Friday, February 17, 2017

Sweet, Sweet Venice - Caffè Florian Delicacies - Book of Recipes

 "Venice is like eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs in one go." 
---Truman Capote

(Venice, Italy) The Caffè Florian, in the heart of Piazza San Marco, has been one of the most beloved venues in Venice for centuries by both Venetians and visitors alike. The oldest coffeehouse in all of Italy can also claim to be the oldest in all the world, depending on how one defines the term. It was established in 1720, and has been a cozy, delightful and crucial meeting point of civilized minds for nearly 300 years.

Marco Maccapani, Artistic Director of Venice Carnival, at Caffè Florian with Cristiano Strozzi (seated)
Yesterday, the Florian launched I Dolci Veneziai del Caffè Florian, a sweet little book in both English and Italian filled with classic Venetian dessert recipes by Cristiano Strozzi, the Executive Chef Pâtissier. But it's not only about recipes -- the desserts are accompanied by fascinating anecdotes about their origins, with gorgeous photos by Marco Tortato and clever text by Stefano Stipitivich. I had never had fried cream before, and it was yummy. Here is the intro:

Crema fritta (fried cream) is a typical dish in various Italian regions and can be served as either an appetizer or a dessert. The recipe goes back many a year. It coincided with the onset of winter when the Veneto country folk slaughtered the pig as the cold began to arrive. The lard was used to cook creams, frittelle and galani, so crema fritta was another typical sweet treat at Christmas and Carnival time; the Venetian Carnival began straight after Boxing Day, on 27 December.

In the Venetian custom, crema fritta was cooked at the last minute and eaten at the end of the meal, doused in raisin wine, a "vin foresto" (foreign wine), as they used to say in the Lagoon.

Hot chocolate and cookies - Divine!
One of the most divine things about Italy is that the hot chocolate is real, oozy and thick, with sensuality and substance. It is like drinking an aphrodisiac, which Casanova liked to use in his seductions. From I Dolci Veneziai del Caffè Florian:

...It was only in the 16th century that chocolate reached Europe: Hernàn Cortéz brought cocoa to Spain in the early 1500, but no other European country would experience the joys of chocolate until the 17th century. In 1615, Anne of Austria, the Infanta of Spain, married Louis XIII and thus brought the drink to France, from where it spread to Holland, Germany and England.

The Dutch soon became the main importers. In Europe's capital cities, chocolate was as fashionable as coffee: the early "coffee shops," especially in Venice and London, began to serve not only the "black beverage" but also chocolate in a cup.

...they say that Giacomo Casanova had his lovers drink it as an aphrodisiac in voluptuous quantities with added chili. Could it be true?

Caffè Florian during Carnival - Photo: Cat Bauer
The Caffè Florian is a landmark that exemplifies Venice in all its elegance, romance and intelligence. I'm not going to give away the actual recipes -- for that you will have to get the book. The Florian is a wonderful place in which to heighten your senses at any time of the year, but now, during Carnival, it is spectacular.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Venice Carnival 2017 and A Brief History of Mask-Making

Sergio Boldrin of La Bottega dei Mascareri
(Venice, Italy)  Venice is a unique city. Built on the water, tucked safely inside her own lagoon, Venice was once the center of international trade, as well as the publishing industry. The ruling mercantile aristocracy were seafarers, enormously wealthy, and competed with each other to build the most magnificent palaces filled with lush furnishings, art and tapestries. Venetians are good with a boat.

Venetians had their own peculiar customs like gliding around in gondolas and wearing masks. They loved gambling and going to the theater. The first public opera house opened in Venice in 1637, and was so popular that it spawned many others, making Venice the one-time opera capital of the world.

Carnevale - Photo: Cat Bauer
In honor of Carnival, which starts today here in Venice, I am republishing an edited version of a piece I first wrote way back in 2001 for the International Herald Tribune - Italy Daily about the history mask-making. Today, Sergio & Massimo Boldrin still own La Bottega dei Mascareri, creating masks by hand using papier-mâché.

The mask-makers have their own association, and Andrei Dall'Osto, the son of the owner of the Tragicomica mask shop at San Polo, 2800, has written to inform me that he is managing a website called Venetian Web Shop where you can order authentic Venetian masks and other products on-line, which I am happy to share with you.

A Brief History of Mask Making
Cat Bauer

In a city where there seems to be a mask shop on every corner, it may be surprising to learn that the ancient Venetian craft of mask making was only revived about forty years ago.

Sergio Boldrin is one of the senior mask-makers in Venice, as well as an accomplished artist. When he was a child, there were no mask shops in the entire city. There was no Carnival. During the terrorism and political upheavals in Italy in the 1970s, the wearing of masks was discouraged.

Masks disappeared, along with Carnival, when Napoleon's troops brought an end to the Venetian Republic in 1797. Since then, they've resurfaced and submerged again throughout the decades until being vanquished to the pages of the history books by the 20th century. However, masks staged a spectacular comeback in the late 1970s and early 1980s when a group of young people, including Sergio, brought them once again into the forefront.

As far back as the 11th century, the mattaccino costume was worn by mischievous young men, who, dressed as clowns, would bombard noblewomen with eggs filled with rosewater, inspiring the first official documentation regarding masks: a 1268 law prohibiting the throwing of eggs while disguised. The Venetian government apparently gave up trying to enforce it, however, and resorted to putting up nets along the Procuratie in St. Mark's Square to protect the ladies and their rich clothing. Even in Sergio's day, young Venetian men opened fire on expensively-dressed women with the yolky bombs. "I did throw an egg or two myself as a kid," confessed Sergio. "Venetian boys have been throwing eggs for more than 700 years."

Mask making in Venice can be documented back to the 13th century, though it probably existed much earlier. On April 10, 1436, the ancient profession of mascareri was founded under the jurisdiction of the Painter's Guild. Over the years, masks were used for a variety of reasons -- in the government, the theater, and as a means of disguise. Masks provided the Venetians a degree of anonymity.

The wearing of a mask put everyone on the same level: rich and poor, nobleman and citizen, beautiful and ordinary, old and young. It permitted confidences to be exchanged anonymously -- everything from accusations before State Inquisitors, to a potpourri of sexual indiscretions. Prostitutes practiced their trade without fear of retribution; homosexuals hid their illicit lifestyle. In 1458, it was decreed that men were forbidden to dress up as women and enter convents to commit indecent acts.

Not all masks were used for indelicacies, however. The bauta was worn by both men and women, and was not considered a costume but a form of dress -- required wearing if a woman wanted to go to the theater.  

Il medico della peste had a long beak-like nose stuffed with disinfectants, and, as its name implies, was used to protect doctors from the plague.

Another ingredient in this colorful mix was the Italian theater, Commedia dell'arte. In the 18th century, the renowned Venetian playwright, Carlo Goldoni, brought theatrical masks to the forefront. Pantalone, Harlequin, Colombina and Pulcinella were among the many masks that found their way into the Carnival.

Over the years, Carnival festivities grew more decadent until it evolved into a 250-day event of non-stop parties, gambling and dancing. Social and class distinctions were flipped on their heads, with servants dressing up as masters and vice versa. It was difficult to distinguish a housewife wearing a traditional mask, cape, hood and three corner hat from a nobleman dressed in the same outfit, allowing both to move freely though the city without fear of recognition.

Il Ridotto by Pietro Longhi (c. 1750)
Sergio has been a major force in keeping this early art form alive. Together with his brother, Massismo, he owns La Bottega dei Mascareri. The original shop at the foot of the Rialto Bridge is not much bigger than a closet, and shares a wall with one of the oldest churches in Venice, the 11th century San Giacomo di Rialto.

A second, larger shop is located on Calle dei Saoneri 
at San Polo 2720, operated by Massimo Boldrin and Rita Perinello, where there is an opportunity to watch the mask-makers at work. La Bottega's creations are completely handmade the traditional way, from papier-mâché.

The Boldrin brother's masks have been featured in Harper's Bazaar, Condé Nast Traveler, Orient Express Magazine, National Georgraphic Traveler, the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe and Vogue, as well as many other internationally respected journals, and in numerous TV shows and films, such as "Eyes Wide Shut."

La Bottega dei Mascareri
San Polo 80 (Rialto)
Tel. & Fax: (39) 041.522-3857
San Polo 2720
Tel.: (39) 041.524-2887

Go to the official Venice Carnival site for information about Carnevale Venezia 2017.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Thursday, February 2, 2017

And Now, Where do We Go? Exciting Cultural Program at T Fondaco in Venice

T Fondaco dei Tedeschi - Delfino Sisto Legnani e Marco Cappelletti © Dfs Group
(Venice, Italy) After many years of hibernating inside a colossal cocoon, the Fondaco dei Tedeschi at the foot of the Rialto Bridge recently metamorphosed into its current incarnation. An energetic nip and tuck by the renowned architect, Rem Koolhaas, and his OMA team, has lifted the monumental structure into the 21st century.

Originally constructed in 1508, the ancient building had first been the commercial center for German merchants during the Holy Roman Empire, next a customs house under Napoleon, and then a post office under Mussolini. On October 1, 2016, it officially opened as a DFS luxury department store, complete with an Alajmo brothers eatery on the ground floor called AMO (Italian for "I love"), and a cultural center on the top.

So the question is: AND NOW, WHERE DO WE GO?

The T Fondaco wants to take you on a cultural journey. Part of the arrangement they have with Venice is to open its doors to the community. Today, they announced what the program would include. It is filled with music -- in collaboration with Veneto Jazz -- dance, film, literature and other delights. Everything is free. However, there is a caveat: you must make an online reservation, and there is a limited amount of available tickets. There are 170 seats, with standing room for another 30 people.

Roberto Meneghesso, Vice President of DFS Italia, whose energy is contagious, had another surprise. He revealed a copy of the 1616 copper engraving by Raphael Custos that illustrated what the Fondaco looked like way back when.

Roberto Meneghesso, VP DFS Italia
There has been a lot of... discussion about the moving of the ancient well from the center of the Fondaco to the side (you cannot move one stone inside Venice without it becoming a topic of... discussion). Well, the well was originally just where it is now -- you can see it there on the right; it is inside that tower-like contraption. In addition to being a commercial center, the Fondaco was also home to the German community, and apparently they needed a method to hoist the water up to where it was most useful.

Fondaco dei Tedeschi by Raphael Custos (1616)
I am going to list the cultural program from February through June below, In Italian. In order to book, you must email, except for Pulitzer-prize winning American author Michael Chabon on March 30, who will be in Venice for part of the Incroci di Civiltà literary festival, and must be booked at

And now, where do we go?

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog 

Cultural Center - Matteo De Fina © Dfs Group

Venerdì 10, ore 18.30
Fabrizio Bosso Spiritual Trio
feat. Walter Ricci

Mercoledì 15, ore 18.30
Giuseppe Culicchia
Mi sono perso in un luogo comune

Venerdì 3, ore 19

Proiezione di video e documentari del Video Concorso Francesco Pasinetti

Martedì 7, ore 18.30
Viola Di Grado, Bambini di ferro
musica di Shedir

Venerdì 17, ore 18.30
Kinga Glyk Trio

Mercoledì 22
Viaggio Blu
ore 19-19.15 | 19.30-19.45 | 20-20.15

Giovedì 30, ore 21
Michael Chabon, in dialogo con Shaul Bassi e Mattia Ravasi

Martedì 11, ore 18.30

Marco Rossari, Le cento vite di Nemesio
musica di intonarumori

Venerdì 21, ore 18.30
Marea & Javier Girotto
Mediterranean Symposium 10th Anniversary

Mercoledì 26,
Viaggio Rosso
ore 19-19.15 | 19.30-19.45 | 20-20.15

Martedì 2, ore 18.30

Vitaliano Trevisan short cuts in jazz
musica di Paolo Brusò

Venerdì 19, ore 18.30
Mauro Ottolini Trio Campato in Aria

Mercoledì 24,
Viaggio Bianco
ore 19-19.15 | 19.30-19.45 | 20-20.15

Martedì 6, ore 18.30

Lorena Canottiere,
D R A W M U S I C (disegno dal vivo)
musica di Stefano Risso

Venerdì 16, ore 18.30
Il mese del rosario

Sunday, January 29, 2017

21st Anniversary of Teatro La Fenice Fire in Venice

Fire at Teatro La Fenice
(Venice, Italy) Teatro La Fenice, Venice's opera house, was destroyed by fire twenty-one years ago, on January 29, 1996, a case of arson. Like the mythical bird, the beloved theater rose from the ashes more splendid than before, once again filling Venice with music and wonder.

Teatro La Fenice
The ancient Greek myth of the phoenix is present in many cultures, from Native American to Russian, Japanese, Arabian, Egyptian and Chinese. It was a symbol in early Christianity. The phoenix reminds us that out of destruction comes rebirth and resurrection, and that the end is a new beginning.

A few years ago, I took a photo of a bird in the Venice lagoon striking a "La Fenice" pose, almost like it was auditioning to be the poster bird of Venice, which I will share with you again.

Venice Lagoon Bird Strikes "La Fenice" Pose

Venice lagoon bird strikes La Fenice pose - Photo: Cat Bauer

(Venice, Italy) In the early morning hours, this bird in the Venice lagoon struck a "La Fenice" pose.

As we all know, La Fenice means, "the Phoenix," the bird that is eternally reborn, that burns and then rises from the ashes. The phoenix is a royal bird, associated with the sun.

The name of the opera house here in Venice is called "La Fenice," one of the most famous opera houses in Europe. It has burned and risen from the ashes more times than we can count.

The phoenix is one of my favorite symbols. They say it is a mythical bird, but I like to imagine that it's real. 

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Arctic - The Final Frontier - Dramatic Photos of a Vanishing World at Tre Oci in Venice

Iceland © Ragnar Axelsson (1995)
(Venice, Italy) The climate on Earth is changing. It is an awesome thought, one that most human beings have difficulty processing, so we choose to ignore it. Three master photographers, however, have gone to the Arctic and stared the phenomenon straight in the face, recording the images to share with the rest of civilization.

The Arctic. The Final Frontier (Artico. Ultima frontiera), curated by Denis Curti, the artistic director of the Tre Oci, presents 120 powerful black and white images captured by Paolo Solari Bozzi (Rome, 1957), Ragnar Axelsson (Kopavogur, Iceland, 1958) and Carsten Egevang (Taastrup, Denmark, 1969). Three documentaries are also on show, Sila and the Gatekeepers of the Arctic by Corina Gamma from Switzerland, Chasing Ice by Jeff Orlowski from the U.S., and the Last Ice Hunters by Jure Breceljnik & Rozie Bregar from the Czech Republic.

What is the Arctic? It consists of the Arctic Ocean, and parts of Alaska, Canada, Finland, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Russia and Sweden. Greenland, the world's largest island, is part of the Kingdom of Denmark, with a small population of about 56,000 (the same as tiny Venice); 88% of Greenland's inhabitants are Inuit. The United States offered Denmark $100 million for Greenland after war, but Denmark refused to sell.

81% of Greenland is covered by an enormous ice sheet, which is rapidly melting. Greenland is rich with mineral and natural resources, including diamond, gold, precious gemstones, hydrocarbon, rare earth metals, lead and zinc. There could be oil and gas fields up there, too. To put things in terms Americans can relate to, it would be as if a handful of Native Americans were sitting on a bunch of precious treasures the world lusts after, armed with sled dogs and harpoons.

East Greenland, Scoresbysund © Carsten Egevang (2012)
Carsten Egevang is here from Denmark with his two very blond, blue-eyed sons, one of whom was born in Greenland. Trained as a biologist, Egevang was awarded a PhD in Arctic Biology at the University of Copenhagen -- one of those climate-change scientists we hear so much about. He lived in Nuuk, Greenland's capital, from 2002 to 2008, and returns at least three times a year. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to speak to a credentialed individual who is actually there on the climate-changing scene.

Egevang said that when he first started taking photos of Greenland, he was drawn to the beauty of its landscapes, the icebergs, the Northern Lights and the arctic fauna. If he captured a human being or a man-made object, he tossed it out. Now his mission is to document how the natives of Greenland still rely on the nature that surrounds them. He captures the interactions between the people and the animals there, depicting them as elements of the breathtaking landscapes.

Egevang said, "When we hear about climate change, we think it is something that will happen in the future. It is happening now. The sea ice is melting and the temperature is 20 degrees higher than normal."

I asked him how to present climate change as something people could relate to, something in which they had the power to intervene. He said that we could compare it to smoking. Within a relatively short period of time, human beings have completely changed their behavior toward smoking, which, at one time, seemed nearly impossible to accomplish. We must change our behavior toward fossil fuels, or risk being overwhelmed by nature.

Peter Egevant with his father's photos - Photo: Cat Bauer
I spoke to Egevang's 14-year-old son, Peter, who was born in Greenland, and lived there until he was four. He had recently returned there with his father after an absence of about 10 years. I asked him how it had changed. Peter said that it was difficult to recall because he was so young when he left, but he remembered that "everything was white when I was little. Now it's green. ...and the snow bears -- I don't remember this word in English -- the snow bears are dying." He pointed to a bear in one of his father's photos. "Polar bear?" I offered. "Yes," he agreed. "The polar bears are dying."

Paolo Solari Bozzi, Kap Hope, Scoresbysund, East Greenland, 2016 © Paolo Solari
Carsten Egevang said he was in a remote village with about 400 inhabitants when, astonishingly, he bumped into the photographer Paolo Solari Bozzi and his wife, Marina, "two Italians with shiny clothes." Paolo Solari Bozzi was on the eastern coast of Greenland between February and April 2016, recording the everyday life of a populace "that has chosen to live in a difficult environment."

I left for Greenland thinking that I was going to meet the Inuit with their bear and sea furs. But I soon realized that it was not going to be like that because today the Inuit wear Western clothing and their kids all own a cell phone. The Inuit are going through a delicate transition phase that is causing them to abandon centuries-old traditions, replacing them with those of today's world. Their grandparents still lived underground. Some say they were better off then than they are now because at least they were sheltered from the harsh weather that their small wooden houses imported from Denmark can't keep out when the wind blows over 200 km an hour.
Nenets, Siberia © Ragnar Axelsson (2016)
The third photographer, Ragnar Axelsson, or RAX, was born in Iceland in 1958 and has been a professional since he was 16-years-old. He has dedicated his career to documenting the fate and people of the North, "hunters, fishermen and farmers of the circumpolar area who live on the fringes of the habitable world." He believes that the traditional culture of the Arctic people is disappearing, and will not be able to resist the disruptive effects of the larger forces of economy and climate change.

It happened in Thule some twenty-five years ago. As I was walking by a small house, I noticed the old man who lived there standing at the front door, looking at the sky and sniffing the air. Every morning for five days, I saw him standing there in the same spot, always sniffing the air and staring at the ice of the fjord that was melting. I couldn't understand what the old man was saying, he just kept muttering the same words over and over, so one morning I asked a friend to come with me and translate his thoughts.
What the old man was saying was: "It shouldn't be like this, something's wrong. The big ice is sick." What he wanted to tell me was that the ice had never been like this before, that it shouldn't be like this. Those potent words spoken by a wise old man moved me. That man had always been a part of nature, and he was worried now because he sensed a change in the air.
Thule, Qaanaq, Greenland © Ragnar Axelsson (1987)
I also watched Chasing Ice by Jeff Orlowski, the powerful documentary which tracks James Balog, the Fine Art and Nature photographer, and his dramatic use of time-lapse photography to capture immense chunks of ice sheets cracking and crumbling into icy lakes.

When you watch a glacier disappear in front of your eyes, it makes a deep impression. Mankind has been successful at harnessing the power of nature over the centuries, but what is happening is so majestically horrifying, so immense, and so rapid, it is almost as if God is issuing a new, greater challenge: Clean up your act, or get wiped off the face of the earth. The flood is coming, we can be sure, but, hopefully, this time we have the wisdom to contain it.

The Arctic. The Final Frontier - Artico. Ultima Frontiera runs at Tre Oci from January 15 through April 2, 2017 and is a MUST SEE -- even if the building were empty, the 1913 neo-gothic beautifully restored structure is something to see, and they are always doing some cool photography thing. Go to Casa dei Tre Oci, for more information.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Friday, January 6, 2017

Clock Tower in Venice - The Magi Appear! Epiphany 2017

Clock Tower in Piazza San Marco on Epiphany
(Venice, Italy) Today, the Angel Gabriel, blowing his horn, appeared out on the Clock Tower here in Venice, followed by the Three Magi, who bowed and saluted to the Madonna and Child, something they only do twice a year-- today, the Epiphany, and again on Ascension Day.

Clock Face - Photo: Musei Civici
The Clock Tower, or Torre dell'Orologio, was inaugurated on February 1, 1499, more than 500 years ago. Rich with symbolism, the Venetians designed an astronomical clock, which moves through the signs of the Zodiac, as well as keeping time.

Photo: ReidsItaly
On the top of the tower are two enormous bronze statues known as the Moors, more than eight and a half feet tall (2.6 meters) -- one old, one young -- two Wild Men who swing a hammer to clang out the passage of time. The Moors are nude under their sheaths of vines, and are well-endowed.

Beneath the Moors on the top of the Clock Tower is the winged Lion of San Marco, the symbol of Venice, holding an open book. Originally, there was a statue of Doge Agostino Barbarigo kneeling before the lion, but when Napoleon's soldiers invaded Venice in 1797, down it came.

Photo: Heather McDougal - Cabinet of Wonders Blog
Gabriel and the Wise Men used to come out every hour when the clock was first constructed, but they haven't done that for centuries. Now, they emerge just those two days a year, and if you are not there at the precise moment to witness it, it is over in a flash. Otherwise, the doors where they exit and enter show the hour in Roman numerals on the left, and every five minutes in Hindu-Arabic on the right.

Photo: Venezia Unica
Gabriel and the Three Magi came out today, bells clamoring throughout Piazza San Marco. For the rest of the year, they reside inside the clock; you can see them if you take the Clock Tower tour. I went on the tour many years ago when I wrote a piece about it back in 2008 as the Venice Insider for Ninemsn, and I thought it was fascinating. Back then, interesting, quirky people took the Clock Tower tour:

Cinderella Bells

Only a handful of people usually show up for the tour of the inner workings of the newly restored St Mark's Clock, which was first inaugurated on February 1, 1499 by Doge Agostino Barbarigo. Five hundred years ago, Venetians built an astronomical clock that had five planets which moved around the earth (only the sun and the moon remain), two Moors that struck the time two minutes before and after the hour, and three Magi that circled the Madonna. For half a millennium, a watchman actually lived with his family in the Clock Tower; the last one left in 1998. After almost a decade of arguing about restoration procedures, the clock was finally up and running again in 2006. Aga is the name of one vivacious and informative guide who does English tours. A visit to the clock tower also offers one of the most spectacular views of Venice.
Photo: Musei Civici

I have long become accustomed to telling time by the bells of Venice. I don't wear a watch; the bells tell me when to wake up, when to go to sleep, when I am running late, or ahead of schedule.

Giant Wild Men clanging an enormous bell... The Lion of San Marco.... The Madonna and Child... the Angel Gabriel and Three Magi circling... An astronomical clock that moves through the signs of the Zodiac.... constructed during the Renaissance in Venice... Things to ponder during the Epiphany.

From the Cambridge Dictionary:



uk /ɪˈpɪf.ən.i/ us /ɪˈpɪf.ən.i/ literary

a moment when you suddenly feel that you understand, or suddenly become conscious of, something that is very important to you

a powerful religious experience

Of course, the Epiphany is also the day of the Befana, which I have written about many, many times before:

Befana 2014 - Epiphany! Venice has got the Relics of St. Nick!

Happy Epiphany,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog
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