CORRESPONDENCErnLetter From Venicernhy Andrei NavrozovrnThe VisitorsrnThe first chill of autumn, which remindsrnus locals to order firewood from the mainlandrnfor our illegal fireplaces, is always arnmoment of reckoning. Not for nothingrndoes the Russian Aesop, Kndov, in his fablernof the socially responsible ant and thernbohemian dragonfly, suggest that such arnmoment has arrised when a wintr)’ blastrngets in the eyes of the homeless idealist,rnhi my own case, hovve’er, the fault is notrnentirely mine. It seems ages since I startedrnlooking for a new apartment, and agesrnsince I began rehearsing the many explanationsrn—some more interesting thanrn”Well, ‘ou know, ou have to pa the rentrn. . . ” — of the difficulh’ of finding one.rnLast time, I described what it’s like to tr)’rnto wrest an apartment from a born-andbredrnVenetian. Now, I’d like to suggestrnwhat happens when the owner of thernhouse is a Venetian bv adoption.rnLet us unfold a little scenario that in-rnol-es a socialK well-connected isitor tornltal-, with a cast of mind t}’pical of whatrnwas once called the Fifth Avenue matron.rnHer daughter, who was at Brown, isrnan active supporter of Save Venice andrnhas written about it in her alumni notes.rnHer ounger brother, an antiques dealerrnin the Fulham Road in London, has justrnreturned from Nencia Corsini’s weddingrnin Florence. Her husband is an investmentrnbanker from Short Hills, New Jersey.rn’I’hey travel to Furope several fimesrna year, know Italians with residences inrnManhattan and Mayfair, have been torncharih’ balls at the Palazzo Pisani Morctta,rnhave stayed at the Cipriani, and arcrnknown to the waiters at Harry’s Bar. Nowrnthc’e bought a pala/.zo of their o\n,rnpart of which thev are thinking of rentingrnout to suitable tenants. And here she is,rnjust as she might appear in W, “Mrs. Matronrnin Valentino,” in the Sala del MaggiorrnConsiglio of the Ducal Palace,rnstanding int|uisitiel’ before the famousrnblack square substituting for the portraitrnof Marino Falicr, with the inscription;rn”Hie est locus Marini Falethri decapitatirnpro criminibus.” Of the 76 doges representedrnhere, only Falier’s face is deletedrnfor all eternit)-, for the alleged act of treasonrnthat got him beheaded in 1355.rnNow, the Faliers have all died out inrnthe last century, but the Palazzo FalierrnCanossa —now Palazzo Matron —stillrnstands on the Grand Canal, a witness tornthe famih’s history. Paolo Lucio AnafestornFalier was elected doge in Eraclearnwith the consent of Byzantium, followedrnby the family’s three properly Venetianrndoges: Vitale, who built St. Mark’s Basilicarnin its final form; Ordelaffo, who foundedrnthe shipyards of the Arsenale; and thernunfortruiate Marino. The story, as toldrnby the chronicler Marin Sanudo, is thatrnduring a banquet at the Ducal Palace givenrnby the 70-year-old doge and his youngrnwife, Alvica Cradenigo, a ormg “new patrician”rnbv the name of Michele Stenorn”made a ninsance of himself,” whereuponrnthe doge had him ejected. As hernwas leax’ing, Steno made a slanderousrnproclamation about the woman’s virtue,rnwhereupon he was arrested, tried, andrnsentenced to one montii’s imprisonment.rnThe doge, interpreting the lightness ofrnthe sentence as a sign that his positionrnwas being undermined, conspiredrnagainst Steno and the parh’ of new patriciansrnwhich supported him. The plotrnwas discovered, the doge was beheaded,rnand all official records of the affair wererndestroyed. Alvica went mad and spentrnthe rest of her life in seclusion.rnWhat I relish imagining is Falier poppingrnback into this world, suitcase inrnhand, through that famous black square.rnObvioush’ he needs an apartment to rent,rnat least until he can get his bearings, andrnat the new Venetian home of Mr. andrnMrs. F.A. Matron there ensues the followingrnbrutal discussion:rnMRS. MATRON: Who’s who? Irnmean, how d’you do? So nice tornmeet you.rnMARINO FALIER: I heardrnthrough the grapevine tiiat yournhave a piano nohile I coidd have onrna year’s lease. Is that true?rnMRS. MATRON: Would vou likernsome coffee? (Rings for the Filipino.)rnArthur, will you bring inrnthe coffee, please. Do you knowrnthe Sammartini?rnNLRINO FALIER: Well, as yournmay have realized during your walkrnthrough the Sala del Maggior Consiglio,rnI’m not acquainted with veryrnmany people after the fateful yearrn1355. But naturally I can providernyou with all the necessary bankingrnreferences. And, as doge . ..rnMRS. MATRON (impatientiy): Irnknow all that. But the Sammartinirnown Palazzo Pisani Moretta!rnWe’ve been to some wonderful partiesrnthere, with all those flamingrncandles, and music, and gondolasrn. . . Jenny is a good friend. She is arnfantastic decorator.rnMARINO FALIER: My ancestor,rnVitale . ..rnMRS. MATRON: I’m afraid thatrnname doesn’t mean anything to me.rnMARINO FALIER: Vitale consecratedrnSt. Mark’s. Doesn’t that sayrnsomething about our famih’s appetiternfor splendor? And a later ancestor,rnOrdelaffo, brought the Palarnd’Oro to St. Mark’s from Constantinople.rnIt is probably the mostrnfamous decorative object in thernworld, Vi’ith jewels en cabochon . . .rnMRS. MATRON: I know all that.rnBut did you attend the wedding ofrnthe young Princess Corsini in Florence?rnEverybody was there, andrnit’s going to be in Chi magazine.rnMARINO FAUER: You mustrnpause to reflect that the socialrnworld of which you are speaking isrnalien to me. When my ancestorrnAnafcsto was enthroned, Chi magazinerndid not exist. PTorenee didn’trnexist. Since then, the 120 doges ofrnVenice, ending with the traitorrnLodovico Manin who handed ourrncountr}’ over to the French, camernfrom just 59 families. Fifty-ninernfamilies in a thou.sand years. WliatrnJANUARY 2001/37rnrnrn