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When in Venice walk in single file: interview with Fabrizio Berger

Venice books : When in Venice walk in single file

Venice books : When in Venice walk in single file

In many ways, Venice is a difficult city to understand for those who were not born here or have never lived here. From the slower pace dictated by the nature of the city, to the absence of cars, up to mass tourism, and the phenomenon of 'acqua alta', it almost seems as if the Venetian everyday life were permeated by a veil of uniqueness. Yet, at the same time, Venice will always remain an incredibly normal city, with residents, schools, a regular social life, a place where people are born, graduate, go to work, to the dentist, to play tennis and all the other ordinary things that happen in the rest of the world! This normality is described with irony by Fabrizio Berger and the staff of his Tostapane studio in the book When in Venice walk in single file: instructions for use of the city, with as cover image a beautiful illustration by Vittorio Bustaffa.

Venice books : When in Venice walk in single file

The book is a sort of non-manual, rich in photographs and tips on how to experience the city in the best way possible. Let's meet the author, Fabrizio Berger.

1. Fabrizio, tell us a little something about yourself.

I was born in 1970 in Venice, I chose that year because it's easy to remember and the music was too great. My parents had met many years before in Venice: my father -like my grandfather- used to work for the Assicurazioni Generali in Piazza San Marco; my mother instead was a student at Ca' Foscari. It is said that Venice is the city of love, and I am a great example of this truth. So is my sister. My brother unfortunately not, as he was born in Brescia. I have family all over the world, with relatives from Austria and Trieste, but also Venice, Milan, other towns in Lombardy, Apulia, England, France, Portugal... for example, the mayor of Santa Fe is my second uncle! I have relatives that live really everywhere, which is fantastic as wherever I go I know that if anything happens, I will always find a sofa and a smile (as John Berger, real writer and second cousin of mine, once said ' I am a storyteller in the traditional sense. I am the one who travels the world and in the evening offers a story in turn of a warm bowl of soup and a bed. I am like Aesop: a story ferryman' ). Well, one day I'd like to be able to say the same.

When I was 4 years old, my family moved to Brescia due to my father's job, so I had the opportunity to go to school in Lombardy and learn the local accent, which I still show off for a matter of love. I decided to return to Venice for my university years because I believed in the elegant charm of the Architect,. The fog and the fascinating silence of the city, and also a couple of 'wrong' love affairs, made me want to stay. Venice is like quicksand, it's just impossible to escape from it and the more one tries to resist, the more the city holds you tight without letting go. The strange thing is that, this drowning is incredibly sweet. So, so far, my life has been an ongoing journey, a restless soul like Chatwin, in love with the horizon like Kerouac, constantly in search for that small yet essential thing to leave to posterity, as Auster advised me. But in the end, I always return to my nest, here in the lagoon. I once said about myself: 'Passionate about photography, incurable optimist, master of improvisation, in love with his city, he has many treasures although some are not highlighted. He returns from every journey with an idea to realise'. In short: I don't know what I want to do when I grow up, but if I find the right costume I'll be a superhero!

Venice books

2. Tostapane studio, an entrepreneurial adventure that combines creativity and culture. What is working in Venice like? Challenges and strengths. When I was still at university I had the fortune to live for a period of time in New York. There I met, among others, many artists able to merge design and communication and I felt that that was the path I wanted to follow and develop, something I was already aware of because for a living I was working in a communication agency. Once back home, for my thesis I chose a Visual Graphic and Communication project (a bendable house), and since then giving shape to ideas has become my job. The recipe is simple: one just needs to have an idea and ... shape it. Easier said than done :-D

When I graduated, I founded a section of graphic design in a student cooperative; after a short while this section became an independent project and briefly afterwards, the opening of Tostapane Studio, the principles of which were: to work in Venice because it is a city to love and see it as a harbour from which we can leave only to return. Tostapane studio is a community that changes according to the project (and the budget), operating in graphic design, public and private exhibitions/events, design, photography, video, the web... and mostly, our own projects, characterised by a witty lightness and the right dose of irony. Venice as a city offers really a lot of opportunities, we just need to catch them and develop them. On the other hand, the city also requires the ability of getting used to its unique pace and logistics. That's all!

3. Why the name Tostapane?

Good question: besides being curious, I am a bookworm; just before I opened the studio I had remained fascinated by a passage of Timbuktu by Paul Auster:

"The transparent toaster, comrade. It came to me in a vision two or three nights ago, and my head's been full of the idea ever since. Why not expose the works, I said to myself, be able to watch the bread turn from white to golden brown, to see the metamorphosis with your own eyes? What good does it do to lock up the bread and hide it behind that ugly stainless steel? I'm talking about clear glass, with the orange coils glowing within. It would be a thing of beauty, a work of art in every kitchen, a luminous sculpture to contemplate even as we go about the humble task of preparing breakfast and fortifying ourselves for the day ahead. Clear, heat-resistant glass. We could tint it blue, tint it green, tint it any color we like, and then, with the orange radiating from within, imagine the combinations, just think of the visual wonders that would be possible. Making toast would be turned into a religious act, an emanation of otherworldliness, a form of prayer. Jesus god. How I wish I had the strength to work on it now, to sit down and draw up some plans, to perfect the thing and see where we got with it. That's all I've ever dreamed of, Mr. Bones. To make the world a better place. To bring some beauty to the drab, humdrum corners of the soul. You can do it with a toaster, you can do it with a poem, you can do it by reaching out your hand to a stranger. It doesn't matter what form it takes. To leave the world a little better than you found it. That's the best a man can ever do."

Since then, I too have been looking for my transparent toaster to leave to posterity. ( and btw, now it can even be mine for 205 € on Amazon...)

4. How did the project 'When in Venice walk in single file' start? Curiosities on the realisation of this book.

Venice books : When in Venice walk in single file

'When in Venice walk in single file' was born in 2008 in an osteria, where I was discussing with some friends about Venice: our final theory, the elaboration of which implied several glasses of 'ombre', was that before being the most beautiful, the most visited, the most romantic city in the world, Venice is a city, full stop. Venice is not a particular city, Venice is simply a normal city, where normal things are done in a particular way. How could we help people understand this? How could we convey that in Venice, like in any other place in the world, there are people that wake up in the morning, bring their kids to school, do their shopping (yes, in Venice there are ALSO schools, grocery stores, artisans, etc...). Simple: by reminding everyone, Venetians first, how to USE the city, with INSTRUCTIONS to experience it properly (from how to walk with wellingtons through the high water, to how to cross umbrellas in the narrow calli when it's raining, how to carry a trolley or a suitcase on a bridge, or how to stay on a vaporetto or a traghetto, all this passing through the places and the people that one could meet in the slow flowing of life of our city. Because the adjective Venetian should not be referred only to those where born here, but to anyone who decides to stay here, be it for an hour or a lifetime. So, it is essential to follow these rules, which may apparently seem simple, but in reality are often not considered (like, for example, walking in single line when the street is narrow to allow the passage both ways...).

Venice books: when in Venice walk in single file

So, the project moved from these ideas, and I immediately knew I wanted to share it with some dear friends (architects, photographers, and friends in love with the city). The book, a sort of manifesto in progress, has been translated in French and English. Completely self-funded and produced in Venice, from the graphic design to its printing. But the project doesn't end with the book itself: a series of events allow us to create a dialogue with all those interested about Venice, with exhibitions, performances, and meetings. It's great because we get to meet wonderful new people everyday. This uniqueness is typical of all places, or better, every place is unique, and it would be fun to work on THE INSTRUCTIONS FOR USE OF OTHER CITIES too.

5. Future projects? Giving shape to ideas is my job. Often some projects are so perfect and pure I prefer to leave them floating between my mind and the clouds. Others are shared with my collaborators and are made of research and logistic . Two projects are about to come out soon, both moving from our love for Venice, but for now I prefer superstitiously not to add more. Also because they are so beautiful and crazy that someone could steal them.

Venice books

6. Three reasons to live in or move to Venice.

First, because Venice has a real beauty which can be appreciated fully only with the passing of time. Living the city. Breathing it. At night, in winter, or in a silent spring morning. But also at some loud markets, or in the stories shared by the "lads" in the osterie, or in the memories written between the wooden boards of some boats or on the brick walls, in the colours that pop out from the midst, in the singing of the seagulls, in the water that looks like velvet, and in the endless opportunities to travel the world simply by going for a short walk outside home.

Second reason, that unique silence that belongs only to Venice.

Third, because you could meet me and make a new friend.

I am very grateful for the time Fabrizio took to answer our questions and together with him and Francesca of the bistrot and bookshop sullaluna, we decided to organise a small event that wants to be an occasion of gathering and exchange. Fabrizio will tell us more about the book and his current projects, and you are all invited to share your own experiences, worries, suggestions, and stories about Venice. An open dialogue with you, to exchange points of view and ideas. Thank you so much for reading and hope to meet you soon!

14th of October, 6-8 pm Cannaregio, F.ta della Misericordia 2535, 30121 (Google map) For info and bookings: +39 041 722 924


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