Granddaughter of the Doge!

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Last summer I met Patrizia, who was working at the time as a barista at Caffe Frari. I was staying nearby and went in most days, and  she always chatted with me and my friends. She’s super friendly, and we got into conversations about such things as the cats of Venice. After a few days of this, while we spoke I noticed her necklace: the Indian god Ganesh, the dancing elephant. Like a bolt, I suddenly realized that I knew Patrizia from years ago.


A Ganesh necklace (not Patrizia’s)

“I know you!” I exclaimed. “You used to own Ganesh Ji!” It’s an Indian restaurant in Venice, tucked away in a back neighborhood but well worth finding. I remembered that when she was working there during Carnevale, Patrizia served everyone while wearing a Ganesh hat.

“Yes, yes!” she replied. “But running the restaurant is too much work. I am happy to work here and make the coffee.”

Patrizia explained to my friends and me that she is the great-great-(etc.)-granddaughter of the last doge of Venice, Ludovico Manin. This is on her mother’s side, so her father’s last name doesn’t give away the secret. He was a farmer and married into a social class above his. Ludovico Manin was the 120th doge and reigned from 1789 until his abdication in 1797, when Napoleon’s forces stomped into Venice and scared the crud out of the senators and doge.


Great-Grandpa Manin

I had wanted to blog about this all year but then thought I should ask Patrizia’s permission first. So this summer I went back to Caffe Frari and saw that it was being nearly gutted and remodeled. I returned a couple times until I saw that it had reopened. Sadly, the entirely new staff didn’t know anything about Patrizia’s whereabouts. She’s always so open and effusive and unabashed and public, so I’m hoping she won’t mind that I’m sharing this (and not publishing her last name just in case).

Here’s what the caffe looks like nowadays:

Gorgeous, right? Stop in for excellent coffee and atmosphere and check out the cool cat-eating-a-rat logo, even if you don’t get to meet the granddaughter of the doge.


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Spying with Marco Polo

Remember the exhibit in Venice commemorating Casanova with over a thousand mosaic tiles? It’s called “Spying on History with Casanova.” Well, artist Manuel Carrión has begun a new project honoring famed Venetian traveler Marco Polo. Here’s a video from the project inauguration three months ago:

Spying on History with Marco Polo

Manuel’s gallery is on Giudecca, and I stopped by a couple times this summer. Though most of the Casanova tiles are put away in storage until their next showing, a few are still on display.

I took home with me a blank tile and wondered what to do with it. I finally decided to find stamps from places Polo had visited. I settled on Italy, Armenia, Afghanistan, China, and Mongolia. Thus ensued many eBay auctions and vigils. But finally I came up with something:

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My friend Carol has generously offered to deliver the tile when she heads to Venice next week. Being an artist herself, she hopefully won’t be embarrassed to be seen with my amateur art. But I’m happy to think that my little offering will live with the offerings of a thousand other Marco Polo fans and explorers. Manuel Carrión hopes that these projects will introduce these personages to a wider audience. It seems to be working!


I met up with Manuel before I went to watch the Redentore fireworks. (You can see that I wanted to be as sparkly as the sky.) Here were the tiles already on display a month ago. If you watched the video at the top of this post, you’ll see that the number of tiles is growing rapidly!

Stop by the Carrión Gallery on Giudecca or follow the project on Facebook at this link: Facebook page for Carrion Gallery

Who will Manuel commemorate next? Rumor has it that Peggy Guggenheim is at the top of the list.

And I’ll leave you with this TV ad. When I was a kid, in the swimming pool we’d play “Marco Polo” where one person had to keep her eyes closed and call out “Marco.” The others in the pool answered “Polo,” and the first kid tried to find them based on the sound of their voice. I wonder if Italians play this game and would understand the joke in this ad? And I wonder if Americans watching this ad understand what Marco Polo is saying? I know it just makes me giggle.

Marco Polo ad


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Venetian Rabbit?

IMG_9809Okay, who can come up with the best name for this creature? It resembles a rabbit, but not quite like any rabbit I’ve ever encountered! He’s so skinny and long-legged, and where is his bushy tail? Is this guy a cousin to the famed jackalope in the American Southwest? Notice the jackalope’s antlers: 



I spotted this rabbit plate in the window of this shop in Campo San Maurizio:


Okay, who can come  up with the best name? Please post your ideas.

(Jackalope pics from here: and here:
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Quattro Minuti con Casanova:

Baffo 3

On a windy day, my friend Adriano filmed this episode of Quattro Minuti con Casanova in Campo San Maurizio. Giorgio Baffo, (1694-1768) writer of licentious poems, was also a mentor and friend to Giacomo Casanova. Here at his house, the Palazzo Bellavista (or Bellavite), young Casanova shocked and impressed the dinner guests with his Latin translation. Click this link to hear more of the story.

Baffo’s House

I love how the plaque commemorating Baffo here at his palazzo calls him a “poet of love.” “He sang with the maximum liberty!” What a great line. You could maybe amend it to describe Casanova–“he lived with the maximum liberty.”Baffo 1


For a poet known for his wit, this portrait is awfully serious.

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Global Metaphor


Ca’ Dolfin

While in Venice a few weeks ago, I attended the afternoon session of the symposium The Ghetto as Global Metaphor. the-ghetto-as-global-metaphor

Though it was about 100 degrees in the Ca’ Dolfin, I could still enjoy the frescoed walls and elaborate chandeliers, a rather strange juxtaposition as we learned about ghettos.


Here are a few highlights from the speakers, introduced by Shaul Bassi:

Princeton’s Mitchell Duneier reminded us that the Venetians, in instituting the first ghetto 500 years ago, didn’t intend the term “ghetto” to refer to all such segregations of Jews, but that it was meant to solve a particular issue at a particular time. The Venetian State had no grand plan, like Hitler later did. In 1555, Rome issued a papal bull “as a cognitive category” that legitimized the idea of a ghetto as a segregated community. The Frankfurt ghetto, which came later, shows a time when “Jews put invisible walls around themselves,” Duneier said. This self-segregation, he believes, led to easier persecution by outsiders.

As a very interesting comparison, African Americans began using the term “ghetto” in the U.S. more intentionally after veterans returned from WWII. They had seen the Nazi concentration camps, in fact had helped to liberate them, and then applied the term to American segregated neighborhoods to highlight the hypocrisy they saw in the U.S. They had fought in Europe to free Jews and then returned home to be discriminated against. There was no intention to say that a black ghetto was similar to Nazi ghettos or camps in specific details, but it was more about being a place where people have lost rights to their freedoms that are usually protected by their government. Interesting, no?

Next, Elijah Anderson from Yale spoke about an “iconic ghetto” as a “moment of acute disrespect based on one’s particularity,” be it skin color, religion, etc. This image or stereotype began after the end of slavery in the U.S. when blacks moved into cities but remained segregated from the white community. This segregation became institutionalized and accepted as a norm. See how we got to where we are today?

George Chauncey, also from Yale, next applied the term “ghetto” to the LGBTQ community. He spoke of gay men moving to San Francisco as “refugees” fleeing unsafe places and forming their own “ghetto” for self-preservation, safety, and development of culture. Some saw this use of the term “ghetto” as offensive since the LGBTQ community didn’t suffer the same experiences as Jews or African Americans, but the philosophy of oppression was similar. He described it as a “ghetto rather than a free space because it is theirs” by choice, though it is still policed by a heteronormative government. A ghetto, he contends, is a “spatial relationship or concentration coupled with a social expectation.”


George Chauncey

Igiaba Scego then applied the term “ghetto” to the migrant community, that the “body of migrants is a new ghetto in Europe.” She went so far as to say the migrant issue is almost akin to a new form of genocide, with the systematic killing off of a group of people but in a subtle way that will not be noticed by onlookers, an idea which she supported with examples from the current crisis.

A late addition speaker was Saskia Sassen, who spoke of “othering” and the “question of the outsider.” “What creates this distancing of the outsider?” she asked. She brought in examples of land grabs, economic development, and climate change consequences that lead to the displacement of local peoples.

The closing speaker was Homi Bhabha from Harvard. He spoke of philosophical issues, such as the “self-protective xenophobia” many people adopt against those perceived as outsiders. “American exceptionalism is an illusion,” he continued. The reality is “American exclusionism,” and our guilt is the easy way out of the emotional distress resulting from learning about others’ suffering. How does one acknowledge and respect the past while not being mired in inactivity? How does one move towards a new and brighter future? This was particularly interesting to me since I can apply these concepts to the high school course I teach on witness literature.


Homi Bhabha

Lots of heady stuff this day, while I mopped my brow and neck in the heat. I’m sorry to have missed the morning speakers, though I’m not sorry for the reason–my friend was in town from Rome, and I wanted to spend the time with him. Still, cool topics on a hot day to spark a new fire in my mind. I bet the Venetians of 1516 would be surprised to know that their term “ghetto” and their edict to segregate the Jewish community would have such far-reaching consequences 500 years later.


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Next Recital Opportunity


Join us this Sunday, August 7, at 4:30 for a lovely afternoon of music and lecture. Once again, Tina Paulson will regale you with songs by and about Venetian women, while I fill in the details of their history and biographies. Hear about the composers Barbara Strozzi and Antonia Padoani Bembo, followed by Tina’s soprano voice bringing their music to life. We’ll continue by discussing the life of poets and courtesans as well as boat racers, with the lives of Veronica Franco, Maria Boscola, and Marina Querini Benzon and music by Vivaldi and Rossini. Tina closes with “La Biondina in Gondoleta,” that still-popular barcarolle extolling the relaxing moments of gliding in a gondola with a beautiful companion.

The recital will be held at the Museo ItaloAmericano at Fort Mason center in San Francisco. What a lovely way to enjoy a Sunday afternoon! Event details are a a click away, and please let the Museo know that you’ll be attending. A presto!

Recital details here: Museo recital


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Learn Something New Every Week

“Learn something new every week: get weekly updates on interesting nonfiction articles.” That’s the motto of the website, a clearing house for nonfiction titles. Peruse their pages or even have a weekly email delivered to let you know what’s new.

I’ve recently posted a piece there about my guidebook to Venice, Seductive Venice: In Casanova’s Footsteps. If you’d like a summary of the book, this piece is a great place to start–from the places Casanova called home to the places he was kicked out of!

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The Palazzo Bragadin-Carabba, which Casanova called home for a time

Pal Malipiero

The Palazzo Malipiero, which Casanova was kicked out of

Here’s how the piece begins:

“How many people have the distinction that their name has become a common noun? Giacomo Casanova is one such person. Though he lived in the 1700s and is best remembered as a seductive lover, few people realize that he was also a prolific writer, a mathematician, a gambler, a cabbalist, a spy, a law secretary, and even briefly a priest. In Casanova’s 12-volume memoirs, History of my Life, he recounts his childhood in Venice as well as his wanderings around Europe, one of the most informative chronicles of the 18th century.”

And here’s the rest! Just click on this link to read on: NFReads promotes Casanova

Thanks, NFReads, for providing this service to both authors and readers alike!

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The Church of the Gesuiti, where Casanova was dumped after being kicked out of the seminary on Murano


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