Thursday 10 January 2019

Gibbering light - Michelle Lovric

Christmas in Venice is a season of low winter light gibbering on the stones under the bridges. The Venetians call this phenomenon ‘gibigiana’. The Italian word for it seems to be ‘sbarlusso’.

The winter sun brings out the basking cats, particularly the three magnificent Maine Coons at the Calle dei Muti. I think this one below is called ‘Rudolf’. In a scene that was sadly edited out of my forthcoming children’s book, these cats had a starring role. They even danced the hornpipe. Oh well.

Everyone who is anyone in Venice gets their Christmas tree at this little outpost at San Felice.

I don’t know why this seems to be the only place. It has been for all decades I’ve been here. I imagine the journeys of these trees … perhaps from Slovenia via Trieste to this city. I imagine them disappearing into the homes of the disappearing Venetians. The 'Venetian counter' in Campo San Bartolomeo was down to around 53,000 last time I checked.

Where there are Christmas trees, there are decorations. This shop in San Pantalon always has the best ones in Venice. One year, I am going to crack and buy these dinosaurs. I really am.

But I won’t be dipping into this basket of Moors.

I have written elsewhere of the patere, discs of stone sliced from columns and decorated with cautionary scenes, usually of beast eating one another. I always look out for previously unseen patere in Venice and this is a new one for me: two lobsters grappling.

It’s at the Ponte delle Guglie. Lobster is on the menu at all the most expensive restaurants on New Year’s Eve in Venice. So it seems appropriate to the season.

On a killing note, Christmas is the time when Venetian ladies of a certain age get out their minks. Fur brings out the brilliant orange lipstick and the glittering earrings. The earrings bring out the diamond rings and the designer sunglasses. There’s no word in Italian for ‘privacy’ but I decided not to shame any of the minky ladies with a photograph. I can only hope that many of these elegant she-bears shuffling around Venice are wearing their grandmothers’ coats. Venetian senators surely handed down their robes lined with squirrel fur. How many squirrels must have been culled to supply the Maggior Consiglio of around 2000 patricians in the long life of the Venetian Republic?

On the vaporetto the other night, I saw a Venetian lady of fashion wearing the skins of at least three different animals. However, on a designer lead she dragged a little dog with a lustrous pelt of his own. Was it just me, or did that dog have a worried expression every time he looked up at his mistress? And, I wondered, how could she herself not see the irony of prizing her pet’s fur as the living upholstery of her love-object while taking it for granted that the beasts of the forest and jungle must be slaughtered to keep her looking expensive?
Venice, fortunately, doesn’t do garish Christmas lights or ruin the Grand Canal with Disneyfied illuminations. Around San Marco and Rialto, there are usually beautiful cascades of pinpoint white lights. This lovely picture was taken by Janny Williams under the arches that formerly enclosed Venice's jewellers at Rialto.

I was hoping to find some kind of lurid lit Veneziana to join my Venetian Christmas grotto in London, but I failed. The town hall's tall columns are garlanded. There are little cribs everywhere. This one below is at the gondola stazione at Santa Sofia, which porters people from Cannaregio over to the Rialto Market and back.

There’s a hotel near Ca’ d’Oro with a vast nativity scene all lit up in its garden.

But on closer look, something is missing in the manger department.

A friend explained that the Christ child is not added until Christmas morning, Of course.

And when I went back to check after Christmas … there He was.

In the bigger squares, there are also lovely stalls selling every possible accoutrement for your home crib … this year there are steampunk accessories for the modern manger; masks, too. And of course there are cakes. At this time of year, panettone, pandoro and focaccia all become currency. People trundle around with trolleys full of exquisitely packaged confectionery.

At the Bifora in Santa Margherita, the decorations are simply beautiful, adding beauty to beauty. The Murano glass chandeliers bear extra glass balls of scarlet.

The roof is festoonery with greenery. And the company is absolutely splendid. (Photo by Ross Frassanito, with thanks, and not just for the photo …)

Finally, the best modern retail acknowledges Venetian history. This is the window display in a shop by the Ponte delle Tette, a place where state-sponsored courtesans would bare their breasts to encourage customers.

Merry Christmas to Venice past and present! (photo by Janny Williams, with thanks).

 Michelle Lovric's new website.


Penny Dolan said...

Thank you for this charming glimpse of Venice at Christmas time, Michelle, and good wishes to the forthcoming book.

abigail brieson said...

Your posts on this lovely city are fascinating and paint a vivid picture of somewhere I shall probably never visit. Thank you!

I agree completely concerning disconnect between 'pets' and 'creatures'. Are they not all the same? If dinosaurs had further evolved, would humans have become their pets, or their food?

The final photo is of an ensemble I would not possess courage to wear, despite any potential yuletide reputation. Or perhaps by it's wearing, I would then gain a yuletide reputation.

Joan Lennon said...

Ah, Venice! Thanks Michelle!

Celia Rees said...

A bit late coming to this but thank you, Michelle. I have to admit to being consumed with envy but you wrote the piece so beautifully and illustrated it so carefully, I felt as though I was there.

Sue Purkiss said...

Enchanting! And that's a lovely picture of you. Good news that there's to be a new children's book from you!