Random Journal Entry #8

The last Random Journal Entry was about the joy of Venetian mosquitos. This one looks at that special joy of drinking too much coffee and lying awake all night. I also write about my very first traghetto ride. How delicious is that? Since I mention the band Tindersticks, I thought it only right that you have a soundtrack for this blog post. Click this link before you read on. Tindersticks.

Aug. 9, 1996

Again I made the mistake of having too much coffee and I find myself unable to fall asleep. The Count of Monte Cristo brings me to the point of drowsiness not from boredom but from hours of reading), but the minute I put out the light I’m quite awake again. I might as well be useful with my time. It’s frustrating to simply lie there wide awake for so long, so I’ll write about the day.

After my pizza and caffe freddo today, I worked myself into quite a state. Why is that feeling so delicious yet so regrettable? I put Tindersticks on the walkman. I made my way down Strada Nuova to Rialto, crossed the canal, shuffled through the market, and headed for the Pesceria where the wind and water make the air cooler and I can sit comfortably on the marble stairs for a while. I resolved that I wanted to write today instead of walking and walking again. Besides, I wanted to try the traghetto (the gondolas that ferry you just across the canal), and I knew they crossed at that point to Campo Santa Sofia, which would bring me right back to Strada Nuova.

By the time I reached my spot, the coffee and Tindersticks where having their effects. I was feeling melancholy and distracted. At its most effective, Tindersticks makes me breathe heavy with loss and longing, or it makes the breath catch in my throat. I was doing all that and decided to press the matter, so I lit up a clove cigarette. There was just enough wind to make me use 7 or 8 matches to accomplish this. I barely inhaled, but I still felt the giddiness and dizziness that cloves can cause. But the taste on my lips and tongue is so delicious. It makes me want to kiss, unfortunately. I was putting myself in a bad way.

So there I sat on cool marble steps, puffing on a clove, notebook on my lap, alternately writing, staring at the canal, or sneaking glances at the fair gondolier with the ponytail. That went on for well over an hour, turning over the Tindersticks because at this point I couldn’t stop listening to it.

Finally, nature urged me to do something about the orange granita I had consumed, so I decided to take the traghetto across and make a quick stop at the hotel bathroom. I tried to find a garbage can for my granita cup, but there was none, and as I walked back the way I had come, the gondolier signaled to me asking if I wanted to ride across. I shut off poor Tindersticks for the moment, but the freddo and cloves had me shaky enough that I needed the gondolier’s hand to come aboard. It’s de riguer to stand in the traghetto, but I was feeling that shakiness and didn’t trust myself to not topple into the canal. I sat and fumbled with my sunglasses, walkman, and money and hardly looked up the whole trip. It was freshman year of high school all over. At the end of this very brief crossing, I thought I was so clever to say “due mille?” (2,000) to Mr. Ponytail, but he answered something other than “.” I stood there dumbly, still holding the hand he profferred to help me out of the boat. I couldn’t even remember to say, “Do you speak English?” He finally said “600,” and I mumbled something stupid, paid him, and managed not to fall as I stepped off the boat. Back on went the stupid safety of the headphones, shutting me off from possibilities. 

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Venice, My Muse: An Interview with Gregory Dowling

Here is the latest in my monthly series of interview with Venetophiles. This month we feature another writer.


Gregory Dowling grew up in Bristol, England, and graduated from Oxford University. From 1979 to 1981 he taught in language schools in Naples, Siena and Verona. In 1981 he moved to Venice, where he has lived ever since. Since 1985 he has worked at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, where he is now Associate Professor of American Literature. In addition to his novels (six thrillers), he has done numerous translations from Italian into English, has co-edited two anthologies of poetry, written a book on American narrative poetry, a book on the English verb system and a guidebook to Byron’s Venice, as well as numerous scholarly articles on British and American literature. He is editor of the British section of the Italian poetry-journal Semicerchio. For many years he wrote and regularly updated the sightseeing pages of the Time Out Guide to Venice. His most recent novels, set in 18th century Venice, are  Ascension and The Four Horsemen.

How has Venice seduced you?

My first visit was in 1979 and I had come from Naples. The first thing that attracted me about it was that there were no cars – and no car-horns. And although I came in July I loved the fact you could find empty places where there was no-one but you, a well-head and a cat. I still have a photo of the square behind the church of Angelo Raffaele testifying to this. Perhaps I would have a different impression if I had first arrived in July 2017…


Behind the Church of Sant’Angelo Raffaele

What do you never fail to do in Venice?

I’m always in Venice and I fail to do a lot of things…

What is your Venice soundtrack?

I suppose the correct answer to this is anything that isn’t the Four Seasons. But I associate Venice with all kinds of music. Including Vivaldi…

Walk or take a boat?

Well, I live at Sant’Elena so I frequently take a boat. However, I try to arrange things so that I take the boat in to work (my department is near Campo San Barnaba) and walk home in the evening. It is the most beautiful city-walk in the world.

walk to work

The walk to work

walk home

The walk home

autumnal view way home

Autumnal view on the walk home

Which church or campo best epitomizes you? Please explain.

Not sure I can claim to be epitomized by any of them. A favourite campo is San Giovanni in Bragora; it’s small, has all the right ingredients (church, trees, benches, a bar, one fine gothic palazzo), and is never overwhelmed by tourists, even though it’s only five minutes from St Mark’s. In the afternoon it is full of local children playing. And the church is a jewel, with paintings by Cima da Conegliano and assorted Vivarinis… I couldn’t resist setting a scene in my recent novel there.


San Giovanni in Bragora

Alvise Vivarini

Painting by Alvise Vivarini


Baptism by Cima da Conegliano

Which is your favorite Venetian festival and why?

Well, base commercial reasons prompt me to say La Sensa (my 2015 novel is entitled Ascension and the festival figures prominently); however, the current version is rather a feeble affair compared with the glory days (a Mayor can never quite match a Doge, and certainly there is nothing to match the Bucintoro), so I’ll go for the more obvious Redentore. It still seems to be a moment when the Venetians take back their city for an evening at least; certainly that’s the impression I get when I see the tables laid out along the riva at Sant’Elena.

Spritz or Bellini?

Well, spritz is usually cheaper…

What do you do when you’re alone in Venice?

Write – or try to…

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

Go for a night-time walk. See some of the less central churches and museums (Madonna dell’Orto and Sant’Alvise, for example; the Querini Stampalia and Ca’ Rezzonico). Get lost (not difficult to do, if it’s a first-time visit).

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

I think Goldoni would be fun. And there are quite a few meals described in his plays. The one Momolo orders in L’uomo di mondo wouldn’t be bad; he also offers good advice on how not to get diddled at the market.

Casanova: genius or cad?

Both. And if he weren’t a genius (or at least a very brilliant entertainer), we would have no interest in his caddishness.

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

Buy a boat. But then I’d have no idea how to row it or maintain it, so probably $30,000 wouldn’t go very far, once you throw in the hired gondolier and upkeep…

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

Ca’ Dario wouldn’t be bad. But there’s also a very fine neo-gothic one at the foot of the bridge by the Giardini boat-stop, with fantastic views in all directions.

Giardini house 2

The little house near Giardini that Gregory would purchase

Would you rather be a courtesan or a noblewoman? Make your case.

Probably not best-suited to answer this question.

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

I’m the author of six novels, three of which are set in Venice: Every Picture Tells a Story (1991), Ascension (2015), The Four Horsemen (2017). The last two are part of the on-going series of Alvise Marangon Mysteries, set in 18th-century Venice (Polygon, UK; St Martin’s Press, USA).

More information can be found on my website: www.gregorydowling.com


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As Seen from Below

Earlier this year I posted news and photos of the Lorenzo Quinn’z sculpture at Ca’ Sagredo by Traghetto Santa Sofia. (See “Grand Canal Sea Monster” from May 19, 2017.) When I was in Venice last July, I snuck around the side of the gondoliers’ casotto to snap these pics from underneath the hands. A cheerful gondolier was singing a song while washing up at the hose after his day’s work, and he smiled at me while I apologized for interrupting him.


The hands are wonderfully detailed and lifelike–and huge. Standing under them felt special and somehow charmed.

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Alticchiero Found Again

If you read my book A Beautiful Woman in Venice or A Venetian Affair by Andrea di Robilant or if you’re just a fan of Giustiniana Wynne, you may remember hearing about the villa named Altichiero, owned by Angelo Querini. Giustiniana was the “lady of the house” when she would visit Angelo there, as they hosted a literary gathering filled with intellectuals of the 18th century. They might sip pinot grigio made from grapes that grew nearby, discuss Voltaire as they strolled by his statue on the grounds, or examine Rousseau’s revolutionary ideas while convening in the salon.

The plan of the villa and gardens by Antonio Sandi.

These statues that Giustiniana mentioned were originally sculpted by Antoine Houdon, though we think that the ones at Altichiero were copies. Drawings of them are not included in Giustiniana’s book, though here are copies provided by my friend Adriano. The sculptures were displayed on a ground floor corridor on special shelves where visitors would pass by. 

Bust of Voltaire by Houdon

XIR43751 Bust of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-78) (terracotta) by Houdon, Jean-Antoine (1741-1828)
Musee Lambinet, Versailles, France
Lauros / Giraudon
French, out of copyright

Other statues are depicted in the book, such as Greek figures like Phocion. There are 29 drawings in all by Giovanni de Pian. Both the book and the villa contained many Masonic images and symbols. The base of this one translates as, “in winter or summer, both near and far, while we are living and after….”

This bust of Phocion, an Athenian statesman, was at Altichiero

Angelo Querini was a senator and a purveyor of high culture in his times. Giustiniana Wynne, an innovative writer to be reckoned with, chose to honor him and his villa by penning this volume in French. She intended it as a guidebook to the buildings and grounds and also as a “philosophical journey” that meandered through the theme of women’s equality and education. Giustiniana posited these ideas before Mary Wollstonecraft published “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman,” yet her contributions are largely unknown. Travelers on the Grand Tour of Europe often dropped in at Altichiero, and Giustiniana’s book Alticchiero won favorable reviews. Many would drop in for the engaging conversation. (Note on spelling: Her book title shows two “c’s” while the place name is generally spelled with one “c.”)

All you traveler types are now longing to visit this beautiful villa along the Brenta outside Venice. Alas, it no longer exists. The statues are no more, the villa razed to rubble and carted away. But this lovely book from 1787 lets us peek into Giustiniana’s and Angelo’s world.

Thank you to my friend Adriano who shares gems from his library with me, so that I may share them with you. He told me this story about how he got the book: “In 2008 I had been in Padua to look for the tomb of Giustiniana in the church of San Benedetto but I could not find it. I returned to Venice and went by chance to Lineadacqua; on that day they had exposed for the first time the book of GW. Perhaps the ghost of G, who was in the church, followed me up to Venice and brought me to the showcase of Luca’s shop. The book had been in a Rome bookshop, and afterwards had ended up in the United States from where it had just returned.”

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Send Me Your Cats

My friend Adriano just sent this link to a photography project that features the cats of Venice. Which of these cats is your favorite?

Cats in Venice

Here are a few of my Venetian cat photos from past years. Email me your cat pictures at kathleenanngonzalez at yahoo dot com and I’ll add them to this post.


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And here are photos shared by Adriano, but taken by his wife–much higher quality pictures than mine!


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Yvonne sent in these photos on Nov. 5. Thanks for sharing your images!

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Cinderella Delivers the Winning Name


Apparently Cinderella is arriving in Venice…

Thank you to Piero for sending me this photo. What a great float! Today it is delivering this message:

The winner of the latest tombola for the “Venice, My Muse” interview with JoAnn Locktov is Kasey Clark Borgen! Congratulations! I’ll be in contact with you, and you’ll be receiving a copy of Dream of Venice Architecture. We had so many people participate this month–thank you to all for your comments, stories, and engagement. I love connecting with all of you and hearing your memories and dreams of Venice.


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Latest Tombola Ends Soon!


My black cat tries to be spooky here, but really he’s a love bug.

Halloween at midnight–usually a spooky hour, but this time it’s the deadline for the latest table (raffle) for the “Venice, My Muse” interview series. So many of you have already left lovely comments about this month’s interview with JoAnn Locktov. Thank you all, and welcome to many new readers!

You still have a couple days left to enter to win a copy of Dream of Venice Architecture. Leave a comment and “like” the page on my WordPress, Facebook, Linked In, Amazon, or Goodreads pages.


Another lovely photo from Dream of Venice Architecture

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