Adventures

Sep. 9th, 2011 07:04 pm
pallas_athena: (Default)
(I started this post on my last day in Venice.)

It's been a very intensive week of rehearsals, and my way of relaxing has been to slip away in the breaks and have adventures. Luckily Venice is a very adventuresome city. Usually I'd end up in a mask shop, exercising my lousy Italian by talking with the maker.

Most good mask shops have someone sitting in there finishing masks during the day, to drive home the point that these masks are authentic and not imported. My particular passion is Commedia masks in leather, which only a few people make; most artists concentrate on the more highly decorated Carnival masks, which are traditionally made in cartapesta-- something between plaster-of-Paris and papier-mâché.

The first shop I staggered into was Artifex, up by Fondamente Nuove. The makers are a husband-and-wife couple, Giancarlo and Federica; Giancarlo was in the shop when I went. We had an excellent talk about eighteenth-century geekery and the history of Commedia characters. He also recommended two museums, Ca'Rezzonico (devoted to the eighteenth century) and Palazzo Mocenigo (the textile and costume museum). I bought an Arlecchino mask from him; a friendly face which pleased me. Arlecchino, the Harlequin, is traditionally shown with a bump on his forehead, as are some of the other servant-class characters. In the case of the less intelligent Pedrolino, said Giancarlo, the bump is the mark of a beating by his master; but Arlecchino's name comes from the same root as Hellequin and Erlkönig, and his forehead bears the stump of one of his horns from when he was a demon.

Speaking of demons, the best shop for fucking creepy masks is La Bottega dei Mascareri, just on the Cannaregio side of the Rialto. That maker did the masks for Eyes Wide Shut, and his shop is full of empty-eyed puppets and clowns that leer down at you from every side. He's a superb artist, but I actually couldn't stay there long because I was so creeped out.

The shop of Alberto Sarria is a tiny trove of mindblowing beauty. I was initially drawn to his leather commedia masks, which are things of beauty (he has many photos of troupes of actors wearing them), but his plaster ones are also made with great care and finely decorated. I bought a Capitano from him, which was my big expenditure this trip; only the aftershock of that kept me from also buying EVERYTHING else in the shop, which was so full of amazement I hated to leave. Alberto also has a real eye for how a mask fits, and if it doesn't suit you he'll tell you, which I found helpful.

Today's adventures involved the costume museum at Palazzo Mocenigo, and finding the best lemon granita in history at Gelateria San Stae. Oh yes. I'll be sad to leave this city.
pallas_athena: (Default)
Books about Venice I have read and liked:

Nonfiction:

A Venetian Affair, Andrea di Robilant
In the attic of the family palazzo, Robilant found and decoded a stash of 18th-century love letters which form the nucleus of this book. The intertwined lives of the two illicit lovers, Andrea Memmo and Giustiniana Wynne, take the reader from Venice to Paris and finally to London. A lovely snapshot of eighteenth-century Venetian society, guest-starring Casanova. Speaking of whom:

Histoire de ma vie, Giacomo Casanova
Probably mostly nonfiction, and such a fantastic read you don't care.

A History Of Venice, John Julius Norwich
A bit drier than his three-volume history of Byzantium, but still worth reading. A thorough history of the city from the founding to the fall.

City Of Fortune: How Venice Won and Lost a Naval Empire, Roger Crowley
Currently reading this. The author is an expert on naval history, and he chronicles the era of Venetian mastery of the seas starting from the Fourth Crusade. Good to read in tandem with Norwich; well written with a nice sense of narrative.

Fiction:

The Passion, Jeanette Winterson
This is the book that made me want to visit Venice, and the book I took with me when I finally did. The female Venetian protagonist, Villanelle, is a spellbinding narrator; the male French protagonist, Henri, a cook in Napoleon's army, is more of a pathetic figure, and his sections of the book aren't as much fun. Worth it, though.

Consuelo: A Romance of Venice, George Sand
Opera singers, composers and spooky latter-day Hussites: it's like she wrote it with me in mind. Our heroine is an intrepid mezzo-soprano who starts out as a penniless orphan with a good heart and a fine voice as her only assets. If you're not a music geek, you might find this book boring; if you're a singer, you'll find it riveting. Only the first third or so of the book is set in Venice; Consuelo then takes off across Europe accompanied by the young Joseph Haydn. And what of the enigmatic Count von Rudolstadt? What indeed.

Scherzo, Tad Williams
Any book whose narrator describes himself in the first chapter as "debollocked" is okay by me. Yes, our hero is an operatic castrato and keen observer of the lifestyles of the powerful... which comes in handy when there's a murder mystery to solve. Well-written, sexy and funny as all hell, with ample footnotes referring to books that don't exist. Guest-starring Voltaire and Casanova (again. Is there any book set in Venice in which he doesn't appear?)

...And of course, I'd never miss an opportunity to link back to my own Venetian carnival story. Feel free to throw fruit. Just no pineapples, is all I ask.
pallas_athena: (Default)

Io ch'armato sin hor d'un duro gelo
degli assalti d'amor potei difendermi
ne l'infocato suo pungente telo
puote l'alma passar o'l petto offendermi
Hor che il tutto si cangia al novo cielo
a due begli occhi ancor non dovea a rendermi
si si disarma il solito rigore
arda dunque d'amor
arda il mio core.

I who am armoured now in hard ice
From the assaults of Love will be able to defend myself.
Not even his fiery, stabbing arrow
Can pass into my soul or wound my breast.
Now that all things are changed under a new sky
To two beautiful eyes I must not again surrender.
If this same rigour should disarm itself
It burns then with love
It burns, my heart.


Seen through the eyes of a mask, all men are lords, all women beauties.

Men know this. It is why they come in flocks to Venice in the winter. I think it is also why our city’s law allows the wearing of masks in public from October until the beginning of Lent. Certainly we do not go masked for anonymity: in a city this small, no one is anonymous. We who once oversaw a trading empire that stretched from Asia to the Adriatic now have nothing to do but gossip. The cut of your clothes, the rhythm of your step, the way you hold a fan or climb out of a gondola will give you away, mask or no. Masks are useless for disguise. I think we Venetians simply could not bear to look at each other’s bare faces all year round.
Read on... )

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