Saturday, November 30, 2013

It's Over - La Biennale Art Exhibition 2013 Ends with a Bang

We sit starving amidst our gold by Jeremy Deller painted by Stuart Sam Huges
for the British Pavilion ENGLISH MAGIC
Photo by Cristiano Corte © British Council
(Venice, Italy) I grew up in a typical all-American small town in New Jersey called Pompton Lakes, which is about an hour outside of New York City. When I was thirteen-years-old, my 8th grade art class went on a field trip to MOMA, the Museum of Modern Art. It was like zipping through a wormhole to another universe where the aliens felt like friends. The art dazzled my mind, and made a permanent impression on my spirit.

The Encyclopedic Palace, the 55th La Biennale International Art Exhibition closed on Sunday, November 24, 2013 after setting many new records for attendance, one of the most impressive being that young people and students represented 31.75% of the total visitors.

Yiqing Yin - Photo by Enrico Zilli
Many of you out there do not know what La Biennale in Venice is, and that is understandable. It is sort of like Epcot Center at Disney World in Florida, except it is real. Venice held the very first Biennale on the planet back in 1895. There are national pavilions and other venues, and they are all filled with contemporary art from countries and artists all over the world from the beginning of June to the end of November. The foreign countries own the spaces of the permanent pavilions based in Giardini, which means "Gardens," so there are 30 actual buildings that house the art of each nation sprinkled throughout an enormous park filled with trees and shrubbery; it is like having little Art Embassies based here in Venice. This year there were 88 National Participations. There is no more room in Giardini for more Art Embassies, so the newer nations are based at Arsenale, and at other venues throughout Venice.

This year, Portugal achieved a first by sailing its pavilion
all the way from Lisbon and parking it outside the 
The number of countries that wish to join the World of Art grows larger every year -- this year there were 10 countries participating for the first time: Angola, the Bahamas, the Kingdom of Bahrain, the Republic of the Cote d'Ivoire, the Republic of Kosovo, Kuwait, Maldives, Paraguay, Tuvalu (a Polynesian island nation -- I looked that up for you:) and, most incredibly -- The Holy See! Each country has their own system of how they participate. For example, the pavilion of the United States is owned by the Peggy Guggenheim Collection with the approval of the US State Department. Great Britain's pavilion is managed by the British Council. So what we see is Art that has been filtered through the Government. And there are many governments that don't particularly like each other out there on the globe, but here in Venice they must cooperate and be peaceful and get along with each other in order to live in the World of Art.

Danae by Vadim Zakharov
for the Russian Pavilion
Photo: Contessanally
In addition to all the national goings-on, there is a Curator who decides the theme of the Biennale, and invites artists to bring his or her vision alive in the Central Pavilion at Giardini and over at Arsenale, an entirely different venue a short distance away. Arsenale is an enormous "arsenal" where Venice used to build its renowned ships that made her Queen of the Adriatic during her glory days during the Republic -- they could crank out an entire ship in just one day. This year there were 161 artists from 38 countries; the Curator was Massimilian Gioni, and the theme was The Encyclopedic Palace.

Marino Auriti's "Il Encyclopedico Palazzo del Mondo (ca. 1950s)
surrounded J.D. 'Okhai Ojeikere's photographs

                   Photo By Francesco Galli, Courtesy la Biennale di Venezia 
In addition to all that, there are Collateral Events which are promoted by international organizations and institutions held in different locations in Venice -- many of which are spectacular private palaces that you would never normally have the opportunity to see.

So, if you think visiting Epcot Center is fun, you should think about coming to Venice specifically to visit La Biennale, especially since contemporary art has become all the rage. Biennale, of course, means once every two years. So in odd number years there is Art Biennale, and in even numbered years there is Architecture Biennale, which is equally astonishing.

       Carl Jung, page from The Red Book, 1914-30
At the press conference, Paolo Baratta, the President of La Biennale said, with his usual wit, "This chapter has come to close with very positive quantitative and qualitative results. Very positive quantitative results are useful, firstly, because they allow us to satisfy those who believe that the task of cultural institutions is increasing hotel reservations -- and this was most certainly the case.

"However, these results are also a sign of a highly significant evolution in terms of quality, our primary concern. Some time ago we began specific research with regard to the people visiting La Biennale to contribute to the critical and cultural enrichment and sophistication of increasingly broad groups of visitors and young people.

"One element stands out," added Baratta. "Those who still only attend la Biennale's more social Vernissage and draw false conclusions must now acknowledge that we recorded more visitors in the three weeks in October than in the opening week. After the opening five days of the exhibition, the yachts all departed and the following six months were characterized by the presence of the backpack crowd. Many of those who came for the pre-opening returned to visit a second and third time; this is another important element, which makes our glorious Vernissage no longer the paradise but the purgatory of super experts in the field."

Photo: La Biennale
The point is that there is a glamour group that zips around the globe by private plane and yacht, attending Art Biennale openings which have sprung up all over the world, drifting from party to party, snatching up contemporary art for investment purposes -- and because it's always fun to hang out with the artists, who are often present. But then, later, there are also the curious, including a good percentage of young people, who come to Biennale and get zapped like I did when I first visited MOMA in NYC 45 years ago.

sarah sze: triple point (gleaner), 2013 US Pavilionphoto: tom powel imaging
Massimiliano Gioni, the Curator said, "The Encyclopedic Palace is an exhibition that tells the impossible desire of knowing and seeing everything: it's an exhibition that collects the adventures, tale and the histories of many individuals that -- often in solitude -- have tried to create a code, an image of the world, that could capture its richness. Many of them -- like Marino Auriti from whom we borrowed the title for this edition of the Biennale -- failed to reach their dreams because they worked in solitude. I had the luck to work with a talented team, with a great institution, with brilliant colleagues and collaborators, with the support of many generous donors, and with so many artists who accepted the invitation to exhibit at the Biennale with great enthusiasm and generosity.

"Therefore, if I was able to build this imaginary museum we call Biennale -- this year's Palazzo Enciclopedico -- I owe it to so many talented fellow adventurers who helped me throughout this journey."

Gioni concluded: "The success of visitors to this edition shows that art is something we do together and is a part of many people's lives."

Photo: Complex Art & Design
One of my favorite pavilions this year was the British's ENGLISH MAGIC by Jeremy Deller. The British seem to have found their sense of humor once again. When I walked in, an eccentric fellow was standing behind a movable counter.

"Have you got some English Magic there?" I asked.

"Indeed. Hold out your hands."

This I did. He placed an strange object in my palms. "That is a Neolithic hand axe dated around 4,000 BCE."

"Really? Wow! Where did they find it?" I could feel the ancient vibrations pulsing through my hands.

"Along the Thames."

"Along the Thames? Just lying around?"

"There are a lot of people who like to walk along the Thames looking for ancient treasures. Would you like to hold another?"


This time the object was shaped like a large arrowhead, with a distinct yellowish color. "That is probably the oldest object you will ever hold in your life," said the fellow. "That is a Lower Palaeolithic hand axe discovered around London. It dates back to 250,000 to 400,000 BCE before we were human beings. It's made of flint and amber."

"Wow. Before we were human. That is magic!"

English Magic by Jeremy Deller on display in the British Pavilion 
Courtesy: British Council. Photo: Simon Grant, Tate
The rest of the British Pavilion was equally entertaining -- they even served tea! That image you see at the very top of this post, We sit starving amidst our gold is described this way in the brochure from the British Council:

In June 2011 Roman Abramovich's 377-foot yacht, Luna, was moored alongside the Giardini quay. It blocked the view for many and a security fence was erected around it, restricting the use of the promenade by locals, tourists and visitors to the Biennale. This act enraged William Morris, the Victorian designer and socialist, who, though long dead, returned as a colossus and threw the yacht into the lagoon. The act is shown with examples of Morris's work, alongside privatisation certificates and coupons from the era following the break-up of the Soviet Union, the accumulation of which became the source of much of the wealth of present-day oligarchs.

Archivio Foto by Cindy Sherman
Photographic Albums
Photo by Francesco Galli
Courtesy by la Biennale di Venezia
It is always a little sad when La Biennale Art closes. This year more than 475,000 visitors attended the exhibition. I predict that in the future the attendance will grow by leaps and bounds as more people find their way into the Magical Mystical World of Art.

Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Festa of the Madonna della Salute in Venice

The Black Madonna - Panagia Mesopantitisa, Venice - on the Festa della Salute - Photo: Cat Bauer
The Black Madonna - Panagia Mesopantitisa, Venice - Festa della Salute - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) During the fifteen years I've lived in Venice, I have rarely missed the Festa of the Madonna della Salute on November 21. Most of the city, and much of the Veneto, makes the trek over the pontoon bridge from Santa Maria del Giglio next to the Hotel Gritti Palace and over to the Church of the Salute on Punta della Dogna to light a candle (or two or three) so that the Beloved Black Madonna will protect our health.

The plague first struck Venice in 1575. Desperate for relief, in 1577 the Venetian Senate decided to build a church in honor of Christ the Redeemer if God would end the plague. That worked (for a while), and the city of Venice has the magnificent Church of Redentore to show for it.

Church of Redentore - Photo: Cat Bauer venice blog
Church of Redentore - Photo: Cat Bauer
Unfortunately, the plague returned only 55 years later, so Doge Nicolò Contarini and the boys decided to build another church, this time pleading to the Virgin Mary for help. After all, the Republic of Venice was feminine, and under the Madonna's rule -- or so the story goes. On October 22, 1630, Contarini ordained the church be built; the 26-year-old architect Baldassare Longhena won the competition to design it; work started in 1631 and was finished in 1687. Longhena wrote:

Church of Madonna della Salute - Photo: Cat Bauer venice blog
Church of Madonna della Salute - Photo: Cat Bauer

"I have created a church in the form of a rotunda, a work of new invention, not built in Venice, a work very worthy and desired by many. This church, having the mystery of its dedication, being dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, made me think, with what little talent God has bestowed upon me of building the church in the ... shape of a crown."

The centerpiece of the awesome Salute Church is the Panagia Mesopantitisa, a very wise Byzantine Black Madonna, who never fails to fill me with deep emotion. The Panagia Mesopantitisa gets all dolled up for the occasion, and puts on her finest jewels. If we can understand where she comes from, perhaps we can understand why the Venetians built such an impressive church.

Photo: Wolfgang Moroder
The Panagia Mesopantitisa is from Candia, which was a Greek city originally named Chandax on the island of Crete. The Venetians bought the city for strategic purposes back in 1204 after the Fourth Crusade, and colonized the town. They held onto it for 465 years until 1669 after losing the famous War of Candia (1645-1669), a 21-year battle with the Ottoman Turks for possession of Crete.

The city is now named Heraklion, and is again part of Greece, and that is where the Eastern Orthodox Black Madonna named Panagia Mesopantitisa comes from. I like to think that the Venetians of that era might have been a little sorry for the part their ancestors played in the Fourth Crusade by giving her such an honor.

From the Venice Comune:

"The Festa della Salute is probably the least "touristy" of the Venetian festivities and evokes strong religious feelings among the city's inhabitants. 

The holiday is, like the Redentore, in memory of another bout of pestilence, which lasted for two years from 1630-31, and the subsequent vow by the Doge to obtain the intercession of the Virgin Mary.

Even today, thousands of inhabitants visit the main altar of the imposing Salute Church on November 21 to give thanks, and a strong symbolic tie remains between the city and the Virgin Mary."

After you buy your candle, you bring it inside the church and hand it to one of the candle lighters -- if left to our own devices, there is a strong possibility we would burn ourselves up given the size of the crowds.

Next I always stand directly in the rose mosaic circle under the enormous chandelier that dangles from  the center of the dome, and get one of my power charges for the year. In the mosaic is a bronze circle engraved with the words Unde Origo Inde Salus MDCXXXI, which means "From the origin comes salvation, 1631."

Unde Origo Inde Salus MDCXXXI in Church of Madonna della Salute - Photo: Cat Bauer
The crowd surges against the high altar until the young guards controlling the scene allow everyone to pass. You then wander back through the Sacristy, where you can buy little prayer cards and rosaries and gaze upon precious art by Titian and Tintoretto, and the first Pope John Paul's vestments -- who was, of course, Venetian, and died after only 33 days as Pope. For some reason, seeing the sweet Papa's actual clothes made me teary-eyed.

Wood carving on seat - right
(Those elaborate wooden carvings on the choir stalls behind the high altar were so bizarre I had to take a photo of them.)

Wood carving on seat - left
Then everyone pours back out down the steps and over to the endless stalls of sweets from Sicily and enormous balloons for the kids -- for Festa della Salute is a day when every kid in Venice proudly marches through the city clutching their carefully-chosen balloon.

One great thing about living in a Catholic country is that there are many miracles and White Magic floating through the air, and Venice definitely has its own interpretations and rituals. So far, the Madonna della Salute has worked her magic, and kept me healthy and protected under extreme circumstances, so here is a little prayer to share:

Maria, salute degli infermi, prega per noi.

And remember, when your Republic really gets into trouble there is only one way out: SAY YOU'RE SORRY AND THEN BUILD A SPECTACULAR CHURCH GRAND ENOUGH TO CATCH THE EYE OF THE MADONNA OR JESUS CHRIST! It works! 

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

Saturday, November 16, 2013

GONDOLAS 4 ALL! Arrive at Your Hotel by Gondola

(Venice, Italy) There are many ways to arrive at the entrance to watery city of Venice: by airplane, car, bus, boat taxi, cruise ship, train, motorcycle, scooter, bicycle and by foot. But once inside the historic center, there is only one method of transportation that still remains from ancient times: the gondola.

"The Venetian gondola is as free and graceful, in its gliding movement, as a serpent." 

That sentence was written by Mark Twain, known as "the father of American literature," in his travel book, The Innocents Abroad, published in 1869, nearly 150 years ago. Samuel Clemens used "Mark Twain" as his pen name -- the cry for a measured river depth of two fathoms -- inspired by his days piloting a steamboat on the Mississippi River. Twain arrived in Venice by rail from Milan, just as the sun was setting. From the end of Chapter XXI:

And sure enough, afloat on the placid sea a league away, lay a great city, with its towers and domes and steeples drowsing in a golden mist of sunset."

The Grand Canal of Venice by Eduord Manet (1875)
Back then, before the age of motors, the gondola was the only way visitors could move around the waters of the lagoon. After his initial disappointment upon boarding a gondola at the train station, Twain swiftly changed his mind:

"I began to feel that the old Venice of song and story had departed forever. But I was too hasty. In a few minutes we swept gracefully out into the Grand Canal, and under the mellow moonlight the Venice of poetry and romance stood revealed. Right from the water's edge rose long lines of stately palaces of marble; gondolas were gliding swiftly hither and thither and disappearing suddenly through unsuspected gates and alleys; ponderous stone bridges threw their shadows athwart the glittering waves. 

Illustration from The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain
There was life and motion everywhere, and yet everywhere there was a hush, a stealthy sort of stillness, that was suggestive of secret enterprises of bravoes and of lovers; and clad half in moonbeams and half in mysterious shadows, the grim old mansions of the Republic seemed to have an expression about them of having an eye out for just such enterprises as these at that same moment. Music came floating over the waters--Venice was complete."

View from the steps of the train station
These days, when you arrive in Venice from the train station, the initial impression is even more chaotic than in Twain's time. The train stops after making the journey across the lagoon, rattling across the causeway that links Venice to the mainland. You gather your bags, and wheel them through the bustle of the station, through jostling crowds and distorted announcements blaring over the loud speaker. You walk out the door of the station, arrive at the top of the stairs and, instead of a vista of four-wheeled vehicles on paved roads, you are greeted by hordes of people sprawled across steps, or rushing to the station, the loud grind of the water buses called vaporetti banging to a stop out on the Grand Canal, the jockeying the boat taxis and the Alilaguna boat from the aiport, and, finallly a vision of... water. It can be a bit unsettling.

Venice has been compared to Disneyland, but I like to call it the Magic Kingdom. And the best way to begin your journey into this mysterious city would be to follow in the footsteps of Mark Twain, and take a gondola to your hotel: "It was a beautiful picture--very soft and dreamy and beautiful." This is a service that used to exist, but like many things in life, gradually faded from memory.

French travel ad by Hugo d'Alesi (1899)
Then, recently on Trip Advisor, someone asked if it could be done -- if they could take a gondola from the train station to the Bauer Hotel on the opposite side of town. First there was the usual chorus of nays -- one "designation expert" said he "loathed" gondolas! Another said that there was no gondola station at the train station, a statement I knew to be false. However, there were also plenty of people who were supportive, including yours truly -- I confess to being an old-fashioned romantic. I thought, what a great idea! Why not? If you are a regular reader of Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog, you will know that I have worked with the gondoliers in the past. I presented the request to them, and at first they, too, said no. I asked, "Why? Centuries ago you picked people up at their palace and dropped them off at the casino. Why not now?"

Apparently the problem is that these days gondoliers must begin and end their trip from the same point otherwise "we will fight everyday," as one gondolier told me. So, even though the gondoliers at the train station could transport people to another location, they would have to return empty so as not to intrude on another gondolier's territory. I said, "Well, I would pay extra to arrive at my hotel by gondola, and I'm sure other people would, too." So, together, we decided to try an experiment and see if there is an interest in this service.

Gondola Station at Santa Lucia, the Venice Train Station
First off, there is, indeed, a gondola station at the train station, it's just that these days there is so much chaos it gets lost in the sea of modernity. But if you look just to the right of the Scalzi Bridge, you will see it. If you begin your journey from that entrance to the Magic Kingdom, you will enter an enchanted world only visible to a certain few. From Mark Twain:

"...We sit in the cushioned carriage-body of a cabin, with the curtains drawn, and smoke, or read, or look out upon the passing boats, the houses, the bridges, the people, and enjoy ourselves much more than we could in a buggy jolting over our cobble-stone pavements at home. This is the gentlest, pleasantest locomotion we have ever known."

These days there are no curtains on the gondola (maybe we should bring that back, too:), and the horse and buggy have transformed into motorized traffic jams, but otherwise the experience remains the same. The gondola is an ancient method of transportation that still exists today, a boat created specifically to navigate the waters of the Venetian lagoon. The gondola is a transport to a world of enchantment.

"...I am afraid I study the gondolier's marvelous skill more than I do the sculptured palaces we glide among. ... His attitude is stately; he is lithe and supple; all his movements are full of grace. When his long canoe, and his fine figure, towering from its high perch on the stern, are cut against the evening sky, they make a picture that is very novel and striking to a foreign eye."

The gondoliers at the train station insisted that I take the trip before I wrote about it so I would see how enchanting their particular route was. So I took it on my way to the artist Ludovico De Luigi's opening, and arrived in Campo San Moisè just about 6:45PM after the leaving the train station a little after 6:00PM. I snuggled into a blanket and relaxed into the cushioned seat. We crossed the Grand Canal and headed down a small side canal, eavesdropping on the conversations of the passersby, and peeking into windows. It was so quiet, all you could hear was the oar dipping into the water and the church bells ring at 6:15. After about 20 minutes, we burst out onto the Grand Canal, the Rialto Bridge majestic in the distance, then back down a small canal past some of the most prestigious locales in Venice, including the house where Mozart once stayed. The route was as Mark Twain described: "It was a beautiful picture--very soft and dreamy and beautiful."

The gondoliers decided that the price for this service would be 140 euro during the low season to go from the train station to a hotel near San Moise, the campo where the Bauer Hotel is located, and 160 during the high season.The price to arrive at the front water door of the hotels located on the Grand Canal in that part of town -- the Monaco, the Bauer Palazzo, the Europa Regina, the Gritti Palace, etc. -- would be 180 euro during the low season and 200 euro during high season simply because the journey is longer, and the gondoliers must go back empty to the train station. For hotels like the Aman Canal Grande which are closer to the train station, the price would be less, and for hotels like the Danieli, which are very far, the price would be much more, if not exorbitant. High season is during Daylight Savings Time and low season is Standard Time. The price is per gondola for up to four -- not six -- people, since there must be room for the luggage. And all of that information is subject to change, since this is a new experiment.

The gondoliers can also take you to your hotel if you arrive in Piazzale Roma by land taxi, car or bus because there is a gondola station there, too.

Rio dei Mendicati, Venice by John Singer Sargent (1899)
If you would like to join us in this experiment, to make a reservation, email The gondoliers and their friend, Giorgia, are handling that email. Be prepared to tell them your time of arrival. You will then be given a phone number to call in case your train is late, or there is inclement weather. Gondolas travel in all types of weather, during the entire year, but in the case of acqua alta (high water) or heavy rain, other arrangements will be made. Payment is in cash, in euro, upon disembarking. If you are late without calling them, you will lose your gondola and have to wait for the next available one instead of having your watery chariot waiting to whisk you away upon arrival.

If you have questions, email, which I will check periodically since I can write and understand English better than they can:)

As I say, this is a new experiment, so there are bound to be some kinks that need to be worked out, but for those of us who believe in imagination and wonder, there is no better entrance into Venice than by gondola.

Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Friday, November 8, 2013

First International Mask Contest - Venice Carnival 2014 - DEADLINE JANUARY 15, 2014

Mask by Kartaruga - as seen in Eyes Wide Shut

(Venice, Italy) The theme of Venice Carnival 2014 is, in Italian: LA NATURA FANTASTICA, which they have translated to: WONDER AND FANTASY NATURE on the official Carnevale di Venezia site. Usually I can understand what they are trying to say, but this one had me stumped. I am going to translate it to: THE FANTASY OF NATURE, but, perhaps, we English speakers should use the Italian this time.

Alberto Sarria Masks - Photo: Christine Zenino
If I understand correctly, Venice will be transformed into a magical forest inhabited by wondrous and fanciful creatures just like the animals in myths, fables and fairy tales. The phoenix, the bird that rises from the ashes (always a good theme for Venice:), Leda's Swan (who was actually Zeus so he could seduce her) and Daphne's Laurel Tree, (lovingly tended to by Apollo), are some examples they offer, though I wonder how many Americans are familiar with these myths. If not, preparing for Carnival in Venice is an excellent reason to acquaint yourself with some myths from other parts of the world. 

Alberto Sarria Masks
They also suggest: "Fantasy animals like the White Lion, the Werewolf Night, the Red Dragon; or more ironic and snarky representations of Donkeys, Rabbits, Foxes, Roosters and any other animals which are featured in international popular culture anthropomorphic irony." (I want to know who taught them the word "snarky.":)

From the official Carnival of Venice website:

"Humankind has always felt the need to narrate the mystery of nature through fairy tales. Global cultures, first in the shape of myths, then in an anthropomorphic shape in the world fairy-tale tradition, deploy an endless wealth of symbols and characters to describe the creation and the origin of life, the atmospheric elements, vegetable beings and animal creatures.

The East and the West, Asia and Oceania, the Americas and Europe, Africa: in this fairy-tale Carnival, masks will be inspired by traditional European fairy tales, Arabian and Middle-Eastern short stories, the votive symbols of African and Mesoamerican cultures, Indian, Mongolian and Cathay allegories."

Masks by Kartaruga
I LOVE this theme, and am looking forward to living in a Fairytale Forest come February. Apparently in addition to Piazza San Marco, even the major campos will be transformed into forests with real trees and plants, each campo ruled by a fantasy animal.

Russia - Vasilisa the Beautiful
Just imagine: you can be Little Red Riding Hood or the Big Bad Wolf. Alice in Wonderland or the White Rabbit. I think you could probably even be Dorothy or the Cowardly Lion. Or one of those horrid flying monkeys that kidnapped Toto. And, of course, there must be dragons! (Hhhhmmm... I wonder if the dog would consider dressing up as a small unicorn...)

I'll bet the Germans will arrive with some great ideas inspired by all those Grimm Brothers fairy tales, or the Danish with Hans Christian Anderson. Then we have the exotic worlds further East with the Armenians and the Chinese and the Japanese and Iran and Arabia and 1001 Nights and flying carpets. And Russia! And Africa! And Pakistan! And South America! And American Indians! And real Indians! And Antarctica! And Australia! And everybody everywhere! Think of all the possibilities!

Masks by Kartaruga
With all that in mind, a prestigious group of Venetian mask makers have gotten together to create the FIRST INTERNATIONAL SPECIAL MASK MAKING AWARD, La Maschera del Carnevale di Venezia, given out at the Venice Carnival. There will be three special prizes; the top prize is a week-long trip to Venice during the Regata Storica in September [UPDATE December 8, 2013: apparently it is now a two-day long trip], in addition to other perks and bonuses. I am telling you now so you can start thinking about what kind of handmade mask you want to create based on the theme La Natura Fantastica. The rules are not posted yet, but the deadline is going to be January 15, 2014, and you will have to send a photo and the story of the mask you have created. Carnival always recognizes the best costumes, but this will be the first time for the best MASK with the strong support of the Compagnia dei Mascareri veneziani. Hopefully it will help visitors to Venice better understand the art of mask making, and the difference between the inferior mass-produced masks found all over town, and the far superior handmade masks created by professional mask makers.

HERE IS THE LINK TO THE OFFICIAL CARNIVAL OF VENICE SITE which you should keep checking to see the rules. They say they should be posted in a few days, but I wanted to give you Venetian Cat - Venice Blog readers a head's up. I'll update this post when there is more information.

Masks by La Bottega dei Mascareri - Photo: Cat Bauer
Also, I wrote an article entitled A Brief History of Mask Making way back in 2001 for the International Herald Tribune's Italian supplement, Italy Daily (which no longer exists) in which I excerpted in a post I wrote way back on March 7, 2008 that you can read here about the originals of mask wearing in Venice.

The Venice Carnival will run from February 15 to March 4, 2014.

 La Bottega dei Mascarer in Eyes Wide Shut
Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Friday, November 1, 2013

All Saint's Day and Ludovico De Luigi's Great Day

Surrealistic Carnival by Ludovico De Luigi
(Venice, Italy) All Saint's Day was spectacular today, with lots of sunshine, perfect temperature - mid 60s - and throngs of people journeying out to the Island of San Michele, Venice's cemetery island, to wash the dust off the ancestors and make them sparkle with fond memories and love. The island is like a giant Christmas tree, each tomb a colorful ornament blooming with flowers and twinkling with candles. It's a Venetian family outing, the younger generations traveling across the lagoon and across the ether to awaken Nonna and Nonno, tucked peacefully under the cypress trees, for an Earthly reunion.

View of San Michele by Johan Richter (1665-1745)
The energy this year is very different from last. Last year, we will remember that the East Coast of the United States of America was ravaged by Hurricane Sandy, and Venice was drowning with acqua alta. From October 31, 2012:

All Hallows' Eve - All Saints' Day - All Souls' Day - Venice Blog

Then, I stumbled upon a poignant essay by Susan Allen Toth written in 1993 for the New York Times about her visit to San Michele, which you can read here. Even though she wrote it 20 years ago, it's basically the same experience these days.

Photo: Giovanni Dall'Orto
"...Used to the lichen-covered gray tombstones of English churchyards or the numbingly identical rows of white markers in many American cemeteries, I was unprepared for what lay before me: a tumult of color and an astonishing variety of monuments. Because each grave is ordinarily less than 12 years old, there are often survivors to care for it. Not a stone seemed unadorned. Although a few vases held artificial flowers, most were abloom with fresh bouquets, from yellow daisies to red roses to lavish mixtures of carnations, mums and gladiolus.
... As we walked closer, I could see that each gravestone held a glassed-in large photograph of the deceased. Suddenly the cemetery seemed, in a strange reversal, alive with people who were embodied in their stones. It was impossible not to want to pause at each one, study the picture, absorb the inscription and dates of birth and death, and pay homage to the person."


Throughout the years, I have had some wild adventures with the artist, Ludovico De Luigi. There was a point in time when we would speak on the phone nearly every morning, philosophizing, before we began our work day, painting and writing. Ah, those were the days! Life in Venice was so much more pleasant before the Americans doubled the size of the military base in Vicenza and caused all sorts of havoc here in town. 

Ludovico will be 80-years-old on November 11, 2013, and he still has the energy of a man 30 years younger. On Wednesday, October 30, his exhibition, Mostra antologica, opened at the Fondazione Bevilacqua La Masa -- what Ludovico said was the mayor's birthday gift to him. And it did seem like most of the town was there to celebrate Ludovico's long creative life. 

Photo: Matilde Margot
I remember back when Ludovico was a wee lad of 74, and he had a love affair with a much younger American woman -- who then had a love affair with Massimo Cacciari, the then-Mayor of Venice, who had been foolishly introduced to her by Ludovico himself. Ludovico became mad with jealousy. He began stalking the mayor. They were like two planets colliding! Volcanoes erupting! God, it was fun!

Punta della Dogana by Ludovico De Luigi
Once Cacciari gave a lecture at the Church of San Vidal about Adam and Eve, and Ludovico sat in the front row, dragging me next to him. Immediately after Cacciari stopped speaking, Ludovico murmured to me, "That man has a brilliant mind," then grabbed the microphone and demanded that Cacciari answer a question -- I wish I could remember what it was, but it was provocative. I watched Cacciari hesitate for 2 seconds, and then say, "I will take all the questions first, and then answer them together." Ha!

It was wonderful to see so many Venetians come to pay their respects to the Maestro. Ludovico was clearly having a ball, with Anny Carraro documenting the entire show, as always.

Ludovico's show runs through December 1st.

Ludovico De Luigi
Mostra antologica
Curated by Enzo di Martino

October 31 to December 1, 2013
Wednesday thru Sunday
10:30AM to 5:30PM

Fondazione Bevilacqua La Masa
Galleria di Piazza San Marco, 71/c
+39 041-520-7797

Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog