A lot of people lost a lot of sleep over this show!
My friend Adriano sent me a link to a recent RAI tv film about Venice. Although it’s all in Italian, even if you don’t speak that language, you can still enjoy the scenes and much of the history through the fabulous imagery. It’s all apparently filmed in the middle of the night–how they managed to film busy Venice without a single person in the Piazza or on the canals is remarkable. Then they use computer generated imaging to show building structures, such as the crypt below Basilica San Marco or how pilings were used to create a substructure under buildings. Periodically, Carlo Goldoni shows up to wax poetic over his beloved city and twirl his mask or flip his tabarro over his shoulder.
Besides the usual suspects–Basilica San Marco, the Doges’ Palace–you also get to see things like how Canaletto the painter used a set of mirrors to project images of the city onto paper so he could create accurate drawings. You also get to see a bit of the Fondaco dei Turchi, and the narrator, Alberto Angela, has a long conversation with an astronaut! Vivaldi’s music is highlighted in La Fenice, performed by a violin virtuoso playing a Stradivarius. We also get a lesson on restoration as the narrator takes us into the Academia to see Carpaccio’s Sant’Orsola cycle being cleaned.
And of course I’m quite happy that my man Casanova is featured, more than once. In case you haven’t done the Secret Itineraries tour in the Doges’ Palace, this film will take you there so you can glimpse Casanova’s cell (at about 39 minutes). It also reveals Campo SS Giovanni e Paolo to recreate the scene where Casanova meets a lover who is disguised as a man.
Later, in order to show what a casino was like (and by casino, I mean it in the Venetian sense, that it was the private rooms used for assignations, cards, and intimate gatherings), Casanova visits the Casino Venier, one of the few intact casini left in the city. There’s no record that I know of that Casanova actually visited that particular casino, but this program gives us a glimpse into the rooms that are not often open to the public.
A very special treat is a midnight trip to the Squero di San Trovaso, where gondolas have been made for hundreds of years. The narrator talks to a master gondola builder as he uses traditional flaming canes to temper the wood (at about 61 minutes).
Women are mostly missing from this history lesson. The one exception: Veronica Franco. I’m not surprised that the producers would want to highlight the courtesans of Venice, and they do a nice job of humanizing Veronica Franco rather than only focusing on her seduction skills. Her section is at about 1:51 in this two hour show.
Venice is cleaner than I’ve ever seen it. The tide is high, the canals reflect on every surface, it seems, and not a single plastic bottle floats by. The Piazza San Marco looks like it was scrubbed by legions of cleaners on their knees with toothbrushes. The mosaics inside the Basilica sparkle with a brightness and vitality I’ve never seen before. Is this all a trick of the light (or would that be midnight?) Or post production shenanigans? Or a really great cleaning team? Whatever they did, it makes this worth seeing. Don’t get me wrong–one of the things I love about Venice is its well-worn textures, its wrinkles and cracks and age spots. This film is a bit like seeing your beloved grandmother when she was 23.
Here’s the link to the show, from RAI television. I don’t know how long it will be available, so don’t wait!