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On Friday night the first week-end of April, L'Âge des Lumières and like-minded people assembled for the second Lumières ball. The location was the beautiful Villa Deciani in Cassacco, near Udine in the hills of Friuli, Northern Italy. The weather god was good enough to grant us a cloudless saturday and a half-sunny sunday. The wind was somewhat chilly, but in the sun and out of the wind it was wonderfully warm. Unlike Bavaria on the other side of the Alps, the country does not gradually rise towards the mountains: The hilly plain just suddenly gives way to steep, forbidding, snow-covered moutains which afforded the picturesque backdrop to our event.
We arrived Friday afternoon a little past 16:00 and were shown to our rooms by the organisers who were already in full-speed rotation to get everyone sorted out. Around 18:00, everybody had arrived, changed into appropriate dress for the time warp, and assembled in the main hall on the 1st floor of the villa for a welcome drink. We were greeted by the organisers, Alessandra and Fabrizio, "the other" Fabrizio and the host who had graciously let us use his villa, Luigi Deciani. He told us he had restored the building himself with the help of friends - and a wonderful job they did! The stuccoed and tastefully painted and furnished rooms were much admired.
Then there was dinner in the true Italian tradition, i.e. four courses: Antipasti, pasta, carne and dolci. The ladies had difficulties fitting all of it into their corsets, but refused to pass up any of the tasty morsels. After that, the society moved on to the gambling hall where we could lose or win fake money of which everybody had received a bag. When the evening was over around 2:00, some came away rich enough to warm the chill night with the help of a young lad or wench, while others had lost all their jewellery and even their room keys, i.e. their virtue.
Saturday started with a horse ride for those who like that sort of thing, and a walk through the spring fields for the rest. We met the riders halfway for a glass of prosecco and a reading of poetry.When everybody had recuperated from the extertions of the long march, one sat down for lunch. The meal was interrupted by the intrusion of brigands who robbed people of their wealth at musket-point. It is thanks to the intervention of one brave Venetian officer and his trusty sword that we all came away with our lives.
Fabrizio is begging for his life at the hands of a robber. So does Fabrizio II
I cannot tell much of saturday afternoon since I was taken ill - probably the shock of having narrowly escaped a gruesome fate - and had to retire to my room. I am told that there were dancing lessons and hot chocolate. After sunset, the illustrious society assembled once more to attend a demonstration of the art of alchemy, then a concert. some of our number apparently are friends of the opera and exhibited great skill in the art of singing. Two singers, an hautbois player and a pianoforte accompanist performed pieces by a promising young artist named Mozart. Much too modern, if you ask me - too many notes!
The concert was followed by a lengthy dinner in the main hall. The conversation was violently interrupted by the appearance of a village wench who - oh scandal! - accused one of the gentlemen of, er, being responsible for her circumstances. Fabrizio at once saw to it that she was turned out of doors, but Luigi strongly objected - so strongly, in fact, that the glove was thrown. The duel was fixed for dawn the next morning, but with regard to the latenes of the hour, it was then postponed to 10:00.
Dinner ended at about 1:00 with a splendid buffet of sweet and was followed, despite the gloomy shadow cast by the oncoming duel, by dancing in the lower hall. Most of the guests retired at around 2:30.
Sunday morning was cloudy with a chill wind; the right weather for such as gruesome event as a duel. While the guests enjoyed coffee and croissants, the duelants prepared themselves, no doubt with prayer. The seconds carried in the fearful weapons for inspection, then the duel began while the sky, appropriately, covered itself in heavy clouds. The opponents exchanged some skilled blows, then the Venetian officer interrupted, announcing that duels were forbidden in the Republic - however, we were not in the Serenissima, but in Friuli, so the duel continued. At last, brave Fabrizio was fearfully wounded and went down on his knees. He was carried off to a room while his second called for a doctor. A little while later, a preacher was called for. Everybody was shocked; people stood around in clusters, hoping for Fabrizios survival. A while later he reappeared, much to everybody's relief, with his arm in a sling.
A relieve the spirits, a few rounds of "Cherche la femme" were played. Each round, a gentleman and a lady were blindfolded. The gentleman had to try to catch the lady within a ring of onlookers, who restricted the movements of both and sometimes led the gentleman on, pretending to be the lady by speking in falsetto, and sometimes pushed tghe lady in his direction. To the amusement of all, hands touched were they were not meant to touch... and at last, one gentleman chased not a lady, but another of his own sex. Everybody was much amused.
The day was concluded with a light lunch, a round of applause for the service personnel, then the much too mundane chore of packing - and finally a round of embraces, kisses and good-byes. As we steered our carriage home through the Alps, we were first buffeted by a strong wind, then opposed by the forces of a returning winter. All of Europe had gotten used to the idea of spring, so the snow-covered landscape and road came as a shock.We managed to reach home without accident, though.
I am sure that I speak for eveyone who was there when I say that it was an unforgettable event that will hardly be surpassed in splendour in the near future. The amount of work that went into organising it, both before an during the event, must have left our hosts all exhausted. If anything went wrong, the guests never noticed it, and that is the best definition of perfect hospitality. No amount of words can properly express our gratitude. I would like to thank Alessandra and both Fabrizios for the organisation, Luigi for the beautiful location and his active taking part in the events even down to risking his life in duel, Frankie for keeping things running and the guests happy, and the cooks and serving maids for their dedication and alertness even deep into the night.
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