Purveyor of Bollocks to the Crowned Heads of Europe
Tuesday, 23 April 2013
San Georgio, San Georgio
Why were the Abbey bells ringing at 8 o'clock this morning? Oh yes, April 23rd - St George's day.
Never mind that the patron saint of England was born somewhere near Syria and never set foot on English soil, he is our very own saint... and Georgia's.
Today is the one day we can fly the flag without accusations of being Neo Nazis - even if we are - and we can go out and look for St George's mushrooms: pallid-white, tasteless and unremarkable little things that smell of damp dough - like the majority of the English.
Actually, I resent St George and most of what he stands for. The killing of the dragon does not strictly symbolise the triumph of good over evil, but the triumph of the Christian Church over savage paganism - by force.
Mind you, there have been some wonderful paintings of George and the dragon, and for the one by Carpaccio in the Scuola di San Georgio, Venice, of him doing the deed, I can forgive him everything. H.I. and me spent two days looking for this painting - it is very hard to find, even if you know where it is, and when we went there a few years ago, it was very difficult to look at as well. Like most of the priceless artworks in Venice, this huge painting is hidden away, but unlike most of the rest, it's exact location is - or was - not advertised. The first day we went over to San Georgio by ferry (how else?) and wandered around the church in vain before ringing the doorbell of an adjacent building which we saw a couple of monks and students going in and out of. The clerical worker on the other end of the entry-phone could speak no English, so I ended up by repeating the word, "Carpaccio" a few times before she understood what I was asking. I think she initially thought I was trying to order coffee. When she finally understood what I was ranting about, she helpfully gave lengthy instructions - in Italian - as to how to go about finding the famous painting, and I followed them to the letter - one letter.
So we spent another few hours traipsing around the vast and gloomy edifice until H.I. looked as though she was beginning to lose her reason, and I knew from past experience that unless I forced some food and water down her neck, she would go completely mad and start screaming obscenities in the church (she once accused me of trying to push her over a cliff in Crete, when I had successfully tried to stop her fainting her way over the edge), so we got back onto the ferry and made our way - frostily - to the central island to a restaurant.
The next day after breakfast, H.I. declared that she had not come all this way to go home again without seeing the painting which she had admired since childhood, so we got back on the ferry to San Georgio - the building and the painting.
When we got back inside the cool, semi-dark of the church, I overcame my English reticence about asking strangers for directions when I spotted an elderly man who - although dressed in secular clothes - had an air of authority about him. He quietly beckoned us to follow him.
Eventually we reached a tiny door in the side of a massive stone wall and he opened it, turning to us again and crooking his finger so we should go in with him. We climbed a tiny and tight, spiral stone staircase until we came to another ancient, wooden door.
The door opened onto a large area which looked exactly like a courtroom. There were rows of wooden seats like mini thrones, and above each seat was a painted emblem of some religious order. Next to the door was a simple altar, and over the altar was the great painting itself. This room - it transpired - was where the cardinals had elected a Pope, long ago, but I forget which one.
The kindly old man apologised for having to lock us in the room with the priceless painting, but assured us he would be back within half an hour to let us out.
For a half an hour, we were the only two people to be standing in front of the wonderful (1502) Carpaccio of George killing the dragon, and that made the whole, frustrating experience of the previous 48 hours completely worthwhile.
If only all galleries operated on the principal that if you really want to see something, then you would go through 48 hours of an elaborate hide-and-seek game in order to do so, then there might be a some better art produced in the world.