Saturday, January 24, 2009

Carnival of Venice - The Magic Returns with Incentive Harmony

(Venice, Italy) A masked woman steps from her gondola and into the Venetian mist. Flickering candlelight illumines the silhouette of a man waiting at the palazzo door. They embrace, and journey up the red carpet, into a world of intrigue and romance...

A scene from Casanova's memoirs? No -- it's Carnival time in Venice! This year Carnevale runs from Friday, February 13th through February 24th, ending on Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, or Martedì Grasso.

Nicolas and Jean Benedict Arnita, the owners of Incentive Harmony, have been conjuring up Carnevale balls in Venice for more than a decade. Originally from Paris, they are wizards at keeping their love affair with La Serenissima vibrant and alive. This year they are offering eight elegant events at the 14th century Gothic Palazzo Pesaro Papafava, all with an historic theme.

I first met Nicolas and Jean Benedict back in 2001 when I featured their exclusive event-planning company in a story for the IHT-Italy Daily. Since that time, they have seen the likes of the Arvind Singh Mewar, the Maharana of Udaipur, and highest ranking member of the Rajput royal ancestry, cross their threshold -- apparently the Maharana has also fallen in love with Venice as it reminds him of Udaipur, and his palace on the lake:) Together, Nicolas and the Maharana presented the royal exhibition, the Treasure of the Maharaja, here in Italy with Santi Choudhary, a descendent of the original jeweler. Like the Arnitas, the Maharana is dedicated to promoting historic and responsible tourism, not only with his own properties, but across the globe. His Royal Highness couldn't attend the festivities last year, but the Arnitas have high hopes he'll be able to squeeze in a Ball or two this time around.

To kick things off, on Valentines Day, Saturday, February 14th, the theme of the Gran Ballo della Serenissima is "Love Duet," inspired by Romeo & Juliet, the renowned lovers from Verona, a town that was once part of the Venetian Republic. Throughout the evening, the most famous lyric operas will be performed, such as La Traviata, Il Barbiere di Siviglia and La Bohéme. The wine will flow as costumed guests enjoy a gala dinner, and then dance until dawn.

Woven throughout the twelve days of Carnival, the Arnitas will host seven additional events...

Please click to continue reading:
http://venetiancat-incentiveharmony.blogspot.com/

Incentive Harmony of Nicolas Arnita would like to express its great appreciation for the fresh vision and collaboration between the major organizations of the Comune, the Province and the Region, and all its residents, Veneziani di Cuore.

Viva La Serenissima!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Views on Venice - Rent a Palace... or an Apartment

Palazzo Loredan dell'Ambasciatore - Photo: David Nicholls
(Venice, Italy) Palazzo Loredan dell'Ambasciatore is a 15th-century Gothic palace that once belonged to the noble Loredan family. It was called "dell'ambasciatore" because it was the home of the ambassadors of the Austrian Empire to the Republic.

One Loredan ancestor, Antonio, was the adminstrator of Corfu who defeated the Turks in 1716, together with Count Johann Matthias von der Schulenburg, a Saxon general. After the battle, Count Schulenburg set up house inside the Loredan Palace, along with twenty-five members of his entourage and four gondoliers, and was known for his illustrious dinner parties and admirable art collection.

In 1752, another ancestor, Francesco Loredan, who also happened to be the Doge, offered the palazzo as a residence for the Ambassador of the Holy Roman Empire in exchange for twenty-nine years of restorations. Even in those days, a Venetian palace was costly to maintain!

The first Imperial Ambassador to live there was Count Philip Joseph Orsini-Rosenberg. If you have read Andrea di Robilant's book, A Venetian Affair, about the intriguing letters exchanged by Andrea's ancestors, you will remember that one of Count Rosenberg's claims to fame was his marriage in his vintage years to the vibrant Giustiniana Wynne -- her passionate love affair with Andrea Memmo was the topic of that book.

In fact, another friend, Ian Kelly, has written a new biography called Casanova in which Giustiniana Wynne is also featured. Ian has dug up even more riveting details about that fascinating woman who, after discovering she was pregnant with Andrea Memmo's child, ran off to Paris to ask Giocomo Casanova for help. She married Count Rosenberg years later when she discovered that Andrea Memmo was in love with another woman. Imagine, after more than 250 years, people are still curious about Giustiniana -- and Venice's grand intrigues.

Venice is like a theatrical production, one that has been going on for centuries. The set remains almost the same, as do many of the characters -- shopkeepers and gondoliers, fishmongers and aristocrats -- each playing their particular role. Great minds built this city; their thoughts still permeate the air. Memories linger on silk wall coverings and dangle from Ca' Rezzonico chandeliers. Footsteps from centuries ago have left their imprint on the pebbled Venetian pavimento. Every living space comes with a story, one that you can step into, or one you create yourself.

These days, the Palazzo dell'Ambasciatore is owned by the Gaggia family. The grandmother of Filippo Gaggia used to entertain in the piano nobile you see, which is called Ca' Cerchieri.




Filippo Gaggia is now one of the owners of Views on Venice, one of the most prestigious short-term rental agencies in town. More importantly...
Please click here to continue reading:
http://viewsonvenice.blogspot.com/

Saturday, January 10, 2009

British Pantomime in Venice

(Venice, Italy) Sometimes in January, a group of distinguised and sophisticated ex-pats here in Venice lose their minds and perform a bizarre form of entertainment called British pantomime, or panto for short. This is a very popular form of family entertainment in the United Kingdom, with lots of cross-dressing and hissing and booing, but many Americans have never heard of it, and confuse it with the silence of mime. Well, let's get enlightened right now!

From Wikipedia:
"The style and content of modern pantomime have very clear and strong links with the Commedia dell'arte, a form of popular theatre that arose in Italy in the Early Modern Period, and which reached England by the 16th century. A 'comedy of professional artists' travelling from province to province in Italy and then France, they improvised and told stories which told lessons to the crowd and changed the main character depending on where they were performing. ...

The leading male juvenile character (the 'principal boy') - is traditionally played by a young woman, and usually in tight-fitting male garments (such as breeches) that make her female charms evident.

An older woman (the pantomime dame - often the hero's mother) is usually played by a man in drag.

Risqué double entendre, often wringing innuendo out of perfectly innocent phrases. This is, in theory, over the heads of the children in the audience.

Audience participation, including calls of "Look behind you!" (or "He's behind you!"), and "Oh, yes it is!" and "Oh, no it isn't!" The audience is always encouraged to boo the villain and "awwwww" the poor victims, such as the rejected dame, who usually fancies the prince.

A song combining a well-known tune with re-written lyrics. The audience is encouraged to sing the song; often one half of the audience is challenged to sing 'their' chorus louder than the other half. ..."

To read the entire Wikipedia article, click here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pantomime

The Pantalon Players (as we now call ourselves) first performed Aladdin many years ago inside a convent, curious nuns poking their heads in to watch the show. I was the Principal Boy back then, Aladdin the Gondolier, and I wore a gondolier's shirt and hat, but with a short skirt and heels. The genie was John Francis Phillimore, the owner of Old World Books, the rare book shop near the Ghetto, and Jonathan Fox, wearing big bloomers and speaking in falsetto, was my mother.


 Then we took a long break -- several years -- and opened again with Mother Goose at the auditorium in Campo Santa Margherita. Again I was the principal boy, Robin Goodsort, a poor but kind-hearted woodcutter, this time with short shorts and Spanish leather boots.
First they tried to get me to use a real axe, but we are not allowed to have real weapons here in the Magic Kingdom, and the axe was confiscated immediately by my Venetian ex-moroso when I went out on the street. So, Howard Fitzpatrick (who owns Venice Art Tours), and is also married to the writer and director of the panto, the novelist, Laurie Graham, kindly made me the fake one that I am wielding in that image opposite Fairy Stinkweed, played by Peter Page, the jewelry desinger. The evil count was played by the Anglican Chaplain, John-Henry Bowden, and the money we raised went to help restore the roof of the Anglican Church.

Last year, we performed Dick Whittington, and I was the Good Fairy Bow Bells, which was quite a difficult part to play since one of my wings was bent. Dick Whittington is about a rat-catcher that grows up to become Lord Mayor of London, and was our greatest success. The rats were played by local Venetian kids. The singer, Rosemary Forbes-Butler, stepped in at the last moment due to the Principal Boy's pregnancy complications, and did an amazing job as Dick Whittington him/herself. We raised almost €3,000 Euro for Care & Share Italia, a charity working with the most disadvantaged of children in southern India, and this was our great reward:


This year we are exhausted by the Financial Crisis, the Aqua Granda, and the General Tumult in the World Today, so there will be no performance:) Seriously, we planned last year not to perform this year, so we must have had a premonition. In any event, we will have a performance in 2010, and the show will be the greatest and most ambitious production ever: CINDERELLA!
We are actually planning in advance this time, and we are looking to You, Dear Readers, for your donations so we can put on a Really Good Show. If you are in Venice, there are all sorts of exciting fund raisers -- on New Year's Day there was a bacon and egg brunch, and at the raffle I won a bottle of Glenfiddich, the first bottle of Scotch I have ever owned in my life! If you are not in Venice, there are many ways you can participate from afar.

To read Laurie Graham's very clever (and better) explanation of how we came into existence, and how to contribute, please click here:


Here is an example of one star-studded cast:

MOTHER GOOSE
Written & Directed by Laurie Graham
CAST
Narrator - Jeremy Magorian
Mother Goose - Jonathan Fox
Daisy May - Judith Asher
Silly Billy - Sandra Fox
Robin Goodsort - Cat Bauer
Sir Jasper Grasper - John-Henry Bowden
Terry Bull - Frank O'Halloran
Harry Bull - Howard Fitzpatrick
Fairy Stinkwood - Peter Page
Fairy Foxglove - Noelle Rimmington
Goosey Lucy - Elaine Eliah
Attila the Hen - Elizabeth Leckie
Make-up - Liesl Odenweller
Music Director - Sidney Stires
Choreography - Ferruccio Berolo
Sets - Jane Gorlin
Stage Manager - Louise Andrew
Light & Sound - Marilyn Bowden & Tony Bird

Miss Bauer's Day Wear by Sete-Cento: http://www.sete-cento.com/
Mr. Page's costume by Leone Dooré
Ms. Eliah's plumage by Lynn Lazzarini & Christine Conway Morris
Benefits for the roof repair fund of St. George's Anglican Church, Venice
Ciao from Venice,
Cat

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Befana Regata and Epiphany

(Venice, Italy) The Epiphany, or the Twelfth Day of Christmas, on January 6th is a national holiday in Italy. It is also the day of the La Befana, a witch who hands out candy and gifts for good children, and coal for bad children, similar to Santa Claus.

In Venice, the holiday has morphed into something truly unique. During the Regata delle Befane, male Venetian rowers dress in drag as female witches, and have a little regata, or race. The finish line is below my apartment, so I usually have a Befana party to close the holiday season. No one ever seems to know, exactly, what time the race starts or finishes. Some posters from the Comune said to go over to the fish market at 11:30AM for hot mulled wine and sweets, so I thought 11AM would be a good time for the party. It turned out it was too late. Note to self: the Befana regata celebration starts at 10AM!

A Venetian chorus started singing Venetian songs at the foot of the Rialto Bridge at about 10AM, so I called the documentary filmmaker Anny Cararro and told her to come earlier because she wanted to shoot some footage. We started getting all teary-eyed listening to the songs. For me, the Befana regata is one of the most Venetian holidays because the Venetians really run the show. The acoustics are very particular at the foot of the Rialto Bridge, and the voices of the chorus soared over the Grand Canal, echoing off the palazzi and skipping across the water. An enormous stocking is hung from the top of the Rialto Bridge, and with the men rowing frantically dressed as women... well, you can only imagine.

One year, I spent La Befana in the Veneto on the mainland, and out there they burned her image, sort of like a scarecrow/witch, in a huge bonfire. She then resurrected into human form and handed out sweets or coal, and then later the children went in and sat on her lap while the adults munched on traditional sweets and drank hot mulled wine.

The Twelfth Day of Christmas, or the Epiphany is celebrated to commemorate the day the Three Magi arrived with their gifts for the infant Jesus. How did a witch get involved with that?











According to Wikipedia, La Befana may have pagan origins, and since many Christian holidays and images can trace their origins back before the Church got involved, I am putting my money on that theory. La Befana feels pagan:

A popular belief is that her name derives from the festival of Epiphany, but there is evidence to suggest that Befana is descended from the Sabine/Roman goddess named Strina. In the book Vestiges of Ancient Manners and Customs, Discoverable in Modern Italy and Sicily by Rev. John J. Blunt (John Murray, 1823), the author says:

"This Befana appears to be heir at law of a certain heathen goddess called Strenia, who presided over the new-year's gifts, 'Strenae,' from which, indeed, she derived her name. (D. Augustin. de Civit. Dei, lib. iv. c. 16.) Her presents were of the same description as those of the Befana—figs, dates, and honey. (Ov. Fast. i. 185.) Moreover her solemnities were vigorously opposed by the early Christians on account of their noisy, riotous, and licentious character" (Vide Rosini, ed. Dempster. lib. i. c.13, de Dea Strenia}. – page 120

To read the entire article, go here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Befana

In any event, I would like to thank my guests for their excellent conversation and generosity in creating a spectacular table. Each person contributed something, so we had lasagna, salad, mushrooms, cheeses and plenty of fine wine, panettone and chocolates!

Ciao from Venice,
Cat
Venetian Cat - Venice Blog
http://venetiancat.blogspot.com/

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Venice at the New Year

(Venice, Italy) That image of an angel was taken by an old friend, the photographer, Roberto Silva. He also took my author's photo, the same one you see here on my blog. I don't really look like that any more; it was taken about three years ago. The sweater, however, is the same.

Today, on New Year's Day, January 1, 2009, I wore that same bright green sweater to a brunch.



The photo that ended up in Harley's Ninth, is actually the second photo we took. Roberto and I re-shot the author's photo because the first coverflap looked too sad -- there were all sorts of tragedies at that point in time, reflected in my face -- and Knopf kindly allowed me to redo it. In fact, they kindly allowed me to have a photo in the first place, because they usually don't do that for my genre.

I love Roberto's photos because he captures souls, even the soul of a statue or a building. I also love Roberto because we have the same birthday, July 27. We are both Leos, and sometimes we have thunderous disagreements.

It snowed last night in Venice. I was exiting the Goldoni Theatre, where I had just seen Cirk, a theatrical production directed by the Dutch Ted Keijser, and flakes were starting to come down. That is not a photo from last night, but it is a Roberto Silva photo, and it has snow.


To see more of Roberto's work go here:
http://www.robertosilva.net/
(Update 12/20/13 - Roberto has let that domain expire.)

I ended up at Cirk because of New Year's Eve Venetian shenanigans. I was not in the mood to play, and decided at the last minute to change my plans. So, about 5pm, I thought, what shall I do tonight? Just like a movie, I saw the poster for CIRK at the Goldoni Theatre. It was a Pantakin production. All sorts of bells and whistles went off in my brain, because many years ago, I had written about the Pantakin production of Ombra di Luna for the International Herald Tribune's Italy Daily. It was one of my most difficult pieces to write; in fact, I almost gave up, but it ended up being one of the stories I like the best.

The ensemble of Ombra di Luna, or Moon Shadow, challenges the idea of what, exactly, constitutes a circus. Inside a tent at the Port of Venice, smoldering campfires peek out from behind a forest of trees. Painted stars illuminate the ceiling. There is a rumble, and the skeleton of a ship is carried into the ring. Instead of a ringmaster cracking a whip, the host for the evening is a squawking bird wearing a mask in the role of a clown inspired by the Commedia de l'arte. As the evening progresses, elements of folk theater, acrobatics, dance, contortion, music, juggling and improvisation are hung loosely together on the ancient Sumerian myth of Gilgamesh, the seeker who was one-third man and two-thirds god.

Ah! Those were the days, my friends. I can't imagine writing like that for a newspaper at this point in time (I'm sure some of you are thinking: thank god for that!:). In any event, I made a phone call, and was fortunate to score a ticket to Cirk at the last moment -- the theater was packed.
 
Cirk is similar to Ombra di Luna, only the story is loosely about a missing elephant instead of being loosely about Gilgamesh. None of the players are the same as in Ombra, but the spirit of Pantakin is the pillar. That image you see is Beppe "Sipy" Tenenti juggling, um... elephant dung. It was so bizarre, funky, and out there... but there was something about it that was very human... honest and sincere.
The stand-out in the show was Emmanuelle Annoni, a coquettish colt with a sense of humor, a daring, focused talent, and very flexible bones. Not so easy to feign sleep on a tightrope!

As usual, I am having a problem with my embedding, so here is the YouTube link for the three minute promo. It is very... European, and will give you a nice taste of the difference between cultures -- my voice is very American, and so it seems familiar, but my backdrop is most definitely European:

After the show, I wandered into Piazza San Marco, but was not impressed, so I went home. As the people on the streets became drunk and starting breaking bottles and exploding firecrackers, I watched the fireworks from my balcony as the snow came down. I put my speakers outside and blasted Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 over the Grand Canal, Arturo Toscanini leading Vladimir Horowitz with the NBC Symphony Orchestra, a recording from Carnegie Hall in 1943. It was a beautiful image, the tumbling snow, the fireworks over the palazzi and the people gathered on the Rialto Bridge, listening to the music.

Happy New Year from Venice,
Cat
http://venetiancat.blogspot.com/
*UPDATE 12-20-2013 - Once again I've tried to fix the formatting on this post, with a little success.