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A Gallop Through Venice

I can never get enough of Venice, so made a run there before I left Italian soil in October. This time, I was staying at the hotel Ai Cavalieri, a fitting choice because I was in search of a horse, or, rather, several horses.

Ai Cavalieri has an eye-catching entrance that passers-by stop to photograph. I’d done the same thing last summer, which is how I came to stay here, but that was then and this was now. Now I was a guest and belonged here, and these hotel paparazzi had the audacity to interrupt my comings and goings. Step aside, sirrah. Do you belong with the cavalieri set as I clearly do? I think not.

Such insolence.

Ai Cavalieri sits in a little quarter that has an air of tranquility though it’s entirely central, a matter of steps from Piazza San Marco. Arriving there means taking a turn that a lot of us somehow fail to take. I’d only spotted it along the route of a walking tour.

The nearby Campo Santa Maria Formosa. When do you ever see a piazza in Venice so airy that kids have space to play ball?

On Monday, my one full day in Venice, I trotted out to find it had rained overnight. In had come the high water, which I generally don’t expect until November. Out came the planks for walking, which always make me a little sad. Fortunately, the water disappeared within hours.

Meanwhile, Venetians took it in stride and in style.

I hoofed it around Venice (Have I murdered the metaphor sufficiently yet?) for five hours straight in search of masks — all of horses — for myself and my sister Rosie. I bought three.

The carousel-style one at left is for my guest room in Fossacesia, which, without really announcing its intention to my consciousness, had ambled into an equestrian theme. The second, simple and elegant, suits my vision for my new home in New York.

This last one was a miracle of a find. Rosie had charged me with looking for a horse mask inspired by a detail of Picasso’s Guernica. It was a long shot, but she’d for years been looking for any kind of Picasso-esque mask and had found a small one when we were in Venice over the summer. It gave her hope. While I was pretty certain the quest for such an item was, ahem, quixotic, I welcomed the challenge. I couldn’t believe it when, very near the end of my odyssey, I stood before this window.

In fact, Venetian masks are getting more and more varied and interesting. Next to my Guernica treasure is one that’s quite a biting commentary on the Church. If you look closely at the pope’s mitre, you’ll see it’s made of money — and American money at that. Next are terrifying characters of about four feet in height; intricate, sometimes bejeweled animal figures; and one googly gentleman.

Mask-making workshops have suddenly proliferated at some of the more prominent artisanal shops. I wonder what took them so long.

My shopping gauntlet earned me an Aperol spritz at the terrace bar, garnished with an olive the size of my big toe and much tastier.

The waiter was nice enough to pull out the jar so I’d know what to look for. That jar will see the inside of my luggage next time.

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