Dear Venice, Wish You Were Here (#1)

I’m starting a new series for you today! I’ve run out of Gondola Stuff to show you, so instead I’ll occasionally post selections from my postcard collection. It all started when a friend gave me about 20 Venice postcards that he had found on eBay. After that, I started keeping an eye out for postcards on my own and even began searching for them in earnest, particularly in Venetian antique shops. But I quickly realized that this could become a deep, dark rabbit hole that might result in bankruptcy. So I’ve set limits now: Only cards with gondolas on them and writing as well, and under $10 euros.

I picked this one for today because we just had rain showers over the weekend (in California where I live), and I like thinking of the rain in Venice. This card is from 1966, not too old. Check out the gondolier’s snazzy white outfit. You can see that even back then museums were hanging banners from the Rialto Bridge to advertise the exhibits.


In case you have trouble reading the handwriting, here’s the text (punctuation left as in the original):

“Hi! Now in Venice had a gondola ride tonight and got caught in a rain storm. Leave in a.m. for Brenner Pass and Austria. Good group, lots of fun. Love Billie.” 


Notice that the address does not include a zip code–interesting because zip codes had been in use since 1943 and became mandatory in 1963. Was Billie a rebel by affixing the stamps upside down? Or just careless? Did Billie type up a bunch of address labels to bring on the trip? What does this tell us about Billie? And who is Ruth who was left at home to receive this postcard?

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Casanova, The Fictional Man

American novelist Jewell Parker Rhodes said this about writing: “I love historical fiction because there’s a literal truth, and there’s an emotional truth, and what the fiction writer tries to create is that emotional truth.”

When authors take on writing about Casanova’s life, they walk a tightrope between fiction and truth, and not only factual truth but also the emotional truth that Rhodes speaks of. They must make difficult decisions about what to include, what to change, what to highlight, what to diminish. We know that C did that himself in his own storytelling as well. In these two papers (abstracts below) to be presented at the Casanova in Place symposium in Venice this June, Malina Stefanovska and Gregory Dowling explore emotional truths as well as how various writers have created stories exploring C’s life. These papers round out the day and lead us forward towards the author panel discussion on Sunday 30 June.


“Leaving” by Malina Stefanovska

In his peripatetic life, Casanova had to deal with the joys of discovery as well as with the sadness of leaving. As part of a larger epistolary project titled “Letters to Giacomo,” I develop the topic of leaving and being left as an integral part of his life, relating it to early experiences of desire and melancholy, and to his search for social fortune and status. Casanova’s seductions are thus highlighted from the novel angle of necessity as much as that of pleasure. And his regrets about leaving are unveiled here as shared by his pan-European, francophone, peripatetic female reader.

“‘Our appalled applause won’t let you fall.’ Casanova as a fictional figure” by Gregory Dowling

My paper will examine the figure of Casanova as he appears in a number of fictional representations, including novels and stories by Arthur Schnitzler, Elinor Wylie,  Sándor Márai, Rafael Sabatini, Fabrizio Battistelli, Michelle Lovric, and Sergei Tseytlin. The aim is to see just what elements in the Casanova legend have remained constant and what has changed over the years, and how faithful these depictions are to the biographical facts. The title of the paper comes from a poem by Dick Davis, which offers a perfect summation of why Casanova continues to appeal, in five heroic couplets, a sardonic tribute both to Casanova and to the literature of his own age.


Malina Stefanovska teaches at UCLA and has held visiting positions at the University of Lausanne and the University of Tours. A specialist of 17thand 18thcentury literature, she has authored Saint-Simon, un historien dans les marges (1998) and Factions et passions : la politique du cardinal de Retz (2007), and edited Space and Self in Early Modern European Cultures (2012) and Littérature et politique. Factions et dissidences de la Ligue à la Fronde (2015). She has published on autobiography, memoirs, court society, passions and emotions, and is presently preparing a manuscript of fictional letters to Casanova, and a book on Casanova and the Enlightenment.” Her next project is to publish the personal memoirs she has written of her life in Macedonia.

Gregory Dowling is Associate Professor of American Literature at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice. His field of research is mainly 20th- and 21st-century British and American poetry but he also has a special interest in the Romantic Poets. He is on the committee for a new museum dedicated to Lord Byron which will be opened in Ravenna in 2020. His non-academic publications include six thrillers, the last two being set in 18th-century Venice.

(Art images by me, taken at the Biennale 2009 and 2011, plus my image of the Cantina.)
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“Venice, My Muse:” An Interview with Judith Harris

Judith Harris

A mutual friend and Venetophile introduced me to Judith Harris a couple years ago, and I had the pleasure of including her essay on Venice in my book First Spritz Is Free. Judith’s voluminous knowledge of Venetian history enlivens her writing, whether in one of her books or articles or her First Spritz essay. I hope one day we’ll meet in person! Until then, I can enjoy her responses to this month’s “Venice, My Muse” interview.

How has Venice seduced you?

Seduction is the right word! It derives from the Latin, seducere, which means to lead astray, especially from duty. And Venice does lead one astray: it seduces. How? Because it is beautiful, unique, and the loveliest city in the world, thanks to its deep past, its rich civilization, its islets, its people, even its cemetery. Venice seduces in mid-winter, and especially at Christmas, when it is often cold but sunny.


Even the cemetery can be alluring.

What do you never fail to do in Venice?

In Venice I love to walk and walk and walk some more. I delight in looking at every curious corner, however minor–to pause before every church facade, but also to revel in the laundry dangling on lines above the canals. I especially enjoy looking up at the high Gothic windows of the palazzi, and gazing down at the sometimes very low bridges as the gondoliers skillfully maneuver beneath them, bowing swiftly, perfectly.


Gondolier doing his particular below the bridge dance.

What is your Venice soundtrack?

Most of all there is grand opera. The opera theater La Fenice was built in 1792, and it is literally thrilling to recall that in the mid-19th Century Rossini, Bellini, and Donizetti all mounted operas for the stage at La Fenice. Here Giuseppe Verdi directed rehearsals of both Il Trovatore and La Traviata. In Venice, too, Richard Wagner wrote Act II of Tristan and Isolde. La Fenice was burned in 1836 and rebuilt, and again destroyed by fire in 1996 and again rebuilt.

Walk or take a boat?

Nowhere is it lovelier to walk than in Venice. To walk across a bridge is a particular delight. A pause at the top of a bridge offers a memorable spectacle: to peer down upon boatloads of gawking tourists, upon wedding parties, upon romance, upon life itself.

Which church or campo best epitomizes you? Please explain.

The question should really be which church or campo best epitomizes Venice itself, and a response to that is very difficult. The market by the Rialto Bridge is only one of the campi I love.


A little Carnevale confetti, anyone?

Which is your favorite Venetian festival and why?

Very dear American friends make an annual effort to fly to Italy to attend the famous Venetian festivals, beginning with Carnevale. My personal favorite is the Biennale di Venezia, which offers works of art and unusual encounters with artists. Albeit outside the Biennale itself, in the Church of Sant’Antonin I saw the incredible models made by Ai Weiwei in 2012 detailing his 81 days in a prison in China.


The Biennale offers a variety of artistic delights.

Spritz or Bellini?


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

Avoid the narrow streets when the cruise ships bring in their thousands for a quick hop through the city.

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

I first visited Venice a half century ago, attending a reception at the home of Peggy Guggenheim. It was thrilling to meet her, and I would enjoy dining with her, reliving those moments when she was still entertaining in her garden and collecting fine works of contemporary art. What would we have for dinner? I am not very adventurous and so would stick with tradition: sarde in saor for starters, and then risotto al nero di seppia.

Casanova: genius or cad?

Casanova was, of course, a genius, or we would not be pondering the question today. We would have forgotten him. Had he lived today, we women would be screaming with rage at his modus vivendi, not yet outmoded, however; he notoriously had an affair with a girl of 16 and with her sister of 14 as well. But I suffer for his time in prison.


Somewhere on this street was the house where Casanova lost his virginity to two sisters.

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

I would use the money to try to find a way to reduce the damage from high water. My $30,000 would not be much of a help, but could begin crowdfunding to at least foster the idea of finding a way to keep the huge cruise ships at a distance safer for the city. It is very sad that the much criticized $6.5 billion sea wall called Mose remains unfinished.

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

The 16th Century Palazzzetto Pisani near the Campo Santo Stefano, which overlooks the Grand Canal. Alternatively, I would be tempted to buy a modest palazzetto on one of the farther islands so as to avoid the crush of tourists.


The Palazzetto Pisani Moretta often hosts a Carnevale ball. (Photos courtesy of Wikipedia)

Which gelato flavor are you?

Gelati artigianali tutti! Try the chocolate varieties at Venchi–but don’t ignore the others.

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

Judith Harris, prize-winning author and freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy, is a graduate of Northwestern University. She began work in Rome as a cultural attaché to the US Embassy.

Returning to freelance journalism, over time her reports from Italy have appeared in Time magazine, the Wall Street JournalARTnews, and Reuters Agency. For 25 years she conducted a biweekly broadcast on Italian culture for RAI International.

At age 17 she won her first journalism prize, and for her reporting on Italian terrorism for NBC TV she was included in the Peabody Award. She is currently the Italian correspondent for the online magazine www.i-italy.

Her books:

Pompeii Awakened: A Story of Rediscovery (2007, 2014, I.B. Tauris),

The Monster in the Closet (2012, American History Imprints),

Evelina, A Victorian Heroine in Venice (2017, Fonthill Media),

Reflections from a Roman Lake (to be published)


In a previous blog post, I reviewed Judith’s book Evelina.








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Casanova in the Light and in the Dark

Much work has been done to organize Casanova’s papers, translate his memoirs and other works, and research the people and places he writes about. But the critical analysis of his impact, his place in literature, his place in the 18th century still is a growing field. For the Casanova in Place Symposium this June, Tom Vitelli and Nicola Vinovrški will present papers exploring Casanova’s identity, fame, character, and more. Read the abstracts below, then register to join us at the Casanova in Place Symposium to hear the complete critique.

Abstract for “‘Dark Matter” in Casanova’s Memoirs” by Tom Vitelli

Mark Twain observed, “An autobiography is the truest of all books; for while it inevitably consists mainly of extinctions of the truth, shirkings of the truth, partial revealments of the truth, with hardly an instance of plain straight truth, the remorseless truth is there, between the lines . . . the result being that the reader knows the author in spite of his wily diligences.” This paper looks at the “wily diligences” of Casanova as a writer and what he reveals by the information he chooses to distort or omit. By trying to conceal, he shows us much about himself and his world—we see a Casanova who is very different in important respects from the character he presents, which many readers have accepted at face value. We may reassess our notions of his sexuality, his reputation, and his relationships with family, money, social class, and power. Just as physicists have enhanced our understanding of the universe by calculating the influence of unseen “dark matter,” so can we refine our knowledge of Casanova by attentively reading the “negative space” in his text.

Abstract for “Casanova in the Spotlight” by Nicola Vinovrski: 

Where is Casanova in place? In the spotlight. Fixated on fame, he engaged in deliberate attention-seeking behaviour throughout his life, notably through autobiographical storytelling. Fame was a way for him to escape the confines of his social class. The emergence of new kinds of public space in the 18th century facilitated the emergence of a new kind of well-known person, of which Casanova was a prime example. Casanova’s use of public space, his travel patterns and visibility in key spaces of social exchange was very deliberate. His writings suggest that he and his contemporaries often used public space for the purposes of visibility. He utilised trans-European networks to increase his fame. He worked very hard to cultivate his public image and deserves his place in the spotlight. His writings about public spaces and his behaviour in public call into question many long held assumptions about the public sphere in the 18th century.


Tom Vitelli has been studying Casanova since 1977, when he first saw Fellini’s film in a small theater in upstate New York. He did his undergraduate thesis on Casanova As Literary Critic at Vassar College, began a friendship with the American Casanovist J. Rives Childs, and went to Venice to do research at Pierre Gruet’s Istituto Francese di Studi Storici, where he transcribed two of Casanova’s major unedited manuscripts: the Critique de Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, and the Philocalies sur les sottises des mortels. The Critique was edited jointly with his lifelong friend, Marco Leeflang, and both texts were published under the auspices of the Intermédiaire des Casanovistes as part of the Documents Casanoviens series. Vitelli has contributed articles to the three recent journals of Casanova studies: Casanova Gleanings, the Intermédiaire, and the new Casanoviana (he is among the editors of the last two). His articles have examined Casanova as a writer, changing critical views of the memoirs, Casanovism as an area of study, and Casanova’s genealogy, which he documented through original archival research. Vitelli is a healthcare marketing executive and lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. 

Tom Vitelli with Chantal Thomas at the 2016 Casanova Conference at UCLA

Nicola Vinovrški has a Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Laws and PhD from the University of Queensland. Her undergraduate studies were in international law, French language and literature and German. Her honours thesis was about French films and their American remakes. The topic of her doctoral thesis was “Casanova’s Celebrity: A Case Study of Well-knownness in 18th century Europe.” She is currently working on a special issue of Historical Social Research dealing with historical celebrity.Her research interests are Casanova, celebrity and the 18th century. She is also a lawyer working in commercial dispute resolution and international arbitration. She lives in London.

(All photos by the author. The first three images are from the 2011 Biennale.)

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Casanova, from Tuscany to Spessa

When most people think of Casanova, they think of him in his heyday, surrounded by nobility, beautiful women, dashing men. Certainly, this is Casanova’s place in our collective memory, but his sojourns might also be filled with anxieties about his future days and years. Casanova rarely kept any form of employment for very long, and though he seemed to thrive on adventure, his worries must have mounted as he aged.

At the Casanova in Place Symposium this June, Stefano Feroci and Cyril Francès explore Casanova’s adventures and misadventures in Florence and Tuscany and later, after Trieste, in Spessa. Read their abstracts below as introductions to the papers they’ll be presenting. I hope you’ll join us in Venice 28-30 June to hear the full story!

From Stefano Feroci:

Casanova visited Florence and Tuscany four times between the years 1760 and 1771. They were not calm journeys. The first time, in Florence, Pisa and Livorno, he was seen to travel in pompous and bright suits, although later, at almost fifty, between Siena and Florence, Casanova was already showing  the signs of an anxious existence. Florence and Tuscany, discovered by the Venetian adventurer, were then between the Regency and the new dominion of the genial Grand Duke of Tuscany Pietro Leopoldo, who arrived at Pitti in 1765, just eighteen. To him will go the credit for a flourishing economic rebirth, new civil liberties, the end of the Inquisition’s tribunals, and the abolition of the death penalty. Already the grand European Tour had been born, of which Florence was an obligatory stop for its famous patrimony of ancient and Renaissance art.Here, Giacomo Casanova came for four visits, and new archival research reveals the meetings, the manoeuvres, the gallant adventures, the political contacts, and the cheatings. Casanova will accompany us to his apartment on the banks of the river Arno, on the stages of the theatre of the Pergola and the Watermelon (today Niccolini), in the Florentine caffés, and to Pisa, where he met the famous poet Corilla Olimpica. We will meet all kinds of swindlers, beautiful women, and ambassadors. This paper reenacts a journey, along time and space, in the Florence and Tuscany of the second part of the eighteenth century—among the most alive, interesting, and least known moments of its bimillenary history.

A quintessential view of Tuscany shows the town of San Gimignano.

From Cyril Francès:

The last story of l’Histoire de ma vie relates an ultimate journey: Casanova leaves Trieste, where he is waiting for the Inquisitors’ permission to go back to Venice, to stay in the country of Spessa at the invitation of the count Torriano. Around this farcical, eccentric, and violent character and in the boredom that spread through this secluded spot, takes place a little society that is the burlesque miniature of the “bonne compagnie” with whom Casanova spent time during his travels all around Europe.

The description of this isolated place where time seems to have been stopped leads the memorialist to invoke the memory of many important episodes of l’Histoire de ma vie, whose incidents of this last adventure are an ironic and derisory echo. Their narrative offers the opportunity to the writer to use all his skills of storytelling, even if they cannot hide the nostalgia and the helplessness that beset the writing at the end of the Memoirs.

A view of Spessa.


Stefano Feroci lives in Paris and Florence and works in the pharmaceutical and IT industry as executive and advisor. He cultivates an interest in eighteenth century literature, has collaborated with the magazine l’Intermediaire des casanovistes and is part of the editorial board of the magazine “Casanoviana.” He published two books, written on the basis of unpublished archival researches on the Casanova journeys in Tuscany and in Milan: Sulle orme di Casanova nel granducato di Toscana (translated by Tom Vitelli in English, with the title of Casanova in Tuscany) and Casanova nella Milano del giovin signore. He has also published a book on the identification of the character of “Teresa-Bellino”, written with the Casanovist Furio Luccichenti, with the title: En travestie. Finally, together with Dominique Vibrac, he has published a book on the Casanovian sites in Paris: Une promenade a Paris avec Giacomo Casanova.


Maître de conférences in eighteenth century’s literature at the University of Lyon, Cyril Francès wrote a book about l’Histoire de ma vie (Casanova. La Mémoire du désir, Paris, Classiques Garnier, 2014) and numerous articles about Casanova’s works. His main research areas are the Memoirs of the Ancient Régime and the libertinage. He is currently working on memorialists of the French Revolution and the writing of history at the end of the eighteenth century.

(Images courtesy of Wikipedia and
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In Casanova’s Footsteps: Rome #3


Campo dei Fiori (literally meaning a “field of flowers”) is a popular spot for both locals and tourists in Rome. But Casanova also writes of visiting this place in 1743. He was an adolescent, in fact even tells how he decided to shave his beard for the first time: “October 1st of the year 1743, [when] I finally made up my mind to be shaved. My down had become a beard. I felt that I must begin to renounce certain privileges of adolescence.” He was trying to find a career and impress the right people in Rome, where he hoped to make his fortune.

Luckily, he had already impressed Father Giorgi, whom he had recently been introduced to and who went on to give Casanova much invaluable advice about how to behave and who to spend his time with.

Casanova mentions the Campo dei Fiori in his memoirs in this period. First, he paid a visit to Don Gaspare Vivaldi with a letter of introduction from his cousin, Don Antonio. He does not name the house number, and I have not found this information myself. (If you know the number, please tell me!) C writes, “This excellent man received me in his library, where he was conversing with two respectable abati.” Don Gaspare also invited C to return the next day for dinner.

Then, after shaving and dressing in the “Roman fashion,” Casanova returned to sup with Don Gaspare (as he refers to him). “He was a bachelor and his only passion was literature,” wrote Casanova. “He loved Latin poetry even more than Italian and his favorite poet was Horace, whom I knew by heart.” Young though he was, Casanova made a good impression and was invited to return and “take chocolate with him in his library any morning.”


Statue from 1889 commemorating Giordano Bruno

I visited the Campo dei Fiori last summer with my friend and guide Adriano Contini. You can see it was a rainy evening, though plenty of people were still out. The Campo has a statue commemorating Giordano Bruno, who was burnt alive here in 1600 for his writings, which were considered heretical. He was later considered a martyr for free thinking. The statue wasn’t there when Casanova visited, though he probably would have appreciated it as well as Bruno’s belief in freedom of thought.

(All quotes taken from History of My Life by Giacomo Casanova, translated by Willard Trask, Vol. 1).
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Mural Ogles Statue


Scene from Museo Fortuny.

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