I was very fortunate to meet Piero Bellini many years ago when the artist Tony Green said that Piero could help me find an apartment for the summer. Since then, we’ve shared drinks in the Ghetto, live jazz music, a quick coffee or ombra, and I’ve had the pleasure to meet his son and work on projects together, such as First Spritz Is Free or his new jazz album. To hear stories of late night hotel front desk adventures, read his chapter in First Spritz. And maybe before you start reading this interview, you should click here to play the song “Mandarin Blues” from his new album, B Plan!
How has Venice seduced you?
I was just very lucky to be born in this incredible city and in the fantastic Veneto Region.
In few minutes by public boat you can reach the elegant beaches of Lido, in one hour by car you can reach wonderful historical cities like Padua, Verona, Vicenza, Treviso, Belluno. (I am just recommending the most important ones, and hundreds of smaller towns and villages… the villas on the Brenta River and the ones by Palladio–you should visit them all!) The magical Lake Garda, and in less than a couple of hours by car you can ski on the superb Dolomiti Mountains!
What do you never fail to do in Venice?
I never miss a visit every two years to the Biennale of Contemporary Art at Giardini and the magnificent Corderie dell’Arsenale, (and with the Biennale you can visit many Venetian palaces otherwise closed to the public). I would never miss in spring or autumn a bike ride at Murazzi at the Lido, or to buy some good fish at the slowly fading Rialto Market. (We the residents are fading as well under the pressure of mass tourism!)
What is your Venice soundtrack?
As a soundtrack obviously I should choose, avoiding the too famous Four Seasons, a couple of less known Antonio Vivaldi’s masterpieces: “Dixit” (for sacred music) and the spectacular “La Senna Festeggiante” (for profane music, around 1726, dedicated to Louis XV of France), or something coming from the genius of Claudio Monteverdi (buried in the magnificent Basilica dei Frari).
But I will choose something less obvious. My personal soundtrack is some good jazz music from great musicians coming from Venice or the nearby areas that you can listen to every night at the Venice Jazz Club, close to the famous Ponte dei Pugni and Campo Santa Margherita! But also every Wednesday evening at Ostaria da Filo (close to San Giacomo dall’Orio), or at the good restaurant/pizzeria Laguna Libre in Cannaregio, or on the terrace of Carlton Hotel, or at Bauer Hotel… etc. etc… You can have many choices for live jazz music in Venezia!!
Walk or take a boat?
If you stay for a short time just walk around and enter each church you meet on your way. But be prepared before your trip or you will miss superb masterpieces just like most of those mentally-ground-zero tourists.
If you stay for a longer time, by boat the lagoon offers a great number of fantastic surprises. One of those is the peaceful island of San Francesco del Deserto, or the nearby colorful Burano, or the amazing Torcello island.
Which church or campo best epitomizes you? Please explain.
San Giovanni in Bragora is the church of my childhood and I also got married there. A little church, anonymous on the outside, but with perfect internal proportions and a spectacular masterpiece by Cima da Conegliano just in front of you entering the church. By chance I saw a (not so good) copy of this painting in a church in New York City in 1980! In Bragora Antonio Vivaldi was baptized and you can honor as a reliquary a finger of Saint John.
Which is your favorite Venetian festival and why?
I was born in 1958. With my friends and all students of Venetian high schools we re-invented Carnevale in 1973-1978. It was just a Venetian thing, but like everything that comes from Venice, the success was so great that in a very short time it became a tourist affair. You can find Venetians at Carnevale looking at rowing boat parades on the Grand Canal. Most Venetians are in the boats waiting for Redentore’s big fireworks in the Bacino San Marco, and every single Venetian (including people from the nearby Veneto) will go for a short pilgrimage to Madonna della Salute. Very popular is also the San Pietro di Castello festa. I cannot choose one…
Spritz or Bellini?
My family name is BELLINI… so no choice for me! But just if the Bellini is the (expensive) one that you can drink at the famous Cipriani Harry’s Bar. Otherwise a spritz is better…. BUT to be precise: we have at least three different kinds of spritz. The Venetian traditional old guys will probably take spritz with Select, a man would probably take spritz with Bitter, a young guy or a woman would probably prefer the most known spritz with Aperol… SO…..Your choice!
What do you always tell friends to do when they visit the city?
If you take a water bus (vaporetto) be sure that you have regular tickets and validate them before entering the boat. In case of doubt ask immediately to the “sailor” to avoid fines. There are many controls around!
If you could have dinner with any Venetian, living or dead, who would it be and why? What would dinner be?
I would have dinner on the terrace of the Danieli Hotel facing the Bacino San Marco with all my family! Just to feel that we are still the owners of our city…
Casanova: genius or cad?
Casanova? Both of them and many other things….!
What would you do with $30,000 U.S. to spend in Venice?
Being a Venetian, I would spend it to restore the charming apartment of my mother, but it would not be sufficient. If I was a foreigner I would make them last, spending them slowly, to stay in Venice the longest!
For sure I would consider becoming a member of a good Venetian rowing society. It’s not expensive at all and you would have much fun going around the city. Many people from the UK, USA, and other countries became good doing that Venetian style rowing.
If money were no object, which palazzo would you buy?
Probably it would be by far too huge for me, but I would choose Ca’ Foscari Palace, because I feel that this place is already a little bit mine, because I studied Economics there during my university years.
Which gelato flavor are you?
Ice cream? The flavor depends on where you are. On the Riva degli Schiavoni, close to the Monument at King Vittorio Emanuele I’d have plain vanilla at the little chariot -gondola that was there also when I was a kid. If I was at Zattere, a classic: Gianduiotto from Nico’s, otherwise I just look for artisanal ice cream!
How can readers learn more about you and your creative pursuits?
Piero has just released his new jazz album, B Plan. Here’s the cover art, and you can listen to a sample song here.