Saturday, August 30, 2014

AL PACINO Dazzles at Venice Film Festival

Al Pacino in Venice (Photo: David Azia)
(Venice, Italy) Al Pacino looks and acts like the legendary movie star he is. Pacino is 74-years-old, but has the energy of someone 30 years younger. One of the things that makes Al Pacino so unique is that he is a movie star from New York, not Hollywood, and is also a famed stage actor, a quality that makes him golden. During one of his two press conferences today, when he was asked to comment on Hollywood, he said, "I don't know and I never did know what Hollywood is." He said he had a relationship with Hollywood that was not unfriendly, but not really clear. He said the people who were running the studios these days were different -- not better or worse, just different, and that times had changed. He said he had even gone to see an action figure flick (I forget which one) with one of his kids, and really enjoyed it.

Al Pacino & Chris Messina (Photo: David Azia)
Al Pacino likes to talk. He gives even the simplest questions long, complex answers, winding paths through a forest of riches, which is fascinating to experience firsthand. It is like going to the theater and hearing a monologue perfectly delivered. 

Greta Gerwig & Al Pacino in The Humbling
Pacino is here in Venice with two films this year, David Gordon Green's MANGLEHORN and THE HUMBLING, directed by another legend, Barry Levinson, based on the Philip Roth novel. The storyline is:

"Simon Axler is a famed stage actor who becomes depressed then suicidal when he suddenly and inexplicably loses his gift. In an attempt to get his mojo back, he has an affair with a lesbian woman half his age. Before long, the relationship causes chaos as people from the romantic duo's pasts resurface in their lives."

Al Pacino as Simon Axler as King Lear
The character, Simon Axler, has isolated himself in the country, and someone asked if Pacino had based the character on his own life. Pacino said, "Of course it's based on my life. Once you're famous anonymity goes up in value."

Barry Levinson said it was it was literally like making a home movie because they shot the movie in 20 days in and around his Connecticut home. I thought the film was terrific, and that Pacino hasn't been in such fine form in years. I pretty much agree with the review in Variety, which said: "Pacino, who seemed to have awakened from a long acting coma when he played Dr. Jack Kevorkian in Levinson’s 2010 HBO movie, “You Don’t Know Jack,” seems similarly rejuvenated here, in what’s easily his best bigscreen performance since Christopher Nolan’s “Insomnia” in 2002."

Simon Axler may have lost his mojo, but Al Pacino most definitely has not.

[UPDATE: Click HERE to read John Lahr's September 15, 2014 profile "Caught in the Act - What drives Al Pacino?" in The New Yorker.]

Ciao from The Venice Film Festival,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Friday, August 29, 2014

Foreclosure Scam Exposed in 99 HOMES - Venice Film Festival

Andrew Garfield in 99 HOMES
(Venice, Italy) An average American family is thrown ruthlessly out of their home in Orlando, Florida at the start of Ramin Bahrani's powerful foreclosure drama, 99 HOMES. It was no accident that so many Americans suddenly lost their homes -- it was outright corruption, another scheme by the greedy to make money off human misery, which comes as no surprise. But it is extremely satisfying to watch how the vultures did it up there on the big screen.

At the press conference, Bahrani was asked if he set the film in Orlando, Florida on purpose, and he said, "of course I did." He went down there to do research, and after two or three weeks, he was dizzy from the corruption. He said, "I never saw so many guns in my life."

Andrew Garfield, Ramin Bahrani & Michael Shannon

The 99% is a global phenomenon. The common man around the world can no longer do hard, honest work and expect to thrive against systematic greed and corruption. When faced by the firing squad, does a man join hands with his executioner? Is there any choice to make other than a deal with the devil?

Andrew Garfield & Michael Shannon
Michael Shannon is one of my favorite actors; he always manages to bring a layer of humanity to the most unsavory characters. He plays Rick Carver, a heartless estate agent who represents the banks, tossing people and their possessions out on the street the moment the moment a judge -- who is also part of the corrupt pyramid -- signs the order. In Florida, the judgment speeds by so fast that they call them "Rocket Dockets."

Andrew Garfield is Dennis Nash, a hard-working single dad who can do most any job in construction. He lives with his widowed mother (Laura Dern) and son (Noah Lomax) in the simple Orlando home where he grew up. When the building market collapses and he loses his work, he is told by the bank not to make a payment; he misses three, and the next thing he knows, he, his mother and his son are crammed into a cheap motel, surrounded by other evicted families.

99 HOMES has gotten positive reviews all around.

The Guardian:

Andrew Garfield and Michael Shannon flog the foundations of America - Ramin Bahrani delivers a muscular, complex drama about real-estate – and false promises – in a land of dreams and bankruptcy


Michael Shannon and Andrew Garfield deliver dynamic performances in Ramin Bahrani's furious study of corrupt One Percent privilege.

The Hollywood Reporter:

A hard-hitting look at America's economic divide

 The Telegraph:

Andrew Garfield leaves Spider-Man far behind in this timely, gut-twisting tale of the U.S. real estate crisis

Ramin Bahrani said that honest hard work does not get you anywhere these days, but that can change. "More powerful than money, is art."

Ciao from the Venice Film Festival,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Look of Silence - Venice Film Festival 2014

THE LOOK OF SILENCE by Josh Oppenheimer
(Venice, Italy) THE LOOK OF SILENCE is the riveting companion film to Josh Oppenheimer's Academy Award-nominated 2012 documentary about the 1965-66 genocide in Indonesia entitled, THE ACT OF KILLING, which I have not yet seen. It is not necessary to see The Act of Killing to appreciate The Look of Silence, which stands alone.

On screen, Adi Rukun, the protagonist of The Look of Silence, who is an optician by trade, watches scenes from The Act of Killing in which members of the civilian militia enthusiastically reenact how they chopped off people's heads, slashed open their stomachs and chests, cut off their penises, sliced their throats, drank their blood, and then threw them in Snake River, all with the intent of cleaning the country of "communists." Adi's older brother, Ramli, was one of over one million victims; the difference between Ramli and the others who were slaughtered is that Ramli's death had witnesses.

Adi's parents today
Adi was born after his brother's murder when his parents were middle-aged; they are now both in their 100s. His mother is still wracked with sorrow over the death of Ramli; his father is blind and senile. The Indonesia genocide has been propagandized and covered-up -- to this day, the survivors have been terrorized into silence.

Oppenheimer's 2012 documentary The Act of Killing helped to break the silence. The Look of Silence goes further when Adi confronts those responsible for his brother's murder, not with anger, but with a deep desire to understand their motivation. Adi is not out for revenge: he wants to know why the family he grew up in is so traumatized and afraid. He wants the killers to acknowledge what they did, and to apologize, so the entire country can move forward. His story represents more than one million other Indonesians.

I don't know what is more astonishing -- that Oppenheimer actually got the killers -- who are still in power in Indonesia -- to boast about their acts on camera, or that they seem to feel absolutely no remorse whatsoever, and seem to have acted with complete impunity. It is as if they literally have been brainwashed to believe they have done something wonderful -- they giggle and laugh as they describe their sadistic murders. There is nothing normal or human about it.

Oppenheimer said:

"I did not know if it was safe to approach the killers, but when I did, I found all of them to be boastful, immediately recounting the killings, often with smiles on their faces, in front of their small grandchildren. In this contract between survivors forced into silence and perpetrators boastfully recounting stories far more incriminating than anything the survivors could have told, I felt I'd wandered into Germany 40 years after the Holocaust, only to find the Nazis still in power."

This time, I agree with all the reviews.

The Guardian:

The Look of Silence: Act of Killing director's second film is as horrifically gripping as first

Joshua Oppenheimer's stunning follow-up to 'The Act of Killing' shifts focus to the victims of Indonesia's communist purge.

Joshua Oppenheimer’s companion piece to 'The Act of Killing' revisits Indonesia’s mass murders of the 1960s and the outer reaches of human evil

Joshua Oppenheimer's film about Indonesia’s mass murders of the Sixties is a shattering voyage into the jungle of human nature

Joshua Oppenheimer
At the press conference, the last question Oppenheimer was asked was what his plans were for the future. He was evasive. Also, earlier, Oppenheimer had not answered a journalist who asked him if he thought he could have made the film in the United States -- he is an American based in Copenhagen, Denmark, and has pushed the US to acknowledge its role in the genocide. I, too, was curious what his answer would be, so I asked him after the conference (due to time constraints.) I said, "Josh, you didn't answer the question. COULD you have made this film in the United States?" Oppenheimer seemed genuinely bewildered. "Did I get asked that? Maybe that's the answer to the last question. Maybe that's what I'm going to do next."

Ciao from the Venice Film Festival,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

LIVE! From the 71st Venice Film Festival - Birdman & The President

BIRDMAN directed by Alejandro G. Inarritu, starring Michael Keaton

(Venice, Italy) The transitory nature of power and glory are the themes of both BIRDMAN and THE PRESIDENT, the opening films of the 2014 Venice International Film Festival.

BIRDMAN or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), directed by Alejandro G. Inarritu, stars Michael Keaton as a movie star who once achieved international fame by playing the superhero "Birdman," and is now trying to revive his career by betting everything, including his Malibu house, on a Broadway show, starring in, directing, producing and adapting a Raymond Carver short story. BIRDMAN has received mostly positive reviews, including a bunch of raves.

Michael Keaton & Edward Norton

Michael Keaton pulls off a startling comeback in Alejandro G. Inarritu's blistering showbiz satire.


The Venice Film Festival has pulled off a genuine coup by bagging the star-studded Birdman for its opening night, an expertly delivered black comedy about showbiz and celebrity, fantasy and reality

This is a phenomenal start to this year’s Mostra: grand, spectacular, star-powered cinema that makes us ask anew what cinema is for. Call it a Dark Knight of the soul.

Amy Ryan & Michael Keaton

Michael Keaton soars in Alejandro G. Inarritu's brilliantly directed dark comedy about celebrity and creation

 THE GUARDIAN feels differently:

This year’s Venice film festival begins with Alejandro González Iñárritu’s showbiz satire, a film as jittery, shallow and occasionally inspired as its hero

I'm with The Guardian on this one. I just wasn't sure what key we were in. Black comedy? Drama? Magical realism? During the press conference, Inarritu said he wanted to step out of his comfort zone, and that he realized for the first time that you could laugh on a set. He said he was terrified, but was happy to have done it.

He did some get great performances out of his actors. Emma Stone in particular was impressive, playing Keaton's daughter, Sam, just out of rehab. At the press conference, Stone said she'd "learned more on this movie than I've ever learned," and wanted to do it all over again.

Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, who shot Gravity, does the same thing to New York City as he did to outer space -- makes us feel like are really there. Time Square, Broadway, the St. James Theater... I could smell the city. Amy Ryan, who plays Keaton's ex-wife, said that "New York is another character in this film."

When I think of other satirical films like, say, NETWORK, that aroused such a depth of emotion in audiences throughout the world, I don't think BIRDMAN matches that level of engagement. But if we compare it to yet another superhero action film, then it does reach the level of "inspired."

(As I write this in the press room, it is difficult to tell who is making more commotion -- the crowd roaring as the celebrities arrive on the red carpet, or the anti-cruise ship demonstrators protesting in the street below.)

THE PRESIDENT directed by Moshen Makhmalbaf
THE PRESIDENT, the opening film of the Orizzoni (Horizons) section of the Venice Film Festival by the Iranian director, Moshen Makhmalbaf was shot in Georgia, and is in the Georgian language with Italian and English subtitles. It opens with the dictator of an unnamed country holding his young grandson on his lap and illustrating how much fun it is to play with power when the boy complains he doesn't want his grandfather's job, he wants an ice cream. Grandpa picks up the phone and orders that all the lights in the major city below be turned off. Instantly, the city goes black. He hands the receiver to his grandson, who orders that all the lights be turned back on. Flash! The city lights up. The grandson then orders all the lights off once again. Again, the city goes black. But when the boy orders the lights back on again, nothing happens. The city remains black. And so starts the beginning of the revolution...

Dachi Orvelashvili and Misha Gomiashvili
His Majesty (as The President is called by everyone) and his grandson, are forced to flee their palace and disguise themselves as ordinary citizens, experiencing firsthand the pain and destruction the dictator's leadership cost his own people. 


Mohsen Makhmalbaf offers a didactic morality tale about a fallen autocrat and his innocent grandson fleeing murderous revolutionaries bent on vengeance.

During the press conference Makhmalbaf, who lives in exile in London, said he wanted to illustrate that not only the dictator, but the revolutionaries turn to violence. When you remove a dictator, the violence and thirst for revenge remains among the population, creating a vicious cycle. Variety said it expected more from Makhmalbaf; again, I disagree. Even though the message seems "obvious," given the state of current events, not many nations seem to grasp that simple thing.

Ciao from the Venice Film Festival,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog  

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Persol Honors Frances McDormand at the 2014 Venice International Film Festival

Frances McDormand
(Venice, Italy) Frances McDormand has had a diverse and distinguished career so far, and it's about to reach new heights. Instead of complaining that Hollywood doesn't provide great roles for women -- especially older women -- she did something about it. McDormand optioned the Pulitzer Prize winning novel Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, and is playing the title character in an HBO mini-series by the same name, which she also executive-produced, along with Tom Hanks, Gary Goeztman and Jane Anderson, who wrote the screenplay. Directed by Lisa Cholodenko,  Olive Kitteridge will air in on HBO starting this November. The official site is here.

I've always loved Frances McDormand's work, and admire her as an actress. When she was here during the Venice Film Festival in 2008 to promote Burn After Reading, she was witty, intelligent and funny. This year she will be honored with the Persol Tribute to Visionary Talent Award 2014 on September 1st, and then Olive Kitteridge will have its world premiere here in Venice.

Frances McDormand
Alberto Barbera, the Director of the Venice Film Festival said, “The originality and immensity of Frances McDormand’s talent is well reflected in Olive Kitteridge, a project which she herself initiated, optioning the novel by Elizabeth Strout, and of which she is also executive producer -- another great manifestation of her vision, which we honor today with this award. Thanks to her long-standing experience in theatre, film and TV, dedicated to the search for truth, the career of Frances McDormand is not only that of an extraordinary actress, but also reflects her consistent vision of art and of the world that is positive and aware, often in contrast with today’s prevailing value system”.

It always surprises my Hollywood friends to learn that the Venice Film Festival is the oldest international film festival in the world. Founded in 1932 by Count Giuseppe Volpi, the first festival brought celebrities flocking to Venice from all around the world. Greta Garbo, Clark Gable, Fredric March, Wallace Beery, Norma Shearer, James Cagney, Ronald Colman, Loretta Young, John Barrymore, Joan Crawford, Vittorio De Sica and Boris Karloff were all on hand to add dazzle to the event.

The first film to be screened in 1932 was Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Rouben Mamoulian. Back then, the Venice Film Festival was not yet a competition, but it presented such films as It happened one night by Frank Capra, Grand Hotel by Edmund Goulding, The Champ by King Vidor, Frankenstein by James Whale, Zemlja (Earth) by Aleksandr Dovzenko, Gli uomini che mascalzoni… (What Scoundrels Men Are!) by Mario Camerini and  A nous la liberté by René Clair. The audience selected what they liked best: Helen Hayes won favorite actress; Fredric March, favorite actor; best director was the Soviet Nikolaj Ekk for Putjovka v zizn, while the best film was René Clair's A nous la liberté.

By creating a new cinema division within La Biennale, Venice's international art festival, the Venice Film Festival helped to raise cinema to an art form. The official name of the festival is the Mostra Internazionale d'Arte Cinematografica della Biennale di Venezia or the "International Exhibition of Cinematographic Art of the Venice Biennale."

Nowadays the public can attend screenings for the 71st Venice International Film Festival by buying tickets with a click of the mouse. Visit La Biennale's website for the films that are screening, how to by tickets, and everything else you need to know by clicking here.

The 2014 71st Venice International Film Festival runs from August 27, 2014 to September 6, 2014. See you at the movies!

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

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Flashback Summer! Robin Williams has Flown and Mary Ascends to Heaven

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupérye
(Venice, Italy) Robin Williams left this planet under the energy of the Supermoon, leaving the rest of us stunned, yet full of deep, warm memories of a genuine human being, a man bursting with joyful cosmic energy during his time here on Earth. He was alive, worked hard, and kept the rest of us awake and on our toes. If anyone was The Little Prince personified, it was Robin Williams, and it was lovely that his daughter, Zelda, shared a quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s classic book:

  “You – you alone will have the stars as no one else has them…In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if al the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night…You – only you – will have stars that laugh.”

Rest in peace, Robin Williams
Tomorrow is August 15, Ferragosto, a holiday created by Emperor Augustus in 18BC, which means "August's rest." Long before the Romans decided it was better to join 'em rather than beat 'em and convert en masse to Christianity, the day was celebrated to give workers a much needed rest after their long labor, and to celebrate the Diana, the goddess of the moon, women, birthing and the hunt.

Assumption of the Virgin by Paolo Veronese (1586)
Centuries later, the Catholic Church declared it was also the day that Mary zoomed straight up to heaven, and that is where we will take up the story for Flashback Summer! with a post I wrote just about six years ago on August 16, 2008 (and many times after that):

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Mary Ascends to Heaven and Pala D'Oro, The Golden Cloth - Venice

(VENICE, ITALY) Yesterday, I found myself in a miraculous position -- alone, on my knees, on the high altar of the Basilica in front of the tomb of Saint Mark, the brilliant gold of the Pala D'Oro shimmering in the background.

August 15th is Ferragosto here in Italy, and also Assumption Day, the day that Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, was assumed into Heaven. It is an ancient pagan festival combined with a Catholic holiday.

From Wikipedia:

"Ferragosto is an Italian holiday celebrated on August 15. Originally, it was related to a celebration of the middle of the summer and the end of the hard labour in the fields. In time, the Roman Catholicism adopted this date as a Holy Day of Obligation to commemorate the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary—the real physical elevation of her sinless soul and incorrupt body into Heaven.

Before the Roman Catholic Church came into existence, however, this holiday was celebrated in the Roman Empire to honor the gods—in particular Diana—and the cycle of fertility and ripening. In fact, the present Italian name of the holiday derives from its original Latin name, Feriae Augusti (Fairs of the Emperor Augustus)."

Many Catholic holidays and images can trace their roots to already established Roman celebrations. This year, the full moon also coincides with the holiday. Combine that with a partial lunar eclipse later on today, and we have some heavy duty cosmic energy.

As I've said before, some of the inspiration for my novel, Harley's Ninth, came from my fascination with feminine solar energy, which, to me, is dynamic, creative and sensual. I have never been comfortable with the image of the Virgin Mary presented to me in my youth, and spent a long time researching the changing image of the female throughout the millennium. In fact, my young protagonist, Harley Columba, creates a new Madonna out of oil and canvas, and names her the Madonna of the Sun.

Yesterday morning, I heard the church bells ringing, loud and long, commanding everyone to come to church -- or at least remember that there was something else to do that day except have a barbecue on the beach. Without planning it in advance, I threw on a dress and headed to the Basilica. That, too, is a little miracle -- that I can dash off to the Basilica of San Marco if the mood strikes me.

I caught the tail end of one service, and decided to stay for the next. I asked one of the ushers for some candles so I could light them at my favorite Byzantine icon, the Madonna Nicopeia, who also stars in Harley's Ninth. The Madonna Nicopeia used to march at the head of the army of the Holy Roman Empire, so I think she is not a shy girl.

I gazed at all the images inside the magnificient Basilica and thought about the state of the feminine in this day and age. To me, it feels like we are about to start spinning in another direction -- that the heavy hands that have been driving the world are about to lose their grip on the wheel.

Here is a blurb from Stephan A. Hoeller's The Gnostic Jung and the Seven Sermons to the Dead about how Carl Jung (one of my heroes) felt about Pope Pius XII's decision in 1950 to declare Assumption Day a dogma of the Church:

"Toward the end of his life Jung perceived a sign of the times of great significance in the declaration of the assumption of the Virgin Mary made by Pope Pius XXII. At the same time when Protestant theologians, and even some Catholic ecumenicists, threw up their hands in horror because of this new evidence of old papal mariolatry, Jung hailed the Pope's apostolic constitution, Munificentissimus Deus, as an evidence of the long-delayed recognition on the part of Christendom of the celestiality, if not outight divinity, of the feminine. In Answer to Job he went on record, writing that this recognition was welling or pushing upwards from the depths of humanity's unconscious and that it could have a deeply beneficial effect on human affairs in terms of world peace. The elevation of the Virgin, he said, was an evidence of a very real 'yearning for peace which stirs deep down in the soul,' and it would act as a needed compensation to the 'threatening tension between the opposites.'

I'm with Jung on that one. I think it would be nice to make August 15th an international holiday.

In any event, it is a rare occasion when the Pala D'Oro faces out toward the congregation, and something awesome to see -- if you are ever in Venice on one of the high holy days, I strongly recommend you make an effort to see it.

From Wikipedia:

"Pala d’Oro (literally, "Golden Pall") is a high altar retable of the Basilica di San Marco in Venice. It is universally recognized as one of the most refined and accomplished works of Byzantine craftsmanship."

It was quite an honor to kneel at the tomb of San Marco, directly in front of one of the Pala D'Oro, one of the world's most sacred icons, which is about 900 years old. The sheer power of a wall of gold beaming at me... I felt all that power, all that sacred energy wash over me.. it was like taking a cosmic shower... I am optimistic for the future.

Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Flashback Summer! Mystical Madonna in Corte de Cà Sarasina - Venice

Corte de Cà Sarasina, Venice
(Venice, Italy) Six years ago today I wrote a post about Corte de Cà Sarasina, the very first neighborhood I lived in when I first moved to Venice back in 1998, which happened to have a miracle Madonna right outside my door. In fact, within that post, I included the very first article I had ever written for the International Herald Tribune's Italian supplement, Italy Daily, which was published on January 12, 2001 when Italy still had lire and 9/11 was a nightmare waiting in the future. So this is a flashback within a flashback -- we are zooming back 13 1/2 years. But Corte de Cà Sarasina lies in a Venetian time warp; not much changes there (except a lot more people seem to know about it). I don't think you will find Rosie waiting to make you a gondola out of lace anymore, but there is still laundry flapping from the windows, and the mystical Madonna still works her magic...

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Miracle Madonna in Corte de Cà Sarasina - Venice

(VENICE, ITALY) I haven't always lived on the Grand Canal. When I first moved to Venice back in 1998, I lived way down in Castello in a tiny ground floor apartment in Corte Sarasina, off Via Garibaldi. It was sort of like living in the Bronx, I imagine. I had just moved here from Hollywood, and thought doing my own laundry would be romantic. (It has since lost its charm.) Corte Sarasina is important because it has a Madonna that works miracles, and I can personally vouch for her authenticity:)

Ten years ago, the people of Corte Sarasina did not have many Americans living among them, so I was kind of a novelty. They were friendly, warm, good-hearted people.They spoke Venetian dialect, not Italian. I didn't speak a word of Italian, let alone Venetian, but somehow we managed to communicate with our hearts.

Every afternoon the old women would put their chairs out in the corte, do their lace work, and chat -- their lace-making style was different than Burano because they were from Pellestrina. They took good care of me. Once I decided to wash my sheets. I asked my neighbor if I could use her laundry line. Since it was a ground floor apartment, you had to hang the laundry with clothes pins, then sort of hoist it like a sail. Well, I couldn't hoist it up, and blocked the entire corte. The old women came and took my laundry away from me, and told me to go away -- I had an appointment close to Piazza San Marco. You have to understand that even though it's only about 15 minutes by foot from Via Garibaldi to Piazza San Marco, some people in Castello haven't been to San Marco for thirty years. So, to them, I was going on this great adventure. While I was up there, I bought them a box of chocolate to thank them.

When I got back to Corte Sarasina, all my laundry was flying from their windows! It was a sight to behold. They had divided it up and shared their laundry lines. (That image you see is not Corte Sarasina, but it looked sort of like that.) After it was dried and neatly folded, they sent over a representative, Rosie, to deliver it. I offered the chocolates, but Rosie refused. Then five minutes later she was sent back to get the chocolates. You can just imagine that conversation: "What? You didn't take the chocolates? Get your butt back over there and get them."

Next, I saw Rosie sitting out with the others, making something new out of lace. I asked her what it was, and she went on and on in Venetian dialect. Of course, I had no idea what she said. I thought, "She's either making a gift for her granddaughter's First Holy Communion, or a fish." It turned out that she was making a gondolier rowing a gondola for ME!!! I am looking at it right now, and if I had a camera (which I promise I will buy), I'd take a photo of it and show you. It's one most precious gifts I've ever received.

The very first article I wrote for the International Herald Tribune's Italy Daily was about this Miracle Madonna of Corte Sarasina -- in fact, it's how I got the job. I did a quick search to see if there are any images of the Miracle Madonna available, and it turns out that there are! All the images you see here (except the clothesline) are from a blog by a woman named Anne called, "Churches in Venice," and can be found at:

Apparently Anne wants to know what's up with this shrine, too. Since I own all my copyrights, I'll post what I wrote (with a little editing) back on Friday, January 12, 2001. (But I did NOT write that headline:) So, let's take a little trip into the past...

Cocktails and Prayers Answered in VeniceThe Castello Neighborhood Holds a Mystical Madonna, a Mystifying Accent and a Proud, Venetian ApertifTucked away in a quiet section of Venice, there is a Byzantine Madonna who answers prayers, or so the story goes. She's been gazing down on Corte de Cà Sarasina for centuries, dating back to the beginning of the 1600s.

Corte Sarasina is off Via Garibaldi in the Castello district of Venice. It's one of the few remaining neighborhoods where Venetians outnumber the tourists. Every morning, locals scramble to buy fresh fruit and vegetables from a boat docked in the canal at Fondamenta Sant'Anna, and haggle over fish at the little market at the entrance to the Public Gardens.

Back in 1807, Via Garibaldi was transformed into a rio terra, a canal that was filled in and turned into a street, by Napoleon's invading forces. On the right-hand corner, at No. 1643, there is an inscription commemorating the home of the famous navigator, Giovanni Caboto, otherwise known as John Cabot. This where Via Garibaldi -- and a whole other Venice -- begins.

Castello is a working-class community, originally inhabited by fisherman, shipbuilders and lace-makers. Laundry flaps across the calli and the canals. Men gather around newsstands; mothers promenade with their babies, stopping to chat and coo.

A fun place to eat on this colorful boulevard is Trattoria Giorgione, on the right side of the street. Lucio Bisutto serenades his customers with Venetian folk songs while his wife, Ivana, cooks some of the best fish, risotto and vongole in town. A little further down on the left is Bar Mio where patrons sit outside and have a spritz, a drink rarely ordered outside Venice. It's usually sipped during lunch or after work at around 7 P.M., but is available anytime, especially for those on vacation.

There are at least three kinds: "spritz con Select," "spritz con Aperol" or "spritz con bitter." The spritz con bitter consists of white wine, Campari and a "spritz" of soda water. Those who prefer a sweeter drink ask for Aperol. A spritz con Select (the accent lies on the first syllable) is sweeter still. Any self-respecting spritz arrives accompanied by a cube or two of ice, an olive, and a lemon or orange peel, together with a little bowl of chips or nuts.

Stumbling on the scene, Corte Sarasina would seem inhabited mostly by elderly women who spend warmer afternoons sitting outside on folding chairs, chatting and stitching lace. They speak Venetian with a thick Castello accent, the same undulating rhythm as the water lapping in the lagoon. "Rosie" is the ringleader, and she is in charge of the wish-granting Madonna, tending to the fresh and artificial flowers around it and straightening the altar.

A wood painting protected by a sheet of glass, the Madonna of Corte Sarasina greets the faithful from inside a grande sacello, a small brick and plaster structure with a typical Venetian red tile roof. On her head is a crown imbedded with imitation gemstones. A strand of white beads dangles around her face. She is surrounded by statues of Jesus and various saints, the plaster type found in a mortuary store.

Every morning, Rosie shuffles out of her apartment a few doors away and unlocks the shrine. The Madonna is open all day from 8 A.M. to 7P.M., seven days a week, although at lunch time the Madonna takes a nap like most of the folks in Garibaldi. If you arrive during lunch time, visitors need only unhook the little chain that latches the double green doors, swing them open, say a prayer, deposit their lire and close her back up. There is a small wooden box on the inside of the left-hand door to make contributions. A suggested donation is 1,000 lire (one euro by 2008 standards:), which goes to purchasing fresh flowers and maintaining the sanctuary.

No one knows who created this peculiar Madonna, but many believe it was the work of a madonnaro, or street artist from the early 1600s, and was a traditional way for the living to remember the dead. To this day, she is very much a part of the local community.

About a year ago, the locals took it upon themselves to restore the shrine. Lino Scarpa, a friendly, wise fellow, said the elderly women of Corte Sarasina begged him to do the restoration. "I repainted the doors, the statues, added some color to the lips, that sort of thing," he said.

Amazingly, many of the locals say they haven't made the trip from the Castello district to Piazza San Marco in years, even though it's only a 15 minute walk away. "Everything a person needs is down here on Garibaldi," Mr. Scarpa said. "Fish, vegetables, good places to eat, good bars, good people. The gardens are here, the lagoon is here. The sea is a quick boat trip away."


So, there you have it. It's the work of a street artist, maintained by the locals. Sometimes I've wondered whether one of the major restoration groups around town should restore her, but she might loose some of her magic.
Many times aspiring writers ask me for advice. I'll tell you my secret -- all you have to do become a published author is give the Miracle Madonna of Corte Sarasina one euro, and you're on your way.

Ciao from Venice,