Do you remember seeing this before? In February 2017 I wrote about this plaque on the Calle del Scaleter #2235, outside the shop of Monica Daniele. When he visited Venice, Casanovist Marco Leeflang investigated and met Monica, a maker of hats and traditional cloaks or tabarre. I was astonished by this plaque because I know Venice has not been keen to post markers at Casanova sites around the city. (Some friends of mine designed a medallion that they tried to have displayed, without luck.) Marco had a lovely visit with Monica and learned that her husband, Albert Gardin, is a staunch Venetophile and Casanovist, though unfortunately Albert was not there for that meeting.
I had hoped to meet Monica and Albert while in Venice this summer, and I carried this photo of Marco with Monica as a sort of calling card. Marco also asked me to see if Albert knew anything about a Czech TV documentary being made about the bones of Casanova. On the day I found the shop, Monica was away, and instead I spent an hour with the indomitable Albert Gardin.
I got the story of the plaque: Albert and Monica put it up because they believe the shop was the site where Casanova asked for help finding a doctor to attend to Senator Bragadin on the fateful night that the senator had a stroke after leaving a ball at the nearby Palazzo Soranzo. In Volume 2, Casanova wrote, “I disembark. It was at the bridge by the Calle Bernardo…. I run to the coffeehouse, someone shows me where a surgeon lives.” If you look closely at the signage above the hat shop, it reads “Torrefazione Razionale del Caffe,” which basically means it was a coffee roasting shop.
Albert says that when Monica took over the shop years ago, the local old-timers said it had been a coffeeshop for ages. Albert adds, “It smelled like coffee in here for many years.” In Casanova’s day, a canal ran in front of the Palazzo Soranzo, (though this was later filled in to become a rio terá), and then it took a turn and went under the Ponte Bernardo, just a few feet from the shop. Bragadin’s gondola would have passed nearby, and it’s conceivable that Casanova could have jumped out to race to this late night caffe to find help. There doesn’t seem to be any written evidence or documentation to prove this location, but the story sounds plausible. Anyone want to go search the archives?
Albert Gardin is an enthusiastic Casanovist. When he learned a bit about how I had written about Casanova, he immediately pulled out Casanova’s translation of Homer’s Iliad into Veneziano dialect and also a volume in Toscano, both new editions that Albert edited. Albert flipped to a page that showed Casanova’s handwriting, then flipped ahead to show how that handwriting had changed over time. Albert then handed me the book. “You hold this and look at the words,” he said, as he launched into reciting the first three stanzas from memory, in a deep, sonorous, lilting voice.
In case you want to hear this too, I found this video on YouTube of Albert reading from this translation at an event commemorating Casanova’s birthdate in 2011: Albert reads Homer in Veneziano
I felt a little like I did as a child, the first time I would visit a friend at his house–you know, the kid brings out all his favorite toys to show you, bustling with enthusiasm, wanting you to like what he likes. Albert was like that, as he told me about the time some of Fellini’s Casanova actors came into the hat shop. He rummaged in a box and pulled out a postcard for me showing Donald Sutherland as Casanova.
We talked more about Casanova’s life and works, at which time Albert pulled out a book of C’s essays on Voltaire. I’ll admit I’ve read about these essays, but I haven’t read the essays themselves, so Albert pressed the book into my hands and said, “For you. You keep it.”
Next he rummaged in the card box again and pulled out a portrait of himself as the next Doge. He and colleagues had started a campaign for Venice to separate from Italy, with Albert as Doge #121.
In fact, the movement is still going on. Check out Albert’s Facebook page (search his name, and where I pulled some of these photos) or google “Albert Gardin Doge” to get more of the story. Here’s a recent article from Il Gazzettino with more details: Il Gazzettino article
Albert is quite emphatic about his beliefs. I got caught up in his enthusiasm as we conversed, and he opened up so many new topics to me. Next, we talked about his dear friend, Mario Stefani, a prolific poet who committed suicide in 2001. Albert made me repeat Stefani’s name a number of times until I got it right–the accent falls on the first syllable. Albert rummaged once again until he found a book of Stefani’s poems, and he treated me to another reading. A bust of Stefani sat on the nearby table, nearly obscured by hats and books. Albert used the word “chaotic” to describe the scene. I gestured at the chaos and said, “This is not proper,” so Albert removed the Iliad from Stefani’s head, cleared the hats to the side, and moved the sculpture to the front. Then he got the idea to pose with it.
And eventually, of course, we got around to talking about John Berendt’s book City of Falling Angels, a 2005 nonfiction bestseller where Berendt basically uncovers dirt on many people living in Venice. Including Albert Gardin. I saw a copy of the book sitting on another table amidst more hats. Tipped off by Marco, I had re-read Chapter 13, “The Man Who Loved Others,” before my trip, knowing I might be meeting Albert and his wife Monica; though I had thoroughly enjoyed the book when I first read it, this time I had a much more disquieting feeling, seeing Berendt’s “characters” as real people shaped into a story line. Berendt writes about Mario Stefani’s suicide and Albert’s role in the ensuing police investigation. Berendt’s portrait of Albert is not always flattering.
“So how did you feel about this chapter?” I asked him softly, hoping that our hour-long friendship was ready for this question.
“Very angry,” he said. He pointed to Berendt’s photo on the book’s back cover and asked me, “Look at this man. What difference do you see between us?”
How was I to answer that? I had met Albert only an hour before, and I certainly didn’t know John Berendt. But I responded that Albert is very warm and kind; “gentile” was the word I used. Albert replied, “Lui é gentile,” meaning “he is kind.”
A bit ruffled, I added, “I think you have a good heart.” This was a tough conversation for me, considering that my Italian is far from perfect and I was on a sensitive subject. Albert said that he himself is a man of the people, while Berendt is perhaps more of a dilettante, a bourgeois.
I asked Albert’s permission to write this blog post and to share the photos I took. “Yes, as long as you write something nice,” he said with a smile and a twinkle in his eye. “And you must promise to send me the photos.” I did so, though I’m sad to say that he hasn’t responded. Albert asked if he could keep the photo of Marco Leeflang with Monica Daniele, and then I remembered that I had Marco’s question for Albert. “So, do you know about this Czech TV show about Casanova’s bones?” I asked. “I heard that maybe Venice is asking for the bones to be moved from the castle grounds at Dux back to Venice.”
“But no one knows where these bones are,” he said. “We do not know which is the correct body of Casanova, so how can it be moved?”
When preparing this post, I found a Facebook page under the name “Giacomo Casanova” that has a post featuring Marco’s letter to Monica, as well as announcements about Albert’s work. I’m guessing that Albert might own that page. Check it out. Monica’s hat shop is almost right across from the well-known restaurant Da Fiore, and in Walk #1 of Seductive Venice, so it’s easy to find and worth checking out as well. I’d love to meet Monica next time, but I’ll certainly treasure my encounter with Albert Gardin.