Even those who tend to be costume-shy should be urged to get with the program. When you invite your guests to come in costume, suggest that they think elegant: fancy ball gowns, men's evening wear of the past, even today's party clothes wrapped up inside a long black satin cape would all be wonderful. Masks are essential. Direct those who don't keep a supply on hand to the local craft shop. Plain white masks in several shapes will be on offer, along with an endless array of feathers, glitter paint and sparkly jewels. The effort to get decked out and look mysterious will put everyone in a party mood.
Most of us don't have ballrooms or gondolas. Never fear. Keep it simple and keep it dark: shadows set the tone of romance and mystery. Hang strands of small white lights, place candles everywhere and turn out the lights in your party space. As guests arrive, have some background music on the stereo that screams Venice: Crooning gondolier standards such as "O Sole Mio" and "La Donna e Mobile" from Verdi's Rigoletto or Vivaldi's Four Seasons are good choices. When the time comes for everyone to kick off their shoes and dance later on, you can switch to whatever music you would normally opt for.
Wine stores are stocking more wines from the Veneto these days, and prosecco, the delightful sparkling wine, is widely available. For a real Venice treat, offer your guests a Bellini, prosecco mixed with peach juice, or a Spritz, prosecco with a dash of Italian bitters such as Campari or Aperol topped off with sparkling mineral water.
After a day's work in Venice, natives like to gather at wine bars and nibble appetizers known as cicchetti (pronounced chi-ketty) with their drinks. To make your own cicchetti, slice thin rounds of crusty bread and add a variety of tasty toppings: olive tapenade, smoked or fresh mozzarella with a cherry tomato or marinated sweet pepper, Italian canned tuna, egg salad, anchovies or sardines. It's easy to experiment and impossible to go wrong. Just do as they do in Venice, invent your own cicchetti and let your creativity be your guide. Your guests will be enchanted.
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