Monday, March 31, 2008

Children of the Stars

The Circolo Fotografico La Gondola invited me to hear Professor Bruno Rosada speak about "Benedetto Croce and Italian Art of the 20th Century" on Friday night, and a very strange thing happened. I understood the lecture! Usually, I start to fade when people go on and on in Italian. It's hard enough to listen to a lecture, let alone in another language. But, this time, I didn't even have to force myself. It's as if all the words tumbled suddenly into place, and I thought, my god, after all these years, I finally understand Italian! The moment you realize you understand another language, it is something divine.

I've always loved philosophy. I started reading Nietzsche when I was fourteen-years-old, and even though I brag about never going to university, I actually did go to a strange college for a semester after I graduated high school, and majored in philosophy, with a minor in art. (After that, I decided to teach myself because the commute was too difficult; my mother had promised me the use of the family car, but then reneged, so I had to hitchhike to college!)

I won't go into all the details of the lecture, but what really interested me was when Professor Rosada spoke about how he felt at an exhibit of the artist Mario de Luigi, who was the father of a friend of mine, Ludovico de Luigi. Professor Rosada said he finally realized how art broke away from the figurative when he saw Mario de Luigi's work. Now, I am very outspoken about how artists must be able to create human beings. To me, it is essential. I would make a rule that all artists have to put their human beings next to their out-of-space projections, just so I know they can do if they want to. Like writers. These days, everyone has a blog; everyone has a digital camera; everyone is a writer; everyone is a photographer.

But, if I want to, I can write grammatically correct English (and I have put up an example under the blog "Church of San Francesco della Vigna" To me, you must first learn the rules to break the rules (and I break a ton of rules -- it makes the copy editors crazy), but many people in the arts today are taking other people's broken rules and starting from there, without learning the foundation. So, today we have art built on broken rules that are not understood, only imitated.

I went with Ludovico and the rest of the family to see his late father's exhibit in Treviso last year, and I was completely blown away about how brilliant Mario de Luigi was. I had the same experience that Professor Rosada described -- ah, ha! So, that's it!

Anyway, on my way to the lecture, I'd noticed a new restaurant, and this was my reaction:

How cool is this?
It's about time someone put a hip restaurant out on Giudecca.

I would make a trip to come out here to eat at this place; it would be fun.
Wait, a second, I think I know the owner.

I think this is Simone's place.

I went inside. I asked, "Is Simone the owner?" They said, "Yes!" They said they would call him, but I said I would stop back later, which I did.

Simone is a very old friend of mine, even though he is very young. We don't see each other often, but when we do, we always have a profound conversation. He had told me about this project a while back, and now, here it was in reality, called "i figli delle stelle" which means, "Children of the Stars." And that, basically, says it all.

Simone has acquired a new sophistication, which comes with the job. We sat in the back room on a sofa and spoke. I talked about all the problems over in my neck of the woods, at Rialto; I told him I was worn down. Simone said, "Cat. In Italy, in Venice, every bad thing has an equal positive result. For every bad thing that happens, there is an equal good thing. The problem is that we only hear about the bad, not about the good. Like the newspapers." He also said, "The definition of what is 'Venetian' is changing. My partner, the chef, is from Puglia, but he feels Venice. You feel Venice. I am Venetian, and I feel Venice. A Venetian now is someone who feels Venice, whether they were born here or not."

During the Republic, there was a rule that to really be Venetian you had to have so many generations born in Venice behind you; I can't remember now exactly how many, but I think it was eight. And, these days, many people who were born in Venice come back here and try to stake their claim, when they don't behave like Venetians at all.

After a wonderful glass of wine and conversation, I got on the vaporetto and went back to San Marco. On the street, someone said ciao to me, and it turned out to be Paolo, the son of Sergio Fragiacomo, at Le Bistrot Sychronicity!

Immediately after that, a woman stopped me. She said, "Do you remember me?" I said, "Honestly, I'm sorry, but I don't." She said, "We sang 'All You Need is Love' together at Remer." I said, "Oh, of course I remember you!" She is a pianist from Romania. She said, "Now I am playing in Piazza San Marco. Will you come sing it again with me? I sang it just tonight." I said, "Absolutely, when I get back from the mountains." (Just the thought of singing "All You Need is Love" in Piazza San Marco is wondrous.) She had three roses in her hand. She said, "Please take the roses. They gave them to me. I have more at home."

So, I went home with the roses, which I am looking at as I write this. As Simone said, there is good news here in Venice to balance the bad. The most wonderful thing about Venice, to me, is the people who actually live here, and interact with the town.

Ciao from Venice,

Friday, March 28, 2008

More About Le Bistrot de Venise

Last week, I sat down with Sergio Fragiacomo, the owner of Le Bistrot de Venise, to see if we could up with a "Venetian Cat" menu for my readers (if you haven't already read the first blog about Le Bistrot, please have a look at that first:

First, I want to stress what a wonderful human being Sergio is. I have met many, many people in Venice, and Sergio's qualities stand out -- he has genuine passion and compassion. Several people came by during our meeting, and he graciously balanced everyone's needs.

Sergio is as enthusiastic about the ancient Venetian dishes as he was when I first met him six years ago. Let's go through the current (it changes by the season) Historic Venetian Cuisine Sampling Menu together, which is a fixed price of 68 euro, plus 12% tax. (Sergio said he would wave the 12% to anyone who mentioned they read about it on my blog, which will save you about 8 euro:) That price does not include wine, and it might sound a tad pricey, but by the end of our meeting, I understood better the great amount of effort involved.

One thing to remember about Venice is that it was an oligarchy, ruled by a group of very wealthy aristocrats who were in constant competition with each other. If one built a palace, another had to build an even bigger and more elaborate palace. The same with food. Venice was the spice capital of the world, importing exotic discoveries brought back from sea voyages. If you were wealthy, well, you just had to get your hands on some cinnamon and cloves and have a bunch of people over to show off what you had scored.

It is not possible to exactly duplicate all the recipes because not all the ingredients exist today. For example, one ingredient, agresto, which would be comparable to a type of vinegar, was made from a particular grape that was wiped out. Ingredients like agresto, lemon, orange, etc., were used to give the food a longer life and prevent bacteria.

Now, let's take a trip back into time, about 700 years ago...

The menu starts with a 14th century dish called, Torta de Gambari, which has been translated to Lukewarm pie with prawns and raisins. It is not really a pie, it is more like a little bird's nest made from crunchy pasta, so maybe a better English name would be Nest of Prawns & Raisins. This particular recipe was found in a cookbook, Libro per Cuoco ("Book for Cooking"), that dates back to the 1300s by Anonimo Veneziano, or "Anonymous Venetian," which is in the Casanatense library in Rome. Thanks goes to Marcello Brusegan, author of La Cucina Venezia, who was the historic and culinary consultant for Le Bistrot.

Next is Scampi in Saor, also from Anonimo Veneziano, which is scampi with sweet and sour stewed onions, almonds, Turkish grapes and spices. Perhaps more well known is Sarde in Saor, or sardines in saor. I would describe the Scampi in Saor as an elegant form of that typical Venetian sardine dish that can be found today throughout the city. In the Old Days, Venetians marinated the fish in vinegar (probably agresto:), salt and onions because fishermen and sailors could keep the food on board for long periods of time. The onions are rich in Vitamin C, which kept everybody healthy. (When Marcello Brusegan was researching the ancient recipes, he discovered that sarde in soar originated from an even earlier dish called cisame de pesse, which translates to "cut pieces of fish" -- a little piece of trivia that even most Venetians are not aware of.)

The menu then offers a choice of Bramager, an old-fashioned white soup with rice flour, chicken and almond stew flavored with cloves and pomegranate, which was eaten to soothe the stomach, OR Maccaroni de cascio e sucha (deti gnochi) in Tredura de Agnelo, which are pumpkin and fresh cheese dumplings with mixed lamb and leeks.

The next offering is from Maestro Martino, who was the personal chef to the “Most Reverend Monsignor Camorlengo and Patriarch of Aquileia” back in the 1400s. That means he was cooking for the Patriarch, and then the Patriarch was not in Venice, where he is today (I just saw the current Patriarch, Cardinal Angelo Scola, on Good Friday when they brought out the ancient icons from Constantinople over at the Basilica for the first time in 40 years -- icons such as a thorn from the Crown of Thorns, and the Relic of the Holy Nail. And I saw the Pala D'oro on Easter Sunday! Let's have a look at the splendor of this precious Byzantine icon because I love it so much; it illustrates what kind of people were so concerned about the elegance of their food -- the same people who cherished this icon.)

Maestro Martino was also the author of the Libro de Arte Coquinaria ("Book of Culinary Art"), and you can taste his Storione in Sapor de Uva e Agliata Gialla, or marinated sturgeon in a black grape sauce, with yellow garlic and almond pudding. So, you can actually sample the same food that the Patriarch was eating 600 years ago! (Updated, of course, to the 21st century.)

OR you can choose Manzare de Pomo bono et perfecto, another 14th century dish from Anonimo Venziano -- veal cheeks stewed with wild apples and sweet spices.

Okay, after all that, we have dessert. Right now, the choices are both from the 14th century: Tortin de Risi a la Turchesca, old-fashioned rice and candied fruit, sweet spices and aromatic fire. I am reading that off the menu. Doesn't that sound wonderful? "Aromatic fire?" OR you can choose Mandolata cocta e perfecta, almond pudding with candied orange, crunchy macaroon sauce.

Now, onto the wine. Le Bistrot's wine list goes on forever, and has won many prestigious awards, such as La Carta delle Carte Ambasciatore del Vino given by the Enoteca Italiana -- that means they consider it one of the 30 best Italian wine lists -- and is in the 2008 Michelin Red Guide. When you flip through the list, you can see just how obsessed Sergio is with uncovering offerings that no one else has found. I will copy the introduction, which is their own translation, but is so charming, I will leave it as it is:

"The Bistrot de Venise Wine List is a true Guide to minor and rare varieties of Veneto and Friuli wine plants. Our deep and accurate research discovered some very unique gems of the past wine tradition. For the other Italian regions it has been realized by consulting some of the most prestigious wine guide books and reviews, both Italian and international (such as Gambero Rosso, Luca Maroni, Slow Food, Veronelli, Wine Spectator, Grand Gourmet), and, with a commission of three professional wine tasters, in order to provide a wide selection of small Italian wine producers, which includes top wines together with high quality price-range wines."

For example, Sergio told me about a rare wine he had discovered called "Turchetta." He found one family making it down by Rovigo and drove there and brought it back himself. The labels didn't even list the alcohol content, so Sergio wrote out another label and stuck it on the bottle, together with the original label. Do you see what I mean about his passion? He absolutely loves his restaurant and his work, and is determined that others understand the history behind the food, and will go to the ends of the earth to find a rare wine. That is priceless, to have such a human touch, and the human touch is what you are paying for.

In addition, there are poetry readings, book launches, artist exhibitions, etc. in the back room. Here is what is coming up on April 8th:


'If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I had to explain it to someone who asked me, I wouldn't know.' --- Saint Augustine on the concept of time

Time is the dimension in which the passing of events is conceived and measured. All events can be described in a time that can be past, present and future. The complexity of the concept has always been the subject of philosophic and scientific reflection on the part of man... The poets invited will give voice to their thoughts."

Hopefully, you will understand Le Bistrot a little better now. On a separate blog, I will post the Venetian Cat Lunch Menu that Sergio and I came up with after someone on the Italy Magazine Forum asked me about where to eat for two for about 75 euro, including wine.

Ciao from Venice,

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Venetian Cat Le Bistrot de Venise Lunch Menu


Le Bistrot de Venise

Lunch Menu for Two

70 euro, all inclusive

Nido de Gambari - Nest of Prawns & Raisins. From the Anomino Veneziano (Anonymous Venetian) 14th century cookbook, a crunchy pasta "nest" filled prawns, raisins and grapes, seasoned with fresh orange juice and lightly spiced.


Risotto con codornices - Risotto with quail
. From an 18th century Comedy by the playwright, Carlo Goldoni.


Risotto mantecato di zucca con scampi e julienne di zucchine - Pumpkin Risotto with scampi tails and zucchini (which may be substituted with seasonal vegetables)

(Did you ever wonder why risotto is cooked for two? It's because it takes all of one cook's effort for about 15 minutes, from the preparation to the constant stirring)


According to the season

Example: Cioccolato de Culo coi Pevarini e Zaleti - Spiced chocolate wtih traditional white pepper & corn biscuits -
from the time of Goldoni, 18th century

Glass of House Wine and Mineral Water included

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Oh, Madonna!

Madonna Nicopeia
(Venice, Italy) Yesterday, I went inside the Basilica to see my favorite icon here in Venice, the Madonna Nicopeia, who is famous for performing miracles. There were only five other people inside the church, and if you have ever been to Venice, you know how rare that is.

The Madonna Nicopea has a starring role in my second novel, Harley's Ninth, which I wrote in the first-person present tense voice of a teenage girl. I never had the intention of writing specifically for teenagers when I started writing my books; it's just the voice that came out, sort of like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, or even Alice in Alice in Wonderland.

Why write in these young female voices if you also want to appeal to adults? Well, I can tell you why I do it: sometimes it is easier to get your point across if you use this voice, especially when you are working with esoteric ideas. I look at my protagonist, Harley Columba, as a sort of modern-day Joan of Arc -- she is spunky young artist, and is known for speaking the Truth.

Last night an old friend in America told me, "Your novels are for the teenager trapped inside the adult." One problem with it, though, is that I am reviewed by Young Adult critics, who often are looking at other dimensions when they read a "teen" book. I love teens, so I'm happy that they market the books to them, but my second book may push the envelope a little..

A bit of back story: My former publisher filed Chapter 11 Bankruptcy, and I had to go through the tedious process of reclaiming the rights to my first novel by taking legal action against them. During that time, I wrote for the International Herald Tribune-Italy Daily, which turned out to be an intensive course about the art, history, architecture and culture of Venice -- much like what this blog is turning into. (A month and a half ago, I didn't even know "Blog World" existed except on MySpace! I started this blog because of the disastrous exchange rate. So, this is an organic process that you are sharing with me -- I am trying to bridge my worlds.)

After many cross-Atlantic flights, a lot of suffering and expense, I did win the rights to my first novel, Harley, Like a Person back, and wrote a companion novel called Harley's Ninth, which continues the story. That book is the tip of an iceberg of years of research I've done about the changing image of the female throughout the millennium. I've always had difficulty accepting a virginal Mary as she was presented to me growing up in America, and have long been fascinated by the image of the female in the current culture, and how it relates to the male.

Because the Madonna Nicopeia means so much to me, I included her in Harley's Ninth. This excerpt that I want to share with you is set in New Jersey. Harley and her father, Sean (who is a Broadway set designer), stumble into a church after an intense encounter with Harley's mother and step-father. There they meet Father Lorenzo, who is Venetian.

Harley's description: "He has long wavy, golden-brown hair and trendy eyeglasses. As he mounts the steps, I see he is wearing sandals and jeans underneath his habit, and I wonder why we did not have priests like this when I was growing up."

We walk up the aisle, an ancient triumvirate. Close to the altar, on the left, there are several tiers of red candles, none of them lit. A painting of what looks like Mary and a little Jesus is above the candles, but it is a Mary I've never seen before. She looks primeval, like her eyes carry important information. She is holding a small Jesus on her lap; just the tip of her right index fingers touches his neck while she supports him with her left hand. Jesus looks like a wise little man, not a baby. "I've never seen this painting before," I say.

"You like it? It is a gift from Venice," Father Lorenzo uses his hands to explain, as if he is
conducting an orchestra. "It is the Madonna Nicopeia, a duplication of the one in our Basilica of San Marco. The icon is coming from Constantinople. The Roman emperors carried it at the front of their army. It means Madonna of Victory. The Crusaders conquered it and brought it to Venice. The story is she was painted by Saint Luke the Evangelist. They say she can perform miracles. I am a little in love with her myself. You can make a prayer."

"Well, I know I certainly could use a miracle." Sean manages a smile. He takes a ten-dolla
r bill out of his wallet and sticks it in the little collection box under the candles. "That should cover both of us."

I am touched that Sean has bought me a miracle. "Thank you." He is still guarded but nods acknowledgment. I take a wooden stick out of the sand in a container on the side of the altar. "Who has a light?"

Harley's Ninth by Cat Bauer
I love the Knopf covers. The artist they hired to design them, Philippe Lardy, really understood what I was writing about -- he transformed my words into images. On the cover is the Madonna of the Sun, and I will tell you how I arrived at that image.

About seven years ago, I went to Turkey to investigate the female. What is now Istanbul used to be Constantinople (which, before, was Byzantium), the capital of the Roman Empire. Many Venetian icons came from there, including the Madonna Nicopeia that Doge Enrico Dandolo brought back after the Fourth Crusade in 1204 -- he was about 97-years-old and blind when he conquered Constantinople, so he must have been really angry about something! To understand Venice, you must go back that far because Venice feels closer to Constantinople than to Rome.

My plane was leaving from Bergamo (Yes! Colleoni territory:), and a very strange thing happened. I love to play the church raffles -- you pay a euro or two (at that time 1000 lire) and you are guaranteed to win a prize. Well, in Bergamo I won a white ceramic Virgin Mary, no joke! I'm looking at her right now, and she is the classic Madonna -- it was the perfect way to start the trip.

After visiting Santa Sofia in Istanbul (you can see what a remarkable influence it had on Venice's Basilica), and seeing Enrico Dandolo's tomb there inside the cathedral/mosque/whatever, my next stop was Hattusas and Yazilikaya, where the Hittite kings reigned 4000 years ago, starting in about 1600 BC. There, the female image was a sexy bull (I've tried to find an image, but I can't -- I've got a little statue I bought while I was there. She looks sort of like Bambi's mother crossed with a bull). The male image was a lion. But the most interesting image I found was the double-headed eagle, one body with two heads looking in opposite directions, which represented the male and the female ruling together -- or so they say.

I went other places to research other things, but next on this particular project was the town of Catalhoyuk that dates back 9000 years to the 8th millennium BC! I was lucky enough to go on a tour of the site with the head archaeologist himself. The images there were of a sexy, robust female lying naked on her side, her buttocks slightly elevated, with large, ample breasts. Another image is of a similar female seated on a throne of leopards, giving birth. They think this might have been a matriarchal society that worshipped the Mother Goddess.

Back home in Venice, we had an excellent Etruscan exhibit at Palazzo Grassi (this was before Pinault bought it and stashed his contemporary art collection in there). The Etruscan civilization was centered down about where Rome is today, and eventually stretched all the way to the Po River. In the tombs, they found images of a married couple, a female seated next to the male, who has his arm around her (sixth century BC). They are both smiling and look very wise. The role of the woman in the Etruscan society was very different than the Greek and the Roman women -- they were known for their licentiousness all the way back in the fourth century B.C. And they actually ate with the men at the dinner table! Shocking! In about 282 B.C., the Etruscans fell to the Romans.

If you ever have the opportunity to see an Estruscan exhibit, I strongly suggest going out of your way. There is one image that I just cannot find, even in the catalogue, but it was a mother and child that looked remarkably like -- guess who? Right! Mary and Jesus.

So, after all that, and much, much more which we won't get into right now, I decided that what was missing on the earth today was the female Sun energy. So, back in New York City on a West Village rooftop, my young protagonist, Harley Columba, decides:

I have my sketch pad with me; I want to work under the spell of the river in the distance, visible through a gap between the buildings. I also carry a mirror. I want to sketch my own face. I have an idea for an oil painting, a goddess of my own creation -- a sexy Madonna, a modern Isis, a new Amaterasu, the Japanese sun goddess -- and I want to capture the image before it disappears into the vapors of my mind. I flip open my sketch pad and take a piece of charcoal out of its case. I prop my sketch pad on the ledge of the building. I sketch a woman reclining in the hollow of mountaintop. Her hair is long, and shaped as if it is the veil of the Virgin Mary. She has wings, Indian-feather wings. The bottom half of her body is nude. Her knees are bent up in the air. Her feet are bare -- with spindly, elegant toes like fingers and semi-circular arches. Suspended between her thighs is a glowing sun; yellow beams shoot out between her legs and into the atmosphere. Inside her womb is a golden egg. The woman's eyes look sideways, right at the viewer. Her eyes are mysterious and wise. There is a tiny smile on her lips, serene and confident. I will call my painting The Madonna of the Sun.

In the future, I'll tell you some more interesting things I discovered along the way. So, when people ask me how long it takes me to write a book, I say about nine months to a year, but in reality, it takes a lifetime.

Ciao from Venice,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Glory Days When Knights Rode the Earth - Venice

(VENICE, ITALY) Oh, the Glory Days when Knights rode the earth! Yesterday, I was over in Campo San 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.

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 condottieri, 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!

And then we have Venice, a Republic which had different rules than the 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.

Nowadays, we use nationalism to have soldiers fight on behalf of their respective countries, and it would be an act of treason to switch sides, but back then it was fine to hire a good commander. So, for Venice to hire Colleoni would be kind of like Arnold Schwarzenegger being loyal to California, but then switching over to Massachusetts if California annoyed him too much. And maybe one day he just might do that! Who knows! Maybe Massachusetts could use Arnold's help to straighten things out. "Hasta la vista, baby!" Or even Clint Eastwood. What's he doing? If somebody gave Clint a bad time, he could just glare at them: "Go ahead. Make my day." I remember when David Puttman -- who is a knight, himself, by the way -- came over from England to conquer Hollywood. Well, that didn't work! Everyone grouped together and he did not last long. So you can imagine how clever Colleoni had to be to get along with the Venetians.

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 (similar, again to Otello). 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 the how powerful Colleoni was, let us look at what he has 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 him 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!)

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 San 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.

Ciao from Venice,
P.S. If you remember my blog about Lawrence Carroll, and you include all this history, you can understand how awesome it is that an Australian-American's name is fluttering on the Correr Museum in Piazza San Marco! I just saw Lawrence last night, and he seems to have acquired a kind of quiet nobility himself:)

Friday, March 14, 2008

Rock on, Church of San Rocco

How boring is a church? Here in Venice, not very. Today I am going to take you to the Church of San Rocco to show you just how interesting a church can be. I am going to weave comments throughout an article I wrote for the International Herald Tribune-Italy Daily back in August, 2002.

First, you have to know a little bit about St. Roch. We will use his Italian name, San Rocco: "San" = "Saint" if it's a male saint. "Santa" = "Saint" if it's a female saint. (How Saint Nicolas turned into Santa Claus is a topic for another discussion.:)

There are many stories about San Rocco, so I will try to piece them together. San Rocco was a young nobleman from Montpellier, in the South of France, who studied medicine during the turn of the 14th century. His father was the governor.

At age 20, he gave up his privileged life to make a pilgrimage to Italy to help victims of the plague (some accounts say he was orphaned at age 20, gave up everything to the poor, and gave the governorship to his uncle). Everywhere he went, miraculous healing took place. After falling sick himself, he, too, recovered miraculously with the help of a friendly dog who brought bread to Rocco in the forest.

When he finally went back to Montpellier, he didn't say who he was, and his uncle didn't recognize him and thought he was a spy, so he threw him in prison, where he died.

Or so the story goes, which sounds a little fishy to me. Why go back to Montpellier just to go to prison? When he could have been out working miracles?

More than a century later, when the Venetians needed protection from the plague that was ravaging their city, one of the saints they turned to was San Rocco. They transported his body to Venice in 1485, and started work on the church that would become his shrine in 1489. (Venetians are always stealing saint's bodies and hauling them off to Venice. In fact, another time I will tell you how they stole the body of St. Mark, who is Venice's very famous patron saint -- hence, the Lion of San Marco adorning the Venetian "logo.")

The presence of San Rocco's body in Venice brought immediate status to the city, and would have attracted many pilgrims seeking the saint's protection from disease or a miraculous cure.

(Oh, those wily Venetians! I'm surprised they haven't dug up John Kennedy and hauled him over here and turned him into a saint! And here's another interesting tidbit -- when the Venetians took the body, San Rocco was just Rocco, he wasn't a saint! More than 100 years later, in 1590, the Venetian ambassador in Rome told a Cardinal that the Pope better canonize Rocco, or there would be a scandal. Well, the Pope did not! In fact, I have just checked and checked, and apparently this scandal still goes on today.  

CAT SUPER QUIZ QUESTION OF THE DAY: Does anybody know if St. Rocco is even really a saint? Or did the Venetians just build the church, the scuola, steal the body and put on a show? And do we really care? After all, this is the Magic Kingdom! And maybe the Pope was being stubborn for another reason. Maybe Rocco did saintly things, and for whatever reason, the Pope would not recognize him. Venice was always arguing with Rome. Well, we will never know, now, will we?:)

San Rocco interior
Today, the body of San Rocco is conserved at the high altar in the Church of San Rocco in a sepulcher embellished with with three images: Seizure, Captivity and Death of San Rocco by Andrea Schiavone, while paintings by artists such as Tintoretto and Pordenone record the life and miracles of the Saint.

Giovanni Antonio de Sacchis (1483-1539), who was called Pordenone after the town of his birth in Friuli, worked in Venice from 1527 until his death in 1539, and was a fierce rival of Titian's. (Everybody seems to be a fierce rival of Titian's! Something else you should know -- Pordenone, the town, belonged to the Hapburgs until Venice "acquired" it in 1514.)

Just seven years later Pordenone, the painter, arrived on the scene. Pordenone's dramatic style greatly influenced artists of the next generation, such as Tintoretto. (I am not going to get into the Scuola Grande of San Rocco right now, but Tintoretto was such a painting maniac, if you walk next door, you will see how he painted the entire ceiling over at the scuola.)

The Pordenone panels of St. Christopher and St. Martin, and the surrounding frescoes of Supplicants (1528-29) high up on the the left wall part of the nave, are part of an ensemble the artist created to beautify a cabinet that contained the church's considerable collection of silver liturgical objects and reliquaries.

St. Christopher and St. Martin were painted on the wooden doors of the cabinet, while figures of the sick and wounded seeking spiritual aid were frescoed on the surrounding walls. The ship moored at the left and the direction of the travelers' attention -- located on the high altar of the church beyond the right side of the fresco field -- emphasizes that they are directed to the shrine of San Rocco.

Tintoretto's Annunciation (1577-86) was originally composed of two separate canvases, the Madonna and the Angel Gabriel, which decorated the organ shutters of the church. At some point, they were seamed together to form a unified composition to be displayed on the wall of the church, no longer part of the organ.

On the right side of the church is a masterpiece by Sebastiano Ricci, San Francesco di Paola Resuscitates a Dead Child (1732-34).

The dome & apse by Pordenone
So, now when you go to the Church of San Rocco, you will know that St. Roch, real or not, was a young French man who wanted to be a doctor. He gave up his cozy life in Montpellier -- which, by the way, happened to have a very great medical university -- in fact, the oldest Christian school of medicine was founded there in 1021. Before that, the Moors (remember my Otello blog) founded medical schools way back in the 9th century. So, Roch probably knew a thing or two about healing, which is why he decided to help people who were dying from the plague. He nearly died himself, and was miraculously saved by a dog.

Now, doesn't that make the Church of San Rocco a lot more fun?

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

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Le Bistrot de Venise

The other day, I was heading to the gym when I stopped short. There, on the Riva in front of my house, was my former editor from the International Herald Tribune-Italy Daily, Claudio, and his wife, Gail. They hadn't been to Venice for four years, and they didn't tell me they were coming. On their own, they booked themselves into the Antica Locanda Sturion, a small hotel that I had recommended four years ago, which is in the next calle.

I adore Claudio; he was a joy to work with. The way I ended up working directly with him is that the local editor in Milano changed one of my sentences without my knowledge -- and what he added was not correct. I emailed the editor in New York City, who was Claudio. I told him: "I am very anal, and if I put my name on something, that means I am responsible for every period, every comma. No one can change my words without my permission even if that means I don't work for your newspaper anymore." Claudio said, "I like anal people, and now I want you to work for me on a regular basis." Claudio is about the most honorable man you will ever meet, so much so that even his wife says he's too pure.

With all that in mind, I had written an article about Le Bistrot de Venise way back in 2002. My job in those days was to find unique Venetian things that no one had really written about before. I didn't usually write about restaurants except for brief blurbs, but I decided to write an entire sidebar on Le Bistrot -- what fascinated me was the passion of the owner, Sergio Fragiacomo (that's Sergio's gorgeous son, Paolo, in the photo). He had a dream about bringing back ancient Venetian recipes, and I was one of the first people who understood and believed in his dream.

After the article came out, Sergio kept asking me to come in for dinner, but because we were so pure, we never took perks:) But now that I am no longer working for the newspaper, I really wanted to take Sergio up on his offer, and Claudio and Gail were the perfect people to bring to the dinner -- especially because Sergio and his partners also own the Antica Locanda Sturion! Sergio is another wonderful man, and I adore him, too, so this seemed like a perfect dinner, which it was. The food was excellent. I warned Claudio and Gail that it might taste unusual, but we all relished the dinner, which was prepared that night by the second chef, Massimiliano Andrioci (the head chef is Mario Missoso).

Now I am going to post the article that I wrote in 2002:

Le Bistrot de Venise by Cat Bauer

Seven hundred years ago, the cuisine of noble Venetians was among the first to be flavored with exotic spices from the East. The Rialto market was the world's leading spice emporium, selling seasonings imported by Venetian merchants after long sea voyages to foreign lands. Dishes were prepared to show off the wealth of the hosts, and spices such as pepper, saffron, cinnamon and cloves became status symbols.

Today, it is possible to experience this ancient cuisine, thanks to the efforts of Sergio Fragiacomo, owner of Le Bistrot de Venise. "We started out with the concept of a French literary café, which is why it's called Le Bistrot," said Mr. Fragiacomo. "I wanted a place where local artists and writers could exchange ideas. Then, in the year 2000, we made a big change. In addition to the literary café, I got together with Marcello Brusegan (note from Cat: years later, his sister turned out to be one of my best friends!), an expert on ancient gastronomy, who does research at the Marciana Library here in Venice. We became aware of a 14-century manuscript, now in Rome, which was a book of gastronomy by an anonymous Venetian. We decided to resurrect the ancient recipes."

"I was warned it would be difficult at first -- there would be no spaghetti, no tomatoes. The tomato didn't arrive in the Venetian kitchen until relatively recently, about the 19th century. But I wanted to propose something new and original, a deeper understanding of Venetian gastronomy. There are reasons behind all the food."

Mr. Fragiacomo believes that the history of Venetian cuisine reflects the history of the city itself. "In the beginning, everything was based on the available food from the lagoon, so there was mostly fish, vegetables from the local islands and wild birds. No beef. When Venice moved its attention to the mainland at the end of the 16th century, new products started appearing, such as beans and potatoes. By the 17th and 18th centuries, rice was cultivated, which became extremely important in the entire Veneto region and remains so today. Venice was also the center of the publishing industry (note from Cat: do you see why I long for those days?), so texts are available regarding the cuisine of the time. There is another book we use by Maestro Martino da Corno, who was a man of letters, as well as a chef, and cooked for the aristocracy in the north of Italy in the 15th century. All these things make sampling the historical cuisine like taking an itinerary into the past."

Featured is ambroyno bono et perfecto: stuffed chicken with prunes, dates, almond's milk and spices, made from a 14th-century recipe. Another favorite is the 16th-century macaroni co la suca baruca: handmade gnocchi with cheese and almonds in a pumpkin sauce. Le Bistrot is also proud of their award-winning wine list, which has a fine selection of local Veneto wines not found on most menus.

Back now in the present, the dinner we enjoyed started with scampi in saor (shrimp with onions) and a bottle of very fine Malvasia wine. I won't describe the entire dinner, except to say it is something magical to eat ancient recipes. One of the desserts was ciocco culo, and if you can understand what that means, you really will appreciate ancient Venetian humor, which hasn't changed a bit over the centuries!

For those of you who are not adventurous eaters, Sergio also offers traditional dishes, and Le Bistrot stays open late, until 1 a.m., and doubles as a cultural center, offering poetry readings, art exhibitions and conversations with local authors.

Le Bistrot de Venise
Calle dei Fabbri 4685
San Marco
Tel. 041-5236651

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Carabinieri at La Fenice!

If you ask my friends, you will find out I have a strange quirk: people tell me to go places, and I just go, without really knowing where I am going. They say, Cat, take the train/plane, etc. and get off here. I've ended up in the most wonderful places (because I have wonderful friends:), like Sardinia, Panarea, Merano, etc.

So, when one of my friends, Savina Confaloni, who is a telejournalist on SKY, told me to go to La Fenice, the opera house here in Venice, on Sunday, I went. (I actually know exactly how to get to La Fenice, I just didn't know why I was going:)

And I invited another friend who happened to be in town, Patricia Fortini Brown, to join me. Pat is the Chair of Art and Archeology at Princeton University, and she's also been known to write a book or two. Pat has the amazing ability to make scholarly subjects accessible to the average person, so I strongly suggest you buy her books if you want to know about Venice, and I'm not just saying that because she's my friend.

In fact, I read one of Pat's books before I knew her. A few years ago, we were over in the Church of Santa Maria Assunta on Torcello, and she was describing a marble relief to me. I said, "Wait a second. You are one of the reasons I moved here! I read your book!" In fact, I had photocopied a page about that very relief out of Pat's Venice and Antiquity and had brought it with me to Venice when I moved here back in 1998.

So, Pat and I arrived at La Fenice, and there were some splendidly dressed military men outside the theater. I wondered what was going on. It turned out that we were at the concert of Banda Musicale dell'Arma dei Carabinieri, and it was fantastic!

In case you don't know, the Carabinieri are one of Italy's police forces. I don't have the photos yet, so we will make do with what I can find on the Internet until they arrive.

View from the stage of the interior of La Fenice, Venice's opera house
Savi was the presenter that evening, and she looked gorgeous in a floor-length gown. I really wish I had the photos, because if you could see the uniforms the Carabinieri were wearing, with Savi in her gown, and La Fenice as the setting -- well, it doesn't get more visually beautiful than that.

Cat Bauer and Savina Confaloni
Cat Bauer & Savina Confaloni at my book launch last spring
And the music! The music was spectacular. I was surprised that a military band could be so good. It was conducted by Maestro Ten. Col. Massimo Martinelli, and here is the program:

Rossini - William Tell
Puccini - "Romanze d'amore - which were excerpts from La Bohème, Madam Butterfly, Tournadot and Tosca
Tchaikovsky - Waltz of the Flowers from the Nutcracker
Verdi - Aida - the finale, part I
Bernstein - Candide - Overture
Morricone - Moment for Morricone - which were some tunes that Ennio Morricone composed
Elgar - Nimrod - Enigma Variations
Wagner - Ride of the Valkyries
Novaro - The Song of the Italians, which, of course, is the Italian National Anthem

There are many different kinds of police in Italy, and it takes some time to sort them all out. The Ancient Corps of the Royal Carabinieri was created by King Victor Emmanuel I of Savoy on July 13, 1814, and there is something still royal about them. They are both military and regular police -- sort of like the American National Guard except that the Carabinieri are always out there on the streets of Italy, in addition to performing military duties. Their motto is "Faithful Throughout the Centuries." 

You might remember back in 2003 when twelve Carabinieri on a peacekeeping mission were killed in a suicide bomb attack on their base in southern Iraq in the largest Italian military loss of life in a single action since WWII. It was a very, very sad day here in Italy when that happened, so please remember that Americans are not the only ones involved in the war.

In fact, the Carabinieri got a lot of bad press during the G8 conference in Genoa in 2001, and that's all many people remember about them. But like all police, they are also heroic. (We won't get into the behavior of the Los Angeles Police Department during the riots in LA of 1992 -- I was right in the thick of it back then; I was literally blocks away from the famous intersection when Reginald Denny was pulled out of his truck; and then I watched from my terrace as Los Angeles burned below.)

Anyway, back to the music: all the people who are in the band are, of course, also trained police. If you click the title of this article, you will arrive at the website of the Carabinieri, which is even in English! So you can read more about them, if you like. The band itself started with buglers back in 1820, which turned into a fanfare, which transformed into a proper band 100 years later. For more information, go to the Carabinieri.

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

Friday, March 7, 2008

Venetian Masks - A Brief History of Mask Making

La Bottega dei Mascareri
(Venice, Italy) Ah, Venetian masks. If you live in Venice for awhile, you can understand why they evolved. It is impossible to go anywhere without running into someone you know, and sometimes you long to be anonymous, just for a moment.

I've known Sergio Boldrin for many years. Long ago, before I moved to Venice, I had bought one of his masks, a magical Sun, after stumbling on his tiny shop at the foot of the Rialto Bridge on the San Polo side. The mask was the focal point of the wall in my living room in Los Angeles for many years (where it probably still hangs unless my ex-husband has finally decided to redesign the room:). To me, Sergio is a gatekeeper. He can open the door and offer a peek into a certain level of the Magic Kingdom called Venice.

There has been a lot of fuss because residents of Venice have their own vaporetto these days, the Number 3, and sometimes get discounts around town. Residents can also go to all the civic museums and Chorus churches for free, as well as other little perks here and there. Well,
perks come with effort, you know! As we all know, nothing comes for free in this life -- there is always a price to pay.

Sergio is such a good friend of mine that he is one of the people mentioned in the dedication of the new Knopf edition of Harley, Like a Person. We have decided to create a little game for you to play, so you can have a perk, too -- but you must make an effort first. He has agreed to give you a discount if you read this article, go to his shop and then answer a question -- a little Venetian quiz.

My logo, Venetian Cat, was designed by a young Venetian artist. She has the head of a woman and the body of a lion, like the Sphinx -- also known for asking a question or two.
In my version, the open book (which means Venice is at peace) says, Immagina (Imagine), instead of the traditional Pax tibi Marce Evangelista meus (Peace be with you, Mark, my Evangelist). Since Venice is seeking to attract more educated tourists, I'll try to do my bit and give a few details about what you are buying. Together we can imagine a magical Venice, mixing a dash of the glory of the past together with the present reality.

Here is a slightly edited version of an article I wrote for the International Herald Tribune - Italy Daily about Sergio and his brother, Massimo, way back in 2001; I own the copyright. I'll put the question in the article somewhere, so you don't cheat:)

A Brief History of Mask Making

Cat Bauer

In a city where there seems to be a mask shop on every corner, it may be surprising to learn that the ancient Venetian craft of mask making was only revived about thirty years ago.

Sergio Boldrin is one of the senior maskmakers in Venice, as well as an accomplished artist. When he was a child, there were no mask shops in the entire city. There was no Carnival. During the terrorism and political upheavals in Italy in the 1970s, the wearing of masks was discouraged.

Masks disappeared, along with Carnival, when Napoleon's troops brought an end to the Venetian Republic in 1797. Since then, they've resurfaced and submerged again throughout the decades until being vanquished to the pages of the history books by the 20th century. However, they staged a spectacular comeback in the late 1970s and early 1980s when a group of young people, including Sergio, brought them once again into the forefront.

As far back as the 11th century, the mattaccino costume was worn by mischievous young men, who, dressed as clowns, would bombard noblewomen with eggs filled with rosewater, inspiring the first official documentation regarding masks: a 1268 law prohibiting the throwing of eggs while disguised. (Note from Cat -- ah, the good old days! No Dressing Up As Clowns and Throwing Rosewater Eggs at the Noblewomen by Order of the Senate.) The Venetian government apparently gave up trying to enforce it, however, and resorted to putting up nets along the Procuratie in St. Mark's Square to protect the ladies and their rich clothing. Even in Sergio's day, young Venetian men opened fire on expensively-dressed women with the yolky bombs. "I did throw an egg or two myself as a kid," confessed Sergio. "Venetian boys have been throwing eggs for more than 700 years."

Mask-making in Venice can be documented back to the 13th century, though it probably existed much earlier. On April 10, 1436, the ancient profession of mascareri was founded under the jurisdiction of the Painter's Guild. Over the years, masks were used for a variety of reasons -- in the government, the theater, and as a means of disguise. Masks provided the Venetians a degree of anonymity.

The wearing of a mask put everyone on the same level: rich and poor, nobleman and citizen, beautiful and ordinary, old and young. It permitted confidences to be exchanged anonymously -- everything from accusations before State Inquisitors, to a potpourri of sexual indiscretions. Prostitutes practiced their trade without fear of retribution; homosexuals hid their illicit lifestyle. In 1458, it was decreed that men were forbidden to dress up as women and enter convents to commit indecent acts.

Not all masks were used for indelicacies, however. The bauta was worn by both men and women, and was not considered a costume but a form of dress -- required wearing if a woman wanted to go to the theater. Il medico della peste had a long beak-like nose stuffed with disinfectants, and, as its name implies, was used to protect doctors from the plague.

Another ingredient in this colorful mix was the Italian theater, Commedia dell'arte. In the 18th century, the renowned Venetian playwright, Carlo Goldoni, brought theatrical masks to the forefront. Pantalone, Harlequin, Colombina and Pulcinella were among the many masks that found their way into the Carnival.

Over the years, Carnival festivities grew more decadent until it evolved into a 250-day event of non-stop parties, gambling and dancing. (NOTE FROM CAT: And you think things have gotten out of hand today?! Okay, there is your question: How many days did Carnevale last at its heyday? Answer: 250.) Social and class distinctions were flipped on their heads, with servants dressing up as masters and vice versa. It was difficult to distinguish a housewife wearing a traditional mask, cape, hood and three corner hat from a nobleman dressed in the same outfit, allowing both to move freely though the city without fear of recognition.

Sergio has been a major force in keeping this early art form alive. Together with his brother, Massismo, he owns La Bottega dei Mascareri. The original shop at the foot of the Rialto Bridge is not much bigger than a closet, and shares a wall with one of the oldest churches in Venice, the 11th century San Giacomo di Rialto. A second, larger shop is located on Calle dei Saoneri at San Polo 2720, operated by Massimo Boldrin and Rita Perinello, where there is an opportunity to watch the maskmakers at work. La Bottega's creations are completely handmade the traditional way, from papier-mâché. The Boldrin brother's masks have been featured in Harper's Bazaar, Condé Nast Traveler, Orient Express Magazine, National Georgraphic Traveler, the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe and Vogue, as well as many other internationally respected journals, and in numerous TV shows and films, such as "Eyes Wide Shut."

La Bottega dei Mascareri
San Polo 80 (Rialto)
Tel. & Fax: (39) 041.522-3857
San Polo 2720
Tel.: (39) 041.524-2887

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Callling All Short Film Makers!

Last year, I had the great pleasure of attending CIRCUITO OFF, the Venice Short Film Festival, which was held at the same time as the world-famous Venice Film Festival, except that it is on the Island of San Servolo. The quality of the films in competition was excellent. They sent over some information (below), so for all you film makers out there -- get to work!

Ciao from Venice,



Until the 19th April you can submit your shorts to the CIRCUITO OFF competitions at www.shortfilmdepot.comIn addition to the International (Off International), National (Made in Italy) and Short in Web competitions, there's VENETO IN SHORT competition, set for the shortfilms produced in Veneto and/or filmed by directors from Veneto. The winner of this competition will be awarded with a prize of 1000,00 �

Every year the shorts submitted to Circuito Off from all over the world are more and more but those from Veneto are very few.
We would like to receive more of them, in order to give more visibility to the directors and to the locations of our district!!!


9th Circuito Off Venice International Short Film Festival
30 August - 5 September 2008

3rd Venice Short Film Market
1 - 5 September 2008

San Servolo Island -

Main Office
Giudecca, 212
30133 Venezia
Tel +39 041 2446979
Fax +39 041 2446930

Saturday, March 1, 2008

A Perfect Venetian Day

When the day includes a marriage between two young, beautiful Venetians, the world is all right. Today, I had the great honor to attend a Venetian marriage ceremony at 12:30pm. I was weeping by the end.

Everyone agrees these two Venetians should be together. They are both tango instructors (among other things), and when you see them dance together... it is obvious they were made for one another.

I love to go to weddings in Venice because all I have to do is walk downstairs, hop onto the traghetto (which is like a mass-transit gondola, holding up to 12 people) zip across the canal, and I am there within five minutes. The marriage took place inside the 16th-century building you see there up above, Palazzo Cavalli, where all the civil weddings take place in Venice. Palazzo Cavalli is a wonderful spot to get married, with a Renaissance-style interior. It's on the Grand Canal, as you can see, and the wedding is orchestrated inside the Sala del Consiglio.

The ceremony was performed by a friend of the young couple. He started his comments by saying what a deeply emotional moment it was for him to be able to join these two people in marriage, and what an honor and privilege it was. I thought: how fantastic is that! Thanking the wedding couple for the privilege and the honor of performing the marriage ceremony!

After the wedding, I walked outside and saw about 20 or 30 people sitting on the platforms for the aqua alta (high water), eating sandwiches. It was so jarring to come out of a wedding and see what seemed to be the worst kind of tourists. I said, "Excuse me! You are bringing sandwiches into Venice! This kind of behavior is what is hurting Venice! What are you adding? What are you contributing? You are sitting there eating sandwiches brought from the outside. You come for the day, make a mess, and then you leave."

I walked away, then turned and looked back. They were laughing. This made me even more angry. I returned to the group. I said, "It is not a joke! If you continue with this behavior, there will be no Venice for you to visit." They continued to laugh. One man came up to me and said, "We are Venetians."

I was stunned. I said, "Oh, I am so sorry. Please forgive me. I just came from a Venetian wedding. I am American; I live in this area, and the tourists have made me insane." The man said, "It's okay." He took me in his arms, and started to waltz with me. He made me laugh. He said, "Stai tranquilla, stai tranquilla." (Be calm, be tranquil.) Now I was smiling. I said again, "I am so sorry." I bowed to the group, and then I left.

I went over to see my friend Sergio Boldrin, who is a Venetian mask maker, and one of my very best friends on the planet. I told him the story. He thought for a moment, and then said, "We used to always eat those sandwiches. You make them at home. They are called tartine, and they look like this." He drew a circle. I looked at the circle. I said, "Yes. Some were eating square sandwiches, but some were eating also round ones." I was searching for the great difference, but then it dawned on me that Venetians do not normally prepare sandwiches at home and eat them outside sitting on the aqua alta platforms. What is perfectly normal everyday sandwich behavior in America and the UK, for example, is completely strange in Venice. Sergio continued, "Sometimes we put inside tuna, or sometimes meat, whatever." Sergio was describing a perfectly ordinary sandwich, but an ordinary sandwich is not part of Venetian culture. Of course you can eat a form of a "sandwich" at a bar, but a typical, ordinary sandwich... to sit outside and munch on one -- this is why I was so shocked that they were Venetians. I have never seen a group of Venetians behave like that before. (I have tried to introduce peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but after ten years, they have not gone over so well.)

Then I went to pay for some wine I had bought a few days ago, but had forgotten my wallet. The man who works inside the shop teaches me Venetian dialect and witty sayings. Here is one of the best:

Tre volte buona,
sei una mona.

Which translates literally to: Three times good, you are a vagina.

I learned that phrase after I complained to him that I was always helping other people, and always getting screwed. Venetians use the word "mona" or "vagina" to mean many things, and one of them is stupid, or foolish. Just substitute the English word "pussy," and you will come close. Inside the shop was an ancient Venetian woman who made me laugh. She must have been about 85 years old, and we were chatting about the prowess of the Venetian male organ.

Then I went to buy some rolling tobacco. My usual tobacco shop was out of my blend, so I went to the next shop. Inside was a very large Venetian man who bought me some magazines because they were free with his newspaper, and he didn't want them. We chatted, and I found out he was retired, but he used to be a photographer. I asked, "Do you know La Gondola Circolo Fotographico?" He said, "Buoh!" Which means, "Of-course-I-do-are-you-kidding?" I said, "Well, I was just with them out there on Giudecca last night!" I will write more about this group in the future, but for all you photographers, here is their website to give you a start:

Later in the afternoon, I took the vaporetto over to Sacco Fissola, where the wedding reception was being held. I chatted with one of the waiters downstairs before I left. He said, "Tell them marriage is hard work! They must tango every single day for the rest of their lives. They are happy today; it is their wedding day, but in two years that will be gone. Ten years from now, they must still do the tango!"

On the boat, a big foreign man was disciplining his little daughter, who was about 2 1/2. He sliced the air sharply, and struck her repeatedly on her hands with fingertips like knives. She burst into tears. You could feel how much it must have hurt. Everyone watched, and no one said a word. I wanted to say something... finally, an elderly Venetian woman said, "You must not hurt your child like that." The big foreigner said, "Oh, it's nothing." The old Venetian woman insisted: "It is wrong. She will not learn anything that way." On my way out, I decided to back her up. I said, "She is correct." The man stood there, a little dazed, but maybe next time he will think before he hurts his little daughter. Elderly Venetian woman are like seers, and command the utmost respect. And, to me, Venetian children are the most well-behaved children I have ever met. (It made me miss my grandmother! A good grandmother is a precious jewel! There is nothing better than having some elderly Venetian women on your side!)

So, today was a perfect blend of tourists with Venetians. The weather warmed up. The sun came out. Now there is a new Venetian couple, and, hopefully, they will make more Venetian babies, and the world will carry on!

Ciao from Venice,