Sunday, December 29, 2013

Christmas Magic in Venice 2013

The Pala d'Oro - Basilica di San Marco
(Venice, Italy) Christmas in Venice has been lovely this year, peaceful, filled with locals and full of beauty. Midnight mass on Christmas Eve at St. Mark's Basilica was standing-room-only, with plenty of incense and ancient icons. One of the greatest thrills about Christmas is that the Pala d'Oro, the wall of gold at the high altar, is turned to face the congregation, right above the body of Saint Mark (that the Venetians smuggled out of Alexandria, Egypt back in 828). The Basilica of San Marco is one of the most exquisite places of worship on the planet, and I feel very fortunate that I can just stroll over there and zoom back nearly 1000 years.

Photo: Britannica
The ancient Venetians were wily marketers, with an enormous amount of resources and wealth -- and who were brilliant at creating their own myths and turning them into reality. St. Theodore was the original patron saint of Venice, but who knew who he was? The ancient Venetians were big dreamers, and they needed a big saint -- they needed an evangelist. So they hopped down to Alexandria and stole the body of Saint Mark, claiming that an angel had told the Evangelist that Venice would be his final resting place -- they were merely fulfilling the prophecy. By doing such a thing, they not only got the protection of the author of the Gospel According to Mark, the Founder of the first Church in Africa, and the first Bishop of Alexandria, they also got Mark's powerful symbol: the winged lion.

Photo: Petar Milosevic
There are all sorts of different stories and legends about St. Mark that have come down to us over the centuries, depending on the source. Apparently he was born in what is now Libya. He was a few years younger than Jesus Christ. His parents moved to Palestine when he was young. He was the fellow who poured the water that Jesus turned into wine at the Wedding at Cana, the first public miracle of Jesus (a moment captured by renowned Venetian artist Paolo Veronese for the Palladian Refectory on the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore, a painting later ripped off the wall and stolen by Napoleon -- it now resides in the Louvre). Mark founded the Church of Alexandria where he was dragged through the streets and martyred for criticizing the worship of pagan gods.

Wedding at Cana by Paolo Veronese (1562)
From Wikipedia:

In 828, relics believed to be the body of St. Mark were stolen from Alexandria by Venetian merchants and taken to Venice. A mosaic in St Mark's Basilica depicts sailors covering the relics with a layer of pork and cabbage leaves. Since Muslims are not permitted to touch pork, this was done to prevent the guards from inspecting the ship's cargo too closely. “History records no more shameless example of body snatching...” as John Julius Norwich put it. The possession of a truly important relic could have serious political consequences. When the body of St Mark came to Venice, the previous patron saint of the city, St Theodore, was demoted. The Doge of the day began to build a splendid church to contain the relics next to his palace, the original San Marco. With an evangelist on its territory, Venice acquired a status almost equal to that of Rome itself.

From the Basilica di San Marco website:

"Venice's greatness has always been reflected in the Basilica's enrichment: during the centuries the Venetians embellished it with precious objects and works of art brought in from the most distant places, thus creating a grand, compact monument. The mellow light falling from above seems to divide the earthly world from the supernatural, which glitters on the vaults in the golden mosaics."

The Pala d'Oro was commissioned a millennium ago, and installed in 1105. I wrote about the Wall of Gold for Gems of Venice:

"The ancient Venetians cherished gems, and created one of the most exquisite altarpieces on earth, the Pala d'Oro, originally commissioned more than 1000 years ago, back about the time when King Mu first traveled on the Silk Road. Venice was inspired by Byzantium and the East, and hired craftsmen from Constantinople to assemble a wall of gold, a "refined expression of Byzantine genius and the cult of light." Embellished with rubies, sapphires, emeralds, garnets, amethysts and 1,927 pearls, the Pala d'Oro attracts the highest energy from the heavens."

Venice is one of the few places in the world that has a Patriarch. Many have gone on to become Pope, the most recent being the beloved John Paul I, who died mysteriously after only 33 days as head of the Roman Catholic Church. Today the Patriarch is Francesco Moraglia, who is from Genoa. This year, when we got to the phrase...:

"Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen."

...I thought, is this same old story really going to just keep cycling on this planet? How many more centuries will we fight over Jerusalem? Are we never going to break the pattern??

If you are a long time reader of my Venice Blog, or if you have read my novel, HARLEY'S NINTH, you will know that my favorite icon is the Madonna Nicopeia, the Madonna of Victory, who marched at the front of the Roman Imperial army when the capital was Byzantium, or Constantinople, now Istanbul. They say she was painted by Saint Luke the Evangelist, and performs miracles. Here she is in person:

Madonna Nicopeia, St. Mark's Basilica
After mass, we tumbled out into Piazza San Marco, where we actually have a real Christmas tree this year.

The lead up to Christmas day was magical, with lots of mysterious Venetian fog swirling through the calli, and parties in palaces -- I was over at Ca' Sagredo, a magnificent XV century palazzo, twice in two days. The noble Sagredo family bought the palace at the beginning of the 18th century, and it still boasts masterpieces by Venetian artists such as Nicolò Bambini, Giambattista Tiepolo, Sebastiano Ricci and Pietro Longhi.

Music Hall at Ca' Sagredo
The first event was on December 19, which took place in the spectacular Music Hall -- the setting of a book launch for Angelo Bacci's SOTTO SOPRA: LA BIENNALE DI VENEZIA, a retrospective about the last 40 years of Venice's La Biennale. After the reading, I gorged myself on some of the best food I have eaten in years. It tasted exotic, but I could not place the country it came from. Not India... Not Turkey... I asked, and found out it came from Afghanistan! It was the first time I've ever had food from Afghanistan, and I became an immediate fan.

Afghanistan guys (Cat Bauer takes blame for blurry photo:)
The second event took place the following evening, December 20, and was a cocktail reception "to celebrate Christmas and New Year Festivities together with friends" in the Portego Hall to "strengthen the excellent relationship between Venice and the United States, New York City in particular," in collaboration with the International Columbia Association & FDNY, which is affiliated with the Columbia Association of the New York City Fire Department.

Portego in the day time
"The International Columbia Association was officially founded on November 15, 2006, by Vincent A. Tummino, retired member of the New York City Fire Department. Mr. Tummino has served as President of the Columbia Association FDNY for 9 years and has served on the Board of Directors for over 15 years. He has been appointed as Ambassador of this Association."

"The mission of the International Columbia Association is to promote the Italian culture, heritage, and language. The Association, through its friends and philanthropists, provides opportunities for the advancement of education and for learning the Italian language. The International Columbia Association also performs humanitarian acts for those in need. The Association will continue to promote and participate in the annual New York City Columbus Day Parade and will also collaborate with other associations who share a common interest in the promotion of the Italian culture."

The entertainment was a play by the Venetian playwright Carlo Goldoni performed by the Garanghelo Theater Copany in Venetian dialect, and the food included little hot dogs and hamburgers, and chicken wings, in addition to pumpkin risotto and Venetian appetizers. (I still haven't figured out how to take photos without a flash:) It was a joint Venetian - USA party by way of NYC, with an emphasis on good will to men -- refreshing.

Happy Holidays from Venezia!
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Girl Bunny is Back and the Inevitable Bellini - New Year in Venice 2013/2014

(Venice, Italy) Piazza San Marco is a world-wide New Year's Eve destination.The English description from HelloVenezia of the December 31, 2013 evening had me laughing so hard that my stomach ached. The sentence that set me off: "A White Rabbit, or better a Girl Bunny will take you to Wonderland." Because, as everyone knows, there is only one thing better than a White Rabbit to take you to Wonderland: a Girl Bunny! The Girl Bunny is Back!

Kate Moss as Girl Bunny for Playboy

No, Venice did not score Kate Moss hopping around on all fours at age forty, looking mighty fit. The glam Italiana Micol Ronchi will be our Girl Bunny, who "arrives in Venice to give the Saint Mark’s Square audience a night of magic and sensuality."

Girl Bunny Micol Ronchi

By the time I got to this part: "the celebration will continue with an exciting dance performance hovering above the stage and the toast with the inevitable Bellini" I was literally ROTFLMAO. Because, in Venice, whenever there is a party for anything, the Canella Family WILL inevitably arrive with Bellinis! They even arrived at my book launch with Bellinis!. The Bellini is inevitable!

The Inevitable Bellini - Photo: Empson

(Any time they like, HelloVenezia can hire me to help them with their English; I would love to do it.) Here's the entire blurb:

New Year's Eve - HelloVenezia

This year again, Venice is painted white and Saint Mark’s Square is lit up by thousands of ice lights to brighten up the magic of New Year’s Eve. A great show, a night of music, entertainment and choreographies to spend together the last few hours of the departing year and welcome an all-white 2014 waiting to be filled with all your wishes and dreams.

While waiting for the spectacular fireworks on Saint Mark’s Basin, starting from 10.30pm, the Square is dressed in crystals thanks to an all-white elegant stage, at whose centre a special lighting creates such effects as similar to a large ice star.

A White Rabbit, or better a Girl Bunny will take you to Wonderland: Micol Ronchi, Miss White Rabbit, after the successful Chiambretti Night, arrives in Venice to give the Saint Mark’s Square audience a night of magic and sensuality.

To make the white ice hot, we will have the warm soul voices of Alessia and Giorgia Lucchetti, accompanied by the sound of the Natural Grove band aka the White Band, painting the night of Venice a thousand shades through a repertoire ranging from Bruno Mars to Michael Jackson.

After midnight strikes, the celebration will continue with an exciting dance performance hovering above the stage and the toast with the inevitable Bellini, while we will celebrate the arrival of the New Year with the fireworks show on Saint Mark’s Basin and the music played by Mister White, aka Dj Maci, that will make the Square dance until early morning.


NYE 2009


•10:30pm The show starts with music by the Natural Grove Band.... Hosting Miss White Rabbit: Micol Ronchi
•from 11:15pm All toasting with Bellini Canella
•midnight Countdown to 2014
•00:15am Fireworks show on the Saint Mark’s Basin
•00:30am Dj-set featuring Mister White aka Dj Maci

What to do before all the action at 10:30 starts is the question. One of the best things I ever did was go to watch Pantakin at the Goldoni Theater back in 2008, which I wrote about HERE, and strongly suggest that you read.

Venice at the New Year

It is a tradition in Venice to go to the Goldoni Theater to watch Pantakin on New Years Eve. I am a huge fan of Pantakin. They put on such an incredibly bizarre show that I guarantee you will have a one-of-a-kind experience. Here is their schedule for 2013/2014:

There will be a show on December 29,2013 at 5:00PM, on New Year's Eve, December 31, 2013 at 9:00PM and on New Year's Day, January 1, 2014, at 5:00PM.

You can get tickets at the Goldoni Theater, or from HelloVenezia:

Agenzie Hellovenezia di
Venezia (Piazzale Roma, Tronchetto, Lido), Mestre (via Verdi), Sottomarina, Dolo
Call center 041 2424prevendita online tramite (solo biglietti interi)

INFORMAZIONI +39 338 50 77 079

Ciao from Venezia,


Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Saturday, December 14, 2013

St. Lawrence Comes Home - Venetian Heritage & Save Venice Inc. Restore Chapel

The Martydom of St. Lawrence by Titian (1548-59) 
(Venice, Italy) The Martyrdom of St. Lawrence by Titian has got to be one of the most beautifully restored paintings I've ever seen. Titian is my all-time favorite artist, and the Martirio di San Lorenzo, now estimated to be worth 50 million euros, was called “the most beautiful night scene in all of painting" by Giovanni C.F. Villa, curator of the spectacular Titian exhibit this past spring at the Quirinal Palace’s scuderie in Rome. When you see the painting you will understand why all the superlatives. Titian uses amazing tricks of light to illustrate the bravery of St. Lorenzo captured in the moment of being roasted alive by the Romans. 

On Thursday, December 12, 2013, the altarpiece was presented in all its glory back home here in Venice in the newly-restored St. Lawrence Chapel inside the church of Santa Maria Assunta (called "I Gesuiti"). The funding to restore the painting itself came from the Bank of Alba -- St. Lawrence happens to be the patron saint of the Piedmont town. After a year-long restoration bNicola Restauri S.r.l. di Aramengo, closely supervised by the Superintendence of Venice, the altarpiece was then on display in Alba from May 2012. The painting came back to Venice for a brief show at the Accademia (December 21, 2012 to February 24, 2013), then moved to Rome for the Titian extravaganza (March 5 to June 16, 2013) where the 15-foot high painting held a place of honor -- C.F. Villa said it would be worth going to the exhibition just to see the St. Lawrence. So, the painting has been on the road for more than two years, and is finally back home in its freshly spruced-up chapel.

Photo: Venetian Heritage
The restoration of the chapel was sponsored by Save Venice Inc. and the Boston Chapter of Save Venice Inc.Venetian Heritage, and Co. New Tech, Venezia restoration firm. Titian's painting has been reinstalled with financial support from Azienda Special Palaexpo Scuderie del Quirinale. There has also been a superb lighting system put in place that dramatically illuminates the painting. 

Photo: Venetian Heritage
If you are a Venice aficionado you will know that the collaboration between Venetian Heritage and Save Venice is an event in itself. Long ago, when I wrote for the International Herald Tribune's Italy Daily, the scholars at Save Venice provided much research and raw data, so it was nice to watch everything come together in front of Titian's masterpiece.

I have read in several places that Titian painted the Martyrdom of St. Lawrence specifically for the St. Lawrence Chapel in the Church of the Gesuiti. This is not true. Titian was born in about 1485 and died in 1576; it took him more than ten years to paint the St. Lawrence (1548-59) for the funeral chapel of Lorenzo Massolo in the original Church of the Crociferi

Ignazio di Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, first came to Venice in 1523 on his way to Jerusalem. He returned to Venice in 1535 with a group of friends, and it was here in the lagoon that the Jesuits -- the Soldiers of God -- were ordained priests.  Loyola died in 1556 at the age of 64. 

The Jesuits did not acquire the Church of Santa Maria Assunta until 1657, after the Order of the Crucifers, who built the original church in 1155, were suppressed. (The Jesuits themselves have been expelled from Venice on more than one occasion.) Work to redo the church in the ornate fashion we see today began in 1715; the church was consecrated in 1728. So, it was the Jesuits who were responsible for the ornate decoration, which was paid for by the Manin family, whose tombs are inside, and whose coat of arms is over the door. And it was the Jesuits who relocated Titian's The Martyrdom of St. Lawrence into the first chapel on the left in new church in the 18th century. 

Photo: Venetian Heritage
The most remarkable decoration of the interior is the inlaid marble designed to look like Damask fabric.

According to Nick Squires at The Telegraph, the restoration revealed that Titian, wily artist that he was, painted himself into the scene wearing a turban, apparently to attract the charms of Elisabetta Querini, the wife of one of his patrons. 

Marco Loredan, a descendent of one of Venice's oldest families, was at the presentation on behalf of his brother, Francesco, who is an advisor for Fondazione Venetian Heritage Onlus and was unable to attend, and -- more importantly -- because the Martyrdom of St. Lawrence is Marco's favorite Titian -- he is passionate about the painting. Marco is a great ambassador for his city; he really loves Venice, and is a true gentleman. We both agreed that Titian was centuries ahead of his time, and that the restoration was brilliant -- before, the painting had been nearly black. 

The more I think about it, it really is amazing that there is a 50 million euro Titian masterpiece inside the Gesuiti church!

After the presentation we stepped outside into the dreamy Venetian mist and proclaimed that Venice remains the most magical city on earth. 

Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Strut Your Stuff in Piazza San Marco - Venice International Mask Contest - UPDATE

Sekhmet - Egyptian Lioness Goddess of War & Healing
(Venice, Italy) Sekhmet was Upper Egypt's warrior goddess, as well as the goddess of fire, vengeance, healing and medicine, so she was one busy lady. She has the head of a lioness, wearing the solar disc and Egyptian cobra called an uraeus, and has the title "The One Before Whom Evil Trembles." Sekhmet is an example of a face mask you could create for the Venice Carnival 2014, La Natura Fantastica, which is open to "all the artists and artisans coming from everywhere."

A month ago, I initially wrote about the contest, giving details and background. For those of you who missed it, please have a look:

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

Mask by Kartaruga - as seen in Eyes Wide Shut
The official website has been updated (if you can find it), and once again the English is a challenge to decipher, but I will give it a shot.

1. This is the very First International Face Mask Competition at the Venice Carnival. Venice always has a costume contest, but this contest is sponsored by the Venetian mask-makers, and is solely for the face mask itself.

2. The contest is open to everyone all over the world. You can use any material you like, and any technique you wish. 

Leather macaw mask from Brazil by Marcílio Barrow
3. The theme of this year's Carnival is "La Natura Fantastic," which I described in the post above, which, again, you can read by clicking HERE. So any mask that fits into that theme is acceptable, which is why I thought of Sekhmet -- she has the head of a lioness, which, I suppose is more suitable for a jungle than a forest, but since we are in Venice, and the symbol of Venice is the Lion of San Marco, I thought the Lioness of Egypt was a nice balance. Sekhmet has a sweet counterpart that is not so ferocious named Bastet, who came from Lower Egypt, and has the head of a cat. 

Bastet from Lower Egypt
Goddess of Cats, the Sun & the Moon
4. After you make your mask, you must:

          a) take at least three color photos of your creation.
          b) give your mask a title.
          c) write a short description about the material and the technique used to        
              create it, and the cultural and artistic significance of the mask. 

Vintage Chinese Wooden Dragon Mask
5. The deadline to submit your entry is JANUARY 15, 2014. Email your entry to: with a copy to

Paper Jiminy Cricket Mask circa 1939
6. The panel of judges will be the Artistic Director of the Venice Carnival, a representative from the Compagnia dei Mascareri and other members of the cultural world. They will choose no more than 20 finalists by JANUARY 31, 2014. 

These finalists will then be responsible for sending their mask, at their own expense, to Venice by February 20, 2014 to the following address:

Castello, San Lio 5653/4

Papier Maché Ganesha mask from Nepal
7. And then, CARNIVAL!!! On Monday, March 3, 2014, there will be a Prize Ceremony in the Grand Theater in Piazza San Marco in which all the finalist masks will parade on stage during the Venice Carnival. The creators are welcome to wear their masks during the ceremony, cheered on by thousands of adoring fans, in the greatest drawing room of the world. If the finalists are unable to come to Venice, their mask will be worn by an actor. 

Gran Teatro di Piazza San Marco - Carnevale
8. Out of the 20 or so finalists, three winners will be chosen: the Grand Prize for "La Natura Fantastica," plus two Special Mentions, one for the mask with the best workmanship and material, and another for the best plasticity and facial expression. 

9. The Grand Prize is a two-day stay in Venice for two people during the Regata Storica on September 7, 2014, Venice's water regata of ancient boats and costumes, with a place of honor in the "machina," the grandstand on the water that seats all the VIPs. A visit to a the workshop of Venetian mask-maker is also included.

Regata Storica
The two Special Mentions will also receive a two-day stay in Venice and a visit to a Venetian mask-maker, but not with all the pomp and circumstance of the Regata Storica. The trip must be taken by January 2015.

What is not clear to me is if the prizes include transportation. Since it is Sunday as I write this, there is no one to contact, so, dear readers, I will have to update this once again in the future. 

10. The three top masks will be donated to the City of Venice. The other masks can be collected within 3 months after the Prize Ceremony on March 3, 2014.

For further info:
e- mail and/or
phone: + 39 041 5299203

Again, here is the LINK to the page with the instructions if you would like to try to decipher the rules yourselves.

Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog