Being in Giudecca (Venice) for a reportage on Alvaro Siza's social houses in Campo di Marte, I was curious to go around the island that I had not visited since many years ago. I walked randomly and chose this house with a huge garden facing the lagoon and several statues that could be seen behind vegetation. The drawing was already started when I noticed I was including a jail, one of the two prisons in Giudecca - what a contrast! A perfect silence and except a boat, no one passed by during the half an hour I was there.
Back home I discovered it's a famous place: the Eden Garden with villa delle Rose it's a sort of lost paradise, although its name comes from a former owner, the englishman Frederic Eden, who lived there and designed the garden in late 19° century. The place was frequented by Marcel Proust, Rainer Maria Rilke, Henry James and Eleonora Duse among others. Not open to the public, the garden is classified as National Monument but look quite abandoned. Nowadays it hosts the foundation Hundertwasser, named from the swiss painter and last owner, who quite altered its original aspect.
My Giudecca tour continued walking along the waterfront, with a great view on the other side banks - le Zattere - where I spent my best years strolling around as an architecture student. I noticed a man working at some fish traps and stopped by to see the whole process. Ennio lives in the house nearby and has eight big traps that are joined in four pairs. He said he would check them every two days but they are not tied to the dock (someone could rob them?): he searches them with a hook instead, until he grabs them. He than cleans the fish traps and throw them (empty, no bait) into the lagoon again only when dry, "otherwise squids will not get inside". He complained it was not a good catch, but at least with four squids the supper were guaranteed. I loved to see a fisherman a few steps from the Redentore church, even if I doubt the quality of the water there with the heavy traffic of boats and cruises and the lack of sewers in Venice.
I walked a bit further on the bank and realize that, while I know the museum, I've never entered in Mariano Fortuny showroom. Inside, I got completely lost, welcomed by Laura who offered me an expresso, an armchair and many interesting explanations. The story of Fortuny is the most fascinating one, his fabrics are legendary and his original machines to print them are still working - and secret! Nowadays it is the only manufacturing activity going on in Giudecca, Venice past industrial district, with 15 local artisans compelled to keep secret the procedure.
To flip through their fabrics collection is a joy for the eyes and I couldn't get enough. Classical and original motifs from the Twenties are integrated by new creations, beautiful and out of time. Just read on their blog that Downton Abbey last season features some Fortuny pieces.
Next to Fortuny's showroom is the factory and in between a "secret" garden can be visited only by appointment. I was lucky enough to be included last minute in a group tour. The chimney nearby is now the security staircase of an ex beer factory converted into apartments, one of the many transformed industrial buildings in Giudecca. Fortuny's garden has been arranged by Elsie McNeil, his american distributor and interior designer who inherited the factory since he had no sons. It includes one of the few swimming pools of Venice. "It has an hollywoodian look", says our guide Laura, "and tomorrow we'll host the Australian pavilion Biennale's opening party, since their theme is about swimming pools".
Well, the best swimming pool is now the one on top of Mulino Stucky, the huge mill recently converted into a Hilton Hotel, just beside Fortuny showroom. 5.000 people used to work in this neogothic building until the Fifties. And from the top you can have the best view on Giudecca island, on Venice and the lagoon as well - free entrance if you only have to draw or watch the panorama. I'd finished the last sketch properly if not exhausted from a long day of sketching.
In our sketchbooks kindly donated by Laloran I still have some empty pages: next time I will explore more Giudecca "secret" places. Social houses and new architectures, renovated industrial buildings, luxury hotels and traditional taverns, secret gardens both private and public, social centers and art galleries, important monuments and churches, two jails and a big shipyards ... Giudecca is a multifaceted microcosm that really deserves another visit.
Thanks to DGArtes for the invitation and for covering our expences.
Thanks to Ketta Linhares for beautiful Laloran sketchbooks.