THE YEAR OF ADVENTURES
Unfortunately, our travel budget is tight this year, and I'm tethered to work projects, so I had to find an adventure that was a) affordable and b) easy to get to -- preferably in a weekend. The answer was at the end of a 2-hour train ride from Milan, on a misty, wintry, Friday afternoon in February....
And I can't recommend this adventure enough.
A WATERY, WEEKEND ADVENTURE IN VENICE
If you've never been to Venice, go in February. The costumes, wigs, hats, whimsy, watery backdrop, lagoon sunrises, and languid boat trips up the Grand Canal at the end of each foggy afternoon will lift your spirits faster than a fine prosecco. It is a city like no other. And during Carnevale, it becomes a magnificent mise-en-scène that is unparalleled anywhere in the world.
Lots of pix and tips are on my Instagram here www.instagram.com/janellemcculloch_author
But if you're considering going to Venice, the best thing to do is not to plan too much. Just book a pretty boutique hotel, and there are plenty available to choose from. (I stayed at AD Place near Piazza San Marco, which has a wonderful Fortuny-like entrance of fabrics, exquisitely pretty striped rooms, and fantastic free breakfasts.) Then grab a map, tuck it in your pocket, and prepare to get lost amongst the grey-blue canals, because that's the best way to experience Venice.
See the Fortuny Museum (beautiful, but read AS Byatt's book on Fortuny before you do), have dinner at the Aman Hotel (extraordinary interiors), or just buy a mask and join the crowds with their feathers and fun.
On the Saturday afternoon, having watched the judging of the elaborate costumes in the piazza, I grabbed a Bellini (Venice's famous drink) and sat in the sun in front of the Giardini Reali garden, watching the gondoliers and boats come and go. Dozens of others were doing the same. I'm certain we will all remember that moment, sitting on the steps in the winter sun as the Venetian watercraft went by.
Venice offered the kind of simple bliss that many of us long for in our lives. All is took was a Bellini and a view to make the heart sing. That's what the best adventures are made of, I think. Simple things.
If you're heading to Venice this year, there are some good books out about the city. Skye McAlpine's beautiful book on her life in Venice is particularly lovely -- and she offers some tips to finding the best of 'Secret Venice' here -- LINK. Her Venetian blog is also worth a look -- HERE (Her photographs are stunning.)
There are also new books about Venice from Assouline, including one shot by the talented Australian-New York photographer Robyn Lea. (See post below.)
A SARTORIAL ADVENTURE IN MILAN
In Milan that same week, I finished a meeting early so I decided to slip in another adventure -- this time of the embroidered variety: the magnificent Manolo Blahnik Exhibition, 'The Art of Shoes', at the quietly grand Palazzo Morando.
One of the best fashion retrospectives I've ever seen, this free exhibition (until April 9) spans almost 50 years of Mr Blahnik's collections and inspirations -- including his own grand adventures.
Geographical influences are evident in many of his shoes (his love of Greece, antiquities and architecture certainly shows), but the 'Nature' room is perhaps the most beautiful part of the exhibition. Shoes designed with floral flowers, ivy, leaves, and other embroidered botanical motifs form a kind of romantic greenhouse. Even Manolo Blahnik confesses that he has a soft spot for his garden-inspired designs, particularly 'Ivy', the shoe that he created in 1972 for English fashion designer Ossie Clark.
If you can't make it to Milan, there's a beautiful book to accompany the exhibition, The Art of Shoes, published by Rizzoli.
MANOLO BLAHNIK: THE ART OF SHOES
PALAZZO MORANDO, MILAN. UNTIL APRIL 9.
(THEN TOURING TO MADRID, TORONTO AND OTHER CITIES.)
A BLOOMSBURY ADVENTURE IN LONDON
In London, I was lucky enough to catch another stunning exhibition, Vanessa Bell: 1879-1941, which chronicles the remarkable life and career of Vanessa Bell, who is finally achieving her own fame away from her sister Virginia Woolf and the rest of the outrageously talented Bloomsbury Set.
The exhibition, at the Dulwich Gallery, isn't large, but is imbued with glorious, Bloomsbury-esque beauty, most notably in the paintings, portraits, letters, still lives, landscapes, notes, drawings, and photos of Charleston and the characters who lived, loved, gardened, painted, fought and loved again in the bucolic charm of the now-famous farmhouse.
There's a great Guardian article called Design and Desires: How Vanessa Bell Put The Bloom in Bloomsbury here -- LINK. And there are several good biographies about Bell, the best of which is Frances Spalding's fantastic book.
Or look for a copy of the March issue of UK Harper's Bazaar, which has several articles about the exhibition and also Charleston. (They might now be online). The most touching tribute in Harper's was an article by Bell's granddaughter, Virginia Nicholson, who praises her grandmother's "adventurousness".
Vanessa Bell, you certainly were a quiet achiever.
VANESSA BELL. DULWICH PICTURE GALLERY. UNTIL JUNE 4
LINK HERE -- INFO
A LITERARY ADVENTURE IN MELBOURNE
One of the things I've learned after being in publishing and books for so long is how far a gracious attitude will take you. Gratitude and thank-you emails are also important, of course -- in any career -- but being kind is something that tends to be forgotten when the likes of Forbes and the Fin Review are compiling those How To Succeed In Life lists.
I always try and practice kindness, even when situations are difficult, or relationships become strained, or illness / fatigue or other wearying factors test the patience. But I'm far from perfect. And I often fall down under the pressure of stress. (I dropped a F-bomb the other day in a conversation with my old friend and editor, while we were discussing how difficult a particular US magazine was being. Thankfully, my editor IS an old friend, and barely noticed, and was confused when I emailed back and apologized!) But I always get up from the floor of profanity, apologise, and keep trying. Because graciousness and kindness are more important than ever. They're the only things that will get us through this turbulent year, I think.
Bestselling author and photographer Robyn Lea is an example of real kindness -- and how it can take you far in life. Formerly based in Milan and New York, Robyn now travels between Australia and the rest of the world for her work, and her photography schedule makes me dizzy! She is working on 10 (I think? It could be more?) books at the moment, including several Assouline titles. She is the epitome of an adventurous spirit. This is her library and work space. Gorgeous, non?
But when I popped in to see her recently, what impressed me even more than her adventurous spirit was her generosity. She put me onto a contact of hers who is scouting for new stories for SBS, which then springboarded into a meeting next week. Even if it doesn't amount to anything, I was deeply touched by the gesture.
2017, you are turning into a year of beautiful and surprising things.