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The dream of Victor Forcatti: a Venice Carnival in Odessa


The book “Old Odessa” by Alexander Deribas, the city founder’s nephew, describes an amazing “Venice Carnival” in Odessa, which took place the 1st of May of one year at the end of XIX century. The organiser of this event was a bizarre actor of French-Italian origin, very popular in Russian theatres: Victor Ludwigovich Forcatti.


In Odessa everyone knew this gentleman. There were many rumours about him: someone considered him a great swindler; others called him an enthusiast entrepreneur, adventurer or generally a theatre artist. However, Mr. Forcatti was respected a lot by Odessans, due to his charming behaviour.

Victor Ludwigovich was a man of great taste and craving for beauty, but this required a lot of money. He used to spend lavishly other people’s money, endlessly investing in questionable enterprises. When time came to pay all his debts, he decided to stage a big event, with the hope to make a lot of money: a Venice Carnival. For this ambitious project, he chose the garden at the end of Nikolaevsky (now Primorsky) boulevard in front of the Vorontsov Palace, which he rented for a long term.

It is worth noting that Forcatti’s purpose was not only profit, but also a culture. For this project he contacted the architect Massa, enveloped him with plans and ideas, and also warmed him up with a bottle of Shustov cognac. The architect did not even ask for advanced payment, perhaps because Forcatti whispered in his ear: “who dreams of despicable metal, when great things await?” Therefore, in the “Forcatti garden”, the construction of a theatre designed by Massa began. Its stage was connected with the upper side of the boulevard and the architect even added a restaurant. Forcatti only miscalculated one thing: he did not know that Massa was obsessed with the Russian style: whatever he started to build, Moorish, Neapolitan or Chinese, it turned out to be a Russian hut.

Notwithstanding the setting, Forcatti recklessly invited a French chantant, who looked quite strange in a Russian hut. The same with the Jewish quartet of the Zemel brothers, playing “Their Bin Schneider”in the same hut. But, the Odessa residents forgave Forcatti for the mess of styles and even shook his hands. It was a success. The Odessa newspapers wrote: “Forcatti honours history like no one, remembers that the French conquered Odessa, the Russians built it, the Jews helped to get rich, and Mr. Forcatti taught him to live beyond his means, for which he bows deeply.”

On the inauguration day, all the alleys of the garden sparkled with hundreds of lights: they were outlandish electric bulbs that had barely been delivered from the World Exhibition in Paris. Lamps even on the branches of trees, which seemed to be engulfed by fire. In addition to this illumination, the bushes were entwined with golden garlands. And between them there were stalls everywhere, where each lady was handed either a flower or ice cream in a pound. Thousands of people rushed to the Venice Carnival. Mostly ladies, intrigued by the carnival tradition of wearing costumes and a mask; the main thing was not to take it off, to make any gentleman dream to meet a Venetian beauty.

At the beginning few gentlemen appeared, but it was fixed immediately. At a sign to the conductor, the orchestra of Gaetano Grazia played the March of the Skobelevsky, instead of a Strauss’s waltz. Invoked by these military marches, an avalanche of men in frock coats and tailcoats, but more officer’s uniforms, soon arrived from Nikolaevsky Boulevard. The orchestra thundered in such a way that you could hear the music from the ships in the port.

Theoretically, everything was included in the ticket price, as it was calculated by the genius of Forcatti. Unfortunately, in the middle of the evening, creditors showed up right, wanting to get their money. At the upper cash register a bunch creditors appeared with a bailiff to arrest the proceeds for debts. As usual, Forcatti had spent all the money, that did not belong to him.

Victor Lyudvigovich had his particular way to cheat. He always kept a telegram from Kazan in his pocket. He swaddled it in a special handkerchief, so as not to wear out. The telegram reported on the wire transfer of two thousand rubbles to Mr. Forcatti. And this was not a joke: it was real transfer, but in fact, it had arrived two years earlier and Forcatti had already spent all the amount. Anyway, the telegram was compelling. In anticipation of two thousand, timber suppliers supplied firewood, bartenders opened drinks, ice-cream workers treated them to delicacies, and creditors closed the bills. But then, the harsh hour of reckoning came and suppliers appeared.

However, Forcatti was not the person to show himself as to leave debts unpaid, notwithstanding the prevailing attitude in Odessa. He ran to the upper cash register, where the bailiff, white of anger, was arguing with the cashier. A theatre drama took place, with Forcatti performing the defender of the creditors, who, at the end, were left with nothing. The bailiff was left with a “katenka”, in the sense of small change. After all, Forcatti was a nice person.

The event turned out to be a great Odessa’s Venetian carnival. People had a lot of fun and did not discuss about the price. Ladies were impatient, because music was pouring from the Forcatti garden, lights beckoned. It was a holiday and amusement was wandering along the alleys and on the sidelines.

This was the style of Odessa, a city where only visiting tourists paid their bills. And Victor Forcatti showed everyone that you have to fight, even to cheat, for a day of happiness.

Victor Forcatti