Quattro Minuti con Casanova: Campiello San Rocco

Campo San Rocco

Campo San Rocco

“He said there was not a nun in Venice whom one could not have for money if one knew how to go about it.” Casanova relates this story in Vol. 4 of his memoirs about how his friend, the doctor Giano Righelini, proclaimed this boast. Casanova was aghast–his lover M.M. (believed to be Marina Morosini) was a nun in a convent on Murano, and though she snuck out to be with him (and, um, her other lover the French ambassador de Bernis), Casanova knew her as a woman of integrity. His Marina couldn’t be the one Righelini described!

Hear the story here, in this episode of Quattro Minuti con Casanova. (Or get a fuller story, with quotations, in my book Seductive Venice: In Casanova’s Footsteps.) The “imposter nun” that Casanova later meets lived in this campo and claimed she often saw Casanova pass beneath her window. So where I am standing in the video is right in Casanova’s footsteps!


The Campiello San Rocco is a lovely small campo near the Church of San Rocco, behind the imposing Frari. It’s also a common throughway for those heading to Campo Santa Margherita, so I’m sorry about the crowd that walked through in the middle of my videotaping. Hopefully my teacher voice was loud enough to be heard above them!

(Image of San Rocco church and campo is from: church of san rocco venice)

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Conference Connections 1

UCLA hosted its Casanova Conference, “Libertine Legend,” on January 22 and 23. I hope I can convey how exciting this was for me to attend! To geek out with other Casanova experts, to be able to refer to people like Henriette or Manon or M.M. or de Bernis, and everyone there knew who I was talking about! To hear erudite scholars make connections across texts, or analyze symbolism, or question images and motives, or basically make my brain explode, well, it was a kind of heaven.

In less than 48 hours I took in so much information and met so many people that I can’t possibly share it all in one post. So I’ll spread it out, with the title above and successive numbers (in case you want to read them all at once?)

Very cool thing #1: As I arrived, running a little late coming across LA traffic during the morning commute, I found myself coming up the stairs of Royce Hall at the same time as another attendee. “Oh, we’re a bit late. I hope we haven’t missed much,” I said, huffing as we rushed up the three flights of stairs.

“Well, I just arrived from New York,” replied this silver-haired man in his neat, dark suit.

“So, do you specialize in any area of Casanova studies?” I asked. I couldn’t wait to begin meeting specialists and hear their stories!

“Not really,” he said. “I’m more of a generalist. And you?”

“I focus on Casanova’s Venice years,” I said, and then this man really turned to take a look at me.

“I think we already know each other,” he said, and stretched out his hand to shake mine.

It turns out it was Laurence Bergreen, author of numerous books on historical figures and events, including Columbus, Al Capone, and Marco Polo. He had contacted me a couple years ago as he embarked on research to write a biography on Casanova. He had come across my book Seductive Venice: In Casanova’s Footsteps, and we emailed to share resources. I knew Larry would be attending the conference, but I didn’t expect to meet him on the stairs!

We jumped right in to the conference room, where a reading of the first paper was already underway, but we had time to talk over lunch. Larry is in the editing phase of his Casanova biography, which is due out in November from Simon and Schuster. He has already cut about 200 words and needs to cut another 200! I wish I had that kind of problem! I generally don’t write enough. He also graciously signed my copy of his book Marco Polo. Hopefully we’ll meet again, perhaps if I can get myself to NYC!


And this is just cool thing #1, before I even heard the first paper being presented! There will be lots more to come.

Here’s a link to Larry’s website if you want to check out his work. His Marco Polo book has been made into a Netflicks series!



Royce Hall, UCLA

(image from https://www.goldstar.com/venues/los-angeles-ca/royce-hall-at-ucla)
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Reliving the Recital

Our Beautiful Woman in Venice recital was a few weeks ago at the Woodside Priory, and I apologize for only now posting some pictures. (This blog has been quiet for a couple weeks as life got busy; expect some catching up soon!)

Here’s me holding forth… (Notice the harpsichord behind me!)

Here we have Tina Paulson singing pieces by Barbara Strozzi and Antonia Bembo. She is accompanied by Gordon Haramaki on harpsichord and Paul Federighi on bass. You can see the images of the composers on the screen behind them. Not pictured here is her later piano accompanist, Benjamin Belew.

When Tina sang “La Regata Veneziana” by Rossini, I spoke about courtesan Veronica Franco as a sort of representative of the flirtatious singer’s voice, and then about Maria Boscola, a renowned female regatta winner. You can see them on the screen. Can you tell which is which?


And here we are afterwards. We ended up raising almost $200 for Save Venice, Inc.


Thanks to all who came out to see us! We hope that another venue will be interested in hosting this event in the future.

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Guilty of a Pretense

We hear about the Venetian women cloistered in convents against their will, sequestered by families who couldn’t afford their dowries, who thought they were unmarriagable, or who wanted to protect their chastity.

But here’s the story of one woman who was trying to enter the convent and wasn’t allowed in.

That’s Cecilia Ferrazzi, who died on this day in 1684.

“I turned in anguish from the pain to implore that crucified Christ to clothe me in the love of His Passion and allow me to feel some of His pain, that is, a bit of it. And then I saw something like a fire, divided into five rays like lines from His wounds, detach itself from that crucifix. And standing with my arms extended in the form of a cross, I felt those rays strike my hands, feet, and ribs, and I felt very great pains, which I feel even now most of the time” (29).

Cecilia Ferrazzi confessed this vision to a tribunal as she faced trial for supposed “pretense of sanctity” or pretending to be a holy saint. She was probably quaking with fear, being a simple citizen not used to facing robed government officials. Her heart probably raced with anxiety but also exultation as she relived her glorious vision of Christ’s love.

On April 20, 1609, Cecilia was baptized at the Church of San Lio, a small, dark church decorated now with many ex votos—silver hearts thanking the saints for their intervention to heal afflictions. She and her brothers often prayed on their knees and fasted together, sometimes even resorting to self-flagellation; Cecilia records that their mother unsuccessfully tried to moderate their zealous behavior. She seemed to burn with her devotion from an early age.


Church of S Lio

Cecilia’s greatest wish was to enter the convent, but the priests forbid it. Apparently, her visions scared people. Later in life, when Cecilia envisioned a visitation by a holy hermit, who instructed her in doing penance with a whip, she realized he was the devil in disguise. “While beating me and dragging me to and fro,” she explained, “he grabbed me by the braids and made me hit my head violently on the walls on both sides [of the room], splattering the walls with blood” (26). Her braids—and scalp—came off in the devil’s hands, and she remained bald thereafter. Was this wound self-inflicted, divine, or at the hands of someone who should have taken care of her? Was Cecilia sexually or physically abused?

Father Giorgio Polacco, who was supposed to be her prime confessor and protector during much of her adult life, decided that Cecilia needed to be exorcised, and he brought in three other priests to help. They gathered at the church of San Martino near the Arsenale and used the attached house and courtyard of Dominican friars. Cecilia “was sitting on the knees of the friar from San Giobbe, and all of them whispered in [her] ear that God give [her] patience and exhorted [her] to suffer willingly for the love of God” (71). Cecilia reported experiencing the “greatest consolation” during the exorcism, feeling like she “was in paradise” (72). By modern standards, however, people might characterize these reports as psychological abuse.

On another occasion, Father Antonio Grandi berated Cecilia for going into a trance in the Church of San Giovanni Elemosinario, yelling, “Wretch, is this the place to go into ecstasy? Get out of this church!” (53). He threw her out bodily into the streets of the Rialto district, telling her not to return. Another priest, whose name Cecilia did not know, shoved her, causing her to “fall backward over a wooden clog, which hurt [her] so badly that [she] had to be put in the care of a barber [surgeon]” (27-8). She mentioned no provocation for this action.



Church of San Giovanni Elemosinario

We know of Cecilia’s life because she was eventually brought to trial for her “pretense of sanctity.” This is chronicled in the book Autobiography of an Aspiring Saint, edited by Anne Jacobson Schutte (which is where the citations come from). I also present an overview of Cecilia’s life in my book A Beautiful Woman in Venice. For years, Cecilia ran homes where unprotected young women could live a pious life, a safe haven that Cecilia found benefactors for. Help often seemed to come from divine sources. Cecilia admitted, “I had no money, . . . but rather debts, as one can understand, since unfortunately I’ve had to spend for the girls, trusting only in God, Who provided as necessary in ways that stunned and amazed me” (74).

But then the Church intervened at put a stop to Cecilia’s good works. A woman who didn’t quite fit in their prescribed box was a threat to be silenced. Cecilia served some prison time, then house arrest, before her patrons procured her release. Her story presents a rare glimpse into yet another type of life lived by Venetian women.

(Photo of the Church of San Giovanni Elemosinario comes from this link: Church of San Giovanni Elemosinario. Photo of the Church of San Lio is by me.)

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A Book by its Cover…

One day I happened to google “Casanova book” and clicked on images. I thought I knew the books written about Casanova, but it turns out there’s a whole demimonde I didn’t know existed! Or there’s the set of authors who use Casanova’s reputation or infamy (accurate or otherwise) to sell their books. Here are some of my favorite book covers.

Appreciation for cover art from earlier decades:  3d8764c02f747f55988302028e3a622f


Variations on covers for C’s mémoirs:


In the “bodice rippers and jeans unzippers” categories:



In case you want to practice your English, you can read in this series.


Or if you want a little psychology:


There’s another whole category of graphic novels that I didn’t include here, as well as movie posters. Perhaps those will be a future blog. And what I’ve included here is only a sampling. You could spend an entertaining 20 minutes searching more on your own.




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Tear Down the Gates!

Many of my followers know the map of Venice, her winding streets and watery ways, better than I do. You can look at a photo and name the location, or hear a bridge name and tell me where it is. But do you know where in Venice is the Contrada dell’Unione?

“Thanks be given to the immortal Bonaparte who has broken the bonds of Italian servitude. Thanks to the unvanquished Italian Army, which has blazed our path to freedom. … Thanks to the fervent Municipalists, who have destroyed the sign of that most unjust division, by having those infamous Gates, Trophies of ignorance, torn down” (p. 254, Calimani’s The Ghetto of Venice).


When the city removed the Ghetto gates and declared equal freedom and treatment for the Jewish citizens, some felt that the Ghetto should be renamed to honor that change. Samuele Romanin said, “One sign of progress was the recognition of the Jews as the equals of other citizens. Not only did three of them sit among ex-noblemen and churchmen in the municipal government, but on July 11 the ghetto gates were torn down, and that name, a reminder of barbarous times, was abolished and replaced by that of Contrada dell’Unione.”


Another name was also proposed: Contrada dell’Reunione, offered by Pier Gian Marie de Ferrari (252). Here is a portion of his account of the day the gates came down: “Later there were several popular addresses worthy of mention…. Meanwhile the Ghetto Gates were borne in triumph by the crowd of People that had rushed up to the Gates to snatch them from the Citizens and the ordained Workmen, and were broken into pieces in the New Ghetto Square before the National Guard, where in the sight of all, and with exultant cries of joy, they were consigned to the flames, which rapidly consumed them. Then it was moved by Citizens Goldoni and Momolo Grego, suggested by their patriotic sentiment, that a Liberty Tree would be appropriate in that Square, and no sooner did the idea catch on, than all impatiently responded by searching for the object. The National Guard went off and, entering a nearby Garden, in a moment cut down a Tree which was carried in triumph with Patriotic Hymns to the middle of the aforesaid Square, where it was set up, and a virtuous Citizeness sacrificed the adornment of her National Cap from her Head to crown the Liberty Tree. The Patriotic Dances were repeated, with democratic disposition” (251-52).  (Sorry for the long quotes, but their words capture it better than I can recreate it!)

Gheto Nuovo 3

Venice’s ghetto was the first such-named enclave in the world, the word being taken from “gettare,” to forge iron, because the neighborhood used to house the city’s iron foundries. We’re coming up on the 500th anniversary of Venice’s ghetto in just a couple months, so this seems like a good time to share some tidbits of its history. Who knew that it wasn’t always called the Ghetto? Alas, the name didn’t stick, and despite these Patriotic Dances, the virtuous Citizeness, and all the running around in triumph, the original term of ghetto was returned quickly to the neighborhood.

Gheto Nuovo 2

(The photos are mine, but the map of the Ghetto gates comes from here: https://depts.washington.edu/hrome/Authors/kayanna/JewishGhettoandtheSynagogue/pub_zbarticle_view_printable.html) Calimani’s book is the best source I’ve found for a comprehensive history of the Ghetto.



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Come to the Recital!

ABWIV Priory1

This Friday, January 8, I’ll be presenting a lecture and recital with Ms. Tina Paulson, soprano. She’ll be singing selections related to women in my book A Beautiful Woman in Venice. Here’s the program:

* Introduction to Venetian women and the work of Barbara Strozzi

  1. Barbara Strozzi
  • Amor Dormiglione
  • Moralita Amorosa
  • Giusta Negativa

* The talents of d Anna Maria dal Violin and Antonia Bembo

  1. Jean-Baptiste Lully
  • Dialogue de la musique italienne et de la musique française

Antonia Bembo – from Produzioni armoniche

  • E ch’avete bell’ ingrate
  • Mi basta cosi

* The Courtesan and the Regata Winner: Veronica Franco and Maria Boscola

III. Gioachino Rossini – La Regata Veneziana

  • Anzoleta avanti la regata
  • Anzoleta co passa la regata
  • Anzoleta dopo la regata

* The Salonnier Maria Querini Benzon

  1. Antonio Lamberti – La Biondina in Gondoleta

     2. Gioachino Rossini – La Danza

As you can see, Tina will be singing pieces by the composers Barbara Strozzi, the most prolific published composer of her era, male or female, and by Antonia Padoani Bembo, who fled Venice to escape from her overbearing husband and who was supported by King Louis XIV himself.

We’re broadening the program with the Rossini pieces, which are sung in the character of a flirtatious woman addressing her lover, a regatta racer. In connection to those songs, I’ll be sharing information about the life of Veronica Franco, poet and courtesan, and Maria Boscola, a renowned regatta racer herself.

We’ll finish up the program with  Lamberti’s 18th century song, still sung today, about the salon hostess Maria Querini Benzon, immortalized as “La Biondina in Gondoleta,” and then another lively Rossini piece to get everyone tapping their feet. What a great opportunity to hear the musical talents of Venetian women composers brought to life by a soprano voice that sounds similar to their own! And to learn more about how these remarkable women enlivened their eras.

Details for the show:

Woodside Priory School, 302 Portola Road, Portola Valley, CA

Friday, January 8, 2016, at 7:00 pm

Admission is free, though we will be collecting donations for Save Venice, Inc. Refreshments will be served.

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