What Thunder Is His!


A friend pointed out that in a letter to Giuseppe Pelli, Elisabetta mentioned Casanova:

È da osservare che la notorietà del personaggio era grande e che anche della sua attività di scrittore, oltre che di avventuriero, si parlava molto, negli ambienti intellettuali, ancor prima del suo rientro a Venezia. In una lettera datata Venezia 9 novembre 1771, Elisabetta Caminer, rivolgendosi a Giuseppe Bencivenni Pelli, scrive “…È dunque costì quel famoso Casanova che ha fatto tante pazzie e alcune cose buone? Io lo conosco assai di nome, e mio padre lo conosce anche di persona. Ditemi, in che le sue maniere sono diverse dalle vostre? Qual tuono è il suo? Voi già sapete la sua prodigiosa fuga da’ piombi di Venezia. Stampa egli codesta sua Storia della Polonia? Avete voi letta la sua confutazione dell’opera di Amelot della Houssaye?…” (Fonte: Rita Unfer Lukoschik, (a cura di) Lettere di Elisabetta Caminer (1751-1796), organizzatrice culturale, Edizioni Think Adv, Conselve, Padova, 2006).

(This text is included as note 63 on the Italian Wikipedia entry on Casanova.)

I won’t translate the whole thing here because I’m not a translator by any stretch of the imagination! But basically Elisabetta is asking Pelli what he knows of Casanova, this guy who has done so many crazy things and some good things. She says her father knows C, and she mentions some of C’s writings. The best line: Elisabetta pronounces, “What thunder is his!” (or something along those lines). (Anyone out there want to provide a better translation? I’m not sure how to produce the best idiomatic translation of this phrase.)

Elisabetta was enamored with the world of letters, so it’s no surprise she would be interested in Casanova and know about his writings and not only his more salacious reputation.


One of Elisabetta’s journals

(Thunder image: http://www.nbcnews.com/news/weather/stunning-supercell-thunderstorm-hovers-over-texas-n100736; Turra’s journal image: http://www.enciclopediadelledonne.it/biografie/elisabetta-caminer/)
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Only Three Minutes for You


Only a precious three minutes of exterior Venice footage, from the TWA plane flying into the old airport to when Faith and Kate drive off into Tuscany.

That’s why I rented Only You, the 1994 film by Norman Jewison and starring Marisa Tomei and Robert Downey Jr. Of course, I didn’t realize there were only three minutes of Venice bliss; the Netflix sleeve read: “As a child, Faith Corvatch was told she’d marry a man named Damon Bradley. Years later, she receives a call from her fiance’s friend–named Damon Bradley–and sets off for Venice, Italy, to track down her soul mate.” Wouldn’t you have expected more than three minutes in Venice? Yeah yeah, she falls in love in ROME, of all places. But everyone knows you’re supposed to fall in love in Venice.

Ah, but there was that delicious film moment as they’re riding the Alilaguna from the airport to Venice, and they round the cemetery island of San Michele and get their first proper look at Venice’s spires. I always catch my breath when I’m the lucky one on that boat!

Faith and her friend Kate execute the obligatory boat-up-the-Grand-Canal scene as they arrive into the city proper, very reminiscent of Katherine Hepburn in Summertime, except Only You shows the locations in the correct order. (If you’ve seen Summertime, you know that’s one of viewers’ pet peeves about the film: it drives all the Venetophiles bonkers as the palaces and churches are shown in the wrong order, as if the film editor just spliced in whichever palazzo pleased him at the moment.)

There’s also the obligatory gondolier scenes. Faith and Kate see a flotilla of them glide by as the sun glints off the water. Then they see the traghetto crossing at San Moise, and the gondolier at the boat’s stern sure looks like a gondolier I know named Lino. (I wrote a chapter on him titled “Lino’s Livingroom.”) I even watched the movie scene again and froze the screen to see if it really was Lino, but his face was just too pixilated for me to know for sure.


Lino, back in the day

Faith doesn’t fall in love in Venice–or at least not with Damon Bradley. But there’s a sweet moment with her lifelong friend Kate where they seem to fall in love with each other. Faith looks at the parade of palaces, leans back onto Kate’s shoulder, and says of Venice, “Where people come looking for something they can’t find anyplace else.” I remember a week in Venice with my girlfriends where I was in love with both of them, and the lady we rented the apartment from, and the guy who sold us gelato, and the woman who made our coffee, and every gondolier we met. See, you’re supposed to fall in love in Venice. And though Faith’s line about “Looking for something they can’t find anyplace else” is on the trite side, I can attest that in my case, I found all sorts of things in Venice that I didn’t find elsewhere, such as a strength within myself…. but that’s an entirely different story.


In love with my friends in Venice


Strangely, Faith and Kate’s boat captain announces, “Ecco Danieli,” when they’re still in front of the Salute church. Maybe he was as excited as they were and couldn’t wait till they were actually in front of the Danieli. There may be only three minutes of exterior Venice, but then there’s a longer scene inside the hotel. I guess you could count that as precious Venice film time, but I’ll never in my lifetime be able to afford a night at the Danieli, so I’m just a casual gawker and can’t count Daniele time the same as all the free Venice viewing I get when I’m outside.


Hotel Danieli lobby

Here’s a clip from the film (with maybe two seconds of Venice screen time):

Only You Trailer


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Spoiler Alert!

NYT Biennale Review

Want a sneak peek into the Venice Biennale? New York Times reporter Robin Pogrebin sent out her video showing various pavilions in both the Giardini and Arsenale parts of the exhibit, as well as some events in other parts of the city. She talks to American artist Mark Bradford about his installation. Grottoes as art! Then she walks through the award winning German pavilion. But be forewarned! If you’re one of those people who doesn’t like to see something before you see it in person, then don’t watch this! But without giving too much away, I have to say that the German pavilion reminds me of a piece they did many years ago that had people standing in a room repeating the same phrase over and over. People as art! Anyone else remember that one? I tried googling it but didn’t get a hit. It was from maybe 1997 or 1999, I think.

Robin Pogrebin also takes you into Palazzo Grassi to see the Damien Hirst exhibit, and you get to hob nob with the suit and gown crowd as they sip their prosecco on Giudecca. There’s also a controversial interactive piece where refugees make lamps. Refugees as art? Umm, I’ll withhold judgment until I see it myself, though this raises some red flags for me. I look forward to the Austrian piece, also interactive, where my butt can apparently be part of the art. Arse as art!

For a walk down memory lane, here are a few pics from the Biennale two years ago.

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Me fixing my shoe in front of a wall of suitcases, uh, I mean, art

(Thanks to Karen for the NYT link!)
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No Reason to Hide Ourselves

I missed the anniversary of Elisabetta Caminer Turra’s death by a couple days, but that’s no reason not to commemorate her today. She died on June 7, 1796, of complications related to breast cancer. Her doctors contended that the cancer was initiated by a blow to the chest. There must be a story there that is now lost to time. In a letter from February 21, 1796, Elisabetta dictated, “For nearly two months now I have been unable to get out of bed.”

But who is this generally unknown woman that I’m remembering today, and why should you care about her?

Elisabetta Caminer Turra was an early journalist and editor who championed writing by and for women. Born July 29, 1751, she profited from the Enlightenment, as the door creaked open slightly to allow women a place among scholars. Elisabetta’s father encouraged her to forage in his books and work alongside him as he compiled and edited a range of periodicals. When she was but 19, she wrote to a fellow scholar, “I am at an age and in a situation that do not allow me to hope for mediocre knowledge, to say nothing of great learning, and yet I am full of desire to cultivate my mind.” She dabbled in writing poetry, copied manuscripts for her father, a successful editor, and then became a skilled translator of works into French. She went on to oversee productions of some of these translations, though she wrote about the idea of penning plays herself, “I will never have the temerity to have a work of mine performed if I think it bad or mediocre.”

Believing stridently in women’s education, Elisabetta also thought it was about time that women became more than mere ornaments for men. “It is pitiful to see how gallant women torture themselves to invent fantastic decorations and to look like frauds or something worse,” she wrote. Elisabetta proposed such ideas before Mary Wollstonecraft published her A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. In fact, in 1792 Elisabetta announced its publication in her Nuovo giornale enciclopedico d’Italia. “Her book proves for the millionth time that women might deserve the honor of being considered part of the human race,” she wrote. Do you notice a hint of exasperation in her tone?

Of course, Elisabetta experienced criticism and censure from some male scholars, as did any women venturing into the literary world at that time. Carlo Gozzi and Cristoforo Venier in particular attacked her audacity and lack of formal education, in spite of the fact that women were not allowed to attend the university. Others claimed she wasn’t feminine enough as she entered this “man’s” world. (Can I just insert a GRRRR! here?) She even had a portrait done that made her look more feminine (see it above). I go into more detail about these pressures in my chapter on Elisabetta in A Beautiful Woman in Venice.

At a time when women couldn’t access most of academia, Elisabetta’s editing and journalism provided informal albeit important education for scores of women. “Journals were the principal means by which most readers obtained access to new ideas,” points out Catherine Sama, who writes about Elisabetta’s contributions. Calling for more women to educate themselves and share their great minds, Elisabetta declared, “There is no reason for us to hide ourselves.” Despite women’s progress, this still rings true today.


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Gondola Stuff: Letter opener

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As part of my occasional series of gondola-related tchotchkes, here’s another from my collection: the letter opener shaped like a gondola ferro. Doesn’t it have a lovely shape, just as the real thing does? I’m impressed that the craftsperson actually fit in all 6 prongs that represent Venice’s sestieri. Most ferro-shaped things fudge that part. You can sort of see that it has some embossing: “Venezia” in script on the blade, and on the opposite end, the winged lion of St. Mark holding his book. The piece is a bit rusty. I tried to shine it up once but was afraid I’d just scratch it. Anyone know what I should use to safely shine it?

I got this letter opener in Venice, but now I can’t remember which shop. For many years I’d go back to the tiny nook near the church of Santi Apostoli, with the tiny little man with Einstein hair who sat on a chair in the doorway. But alas, it is gone now. It was boarded up last time I was there (last year). It’s probably a mask shop or glass shop by now. Venice certainly needs a few more of those.

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Hide and Seek

Ancient kitchens in the Ospedaletto? A farmer’s market at the women’s prison? A late night library? These are some of the intriguing places included in a recent article in Italy Magazine, which I thought I’d share with you today:

“The Hidden Venice Most Visitors Never See” by Silvia Donati.

I’ve walked by the Ospedaletto countless times. In fact, it’s right next to a Casanova site, his former apartment on Barbaria de le Tole. I’m really intrigued to know what went on in the kitchens. I think I’ll do some research this summer, once school is out, and share it in a future blog post. And I’ll definitely go inside next time, rather than walking by. Same goes for the Carmini; a couple summers ago, I took my daily break from Italian language class sitting in front of the church, but I never went inside.

Chiesa dell'Ospedaletto

Chiesa dell’Ospedaletto

But of course this magazine article made me think of my own favorite hidden gems of Venice. My seven Casanova walks take you to some very out of the way places, some corners of Venice that I hadn’t seen or hadn’t paid attention to. I found the place where Casanova parked his boat! And where his hairdresser lived! And where he passed out in church!


Where Casanova parked his boat

Church of San Samuele

Where Casanova passed out in church

P Contarini delle Figure

Where Casanova’s hairdresser lived

Or another good way to see hidden Venice is the A Beautiful Woman in Venice tours with Vonda Wells. Long time followers of this blog know that Vonda inspired me to write the book of the same name. But she’s the one who will take you to see the Red Light District, a secret casino with a spy hole, and the magical red brick where you can make a wish. She’ll also take you to lunch at a former brothel. If you’ve enjoyed reading stories or seeing my videos about the Beautiful Women, Vonda will show you these places in person–well, if you’re a woman, which is the target audience for her tours.

A Beautiful Woman in Venice Tours

I remember one time I was walking in the San Polo district, on a busy street full of shoppers and tourists. I saw a man with a pained expression on his face listening to Science Friday from NPR. His pain, I learned, stemmed not from Science Friday but from dogging his wife’s heels as she visited 82 mask shops. He told me how much he hated Venice. I was heartbroken. “Go wander!” I advised. “Go walk down the little side streets and meet your wife at the Rialto Bridge in an hour. See what else Venice has to offer.” He just shrugged.

Don’t suffer like he did! If you need tips on hidden Venice, let me or Vonda know. Or JoAnn Locktov and Laura Morelli, who contributed to the “Hidden Venice” article; I know them to be warm people who are happy to share their love of Venice with others. Or just ramble until you get lost. The very earliest advice I ever got about Venice was this: Just wander until you get to the water, then turn around and wander back. Getting lost is the best way to experience this city.



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Grand Canal Sea Monster

Well, not exactly. But something is rising from the Grand Canal!

Maybe you already saw these hands that are now propping up the Ca’ Sagredo next to Venice’s Traghetto Santa Sofia. Here’s an article and an image:

Supporting Hands


Artist Lorenzo Quinn wanted to address the idea of climate change and rising waters and the support we all need to lend to keep buildings from toppling–or something like that. I’ve read a handful of articles that say things along these lines. My goal here isn’t to report on the art, but to share a little of the local reaction.

The Ca’ Sagredo forms one side of Campo Santa Sofia, where the traghetto station sits. I’ve spent many hours hanging out there with some of the gondoliers. So I sent a message to Stefano to ask him what he thought of the hands. He’s a bit of a cynic, so I expected something crusty and deprecating. Instead, he was full of enthusiasm. “Great–very nice!” he wrote back. “Great party, and Lorenzo is a very nice person,” he said. The local gondoliers apparently joined in at the opening celebration for the hands’ installation.

I asked Stefano what the art party was like. “Prosecco, bellini, snacks,” Stefano ticked off, “and very nice music with good sound.” I wish I could have been there for that party!

Here’s a trip in the way back machine showing me hanging out at Traghetto Santa Sofia in the 90s:

These new hands immediately made me think of the Mano that was installed on the Riva degli Schiavoni back in the late 90s, when I first went to Venice. It was there for a while, until people complained that it was too modern. I guess hands are back in style now.


(Thanks to these sites for the photos: http://mechanicaldummy.com/2017/05/massive-hands-emerge-canals-venice-biennale/  and  http://www.allposters.it/-sp/Stone-Sculpture-of-Hand-on-Riva-Degli-Schiavoni-Venice-Veneto-Italy-Posters_i2658079_.htm)
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