Un uomo con una barca / A man with a boat

In the boat with Marco
Marco Bassi was kind enough to take Cynthia Hammond (left), Kelly Thompson (right) and me down the Rio della Croce canal, on the west side of the Giardino dell’Eden. The bridge to the Giardino, spanning the Rio and connecting to the walkway of the Fondamente, can be seen behind Marco. The garden’s wall and built structures are over his right shoulder. The pink stucco and brick wall to the left is that of the now-abandoned men’s prison.

May 18, 2017 – Tonight we had the extraordinary pleasure of seeing the Eden Garden from the water. We’d been anticipating this journey for a couple of years, ever since the Giardino project called to us during our last joint visit to Venice, in 2015. What we wanted, we agreed, was to travel in a boat down the canal to the west of the Giardino, and then out into the Lagoon to the south of the Giardino, so that we could experience the Eden Garden’s sounds, scents and greenery from the most Venetian of all means of access: water.

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Rio della Croce, Giudecca, May 18, 2017.

Indeed, it was on the waters — while he was being floated in a gondola — that Frederick Eden made the request that would lead him to the garden that compels so many of us:

We were floating on the Giudecca canal and the proverb, that I had heard before, was too much for my sick temper, and it cried out, ” Via via, a terra, Eugenio. Get out and find me a garden.” And Eugenio answered,” Si Monsignore.”

And he did. Eugenio made the connections that allowed Frederick Eden to buy the land, once farmed by a religious order. In other words, Eden benefited from his boatman’s local knowledge in the same way that we three Canadians did from Marco Bassi‘s. Marco is a fifty-something longtime Giudecca resident, who came our way through another local contact, restauranteur Andreas of La Palanca, a favourite canalside restaurant and bar. We are so grateful for the many kindnesses that these gents and other Venetians have shown us during our project.

Our plan was not simply to boat by the garden, but also to use the occasion of proximity to engage with the wall space that separates the Garden from the waters and from today’s Venetians as well. While the Edens and later owners invited locals into their private green space during their early 20th century decades of proprietorship, since the 1970 purchase of the garden by Freidenreich Hundertwasser, it has been completely closed. As Marco put it, speaking in our common shared language of French and sadly shaking his head,

“Je n’ai jamais mis mon pied sur la terre du jardin.”

“I have never set foot in the garden.” He was intrigued to learn of our first idea, to — with the Hundertwasser Foundation’s permission — open the garden to visitors for one day.  When that proved impossible, we opted for our boat-based art action: to pierce a hole in the canal- and lagoon-side walls using the imagination and sensory engagement. As we floated past, we would project onto the wall the historic images of Eden’s garden, published in the early 1900s, as well as our own photographs and videos of these images installed that morning on the other side of the garden. We would do this during ‘golden hour’, that time at dusk when the light is especially beautiful, the air soft and redolent of particularly fragrant evening flowers. And we would document our passages, collecting images and memories that would become part of our related art exhibition in Montreal.

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Cynthia with the Pico Projector, which used her phone as the data source, allowing us to queue video and photographs for projection.
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On the red brick waterside wall of the Giardino dell’Eden, our projected image of our silk print billowing in the wind is almost an abstraction. It reads as scarlet against the darkness of the surface and silhouette of greenery behind. In the upper right corner of the projected rectangle of light, you can see a small white sign that warns passersby that they are being observed by security cameras, an obvious irony. The lapis lazuli of the evening sky above is a further gift of the memorable evening.

And so we projected and recorded, talked and boated, back and forth along the Garden’s watery perimeter. Our activities lasted almost an hour and a half, before our projector’s battery died out. We docked and parted ways, feeling enormously fortunate for our encounter with Marco, his deep knowledge of the neighbourhood and unexpected affinity with our own ‘open doors’ orientation to gardens and green spaces.



Un giardino sull’acqua / A garden on the water

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A view to the Venice lagoon from an apartment building’s green space just to the east of the Eden Garden. Photo: Kathleen Vaughan, May 16, 2017.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017 – My first full day in Venice meant walks and reconnaissance on the island of Guidecca, tracing the perimeter of the locked away Eden Garden that had so captured our imaginations during our 2015 visit.

The Garden is bounded by the abandoned men’s prison to the north, the narrow canal of the Rio della Croce to the west,  public greenspace to the east, and of course the open lagoon to the south. Water is such a feature of Venice, not just the main means of transportation (other than walking, for those of us on land) but also a factor in cultivation. The water here is salty. The salt air is glorious and pungent and of course has impact on the plants that grow here. The foliage is green and luxuriant — and astonishingly aromatic: there’s a form of jasmine that’s exceptionally heady — but must withstand the impact of salt in the air and salt in the very boggy soil. Roots can’t grow down very far before they hit salty water and, in the case of some plants, recoil. The Venetian ecosystem is thus very different from that of our home soil and waters, in the freshwater basin of Montreal’s St. Lawrence River.

Caroline Eden, when she began her work on the Giudecca property (purchased with her husband Frederick about 1880), reportedly hoped for a wide range of plant and animal life. Grapevines would co-exist with rosebushes, artichokes and other vegetables with beehives and cows. Mariagrazia Dammicco’s inspiring A Guide to the Gardens of Venice (2013) remarked that at the height of the Edens’ residency,

The garden in bloom was extraordinary, with pergolas and trellises of roses, lilies, carnations, tulips, clematis, honeysuckle and lilies-of-the-valley.

None of that seems to still exist now, more than a century later, as changes in ownership and gardening philosophies have resulted in a less luxuriant style of cultivation. When during our 2015 visit I climbed the 10-foot wall to the east side of the garden and peered through the foliage, I could see that the trees and grasses were trimmed, but the garden showed not much other deliberate intervention.

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Atop the ten-foot wall looking into the Giardino dell’Eden, a very minor form of urban adventuring. The garden looks healthy and green but not as well-loved as in the time of the Edens. Photo: Kathleen Vaughan, June 2015.

That said, from a public dock along the Giudecca’s southern perimeter, the Garden’s lagoon-side growth appears lush and vital.

The overhang on the far left of the image is the Eden Garden’s textural greenery. I suspect that the stinging salt in the rising tides keeps the plants from trailing right into the water. An image taken from this same spot in 2015 shows the same substantial wall overgrowth, but here, the trees one step back are higher and seem healthier than in my earlier shot. Photo: Kathleen Vaughan, May 16, 2017.

Mariagrazia Dammicco seems to have the inside story on the latest substantial efforts in the Giardino dell’Eden:

“…recent maintenance work cleared [the garden] of an inextricable tangle of thorn bushes, exposing the wall with the original entrance, before the sacca on the southern lagoon was filled; new plants were added to the vineyard and an arcade covered in splendid pittosporum was preserved along the shore.”

We still hope to see for ourselves. If we can’t secure permission to visit the Garden’s interior, we will take a boat around its two waterside perimeters and document our foray. Stay tuned!