Many of the scenes in my stories are set in these Venetians gardens, so naturally I sent Mariagrazia my first children’s book, The Undrowned Child, as soon as it was translated into Italian by Salani in 2011. The book’s protagonists are greedy foul-mouthed mermaids, a monster in the lagoon, the ghost of an historical traitor and some extremely clever children.
Mariagrazia’s letter said: ‘Sometimes fruit needs time to mature … and so finally it seems that I will be able to present your book in Venice, or rather propose a reading of it and a workshop for children in the great garden of Thetis at the Arsenale.
|the Garden of Thetis
The actor, musician and artist Oreste Sabadin, she told me, had offered his voice and his clarinet to perform a musical reading of some extracts of the book. And Mariagrazia’s daughter, the artist and photographer Francesca Saccani, would work with the children to paint watercolours of monsters and mermaids. Francesca and Anna Saccani had designed Wigwam’s first calendar.
I leave you to imagine how excited I was about this. Especially when I saw the beautiful poster.
Now the Italian edition of The Undrowned Child is called Il Grimorio di Venezia … roughly translated as The Magical Almanac of Venice. It has a rather provocative cover.
Don’t you think this mermaid looks as if she has really lived? Lived in ways beyond the realm of the intended 9-12 readers of the book? Or is it just that I need to get out more? (I’m sure you’ll tell me.)
|the original 'Papy'
Getting back to exciting news that my book was to be presented in Venice … naturally I planned to be there, and secretly hoped to be asked to judge the best mermaid drawing, or even just to paint a mermaid of my own. I couldn’t help noticing that Oreste Sabadin was a ferociously handsome man.
I rehearsed my impromptu speeches and off the cuff jokes in the bath for a week; I’d chosen the outfit; I’d had my hair cut and my toenails were freshly gelled in the kind of courtesanly red that the Italian cover’s mermaid would have favoured, had she owned toes to paint instead of a tail.
As it happened, a last-minute logistical hitch meant that I was unable to get to Venice but I received reports of the event in image, word and sound. I am pleased to report that this was an occasion properly dedicated to the imagination, to innocence and to children - and to gardens.
My lovely friends, the artist Deirdre Kelly and the architect Rosato Frassanito sent me texts, emails, photos and videos all through the performance, during which Oreste read from the book, and played,
while Francesca created images in watercolour using, appropriately, brushes fashioned from vegetables.
The children sat around in a neat semi circle. I would love to show them but it’s never a good idea to publish photographs of children on the internet, sadly. With permission, however, I can show you a talented young Venetian friend of mine, Martina, who attended the event.
Sheets of paper were also laid out for the children, with generous dollops of colour and vegetable paintbrushes.
I was informed of everything minute by minute - even my own round of applause at the end.
So, sitting looking over the Thames, I could feel myself by the lagoon in Venice.
Many, many thanks to all involved.
Michelle Lovric’s website
You can learn more about the work of Wigwam, and find a schedule of their private garden openings and visits here
It also features illustrations by Francesca Saccani.
Photos by Rosato Frassanito and Deirdre Kelly, the collage artist, who is currently preparing a new exhibition of her work for the Scuola Grafica in Venice.