Eight Women

That’s how many women are trying to enter the gondoliers’ school in Venice this year. The Arte del Gondoliere trains potential gondoliers before they take the test for a substitute gondolier license that allows them to share a gondola and space at the traghetto with a fully licensed gondolier.


Giorgia from some years ago when she was a substitute working the San Tomá traghetto

Currently only one woman holds a gondolier’s license in Venice–Giorgia Boscola. But that could change dramatically. Eight women are applying to the school, and it looks like they all have the chops to make it in and pass their exams. Five of them come from the Row Venice Association: President Jane Caporal, rowing teacher Lisa Dunk, and rowing champs Giulia Tagliapietra, Elena Almansi, and Angelica Villegas Alban.

Here’s an article from Venezia Today with details (in Italian).

These women have been rowing for years, and teaching rowing as well as participating in events like the regattas, Regatta Storica, and Vogalonga. In the course, they’ll also learn art history and languages in order to share their knowledge of the city with tourists.


Women rowers in the 2011 Vogalonga

Probably the biggest obstacle is that there is a limited number of licenses available, so it really is a contest of who does best in the various tests. Or at least it should be. Hopefully these women will have an equal opportunity amongst their male colleagues to grasp that license.

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Artisans of Venice

At the Museo Correr, there’s this wonderful little collection of painted wooden panels depicting Venetian workers. I love this so very authentic peek into everyday Venetian life–not the doges or nobles, not the grand processions or state festivals, Bucintoro or coronations. Just bakers. Fruit sellers. Wall makers. Book sellers. And painted on wooden boards.


Wall makers or mureri


The bakers, or pistori


Book makers, or libreri


Fruit sellers, or fruttaroli


Detail from the panel showing a fruit seller weighing an order

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Venice, My Muse: An Interview with Philip Gwynne Jones

I was first introduced to Philip Gwynne Jones through our mutual friend, author Gregory Dowling, and now Philip is contributing to an upcoming book I’m putting together. He is a Welsh author living and working in Venice. He first came to Italy in 1994 when he spent some time working for the European Space Agency in Frascati, a job that proved to be less exciting than he had imagined. He spent twenty years in the IT industry before realising he was congenitally unsuited to it, and now works as a writer, teacher and translator. He lives in Venice with his wife Caroline. He enjoys cooking, art, classical music and opera; and can occasionally be seen and heard singing bass with Cantori Veneziani and the Ensemble Vocale di Venezia. He is the author of the bestselling The Venetian Game and a sequel, Vengeance in Venice. The Venetian Masquerade will follow in 2019. I’m hoping to meet him in person on my next trip to Venice!

How has Venice seduced you?

Strangely enough, it took a while. It wasn’t on our first trip to Venice, when we were completely absorbed in the Biennale. It was our second visit–we arrived at about two in the morning after a delayed flight from Naples. Fortunately, there was still somebody in our hotel on the Zattere to let us in. We popped the plastic cork on a little bottle of prosecco in the mini-bar and tumbled into bed. I’ll always remember opening the curtains the following morning, and looking out on the Giudecca canal in the early morning sunshine. It was magical. There really is no other word for it.

What do you never fail to do in Venice?

I’m fortunate enough to live in Venice (indeed, there’s no other place for me to call home) so, if I can misquote the Welsh writer Lloyd Robson, everything I do is a Venetian thing to do.

What is your Venice soundtrack?

At the moment, I’m completely immersed in Monteverdi (I’m listening to his Dixit Dominus as I write, and trying not to sing along)–inspiration for a future novel. And Pink Floyd are now, for me at least, indelibly linked with certain locations in Venice. Readers of The Venetian Game will understand!

Claudio Monteverdi

Walk or take a boat?

Mainly the boat, for practical reasons. My day job takes me to a school about thirty minutes walk away, and I don’t usually feel like that at 7:15 on a rainy January morning. And it’s always a pleasure to get a seat outside on a late night boat, and just watch the city slide past.

Which church or campo best epitomizes you? Please explain.

Well, I ‘m very fond of St George’s, the Anglican church in Campo San Vio, a space that even many Venetians have never visited. But I do also like San Giorgio Maggiore: feeling part of Venice but also ever-so-slightly distant from it.

St. George’s exterior

St. George’s interior

Which is your favorite Venetian festival and why?

I used to love the Festa di Liberazione, organised by the Communist Refoundation Party, in Campo San Giacomo dell’Orio. Every evening there’d be a talk by various politicians, activists or journalists; followed by a band. Drinks and snacks would be served at comradely prices, and there was some quirky merchandise–my Antonio Gramsci magnet is still proudly affixed to my fridge. And I have very, very happy memories of jumping around to a Jethro Tull tribute band a few years ago. Sadly, it hasn’t been on for a few years now.

Spritz or Bellini?

Definitely a spritz, and always with Campari. I’m afraid Bellinis don’t hit the spot for me, I find them a little too sweet.

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

Come for dinner, meet for drinks or–if we happen to be away–look after our cat.

Philip and his wife Caroline

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

I think the modernist composer Luigi Nono would be fascinating company, and he’d probably bring Carlo Scarpa along as well as a bonus. But I do worry that the conversation would be a little over my head. So I’ll say Giovanni Bellini, because I definitely owe him a couple of drinks! And, if I was doing the cooking, we’d start with some gamberoni wrapped in lardo, followed by a simple piece of grilled fish with a squeeze of lemon. With copious amounts of prosecco. I’d have to do the cooking at his place, however, as my oven doesn’t have a grill. I hope he likes fish…

Giovanni Bellini

Casanova: genius or cad?

In all honesty, I think the first word is a bit too strong, and the second one not strong enough.

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

I’m not sure. I like to think I’d find somewhere that needed $30,000 of repairs and give it to them. St. George’s always needs a bit of money, I’d probably give it to them.

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

Easy! The Palazzo Querini Stampalia. I wouldn’t change anything at all, but just make space for a three-bedroom apartment in there. The museum is lovely, the library is the perfect place to work, the gift shop solves all Christmas, birthday and anniversary problems, and the cafè downstairs is one of the best in the city. And then, in the evening, I could walk around Carlo Scarpa’s magnificent modernist remodelling of the ground floor, and have dinner in the garden. I’ve often said that if they had a place to sleep I’d happily live there.

Palazzo Querini-Stampalia hosts rotating exhibits

Carlo Scarpa’s garden is an open invitation

Which gelato flavor are you?

Coffee. But pompelmo rosa gives me a nostalgia rush as it reminds me of our early visits to the Gelateria lo Squero, where the signora (who sadly died a few years ago) always seemed to give me an extra large scoop.

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

Well, my two Nathan Sutherland novels The Venetian Game and Vengeance in Venice are widely available in bookshops and from Amazon. The Venetian Masquerade will follow next year. For those who wish to practice their Italian, Venetian Game is also available in translation as Il Ponte dei Delitti. Libreria Studium, near San Marco, usually has them in stock. Further information can be found at

Website https://philipgwynnejones.com/

Facebook @philipgwynnejones

Twitter @PGJonesVenice

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Where Casanova Lives Now

After seeing the recent exhibit “Casanova: The Seduction of Europe,” and visiting Marco Leeflang, we got to wondering where are the portraits of Casanova? They were not displayed at the exhibit. Marco knew that Giuseppe Bignami owned one, but where were the others?

I’ve been reading the catalogue from the exhibit and discovered the answers to most of my questions between those pages: three of these four portraits are featured in the book, with their present location. Here they are, though it will take a few flights for you to get around to visit Casanova in his present homes.

This first one is Giacomo Casanova by Francesco Narice (Italian, about 1722-1785), painted c. 1767-70. Oil on canvas, 152 x 130 cm. In the Collezione Bignami, Genoa. This portrait is disputed; not everyone agrees that it is indeed Casanova depicted here, so Marco tells me, though the exhibit catalogue says that this is the “one with the strongest claims.”


Next is a portrait of Giacomo Casanova from the frontispiece of Icosameron. Engraving by Jan Berka (Czech, 1759-1838). Prague, 1787. General Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, Hfd35 57x. Icosameron is an odd book by Casanova about a fantastical land where people are both male and female. I’ve blogged about it previously if you want more details. C is 62 in this portrait.


Then there’s this portrait, Giacomo Casanova, by Francesco Casanova, his brother (Italian, 1727-1803). Drawn around 1751. Red chalk on paper, 20 x 15 cm. Located at the State Historical Museum, Moscow. Marco told me that in 1751 Francesco and Giacomo did not see each other, so Francesco would have done this from memory, so there remains a little question about the authenticity of the likeness.


But that leaves this final portrait, which is not listed in the exhibit catalogue. It’s by Alessandro Longhi (Italian, June 12, 1733-November 1813). It’s listed on Wikimedia Commons as an alleged portrait of Casanova probably from 1774, so it sounds like this likeness is disputed as well. It also says that it may live in either the Gritti Collection or Florence, and all we get to see here is a black and white reproduction from the 1930s. Why isn’t it on display? If it’s in the Gritti in Venice, then that’s only steps away from where Casanova was born and baptized. You’d think they’d put this portrait out to be seen! Do any of you out there have some connection to the Gritti that you can ask these questions?


Apparently there was a miniature of C in profile at age 30, by an unknown artist and now lost. And that’s it! Not much to go on. It sounds like the most accurate and least disputed overall is the Icosameron frontispiece by Berka, of C in his later years past his prime. I bet he loses some sleep over this.

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First Spritz Is Free!


You know how a spritz, that drink of wine, Campari, and soda with an olive and an orange slice, is the iconic drink of Venice. Each month in my “Venice, My Muse” interview, I ask the participant if they prefer a Bellini or a spritz, and spritz often wins.

And you know how a drug dealer will offer you a free hit to get you hooked.

Well, my new book is titled First Spritz Is Free: Confessions of Venice Addicts. It’s a collection of chapters by avowed Venetophiles, people who have drunk deeply of Venice and found themselves addicted. People who return for more–or never left. People who have memories, adventures, dreams, and passions to share about their favorite city. We’ve got authors, bloggers, poets, musicians, artists, a gondolier, tour guides, a chef, a Casanovist or two, photographers, historians, professors, teachers, and more. They come from seven countries and bring a variety of talents. And wait till you read their fabulous writing!

Here’s the website where you can see more about it, including the current list of contributors (which keeps growing), and some teasers about the stories you’ll get to read.

I’m still collecting a few more submissions, and once my school year is over in a few weeks, I’ll put the whole book together. Then I’ll let you know how you can get your hands on a copy for yourself! For now, the plan is to offer it as an e-book.

So raise your glass to toast this new book!



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Random Journal Entry #10

As part of my continuing series sharing old journal entries, here is one more from 1996. Yes, these photos were all taken with film (remember that stuff?) and scanned in, so the quality is quite quaint, isn’t it?

Aug. 13

Today I took the vaporetto down the Grand Canal so I could photograph the palazzos I wanted, and I met a man from Malta with an Australian accent, by the name of Christopher.

Christopher from Malta

On the promise of a cold drink for my company, I joined him on the boat back to Piazzale Roma and walked slowly back towards SS Apostoli. He was slightly suspect when he told me of his nonexistent or bad luck with women (like maybe there’s something wrong with him that doesn’t show at first?), but he seemed nice and normal enough, was quite candid, and didn’t hit on me. We got some cheap lunch, looked at a few shops, and walked back to San Marco. We ran into part of his tour group who I think were surprised and curious to see him with a woman. But I was tiring of conversation and being “the captain” to decide what to show him next, so I said I wanted to go back to the hotel to sleep.

Ca’ d’Oro’s lovely mosaics

I stopped at C’deOro for a tiramisu gelato and ate it on the canalside alley next to Santa Sofia. A huge black cloud was approaching quickly. Thunder and lightning were starting, and light rain. The gondoliers were all rushing in and helping each other to cover the boats, and just in time for a torrential cloudburst. I had to worry about my camera, so I took shelter under an awning during the worst rain, but then took off my shoes and started back towards the hotel. But it was too wild and beautiful out. I stopped at the canal bar and warmed up with a glass of wine, then was truly sleepy and went back to take a nap.

Later when I took the traghetto across [at Santa Sofia], Andrea wouldn’t accept payment from me and said, “Ciao, bellisima.” I like that.

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Puzzling Puzzler


With my recent travel, and meeting Marco, and writing about the new Casanova museum, I haven’t updated you on the puzzle in a long time! Paloma in Spain guessed the location last time I posted a photo, but she didn’t share it publicly on this blog, so you can still add your guesses. Have you figured out where this canal is?

Unfortunately, this will be the last picture of this puzzle! Somehow I accidentally deleted the photo of the completed puzzle, and though I love you all, I’m not redoing the puzzle just so I can take a new photo of it! But if you’re dying to see it, I can take a picture of the box and share that. 🙂

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