Sunday, April 26, 2009

Lightning Strikes Venice!

(Venice, Italy) Wendy Taylor, the Editor of from Six Apart, "a new site that helps readers find great blogs and helps blogs find new readers," asked me to contribute to their Guest Top 10 lists "where bloggers, writers, celebrities and big thinkers pick their 10 favorite blogs on a topic." They have some prestigious guests, such as Chris Andersen of The Long Tail, Marc Andreessen of Ning and Netscape, Stephen Baker of Businessweek, etc., and I readily agreed to do the Top 10 Venice Blogs. You can find my list here at Cat Bauer's Top 10 Venice Blogs:
Find the best blogs at

Since there are so many blogs about Venice these days, I tried to find blogs that were pretty much up-front and without hidden agendas. (I spend way too much time fending off attacks against my blog feed and other annoyances -- right now Google reports that I have 379 URLS restricted by robots.txt, which, apparently have been attached to all of my labels. If the Internet had been around during Shakespeare's time, he probably would have had robots.txt restrictions attached to The Merchant of Venice! )

In any event, I am happy to see most of you intrepid readers keep finding your way over to Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog. I am free to update my Top 10 list at, so if anyone has stumbled upon any interesting blogs that feature Venice, please drop me a line.

I suppose these shenanigans can only be expected, since Venice is teeming with celebrities these days, and competition is growing fierce. Salma Hayek just had her big second-wedding bash with husband François-Henri Pinault, and we were packed with stars -- even Bono made an appearance (that image you see is by Luigi Costantini). Other celebs to arrive in our little Magic Kingdom were actor Woody Harrelson, Ed Norton, French president Jacques Chirac, Olivier Martinez, the designer Philippe Starck, Valeria Golino, Penelope Cruz, Charlize Theron, and, of course, Francois Pinault himself, among many others. The rehearsal dinner was at the Punta Della Dogana, which Pinault owns; the wedding was at Palazzo Grassi, which Pinault owns; and there was a big bash last night at La Fenice -- which, last I heard, Pinault does not own:) To read the People article click here:,,20274683,00.html

I've had a conversation with Francois Pinault, and I was impressed. It was at the opening of Palazzo Grassi, and even though he was surrounded by VIPs clamoring for his attention, he gave me his full attention, made direct eye contact with me, and had a very firm handshake. Someone pulled him away in the middle of our conversation, and he came back within moments to finish it. I found him polite and respectful -- simple human qualities that I greatly appreciate.

Not to be outdone by the French, Prince Charles himself and his wife, Camilla are scheduled to arrive here on Tuesday, up from Rome where The Prince is meeting with The Pope (wouldn't you like to be a fly on that wall?). They, too, are scheduled to visit La Fenice for a tour, and then enjoy an evening concert. In the afternoon, Prince Charles is supposed to attend a conference about our Beloved Lagoon, while Camilla heads over to the Guggenheim. I've heard some gossip through the Venetian grapevine that The Prince is thinking about "living like a Venetian" for a time. Now that is ONLY GOSSIP, not fact! Imagine how much the real estate would skyrocket in Venice if the Prince began living like a Venetian! When I lived in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles, Madonna (who I think is cool) moved into the neighborhood and the prices of houses increased by about $200,000 just by her "presence!"

With all this international commotion, I think it's time for a little American anecdote, featuring Benjamin Franklin, my greatest hero, and the man who captured lightning. Having been hit by lightning myself as an infant, I have a bit of an affinity with electricity. (I would credit that image if I could figure out who shot it; I think it's someone in Texas.) Ben Franklin wore an old blue suit to sign the French Alliance, the same suit he had worn four years earlier when he had been ridiculed by the British:

On Feb. 6, 1778 he and Silas Deane went over to the French palace to sign the Treaty of Alliance with the King of France. Instead of his usual brown suit, Franklin was wearing a faded blue one, and Deane questioned why he wore old clothes to such an important ceremony. "To give it a little revenge," was the answer. "I wore this suit on the day Wedderburn abused me at Whitehall." The true depth of Franklin's feelings would never have been known if Deane had not asked.

To read more about that fascinating moment in history when Founder Benjamin Franklin was verbally abused and humiliated in England by Alexander Wedderburn on January 29, 1774 -- an event that occurred the month after the original Boston Tea Party on December 16, 1773 -- head on over to Philadelphia Reflections, "The musings of a Philadelphia Physician who has served the community for nearly six decades" and read the article entitled "Poor Richard Plays Hardball With Finesse."

Even more detail is provided by Brian Deming in an entertaining article entitled, "Ben Franklin's Very Bad Day in London" over at Suite

The worst day of Benjamin Franklin's life might well have been January 29, 1774. That's the day Franklin stood in an amphitheatre in London's Whitehall Palace and heard an hour-long tirade of abuse against him before the council of King George III, various members of the court, and a packed and sneering gallery.

In this Story-That-Never-Ends, I like to remember another one of my favorite Ben Franklin quotes:
Benjamin Franklin Drawing Electricity from the Sky" by Benjamin West

"Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing."

Ciao from Venice,
Venetian Cat - Venice Blog

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Antonio Vivaldi, Venice Hometown boy - The Flaming Red Priest

Antonio Vivaldi by François Morellon de la Cave (1725)
(Venice, Italy) Antonio Vivaldi's music seems to be Everywhere-All-the-Time in Venice, so it may surprise many of you to learn that he had disappeared from history for about 250 years. While searching through my archives for another document, I stumbled upon the unpublished article I had written about Vivaldi for the International Herald Tribune - Italy Daily back back in 2001; the one I had recently mentioned in the Palazzo Mocenigo - The Lives of Spaces post.

I just read the 2001 piece again. Poor Vivaldi! Always being supressed. I love Vivaldi's music, and that he died on my birthday, July 27th, back in 1741 is another wonderful coincidence. Anyway, I thought I'd share the article with you, slightly edited:

Antonio Vivaldi - The Flaming Red Priest
by Cat Bauer

If ever a hometown boy was inspired by the sounds of his city, it was Antonio Vivaldi, Il Prete Rosso, or the Red Priest, called such either because of his red hair or his fiery temperament – or both. His haunting music conjures up images of Venice, transporting listeners into the magical city on the strings of a violin. With his concerto, “The Four Seasons,” arguably the most recorded classical work of all time, it’s hard to believe that soon after his death in 1741 the brilliant Venetian composer had faded into obscurity until a fluke discovery brought him roaring back to the forefront.

In 1926, the Salesian monks in San Martino, a small town north of Genoa, needed a new roof for their monastery. For decades, they’d had a stash of old musical manuscripts, which they decided to sell to finance the repairs. The estate of Count Giacomo Durazza of Genoa, Austrian Ambassador in Venice and one-time director of the Burghtheater in Vienna (and friend to Casanova) had bequeathed the manuscripts years before. The monks sent their booty to specialists at the National Library in Turin to evaluate their inheritance.

Dr. Alberto Gentili, professor of music history at Turin University, was astounded when he discovered what appeared to be Antonio Vivaldi’s never-before-published personal musical archives. Working secretly, he managed to find a wealthy patron to buy the 140 instrumental works, 29 cantatas, 12 operas, and other works for Turin, thus preventing the works from being scattered at auction, or seized by the Italian government, who would then have the right to choose the institution where they would be housed. Upon closer examination, Dr. Gentili concluded that part of the archive was missing, and guessed correctly that the original collection had been divided between two heirs.

It’s no secret that the estates of many old noble families house many ancient treasures, and the Durazza family was no exception. The last remaining heir, a gray-haired reclusive bachelor, was found in his palace in Genoa, where he refused to allow anyone to examine his extensive library. Investigators, disguised as workers, searched his rooms and discovered that he did, indeed, have possession of the rest of the archives. The only person the recluse trusted was his priest, who finally convinced him it was his cultural duty to sell the treasures to the state.

Pietà warning sign Photo: Giovanni Dall'Orto
Ospedale della Pietà was one of four Venetian homes for orphans that specialized in the musical training of its female wards. The orphanages – the Pietà, the Incurabili, the Mendicanti and the Ospedaletto -- provided an education and a dowry for the girls, and those with musical aptitude were assigned to the choir and orchestra. The quality of the education so extraordinary that a plaque was placed on the south outer wall of the Pietà, threatening excommunication, among other penalties, to any parent who attempted to pass off their legitimate offspring as orphans to gain admission.

Son of a butcher and violinist, Antonio Vivaldi was born on March 4, 1678. Various sources seem unable to agree on how many siblings he had -- he was either the eldest or youngest of 6 or 9 children. At age 25, Vivaldi was ordained a priest; one way to elevate oneself socially and receive an education – by 1766, one out of every 23 Venetian inhabitants was joining the priesthood. He was hired by the Pietà as a violin instructor and purchaser of stringed instruments, and almost immediately gave up celebrating Mass, claiming ill health. After listening to his music, and viewing his career as a whole -- which included frequent travels abroad in the company of an attractive young singer -- one might conclude that he had decided to focus on what interested him most: composing music.

Documentation does exist, however, attesting to his sickliness even as an infant. At the Church of San Giovanni Battista in Bragora, located in Campo Bandiera e Moro in Castello, the parish priest signed a baptismal document stating Antonio Lucio Vivaldi was brought to the church to receive “the exorcisms and holy oils” when he was only two months old.

Venice in the 18th Century was a city famous for its high quality of art, music and other festivities, and people came from all over the world to indulge in its offerings. Carnival lasted up to six months. Masked revelers attended the opera, sometimes on a nightly basis. Far from the heavy hand of Rome, priests enjoyed an amazing amount of freedom, attending parties, appearing on stage as actors or singers – even keeping mistresses.

Vivaldi soon became maestro di concerti at the Pietà, responsible for the composition, rehearsal and performance of the repertoire. He was progressive and daring in his compositions for the girls, as well as in his own violin playing, ensuring fame for both himself and the Pietà. Frankfurt lawyer, Johann von Uffenbach described a performance: "Vivaldi played a solo accompaniment-- splendid-- to which he appended a cadenza which really frightened me, for such playing has never been nor can be…” Although Vivaldi maintained a relationship with the Pietà for much of his professional life, he was soon drawn to the more secular world of opera, eventually becoming the manager of the San Angelo Opera House where he wrote at least 46 operas.

When Vivaldi was 48-years-old, he met a 17-year-old singer, Anna Giraud, who soon began playing the lead in his operas. She and her older sister, Paolina, lived at Vivaldi’s house and became his traveling partners, accompanying him on his excursions all over Europe for many years. In 1737, Vivaldi decided to sink his own money into a performance of one of his operas in Ferrara, which, at that time, belonged to the church state. Cardinal Ruffo, a religious zealot, had authority over Vivaldi, not only as a priest, but over the private theater as well. To reprimand Vivaldi for his unorthodox lifestyle, he forbade the performance at Ferrara, causing Vivaldi to lose most of his money.

No longer young and fashionable, Vivaldi sold some concertos to his steadfast employer, the Ospedale della Pietà, then moved to Vienna at the age of 63, where he died, alone and poor, a few months later of “internal burning” – a scorching end to the Flaming Red Priest.

Ciao from Venice,
Cat Bauer