I regret to say I am still at the palazzo, despite my desire for warmer climes. Rio will probably be next, but I also feel the allure of Goa, like an insistent djinn tugging the tassels of my cashmere robe. But there are so many things to do in so many of these rooms, some of which I did not even know existed! So I remain.
I have been marooned in worse places than a palazzo in Venice. And it is not just architectural duty: Cosimo, my younger half-brother, sent word that he was coming en route to some pre-Christmas skiing in Austria, so would I put him up for an evening? Putting up with Cosimo; something I had hoped I’d never have to do again. I could write a book called Putting Up With Cosimo. There he was, standing in the entrance hall, by my quick estimation a stone heavier and as handsome as ever.
‘What are you doing here?’ I said to him.
‘Didn’t you get my texts?’
‘Yes. But I did not say you could come.’
Ours voices echoed off the stone walls. The flames of my wall sconces guttered in the October breeze as Cosimo opened his arms, just as our father used to, as if to scoop the whole world in his grasp – and our father would scoop the world, over and over until we were exhausted. Exhausted; yet rich enough to afford palazzi.
‘I wanted to see you, Manuelita,’ said Cosimo.
(This is a likely story. Either C. wants money for some new venture, or for me to sell some ‘consignment’ he has in his possession – at the best of times, diamonds, at the worst, namely 1975 in New York: cocaine. He is never here for my sisterly love, and besides, I ran out of it years ago. What is it about blood relatives that we still feel so obliged? Through my years of loving and business dealing, I have made my own family – whom I would die for, several times over. And yet despite my open heart, I am to be rewarded with . . . Cosimo?)
He saw my expression, and laid his bags down. I resolved to give Giuseppe a huge bonus in his salary for refusing to carry Cosimo’s luggage. Giuseppe: he tends me like a beekeeper would his most elaborate hive.
‘Pace,’ Cosimo said, in Italian, although peace is the last thing my brother ever brings. ‘Let’s just have a drink.’
In the main salon, overlooking the Grand Canal, we sat facing one other across the marble squares, each nursing a dry martini. My mind worked nimbly and I realised that the only solution for having Cosimo in the palazzo was to hold a party the following night. Far easier to be concerned with canapés than sororal obligation! And there is never any worry about late notice. If I say I am having a party – whichever continent I happen to be on – people always come.
After Cosimo had gone to bed, I gave the word to Giuseppe. Giuseppe knew exactly who to invite; it’s like he reads my mind. I have a system: in every one of my houses there is a book of names and numbers. All fairly normal – but the most interesting and important is a final column on each of these fine-milled pages. Who is perfect company for a late-night Friday pasta in a darkened café? Who will remember to water your plants? Who is superlative in groups, sensitive and interested yet witty? Who can play the saxophone? Who is looking for a lover? Who has lost someone and who deserves someone better than the fool that they’re with?. . . my list goes on. It becomes quite obscure, although all of humanity’s, purest, basest needs are met in that final column of mine. Paying attention; listening to people; it is the key to my success.
In Venice, although my visits here have only been sporadic, of course there is already such a book. I never forget a single person I meet. And do not think I mean only Hollywood stars and marchesas! I have priests and poets, scientists and soul singers. I have the exquisite receptionist at my dental surgery in Cannaregio, one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen. I have them all.
There are five secrets to a good party, the kind of party that will leave you exhausted by the end of your revelry, but happy; the kind that will probably make you weep the next day with emotion, at how empty your house feels where there were so many voices the night before.
I never have cameras at my parties. The pictures of those hours should be made only in my guests’ heads and felt inside their ribs. A good party is an experience that has certainly happened, but which leaves no trace.
Secondly, I have long ceased inviting – how do you say? – the people who like to stir a pot? It is not worth it. When I was younger and living in Paris, I thought for a laugh to bring a ‘comedian’ into my fold. He was popular at the time – fatal error, to measure a person by their popularity – and I thought, seeing him inside my television, that he was funny. In the flesh, he was not funny. Without his prepared jokes, he was a sneering presence with a tiny soul. It was like a devil wandering between my Fornasetti ashtrays! People still ask me whatever happened to the comedian from Paris, which is something, I suppose, in the sense that he was memorable. But I think better to be fabulous in the moment, and then forgotten. I hope to be forgotten one day, but I know it is unlikely to happen.
An obvious asset at a party is a Harry’s Bar-trained cocktail waiter, installed in your kitchen. It is advantageous if this waiter looks like Rupert Everett did in the 1980s — the divinest face! — or perhaps Rupert Everett’s distant cousin. Men and women alike will want to drink more. You need an endless supply of champagne, wine for the more sedate, and a bottle of Macallan 1926 whiskey for the final guests. It will knock out the bores and warm up the fiery ones. I usually pass around with the bottle, dispensing it myself.
Always have live music, usually a swing or a jazz band, but if there is a rock n roller in town, they may play as long as they have their drummer with them. I cannot abide a man (it is usually a man) with a guitar, deciding to serenade the revellers, with no disciplining rhythm underneath. It is appalling.
Fifthly, and finally, I am usually bare-footed. Yes, even in a stone palazzo in October. I have many rugs, do not fear for me. Seeing me so casually with my feet, however fantastic my outfit, invariably creates a sense of homeliness and excitement in the guests. Stilettos are only for photographs, and seeing as I do not have any of those, what is the point?
And now the night has come. I am dashing this off to you as I sit here in my dressing chamber, listening for the sounds of the first water taxis to pull up to our jetty. Cosimo is smoking one of my cigars; its choking deliciousness wafts through my open window. I didn’t say he could have one — but then again, asking for permission has never been a strong suit in our family. Waiting for one of my parties to begin, I feel twenty years old, and also the age I am. Sometimes I bury my years of life away, and other times I take them out and pin them to my fleeting present. I am in my Pucci jumpsuit, with a pair of emerald chandelier earrings made for me by a Russian emigré who read my palm and told me I would marry once and have three children. Let’s just say he was a better jeweller than he was a seer.
I can hear voices: they are coming! I must go.
Until the next time, with love,