Tony Green knows how to pick his towns. The artist has apartments in two of the world’s most poetic cities: Venice and New Orleans. In both places he has upstairs apartments in a quaint building in an old part of town. In Venice the neighborhood is what’s still called the Jewish Ghetto; in New Orleans, the French Quarter. Great public squares are near: the Campo del Ghetto Nouveau and Jackson Square. Both places are reflected in his paintings.
We were early arriving for lunch in Venice at Upupa Ristorante, located in his neighborhood. When we asked the guy at the bar if he could help us find Green’s phone number he smiled; the number was on his speed dial. The reason was evident. His art decorates the walls.
When Green and his girlfriend Raffaella Toso arrived, he explained that while some people sing for their supper, at Upaupa he paints for his meals.
Back in New Orleans his art is also familiar, including those murals on the walls at Rock ‘n’ Bowl. His collection includes lush scenes of New Orleans street life and the pageantry of Venetian canals.
He is an enviably talented man who also plays the guitar. His music is jazz, that of his native town, but with a European flare known as “gypsy jazz.” For Green, who was born in Naples but raised in New Orleans, his jazz idol is Django Reinhardt, a Belgian with whom he became fascinated while studying art in that country. Green has appeared at the Jazz Fest in New Orleans, though he laments that his painting is leaving him less time for music.
Green now spends nearly nine months a year in Venice but keeps up with his hometown. Our lunch conversation was peppered with questions of news from back home. Raffaella has accompanied him to New Orleans several times and says she especially enjoys seeing the Garden District.
A name like the “Jewish Ghetto” sounds a bit ominous, though it’s a totally peaceful and ecumenical neighborhood where everyone gets along. Crime is virtually non-existent, particularly in a city of canals. “If someone robs a place,” Raffaella explains, “they have to go get in line to wait for a water taxi.”
Lunch was bountiful, as befits dining with someone that the staff sees as a friend more than a customer. After the meal we walked to his apartment that, like his apartment in New Orleans, has an open-air area where plants grow. Inside, the tables are those of an artist at work. Recently he has done a series of New Orleans second-line parades.
Then we did our own second-line – minus the music, handkerchiefs, police escort and dancing. At a nearby bar we peeked inside to see one of Green’s paintings of a New Orleans musician. When we took a picture Green teased to the bartender, “paparazzi.”
During some parts of the year the narrow street that leads to a water taxi stop is flooded. This day the Grand Canal was tame and the street was filled with vendors as though they had arisen from the sea.
Our visit ended where most visits in Venice start and finish: waiting for a boat. As the taxi puttered away I glanced at Tony and Raffaella, who stood at the edge of the canal framed by centuries-old buildings. They looked like a scene from one of his paintings. It must be good to be Tony Green; even better to be Antonio Verdi.