cries & whispers

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Yes, I had a very nice time in Venice, thank you very much. Weather lovely, food tiptop, prosecco ditto, the Danieli as glamorous as ever. Spent most of the time looking at shoes, actually; old fabrics, lace, brocade, sumptuous costumes ... did you know that for centuries Venice was the centre of the fashion world? Hang on a minute, I hear you say. This isn't Trinny and Susannah Go Shopping y'know. You're supposed to be writing an arts diary. What possible significance can shoes and frocks have for the arts, eh? Well, the Accademia Italiana has a big exhibition coming up in May, called "Serenissima: The Arts of Fashion in Venice", and I was there to check out some of the exhibits. Thing was, the trip was being funded by the Venetian Guild of Shoemakers, or whatever, so that meant I had to coo over an inordinate amount of footwear before hitting the Piazza San Marco. After sniffing hundreds of soles, I visited a workshop on the Grand Canal and watched brocade being made at a rate of 35cm a day on an 18th-century loom by an aged signora in slippers (but she had a fur coat hanging nearby). Lace was apparently invented in Venice, as a hobby for bored courtesans; but then, to hear our hosts yakking on, you'd have thought practically everything in Europe was invented by the Venetians. Everything except the wheel. Best bit was when a curator explained that in the 18th century the nobility sent their underwear over to the mainland twice a year to be washed in fresh water. Funny, those canals are a bit pantsy to this day.

The mere presence of Chris Morris on TV is having an extraordinary effect on his satirical targets: news presenters. Take BBC Breakfast's roving reporter Paul Welsh, for instance, in Paris last week with a lurching camera crew apparently fuelled on Ricard. Paul's got it all: over-earnest, sweaty delivery, alternately fawning and brusque; a silly walk; a seemingly limitless wardrobe of casualwear. Thursday's assignment was pure Brass Eye. "Gauloise!" barked Paul, holding up a small blue packet. "As French as the Eiffel Tower." The camera staggered back like a drunk recoiling from his own vomit to reveal that yes, Paul was standing in front of the Eiffel Tower. Then suddenly, he was rampaging round a dingy Parisian flat where a man was dying of cancer. "They've lost everything! He's lost his tongue to the disease!" bellowed Paul. M'sieur, not surprisingly, looked petrified and kept his mouth shut.

And what's that pictured below, you may ask? Is it the infamous pounds 250 starter at Damien Hurst's Quo Vadis restaurant, or perhaps a bolt of Venetian tasselled brocade? Or an aerial view of the Rose Theatre dig? Getting warm, actually; it's an anatomical drawing of a male rectum, as featured in Peggy Phelan's indigestible academic tome Mourning Sex: Performing Public Memories (Routledge pounds 12.99). Critical theorist Peg certainly has a way with arresting chapter headings, like "Shattered skulls: Rodney King and Holbein's The Ambassadors"; and, my fave: "Uncovered rectums: disinterring the Rose Theatre". Time Team was never this exciting! Phelan makes puns that even Shakespeare might've blushed at: the archaeologists turned the Rose "into a grave site - a tomb, a place meriting deeper, 'grave-r' contemplation." Aids, Derek Jarman, Clause 22, the wreath or "encircled hole" laid at the site ... it all fits! "English Heritage wanted to spread the legs of the building ..." Oh, stop it! And the clincher? The best preserved bit of the Rose is its drain. Possibly, er, because it's the deepest bit. "I am aware that on one level this comparison is comical," says Phelan, grave-ly. What's that famous phrase about heads and bottoms?

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