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.
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.