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A Garden in Venice

Garden art & lifestyle

The Sea of Flowers on All Saint's Day in Venice: today and 20 years ago

The cemetery island of San Michele in the late afternoon
A whitish sea of flowers and discoveries on your way to San Michele: These days you see a "sea of flowers" there, but San Michele is much more than a cemetery island: it also hosts a monastery with lush green ardens, where famous people lived (one of them was San Romualdo, the other was a famous map maker). What is more, it is really TWO islands, because in 1835, during Austrian rule over Venice, the narrow canal separating the two islands of San Michele and San Cristoforo was filled and only at that time, the city cemetary was prepared.

Here you can see the two cemetery islands - long-stretched looking as one
So in this post I will include pictures taken by my parents and by me, some were even taken back in 1986, to capture that specific early November atmosphere, full of milky transparent light including mauve and even colorful shades which could even remind one of "peacock" colors. Now is also the time when the foliage of the deciduous trees in town turns decidedly yellow and sometimes red.
Just five minutes from our house, near Rio di San Provolo, in 1991
This morning I went through a collection of pictures my parents and I took 10 and even 15 years ago, because I wanted to find out whether the Festa degli Ognissanti (All Saints Day) was anyhow different from what it was like back in the 1990s. A few pictures I found had even been taken by my parents in the 1980s, but all show strictly November 1.
The balcony, on 1 November 1996
Late-summer mist has finally given way to autumn fogs here in Venice. The foliage has become colored and is brushed off the twigs, and near our house, the Rio dell'Osmarin (Sestiere di Castello, 5 minutes from the Piazza) is a picturesque place where you can witness autumn in Venice at its best: Gardens seem to encroach upon the water in the canals as branches and twigs protrude over the brick walls. And this is what it looks like, today as well as in 1991:
Fondamenta dell'Osmarin, a picture from 1991, taken on 1 November, on our way to the island cemetery
My childhood memories of November 1st are connected to our trips to the island cemetery of San Michele, and before or afterwards my parents and I used to stroll about the neighborhoods of Cannaregio, as we usually went to the Fondamenta Nuove quai taking one of the two paths: Crossing Campo Santa Maria Formosa  and walking next to the Ospedale Civile (hospital) and from there towards Fondamente Nuove, from where the boast leave for the cemetery island.
Cat sitting on top of a table at Pasticceria Didovich, 1 November 1991
The flower stalls located there next to the boat stop and also on San Michele island, at the entrance to the cemetery, are laden with chrysanthemum, white and yellow ones in particular. 
Here you can see the location of the (2) cemetery island(s) between Murano island (to the left) and Venice: The evergreen cypress trees can be seen even from a plane landing in Venice.
A second way to arrive at the boat station for the cemetery island is to walk along Salizzada San Lio, then walk past Rialto and the Church of San Canciano to reach Campo SS Apostoli. From here you walk towards the Gesuiti Church - or - like I do, make some detours towards Rio San Felice, for example to view one of the two bridges that don't have railings these days. They are called "ponti senza bande", and one crosses Rio San Felice. Originally, all bridges made of stone had flat and broad steps as you can see in the picture below, so that horses could pass easier.
Ponte senza Bande spanning the Rio San Felice, Cannaregio (This is me, Picture of 1 November, 1996)
Or you even go farther towards the Misericordia area - and discover the small place where the statue of Sior Rioba (one of the four brothers of the Mastelli family who lived in these houses, immigrants from Greece and very rich merchants. But legend has it that they were very greedy and thus were turned into stone. Another legend says these were Arab merchants, and that the area along Fondamenta Santa Caterina was dedicated to warehouses used by the Arab merchants here in Venice. A lot to research on and to discover ..)
Campo dei Mori, facing Fondamenta Santa Caterina, con Signor Rioba in the foreground (01 November 1991)
In the 9th century, San Michele was an island where an abbey (abbazia) and monastery was built like on other islands like the one called San Francesco del Deserto, also located nearby in the north-eastern part of the lagoon. Well-known people lived here, such as Fra' Mauro who made the famous Mappamondo Picture (officially dated 1460, but could be older as well). This map marks the change from maps having been drawn with Europe at its center, commissioned by governments and kings and anyway biased, looking East towards Jerusalem as holy center. The Mappamondo, on the other hand, was drawn up in the Arab way, looking South and giving lots of space not only to Europe but also to the then known continents of Africa and Asia.
Il Mappamondo, you can still see this at Biblioteca Marciana
Fra' Mauro is said to have read the tales of Marco Polo and to have drawn the contours of Asia accordingly. He was in contact with Portoguese sailors who came to visit on his island ..Legend has it that one day a senator or even the doge himself visited Fra' Mauro and asked where Venice was depicted on the Map. When Fra' Mauro pointed towards a small spot on the map, the doge/senator simply said: "Make it bigger, Venessia ze pì granda". But Fra' Mauro refused and we still see his map exhibited at the Biblioteca Marciana as it was originally drawn by him.
So when you arrive these days on the cemetary and walk along the paths lined with cypresses and yews, you are overwhelmed by a white and colorful "sea" of flowers ..
The cemetery, back in 1991: Colorful just like it is these days, nothing has changed, the flowers have remained the same .. from chrysantenum to gladioli
On 1 November, the time has come to taste two traditional sweets connected with All Saints Day - le fave and ossa dei morti. In our family, we also love to eat faraona in November, or warming beef and lamb dishes. In a few weeks time, on 21 November, the traditional dish of castradina will be prepared. Another festive day for Venetian children is San Martino, celebrated on 11 November, where they buy colorful cookies depicting the saint in the pastry shops. And of course - time has come to enjoy a cup of cioccolata densa. I remember one of the best cups I had on Campo Santa Maria Formosa when we came back from the cemetary island. There was this huge cat sitting on one of the tables, finally I have scanned the picture so you can see what the afternoon of November 1st in Venice was like - and is still like..
Mauve veils in the November sky
Looking across to the island cemetery from Murano
And if you ever wondered about the 31 October here in Venice: Starting about 15 years ago, Venetian children, on 31 October, do celebrate Halloween and color up their faces. For the adults, there are restaurants that cater in particular with Halloween decorations. Some restaurants now use green squash to decorate their tables and counters, they use dark-green squash and put it as center piece on the white-clothed tables, decorated with candles and yellow and orange fruit, such as the small orange physialis. 

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