The Scents of 1725
Our Fragrance Dinner
Last night we were delighted to host our first Supper Club of the year. The story below is the one we hoped to tell through our menu, helped by three matchboxes containing scents blended by Anna to evoke the key moments in our imagining of what turned out to be a very significant date in Venice.
THE SCENTS OF 1725
April 2nd 1725, 10am. The 150,000 residents of Venice are going about their business. At the Palazzo Ducale the 112thDoge, Sebastiano Mocenigo yawns his way through an audience with a group of elderly agricultural deputies from Treviso. The spring air is still cool, around 16 degrees, but the skies are clear and the sunlight through the windows takes him far away, down the Dalmatian peninsula to Corfu, where the Ottomans of his past are massing… Over at the Osteria dell’Angelo boundary disputes are less somnolent: a gang of mainlanders are throwing punches in a row about a metre of dockside; the Venetians refuse to concede an inch and owner calls the watch. A painter named Giambattista Tiepolo is leaving the Palazzo Sandi, a fresh commission in his pocket. He will paint a Triumph of Eloquence for a newly-ennobled financier, Vettore. Not exactly the cream of society but then many of Venice’s 3,700 aristocrats are poorer these days than the boatmen squabbling on the wharf. Scions of the twelve founding families, the Contarini, the Morosini, the Gradenigo stir between filthy linens and scratch for fleas in the flophouses round San Barnaba. Later the “Barnabotti” might skulk around Florian’s in the Piazza, hoping to cadge a drink, but at this hour the café is given over to professionals; Pier Zeno, the editor of the Giornale de’letterati d’Italia, the printer Giovanni Albrizzi, navy officials discussing the works on the newly-ordered ducal Bucintoro . The nuns of San Zaccaria are kneeling for the third Mass of the day, the courtesans’ hairdressers are just setting off on their rounds.
In the church of San Samuele, Zanetta Farussi’s maid rises from her knees:
Frankincense, Cedarwood, Sandalwood, Patchouli
Cold wooden seats imbued with heady layers of centuries of incense sharp against musty prayerbooks.
She genuflects and sets off back to the Corte delle Muneghe, at the bottom of a calle between the Palazzo Malipiero and the San Samuele theatre. Today will be a trial, she has stepped away from her mistress to make a special prayer to Our Lady for a safe delivery.
Up at Rialto, Zanetta Fanussi’s husband, Gaetano, elbows his way through the servants and housewives crowding round the fishmongers’ stalls. Prawns. He needs prawns. Usually his wife can’t bear the sight of them, but this morning she called out for gamberi, so gamberi she must have. He jiggles the coins in his pocket to attract the shopkeeper’s attention, but fails to get it. There aren’t so many coins.
Vetiver, Patchouli, Buddhawood, Nutmeg
Damp and feral, traces of spice and wooden wine casks, slippery zecchini.
Marzia, Zanetta Fanussi’s mother, boils water for a strengthening broth. She tries not to think about that son-in-law of hers who has brought her beautiful, talented daughter so low, bellowing like a cow up there in the house’s only bedroom. Marzia also tries not to think about the other man who may be responsible for Zanetta’s condition, Michele Grimani, the owner of the San Samuele theatre, who even now is hurrying over from Santa Maria Formosa, anxious for news of the birth. Gaetano and Michele meet in the shabby courtyard. Gaetano bows politely with prawn juice dripping from his pocket. The noble gentleman Grimani has brought a finer present, a crystal flask of scent to rejoice Zanetta’s heart when her labour is over, a perfume fit for a lady’s boudoir.
Rose, Benzoni, Ylang Ylang, Bergamot, Lavender.
Waves of scent as she flirts her fan, expensive, rare. Underneath, maybe not so very clean.
That evening, Zanetta gave birth to her first son, a boy named Giacamo Girolamo Casanova.
Our dinner at Sugar Street tonight is inspired by the perfumes collected in the commemorative scent 1725 by Gerald Ghislain, who describes his commemorative scents as ‘stories to be read on the skin”. Beginning with a tea -smoked scallop which evokes the bosky (sandalwood) base note of 1725 we pass to ricotta and bergamot tortellini in a pinebroth, then to a citrus jelly before lamb in a lavender and almond crust with vanilla-poached beans. Sweet and bitter vegetables pick up liquorice and bright amber, followed by a pudding of cherries in star-anise syrup flamed (we hope) in grappa.
We’re still clearing up today but we’ll be back next week with more recipes!