At the end of June, Anna and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary by spending a weekend in one of the richest of art cities in Italy and most romantic in the world: Venice.
Instead of stand in line, along with thousands of other tourists (3,600,000 per year) that put to a hard test the foundations of this city and the patience of its residents, I and mon Amour decided to follow in the footsteps of a famous pirate, who was at home in Venice. No, he’s not Jack Sparrow, but Corto Maltese, the cartoon character created by Hugo Pratt.
“There’re three places in Venice magical and hidden: one in calle dell’Amor degli Amici, a second near the Ponte delle Maravegie and the third in calle dei Marrani, near San Geremia in Ghetto Vecchio. And it’s here that the Venetians took refuge when they are tired of the constituted authorities, in these secret courts in which there are doors that lead them forever to beautiful places and other stories … ” (Hugo Pratt, Corte Sconta detta Arcana).
The architect Guido Fuga and the cartoonist Lele Vianello, former Pratt’s collaborators, have collected in a guide, thirty years of Venetian walks in the company of him, to the discovery of the best taverns and esoteric secrets of La Serenissima.
The title of book is “The Secret Venice of Corto Maltese: Fantastic and hidden itineraries” – originally published in Italy by Lizard, then by Rizzoli, and now in its ninth edition.
So, led by the spirit of one of the greatest Italian cartoonists, we forwarded through calli and campielli, between alchemical and Moorish symbols, exploring the Jewish ghetto, the Arsenale, the new Calatrava’s bridge, the masterpieces of the Galleria dell’Accademia, and sensational dishes like the Stoccafisso mantecato (creamed stockfish) and the Risotto al nero di seppia (risotto with cuttlefish ink).
Just about Pratt, we discovered a few things: the Corte Sconta detta Arcana, is called indeed Corte Botera, while near the Arsenale, a restaurant has chosen to call itself with that name (by painting a false sign in the inner courtyard). Pratt, indeed, had a house in Malamocco, a pretty and well preserved medieval village on the island of Lido di Venezia. Known this, I and Anna went up there to find Pratt’s home, who was there called il Maestro.
Finally we found the house, almost near the embankment and a cane thicket — a well-described place by Pratt’s daughter, Silvina, in the double biography “Con Hugo” (With Hugo), published by Marsilio in 2008 —. Up there, in a building attic, he was born Corto Maltese, appearing for the first time, tied to a raft, in “Ballad of the Salt Sea“. It ‘amazing to think that there, by that air salty, those ships, the seamen, was born a story worthy of Robert L. Stevenson.
But the ability of Pratt was precisely to transform things and people, through a magical look. Thus, many of the places and characters of his stories are inspired by real locations and people. As the Trattoria Da Scarso, the tavern which appears in the Corto Maltese’s stories. It’s really existing in Malamocco, where we concluded our exploration in the shade of a pergola, enjoying a delicious fish soup, meanwhile I seemed to see at the horizon an oriental junk, flying the pirate flag.