Ode to the “Beautiful” People

Oh, the “beautiful” people! They really do exist, and not just in People magazine.

Arriving to Venice for a 2-week home exchange, I unknowingly stumbled onto the opening of the Biennale—Venice’s famed contemporary art festival, considered one of the most important in the world. However, this story isn’t about the festival, because then it would be about commoners, like myself. Instead, I prefer to delve into the lives of the lovely, the privileged.


Art Delivery

Biennale Art Delivery



The most important Biennale parties take place a night or two before the opening, when the Grand Canal is packed with elegant, wood-veneer water taxis. These boats are normally stuffed with picture-snapping Chinese, but on the night of the “beautiful,” they were honored with the presence of only two elegant individuals. The men, dressed in tailored navy suits (never black) and crisp white shirts, with colored silk peaking out from their breast pocket, stood in the open rear of the boat. They held a cell phone in one hand, gripped the rim of the cabin in the other, and spoke with what seemed like authority to someone on the other end. The women, many pencil thin and some wearing gold stilettos, were seated inside, careful that a gust of wind never touched their coiffed heads.


No, not the "Beautiful" People.

No, not the “Beautiful” People.


Eyeing the action from my perch abroad a vaporetto (Venice’s answer to mass transit), I almost toppled over, my sailor stance failing me, when a private boat cut us off in the middle of the canal—think of a BMW coup cutting off a Costco delivery truck. Our captain slammed on the brakes and shouted insults with frantic, and sometimes obscene, arm gestures. The nearby gondoliers stopped as well, joining in with cries of Madonna! Mamma Mia! Stupido! The well-tanned, silver-headed man and his entourage disembarked in front of a palazzo. He turned around only once, giving us a look that knows no nationality, no border—the look of entitlement.

The driver couldn’t have been Venetian, for the ways of the canals are handed down from generation to generation with respect and silent obedience.


Good Canal Day with Respectful Drivers

Good Canal Day with Respectful Drivers


The palazzo was flanked by machine gun totting soldiers in black. It’s entrance screaming: Someone important is inside. The President of Italy? A Saudi Prince? A Hollywood celebrity?

Speaking of celebrities, Johnny Deep’s Grand Canal house was nearby, dark and empty and for sale…if anyone is interested.**


Arsennale Venice

Arsennale, Venice


That evening the world’s biggest and finest yachts lined the waterfront of the Arsennale (Biennale headquarters and Venice’s former shipyards, from its days of glory and global domination…even when the world was still flat.) I’ve heard that docking fees in Venice are astronomical and the few available slots are reserved, not for your average millionaire, but for your select billionaire. Their boats…if I can still call them by the name of an inferior floating device…were a spectacle equal to that of the Biennale. The Chopi-Chopi had a handsome, buff, uniformed crew fluffing outdoor pillows and polishing rails. According to yachtowner.com, “a man with a very large family who likes to spend the month of August at sea” owes the vessel. (Pictures for gawking at: http://megayachtnews.com/2013/11/megayacht-news-onboard-crn-chopi-chopi/)


Not one of the world's most spectacular yachts, at least not this century.

Not one of the world’s most spectacular yachts, at least not this century.


Music spilled onto the Grand Canal from the various parties, the Gugenheim was decked out in black and red, beaming large spotlights into the dark, but there would be a price to pay during the following days, when the parties ended and the “beautiful “people went home.


Biennale Installation: Receptionist Desk, "I will always be too expensive to buy."

Biennale Installation: Receptionist Desk, “I will always be too expensive to buy.”


“Can you believe they stole the silverware?” Andrea exclaimed over coffee one day. I just happened to be sitting with a friend of his when he joined us. Andrea, who could trace his lineage back to two Doges, came from a noble family and like many landed rich, he needed to rent his palazzo for special occasions in order to earn some extra cash.

“Eighteen-century, absolutely irreplaceable! They took 3 different pieces,” he barked, and rightfully so. “You would think with the money it takes to rent my palace that they wouldn’t need to steal the silverware.”

Andrea  insisted that it wasn’t the staff. They, at least, had respect for family and history and wouldn’t do such a thing. It had to be the nouveau riche renters who hosted a dinner party on the eve of the Biennale—their behavior appalled him, for you can’t buy lineage and etiquette, nor obviously 18th century Venetian silverware.


The Griffin--Hong Kong Pavillion at the Biennale.

The Griffin–Hong Kong Pavillion at the Biennale.


And so it goes. They appear and then disappear. They spend and they allegedly steal. They dazzle and they repel. They entertain us with their presence, yet we’re relieved when they go away and the world becomes normal again.

Oh, the “beautiful” people.


**For more on Johnny in Venice read


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