Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Live! From the 73rd Venice International Film Festival! - LA LA LAND Lets the Sunshine In

Ryan Gosling & Emma Stone in La La Land
(Venice, Italy) Wow. I am still emotional as I write this after just seeing La La Land, a testimony to good ol' human nature, the magic of Hollywood, and those who dream (all of us). That 31-year-old Damien Chazelle, wrote it, directed it, and now, here it is, poof! up on the big screen is living proof of the power of imagination.

The opening scene is set in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the Los Angeles freeway, a jumble of music pouring out the windows of congested cars. And then... one by one people jump out of their cars and burst into song, dancing on the asphalt and flipping over the gridlock. It was so joyful that the audience of press and industry folks burst into applause. We almost burst into song ourselves.

The movie is divided into L.A. seasons, which all look exactly alike, bright, sunny with plenty of traffic. It's a Hollywood romance about a struggling actress, Emma Stone (Mia), and a jazz pianist, Ryan Gosling (Sebastian); the actors have a dynamic chemistry. I was so happy to see a movie about the lives of fictional creative people, which provided real-life singing, dancing creative people with lots of work. When I saw all those performers jumping around on the L.A. freeway, I thought, finally! An employer who put all those years of voice and dance lessons to good use!

Later in the day at the press conference, Damien Chazelle and Emma Stone spoke about breaking into song -- that in order to make a believable musical and break into song, the emotion must be there. I loved the haunting tunes by Justin Hurwitz and the Broadway lyricist team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul that wove in out of the seasons. John Legend is totally cool as the leader of the band. The film could turn a new generation onto jazz.

Damien Chazelle said that now more than ever we need hope. Emma Stone that the movie was in no way cynical. "This is about hoping and dreaming." Though young people have every reason to be cynical after the mess my generation and the one before have handed to them, it was great to see them cut through all the darkness and let a slice of sunshine in. (Read more about it at the Daily Beast.) Personally, it gives me hope that we didn't mess it that badly when a 31-year-old can still wade through the muck and find his way back to the joy of Hollywood musicals and jazz.

Here are some reviews:

From Deadline Hollywood:

Whether it is a dazzling song-and-dance opening set in a massive traffic jam on an L.A. freeway, or a spectacular sequence with Gosling and Stone flying high into the skies of the Griffith Observatory, the musical numbers soar with their own vibrancy and urgency. We live in hard times, but this is a movie worth savoring, something that entertains, enlightens and makes us feel good about being alive.

From The Telegraph:

Stone and Gosling are two of the most naturally sweet stars working today, but together they’re like Diet Coke and Mentos – their chemistry actually feels chemical, or perhaps part of a new branch of particle physics that conducts invisible emotional lightning straight from their faces to your heart. 

From The Hollywood Reporter:

If you're going to fall hard for Damien Chazelle's daring and beautiful La La Land, it will probably be at first sight. There's never been anything quite like the opening sequence

From Variety:

Damien Chazelle’s “La La Land,” which opened the Venice Film Festival on a voluptuous high note of retro glamour and style, is the most audacious big-screen musical in a long time, and — irony of ironies — that’s because it’s the most traditional.

During the press conference, Marc Platt, one of the producers (and the oldest one up on the podium) said that it was a pleasure to work with a young film maker who took such passion and joy in his work. On the very last day, they were shooting with natural light, and Damien Chazelle had the camera on his shoulder. He wanted to keep shooting and shooting. Finally the sun went down. Platt  told Chazelle, "The film is over. There's no more light. It's time to put the camera down."

Hey! The kids are alright!

La La Land will be released in the US on December 2, 2016.

Ciao from the Venice Film Festival,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Cat Bauer for LUXOS - Top 5 Venice Companies - Top 6 Venice Eateries & A Heavenly Island

Aerial View of the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore, photo by Alessandra Chemollo, courtesy of Fondazione Giorgio Cini, for LUXOS Magazine
Aerial View of the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore 
photo by Alessandra Chemollo 
(Venice, Italy) I've recently been writing for LUXOS Magazine, a luxury print magazine that is distributed twice a year in 5-star hotels throughout the world, and is also an online magazine, which you can visit here:

For the LUXOS spring/summer 2016 edition, I wrote an article about the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore, and featured six eateries in Venice, as well as five traditional Venetian companies. Since I know many of you Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog readers are interested in those topics, I'm going to make it easier for you to find them online.

Borges Labyrinth  photo by Matteo De Fina  courtesy Fondazione Giorgio Cini for LUXOS Magazine
Borges Labyrinth
photo by Matteo De Fina
for LUXOS Magazine
To me, the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore has always felt other-worldly, with sacred architecture designed to make it easier to communicate with the heavens. Peaceful and serene, the island has been a haven for enlightened thinkers since the ninth century. Throughout wars and upheavals, there has always been a Benedictine monk on the island, guarding its secrets. Here is a snippet from An Island in Venice - Where Humanism Meets Heaven:

San Giorgio Maggiore: A heavenly island in Venice

Where Humanism meets heaven

When Cosimo de’ Medici, often credited for kickstarting the Renaissance, was exiled from Florence in 1433, he stayed in the Benedictine monastery on the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore, an oasis of knowledge whose origins date back to the ninth century. The powerful banker planned his comeback surrounded by illuminated thinkers, artists and men of God, returning to Florence the next year. Click to continue reading.

Photo courtesy Ristorante Local for LUXOS Magazine
When it came to selecting the eateries, I featured six restaurants that were passionate about Venice and its food, used local ingredients and were owned by hands-on Venetians. If you visit any of these establishments, you will likely find the owner there. Most of these eateries have taken traditional Venetian food and revamped it, bringing ancient traditions into the 21st century.

The new Venetian cuisine

The Ultimate classic Venetian cuisine revamped

Food in Venice has always had a distinct flavour. These restaurants, however, are revamping even the most classic dishes. Stop by any of these eateries for a new twist on tradition. Click to continue reading.

Photo courtesy The Merchant of Venice for LUXOS Magazine
With tourism ravaging the city, it can sometimes be difficult to find authentic Venetian businesses based in the Veneto, working endlessly to keep the local economy afloat. These five companies are devoted to keeping the spirit of Venice alive, using time-honored traditions to create contemporary products.

Top 5 traditional Venetian companies

A look into the timeless wisdom of contemporary venetian companies

With each curve of a canal, the Venice mystique is undeniably present. These companies have taken that traditional mystique and transformed it to become a new trendy, contemporary style. Take a look at how they've molded their history into the most special products. Click to continue reading.

There! I hope that helps guide you through the Venetian labyrinth a bit. If you would like to receive Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog in your email, please subscribe.

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Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Four Weeks Off?! Vacation Time in EU vs. USA and Ferragosto in Venice

Venice Lagoon on a Summer's Day - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) Europeans are guaranteed by law a minimum of four weeks vacation. Americans are guaranteed by law zero vacation time.

Italians in particular are guaranteed four weeks vacation, plus 104 hours (about two weeks) of personal time to take kids to the doctors, go to the dentist, etc. In addition, employees receive 12 paid public holidays.

There are no federally mandated paid vacation or paid public holidays in the United States.Zilch. The average number of paid vacation days that private employers give their employees is 10 days after one year, 14 days after five years, and 17 days after 10 years. On average, after working for a private employer for 20 years, Americans finally get what their European counterparts get by law: 20 days paid vacation. If you want to know more about it, have a look at Wikipedia.

Even though the UK just voted to leave the European Union on June 23, the new Prime Minister, Theresa May, who came into office on July 13, is staying European when it comes to holidays. She is already on vacation in the Swiss Alps, and won't be back until August 24. 

Giudecca Canal - Venice, Italy
And if you think that makes Europeans less productive, it actually works the other way. Studies show that many European countries are actually more productive than the United States. Going on vacation recharges the mind and spirit, and reminds us that there are some beautiful things to enjoy on this planet. We come back refreshed after playing and soaking up some nature.

However, there are some Americans who do get substantial time off: the US Congress, who voted themselves a month off back in 1970. By law, Congress must adjourn between July 31 and Labor Day.

Emperor Augustus
Which brings us to Ferragosto, a uniquely Italian holiday, celebrated on August 15. The festival goes back more than 2,000 years when the first Roman Emperor Augustus thought everybody needed some time off after working so hard on the harvest, and declared the Feriae Augusti, or Festivals of Augustus. Even the emperor knew his citizens would be more productive after a break. 

Then, in the 1920s, the Fascists organized trips at discounted prices so Italians could travel to other cities, or the mountains, or the beach, which remains a tradition to this day.

Assumption of the Virgin by Tintoretto (1550)
And then, in 1950, Pope Pius XII made the Assumption of  the Virgin Mary into church dogma, and August 15 became a Holy Day of Obligation -- except in the US, where it isn't one if it falls on a Saturday or a Monday, which it did yesterday, so Catholics in the US did not have to go to mass (did they have to go to work?).

So, the pagan Roman holiday morphed into a sacred Catholic holiday, which some folks claim was actually an even more ancient Roman festival in celebration of the goddess Diana, who, in addition to her hunting skills and ability to talk to the animals, was the virgin goddess of women and childbirth.

I have written about the holiday many, many times before -- in fact, last year, I stuck them all in one post, which you can read here:

Mary Breaks Sound Barrier Zooming to Heaven - Shatters Venice Heatwave

I hope everyone is enjoying their summer!

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Glory Days When Knights Rode the Earth - Venice Flashback Summer!

Bartolomeo Colleoni by Andrea Verrocchio - Photo: Wolfgang Moroder
(Venice, Italy) To pick a Flashback Summer! post, I've gone all the way back to the beginning of this blog, to March 16, 2008, more than eight years ago. At that point in time, the terrorists were Al-Qaeda, and Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were still slugging it out -- the Democratic National Convention would not take place until August 25, 2008, the day after the Olympics in Beijing concluded, and a week before the Republican National Convention -- which selected John McCain and Sarah Palin(!).

I remember I wrote it because the world seemed to have lost its way, and to remind ourselves that once there were times when men actually were knights who really did conquer castles. I was still finding the right voice, so it's a little gangly, but the essence remains the same.

Glory Days When Knights Rode the Earth - Venice

Oh, the Glory Days when Knights rode the earth! Yesterday, I was over in Campo Santi Giovanni and Paolo, which is chock-full of all sorts of fascinating structures. I went with new arrivals in town from England; I wanted to see Venice through fresh eyes. By taking a little tour with them, it was easier for me to see the wonders of Venice by watching their reaction, and appreciate, again, how many miracles we have here.

Just one masterpiece would be enough to provide the income for a entire town anywhere else; the problem with Venice is that we have so many masterpieces. My hope is to show you how magnificent and powerful this culture once was -- and still is -- if you know how to scratch beneath the surface.

Italian Knight by Robert Wydock from Woodcarver Illustrated
I'm not going to tell you everything we did, because it was so wonderful we must keep some things secret or the next thing you know there will be tourists in the bathtub. But there is a magnificent bronze statue of Bartolomeo Colleoni right in plain sight. I think my uncle may have used it as his inspiration for his black walnut wood sculpture, Italian Knight, but I have to ask him to be sure.

Born outside of Bergamo, which is in Lombardy, Bartolomeo Colleoni was a professional condottiero, or mercenary soldier, for the Venetian Republic from 1448 until his death in 1475. He actually started working for them many years before, in 1432, but he was always switching sides.

Colleoni was the son of a nobleman, Paolo, who was killed by his cousins after he conquered the Trezzo castle, and the Duke of Milan, Filippo Maria Visconti, had him assassinated -- since, after all, it was his castle. The Colleoni were Guelphs, which means they supported the Pope against the Emperor. (The eternal war seems to be: are you for or against the Pope? Are you for or against the Empire? Which Pope? Which Empire? Who is your God? Is your God the same as my God? If there is one God, then who is his Son? Is there a even a God at all, or are there a bunch of gods up on Mt. Olympus playing men against each other like human chess pieces?) Everyone was always changing sides; towns changed sides; families changed sides, etc. Sometimes the Black chess pieces were winning, and sometimes the White; when the game was over, they set up the chess pieces and started all over again, sometimes switching colors.

So, if we think it terms of chess, we can understand a little bit more about Italy. If you take someone's castle away, they are going to be a bit perturbed. Can you imagine such a thing in real life? A Knight actually, physically takes away a Duke's actual, physical castle. Ah, those were the days!

Former chessboard at PalazzinaG
And then we have Venice, a Republic which had different rules than the city-states. The Venetian nobility created their own rules, which we will examine another time. Of course, they still had to obey the various Emperors and Popes in their fashion, but since there were/are so wily, they were always playing tricks on the authorities:) The Venetians were playing a different game, which often intercepted that other chess game.

So, all those city-states were constantly fighting with each other, trying to conquer each other in the name of the Pope or the Emperor or God-knows-who. Venice didn't care much about either the Pope or the Emperor; they were an entity unto themselves, much like today. At one time the Venetian Republic did reach all the way to Bergamo -- I would imagine that Colleoni had a bit to do with that. Colleoni took a lot of towns away from the Milanese on behalf of Venice. Colleoni knew how to play both games, and that was valuable.

Colleoni was born around 1400, right into the thick of it. In this case, we can see that, perhaps, Colleoni had personal reasons for changing sides: the Duke of Milan had killed his father. The point is that he was not Venetian, but he worked for the Venetians. Anyway, after Venice and Milan made peace, he went back to Milan, but the cunning Duke threw him in prison, where he remained until the Duke died. I am quite sure that Colleoni was not happy about that, so he went back to the Venetians. In return for this, he expected some pretty decent perks -- he wanted to be the captain-general. The Venetians did not grant him this privilege, so he went back again to Milan, until the Venetians finally caved in and made him captain-general for life.

To really grasp how powerful Colleoni was, let us look at what he left behind: the magnificent equestrian monument here in Venice, modeled in 1481 by Leonardo da Vinci's teacher, Andrea Verrocchio, and an entire church/mausoleum in Bergamo, the Cappella Colleoni (Colleoni Chapel), where his remains are.

First he asked nicely if he could have the sacristy of the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore for his tomb, but the officials said no. So, he conquered it, destroyed it, and built a new one, which he turned into a personal mausoleum for himself and his beloved daughter, Medea (what kind of man is going to name his daughter, "Medea?"). Although this was back in the 1400s, in terms of history, it was not that long ago, so you can only imagine how much the level of life has changed as we all sit behind our computers and pretend we are cyber knights with cyber castles.

Colleoni was such a strategist that in order to get the equestrian monument built, in his will he left the Venetians a fortune -- 216,000 gold and silver ducats, as well as land and property on the condition that they "build a monument in his honor outside of San Marco." The Venetians needed the money, but it was against Venetian rules to have any statues built to individuals in Piazza San Marco. (Remember, Venice was an oligarchy, a group of noble, very rich, powerful families, that constantly monitored each other. One family could not be more powerful than another, and certainly no guy from Bergamo was going to get a statue in Piazza San Marco.)

Scuola Grande di San Marco
The Venetians, clever as they are, found a solution to this problem. Since Colleoni's will said "outside of San Marco," not Piazza San Marco, they built the statue outside the Scuola Grande of San Marco! Ha! The Scuola Grande of San Marco is now our present-day hospital, and you can see what a beautiful job the non-profit organization, Save Venice, did to restore the facade the next time you are over in Campo Santi Giovanni and Paolo. Have a look with your own eyes and imagine what kind of men once walked upon the very space you are standing in another dimension of time.

By the way, in Italian, the word "coglioni," which sounds like "Colleoni" is slang for testicles, of which Colleoni had three. The story goes that he was so proud of this that he had three balls on his coat of arms.

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Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

La La Land in the Lagoon - 15 US Films at the 2016 Venice Film Festival

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in La La Land
(Venice, Italy) I actually lived in La La Land for much of my adult life, so I'm euphoric that Damien Chazelle's musical about Hollywood starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling is opening the 2016 Venice Film Festival on August 31.

The full lineup was announced last week, and is packed with a bunch of intriguing films from the United States. Let's take a break from all the wickedness over in Washington that is making the whole world nervous -- where the Chairperson of the Democratic National Party was forced to resign for sabotaging Democratic presidential-hopeful Bernie Sanders(!); where Donald Trump, the Republican nominee, was called out by a Muslim Gold Star family(!); where Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, was called out by a white Gold Star mother(!), and focus on something where the US really excels: MOVIES!

I'm going to flip through all the American films that are coming to Venice, even if they are co-produced by other countries. Well, not all, because there are so many -- I'm not going to delve into the Orrizonti, but if you would like to know everything that will screen, go to Biennale Cinema.


1. Arrival, (US) directed by Denis Villenueve; a sci-fi flick starring Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner. Alien spacecrafts land around the world, and an expert linguist is recruited by the military to figure out if they come in war or peace. I'm sure I'm not the only one who would welcome some alien spacecrafts right now.

2. The Bad Batch, (US) directed by Ana Lily Anapour; starring Jim Carey, Keneau Reeves and Suki Waterhouse. Black-comedy horror-thriller set in a cannibal community in a Texas wasteland.

Natalie Portman as Jackie
3. Jackie, (US, Chile) directed by Pablo Larrain, starring Natalie Portman. Jackie Kennedy's days right after JFK was shot.

4. La La Land, (US) directed by Damien Chazelle, starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. Comedy-drama-musical about a jazz pianist who falls for an aspiring actress in Los Angeles.

5. The Light Between Oceans, (US, Australia, New Zealand) directed by Derek Cianfrance, starring Michael Fassbender (whom I adore) and Alicia Vikander. Romantic drama set during WWI about a lighthouse keeper and his wife who find a baby girl drifting in a lifeboat and decide to raise her.

6. Nocturnal Animals, (US) directed by Tom Ford -- I loved his debut film film A Single Man, which premiered here in Venice on September 11, 2009, and I love Tom Ford, who spoke from his heart at the press conference. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Amy Adams, Nocturnal Animals is a thriller about the owner of an art gallery who is haunted by her ex-husband's violent novel.

7. Voyage of Time, (US, Germany) directed by Terrance Maleck, an IMAX documentary film about the birth and death of our universe, narrated in the 40-minute IMAX version by Brad Pitt, and the 35mm feature-length version by Cate Blanchett (do you think they got equal pay?:-).


1. The Bleeder, (US, Canada) directed by Jeff Faraldeau, starring Naomi Watts, Liev Schrieber and Ron Perelman -- I hope Ron comes to Venice because he used to live close by me in Los Feliz, and he worked with my ex-husband on a TV movie. The Bleeder is inspired by the life of heavyweight boxer, Chuck Wepner.

2. Dark Night, (US) directed by Tim Sutton, starring Anna Rose Hopkins, Robert Jumper and Karina Macias about a massacre at a suburban Cineplex that intersects the lives of six strangers.

3. Hacksaw Ridge, (US) directed by Mel Gibson. Mel! Making his Venice debut! Starring Teresa Palmer, Andrew Garfield and Sam Worthington, it's a bio based on a true story about WWII Army medic Desmond T. Doss who refused to kill people, and became the first Conscientious Objector in US history to be awarded the Medal of Honor.

4. The Magnificent Seven, (US) directed by Antoine Fuqua, starring Denzel Washington, Ethan Hawk, Chris Pratt and Haley Bennett about seven gunmen in the Old West hooking up to save a village from the bad guys. A remake of a remake of a remake.

5. The Mountain (Monte), (Italy, US, France) directed by Amir Nadieri, starring Andrea Sartoretti, Claudia Potenza and Zaccaria Zanghellini about a man who tries to knock off the top of a mountain so his crops can get some sun.


1. American Anarchist, (US) directed by Charlie Siskel. I can find nothing regarding what this documentary is about, although I did see Siskel's 2013 Finding Vivien Maier documentary about a mysterious nanny who turned out to be a brilliant photographer.

2. I Called Him Morgan, (Sweden, US) directed by Kasper Collin about the jazz musician, Lee Morgan, who was shot to death by his wife, Helen, in 1972 at a club in New York.

3. Our War, (Italy, US) directed by Bruno Chiaravaloti, Claudio Jampaglia, Benedetta Argentieri, and starring Joshua Bell, Karim Franceschi, and Rafael Kardari. A former US Marine, an unemployed Italian and a Swedish guard volunteer to fight the Islamic State, and face problems when they return home.

There are a lot of juicy films on the plate, don't you think? And those are just the ones from the US -- there's an entire planet of films that will arrive here in Venice. I'm really looking forward to the insanity and excitement of the 73rd Venice International Film Festival at the end of the month, running this year from August 31 to September 10.

Stay tuned...

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Monday, July 25, 2016

The Merchant of Venice in Venice, Italy

The Merchant of Venice at Hotel Danieli - Photo by Mirco Toffolo
(Venice, Italy) When William Shakespeare wrote The Merchant of Venice around 1596-98, a Jew had not lived legally in England for more than 300 years, and the Jews in Venice had been consigned to the ghetto. So when Shylock, a Jewish money-lender, demands a pound of flesh after a Venetian merchant defaults on a loan, Shakespeare knew he was dropping his characters into dynamite, a setting which still raises explosive issues up until the present day.

Shylock - Photo: Mirco Toffolo
A streamlined version of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice was presented on the opulent ground floor of the Hotel Danieli on Wednesday night, July 20, the marble columns of the 14th century Palazzo Dandolo creating a natural setting for a "story about friendship, money, revenge, hatred and love."

Presented as a staged reading in partnership with Kings Theatre Portsmouth, the show was a production of the Teatro Stabilie del Veneto - Teatro Nazionale, in association with the Federation of the Friends of Israel Associations and the Hotel Danieli, so there was a lot of cooperation between different entities to get the tale on its feet.

The production commemorates the 500th anniversary of the founding of the Jewish Ghetto in Venice in 1516, and the 400th anniversary of the death of Shakespeare in 1616, a hundred years later.

At the time The Merchant of Venice was written, Jews had been banished from England since King Edward I's Edict of Expulsion in 1290, the main reason being that Jews were practicing usury, or charging interest on loans, particularly loans with land as collateral -- in cahoots with the barons -- which, after doing some research, utterly simplifies a very complex situation, too complicated to delve into here. If you would like to do some research on your own, you might start with the unedited full-text of the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia.

Narrator - Photo: Mirco Toffolo
In the version presented at the Danieli, many of the characters were eliminated from the original text, and the action moved along briskly with the use of a narrator. At the fast pace, what became more apparent was how human and deeply complex all the main characters were, and how relevant the story is to this very day. The roles of Jews, the banking system, as well as women in society are current topics of discussion, as they were centuries ago. And is Antonio, the merchant of Venice, actually gay?

For those of you who are not familiar with the story, again, I'll let you do your own research -- if you don't want to read Shakespeare, you can watch the 2004 film starring Al Pacino as Shylock, set in Venice. Here is a clip of the famous, powerful speech (for email subscribers, click here):

In the streamlined version adapted by Sophia Pauly and directed by Paolo Valerio, I was most impressed that 430 years ago Shakespeare wrote such a strong female character like Portia, who dresses up as a man, poses as a lawyer, and logically and concisely argues in court to save the life of the man who just might be her scheming husband's lover. Not only is Portia beautiful and wealthy, she is also super-intelligent.

Portia - Photo: Mirco Toffolo
What is even more astonishing is that at the time Shakespeare created Portia, not a single woman had ever received a laureate from a university. Though there were educated women, the first woman in the world to be awarded a Ph.D. degree after a public examination was a Venetian, Elena Cornaro Piscopia, who received a Doctorate of Philosophy on June 25, 1678. Elena's father, Gian Battista Cornaro, was a powerful Venetian nobleman who was not permitted to marry her mother because she was a commoner, though he repeatedly tried to legitimize his family -- even the nobility was subject to restrictions on their lives by the Venetian Republic. As the daughter of a man of great wealth, Elena's brilliance was admired and honored throughout Europe. In fact, we can also commemorate the 332 anniversary of Elena's death, which will be tomorrow, July 26.

And, of course, there is the eternal question of Shylock demanding his pound of flesh, and whether or not The Merchant of Venice is anti-Semitic.

Antonio & Bassanio - Photo: Mirco Toffolo
To me, we should also examine the character of Bassanio, a Venetian nobleman who schemes to marry Portia, a wealthy heiress, to get out of debt. Bassanio hits up Antonio, his beloved friend, for the cash to pose as a contender. Antonio's funds are all tied-up in ships at sea, but he agrees to guarantee a loan -- which is where Shylock, the Jewish money-lender comes in. If it weren't for Bassanio's duplicitous behavior in the first place, who uses not only his best friend, but his own wife to solve his financial problems, Shylock would never have come into the picture.

The evening began with a Kaddish, a hymn of praises to God in the Jewish prayer service, which the audience was asked to stand and recite in Italian. The main goal of the Federazione delle Associazioni Italia-Israel is to help people learn about the cultural, political and social life of the State of Israel, and to foster the development of friends with Italy.

The narration of the condensed story of The Merchant of Venice was in both English and Italian, as was the program, so the audience could follow the dialogue, which was all in English. I studied Shakespeare many years ago, and was thrilled for the opportunity to hear the Bard's words in English, in Venice, where the play is set.

After the show, we were treated to a delightful array of Merchant of Venice-themed food, a cocktail dinner with nibbles named things like "Three chest of gold, silver and lead" -- skewers of chicken, guinea fowl and goose; "Mirth and laughter" -- mixed fried fish; and Artichokes à la Shylock, washed down by Pommery Brut Royal Kosher Champagne.

Photo: Mirco Toffolo
The Merchant of Venice at the Danieli was one of several performances set to take place this year in Venice, the city where Shakespeare set the play.

On Wednesday, July 27, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the US Supreme Court Justice herself, will play the presiding judge in Shylock's Appeal, a mock trial that will reconsider the judgment against the Jewish money-lender. Six performances of The Merchant of Venice will be presented in the actual Venice Ghetto from July 26 to 31.  In a side event, Ginsburg will chair the bench of five jurists who will hear Shylock's 2016 appeal. I have always adored Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and am eager to learn how the appeal is resolved.

UPDATE July 28, 2016: You can read the article by Rachel Donadio in the New York Times to learn the result of the mock appeal: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Presides Over Shylock's Appeal.

Venice Ghetto today - Photo: Cat Bauer
Then, October 19 through 21, the Globe Theatre's production of The Merchant of Venice starring Jonathan Pryce will be performed at the Goldoni Theatre here in Venice. I just read the New York Times review by Charles Isherwood dated July 22, 2016 of the Lincoln Center performance, and it appears that The Merchant of Venice is undergoing an international makeover:

"...Mr. Pryce’s Shylock, meanwhile, evinces little rage and thirst for vengeance — he knows better than to fall into the traps laid for him — but instead argues his case with a measured rationality that, despite its monstrous consequences, never feels tinged with unbridled malice. 

On the other hand, Portia — disguised as the lawyer Bassanio [sic: Bassanio is Portia's husband; she is disguised as the lawyer Balthazar], arguing for the life of Antonio — seems almost sadistic when she gives her verdict in Shylock’s favor, only to reverse herself at the last minute and, with cool calculation, assert that Shylock himself is guilty of trying to take the life of a Christian. Mr. Pryce’s confusion and abasement are painful to watch, as Antonio seems to relish his control over his persecutor’s fate, allowing him to live only if he converts to Christianity."

Does this mean we must reinterpret The Merchant of Venice once again in the near future, focusing next time on the role of Portia and the education of women in society throughout history?

A tale from The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare, direction by Paolo Valerio, adaptation by Sophia Pauly, was performed at the Hotel Danieli Luxury Collection Venezia on July 20, 2016, featuring Stephanie Dickson, Enzo Forleo, Joe Parker, Sophia Pauly, Grant Reeves and Sabrina Reale on piano.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Today is the Feast of Redentore in Venice! The Day in Pictures

(Venice, Italy) After last night's spectacular fireworks display, today is the actual day of the Festa del Redentore, a purely Venetian holiday to give thanks for deliverance from the plague back in 1577.

(For those of you who subscribe by email, and cannot view the video, here is the link, a short click away:)

You can read my previous thoughts about Redentore here:

Cat Bauer in Venice talks about the Festa del Redentore 

Since I have written about Redentore so often before, today is going to be a visual post. It is a beautiful day here in Venice, clear and hot, with throngs making their way over the floating bridge, their feet keeping the beat to the chimes of the Redentore bells, as the sunshine dances on the waves of the Giudecca Canal.

(Again, here is the link to the video, complete with bell chimes:

Everybody was up late last night because the fireworks don't start until 11:30pm, but that didn't seem to stop most folks from making the trek across to the Island of Giudecca to pay their respects inside the Church of Redentore, designed by the renowned architect, Andrea Palladio.

Once across the bridge, at the entrance of the church there are baskets full of shawls to toss across your shoulders if they are bare.

Inside, the church is all decked out for the special Votive Mass of the Redeemer, celebrated by the patriarch, as has been done for centuries.

Trays of candles flicker expressions of thanks.

Redentore Bridge - Giudecca view
This is the view of Venice from the entrance to the Church of Redetore. To arrive at the top, 15 spiritually-significant steps must climbed. The bridge stretching across the canal all the way to Venice reinforces the importance of the celebration. 

One of my favorite things to play is Pesca di Beneficenza, fishing for charity, or a lucky dip. You pay a euro,and a volunteer (or, today, a Capuchin friar, the Order in charge of the Church of Redentore) spins the barrel, and hands you a small, rolled-up scroll with a number or a word on it. Then you go inside to collect your winnings.

Everybody plays, young and old, boys and girls, men and women, and everybody wins something. If you draw a specific number, you get a specific prize, or else you get a grab bag kind of treasure. In the past, I have won some very useful items, like wooden stirring spoons, or a pad and pencil. 

Today my scroll said "tigre," or "tiger." Apparently, that was the designation for a type of grab bag. A boy about 12-years-old took my opened scroll, scurried away, and brought back a colorful bag tied by a pink bow. 

Here is what was inside my bag of loot, which I'm sure I would find very useful if I were a 12-year-old girl:

Meanwhile, the rowing regatta out on the Giudecca Canal captivated spectators on land and water. After all, what would a celebration in Venice be without a rowing regatta?

It was a beautiful, peaceful day inside the cocoon of the Venice lagoon -- something greatly appreciated, especially when much of the outside world seems stricken by turbulence.

Ciao from the Festa del Redentore in Venice,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Cat Bauer in Venice talks about the Festa del Redentore

Fireworks for the Feast of Redentore 2015 - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) Contrary to what some people think, the Feast of Redentore is not held on the third weekend of July. It takes place on the third Sunday of July, with the festivities starting the Saturday before.

Back in the year 2001, I was writing for the International Herald Tribune's Italian supplement, Italy Daily. That year, the first Sunday of July was July 1. That meant the third Sunday was July 15, but the third Saturday was July 21 -- therefore, July 22nd was the fourth Sunday, even though it was the third weekend. The correct date of Redentore that year was Sunday, July 15, with celebrations starting the day before on Saturday, July 14 -- the second Saturday of July, 2001.

Calendar for July, 2001

This year, 2016, the Festa del Redentore takes place on Sunday, July 17, with the celebrations starting the day before on what happens to be the third Saturday, July 16. The feast is to commemorate the official end of the plague on July 13, 1577, 439 years ago.

Got all that?

Church of Redentore - Photo: Cat Bauer
As I have written many times before, the Festa del Redentore translates to the Feast of the Redeemer. The Church of Redentore was built as a votive church to give thanks for delivery from the plague, which had devastated Venice in the years between 1575 and 1577, wiping out nearly a third of the population, even taking the life of the great Venetian artist, Titian.

  • The Death - On August 27, 1576. Tiziano Vecellio, aka Titian, died of fever during the raging plague. Now, I'm not saying that was the reason the Senate decided to build a church, but I think it is interesting they did so about a week later.
  • The Vow - On September 4, 1576, the Venetian Senate decided that Doge Alvise I Mocenigo should announce that a church would be built for Christ the Redeemer in exchange for ending the plague. So, they decided IN ADVANCE that the only way out was to ask for divine intervention.
  •  The Cornerstone - On May 3, 1577, the cornerstone was laid (more on that later).
  • The End of the Plague - On July 13, 1577, two months later, the plague was officially declared over.
  • The Consecration - The Church of Redentore was consecrated on September 27, 1592.

The Church of Redentore was built on the site of the Church of San Jacopo, not the Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli, a sweet little ancient church that still stands on the Island of Giudecca, tucked away from most eyes, and is used by the Capuchin Friars to this day.

Pantheon - Photo: by Roberta Dragan
Il Redentore was designed by the great architect, Andrea Palladio, who, by that time had already built the new Refectory inside the Benedictine monastery on the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore, as well as designed the church, which was in the process of being built at the time the Church of Redentore was ordered up. Palladio's career was strongly inspired by a book he had read written by Vitruvius in the first century BC called De Architectura that had been recently republished in Venice in 1511 (1500 years later), detailing how the ancient Romans built things like temples.

I went into some depth about it in a post I wrote about Aldo Manuzio, which you can read here:

MUST SEE - Aldo Manuzio - Renaissance in Venice - EXTENDED UNTIL JULY 31

To completely over-simplify, if Palladio had had his way, the Church of Redentore would have been round like Pantheon in Rome, but he was overruled by the Venetian Senate, who thought it was too pagan, so what we've got is a single nave church with three chapels on either side, and a Pantheon-inspired facade with an ancient Roman bath-inspired interior. (By the way, Palladio did get to build his dream temple at Villa Barbaro, one of the last things he did.)

Church of Redentore
Such an important church would have had its cornerstone laid by the highest ecclesiastical authority in the Republic of Venice, the Patriarch of Venice, not by Palladio, who, even though he was a genius, was not an aristocrat, although he had the support of some very powerful members of the nobility.

The cornerstone is the first stone set in the construction of a masonry foundation. For ecclesiastical structures, it is symbolic of Christ, the "Chief Cornerstone of the Church." When a cornerstone is set, it is often accompanied by official pomp and circumstance, even to this day. All other stones are set in reference to the cornerstone.

Christ the Redeemer by Titian (1534)
The Patriarch of Venice was not just some guy sent over from Rome. From the middle of the 15th century, the office was held by a Venetian patrician elected from the Senate. Surprisingly, he was usually a layman, rather than a cleric. Venice had a long history of doing its best to limit the authority of the Church in Rome inside its territory, and to look out for the interests of its aristocracy.

An exception was Giovanni Trevisan, who was a Benedictine monk, and was the Patriarch of Venice from 1559 to 1590; he was also the son of important Venetian patricians, Paolo and Anna Moro.

And it was Giovanni Trevisan, Patriarch of Venice, who laid the cornerstone for the Church of Redentore on May 3, 1577.

Go to Venezia Unico for the official program. 

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog