Thursday, August 31, we got up at 5am, returned the rental car (another renter had some damage drama), and flew to Copenhagen.  There we switched terminals, which satisfied the Apple Watch walking requirement for the week, had a pleasant EasyJet check-in experience (with such airlines you always expect much worse, but they no longer check the weight of carrion, at least on this route), and flew to Venice.  When we were there two years ago, we got Venezia Unica cards for frequent visitors, which allow €1.40 “water bus” rides (normally they are €7.50).  These cards gave us half-price tickets on the direct boat service from the airport to San Marco.  The boat service wasn’t really that direct, taking 90 minutes to get there, but it was a beautiful informative ride:  we went past Murano, and a cemetery island where Stravinsky is buried.  There were lots of little speedboats buzzing around the islands, many driven by kids.  We returned to the little hotel we stayed at two years ago, which had upgraded its four rooms to seven. It’s located right over a canal, and in the mornings we heard the gondoliers singing “Santa Lucia” as they went by.  Ray’s cousin Johan met us where we were grabbing a quick bite at a nearby restaurant, and told us what movies he’d be seeing the next few days.

Friday and Saturday we saw films.  “Invisible” was an Argentine film about a high school girl struggling with being pregnant, and having difficulty making any decision.  “West of Sunshine”  was an Australian father-and-son drama about a guy who owed lots of money to a loan shark driving his son around trying to scare up some cash:  it was One Perfect Day.  “No Date, No Signature” was a Turkish drama about a coroner who was involved in a minor traffic accident with a sick kid, who struggled with the question of whether the kid’s death was his illness or the crash; and “Foxtrot”, an Israeli comedy about a couple learning their soldier son had been killed, later reported to be a misidentification.  We saw all of these with Johan, and had festive dinners with wine and grappa.

Sunday and Monday we took a break from Venice, and drove to Slovenia.  First we picked up our friends Lindsay and Kevin at the airport (they’d just come from Berlin), and drove to Hisa Franko, one of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, where our friends Dennis and Paulina were after having gone camping for a few days in the beautiful mountains that are Slovenia.  We had arranged hotel rooms there, which were somewhat deluxe, with an in-room jacuzzi bathtub.  At dinner, the six of us agonized over the choice of the two tasting menus, Six and Eleven, with completely different sets of courses.  We finally settled on Eleven, of course, wishing we could have had Seventeen.  Each course had about six or seven ingredients.  Ray and I split a wine pairing; our friends each had one but wished they’d split one by the time it was all over.  All the wine was Slovenian, and the sommelier recited the history of each one.  By the end we were pretty full and snockered, but not overly so.

Monday we checked out, and drove around in the mountains, getting tons of views of the snow-capped mountains in the distance, and going to see a little river gorge.  Eventually it was time to drive back to Venice, struggling to return the car with no more gas than was in it when we rented it.  I stayed and dealt with returning it to the closed office, while Ray went and bought tickets for that evening’s films.  The first was “Three Billboards in Ebbing, Missouri”, easily our favorite film of the festival.  It starred Frances McDormand as a mother who put up billboards complaining about the lack of action by the police in investigating the rape and murder of her daughter.  Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell played the cops.  It was followed by “Una Famiglia”, an unpleasant Italian film about a man who kidnaps women, impregnates them, and sells the babies.  Connie and Raymond Marvel were considerably funnier in that enterprise.

On Tuesday we began to see art, starting with half of “Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable”, a parody by Damien Hirst in which supposed relics from a shipwreck were exhibited, including videos and pictures of the relics underwater.  Basically, it was the creation of tons of art, with barnacles and coral and sea creatures attached and carefully colored.  How do you color bronze, anyway?  Later we saw “Batch 81”, a Philippine film from 1981 using fraternity hazing as an allegory for the corrupt government.  The confusing part was conflating fraternities and gangs:  along with the hazing, there was a rumble with another fraternity. I’ve never really heard of outright fighting between college fraternities.  The soundtrack was their best attempt to imitate Switched-On Bach, with very bad sound quality.  The Philippines improved since that film was made, but then they got worse again, as the current regime is murdering all drug dealers in an attempt to corner the market for their own family.  There are worse people in the world than Jared Kushner.

Wednesday we walked towards the Giardini, one of the two major Biennale venues.  We looked for Palazzo Bollani, a “collateral event”, and Google Maps sent us to the entirely wrong place.  We finally found it near where it was shown on the paper map, and then saw a few more national pavilions nearby. There were several massive yachts parked along the shoreline, apparently available for charter.  The largest, “Limitless”, cost $100 million to build. One would have to ask how much it costs to rent.  (I’d actually rather ride around with a kid on a speedboat.)  We started our 48-hour Biennale pass at the Giardini, seeing several more pavilions.  The most curious was the German pavilion which was empty except for a raised glass floor.  Apparently there are performances at 11am where black-clad performers move around under the floor, but we ended up missing them.  Oh well.  We left in time to get to a program including “This is the War Room”, a short documentary about the production designer of Dr. Strangelove, directed by a guy who he mentored.  It also featured “The Prince and the Dybbuk”, a documentary about a filmmaker, Michal Waszynski, who completely obliterated his past when he hit the big time.

Thursday we made progress on seeing the Biennale.  We skipped the walk and took a boat to the Giardini, where we saw the remaining national pavilions, and the art in the central pavilion.  We walked to the Arsenale, and saw most of the art there.  One of my favorite pieces was an already-wedge-shaped MacBook Air which was sharpened, and then used to slice an apple.  Another was a maze of frames, some of which enclosed mirrors.  Various objects were placed on the ground.  The effect was that a rock would turn green as you moved around; the gray rock would be gradually replaced by the identical reflected green rock.  We looked for cute dinner places on the walk back, and found one which, like others we’d tried, was completely booked for the week.  They at least directed us to another restaurant, Local, where we were able to make a reservation.    We whiled away the time before the reservation by walking in what turned out to be a stupid little rainstorm.  Local is an exceedingly cute place:  the amuse-bouche included a cracker which, it was claimed, was made out of nerves.  The veal heart appetizer was massive; the “interpretation of scallops au gratin” served them raw; the ragout on the pasta and the fish of the day were delightful.  Afterwards there was a course of five Veneto cheeses, and a celery dessert.  We texted Johan that we were there, and he pointed out that the owner was a friend of his.

On Friday, the rain let up, and we walked to the Arsenale and completed the national pavilions there.  Latvia had a cute exhibit, “What Could Go Wrong?”, showing various alien species dominating humans after their shoddy stewardship of the Earth.  New Zealand had an animated/live action film depicting the landing of Captain Cook in Polynesia; the impressive thing was how five projectors were seamlessly lined up, making perhaps an 80:9 image.  And Italy had an exhibit in which bodies of Christ were made in molds, and then apparently decomposed over the course of the festival.  We left in time to see the Davld LaChappelle exhibit on the island of Giudecca.  Then we returned to Lido to see “Emma”, a film which was billed about a man involved with his work to the exclusion of people, but which was really about a man having an affair, cheating on his girlfriend with a very likable blind woman.

Saturday, September 9, was our last day in Venice.  We started with a program of shorts:

  • “By the Pool”, a Lithuanian drama about a guy renting out the downstairs pool/sauna/room for a raucous teen party
  • “Aria”, a Greek drama involving an Asian migrant, 
  • “Tierra Mojada”, a Colombian film in which encroaching deforestation led a kid’s grandparents to have him bury them up to their chests,
  • “Mon amour, mon ami”, an Italian film about a relationship between an Italian woman and a Moroccan man,
  • “It’s Easier to raise Cattle”, a strange Malaysian film about two sisters, 
  • “The Knife Salesman”, an Australian comedy where a salesman seduces a housewife as he sells her knives
  • “Eighth Continent”, a Greek film showing a large landfill on Lesbos consisting entirely of life jackets from refugees.

After the films, we saw the second half of “Unbelievable” at Punta della Dogana, and met Johan for dinner near Corner Pub, a bar where he has taken to hanging out practically every night, mostly to watch the clientele, who are largely students at a campus of Wake Forest in Dorsoduro.  Matteo is an amazingly friendly and knowledgeable bartender who makes it difficult for Johan to pay for anything.  The rain started back up as we went back to the hotel, and continued Sunday morning as we made our way to the train station.  We opted for a boat ride to minimize the walking.