Far from heaven

3A3CAA25-2977-49C7-9160-94F9EC0CF8A7In 1993, my parents and I travelled to Italy for the first time, renting a villa high up in the hills where crickets were active all day and fireflies appeared at night. There was even an outdoor pool where I began each morning with a swim. But what most sticks in my mind is the lush green countryside with its rolling hills and cypress trees. I was reminded of these impressions the day I took the bus from Florence to San Gimigniano. There was something truly magical about leaving the city and its crowds behind to rediscover that amazingly green landscape. In truth, I wanted to journey to last for several hours and instantly regretted not buying a ticket as far as Siena. In San Gimigniano, I wandered further up the the steep slope, past the souvenir stalls with fedoras and the enormous queue for the amazing (and cheap) ice cream and found myself in a small olive grove where a man was playing a harp. I climbed up a little higher to the top of a ruin and surveyed the endless countryside around me. It’s impossible for me to describe how it made me feel, only that it was probably the closest thing to paradise I have known and that I wondered how it would be possible for me to leave this place after experiencing such beauty.

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I am still mulling over these thought a month after my return. I still hear the delicate rustling of the olive leaves in the light breeze on that perfect autumn day. It seems so immediate yet far away now that there’s a chill in the air and the leaves have turned and begun to fall. I only hope that I’ll experience that kind of beauty again and leave you with some photos from that day and some more from Florence.

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Summer things

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Big Sur, 1946, by Ansel Adams

I never long for my school days and would hate to be 17 again, but I look back with more than a touch of nostalgia at the school holidays. Six whole weeks, free from from any worries or obligations.  There were family holidays abroad in Spain, France and Switzerland, lazy days in the garden and hours of television – trashy MTV, and plenty of American shows like Saved by the Bell, My So-Called Life and Beverly Hills 90210. While summer generally doesn’t live up to expectations – British ones are generally a wash-out, Roger Federer doesn’t win Wimbledon, people ask my constantly why I’m so white and mosquitoes drain the blood from my arms and legs whenever I go abroad – I still feel excited around this time of year thinking about it. Long evenings, dinner in the garden while listening to birdsong, the chance to wear summer dresses and go out without a jacket, picnics and cool drinks. So I thought I’d put together some of my favoute summer things for inspiration. I’d love to hear what your essentials are.

Aperol Spritz

My favourite summer drink along with Bellini which reminds me of being in Venice last year, sitting on the terrace watching the sunset. Although I must admit to also enjoying a large glass of Pimm’s whenever Wimbledon is on.

The perfect summer dresses

This one, with a pattern inspired by the Royal Porcelain collection, is for me the essence of the perfect English summer and ideal for tea in the garden.

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Royal Worcester Jacquard dress, £78, Oasis

And I can’t resist polka dots

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Navy spotted ruffle sundress, £22, Dorothy Perkins

 

Red shoes to brighten up any outfit

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Lily suede flats, £198, J.Crew

 

The best facial sunscreen to wear under makeup

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Murad Luminous Shield, SPF 50, £55

A perfect orange red lipstick

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Nars Audacious Lipstick in Lana, £25

A straw shopper for that Jane Birkin feelinghmprodStraw shopper, £17.99, H&M

A cute hat for protection from the sun

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Marl Scarf Summer Hat, £17.50, Marks and Spencer

The perfect tea

This delicious blend can be served hot or cold as according to the Fortnum and Mason website, it’s also excellent for iced tea.

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Afternoon blend tea, from £5.25, Fortnum and Mason

The most delicious summer scent, as worn by Cary Grant, David Niven, Ava Gardner and Audrey Hepburn

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Acqua di Parma, from £66

And of course, books for summer

It goes without saying that I’ll be reading the blog written by my friend Jan over the summer.

As for books, this year, I’ve got my eye on The Riviera Set about all the glamourous people who spent time at the Château de l’Horizon near Cannes, from Coco Chanel to Rita Hayworth. There’s also Dolce Vita Confidential about 1950s Rome and I’m dying to read The Unfinished Palazzo which tells the story of the three women who lived in the Palazzo Venier in Venice – Luisa Casati, Doris Castlerosse and Peggy Guggenheim.

Or if you prefer fiction, can I recommend something by Patricia Highsmith or Ross Macdonald (I love gripping books in summer), some John Cheever short stories, My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell about his eccentric childhood in Greece or The Great Gatsby which is the perfect choice at any time of year.

Venice, Part 3

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The third and final part of my photo journal from Venice.

Vicenza

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After heading down to St. Mark’s for my usual 7am photoshoot, I made my way to the railway station and took the train to Vicenza. It’s always a curious sensation seeing the lagoon alongside the railway lines and an even stranger sensation to leave the station and walk along normal tree lined streets with cars and buses. Vicenza is just 45 minutes away but feels like a different world. It was lovely to escape the crowds and walk leisurely through a regular city without worrying about getting lost or jostling with masses of tourists. Although I didn’t manage to see Palladio’s beautiful Villa Rotonda which lies a little outside the centre, there are many opportunities to admire his elegant facades and the highlight has to be a visit to his final project, the Teatro Olimpico which was not completed until after his death. Nothing from the outside can prepare you for the interior, particularly the extraordinary trompe-l’œil scenery which gives the illusion of great depth.

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From Italy with love

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Palladio

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Last days in Venice

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I miss the markets

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The equestrian statue of Bartolomeo Colleoni outside Santi Giovanni e Paolo

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The vast basilica of Santi Giovanni e Paolo

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At the Peggy Guggenheim museum

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Some photos from the Chanel exhibition at the Ca’ Pesaro, ‘The Woman Who Reads’. Highly recommended!

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One last view and then it was time to leave. A blue morning to match my mood.

Venice, part 2

IMG_1900 As promised, more photos from my trip. It seems strange to think I was there just one week ago – everything since my return has been rather chaotic and there’s a sharpness in the air and a real feeling of autumn here. I’m glad to be able to return to the beautiful skies and see the light of Venice again.

San Giorgio Maggiore and La Giudecca

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The interior of Palladio’s masterpiece.

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The view from the top of the campanile of San Giorgio.

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La Giudecca

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Santa Maria della Salute

Burano

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I love the brightly coloured houses and canals of this island, as well as its crooked wooden spire, but come early to avoid the huge numbers of people later on.

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Torcello

Just a short hop across the lagoon lies Torcello with its byzantine church, so beautifully described by Ernest Hemingway who stayed on the island while he was writing ‘Across the River and Into the Trees’. I loved seeing the stunning mosaics of Santa Maria Assunta, climbing the ramps to the top of the tower to look out over the watery landscapes around and walking among the Cypress trees and Oleander in this place which time seems to have forgotten.

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Isola San Michele

As ridiculous and morbid as it may sound, this cemetery on an island has been my favourite place in Venice since I first went there, back in 2009. It’s a refuge from all the noise and crowds, a place to sit and reflect. Taking the boat there from Fondamente Nuove always makes me think of Boecklin’s famous painting, The Isle of the Dead.

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Poetry left by Brodsky’s grave.

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I always find the sight of these ballet shoes tied around Diaghilev’s grave so moving.

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My favourite spot on San Michele.

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While waiting for the vaporetto to take me back to the mainland, I saw the most beautiful evening sky and knew I had to capture it.

Venice, part 1

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I left the apartment in San Polo in darkness each morning, scuttling past the street sweepers and those going to work to congregate with fellow photographers, armed with tripods, on the Rialto or Saint Mark’s Square, awaiting the moment when the sky would change from dark blue to an ever more intense pink, until finally the first golden rays touched the tops of the buildings. Walking back, I stopped to pick up fresh cornetti filled with jam, custard or almonds.

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Returning to Venice after four years, I rediscovered old friends like the St. Mark’s Basilica, San Giorgio Maggiore and Il Redentore, Caffè Florian, the Accademia Bridge, the Peggy Guggenheim Foundation and my favourite place, Isola San Michele, where Cypress trees stand like tapered church candles watching over the souls of Diaghilev, Stravinsky, Brodsky and my father, whose ashes my mother and I scattered on our trip there last time.

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But there was also the joy of seeing new places like Burano, Torcello and a day spent in Vicenza.

I became so used to the movement of the the vaporetti that I can still feel the sensation of being on the water three days after getting back, as if I had really become part of the city. When the moment came to leave, tears rolled down my face without knowing the reason why – perhaps moved by so much beauty or perhaps overcome by the emotions and sadness of four years ago. It’s impossible to describe all that I saw and felt there so I’ll share some photos with you in the next few posts which I hope will bring back good memories or inspire you to take a trip to La Serenissima soon as well.

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Pax tibi Marce, evangelista meus – Peace be unto you, Mark, my evangelist. The Latin motto of Venice.

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Il Ponte dei Sospiri

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First breakfast

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Dramatic view of San Giorgio Maggiore

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One of the mosaics located on the exterior of St. Mark’s Basilica

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At Florian’s

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Tartufo and, in the background, cioccolata calda

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When I left Florian’s, the musicians outside were playing Scott Joplin

Old stars in Venice

Venice ended my longest ever relationship. Well, that and a sinus infection. The trip to Italy had been his idea and against my better judgement, I decided to go. It was November, I was already feeling ill and the cracks were showing in our relationship. He was a tax lawyer who loved mountains and spending as little money as possible while I had grown tired of the great outdoors and loved buying dresses and going to the cinema every afternoon. We were supposed to have only one day in Venice to go to the Biennale and would camp close to Vicenza the day before. Whether it was real or psychosomatic, I really don’t know, but a terrible nausea overcame me and I decided not to do anything as ridiculous as camping in winter and checked myself into a four star hotel in Venice where he refused to accompany me.

I have never forgotten the magic of those first impressions or the love I felt for the city. In a way, Venice spoiled me by showing that I didn’t have to do things I no longer enjoyed, that I was much better off alone appreciating its beauty. So when we met the following morning, I told him we were through and began the long train journey back to Berlin, feeling sadder than I had thought I would be and still really ill. I missed the last train to Berlin and spent a miserable few hours in a waiting room at Leipzig station among the drunks and homeless because I was too broke to get another hotel room, trying and failing to sleep a little with my head on my suitcase before waking up bleary eyed and confused to get a train at 4am. I have never forgotten the relief at finally getting into my bed in Charlottenburg and the long sleep which brought me some relief.

In a couple of weeks, I’m heading to Venice again and I can’t tell you how excited I feel about returning there (though hopefully with less dramatic circumstances). Of course, one of things I’m most looking forward to is going for walks through those labyrinthine streets, particularly early in the morning, and taking photos. Before the tourists arrive, it’s wonderful seeing the locals getting off the boats and going for an espresso before starting work.

I’ll be staying at the same apartment as last time, close to the Rialto and the market where I went each day to buy fish, fruit and vegetables. I go to Caffè Florian on St. Mark’s Square as often as possible, get an ice cream from Grom or from Rosa Salva opposite the church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo (although ice cream in Venice seems to be good everywhere) and love to walk along Fondamente Nove before taking the boat across to Isola San Michele. Last time I was in Venice, I even got the chance to go to the Film Festival on the Lido to see Terence Malick’s beautiful but baffling ‘To the Wonder’. Thinking about it made me want to revisit some old photos with great stars which is probably the next best thing if you can’t come with me.

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Maria Callas at the festival in 1957

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Alain Delon getting some close-ups of pigeons

Monica Vitti stands with Michelangelo Antonioni in Venice in 1964.:

Michaelangelo Antonioni and Monica Vitti in 1964

American actor Warren Beatty pictured outside the Excelsior Hotel  in 1965. The hotel was ...:

Warren Beatty and girlfriend in front of the Excelsior Hotel in 1965

Legendary American actor Paul Newman, wearing a tuxedo and a bow tie during a trip on a water taxi with St. Mark Square in the background, Venice 1963

Paul Newman, 1963

Later, donning a hat,  Gene Tierney tries her hand at rowing a gondola. She was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance as Ellen Berent Harland in Leave Her to Heaven

Gene Tierney having a go at rowing a gondola in 1951

Taken around 1960, Elizabeth Taylor and her then husband, singer Eddie Fisher, on holiday on Burano Island in the lagoon at Venice

Elizabeth Taylor and Eddie Fisher on Burano

Toshiro Mifune is 2 times named best actor at the Venice Film Festival for "Yojimbo" (1961) and "Barbarossa" (1965):

Toshiro Mifune on St. Mark’s with a few feathered friends

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Marcello Mastroianni with Anna Karina in 1967

Sophia Loren attends the Venice Film Festival, 1955.:

Sophia Loren at the Festival in 1955

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Claire Bloom and Rod Steiger in 1963

Cocteau and Orson Welles 1948 Venice:

Orson Welles and Jean Cocteau in 1948

Elio Petri

Elio Petri is one of the most interesting Italian directors but remains largely forgotten today which is a great pity. I have only seen a handful of his films but find them fascinating because of their stylishness and cultural references to the ’60s and ’70s which contrast with the social critique of their story lines. Born in 1929 and a committed member of the Communist Party, he made his directorial debut in 1961 with L’Assassino which also starred Marcello Mastroianni at the height of his fame. Perhaps it was because his film offended the censors or perhaps it was the fact that it came out the same year as Antonioni’s La Notte and Pasolini’s debut, Accattone, but this amazing film sank without trace until its re-release on DVD a couple of years ago.

At first glance, it has all the hallmarks of a thriller – a cool soundtrack, beautiful and stylishly dressed stars, crisp black and white photography and a murder to be solved. Yet look again and we can see that it’s more an examination of social and political values. Like Kafka’s Josef K. and Camus’ Mersault, Mastroiani’s Alfredo Martelli is brought in by police and questioned because of his lifestyle and values. He represents the new middle class, a dandyish antiques dealer happy to use women to advance his career and social position. When his former lover Adalgisa, a rich, older woman played by Micheline Presle, is murdered, suspicion falls on Alfredo who finds himself caught up in a nightmarish trap under the scrutiny of a corrupt society with links to the Catholic Church and fascism. And for all its coolness, the film shows us a different side of Rome, a rather bleak and empty city with run down areas. Adalgisa is murdered in the ridiculously named Shangri-La hotel in the middle of a wasteland. Few films make a stronger impression on the viewer.

Petri’s most famous film is probably his 1970 feature, Investigation Of A Citizen Above Suspicion, starring the left-wing and socially committed Gian Maria Volontè, about a police commissioner who murders his lover and covers up the crime, believing that his position of authority will protect him and that he can pin the murder on the woman’s gay husband or a radical student acquaintance. Once again, it’s a super stylish film with music by Morricone and quite a lot of black humour and swipes at the establishment. I can’t think of another film like it. It’s both of its time and yet a biting statement on corruption and the abuse of power.

The Tenth Victim is not nearly as well-known as the films which it influenced, The Running Man with Arnold Schwarzenegger and The Hunger Games series. I can only describe it as a sci-fi action film which is almost the essence of the Sixties. The plot centres around an entertainment programme called The Hunt with its ten rounds which participants must survive, five of them as hunters and then five as victims. The winner then retires rich and famous. Caroline Meredith (Ursula Andress) is on the lookout for her tenth victim, Marcello Poletti (Marcello Mastroianni) whom she wishes to kill on camera after securing sponsorship from Ming Tea, but things become complicated when they fall in love. It’s a great satire on entertainment, particularly today in light of the number of so-called reality TV programmes, and also a lot of fun to watch with super cool music, costumes and photography.

 

I hope you’ll get a chance to see some of his films!