No matter how many times you do it, arriving in Venice is the most fabulous travel experience in the world. Getting off the plane and hopping onto a water taxi to be whisked up the Grand Canal to your hotel is to undergo a sensory rehabilitation like no other. I was there with an old artist friend who lives in Newfoundland and is curiously representing the island at this year's Biennale.
I had never been to the Biennale before and was blissfully ignorant of what awaited us. It seemed that all the hipsters in Europe had left their Berlin lofts and descended upon the water city with their tight red jeans and tiny moustaches. The big boys of the artistic world have their own pavilions in the Giardini, a park at the end of the main island. We did a lightning tour of most of them – Canada (dark), Denmark (dull), Great Britain (arse), Russia … well, we loved Russia. We entered the pavilion and stood around a bucket full of gold coins that could be lifted up through a hole cut in the ceiling. There they were placed on to a conveyor belt, taken up to the ceiling and dropped on to the people next door. They were given umbrellas to protect themselves from the coins, asked to collect them and bring them back to the bucket to continue the process. I grabbed an umbrella and tried to take part but was refused entry as inexplicably it was for women only.
I wandered into another room to see if I could get some information but it only contained a man in a Prada suit astride a saddle on a beam high in the ceiling. We howled with laughter as we exited the pavilion past a small group of hipsters holding an impromptu pro-gay, anti-Russia demonstration. All the best art is theatre.
We left the Giardini and strolled around town visiting exhibitions belonging to countries not deemed important enough to have their own permanent pavilions. My personal favourite was the entry from the United Arab Emirates that simulated standing on the deck of a boat at night in the middle of an ocean. I'm not quite sure if the UAE had thought this through since you do this every time you travel in Venice after 7pm, but maybe that was the idea.
Overdosed on art, we took a boat to the Lido and popped in to the Venice Film Festival. We couldn't fail to know that this was on: anybody remotely connected to the event swanned around Venice proudly sporting their laminates and press passes around their necks. One woman was even wearing hers on the plane home. Get over yourself...
We arrived in time to spot Scarlett Johansson make her entrance at the premiere of her new movie – Under the Skin. We blagged two tickets and found ourselves watching a very dark, art film about an alien serial killer driving around a very gloomy Scotland.
I really enjoyed it, but admit to feeling a touch depressed afterwards. The following day we read the reviews in the British papers. Some gave it five stars, others called it the worst film ever made. Like everything else in Venice at the moment, it's a toss-up between junk and genius.