Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Lions and Tigers and Bears (Oh My!)

Back in the days when I was an international fashion model in Milan, I would often pop down to Venice whenever I had any spare time - which admittedly wasn't as often as I would have liked. And because of my success on the runway and as a frequent visitor to Venice, I eventually became a regular at the Venice Film Festival, so needless to say, I know the city pretty well. Last weekend was the first opportunity I had to take my (still unemployed) bipedal attendants and god-bipedal attendants to see the Serenissima, the Queen of the Adriatic, the City of Bridges: Venice

And please forgive me for not being able to let go from my international fashion modelling days completely - I just had to wear the straw hat made famous by Venice’s gondoliers. Only bear-size. They're so jaunty and they do keep the sun off one's head.

Anyway, the city, as you probably know, is actually comprised of many small islands (118 to be exact) floating (or sinking) in Venice's saltwater lagoon. These islands are connected by bridges although scores of gondoliers are only too happy to ferry you around the city for 80 euros for 40 whole minutes (100 euros after 7 p.m.). Given my attendants' financial situation, we explored the city by its bridges

Thanks to its strategic position and ties to the sea, Venice would eventually achieve maritime superiority over its rivals, becoming a major player during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. It was from this marshy saltwater lagoon that many many ships bound for the Crusades set sail. Honestly! – you humans and your wars of religion. Will you people never learn?

During this time, Venice was a beehive of commerce and those ships which weren’t being sent off to kill Muslims, raze cities, find the Holy Grail and pick up as many saints' relics they could stuff into a sack were used to trade in spices and silks from the Orient. The city became fabulously rich. Unfortunately, Venice fell from prominence about 400 years ago and hasn’t really done much since. Except attract a lot of tourists.

Venice is also the city of St. Mark (who may or may not have written the Gospel of Mark) and so his symbol – the lion – can be seen everywhere. Why a bear wasn’t chosen to be his symbol truly defies logic.

Anyway, in 828 the Evangelist’s remains were stolen from Egypt (now that’s a Christian thing to do) and placed in the
basilica which bears (bears!) his name, ousting poor St. Theodore of Amasea as patron saint of the city. (He still has a statue there on a high pillar but I don't think anyone looks at it since St. Mark's lion is right next to him).
In any case, this relic-theft pretty much catapulted Venice on to the world stage.

These days St Mark’s Square – or the Piazza San Marco – is always full of pigeon-feeding tourists and those willing to pay 1
0 euros for a glass of beer to sit and enjoy the view. And line-ups a mile long of people queuing up to see St. Mark's and the Doge's Palace.

In the photo below, and if you squint really hard (I have to get a new photographer), you can just about see replicas of the Horses of St. Mark or the Triumphal Quadriga atop St. Mark's. The originals - safely kept inside the basilica - were "captured" (which means "stolen") from Constantinople when the city was sacked by the Venetians in 1204 during the fourth Crusade. Before then they were part of a 4th century b.c.e. bronze statue which included the carriage (quadriga) they led. Horses, not bears - honestly!

The horses were sent off to St. Mark’s where they’ve been ever since (except for a brief period when Napoleon sent them off to Paris) but no one kn
ows what happened to the chariot.

Too bad you can barely see the horses. I really should get a new photographer.

Besides the Venice Film Festival, the city is best known for its Carnivale. Because Carnivale begins in about 3 weeks, my female god-bipedal attendant didn’t want me to leave the city without a mask.

By some bizarre oversight, the artisans who create masks for Carnivale don’t have (little grey) bears in mind so needless to say, finding a bear-size mask was like finding a needle in a haystack. But my female god-bipedal attendant doesn’t take defeat easily and I think I must have tried on a hundred masks. I confess that most of the shop attendants were less than helpful in her (or our) quest - I guess my gondolier hat proved to be an excellent disguise - and as well, the two males in my group got pretty cranky what with all the mask shopping. I think they just wanted a beer.

And did she - I mean, did I ever find a mask? - you'll have to wait until February's blog to find out. I just love a mystery! - especially when fashion is involved.


Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. G.B.
Your Gondolier's hat is tres tres chic. You look more handsome than ever.
I hope you find a mask in time for the Carnivale. Will you participate or be a spectator?

Grey Bear said...

Thanks Anon,
I don't want to appear vain but I did chose a straw hat with red ribbon rather tan a blue one because, as a grey bear, I look better in red.

I don't know if I'll still be in Italy for Carnivale: it depends on whether there's a world crisis I have to respond to (I am a freelance Goodwill Ambassador) or if my bipedal attendants find a job.

The Spelunkers said...

do you ever go to the shows anymore? or is that ancient history?

Grey Bear said...

Hi Spelunkers ... do you mean the shows at the fashion shows in Milan or the Venice Film Festival? I still get invitations to both and sometimes I'm able to make an appearance at one or the other. But I don't walk the catwalks anymore ... I'm just a spectator and there to be interviewed.