Gratification and Gratitude

One of the most gratifying things about writing is hearing what others think about my work. And when people take the time to write an actual book review, I am so grateful that they not only had lovely things to say, but that they made the extra effort to share it in a public forum. So it was with much gratitude that I recently read this review of my book Seductive Venice: In Casanova’s Footsteps, written by Laura Morelli, author of numerous books on Venice, including The Gondola Maker. Here’s what she posted on Amazon:

Seductive Venice is unlike any other guidebook to La Serenissima! Kathleen Gonzalez’s writing draws you in from the first paragraph, and you’ll want to drop everything and follow in the footsteps of one of history’s most compelling characters: Casanova. This is Venice like you’ve never seen it before. Through the various walks in the book, you slip back in time and view this enchanting city through the eyes of an eighteenth-century daredevil. An engrossing and entertaining read, whether you travel to Venice by plane, train, or armchair.”

Mille grazie!

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Don’t Eat These; Eat Those

I’ve always loved these Venetian windows. Last summer I took a bunch of photos from inside looking outside. Thought you might enjoy them too.

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Some of these were from inside the Museo Correr and the Bibiloteca Marciana, though I don’t remember the location of all.

And speaking of round things in Venice, here are some edible ones, shared with my classmates one day as we took a break from learning Italian:


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Quattro Minuti con Casanova: Sant’Iseppo

On Ughi’s 1729 map, you can see the Church of Sant’Iseppo. Behind it are various gardens that no longer exist. This is now a working class neighborhood where many Venetians live.


(Image from

Today’s Casanova story took place in these gardens, where the famed lover put the moves on a young (very young) girl named Barbarina. They went on a picnic, sanctioned by Barbarina’s mother, and at one point Barbarina climbed a fig tree while Casanova stood beneath. Love apparently followed.

(Sorry for the typo on the YouTube video where I mistakenly called  it San Iseppo.)

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Population Curiosities

While doing research recently on the Black Death that visited Venice in 1630-1631, I came across some interesting population statistics. Venice kept very good census records and categorized them in various ways. People were classified as nobili (the nobility or those families listed in the Golden Book for their high social status), the cittadini (the civil servant and merchant class, some of whom later worked their way into the nobili), and the popolani (the working class).

Of course, we hear the most about the nobili and sometimes the cittadini. With wealth brings fame, power, and notoriety. Venice’s politicians and rulers came from the nobili, while its writers and artists came mostly from the cittadini. So … where does that leave the popolani? They left few written records of any kind. And yet, according to the census for 1581, 90.2% of Venice’s population belonged to the popolani class. A mere 5.3 were cittadini and 4.5 were nobili. That number stayed virtually the same for 1586. In 1624 and 1633, the cittadini grew while the other two shrank, and by 1633 the cittadini were 10.6% of the population. Who were these vast numbers of the popolani, Venetians that we know so little about? (Actually, there are a few good books on them, most notably Working Women of Early Modern Venice by Monica Chojnacka.)

But then the Black Death visited the city, and in 1642 the popolani was back up to 88.6%, the cittadini dropped to 7.7. and the nobili to 3.7. Even though history usually shows that the wealthy are less adversely affected by plagues because they have better health and the means to flee the worst areas, their numbers were lower after this particular plague.

But the next set of statistics are what I found most interesting. They concern the breakdown of males and females in the city. While in 1563, 1581, and 1586 men made up about 50% of the Venetian population, it later started to change. In 1642 males dropped to 49% and in 1655 they were 48% of the total population. However, when this researcher looked at just the nobili for the same time period, the number of women steadily decreased. While in 1563 noble women were 48% of the nobili, by 1642 they had dropped to only 42% of the noble class population. What was decimating the population of noble women? These numbers, and this study I read, did not answer this question. But I was left feeling quite sad for the fate of these women who would have appeared to be surrounded by material wealth and luxury and yet seemed to be an endangered species.

This could be a great study for someone to undertake. (Who knows–maybe someone already has, and I just haven’t seen it.) But after spending a couple years researching Venetian women, I did notice a trend in the upper classes: Many of these women suffered from various maladies related to stress and anxiety. Nancy Isenberg, in her work on the life of Giustiniana Wynne, posits that many of these intelligent and capable women suffered from “thwarted ambitions” that negatively impacted their health. Intuitively, this makes sense. We now know that chronic stress leads to a myriad of health issues, and that stress can be induced by constantly being silenced, belittled, negated, harassed, and thwarted at every turn.

(Statistics come from “The Demographic Effects of the Venetian Plagues of 1575-77 and 1630-31″ by Gordon M. Weiner, in Genus, Vol. 26, No. 1/2 (1970), p. 41-57.)

(Nancy Isenberg’s thesis is from “Without Swapping her Skirt for Breeches: The Hypochondria of Giustiniana Wynne, Anglo-Venetian Woman of Letters.” The English Malady: Enabling and Disabling Fictions. Ed. Glen Colburn. Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Press, 2008. 154-176.)

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A Little Dream of Venice Past

Have you ever wondered what Venice, that tourist destination so often clogged with crowds, looked like before such crowds swelled to over 12 million every year? This film gives you a glimpse of Venice in 1940, the canals and campi and narrow streets. Children seem to people this Venice more than adults, making these sixteen minutes of footage feel like a fable.  My friend Piero recently sent me this video, titled Venezia Minore, made by Francesco Pasinetti. Sit back with a glass of soave or some other Veneto wine and enjoy time traveling.

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In Memoriam–The Steaming Lady

176 years ago today, Marina Querini Benzon died. She is the subject of the famous song “La Biondina in Gondoleta” about a languorous blond with her lover, floating down the canals. She was quite a liberated woman for the late eighteenth-early nineteenth century. She witnessed the fall of the Venetian Republic and Venice’s takeover by the French and then Austrians. But she still ran a literary salon at her palace, entertaining her guests with refreshments that weren’t always so fresh, plus music and conversation. Her most famous guest and good friend: Lord Byron.

But I have a favorite story about Marina. As she grew older, she would have her gondolier take her to visit friends at their palaces. The gondoliers developed a nickname for her. “Xe qua el fumeto!” “Here comes the steaming lady!” they said. She kept a slice of hot polenta hidden in her bosom, and the steam escaped. She’d pull out the polenta for a little nibble now and then.

Marina Benzon

The original portrait of her was apparently lost, but this copy gives you a sense of what she looked like. Minus the polenta.  (from the website

I’ll have a whole chapter on her in my forthcoming book, A Beautiful Woman in Venice, due out by summer.

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Quattro Minuti con Casanova: San Samuele

Casanova’s earliest origins–San Samuele is the church where his parents were married, where Casanova was baptized, and where he gave his first one and a half sermons. Watch this video to get the full story of what he found in the collection plate and why he decided that the life of a priest wasn’t for him.

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