Sunday, December 21, 2008

What is "Acqua Alta" (High Water) in Venice and is it Dangerous?

Venice in the Evening - Photo: Jonathan Ulman
(Venice, Italy) Human beings are fascinating creatures. I hear that people are actually cancelling reservations to Venice based upon the images shown all over the world regarding our Aqua Granda on December 1st. Instead of panicking, let's get educated. (That image you see is by Jonathan Ulman, and illustrates what Venice looks like most of the time.)

Acqua alta is NOT a flash flood from a river or from the sea. It is a tide. Most of us have been to the ocean or the sea. The tide goes in. It peaks. The tide goes out. During low tide, you can pick up sea shells that are otherwise hidden by the water and squish your feet into the wet sand. During high tide, if you have put your towel too close to the ocean, you must move it back a few feet or it will get wet. The tide is like the breath of the Earth. It is a natural, normal thing.

Venice has been in existence since March 25, 421, when, according to legend, she was born at 12:00 noon in Campo San Giacometto. That makes her 1,587 years old. Most of the buildings here are at least 500 years old; some much older, and they were built using very enlightened principles.

Most people have experienced Mother Nature when she gets out of sorts. I have lived through earthquakes, fire, and riots in Los Angeles, hurricanes and flooding in New Jersey and Florida, and blizzards and blackouts in New York City. I was in the middle of a tornado in Croatia, shattered glass all around. I was even hit by ball lightning in my cradle in South Carolina.

(UPDATE: At the time I wrote this in 2008, I did not know that in the future I would be swept up in yet another tornado right here in Venice on June 12, 2012, which you can read about here (spoiler alert: I survived) ->

Tornado in Venice - Eyewitness Report - Cat, You're Not in Kansas Anymore

There are natural disasters all over the world all the time; it is impossible to avoid them; we either survive them or we don't. Acqua alta is not a tidal wave. It is the most gentle and pleasant of all the acts of nature, because it arrives slowly, stays for a couple of hours, and then goes away again. Every time they dig up something around here, they find a lower street level, so the Venetians are very familiar with acqua alta. Everyone puts on their boots, as if it were snowing, and goes about their business.

Acqua alta, if we have it, arrives usually in November and December. It only happens if certain conditions combine: like a seiche, which is like a long wave that washes all the coasts of the Adriatic, and a scirocco, which is a warm wind that blows the Adriatic Sea to the Venetian Gulf. We all know that the Moon affects the tides, so often the Moon is also involved. The Comune of Venice has set up a website to explain it to you:

This is only my own personal theory, but the Full Moon this December 12th was the closest it has been to us for 15 years, since 1993. The New Moon was on November 27th. So, on December 1st, this great Moon was at the beginning of its approach toward Earth. Also, on that day, there was a three-way conjunction between the Moon, Jupiter and Venus -- here in Europe, the Moon actually eclipsed Venus on December 1st. Now, if Jupiter and Venus add their energy to the Moon, well, you are going to get a very strong Moon. Add to that the seiche and the scirocco, and, perhaps, that created the Aqua Granda. Again, that is only my theory, nothing scientific.

If you speak to people in town about what happened on December 1st, everyone will give you a different impression about that day, depending on their location. Most people experienced flooding, although some people were not affected at all. Children went to school. I live right on the Grand Canal at Rialto, and I am always affected by acqua alta because the ground level is very low and the water is right below.

Everything in Venice is back to normal, and has been for some time. Last night over at St. George's Church we had our annual Christmas gathering, and some Americans came up to me and thanked me for my reading, which was: The angel Gabriel salutes the Blessed Virgin Mary (that image is Sandro Botticelli's interpretation). They said it felt like a message had been delivered and that it made them feel at home. The church was packed, and afterwards we had hot mulled wine and mince pies.

Today in Venice it is bright and sunny, and everyone is over at the Christmas market which runs through many of the campi in town. There were Santa Clauses out in the gondolas this morning. There are Christmas cocktails and Christmas concerts and Christmas lights and Christmas parties. The only annoyance was the loud amateur "rock" band in Campo Santo Stefano, blasting music in the Christmas market -- a string quartet or a choir would have been much more pleasant and appropriate. Not that I'm against rock 'n roll -- I love it at the right place and time -- but it doesn't belong in an elegant square on the Sunday before Christmas.

Venice is a magical town, the only place like it on Earth. Educate yourselves before you come, and you will be sure to have a wonderful time.

Now, enough about aqua alta!

Ciao from Venice,

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Aqua Alta? Acqua Alta? Wrong! Aqua Granda!

(Venice, Italy) I have received many comments after scolding Richard Owen at Times Online for using the spelling acqua alta instead of aqua alta to describe the high water we had in Venice on December 1st. I chalked it up to the difference between Venice and Rome. In my environment, I have always used the spelling aqua alta.

Yesterday, I informally polled some Venetians. The Venetian language is a mainly an oral language these days, and all Venetians I know speak it; however, not many know how to write it. The people aged 35 and younger insisted it was acqua alta. The ones a bit older, up to about 60, paused, and said they thought acqua alta, but weren't sure. Then, a white-haired man about 80-years-old with a cane passed by, and they all shouted, "Ask him!" "Most definitely aqua alta," he declared without hesitation, "without the 'c,'" and continued on.

Everyone became obsessed with the discussion. They all said they had a Venetian dictionary at home and would look it up. I decided to ask our human encyclopedia, Franco Filippi, who owns a bookshop here in Venice, Libreria Editrice Filippi, and is an authority on everything Venetian... well, as much as anyone can be an authority because it is nearly impossible to solidify reality in this town.

Franco said that both Richard Owen and I were correct, and that we were both wrong. Acqua alta is the spelling in Italian and aqua alta is the spelling in Latin; either can be used, and both are correct. To illustrate his point, he pulled a few books off the shelves with each spelling. "However," Franco said, "what happened on December 1st was not aqua alta at all. It was Aqua Granda since it was over 1.50 meters, and, personally, I would spell that without the "c." (That image you see is a sign giving directions on how to get to Rialto or San Marco. And, yes, both directions will get you there in about the same amount of time. In fact, no matter how far or long you walk in Venice, you may end up right where you started:)

Someone on Wikipedia has done an amazing, detailed job in explaining the Venetian language:

"Venetian or Venetan is a Romance language spoken by over two million people,[1] mostly in the Veneto region of Italy. The language is called vèneto in Venetian, veneto in Italian; the variant spoken in Venice is called venexiàn/venesiàn or veneziano, respectively.

...On March 28, 2007 the Regional Council of Vèneto officially recognized the existence of the Venetian Language (Łéngua Vèneta) by passing with an almost unanimous vote a law on the "tutela e valorizzazione della lingua e della cultura veneta" (Law on the Protection and Valoraisation of the Venetian Language and Culture) with the vote of both ruling and opposition parties."

If you'd like to see for yourselves how complicated the situation is, here is the entire Wikipedia article:

In any event, since December 1st, we have gone back down to simple aqua alta, and the locals have asked me to tell you to come on over and join us in Venice. This past Sunday the sun was shining on the aqua alta all over town. It made kind of a mysterious moat, blocking access just past Santi Apostoli unless you were wearing boots. Strangely, it seemed to have flooded into the commerical shops that you find all over the world, and left the Venetian shops alone. An Italian couple wearing shoes stopped me. "Is it possible to pass?" I said, "In the mountains you must bring your snow boots. These days, when you come to Venice, you must bring your water boots. Otherwise, everything is normal." They nodded. "Yes. That makes sense." We were almost giddy on Sunday, everyone was having so much fun navigating the water. People were sitting at tables in outdoor cafès in puddles of water, wearing their boots. Others were paddling around in kayaks. It was just like snow, but water... there was the feeling of joy you can have when playing in the snow. You can buy rubber boots all over town these days, at many shoe and hardware stores -- they cost about 20-25 euro. However, you must come in the morning to enjoy aqua alta because it is almost gone by 1:00PM.

Personally, I have gotten used to putting on my rubber boots before heading out the door in the morning because if there is high water, we are always flooded over here on the Riva del vin, which is on the Grand Canal right at the Rialto Bridge. (Vin=wine in Venetian; in Italy they drink vino:) The waiters at the restaurant downstairs set up the tables in the water, laughing and singing at the absurdity of it all. Other areas of town are not at all affected. I ran into some friends on the vaporetto the other night as I was heading out to dinner wearing my Spanish leather boots. Two had on rubber boots and one had on shoes. "Aren't you taking a risk?" they asked. "I am gambling that I can get to my dinner appointment and back home tonight without running into aqua alta," I said. And I did!

Ciao from Venice,

Friday, December 12, 2008

High Water Vacation in Venice!

(Venice, Italy) That image you see is not Venice, it is Rome. There has always been a bit of conflict between Venice and Rome -- Venice was excommunicated by the Pope on more than one occassion, which did not stop Venice from doing business as usual.

I spoke earlier today with a friend from Milano who was in Sienna. He was the first one to tell me about the flooding in Rome, where it has been declared a natural disaster by the mayor, and so far three people have died. The River Tiber is threatening to overflow its banks as I write this. He asked me how things were in Venice. Here are my observations:

On my way to dinner last night, I noticed the precautions the businesses had taken in response to the three level siren alarm. The restaurant downstairs on the riva was serving dinner right on the Grand Canal as the water licked toward the feet of the customers. I said, you are open? They laughed. "Always!" The wooden planks for walking had been set in place. A bank (as in a place to store your money) had very neatly moved everything off the floor and up on the desks, then locked up for the night. The doors in front of all the shops had their high-water blockades set in place.

Then, this morning we all had on our high water boots as we went about our day; otherwise it was pretty much business as usual. There was a feeling of comradery, as if we were all in this together and would simply make the best of things. A Canadian woman in Campo San Maurizio asked me how to get to the University of Ca' Foscari for a conference; she had on shoes, not boots. I said, you are not prepared. She was from Ottawa. I said, surely you have boots in Ottawa and she said her boots were too warm for Venice. With some deft twists and turns, I managed to bring her to the vaporetto stop at Sant 'Angelo without getting her feet wet.

There were very few tourists, and the ones who were here were having fun. It was easy to separate the wise from the uneducated tourists today because the latter either didn't have their boots on, or they were wearing the noisy plastic tourist boots. At the top of the Rialto Bridge I saw some very interesting boots similar to our boots, but different -- they were elegant, yet practical. I said, "Where did you get those boots?" They said, "We are from Northern France and we brought them from there."

I think this is a great new fad and that all tourists coming to Venice should bring their high-water boots from their own countries. In fact, perhaps we should start importing them. There's a fantastic new business idea for all you Venetian merchants, and I am quite sure you will make a profit. A store called Aqua Alta Supplies for all your high-water needs.

I hear the ever-enterprising hotel association is offering high water boots as part of a package, with a map of alternate routes. The museums and art galleries are dry. People are cheerful. The streets have never been cleaner. It couldn't be a better time to come to Venice!

Ciao from Venice,

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Three Level Alarm for High Water in Venice

(Venice, Italy) I must take back every bad thing I said about the new siren. I have already grown very fond of it after hearing it nearly every day. It just went off again now, the same Three-Level alarm we had when the high water in Venice was all over the news. I have to go out to dinner tonight:) I'll keep you posted.

Ciao from Venice,

Monday, December 8, 2008

A Sea of Angels - Un Mare di Angeli

(Venice, Italy) The week before the high water was a time of enchantment here in Venice, and I am going to go back in time and highlight some of the adventures I had the pleasure to enjoy. There is a lot of talk in town these days about human development, and, to me, there is no better way to develop human beings than through art and culture. The theme of La Biennale's theatre section this year was Mediterraneo, and the Director, as mentioned before, was Maurizio Scaparro, the director of the film L'Ultimo Pulcinella, which will screen in Los Angeles in February.

That image you see is the amazing Greek soprano, Myrtò Papatanasiu, in Un Mare di Angeli, or A Sea of Angels, which premiered on November 29th at the Goldoni Theatre here in Venice. Myrtò performed Violetta in Verdi’s La Traviata produced last year by Franco Zeffirelli and directed by Gianluigi Gelmetti at the Teatro dell’Opera in Rome, "a performance that earned the applause of audiences and critics alike," according to the notes from La Biennale.

The Fondazione Alda Fendi–Esperimenti produced the show, and Alda Fendi, one of the renowned Fendi sisters, was here herself. (At a press conference she wore a necklace made out of aviator sunglass lenses -- it was clever, and really worked.)

Cameras flashed inside the lobby of the Goldoni as the hip, glam audience flowed in the door--the younger Venetian aristocrats in town put in a strong appearance. Marco Loredan was one, and with three Doges in his family, you can't get much more noble than that! Marco also has a reputation as being one of Venice's greatest dancers, a fact to which I can personally attest:) There had been some discussion about what to wear to the show, and the guys set the tone by deciding on jackets and ties. A British journalist remarked to me later at the Caffè Florian that he found it quaint -- had it been in London, everyone would have dressed in jeans. Well, no one does "quaint" better than Venetian nobility of any age -- amusing, clever and refined, with a lagoon twist.

There is something magical about the Mediterranean Sea... there are long shafts of sunlight that beam past the surface and down to the depths. It really is like a sea of angels! It is difficult for Americans, perhaps, to appreciate how the Mediterranean Sea links vastly different cultures. Names like Libya, Lebanon, Algeria, and Bosnia sound exotic, existing in another universe and time. Perhaps it's time to look at the map:) You can see that Sicily is just a skip away from Tunisia, and that Spain is almost kissing Morocco.

Maurizio Scaparro joked that someone asked him if the diving image for this year's Biennale was that of Barack Obama.

From La Biennale:

"It is the Mediterranean that slips from island to island, the thousand islands of Greece and the Italian, Spanish and North African islands. It flows softly, or stealthily, along daring, imaginative, hospitable coasts. For centuries it has bathed and surrounded temples, amphitheatres, arenas, villas. ... It saw the gods of Hellas, the diaspora of the apostles of Christ, the Roman triremi, the arrival of the Barbarians, the silent work of the hermits in the monasteries high above the wave.

"A Sea of Angels: the sound of their wings lingers above the water. It comes from Crete, visits Constantinople during the siege of the Turks, sounds the hammers of Lord Elgin, who perpetrated the massacre of the Parthenon, touches the cheeks of the Empress Theodora and dances with Irene, Melina, Zorba and the fishermen of Piraeus. ..."

The performance was on Thanksgiving night, and I imagined myself in an audience of present-day angels. I loved the show, which incorporated film, music and images of airplanes that transformed into angels and flew gently around the theater. A lot of Italians said they did not understand it, especially since much of it was in Greek. I have no particular history with the Greeks, and with all the languages floating around this city, I can't understand half of what I hear with my ears anyway -- I usually depend on the language of the heart. From my point of view it was uplifting and beautiful. Everyone did agree that Myrtò Papatanasiu's voice was stunning, and she was given a round of applause when she entered the Caffè Florian with her entourage later in the evening. The difference between Myrtò in and out of costume was striking -- she's so natural and engaging off stage, it's hard to believe she could transform effortlessly into an Uber Vocal Chord Woman. We nibbled on hors d’oeuvres and sipped wine until about midnight.

The next day, much of the same crowd braved the rain for brunch over at the Guggenheim. I couldn't stay as long as I would have liked because I was having Thanksgiving dinner that night, and needed to fix the stuffing and the turkey -- which the host (who is a great cook) ended up preparing without me. Lesson: never put food in the house of a cook or they will cook it without you! And this year Antica Drogheria Mascari actually had imported cranberry sauce! Yay!

That was only ten days ago, and today there is violence in Greece. Today, December 8th, is the birthday of my protagonist, Harley Columba. It is also the day John Lennon was killed; the Feast of the Immaculate Conception; the day Buddha was enlightened; the Festival of the Egyptian goddess, Neith; and the birthday of Amaterasu, the Japanese Goddess of the Sun. It is the day that the United States declared war on Japan. Extreme negative, extreme positive energy all on one day. It may surprise some of you to learn that unlike John Lennon, I don't believe in peace on Earth -- but I do believe in harmony.

As I've said repeatedly, I try to avoid religion and politics, which is difficult if one lives in a place where the Arab, Christian and Jewish cultures converge -- not to mention the zesty ingredients the various countries and languages add to the mix. Difficult, also, when these themes run through many cultural events and conferences. A few evenings before, on November 23, I attended a bittersweet performance entitled Salonicco 43. This is from the La Biennale website:

Thessaloniki, also called the ‘Jerusalem of the Balkans’ or the “mother of Israel, counted a population of 100,000 in 1939, 50,000 Jews, many of Italian origin and nationality, present in all the different social classes and perfectly integrated with the Greek population. Historian Albertos Nar remembers it as “the largest and most prosperous Sephardite Jewish community in Europe, and one of the most important in the world”. Of the 32 synagogues in the city, fourteen of which were built by people from Sicily, Calabria, Puglia, all that remains are faded old photographs…

During the terrible months of 1943, the Italian consul in Thessaloniki was Guelfo Zamboni, a Fascist functionary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who, in the face of the inhumanity of the Holocaust, began a personal, heroic battle to try and save as many lives as possible by providing forged Italian identity cards that would allow their possessors to reach Athens and save their lives.

His tenaciousness, his courage, his perseverance saved more than 500 Jews from Nazi barbarity, men, women, children who became the protagonists of our cultural project, and who transformed our Zamboni into a new Italian Schindler. In 1992 he was given the title of “righteous among the nations”.

The project "has received the High Patronage of the President of the [Italian] Republic for the high ethical value and for the originality of the themes it addresses."

To read the entire summary, go here:

On Saturday, I read an article in the New York Times by Rabbi Menachem Froman that I liked: Because the Jews and Arabs are “so mixed up,” Rabbi Froman proposed the establishment of two countries without borders, or two states in one land. He envisages a shared Jerusalem where the Old City, containing the main sites sacred to Muslims, Christians and Jews, is ex-territoria, a Jerusalem that houses the headquarters for international institutions. To read the entire article, go here:

Sound impossible? Like John Lennon, I am a dreamer. Remember -- I live in Venice, where everything is possible.

Ciao from Venice,

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Venice - The New Atlantis?

(Venice, Italy) First, I must correct Monday's blog about the high water in Murano. Apparently the person I spoke to on the phone was the only one in Murano who was not affected, because, as you can see by that photo there on the left, Murano received more than its share of aqua alta.

Yesterday, British Sky TV asked me to participate in a feature Sky News was doing on the flooding in Venice after finding Venetian Cat - Venice Blog (which "amused" the producer), and I agreed -- especially since the ninemsn online chat scheduled for 7AM that morning (5PM for those of you in Australia) never happened due to a "glitch." We will reschedule after the New Year; I'll keep you posted, or check the ninemsn website for updates:

So, off I dashed to an Internet Point, and we did the Sky News by webcam and Skype. I'd never used that technology before, and it was so cool to be hooked up with England while sitting in Venice with a headset. Nan McElroy, who also lives here in Venice and has her own blog, Living Venice, participated by phone. To read Nan's blog, go here:

Apparently our mayor, Massimo Cacciari, would like to clarify his remarks that tourists should avoid coming to Venice. He was correct to say such a thing on Monday, because it was impossible to move, and tourists would have only been a distraction, if not an outright impediment. You can come now if you behave yourselves:)

This morning at the gym we spoke about how we felt: almost as if we had been abandoned. It was kind of spooky -- as if we were here all alone, just the handful of residents. We wondered if that's how the people in New Orleans had felt when the water starting gushing in. It all happened so suddenly, without much prior warning. We thought that a tide so high would have been anticipated, and that it was one more trick to get rid of us:)

Later this morning, however, I did see Marino Folin, who is the former Chancellor of IUAV University (for architecture), over by Rialto -- I sat next to him on the jury for the Festa delle Maria during Carnevale two years ago. I said, "I am so happy to see you! We thought we were left here all alone. As long as you are here, it means we are still alive." Marino laughed. "That's the most important thing. That we are still alive."

The Venetians explained to me what they were concerned about. Underneath the buildings are septic tanks. If the water had risen just a little higher, the sediment in those tanks would have bubbled up through the toilets on all the ground floors of Venice. When the tide goes out, they can clean up after the sea water, but the septic tank water is sporca and smelly, and would have left a dirty, unsanitary residue.

These particular Venetians accept MOSES because they think it is the only hope, and they wished the money had been spent first on that than on the Calatrava Bridge. Personally, I believe we should incorporate everything -- MOSES, changing the direction of the tributaries that run down to Venice, restricting the cruise ships, raising the level of the ground -- even incorporating the irrigation system of the San Francesco della Vigna friars wherever possible.

Aqua alta is nothing new. Venetians have been raising the level of the ground for centuries. But, somehow this aqua alta felt different, and not just because it was the highest in 22 years. To me, it's another warning that things on this planet must change, and change quickly, or Venice will really become the New Atlantis, a once thriving civilization filled with sophisticated thinkers. Humanity will lose all the magnificient art, culture and information we have stored here. There is only a small window of opportunity.

Ciao from Venice,

Monday, December 1, 2008

Venice Underwater - Eyewitness Report

(Venice, Italy) The "sirens" for aqua alta, or high water, first went off this morning at around 7:30AM (I think). It's hard to tell because we have a new siren. It is three melodic, rising, harmonic tones, and sounds a little like Close Encounters of the Third Kind -- as if we should welcome the flooding waters with open arms. The old siren was frightening and insistent, like an air-raid siren warning of great danger to come. The Venetians did not dance to the music. As their years of hard labor were silently, slowly destroyed, the Venetians were furious.

This from Times Online, by Richard Owen from his front row seat in... Rome...?(!):

"Sirens sounded the alarm in Venice this morning as sea water surged into St Mark's Square and the authorities gave warning that the acqua alta (high water) could reach its highest levels for 30 years."

(Um... that's aqua alta, Richard, not acqua:)

I put on my high water boots, and headed off to the gym as I usually do. I arrived about 9:30. My gym is the best gym in Venice, I think. It is where the Angels stay fit, and is 90-95% Venetian and residents. The owner of the gym was agitated; I have never seen him like that before.

"The new siren is soothing for the tourists," I said. "So they are not alarmed."

"For my forty years we've had a proper siren," said the owner. "What did we need a new siren for? It's only more wasted money."

The owner paced back and forth, checking the water levels. At 10:15AM he said, "That's it. We have to shut down." At that point, the high water had flooded into the entrance. It was bubbling up through the floor and heading toward all the valuable exercise equipment. The owner was understandably distressed as he watched the manifestation of his hard work licked by the lagoon. The women's changing room is upstairs, and it was impossible to reach the steps unless you were wearing boots since the water was ankle-deep. Luckily, I had left my boots downstairs, and the attendant got them for me.

I splashed out the door. The water gushed through the calli. It was really serious. I stopped at the tobacco shop. The tobacco shop owner was even more agitated than the gym owner, and he is usually cracking jokes. "We are closed! This is not a normal day!" I said, "If it's not normal, then I need cigarettes even more." He stopped sopping up water and said, "Okay. What kind do you want?"

Out in the campo the tourists, who were standing on a small island of dry ground, starting taking photos of me as I trudged through the water, and now I became agitated. "This is not a joke!" I scolded them. "This is real life!"

I had planned to go to the supermarket, but it had already shut down. On the corner, the old woman who sold bread was still open. She is another Angel -- she was my first bread shop in Venice. So, I stopped there for bread and milk; inside the water was up to my calves. She asked, "Would you like regular or skimmed?" as if everything was fine. I said, "Skimmed." She swiftly opened the refrigerator door and grabbed the milk. She had to be fast or the lagoon water would have flooded inside the refrigerator. Soon more people poured into the shop for supplies; she had some of the only food left in town. The old woman calculated everything properly on the adding machine, and receipts were duly given. "Ciao!" she called as I left, a twinkle in her eye, and I thought she was a Truly Wise Angel.

It soon became impossible to avoid getting water inside my boots, it was so high. (That is a photo taken by Andrea Merola/EPA.) More from Richard Owen in... Rome...

"The Venice Centro Maree, or Tide Centre, which monitors water levels, said that high tides had reached 144cm (57in) above sea level , with 96 per cent of the lagoon city's surface area covered by water."

At Rialto, there was a man selling plastic boots to the tourists. I asked, "How much are those boots?" He said, "Ten euro." I said, "Last year they were five." He said, "Well, this year they are ten."

The Venetians had on their thigh-high fishing boots. All the shops were closed except for the pharmacy, another tobacco shop, and another bread shop. I needed food for Cleopatra, my cat, and decided to risk going over to the pet store. It was open! Sebastian had valiantly gathered what articles he could away from the rising water, and was still selling pet food. "Try her on this," he advised, handing me a bag. "It's for cats that have been spayed and are putting on a little weight." "You are molto simpatico to stay open today," I said. Sebastian laughed. "My apartment is already flooded."

When I got home, the water was inside my casa and had risen up to the second step. Luckily, I live high enough that if my apartment gets flooded, well, it's probably the End of the World anyway, and I can't think of a nicer way to go than into the arms of the lagoon. I sloshed into my apartment and went out on the balcony. Chairs from the restaurant below bobbed in the water. No vaporettos appeared to be running on the Grand Canal, and people were hailing water taxis and heading toward Piazzale Roma (I wish I had asked how much they were charging:). Some Venetians rowed their sandolas. Eventually a vaporetto came by and picked up some of the people who were intrepid enough to navigate the moat around the vaporetto stop.

I went in the bathroom and tried to take my boots off, but they wouldn't budge, they were so waterlogged. Finally, I ran hot water over them to make them expand, and after great effort, they came off.

Cleopatra was alarmed, dashing about, howling. I spoke to friends on the phone. Everybody was flooded. The animals were all alarmed. The only place that sounded normal was the island of Murano.

I started thinking it would not be such a bad thing if we continued to get flooded like this because then the masses of tourists would not come, and Venice would be forced to find real work for its residents. The price of housing would drop, and all the out-of-towners who own apartments here would have to reduce the outrageous rents. The Chinese businesses would not be profitable, and being pragmatic people, they would invest elsewhere. The universities would be fine because students are adjustable; perhaps they would find it a great adventure -- especially if there were subsidies. The Venetians themselves would be fine -- especially if there were subsidies -- because there are plenty of boats and gondolas, and they know how to row. There is plenty of fish from the sea, and fruit and vegetables on the islands. They could still make glass on the island of Murano, and return to lace-making on Burano. The gondoliers, needing work, would have to row the residents around. We could have high-tech businesses that use cyberspace and WiFi, and create video games. We could hold even more international conferences than we do today (just not on the ground floor:), so that the hotels could operate. Do we still have the film festival? Why, yes! Only we would have to row up the red carpet, which would float gently on the water, and the stars could adjust their attire to a more Neptunian theme.

More from Richard Owen in... Rome:

"A floating flood barrier is under construction at three entrances from the Adriatic into the lagoon, but is not due to go into operation until 2012 at the earliest."

That flood barrier would be MOSES. I have said repeatedly that I don't know enough to make a judgment as to whether MOSES is a good or bad thing. I do know, however, that the friars at San Francesco della Vigna have their own irrigation system that has served them for 200 years. I know, also, that there is a room in the Archivio di Stato that is dedicated to how the Venetians have managed the high water over the centuries. I have seen both with my own eyes. This is an excerpt about the State Archive from an article I wrote for the International Herald Tribune's Italy Daily dated August 30, 2002:

"One of the most important holdings is the series of volumes of the Senato Terra, a continuous record of daily decisions of the Venetian government that spans the period from 1250 to 1792. The Venetians were meticulous record-keepers, and noted in detail anything pertinent to the entire Republic. A brief search revealed that news of the signing of the United States Declaration of Independence traveled rapidly by way of the Venetian representative in England and reached the Doge's inner circle on August 12, 1776."

As I write this, the water has receded, and a brilliant patch of sun beams on the church steeple across the canal, tumultuous clouds in the background.

"Massimo Caciari, the Mayor of Venice, said that today's flood water level was 'exceptional. ...'
...However Mr Cacciari played down alarm, saying that flooding was part of everyday life in Venice. "We get sea levels of 140, 160 cm every few years," the Mayor said. Italian meteorologists said that the entire country was being experiencing bad weather, with driving rain, snow, hail and high winds causing flooding 'from the Alps to Palermo'. Many roads in Piedmont, Liguria and Lombardy have been closed."

To read Richard Owen's entire article, go here:

I just can't get a Chiffon Margarine commerical that I remember from the 70s out of my head, with the punchline, "It's not nice to fool Mother Nature!" I can't seem to embed it, but if you want to have a look, go here:

Ciao from Venice,

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Intellectual Property Rights at the Palazzo Ducale (Doge's Palace)

(Venice, Italy) Ten years ago, when I first arrived in Venice, I was fortunate enough to score an Access All Areas pass to the Doge's Palace. I had permission to roam unrestricted wherever I wanted for an entire week, so Palazzo Ducale is magical to me. I imagined myself straight back into the past, and wandered with the spirits through the great halls and chambers. I gazed upon Titian's fresco of St. Christopher and Veronese's Victory Against a Sinner, and trembled in front of the Council of Ten. I mounted the Golden Staircase, and danced under Palladio's ceiling in the Anti-Collegio. I stepped into Tiepolo's Neptune Offering Gifts to Venice, her seductive finger holding back the yearning of the Adriatic, and never quite stepped out again.

Neptune Offering Gifts to Venice by Tiepolo
In addition, the first press conference I ever attended was held in the Sala del Piovego, and I found myself in that very room a few nights ago for the Fifth Annual Venice Award for Intellectual Property Rights ceremony. As a writer, it is a topic close to my heart.

Alison Brimelow, the President of the European Patent Office was there, as was Paolo Baratta, who, among many other things (as you know if you've been reading this blog), is President of La Biennale. Kevin Cullen accepted the award given to the Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM) for their work in bringing together universities, research institutions, government agencies and innovative enterprises. In other words, they connect research to the market, and spin thought into gold.

Long, long ago in 1474, Venice herself passed the first written law to grant and protect patents. Paolo Baratta said they probably signed the law in the very room where we were seated, the Sala del Piovego. Although most of the Palazzo Ducale is now a museum, there are a few rooms that function in a contemporary way, and that room is one of them. Just think -- 534 years ago Intellectual Property rights were a topic of discussion here in town, and the Venetians were wise enough to understand that ideas and thoughts should be protected.

What is Intellectual Property? This is from Wikipedia:

"Intellectual property (IP) is a legal field that refers to creations of the mind such as musical, literary, and artistic works; inventions; and symbols, names, images, and designs used in commerce, including copyrights, trademarks, patents, and related rights. Under intellectual property law, the holder of one of these abstract properties has certain exclusive rights to the creative work, commercial symbol, or invention by which it is covered."

     It is amazing that this battle has been going for 500 years, probably much longer. I have spent most of my life in a creative environment, so it is difficult for me to understand how others fail to recognize the worth of original thought, and the tremendous time, energy and effort it takes to produce it. It is what I encourage in the books I write, and I have been fortunate enough in the past week or so to be surrounded by like-minded people. These days, Venice is teeming with discussions and conferences about how to be creative and productive, not stagnant and destructive; it is a very exciting time. There is a fascinating dynamic that erupts when you bring contemporary thinkers into ancient venues; you can almost feel the thoughts still floating in the air from centuries ago mingle with present-day brain waves. (That's Canaletto's version of Palazzo Ducale, though he is only about 300 years old:)

Here is the text from the ancient law:

19th March, 1474

There are in this city, and also there come temporarily by reason of its greatness and goodness, men from different places and most clever minds, capable of devising and inventing all manner of ingenious contrivances. And should it be provided, that the works and contrivances invented by them, others having seen them could not make them and take their honour; men of such kind would exert their minds, invent and make things which would be of no small utility and benefit to our State.

Therefore, decision will be passed that, by authority of this Council, each person who will make in this city any new and ingenious contrivance, not made heretofore in our dominion, as soon as it is reduced to perfection, so that it can be used and exercised, shall give notice of the same to the office of our Provisioners of Common. It being forbidden to any other in any territory and place of ours to make any other contrivance in the form and resemblance thereof, without the consent of the author up to ten years.

And, however, should anybody make it, the aforesaid author and inventor will have the liberty to cite him before any office of this city, by which office the aforesaid who shall infringe be forced to pay him the sum of one hundred ducates and the contrivance be immediately destroyed. Being then in liberty of our Government at his will to take and use in his need any of said contrivances and instruments, with this condition, however, that no others than the authors shall exercise them.

After the ceremony, I wandered out onto the Loggia and gazed at the imposing courtyard below... the bronze well-heads, the Giants' Staircase... and I think I glimpsed the Doge!

Ciao from Venice,

Monday, November 24, 2008

Architecture La Biennale Wrap-Up: Record Number of Visitors!

The La Biennale press office sent over this release (which I edited very slightly for American ears). To me, the most exciting news is the huge increase in attendance by students, and that Aaron Betsky has introduced young minds to new ideas. And, of course, special thanks must go to Paolo Baratta, the President of La Biennale, for making it all happen. If you remember, back during the film festival I said it was too early to judge Paolo Baratta. Well, after seeing what he has done with the other sectors, I will state very strongly that I think he is brilliant and gutsy, and I am happy he exists. Whether you agree with what La Biennale is doing or not, at least there is finally a breath of air in here, and discussions.

(Venice, Italy) November 24, 2008 – The 11th International Architecture Exhibition, Out There: Architecture Beyond Building, directed by Aaron Betsky, organised by La Biennale di Venezia, and presided over by Paolo Baratta, closed yesterday, Sunday, November 23, with a record number of visitors.

A total of 129,323 visitors came to the Exhibition, divided between the venues of the Giardini and the Arsenale. During the ten weeks that it has been open, the 11th Exhibition has consistently been ranked at the top of the most visited Italian exhibitions in 2008. With a daily average of 1,827 visitors and record numbers of 8,840 people during the weekends, the total is higher than the last edition in 2006 (127,298).

The total number of students that visited the exhibition, either in groups or individually, was 61,436.

Officially inaugurated on September 13th by Sen. Sandro Bondi, the Minister for Cultural Affairs, the 11th Exhibition was also visited by Giorgio Napolitano, the President of the Italian Republic.

The discussion and criticisms about the original theme of the exhibition – “architecture beyond building” – and the unusual layout of the show by Aaron Betsky, stimulated a wide-ranging debate and high attendance for an architecture exhibition, especially in the current economic situation, which has seen a drop in tourist numbers.

The importance attained by the Architecture Biennale, which has enjoyed unmatched media coverage, and which was covered by all the Italian TV news channels on the day of its opening, has been confirmed by leading international publications:

· “The 11th Architecture Biennale of Venice, the most important event in the sector” (Grégoire Allix, Le Monde, 16.09.2008).
· “The Venice Biennale, the world’s most important architecture festival” (Edwin Heathcote, Financial Times, 16.09.2008).
· “The Venice Architecture Biennale remains the most anticipated and ambitious design show in the world” (Christopher Hawthorne, Los Angeles Times, 17.09.2008).
· “Enormous numbers of visitors, journalists arriving in crowds and an impressive press coverage: the 11th Architecture Biennale of Venice no longer has any reason to envy its big sister, the Biennale d’Arte” (Lorette Coen, Le Temps, 20.09.2008).
· “A fundamental appointment to learn of the latest trends” (Gerhard Matzig, Suddeutsche Zeitung, 11.11.2008).

The exhibition saw the presence of 2,360 journalists during the 71 days it was open to the public(1,294 non-Italian and 1,066 Italian; in 2006, a total of 1962 journalists visited). There were 85 television channels accredited during the entire exhibition (59 non-Italian and 26 Italian) and 183 television reporters visited the exhibition (105 non-Italian and 78 Italian). Press coverage has been ample and so far totals 920 articles, compared to 793 in the past edition of 2006.

The four-day vernissage, held from September 10th through 14th, was attended by 25,000 international guests (trade operators, curators, exhibitors, national representatives and the press), an increase of 19% from 2006. The number of journalists present at this year's vernissage was 1,570: 709 Italian and 861 non-Italian, up from 1,319 in 2006.

Another figure that has changed substantially for the Architecture sector concerns the number of national participations and collateral events: 56 national participations, one Special Event by the Milan City Authorities and 24 Collateral Events, double that of preceding editions.

The educational activities have also concluded successfully, with 16,794 visitors making use of them, an increase of 18% from 2006 (14,236). A particularly noteworthy figure is the 45% increase in the participation in educational initiatives by university students, and a 25% increase on the part of second-degree secondary schools. There have been 254 workshop activities (+49% from 2006) involving 5,037 enthusiasts, from the very young to adults. Of the 840 groups who have made use of these educational activities, 686 come from the world of research and teaching. These figures demonstrate that the Architecture Biennale has been chosen as a venue for learning and discovering the latest trends at all stages of the educational process, from primary school to university.

The 11th Exhibition has paid particular attention to the young public, becoming a creative workshop open to research. Its experimental character has been confirmed by the numerous inscriptions to the on-line Everyville 2008 competition entitled, Communities beyond Place, Civic consciousness beyond Architecture, aimed at university students from around the world: 245 groups for a total of 782 students from 48 countries took part in the competition. The works of the leading 10 and of the 40 honorable mentions were exhibited at the Artiglierie dell’Arsenale while the rest of the projects to have been received can be seen on the website:

Two publications, both by Marsilio, have accompanied visitors on their exploration of the Exhibition, Out There: Architecture Beyond Building: a catalogue divided into five volumes contained within a PVC case, and a DVD entitled The Making of the Biennale by Aaron Betsky.

The 11th Exhibition was held with the support of ACI-Automobile Club d'Italia, Domus, Fantoni, Foscarini, Nivea, Autodesk, Casamania, Matteograssi, Bisazza, Enel, Ferrovie dello Stato, Flex, Link, Mediacontech and Micromegas. And, for Everyville 2008, with the support of Telecom Italia, MACE and Newitalianblood. We wish to thank Actv for the shuttle services.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

BBCC Expo, Middle East Peace Orchestra, L'ultimo Pulcinella

(Venice, Italy) I was over at the press conference for the BBCC Expo the other day, which will be held next week at the Verona Fairgrounds on November 27th through 29. The BBCC Expo develops tourism based on cultural heritage, and is supported by governments, foundations and institutions from a variety of nations: Germany, Czech Republic, Holland, Slovenia, Slovak Republic, Poland, Hungary, France, Denmark, Norway, Spain, United Kingdom, Sweden, Switzerland, Austria and Russia. (The countries are in that order on the press release -- I hope I didn't forget anyone:) There will be three days of conferences and information exchange, a prestigious showcase of international products. If the BBCC Expo has any impact on elevating the level of tourism here in Venice, well, I am all for that.

The press conference was in Ca' Corner, which is the headquarters of the Province -- in fact, Davide Zoggia, the President of the Province was one of the speakers. The BBCC Expo is a joint venture between Venice and Verona. The main sponsor is the Casinò di Venezia. The entrance is free, so if you are in the area and interested in international tourism, that is the place to be. For more information (it's in Italian, so use your Google Translator), go here:

Next, Jack Kessler, who discovered Venetian Cat - Venice Blog after someone forwarded him my blog on Jewish Spiritual Music (SEE: sent over a press release. I know there are some of you who read Venetian Cat up there in Austria and Germany. It's too late for the Austrian concert, but you can still catch the show in Munich on Saturday at:

Samstag, 22.11, 20 Uhr, Carl-Orff-Saal, Gasteig
Middle East Peace Orchestra, USA
A Concert for Peace
The power of art to change the world:

The MIDDLE EAST PEACE ORCHESTRA features Arab and Jewish musicians in concert together to make a powerful statement for peace thru shared music. No speeches--the music is the message! This project exemplifies the potential for creativity between two groups both musically and beyond, and is an important statement in multi-cultural tolerance. This is the only performance group that, in addition to virtuoso instrumentalists capable of playing the music of both traditions, has both Hebrew and Arabic vocal specialists: Hazzan Jack Kessler, one of the premier masters of Jewish spiritual song, and the great Lebanese singer, composer and 'oud master Maurice Chedid.

Also known in North America as ATZILUT:CONCERTS FOR PEACE. the group has an extensive performance history, including the United Nations, the Algarve International Festival, Munich Gasteig, the Royal Opera Theatre of Copenhagen, and a recent tour of France in summer 08.
For more info (and that site is in German, so use your Google Translator:), click:

Finally, a couple of nights ago I saw a great film called L'ultimo Pulcinella as part of La Biennale Laboratorio Internazionale del Teatro, or the Theatre segment of La Biennale. The theme this year is Mediterraneo, and there are offerings from all sorts of Mediterranean countries. This film was directed by Maurizio Scaparro, who also happens to be the director of the Theatre Section itself (that is Maurizio Scaparro there on the right at the Rome Film Festival, where L'ultimo Pulcinella premiered). The movie was brilliant. Both Maurizio Scaparro, and the star, Massimo Ranieri (over there on the left), who delivered a perfect performance, spoke before the film, which was originally set to screen at the Malibran Theatre, but in typical Venetian fashion, ended up being shown at the Giorgione Theatre.

I spoke, briefly, with Maurizio Scaparro today at yet another press conference; hopefully I will have some details to share with you about the United States screenings in the near future. It really deserves its own blog, it was that good -- especially since I watched it in Italian and French with Italian subtitles!

The Pulcinella character shows up in many cultures. In America and the UK, we know Pulcinella as "Punch" of Punch & Judy, so the title of the film would translate as "The Last Punch," or "The Final Punch," which is sort of interesting if you think about it.

This is from the program:

"Pulcinella in the banlieue. What do the suburbs of Paris, theatres of social marginalization and violence, have in common with this character from the Neapolitan commedia della'arte? The suburbs of the world talk to one another. They share problems of integration, employment, youth. The theatre can become a metaphor for social redemption."

I can tell you from personal experience that is true. I used to be a Brownie leader for a group of troubled little girls, aged six and seven-years-old. I wrote a play for them, and it was something magical to see. One shy, beautiful little Hispanic girl, whose home was gangland Los Angeles, asked me if she could play the lead -- it really transformed her. It's strange to think that the girls would be in their 20s by now... The Arts -- music, theatre, art, dance, architecture, film -- are a great way to channel energy that can become destructive into something constructive. I have seen many a troubled youth turned around by Art.

Ciao from Venice,

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Men Like Gods - VENICE

(Venice, Italy) When you find yourself in the same room as a Saudi Arabian Prince, the CEO of a major oil corporation, and too many Ministers, Advisors and Professors, et al, to mention, life can seem a bit surreal.

I had the great privilege to attend the Eurogolfe Forum for Human Development Under the Patronage of the French Presidency of the European Union and the Qatar Presidency of the Gulf Cooperation Council held at the Giorgio Cini Foundation on October 16 - 18 entitled: EUROPE, THE GULF AND THE MEDITERRANEAN Reviving Common Legacies, Mapping Our New Region. Doesn't that sound weighty and impressive? Well, it was!

First, the Eurogolfe Forum wishes to send the World a message, which is:

The conflict between Israel and Palestine must end.

More on that later.

To give you an idea of the level of human beings in attendance, His Royal Highness Prince Turki Al-Faisal was one of the speakers. Prince Turki is the former Director of GID, which is Saudi Arabia's premiere intelligence agency (similar to the CIA in America). He was the Kingdom's former Ambassador to the United States -- until he abruptly resigned in December, 2006 after only 15 months on the job -- as well as to the United Kingdom and Ireland. Prince Turki is the youngest son of the Saudi Arabian King Faisal, who was assassinated on March 25, 1975, and the nephew of the present King. He came to the Forum in his capacity as the Chairman of the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies. After hearing Prince Turki speak, my immediate reaction was that I was in the presence of someone truly royal -- before I understood who he was.

Inviting Cat Bauer to a Forum like this was a brilliant idea because I come with very little baggage -- it is like inviting Alice to Wonderland -- and I am going to give you my honest impressions, as simply as I can.

First, like many Americans, I have very little sense of geography. To me, the entire Gulf region was a vague black hole filled with scary Muslims. Let's take a look at a map so we can get our bearings. It is difficult to find a good map, but I have permission from to use theirs -- it is clean and simple and not cluttered with politics. Thank you, John O. Moen! (If you go to their site that little "WIN $100.00 HERE" sticker is a geography quiz, which, perhaps, many of us should take:)

Okay. That is the theatre, and those are the key players in this drama. Take a good look so you can put things into perspective. Really look at Israel, Palestine, Iraq and Iran, just where they are physically. Look at the Mediterranean Sea with respect to the Persian Gulf.

One of my mottos is "It's the Divine Comedy, not the Divine Tragedy." Let's be honest -- we all can agree that the world would be much more pleasant if Israel and Palestine stopped fighting. It is as if dinosaurs are battling in slow motion, and the entire planet is weary of the dynamics. Let's have two defined states already! Sure, it sounds frightening, but at least it is a decision. Then we take it from there.

Speaking of dinosaurs, let us not forget that dead dinosaurs help create oil itself, a non-renewable resource. The importance of investing in renewable resources was also a topic of discussion. Imagine, again, how different the world would be if we seriously incorporated renewable resources into the existing structure. To me, that resource should be the Sun. If I were an emerging nation with plenty of oil, I would sell my oil to other countries and switch my energy over to the Sun.

The attendees were mostly men, speaking from their hearts and their minds. It was fascinating to watch because I have never been in that environment before, and it was an honor to have a glimpse into their world. These were enlightened, reasonable people, on the whole. After pondering for days, I have arrived at a conclusion: what the Middle East needs is a female ruler. After Benazir Bhutto's assassination in Pakistan, however, perhaps I am being too naive to think that dream can become a reality.

Here is an excerpt from a Message from Nicolas Sarkozy, who is the President of the French Republic, and the current President of the Council of the European Union:

"The fourth edition of the Eurogolfe Forum in Venice today brings together political and economic leaders, academics, artists, intellectuals, students and representatives of civil society from the European Union and member States of the Gulf Cooperation Council. This diversity is evidence of the quality of the dialogue established between our two regions which are linked by the Mediterranean area. ... (again, look at the map)

...Choosing Venice to hold the Forum speaks to us all: Venice is the symbol of a maritime civilization with exceptional cultural outreach which, as a trading seaport, brought together the East and the West, the Latin, Greek, Arab and Turkish worlds, Christendom, Islam and Judaism. Venice is the magnificent outcome of a shared culture sustained by the exchange of men, ideas and goods."

It is amazing, isn't it, that a physically small area such as Venice -- it is about the size of Central Park; you can walk across it in about half an hour -- had, and still has, such enormous impact on the planet? It seems larger because it lies at the junction of two fractals, according to Andrew Crompton & Frank Brown, who wrote an abstract about it entitled The Double Fractal Structure of Venice for the Space Syntax 6 Conference in Istanbul last year.

So, for those of you who insist on calling Venice, "Disneyland," you can be sure that world leaders do not attend the Eurogolfe Forum in Disneyland. You must open your eyes, and make an effort to do your homework -- Venice is a microcosm of the macrocosm. If you see Venice as Disneyland, that says more about you than it says about Venice. More from President Sarkozy:

"Venetian history, with its tragedies and boon periods, wars and works of art, is a mirror that reflects the challenges still facing the Mediterranean, Europe and the Gulf. The European Union is an unprecedented area of peace and prosperity in the Old World, a force of stability that prevails throughout the European environment through its economic strength and cultural outreach. Owing to plentiful oil supplies and financial liquidities, the Gulf Cooperation Council member States are becoming a new centre of our multipolar world where the media, banks, sovereign wealth funds, universities and museums have a growing impact on the major global flows of goods and images."

I think that Gilles Kepel, the Chairman of EuroGolfe and Professor of Middle-East Mediterranean Studies at Sciences-Po in Paris, and who organized the Forum, is on his way to sainthood. At the end of the Forum he gave special thanks to his students, saying it gave him comfort that they were a brighter generation. He said, "Bury me," in Arabic, which is a compliment:)

After taking time to digest what I experienced, I think a sincere effort is being made by sophisticated, caring people to reach out and create a New World. The financial market has deconstructed. The American Presidential elections are next month. New countries are emerging. We must accept that there is a New World being created in front of our eyes. I think it is our responsibility as members of the human race to do our part to create this New World based on genuine creative principals, using the highest qualities of the Old World upon which to build the foundation. Now, we have all heard all the conspiracy theories about a New World Order. I can only say one thing: listen to your hearts, and arrive at your own conclusions.

The Forum was held in English, with no translation, and, if my memory serves me correctly, everyone followed the rule except Giovanni Bazoli, the President of the Giorgio Cini Foundation, who spoke in Italian, Hubert Védrine, the Former French Minister of Foreign Affairs, who insisted on speaking in French -- in fact, declared how nice it was to hear French in the Tapestry Room -- and Prince Turki, who, after speaking in English for most of the conference, insisted on reading the message from his King in Arabic. (Gilles Kepel, who seems to be fluent in everything, translated, with a touch of weariness, whenever necessary.) I loved observing the dynamics when they interacted with each other, and to see that they were actual human beings with strengths and weaknesses.

Over and over again the speakers said that it is time to be transparent and honest so that we can do other things. Too many people have been lying and refusing to do their jobs in the proper fashion. That we cannot survive in a fortress. That this is a critical moment that cannot be underestimated. That the commodity we need is confidence.

A couple of days before I went to the Forum, I had the opportunity to speak, briefly, with Luca Francesconi, who is the new Director of the Music Section of La Biennale. He said something that struck me, and I think it's pertinent to this Forum. He said, "There is nothing left to deconstruct. Instead of destroying, it is time to create. We have an ethical mission to create."

I have heard this profound desire expressed by so many influential leaders who have recently passed through Venice, and it is my profound desire, also -- to create, not destroy. They have all expressed frustration with the status quo, or, even worse, the deliberate attempt to hold onto power by use of lies, intimidation and fear.

HRH Prince Faisal Bin Salman, another member of the Saudi Arabian royal family, said they were reaching out to the world. They said they felt they had been wrongly portrayed and would like to correct the situation -- "not to please others, but to present ourselves." They are working with women and have done things like invite female Scandinavian poets to meet with their Saudi counterparts, and exhibited Saudi female photographers so they could see things from the Saudi-woman perspective.

Honestly, the speaker who impressed me the most was Prince Turki. He spoke quite strongly about wanting to have a new dialogue and not play on humanity's fears to score cheap political points. He said that Europe and the Arab countries have much to share with each other. He truly seemed to want an international peace based on tolerance, understanding, sound business practices, and the building of bridges between the cultures -- not by imposing one culture upon another, but to sincerely make an effort to understand our individual cultures.

To see who all the speakers were, and the program, please go to Eurogolfe's website:

If that link does not work, you may find the same information at the Sciences-Po site:

It would be impossible to summarize the huge amount of information that was imparted, so I will focus on the most important message that the Forum wishes to transmit, an end to the conflict between Israel and Palestine.

Another reason the Forum was held in Venice is because 28 years ago, on June 10 & 11, 1980, all the European Chiefs of State met at that very place -- the Giorgio Cini Foundation -- and created The Venice Declaration, which stated the same thing: Palestine has a right to self-determination, and there must be two separate states. Then there were only nine members; today there are 27 members of the European Union, and they feel more strongly than ever. The world is ready. The players are ready. Mothers from both sides who have lost their children appeal for help. The West Bank appeals for help. Everybody is tired. The world could rest. They want to enforce the 1967 resolution, which gives 78% of the land to Israel and 22% to Palestine.

Now, when someone with legitmacy appeals for help, I strongly feel that we have a moral obligation to help them!

I think we should go back to the Sumerians to really understand what's going on. Here is a map from Encarta, with today's countries outlined in white.

Let us not forget that the goddess Inanna-Ishtar had some prime real estate here in this region:) My greatest peeve with this Forum was the under-representation of women. To me, if you want Progress in the World, you are going to have to open that window, too. For the most part, the handful of women who were at the Forum were intelligent, well-spoken and dignified. To me, women are a great under-utilized natural resource, and that must be corrected.

I deliberately try to avoid politics and religion, but by attending a Forum such as this, I was forced to cram in an intense period of catch-up just to write this blog. At my gut level, I feel there is a bit of... confusion about the United States, and the true intention of its people, and who, exactly, we are -- there was little representation from the US at the Forum. Americans are, by nature, helpful and accepting of different cultures, otherwise a man like Barack Obama could not be a Presidential candidate. Americans have not been exposed to what the reality of the world situation is, and I think they are slowly realizing this.

I think that the EU and the GCC could influence America by use of Soft Power (see how I've picked up the lingo?:) For example, as a novelist, I yearn to publish first here in Europe and/or the Gulf in English, and sell first here -- where I have lived for ten years -- and then sell to the United States. I, personally, am another under-utilized resource here in Europe, and I am certainly not the only one. American writers for young people, together with librarians, teachers and scholars, are an organized, vocal group, capable of major impact. That is just one example, but all over America you can find artists, film makers, musicians, etc., with sympathetic voices, willing to help, just as there are in Europe and the Middle East. Just as Saudi Arabia feels like it has been misrepresented, I, as an American, feel that we have been misrepresented. I, too, strongly believe that the situation can be improved by being open and honest, and I am certain there are many Americans who feel the same way.

I would love to see the EU and the GCC work with Americans to solve the world's problems. What Americans need is accurate information. Forgive me if it sounds simplistic, but, to me, the way to influence the government of America is by educating the human beings that make up America -- if the name of the Forum is "Human Development," well, Americans are human beings also. Maybe I am overly optimistic, but I believe that if France took the lead on this -- in the spirit of enlightenment, not competition -- the other countries would follow. After all, if it wasn't for France, there wouldn't be a United States of America.

No matter how diverse our cultures, we all do have a common language: it is the language of the heart.

Ciao from Venice,

P.S. The nice thing about a blog is that it is like clay, and can be molded and changed as days go by. If you have read this before, you will see that I have been searching for a title, and decided on H.G. Wells' 1923 novel, Men Like Gods, about an Utopian world where Lying is the Blackest Crime. For those of you who haven't read it, Project Gutenberg of Australia has made it available online:

Title: Men Like Gods (1923)Author: H.G. Wells* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *eBook No.: 0200221.txtLanguage: EnglishDate first posted: March 2002Date most recently updated: January 2003

Monday, October 13, 2008

Venetian Cat Hits Australia! Cat Bauer - Venice Insider for ninemsn


Cat Bauer Venice insider

Award-winning author Cat Bauer has lived in Venice since 1998, and is still learning how to navigate the labyrinth. Her blog, Venetian Cat, has been featured in the Financial Times Weekend Magazine.

Are you wondering what I have been up to? I hope so! I have a very good excuse for being lax, which is that I am now the Venice Insider for ninemsn, Australia's number-one interactive media company. It just went live yesterday, October 13, 2008. Please have a look:

Venice Insider: Cat Bauer

Channel 9 is an Australian television channel, but they write it "nine." (If you are American, compare it to NBC or CBS or ABC.) This is from their site (they do not capitalize "nine"):

"About ninemsn
ninemsn is Australia's number-one interactive media company. Over 8.6 million people* visit ninemsn each month, representing 73 per cent of active Australian Internet users. ninemsn is the Australian home to popular Microsoft products such as
Windows Live Hotmail, Windows Live Messenger and Windows Live Search and delivers well-known content from the Nine Network programs including Getaway, the Today Show, A Current Affair and National Nine News. It also represents popular Australian Consolidated Press (ACP) magazine titles online, including Ralph, Cleo, The Bulletin and Woman's Day. Across the entire network and over a range of categories, ninemsn aims to deliver content that informs, entertains and engages its audience. * Source: Nielsen NetView November 2007."

I have never been to Australia, but the first man I fell in love with was Australian, so I do have first-hand experience with the culture, which I will describe as "zesty, individualistic." I was quite old, age 27 -- I am very particular with my love. He is now in Paradiso, hopefully watching from above. So, this one's for you, Barry!

It was hard work because it required that I go against my artistic inclinations, but, as anyone who knows me can testify, I am capable of putting my nose to the grindstone when the need arises. Since the world-as-we-know-it is in the process of deconstruction, I switched into pragmatic-mode and produced (hopefully) an informative guide as to What's Real here in the Magic Kingdom. I had a short amount of time in which to perform this feat (about three weeks).

In addition, I was working under extreme duress. One example: my beloved Apple G4 12" Screen Powerbook was ailing during the Venice Film Festival, and then died a mysterious death in the middle of the ninemsn effort. It was sad, because I had personified her, and called her, affectionately, "GeeFour." Apple does not make 12 inch G4s anymore. (That is not my G4 in the photo, but a distant relative -- they all look alike, but, of course, their souls are different, depending on the owner:)

So, every day I ran over to the Internet Point to work. The people who worked inside the shop were so simpatici, they deserve a mention. My office-away-from-home was what used to be the Gas Store here in San Polo, and is now in the process of becoming... something else. They sell clothes, play hip music, and have five computers inside the store -- the kids who work there are incredibly cool. For instance, after I wrote the Natalie Portman piece (GO: one of the employees told me he had walked Natalie Portman over to our local Giorgioni Theatre a couple of nights before, where she stood in line with everyone else to buy her ticket. Ha! Yes! That is why she couldn't attend the fabulous ball -- she was busy being a human being!

I don't know the address of the internet point, so I am going to run over there right now. I will be right back.

Okay. Now I am back. I will describe my journey, so you can better understand Venice. On my way over, I poked my head into Do Mori, which is one of our oldest... bars... kinda, sorta. There, inside, was Count Francesco da Mosto. It is the full moon as I write this, so my energy is a little wild. I bubbled all over Francesco that I had put him on the ninemsn website (GO: and then apologized to the people whose conversation I had interrupted.

Then I had an ombra with some Venetians, a red wine ombra, which is a little glass of red wine. Ombra means shadow, in the sense of shade from the sun. So, we drank some shadows together and we cracked some jokes, one of which was "all intelligent Americans live in Europe," and then I continued on my journey.

Here is the info: The name of the Internet Point is Gas Point, and the address is 1572 Calle dei Boteri, which runs parallel to the main drag, Ruga Rialto, but further back. The cool Venetian kids are Francesca and Alberto. So, if you need to use the internet by Rialto, go there. Or if you want to buy some Gas clothes, or whatever kind of clothes, for reasonable prices, go there.

Then, on my way back, I stopped inside my Friendly Local Neighborhood Tobacco Shop owned by a young married Venetian couple, Cristiano and Claudia, who doesn't like her name because it is based on "Claudius," the Roman emperor who, although having some excellent qualities, was cruel and deformed. (I can assure you that the Claudia inside the Friendly Neighborhood Tobacco Shop is beautiful and sweet, especially because I often see her interact with her husband, Cristiano, side by side.)

Inside the shop was Gino, who is one of the sons of Antica Drogheria Mascari. I said, "You are on ninemsn. Over eight point six million readers per month. It went live yesterday."

Gino said, "How much do I have to pay?"

I said, "You should pay, but it is gratis. No, wait. You must give me some chocolate."

Instantly, Gino handed me some chocolate. Seriously! I had interrupted him in the process of slicing chocolate with a penknife -- I don't know why he was doing it -- he was behind the counter, so I couldn't see. Now, Gino does not belong in the tobacco shop behind the counter. He belongs inside Mascari behind the counter, so, the fact that he was inside the tobacco shop was a little strange to begin with, and that he was slicing chocolate at the precise moment I asked for it was even stranger.

Gino said, "You must write that I pay immediately upon demand." I stuck the chocolate in my pocket, and he scolded me. He said, "You cannot put chocolate in your pocket. It will ruin your jacket." I said, "I want to eat it at home."

Now I am home, and I have eaten the chocolate. And that, my dears, is Venice.

Ciao from Venice,