Monday, March 30, 2015

Venice International Literary Festival - Incroci di Civiltà 2015

James Ivory
(Venice, Italy) James Ivory was the inaugural guest at Crossroads of Civilization, Venice's International Literary Festival, which kicked off on March 25, 2015 at the Goldoni Theater. Ivory was a unique choice since he is, of course, a film director, responsible for such stellar films as A Room with a View, Howards End, and The Remains of the Day which he created with his long-time partner, the producer Ismail Merchant and the Booker Prize-winning author, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. Just those three Merchant-Ivory films were nominated for 25 Academy Awards, and won six.

Watching a Merchant-Ivory film is like having a weighty work of literature transformed into something more digestible, and Ivory gave the credit for that to Ruth. According to Wikipedia, "Of this collaboration, Merchant once commented: 'It is a strange marriage we have at Merchant Ivory... I am an Indian Muslim, Ruth is a German Jew, and Jim is a Protestant American. Someone once described us as a three-headed god. Maybe they should have called us a three-headed monster!'"

James Ivory has such vibrant energy that I was stunned to discover he will be 87-years-old on June 7th. He is also a screenwriter -- first, he would first write the screenplay and then give it to Ruth, who was a novelist as well as a screenwriter. Ivory said he never read  the classics he should have read when he was a teenager, and that he had to read Howards End by E.M. Forster three times because he "didn't get it." Ruth pressured him to make the film, insisting, "Let's climb that mountain."

The Piazzetta, Venice, photographed by James Ivory in 1952
The evening opened with a half-hour documentary called Venice: Theme and Variations that Ivory wrote, photographed, produced and directed in the winter of 1952-53 for his masters thesis at USC film school with money his father gave him. He had no crew; he was just one person with a camera shooting wherever he could in Venice, and didn't include Titian or Veronese because the paintings were "too big." The film was shot with 16mm silent speed. His professor congratulated him on making "the first silent film since 1929."

Francesca Bortolotto Possati, Michele Bugliesi, James Ivory
Ca' Foscari, the University in Venice, is the organizer of Incroci di Civiltà, along with the Comune. James Ivory was the recipient of this year's Bauer-Ca' Foscari award, presented by Francesca Bortolotto Possati, President and CEO of the Bauers hotel group, and Michele Bugliesi, the Rector of Ca' Foscari.

Ivory said he always had wanted to make a feature in Venice. He had the idea to set the Aspern Papers by Henry James not in the 1880s but the 1950s, and to use the papers of Ezra Pound. He had already completed his first draft and sent it to Ruth when he fell down the stairs and broke both his legs. Then Ruth became ill. Unfortunately, the film never happened, but that is one movie I would have loved to see.

Someone from the audience asked the renowned director James Ivory how the renowned actor Anthony Hopkins was to work with -- Ivory had worked with him on Howards End, The Remains of the Day, Surviving Picasso and The City of Your Final Destination. Ivory said that Hopkins was very easy to work with, very pleasant and professional. Hopkins thought he had never gotten Picasso's accent right in Surviving Picasso (Picasso did not speak English), but Ivory had no problem with it. Then someone asked Ivory who was the most difficult actor he had ever worked with, and he said, "Raquel Welch. She fired me!"

Incroci di Civiltà 2015 presented 29 authors from 21 different countries, making Venice the literary Crossroads of Civilization from March 25 to 28. Inviting international writers to share their singular perspectives of the world adds more zesty ingredients to the rich stew that is Venice.


Armenia, Belgium, Brazil, China, Colombia, Korea, Cuba, Denmark, France, Germany, Jamaica, Great Britain, Iran, Italy, Kenya, Holland, Poland, Portugal, Russia, United States, and Taiwan.


Sergio Álvarez from Columbia
Mathieu Amalric from France
Ana Luísa Amaral from Portugal
Li Ang from Taiwan
Sascha Arango from Germany
Antonia Arslan from Italy/Armenia
Jerry Brotton from Great Britain
Roberto Costantini from Italy
Francesco Cataluccio from Italy
Patrick Deville from France
David Foenkinos from France
Stefan Hertmans from Belgium
James Ivory from the United States
Billy Kahora from Kenya
Hanif Kureishi from Great Britain
Lucio Mariani from Italy
Shara McCallum from Jamaica
Kim Min-jeong from Korea
Mahsa Mohebali from Iran
Mark Mustian from US/Armenia
Vladislav Otrošenko from Russia
Víctor Rodríguez Núñez from Cuba
Tatiana Salem Levy from Brazil
Morten Søndergaard from Denmark
Agata Tuszyńska from Poland
Ludmila Ulitskaya from Russia
Tommy Wieringa from Holland
Wu Ming 1 from Italy
Xu Zechen from China

Click to go to Incroci di Civiltà 2015

Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Monday, March 23, 2015

Indian Music in Venice - VISHWA MOHAN BHATT at the Giorgio Cini Foundation

Vishwa Mohan Bhatt
(Venice, Italy) Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, the virtuouso Indian musician, plays the mohan veena, a modified slide guitar he invented himself that sings the music he hears from the heavens. Vishwa believes that "music is the language of God for the benefit of mankind." On Thursday evening at the Giorgio Cini Foundation, God sang to the enthusiatic audience through Vishwa's mohan veena, accompanied by Krishna Mohan Bhatt on the sitar and Nihar Metha on the tabla, the drums.

The Beatles in India
Classical Indian music first hit the Western world big time in 1965 when the Beatles recorded John Lennon's "Norwegian Wood" for Rubber Soul, and George Harrison played his newly-acquired sitar. In 1966 George Harrison studied sitar with the legendary Ravi Shankar, and then in 1968 all the Beatles and their women went off to India to study Transcendental Meditation with the Maharishi. During their stay, they wrote a bunch of songs which made it onto the White Album and Abbey Road. A spiritual craze for all things Indian set the planet on fire, affecting me deeply on a personal level -- I listened to Indian music to the point of obsession, had a copy of the Bhagavad Gita on my nightstand and wrote my high school term paper on reincarnation. So when I heard that the Intercultural Institute for Comparative Music Studies, the IICMS, which is one of the Giorgio Cini Foundation's institutes, was featuring the mohan veena and sitar, I had to go.

Vishwa Mohan Bhatt
Vishwa Mohan Bhatt is a pandit, which is a wise or learned man. He, too, is a disciple of Ravi Shankar, as is sitarist Krishna Mohan Bhatt (I have not confirmed how they are related; I think they are cousins). Vishwa explained that a raga -- the musical structure -- in classical Indian music is connected to nature and human emotions, and associated with different times of day. The musicians improvise the notes within the raga as they play. Since it was evening when the concert began, Vishwa, Krishna and Nihar Metha played an Evening Raga, which left the audience transfixed.

Someone said the mohan veena was "dobro meets sitar," and that is just what it sounds like. I thought it was amazing that Vishwa created an instrument to express the music he feels inside, a kind of blues guitar with Indian zest. (I just discovered we share the same birthday, July 27; it feels like music made by a Leo.) Here's a YouTube clip so you can hear the mohan veena yourself:

From the Giorgio Cini Foundation:

Founded in 1970 by Alain Daniélou, and subsequently directed by Ivan Vandor and Francesco Giannattasio, the Intercultural Institute of Comparative Music Studies (IISMC) promotes knowledge about some of the finest forms of expression in various musical cultures by organising courses, workshops, concerts, seminars, conferences and publications.

Fondazione Giorgio Cini
One of the magical things about living in Venice is that you can visit another world, another time and space, just by taking the boat across the canal. 

Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Monday, March 16, 2015

There's a New Book in Town - MY PRETTY VENICE

My Pretty Venice
(Venice, Italy) My Pretty Venice was created by three pretty smart ladies: Isabella Campagnol, Elisabeth Rainer and Beatrice Campagnol. Classy and sassy, My Pretty Venice is published in three languages with three different subtitles --  La Venise exclusive des Vénitiennes, La venezia vera delle veneziane and A Girl's Guide to True Venice -- for out-of-towners of any gender who want to know where real Venetian women get their goodies. The book was launched in the top-floor bookstore/exhibition/cultural Espace at Louis Vuitton Maison, which, to me, is like a little oasis off Piazza San Marco. 

Beatrice Campagnol, Isabella Campagnol, Elisabeth Rainer, Luigi Casson, Nicoletta Mantoan at Louis Vuitton
Isabella Campagnol is part of a rare breed: a scholar who can communicate with earthlings. She's Venetian, a historian specializing in textiles and fashion, who lectures throughout the land. I first met Isabella at Palazzo Papadopoli aka Aman Canal Grande where she entertained us with the research she had compiled about the risque habits of Venetian nuns that resulted in a book called, Forbidden Fashions - Invisible Luxuries in Early Venetian Convents.

Forbidden Fashions
Now, together with her sister Beatrice, who did the very-cool illustrations, and communications whiz Elisabeth Rainer (who is actually from Merano, which rivals Venice for my heart's affections), Isabella has turned her talents to guiding travelers where to find the good stuff in Venice -- clothes, food, perfume, art, everything -- in My Pretty Venice. Sprinkled throughout the shops and restaurants are tasty bits of history and information that, amazingly, has not been gathered together before. 

My Pretty Venice
Just when you think it is not possible to write anything new about Venice, someone does. It's nice that this time they're actually Venetian.

Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Monday, March 9, 2015

Rousseau's Reality - An Angel in Venice

Merry Jesters by Henri Rousseau (1906) Philadelphia Museum of Art
(Venice, Italy) Henri Rousseau (1844-1910) never traveled to the lush jungles of Mexico except in his own mind, although he claimed he had fought during the French invasion of Mexico under Napoleon III in 1863. Rousseau was called Le Douanier, which means customs officer, although he was not a customs officer -- for nearly 22 years he was a lowly municipal toll collector on goods that came into Paris. Wilhelm Uhde, the art collector and critic who would become a significant figure in Rousseau's career said, “Rousseau had been next to worthless in the service. ...His job had been to hang around the quai like a watchman, keeping an eye on the barges.”

Girl with a Doll by Henri Rousseau (1904-05) Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris
Henri Rousseau was an ordinary man who had Walter Mitty dreams of becoming an famous artist. He had a wife, Clemence, whom he adored, and six children, only one of whom survived childhood. After nearly 20 years of marriage, Clemence, too, died of tuberculosis. During Rousseau's lifetime, he was mocked by the critics, and shunned by the establishment, but finally embraced by Picasso and the avant-garde the way young people adopt an eccentric old man, like a pet -- his naive ignorance made them laugh. Unlike most critics, real artists look at the world through the eyes of heaven, and the young avant-garde appreciated the primitive spirituality that radiated from Rousseau's work.

The Snake Charmer by Henri Rousseau (1907) Musée d'Orsay, Paris
What Henri Rousseau had was an obsessive belief in his own great talent. He once told the young Picasso: "You and I are the two most important artists of the age - you in the Egyptian style, and I in the modern one." He never achieved the success he craved during his lifetime, but after viewing Henri Rousseau - Archaic Naivety at the Palazzo Ducale in Venice, home to Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese, his astounding declaration of assurance rings true.

Black Spot by Wassily Kandinsky (1912) Hermitage, St. Petersburgh
It was only after he died that Rousseau became the leader of a school of art, his "Archaic Candor," paving the way for magic realism. The mostly self-taught artist became known for his naive, childlike depiction of reality. It was not possible to stick a label on him and file him into a category -- there was no one like him. Wassily Kandinsky, the influential Russian painter and art theorist, whose work is represented in the exhibition Henri Rousseau - Il Candore Arcaico thought that Rousseau's spiritual greatness and strength derived precisely from his formal limitations. Kandinsky bought Rousseau's The Poultry Yard and exhibited it in the first Blaue Reiter show in Munich in 1911, after Rousseau was dead.

The Poultry Yard (1896-98) Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris
I have been pondering for days who Rousseau reminds me of, and it finally hit me: the angel, Clarence, in Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life. Clarence is an Angel, Second Class who has been passed over for his wings for more than 200 years. Clarence's boss, Joseph, says to the head angel, Franklin, that Clarence has "the I.Q. of a rabbit," and Franklin replies, "Yes, but he's got the faith of a child -- simple." To me, the enormous faith that Henri Rousseau had in his own artistic ability made him an Angel, Second Class; his paintbrush earned him wings. Even though he claimed to have fought in the Aztec jungles, in reality he found his inspiration at the botanical gardens in Paris, the stuffed wild animals at the natural museum, pictures in magazines and the zoo.

Myself, Portrait-Landscape (1889-90) Prague National Gallery
Although Rousseau excelled at art and music as a young boy, he started painting later in life, quitting his government job as a toll collector at the age of 49 to devote his life to art. He was born in Laval on May 21, 1844, a medieval town with a castle, lush woods and rivers, the first boy in a middle-class family of two girls and two boys. Rousseau's father ran a hardware store, as did his grandfather; his mother's grandfather was a major in the Marching Regiment with Napoleon in Spain, and was later knighted; his mother's father was a captain in the Third Battalion. His father had lifelong financial problems, and lost their home when Rousseau was eight-years-old.

The Carriage of Father Junier (1908) Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris
At age 18, Rousseau worked for a lawyer in Angers, where he had moved with his parents, a town about 45 miles away from Laval. Together with two younger friends, he was caught stealing 15 or 20 francs and some stamps from his employer. He joined the army, hoping to avoid a jail sentence, but still ended up behind bars for a month. (We can imagine that even back then young men who got into trouble were urged to join the army, especially if their grandparents had been in the military.) Two battalions of his regiment did go to Mexico under Napoleon III to set up Maximilian as the Emperor, but Rousseau never left France. The stories of the returning soldiers set his imagination on fire, but he led an ordinary life, playing the saxophone in an infantry band. When he was 23-years-old, his father died. Rousseau left the army and moved to Paris; his widowed mother was still in Angers. He found a job as a bailiff's assistant.

In 1869, Rousseau married his landlady's 19-year-old daughter, Clemence, whose father, too, had recently died after gambling all his money away; her mother was a seamstress. When Prussia invaded France in 1870, he signed up to be a simple soldier, but was soon exempted. His first child died in infancy during the Siege of Paris in 1871 when people were starving; as life went on, he would lose all his six children but one.

The War - The Ride of Discord  (1894) Musée d'Orsy, Paris
“The War, terrifying, she passes, leaving despair, crying and ruin everywhere.”
The devastation of Paris and the effects of war left a deep impression on Rousseau which would later be expressed in his paintings. In February 1872, at age 27, Rousseau began working for the customs office, collecting tolls on goods that came into Paris, a government job he would keep for almost 22 years. About that time he started painting in his spare time, certain he had the talent to become an academic painter without studying at an academy. He tried to enter a painting in the official Salon in the Palace of the Louvre, but was rejected. In 1884, his friend and neighbor, Auguste Clement, got him a permit to study and copy in museums like the Louvre, and Rousseau taught himself to become an artist.

Carnival Evening by Rousseau (1886) Philadelphia Museum of Art
In July 1884, in response to the rigid control and requirements the government exercised over the official Salon, a group of artists, including Georges Seurt and Paul Signac, whose work is represented in Henri Rousseau - Il Candore Arcaico, created the Salon des Indépendants -- the motto was: "No juries, No prizes." Any artist could enter their paintings -- it cost 10 francs to show four works. After trying in vain to be accepted by the official Salon, in 1886, Rousseau exhibited four paintings at the Salon des Indépendants, including Carnival Evening.

Rousseau then became an annual fixture at the Salon des Indépendants despite receiving cruel reviews from the critics who called it the work of a "10-year-old child" and "the scribblings of a 6-year-old whose mother left him with colors." For the 4th Salon des Indépendants in 1888, he entered five paintings and five drawings. That same year, Vincent van Gogh, who had moved to Paris in 1886, entered three. Four days after the 4th Salon des Indépendants closed, Rousseau's beloved wife, Clemence, died on May 7, 1888 of tuberculosis, leaving him heartbroken. Ten years later, he married his second wife, Josephine Noury, who died within four years.

Tiger in a Tropical Storm (Surprised) by Henri Rousseau (1891) National Gallery London
In 1891, Rousseau exhibited his first jungle painting at the 7th Salon Indépendants Tiger in a Tropical Storm (Surprised) (which is not part of the current exhibition) supposedly inspired by his combat adventures in the Aztec jungle under Napoleon III, but actually drawn from the Parisian botanical gardens and the zoo. Again, the critics laughed -- it had become a popular pastime to laugh at Rousseau -- however one young artist, Felix Vallaton, recently arrived from Switzerland, did not. He wrote:

“Monsieur Rousseau becomes more and more astonishing each year, but he commands attention and, in any event, is earning a nice little reputation and having his share of success: people flock around his submissions and one can hear the sound of laughter.  In addition he is a terrible neighbor, as he crushes everything else.  His tiger surprising its prey ought not to be missed;  it is the alpha and omega of painting  .   .   .   . As a matter of fact, not everyone laughs, and some who begin to do so are quickly brought up short.  There is always something beautiful about seeing a faith, any faith, so pitilessly expressed.  For my part, I have a sincere esteem for such efforts, and I would a hundred times rather them than the deplorable mistakes nearby."

The Salon Wars continued in Paris. In 1903, Felix Vallaton was part of group that created yet another new Salon, the Salon d'Automne in opposition to all other Parisian exhibitions, which caused all sorts of uproar in the art world. Henri Rousseau was sucked into the vortex of the Salon d'Automne, and in 1905, the 61-year-old struggling artist found himself in the same room as the 35-year-old Henri Matisse and 25-year-old André Derain along with his Hungry Lion -- and Fauvism was born.

The Hungry Lion by Rousseau (1905) Beyeler Foundation, Basel
Rousseau was not a Fauve, which is French for wild beast, but his Hungry Lion probably inspired the term "Fauvism" after the art critic Louis Vauxcelle saw a classical statue in the same room as the works of the avant-garde artists at the 1905 Salon d'Automne and decried: "Donatello chez les fauves" (Donatello among the wild beasts)." Rousseau wrote a long subtitle for his painting:

The lion, being hungry, throws itself on the antelope, [and] devours it. The panther anxiously awaits the moment when it too can claim its share. Birds of prey have each torn a piece of flesh from the top of the poor animal which sheds a tear. The sun sets.

Horse Attacked by a Jaguar  (1910) State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow
The Hungry Lion is not here in Venice, but a similar painting is, which is called Horse Attacked by a Jaguar. To me, the poor horse looks more like a bewildered unicorn.

Now Guillaume Apollinaire, writer, poet, art critic and guru of the avant-garde asked to meet Rousseau. Apollinaire then introduced Rousseau to Pablo Picasso, who had bought Rousseau's Portrait of a Woman on sale for five francs from a Paris junk shop, which was selling it for the canvas. In 1908, the 27-year-old Picasso held the famous banquet to "celebrate" Henri Rousseau, then 64, a lavish artisty kind of prank to play. Guillaume Apollinaire composed a satirical poem, praising Rousseau's adventures in the Aztec jungle, poking fun of Rousseau's long subtitles for his paintings. Also at the banquet were Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, who recorded the event in her autobiography.

The images you paint you saw in Mexico,
A red sun lit the banana treetops,
And you, courageous soldier, have swapped your tunic
For the blue jacket of the brave douanier.

Even though the banquet began in jest, it morphed into a genuine celebration, a drunken chorus of the avant-garde shouting "Viva, viva Rousseau!"

Portrait of a Woman by Henri Rousseau (1895) Musée Picasso, Pari
The focus of Henri Rousseau - Il Candore Arcaico in the Doge's Apartments at the Palazzo Ducale in Piazza San Marco is that "the artist was a point of reference for the great exponents of the historical avant-garde movements, for intellectuals like Apollinaire and Jarry, for great collectors like Wilhelm Uhde, and for many painters who preceded and went beyond the Cubist and Futurist movements. Artists such as Cézanne and Gauguin, Redon and Seurat, Marc, Klee, Morandi, Carrà, Frido Kahlo and Diego Rivera, not to mention Kandinsky and Picasso. All these artists are present in the show."

The Grand Exhibit Henri Rousseau - Archaic Naivety runs from March 6 to July 5, 2015.
Please go to the PALAZZO DUCALE for further information.

Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Shocking Schiaparelli - MEETINGS AT THE PALACE - Venice

Elsa Schiaparelli
(Venice, Italy) Elsa Schiaparelli, the cosmic fashion designer who created the color Shocking Pink, was born into an aristocratic, intellectual family in Palazzo Corsini in Rome in 1890 -- her great-uncle, Giovanni Schiaparelli, discovered the canals on Mars; her father was a professor of Oriental literature; her mother was descended from the Medicis. Elsa Schiaparelli - Fashion Artist was the topic of yesterday's inaugural conference of Incontri a Palazzo or "Meetings at the Palace," a series of lectures held in the piano nobile of Palazzo Mocenigo, Venice's Museum of Fabric and Costumes.

Miley Cyrus in Schiaparelli jumpsuit at Oscar parties Feb 22, 2015
Elsa Schiaparelli was a wild child. She liked to be called Schiap, not Elsa. Schiap ran away from home at the age of six and was found three days later marching at the front of a local parade. Criticized by her mother for her homely looks, she spent a lot of time with Uncle Giovanni, the astronomer, gazing at the nighttime sky through a telescope. In 1911, while at the University of Rome, Schiap published an mystical, overtly sensual poem, and her horrified parents sent her to a convent in Switzerland. Schiap went on a hunger strike and got out of the convent, then ran off to England and became a nanny. While attending a theosophical conference, she fell in love with the lecturer, Wilhelm Wendt de Kerlor, who claimed to be a Polish count, theosophist and spiritualist, whom she promptly married. They spent several seasons in Nice, then went to NewYork in 1916 on an ocean liner where Schiap became friends with Gabrielle Picabia, the wife of the avant-garde artist Francis Picabia, who would tug her into their circle of famous friends like Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp. 

Elsa Schiaparelli - Photo: Man Ray
The couple produced a daughter whom they called Gogo, who contracted polio. But Count de Kerlor turned out to be a con man and a womanizer, and when he had an affair with Isadora Duncan, Schiap asked for a divorce, and in 1922, took Gogo to Paris.

Schiaparelli trompe l'oeil Bow Tie Sweater
Schiap quickly became part of the Paris scene, encountering fashion icon Paul Poiret, who supported her fresh ideas. Schiap considered herself an artist who channeled her creative energies into fashion, and since she was touched by the cosmos, there was an element of other-worldliness to her designs. Her rise to fame was due to a simple hand-knitted black pullover with a white trompe l'oeil bow tie that Vogue declared a masterpiece and was a huge hit in the US.

Marlene Dietrich wearing Schiaparelli
According to "For Schiaparelli, fashion was as much about making art as it was about making clothes. In 1932, Janet Flanner of The New Yorker wrote: "A frock from Schiaparelli ranks like a modern canvas." Not surprisingly, Schiaparelli connected with popular artists of the era; one of her friends was painter Salvador Dali, whom she hired to design fabric for her fashion house."

Shocking de Schiaparelli Perfume
Schiap became a success on the Place Vendôme, counting Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo among her clientele. She invented culottes, the evening gown, the built-in bra and dared to expose zippers. In 1937 she launched a fragrance, "Shocking," its pink glass torso bottle based on Mae West's body. She began collaborating with the Surrealists, especially Salvador Dali, with whom she created a lobster dress which was worn by Wallis Simpson.

Wallis Simpson in Schiaparelli lobster dress
Schiap closed her business in 1954, and published her autobiography Shocking Life. She died in her sleep in Paris in 1973.

Kate Blanchett in Schiaparelli
In 2007,  Diego Della Valle, CEO and President of Tod's, acquired the brand Schiaparelli. In addition to Miley Cyrus wearing the brand to the after-Oscars parties, Schiaparelli has been recently worn by such celebs as Kate Blanchett and Lorde.

Lorde in Schiaparelli
Like many originals, Elsa Schiaparelli's spirit continues on long after her body was laid to rest.

Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Great Girls over Piazza San Marco - VENICE CARNIVAL 2015

Giusy Versace - Flight of the Eagle - Venice Carnival 2015
(Venice, Italy) Giusy Versace soared over Piazza San Marco during the Flight of the Eagle on Sunday, February 15, 2015, the personification of courage, determination and joy. The dynamic young woman with the famous last name lost both her legs in a horrific car accident in 2005. Did that stop Giusy Versace? (Giusy is pronounced "JOO-see;" there is no "J" in the Italian alphabet; "Gi" makes the same sound.)

Giusy Versace
A year and a half later Giusy was walking, then driving and then, astonishingly, running on her super-duper carbon prostheses, becoming a top Paralympic sport competitor, as well as a Save the Dream Ambassador, inspiring people all over the globe with her sunshine. And now Giusy Versace can fly.

Giusy Versace - Venice Carnival 2015
Another young woman who took flight at the 2015 Carnevale di Venezia was Marianna Sereni, winner of last year's Festa delle Marie, a contest which I have described many times before -- in fact, in 2007 I was the first straniera on the jury which selects the twelve most beautiful, or virtuous young women in the Veneto.

Marie 2015
La Festa delle Marie originated from a pirate raid in 943 a.d., according to Venetian legend. In ancient times, Venetians married on only one day each year. A water procession from the Arsenale on the canal “delle Vergini” started the festivities. All the brides-to-be were rowed across the lagoon in decorated boats brimming with dowries, while their future husbands waited at the Church of San Nicolò at the Lido.

That year, pirates raided the procession, kidnapping the brides and the booty. An enraged 

Venetian rescue party executed the pirates and brought the brides back to the ceremony. 
Marianna Sereni- Flight of the Angel 2015
To commemorate the victory in the past, every year twelve patriarchal families would present twelve virtuous young women from poor Venetian families with a dowry, and the designation “le Marie,” or “The Marys.”

Irene Rizzi, "Maria 2015," Marco Polo and the Doge
This year's winning Maria was Irene Rizzi, who was costumed in the style of the Orient when the Twelve Marie made their final appearance on the Grand Stage in Piazza San Marco, yesterday, Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, Martedi Grasso. So next year Irene will leap off the bell tower and soar over Piazza San Marco during the Flight of the Angel.

Flag of San Marco in Piazza San Marco
The Venice Carnival 2015 closed with the Twelve Marie releasing an enormous flag of San Marco with its winged lion over Piazza San Marco. The Venetian flag fluttered slowly up to the top of the Campanile as the Gondoliers sang the Venetian anthem, and the sun gently set on Carnevale di Venezia 2015.

Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

TEMPTATIONS... TENTAZIONI... Venice Carnival Party in a Tower

Tentazioni dinner show
(Venice, Italy) There are many Carnival parties in palaces in Venice, but there is only one party in a tower -- the Porta Nuova Tower deep down inside Arsenale, where Venice once cranked out her ships. The tower was actually not built by the Venetian Republic. It was built in 1810 when Venice was under the domination of Napoleon, who used the Arsenale for the naval base of the imperial French fleet in the Adriatic.

Torre di Porta Nuova
But the Tower is now under the domination of City of Venice after having been restored by funds from the Republic of Italy, the Veneto Region, the Comune of Venice, and the European Union. The night I went to the Temptations Dinner Show there was an enormous Venetian flag projected on the side of the Tower.

Tentazioni dinner show
The show itself was excellent, sultry and seductive, performed by Nu Art, a company from Verona whose members slink around in astonishingly beautiful bodies and not much else. There was a blonde... maybe two blondes... we weren't sure... whose acrobatic feats on a lamppost... and a birdcage...and swinging from strands of silk... were, literally, breathtaking.

Temptations dinner show
The dinner itself was fine and plentiful, but not hot enough, though I imagine it was difficult to get the food from wherever it was being cooked to up inside the Tower. My party had been split into two tables; I was seated at a table in the center at the stage and was physically comfortable throughout the evening, but people closer to the walls of the Tower said they were cold. My personal quibble was that while I liked the idea of all the guests wearing the same simple mask -- black for men, burgundy for women -- that they were made out of plastic in a city famous for the quality of its masks was, to me, scandalous.

Tentazioni dinner show
The price of the evening is €200 per person, including wine, and I thought it was under-priced. Even if all the kinks have not yet been worked out, it is a unique experience. Splurge on a boat taxi, and dress warmly.

Go to Temptations Dinner Show for more information.

Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

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Wednesday, February 4, 2015

RODIN and CANDIDA HOFER Star at New Dom Pérignon Space at Ca' Pesaro, Venice

The Burghers of Calais by Auguste Rodin at Ca' Pesaro
(Venice, Italy) The French city of Calais is on the English Channel, less than 25 miles away from England. When people swim the English Channel, they usually swim from around Dover, England to Calais, France. The English Channel is the water that separates Great Britain from continental Europe. It has caused all sorts of havoc over the centuries since, physically, Great Britain is not part of Europe -- although the British have certainly tried to bridge that gap on more than one occasion.

The Hundred Years' War between the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of France began in 1337 as a war between two cousins -- Edward III of England and Philip VI of France -- for the French throne, and ended in 1453. An important early battle was at Calais, which is so close to England that the port makes an excellent trading center for English goods. English Edward not only wanted Calais, he also thought he should be king of France, not French Philip. (I won't get into all the haggling over bloodlines, but they both had legitimate claims to the crown.) But the French aristocracy certainly did not want to be ruled by the King of England!

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden Washington II, C-print by Candida Hofer
In 1346, English Edward attacked the city of Calais. French Philip told the citizens not to surrender no matter what. The people of Calais were besieged by Edward's soldiers for a long time -- some sources say 11 months; some say over a year -- but they finally surrendered. English Edward was so furious that it took so long to conquer the city that he said he was going to kill every inhabitant in Calais. Then English Edward changed his mind -- he said that if six prominent citizens surrendered, and walked out wearing nooses around their necks, carrying the keys to the city and the castle, he would spare the townspeople. Six noblemen volunteered to be beheaded, one of them the mayor, Eustache de Saint Pierre, who lead the five other men to the city gates. It is this moment that Auguste Rodin chose to capture in his dynamic sculpture, The Burghers of Calais.

Musée Rodin Paris III C-print by Candida Hofer
However, Edward was married to Queen Philippa, who was kind and compassionate and beloved by the people of England for her good nature. When the queen found out that her husband was planning to behead the Burghers of Calais, she convinced Edward to spare their lives. So the story has a happy ending!

More than 500 years later, in 1884, the city of Calais commissioned the French sculptor Auguste Rodin to create a monument celebrating the act of heroism and identity of the city. The moment Rodin chose to depict was controversial, the public expecting something more classically glorious and heroic. Rodin insisted he had captured the heroism of self-sacrifice.

Place de L'Hotel de Ville Calais I, C-print by Candida Hofer
"PARADOXES" is a series of unusual encounters in the new Spazio Dom Pérignon inside Ca' Pesaro, Venice's International Gallery of Modern Art. The encounters in PARADOXES are between young artists and works from the museum's historic collection, which Dom Pérignon helps restore. The German photographer Candida Hofer is the contemporary star of PARADOXES, and the Auguste Rodin sculpture is part of Ca' Pesaro's historic collection.

Kunstmuseum Basel II, C-print by Candida Hofer
Ca' Pesaro owns a plaster mold of Rodin's Les Bourgeois de Calais, which it bought in 1901. However, there are only 12 existing bronze casts of the Burghers of Calais located around the world, and Candida Hofer, one of the most influential photographers on the international scene, was commissioned by the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Calais to photograph all twelve. Selections from Douze-Twelve, Hofer's 2001 work are here in the Spazio Dom Pérignon at Ca' Pesaro from January 31 to March 29, 2015.

Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog