Monday, April 23, 2012

Venice International Literary Festival - 2012 Crossroads of Civilization - Incroci di Civiltà

Scuola di San Rocco
(Venice, Italy) The glorious -- and I use that word sincerely -- Scuola di San Rocco was the setting for the inauguration of 2012 edition of Crossroads of Civilization, Venice's international literary festival. On Wednesday, April 18, under the vibrant Tintoretto ceiling, the house was crammed full of lovers of literature. It is always invigorating to be surrounded by so many other members of civilized culture in an ancient venue created by enlightened beings, and it made me grateful to live in a city where such events occur on almost a daily basis. 

Antonio Damasio
Incroci di Civiltà is presented by the Comune of Venice and Ca' Foscari University. At the inauguration, two Bauer-Ca' Foscari awards were presented by Carlo Carraro, the President of Ca' Foscari Univerity, and Francesca Bortolotto Possati, the President and CEO of The BAUERs Hotel. Antonio Damasio, the Portuguese neuroscientist and writer, received the award for a distinguised representative of the international literary scene, and Ghada Abdel Aal, an Egyptian blogger, was the recipient for a promising new writer. Click HERE to read the Travel Pulse report.

According to Wired, Damasio is one of the most important neuroscientists of his generation; his latest book is called Self Comes to Mind. Damasio spoke about the importance of emotion with respect to consciousness, and said we cannot be conscious without feelings -- something I always thought was obvious, but apparently not -- Damasio said feelings are often ignored in accounts of consciousness. I was surprised to hear this information because my personal method of consciousness relies heavily on how I feel about something, even if I am being told something entirely different; my memories are stronger if there is emotion attached to the memory. Damasio said that the most important qualities for a human being are beauty and compassion for others, something I, too, strongly believe, and something that seems to becoming more of a rarity on this planet. From Wired:

...reflection on the experience of conscious minds also convinced me that feelings need to be given an even more important role in the making of subjectivity. We do not merely perceive objects and hold thoughts in our minds: all our perceptions and thought processes are felt. All have a distinctive component that announces an unequivocal link between images and the existence of life in our organism.

 To read the entire Wired interview by Jonah Lehrer, please click HERE.

The party over at Ca' Foscari after the inauguration was fantastic, with an international feast. Yummy Venetian, North African, Chinese and South American food was on the menu, all prepared by La Dogaressa, accompanied by an unending supply of excellent prosecco from the Consorzio Tutela del Conegliano Valdobbiadene. Moleskine was there with its enormous Infinite Writing book, a project by Bili Bidjocka, who is collecting the marks of handwriting for a time capsule for the future. I love Moleskine, and use their agendas faithfully to record all my trials and tribulations -- mine is red. On the page where you record who to return to in case of loss, I wrote "As a reward: $TICKET TO HEAVEN." The Moleskine representatives at the party were uber-cool. I raved about their product, and told them I would not exist with my Moleskine -- and was rewarded with a nifty Moleskine WikiAfrica notebook! From Moleskine:

Ecriture Infine/Infinite Writing
The Eighth Book of Ecriture Infinie is making its second appearance, in Venice, for Incroci di Civilità, a literary festival at the Università Ca' Foscari.

Ecriture Infine/Infinite Writing is an art project that celebrates a 3500-year-old invention: handwriting. Created by Cameroonian artist Bili Bidjocka, it consists of a series of eight volumes that travel the world collecting the marks of handwriting as we know it. Once completed, the volumes are wrapped in a linen cloth, sealed and hidden in a secret place, like a time capsule.
Will the people who discover them in thousands of years be able to understand what they mean? 

We were asked to express our thoughts and feelings about handwriting. I wrote: "Handwriting is the mark of the soul. Cat Bauer - April 18, 2012." In fact, everyone can participate in the project through the miracle of cyberspace. Go to the Moleskine page, and follow the instructions to upload your handwriting.

Ghada Abdel Aal
On Thursday morning, the setting was another prestigious Venetian venue, the Ateneo Veneto. The meeting started with three Mediterranean female Arab writers: Ghada Abdel Aal from Egypt, Malika Mokeddem from Algeria, and Alawiya Sobh from Beirut, and it was fascinating to hear the world from their point of view. Ghada Abdel Aal is the winner of the Bauer-Ca' Foscari award for a promising new writer. Out of frustration with the way marriages were arranged, she started a blog From Wikipedia:

Wanna be a bride (Egyptian Arabic: عايزة أتجوز [ˈʕæjzæ (ʔæ)tˈɡæwːez]) alternately translated as Wanna-B-A-Bride or literally: I Want to Get Married is the title of a popular Egyptian book based on a blog of the same name about the several (failed) marriage proposals the author Ghada Abd El-Aal has gone through.The book was published by the Egyptian printing house Shorouk in 2008. It has been translated into Italian by Barbara Teresi and released under the title Che il velo sia da sposa! by the Italian printing house Epoché Edizioni. It has also been translated into English by Nora Eltahawy, published by the University of Texas Press on 23 September 2010.

Aal said that before the Internet, living in Eqypt was like living on separate islands. There was a law that it was forbidden to talk about politics, and any group of three people or more could be arrested. After going online, she discovered she wasn't the only one interested in books, culture and politics. She said that in Egypt, the way people got married was that you would meet your future husband three or four times, and then be asked to make a decision. Nothing was forced upon you; you could always say no; but you spent more time in deciding what refrigerator to buy than you did on your future husband. She thought something was wrong with that, and started blogging about it with humor, and found an audience who felt the same way she did, both male and female. When asked about the recent revolution in Egypt, she said that "Our country deserves a better future -- better than the one we were living in." She said that it took ten years to have a revolution after living for 30 years under a corrupt regime and that more time was needed to learn what the results are. "You can't judge a revolution after 24 months."

Malika Mokkeddem
Malika Mokkeddem was born in Algeria, but now lives in Paris, so she is bridge between two different cultures, and talks to both. From Wikipedia:

Malika Mokkeddem was born on October 5, 1949 in Kenadsa, a small mining town on the limit of the western desert of Algeria. She is the daughter of an illiterate nomad family who became sedentary. She grew up listening to the stories told by her grandmother, Zohra, and was the only girl in her family and town to finish secondary studies. She enrolled to study medicine in Oran and finished her studies in Paris. She specialized in Nephrology and later established in Montpellier in 1979. She practiced till 1985 when she decided to dedicate her time to literature.

Mokkeddem said that she wanted to get away from her family, and to be exiled from one's family is the worse thing. "Not everyone is fortunate enough to be an orphan." She said that many people drown in the Mediterranean sea trying to get away from her country, and that the sea was like a "liquid continent." 

Alawiya Sobh
In addition to being a novelist, Alawiya Sobh is the founder of Snob, a magazine that is a cross between Vogue and Vanity Fair, and is the best-selling woman's cultural magazine in the Arab world today. From Wikipedia:

Alawiya Sobh (Arabic: علوية صبح) (born 1955) is a Lebanese writer and novelist.[1] She was born in Beirut and studied Arabic and English literature at the Lebanese University. Upon graduation in 1978, she pursued a career in teaching. She also started publishing articles and short stories, at first in An-Nida newspaper and then in An-Nahar. After a spell as cultural editor, she became editor-in-chief of Al-Hasnaa, a popular Arabic women's magazine, in 1986. In the 1990s, she launched her own women's magazine and runs it to this day. Sobh has written a number of novels. Her debut novel Maryam al Hayaka (2002) was critically acclaimed. Dunya was published in 2006. A recent novel It's Called Love was longlisted for the Arabic Booker Prize in 2010.

Howard Jacobson
Next up was the very entertaining Man Booker Prize-winning author, Howard Jacobson, who has been called, "the British Philip Roth," although he calls himself "the Jewish Jane Austen." At the meeting he said he was thinking about going back to the "the British Philip Roth" again. He uses humor to communicate because "The best comedy is the acceptance of the tragedy of life. Life is not funny, therefore, you have to be." He said that the Jewish joke is a survival strategy. He said that he never saw himself as Jewish and that his Jewishness found him. "I'm surprised that I talk about it so much and that I write about it so much. I think of myself as English." From Wikipedia:

Although Jacobson has described himself as "a Jewish Jane Austen" (in response to being described as "the English Phillip Roth"), he also states, "I'm not by any means conventionally Jewish. I don't go to shul. What I feel is that I have a Jewish mind, I have a Jewish intelligence. I feel linked to previous Jewish minds of the past. I don't know what kind of trouble this gets somebody into, a disputatious mind. What a Jew is has been made by the experience of 5,000 years, that's what shapes the Jewish sense of humour, that's what shaped Jewish pugnacity or tenaciousness." He maintains that "comedy is a very important part of what I do."

Marciana Library - Venice
I wasn't able to attend every meeting, but again I was struck by how much more freedom of expression seems available here in Europe as opposed to the United States, as well as a deep respect for literature and the physical book. When the New York Public Library itself is planning to ship 3 million books to New Jersey so the space can be used for computers, it really makes me appreciate living in a town where I can visit the local library and order up books and documents written centuries ago. The first time I had that experience -- actually being allowed to handle handwritten Venetian documents dating back 500 years -- I was awestruck and had tears in my eyes. From Inside Higher Ed, an article entitled STOP CULTURAL VANDALISM by Scott McLemee dated March 28, 2012:

New York Public Library
The New York Public Library’s proposed Central Library Plan (CLP) is a case of long-term planning at its most shortsighted. It will affect scholars and writers in both the United States and abroad, and will have a particular impact on some fields of study in which the library has especially important collections, such as Russian literature. And the plan embodies an unreflective approach to the trade-offs between print and digital media that is problematic in the best of cases, but intolerable when it involves a research library.

In short, the CLP needs to be stopped. The stakes are not just local, and I hope readers of this column will do their part in spreading the word, whether they live in the city or on the other side of the planet.

The CLP calls for transferring 3 million volumes from the New York Public Library building on 42nd Street (the one with the lions) to storage facilities in New Jersey so that the space they now occupy can be redesigned to accommodate computers for public use. Not that books will disappear from the 42nd Street branch altogether. It will become a lending library, rather than a research collection that is available to the public but restricted to use within the building.

Please click HERE to read the entire STOP CULTURAL VANDALISM article. And, again I ask: Why isn't there a single copy of my second novel, HARLEY'S NINTH in the entire New York Public Library system, a library where I have spoken, a library that has always been supportive, a library that provided me with a Teen Advisory Group? I was told by my contacts inside the NYPL that it had been ordered, and it's not there. In addition, there were more than 40 copies of my first novel, HARLEY, LIKE A PERSON in the NYPL, both the Winslow Press and the Knopf editions. Now there is only one copy out in Fort Washington. Does it mean that when the Donnell branch was eliminated, and the children, young adult and foreign language collections were dissolved, everything just disappeared? What's going on over there?

Palazzo Ducale
Incroci di Civiltà concluded inside the Palazzo Ducale itself with Vladimir Sorokin from Russia, Cees Nooteboom from Holland and Roberto Calasso from Florence, Italy. Here is a complete list of all the writers, together with their country of origin:

Ghada Abdel Aal - Egypt
Malika Mokeddem - Algeria
Alawiya Sobh - Lebanon
Howard Jacobson - Great Britain
Xu Xing - China
Andrea Cavazzuti - Italy
Alicia Gimenez-Bartlett - Spain
Andrea Molesini - Venice
Ariane Ascaride - France
Robert Guediguian - France
Maaza Mengiste - Ethiopia
Hisham Matar - Libya
Alain Mabanckou - Republic of Congo
Wim Emmerik - Netherlands
Giselle Meyer - Netherlands
Steve Sem-Sandberg - Sweden
Per Olov Enquist - Sweden
Santino Alexian Spinelli - Italy
Juan Villoro - Mexico
Vladimir Sorokin - Russia
Cees Nooteboom - Netherlands
Roberto Calasso - Italy
William Dalrymple - Scotland

Here's the link to last year's Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog account:

Incroci di Civiltà 2011 - Crossroads of Civilization 2011 - Writing: The Spooky Art

Ciao from Venice,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Palladio’s Refectory in Venice - Unveiling of the Restoration

Palladio’s Refectory with Paolo Veronese’s Wedding at Cana facsimile
(Venice, Italy) On September 11, 1797, the French commissars of the Napoleonic army swiped Paolo Veronese's immense painting, Wedding at Cana, from the Palladio Refectory on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore as war booty. The original is now in the Louvre, in Paris. On September 11, 2007, on the 210th anniversary of the removal, a computerized recreation was unveiled. From Wikipedia:

On 11 September, 2007, the 210th anniversary of the looting of the painting by Napoleon's troops, a facsimile of the original was hung in its original place in the Palladian Refectory. The computerized facsimile was commissioned by the Giorgio Cini Foundation of Venice with the collaboration of the Musée du Louvre, Paris, where the original remains, and made by the Factum Arte Institute of Madrid, headed by the British artist Adam Lowe. It consists of 1,591 computer graphic files.

I decided to ask The Emperor himself what he thought about the situation. I found Napoleon sitting in the French Quarter of the Afterworld, sipping Champagne.

"Are the French ever going to give the Wedding at Cana back to Venice?"

Horses of San Marco
Napoleon frowned. "They got back the horses. It is enough."

"Yes, they got back the horses, but the Venetians stole them from Constantinople in the first place, so they don't really count," I insisted. "The Wedding at Cana was painted specifically by Veronese to decorate the Palladian Refectory. It was there for 235 years until your troops ripped it off the wall."

"It was war, ma petite chérie. These things happen." Napoleon looked me over and raised an eyebrow. "Where are you from? America?"

"...Yes," I hesitated. "But I've lived in Venice since 1998."

"Remember when the Americans changed the name French fries to Freedom fries in 2003 because we told them not to invade Iraq? That was amusing. They even changed the name on the menus in the restaurants and snack bars in the House of Representatives!" Napoleon chuckled. "French fries come from Belgium."

"So, you're not giving it back."

"Never." The Emperor became serious. "Do you know how much we spent to restore that painting? More than a million dollars. We're keeping it. The fascimile is excellent. Most people will never realize it is a copy."

"The House of Representatives put French fries back on the menu in 2006..."


Wedding at Cana - Musée du Louvre
Back on Earth, inside the Palladian Refectory, the fascimile is, indeed, excellent; the latest restoration of the refectory itself -- especially the wooden paneling, which gives warmth to the room -- has re-established the original vision shared between Palladio and Veronese. From the Giorgio Cini Foundation:

After having been closed for a year for major structural and functional restoration works, Palladio’s Refectory with Paolo Veronese’s Wedding at Cana facsimile is once more open for public use. Architect Michele De Lucchi’s refurbishing project for the refectory involved various important operations: the renovation of the roof, which required urgent repair work; the modernisation of the air-conditioning and lighting plants and equipment; the introduction of up-to-date security equipment; and the installation of wooden paneling on the interior walls and floors to restore the acoustic and aesthetic function of the old wainscoting, which had been removed during the various uses of the Island of San Giorgio before Vittorio Cini’s redevelopment programme in the 1950s. 
...The restoration work was funded by the Magistrato alle Acque, Venice, and Arcus spa. 

It is possible to visit the monumental complex of San Giorgio Maggiore and see the marvelous Palladio Refectory yourselves thanks to guided tours organized with Codess Cultura. 

For further information, please visit 

Information and reservations:
Codess Cultura
+39 041 5240119 

Ciao from Venice,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Miracle at Easter - Veneto, 2012

Maria Grazie After the Loss of her Stillborn Colt
(Venice, Italy) For Easter, I was in the Veneto countryside. There is a group of horses in the fields near the home where I stay -- six mares, one stallion and one filly. When I first met them in March, three of the horses came close to the wooden and barbed-wire fence so I could stroke them and chat with them, the most impressive being the stallion, who was quite a flirt. On the morning of Easter Sunday, they were far away in the distance, so I didn't realize one of the mares was pregnant.

Horses on Easter Sunday
After feasting on lamb and local wine on Easter evening, I returned to see the horses on the morning of La Pasquetta, Easter Monday, which is also a public holiday here in Italy, a day to visit with family and friends. This time I came prepared with a pocketful of sugar. I don't know much about horses except I like to ride them, and seem to have an affinity with them. I talk to them, and they respond with affection. (Apparently I also have natural goat-herding skills, but that is another story.) But I don't know how to saddle horses, or groom horses, and I certainly don't know anything about the complications arising from the birth of a stillborn foal.

Unpaved gravel road
When I arrived on Easter Monday, about 9:00AM, I saw one of the mares lying on her side up on the hill where the hay was, the leg of a foal protruding from her vulva. First I thought I was about to witness a birth on Easter Monday! A miracle! Then I realized that the leg was limp and lifeless, and, instead, I was in the middle of a tragedy. The mare was struggling to push the dead foal out of her body, and she was suffering. The other horses ignored her, more concerned with munching on hay. I looked around for help, and slowly realized there was no one there but me. I was out in the middle of sprawling vineyards and rolling hills, on a one-lane local gravel road, completely alone except for the cocker spaniel who had joined me for a walk.

Now you are going to have to use your imaginations because at that point I was there without a camera. Even if I had one, I don't know if I would have taken photos because what happened next was so tragic, yet ultimately inspiring. All the photos you see were taken before and after the event.

Eventually, a car came down the road and stopped a short distance away. Two nicely-dressed women got out, and I approached them. I told them what was happening. They were as bewildered as I was. I remembered I had a friend who knew about horses. I called her, but her phone was closed. We decided that the women would drive to town and see if they could find someone to help while I stayed there with the horse, who, by that time I had named Maria Grazie, which means "Thank you, Mary," after the mother of Jesus Christ. After all, it was Easter and I had to be optimistic.

Hay Where Maria Grazie was on her side
There was a space in the fence, and I slipped through. I sloshed through the mud and horse droppings, up to the hay and where Maria Grazie lay suffering on her side. This seemed to inspire her, and somehow she managed to struggle onto her feet, the dead foal dangling from her vulva. She tried to push the baby out while standing up. She pushed and strained, but the foal didn't budge. I stroked her neck and and belly. I put my face against her neck. She was cold and trembling, and I started to worry that she was going to die if she didn't get the dead foal out of her body soon. I gave her some sugar, and she licked my hand. The sugar seemed to give her some energy.

A group of hikers came up the gravel road, and I called out to them for help. Two men slipped and slid up to the haystack. They grabbed the hoof of the baby, and managed to get another leg out of the vulva, along with a bit of the head. Now the foal had a face, its tongue lolling out of its mouth; it was most definitely dead. They told me to hold Maria Grazie's head because she seemed to respond to me while they pulled from the rear. I cooed and comforted her in English. "Brave Mama. Good girl. Strong girl. You can do it. Push, push, push." The men said (in Italian, of course), "We don't think she speaks English." I said, "Lei parla la lingua del cuore." "She speaks the language of the heart." 

Similar Tractor
A loud engine rumbled in the distance and a tractor appeared on the scene. "Finally," we said. "A professional!" A man dressed in overalls climbed out, the only one of us dressed for the occassion -- remember, it was Easter Monday, a day for family, friends and fun -- certainly no one expected to save the life of a mare that morning. The man had a rope, which he tied around the mare's head. One man held the rope, while the other two pulled from behind. Maria Grazie, exhausted, pushed with all her might. The dead foal did not budge another inch. Maria Grazie started slipping down the hill toward the wooden and barbed-wire fence with each push.

Fence repaired with rope where Maria Grazie collapsed

We started hollering that we needed a veternarian, a professional. Phone calls were made. Hikers and bikers out for an Easter Monday cruise stopped to watch the scene. A small crowd started to form. Confusion. The man with the tractor jumped back in the tractor and drove down the hill. More confusion. More men arrived and I got out of the way. Soon there were three men holding onto Maria Grazie's head while three other men pulled from behind. Maria Grazie slipped further and further down the hill until she arrived near the wooden, barbed-wire fence and collapsed onto her side. Now I was worried that she was going to cut up her back, in addition to the strain of pushing out the baby. I did my best to keep the barbed-wire from pressing into her hide.

The six men pushed and pulled with all their might, and, finally, the dead foal slid out up to its waist. The men drooped. The effort seemed to have taken all their strength. I yelled, "Harder! Don't give up!" At that moment, the tractor arrived again. The man in overalls climbed out; he seemed to have been given new instructions. He opened the fence. He drove the tractor in, put it in reverse and backed up. He jumped out. He tied one end of the rope to the legs of the dead foal, and the other end to the tractor itself. I gasped. He climbed back into the tractor. "Slowly! Slowly! Gently!" I yelled. He backed the tractor up very slowly, and the dead foal was wrenched out of Maria Grazie's womb. It was a full grown foal, completely formed, including a mane and tail, dead on the ground. "Is it masculine or feminine?" I asked. The answer came back: "Masculine."

Maria Grazie was exhausted, lying on her side, one leg extended at a dangerous angle, but with her head up. She slowly, sadly turned her head back over her shoulder, as if it were a great effort. She forced herself to look at her dead son lying on the ground. And then she turned her head to face forward again. I could feel her grief.

The man in overalls scooped the dead colt up in the mouth of the tractor. He backed up and drove the tractor out, hopped out of the tractor and closed the fence. He took the rope that was used to extract the colt, and tied it around the wooden fence where it had broken when Maria Grazie had collapsed. Somehow, Maria Grazie managed to struggle to her feet.

And then everybody left. Just like that. No one remained except for me and one man who had arrived in a white truck. He lit a cigarette. I asked for one, which he gave me. He told me he had taken a wrong turn and had ended up in the middle of the scene. We watched as Maria Grazie struggled to walk up the hill toward the hay. She made it half-way up, and then stopped, seemingly unable to take another step forward. The other horses ignored her.

The Stallion
"You'd think the other horses would comfort her," I said. "You'd think they would at least give her a kiss." At the moment I said that, the stallion ripped off a mouthful of hay. He walked down the hill and approached Maria Grazie, his little filly (the daughter of a different horse), following behind him. He put his mouth next to Maria Grazie's mouth, offering her the hay, but she rejected his gesture. The man said, "She's mad at him for putting her through this." The stallion and the filly went back up to the haystack and continued eating, leaving Maria Grazie all alone, halfway up the hill, unable to take another step.

"She can't stay there," said the man. Now I became alarmed again. "She can't stay there. She's got to get back to the top. I'm going back in." I slipped through the fence again, and sloshed over to Maria Grazie. I touched her. She was cold and trembling hard and seemed disoriented. "Marie Grazie. Marie Grazie. Listen to me. You have got to be strong. You have got to go to the top of the hill or you will collapse again." She didn't move. I took the sugar out of my pocket. I stood a distance away from her, up the hill. "Come here, Maria Grazie. Come and get the sugar." Marie Grazie looked at me, but didn't move, as if the distance was too great. I moved closer to her, but still too far away for her to reach the sugar. "Come on, Mama. Come on. You can do it." Maria Grazie gathered her energy. She took a couple of steps toward me, up the hill. She reached the sugar. She licked and licked my hand. I repeated the process until she was all the way up the hill. And then she started eating the hay.

Mary Grazie, on her feet, with the afterbirth
The man called out that he was leaving, and I said good-bye. He got in his truck and drove away, waving as he left. I stayed for a little while longer until I was sure that Maria Grazie was able to stand on her own four feet. And then I went back to the villa and had breakfast.

I returned to the scene about an hour later to check on Maria Grazie, this time armed with a camera. She was still eating hay, slowly, resolutely; in fact, she seemed to be starving. I slipped through the fence and up the hill. She did not come close to me, she just stayed by the hay. The other horses wandered away from her, out into the grassy field, leaving her standing all alone. My shoes had been cleaned at the house, and I didn't want to get them filthy again, so I didn't go close to her; I stayed on the grass.

Mary Grazie, all alone, by the hay
The stallion came close to me. He, too, seemed sad. I said, "It was your son, wasn't it? It must hurt you, too, to have lost your son." I offered him some sugar, and he accepted. He nuzzled me, and I was moved. "I saw what you did before," I told him. "I saw you offer her some hay. You're a kind horse." And then I named him Giuseppe, after the father of Jesus Christ.

Ciao from Venice,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Serena Nono's Latest Film - Featuring Venice's Disenfranchised

(Venice, Italy) No, Venetians have not started dressing in 17th-century costumes again, nor is it Carnival. Those are actors at Campiello del Remer during a break in the shooting of Serena Nono's latest film based on Simone Weil's unfinished play, "Venice Saved." Weil wrote the play while in exile with her family from Nazi-occupied Paris. Set at the same time as a 17-century Spanish conspiracy to conquer Venice, "Venice Saved" was intended as an allegory of Imperialistic Germany in the 1940s.

Simone Weil, the philosopher, writer, and social activist, had a short life. She was born in Paris on February 3, 1909 and died in England at age 32 on August 24, 1943 from cardiac arrest aggravated by tuberculosis and self-starvation, choosing to limit her food intake to what the French were eating while under German occupation. She was deeply moved by the suffering of humanity, and has been described as a "mystic visionary." Like many of those who died young, she has since inspired a plethora of creative projects.

Fittingly, seventy percent of the cast of Serena Nono's film comes from the Casa dell'ospitalità di Venezia e Mestre, or the Hospitality House of Venice and Mestre, which provides shelter for the homeless.

Serena Nono
Serena Nono was born in Venice in 1964 and has some of the same sensibilities as Simone Weil coursing through her veins. Trained as an artist at Kingston University in London, she has exhibited all over Europe. Her father was the avant-garde composer, Luigi Nono, considered one of the most prominent composers of the 20th century. His music reflects his strong opposition to totalitarian systems that restrict individuality and freedom. Nono's maternal grandfather was the Viennese composer, Arnold Schoenberg, a protégé of Gustav Mahler and pioneer of "atonal" music; Schoenberg Hall at UCLA, where he was a professor, is named after him.

This is the third time Nono has cast the homeless in her films. Her highly acclaimed Via della Croce, or the Way of the Cross intertwines the crucifixion of Jesus Christ together with the stories of the guests at the Casa dell'ospitalità, and gives a voice to the marginalized members of society.

Nono's current film is centered around the conspiracy of 1618 involving the Venetian ambassador Alonso de la Cueva y Benavides, and the Marquis of Bedmar. Produced by La società Giano di David Riondino and Sabina Guzzanti, the assistant director is Manuela Pellarin, the director of photography is Tarek Ben Abdallah, and the scenographer is Serena Boccanegra. It is a co-production of Rai Cinema. 

Ciao from Venice,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog