Life in La Serenissima

New chairman Keith Coates with speaker Kathryn Ogden
New chairman Keith Coates with speaker Kathryn Ogden

Members at the June general meeting of Todmorden U3A were treated to more than a glimpse of life in Venice for Kathryn Ogden, who winters there every year. Life in La Serenissima – most serene – was the subtitle of her talk.

Kathryn started her talk, illustrated by some fine photographs, with some history of the city.

The marshes on which it is built were settled by people fleeing from the armies of Attila the Hun. The magnificent buildings we associate with Venice were built on wooden piles and have been sinking in recent years. A barrier similar to that across the Thames has been constructed to protect them from the rising sea level.

 

Historically, the city was the capital of the Republic of Venice ruled over by a Doge and was an important centre of commerce between East and West during the middle ages and the Renaissance. Relics believed to be the body of St. Mark were stolen from Alexandria by Venetian merchants and taken to Venice. The Doge of the time built the original Basilica of St Mark next to his palace.

 

In 2008, Kathryn took early retirement from sales management due to ill health. She wanted to spend the winter away from Mythomroyd where she lives and as well as having a love of Italy, the attraction of Venice for her was that it is a small city, with no cars. Its situation also gives her access to other places in northern Italy. Kathryn had also read Sally Vickers’ novel, “Miss Garnet’s Angel”. A book inspired by the very old tale of Tobias, who travels to Medea unaware he is accompanied by the Archangel Raphael. Although generally milder than Mytholmroyd, Venice winters often have six weeks of rain and in 2012, the Grand Canal froze for the first time in over 20 years.

 

Kathryn’s photos were a mix of some of the sites of Venice along with those featuring her in some of her activities. One showed St. Mark’s Clock Tower, which twice a year, at Epiphany and on Ascension Day, the three Magi, led by an angel with a trumpet, emerge from one of the doorways. Others featured scenes painted by Canaletto, who Kathryn said, took some artistic licence, as he would have had to be on a step ladder and hanging off to the left to paint the scene as it appears in his painting. Continuing the artistic theme, Kathryn went to an exhibition of works by Vorticists. Included was one called Mytholmroyd, by the Cleckheaton-born artist Edward Wadsworth. Unable to photograph the actual painting, she was able to take one of a reproduction in the exhibition catalogue.

 

Venice, Kathryn explained, has only three bridges and many use the traghetti, ferries to take Venetians across the canals or to the islands. There are 17 licenced traghetti and these are a much cheaper way for tourists to have the “gondala experience”, she advised. There are also 24 boats used by the emergency services and when they need go at high speed can sometimes overturn traghetti in the vicinity.

 

Kathryn’s photos also included shots of food in shops, markets and some of her own servings when entertaining some of the many friends she has made. It was mouth-watering stuff, seasonal produce only and so creatively and colourfully displayed in shops, markets and on the plate. Kathryn related, how she has to ask for the head and feet to be chopped of any chicken she buys as they are always sold complete, as it were, and the butcher’s bemusement at her request. In the Rialto market the fish are priced by size and each size is displayed on a notice board.

 

Kathryn has made a varied life for herself, making many friends of different nationalities. Each year she appears in pantomime. Her first role was as a fairy in Sleeping Beauty and was again a fairy the following year in Jack and the Beanstalk. Flamboyantly dressed Venetians participate in the Carnivale masked ball. Facial expressions cannot be seen behind the masks, which Kathryn found a bit scary. In addition to all her activities, including outings with Venice Ladies Club, visits to galleries and opera, Kathryn has found herself a job in Wellington, an English language bookshop. She insists she doesn’t allow browsers to get away without buying. Each year she chooses a photo project. This year the subject was washing lines. Kathryn has picked up Italian by being there and now gets together with a woman who wants to improve her English, on a mutual exchange basis. Kathryn rents a different flat each year, at rates comparable with this country. Whilst gas is expensive, the cost of living is similar to that here but transport is cheaper.

 

Kathryn’s lively talk was much appreciated and may well have prompted some to consider following her example. Her talk was preceded by Todmorden U3A AGM, at which Keith Coates was elected as the new Chair. T

 

Report by John Bouttell; picture by Roger Howard