Sunday, July 27, 2008

Venetian Cat - Venice Blog in the Financial Times! - Venice

Photo: Highton-Ridley
(VENICE, ITALY) I am honored that Venetian Cat - Venice Blog is featured in the Financial Times Weekend Magazine this weekend, July 26/27 2008 -- especially because today is my birthday! Please run out and buy yourselves a copy and flip to Page 9:)

You will see a page entitled That was then... this is now: Venice

First, there is a quote from John Evelyn's Diary, 1645. Since John Evelyn is not exactly a household name, here is a description from the British Library Online:

"Hitherto John Evelyn has principally been known from his Diary. The Archive allows him to be seen in his true milieu, that of the community of seventeenth century intellectuals who aimed to establish a major programme of scientific and technological development, linked with social and economic progress. He emerges as this community's most long-lived and versatile member: scholar, connoisseur, bibliophile and horticulturalist, as well as a writer and thinker of sometimes startlingly current relevance, on everything from forestry, architecture and the formation of a universal library to fashion and air pollution."

Page 9 opens with a quote of Evelyn's that speaks of the Venetian perfumers & Apothecaries, and the "cages of Nightingals" and how, if you close your eyes, you would imagine you were in the country -- "tis almost as silent as the field." That quote is highlighted by the image, "Bird's Eye View of Venice" by Joseph Heintz (c.1600-78).

Below that there are three quotes from Venetian Cat - Venice Blog, 2008: "Tips for moving around Venice," in which I ask you to imagine you are a car -- "One person sitting on a bridge can cause a traffic jam for miles." My quotes are highlighted by the legs of tourists in a slightly flooded St. Mark's Square.

Well, I will tell you that it is still possible to hear the silence punctuated by the songs of caged Nightingales or Canaries or Parakeets dangling from the windows in several parts of Venice to this very day. In fact, there was a mighty warbler not far from my house in a window on Ruga Rialto. It is a delightful Venetian tradition to put singing birds in the windows, and if you can make your way off the beaten paths, you, too, may find yourself serenaded by a Venetian bird. The photo on the right was taken by jschneid and can be found on Flickr, entitled Venice Scene 12.

On the days of the regattas, when the vaporetti and other motorized boats don't run on the Grand Canal, Venice is once again, beautifully silent. I dream of the future when we have hybrid boats like there are hybrid cars -- electric/solar inside the historic center, and then gasoline (if necessary) out past the lagoon.

I believe that one of the reasons there is such chaos in Venice today is because not enough effort has been made to educate travelers how to move inside the city. We, who live here, sometimes forget just how strange and different Venice is from any other city in the world. So, please, do read my tips you will find listed there on the right before you come!

I want to thank Sue Norris, the Associate Editor of the FT Weekend Magazine, for stumbling on my blog and featuring it in the Financial Times.

Ciao from Venice,

Saturday, July 19, 2008

500 Years of Andrea Palladio - Palladian Gala - Save Venice, Inc.

(VENICE, ITALY) When the Director of the International Center for the Study of the Architecture of Andrea Palladio in Vicenza begins his lecture with a not-very-flattering quote by John Ruskin about his subject, you know you're in for an exciting ride.

Professor Guido Beltramini did just that in the Giorgio Cini Foundation's Palladian refectory yesterday, and it was one of the most fascinating lectures I've heard in a long time. He was part of the Save Venice, Inc. Palladian Gala, which culminates at Hotel Cipriani's Granai tonight with the celebration of our most beloved Venetian holiday, the Festa del Redentore, complete with fireworks. (Each one of these topics could be a blog in itself, so I am going to give you a brief overview, and delve more deeply in the future.)

Professor Beltramini said that last year on November 30th, the kick-off of the 500 year anniversary of the renowned architect's birth, many local architects in Vicenza held an anti-Palladio demonstration. The projection screen then flashed up a picture of Andrea Palladio that had been doctored to give him horns! Professor Beltramini said it was about time we had a look at this part of Palladian architecture, and the dark forces that generate the upper harmony. The windows that are eyes; the doors that are mouths are countered by the belly of the building. He spoke about the "heart of darkness" and the unconscious, and showed us a photo of a brutish faun on the floor, saying no visit to a Palladian villa would be complete without a visit to the underground vaults. The lecture covered the Villa Rotunda in Vicenza, the nobility who supported Palladio, his early life, and much, much more.

It is the ancient argument -- who is more powerful? Man or Nature? Does Man impose his Will on Nature? Does Man work together with Nature? Does Nature impose her Will upon Man? Or, most importantly, what is Man anyway? Who are we and what are we doing on this planet?

People constantly ask me why I moved to Venice, and I reply that Venice is a magnetic center. The more you study Venice, you will find it is not just about canals and gondolas. The palaces and churches were designed with esoteric principles. As was the Art. As was the Music. As was the Literature. Etc.

This is from the website of Centro Internazionale di Studi di Architettura Andrea Palladio:

"Andrea Palladio was born in Padua on St Andrew’s Day, 30 November, 1508. To celebrate this quincentenary, the Centro Internazionale di Studi di Architettura Andrea Palladio, Vicenza and the Royal Academy of Arts, London, with the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), are mounting a major exhibition. It will open in Vicenza, (palazzo Barbaran da Porto, 20 September 2008 – 6 January 2009), it will then move to London (Royal Academy of Arts, 31 January – 13 April 2009) and will close in the United States of America in Autumn 2009. ...
Jefferson’s house at Monticello will be presented."

Well, apparently we have run out of money in the United States of America, and the Washington D.C. leg of the exhibition has not been confirmed, and may well be cancelled. Makes you wonder... doesn't it? Well, I most definitely intend to go to Vicenza to see it this fall, and strongly suggest you all try to catch it either here or in London.

Another interesting tidbit about Palladio: as hard as he and the nobility who supported him tried, he didn't make it into Venice until he was about 60-years-old, and even then, he only designed buildings on the outskirts of town, like the Churches of Redentore, Zitelle and San Francesco dello Vigna -- which, if you remember, I have written about before:

After the lecture, the Save Venice, Inc. folks bravely climbed into a wild boat, rearing against its ropes, docked outside on the Island of San Giorgio. It was pouring rain, and the waves were ghastly, but off we chugged to the Church of Redentore itself, where I have spent a lot of time behind the scenes with the Capuchin friars, an Order close to my heart. (In fact, you will find a Venetian Capuchin friar in Harley's Ninth:) We were given a brief tour of the interior by the scholars Professor Deborah Howard of Cambridge, and Professor Frederic Ilchman of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Now, you might think that scholars are stuffy, but I actually hang out with them, and they always amaze me with their wit, humor and ability to bring the past alive.

The Church of Redentore was built in honor of Christ the Redeemer to save Venice from the plague, which wiped out ONE THIRD of the population, including Titian himself. Professor Howard said we must remember the time it was built, and what, exactly, were the sins from which the Venetians thought they needed redemption. One was that they did a lot of trading with the Muslim countries. (I can think of several others:) The Venetians had tried everything, and as we know, when all else fails, the only thing left to do is to pray. In any event, it WORKED! The end of the plague on July 21, 1577 is what we are celebrating tonight with what is usually the best fireworks in the entire world exploding over the lagoon. Venetians from all over the Veneto arrive in their boats to watch the show. The fondamenta on the Giudecca is lined with tables and Venetians eating traditional food. Terraces and balconies are filled with revelers. The Lido has their own party going on over there. It's a big Venetian party, and deserves its own blog, which perhaps I will give it in the future.

After the Church of Redentore, it was onto the Church of Zitelle, and then a lunch at the newly restored Zitelle convent, now the magnificent five-star Bauer Palladio Hotel & Spa. I have known the Chair & CEO, Francesca Bortolotto Possati for a long time -- and no, I am not related to the Bauer Hotel:) But I saw the convent many years ago, long before Francesca restored it, and I will tell you that she did an amazing job (the photo you see is the garden where we had lunch -- the rain had stopped and the Sun came out!). She is also the International Chairman of Save Venice, Inc.. Something you should know about Francesca -- she puts her whole heart into all her projects with the purest intentions, and works tirelessly to help this city. For instance, despite all odds, she launched the very first solar-electric boat on the Grand Canal, which runs from the Bauer Hotel in the historic center, across to Zitelle.

Here is a little excerpt from something I wrote about Zitelle for the International Herald Tribune's Italy Daily years ago:

"Santa Maria della Presentazione, or Le Zitelle, was once a home for maidens famous for their skill in creating punto in aria Venetian lace. Founded in 1599 on the premise that impoverished, good-looking virgins were doomed to a life of sin unless someone intervened, the convent had strict entry requirements: the virgins had to be between the ages of 12 and 18, very healthy, very beautiful, and have a graceful, lively demeanor. The girls received training that prepared them not for the nunnery, but for marriage. The three-story structure, built on a Reformation model with a cloister behind the church and two wings near the Giudecca Canal, is currently undergoing restoration. Plans exist to convert it into a hotel and conference center, retaining much of the original structure, and to bring the large botanical garden back to life. The wellhead in the courtyard bears the coat of arms of the aristocratic Loredan family, and dates from the early 14th century when the Loredans were granted possession of the property by the Venetian Senate."

And something you should know about Save Venice, Inc. -- I have never seen the organization more vibrant and alive. There is a new contingency from the West Coast in the United States, which I strongly recommend those of you out there support, plus the Old Guard from New York, Boston and the South, etc. If you're looking for a charitable organization to stash your cash, your dollars will not only beautify Venice and its structures, but the soul of Venice itself.

Ciao from Venice,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

P.S. I am back from Redentore. At the last minute, I decided to watch the fireworks with the Guardia di Finanza in honor of Bruno Abbate. Bruno was a renowned boat builder in a traditional family business, and he made some boats for the Guardia -- their party was next door to Save Venice over at Cipriani's. Bruno died last week at age 57. His birthday is one day before mine. We are Leos. Last year about this time, I had the great honor to be with Bruno on his yacht you see there during his Primatist Trophy with a group of friendly folks -- seriously, I was taking the Sun on that very cushion in the back of his boat. It seems incredible that he is now gone. Last year was the first time I had met him... he was such a generous man; he enjoyed sharing his great wealth. We zoomed all over the coast of Sardinia during the morning, paused for lunch and a swim, then zoomed some more in the afternoon to the next stop. Every evening there was some kind of spectacular. Bruno genuinely loved human beings from every walk of life. He created an enormous family called Primatist People, providing lots of jobs and lots of fun. When Bruno showed up, the world came alive with helicopters swirling overhead, and music, music, music -- he was like fireworks personified. The great explosion at the end of Redentore tonight reminded me of Bruno... Even though I didn't know him well, when you spend a week on someone's boat, you form a kind of bond.... he touched so many lives... Thank you, Bruno, for granting me the privilege of being one of the Primatist People, if only for a moment.

After the fireworks, I was swept back into another world -- the Cipriani Olympic-size pool where there was music, food, drinks, dancing.... It was strange... one of the first articles I had ever written for IHT Italy Daily was about the Redentore party at that very pool, back in 2001 -- it seemed almost frozen in time with the same stock characters wearing the same outfits.... as if that party has been going on for centuries during Redentore, and will continue for centuries in the future.

Tonight, however, I met a vibrant woman from Los Angeles, Francesca DeMarco, who had never been there before. She said: "I've seen fireworks at the Rose Bowl. I've seen fireworks at the Hollywood Bowl. But I've never seen fireworks like these!" I said, "Francesca, I am going to quote you. Are they the best fireworks you have ever seen in your life?" Francesca said, "YES!"

Friday, July 11, 2008

Sir Elton John Saves Piazza San Marco - Venice

(VENICE, ITALY) Sir Elton John's performance in Piazza San Marco on Wednesday night, July 9th, underlined why he was knighted. He played with a quiet nobility that radiated enormous power. He was not flamboyant. He let his music do the talking, and when he spoke, his words were simple and dignified.

Napoleon is often credited with calling Piazza San Marco "the drawing room of Europe," but Wikipedia informs us that perhaps it should be attributed to Alfred de Musset (and you know how nitpicky those Wikipedia people can be:). In any event, whoever said it, the atmosphere was exactly like that: as if we were in a grand drawing room, and Sir Elton John was entertaining his guests.

The show was sold out, and to be honest, I didn't make any effort to go, but a friend called and offered a pass at the last moment. So, of course, I went! The pass allowed me to wander everywhere, and I found myself fortunate enough to land in about the tenth row, with an unobstructed view, sitting next to Carl Pagan, from the Casino di Venezia -- which happens to be the oldest casino in the world, and accounts for about 40% of Venice's income. So, of course, during the show, in the pauses between songs, I harangued Carlo about various problems around town. Poor Carlo! Just when he thinks he can relax during an Elton John concert, he finds himself sitting next to Cat Bauer!

To his credit, he hung in there and listened. So, who knows what the future many bring:)

Elton sang hit after hit after hit. It seems impossible for one human being to have so many hits, but he has them. We have grown up with Elton; Elton is always there. We have suffered with him. We have rejoiced with him. We have tried to kill him, but he did not die. The Queen has knighted him for his grand endurance and now we embrace him and ask him to do charity shows.

Elton performed this concert on behalf of SMS, which is a clever acronym for "San Marco Square" and "Short Message System." Elton raised money to fix up San Marco Square. Now, we can be sure that Elton does not have to do this. So, why would he? Well, he lives here. And I will judge by the few words he used to introduce the last song, "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me," that he cares.

He said, "This is dedicated to everyone who likes to live in Venice," or something to that effect. But it was weary, serious, profound. We are all very tired these days over here in the Magic Kingdom, as are most people with souls throughout the world. And then he sang, "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me." If you have ever had the Sun go down on you, and most of us have, you will understand. I think Bernie Taupin is one of our greatest lyricists. Elton would not be Elton without Bernie's words:

I can't light no more of your darkness
All my p
ictures seem to fade to black and white
I'm growing tired and time stands still before me
Frozen here on the ladder of my life
Too late to save myself from falling
I took a chance and changed your way of life
But you misread my meaning when I met you
Closed the door and left me blinded by the light
Don't let the sun go down on me
Although I search myself, it's always someone else I see
I'd just allow a fragment of your life to wander free
But losing everything is like the sun going down on me

I can't find, oh the right romantic line

But see me once and see the way I feel
Don't discard me just because you think I mean you harm
But these cuts I have they need love to help them heal

(Watch the YouTube video below)

I wish I had some photos, but I always have to depend upon photographers, and they do not always come through, and there are, surprisingly, slim pickings on the net (none of the photos I am using are from the actual show). The last camera I had was destroyed during Carnevale two years ago by Red Wine within a week after purchase. The shop where I bought it in Venice sent it back to the dealer in Milano, without a reason, and the Milano shop wrote back: WE HAVE EXAMINED THIS CAMERA, AND IT WAS DESTROYED BY RED WINE. THEREFORE, WE DO NOT UPHOLD OUR WARRANTY. And, they were right! It WAS destroyed by Red Wine, but not by drunkenness -- it was because I dropped my shopping bag, and the camera was in the bag with the red wine -- there are witnesses! The Venice shop told the Milan shop, "Well, after all, it IS Carnevale."

If you can understand that story, you will understand part of the reason why Venice is sad -- so many people from Milano (and other places) have bought apartments here for profit, caring only about the money, and nothing about the Soul of Venice. If someone from Milano sent a camera back to Venice destroyed by Red Wine, the Venetians would laugh and say, "Well, THAT'S a good reason! It's Carnevale, after all. Give them another!"

After I published this blog, I asked Alex Ruffini from 2StarPhoto, one of my Venetian MySpace buddies, if he had any photos from the show. He said he didn't have a pass that night, but did manage to get the photo you see there on your left. Thanks, Alex! Alex does rock photography, and if you'd like to have a look at more of his work, go to

Below is a video of Elton singing "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" from his 60th birthday last year. Bill Clinton is there, among many other people.

This year, Elton's voice is battle-worn, and his hair is grey, but his scars become him. He looks better than ever. To me, he is a reflection of the past year. Last year was not an easy year for many of us.

How amazing one song can be! It united us all! There were lighters lit, and we All Became One. When the people chanted his name, it sounded like this: "Eel-ton! Eel-ton!"

Thank you, Elton, for adding your great voice to the song of Venice.

Ciao from Venice,

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Eleonora Duse 1858-2008 - Venice

(VENICE, ITALY) Yesterday, I had the privilege to be invited to a press conference at Palazzo Balbi by the Giorgio Cini Foundation and the Veneto Region. Eleonora Duse -- that fascinating woman -- will be the subject of a celebration this fall in honor of her birth, 150 years ago.

Thanks to the Academy Awards, the general public is now familiar with the French singer, Edith Piaf. Long before there were movie stars in Hollywood, here in Europe, there were many women who lived their lives with passion and dare. Eleonora Duse was a giant among them.

First, a brief blurb about the Giorgio Cini Foundation. To give you a hint of the scope of this organization, before there was G8, there was G7, and twice the meeting was held at the Cini Foundation, in 1980 and 1987. Located on the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore, Count Vittorio Cini created the foundation in memory of his son Giorgio, who died in a plane crash. We cannot know the depth of his grief, but we are fortunate that he had the strength of character to spin straw into gold and leave this treasure to mankind, an oasis for enlightened thinkers. I am for anything that allows one the freedom to use one's mind -- to agree or disagree without blindly following, or being forced into an opinion. And they are devoted to Vivaldi!

So, if the Cini Foundation, together with the Region of Venice (the Region is sort of like a county in the States, and the Veneto Region happens to be one of the most powerful in the land) decide to focus the spotlight on Eleonora Duse, it is impressive.

Since I drift in and out at press conferences, especially when they are in Italian, I started thinking about the energy of a woman like Eleonora Duse, born into a family of poor actors, who became so powerful that we are celebrating her birth 150 years later. She was a Star on Earth, and she did burn some ordinary mortals. Perhaps it takes us 150 years to examine such energy. Perhaps the Light is too bright. Still it shines, still it shines. We can only imagine the wattage we would encounter if we had met her while she was alive. Washington, D.C. itself got a shock when President Cleveland's wife invited Eleonora, an Italian actress, for tea.

When she was 21-years-old, she had an intense love affair with a journalist who left her while she was pregnant. The baby died before birth, and soon after, so did he...

I'll let you do some research on your own, but her most famous love affair was, of course, with Gabriele d'Annunzio. D'Annunzio is a household name here in Italy, but I would imagine that many of you in America don't know who he is. Well, I HAVE BEEN TO HIS HOUSE on Lake Garda, and it is one of the most incredible villas on this planet. In fact, it's been a lifelong dream of mine to fashion an apartment inspired by d'Annunzio -- I am wild for his bathroom with the blue tub.

Wikipedia describes d'Annunzio as an Italian poet, journalist, novelist, dramatist, and daredevil. One of my favorite rooms in his house was his office. It has a low doorway, so you must bow your head to enter. Over the door is etched: Hoc opus, hic labor est: "This is the work, here is the working." On his shelf is the head of Eleonora Duse, "the veiled witness," which he would cover with a veil before he began to work.

Here is a quote I found by Duse on the Jewish Theater website from Drama's Queen / Eleonora Duse, the great 19th century actress by Peter Kurth in his review of Helen Sheehy's book, Eleonora Duse, published by my own beloved publisher, Knopf. Duse describes how she felt about her performance at the ancient Roman amphitheater in Verona:

"Oh, grace," Duse later exclaimed, "it was a state of grace!" The crowd roared its approval with a noise that left her exalted, "terrified, " lost in a sea of "indescribable... abandonment." As she wrote to a lover many years later, "The supreme power spoke to me of what I must do in my life; I bowed my head ... and I said, 'So be it.'"

Eleonora Duse and Gabriele d'Annunzio also caused some commotion here in Venice, among other venues. When he wrote a play and gave the lead to her rival, Sarah Bernhardt, not Eleonora, she left him. Duse and d'Annunzio are archetypes of human beings who really existed not so long ago, who really loved each other, and who we still recognize and celebrate. They left us many, many gifts, and that is why we are fortunate that the Cini Foundation and the Veneto are sponsoring this tribute, which will begin in September and focus during October 1-4, and include letters, film, and a theatrical production put on by the Goldoni Theater (another one of my favorite organizations), among other events.

Now you are aware:). More details to come.

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

P.S. I just can't resist adding an aerial view of the Vittoriale, d'Annunzio's house.