Monday, June 11, 2007

Day 3 & 4 in Venice

Guests awaiting seating at the Palazzo Albrizzi with its highly elaborate Stucco work by Stazio of late 17th century Venice. Photo: JH.
Venice is one of the places in the world to which people make what is annual almost religious pilgrimages. Brooke and Peter Duchin, for example, often visit during the holiday week in late December when it is cold and grey and tourists are almost non-existent. On this past late Saturday afternoon I ran into Hilary and Joe Califano who were checking into the Gritti where they come to stay more than annually because they too love Venice. JH and I came here, (first time for me, second time for him) as guests of Venetian Heritage, an organization which has funded many restoration projects both in Venice and in Croatia, to cover their 2007 Biennale Week.

I met a number of people who have palazzos which have been in the family for generations and often for centuries. The Palazzo Albrizzi has been in the same family for almost 500 years. The Berlingieri palazzo which stands on the Grand Canal next to the Hotel Europa has belonged to the same family since the beginning of the 1800s. The Palazzo Pisani Moretta, also on the Grand Canal, has been in the family for almost 700 years, and the Villa  Marcello, which we visited on Saturday in the countryside between Padua and Venice, was built for the Marcello family six centuries ago.

The Biennale week for Venetian Heritage is one of the great excursions into this world, however brief, for those fortunate to participate. On Saturday night they held their black tie “gala,” a seated dinner in honor of Count Giuseppe Panza di Biumo (the evening was underwritten by the Arthur Loeb Foundation and the Laura M. and Peter T. Grauer Foundation).

The Palazzo Pisani Moretta is one of the greatest palaces on the Grand Canal, erected in the second half of the 15th century and expanded and restored in the 16th and 18th centuries with Baroque decoration of 18th century artists such as Giambattista Tiepolo, Guarana, Diziani and Giuseppe Angeli. There is a magnificent staircase which rises from the ground floor gallery in double ramps to the top (fourth) floor of the palace. In centuries past it was admired by visitors such as Czar Paul of Russia, Empress Josephine Bonaparte and Emperor Joseph II of Austria. Today it belongs to the Sammartini family who inherited it from their Pisani ancestors.

The dinner on Saturday night was called for 8:30. It was still very light out although the lights in front of the palazzos and the hotels such as the Europa, the Gritti, the Baur were casting a shimmering golden reflection on the pale blue-green waters of the canal now choppy from the activity of the boats and water taxis. The hotel docks were crowded with the bejweled women in gowns and men in  black tie waiting for or embarking in their water taxis.

It was a leisurely ten-minute ride from the hotel down the Canal in a maritime procession  (its speed strictly enforced by the cabinieri) enhanced by the gondolas navigated by the striped-shirted gondoliers. All along the way, one could see people disembarking for parties at other palazzi as well as the Peggy Guggenheim and the Palazzo Grassi (home now of the Francois Pinault Collection). giving the impression of a city in dazzling celebration.

At 9 pm when we arrived at the Pisani-Moretta, the water taxis and private boats were wafting in waiting clusters, lining up before the dock of the palazzo. Because the water demands patience, the arrivals disembarked slowly and carefully without anxiousness.
Kree Bakic and Larry Lovett
The duchess of Segorbe, Don and Muffy Miller, and the duke of Segorbe
Just inside the grand portal was the receiving line of Larry Lovett, the Venetian Heritage chairman; his sister-in-law Betsy Lovett, Donald and Muffy Miller (she is the group’s president), the Countess de Ribes (Jacqueline de Ribes to the millions of her fashion admirers)  of the international committee, and the Marchesa Berlingieri, a vice-president.

The enormous first floor gallery of the palazzo was literally mobbed with the 350 bejeweled and black tied guests quaffing their champagne, their chatter glamorously reverberating off the mirrored and marbled walls of the Renaissance palace.

About 9:30, the staff began directing everyone up the grand staircase to the piano nobile, a grand ballroom to the American eye, filled with tables set for the dinner and completely lighted by a dozen magnificent Venetian crystal chandeliers.

This reporter did not notice at first that the flattering soft golden light of the room was provided entirely by candle, although almost immediately the 21st century glamorous guests began to murmur their complaints about the “heat,” fanning themslves with their menu programs. It was warm, as opposed to cold, on this June night, although the tall French windows opening onto the terrace overlooking the canal provided a stream of soft breezes to cool the aristocratic (and otherwise) brows.
Guests about to seated in the Grand Ballroom in the Palazzo Pisani Moretta for the Venetian Heritage Gala dinner.
Once seated, the corps of waiters provided the evening’s menu: Consomme gelee with sherry, Risotto with aspargus and zucchini; John Dory a la Carlina and Crepes a la creme with vanilla ice cream and of course, coffee.

There were brief welcoming speeches by Larry Lovett and the honoree Count Panza di Biumo. I was seated between a Venetian architect, Barbara Delvicaro who also lives in an old family Venetian palazzo, and Danna Swarovski, the beautiful American-born mother of Nadja Swarovski, who lives with Nadja’s father Helmut Swarovski in Innsbruck. Although conversation at the table was lively and friendly, and informative for this American turista, the senses and memories at dinners in such grand and historical surroundings as these are dominated by the environment. On this evening, for example, I was frequently  reminded of the Stanley Kubrick film “Barry Lyndon” with its soft and gilded luminescent light which transports one out of a modern sensibility and into the distant, now dreamlike past. It is moments such as these that define the extraordinary quality of these excursions.

When dinner was over, guests still transported by reverie, returned to the ground floor gallery and back to modern times where many were already preparing to boogey to the disco music provided by Norris Agricole.

We didn’t stay on for the dancing but as it was midnight, and we were still feeling the after effects of jet lag, we returned to the Europa and the bar where we were joined by Mary Hilliard who had accompanied the Venetian Heritage group to document the Biennale with her camera, and George Farias who happened along as we were ordering our nightcaps.
Muffy Miller, Countess de Ribes, and Larry Lovett
Betsy Lovett and the duchess of Hamilton
George Farias, Bettina Zilkha, and friend
Peter Miller (right) and friends
Victoria Wyman and Kim Heirston
Pat Patterson and HRH Prince Michael of Greece
Whitney Wolfe and friends (right)
Jacqueline, Countess de Ribes
Cocktail reception
Ondine de Rothschild, Gary Parr, and Arianna Dandois
Monika Bacardi and Prince Carlo Giovanelli
Pat Patterson, Jagdeep Chowgule, Shamina Talyarkhan, and Countessa Lesa Marcello
Veronica Marzotto, Federica Barbaro, and Anna Marzotto
HRH Princess Michael of Greece, Jean Gabriel Mitterand, and Judy Taubman
Dorit and Todd Morley
Capturing the scene
With cocktail hour over, we proceed upstairs
Alessandro Possati, Francesca Bortolotto, and Enzo Figus
Count and Countess Giuseppe Panza di Biumo (the famous collector and pioneer of contemporary art in Italy), and Gabriella Codognato
Countess de Ribes lit up by flashbulbs in the grand ballroom
Lord William and Lady Cavendish
Janna Bullock and R. Couri Hay
Whitney Wolfe and Jay Krehbiel
The Wathne sisters
Princess and Prince Michael of Kent ,Sarita Gainza, and Danna and Helmut Swarovski
Toto Bergamo Rossi and Giuliana di Camerino
Count Mario Alvera, Nancy Lavelle, and Prince Carlo Giovanelli
Dinner in one of the many adjoining rooms
Catherine Hall and Claudio Guazzoni Zanetti
Cristiana and Giovanni Panebianco
Nazlee Jafferjee with Nicholas Mirzayan and his wife Princess Alexandra of Greece
Juanita Sabbadini and friends
Countess Barbara Foscari, Shamina Talyarkhan, and Mimi Todhunter
Dinner in the Tiepolo Room
Francesca Bortolotto
Alessandro Berlingieri
Late night at the Palazzo Brandolini.
The night before the Gala at the Pisani Moretta, Venetian Heritage guests attended a cocktail visit to the Virginian, the yacht of Sir Anthony and Lady Bamford which was docked just a few steps away from the Piazza San Marco. The 240-foot ship was built in the early 1990s by media tycoon John Kluge and later sold to Lord Bamford. There were several enormous yachts moored along the edge of the Grand Canal, many of whose travelers were in Venice for the art Biennale, including the mammoth freighter-like yacht of Renault heir Johnny Pigozzi.

Marquesa Barbara Berlingieri and Barone Lorenzo Albrizzi, Maria Kopieva
On the Friday night before the big Gala, Venetian Heritage were guests of Barone Lorenzo Albrizzi at the Palazzo Albrizzi which is considered one of the most sumptuous houses in all of Venice. Barone Albrizzi’s late father Alessandro was a frequent visitor (and resident) of New York where he was a very well-liked and popular member of the social set as well as a successful businessman in the field of interior design.

One arrives at the palazzo Albrizzi after a mind-boggling but entirely charming walk (you can’t do it without a guide) from the Grand Canal through warrens of pasageways and over sundry small bridges (with teenagers on cell phones passing underneathe in small motor boats), when suddenly you find yourself in a large thickly wooded garden and a pathway that leads to some narrow moss-encrushed stone steps leading up to the palazzo doorway. The garden was originally the site of one of the Venetian Republic’s earliest theatres which was demolished during the Napoleonic period. This land was bought by the Albrizzis around 1820 and turned into an English garden which has been recently restored to its original romantic spirit by landscape architect Bruce Kelly.
We arrived on Friday night just in time to hear a lecture by the American Jocelyn Kress, called “American Medici: The Kress Brothers and Venetian Painting from the Samuel H. Kress Collection.” The lecture was accompanied by slides. Ms. Kress’ uncle Sam Kress was founder of the five-and-dime store chain (which along with SS Kresge and FW Woolworth pre-dated the WalMart form of mass retailing). Mr. Kress was also a very great collector of Old Masters such as Titian, Rembrandt, Raphael and Giorgione.

The Kress collection adorned the walls of an enormous duplex penthouse apartment across from the Metropolitan Museum in Manhattan. After the National Gallery was built, financed by Andrew Mellon, in the late 1930s, Mr. Kress was persuaded to bequeathe his vast collection to the nation and today it composed almost one-third of the museum’s Old Masters collection. After Sam Kress’s death, his brother (Jocelyn Kress’ father) Rush Kress continued collecting right up through the early 1960s, also bequeathing his collection to the National Gallery in Washington.
Todd and Dorit Morley with Prince Dimitri of Yugoslavia
The sisters Wathne
Rush Kress, Muffy Miller, Edward Magan, and Sarita Gainza
Pierre Durand and Shamina Talyarkhan
The Albrizzi family went to Venice in the 16th century and acquired their great wealth trading in oils, silks and hemp.

They began purchasing the palace in 1648, (“they were then the Nouveau Riche” Barone Albrizzi joked), embellishing it with a highly elaborate arrangement of stucco-work by Stazio, considered the most impressive stucco worker of late 17th century Venice.

Indeed, his “stucchi” in the Albrizzi is considered possibly the greatest in Venice, Elaborate, lavish and even over-the-top (to these late 20th century eyes) are words that come to mind for it.
Muffy Miller and Lesa Marcello
Pat Patterson and Gary Parr
Jocelyn and Rush Kress
Mary Hilliard and Anne Schultze
Ellen Graham and Alexis Gregory
Marquesa Barbara Berlingieri, John O'Connor, Nazlee Jafferjee, Muffy and Don Miller, Ellen Graham, Mrs. Krehbiel, and Stephane Bloch Saloz on the water taxi after dinner.
This year Venetian Heritage celebrated the completion of the restoration of the facade of the church of San Zaccaria which had been suffering stone loss and deterioration of some sculptural elements. The project was co-funded with the Dutch Committee for Venice.
The church was begun in the 9th century, altered in the 10th and 11th, and finally rebuilt (right next to the original building between 1410 and 1509.

In modern times it is difficult to imagine taking 100 years to build a major edifice, just as nowadays it is difficult for many of us to imagine any building being important enough to maintain after eight, nine or even eleven centuries of existence, although that is the point. And, in a very real way that is the ultimate allure of Venice itself.
After the dedication of the restoration of San Zaccaria, JH and I headed over to Harry’s Bar on the Grand Canal just down from the Piazza San Marco for some lunch.
This often written about watering hole, perhaps the most famous of its kind in Venice, is located behind some almost innocuous doors without fanfare. Inside it is about a third the size of its sister which has just reopened in the Sherry in New York.

Mr. Cipriani in a natty bright blue linen suit and orange silk necktie was presiding. It was after three and very crowded with diners. Although the garb of most guests was very casual, we noticed that those men wearing Bermuda shorts were turned away, not even to be served at the bar. Mr. Cipriani told us how pleased he was to have re-opened his restaurant at Fifth Avenue and 59th Street in New York after its having been closed for renovations for more than a year. We ordered the famous Curried Rice Valenciana with Shrimp, a couple of beers, and were given a tasting of an asparagus risotto which turned out to be on the menu of that Venetian Heritage Gala that night at the Palazzo Pisani Moretta.

Arrigo Cipriani also catered the Venetian Heritage Grand Gala dinner and the supper after the concert at Scuola Grande San Rocco, the most prestigous ensemble of Tintorettos in Venice.

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