In 10 days two of my friends are getting married in Antwerp, S & S, so I thought that I would write about S’ hen party (Möhippa or Enterrement de vie de jeune fille in French – they always need to be so complicated, the French.. I think the Americans call it Bachelorette party) in Venice in January. The hen party was a bit different because S is actually a guy, however as the other participants (five of us) were girls, we decided that it couldn’t be called a stag party! We are five girls who studied together (with S as well) in Venice in 2000-2001 (a master’s programme in human rights) and since then we are the best of friends and try to meet up at least once or twice a year (legendary girls’ weekends are the one in the South of France in 2005 and the one when getting lost and stuck with the car in the snow on the Danish island of Møn in 2006, I might write about those trips another time). We are two Swedish (Å and I, P No 2), an Irish (O), a Danish (L) and a French (P No 1) and we live scattered around Europe (well, L nowadays lives in Nepal).
Anyway, this year we decided to våldgästa as we say in Swedish (descend upon is the not very good translation that Lexin suggests – the literal translation is something like “visit somebody by using violence”) our Flemish friend S who just happened to be back in Venice for a few months, working as a tutor for our master’s programme! And as he was getting married, what a better activity than to organise a surprise hen party for our host??
We already had the experience of organising an impromptu hen party in Brussels and I learnt my first summer in Belgium that a Belgian tradition is the brulage des culottes, or burning of the knickers during the hen party. It had already been carried out a few times on the Grand’ Place in Brussels in the middle of the night, with Belgian police car patrolling around us, not saying anything, just observing… So, we needed to get a pair of knickers for S, and on the Friday while being nostalgic about the so-called Vodka Bar (the amount of vodka or any kind of alcohol in the cocktails, wow!), Il Baffo (the moustache in Italian, a local pizzeria) and the fried dick in the Chinese restaurant (we think they meant fried duck!) – all on the Lido (an island which is part of Venice, further out in the Lagoon), we found the perfect pair in the local supermarket – we never really understood the text written [in English] on them but it made them so much more fun!
Friday we also went to the monastery where we used to study, on the same island (it’s where the Venice Film Festival is held, but believe me, it’s not very glamorous once the stars have left, mostly old women dressed in fur coats & huge sunglasses and carrying small, annoying dogs wearing clothes… and they are masters of jumping queues; the women, not the dogs!!). The monastery is called San Nicolò and at least when we studied there, five monks still lived there, and they were not happy about the intruders… We had the crappy lunch served to the students in the monastery (Friday is smelly-fish-day, a catholic tradition I guess) and talked to the professors, who remembered some of us… Afterwards, it was coffee time by the ferry – it’s just a small kiosk, but the coffee is good, of course – it’s Italian! I actually learnt to drink coffee in Italy, so I won’t touch the perculator coffee in Sweden.
After lunch and coffee, we took the vaporetto, i.e the water bus, to Venice centre where we walked among the tourists on Piazza San Marco, and found our way down the small alleys to Rialto (one of three bridges crossing the canal grande), stopping at one of my favourite places in the city; Itaca art gallery to buy some water colours of the city. We didn’t have time to go to another cultural place, the Peggy Guggenheim Museum, but I strongly recommend if you ever visit Venice (and never go to Venice in the summer, always in the winter, it can be grey and miserable, but it has so much more atmosphere than in the tourist-packed summers) to visit this museum which is housed in a palazzo by the Canal grande. I read Peggy Guggenheim’s biography “Out of this century. Confessions of an art addict” actually when we had our girls’ weekend in the South of France and I loved it, what a fascinating life (she slept with half of all the contemperary modern artists, the rest was gay I guess!).
We finished off the first walk in Venice with some Spritz al Aperol in L’Olandese Volante (the Flying Dutchman on Campo San Lio), inthe bar where Å and I discovered this local cocktail! The classy/pretentious tourists might drink Bellini cocktails, but the local students drink Spritz, a drink made of white wine, sparkling water and Aperol (a drink mixer only found in Italy, I think). In Venice they serve it with an olive, in Padova it’s served with a slice of orange – or is it the other way around? Anyway, it is addictive (and cheap for poor students)!
Back on the Lido we met up with our host and headed back to Venice for a Venetian dinner – be warned, it’s very very difficult to find a nice restaurant in Venice, and even if you have once found one, don’t be so sure that you can find it again – getting lost is part of the experience. We went to a place just next to the Fish market, very nice but I promise you, the moment the locals walked through the door, the menu became completely different (definitely more choice!). An Italian friend of ours lived in Venice for over 7 years, always went to the same bar for coffee every morning – once he went in with a Venetian friend and he discovered that his friend’s coffee was much cheaper… you see, even Italians are treated as tourists!! After dinner it was back to the old haunts, Il caffè blu and Café Noir, two student bars! More Spritz and all of a sudden we meet Lele – a friend of a friend, probably the only one still left in Venice (Italian students take forever to graduate, and some longer than others… Lele is on his 10th year but he assured us that he was planning to finish soon!) of the people we used to know!
The next day we walked around Venice, shopping for shoes on il Gran Viale, the only real street in Venice (no cars of course) which brings you to the train station Santa Lucia where we met up with our French friend P who arrived by train from Geneva. The discreet preparations for the hen party were in full swing! And soon it was all revealed to the unsuspecting hen, S!
S was dressed in a tiara with a veil, pink wings with a L-plate (for Learner in the UK on the cars / Övningskörning in Swedish) and was read the rules: a shot of Gammeldansk (Danish strong alcohol) whenever the girls decide, accept all challenges and be a true hen! We started by giving him some shots of Gammeldansk for courage! The evening was a success; from S picking up girls in Flemish (the poor girls tried with every possible language they knew but they managed to communicate with him), finding a Marco that looked like a Sergio (internal joke; when we lived in Italy, all the Casanova-looking Italians wearing sunglasses when it rained were named Sergio’s by us and all Italians are called Marco!), asking if a girl was a model, and the last challenge – burning the knickers on the Piazza San Marco – the last one almost got us arrested by the carabinieri (Italian police) but it was fun!
Four things were learnt during the course of the night (or let’s say, were confirmed!):
– Italian men don’t understand irony, and were very confused by the fact that we were five girls and one guy – S had to explain that he was not gay and yes, marrying a girl, on several occasions!
– All Irish people know each other, or know somebody who knows the neighbour of somebody called Mary (in the middle of the night; Piazza San Marco, the River dance – I say no more..).
– Apparently le brûlage des culottes is not a Flemish tradition, but only practised in Brussels / Wallonie (French-speaking part of Belgium)…
– Five girls can get one guy really drunk on Gammeldansk 😉
All in all, I think that we can say that Venice had never seen anything like our hen’s party and we had a great girls’ weekend with our honourary girl/hen!