San Giacomo Brings Venetians Together

While the July tourists are parading in Piazza San Marco, peering into shop windows, or tucking in to a lovely piece of branzino or a slim pizza, Venetians are gathering to support their parish. Every summer the folks in the neighborhood of San Giacomo dell’Orio throw a party to benefit their community. It’s marked by food, families, music, and the general idea that these things are a good excuse to get out of the house and enjoy the company of others.

The guys grilling the meat deserve a medal for enduring the 95 degree temps added to the heat wafting off the grills. And they joke and laugh and dance the whole time. 2015-07-21 12.57.58

You’ll see lots of volunteers in these t-shirts serving food and wine, picking up trash, and generally making things run smoothly. My favorite is this guy, who I’ve seen at the event for a few years now. He wears a blinky tiara and sells other blinky items that look like they belong at an SF rave from the 90s. Here he is unsuccessfully trying to sell something blinky to nonna.

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These tables might be my favorite part, though I haven’t partaken in the rite. They raffle off stuff like paper towel holders or salad spinners, plastic trucks and water guns and Nerf ball hoops. Does anyone needs this stuff? No! But you can see that after four days of the festival, many of these items were already gone, in support of the community. 2015-07-21 13.00.032015-07-21 12.59.53

Then of course, there’s the music. Fun local bands every night for over a week! Sometimes tango or salsa dancing in the campo. You may remember that last year I reported on a few bands that I was lucky enough to catch. This year I only got to see Ska-J, and what a great night! Despite the 95 degree temperature at nine o’clock at night, the campo was packed and the band was rockin’. Lead singer Marco “Furio” Forieri even sprayed the audience with his mister a couple times. They played a couple classics from Marco’s Pitura Freska days, such as “Ridicoli,” but they also played some new classics like “Vivere a Venezia” and “Santamarta.” I smiled to see audience members passing by singing the lyrics. Here’s my quick clip of one song, with a nice horn section and some love for Venice:

If you want a longer fix, here’s someone else’s video from that show, which I found on YouTube, with ten minutes of “Santamarta.”

I didn’t have my glasses with me and couldn’t read the song titles on the CDs, so I asked the woman there which album was her favorite. She pointed to Socco, so I bought it, happy to discover that these two songs are on it. She was tickled that I bought her recommended album. Here’s a pic of the newest Ska-J t-shirt. Last year I bought the Zoccoli underwear. (Sorry, no photos of that one!)

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If you’re in Venice this summer, try to make it to the Santa Marta festival, and next year plan on joining the folks in Campo San Giacomo dell’Orio if you want to feel like a Venetian!

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Rights to the Muffola

What is a muffola, you might ask? And why does one need rights to it?

On July 26, 1497, Marietta Barovier, master glassmaker,  applied to Doge Agostino Barbarigo for permission to build a special small furnace or muffola exclusively for her own work, particularly for firing enamel painting. She and her brother Giovanni operated their family glass furnace after their father’s death, but it was Marietta who displayed the more creative bent. She is credited with painting the famous Barovier wedding cup (pictured here), on display at Venice’s Museo del Vetro on Murano, and she also invented the rosetta bead.


This bead, which used the Venetian technique first called murrine and later millefiore, or “a thousand flowers,” employed six layers with white at its center in a star shape, adding layers of blue, white, and brick red. Luckily, Marietta obtained a patent for her precious design. Besides being worn as jewelry, Marietta’s rosetta bead became currency in trade with merchants and monarchs in Europe and even Africa. Some say that Christopher Columbus paid with rosetta beads to procure safe passage on treacherous seas.


Women were technically barred from working in Murano’s glass industry, though Marietta and a small handful of women, such as Hermonia Vivarini and Elena de Laudo, are exceptions whose names come down to us. Both the Barovier and Vivarini families ranked highly in Murano’s hierarchy, which may explain the exceptions to the general rules. Or perhaps their remarkable talents dwarfed any objections that officials voiced.

Lift a graceful cup tonight to honor Marietta, this innovative pioneer, 518 years (and two days) after she earned the right to protect her work.


Marietta’s full story can be read in A Beautiful Woman in Venice, available in paperback or as an ebook at

(Image of Barovier cup:

Rosetta beads found in Africa:

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Launched in Lido!

Last week, while I was in Venice, I was part of a presentation on my new book, A Beautiful Woman in Venice, which is now in Venetian bookstores. The event was held at the Grand Hotel Ausonia and Hungaria on the Lido. (Its name sounds like a movie title, doesn’t it?) Here’s the outside:

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Inside, they have a series of posters listing past events. One such event was for author Eduardo Galeano! Others included my publisher, Giovanni Distefano with Supernova Edizione, and Letizia Lanza, author of over 20 books on Venetian history. My event poster will be added to this wall!

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Most of the audience spoke only Italian, so with my conversational-but-not-academic skills, I was at a bit of a disadvantage. But I got a chance to talk about my writing background and answer some questions about specific women in the book, a comparison of American and Venetian women, and Lucrezia Marinella’s final book where she seemingly recants her  earlier works.

Letizia Lanza presented a paper she had composed about A Beautiful Woman in Venice and where it fits into the gender studies pantheon. She complimented the book for looking at women from all strata of society, not just nobles, and from all walks of life, not just writers.

Present in the audience were a number of other experts and authors, including a woman who has written extensively on Sarra Copia Sullam, members of the DEA (a European women’s group), Cristiana Moldi-Ravenna, co-author of Secret Gardens of Venice, and author and artist Fiora Galdolfi.

Here’s Letizia Lanza on the left, me in the middle, and my publisher on the right. In the next photo is an expert on Sarra Copia Sullam.

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A reception followed, hosted by the hotel owner, whom I got to meet. What a lovely event and a pleasure to meet so many people!

In the photo on the left is me with Fiora, and in the next one are guests at the reception, including my friend David. Vonda, whose back is to the camera, was there; she is the founder of the A Beautiful Woman in Venice tour group and the person who gave me the idea for the book! She was in Venice with her tour group and was able to attend the event. Thank you to Karen and David, my travel buddies, for these photos and for sharing the trip with me.

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Quattro Minuti con Casanova: Corte del Duca Sforza

Here is the continuing saga of Casanova’s relationship with Teresa Imer. In the  previous episode of Quattro Minuti con Casanova, you got to see the Palazzo Malipiero, where Casanova played doctor with Teresa Imer, who was about seventeen at the time, while Casanova was about fifteen. The two remained friends, though Teresa became a singer and traveled outside of Venice. Casanova left town as well, but in 1753 during one of his trips home, he popped in to see his friend, Signora Manzoni, who lived across the courtyard from Teresa, here in the Corte del Duca Sforza. “Why, Teresa is home now,” the Signora told Casanova, so he quickly went to visit his old friend.

He was not to know for many years that nine months after that visit, he became a father.

Click here for the video: Corte del Duca Sforza

In Casanova’s memoirs, he spends many pages telling the detailed, often hilarious tales of his life here in this district, primarily told in Volumes 1-2. Many years later, Casanova recounts how he met Teresa again while traveling abroad. I cover the Venetian years in Seductive Venice: In Casanova’s Footsteps.

And there’s a wonderful book, Empress of Pleasure, by Judith Summers on Teresa’s life, from her childhood in Venice through her entrepreneurship in London.


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Regatta Report!

He did it again!

Yesterday, Paolo D’Este, nicknamed Super D’Este, won his twenty-second first-place flag for the two-rower gondola regatta. This race always takes place on the Sunday of Redentore, the festival commemorating the end of the Black Plague in Venice about 500 years ago. But spectators were definitely not thinking about pestilence! Some of their energy was going towards fanning themselves and staying out of the sun in the oppressive heat, but mostly they were watching, cheering, and hoping to see Paolo race to first again.

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You can see Paolo and Ivo warming up before the race. Then here is the start of the race.

Paolo and his partner Ivo Redolfi Tezzat rowed the green gondola this year, with their long-time rivals Rudi and Igor Vignotto in the viola colored gondola. However, Roberto and Renato Busetto in the pink gondola, also long-time rivals, took an early lead and kept everyone pumping at their oars, but came in third. Paolo and Ivo won by a couple boat lengths, a healthy lead, though still an impressive feat considering they had been rowing up and back the length of Giudecca for over half and hour.

(Paolo D’Este is one of the few racers who is also a gondolier. I met him 18 years ago when I was writing Free Gondola Ride. Back then he wore his beard as “un geometria” he said, with sharply shaved asymmetrical points.)

A couple hours earlier, the teen boys had raced in boats called puperini, followed by adult men in the two-oared puperini. Simone Costantini and Federico Busetto, the winners of this race, were so joyful that they leaped at each other in their boat to embrace with such gusto and then tumbled into the water! We got to enjoy the sight of them after this, soaking wet and sans shirt, showing off their winners’ flag.

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As my friends and I walked back to Venice across the pontoon bridge that stays up only for a day to celebrate Redentore, we passed by the green winners’ boat. “Bravo Paolo! Bravo Ivo!” we yelled out, and Paolo turned and saluted us. I felt like we had received the rock star benediction.

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Paolo and Ivo relax after their win.

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The Old Lady and the Rebellion

(I meant to post this on June 15, but I was traveling and didn’t get to it. Here it is, a month late.)

What does this woman with a pot have to do with ending a rebellion?BajamonteTiepolo2

She is Giustina Rossi, and on June 15, 1310, she dropped her grinding mortar on the head of the rebellion’s flag bearer. This may not seem like a rebellious act. She may have been angered by the noisy ruffians outside her window on the Merceria behind the clock tower. “I’m trying to grind my cornmeal here! Quiet down, now!” I imagine her yelling. Or maybe not. But in any case, when she dropped her mortar on the flag carrier, he promptly keeled over and breathed his last. His compatriots panicked, scattered, and fled, as seen in Gabriel Bella’s painting of the scene. Notice the bleeding flag bearer on the ground, mortar by his head, and Giustina in the window above right.


Bajamonte Tiepolo had led a group of nobles and followers to try to usurp Doge Gradenigo’s power. The motley crews ran through the streets of Venice, crying out “Libertá!” while looting and setting fire to the Rialto Bridge along the way. Three groups of rebels planned to converge on the Doge’s Palace, but their poor planning and some foul weather delayed their meet up. Giustina’s mortar added to the confusion, and the group was beat back, their coup thwarted.

In thanks, the doge offered Giustina Rossi a reward of her choice. She asked to be allowed to fly Venice’s flag from her window on feast days and to have her rent fixed in perpetuity. The doge was good to his word and never raised Giustina’s rent for 487 years (until the fall of the Venetian republic ended all doges’ reigns).

Giustina, an unassuming mirror merchant, changed the course of Venice’s history, at a time when the republic was yet in its infancy. On this day think of her, but please don’t throw heavy objects on people’s heads.

You can read a fuller version of this story in my new book, A Beautiful Woman in Venice.

(Source for photo of Giustina Rossi carving:

The Bella painting can be viewed at the Fondazione Querini Stampalia or  on its website.)

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Fresh Paint


I saw this warning sign  hanging on a shop: “pittura fresca” = fresh paint!

Why should this sign interest me (except for the fact that I don’t want to rub up against it in my white pants?)

Pitura Freska (spelled a bit differently in Venetian dialect) was a dynamic, fun, unique Venetian band that formed in the late 90s. They, like the playwright Carlo Goldoni, were especially loved by Venetians because they sang in dialect. They blended ska and reggae rhythms into their pop songs and sang about local issues and places.

The Festa di San Giacomo dell’Orio begins next week–and I’ll be in Venice for it! I’m looking forward to bopping in the campo to the Pitura Freska cover band and the lead singer’s latest band!

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