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From Parigi to Venezia — a Cultural Birthday Extravaganza

Was it a hoax? Yes!

On Monday, October 7th, the flooding in Venice was reported in the news: “It’s baaack. Acqua alta — the flooding caused by high tide and crazy winds in the fall and winter — visited the streets of Venice, Italy for the first time this season. St. Mark’s Square and the surrounding walkways have become a wild water park for locals and those ever-Instagramming tourists, who don rain boots and walk on temporary bridges to avoid the water.”

We had Air France tickets to Venice for the 11th, planned for sometime as a birthday getaway to one of my favorite cities, to which I hadn’t visited in about 15 years. My daughter thought we were crazy not to change our plans, but we figured that if it was “insupportable,” we’d ‘punt’ and go to Verona or other spot in Italy for the weekend.

We landed on Friday afternoon to sunny skies and not a drop of water on the cobblestone streets. In fact, there has been nothing but lots of beautiful sunshine, mixed with some cloudy periods and a bit of misty rain. But signs of flooding?

Nothing, “nada,” “rien,” “niente.”

The trip to Venice was preceded by two gifted cultural evenings and that was just the  beginning of a non-stop cultural extravaganza.

The first was a treat to the Chantecler Tango “spectacle” at the Théâtre du Châtelet – on until November 3. “The show is dedicated to one of the legendary tango venues, the Cabaret Chantecler, frequented by, among other people, the iconic Carlos Gardel, and having attained the height of its success in the 1930s and 1940s. Seduction, crime, passion: the golden age of the tango is played out before our eyes.”

The second was also a treat, thanks to a friend of a friend who’s trip to Paris unfortunately got cancelled, leaving me quite fortunately with two prime spot “loge” tickets to “Ravel/Béjart: Bolero” ballet at the Château de Versailles. It was the single most stunning contemporary ballet performance I’ve certainly ever seen and of course, the setting was magnificent and awe-inspiring.

Our third evening, now set in Venice, Italy, was Giuseppe Verdi’s opera, “La Traviata” performed at the Scuola Grande di San Teodoro. We happened to pass the “Scuola,” saw the opera advertised and grabbed up tickets for the evening performance. This took about two minutes in between stops at one beautiful shop after another, enticing us in with their eye-candy windows, happily taking our credit cards and handing back a bag of something lusciously Italian.

Venice is a surrealistic voyage into a world that simply exists nowhere else on the planet. It’s so beautiful, that it’s picture-postcard perfect, in spite of the hoards of tourists and souvenir shops. In between the spectacular views, both on and off the water, are boutiques displaying Italian designed and manufactured creations — that are top quality, high style design much less expensive than French luxury goods.

There is nothing quite like Italian design and style. The French can be tops on esthetics, but they can’t match the Italians for strong design. I have been wallowing in it and swallowing it down like “spaghetti aglio e olio.” (An extra suitcase home might be necessary.)

On our first day in the canal-laden city, we were able to stop shopping long enough to visit the Gallerie dell’Accademia di Venezia and see the “Leonardo da Vinci – The Universal Man” exhibition (on until December 1, 2013) “focused around the large group of pages in the Master of Vinci’s hand, preserved in the Gallerie dell’Accademia’s collection since 1822.”

And then we walked a short distance to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection before the sun went down. I have very fond memories of this museum, especially since one of my traveling companions was there with me on my birthday about 25 years ago! It’s among the most important contemporary art collections in Europe and displays some of my favorite works, including Magritte’s “Empire of Light” and a number of Kandinskys (his works mirror the story of my life — kinetic!).

As we were purchasing our tickets to enter the Guggenheim, the young man at the ticket counter noticed the “Adrian Leeds Group” logo on my Capital One credit card and asked  if I had ever been in Los Angeles.

“Yes, I lived there seven years,” I answered, but then I recognized him as someone I encountered once and asked, “You were managing the Steven Arnold photo exhibition at the One Gallery in Los Angeles last Christmas, right?”

“Yes!,” he enthusiastically responded and we were all so amazed at the coincidence! The line grew longer behind us as we recalled the encounter for all to hear. This was someone with whom I spoke for about three minutes upon entering the exhibit — and to have remembered it was astounding. (For those who wonder, Steven Arnold was an L.A. photographic artist and close friend, who died of AIDS in 1994, whose work I collected, and because of it, am one of the trustees of his estate. [stevenarnoldarchive.com/])

The performance of La Traviata was a treat and a fascinating experience. Strangely, various members of the audience were getting up, leaving, changing seats, etc., mostly at the intermissions, but mid-opera as well. It was almost a comedy of ‘musical chairs.’ Meanwhile, I personally enjoyed the music more than the singing performance (the gentleman who played Alfredo, Violetta’s lover, didn’t seem to even like her much less ‘love’ her!)…but what do I know of opera?

Nothing, “nada,” “rien,” “niente.”

Yesterday we spent a bright, sunny day at the 55th International Art Biennale — in both the Giardini and the Arsenale (on until November 24th). This is how the trip to Venice got started — as an idea to see the Biennale. I’d never been.. and it’s a lot to take in! So, if you are an art aficionado, allow more time than we did to see it all — maybe a week! Not all the art is anything ‘to write home about,’ but much of the work is sensational and by the world’s greatest creative geniuses (if not nut-cases!)

Waiting for us at our B and B, was the host, Christiana, with her homemade “manica” pasta with shallot and tomato sauce so delicious as to be worth posting on Facebook while scarfing it up and enjoying getting to know Venezia via a Venetian.

A la prochaine…

adrian veniceAdrian Leeds

Director of The Adrian Leeds Group, LLC

(in Venice, a year older – photo by Anne Morton)

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