Another notch on the belt of this damned virus with the death of Ferruccio Berolo, maestro ballerino and notable feature in the San Barnaba/Santa Margherita neighbourhood of Venice. Whatever the time of day you could depend on Ferruccio to be somewhere on your route, ready to stand you a coffee, or, preferably, something stronger.
In spite of a gilded career in classical ballet he wasn’t ever too grand to help out with amateur hoofers. He knocked my juvenile chorus of rats into shape for a production of Dick Whittington, and exceeded all my hopes when he transformed two, ahem, mature Englishmen, into Ugly Sisters capable (just about) of doing barre work to Delibes’ pizzicato from Sylvia without giving themselves hernias.
Ferruccio was also a cook. One of his signature dishes was something that converted me to aubergines, but I found I could never quite reproduce it. He was generous enough to share his secret.
‘Dollink,’ he said, ‘you must buy smaller melanzane, small as possible, not those tasteless monsters. Then keep them, days, days, weeks even, until they shrrrrivel. When they look like an old black man’s willy, they are ready to cook.’
I share this colourful piece of culinary advice in his memory. Dance on into eternity, Maestro.
Ferruccio was one of a kind. Always happy to run into him. Venice is a sadder place today. Thanks for your tribute Laurie.
I made friends with Ferruccio in the late 1980s in Venice, while doing research for my PhD. He would walk in to our local bar – Al Bacareto – and demand in the loudest voice, ‘Ho bisogno di vino bianco freddo …’ He would then reprimand the bar staff, with the sweetest smile, and loveliest laugh, for being ‘****s’, telling him that when he wanted cold wine, he wanted genuinely cold wine, not something tepid.
I always remember how charming he was to my various women folk. ‘David is completely homosexual’ he’d announce, ‘but beggars can’t be choosers.’ The last time I saw him, about five years ago, he was teasing friends in Calle Lunga di San Barnaba. They had bought fish. ‘Carissimi. Avete comprato pesce. Non avete la minima idea come si deve prepare rombo/branzino [I cannot recall what they had bought]. Va meglio compare Findus.’
He was the cruelest man in the kindest, most lovely, most charming way. I used to wish he wouldn’t tweak my nipples. (It hurt.) But if anyone else had done it, I would have punched them. With Ferruccio, I just loved him all the more. I feel so much for Jaki – who loved him so much, and not only tolerated but encouraged his wild eccentricities – and his lovely daughter.
The best of men. The best of adopted Venetians. The world has become a blacker, duller, sadder place without him. I have just written a piece for an edited volume on Venice and historians. If anyone wants it email me: it is dedicated to my lovely friend.