Thursday, July 30, 2015

Will the Seminole Tribe of Florida & Hard Rock Buy the Venice Casinò?

Chief James Billie (center) with Hard Rock Cafe staff in Venice
(Venice, Italy) Chief James E. Billie, Chairman of the Seminole Tribal Council, is a colorful character -- gutsy, outspoken, warm and sincere, a Native American whose culture rings from his heart. Leader of the only unconquered Native American Tribe in the United States, the Seminole Tribe of Florida, who own Hard Rock International, Chief Billie served 22 years as Chairman/President of the tribe, from 1979 to 2001, "the longest tenure of any elected leader in the Western Hemisphere, other than Fidel Castro." The Seminoles are the only tribe that never signed a formal peace treaty with the United States.

Chief Billie's mother belonged to the Bird clan; his father was was a white sailor who went to Europe during WWII without knowing of the pregnancy. As an infant, Seminole medicine men wanted to kill Jim Billie the traditional way -- by stuffing mud in his mouth and leaving him to die in the Florida Everglades -- because he was a half-breed. His mother, Agnes Billie, who died when he was nine, and Betty Mae Tiger Jumper, another half-breed -- who went on to become the first and only tribal chairwoman -- put a stop to it. To earn money, Jim Billie went on to wrestle alligators for tourists, as well as build chickee huts.

Chickee hut at Big Cypress Indian Reservation
Chief Billie is one of the people responsible for giving birth to the Indian gaming industry in the United States by pushing through a contract to operate high-stakes bingo on the Seminoles' Hollywood reservation in 1979, and then leading the tribe when it won a US Supreme Court 1996 decision upholding the sovereign rights of tribes to conduct gaming on their reservations. Like many Indian tribes, the Seminoles were heavily dependent on federal welfare, which Billie believed were used to keep Indians "down, uneducated, inexperienced in the business world."

When the money started gushing in, Chief Billie became a thorn in the side of the Florida government and big business, insisting on behaving like a Native American by refusing to put toxic dumps and landfills on Seminole land, and being uncooperative about pipelines, flight paths, roads and telephone towers. No American Indian has been more investigated by the US government than Chief Billie-- including the FBI and the IRS -- yet no agency has brought a single criminal charge against him.

When he started to criticize his fellow councilmen's spending habits, and brought in an outside administrator, Chief Billie rankled the Seminole ranks, who began to block him. However, what actually brought him down was a woman scorned, who later said she had been coerced into filing suit against Billie for sexual misconduct by other Seminole leaders. Chief Billie was impeached by the Seminole Council in 2001, and started, once again, to build thatched chickee huts in South Florida, waiting for his opportunity to make a comeback.

Hamish Dodds, Chief Billie & Pablo Castrogiovanni - Hard Rock Cafe, Venice
In 2011, at age 67, James E. Billie defeated Mitchell Cypress, the previous two-term chairman, by a landslide, to return, once again, as Chairman of the Seminole Tribe... which is why he was here in Venice at the Hard Rock Cafe on Monday, July 27 -- which also happened to be my birthday.

Cat Bauer with Seminole Chief Billie at Hard Rock Cafe, Venice
With James E. Billie was Hamish Dodds, Hard Rock International President and CEO, as well as Chief Billie's wife, Maria, 13-year-old son, Eecho, 12-year-old daughter, Aubee, and other members of the tribe including Josh John, Nancy Willie, Danny Tommie and Trishana Storm, a descendant of George Storm, the man who had taught Jim Billie how to wrestle alligators. It was a tight group.

As President and CEO of Hard Rock International, Hamish Dodds, a Scotsman, oversees all aspects of the global enterprise, and is responsible for strategic development. Previously, he worked as CEO for Cabcorp, and then in the upper ranks of PepsiCo. He said that Italy was a very, very important market for Hard Rock, and spoke of the passion the Seminole owners have for their own brand. Dodds said that it was not easy to do business in Italy, but that he thought that Prime Minister Matteo Renzi was trying to make it easier.

Ca' Vendramin Calergi - Home of Venice Casinò
Dodd said he had been looking into investing in the casino here in Venice for about five years, but back then the environment was not conducive. Hard Rock is interested in buying the casino out by the airport and turning it into a Hard Rock Casino. When it comes to Ca' Vendramin Calergi, the casinò here in Venice on the Grand Canal -- the world's oldest casino -- Dodds said it was a beautiful, historic building that needed to be preserved, and they would be interested in an operating partnership with Venice, but do not want to put the Hard Rock name on it.

At that point I was bursting with excitement -- I had come to the conference hoping for the opportunity to discuss just that topic, and here the CEO of Hard Rock was presenting it himself! To me, if the Hard Rock transformed the casino by the airport into a Hard Rock Casino, yet was behind the scenes at Ca' Vendramin Calergi, it would bring much needed wealth and positive energy to Venice. Venetians and Seminole Indians under the leadership of Chief James E. Billie are a good fit. I THINK THIS IS A FANTASTIC IDEA.

Seminole Indians at Hard Rock Cafe, Venice
Chief Billie then told the story of how he had always loved rock and roll, especially Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix, and plays himself (he was even nominated for a Grammy for his song, "Big Alligator"). He got back from serving in Vietnam, and kept seeing Hard Rock Cafe tee-shirts everywhere. So he bought a tee-shirt. Then, his tribe opened the first high-stakes bingo on the land of a sovereign Indian nation, and they got some money. One day he found himself sitting next to a guy named Pete on a first-class plane trip, who ended up being Peter Morton, who, together with Issac Tigrett, had founded the Hard Rock Cafe. They spoke about doing business together -- Chief Billie said he thought something along the lines of Hard Rock garb and a franchise, nothing like buying the company, which happened when he was not on the council.

Several times Chief Billie said how grateful and thankful he was. He taught us the Seminole word "Sho Na Bish," which means "thank you," and wants to put that on all the Hard Rocks, too, in addition to the LOVE ALL - SERVE ALL put there by Issac Tigrett.

When the conference was over, Hamish Dodds said that anyone -- the press, the employees, the kitchen staff, anyone -- could ask them anything. He was immediately interrupted and told that a list of questions had already been prepared. He responded that it would lose the spontaneity, but acquiesced. They were then asked several innocuous questions by the translator; for example, to Chief Billie: 'Why do you think the word "Hard Rock" is so successful, and what do you like about it?" To which he replied, "You can probably answer that yourself," and then went on to say it was a romantic word, a sexy word.

Cat Bauer photo
Maria, Chief Billie's wife, and Cat Bauer
Chief Billie also spoke about how much he loved his wife, Maria, and how grateful he was that she was here with him. He said that the Seminoles were good hunters, and that now they hunt for businesses instead of animals. He said that running into Hard Rock was a good hunt.

Chief Billie ended the conference by saying that back when the Seminole used to fight the military that they called themselves the unconquered, and that he had discovered that Venetians call themselves unconquered, too. Then he exclaimed: "Sho Na Bish!"

From the press notes:

With a total of 202 venues in 64 countries, including 154 cafes, 21 hotels and 10 casinos, Hard Rock International is one of the most globally recognized companies. Beginning with an Eric Clapton guitar Hard Rock owns the world's greatest collection of music memorabilia, which is displayed at its locations around the globe.

Visit for more information.

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

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Spirit of the Music of Venice - Lo Spirito della Musica di Venezia

Juditha Triumphas directed by Elena Barbalich at La Fenice
(Venice, Italy) The third edition of The Spirit of the Music of Venice concluded last night after zapping the beginning of summer with some profound and impressive events. Organized by the Teatro La Fenice, in collaboration with the University of Ca' Foscari and the Conservatorio Benedetto Marcello, this year focused on Venice as the center of cultural, musical, economic and philosophical exchanges between the different civilizations and cultures of the Mediterranean and the Middle East.

Here are a few selected events:

Judith Triumphs directed by Elena Barbalich at La Fenice
Judith Triumphs by Venetian hometown composer Antonio Vivaldi was performed for the first time in Venice in 1716 in the Church of the Pieta by the all-female singers of the Church of the Pieta.

The new production at La Fenice under the leadership of Venetian hometown director Elena Barbalich was breathtaking. The lighting by Venetian hometown lighting director Fabio Barettin allowed the audience to use their imaginations to magically transport themselves to another place and time. The sets by Massimo Checchetto and costumes by Tommaso Lagattolla were exquisite in their simplicity. The La Fenice Orchestra directed by Claudio Marino Moretti was in fine form.

And the singers -- again, all female -- were dynamic and authentic in their roles. Judith Triumphans tapped into the energy from the heavens -- pure, elegant and true; I thought it was simply divine.

Mare Nostrum at Teatrino di Palazzo Grassi
The Mare Nostrum trio presented a program entitled From Venice to Constantinople at the Teatrino of Palazzo Grassi. The three musicians - singer Stefano Albarello on zither and lute; Giovanni De Zorzi on flute and Fabio Tricomi on drums -- delighted the audience with classical Ottoman music composed between the 17th and 18th centuries.

Ute Lemper at La Fenice
Ute Lemper, the international German singer and actress wowed the crowd on the day of Redentore at La Fenice, belting out a trail of melancholy tunes that led from the Weimar Republic to Editih Piaf to Bertolt Brecht and beyond. In collaboration with the Venezia Jazz Festival, the program took the audience on a journey through dark and light periods in human history.

My favorite was the music Lemper had composed herself using the words from the poem "Bluebird," by the troubled German-born American poet, Charles Bukowski, an artist with "a bluebird in my heart that wants to get out... but I'm too tough for him, I say, stay in there, I'm not going to let anybody see you..." And Ute Lemper can play a mean brass using only her lips!

Dimitri Naiditch Trio
The Music of the Soul of Venice ran from June 15 to July 26, and was packed with more than 40 inspiring events, ranging in a price from €220 to free, allowing Venetian residents and tourists alike to experience some exotic entertainment in unique venues.

In collaboration with LVMH, last night at La Fenice Lo Spirito della Musica di Venezia concluded with the enthusiastic and upbeat Mozart in Jazz by the Dimitri Naiditch Trio, led by the France-based Ukrainian pianist Dimitri Naidith, accompanied by Gilles Naturel on double bass and Athur Alard on drums. The trio transformed the classical musical of Mozart and Bach into contemporary jazz. Naiditch declared that he loved Mozart and felt that he knew him, that he had a beautiful, childlike soul, and that if he were alive today he would be a jazz musician. The encore was Bach, which received a standing ovation, a perfect conclusion to the cornucopia of music living in Venice's soul.

Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Fireworks in Venice - Redentore 2015 + Harlequin Serves Two Masters at the Goldoni Theater

Redentore 2015 - Venice, Italy
(Venice, Italy) Venice is exploding with Venetian energy these days, with Arlecchino - The Servant of Two Masters opening at the Goldoni Theater this past Thursday, and fireworks bursting over the lagoon last night for the Feast of Redentore.

Marco Zoppello as Arlecchino
Giorgio Sangati, the dynamic young director of Arlecchino, cleverly adapted Carlo Goldoni's classic 1746 comedy so that it is more accessible to contemporary audiences, yet maintains its original zest. The wild antics of Harlequin as he tries to serve two masters without each of them finding out delighted the opening-night audience, which was filled with a hodgepodge of humanity --Venetians, tourists, grown-ups and kids.

Rehearsal room press conference
At the press conference -- held in the rehearsal room, which I just loved; it gave the whole event an extra flavor -- we got a peek into the tremendous amount of effort that had gone into creating the production. The script, the actors, the costumes, by the renowned costume designer Stefano Nicolao, the specially-designed masks by Donato Sartori of Centro Maschere e Strutture Gestuali, the music, which included old Venetian folk songs arranged by Veronica Canale, the sets by Alberto Nonnato and the lighting by Paolo Pollo Rodighiero -- all the elements of the production had been deeply researched and thought out as a team.

Marco Zoppello
Giorgio Sangati said he wanted the audience to enter the Goldoni Theater and see a Goldoni play performed in the actual theater where the great dramatist worked. He wants tourists to have a real Venetian experience, and to know Venice, not just Palazzo Ducale. The play is in Venetian, with English and French subtitles, so the wacky plot is understandable to a wide audience.

I thoroughly enjoyed the show. The actors were superb, the pace was quick -- there is no intermission -- and the action was easy to follow. It's a fun evening out for the whole family -- the kids were laughing harder than anyone. Arlecchino Il Servitore di due Padroni runs all through the summer of 2015 up until October, but not every night. Click HERE to go to the Goldoni Theater for more information.

If you are a regular reader of Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog, you know I have written about the Feast of the Redentore nearly every year. Here is a link from 2013:

Fireworks in Venice - Redentore 2013


Floating bridge to the Church of Redentore
For centuries, Venice has constructed a floating bridge from the historic center to the island of Giudecca, where the Church of Redentore was built to implore the Redeemer to give relief from the deadly plague. Every year since 1577, Venice has held a celebration to commemorate the day.

On Giudecca

2011 - Feast of the Redeemer

Venetians eat typical food and wine with friends and family, topped off by the best fireworks on the planet. This year the fireworks climaxed with a blazing explosion of gold that seemed to fill the entire sky with a million tiny comets. It was simply awesome.

Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Monday, July 6, 2015

Peek into the Private Lives of Venice Aristocrats - Pisani Moretta Family at Ca' Rezzonico

Curator Alberto Craievich with Amorino alato by Antonio Canova
(Venice, Italy) For centuries, the Pisani dynasty was synonymous with wealth and power in Venice.

The family divided into two branches in the 14th century. The Pisani dal Banco, who were located in Santo Stefano district, were responsible for building Villa Pisani in Stra, "The Queen of the Venetian Villas."

Over on the other side of the Grand Canal were the Pisani Moretta, who acquired the majestic Pisani Moretta palazzo in San Polo in 1629, one of the most impressive palaces in Venice that is still privately-owned.

The exhibition The Pisani Moretta Family - History and Collecting at Ca' Rezzonico, home of the Museum of 18th Century Venice, allows the public a gander at some of the goodies that have passed through the famous family over the centuries.

Like any good tale about Venetian aristocrats, the story involves a scandal over an inheritance. Pay attention, because the names can get confusing -- the aristocracy likes to name their kids after the ancestors.

"Palazzo Pisani Moretta (Venice)" Photo: Didier Descouens
In 1721, at the age of 17, Chiara Pisani, the only child of Francesco Pisani, married Gerolamo Pisani of the "dal Banco" branch. Her father died in 1737, and the then 33-year-old Chiara inherited a substantial fortune. Her husband died the next year; making Chiara an enormously wealthy widow with six kids.

Flush with funds (and no father or husband to accommodate), Chiara decided to restore her palace. She added a third floor complete with terrace overlooking the Grand Canal, and hired some of the most renowned artists and artisans to decorate it, including Giovanni Battista Tiepolo.

Toilet set by Augsburg silversmiths
Meanwhile, the kids grew up. Pietro Pisani, Chiara's oldest son, married Venetian noblewoman, Caterina Grimani, an excellent catch -- her father was a Procurator of San Marco, the second most prestigious life appointment in the Republic -- after the Doge, who happened to be her uncle.

However, Vettore, Chiara's younger son, fell in love with a woman who was not a member of the Venetian aristocracy. He secretly married her, which meant that any children he had would not be eligible to be in the ruling class. Chiara stepped in, and convinced Vettore to have the marriage annulled.

But it was too late -- the undesirable bride was already pregnant with Vettore's son (who would eventually be recognized and given the name Pietro Vettore). The boy-who-would-be-known as Pietro Vettore was shipped off to an exclusive boarding school in Rome.

Are you confused? 

Pietro - older son of Chiara
Vettore - younger son of Chiara
Pietro Vettore -- illegitimate son of Vettore

The Pisani-Moretta Exhibition
Chiara Pisani died suddenly in 1767, leaving her entire estate to Pietro, the eldest son, who had by then been given his father-in-law's job as a Procurator of San Marco. Unfortunately, Pietro and Caterina were childless.

However, younger brother Vettore came through and married a second, more suitable wife named Cornelia Grimani (yes, both brothers' wives had the same last name), and hopes for preserving the Pisani line were raised. Cornelia conceived, and, in 1774, had a baby... girl. Who was named... Chiara. After her deceased grandmother.

To recap:

Chiara Pisani - widow of Geralomo Pisani
Pietro - older son of Chiara, husband of Caterina Grimani - NO KIDS
Vettore - younger son of Chiara, husband of Cornelia Grimani - TWO KIDS - one illegitimate son named Pietro Vettore; one daughter named Chiara (II)

Then Vettore died suddenly! Leaving no male heir! Except, of course, for Pietro Vettore, his first-born child from the unsuitable bride, who was down in the boarding school in Rome. Uncle Pietro, the first Chiara's first-born son, became the guardian of both his deceased brother's children -- Pietro Vettore, and his half-sister, Chiara II.

Baby carriage
Uncle Pietro was now the lord of the Pisani-Moretta Palazzo, and he is the one who hired Antonio Canova, the famous Venetian sculptor, to execute some statues, one of which was his masterpiece "Daedalus and Icarus," which was in the entrance hall of the palace, and is now in the Correr Museum.

Daedalus and Icarus by Canova - Correr Museum
Meanwhile, Pietro Vettore, Vettore's son, had come of age and came barreling up to Venice from Rome, making it very clear that Uncle Pietro was going to have a battle on his hands. Pietro Vettore wanted his rightful inheritance, and hired some powerful lawyers to present his case. (Since his uncle was a Procurator, which was supposed to be the second most powerful job in Venice, this was no easy feat).

[An aside: the Office of the Procurator of San Marco was never abolished at the fall of the Republic of Venice in 1797. It still exists to this very day. There are seven procurators these days, and they are responsible for administering the assets of the Basilica of San Marco under the authority of the Patriarch of Venice.]

The Farewell between Hector and Andromache by Luca Ferrari (1605-54)
The legal battle began in July, 1783, and it was the Trial of the Century. The boarding school in Rome had transformed Pietro Vettore into a charming, well-bred, likable young man, and the masses were rooting for him. Not only did he win his rightful share of his father's inheritance, he also got a title -- the Count of Bagnolo, located out in the Province of Rovigo.

Running low on the supply of Venice-born aristocrats, the Venetian Republic had passed a law in 1775 allowing the nobility from the Veneto terra firma acceptance into the Venetian patriciate, so just like a real-life fairy tale, the once-unwanted Pietro Vettore was now a wealthy member of the ruling class.

Pietro Vettore made a brilliant marriage to Laura Zusto in 1785. Unfortunately, Napoleon would conquer the Venetian Republic in 1797. When Pietro Vettore died in 1847, he left his son, Vettor Daniele, as his legal heir.

Vettor Daniele had five children, two of whom were male; both died young, wiping out the male Pisani line. Vettor Daniele's daughter Laura married into the noble Giusti del Giardino family, who left the Pisani Moretta palace to their Sammartini relatives in 1962, who own it today.

Pendant - Venice
According to the Venice Civic Museum site, "the Pisani -- and their heirs -- have for more than a century sought to ensure that a number of the extraordinary works of art in their collection remain within the city of Venice." Thanks to the generous support of the heirs, about one hundred works that once belonged to the Pisani Moretta are now on display at Ca' Rezzonico through October 19, 2015, documenting not only the precious works of art that belonged to the family, but allowing a peek into the daily life of one of Venice's most prominent families.

History and Collecting
THE PISANI MORETTA FAMILYHistory and collectingJuly 4 – October 19, 2015Venice, Ca’ Rezzonico, Museum of 18th century Venice
July 4 - October 19, 2015 
Ca' Rezzonico
 Museum of 18th Century Venice

THE PISANI MORETTA FAMILYHistory and collectingJuly 4 – October 19, 2015Venice, Ca’ Rezzonico, Museum of 18th century Venice
THE PISANI MORETTA FAMILYHistory and collectingJuly 4 – October 19, 2015Venice, Ca’ Rezzonico, Museum of 18th century Venice
THE PISANI MORETTA FAMILYHistory and collectingJuly 4 – October 19, 2015Venice, Ca’ Rezzonico, Museum of 18th century Venice
THE PISANI MORETTA FAMILYHistory and collectingJuly 4 – October 19, 2015Venice, Ca’ Rezzonico, Museum of 18th century Venice
THE PISANI MORETTA FAMILYHistory and collectingJuly 4 – October 19, 2015Venice, Ca’ Rezzonico, Museum of 18th century Venice
THE PISANI MORETTA FAMILYHistory and collectingJuly 4 – October 19, 2015Venice, Ca’ Rezzonico, Museum of 18th century Venice
THE PISANI MORETTA FAMILYHistory and collectingJuly 4 – October 19, 2015Venice, Ca’ Rezzonico, Museum of 18th century Venice
THE PISANI MORETTA FAMILYHistory and collectingJuly 4 – October 19, 2015Venice, Ca’ Rezzonico, Museum of 18th century Venice
CLICK for more information.

Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog