I may have spoken too soon. Venice is also a good place for a party. The only trouble with Venezia is that anything one writes about the place has already been written. Even what I’ve just said has been said a thousand times. Original pronouncements about the Dresden of the south are rare; as rare, in fact, as men who have served their country among the slobs of New Labour. But let’s not be beastly to the barbarians. Or even think about them. Not here, in one of the most historic city-states of the Western world.
After Greece and Rome went down the Swanee, it was the creativity of Italy in the 14th and 15th centuries that became the driving force of Western civilisation. Venice was right up there, holding her own and managing to remain independent, unlike her neighbours Milan, Siena and Florence, who had fallen to the Papacy. The man who pissed me off the most, however, was a Venetian Shylock Doge by the name of Enrico Dandolo, who infamously had financed the Fourth Crusade to capture Constantinople from the infidels. The fact that there were no infidels there did not bother the mercenaries. The booty included our beautiful bronze lions, now guarding the pigeons in San Marco. Dandolo was a real prick. He came to power aged 85, blind but greedy as hell. He built the Palazzo Dandolo on the Grand Canal, and every time I pass by it, I think of Dandolo and forget about the greedy types of today.
Never mind. There is also Palazzo Morosini, the name being one and the same as the Venetian shit who fired on the Parthenon in the 18th century and blew up the greatest temple ever built. His descendant, Fabrizio Ferrari, who lives in Palazzo Morosini, has been a friend for more than 40 years, and is probably the only man who has consistently drunk me under the table. Fabrizio loves only two things: fast women and fast cars. Had he been more disciplined, he could have competed with the best where automobiles were concerned. Instead, after surviving countless traffic accidents, he rescued his reputation by screwing for the Venice First Eleven.
There is also Giovanni Volpi (of Palazzo Volpi), another childhood friend, whose father was the finance minister of Mussolini. Giovanni was a very strange boy. He was convinced that every Englishman in Venice had to be gay, and used Nick Scott — the least queer Englishman I know — as an example. Nick’s palazzo, by the way, is among the most beautiful on the Grand Canal.
Mind you, we Ionian Greeks, real Greeks because we were never under the Turks, owe Venice a lot. It gave us a renaissance plus a few handles. My ancestor, Papadatos, was made a conte in 1601 in return for becoming a Catholic. When Zante with the rest of the Ionian isles joined Greece, and the family no longer had the right to a title, they reverted to the Greek Orthodox faith. Just as well. If Greece had permitted terms of respect, there would have been such a scrum among the nouveaux, we would have been laughed off the planet.
And speaking of handles, the invite read Lady Howard at home, Palazzo Pisani Moretta, 8.15 o’clock, black tie and tiaras. Greville and Corty Howard pulled out all the stops for their daughter Annabel’s 21 years. Annabel, incidentally, was the best-kept secret in England, but no longer. She is a Pre-Raphaelite beauty who will break many a male heart, I’m afraid, but then that’s what hearts are for, n’est ce pas?
So who were the hottest girls at the ball among the 400? Natasha, Philippa and Katie Howard, Micky and Linda Suffolk’s girls, Camilla de la Mariniere, Millie Allsopp, Jemma Soames — I could go on — and a young German girl named Johanna who had a military crewcut and for whom I would gladly have died in Stalingrad. But no such luck. And it got worse. There was also a curvy beauty who is named after a Richard Strauss opera and has a couple of kids and whose husband I would just as gladly have murdered, until she told me it was no go. Oh, what I would give to have met her first.
In Palazzo Pisani there was a Tiepolo ceiling, no peeling paint, the smell of tuber roses from the thousand flowers, and the whole place was lit by church candles 16 to 18 inches long. Oh yes, and another thing. Not a single folding chair, a stylish and elegant expense worthy of the setting. (Thank you, Fernanda Niven, for pointing this out.)
My only regret is that Greville Howard has friends such as Simon Heffer, Charles Moore and Tom Bower, all three present with their wives, all three witnesses to my drunken state as the evening progressed. Charles once hinted that I make this all up, and in reality I’m a homebody, drinking milk and playing with my dogs. If that was the case, there would have been another death in Venice last week.