As you probably know, or could guess, I read a lot of books about Venice or set in Venice. So I was delighted a few years back to discover Laura Morelli’s book The Gondola Maker, which married my love of Venetian settings with my passion for gondolas. Laura and I became email friends, and I’ve so enjoyed her subsequent books, including The Painter’s Apprentice, which I wrote about in a previous blog post. Now is your chance to get to know more about this author and art historian.
How has Venice seduced you?
When I was a young teenager, I had the fortune to visit Venice for the first time. I had a preconceived notion that I was supposed to go home with Murano glass, but honestly, I had no idea why. I was lured to the famous “glass island” of Murano by a fast-talking hawker in the Piazza San Marco, and whisked onto an overcrowded, stinky boat. After a whirlwind factory tour, I waited in line behind several dozen American and Japanese tourists to pay an exorbitant price for a little green glass fish. Today the fish sits on the windowsill of my study as a testament to this bewildering experience.
Even after my Murano glass-buying debacle, the artistic traditions of Italy still lured me to travel and inspired me to pursue advanced studies in art history. Eventually it became my mission to lead travelers beyond the tourist traps to discover authentic, local, handmade traditions. My focus is on cultural immersion through a greater appreciation of authentic arts and the people who make them. Venice has always been at the center of this curiosity and artistic exploration.
What do you never fail to do in Venice?
Get lost! Venice boasts one of the most confusing address systems in all of Italy, and in a country where each city has its own unique way of denoting addresses, that’s saying a lot! Sometimes streets have a name, and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they have more than one. I am a big “map person,” but I’ve learned that the surest way to have fun in Venice is to toss your map and just live in the moment as you walk the narrow streets. You are guaranteed to find a wonderful surprise.
What is your Venice soundtrack?
I have several compilations of 16th-century Venetian music on my phone. Sometimes I listen to those pieces when I’m trying to set a mood for writing fiction in that era.
Walk or take a boat?
Boat, absolutely. You can appreciate the visual extravaganza of Venice best from the deck of a boat, even if it’s a cheap traghetto. A gondola ride is a cliché, of course, but I think it’s worth the splurge.
Having said that, one of the things I love the most about Venice is that there are no cars and so it’s one of the best walking cities in the world. When my son was three years old, we spent days wandering Venice while he looked for “a witch” who he was convinced must lurk behind one of the city’s many locked wrought-iron gates. I loved seeing Venice through the eyes of a three-year-old. Some of the best walks I’ve ever taken there!
Which church or campo best epitomizes you? Please explain.
I love the Campo Bragora in the sestiere of Castello. That’s primarily because it’s the setting for the beautiful church of San Giovanni, which I love so much that I made it an important setting for my historical novel, The Gondola Maker.
Which is your favorite Venetian festival and why?
It would be impossible to top Carnevale, but actually I love the Festa della Sensa, with its marriage ceremony between the Doge and the sea. The water is such an inextricable part of all that Venice is. I can’t imagine a more beautiful symbol.
Spritz or Bellini?
As a native of the state of Georgia, I have to say Bellini. It’s one of the best uses of a peach I’ve ever seen!
What do you do when you’re alone in Venice?
I love excursions to the lagoon islands—Murano, Burano, Torcello, others. I absolutely love visiting the plague islands. That’s not something most of your friends want to do with you!
What do you always tell friends to do when they visit the city?
Enjoy the wonderful fresh shellfish! And of course, appreciate the many hardworking artisans who are carrying the torch of tradition for centuries-old crafts including masks, glass, lace, paper, gondolas, and more.
Casanova: genius or cad?
I have to say cad, but you must admire his audacity!
What would you do with $30,000 U.S. to spend in Venice?
I would bring home the most outrageous glass chandelier I could find. Or feed a lot of cats…
If money were no object, which palazzo would you buy?
The Ca’ d’Oro is my favorite. I love its beautiful Gothic façade.
Would you rather be a courtesan or a noblewoman? Make your case.
Actually, I would like to be a nun at the convent of Santa Maria delle Vergini. Hear me out… For many centuries, the Augustinian canonesses of that institution came almost exclusively from aristocratic families and were highly favored by the Doge. They were not required to take vows or wear the habit. They lived in private apartments, had personal servants, and owned their own land. They could travel, visit relatives, and could renounce their vocation if they ended up deciding to marry. Most of all, it seems that the convent produced a number of women writers, who had the space and luxury to ply their craft. Given the choices that most women had in pre-modern times, what could be better than that?
What is your favorite cicchetti? Do you have a cicchetti story?
There are so many good ones, but a small plate of risotto al nero is probably my favorite. That’s risotto made with squid ink, which turns the rice black. Don’t knock it until you try it!
Which gelato flavor are you?
Cioccolato! But I also adore the rainbow of gelato flavors they have in Italy. Pistachio and watermelon are also among my favorites.
How can readers learn more about you and your creative pursuits?
I have written two historical novels set in Renaissance Venice, The Gondola Maker and The Painter’s Apprentice. My guidebook, Made in Venice, leads shoppers away from the tourist traps and guides them to come home with treasures in their suitcase, whether Murano glass, carnival masks, Burano lace, and more. I hold a Ph.D. in art history from Yale University, and my work has been featured on National Geographic Traveler, USA TODAY, CNN Radio, The Frommers Travel Show, Italy Magazine, and other media. I also post about Venice and other art historical topics on my blog. You can find everything at www.lauramorelli.com. Thank you for having me, Kathy!
Laura is offering three ebook copies of The Painter’s Apprentice for this month’s raffle! To enter, simply “like” this post and also leave a comment. If you’re a lucky winner, we’ll need your email address so Laura can send you the book. Deadline is February 28, 2018.