Thursday, February 10, 2011

Venetian Books: Secret Venice - Pappe Magiche - Unbuilt Venice - Venice is a Fish

(Venice, Italy) Back when I used to write for the International Herald Tribune's Italian supplement, Italy Daily, part of my job was to discover "secrets" of Venice. So, when Tom Jonglez told me that he was publishing Secret Venice, I thought, oh, not another "secret" guidebook.

Now that I actually have the book in my hands, however, I must declare that Thomas Jonglez and Paola Zoffoli have found plenty of new secrets, many that I did not know at all. For example, I was flipping through the Secret Venice guide and "The Blessing of the Throats" caught my eye. A friend and I had been speaking a few days before about how we remembered getting our throats blessed when we were children, and how magical that was. Then in Secret Venice, I read: 'Once a year in the depths of winter -- on 3 February, the feast day of St. Blaise -- an amazing ceremony of benediction takes place here. After the day's two masses, holy bread is blessed and distributed; the priest also performs a special benediction, holding two candles crossways over each person's throat and reciting the words: "Through the intercession of St. Blaise, bishop and martyr, may God deliver you from the ailments of the throat and from every other evil, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost."'

I grew excited. By serendipity, February 3 was the next day! And I certainly could use protection for my throat, not to mention Every Other Evil. I decided to go down to the Church of San Biago the next morning and see if the guidebook was accurate. I am happy to report, not only did I get my throat blessed, I also got some holy bread that I ate later for lunch.

From Jonglez Publishing:

Discover the secrets of St. Mark’s Basilica with not a tourist in sight, finally crack the mystery of the pillars around the Doge’s Palace, take a trip on the only underground canal in Venice in search of the alchemical sculpture of the winged horse, have lunch at a restaurant tucked away in a lagoon fisherman’s house, track down Teriaca, that miracle potion brewed in Venice from time immemorial, decode the paintings of the Scuola di San Rocco applying the principles of the Jewish Kabbalah and see how Kabbalistic music influenced the construction of San Francesco della Vigna, visit an unknown underground cemetery, stroll through unsuspected gardens beyond the gates of palazzos and monasteries, admire the extraordinary forgotten library of the Venice Seminary, sleep in a sublime bedroom concealed within a palazzo, go shopping in Giudecca women’s prison market, play petanque in the heart of the city, retreat to a wonderful lakeside monastery, away from the crowds…
Five years of research have gone into the compilation of this exceptional guide, an opportunity for all who love Venice, as well as Venetians themselves, to leave the beaten track far behind and rediscover the most extraordinary city in the world.
Click HERE to go Jonglez Publishing.

On Saturday, February 5 Carmela Cipriani had a launch for her latest book over at the Primo Piano Venice Art Gallery. Pappe Magiche, or "Magical Meals" is a Venetian cookbook for kids, complete with whimsical stories written by Carmela. Carmela, of course, is the daughter of Arrigo Cipriani, the owner of the renowned Harry's Bar. The presentation of Pappe Magiche was linked to the opening of Guglielmo Meltzeid's latest show at Primo Piano, I bei sogni dei bambini (The Beautiful Dreams of Children). The gallery was packed with kids clutching balloon animals, listening to Carmela read outloud, and then, as kids do, running around like maniacs in front of the gallery. The book is in Italian, but it is simple to read, and the recipes are clever enough for grownups!

Click HERE to go Carmela's publisher, Sperling & Kuper.

Back in January, there was a dinner discussion about an article in la Repubblica about a relatively new book about Palladio called Unbuilt Venice by Antonio Foscari, who is a professor of architecture at the Università Iuav di Venezia here in town, a member of the Board of Directors at the Louvre, as well as owning one of the most famous Palladian villas in the world. I said I was fascinated by all things Palladio, and they got me a copy of the article. The article stated, "Still celebrated and copied all over the world -- exhibitions were held to celebrate his 500 year anniversary in Vicenza, London, Madrid, and New York -- last month Palladio was called 'the father of American architecture" by the United States Congress.'

In the article, Professor Foscari said, "There isn't a house in Texas with a porch, a gable or a facade that doesn't connect to Palladio." He also stated, "Building homes on the indefensible  Venetian mainland, where there were castles, is a revolutionary act: its impact, in the middle of the sixteenth century, completely transformed the territory. Palladio was a man deeply rooted in history. He was the executor of an innovative policy of the Republic of Venice. Today it is not understood clearly enough how it was time for a modern country house with its open lodges. The Palladian house became the center of agricultural production." 

Then, at another dinner, a man at the table started speaking again about the same article. Again I said how fascinated I was about Palladio, and that I had the article. The man speaking said, "I wrote the book." I said, "Which book?" He replied, "Unbuilt Venice. I wrote it." I said, "You are Antonio Foscari?" And he said, yes. I was stunned. I said, "It is such an honor to sit at the same table with you!" I have to confess that I then jumped up and down and behaved like a total groupie before I calmed down and finished my meal. 

I have yet to get my hands on a copy of the book, but here is the blurb from the Harvard Book Store website:

After the successful conclusion of the centenary celebrations of Andrea Palladio's birth, there are still many unanswered questions about his work. Antonio Foscari retraces Andrea Palladio's life and offers new perspectives on the architects built and unbuilt work. The author reveals an image of Venice that differs from the one we all know: a city that projects herself into the modern age by abandoning the accepted principles of late medieval culture that had so profoundly influenced its formation.

Click HERE to go to the Harvard Book Store.

Venice is a Fish, subtitled A Sensual Guide by Tiziano Scarpa is not a new book, but it's one I recently stumbled upon. Scarpa is Venetian, and captures the essence of the city as only a Venetian can:

"Venice is crammed full of ghosts. Writers and directors have smelt them everywhere."

""Venice is encrusted with imagination. Its stones creak beneath an impressive pile of apparitions. There isn't another place in the world that could bear all that visionary tonnage on its shoulders." 

"Put on very dark sunglasses: protect yourself. Venice can be lethal. In the historic centre the aesthetic radioactivity is extremely high. Every angle radiates beauty, apparently shabby: profoundly devious, inexorable."

"...the true flavour of Venice isn't sweetness. If you want to test its character, you must go into a bàcaro, a kind of inn. They are fewer and fewer in number these days. You'll find the highest concentration of them in the calli near the Rialto market. I'm not going to tell you what they're called because I've decided that in this book I'm not going to name a single hotel, restaurant, bar or shop. Partly out of impartiality, partly because we Venetians jealously guard our secrets; we don't like to give away those few places that the tourists haven't yet discovered. So take it as a challenge, a treasure hunt."

"But I promised you practical advice. Is it true that in Venice people make love outdoors, on every street corner?" And then: "In the historic centre, try to find a hiding place from which you can make a dignified and hastily dissembling exit at any moment as if nothing happened. Unless yours is an exhibitionistic, brazen love that thrives on risk: but in that case you don't need my advice, and you won't feel intimidated wherever you go."

The English translation by Shaun Whiteside is a little awkward at times, but that is a problem many translators have, capturing the rhythm and the utterly different way of phrasing an idea unique to Venetians. (Also Whiteside is from County Tyrone in Northern Ireland, where they have their own idiosyncrasies when it comes to the English language, which might make it sound odd to American ears -- but there is nothing like an Irishman to capture the poetry.) Scarpa describes how Venetians play soccer, and, to me, it's also how they write, and do many other things:

"Do what we call 'acting Venetian': after the war the phrase alluded to our football team, 'doing the Venetian', 'doing a Venice'. Our footballers had an exasperating, selfish style of play, always with the ball at their feet, loads of dribbling and hardly any passing, a limited vision of the game. Of course they did: they'd grown up in that varicose whirlpool of alleyways, little streets, sharp turns, bottlenecks. So obviously, even when they took to the field in shorts and jerseys, they went on seeing calli and campielli -- streets and squares -- everywhere, and struggled to disentangle themselves from a private labyrinthine hallucination between the midfield and the penalty area."

I read the reviews up on Amazon on both the US and UK sites, and was surprised (but not really) by how many people did not really "get" it. All I can say is that if you don't really get it, you don't really get Venice. I am pleased, however, that Publishers Weekly gave it a starred review.

Click HERE to go to Amazon USA.
Click HERE to go to Amazon UK.

Ciao from Venice,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog