Quattro Minuti con Casanova: Ponte Bernardo

A couple months ago I had a special request from a Quattro Minuti viewer–Did I know the story of Casanova’s encounter with Razzetta? Did I have a video for this site?

At that time I did not, but I kept the request in mind and filmed the latest video last month when I was in Venice. In fact, the apartment I was using was right around the corner from this site: Ponte Bernardo. It’s in the San Polo district, and happens to be right by the well-known restaurant Da Fiore.

Casanova’s is a rather complicated story that includes escaping from a fortress, a boat ride,  lots of liquor, a lantern-bearer, a broken nose, and some cudgeling.


Sorry for my rather ghoulish face in the video–it was a little late in the day, low light, so it’s a kind of dim and green. Hope the storytelling makes up for it!

As always, if you want the more detailed story, you can read it in my book Seductive Venice: In Casanova’s Footsteps, or of course you can read Casanova’s own words in his memoirs, History of My Life.

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Hanging Out with the Grape Stompers

Come join me at the Italian American Family Festa next Saturday, 8/29, at Guadalupe River Park in the Little Italy neighborhood of San Jose. There will be wine and song and food, plus…me! I’ll be making a presentation about my new book, A Beautiful Woman in Venice, on the family stage at 1:30. Complete schedule of authors/speakers here: http://www.shoutoutforitalianamericans.org/family-theater-…/

And website for the whole weekend of events, including the wine garden and grape stomping!

Hope to see you there!

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Haver and Griest and Risamante and Meandra

Yesterday, two American women graduated from the Army’s ranger school, the first to ever do so. Kristen Griest and Shaye Haver proved that they can meet the same tough requirements as the men who apply, and they have the strength, courage, grist, and leadership skills (among many other qualities) to serve in this elite soldier corps.

So what does this have to do with Venice?

Well, I can’t tell you that Venetian women of yore were elite soldiers or military leaders. But two Venetian women from over 400 years ago wrote epic romances about women who were such warriors.

Modesta Pozzo

Modesta Pozzo (aka Moderata Fonte)

In her book Tredici Canti del Floridoro, Modesta Pozzo tells the story of Risamante and Biondaura, nobel twin sisters separated at birth. Risamante is raised by a wizard to be a knight in armor, learning sword fighting, how to ride a horse into battle, and how to employ her ready courage to assist others in distress. She saves a damsel from a serpent and tests her mettle against male knights. Fonte writes,

If when a daughter is born the father

Set her with his son to equivalent tasks,

She would not be in lofty and fair deeds

Inferior or unequal to her brother,

Whether he placed her among the armed squads

With himself, or set her to learn some liberal art. (Fonte, Floridoro 145-6)


Tredici Canti del Floridoro

This was written in 1581, 434 years before Griest and Haver achieved their remarkable Army tabs proving their abilities. Modesta Pozzo envisioned a future that has come true. These lines seem to presage women’s combat and military roles:

Women in every age were by nature

Endowed with great judgment and spirit,

Nor are they born less apt than men to demonstrate

(with study and care) their wisdom and valor. (144)



But Pozzo was not the only woman to envision women in these roles. Her contemporary, Lucrezia Marinella, likewise wrote an epic romance that featured women warriors. L’Enrico overo Bisantio acquistato (Enrico, or Byzantium Conquered) tells the tale of Doge Enrico Dandolo leading the Venetian army against the Turks. The soldier Meandra is hailed for leading her soldiers into battle and for inspiring them to greatness on the field, for “with her words she strengthened, reinforced, and reassured their disheartened and hesitant spirits” (Canto 12.42, 246). Then there is Claudia, a leading member of the archery corps, fighting alongside men. “Each arrow she threw let loose its anger in the Thessalians’ chests,” wrote Marinella. “Soon the best and most courageous were left lying and slow to go to their weapons because of her” (Canto 19.56, 46-47). Change arrows for guns and the action could belong to Haver and Griest.

Lucrezia Marinella

Lucrezia Marinella

Lucrezia Marinella and Modesta Pozzo wrote so long ago about women’s rights that feminism and women’s rights were not even terms yet. But they believed in equality of opportunity and ability. I bet they would have loved to be at the graduation ceremony to see Shaye Haver and Kristen Griest receive their Ranger tabs.

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Random Venice Journal Entry #3

This is part of a very sporadic series, where I post a random journal entry from a previous trip to Venice. This one is from Carnevale, over ten years ago, when I went with a group of friends and we dressed like birds. The guys I mention are gondolier friends.


2/ 16/ 04

Arrived back to Venice yesterday, city of my blood and dreams. I felt my blood quicken and spirit rise. I was home.

In fact, the homesickness hit me as I walked down the Strada Nova and saw Billa (formerly Standa), passed Lush and the Ca’ d’Oro, Nuova Vita, and Santa Sofia. There stood Stefano and I thought I should run to his arms or do something dramatic, even though he’s not (and never has been) my lover. It’s just the returning to Venice, and I’m the lover, and I can’t hug the bricks or the air or the water. Sometimes I want to swallow the city whole.

We dropped our bags in Ca’ Madi, out by Tre Archi. The best comment: “This is like MTV Venice!” I’m glad everyone is pleased with the place. We went to La Perla for Pizza. Rucola! We saw Max who said to stop by the traghetto Monday for drinks on his birthday. And Stefano with his smiles and welcome and new blonde streaks. Max who asked if I brought a ragazza for him. Stefano who said to come by Tuesday for a gondola ride. DSCF0104

Today, what? Espresso, cappuccio. Crumbling buildings. A family of dalmations and two walking colla lillies and a couple Euro bishops (as in the money). Ah, Carnevale!DSCF0103

(Surprises from our Kinder Bueno eggs.)

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The Relaxing Trees

Ah, Nature! Relaxing under the trees, contemplating their softly fluttering leaves, watching them slide across the ground….

Wait, what??!

Okay, first off, Venice has a dearth of trees. So why am I talking about trees in a post on Venice? And second, trees don’t slide across the ground.

But at the Biennale they do!

This year the French pavilion features three living scotch pines, one inside and two outside, that are poised on almost-invisible wheeled platforms that roll across the ground. My friend called them Treembas because they remind him of his Rumba robot vacuum back home. We arrived at this pavilion almost last, after hours of walking and standing and perusing and laughing at the art in the other buildings. So when we saw this spot to rest our weary legs, we immediately adopted the corpse pose.


My first impression: Ah! So lovely to get off my feet, get out of the heat. But then we started watching the indoor tree and became hypnotized by the ambient music.


At first I didn’t realize that the tree was moving. But the leaves trembled ever so slightly, and I noticed that there was no breeze to cause this. Then as I gazed at the skylight where the tree branches reached towards it, it had changed its position relative to where it had been a moment ago! The tree was moving! As we had approached the pavilion initially, I hadn’t realized that the two outdoor trees were similarly moving. (Later I noticed the clandestine minders with brooms to sweep the trees’ paths in case something blocked their wheels.)

For me, the beauty of this installation was not its metaphorical connections or its brilliant conceptualization or its technical prowess. I like art that is pleasing and creates an emotional reaction in me and that makes me think. Well, I found that I kept thinking about these trees long after we had left the exhibit. Though some of the other artwork at this year’s Biennale also pleased  me (and a lot annoyed me), I kept returning to my time with the trees. Was it only that I was tired and welcomed the respite? I don’t think so. For such a simple concept, the trees made me think a lot about what is art, what is its place in our world, what its creators try to give us, what we get from it, and how it makes us look at the world in different ways. These trees did that for me.

And, well, the corpse pose felt pretty good, too.

What do you think? Is this art? Is it not? Why? Was I just seduced by shade and a place to rest my weary not-corpse?


If you want to know what the art world has to say about the trees, here are a couple articles to check out:

A basic description, with photos: http://www.contemporaryartdaily.com/2015/05/venice-celeste-boursier-mougenot-at-the-french-pavilion/

An opinion piece: https://news.artnet.com/people/celeste-boursier-mougenot-at-venice-biennale-312355

Very enthusiastic piece, including interview with artist: http://www.blouinartinfo.com/news/story/1152584/celeste-boursier-mougenot-on-his-french-pavilion-in-venice#

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Baptism at Santa Sofia

If you’ve spent more than a day in Venice, you’ve probably walked down the busy Strada Nova in the Cannaregio district, starting at Campo SS Apostoli and heading towards the train station. You may have glanced at purses or the bakery, or used the bancomat, and never noticed that these shops hide the facade of the church of Santa Sofia. Really, you need to stand back a bit, in the tiny Campo Santa Sofia, to see the church as it lurks behind the other buildings.


On this day, August 6, nearly 400 years ago in 1619, Barbara Strozzi was baptized in this church. No one knew that she would go on to become the most published composer of her era–male or female.

Barbara was born to Isabella Griega, the servant to Giulio Strozzi, a poet and writer of librettos. It wasn’t until much later that Giulio publicly recognized Barbara as his daughter, giving her the title “figliuola elettiva,” a euphemism for “legitimate” but that was pragmatically understood to mean he adopted her. However, from the day she was born, Giulio bestowed gifts on her–a roof over her head, the stability of family life, and an education. He provided her with tutors in singing and playing the violin, including Venice’s most illustrious Francesco Cavalli, then the director of music at the Basilica di San Marco and a composer himself.

The family lived here, at the Palazzo Pesaro-Papafava, facing the Misericordia canal.


They later lived on the Calle del Remer, further east in Cannaregio. Even after her father’s death, Barbara continued to live here, and the financial documents that survive show that she was a savvy investor.

IMG_8161 IMG_8162

Giulio also provided a literary salon for Barbara to preside over; these were gatherings of writers, artists, musicians, and other great thinkers. Barbara sang and performed, dazzling the men in attendance (for in her day, only men attended these gatherings, except for the few women performers or courtesans who were there as entertainment). She premiered in the Accademia degli Incogniti (The Unknowns), founded by Giovanni Francesco Loredan, though later her father created the Accademia degli Unisoni—The Like-Minded, which focused more on musical delights. These were powerful venues for Barbara, who honed her soprano voice and soon began composing pieces she could perform for these audiences.

Barbara wrote eight collections of works, seeking patronage from wealthy nobles (though apparently receiving little remuneration). Her compositions often showcase the singing, though sometimes the lyrics highlight other concerns, such as love. “These harmonic notes,” she said of Opus 7, “are the language of the soul and instruments of the heart.” (Many of her pieces have been translated and are available at Candace Magner’s website: http://barbarastrozzi.blogspot.com).


This only remaining portrait of Barbara shows her with her instrument in hand, musical score by her side. She is depicted as a courtesan, with a breast exposed as was a customary indication. However, no other records confirm that she was part of this profession. In fact, she had a long-running relationship with the married nobleman Giovanni Paolo Vidman (or Widmann), which resulted in four children that his family eventually recognized. Barbara’s morals were maligned by her biographers, and we may never know the full story, but within the societal constraints of the day, she seemed to have created a monogamous relationship that was within her social stratum.

If you want more details on her story, check out my chapter in A Beautiful Woman in Venice (http://kathleenanngonzalez.wix.com/beautifulwoman). But if you want to hear her music to honor this talented and prolific composer, please turn to this small sample.


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Gondola Sightings

Gondolas show up in expected and not-so-expected places.

In May I was in New Orleans and saw this in City Park:



The poor dear had its ferro amputated so it can fit under the bridges. No convenient tides like Venice has to help gondoliers maneuver under the bridges! Plus it helps that Venice was built for gondolas, unlike New Orleans. I didn’t get to meet the gondolier but hear that he lovingly provides glides on the park’s lake.

Last week my friend Marco sent this picture from Utrecht:


No, the prow of this gondola was not amputated, merely the prow of the photo! Marco writes that there are two authentic gondolas in Holland, this being one of them.

A couple weeks ago when I was in Venice, I happened to be passing the squero di San Trovaso, one of the few working boatyards in Venice that still makes gondolas (and the only one that makes them completely by hand, according to Laura Morelli). A worker was just launching this gondola as I passed.

2015-07-21 03.50.08

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Gondoliers must have their boats serviced about once a year to take off algae and such and then seal them against leaks. This one doesn’t have all the accouterments, so perhaps it was having more extensive work done, or maybe it’s even a newly built one. I wasn’t close enough to tell.

I’m also happy to report that I had the pleasure of my own gondola ride, with friends Karen and David, provided by Massimo, my oldest gondolier friend. (He was a big part of the inspiration for my book Free Gondola Ride.) We started at Maddalena in the Canareggio district as an appetizer, then glided through the quiet canals of Santa Croce for our main course, with the Grand Canal for dessert.

IMG_12912015-07-16 08.13.28

What can I say–gondolas make me pretty happy.

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