by GEORGINA NIGHTINGALL
We’re on the second to last day and I’ve just spent the last half hour looking through all the pictures I’ve accumulated over the last 7 weeks. So many good times to reminisce about, so many lectures to reflect on, instances to laugh about and many nights never to forget. I’m one to never regret anything once I’ve taken that first step. And to think: I might have never been here, on this fabulous course, if I had made a different decision! I was one of those late ones to sign up and whilst my organisational skills meant everything was completed very quickly it wasn’t an ideal situation. However, it was very little for what I got in return. I always hoped I’d manage to persuade my parents that paying towards the equivalent of a school terms fees to send me off to Italy to learn about art was a good investment; I managed. But I’d always planned on heading off with Art History Abroad and I changed my mind last minute. It wasn’t that I didn’t know about John Hall but that I’d never looked into it properly. Then one lazy day on the computer, I read the entire website front to back, subsequently emailed John Hall to ask about a few, rather random, questions and then realised I had an awfully big decision to make. I made the right one.
That’s not to say Art History Abroad would not have been an incredible course too. However, there is no doubt that this course has given me an experience and lesson that you don’t find anywhere else . Firstly, I will leave not only with a fresh knowledge of art history in Italy, but, with a wanting to download one of Mozart’s Symphonies, the one he made at the ripe age of eight, to see the opera La Bohème on stage, to read all of Keats’ ‘’Ode’s’’, to watch the billion international non-Hollywood films that Ryan had recommended, to photograph every aspect of each city I come across (even if its London and it makes me look like a complete tourist), even to, perhaps, learn a bit of Italian (beyond the restaurant version) despite my terrible language skills. John Hall Venice may have a lot to do with looking at paintings in churches but only a third of the lectures are on art history. Of this some cover modern and contemporary art that is hidden away in Peggy Guggenheim’s house (4 minutes walk from ‘our home’ at Hotel Messner) or in the large and controversial Pinault collection (2 minutes walk from ‘home’). Other lectures deal with a wide curriculum of arty or cultural subjects and they all have a link; Venice.
At first I was unsure about the idea of living in just one city for five weeks I now realise that it was the most marvellous idea. Not only do you get that ‘pre-university feeling’ but I learnt to truly appreciate living and studying in a foreign city. We’ve never been tourists in Venice; we were just the non-Italian speaking locals. Venice is an amazing city to live in. In no other city have I had to wade through knee high puddles in wellington boots; its ‘aqua alta’ is one of its many original qualities. I’m not going to lie- the first time I discovered Venice, a few years back, I wasn’t as impressed as I had hoped to be about one of the most Romantic cities in the world. It rained all day and every day and the suede boots that accompanied me on this trip became quite soggy. Living in Venice for over a month, this time, is quite another story. Whenever I enter a new, unfamiliar place I experience a rush of adrenalin; I still get those feelings just wandering around each day. Venice’s windy street layout surpasses the busy Souks of Marrakech (or any other city for that matter); all you have to do is listen and you will hear nothing. Literally nothing. It’s a silent city; the absence of any industrial form of road traffic is absolutely noticeable, there aren’t even any bicycles. Even the vaporetto is peacefully quiet.
Venice has played home for over a month now and we still never run out of things to do. The tourists head straight for St.Marks but we knew that Dorsoduro had many hidden treasures; they only have to be found. We’ve had the chance to try out the local specialties in the area- eating fish and ice-cream, though not together (!), where all the locals, plus John hall, hang out. Charlie loves his ice cream so you’re blatantly going to catch him in Grom or Il Doge sometime, along with the ¾ of the rest of the course. The waiters at the Taverna San Trovaso, our local, will have your jug of tap water and a plate for olive oil on your favourite table and a great grin on their face to see you’ve returned, for the fourth time that week. Even the bartenders at Duchamp might offer you the odd discount or free shot which you’ll gratefully accept without thinking about what number you’re on now! Then you’ll realise that heading to Al Volo (for the third time that day) for pizza that evening does the same job as McDonalds but tastes a hundred times better. The friendly Italians you met that one night during Carnival, that you gave your name too will be shouting it across the square the next day; evidence of those nights will be on everyone’s cameras. The next thing you know, facebook, will have them too!
The idea of a cold city in early February never sounds that appetising but I’ve never complained about it; it produces some quite extraordinary settings – the fog gives Venice that deceptive and mysterious feel it’s known for. The rain highlighted the incredible reflections of the Gothic and Eastern architecture in into the streets. It’s like walking through history; no other city remains so dated and so untouched, almost like a museum. But Venice is a mystery and beauty that cannot be capsulated in mere mortal words; it demands a physical reaction. All five senses must be used to appreciate it properly; you must be there to appreciate it. As a city of textures, light, water and reflections, it is a haven for photographers and artists. As you sit patiently on the Vaporetto waiting, a cool breeze across your face, the gentle rocking of the boat to and fro, like a cot, relaxes you entirely and sends you off into a dream state until you realise you’re not dreaming, it’s just Venice, man’s most impressive accomplishment, and your living in the middle of it. I would love to have visited many other important Italian cities in Italy but then we’d be tourists in all of them; wandering around with maps trying to cover the main big attractions before rushing off on a coach to the next place. It would be a tour; a tour like the extensions to Florence and Rome (which are great by the way), but we’d never properly settle in one place.
John Hall Venice can never be regretted and I’m thrilled I took the leap; it opened my eyes to the beauty of art not just found in painting, sculpture and architecture but also in opera, music, literature, world cinema, photography or simply witnessing the gorgeous Italian landscape, with a glass of prosecco in my hand, beaming in the warm afternoon sunshine.