Archive for Carnival

Aug
07

Brain flutterings

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There is a brief period in later summer when the wetlands are carpeted with a form of heather commonly called "erica" (Calluna vulgaris). It should not be picked. But if for some reason it were to be picked, it stays beautiful as a dried flower for almost forever. I've been told. This photo was made a week ago, but I know the blooms are gone by now.

There is a brief period in later summer when the wetlands are carpeted with a form of heather known as “sea lavender,” or Limonium vulgare.  (I haven’t yet found a local name for this.) It should not be picked. But if for some reason it were to be picked, it stays beautiful as a dried flower for almost forever. I’ve been told. This photo was made a week ago, but I know the blooms have faded, or fallen, by now.  This picture is here only to set a mood of some sort — it has nothing to do with what follows.

Some of you might have watched the opening ceremony of the Olympics in Rio last Friday.  I liked it a lot, for many reasons, but that’s not the point.  If you didn’t like it, we can still be friends.

But I think we can agree that it had more than five moving parts, which is the maximum (I’ve just decided) that I can keep track of, much less control.  So may I give a huge shout-out to the director and executive producer, Marco Balich?  I’d have done it anyway, but guess what? He’s Venetian.

I suppose I shouldn’t be all that impressed; I discover that he directed the opening and closing of the Winter Olympics in Torino (2006) and the closing of the London Olympics (2012).  Also aspects of the Olympics in Beijing and Sochi.  He spent, all told, three years working on this five-hour extravaganza — two years designing, and one year living in Rio. But he was also, I now dimly recall, the director of Carnival in 2008.

And here’s what he had to say: “Designing the opening of the Games was simpler than the Carnival of Venice.”  He said he was joking.

“An event like the Olympics requires a complex preparatory phase, of negotiations, bureaucracy, long stretches of time and also the unforeseeable.  But I have to say that in Rio we found better conditions than anyone could imagine.”

The journalist interviewing him mentioned the “completely Brazilian placid resignation that perhaps greatly resembles the Venetian.”  I don’t remember having noticed any particularly PLACID resignation.  Though if we had the samba maybe nobody would care.

From a man accustomed to working with millions — I refer to money, as well as humans — that’s a very nice thing to hear.  So if he wants to joke about how hard it is to organize in Venice, never mind, because everyone knows that working on your home turf is not only hard, but usually an Olympic-level exercise in ingratitude.

And speaking of money, the Gazzettino of today reports that in one year, the Guardia di Finanza at the airport has recovered 15 million euros in cash which were outward bound, by means of a thousand assorted passengers.  The article says the cash was hidden in “the most unusual places — the heels of shoes, and in bras.”  Not ever having had more than the allowed 10,000 euros in cash to carry from point A to B, I’m probably not an expert on the subject. But I still would have considered shoes and bras to be the very first place to look, even if I didn’t have a beagle backing me up.  I guess I must be smarter than the people who got caught.

A few small cultivators on the Vignole sell their daily harvest at the Trattoria alla Vignole. Looking at the bins, a question formed in my brain. What's the point of writing "cipolle"? Or "pomodoro"? Or "patate"? If I were illiterate, or literate only in some distant language such as Tamil, this label would serve no purpose at all. All I really need to see is the price per kilo, as noted. I think anybody looking at the object would know what it was, call it what you will.

A few small cultivators on the Vignole sell their daily harvest at the Trattoria alla Vignole.  As I looked at the bins, a question formed in my brain. What’s the point of writing “cipolle”? Or “pomodoro”? Or “patate”? If I were illiterate, or literate only in some distant language such as Tamil, this label would serve no purpose at all. All I really need to see is the price per kilo, as noted. I think anybody looking at the object would know what it was, call it what you will.

It just strikes me as -- perhaps not odd -- but surprisingly superfluous. Unless they were put there for vocabulary drill by some enterprising (and hungry, and thrifty) teacher.

It just strikes me as — perhaps not odd — but surprisingly superfluous. Unless they were put there for vocabulary drill by some enterprising (and hungry, and thrifty) teacher.

And while I'm on the subject of unnecessary and inexplicable things, there is this phenomenon, which is not as rare as it should be (by which I mean: non-existent). A German couple happily deposits themselves in the outside seats on the vaporetto, and help themselves to a seat for their luggage. The most polite question I would have asked, if I'd felt like bracing myself for the reply, would have been: "Did you buy a ticket for those bags? Because there are plenty of people standing behind you who would almost certainly like to be sitting there." I know the space is tiny to non-existent, no one needs to tell me that. I merely ask why that entitles someone to use more for themselves just because they got there first.

And while I’m on the subject of unnecessary and inexplicable things, there is this phenomenon, which is not as rare as it should be (by which I mean: non-existent). A German couple happily deposits themselves in the outside seats on the vaporetto, and help themselves to a seat for their luggage. The most polite question I would have asked, if I’d felt like bracing myself for the reply, would have been: “Did you buy a ticket for those bags? Because there are plenty of people standing behind you who would almost certainly like to be sitting there.” I know that space is tiny to non-existent, no one needs to tell me that. I merely ask why that entitles someone to use more for themselves just because they got there first.

I conclude as I began: This picture is here just because I like it. I do not romantized these ladies -- their not-so-distant forebears (and perhaps they too) were notorious for family-destroying gossip. But I'm going to forget that for the moment.

I conclude as I began: This picture is here just because I like it. I do not romanticize these ladies — their not-so-distant forebears (and perhaps they too) were notorious for family-destroying gossip. But I’m going to forget that for the moment.  There are just too few of them left for me to cavil.

Categories : Venetian-ness
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Dec
12

Masking Venice

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The window at Ca' Macana, near Campo San Barnaba, looks especially dramatic when the sun goes down.

The window of Ca’ Macana, near Campo San Barnaba, looks especially dramatic when the sun goes down.

Now it can be told: My absence from my blog has been almost completely due to my presence elsewhere, viz., the world of Venetian masks.  Specifically, those who make them.  Well, some of those who make them — it wasn’t easy narrowing the field down to four. All this was for “Craftsmanship” magazine’s winter issue.

Certain chunks of time during that period were co-opted by the incessant unpredictables of daily life: Finding a dentist and replacing a large filling which fell out of a molar; replacing the hot-water heater in our little hovel, which is located in a closet literally three steps from my computer; renewing my passport (half a day, what with getting to and from the airport where the consulate is located); opening a new bank account because of new American laws I won’t bore you with.  And so on.  Charlotte Bronte and George Sand and Harriet Beecher Stowe never had to put up with all this because they had servants, for which I will never forgive them.

Back to work: From sometime far back in October till three days ago, I was researching, interviewing, and probing the depths of maskdom (history of, reason for, artisans therefrom, techniques, materials, anecdotes, etc.).  As usual, I overdid it, which meant that the pressure of the final phases (writing, rewriting, rewriting and rewriting) made my brain feel like a decaying swamp plant being turned into a diamond.  The pressure was there, anyway, I can attest to that.

This is pretty much how the month went.

This is pretty much how the month went.

I learned several very interesting things about masks in the process, but two things stand out, and I want you to remember them: First, the best mask-makers are constantly trying new ideas and designs, and second, they do it even though they know the mask probably won’t ever sell. That statement is worth pondering.

I have pondered the one with pleasure and the other with regret, because if you were to judge the range of masks on sale in Venice by looking at what people are wearing out on the street during Carnival, you would conclude that there are about five designs.  At most.  One of many reasons why I regard Carnival as one of the dullest and most stultifying intervals in the Venetian year is precisely because of the freaking monotony and lack of imagination in the costumes and masks.  I can dimly understand the appeal of disguising yourself.  But I cannot understand the appeal of disguising yourself to look exactly like hundreds of other disguised people.  At what point does the concept of “disguise” fail and become merely “normal”?

So here are some photographs of some masks that are sitting right there in shops (or about to be), and I’d like you to give them some respect because they’re quite likely to stay in the shops. Why? I hear you cry. Because people don’t want to spend money for an original work of art they can also tie onto their head.

If for some reason you want to spend the money but inconveniently don’t have it on you at the moment, at least do something different!  You don’t have to be an artist to break out of the mold.  You could buy a cheap white mask and stick crumpled-up chewing-gum wrappers on it and spray it with glitter.  You could throw the wrappers away and stick the gum directly on it.  You could take some Sharpie pens in different colors and write the story of your life all over it.  You could make a tunic out of newspaper and wander around blowing a kazoo and yelling “Hear Ye, Hear Ye” and announcing whatever invented headlines you really wish were true.  You could do a lot, if you start to think about it.

Here is the link to the story, and I am indulging myself bv adding some photographs that didn’t make it into the story, particularly some masks that are as unlike what you see on the street as mulch is from creme fraiche.

http://craftsmanship.net/the-high-art-of-the-mask/

An innocent, inoffensive, though somewhat demonic mask of a male goat is being transformed into a sort of Cyborg version at Ca' Macana. All this will be painted black, OF COURSE. But I like seeing its innards, all shiny and strange, just like a real person.  Or goat.

An innocent, inoffensive, though somewhat demonic mask of a male goat is being transformed into a sort of Cyborg version at Ca’ Macana. All this will be painted black, because of course. But I like seeing its innards, all shiny and strange, just like a real person.  Or goat.

This really kicks the whole "let's pretend we're something else" up a big Picasso notch. The shrieking horse from Guernica out to get more attention than the average boring white carapace.

This really kicks the whole “let’s pretend we’re something else” up a big Picasso notch. The shrieking horse from “Guernica” ought to make a bigger impression than the average impassive white mask.

By which I mean something like this. I am incapable of understanding the appeal of this.

By which I mean something like this. I am incapable of understanding its attraction, unless you are pretending to come from Roswell, New Mexico.  If all you want to do is completely cover your face, the proverbial paper bag does the same trick. They also make white paper bags.

Mario Belloni at Ca' Macana responds to Picasso. Why not be a Minotaur? Have you not often asked yourself that very question? This is your chance.

Mario Belloni at Ca’ Macana responds to Picasso. Why not be a Minotaur, made of newspaper, no less? Have you not often asked yourself that very question? This is your chance.

Like many shops, Ca' Macana has an assortment of masks of characters from the Commedia dell'Arte. This face, though, comes straight from history -- it is one of the earliest masks worn in Venice, and disguised the "Mattacini," or "crazies" -- young bloods who went around hurling eggs filled with rosewater at any- and everyone.

Like many shops, Ca’ Macana has many masks of characters from the Commedia dell’Arte. This face, though, comes straight from history — it is one of the earliest masks worn in Venice, and was worn by the “Mattacini,” or “crazies” — young bloods who went around hurling eggs filled with rosewater at any- and everyone.  Hilarious.

Marilisa Dal Cason at "L'Arlecchino" makes the traditional masks, but is one of the few who also makes the classic "Moreta," a black velvet oval held in place by a button clenched in the lady's teeth.

Marilisa Dal Cason at “L’Arlecchino” makes the traditional masks, but is one of the few who also makes the classic “Moreta,” a black velvet oval held in place by a button clenched in the lady’s teeth.

Seems very awkward to me, but can all those Venetian ladies have been wrong? (Answer: No.)

Seems very awkward to me, but can all those Venetian damsels have been wrong? (Answer: No.)

"The Parlour," by Pietro Longhi (1757) was graced by two ladies wearing the "Moreta." It must have kept the noise down, or at the least they must have walked around sounding like they'd been trapped in a small closet.

“The Ridotto,” by Pietro Longhi (1750’s) was graced by two ladies wearing the “Moreta.” It must have kept the noise down, or at the least they must have walked around sounding like they’d been trapped in a small closet.

Marilisa Dal Cason toils in her shop making mostly papier-mache', but then she heard the call of the plastic.

Marilisa Dal Cason toils in her shop making mostly papier-mache’, but then one day she heard the call of the plastic.

Like this, waiting to be painted.

She looked at a batch of white masks and just began to cut them up, then reassembled the pieces into new designs. Each piece is unique (note rare correct usage). Only one of each is ever made. Customers may or may not respond, but this has sparkled up her brain considerably.

The mask on the right is adorned with a pair or red lips sliced from a plain white mask.

The mask on the right is adorned with a pair of lips sliced from a plain white mask, then colored with the paint equivalent of Wine with Everything lipstick.

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These are either tentacles, or fronds, or tendrils...they'll look even better when they're decorated, I'm sure.

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Carlo Setti works with papier-mache' and especially leather. He made this shiny cranium on commission for an American wrestler who fights in Japan. He wears the mask in his matches.

Carlo Setti at “La Pietra Filosofale” works with papier-mache’ and especially leather. He made this shiny cranium on commission for an American wrestler who fights in Japan. He wears the mask in his matches.

Mashing the damp leather onto and around the wooden mold takes patience and strong digits.

Mashing the damp leather onto and around the wooden mold takes patience and strong digits.

Harlequin can't talk to you right now, he's got his mouth full of nails. Also, he appears to have no teeth. Carlo Setti at "La Pietra Fiolosfale" manages to communicate with him via his amazing hands. I asked why he named his shop The Philosopher's Stone. He said it was supposed to be a kind of good-luck charm, because the stone turned base metal into gold. "Did it work?" "No."

Harlequin can’t talk to you right now, he’s got his mouth full of nails. Also, he appears to have no teeth. Carlo Setti manages to communicate with him via his amazing hands. I asked why he named his shop “The Philosopher’s Stone.” He said it was supposed to be a kind of good-luck charm, because the stone turned base metal into gold.  “Did the name work?”  “No.”

Carlo is the pinnacle of leather mask-making, but I would like the record to show that he's just as good with boring old papier-mache'.

Carlo is the pinnacle of leather mask-makers, but I would like the record to show that he’s just as good with boring old papier-mache’.

Most people buy a mask to hang it on the wall. I realize you can't wear a mask every day, but -- oh wait. Of course you can.

Most people buy a mask to hang it on the wall. I realize you can’t wear a mask every day, but — oh wait. Of course you can.

Categories : Venetian-ness
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Feb
18

Carnival afterthoughts

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Here is a picture of the world yesterday, when frolic and carousal were the purpose of life:

Frittelle are so yesterday.  We wandered into a pastry shop near the Rialto and discovered "mamelukes," which have totally overthrown every other Carnival delicacy in my world.  The mamelukes, as you know, were a military caste in medieval Egypt, and flourished from the 9th to the 19th centuries, which is an extremely respectable run.  Because of southern Italy's unfortunate first-hand experiences with Saracens, "mammalucho" has long since become a term for a something of a dimwit.  In this case, however, the term refers to these seductive little bits of sweetness.  I'd have bought the whole tray if I'd known how much I was going to like them.

Frittelle are so last year. We wandered into a pastry shop near the Rialto and discovered “mamelukes,” which have totally overthrown every other Carnival delicacy in my world. The mamelukes, as you know, were a military caste in medieval Egypt, and flourished from the 9th to the 19th centuries. Because of southern Italy’s unfortunate first-hand experiences with Saracens, “mammalucho” has long since become a term you might use to refer to somebody who is a little slow of wit. In this case, however, the term refers to these seductive little four-inch-long bits of sweetness. I’d have bought the whole tray if I’d known how much I was going to like them.

Where frittelle are primarily fried dough, these are primarily I don't know what.  Bits of candied fruit, obviously, but there's a minimum of matrix.  I don't usually promote places (though I love to promote things, such as this), but you should know that these are created at the Pasticceria Targa at the address I so cleverly left visible in this photo.  That was not on purpose, but I guess it was meant to be.  I doubt that they'll be there before next year's Carnival, but this will give you something to look forward to.

Where frittelle are primarily fried dough, these are primarily I don’t know what. Bits of candied fruit, obviously, but there’s a minimum of matrix. I don’t usually promote places (though I love to promote things, such as this), but you should know that these are created at the Pasticceria Targa at number 1050 on the Ruga del Ravano.  I doubt that they’ll be there before next year’s Carnival, but this will give you something to look forward to.

Lino was telling me about Carnival when he was a lad — or rather, not-Carnival.

“Who celebrated Carnival?” he asked in his characteristically rhetorical way.  “It was right after the war and nobody had anything to eat.  Everybody was just trying to survive.”

There’s another reason why there was no costumed jollification before Lent.  “The government forbade you to wear a mask,” he said.  Why?  “For fear of reprisals.  There was a lot of settling of scores from the war.” He means civilian scores, struggles between Fascists and Socialists on the home front.

“I had two uncles — I can’t remember their names right now,” he went on.  “They were really vocal Socialists, and every time the Duce came to Venice, they were put in prison.”  Ostensibly for their own protection, but more probably to keep whatever peace could be kept while company was visiting.

But prison didn’t have to be involved in these domestic conflicts.  Mussolini’s squads of paramilitary “Blackshirts” (officially known as the Voluntary Militia for National Security) were notorious for taking political dissidents and forcing them to drink large quantities of castor oil.  That experience would certainly leave a memory that would call for redress.

“And the Ponte brothers,” he went on.  “You remember Bruno Ponte, he worked at the airport with me. My older brother, who was a Socialist, told me that when the brothers went home at night, they walked backwards to their front door, holding machine guns, so nobody would shoot them in the back.”

Carnival?  You mean, let’s all dress up like Mozart and walk around the Piazza San Marco so people can take our picture? I’d say people weren’t really in the mood.

Now we have to say a word about today, Ash Wednesday.  You might be aware that it is a day of abstinence and penitence, which used to involve a number of practices, most of which no longer survive.

The major custom (apart from going to Mass and having ashes sprinkled on your head) was to abstain from eating meat today.  Only fish.  Or maybe nothing, if anybody were to feel extremely penitent.

Therefore it has long been the custom for the butcher shops to be closed on Ash Wednesday.  A cynical person might interpret that as “They might as well, if they’re not going to have any business.”  But in any case, the tradition is still observed in our little lobe of Venice and, I’m guessing/hoping, elsewhere.

Butcher shops, though, are in a steep decline, so this valuable reminder of at least one day a year when they’re not standing there ready to provide T-bone steak is probably going to disappear eventually.  After all, the supermarkets are all open and are merrily selling meat of every sort, including tripe.

"Wednesday closed.  The ashes."  So either stock up now, or design your fishy menu.  Or buy pizza.  r whatever people do when they want to show how independent they are.

“Wednesday closed. The ashes.” So either stock up now, or go buy fish. Or pizza or hummus or tofu or whatever people eat when they want to show how independent they are.  “No meat today?  Fine.  I’ll just eat a couple of grilled scamorzas.”

I see I started with food and I’m ending with food.  Maybe this abstinence thing is beginning to affect my brain.  I mean, stomach.

 

Categories : Food
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Feb
17

Arrivederci Carnival

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I had no intention of going to the Piazza San Marco during Carnival, much less on Martedi’ Grasso, otherwise known (not here) as Mardi Gras, the last day of the fracas.

But the sun was shining, the wind was blowing, and we figured, why not?  So we went.

It was less chaotic than I had imagined, which was nice.  In fact, it verged on the placid.

And best of all, MY “Maria” won the pageant, and was crowned the Maria of 2015.  I was as shocked to discover my wish being fulfilled as I was the one night in my life that my bag was first onto the carousel at baggage claim at I can’t remember what airport.  And just as happy, too.

Here are some glances at the closing hours of revelry, not including the fireworks which we heard later on.  It seemed as if they were exploding from various points in the city and gave a satisfying concluding note to it all.

The contestants vying for the prize for best costume had very fine costumes,though not many were as original as what we saw outside the show ring.  This doge and his attendant (I'd have to study up on who his servant represented.  One of the Council of Ten?  Doubtful.)  The pair came from Palermo because they love Venice.  I myself thin it would have been much cooler for him to have dressed up as Roger II of Sicily, or some other local notable.  But that's just the way I think.

The contestants vying for the prize for best costume had very fine outfits, though not many were as original as what we saw outside the show ring. This doge and his attendant (I’d have to study up on who his servant represented. One of the Council of Ten? Doubtful.) came from Palermo because they love Venice. I myself think it would have been much cooler for him to have dressed up as Roger II of Sicily, or some other non-Venetian notable. Dressing as a doge in Venice is like dressing up as Wyatt Earp in Dodge City.

This extraordinary personage came into the special area (entrance ticket: 30 euros) a little late, and after a brief while departed.

This extraordinary personage came into the special area (entrance ticket: 30 euros) a little late, and after a brief while departed.

I imagine that after a while, she needed a place to sit down and rest her stilts.

I imagine that eventually she needed a place to sit down and rest her stilts.

I'm always glad to see some costume that isn't an 18th-century-powdered-wig-tricorn-hat-walking-stick-beauty-spot event.  No matter how elaborate that sort of outfit may be (and the gowns almost always look as if they're made of upholstery fabric), it's a look that isn't very imaginative, and becomes very monotonous.  So this turbaned wonder gets points from me.

I’m always glad to see some costume that isn’t an 18th-century-powdered-wig-tricorn-hat-walking-stick-beauty-spot conglomeration. No matter how elaborate that sort of outfit may be (and the gowns almost always look as if they’re made of upholstery fabric), it’s a look that isn’t very imaginative, and becomes very monotonous. So this turbaned wonder gets points from me.

On the other end of the spectrum was this homegrown marvel, whose costume basically means nothing and whose sign (in Venetian) translates as: I've got a lion between my leg, grr grr meow meow."  Still, people were happy to be photographed with him, even if they didn't know what it said.

On the other end of the spectrum was this homegrown marvel, whose costume basically means nothing and whose sign (in Venetian) translates as: “I’ve got a lion between my legs, grr grr meow meow.” Still, people were happy to be photographed with him, even if they didn’t know what it said.

This astonishing family seems to have been born and bred in a pastry shop.  First I thought the cakes were fake, but now I'm not so sure.  If the hats are real, I want to be there when they bet against eating them.

This astonishing family seems to have been born and bred in a pastry shop. At first I thought the cakes were fake, but now I’m not so sure. If the hats are real, I want to be there when they bet against eating them.

Food as accessory.  I like it.  You don't have to keep it clean or find somewhere to store it.

Food as accessory. I like it. You don’t have to keep it clean or find somewhere to store it.

I like a lady who takes her rat out for a promenade.

I like a lady who takes her rat out for a promenade.

And I especially like that she gave the little rodent a Carnival mask.

And I especially like that she gave the little rodent a Carnival mask.

Yes, those are security people.  I believe they were armed; there was some publicity about extra surveillance of the piazza this year.

Yes, those are security people. I believe they were armed; there was some publicity about extra surveillance of the piazza this year.

And here is Irene Rizzi, the Maria of 2015, bigger than life on the jumbotron behind the stage.  She's all decked out in some Chinese headdress for reasons that were unclear, though the presenters were babbling something about Marco Polo and the spice trade.

And here is Irene Rizzi, the Maria of 2015, bigger than life on the jumbotron behind the stage. She’s all decked out in some Chinese headdress for reasons that were unclear, though the presenters were babbling something about Marco Polo and the spice trade.

The supreme moment of the afternoon was the closing event: Drawing a version of the Venetian flag up the same cable that the "Angel" had slid down, all the way to the top of the campanile of San Marco.  A small group of men sang the "Hymn of San Marco" in an oddly drifty, lounge-y way.  I'd have brought in trumpets, myself.

The supreme moment of the afternoon was the closing event: Drawing a version of the Venetian flag up the same cable that the “Angel” had slid down, all the way to the top of the campanile of San Marco. A small group of men sang the “Hymn of San Marco” in an oddly drifty, lounge-y way. I’d have brought in trumpets, myself.

And up it went.  The wind was very cooperative in adding verve to the procedure.

And up it went. The wind was very cooperative in adding verve to the procedure.

A man was waiting at the summit to wrangle the banner inboard.

A man was waiting at the summit to wrangle the banner inboard.

I think it's so wonderful that these three ladies came out that I do not know what else to say. I love them.

I think it’s so wonderful that these three ladies came out that I do not know what else to say. I love them.

IMG_5903  putt mardi crop

Sunset is totally the best time to be in the piazza.

Sunset is totally the best time to be in the piazza.

See you next year.

See you next year.

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Categories : Venetian Events
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