Happy Sorpresa

I got a nice surprise a couple days ago when I visited Giovanni DiStefano, my publisher at Supernova Edizioni here in Venice. He runs the bookshop in the tourist information center at Piazza San Marco. (If you’ve ever gone in there and have seen the long line, then decided to ask the gray haired guy at the other counter, and he just told you to get in the long line, that’s him.) When I first met him, I didn’t know what to think of him: he can delve into doing something, like looking up something on his computer, and forget to talk to me at all. Or he writes lots of one word emails. But I’ve developed a definite fondness for him, and I think he had a look of genuine delight when I walked into the shop.

Anyway, the surprise was his new book. When I was here last February, he told me he was working on a small book about how Venice was built, and he asked if I would edit it for him. It was already translated to English, so it was just my job to edit for flow, so it would sound more like a native speaker. We accomplished the work over email, once I was back home, and then I forgot about it.

Well, the book is now out and on the shelves, and Giovanni gave me editing credit for it. What a happy surprise! It’s a lovely little book you can plunk into a pocket and take along anywhere. And at the back is a list of other Supernova publications, including Casanova’s Venice: A Walking Guide. The summer edition of Nexus, Supernova’s journal, is also out, with my Casanova book listed there as well. It has a creepy cover photo that reminds me of one of Dante’s levels of hell, except the heads are sticking out of the pavement at the Piazza San Marco.


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Regatta Report

As part of the Redentore festival here in Venice, they have a round of boat races on Sunday afternoon on the island of Giudecca. The city builds a temporary bridge from Venice (Zattere) to Giudecca, in front of the church of the Redentore. So I walked over to catch the action.

First the juniors raced–teen boys, two rowers per boat, on a pupparin (though you’ll see spelling variations), which is a rather flat boat, technically a type of sandalo. Right at the start, one of the rowers got his oar caught under his neighbor’s boat, and they sort of did an awkward dance as they tried to untangle. What a shame. They raced down to the end of the island, disappearing from view for a while, and then returned to the cheering crowds. The second race was pupparini a due remi–two rowers also in a pupparin, but they are full grown men with more experience and speed. I missed much of this race because I was visiting a friend (forthcoming post on that visit).


But the big action, and the finale to the summer series of races, is the gondola a due remi–two rowers in a gondola. For as long as I’ve been coming to Venice, (18 years) the same guy always wins: Giampaolo D’Este with his partner Ivo Redolfi Tezzat. They call Giampaolo “Super D’Este.” He also works as a gondolier near San Marco (or at least he used to; I haven’t checked recently to see if he’s still there). (Actually, I think D’Este might have come in second at least once. I don’t follow all the finals, I just know that he’s a superstar of almost mythic proportions. Maybe one of my readers can provide the details.)

The race had a false start, with the marrone boat taking off before the gun. But then they shot off across the lagoon with beautiful speed. See the videos of both starts.

False start to the gondola race:  http://youtu.be/mUrXnFQf0uM

The real start: http://youtu.be/sc3vH0mQP5g

While they disappeared from view, I had a drink and listened to the band playing and chatted with some locals about Super D’Este. Just like last week at the regatta di Malamocco, there was a boat decorated with leaves and oranges, with a band playing cover songs like “Hit the Road, Jack” or “No Woman No Cry.” Last week, the Aperol folks (it’s a kind of bitter liquor) had set up a van with a guy in back preparing spritz drinks and handing them out as fast as he could. Well, he was back, but you can’t have a van on Giudecca, so he was in the boat instead. I don’t know how he managed to mix drinks in the crazy rocking boat, but he did it with a smile. His name is Alberto, and he remembered me from last week. (You know, I had to get in line for a free spritz just so I could say hello.)


Then as I stood listening to the music, they broke into this song called “Mama, Looka Booboo” that my brother and I had on an old 45 we got from our parents. (The other side is “Zombie Jamboree.”) I’ve never heard anyone else sing this song, but then here was a band on a boat in Giudecca doing it. Here’s a video of their rendition. (Sorry for a little wonky camera action; the woman next to me spilled her drink on my leg while I was filming.)

The Aperol boat: http://youtu.be/5MK3JPPrOwU

Once the boats come back into sight, it feels like no time at all before they’re passing in front of you, the way they fly. Far ahead of the others came the indomitable Super D’Este. The guy’s a hunky machine. Everyone cheered and clapped and woohooed. The press took many photos of the winners with their red pennants for first, and second with their white pennants.

End of the race:


This is such a very Venetian festival and event. Old and young come out, all discussing strategies or predicting who will win. Everyone’s family is out cheering, and the racers pose with their wives for photos, or their nonnas are hugging them. Winners often display their pennants in their favorite local restaurant. (Watch for these when you’re out in Venice; I passed a place yesterday in Dorsoduro that had three flags displayed on their bar.) I think the next race is in September, as part of the Regata Storica.

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We Celebrate the End of the Plague!

Okay, here’s my Redentore report for 2014.

As many of you might know, Redentore is a big Venetian festival that has been going on for 500 years. It celebrates the end of the Black Plague. (They actually have a couple festivals that celebrate this.) Black plague is bad. Buboes are yucky. The end of the plague is a really good reason to eat good food, drink wine, and watch fireworks with a few thousand other people.

My friends Claudia and Kevin came into town for the festa, and so did their friend Cindy. My classmate (from my Italian class) also joined us–Elena from Moscow. We had a fabulous dinner at Osteria Alla Bifora at Campo Santa Margherita, where they serve really enormous piles of sliced meat or fish:


Then we headed to the Zattere to find a spot, and ended up by another group of Americans. To pass the time before the fireworks, I taught them the Redentore song (that I made up some years ago). Here are the lyrics in English:

“We celebrate the end of the plague, the end of the plague, the end of the plague!

We celebrate the end of the plague, thank you holy Virgin Mary!”

But they had to learn the Italian version too, which, I think, is more fun. (I had to fudge on the lyrics a little to make the rhyme work. It should be “peste,” but “pesta,” rhymes with “festa.”)

“Facciamo una festa per la fine de la pesta!

Facciamo una festa per la fine de la pesta!

Facciamo una festa per la fine de la pesta!

Ringrazia a Santa Maria!”

And here it is, performed by our group. That’s Patrick (new American we met) in the front, and Elena next to him, and me in the middle, with Cindy next to me. Unfortunately, you can’t see Claudia and Kevin. Click the YouTube link to view.


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Venice Bloggers Unite!

Last week I got to meet up with a fellow blogger who also happens to be in Venice right now! Liz posts here on Venice as well as all of Italy:


She emailed me and suggested we meet up, so we had a coffee and brioche at Bar Tiziano near the church of San Giovanni Grisostomo. It’s wonderful to geek out with someone who loves Venice and Casanova as much as I. Then we peeked at the view of the Grand Canal from the Campiello del Remer, and I convinced her to stroll over to a local church that I needed a picture of. She was also kind enough to film an upcoming episode of “Quattro Minuti con Casanova,” coming to a blog near you!



(And I expect you’ll see this photo also posted to Liz’s blog soon!)

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Venetian Pantheon



Upon entering the Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti, located at Campo Santo Stefano, you are greeted by a pantheon of Venice’s most illustrious scholars and thinkers. Under the arches stand busts on pedestals, honoring such luminaries as Aldo Manuzio (publisher and inventor of italic type), Carlo Goldoni (playwright), Marco Polo (explorer), Jacopo Robusti (known as Tintoretto, the painter), Tiziano, Tiepolo, Veronese, and Bellini, (more painters), Andrea Palladio (architect), and a host of others. Their busts continue up the walls along the staircases and cover the opposite walls.IMG_7822

Only three women are included in this pantheon. Caterina Cornaro, Queen of Cyprus, has a small statue high up on the back wall. Cassandra Fedele is honored with a round stone medallion on the floor. She is best known for presenting a speech (in Latin) in Padua in 1482 to honor her cousin’s university graduation, at a time when women never were allowed to speechify in public (or even learn Latin) and could not attend the university.



Also included, on her own pedestal, is Giustina Renier Michiel. She was of noble Venetian birth and ran a literary salon straddling the years of the fall of Venice’s Republic (1797) and beyond, when the country was ruled by the French and then Austrians. Her salon kept the literary life alive (as did salons by a handful of other Venetian women). One thing that distinguishes Giustina’s work was her literary output. She is the first translator of Shakespeare into Italian, translating Othello, Macbeth, and Coriolanus. She also wrote a history of Venetian festivals, for which she was much beloved by her fellow citizens, especially as Venetian culture and history declined after foreign rule.IMG_7827

There should be a host of other Venetian women here among these men so honored, but at least three made it into this pantheon. I just read that a new organization has formed: the Associazione Moderata Fonte, named for the Venetian writer from the 1500s. Perhaps one of their goals might be to bring Venice’s women more visibility in this city that they contributed so much to.



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Where Am I?

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Okay, the previous editions of “Where am I?” have been from high places, like the bell tower of the Frari or the third floor of the Museo Fortuny. Today I’m on the ground, in a place that I’ve never seen open before (but then again, I never sought it out.) If a door is open, I usually go in! I love to see the insides of Venetian places.

So, any idea where I am?

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Never Disappointed

I love the Museo Fortuny. It never disappoints.

The first floor was devoted to photos by women, and mostly of women. Many biggies like Julia Margaret Cameron, Leni Riefenstahl, Diane Arbus, and Margaret Bourke-White, plus new photographers to discover. Many nudes, every attitude. A buxom woman squashed up against a piece of clear glass, seen from below. Two different studies of women drowned in ponds, a la Ophelia. Sad eyes, blank eyes. Women with bodies covered but faces hidden in cocoons. Women clothed in bacon. Come to think of it, most showed oppression, sadness, blankness, rather than joy, agency, or liberty. Still, I wanted to caress the photos, lick them, do something more than just look at them.

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“A woman is a mirror for a man” was the title of a 1975 photo by Francesca Woodman. The museum continued this theme with a chair that had a mirror for a back, and a large mirror at the end of the room, so while I stood looking at photos, I was surprised to realize I was looking back at myself from the corner of my eye.

Then the always astonishing second floor, which makes me feel like I’ve entered Mariano Fortuny’s living room. Ah, couches! With deep squishy cushions! I could live here, hide behind the cushions at the closing hour, then creep out like a mouse and explore the room in the dark, feeling the Mishima glass sculptures with my hands. Or climb the wooden ladder and sit with the wooden mannequin and gaze out with wooden eyes into the dark.



The left side room is walled with frescoes. Fortuny had a thing for women’s backs, I believe, their shoulder blades and necks and flowing hair. It’s mirrored again on the far wall of the second floor on which hang 6 or 7 paintings of women from the back, in that romantic softness of a different century than ours.


Lots more photos by Dora Maar on this floor. A whole room where she documented the metamorphosis of Picasso’s Guernica. Also a boat riding the waves of a woman’s hair.

Of course, I entered the James Turrell “Red Shift” room reverently. It was red. I reached my hand into the infinity and felt that stomach flutter of vertigo. Behind me a couple entered, gazed for 15 seconds, then departed. They didn’t know. “Red Shift” shifted to indigo. I reached into indigo infinity. Another couple entered and almost immediately turned on their heels to depart. They didn’t know about infinity! I wanted to run after them and tell them, but I didn’t.


The third floor is the light to the second floor’s darkness. My shoes squeaked so terribly on the terrazzo floor, disturbing the quiet, that I wanted to take them off, but the guard apologized and said the noise “non e’ importa” but I must wear my shoes. Thirty seconds of floor had been so cool and smooth.


A nice final surprise–in the gift shop was working the same women whom I had talked to at the Murano glass museum, the one who had helped me research information. She told me that she had searched some more, and even contacted a friend, but that she could not find the information I wanted. What a coincidence and what a nice person!

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