Welcome to a new series I’m beginning today. Since I’ve been getting to know more and more of my readers, I thought it’d be fun to create a set of interview questions to highlight their love for Venice. I’m titling this “Venice, My Muse” to honor the many ways that Venice inspires our community of Venetophiles. Watch out–you might be next!
My first interview is with Barbara Lynn-Davis, who you may remember as the author of Casanova’s Secret Wife, which I reviewed a few weeks ago. Barbara earned an art history degree from Brown University and went on to complete a Ph.D. in Renaissance art at Princeton. She currently teaches art history and writing at Wellesley and makes time to write novels as well. Here are her responses to my questions:
How has Venice seduced you?
I first became enchanted with Venice while working as an intern after college at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. I lived with an 86 year-old Yugoslavian countess (she always proudly insisted I call her “contessa”.) She owned a fairly modest, 2-bedroom apartment overlooking the Giudecca Canal. Because she was monetizing her apartment by taking in students, she gave me the most beautiful bedroom, the big one overlooking the water. Watching the shining blue-green lagoon each day, the gondolas and fishing boats and occasional ocean liner, that soft Italian light floating in the windows and onto the Oriental carpets and pastel-painted furniture … I fell in love for a lifetime.
What do you never fail to do in Venice?
I love Venice in the dark especially, when the day has been screaming hot and night is a balm. I never fail to stop and inhale the perfume of jasmine climbing through garden gates. I close my eyes and imagine what it would be like to be inside such an enclosed and treasured place, as to have a garden in Venice is the ultimate luxury.
Walk or take a boat?
Walk, mostly. But when I was living there working on my dissertation, I also loved the convenience of popping into a gondola traghetto that went from Piazza San Marco to the Church of the Salute. It cost next-to-nothing and was a way to experience a (bumpy) gondola ride that otherwise I could never have afforded!
Which church or campo best epitomizes you? Please explain.
Love this question! For me, it’s definitely Campiello Barbaro in Dorsoduro. To me, it is perfect: its intimate size, the canal that runs along one side, and most of all, the view of the back of Ca’ Dario, where a fifteenth century open-air loggia overlooks a high-walled pocket garden. I adore this campo so much that in my book, I imagined my main character, Caterina Capreta, living in this perfect spot.
What do you always tell friends to do when they visit the city?
I always tell my friends to see the painting by Vittor Carpaccio of St. George and the Dragon in the Scuola di San Giorgio deli Schiavoni. A scuola was a confraternity dedicated to the civic good, and many of the more than one-hundred confraternities in Venice were also patrons of the arts. This painting depicts St. George fighting for the life of a frightened princess in Libya. Carpaccio had never traveled to such an exotic place, and instead, he conjured the scene through his imagination and resourcefulness: for example, to portray the large gateway visible on the shoreline he used a woodblock print (prints circulated widely in Venice at this time) of an actual gate in Cairo. In the end, to see this glowing painting still on the walls of the confraternity is to feel eerily, magically transported back in time.
If you could have dinner with any Venetian, living or dead, who would it be and why? What would dinner be?
With Casanova, naturalmente! I would want to share the meal he tells us he savored with lover Marina Morosini in his casino: game, fish, truffles, oysters, fruit, sorbet and Burgundy wines. I would also settle for a big bowl of macaroni and cheese, which I know he also enjoyed 🙂
Casanova: genius or cad?
In my view he is clever, funny, a risk-taker, adventurous, and seductive. Not afraid to say it: I adore him.
What would you do with $30,000 U.S. to spend in Venice?
I’ve done a lot of research on Murano as once an island of convents, villas and gardens. That is, it was Venice’s green space (to use a modern term.) But a visitor today to Murano does not get this feel at all. I dream of somehow recovering this sense of an island devoted to the pleasures of nature, whether restoring a single building and garden or maybe even designing a new green space for people to enjoy and reflect in.
If money were no object, which palazzo would you buy?
I think I would buy Ca’ Dario, but there’s a superstition that it is the “house that kills” so that’s a bit of a dampener on my enthusiasm.
Would you rather be a courtesan or a noblewoman? Make your case.
I would much rather be a noblewoman. Noblewomen, at least in the eighteenth-century, had quite a lot of freedom. For example, they enjoyed the company of cicisbei, basically boy toys whose role it was to make a woman feel beautiful and accompany her out in society. Sometimes these cicisbei were also lovers, sometimes not. Readers will note that in my book, the social life of Caterina Capreta is very circumscribed, but she is a merchant’s daughter, belonging to the more traditional cittadino class. Noblewomen had it much better (as usual.)
What is your favorite cicchetti? Do you have a cicchetti story?
My favorite Venetian snack are tramezzini (English-style tea sandwiches.) I include a recipe for them on my website, below. I made them recently for my writers’ group and they were a huge hit. Even if you think you don’t like mayonnaise and white bread, you will likely discover that when combined with these savory Italian fillings, you do!
Which gelato flavor are you?
Bacio, for sure 🙂
How can readers learn more about you and your creative pursuits?
Visit my website, www.barbaralynndavis.com for a multisensory experience of Venice: an excerpt from my book, plus art, music, food and drink, and an invitation to “walk with Casanova” in the company of Kathleen’s marvelous guidebook, Seductive Venice: In Casanova’s Footsteps.
And a final note:
In order to encourage more engagement with my blog, I’m also offering a raffle! If you “like” this post on WordPress or Facebook and also leave a comment, your name will be entered into a raffle to win a copy of Barbara’s book Casanova’s Secret Wife. Deadline: August 31 at midnight Pacific time.