As a great lover of both Venice and Rosalba Carriera, Jane reached out to me after reading my chapter on Rosalba in A Beautiful Woman in Venice. We then began a correspondence and a friendship across the waters. Hopefully we’ll meet in person one day, and hopefully in Venice! At the bottom of this interview, you can read more about Jane’s work and home, which includes some surprises. Enjoy her perspective on Venice and all of her favorite things.
How has Venice seduced you?
“He who paints Venice paints the most beautiful thing on the face of the earth,” wrote American painter Francis Hopkinson Smith in 1894. I’ve been exploring Europe all my life, but Venice remains the most beautiful place that I have ever seen. Her beauty continues to astound me every time I visit, and I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve been drawn back to her. That first glimpse of the city as you approach from the airport across the lagoon always makes me well up. My eyes are simply unable to absorb what can often seem an excess of stunning architecture, visual arts, and physical beauty so that every visit brings something new and previously unnoticed into focus. As a keen photographer I never know where to point my camera as a new, fresh image awaits me at every turn.
What do you never fail to do in Venice?
Go to Florian’s for breakfast. It feels like the ultimate luxury but I simply rejoice in being in a beautiful space that has been visited by so many artists over the years. Sitting in one of the many beautiful salons I always imagine the writers who have frequented these rooms: Dickens, Goethe, Byron, Shelley, and Hemingway. The Casanova breakfast may seem pricey, but it’s enough to set you up for the day and is a visual and gastronomic feast!
What is your Venice soundtrack?
It has to be Bach’s Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello. I attended a recital in the Chiesa della Pietà on my first trip to Venice in the early 70s, and it’s remained my definitive soundtrack ever since.
Walk or take a boat?
I love to be on the water but prefer to travel the less popular routes of the city. The vaporetti provide a great stage for people-watching as well as enjoying the buildings that you can only see from the canals. I enjoy watching the day to day life of the city where everything happens on the water, from deliveries to emergencies.
Which church or campo best epitomizes you? Please explain.
I enjoy sitting in one of the many lesser-known campos watching the locals going about their daily lives but, after much reflection, I think it has to be Piazza San Marco which, in many ways, seems rather predictable. However, I’m a dancer and maybe the romance of what was once described by Napoleon as “the finest drawing-room in Europe” is, to me, the finest ballroom. I’d love to be whirled around its floor by a handsome Italian.
Which is your favorite Venetian festival and why?
I love Regatta as it brings the city alive and involves people of all walks of life from the diverse islands of the lagoon. Although there’s always a fierce, competitive element to the races, I love to see the opening pageant when Venice assumes the air of a Canaletto painting.
Spritz or Bellini?
Bellini every time. I still can’t manage to get through a spritz although I’ve tried on several occasions! I feel as though I’ve failed the Venetian initiation test so keep trying!
What do you always tell friends to do when they visit the city?
Head over to San Giorgio and take the lift up the campanile. The view of the city and the surrounding islands offers the most wonderful panorama of the lagoon and, out of season, you’re often up there on your own. It’s quite magical.
If you could have dinner with any Venetian, living or dead, who would it be and why? What would dinner be?
If you’re familiar with my chapter in First Spritz is Free you’ll know that it would have to be Rosalba Carriera, Venice’s greatest female portrait artist. I’d love to ask her about her travels, but most of all about the many illustrious people who visited her humble home and studio. Dinner would be melt-in-the-mouth fegato alla Veneziana, which I adore.
Casanova: genius or cad?
Absolute cad. Enough said.
What would you do with $30,000 U.S. to spend in Venice?
If I was being selfish I’d indulge in buying some of the beautiful marbled writing paper, (although I’d be too afraid to write on it!), a pair of earrings that look like books, and a few metres of fabric from Fortuny. I’d be happy just to look at the fabric and stroke it occasionally! I’d give the rest to one of the charities that are being supported by First Spritz is Free. Who wouldn’t want to see this beautiful city supported for future generations to enjoy?
If money were no object, which palazzo would you buy?
The Ca’ Barbaro, without doubt. Not only is it the most glorious building, but I’m a great Henry James fan and the thought of occupying the rooms that he once occupied whilst lodging there would be a life-long thrill. Frequenting spaces that once hosted Browning, James, Whistler, and Monet would keep me on a permanent high!
Which gelato flavor are you?
That’s a tricky one. Either liquorice or fig and mascarpone. I think liquorice wins.
How can readers learn more about you and your creative pursuits?
I live on the island of Guernsey in the Channel Islands with my husband, Richard Fleming, who is a published poet. I used to do research and write articles for a series of books on the British Waterways covering 2300 miles of rivers and canals on my mountain bike! Interestingly, both my grandfathers worked on the water, one as a ship-builder, the other as a stevedore, so maybe there’s something in my blood that attracts me to the water?
I’ve just had a collection of my own poems published in a book entitled Guernsey Legends, which you can find www.blueormer.co.uk It’s a collaboration with local artist Frances Lemmon, and together we’ve celebrated the folk-lore of our island.
My other, rather unusual, occupation is that I’m a professional lookalike for Prince Charles’ wife, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall! Having two husbands can sometimes cause confusion, but it’s a lot of fun. I’m soon to feature in my first Bollywood movie! You can find out more at my website www.camillalookalike.com. In the meantime I’m busy working on my first novel reflecting on the many adventures that Richard and I have had while dog-sitting. I’ll keep you posted!