Wednesday, October 23, 2013

ROLEX ARTS WEEKEND - Mentors & Protégés in Venice

Film mentor Walter Murch with protege Sara Fgaier Photo: ©Rolex / Bart Michiels
(Venice, Italy) If Rolex ran the world, how much more pleasant life would be. It was a great honor and privilege to attend the second day of the ROLEX ARTS WEEKEND at the Fondazione Giorgio Cini on Sunday, featuring mentors and their protégés. To give you an idea of the quality of artists in attendance, by serendipity, later that evening I would find myself at the same dinner table as Academy Award winning editor and sound designer Walter Murch and his protégé Sara Fgaier, seated right next to Cindy Sherman, one of the world's most renowned contemporary artists.

"The Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative is a philanthropic programme that was set up in 2002 to make a contribution to global culture. The programme seeks out gifted young artists from all over the world and brings them together with artistic masters for a year of creative collaboration in a one-to-one mentoring relationship.

In keeping with its tradition of supporting individual excellence, Rolex gives emerging artists time to learn, create and grow.

Over the past decade, Rolex has paired mentors and protégés in dance, film, literature, music, theatre, visual arts and – as of 2012 – architecture. In the decade since it was launched, the mentoring programme has evolved into an enriching dialogue between artists of different generations, cultures and disciplines, helping ensure that the world’s artistic heritage is passed on to the next generation."

Architecture mentor Kazuyo Sejima with protege Yang Zhao
The language of the weekend was English, and we were herded around the Cini by pretty, long-haired (mostly blonde) young women dressed in elegant grey dress suits with matching heels, a kerchief tied around their necks -- I thought they were Swiss, but it turned out they were all Venetian from Venice and the Veneto. 

The afternoon kicked off at 3pm with Speed Talks, informal conversations between the protégés and guests of their choice from a different art form than their own, which lasted exactly 12 minutes. Emma Gladstone, who was emceeing the weekend, called it a "Cruel Game," and we soon learned why: after 12 minutes the mikes cut off and the lights went down, no matter if the speaker was in the middle of a divine revelation. It was a brilliant way to regulate the time, and should be implemented at the Academy Awards. My friend pointed out, "After all, it is Rolex."
Dance protege Eduardo Fukushima with mentor Lin Hwai-min Photo: Rolex / Ambroise Tézenas
The protégés were no mere beginners, but established artists in their own right from all over the planet, ready to be lifted to the next level with the assistance of their mentors. 

Rolex has not provided photos of the talks, and we could not take any, but first up was Chinese architecture protégé Yang Zhao, who has a Masters in architecture from Harvard Graduate School of Design, in addition to his own practice, Zhabyang Studio. Zhao chose to speak to Taiwanese dance mentor Lin Hawi-min -- the protégés were not required to speak to a participating mentor; apparently they could pick the brain of any agreeable genius. Lin Hwai-min (who is witty and whimsical, and has spent a lot of time in the US) is hailed as Asia's premier choreographer, whose masterpiece, Legacy, the first theatrical presentation of the history of Taiwan, coincidentally premiered on December 16, 1978, the day that President Jimmy Carter announced the end of diplomatic ties between the U.S. and Taipei.

Lin Hawi-min reminded us: "Before I was a dancer, I was first a writer who grew up in the 60s. Back then, we really believed that young people could make a difference." He said that even though their language was Chinese, they were speaking in English, which was awkward, although both he and Yang Zhao seemed to be comfortably fluent. Lin Hawi-min presents the same program wherever he performs, whether it is London, New York City, Moscow, or Chinese peasants in the countryside, many whom have never seen contemporary dance before. "There is no bad audience, but bad performances."

Next, Lin Hawi-min's protégé, dancer and choreographer, Eduardo Fukushima, a Brazilian with mixed Italian and Japanese ancestry, spoke to the cultural theorist, Homi K. Bhabha because he "liked the way his mind worked." From Wikipedia:

Homi K. Bhabha (born 1949) is the Anne F. Rothenberg Professor of English and American Literature and Language, and the Director of the Humanities Center at Harvard University. He is one of the most important figures in contemporary post-colonial studies, and has coined a number of the field's neologisms and key concepts, such as hybridity, mimicry, difference, and ambivalence. Such terms describe ways in which colonised peoples have resisted the power of the coloniser, according to Bhabha's theory.

Fukushima asked if Bhabha was busy enough at Harvard, and Bhabha joked, "I feel like I'm being questioned for tenure!" During the conversation, he gave us a nugget: "A great work of art is impossible to forget because it's difficult to remember."

Literature protege Naomi Alderman with mentor Margaret Atwood - Photo: ©Rolex / Bart Michiels
Naomi Alderman was the literary protégé of the esteemed Canadian author, Margaret Atwood. Alderman chose to speak to Cindy Sherman, "widely recognized as among the primary contemporary artists of the past 35 years." From the New York Times:

Cindy Sherman
“She’s undoubtedly one of the most influential artists of our time,” said Eva Respini, associate curator of photography at MoMA, who has spent the last two years organizing Ms. Sherman’s retrospective. “She is always addressing issues at the heart of our visual culture. In this world of celebrity makeovers, reality TV and YouTube, here is an artist whose different modes of representation seem truer now than when they were made.”

Commercially she is often credited with taking photography out of a ghetto and putting it on the same firm fine-art footing as painting and sculpture. In May 2011 Mr. [Philippe] Ségalot, bidding on behalf of a client, bought a 1981 image in which she posed as a teenage girl. For six months it was the most expensive photograph sold at auction, bringing $3.9 million at Christie’s.  

Sherman and Alderman both like scary things. Alderman spoke about how she created her computer game, Zombie, Run! She was taking a jogging class, and everybody was asked why they were there. Most said the usual: "to be fit," "to lose weight, etc. But one woman said, "I want to escape from the zombie horde," which became the basis of Alderman's smartphone app that you listen to as you jog.

Alderman asked Sherman if she were a feminist, and she replied, "I'm not dogmatic."

Visual arts mentor William Kentridge and protege Mateo Lopez Photo: ©Rolex/Marc Shoul
Columbian artist Mateo Lopez was the protégé of South African artist, William Kentridge, known for his animated films and observations of social injustice.

Photo: Miguel Littin
Lopez spoke to Palestinian filmmaker Annemarie Jacir, who, after studying in the US, returned to Jordan to work, saying it was a privilege to study film in NYC and speak English, which now that made it possible for her to provide jobs for others.

Jacir said that as a Palestinian, she knows there is always another side of the story that people are not being told. "You are rendered invisible. I always look for the other side of the story. What is being presented in the mainstream... you know there is more to the story. I am very anti-border."

After the Speed Talks, which always ended with an "aw" of disappointment from the audience as each speaker was cut off mid-sentence, American film editor Walter Murch and his protégé, Italian Sara Fgaier (the only person who used an interpreter), took the stage. Murch said he chose Fgaier because "she has the magic touch." We watched some of her exquisite skills displayed in The Train to Moscow.

Sara observes while Walter edits Particle Fever Photo: ©Rolex / Bart Michiels
Walter Murch seems to have edited or done sound design for every iconic American film I can remember -- The Godfather trilogy, The Conversation, Apocalypse Now (Academy Award for sound design), The English Patient, The Talented Mr. Ripley, etc. He said that after Lumière brothers discovered film, 13 years went by before filmmakers figured out that you could edit film and make the story more interesting.

Murch had recently edited Particle Fever directed by Mark Levinson about the search for the Higgs boson, "The God Particle," and Fgaier was with him during much of the process (click to read the rave review from Variety). He played a clip of the documentary for us. I found myself moved to tears at the moment the experiment was deemed a success, and thought how incredibly fortunate I was to be watching such a film surrounded by so many brilliant minds on the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore. 

Next we were free until a concert at 7:15, so I went up the campanile of the Church of San Giorgio to observe the Borges maze while listening to a soundscape on a mini i-Something-or-other, part of Mateo Lopez's art installation. (While I was up there, one of the enormous cruise ships passed by, and I am pleased to report that I had the great pleasure of looking down on the MSC Fantasia, which, although looming over most of the buildings in Venice, is not taller than the campanile:)

After I came down from the tower, it had started to rain. Luckily, I had brought an umbrella so I could wander around the Cini Foundation with pleasure. By the time I got to the maze itself, Lopez's art project had been washed away, but I did have the opportunity to challenge the maze alone, accompanied by a divine fireworks display of thunder and lightning.

Late theatre mentor, Patrice Chéreau and protege Michał Borczuch Photo: ©Rolex/Mario Del Curto
Sadly, Patrice Chéreau, the theatre mentor, died less than two weeks before the Rolex Arts Weekend, on October 7th, of lung cancer. His protégé, Michal Borczuch, one of Poland's fascinating new voices, allowed us to peek inside his rehearsal process in the Padiglione delle Capriate. From Wikipedia:

Patrice Chéreau 2 November 1944 – 7 October 2013) was a French opera and theatre director, filmmaker, actor and producer. In France he is best known for his work for the theatre, internationally for his films La Reine Margot and Intimacy, and for his staging of the Jahrhundertring, the centenary Ring Cycle at the Bayreuth Festival in 1976. In 2003 Chéreau served as president of the jury at Cannes.

Music mentor Gilberto Gil and protege Dina El Wedidi Photo: Rolex / Bart Michiels
The concert was inside the Salone degli Arazzi, otherwise known as the Tapestry Room. Dina El Wedidi is from Egypt, and she blew everyone's mind with her voice and compositions, backed by her band. When her mentor, 5-time platinum album Grammy award-winning Brazilian Gilberto Gil, joined her on stage, the audience went wild. It was truly a memorable experience to hear the Egyptian music combined with the Brazilian. The man is 71-years-old and he has the energy of a teenager! Gil remarked how much the Egyptians had to teach us. From Wikipedia:

Gilberto Passos Gil Moreira (born June 26, 1942), better known as Gilberto Gil, is a Brazilian singer, guitarist, and songwriter, known for both his musical innovation and political commitment. From 2003 to 2008, he served as Brazil's Minister of Culture in the administration of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Gil's musical style incorporates an eclectic range of influences, including Rock music, Brazilian genres including samba, African music, and reggae.

Photo: ©Rolex / Bart Michiels
After that we "ate our way to dinner" as one fellow put it. Plate after plate of Venetian appetizers swept past us as we sipped prosecco or a spritz, and strolled to Cenacolo Palladiano, Palladio's Refectory, for dinner. The inside was spectacular, rows of round tables that seated ten people with white-rose centerpieces, the facsimile of Veronese's magnificent Wedding at Cana towering in the background -- which I have written about before:

Palladio’s Refectory - Unveiling of the Restoration

I only knew one other person at the weekend, and I could not find him, so I decided to pick a table at random and see who I ended up seated with at dinner, a game I like to play. I was one of the first people inside, so I chose a table close to the back, occupied only by an elderly couple, and lined myself up with a good view of the Wedding at Cana. I decided to get some food from the buffet before it got too crowded, and left my purse and bag at the table to hold my place. I found myself on line next to Walter Murch, and I told him that his film made me cry. When I got back to the table, I discovered that someone had moved me three seats to the right, so I could no longer see the Wedding at Cana. I scolded the fellow, and he went away; I realized much later that it was the theatre director, Peter Sellars(!).

Pietro Marcello
I sat down and began to eat, and was pleasantly surprised to see that Walter Murch and Sara Fgaier were seated at the same table. A blond woman arrived with a plate of food and sat down next to me, and I realized it was Cindy Sherman. We ended up having a great time, chatting about our exes and other girlie stuff. I adored her! She has the great ability to retain her innocence and humanity while confronting extreme subjects, and that is not easy to do.

Sara's partner, the director Pietro Marcello, was seated next to Cindy, and he informed us that he used to be the guardian of the island of San Clemente here in Venice before they restored it and turned it into a hotel.

Now, everybody in Venice knows that island -- which used to be for the mentally disturbed -- is haunted, so you can imagine how wacky Pietro is to live out there for a year. And Cindy Sherman is definitely not normal, THANK GOD.

Walter passed around a basket of Editorial Fortune Cookies. Mine read:

Bach said, when his organ-playing was admired by a pupil: "It's just a matter of striking the right notes at exactly the right moment. The organ does the rest."

Cindy exclaimed,"but Bach wrote the music!"

Of course he did. I love Bach, and believe he was divinely inspired. Yet man did create the organ, and Bach did write down the music. No matter how loudly heaven plays the song, we humans still need props to hear it.

It felt so good to be around kindred spirits after being starved for conversation for such a long time. Pietro said that Venice is suffocating, and he is absolutely right. If it weren't for the Giorgio Cini Foundation and La Biennale opening up the windows and bringing in enlightened creatures like these on a regular basis, the balance of the entire planet would be more lopsided than it already is.

Thank you, Rolex!

Click to go to the Rolex Mentors & Protégés Journal.

Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Sponsored Post - Romance of Italy

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For one of the best city breaks you could ever experience, Rome has got to be a sure-fire winner. Its majestic Colosseum, most of which is still standing after almost two thousand years, offers a haunting glimpse into Roman rule and the brutal gladiatorial combats that took place within its stone walls. And, not to be missed is a chance to wander around the ancient forum, where soaring pillars and ancient temples are all that remains of the once all-powerful Roman Empire.

Of course for a more modern take on Rome, there are pavement cafes and chic restaurants on virtually every corner, while the streets are lined with contemporary stores and boutiques, perfect for a little plastic-melting therapy.

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One thing's for sure, there's plenty to discover on holiday in Italy. From beach breaks and chic city escapes to rural retreats and historic voyages of discovery, if you haven't already been introduced, it's high time you got acquainted with Italy.

Also of interest: 
Harriet Green: Turning around Thomas Cook

Friday, October 11, 2013

Viva Verdi! Venice Celebrates Music

(Venice, Italy) Either yesterday or today, October 10th, is Giuseppi Verdi's 200th birthday, since, according to Wikipedia: "The baptismal register, on 11 October lists him as being "born yesterday", but since days were often considered to begin at sunset, this could have meant either 9 or 10 October." Most definitely, October 9th would have been John Lennon's 73rd birthday, and it is the day my second novel, Harley's Ninth, which is set entirely on October 9th, turned six-years-old.

Venice, together with all of Italy, is celebrating the great composer's life and work. Above, you will find a YouTube clip to listen to as you read, one of the most famous choruses ever written, "Va, Pensiro," which means, "Go, Thought," but is better known in English as "The Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves" from Verdi's opera, Nabucco.

It also happens to be La Biennale 57th Festival of International Contemporary Music right now. These elements came together to give us Viva Verdi! one of the most delightful evenings I've spent in a long time. On October 8, 9 and 10, Palazzo Pisani in Santo Stefano, home of Venice's Music Conservatory, Conservatorio Benedetto Marcello di Venezia, presented a tour through the enormous palace, with guides giving a bit of history of the rooms. Along the way, we were treated to "reductions" of Verdi's masterpieces.

La Traviata by Verdi - world premiere at La Fenice March 6, 1853
According to La Biennale (and this really is just one sentence! I added a few commas in an attempt to make it legible):

 "In the Nineteenth Century, before the era of music recording and reproduction and the onset of mass communication, works of musical theatre were disseminated and became familiar to the public primarily in transcriptions and re-elaborations of various types, which, as a whole, constitute a heterogeneous and composite domain: they range from the simple reduction for practical purposes, which were exclusively functional, on the one hand (represented, for example, by the scores for voice and piano that made it possible to bring opera and music into the home), to the fantasies and paraphrases for concerts on the other."

In other words, sometimes the scores were reduced from music for an entire orchestra down to a score written for a single piano so your kids could play a little Verdi at home. Those reductions were not written by famous musicians, but by technicians who disappeared into anonymity. However, the fantasies and paraphrases were more like The Red Hot Chili Peppers' doing their cover of Stevie Wonder's Higher Ground. The authors were often illustrious virtuosos like Paganini and Liszt, who used famous opera pieces to show off their talent as performers and their own ability to compose.

Viva Verdi! included both these types of performances:

"Disassembled and recomposed, decontextualized, read, recited, sung, pronounced and projected, drawn and printed, played and cried, Verdi's words and notes push us through the rooms of the Conservatory."

Pisani in-house auditorium
The Pisani family was one of the wealthiest and most powerful in Venice. Originally built in 1614-15, Palazzo Pisani expanded over the centuries in an attempt to contain their ambitions until it became the largest private palace in Venice. Their guests included kings, princes and other international celebrities. It was filled with magnificent furniture and masterpieces by Titian, Tintoretto and Versonese, to name a few. The Pisanis were forced to sell the palace and most of their loot to pay their debts in 1816, but the reminders of grandeur are still sprinkled throughout the building, which is now home to the Benedetto Marcello Music Conservatory.

My favorite room was three gorgeous ladies playing a tune from La Traviatta on one grand piano -- I had never experienced a six-hand piano performance before.

Photo: Susan Eyre
To make the circle complete, La Biennale's International Contempory Art Festival runs through November 24, and during the day Palazzo Pisani is home to a Collateral Event by the artist Simon Ma entitled, Ink . Brush . Heart - Xishuangbanna, with invited artist Julian Lennon, John Lennon's son.

Julian Lennon & Simon Ma
"The artist has dramatically transformed the two courtyards of Palazzo Pisani to host an installation of 6 stainless steel 'Water drops' sculptures, surrounded by hundreds of water drops balloons of six different colours... On the first floor the collaboration between the Chinese artist and Julian Lennon with his visual art is exhibited. The two artists' love for nature is reflected in a unique technical experiment of crossover between two different genres of art, where photography and painting come together..."

October 9th always seems to be an event-filled day.

Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Note: Even though I started writing this on October 10th, I didn't finish it until October 11th.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Stairs of Venice - FAI MARATHON 2013

(Venice, Italy)  This Sunday, October 13, 2013, the Venetian chapter of FAI will take part in a national cultural marathon, "the only marathon that you run with your eyes." Last year the Fai Marathon featured the Wells of Venice. This year, the Fai Marathon will focus on the Stairs of Venice -- and Venice has some spectacular staircases.

Let's recap:

The Fondo Ambiente Italiano (FAI), or the Italian Environmental Foundation was established in 1975 to "emulate the English National Trust." (For Americans, a similar organization would be the National Trust for Historic Preservation.) ...FAI declares that it bases its work on five principles: knowledge, pragmatism, consistency, independence and quality. Since FAI is a foundation, we can agree those are principles upon which any solid foundation should be built. FAI safeguards the heritage of art, nature and the Italian landscape. 

The FAI MARATHON is a non-competitive race involving more than 90 Italian cities, in which the goal is to call attention to cultural and artistic places that are part of hectic, everyday life, but often overlooked. Together with Il Gioco del Lotto, Italy's national lottery, FAI hopes to raise awareness of the art and culture that surrounds us here in Italy while raising funds to protect and restore that beauty. Using funds from the Lotto is a tradition that goes back 400 years when Pope Innocent XII finished construction of Palazzo Montecitorio, the current Chamber of Deputies, with lottery money.

Last year, 450 people participated in the marathon in Venice, and this year FAI is expecting even more. Moving a very large group of people around Venice is a challenge, to say the least. However, FAI is confident they can  set an example for organized, cultural tourism that impacts Venice in a positive way. The group will gather at Scuola Grande di San Giovanni Evangelista between 10:00 and 11:00AM on Sunday where you can sign up. Staggered departures then head off on a 3 1/2 hour tour that winds throughout the city, visiting 13 monumental staircases along the way, including some inside private palaces. The marathon concludes at Palazzo Bon-Rezzonico.

One of Venice's most famous staircases is at Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo. In the Venetian language, "Bovolo" is the name of the spiral shell of a yummy little local snail. From the City of Venice's website:

Contarini del Bovolo Staircase

the spiral staircase 'Scala Contarini del Bovolo' is an extraordinary example of Venetian architecture in transition: leaving the realms of the gothic to embrace renaissance style.

The staircase is believed to be the work of Giovanni Candi, employed by Pietro Contarini to make a unique addition to his late-gothic palazzo, S. Paternian. Contarini wished to enhance the palazzo's internal facade which overlooks a small courtyard that was formerly protected by high walls.

A series of overlapping arches link the different levels as the staircase winds upwards to form a cylindrical tower. Its Venetian name of "Bovolo" refers to the spiral shell of a small local edible snail.

You can scale the staircase and from the top, can savour a truly splendid view of Venice: rooftops, bell towers, the dome of St Mark's and more.

That's just one example of the staircases you will visit in a truly unique, affordable tour of Venice, so if you're in town this Sunday, be sure to head over Scuola Grande di San Giovanni Evangelista between 10 and 11AM. Plus, it's for a good cause!

Even if you're not in Venice, you can still help out FAI.  From their English-language website:

Palazzo Cavalli-Franchetti Staircase by Camillo Boito
Monumental Stairs of Venice
Sunday, October 13, 2013
Departs from: 
Scuola Grande di S. Giovanni Evangelista
San Polo 2454
Starting at 10:00AM
Staggered departures until 11:00AM

Final destination:
Ca' Rezzonico 
Dorsoduro Fondamenta delle erbe 3136
Length of marathon: 3 1/2 hours
Adults: minimum contribution of 6 euro, 5 euro for FAI members
Couples and families: minimum contribution of 10 euro; 8 euro for FAI members
Anyone who joins FAI or renews their membership may participate for free


Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Lunghezza percorso:
Tempo di percorrenza: 3h e 30m
Orario di partenza: PARTENZA DA: Scuola grande di San Giovanni Evangelista,Calle de la Lacca 2454, San Polo - dalle ore 10.00 - partenze scaglionate fino alle ore 11.00
Note: E’ possibile iscriversi alla maratona anche presso: Hotel Bauer - Campo San Moisè – San Marco, 1459 giovedì 3 e giovedì 10 ottobre, ore 10.30 - 12.00
Info: Segreteria Fai Veneto
Tel.: 041 719707 ;
Ringraziamenti: Con il Patrocinio del Comune di Venezia. Si ringrazia per il contributo alla realizzazione dell’evento per la Delegazione FAI di Venezia: Camuffo Lab; Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia; Scuola Grande San Giovanni Evangelista; Scuola alberghiera Barbarigo; Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana
- See more at:

"Scale Monumentali a Venezia"

Passeggiata storico-artistica in 14 tappe alla scoperta delle splendide scale monumentali a Venezia

Info utili
Lunghezza percorso:
Tempo di percorrenza: 3h e 30m
Orario di partenza: PARTENZA DA: Scuola grande di San Giovanni Evangelista,Calle de la Lacca 2454, San Polo - dalle ore 10.00 - partenze scaglionate fino alle ore 11.00
Note: E’ possibile iscriversi alla maratona anche presso: Hotel Bauer - Campo San Moisè – San Marco, 1459 giovedì 3 e giovedì 10 ottobre, ore 10.30 - 12.00
Info: Segreteria Fai Veneto
Tel.: 041 719707 ;
Ringraziamenti: Con il Patrocinio del Comune di Venezia. Si ringrazia per il contributo alla realizzazione dell’evento per la Delegazione FAI di Venezia: Camuffo Lab; Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia; Scuola Grande San Giovanni Evangelista; Scuola alberghiera Barbarigo; Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana
- See more at:

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Gems of Venice - the Transformation

This post is about a sponsor of Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

(Venice, Italy) It is not easy to have a successful business in Venice. It is even more difficult when you are a foreigner, and female. Yet, British-born Angela Cook has thrived against odds that would have knocked a lesser woman out of the game long ago.

Gems of Venice is the name of Angela's jewelry shop, formerly known as Ganesha, located at Rialto, right in the heart of Venice itself.

Here is the story:


Universal elements born on earth, cherished by humanity for millennia.

Some attribute mystical qualities to the dazzling stones. Some desire jewels for ornamentation. Others appreciate their monetary worth. Whatever the reason, the quest for gems has always been a part of mankind's adventures, conjuring up tales of exotic travels and enchanted encounters.  

Gems of Venice, a unique boutique located in the heart of Venice, opens another chapter in the story.

The Silk Road stretches back to the beginning of human history.

In the third millennium BC, the Jade Road foreshadowed the passage that would link Eastern cultures and Western nations.

Jade, prized by the Chinese Emperors, moved westward from China to Mesopotamia. Confucius believed it exemplified the perfect man: righteous and intelligent, benevolent, loyal and humble.

Jade came from the holy mountains and was thought to be crystallized moonlight. The elite drank powered jade to achieve immortality, and used it as an aphrodisiac. Jade could make people invisible and allowed them to fly. Praised in literature, jade gave enlightened emperors the god-like power to control storms and floods.

Jade and trade were the ancient foundations of the Silk Road.

Silk is created from the fiber of the cocoon of the silkworm, and was first developed in China more than 5,500 years ago.

It is believed the first traveler on the Silk Road was King Mu, who reigned the Zhou Dynasty from 976 to 922 BC.

Over the centuries, the Silk Road evolved into a massive East to West trade route, allowing an exchange of goods, art, literature, religion, music, dance, technology and knowledge between extremely diverse cultures.

Before the Silk Road, the Romans, who were familiar with cotton, believed that lustrous silk grew on trees, never imagining it was the product of a simple creature's marvelous metamorphosis from worm to wings.

The Venetian Marco Polo was one of the most famous travelers on the Silk Road. Marco Polo, his father, Niccolò and his uncle, Maffeo, arrived back in Venice in the year 1295 after traveling through the Far East for more than two decades, a trip which included a visit to the Great Emperor, Kublai Khan. Returning in rags, no one in Venice believed they were the Polos, nor any of the amazing tales they had to tell. The Polos arranged a banquet, ripped open the linings of their ragged coats, and out tumbled a fortune in radiant gems -- silencing the naysayers.

Centuries later, Gems of Venice continues the tradition by transporting precious gems from the East to Venice.

For more than 30 years, Angela Cook, the British-born founder of the boutique, has traveled to exotic locales on her own quest for treasures to offer her clientele: gems and jewels from India, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Indonesia; antique jewelry, gold, silver and rugs from Pakistan; tribal Turkman jewelry from Afghanistan; Byzantium jewels from Turkey; turquoise from Nepal; amber from the Baltic Coast. Angela even traveled the Spice Route through Yemen in search of antique coral from the Red Sea -- and learned that Marco Polo had been there, too, whisking the famous Mocha coffee bean back to Venice.

Angela explains, "I've always been captured by the beauty of gemstones. More than 30 years ago, after apprenticing in a luxury shop in Piazza San Marco, I decided to strike out on my own and open this shop at Rialto. Afghanistan was laid-back and friendly in those days, before the Russian invasion. Back then, I would communicate with the merchants by looking in their eyes if we didn't speak each other's language. I'd sit on the rugs in their shops. They would offer tea, and we would talk by using sign language and visual expressions. "


Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog