I felt beautiful for the soirée. I love the dress, which is the closest I’ve ever come to wearing a work of art. For the first time in my life I was daring a genuine pair of stiletto heels and all of my accessories were just right. I’d even had my hair done , braving the gossipy Saturday morning crowd of venetian grandmothers waiting for their blow dry as I tried to explain what I wanted in a very broken Italian to a woman who was used to back combing and litres of hairspray. In the end, the stylist did a stupendous job, creating a chignon that showed off the daring décollté of my dress, while keeping it all loose and informal.
Taking the elevator from our room I espied another Frenchman in a tuxedo. Assuming that he was also guest for the soirée, I introduced myself and soon met his wife, Dorothy. Before heading out together, we stopped on the dock to take photos and that is when I realized that no matter how great I felt that evening, in reality, I looked like an over stuffed sausage. I’m only now digesting my disappointment…
BUT, I didn’t let it taint our evening. Mr French looked fantastic and we were in Venice! We set off on quite the adventure finding our way through the maze of this ancient republic; over age worn cobbled stones, beyond a lively square, left along a canal for 20 meters, and over a bridge. The sight of 2 smiling girls in regional costume standing by a dock let us know we’d arrived. Not being in a water taxi, we crossed yet another bridge, passed a water well and stopped for a photo op by a couple of guards dressed as moors before going in. Rose petals littered the ground of a square, falling from a vase adorned water well that dominated the stone-lined courtyard while a stringed quartet plays light music and tuxedo clad gentlemen twirled ice cubes short glasses filled with amber red Spritzer cocktails while luxuriously dressed ladies sipped fragile pink Bellinis from champagne flutes.
The women were in long dresses, silken dark, flowing fabrics, jewels catching the evening light. There is a private garden with blooming roses, lion sculptures and a gate to the canal. A man comes over, introducing himself as the brother-in-law of our hosts and our table captain. I had never heard of a table captain before and quickly learned that it is his job to introduce the folks who’d be spending the evening together to ensure a good time is had by all. We chat and he is soon off to identify the rest of our table’s guests for the evening. Hands are clapped and we are beckoned back to the courtyard for a Commedia dell’arte performance with a human horse that is cut in two.
It is time to climb the stone, candlelit stairs to the sumptuous piano nobile where Murano glass chadeliers crown the ornate room like a series of tiaras. Spouses are separated as seats are assigned, food is served, speeches are made. I am the only one in the room with a camera and I am not the least bit perturbed by this fact. We are supposed be used to this, taking it all in our stride; blasé. But I am not and I don’t ever want to be. I am living an incredible moment and I savour it. The French man to my left is catching up with an old classmate. I introduce myself to the gentleman to my right and quickly understand that he is an Italian Count and our second host for the evening. It is his Palazzo we are dining in and I have been seated next to him because this is a French crowd, yet he is more comfortable speaking English.
Course after course is served as this man, who has been the oldest son of the oldest son for 1000 years, shares some of his family history, pointing out the trompe l’oeil portrait of his ancestor the doge above the door way, explaining that his family is one of the 5 remaining families of the 12 (apostles) founders of the Venetian republic. I listen intently, then respond in kind, answering his questions about life in California. Just before dessert we are interrupted by an operatic treat; three performers from La Fenice opera house serenading us with traditional gondolier songs and arias. Bravo!
After the high culture there was some low brow fun in the gondola garage that the Count has quite recently transformed into uno disco where we shook it until the wee hours of the morning, returning to our hotel room over the Grand Canal just as the sun started to stir and the vaporettos to whir for the day….