Saturday, 31 August 2013

Henry Thode's mansion at Lake Garda

Lack of WiFi prevented the following being posted on 30 August 2013:

We arrived at Lake Garda, in the north of Italy, yesterday.  We came on the hunt for family history information at the Gardone Riviera.

My great-grandfather's cousin, Henry Thode, who married Richard Wagner's step-daughter, lived for some years in a mansion called Villa Cargnacco at Gardone Riviera.  Thode was German, and some time after Italy sided with the Allies in the First World War, the Italian Government suddenly expelled him.  He was forced to leave behind his vast library, art collection, and unpublished manuscripts.  This loss contributed to his ill health and early death.  I came wanting to know what happened to all my relative's property.  I also wanted to know exactly when Thode left.  Did the Italian Government expel him immediately when Italy entered the war in 1915?  Or was he allowed to live freely for a time, despite being an enemy alien?  If so, why?  And was Gardone Riviera a part of Italy during the war or a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire?

I didn't learn much.  I knew that the mansion was given to this guy called D'Annunzio, an apparent war hero, in 1921.  I was told that the Italian Government confiscated all German property in 1918.  But my relative may have been expelled as early as 1915 when Italy joined the Allies.  It was suggested to me that Hertha Tegner, Thode's second wife, already took some of her husband's lost property, either at the time of their departure or later.  But I know she was trying in later years to regain lost property.  

We had a tour of the mansion itself, which, apparently, was completely altered by D'Annunzio.  I understand only the Globe Room looks as it appeared in Henry Thode's time.  Among the books on the shelves, I noticed books by 'R. Wagner', and another by Kraus entitled 'Geschichte der Christlichen Kunst' ('The History of Christian Art').  Unmistakably, much of Henry Thode's vast library still sits on the shelves nearly a century after his expulsion.  The guides conceded this.  But what of D'Annunzio's art collection?  How much of it is actually Henry Thode's?  Annoyingly, D'Annunzio gets the credit for everything.  OK, he made the grounds look really lovely with their quaint pathways, medieval stone walls, and pretty ponds, not to mention the bizarre placement of the bow of a warship, the Nave Puglia, into the grounds' sloping steppes.  But this house and these grounds were not his to change.  D'Annunzio appears to have had an interest in art and music, but it was Thode, as an art historian and professor of music, who had probably already acquired much of what D'Annunzio subsequently claimed as his.

I had also wondered what might have become of a piano previously belonging to the German composer, Franz Liszt.  (Franz Liszt was Thode's first wife's grandfather.). I was told it is now in the La Scala Opera House in Milan.

It was suggested we email the Archives, which was unavailable for a visit today.  We were told they have many documents there, which should provide answers to our questions, such as the exact date of Henry Thode's departure.  Also, it seems that Austria-Hungary extended only as far south as Limone, northern Lake Garda.  Gardone Riviera was in Italy.

Where Henry Thode had his mansion.  View is from Church of St Nicholas.  Mt Piccozolo is behind.
The mansion, altered by D'Annunzio
Part of the mansion
In the grounds
In the grounds
Objects like this were put in by D'Annunzio
An objet d'art.  Might it have belonged to Henry Thode?
The bow of a former warship brought to the grounds by D'Annunzio
A ship surrounded by nature

In the grounds
In the grounds
The 1740 Church of St Nicholas, just outside the front entrance to the grounds
View of Lake Garda from the mansion
View of Lake Garda from the Church of St Nicholas
D'Annunzio is revered around Lake Garda.

From Venice to Verona

Lack of WiFi at Lake Garda prevented the following being posted on 29 August:

A funny thing happened as we were leaving Venice yesterday.  We were at the railway station, waiting for the 4.20 to Geneva, which would stop at Verona, our next destination.  We knew everything about our train except what platform it would leave from.  The departure time came closer and closer, but still no advice about the platform.  At 4.21, we were a bit desperate for information.  Finally, I spotted a staff member.  He knew nothing, but just then 'Platform 14' flashed up.  We and many others rushed to Platform 14.  As we arrived, the train departed without us.  We and the rest objected vociferously to the staff member, who implored us to follow him to the ticket office.  There, he castigated another staff member, who then spent many feverish minutes organising new tickets for us all, but only after hearing colourful words of protest from inconvenienced German, English, Chinese, Italian and Australian passengers.  (A young Chinese passenger had even photographed the display sign, showing the scheduled time of 4.20 with no platform info, under a clock showing 4.21.)  In the end, we were only inconvenienced by about 25 minutes.

We arrived in Verona, and checked into our hotel well after 6pm.  We bussed it into town and walked around.  We saw the Piazza Bra, where a large, Roman Colosseum-like building stands, known as the Arena.  Although an ancient site, the Aida Opera will be held in there tonight.  If we had had more time in Verona, we would have attended this Opera too.  It's meant to be a big, special occasion.  

We walked around.  Soon, we found the balcony where Juliet said: "Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou, Romeo?"  A gate prevented us from going close to the balcony, but, hey, that's OK.  We then walked along the Fiume Adige, the river that cuts through the city.  By now getting fairly dark, we headed back towards Piazza Bra, and had dinner.  We should have caught a taxi home.  We followed the hotel manager's advice regarding the buses, and got lost.

The Arena
The Arena
Juliet's balcony (".......Ooh, Romeo..")
The river Fiume Adige

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Farewell Venice

After four days and four nights, we farewell Venice, possibly my favourite city.  It is also almost everybody's favourite city - a place that people fall in love with, and take away the fondest of memories.  

It is a place that has enraptured romantics throughout the ages.  Venice, the birthplace of the great lover, Cassanova, and the city where Richard Wagner ended his days.  Venice is the inspiration for a Shakespeare play, the host of the Venice Carnival, and the place for wearing masks.  Venice is where glass was invented, whose secret methods of manufacture were maintained for centuries until she eventually shared these with the world. 

Today, Venice is as relaxed as the gentle goings of the gondola.  Its watery, physical reality is as charming as the dry wit of the Venetians.  While the place is as old as the hills, every day you discover something new.  Although old, her charm will survive.  They even say that Venice is like an old lady. She's always cheerful despite her age-related problems.  She smiles and welcomes everybody.  You, too, will feel welcome we did.

The Merchant of Venice

Apart from three spots of rain at Ephesus and a 30-minute downpour at Pisa, we'd had no rain since leaving Wales in early July.  But our first two evenings here in Venice were very wet.  Both evenings were dry until we settled into restaurants, and it then proceeded to precipitate during dinner.  

The first evening, we emerged from the restaurant to dryness.  But on the second evening, it was still raining steadily when we made for the hotel.  All during dinner, multitudes of passers by had donned raincoats, weather-proof jackets or had clutched umbrellas of various sizes.  Jean had packed our own raincoats in her Monaco bag, and, for the first time on this journey, we used them. 

It rained again on our third night, but only after we'd gone to bed.  That evening, we enjoyed our gondola ride rain-free.  Then, last night, our final night, as if to reflect the first two evenings, it began to sprinkle the minute we emerged from the Pizzeria.  It rained more heavily as we strolled home, and, once safely in the hotel, there was a storm.

But it was what happened on our way home on the second wet evening, draped in our raincoats, that we'll never forget.  In Venice, as in all cities in Europe, there is a band of foreigners, usually from the Indian sub-continent or from Africa, who assertively peddle tiny, useless objects for a few euros.  They're always men.   Often, they sell fake brand-name bags, or, if it starts raining, suddenly they sell umbrellas.  And in the heat of summer, they sell freezing cold bottles of water to tired, thirsty tourists.  They're resourceful, persistent, aggressive little marketers of their wares.  As we climbed the steps of a canal bridge near the Strada Nova, one of them stood at the top of the bridge in the rain, feverishly marketing his raincoats.   He saw us approach, obviously dressed in our raincoats.  Ridiculously, he tried to sell us two more.  Jean and I lost it then.  We laughed hard all the way down the other side of the bridge.  It was one of the funniest experiences.

The bridge, Ponte delle Guglie, where we were accosted by the (raincoat) Merchant of Venice 

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

The best of Venice

The following is a selection of our pictures of Venice.

I snapped this photo, and then discovered that 'my' image features in artists' paintings and postcards all around town.
The famous Bridge of Sighs

The casino 
Ponte degli Scalzi - the bridge near our hotel
St Marks Square
St Marks Square
Inside St Marks Square
Inside St Marks Square
A little canal
The Grand Canal
Our fellow-gondola riders
A gondola haunt
Masks are everywhere in Venice.
Fake brand name bag sellers are everywhere in Europe
Rising water levels are always a concern in Venice.......
.......and so is rising damp.
Venice's fish market is a popular morning attraction.
A lively fruit market is near the fish market.  The tomatoes were huge.
A view of Venice, while heading out to the islands
A bus stop in Venice
On the Grand Canal

O Sole Mio

After we went to Murano yesterday, we then caught another boat out to a place called Lido di Venezia.  We headed down to the beach there, which was as calm as a mill pond - absolutely no waves.  It was as if we were looking at a lake.  This was probably our last proper look at the Mediterranean Sea on this journey.  Having said that, it is the sea itself that surrounds Venice.  Venice is tidal.  

At Lido, there were proper streets, and cars drove on them.  Believe it or not, it was an odd experience seeing cars again.  There are no such things in Venice.  And prior to Venice, we haven't really seen any vehicles in about a week.

We returned to Venice, and went hunting for a gondola.  We ended up at the Rialto Bridge, probably not the right place to get a gondola because they're more expensive around there, plus I'm told they're more expensive anywhere starting from the Grand Canal.  And the Grand Canal is more choppy than the little back alleys.  But the Rialto Bridge was where we ended up, where the lane ways took us.

After 7 o'clock, it's more expensive too.  But if you don't mind sharing your ride with others, you can share the cost.  It was 100 € for 40 minutes.  But three young women came along and shared the ride with us.  One came from Ireland and the others were from England.  The gondola driver took us under the Rialto Bridge and into the smaller canals nearby.  It was a very gentle, smooth pleasant ride.  We took photos.  I'd been told that if you wanted the driver to sing, it would cost extra.  But he never offered, and we never asked.  For a moment or two, I thought about the tune for O Sole Mio, but I never sang or hummed it.  

Jean and I having a gondola ride on the Grand Canal in Venice.
The Rialto Bridge is behind us.
The Beach at Lido.

Monday, 26 August 2013

A touch of glass

Over a thousand years ago, glass was invented in Venice, specifically on the island of Murano, just near Venice.  For many hundreds of years, the essential methods in glass production were a closely guarded secret to protect the livelihoods of individuals and the monopoly that Venetians held on the glass industry.  All around Venice, in the many souvenir shops, glass products of varying kinds are available for purchase.  On Murano itself, there are quite a few glass shops selling very high quality material.  Large red or deep blue horses on hind legs.  Colourful vases with faces in them.  Jaw-dropping fruit bowls.  Beautiful chandeliers made entirely of glass.  I've heard you shouldn't accept the advertised price.  You can haggle.

We visited Murano this morning and looked at some small factories making glass.  It was interesting to learn that when a product is put into the desired shape, it cools down very fast and will crack.  To avoid this, the manufacturers place finished glass products into furnaces where the temperatures are controlled and gradually reduced. 

A glass sculpture near the canal on Murano
A glass worker creates a product.
He makes a horse.
On Murano
On Murano
A glass product in a Murano shop window