Answers to Your Gondola Questions

Ever wonder why gondolas are black? Or why they’re asymmetrical? Do you want to see a gondolier with a knife in hand? Here’s a fun animated talk about the history of the gondola in Venice:

One of my favorite parts is the animation of a wealthy Venetian buying a boat, or the scene where a corrupt gondolier is guilty of extortion and cursing. The boat maker crying while painting his gondola went straight to my heart.

Posted in Gondolas, Venice | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Cartoon Analysis

Last weekend the comic strip Rose Is Rose featured a gondolier!

Let’s do some analysis here:

The gondola has a proper forcola (with a bend in it and a little cleft to hold the oar), and there’s a ferro da popa on the back of the boat. The oar, when not in use, rests along the edge of the boat, just where gondoliers actually place it. There’s even a tapeo (rug) under the gondolier’s feet! The proportions, as far as length, look quite accurate, but, as you can see in the eighth panel when we look at the lovers’ kissing, there’s no asymmetrical tilt to the boat. That view is so straight on that we don’t get to see the ferro at the front of the boat, so I don’t know if the artist got it right. But kudos for many of the other details!

As for the gondolier, he’s wearing his striped shirt, his slacks (wrong color–nowadays they should be black), and his iconic hat. Nicely done! He also has a sash around his waist, as modern gondoliers do not wear, but they did in the past. This cartoon is a fantasy scene, so this detail is entirely permissible.

The gondolier rows Rose down a number of canals, by the Rialto Bridge, past houses with a nice variety of Venetian details. Balconies! Potted plants! Even a palina! (That’s the pole where boats tie up.) Did anyone else notice the three arches that he rows past? I’m impressed that the artist would have paid attention to this particular building and have included it here. Who can tell me what it is? :)

Posted in Gondolas, Venice | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Where Am I?


Can you guess where I am in Venice? I left a little something at the top as a clue that might help.

Posted in Venice | Tagged , | 7 Comments

Gonzo in Venice

This week I’ve been reading Carlo Gozzi’s Useless Memoirs. They’re not useless at all! In fact, they’re a treasure trove of information about mid-18th century Venetian theater, rivalries between playwrights, the homelife of illustrious folk like Gasparo Gozzi (Carlo’s brother) and his wife, the author Luisa Bergalli Gozzi. (Okay, interesting to me at least because I’m researching her for my book.) But then I came across this tidbit–probably pretty useless, but even useless things can be fascinating.


(Just look at that smirk.)

For 25 years, Carlo Gozzi wrote plays for a troupe of players at the Teatro San Samuele. He explains some of their lingo. First was miccheggiare, “which means to cozen folk out of their money by wheedling.” He claims that the troupe he worked with, under the direction of a guy named Sacchi, was a morally upright bunch compared to many, but that acting troupes had some bad habits among them.

But here’s the term that got my attention. A “gonzo” is a “gull or cully, the foolish lover who believes himself an object of affection, and squanders all his fortune under the influence of this impression.” First off, “gull or cully?” Who ever says that any more? Granted, the translation was done about a hundred years ago, but still. My thesaurus says to gull is to “hoodwink, fool, dupe, deceive…” etc. though it doesn’t list it as a noun (well, besides the sea bird).

But second, is this where Jim Henson got his inspiration? Is the lovable purple creature who is often so trusting and loving towards others named for the “gonzo” of Venetian theater jibes?


The great Gonzo. Just look at those sincere eyes. How easily he could be gulled.

I’m glad Henson used this term. In high school, Gonzo was one of my nicknames. And I guess more than once I’ve foolishly squandered my means to obtain love where it was not forthcoming. Maybe Carlo Gozzi could have written a play about my foibles. I don’t hold out much hope that they would be worthy of the Venetian stage.

Who would guess that a Muppet has anything to do with Venetian theater?

(All of these quotes come from page 195 of the Symonds translation, abridged by Philip Horne.)

Posted in Venice, Writing | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Gondola Maker–Book Review

I was recently invited to participate in Italy Book Tours, a website that sends readers on “tours” of books about Italy. What a great concept, huh?

Italy Book Tours Logo jpeg 225 pixels

The book I was asked to read is The Gondola Maker by Laura Morelli. How could I not say yes? I love Venice, I love gondolas, and I love reading, so this was easy. The author sent a complimentary copy of her book, such a pleasure to read amidst all the research I’ve been doing lately.


Laura Morelli captures the rich heritage and superior craftsmanship of some of Venice’s finest artisans in her novel. Through the compelling story of Luca Vianello, born to be a gondola maker but destined to create oars and oarlocks instead, readers get to see the intimate workings of the squerarioli and remeri. Here are a few pictures of the squero or boatyard at San Trovaso, one of the few such places left in Venice, and one that looks just like the place Morelli describes in her book. You can see the teza where the boats are made, and in the second photo, the housing is visible. Once you read the book, you’ll understand why this photo showing wooden buildings makes sense.


gondola hull bottom

Morelli’s characters banter using dialogue peppered with Venetian words, and at every turn readers get to glimpse one more aspect of life in pre-modern Venice. Morelli’s rich characterization uncovers people from many classes of Venetian society, high and low, as Luca literally navigates his way around the city by gondola. At one point he works at the traghetto, delivering goods and ferrying people around the city. He mentions the casotto where the boatmen store their goods during the day. Here’s a casotto so you can picture it. Morelli really did her homework, too. I thought I knew a lot about the traghetto and gondoliers, but she taught me new things, such as how the delivery system worked. casotto

I saw from her notes, too, that Morelli consulted the best of the city’s artisans, including Gilberto Penzo, Saverio Pastor, Roberto Tramontin, and others. Luca, the narrator, describes in detail about how to build a gondola, from the ribs out, as he works in his father’s shop or when rebuilding an ancient boat. Here’s a photo from the squero of a gondola being made.

gondola skeleton

Luca also visits his friend Anton Fumagalli, the remer, the guy who makes the oars and oarlocks (the piece known in Venice as a forcola). Only a few guys are left who know how to make these. Some years ago I met Paolo Brandolisio, and in these photos he is in his workshop. If you’ve visited it, you’ll recognize that my photos are quite old! Paolo has grown up since then, but the last couple times I visited him, I didn’t take any new photos, so these will have to suffice. The main thing here is to see how he carves and files the hunk of wood to make it into a forcola, just like Anton does in The Gondola Maker. When you read the book, turn back to these photos and you’ll be able to imagine Anton in his workshop.

brandolisio3 brandolisio2 brandolisio

Morelli’s characters are imperfect, which makes them that much more interesting. Luca’s best intentions seem to lead him into disastrous situations, and I wondered until the very end if he would be able to resolve his dilemmas. In fact, often what I expected to happen, didn’t.

Morelli’s characters also take us into the house of a painter–a fictional character, but he paints the portrait that, if you know your artwork, turns out to be the Venus of Urbino by Titian. It really was painted in Venice. I recently uncovered some history about this painting, that the woman in it is Angela del Moro, a high paid courtesan (according to Shiela Hale, Titian’s biographer). The painting also surfaces in the book In the Company of the Courtesan and is so well-known that I’m not surprised that Morelli would want to include it in The Gondola Maker. Seen it?


I know there are a lot of Venetophiles out there who love to get their head into a new book about Venice. The Gondola Maker will take you there, all over the city, up and down canals and into houses, workshops, churches, and marketplaces. Plus, like me, you might even learn something new about this beloved city!

If you want to continue on this book tour, please visit these other blogs this week to read more about The Gondola Maker. Some of them even offer a book giveaway! And if this post piqued your interest, you can buy The Gondola Maker ebook at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or The Book Depository. I share this information as one writer supporting another. Isn’t that part of the beauty of the blogosphere?

Nov 3 – Studentessa Matta – review / giveaway
Nov 3 – Il Mio Tesoro – review / giveaway
Nov 4 – Packabook – review
Nov 4 – Venice from Beyond the Bridge – review
Nov 5 – Monica Cesarato – review / giveaway
Nov 5 – Seductive Venice – review
Nov 6 – Food Lover’s Odyssey – review / giveaway
Nov 7 – The Venice Experience – review / interview
Nov 8 – Hello World – review
Nov 9 – Orvieto or Bust – review
Nov 9 – Capturing Venice – review

View More:

Posted in Gondolas, Venice, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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.

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.

Posted in Casanova, Venice, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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.


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!


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:


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!


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.

Posted in Casanova, Venice, Writing | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment