Wednesday, February 21, 2007
Viva La Venezia!
I am a jeans and flats kind of girl. I don't wear a lot of make-up. For me, comfort and simplicity is key. So imagine my apprehension when I was told I would be wearing an 18th century-inspired dress for a ball that Art of Life was invited to during the Venice Carnival. I was given a few to choose from and they were everything I usually shy away from: bright colours, intricate embroidery, and -- horror of all horrors -- something akin to a corset! But after a lot of soul searching and deciding to live for the moment I embraced the costume and the experience wholeheartedly.
I met Antonia Sutter a costume designer based in Venice whose clothes take you back to another time; a time when attention to detail, grandeur, femininity and masculinity were characteristics to be embraced and sources of inspiration. In her tiny atelier hidden in one of Venice's maze-like streets and alleys, people lined up waiting to choose a costume among the hundreds hanging on the racks. There were intricate hand-made masks everywhere all part of creating a dream, one that transports you to an era of magic and magnificence. This is Antonia's busiest time of the year and most of the year is geared up for this moment.
The costume Antonia had picked out for me was a beautiful dusty-rose and gold dress that once slipped on made me feel like a member of Venetian royalty. With layers and layers of fabric and detailed embroidery it was nothing like anything I had ever worn before. And like everyone that was at the atelier trying on outfits, the room was filled with an excitement at the anticipation of being taken on a trip to the 18th century. Most of those renting costumes from Antonia were attending her event, the most sought-after ball of the carnival.
Il Ballo del Doge or the Ball of Dukes who ruled Venice in the 17th century takes place at the historic Palazzo Pisani Moretta, a stunning palace dating back to the 15th century. Built in Gothic style and overlooking Venice's Grand Canal it was the perfect setting for a party of an ethereal kind. No one was allowed in without a costume and that included the press. Over 400 guests all in period costume were welcomed into the illuminated warmth of a hundreds of wax candles lit in every room of this grand palace. We were treated to the Venetian specialty: seafood and a wonderful spectacle of Venetian culture from yesteryear with performances that include comedians, dancers, and musicians. I felt like I was in the movie Dangerous Liaisons and it seemed like we were all playing the part we were assigned.
I had never been to Venice before and being introduced to it this way has certainly left an indelible impression. While there is the fear of being a tourist trap with over 14 million people visiting every year, this city on the water has a personality of its own. It is perhaps the theatrical nature that Venice exudes that attracts visitors globally. And it is that theatricality that allures thousands during the Venice Carnival as they watch participants in colorful costumes and masks make their way through the crowds in the squares and the canal-lined streets.
Riding in the water taxi from the airport and into the city felt like I was being enveloped into a bright toy town on the water. It is everything I had ever imagined and seen in photographs, movies, music videos and paintings. The Grand Canal is flanked by over 500 years of architectural history making the first site breathtaking. The gondolas are there (even though they aren't what the locals use and are purely there for the tourists). Everything is expensive but the food and wine are worth it.
So, in Venice I learned to just be in the moment, to share the party-infused air with people from around the world as we walked slowly along the packed streets, to enjoy the drama that unfolded before me, and to inhale the excitement that was carnivale.