I awoke to my first morning in Venice. The Savoia has a large American-style breakfast. I am puzzled by the coffee however - there are cups and little pots of three different sizes, and lids that seem to fit none of them. I'm quite that the Europeans have an ancient tradition involving coffee, cups, and pitcher size. Probably the Doge at some point was testing the godless heathen of a Turk ambassador, and checked to see if he knew which pitcher to use for coffee and which for milk. When he didn't know, he probably made him eat six gallons of goose-lard and then shaved his head. Maybe.
At any rate - I sat alone for a while to eat and read, wanting to fill up on calories and caffeine while I could. Soon enough, T and Z came down and we chatted while I drank more and more espresso.
Eventually the order of the day was to get done up in our Victorian kit and head out for our brunch at the Danieli.
we assembled and all looked splendid. Many top hats were evident. Myself, I was wearing black tapered and cuffed pants with a white French-cuff tuxedo shirt - a red brocade waistcoat and black cravat, and a thigh-length mourning coat. I felt quite snazzy until I got downstairs and our crew was together in the lobby. Everyone had fantastic stuff. Ladies in high-collared dresses with long lace gloves and hats with mesh veils. Gentlemen in stiff-collared toxuedos with rich cravats and top hats. Not for the last time, I felt that I couldn't hold a match to the luminous splendor of our group.
We sauntered. Il touristi wereagog to say the least. Many photos were taken in the short space of about a hundred meters. Just on the other side of one of the many small bridges that do the Riva Calle de Schiavona. I'm sure it has a name and a thousand years of history - but for the moment it was an arc of stone jammed with peopole like salmon swimming upstream to spawn-evale.
The Danielli is the most opulent hotel in Venice, and by reputation at least, i sthe finest. Our own humble Savoia is a four-star, dripping with Murano objets d'arte and everywhere elegantly trimmed - but it is as nothing comapred to the Danieli. The revoloving door alone has more weight and splendor that can be found in America, and the interior is the sort of splendiforous extravagance that Hollywood movies ape. One doesn't know one has only seen pale imitations until onehas stood amidst the real thing - the marble floors, the filigreed columns, the stained glass dome which allows color-laden light to fall withpalpable weight ont everything, pinning me to the floor like a butterly on cardboard with a sunshine pin-tack. (thingy)
Then as we entered and were stunned by this aggressive display of elegance, we were swept through the grand lobby and up into a gallery where the private party was to occur. This was what we were here for - to see and be seen by the costumed elite of Europe. (But not superheroes!)
How disappointed were we, when we found only a handful of people had showed. We thought perhaps that we were simply early - but in fact, few people ever arrived and none were in especially magnficent costumes. The food was not appreciably better than that at the Ristorante Principessa, where we were staying.
(Note - just now I looked out the window of the Princepessa, the sun has just risen - and the fog is so thick that for a mad second I mistook the prow of a ship for Godzilla's tail. Must be the Japanese couple sitting behind me. ) [I walked outside and took this picture]
The world's most expensive brunch was a bust. The food was good, but there was no champagne. Then the table full of Germans next to us all started to smoke - so before I had even eaten myself full, we were leaving. This left me very trepidatious about the Suspiro Ball that night, which cost nearly four hundred dollars. My fears, however - were entirely unfounded, I would find out.
After brunch we strolled again. The crowds were thick but nothing like we would eventually experience. Some of us shopped, but I saved my Euros for later - and soon enough we were on or way to the Suspiro (other word) Ball. To get there we had to take Vaporetto - which means "steamer" because it used to be a steam-engine ship. It's the Venetian equivalent of the bus, but somehow being carted around on the Grande Canale is quite a bit more romantic than the bus. The woman at the counter had no change, and spoke no English, and also seemed to have only a vague handle on the difference between Euros and Lire. In most places, prices are marked in both, though officially only Euro are accepted. We asked a waiter what he thought of the Euro, and although Iexpected that he wouldn't like the fact that the 1 or 2 Euro was a coin, he actually love dit and says that it has been very good for business.
Anyway we foudn our stop on the Vaporetto and wended our way to the Casino where the ball was held. We were instructed on an important point by E, who speaks every language in the world and worked for the State Department and is essentially a goddess. She is to travel what K & S are to courting. So E speaks - we listen. Casino as we pronounce it means "whore house" wheras "place to gamble" is spelled the same but pronounced "Cah-zee-NO" Mental note: don't call the place a whorehouse.
After collecting ourselves in a flagstone-inlaid square (But still no fountain suitable for falling into) We entered after showing our invitations to the ball. We passed through a stairway where beautiful maidens scattered rosepetals in front of us. At the stop of the stairs, liveried servants beat heavy brass staffs (staves?) against the floor, sending out a report like gunshots. Then the head servant (Maitre d'?) announced our entrance in a stentorian and operatic voice.
I would love to record that my spirit swelled in my chest, and I strode into the hall with the presence and bearing of a great heor, or merchant prince, my ancestry coursing in my veins. This was not true, however. Instead I was the grandson of a humble engineer, and behind my face-covering mask, I was blushing. I slunk into the hall trying not to attract attention.
Around me whirled a fantastic scene - astonishingly beautiful women in 17th Century dresses, men in satin and powdered wigs. It was a fantasy come to life - a long tall salon bedecked in ancient paintings and everywhere gilt - and women of such surpassing beauty i was awestruck. Of one tall and dark Italian beauty I thought, "I don't have words in any language to do justice to your beauty." Another willowy blonde German girl was so excruciatingly lovely that I got the collywobbles just looking at her -and I'm afraid I must have stared.
But these stars of the Venetian sky were outshone entirely by the sun and moon of beauty - a dark-tressed girl who is surely the sole reason that Italian women are famed for their beauty. She worked for the Casino - and after a sumptuous and unforgettable meal of five courses - she danced for the guests. Though other women dances as well, she might as well have been a bonfire amongst candles.
After the show, the actors put on a show of a different sort - They took K up on stage next to a bevvy of of beauties, and blindfolded S. He was led to each in turn and kissed them all. Without error he shook his head at each, until he came to K - whom he kissed deeply. The women shuffled and again he touched each upon the knee, and picked K without hesitation. Last, he touched each upon the shoulder. To fool him, they girls each jumped into line several times, but again he was unfooled. When at last the man (dressed as Il Dottore from Commedia D'ell Arte) guided his hand to K's shoulder, he whilred her into his arms and kissed her passionately.
I thought, "I want that." and realized how lucky they are to love each other so deeply. It was moving, and inspiring. I hope someday to be so blessed. I have loved deeply, and sometimes even been loved - but nothing to match that peerless moment - that perfect kiss and all that it symbolized.
Afterwards, we danced until very late. Well, they danced - I watched. But for once the watching was enjoyable, and the champagne flowed copiously, and I'm afraid by the time I staggered out to the Vaporetto with the last bottle of many in my hand - I was as polluted as the canal. On the ride home I raved about Hemmingway and Byron, and filled the foggy night air with verse. Which must have sounded like drunken raving to any of the non-English speakers. But I knoow, at least, that I was very clever indeed.