Marquis of Fontes and 7th Count of Penaguião as the Kingdom of Portugal’s Ambassador to the court of Pope Clement XI on July 8, 1716.

In late 1711 King João V appointed D. Rodrigo as his representative to the Holy See with the instructions and the means to display the power, wealth, and devotion to the Church of the Kingdom, and more important that of its absolute monarch. D. Rodrigo left Lisboa for Genoa on January 8th 1712 finally reaching that port on March 30th. An eventful and perilous 91 day voyage that proved the strength and ability of Portuguese seamanship. He finally reach Rome on May 21 – a full 142 days after his departure from Lisboa. However the waiting list for public entry into the city was so long that D. Rodrigo had to wait another 1,509 days until he was to dazzle the court of the Pope and the populace of Rome.

And dazzle them he did. Papal Court protocol decreed that only 12 carriages could take part in an entry but somehow D. Rodrigo got away with five triumphal carriages and ten supporting vehicles. Perhaps it was the elaborate entertainments and gifts he had lavished on Clement, his relatives, and Papal officials over that long wait that accounted for their tolerating such lèse-majesté.

It is thought that D. Rodrigo had a hand in determining both the intent and design of the procession. The richly decorated carriages were complete with monumental gilded sculptures that presented the Portuguese conquest of pagan nations as a way of spreading the Roman Catholic faith. The gilt, rich fabrics and precious woods demonstrated the riches of the Portuguese Empire and remind the Pope and foreign ambassadors that Portugal’s possessions predated the emergence of the other European colonial powers. The designs, artistry and allegorical references showed Portugal as a centre of culture, the arts and learning. It was a statement that contrary to popular perception Portugal was still a vital imperial power.

Unfortunately I could not find any depiction of this grand procession, search as I might. However three of the five theme carriages made their way back to Portugal and are now displayed in the Museo National de Carruajtes.

The Ambassador Carriage

No doubt the coach of D. Rodrigo would have been the last of the five triumph cars to appear. In the open “Roman” style the body is constructed of wood and iron. The trappings are ivory, leather, silk brocade, lamé with gold thread , felt, cotton twill, linen, corn straw, rye straw and gilt canvas. The allegorical figures represent aspects of the Ambassador, his illustrious family history as well as the power of the monarch he represents.

The front set of wheels displays the image of Silenus, the tutor of Dionysus, riding a seahorse. He is flanked by the Roman goddess Minerva and the spirit of Hope.

A rather odd feature is the old satyr Silenus, who though wise and gifted with prophesy was known to be a drunkard and lecher. However he is balanced by Minerva, the goddess of wisdom, the arts, trade and diplomacy. She was also goddess of strategic war in the defence of one’s country or beliefs – perhaps a reminder of the aid that Portugal had given the Papacy in the war against the Ottoman Empire. Hope was one of the three theological virtues of Christianity, Faith and Charity being the other two. Again a signal to the Pope of the strength of and devotion to the church of João and his Empire.

The open body in “Roman” style is covered in a gold canvas. The interior is also upholstered in gold canvas and the flooring is inlaid with ivory. The carriage doors bear D. Rodrigo’s coat of arms.


The elaborate carvings on the rear of the carriage are a riot of cherubs and allegorical figures celebrating Navigation and Conquest.


Thetis, the goddess of “Navigation”, appears held up by Atlas as she draws routes on a globe. At her feet a Triton emerges from the water holding a mariner’s compass aloft. Opposite her is Bellona, the goddess of War holding a shield bearing D. Rodrigo’s coat of arms. She urges on a lion, symbol of royalty, vanquishing an Infidel.

In the centre, the image of the Adamastor, a mythical giant in Os Lusíadas an epic poem written by Luís Vaz de Camões in 1572.


He guarded the Cape of Good Hope and the passage to India. He symbolizing the dangers of the sea and the formidable forces of nature challenged and ultimately overcome by the Portuguese during the Age of Discovery. Another reminder to the viewer that the Portuguese had been at the game longer and more successfully than its rivals.

If the Ambassador’s Coach sent a message to the spectators on both the street and at the Papal Court it was merely a confirmation of what had gone on before. More about the two remaining carriages in the Museo National de Carruajtes collection as the parade passes by in a few days time.

The word for January 5th is:
Lèse-majesté /ˌlɛzˌmæʒɛsˈteɪ/: [noun]
The insulting of a monarch, ruler or state.
Late Middle English: from French lèse-majesté, from Latin laesa majestas ‘injured sovereignty’

Arm Chair Travel – A Desert in the Yukon

In May 2006 Laurent and I met up in Vancouver – he was posted to Beijing at that point – to celebrate his 50th birthday. His birthday is in March but it wasn’t the first time we had been apart for birthdays; it just meant we had to go “BIG” to celebrate the anniversary of his 18,262 days* on this spinning globe. After a few days in Vancouver we boarded the Holland America Zuiderdam for a cruise of the Inside Passage to Alaska.

The itinerary took us to Juneau, Glacier Bay, Ketchikan, and Skagway. The stop in Skagway had us going back to Canada and the furthest north (60ºN) I have ever been** in our homeland: Carcross, Yukon Territory.

The bus ride took us up the Klondike Highway through the White Pass (alt. 1,372 m/4,500 feet) in the Boundary Ranges that form the border between Alaska and British Columbia. The 23 km/14 mile drive took us from the beginnings of an Alaskan spring to the winter of the Great White North.

There is a good reason that border formalities for both countries are located 7 miles on either side of the actual border: weather. The actual boundary is located at the summit of the range and conditions in the winter can be extremely harsh. During October to April that seven miles makes a big difference for the border agents isolated at the stations. Fraser, BC (alt. 875m / 2871 feet) serves as both the Canadian border post and terminus for the White Pass and Yukon Route Railway which would take us back to Skagway. There are no permanent residents in the post only Border Services, Highway Maintenance and Hydro employees on temporary assignments. It’s a lonely and brutally cold spot during the winter months.

The British Columbia – Yukon border is another 55 km drive along the Klondike.

So what about this “desert” you mention in your title – I mean you’re in the Great White North?

Well it turns out that a further 40 minute drive would take us to the town of Carcross and what is reputedly the world’s smallest desert. The Carcross Desert is approximately 2.6 km2 (1.0 sq mi), or 259 ha (640 acres) and with an average rainfall of 50 cm (21 inches) is considered too humid to be truly defined as a desert. However it is strongly suggested not to share that fact with the locals or the tourists. It is still considerably drier than the surrounding area and the dunes are in a constant state of movement but are stabilized by much of the rare vegetation that has taken root in the arid soil.

Carcross Desert and Nares Lake – Yukon, Canada
Jakub Fryš, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Carcross (pop. 512) was originally called Caribou Crossing – the land bridge between Lake Bennett and Nares Lake was a traditional crossing place for the herds during seasonal migration. The town was found in 1896 as a postal and telegraph communications point on the Yukon River system. The name was changed to Carcross in 1904 due to constant mail mix-ups with near by Cariboo in British Columbia.

Traditionally a hunting and fishing camp for the Tigish it is still home to members of that First Nation. A village sprung up in 1896 and was a popular stopping point on the road to Dawson City during the Klondike Gold Rush. It’s main economy today is based on tourism. During our visit we were entertained by the townspeople to a bang up barbecue lunch, given a demonstration of husky training and, of course, a hike across the desert. Cruise ship tourism in the area was still in it’s infancy and there was a knockabout charm to what was available at the time. A look at a recent visitor site revealed a gourmet coffee shop, a restaurant, several arts and crafts shops and a catalogue of activities including world class mountain biking on the near-by Montana Mountain – and of course the Desert!

The White Pass and Yukon Route began construction in 1898 as a transportation link between Skagway and Dawson City during the heady days of the Gold Rush. “Big” Mike Heney, one of the driving forces behind it’s constructions boasted, “Give me enough dynamite, and snooze, and I’ll build you a railroad to hell!” It’s said that the fires of hell had nothing on the winter cold that the crews encountered over the next two years. The narrow gauge (914mm/3 ft) was completed to Dawson City in 1900 and the story of those turbulent two years makes a great read here. It continued in operation until 1982 when the fall in the price of metal closed the mines that the railway served. Six years later it was to reopen as a “heritage railway” taking cruise ship and tourist passengers on a 44 km/27 mile trip through the White Pass from Skagway to Fraser. In 2007 – a year after our visit – it was extended to Carcross.

First train to White Pass on the first stage of the White Pass and Yukon Route railway, February 1899.
Eric A. Hegg, 1867-1948 – University Library Washington

The journey from Fraser back to the dock at Skagway took us across steel and wooden trestle bridges, past waterfalls, along mountain ridges and through a tunnel. It was two and a half hours of an ever changing landscape we ascended from the snows of the frozen Pass to Alasken spring at Skagway.

You may have noticed the sign that trumpeted: On to Alaska With Buchanan. My first thought was that it was some sort of political campaign however it turns out it involved an incredible act of philanthropy on the part of George Buchanan, a Detroit businessman. You can read about it here. How about that black and red machine – that’s some snowblower.

* Wouldn’t you just know that there is a nifty little site that does that sort of calculation.
** Laurent has been much as far north as Alert (82ºN) on Baffin Island.

The word for November 14th is:
Desert /ˈdezərt/: [noun]
A dry, barren area of land, especially one covered with sand, that is characteristically desolate, waterless, and without vegetation.
Middle English: via Old French from late Latin desertum ‘something left waste’, neuter past participle of deserere ‘leave, forsake’.
Of course the word can also be used as a verb with an entirely different meaning that has no connection with the noun or adjective. The restaurant in the desert where we had our dessert was deserted.

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Jerry and I get around. In 2011, we moved from the USA to Spain. We now live near Málaga. Jerry y yo nos movemos. En 2011, nos mudamos de EEUU a España. Ahora vivimos cerca de Málaga.

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