Malibu Seen

Revelers make the scene at the Save Venice fundraiser in Venice, Italy. Photo by Barry Glaser


Ahhh… Venice, that glittering gem on the Adriatic. With its opulent palaces and forgotten passageways, it is the most magical of places. But as enchanting as the lagoon city is all year long, it is especially bewitching during the dreamy and mysterious days of Carnevale. So when the city’s big benefactor, Save Venice, decided to put on a lavish four-day fundraising extravaganza, locals like Hutton Wilkinson and the Karabian clan could hardly resist.

With many old friends in attendance, we began our festivities with a bellini-infused cocktail bash amid the sumptuous confines of Palazzo Papadopoli, home of Count and Countess Arrivabene Valenti Gonzaga.

Women dressed in vintage haute couture, the guys wore white ties with everyone eyeing the action from their magnificent masks. Next, we sailed down the Grand Canal to Palazzo Mocenigo where our gracious international chairman Francesca Bortolotto Possati put out a delectable spread of gastronomic goodies.

The following day, we laced our selves into our corsets and Renaissance garb befitting a Medici and headed to Castello di Roncade.

Baron Vincenzo Ciani Bassetti and his wife, Ilaria, went all out for this authentic period party complete with stilt walkers, jugglers, drummers and dancers who performed at the castle’s historic gates. Frenzied cooks were busy roasting pig on a spit while laying out an endless supply of freshly made ricotta, sweet Italian salami, rosemary-infused pork and hot spiced wine.

The fit-for-a-king fete, however, was just the warm-up for the main event on Monday. As well-researched revelers, we lived out our fantasies and spared no expense when it came to our spectacular Casanova-inspired costumes. Dolled up in flamboyant 18th century finery, it seemed there wasn’t a single inch of our bodies that went unadorned by some sort of feather-filled, fur-trimmed, hand-painted, jewel-encrusted embellishment. There were puffy powdered wigs and Burano lace bibs, soft velvet capes and authentic tricorne hats, swashbuckling boots and bosom busting bodices, not to mention sweeping hoop skirts that seemed about as wide as a gondola is long.

The evening began with a special performance by Michael York and friends at the ornate La Fenice Opera House. As one of its many restoration projects, Save Venice raised more than $320,000 to bring the theater’s spectacular ceiling back to life after a devastating fire in 1996. Gala-goers left the theater accompanied by a candlelight procession of heralds, minstrels and drummers. They followed us to the exquisite halls of the Ridotto Theater where they were greeted by colorful characters from the Commedia dell’Arte. Inside, the various rooms were set up with any number of 18th century games of chance. For dinner, we moved into the hypnotic candle-lit salon where the tables were dressed up in shimmery gold lame and topped with towering arrangements of fresh citrus. And the silver candelabras were piled high with orchids and ivy. The highlight came when the three tenors of Venice, along with Liesel Odenweller, raised their voices in a goose bump-inducing performance of opera classics and were promptly showered with roses at their feet.

The grand finale was our traditional black tie ball at Palazzo Pisani Moretta. Amid the Tiepolo ceilings, Murano glass chandeliers and smoky gilt mirrors reflecting a sea of flickering candles, we savored one last feast before dancing the night away.

After an unforgettable four days, a few of us stayed on to linger, unable to shake ourselves from the city’s powerful spell. Soon, the boisterous carnival crowds cleared out, leaving us in glorious silence save for the distant chorus of church bells, the soft rumble of the vaporetto and the splashing of gondolas tied to their moors. We took one last stroll amid the misty twists and turns of this majestic city, lost in time and aching for more.