ON GIANT SHOULDERS
Daughter of Arrigo Cipriani
Nowadays, “Mindfulness” is the biggest trend across all generations. As it is often defined, Mindfulness is the awareness that arises out of paying attention in the moment with an open, kind, and discerning way. My father, however, was ahead of his time decades ago in showing me how to be mindful in everything I do.
Every Monday when our family restaurant was closed, my father used to speed me away from the waterways of Venice. There in the rolling Italian countryside, whipping around the curves of the collina (hills), my hair flying, laughing at my father’s silly jokes, I would bet with him whether the next light was going to be red, yellow, or green. It felt like such freedom to be in a car, rather than in a small boat on the canals of Venice, where I spent so much time. He often took me to a secret place in Verona for lunch where his father used to take him. Same table. Same menu. Same atmosphere. After a rich gratinee of ham and cheese followed by homemade cookies filled with nutella or cream, he would let me have a celebratory taste of Prosecco (sparkling wine), and then he would dance the car home.
Sometimes instead of the car outing, we would go rowing in the lagoon or go waterskiing in our small speed boat, the Cagiugio, named for the beginning of my parents children’s names–Carmela, Giuseppe, and Giovanna. Just like in the car, my father flew over the water, stopping only to go fishing. When I wasn’t looking, sometimes he would sneak a dead fish onto my hook, so I would think that I had caught something. He loved making me feel important.
My father has always taught me to “eat life.” He learned to appreciate life this way from his father, Giuseppe Cipriani, who opened Harry’s Bar in 1931, which has become a famous establishment over the decades, in addition to the other Cipriani restaurants around the world. I remember my grandfather sporting a cashmere coat, linen trousers, and a fine silk cravat. He used to say he was “wearing his funeral,” meaning he would rather spend his money while he was alive. My father and I are just like Giuseppe. We would rather have a party now and be cremated later, laughing all eternity in the same bottle!
Venetians like to laugh at everything, as Venice is a place where even a funeral can somehow be funny. If the water is rough, the casket teeters on the boat as if about to fall in at any moment. The rising waters in Venice add a certain danger to life, such as during summer’s high tides when I think of my father in his wading pants almost swimming along the narrow streets with a basket of merenda (snacks) high on his head. As life is often filled with sadness, my father believes it is important to make as much comedy as possible. The word that best captures him is divertante, funny and amusing. He often made up funny songs, rhymes and jokes about my aunts, uncles and cousins in order to make us all laugh. We share the same kind of offbeat humor, both of us adoring the jokes of Woody Allen, a long-time client of my family’s. My father and I still share silly stories through letters and emails. Anything can happen in our stories: trees talk, humans are dogs, dogs are humans or sausages sing. We share our own language.
When I was growing up, we shared a garden with Ezra Pound, and I can still picture him walking across the bridge reciting poems. Across the canal was Peggy Guggenheim with her twelve Pekingese dogs and a private gondolier. I always felt safe living in Venice because everything was right there, a walk or boat ride away. However, I do remember being terrified on the first day of school. My heart was beating so fast that I could not speak. With a serious look on my face, I turned to mum watching me from the window. With my heavy cartella (backpack) on my shoulders and wearing my school uniform, I walked along the street next to our garden holding my father’s hand tightly. As we started over the Accademia Bridge with more than 100 steps, my father lifted my small thin body with one hand and my backpack with the other. Flying over the bridge, I felt lighter than a meringue kiss as I laughed with my good giant hero the whole way. When we arrived in front of my school, my father said “don’t worry, I will wait for you outside until the end of the lesson.” And he did.
Every night as a child when I was deep in my dreams and my sleep, my father would wake me up after working all day and night at Harry’s Bar. Always after midnight and sometimes even later, he knocked on my door and kissed me softly to open my eyes. I loved that quiet time of night. He wanted to hear all about my day, what I did in school, my games of cops and robbers. I will never forget these intimate moments.
One night when I was a teenager and he woke me for our nightly ritual, he found me upset and sad. He said, “What’s wrong? You look so strange.” I told him it was something I just couldn’t tell him. He asked, “why? Have you taken drugs?” That was the only thing he could not tolerate. He said I could tell him anything in the world. I blurted out, “Dad, I am worried that I am pregnant.” He smiled and kissed me and prodded, “Are you in love?” I replied yes and told him how I had kissed my boyfriend for the first time, therefore I must be pregnant. He didn’t laugh at me, but took me seriously. Rather than telling me to consult mum, he explained to me how one becomes pregnant. In fact, he encouraged me to come to him whenever I had questions like this. So when I had my first period, I went to him, and he never made me feel ashamed, explaining how it was natural. He said the only dirty things were drugs and not being honest. He taught me to always tell the truth.
Now I try to pass to my three daughters the same lessons my father received from his father and then gave to me. I tell my girls “every thunderstorm will end. Have you ever seen a thunderstorm that lasts forever?” Having lived in the midst of the water much of my life, I advise them not to go against the wind, but to adjust their sails. And when all else fails, my father has taught me the best anti-depressant is a good Bellini, the famous champagne cocktail made with fresh peach puree first invented at Harry’s Bar in Venice. And why not add a good plate of Carpaccio to pick up the spirits too? I was only a child when I had my first “baby” Bellini–a small carafe of peach juice and sparkling water. My father likes to say that my grandfather “killed” two famous fifteenth century Italian painters–Giovanni Bellini and Vittore Carpaccio. My grandfather named the drink “Bellini” because it reminded him of the pink color of a saint’s toga in a painting by Giovanni Bellini. He invented “Carpaccio” when he served a plate of shaved meat to a Countess whose doctor told her she could only eat raw meat. Again the name came from colors found in a painting, this time by Vittore Carpaccio. To most people now, a “Bellini” is a cocktail, and “Carpaccio” is a plate of thinly sliced raw meat. The painters have been eaten away. So I continue to learn from my father “mangiare la vita, to eat life!”
Arrigo “Harry” Cipriani, son of Harry’s Bar founder Guiseppe, grew up working in Harry’s Bar even after obtaining a law degree and having a family of his own. Along with his son he developed the family’s enterprise expanding operations worldwide.
Carmela Cipriani grew up in Venice and still spends a great deal of time there and in Milan where she raised her three daughters, Giulia, Anna, and Sofia. She left the legal profession to write stories and recipes for children. Her book Pappe da favola won the Bancarellino Award in 1995. Aside from her work in children’s literature, she now adds to her repertoire a novel set in the place closest to her heart–Dichiarazione d’amore a Venezia (Vow of Love in Venice).
On Giant Shoulders… A Daughter Can See Clearly
- Setting Clear Limits and Providing a Moral Code (submit your story here)
- Spirituality and Religion (Ingrid Peart)
- Standing Up for Your Beliefs (Dominique Sharpton)
- The Importance of Humility (Kathryn Ho)
- Lasting Values Over Materialism (Nan Nicklaus O’Leary)
- Helping Others (Helen Rafferty)
- Failure…and Learning from Mistakes (submit your story here)
- Value of Hard Work (Stephanie Staubach Phillips)
- Mindfulness (Carmela Cipriani)