Sunday 13 December 2015

The Venetian Bind

I'm now living in England in a tiny little flat above a grocers on a local high street in Southampton. Which is why this blog has been largely put out to pasture. Rather than acquiring, fixing, writing on or playing with typewriters, the last few months of living in Australia was concerned with getting rid of them all. Not quite all, I've still got a couple of special ones up in my parents attic, but the cull was swift and brutal. On the way over to England we spent 2 months travelling through South East Asia and a little bit of Italy.

Let me introduce Venice. Venice is a beautiful place, where we spent 3 most enjoyable days and could have spent many more.

We stayed a long way out of the main town, this delightfully quiet, quaint little corner of Castello and walked and walked and walked and found some gorgeous parts of this iconic city. But Venice is not all gorgeous. In the main town- at least on sunny days in August- it's also godforsakenly crowded, chock full of trinket sellers, chock full of cheap, mass-produced miniature sized attempted-representations of what Venice is supposed to be. 

St Mark's square- the guts of the place is absolutely polluted with stalls selling crap: T-shirts to tea towels to snow-domes. This guy sort of sums it up. He hassles couples to buy roses, because St Mark's square in the heart of Venice it's supposed to be a romantic place where happy people go to holiday. But he's not happy. He's is the problem and perhaps he's not happy because he knows this. He and his hundreds of accomplices ensure St Mark's is not the least bit romantic, or even pleasant. At least in peak-season summer. 

But also in St Marks square, the reason for this particular trip into the heart of the city which we quickly learned to avoid is the Olivetti showroom. The Apple Shop of the 1960's. A beautifully designed building used to sell beautifully designed things. The building itself is a work of art, Carlos Scarpa doing what he did best. 

As a lover of all things Olivetti, the lines, the curves and that alluring green, this showroom was a must see for me. Almost hidden amongst the trinket sellers and the tourists that can be seen in the reflection of it's window, you would walk past this showroom if you didn't know it is there.

I had high hopes for this showroom, in the heart of Italy, only a stone's throw (well a fast train) away from Ivera, from Turino, this was Italy, home of the Olivetti. I was hanging out for Invicta's, limited edition Studio 42's, Praxis',  rare memento's of an amazing era for typewriting.... 

Alas, while the architecture is truly magnificent, the typewriters were not. Instead I found 4 identical Lexikon 80's lined up in a row. The typewriters and the occasional adding machine were there only as decoration it seemed. There was no chronology to the order in which they were placed, nor any description of anything, not even in Italian. Again, despite the fantastic architecture, the cool quiet concrete seclusion on a hot day, it was a very disappointing experience for me. The young woman at the counter couldn't offer anything at all about the typewriters in there and could point me only to a small booklet on the design of the showroom. The showroom in its current incarnation as a museum felt to me like the rest of St Mark's: "This place is supposed to be romantic, lets sell people roses", "This place used to have typewriters in it. Lets get a couple of typewriters in there". And admission to this reception area, 2 upstairs rooms and a corridor, like many things in Venice, was exorbitant. I couldn't help but lament what this place could have been and what it is. Somewhat tellingly, it was also completely empty. 

Please do go to Venice though, it is stunning. But just stay somewhere far away from the centre like the eastern reaches of Castello and explore the laneways and get your coffee from the same place each morning and listen to the nonna's having a laugh with the delicatessens. And do also go to the Olivetti Showroom, as a typewriter appreciator you'd be mad not to. Just don't set your expectations too high.

Merry Christmas to all you fine people out there doing fine things with fine machines.