Thursday, 8 September 2011

Locanda Cipriani, Venice.

Stayed up drinking with Marco, Terry and Veronique at the Baglioni cocktail bar. Good conversations on early Italian cinema, Tennesee Williams and Gone with the Wind. Veronique tells us about her beautiful mother's career as an advertising model. Veronique sat on the lap of Anthony Quinn as a 12 year old, listening to his stories, while her mother was modelling! and she had other brushes with Hollywood-sandwiches with Patricia Neill! Its a good end to the night. Roll into bed after 1.00am.

We assemble in the foyer at 9.30am and make our way towards St Marks Square along the Riva Degli Schiavoni. Cross two bridges, canals, always glimpses of canals. People everywhere. They are photographing each other, posing, buying postcards. Most people are on their way somewhere. It is quite mad. The Canale Di San Marco is full of craft scudding here and there. We have arrived at the Ponte Della Pieta. Stephano and Glass historian, Rosa Barovier Mentasti will be our guides on Murano today.

The ride takes us around the fish tail end of Venice, past the Isola Di San Michele with it's church and cemetery to the Murano jetty. A neat square, Piazza alla Colonna then a stroll along the Fondamenta Dei Ventrai. Shops and factories line the canal. We are guided through the VANINI factory by staff and the curator. They take great care to demonstrate their attention to every phase of the glass making process. It makes their glass prized by collectors and institutions. We marvel at the glass blowers' skill.

I wish we had more time to explore other factories, lunch awaits. The group assembles at the jetty awaiting the Vaporetto. We will lunch at Locanda Cipriani on the island of Torcello, can't wait.

A table is set in the centre of a lawn. Waiters are serving Bellini's, pink and sparkling. This is refreshing and a good introduction to the famous Locanda gardens. We spend some time wandering, drinks in hand. This garden is well loved: a green herb garden with lemon verbena, herbs, garlic and chives, bright green clipped lawns, arches with walkways, beds of annuals. I glimpse the other patrons, families bunched in laughter. They are sitting under vine covered loggias. I can hear the clatter of cutlery, lunch chatter, wait staff busy and efficient, great platters held aloft. In the distance small rural buildings and cypress trees bright in the midday sun.

We dine on a starter of squid served in it's ink, a linguini pasta with vegetables bathed in a light creamy sauce, then pan fried fish fillets, golden and white with shaved zucchini. A dessert version of Zabiglione finishes this wondrous meal. I order a small expresso.

We walk back alongside the canal past coloured traditional houses, shuttered and silent. Wide fields grassed, empty but for a line of cypress. We are lost in our own thoughts.

Now a rural retreat, the island of Torcello was once the centre, pre-dating Venice as an important locus of trade and worship. The first Basilica, workshops and houses were here. A tiny rural community service the small number of tourists who abandon the glittering attractions of the grand canal and explore this ancient settlement. Occupied since the first and second centuries by Romans, Torcello has many stories. The bones of the gospel writer Mark were bought here from Alexandria before they were housed at St Marks.

The Church buildings and interiors have had successive layers of occupation and renovation. Consecrated in 639AD, a major refurbishment was undertaken in 1008 and then in the 1600s. The form we see today is the sum of these successive layers. Stern and austere the inside decoration is ablaze with gold and finely coloured mosaics, the largest being The Doomsday mosaic, The Last Judgement.

In beautifully ordered imagery the mosaic shows the Apostles, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, the Damned of Hell, Archangels, martyrs and monks. Here the full drama of the cost of sin is played out. A green Lucifer sits with the Anti Christ on his knee, while the Archangel drives the proud, the lustful, the envious, the misers and the indolent into the fires of Hell with his lance.

For those who are devout; the glory of the heavenly court, Christ the judge, surrounded by angels and Apostles promise the soul, life into eternity. It is a giant work covering the full height and width of the Church. In the Apse opposite the Virgin and child with the twelve Apostles. The church is dense with stories, all in mosaics of exceptional quality. It is a wonderful experience to be in this ancient space. I'm so glad not to have missed it.

Tonight Stuart and I will go to a performance of Verdi's, Rigoletto at a Palazzi. We head off at 7.45pm for pre-performance drinks and find a good bar adjacent to the Hotel Bauer. The entrance to the Palazzo in a little obscure, we eventually ring a doorbell and click, we're in! We are seated with sixty others in a small room. An orchestra of piano, two violin and a cello accompany the singers. At each scene change the performance moves into another room. The singing is very good, though Stuart with his expertise in ears, noses and throats, detects strain in the soprano's vocal chords! Gilda is sung by Scilla Cristiano, Rigoletto, Andrea Zese and the Duke by Orfeo Zanetti. It is a delightful performance and a lot of fun.

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