Bird’s Eye View


Last weekend I finally finished this puzzle.  I had been working on it sporadically for about nine months, sometimes pulled away from it by other projects and tasks, but always coming back. Working on this involved a large dose of insanity and borderline OCD. The 1000 pieces look alarmingly alike in both shape and color, and the picture on the box left off about two inches on all sides. But I was determined to not give up.

As you can probably imagine, having a puzzle sit around for nine months means that it was moved often. You can see that six pieces went missing. I’m surprised it wasn’t more. At one point, I discovered that my cat had taken to sleeping on the puzzle at night. I never caught her at it, but I started to realize there was a a disturbing amount of black hair amongst the puzzle pieces. So then I started covering the puzzle under two large cardboard posters (one alone wasn’t large enough). What pieces the cat kicked off probably got sucked up by the vacuum.

Simone, the puzzle thief

Simone, the puzzle thief

And then there was the time I left my friend Laura alone in my house and came back to find this:


Yes, she disturbed some of my organized piles, but it also made me take it all a little less seriously. It’s too easy to get sucked in to something like this and become obsessed over something that is meant to be fun and relaxing.

One of the best things about this puzzle was recognizing the places I know well. The Hotel Bernardi near Campo SS Apostoli, where I stayed the first time I went alone to Venice (and were I return to visit the owners who have become friends). The Casanova sites, like the Erbaria or Cantina do Spade. Favorite churches like the Miracoli. Palaces where some of the Beautiful Women of Venice lived, such as the Palazzo Loredan Corner of Elena Cornaro Piscopia. Solving Venice puzzles is one more way I live vicariously in Venice when I cannot be there.

But this week I also bought my plane ticket to return to Venice in July.:)

Posted in Venice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Soul and Wit

Giustina Renier Michiel drawing

“An almost general custom in Italy is to deny Mothers the most precious gift, which is their Daughters’ education, which leaves them nothing but the sweet title of Mother” (qtd. in Calvani 10). Venetian author and translator Giustina Renier Michiel penned this lament in her introduction to her translation of three Shakespeare plays. As a matter of fact, Giustina was the first person to translate the Bard into Italian, with the goal of providing her daughters with a morally instructive set of examples. It seems apt to mention her today, the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth and death, as a Venetian connection to the Bard’s life.

Giustina’s  girls—Elena, Chiara, and Cecilia—could learn from the experiences of strong characters who take their fates into their own hands. Marry for love, not custom, like Desdemona in Shakespeare’s Othello, or direct a kingdom’s destiny, like Lady Macbeth, but learn the disastrous consequences of avarice and superstitious belief. Giustina explained that she translated Othello, Macbeth, and Coriolanus to prepare for her daughters “a reading, which can, whenever possible, give them joy and instruction, contributing to their happiness and moderating their growing passion with examples” (10). Or, as Giustina’s biographer Susan Dalton, points out, “she often evokes the ideals of civility: of modesty, sensibility, reason, and self-discipline” (Dalton, Engendering 84). Much of Giustina’s writing focused on these goals and ideals, fueled by her love for her daughters.


The Michiel Family by Pietro Longhi

Giustina was a modest woman. Though she was born into the noble class, she chose to dress in simple linen or wool gowns, unadorned except for roses in her hair. Her paternal grandfather Paolo Renier had served as next-to-last doge, and her maternal uncle Ludovico Manin served last. Giustina married Marc’Antonio Michiel, and, though it was an arranged marriage, they found happiness together and had three daughters. However, this did not last, and the couple later separated. Giustina created a life for herself, hosting a literary salon and taking on translation work.


Corte Contarini, where Giustina held her literary salon

Giustina’s notes prove that she had to make countless discerning choices in order to create plays that were true to their author’s voice. “Soul and wit are perhaps more essential to the accurate transportation of sentiment and taste from one language to another than the ability to write philosophical works,” Giustina wrote. “A sprightly and animated style covers and even embellishes the faults; whereas a languid and cold one makes the grace itself vanish” (qtd. in Calvani 8). Giustina made editorial choices, such as omitting racist lines against Othello (Calvani 13), and she eliminated stage directions since she translated the plays to be read, not performed (14). Wherever she omitted lines or changed them drastically to match Italian idioms, Giustina provided the literal translation in her notes and explained her choices. “Most of all,” she believed, “it is necessary to strive to make the Authors speak in the language into which they are translated, as they would speak themselves, if they wanted to communicate their ideas in that language” (qtd. in Calvani 8). Giustina was fluent in English, French, and Italian to the point that she could capture the essence of Shakespeare’s dialogue, its “soul and wit.”

Giustina knew that, though translation work was generally deemed acceptable for women to undertake, she still would face criticism from male scholars. Her own early biographer, Vittorio Malamani, accused Giustina of not actually doing the work herself but of taking credit for Melchiore Cesarotti’s work (Calvani 7). Well aware of the prevailing prejudices against women writers, Giustina accepted the advice of Cesarotti, and she quoted previous translators to lend her work credibility. As noted earlier, Giustina chose to translate Othello, Macbeth, and Coriolanus for their educative qualities, both in morals and in emotional insights, particularly on marriage and parent/child relationships. Emotions, she noted wryly, “may be the only topic a woman can discuss without fear of accusations by men” (qtd. in Calvani 9). Calvani also comments that these plays in this order “[offer] to young women the image of a woman’s life, from youth till maturity” (10).

No reviews survive to mark how the translations were received when they were published in 1798, but the fact that they were reprinted in 1801 suggests that they enjoyed a decent popularity. As Alessandra Calvani contends, “to translate means to have authority over the original text and over the translation reader at the same time” (2). In this way, Giustina created work of the same value as other scholars, despite what any misogynist detractors might have said.


Giustina Renier Michiel

Shakespeare pops up in Venice in a number of places: It’s the setting for The Merchant of Venice and Othello, for example. But probably few people know that a Venetian woman was the first to translate this famous writer’s words into Italian. So today, besides celebrating the works of  this amazing playwright, I’m also celebrating the talents of Giustina Renier Michiel.


Posted in A Beautiful Woman in Venice, Venice, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It’s Time to Redefine Beauty”


Coronation of Morosina Morosini Grimani, who gave women a public persona

Check out this new website, which promotes nonfiction books by posting articles about their topics. As says on the site, “Learn something new every week: get weekly updates on interesting articles by nonfiction authors and discover their books.” It offers a wide range of categories, from art to law, sports to spirituality, health to history. Today you can read about some of the Venetian women that I included in my book A Beautiful Woman in Venice. Here’s the article, titled “It’s Time to Redefine Beauty,” and the website; just click on this link:


If you’re an author yourself, I encourage you to participate on the site. Tony Eames, who runs the site, was helpful and easy to work with, and he offers this site for free to both writers and readers. What a wonderful resource for all of us!

Lucrezia Marinella

Venetian author Lucrezia Marinella

Posted in A Beautiful Woman in Venice, Venice, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Two Women, Two Tributes

Many Americans think of today as tax day since our income tax returns are due. But I’d like us to commemorate two remarkable Venetian women instead.

Luisa Bergalli Gozzi2

On this day in 1703, Luisa Bergalli was born. Noteworthy, considering she was not born into the noble class, Luisa entered the world of letters and was warmly welcomed into the literary academies, befriending such luminaries as Apostolo Zeno, Antonio Sforza, and Alvise Mocenigo. Besides being a swift playwright, prolific translator, theater manager, and stage manager, Luisa’s income and household management skills largely held together the Palazzo Gozzi and the Gozzi clan, the family she had married into. Sadly, her husband Gasparo didn’t appreciate his jewel of a wife, and Gasparo’s brother, the playwright Carlo Gozzi, defamed her more than once. Luisa did was Luisa did well–she persevered.

More than all this, though, Luisa deserved honor for the honor she bestowed on others. In 1726 she published Componenti poetici delle piu illustri Rimatrici d’ogni secolo (Poetic Compositions of the Most Famous Women Poets of all Ages), a poetry anthology in two volumes.  She holds the distinct accomplishment of being the first woman to design and produce an anthology of women writers. The Republic of Letters, overwhelmingly populated by men, needed to provide a place for its female inhabitants, and Luisa’s collection would rectify this omission. Another woman would not collate such an anthology until Jolanda De Blasi, two hundred years later in 1930. Luisa included such lights as Modesta Pozzo, Lucrezia Marinella, Elena Cornaro Piscopia, Gaspara Stampa, Sarra Copia, Veronica Franco, and Isabella Andreini.


I actually saw this book for sale in Venice at Libreria Acqua Alta.

Despite the grief her husband and his family caused her, Luisa found solace in female friendship. Whenever she could, she carved out time to spend at the Carriera household with her dear friend Rosalba and her sisters. A true gift in Luisa’s life, the painter Rosalba Carriera and her family appreciated Luisa’s friendship and talents. Luisa dedicated her play I due fratelli (The Two Brothers) to Rosalba and called the Carriera family a model for the feminine sex, with a mother who educated and nurtured her daughters. These sisters “confirm that our sex is as good as men for intellectual work,” wrote Luisa. Further, Luisa honored the three sisters in a 1726 poem, where she challenged those who believe that women cannot excel in the arts as men do, to “Come and admire the works / Of Angela, Rosalba, and Giovanna; / And further say if heaven condemns us women / To working just with needle and with thread.”


Palazzo Gozzi

Which brings us to the second important date: Today is also the death date for none other than Rosalba Carriera. Born around 1675, Rosalba eschewed marriage and instead devoted herself to art. She began by painting miniatures, innovating in this medium by switching from vellum as a canvas to using tempera paint on ivory for sharper, longer-lasting images.

Rosalba Carriera

Rosalba’s portrait of herself holding a painting of her sister

But she is definitely best known for her pastel portraits. Rosalba traveled Europe capturing the likenesses of dukes and duchesses, princes and princesses, even the child King Louis XV. In 1713 she painted King Augustus III of Poland, who went on to collect over 150 of her pastels, the greatest collection of her work. In Venice, the Ca’ Rezzonico museum, not far from Rosalba’s own palace, next door to Peggy Guggenheim’s Palazzo Leoni, dedicates a whole room to her works.

Rosalba died on April 15, 1757, just four months after she had written in her will that she thanked God “who has made [my] life rich through [my] painting.” At the end of her life, she tragically lost her sight. Enjoy viewing a few of her works here, while we honor these two friends and vanguards.

(Some excerpts, facts, and quotes all come from my book, A Beautiful Woman in Venice. Citation details are available there or by email request. The book may be purchased in bookstores in Venice or through my website at

Posted in A Beautiful Woman in Venice, Venice, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Gondola Stuff–Ashtray?


Time to share another item from my collection of gondola stuff! This is, I believe, an ashtray; as you can see it’s from Ristorante Pizzeria Fuin. I picked it up at an antique store in Venice, though I can’t remember which one. (I think it was the shop near Santi Apostoli, run by the diminutive guy with crazy hair. The shop is rarely open, and last summer when I was there, it had a sign saying he was closing his doors forever. Very sad news, as I had found some interesting treasures there.)

Anyway, Venetian restaurants and bars used to make ashtrays that they’d set out on their tables. Most I’ve seen are the traditional circular or square dish. My friend Bob has quite a good collection of them from the many years that he and his wife Norma visited Venice. This one from Fuin stands out for its unique shape. Perhaps it’s not an ashtray, but knowing that many restaurants followed this practice, I’m guessing that it is. I love the simple gondola lines, not asymmetrical, but with a lovely ferro, and a strangely large popa di ferro on the stern.


You can see from the phone number on it that it’s quite old, from the time that Venetian phone numbers were only six numbers. I’ve never seen Pizzeria Fuin, so I googled the name and found that there’s one on Cavallino-Treporti, part of the Veneto region. The TripAdvisor reviews say it has a good pizza oven and also fish dishes. I wonder if any of the current employees remember a time when the pizzeria used these ashtrays? I wonder if they have one themselves? This ashtray also says “Da Lili” on it, meaning that this was Lili’s restaurant. Is Lili still around? Does anyone know anything about Lili?

If you’re in Treporti, perhaps you could pop in and see?? Let me know!

Posted in Gondolas, Venice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Commemoration Thoughts

Oops! I meant to post this blog last week, on March 29, the anniversary of Venice’s Ghetto. I was traveling and blogging by phone, and unfortunately I didn’t actually post like I thought I had! Sorry for the late posting.

With the 500th anniversary being marked today for Venice’s Ghetto, I decided to gather thoughts from friends. Plenty of other people are sharing the Ghetto’s history today, but I wanted instead to learn what its existence means to us as individuals, as a society, or as humans. With that in mind, I started with this quote by Elie Wiesel, Nobel Prize winner and survivor of concentration camps:

“Without memory, there is no culture. Without memory, there would be no civilization, no society, no future.”

So why is commemorating this day important? What place does this ghetto, or all ghettos, have in our memories? How do our memories of past events, such as the creation of Venice’s ghetto, affect our future?


Thoughts from Marco:

“Well with Ted Cruz, after the the Brussels attack, making the statement of wanting to establish Muslim “Patrols” in their communities echoes Ghetto history on so many levels that it’s disturbing. Even the Jewish community comments that “Never Again” is meant for every one who is oppressed – including Muslims – was an amazing stance for them to take.

That said, I have been thinking about what Ghetto means to me… Hypocritical corralling and oppression of a group that may be beneficial to the powers that be but would rather not embrace them for their contribution.”


From Bob (paraphrased from our conversation):

Despite all the obvious negatives related to Jewish ghettos, they did have the effect of preserving Jewish culture by concentrating people in one neighborhood.


I then shared this thought with another friend who replied:

“You told me that someone told you there were some positive effects emanating from Ghetto culture. That is probably true. Minorities feel appreciated and supported by others of the same ethnicity who live in their neighborhoods. Thus Jews created a rich literature and culture emanating from enforced separateness. Judaism is therefore a culture and peoplehood as well as a religion because Jews were shunned. The Harlem Renaissance developed a culture produced by talented blacks in that area of NYC partially because blacks were ghettoized in the 30’s and 40’s. Examples proliferate throughout history.

Nevertheless ghettos, in my view, produce many of society’s greatest problems. When I was a child, I lived in a Jewish neighborhood in Pittsburgh, PA, not because my family was legally compelled to but certainly because they felt socially compelled to.This area had many comfortable and in some cases, lavish homes (and here and there there were a few non-Jews, even in one case, a Mellon). But the Jewish and non-Jewish communities in the city seldom mingled, even though these Jews were not particularly observant and completely assimilated. Jewish girls dated Jewish boys, and non-Jews dated and were close to non-Jews who belonged to their churches and clubs. I experienced overt and subtle forms of anti-semitism all during my childhood. One 5 year old child called me “a dirty Jew” and when my eldest brother went to medical school (which had a Jewish quota) in Pittsburgh, one student honestly confessed to him that he had never known another Jew and literally thought all Jews had horns. So in some ways, others were as ghettoized as Jews because these groups never knew each other intimately and believed the myths that they were raised on.

I was always struck by the fact that when Israel was founded, one “democratic” principle the founders adhered to was to allow Arab schools to teach children in Arabic. Thus Jewish Israeli children and Arab Israeli children have learned in different languages. If both groups had studied in both Hebrew and Arabic, that would have been a plus, but as it was and is, these groups do not speak the same language and are thus taught “separately” from the beginning.

I have heard that there are similar practices in England. And ghettoization in Belgium helps to separate immigrants from other Belgians.

So we all understand the value of preserving ethnic rituals and practices, but peace and understanding seem to flourish when people are assimilated rather than ghettoized.”


These are only a very few voices. What are your thoughts? Please share your comments on the quote, this anniversary, the existence of ghettos, or wherever your thoughts take you on this day.


(These photos were shared by my friend Marco Zecchin. This one showing the tattered posters on the wall of the campo seems to encapsulate the old and new–old place, new traditions–and also a sense of melding, desecration, or synthesis.) 

Posted in Venice | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Gondola Sighting–NYC


At the boathouse in New York’s Central Park, this gondola was moored and sadly only half covered. Maybe it’s been a long winter, but she was a bit beat up along her side and her forcola was well-worn. Still, I always sigh when I see a gondola–a sigh of nostalgia for Venice, a sigh for the beauty of Tramontin’s asymmetrical lines, a sigh for that glossy black hull and silver ferro.




As I sat inside the boathouse sipping at my spritz, away from the blustery wind, I asked the barman about the gondolier. “Is he Venetian?”

“I’m supposed to tell you yes,” he replied.

When the weather warms a bit more, the gondolier will return and the gondola will get to do what it’s meant to do. Until then, we can enjoy the blustery wind, the daffodils and tulips.


Posted in Gondolas, Venice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment