Il Grand Ballo di Tiepolo, Palazzo Pisani Moretta, Venice
Sometimes, when things aren’t happening the way you want, it’s a good time to make friends.
As I mentioned in the last post, the first weekend of my arrival in Venice was marked by unusually cold weather, which put quite a damper on the opening festivities of Carnival. Rather than waste my time in the press pool to take pictures in bad light of events I had already captured in warm weather and golden light upon my last visit, I opted instead to wander a few local bars with my friend Michele (in Italian, pronounced with a hard “c”). It was freezing out, but we often opted to stand outside the bars where there was a little more space and the smokers could smoke…and the red wine definitely helped to warm the blood.
Being a completely pedestrian city, Venice holds many opportunities for hail-fellow-well-met moments. We would be standing in a bar or on the street eating cicchetti (something like tapas indigenous to Venice) and drinking ombras (tiny glasses of wine) when a friend would wander around, to much fanfare and greeting, more wine, introductions all around…and, in deference to my pitiful Italian skills, my new-found friends would oblige me by speaking English as much as possible.
The next day, rinse and repeat, this time with darks. Michele and I had arranged to meet at Caffe Florian at 8 PM to take some pictures of the Euro-crowd that hangs out there during Carnival in their elaborate costumes, but there wasn’t much happening so we started drinking vodka martinis with his friends Massimo, Manola, and Manuela. After a few rounds and a broken glass to make the party official, we left, with a whopping bill, to get something to eat. It was 11 PM in Venice, so I wasn’t thinking much, maybe some little trattoria somewhere, but Michele called ahead to a friend’s restaurant. “You like steak or fish?” he asked me while on his cell as we exited Piazza San Marco. Steak, I said. “Okay, steak it is. Si, Carne, per cinque. Si, si, etc….”
Twenty minutes later we were on the backside of Venice in the Cannaregio district at a local hang-out spot called Timon. We all sat down at a huge oak table by the window in the dining area, wine was opened and drunk…and then the food came out. On a huge wooden platter, a side of beef the size of a bed-pillow, ringed with cauliflower, white beans, roasted peppers, and radicchio came steaming across the restaurant, with a big basket of fries, or papate frite, right behind. I had no idea how five people, two of them girls, were going to eat all that food. But we did. Down to the bone.
Then, grappa, and another, then to Manola’s beautiful apartment for a nightcap. By this time the entourage included several workers from the restaurant as well. Around 3:30 AM I stepped outside of myself and the sober part of me convinced the drunk part of me that nothing good was left to come of this night and I should find my way home through the labyrinth of Venice before the first light of dawn caught me regretting the entire evening. And so I bid my adieus and walked the wet streets of Venice, accompanied only by the sound of the grit on the stones crunching against my feet. A sublime note sounds in the soul at this hour, a hollow feeling left by the hubbub and commotion of tourism and quotidian life in Venice. The ancient stones reassert themselves; the old city, nearly unchanged for 500 years, lets you into its soul. You can almost feel the eyes of the city’s ghosts watching you as you make your way through the alleyways and campos. Over one bridge…or was it two? Left, or was it straight? Well, it’s kind of left/straight; after all, there are few right angles in Venice. End of story, I made it home, and slept most of the next day.
Amidst all these ephemeral good times, anxiety was growing inside me, as I still had no good pictures. And access to the storied Ballo del Doge, the ultra-exclusive masquerade ball which remained the one big event of Carnival for which I’d lacked coverage, was eluding me. The press manager was giving me the runaround, a lot of we’ll see,we’ll call tomorrow, I have to speak with Antonia Sautter–the grande dame and organizer of the event–et cetera. It was beginning to appear as if the main reason I had made this trip wasn’t going to pan out. And so, as the days wore on and got closer and closer to the night of the ball, I became more and more nervous. I was trotting the fine line between persistence and harassment with Federica the press agent, but I couldn’t give up. Even so, as the days passed, I became more resigned to the possibility of an undesirable outcome, and then I began to lose motivation, and started to have a few of those “fuck all this bullshit” moments when I just absolutely didn’t care anymore.
“Surrender to the present moment”, my dad told me cryptically in a phone conversation. He’s been reading a lot on the Kabbala lately, and he is teaching a class in church on spirituality. In another life, I think my dad would have been a holy man, or a monk. Anyway, though I’m down with all the Be-Here-Now thing, I also know that nothing happens without a little paranoia and persistence. And so does my dad for that matter. But at some point, and I took his point, you need to accept whatever is going to happen and make lemonade out of your lemons.
As it turned out, there had been a strange combination of miscommunication, mistaken identity, brinksmanship, stress, and drama going on around this whole situation, to which I hadn’t been privy at all. Antonia Sautter likes to keep very firm control of the press surrounding her event so that it retains its air of exclusivity and so that the fantasy of the evening is not destroyed by a bunch of paparazzi. Additionally, someone else had been causing trouble using similar credentials to mine, and had actually been thrown out of an earlier press conference. The irony of all of this is that, Venice being the small place it is, all of my friends here were also friends with the press agent. So they offered to make calls on my behalf, which was when the whole dirty story came out into the open. My friend Edoardo called me on Thursday night and said, “Let’s met at Paradaiso Perdutto and I’ll tell you all about it. It’s kind of a strange story.”
Tune into the next installment for more details, and for more photos. Spoiler alert: I got some good ones…finally…