4089 Nice Article On Francesco Da Mosto Enjoy!!!

Frank Barrett, The Mail on Sunday

As The Fast Show's Swiss Toni might say, visiting Venice is like making love to a beautiful woman: expensive, exhausting and mystifying in about equal measures.

There's little I can do to help you with the expense and the exhaustion, but the mystification's a different matter...

...Allow me to introduce Francesco da Mosto, a fascinating Venetian only too happy to reveal the extraordinary mysteries of his native city.

We arrange to meet at the top of the Rialto Bridge where Francesco greets me, bubbling with enthusiasm.

He immediately points out the carved angels on the bridge, placed there to make sure the structure didn't collapse because, he explains: 'Bridges were thought to be usurping the forces of nature.'

Francesco is at my disposal for as long as I want. 'There are so many places I want to take you - how much time do you have?' he enquires.

He is ready to fetch his boat and take us into the lagoon to trace the 5th Century origins of the city if I want.

Rather feebly I say a good walk might be nice.

Francesco da Mosto works as an architect in the city and is involved in a number of restoration projects, including the protracted rebuilding of La Fenice opera house.

Cue for more excitement: 'Yes, yes - I saw the opera house burn down from my window - I filmed it happening with my movie camera! Awful! Terrible!'

He left Venice 20 years ago for a short time to work in the film business in Rome as an assistant director.

It was a contact he made at that time who remembered him when BBC2 decided to make a four-part series about the history of Venice.

When the BBC team filmed an interview with him in 2002 he assumed he would be just another talking head for the programme - Francesco, however, soon discovered that - along with Venice - he would be the star.

Francesco's Venice is a wonderful TV series and a marvellous book, written by him and packed with amazing photographs of the city.

With his shaggy white hair, sweet Venetian-accented English and tireless enthusiasm (when he gets excited he simply bursts into Italian),
he's a natural TV performer.

The fact that his family has been at the forefront of Venetian life for more than 1,000 years adds to the fascination of the programme.

We begin our tour by taking a glass of prosecco - the gorgeous local sparkling white - in a cafe at the back of the Rialto market where, from our table near the Grand Canal, we can gaze across the water to the Ca da Mosto, once the family's grand home (lost long ago through an unfortunate marriage).

The house's history - part swanky home, part practical place of business - reveals the commercial dynamo at the heart of Venice's stunning growth.

Francesco provides a lively canter through the lengthy da Mosto family tree, which includes an extraordinary selection of heroes and villains including poor old Piero da Mosto who was attacked and killed by resentful noblemen for leading some prostitutes to prison; a female da Mosto was probably a courtesan involved in a famous romance with Byron.

The bar where we are enjoying our proseccos ('Will you have another? Yes?' 'Why not...') was once a bank, the Banco Giro - the world's first to circulate paper money to facilitate trade.

We hop on a traghetto - a sort of gondola ferry which crosses the Grand Canal at certain points - and head for the area around the Madonna dell'Orto, reckoned to be the most beautiful Gothic church in Venice.

At the Campo dei Mori, Francesco explains the history behind the famous statues of three Moors, one of whom boasts a metal nose.

In Venice, religious differences were subsumed in the interests of commerce.

The city was happy to find a home, for example, for Jews expelled from other countries in the foundry district known as the Ghetto, which became the name given to the home of all oppressed minorities.

At the entrance to the Ghetto, Francesco points out the location of the metal gate which was closed at night to prevent the Jews from leaving after dark.

The moment in the fourpart TV series which Francesco seems to have enjoyed most is when, following the example of Lord Byron, he dived into the Grand Canal (Byron, whose clubfoot made walking difficult, was a great swimmer).

'You see me diving in, but an actor playing Byron getting out. The actor is much younger than me, so it looks as if the Grand Canal has properties of rejuvenation.'

Wasn't he worried about catching something nasty in the famously murky canals? 'This is Venice - the waters like everything else are the best. Now where shall we go next...'

General chat about Italy

Hello Turtle,
yes I agree, a very enjoyable read. I feel that I am there with them both, if only...