Wednesday, July 12, 2006

I love Bellini and Bellini (and Bellini).

Bellini, "the lovelies," so to speak; bellino means cute, charming or lovely.

What an appropriate name for some artists bearing this name, creators or incredible beauty.

One of them is Vincenzo Bellini, opera composer:

In 1831 this Sicilian composer gave the world "Norma," a work that defines the bel canto style of opera. This work demands a lot of the soprano: the big hit aria "Casta Diva" is more closely identified with Maria Callas than any other prima donna.

In Venice, though, the Bellini who shines bright is the founder of the Venetian school of art, Giovanni Bellini, (c.1430-1516). He turned Venice into a center of Renaissance art, and took realism and color to a new level of sensuousness. I saw some of his breathtaking paintings in Venice, including the Pieta in the Palazzo Ducale:

Not much of Bellini's work remains in the Palazzo Ducale: his greatest canvases, six or seven of them, were destroyed in a huge palace fire in 1577.

Though Giovanni was the best known of the Bellinis, his father Jacopo and brother Gentile were also noted artists whose work was deemed worthy of being placed in the Palazzo Ducale, so the Bellini dynasty is at the core of Venetian art.

And finally, there's the Bellini born in Venice in 1934, in a bar near San Marco, a real peach:

Of course, I didn't order this one at THE Harry's Bar where it was first concocted, and where it remains the most popular drink for those making the pilgrimage to to Ernest Hemingway's old haunt. For one thing, nothing could convince me to fight the hordes of San Marco to get to the storied bar; for another, I'm not sure a cocktail of peach juice and bubbly prosecco ever justifies a bill of nearly $30 (or so I was told, more than once, by a disgruntled visitor.) And let's face it, you aren't going to see Hemingway there anyway.

Instead, this lovely drink was served at a little bar in a campiello somewhere in San Polo, after a whole morning walking around the Rialto and surrounding neighborhoods, up one bridge and down another, down one narrow alley after another, and then through countless squares. I just could not take another step in the suffocating humidity, and simply had to have something cold.

The Bellini really is a great cocktail (made all the better by an hour of very interesting people-watching). If you use pomegranate juice instead of peach, then it's called a Tintoretto, named for another of Venice's greatest artists. Gotta love those Venetians!

Gillian Coldsnow