The Lunatic's Ball

The Lunatic's Ball
24th February 2019

We woke up this morning to the chiming bells of Chiesa di San Francesco della Vigna. It was such a wonderful way to come around having had a good nights sleep. The bed was incredibly comfortable and we were in no rush to get up.

At least our room rate did not have breakfast included which in one way was a bonus. It meant we didn't have to force ourselves out of bed only to over eat at the buffet. The flipside to that was unless you had prepared in advance and gathered your nuts, then hunger would force you out of bed anyway!

Our plan for today was to go to St. Mark's square for the "flight of the angel" but first we really did need to find somewhere to eat. We stopped at the first cafe we came across on the corner of Barberia de la Tole and Calle de l'Ospealeto. It was called Pasticceria dal Conte.

The smell of coffee shook our senses when we walked in and the display of pastries easily tempted us.

Two americanos and a plain fritella doughnut each was just perfect for breakfast. The old guy with a distinctive nasal voice (that reminded me of the American actor Ray Romano) corrected my Italian grammar, but he did it with a smile. So two Americano became due Americani when pluralised, and the same for fritella/fritelle.

The cafe had a wonderful quirky atmosphere. Up against the wall there was an unattractive jukebox that still played vinyl singles for 1. The seven inch record sleeves covered the walls and even the tables were laminated with them.

Sugared and caffeined up we continued our journey towards St. Mark's square.  

We walked down tit lane (calle tetta - unless my translation is misinformed) and turned towards the self proclaimed "most beautiful bookshop in the world".  Blowing its own trumpet must be working for Libra Aqua Alta  as there was a huge queue to get inside.

There was an ATM next to it. We needed some cash so I went to take some out but I cancelled the transaction when the machine informed me it was going to charge €4 for the priviliege. Not only that, it also recognised my card was registered in the UK and was going to charge the sterling equivalent at their chosen exchange rate which was €1.02 to the pound. I had Euro account with my card on which I got €1.15 to the pound. So it was a double-whammy. "Daylight bloody robbery" I muttered to myself and walked away.

We continued down the street until it came out into the large open space of Campo Santa Maria Formosa with the church of the same name dominating the square.

We crossed the square in search of an Irish pub called Inishark, not for the now but for later in the afternoon to watch United v Liverpool. It was literally a few steps away after crossing a small bridge with pizzeria on the corner, with some amazing looking tray bake pizzas in the window.

With our trusted google maps giding us towards St. Mark's square we took a left and then was expecting to take a right but it was cordonned off and a pair of ladies in uniform were ushering everybody back towards Campo Santa Maria Formosa.

Undettered, we tried again, in the hope of finding an alternative route, but each way we tried had a blue and white tape denying us any progress and looping us back into the square.  We consoled ourselves that all the traipsing about at least took us to corners of Venice we wouldn't have otherwise seen.

After the third attempt we realised there was only one way out of the square in the direction we wanted to go and that was where the queue was forming. We stood there for a few minutes but it was gridlocked, nobody had moved any further over the bridge to the side of Palazzo Malipiero.

We hate standing around getting nowhere so we decided to try a completely new approach, retracing our steps back towards our hotel.

 The narrow alleys of Venice were not designed for this amount of people. Bottlenecks quickly formed as the crowds funnelled over narrow bridges. We were shocked by how busy it had become. The street we had strolled down only an hour earlier was now filled to bursting point.

Fortunately for us we were walking in the opposite direction and when we got to the vicinty of our hotel the streets were empty. From there the route down to the Riva della Schiavoni waterfront was surprisingly trouble free. 

As we came out by the Hotel Metropol we were within touching distance of St. Mark's Square but the sheer volume of people was frightening.

We gave up on the idea of getting anywhere near the "flight of the angel" and walked away.

All the walking around had made us hungry so we found somewhere for lunch.  We stopped at Ristorante da Lorenzo and sat outside to people watch. There were still plenty of masked fancy dressers to admire but the vast majority of people today were not joining in the carnival spirit.

The food arrived and my fettucine ai porcini was absolutely stunning. I could have eaten it all day. Unfortunately Julie's roast chicken was awful. It was a gnarly piece of sinew and bone and whatever meat it did have it was reluctant to give it up. Also being on Riva della Schiavoni it wasn't cheap. 

After paying our €50 bill (and that was just for our food and two soft drinks!) we moved on, browsing the cheap carnival masks and risque aprons for sale at the numerous stalls.  (Do people actually buy this rubbish?)

With our plans scuppered we decided against aimlessly wandering the busy streets of Venice all afternoon and chose instead to return to our hotel room to chill for a few hours.

We did pop out after 3pm to watch the second half of United and Livepool playing out a boring 0-0 game. At least the crazy crowds had gone so walking to the Inishark Irish pub didn't take us too long.

On the way I reluctantly took cash out of the ATM next to the "most beautiful bookshop in the world". It effectively cost me €60 to take out €50!  "Thieving bastards" I muttered to myself.

Back in our room we had a bit of a sleep so that we could be refreshed and ready for a late night.

The official Venice carnival ball was held at the Casino di Venezia, a huge palace on the Grand Canal. It was a good half hour walk away so we set off around 7:30pm. Dressed to the nines, me in my black tie with a traditional Batuta full face mask and three cornered hat, and Julie in this lovely dress,  pretty jeweled eye mask and new comfortable shoes to make the walk easier. Her fancy heeled shoes were in a bag for later. 

It was dark by now, which made navigating the labyrinth of alleys a little more challenging. Julie wasn't best pleased when we strayed a little off course. She had been feeling a little anxious all afternoon about this evening. Now we were technically lost and her feet were suffering from the stiffness of her new "comfortable" shoes, she got a bit emotional. She even decided to continue the walk barefoot and took her mask off as it didn't fit very well.

Eventually, much to my relief, we reached Strada Nuovo,  a wide street filled with familiar chain stores. We were back on course. Julie put her shoes back on, bought another better fitting soft lace mask from a street vendor and we walked more or less in a straight line, via a google led detour until we found the Casino di Venezia.

Before we walked inside Julie swapped her footwear for the evening, and went to put the cheap lace mask on but we had somehow lost it! In the five minutes since we bought it we had misplaced it.  So the original Venetian mask went back on.

We stepped inside the grand entrance and were ushered down the red carpet to a makeshift cloakroom. Our print-at-home tickets were (to my absolute relief) validated. Imagine if we had been scammed. We paid our £500 each over the internet in the hope that it was real. Thankfully it was and we were in!

We enjoyed a glass of prosecco with all the other guests as we waited for the party to begin.

Julie was pleased to see that we weren't the only ones not dressed up like we had stepped off the film set of Marie Antoinette. Many like us were dressed in normal evening wear.

At 8:30pm precisely we were all invited upstairs. We made slow progress as we were all greeted individually by the master of ceremonies for the evening.  He was dressed like a ruler of an alien planet, like a Ming the Merciless. The theme for this years masqerade ball was lunar, (or the moon) which had been expanded to "lunatic" meaning those who have been touched by the moon. 

We had a brief conversation with him where he complimented me on my choice of mask, "Do you know the Batuta is a very traditional mask?"

We continued upstairs waiting our turn for a photo op in front of a glittering crescent moon with a troop of performers which included a dwarf Captain America and a woman with her head stuck in a fish bowl. It was all very odd but exciting at the same time.

With the formalities over and done with, Julie's anxieties were washed away and replaced with excited anticipation as we entered the the room.  

Large planets hovered above our heads and another sparkling crescent moon hung from the ceiling. The whole room was filled with nothing but ultraviolet light giving it an otherworldly appearance.

Waitresses mingled with trays of canapes and prosecco. We abstained from the pastry but partook in the bubbly and then walked deeper, into outer space towards the far end of the room drawn to the crescent moon. 

Once the last of the guests had been welcomed the moon began to slowly lower itselft to the ground. We had to step away as we were literlally underneath it. Unbeknown to us but we were stood where the evening's pre-dinner performance was about to start.

The moon lit up with a hundred little light bulbs and from nowhere this shimmering young lady rode the rising moon (side saddel of course) as it lifted high above our heads.  She stuck a pose or two in her sequined outfit and jewelled headress before belting out a few songs. They sounded familiar but I couldn't name one of them.  

Below the lunar crooner a troop of dancers arrived and performed a very peculiar routine. One in a black PVC catsuit was tip-toeing around whilst shooting her pretend laser gun at imaginary birds, another in a whacky costume as if she had just put her head through a very big mushroom was prowling along the floor like a big cat.

Then another, with hardly any clothes on, was girating excessively, exposing her buttocks, whilst firmly holding her pump action love gun. In the meantime Mini Captain America was strutting about, striking superhero poses. 

Once the bizarre routine finished they mingled with the guests and drew them into the middle to dance. I got hooked by one that looked like a walking chandelier and we shuffled awkwardly together beneath the sparkling moon. The song ended in less than a minute and I was released. Only to be caught again by the one with a mushroom for a collar. I think she noticed me looking over at Julie a lot and encouraged Julie to join us. Not for some weird threeway dance but to replace her.

We continued to dance until the end of the song and then discreetly moved away from the dancefloor. 

Whilst the shenanigans continued we went for a walk around the rest of the venue. There were three or four dining rooms, all decorated with an "Alien" theme, with several little green martians holding lightbulbs for some subtle lighting. 

The lunar theme continued as each table had an illuminated moon for a centrepiece.  They were laid out for the five course meal that was to come and numbered so that each guest could find their allocated table.

We looked for ours, D3 and found it in the largest of the dining halls.

"That looks like Jupiter" I said pointing to the large red planet above one table, "oh, and that must be Uranus" I said, pointing to a smaller brown planet and of course pronouncing it 'your anus'. Despite her mask I could still see Julie raising her eyebrows!

We returned to the dancehall, just as three stormtroopers were pretending to play brass instruments on stage. The music then stopped and the Master of Ceremonies annouced that dinner was served.

Despite knowing exactly where our table was located, we weren't the first to get there, not that it was a competition! A lovely couple, older than us, or at least he was, by a country mile. They were sat facing the wall, which was an odd choice for someone who had the pick of the table but they then influenced our choice as we sat next to them, as not to offend. In hindsight we should have sat opposite, to give ourselves a more interetsing panoramic view of the entire room.

Anyway, it wasn't long before our compliment was complete and we had a full table of ten.

I took my jacket off, my dickie-bow, my Grandpa cuffinks and rolled up my sleeves. It was time to cast away the mask and relax.

We made some small talk amongst ourselves, introducing each other in turn. It began with the couple sat opposite us, on the far side of the table. We weren't paying much attention but it kind of played out like that scene from the Titanic!

I've changed the names, not to protect the innocent, but because I can't really remember them.

"Hi I'm Richard" the first one said with a southern drawl. "Hi, Richard" we all replied in unison. "Richard Wilson, from Birmingham" he continued as if we should recognise his name, "the Wilson's from Birmingham, we built the bridge."

The next couple, Greg and Sarah from California nodded to at least confirm they had heard of Birmingham.

Deborah, Richard's wife, of only a few weeks was still wearing her wedding dress. She seemed considerably younger than him.

 Maria and Juan from Colombia were also newlyweds, of a few months.  "Hi Juan" we all said. "Hi Maria"

"Hey, you can be anyone" whispered Julie in my ear.

It was now our turn to introduce ourselves. So I said "Hi everyone, I'm Llywelyn"  They replied with total silence! It was hilarious! Nobody even said "Hi" back. "But you can call me Llew" I said in an attempt to simplify the name but still no one attempted to say it.  That double L letter is a tough one to get your tongue around!

They quickly moved on to the final couple, the couple who were first at the table, Walter and Rosa. They were from Montana but he must have been from New York originally as he had the voice and the mannerisms of Woody Allen, and charming Rosa was from Mexico. 

We didn't have to wait too long before the food began to arrive. The offical menu was mostly fish based however there was an alternative "allergens" menu which catered for the vegetarians, vegans and carnivores alike. Of course, I was the only veggie on the table.

The first course was seared tuna with a balsamic emulsion and I had mozzarella drizzled with the balsamic sauce. Next up came was the soup. A waiter came up to me and asked if I was ok with lobster, "there's only a tiny bit in it" he said, completing misunderstanding what being a vegetarian meant.  But that was OK. The cream of artichoke was very nice with or without a small slice of grilled lobster dropped into it. Hopefully they didn't just fish mine out of the bowl.

Then came the risotto course. It's not one of Julie's favourite dishes. She finds it all too slimey! Her choice was a shrimp and sea bass risotto (mazzancolle & branzino) which to her surprise she really enjoyed the flavours, if not its texture.

All the while it was washed down with plenty of wine, which was included with the meal. On the table we had a Valpolicella Classico (red) and a Ribolla Gialla (white).

The meal wasn't over, next came the main course. Julie had a fillet of turbot, with a basil crust, with warm side salad of cherry tomatoes and taggiasca olives. All but the olives were devoured.

To be honest I'm not too sure what I had. It tasted the same as the risotto but formed into a patty and topped with a light crust. It's as if they ran out of ideas. It was served with the warm cherry tomatoes and olives, which was nice enough.

In between course we were entertained by the performers as they paraded through the rooms. They didn't do anything special, like juggling or fire-breath, they just walked through, striking poses every other step, in the style of an interpretive dance.

We even got photobombed by one of them whilst we were attempting to take a selfie!

Anyway, the meal finished rather unsuccesfully with a wibbly-wobbly blancmange like dessert known as a Bavarese.  I'm sure the milk jelly would have been full of gelatine so it wasn't for me.

After the meal was over everyone returned the main hall where the music was pumping out some Eurotrash tunes. We had some drinks vouchers which entitled us to two free drinks each from the bar, so we partied on until the free booze ran out. Well, I say free but we had paid 500 each for the tickets!

The ball continued on until 2am but like Cinderella we left shortly after midnight. It was time for us to leave. We were flagging. Ahead of us was a long walk home.

Navigating the dark alleyways back to the hotel whilst a "few sheets to the wind" was a daunting task.

The streets were deserted. It would have been a great time to visit St. Mark's square, but we were just desperate to get back to the hotel. In theory we were technically lost, walking down unfamiliar streets, but somehow, and I really don't know how, we found our way home.

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