Quattro Minuti con Casanova–Cantina Do Spade

Here’s four more minutes of fun! This episode of Quattro Minuti con Casanova tells the story of what happened at the Alle Spade (now called the Cantina Do Spade), a restaurant and former inn where Casanova spent a night during the Carnevale season.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CrIdp6h76Hs

I recently had an interesting email conversation with Laurence Bergreen, biographer of many books about historical figures, such as Marco Polo and Columbus. He’s currently working on a book about Casanova, and we were discussing how to take this event from Casanova’s life. Do we judge it by modern standards or take into account the supposed relaxed mores of Carnevale season? Do we believe the story as told by Casanova himself, who may not be a reliable narrator in this case?

As these questions hint, this is not a simple tale–though it has entertained readers for centuries! View the video, read Walk #1 in Seductive Venice, or read Casanova’s own memoirs and make up your mind for yourself.

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Bonus Box

This week I received an amazing thing in the mail: a copy of the letters of Giustiniana Wynne, Countess Rosenberg, who is one of the women I am writing about for my next book.

Giustiniana (1737-1791) was a bright, brilliant, lovely young woman who had half the men in Venice turning their heads in her direction. She had a torrid affair with Andrea Memmo, a nobleman of the highest stratum who could never marry her since she was not of the same class. Andrea di Robilant wrote the story of this relationship in the book A Venetian Affair, which contains many of G’s letters as well as Andrea’s. Here is Andrea alongside the book.

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I met him this summer for coffee at the Piazzetta in Venice (though I didn’t take any photos that day). For a while now, since I worked on Seductive Venice, I’ve used Andrea’s writings, and he has graciously answered my questions about Giustiniana. I first wrote about her because of her relationship with Casanova. He fell for her when they first met, but he didn’t pursue her since he was friends with Andrea Memmo. Casanova later met Giustiniana again in Paris, where they socialized and danced at a masked ball–and then, at her request, he helped her find a solution for an unwanted pregnancy.

I subsequently learned that Giustiniana was so much more than a pretty face that caught Casanova’s attention. She was an accomplished author who wrote what some consider the first novel in Italian. I won’t go into detail here (because I want you to buy my book when it comes out and read all about her then!), but Giustiniana came into her own power later in life and left a legacy in her written work.

In the course of my research, I read the diaries of Giustiniana’s niece, Elizabeth (Betsy) Freemantle. Betsy began keeping a diary when she was a child–a diary bought for her by Count Bartolomeo Benincasa, Giustiniana’s companion after she was widowed. Betsy recounts how Benincasa would play cards with Betsy and her sister, or dance a minuet with them, or how he delivered the news of Giustiniana’s final illness. Betsy once wrote, “Mons. Benincasa dressed up as a woman, and my aunt (Giustiniana) as a man. I came downstairs without recognizing them…. But at last Mons. Benincasa made such an absurd curtsey that I knew him and my aunt also from her voice” (The Wynne Diaries, page 2).

I include all these details about Benincasa because HIS HANDWRITING IS IN THE BOOK I JUST RECEiVED!

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Well, sort of. The book of Giustiniana’s letters is actually a copy that was owned by J. Rives Childs, one of the foremost Casanova scholars from the past, so I’m looking at a copy of Benincasa’s handwritten notes next to Giustiniana’s letters. This very book was sent to me by Marco Leeflang, one of our foremost living Casanova scholars.

Here is a picture of Marco (the man in the middle left) from when I met him in Paris a couple years ago when I went to see the Casanova exhibit:

Marco in Paris

Marco is truly generous with his gifts. There are few copies of this book, and now I am one of the lucky owners. Marco wrote to me that I “deserve a bonus” for including Giustiniana in my book on Venetian women. I only hope I do her justice.

Here is the title page of her book of letters:

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And here is the cardboard box that Marco made to store the book in. He used handmade Venetian paper. He wrote to me that since the box is becoming “sloppy and torn” I may throw it away. Why would I ever consider such a sacrilege? Just look at this cool paper!

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One of the other world’s experts on Giustiniana’s life is Nancy Isenberg, a professor at the University of Rome III, who has also generously helped me in my research. She has written numerous works on Giustiniana. I wonder if she has seen this copy of G’s letters?

Adriano Contini, another Casanovist, sent along these photos of Giustiniana’s actual letters in her own handwriting. (The book I got includes the text set in italics but is not her handwriting.) As he points out, her handwriting is quite difficult to decipher.

Giustiniana postcardLett. Wynne p.1

I love the generosity of the Casanovists  and other researchers out there! What a treasure to see all these works.

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What’s the Story?

I was crossing the Campo San Canzian and saw this scene:

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The pants and shirt were quite clean, though the shirt sleeves were rolled up, indicating that it had been worn. The socks, too, were neatly rolled up inside the shoes. It had been raining lightly, but the clothes weren’t soaked, so they probably hadn’t been there long. What’s the story? Can you tell me what happened here?

(Make up your own story and post it as a comment!)

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The Illegitimate Child of Casanova

Gah! I recently watched the first episode of the British TV show Casanova. Yes yes, I know I’m way behind the times. But I’ve been writing books for the last five years, not watching TV. And really, I think I’ve been afraid to see the show. I was right to be.

I imagine that many people worked very hard on this show. And a writer did his research and spent many hours writing a script. And hell, Peter O’Toole and David Tennant signed up for this. So who am I to criticize? I don’t want to be mean-spirited or unfair, but I can’t not comment on the show after I spent a few years reading and writing about Casanova’s life.

But in the first five seconds Casanova jumped off a balcony and tried to land on a horse. In Venice. There hadn’t been horses in Venice for a few centuries. And then his mom got into a carriage. Pulled by horses. In Venice. There were no horses in Venice, so there certainly were no carriages. Couldn’t the producers afford gondolas? Perhaps the creators needed to bend history because the city of Venice didn’t give them permission to film more than one scene on a canal. And why is it that every Casanova movie feels the need to have groups of angry husbands chase Casanova through the streets of Venice? It never happened that way.

Casanova wrote his life story. He put himself out there for us to read about. Many Casanovists believe he was part historian, part storyteller. Casanova dined on his stories, meaning that he was such a good storyteller that others were happy to feed him to hear his stories in return. So I’ve often felt that, while it may not be fair to stereotype a person like Casanova, at least it’s not exceptional that others would do so to someone who has become an icon, a legend. I tried in my own writing about Casanova to dig deeper than just the stereotypes, to round out the man with stories beyond the sexy bits. Yes, those sexy bits are fun, and are fun to retell, but when Peter O’Toole as the septuagenarian Casanova says to the dewy maid, “Are you here for sex?” I just about choked on my cheesecake.

But what really got me about watching the TV show is the way that other people (or should I say characters, because they weren’t the real people Casanova wrote about) were so changed to fit the TV story line. Bragadin a priest? Nanetta and Marta Savorgan little wantons? And worst of all, the treatment of Henriette. Her story is so very twisted that it barely resembles anything of truth. For starters, she never lived in Venice, and she was never going to marry a Grimani. Surely these people don’t deserve this destiny, just because they were in Casanova’s orbit.

I know it’s just TV entertainment. But still. The furrow between my eyebrows took a couple hours to dissolve.

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Gondolier Pants

Have you ever wondered what gondolier pants looked like, you know, way back in the day?

Me, neither, and I like all things gondola.

But I hit a lot of museums this summer in Venice and took 8 zillion photos of all the paintings (even climbing onto a chair once when no one was looking). At the Accademia, came across this painting (Miracolo dell reliquia della Croce al ponte di Rialto by Vittore Carpaccio ). I took the close up photos because I was interested in the forcole, the wooden fork that the gondolier fits his oar into. But today as I glanced at these shots, I noticed their pants!

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Notice the gondolier of African descent:

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This guy’s pants are a bit baggy in back:

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And this rear view makes up for it: (notice the looks of the woman passenger)

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Gondolier pants generally showed the livery or colors of the house they worked for (the color usually matched by the poles or pali out front of the palazzo where they tied up their boats). This is why gondoliers today still wear stripes.

There was also something called the Brotherhood (or Companions) of the Hose in Venice, a sort of fraternity of guys putting on parties and wearing outrageous tights. Pompeo Molmenti write about them in Venice: The Golden Age (Part II, Vol. 1, page 90-91). According to him they “planned spectacles, directed festivities, enlivened the ducal banquets with music and song; they revived the ancient Roman Comedy and carried a note of gaiety and refined taste into the churches.”

Molmenti also gives us a few examples of their glorious hose: The Accesi … bore a lion with a snake twisted round its neck. The Floridi wore the right leg divided lengthwise, the inner half scarlet, the outer purple; the left leg all green. The Reali wore the right leg scarlet, the left azure inside and purple out. The embroidery showed a cypress with the motto Al ciel s’erga il dolce nome. The Modesti wore pale rose-colored hose) (90 n3).

And people think that today’s fashions are outrageous.

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Casanova–The Mosaic

Want to be part of an art exhibit that will grow and grow? That honors the famous Venetian Giacomo Casanova with new interpretations? Take the boat over to Giudecca and visit Carrion Gallery, creation of Manuel Carrion.

Last March he inaugurated a new project called “Spying on History with Casanova.” He invites all to add their piece to the show, which consists of small canvases set up to form a mosaic on the wall. Each contributor can use whatever medium she or he wishes to create an image that represents their understanding of Casanova. Manuel says, “Some visitors know very little about the man, or don’t even realize that he was a real, living person. In fact, many Venetians know little about their most famous son, so the exhibit gives them a chance to learn about their own local history.”

I visited the gallery this summer a couple times. Below you’ll see Manuel on the left explaining his concepts to Adriano on the right. Adriano has studied Casanova for decades and had many questions for Manuel.

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Here, Stefano and I look on, bemused, at the lively conversation between these two.2ven.ste&kathy

So of course when Manuel offered me a canvas, I couldn’t say no. I had no idea what I would produce; I felt a lot of pressure after writing a BOOK about Casanova that I needed to come up with something remarkable for this little canvas! But after thinking about it for a while, I realized that I always wanted others to know that Casanova was more than just a lover. Hence all the words listing his talents and roles. The heart in the middle I bought for a euro at a flea market on Malamocco when I went there for the regatta. It seemed appropriate that the heart should stay in Venice. The seller told me it was cut from a book cover. As I was staying at a little apartment all summer, I didn’t have access to many materials; in fact, I had to borrow some felt pens from my Italian teacher! But I guess you could say that my heart was put into it!

IMG_8949IMG_8950Manuel hopes to continue adding to the exhibit until he has over a thousand squares. You can find Carrion Gallery on Facebook if you want more info. The beauty is that this exhibit brings Casanova to a new generation, or to people who might not know who he was. Perhaps a new Casanovist could be born after visiting this show….

Here are more closeups of the individual canvases:

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Here is the canvas created by Adriano, the man in the dark blue shirt pictured above. He has recreated an exceptional event from Casanova’s life: when he was staying at an inn and noticed these words (in blue on Adriano’s canvas) carved into the window glass. Casanova had stayed at that same inn, in the same room, years before with a woman he calls Henriette (and who scholars have never been able to positively identify). When she and Casanova parted, she used her ring to carve the message that he would someday forget his Henriette. He never did. She was one of the great loves of his life.

On the back of Adriano’s canvas, he notes the place where you can read the story in Casanova’s memoirs.

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Quattro Minuti con Casanova–Rio Tera Barba Frutariol

Casanova may be known as the great lover, but doesn’t everyone have to start somewhere? There was once a time when he didn’t even know how to walk arm in arm with a woman, when he tickled her armpit by accident, as you’ll learn in the following video:

In the summer of 2014 I spent five and a half weeks in Venice and made a bunch more videos regarding Casanova sites, all from my book Seductive Venice: In Casanova’s Footsteps. Here you’ll hear about Casanova’s encounter with a Count and his daughter, but don’t count on  it ending happily!

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