The Notorious SCS

America is fortunate to be living with the Notorious RBG (Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg) in our times. But Venice in the early seventeenth century was lucky to have the Notorious SCS.

Sarra Copia Sulum.

Her friend and mentor Rabbi Leon Modena provided Sarra’s epitaph, complimenting her by writing, “Wise was she among women, / A jewel for the miserable, / and of every poor soul / A friend and companion.” And numerous friends of hers came to her defense when other scholars defamed her, stole from her, or accused her of stealing her writings from others. Sarra wrote a number of poems, which she shared with Ansaldo Ceba, a Christian cleric, who destroyed most of her work but published his own correspondence with Sarra, profiting from her intelligence and notoriety.

Why the Notorious SCS? Sarra was accused of heresy when she wrote about the immortality of the soul. A (probably) jealous scholar put her in harm’s way with this accusation, which could bring censure to her as well as to her community.

But Sarra deserved better treatment. She brought together Jews and Christians at her literary salon in Venice’s Ghetto. Really, no one else was doing this, and certainly not a woman, who, in the early part of the seventeenth century, rarely ran salons because they ran the risk of being labeled as unchaste. Shaul Bassi writes that “Where others decreed separation, she envisioned dialogue and exchange.”

I bring up SCS today because my friend Rita recently gave me a copy of Poems for Sarra/Poesie per Sara published by Damocle and organized by Beit Venezia and the poets Meena Alexander, Rita Dove, and Esther Schor. In the Introduction, Bassi writes, “This book is a tribute to Sarra, and a promise to continue our effort to nourish the tradition of the Ghetto as a foundry of ideas, always choosing poetry over silence.” I’ve chosen a few poems to share with you here.


“Do Not Pity Me, Ansaldo Dear”

by Esther Schor


Do not pity me, Ansaldo dear

that heaven has no saint to guard my life

from sickness and despair, to keep me safe

from all my enemies; to teach me fear

of evil intellects and baleful souls.

Tell me this: Why trust a guardian

who chose a glorious martyrdom

of iron nails and arrows, broken wheels,

eyes on a golden salver streaked with blood

over ordinary ecstasy:

the rascal bells of San Giorgio

at midnight dared the sea

to scale the steps of Cannaregio–

at sunrise, all the ghetto, one bright flood. 


“In Praise of Fragments”

by Meena Alexander


Shall I make a house with sticks?

A house of breath

for the freckled butterfly?

Will it come to me?

I grip a fistful of paper

There is ink on my fingernails

On the whorls of my palms.

What burns like paper?

Only the soul.


“Sarra’s Blues”

by Rita Dove


I am not the one you hoped for

(it is morning it is light)

I am not the one you think I am

(the air is stale the light is sweet)


I will not give in to sorrow

(though the lapping water purrs)

I will not be duped by joy

(I can hear the earth’s dull groan)


You cannot find me in these lines

(I have not gone it is too soon)

I cannot find the noblest rhymes

(I did not die this afternoon)


From wan day into the evening

(brackish spittle clanging skull)

From grim evening into night

(water settles light decays)


What I whisper will not soothe you

(sour washrag fevered lamp)

Do not look for peace or wisdom

(do remember do regret)


I have nothing left to tell you

(the muffled chorus swells)

I will not live forever

but I shall not die today.

I wrote a short book about Sarra, titled A Living Memory: Immortality for Sarra Copia Sulam, which you can get from Supernova Edizioni in Venice, or I have a handful of copies left if you want to buy it from me. Here’s a link to the ebook, or just contact me if you want a paperback.

And here’s a video to show you where Sarra may have lived. I haven’t been able to confirm a home for her, but this palace is a likely candidate.

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Venice, My Muse: An Interview with Andrea Perego


This month you’ll meet another person fascinated with both Venice and Casanova. Andrea Perego is a Berlin-based Italo-Australian journalist and writer. He lived in Sydney where he worked as a broadcaster journalist for SBS Radio, and in Venice, where he earned his diploma in Archival Studies, Palaeography, and Diplomatics at the Archivio di Stato. Andrea and I actually share the same publisher in Venice: Supernova Edizioni. With Supernova, he has published the novel The Laws of Time, set in 1730 Venice, Casanova in Berlin, from Giacomo Casanova’s original manuscript, in four languages (French, Italian, English, and German), and the short story collection Red Moons and Cornflowers. He is now working on projects in Venice and Berlin.


How has Venice seduced you?

I had begun writing the novel The Laws of Time when I was living in Sydney, working as a journalist. Then I decided to come back to Europe. I chose Venice for two reasons. First, of course, was to write the novel and to be where it takes place. Second, because I always felt attracted and rejected by Venice, depending on Venice’s moods, not mine. I wanted to understand why that happened, and how that seduction and rejection could live together and be part of the same feeling of love.

That’s how I got trapped.

Processed with Snapseed.

What do you never fail to do in Venice?

Smell the sea, the lagoon, the calli, look for rats (I find them funny and sweet), visit my friends and a couple of museums, sit al mercato, on the Grand Canal, on a pier, for a spritz.

What is your Venice soundtrack?

“Ohè… Ohè, pope…” Ah, I’m joking. That’s what the gondoliers say when they row around a corner. It’s probably, as for many others, the not-so-silent-silence, the lapping water, chirping birds, distant chatter, mixed with the smell of wet stone and the canals. “The gentle swash on the shores and the embankments, almost inaudible, had the remote sound of monotonous immobility, of time suspended between night and early morning.” (The Laws of Time). And the bells. They are so distinctive. A friend of mine can recognize all the different bell towers from the sounds of their bells.


Walk or take a boat?

It depends how tired I am. Mostly I walk, but when I have to cross the Grand Canal I far prefer the gondola-traghetto.

Which church or campo best epitomizes you? Please explain.

Venice epitomizes only itself.


Which is your favorite Venetian festival and why?

I’m not going to be popular here. I’m not into festivals, far too many people and too loud. I’ve seen them all: Salute, Regata storica, Carnevale, Redentore… Maybe Salute is still quite real and November is wonderful. But, again, not really my cup of tea.

Spritz or Bellini?

Do I have to choose? There’s a time for a Spritz and a time for a Bellini. Why discriminate?



What do you always tell friends to do when they visit the city?

I suggest they should visit Palazzo Mocenigo, Ca’ Pesaro, and Ca’ Rezzonico. They are great museums, a little off the beaten track, and allow you to explore different areas of the city. Piazza San Marco and that area is a must, of course, but if you want to have a more personal experience of Venice, go between midnight and 6 am. You will avoid the crush of people. Try not to take pictures. It’s all about what you feel, not just what you see. Try to take memories, not photos.


If you could have dinner with any Venetian, living or dead, who would it be and why? What would dinner be?

There are a few choices here. It could be Caterina Cornaro, the “queen of Cyprus,” to see what her court near Asolo was like and have dinner with her friends, Pietro Bembo and so on. But I think I’d be more attracted by some composer or some painter, just to see how they worked, to observe how they wrote their music, what paper they used, what ink, their creative process, or how they painted, where they painted, what their studio was like, how they mixed their colours. That does it for me. One name above all? I think Giorgione. He was born in Castelfranco, in the Venetian mainland, but he lived and worked in Venice. Finally I would find out something more about his magnificent, mesmerizing portraits. And about the actual dinner? Anywhere. I’d let him decide and take me to some taverna near his studio. Menu: a meat dish and red wine. I want to try something cooked on the fire, see how they did it, and taste the wine of the 1500s.


Casanova: genius or cad?

A genial cad. One does not exclude the other, like it or not. Many liked him, many others didn’t.

What would you do with $30,000 U.S. to spend in Venice?

I’d rent a palace for a night, for a great dinner. I’d have some cooks preparing dishes from the 1700s, meat, fish, cakes, and biscuits. Just for the pleasure of trying those recipes. I’d pay the students from the Conservatorio to have music in every room, and I would leave the doors open for everyone coming and going, for all the Venetians, and not only. I’d invite students, homeless people, friends. With boats available and ready outside the door to go… wherever.


If money were no object, which palazzo would you buy?

This is a difficult one, there are so many. Maybe Palazzo Mocenigo on the Grand Canal, the first floor where Byron lived. Or Palazzo Polignac, one the most elegant Renaissance buildings. Third option: Palazzo Donà dalle Rose at Fondamente Nove. Last but not least, Ca’ Dario, it’s not opulent but cosy and I like its garden. And I’m not superstitious.

Which gelato flavor are you?

Amarena (black cherry).


How can readers learn more about you and your creative pursuits?

Please see my Facebook page:

There’s also a page about The Laws of Time. The whole world of the novel is there: pictures, paintings, and everything about Venice in 1730, how people dressed, what they used, etc. It’s a great site for whoever likes Venice:

And, of course, read The Laws of Time.



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Quattro Minuti con Casanova: Teatro Sant’Angelo

I haven’t posted a Quattro Minuti episode in a while, so here’s a new one to start your new year! The last two posts featured other theaters that Casanova was connected to: Teatro Goldoni and Teatro Benedetto. In today’s video, you’ll learn about Casanova’s stint as a theater manager at the Teatro Sant’Angelo, which is now a hotel. Yes, he was so much more than a famed lover–he was also an innovative theater manager and writer. This video gives you a taste of his mad skills, and for more details you can read the fuller description in Seductive Venice: In Casanova’s Footsteps.


The former Teatro Sant’Angelo is now a hotel on the Grand Canal

Thank you to the mother and daughter who were kind enough to film me this day last summer! And don’t you love the sound of splashing water and the church bells in the background? Ah, to be in Venice! This video has only 31 views at the time of this posting. Help me increase those numbers!  🙂

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Last Minute Shopping?

For that person who has everything…or so you think! I bet they don’t have this:

A Casanova candle!


It’s described as a “timeless treasure.” Until it melts!

Happy holidays and happy shopping to all those Casanova aficionados out there. But the real question is: What would Casanova say about this?


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Who Doesn’t Love a List?

Not me! I love lists–making them, reading them, checking them off….

Katia from The Venice Insider blog has posted her end of the year best books on Venice list. I’m happy to share it here. It’s impressive–she must read a lot! I’ll be happily checking books off this list in the next months.

Oh, and look! The first book on the list is our very own First Spritz Is Free: Confessions of Venice Addicts. Katia is a contributor. Hope you don’t mind a little shameless self-promotion, but we love to share this book with others! Besides, you can get a FREE e-book copy here or if you prefer to purchase the paperback, all proceeds support organizations that protect Venetian culture and art.


Here’s an excerpt from Katia’s chapter in First Spritz, where she describes what she does about the city:

“It’s hard to define what makes Venice so addictive. I have been so many times, in different seasons, with and without crowds, and I’m still surprised by the palazzi, the canals, the calle, and all the small details that together define what Venice is. Many people don’t understand why I return so often to the same city. Just the other day, even my sister wondered if I had seen something new on my last visit. The “problem” is actually the opposite. The more I go to Venice, the more I realize how much I haven’t seen yet. My list of things to visit always becomes longer instead of shorter.

The cultural heritage, in the widest sense of the word, in Venice is endless. For every trip, I have to define my priorities on what I really want to see. At the moment, the historic gardens are high on my list, as are the small islands such as Sant’Erasmo (an agricultural island which is considered to be the vegetable garden of Venice) or San Lazzaro degli Armeni (a former leper colony which now houses an Armenian monastery with a stunning library). My list also includes the exquisite palazzi such as Palazzo Grimani (a remarkable Renaissance building which was originally the residence of Doge Antonio Grimani) or Palazzetto Bru Zane (the former casino of the Zane family which hosts now the Centre de musique romantique française), and … I could go on forever. Some of these have been on my list for a while, but there always seems to be something better or more intriguing. Every conversation about Venice and every article I read triggers my inspiration for a series of new ideas that I want to discover. It’s a never-ending story.”


Palazzo Grimani on the Grand Canal, one of many palaces owned by members of this illustrious family 

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Marco Polo Firsts

Marco Polo’s house has been replaced by the Teatro Malibran

Marco Polo, that indefatigable and well-traveled Venetian, is often credited with bringing a number of things from China to Europe. But Laurence Bergreen’s book, Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu, dispels some of the misconceptions, and his thorough research uncovered a few facts that may surprise you. Thanks, Marco, for carrying these Chinese ideas to the Europeans!

The Corte del Milione, named for Polo’s supposed “million” lies about his travels

“Paper money, virtually unknown in the West until Marco’s return, revolutionized finance and commerce throughout the West.

Coal, another item that had caught Marco’s attention in China, provided a new and relatively efficient source of heat to an energy-starved Europe.

Eyeglasses (in the form of ground lenses), which some accounts say he brought back with him, became accepted as a remedy for failing eyesight. In addition, lenses gave rise to the telescope–which in turn revolutionized naval battles, since it allowed combatants to view ships at a great distance–and the microscope. Two hundred years later, Galileo used the telescope–based on the same technology–to revolutionize science and cosmology by supporting and disseminating the Copernican theory that Earth and other planets revolved around the Sun.

Gunpowder, which the Chinese had employed for at least three centuries, revolutionized European warfare as armies exchanged their lances, swords, and crossbows for cannon, portable arquebuses, and pistols.” (321) from Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu by Laurence Bergreen

My autographed copy of Bergreen’s book!


(Image of Corte del Milione from

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Venice, My Muse: An Interview with Jane Mosse


Jane peers out of the window of Ca’ Biondetti, Rosabla Carriera’s former home.

As a great lover of both Venice and Rosalba Carriera, Jane reached out to me after reading my chapter on Rosalba in A Beautiful Woman in Venice. We then began a correspondence and a friendship across the waters. Hopefully we’ll meet in person one day, and hopefully in Venice! At the bottom of this interview, you can read more about Jane’s work and home, which includes some surprises. Enjoy her perspective on Venice and all of her favorite things.

How has Venice seduced you?

“He who paints Venice paints the most beautiful thing on the face of the earth,” wrote American painter Francis Hopkinson Smith in 1894. I’ve been exploring Europe all my life, but Venice remains the most beautiful place that I have ever seen. Her beauty continues to astound me every time I visit, and I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve been drawn back to her. That first glimpse of the city as you approach from the airport across the lagoon always makes me well up. My eyes are simply unable to absorb what can often seem an excess of stunning architecture, visual arts, and physical beauty so that every visit brings something new and previously unnoticed into focus. As a keen photographer I never know where to point my camera as a new, fresh image awaits me at every turn.

What do you never fail to do in Venice?

Go to Florian’s for breakfast. It feels like the ultimate luxury but I simply rejoice in being in a beautiful space that has been visited by so many artists over the years. Sitting  in one of the many beautiful salons I always imagine the writers who have frequented these rooms: Dickens, Goethe, Byron, Shelley, and Hemingway. The Casanova breakfast may seem pricey, but it’s enough to set you up for the day and is a visual and gastronomic feast!


Breakfast at Florian


What is your Venice soundtrack?

It has to be Bach’s Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello. I attended a recital in the Chiesa della Pietà on my first trip to Venice in the early 70s, and it’s remained my definitive soundtrack ever since.

Walk or take a boat?

I love to be on the water but prefer to travel the less popular routes of the city. The vaporetti provide a great stage for people-watching as well as enjoying the buildings that you can only see from the canals. I enjoy watching the day to day life of the city where everything happens on the water, from deliveries to emergencies.

Which church or campo best epitomizes you? Please explain.

I enjoy sitting in one of the many lesser-known campos watching the locals going about their daily lives but, after much reflection, I think it has to be Piazza San Marco which, in many ways, seems rather predictable. However, I’m a dancer and maybe the romance of what was once described by Napoleon as “the finest drawing-room in Europe” is, to me, the finest ballroom. I’d love to be whirled around its floor by a handsome Italian.

Which is your favorite Venetian festival and why?

I love Regatta as it brings the city alive and involves people of all walks of life from the diverse islands of the lagoon. Although there’s always a fierce, competitive element to the races, I love to see the opening pageant when Venice assumes the air of a Canaletto painting.

Spritz or Bellini?

Bellini every time. I still can’t manage to get through a spritz although I’ve tried on several occasions! I feel as though I’ve failed the Venetian initiation test so keep trying!

What do you always tell friends to do when they visit the city?

Head over to San Giorgio and take the lift up the campanile. The view of the city and the surrounding islands offers the most wonderful panorama of the lagoon and, out of season, you’re often up there on your own. It’s quite magical.


If you could have dinner with any Venetian, living or dead, who would it be and why? What would dinner be?

If you’re familiar with my chapter in First Spritz is Free you’ll know that it would have to be Rosalba Carriera, Venice’s greatest female portrait artist. I’d love to ask her about her travels, but most of all about the many illustrious people who visited her humble home and studio.  Dinner would be melt-in-the-mouth fegato alla Veneziana, which I adore.

Casanova: genius or cad?

Absolute cad. Enough said.

What would you do with $30,000 U.S. to spend in Venice?

If I was being selfish I’d indulge in buying some of the beautiful marbled writing paper, (although I’d be too afraid to write on it!), a pair of earrings that look like books, and a few metres of fabric from Fortuny. I’d be happy just to look at the fabric and stroke it occasionally!  I’d give the rest to one of the charities that are being supported by First Spritz is Free. Who wouldn’t want to see this beautiful city supported for future generations to enjoy?


If money were no object, which palazzo would you buy?

The Ca’ Barbaro, without doubt. Not only is it the most glorious building, but I’m a great Henry James fan and the thought of occupying the rooms that he once occupied whilst lodging there would be a life-long thrill. Frequenting spaces that once hosted Browning, James, Whistler, and Monet would keep me on a permanent high!

Which gelato flavor are you?

That’s a tricky one. Either liquorice or fig and mascarpone. I think liquorice wins.

How can readers learn more about you and your creative pursuits? 

I live on the island of Guernsey in the Channel Islands with my husband, Richard Fleming, who is a published poet. I used to do research and write articles for a series of books on the British Waterways covering 2300 miles of rivers and canals on my mountain bike! Interestingly, both my grandfathers worked on the water, one as a ship-builder, the other as a stevedore, so maybe there’s something in my blood that attracts me to the water?

I’ve just had a collection of my own poems published in a book entitled Guernsey Legends, which you can find It’s a collaboration with local artist Frances Lemmon, and together we’ve celebrated the folk-lore of our island.

My other, rather unusual, occupation is that I’m a professional lookalike for Prince Charles’ wife, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall! Having two husbands can sometimes cause confusion, but it’s a lot of fun. I’m soon to feature in my first Bollywood movie! You can find out more at my website In the meantime I’m busy working on my first novel reflecting on the many adventures that Richard and I have had while dog-sitting. I’ll keep you posted!



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