Lost No More
I’m an eighth-generation Virginian, a fact that carries some weight in certain parts of the Commonwealth, but precious little elsewhere. It mattered even less in Venice in late September 2012. There, Virginia seemed a quaint and claustrophobic universe. Venice, on the other hand, was a dream state, totally untethered from the 21st century – which made it a fine and lovely place to get lost.
After arriving at the airport and making that long, purgatorial trudge from terminal to vaporetto dock, I hopped onto a waterbus. A breathtaking ride followed, past buildings too old and too wondrous to comprehend. I disembarked at my prescribed stop, seeking Philippe Starck’s Palazzina G Hotel, which was no easy quest. Wandering streets and bridges for 30 minutes, I finally located the service entrance to the hotel restaurant. The staff fell all over themselves. There was no signage, they said, so guests like Naomi Watts and Johnny Depp could avoid the paparazzi. “But: please – have some cake and prosecco!”
A nap ensued, followed by a visit to the concierge, who tapped the address of Peggy Guggenheim’s palazzo into my GPS. I plunged into the twilight for a flaneur’s 45-minute stroll, now feeling not-quite-so lost. At my destination, I ascended a stairway for a boisterous rooftop view of the Grand Canal. After a glass of wine, I slipped down to the courtyard for dinner. At dessert, I felt a tap on my shoulder. Would I like, my host asked, to tour the galleries? And, ecco! The Peggy Guggenheim Collection—the Pollocks, the Picassos, the Magrittes, the Mondrians, and the rest—were all mine for 15 quiet minutes until 75 guests roared in. I stepped out onto the portico. Turning left, I noted a bronze plaque, its raised letters praising the courtyard’s restoration by Nelson Byrd Woltz, Landscape Architects from Charlottesville, Virginia.
It was my 60th birthday in Venice, and I was at home.
About Michael J. Welton
Michael Welton writes about architecture, art and design for national and international publications, and edits a digital design magazine at architectsandartisans.com. He’s also architecture critic for The News & Observer in Raleigh, North Carolina, and author of Drawing from Practice: Architects and the Meaning of Freehand (Routledge Press, 2015).
Dream of Venice Architecture is available wherever books are sold.
“With its artfully evocative photography and illuminating, often-poetic, essays, Dream of Venice Architecture pierces the myths and mist of this enchanting city with fresh insights into its myriad sensory pleasures. From exotic buildings whose facades resemble carpets to pirouetting wind vanes that signal the onset of the latest Adriatic weather, Dream of Venice Architecture captures both the magic and the mysteries of this ‘precarious paradise.’”
—Blair Kamin, architecture critic, Chicago Tribune