Another stop on my walking tour of Casanova’s Rome with Adriano Contini.
During those early days in Rome 1743, Casanova was trying so hard to walk a straight and narrow path in order to impress his mentors, Don Gasparo, Father Giorgi, and Abate Gama. He was ordered to not enter the cafes, as they were hotbeds for miscreants and heathens. (Who knew?) But one morning, after summarizing some letters for the Abate, then taking a French lesson, C decided to go for a stroll. He writes, “I was crossing the Strada Condotta, when I heard my name called from a coffeehouse.” It was none other than the Abate Gama. Casanova tried to explain that he had been forbidden from entering such an establishment, but the Abate insisted.
Well, apparently cafes then really were dens of iniquity, if we are to believe the list of lasciviousness that C then related. One young abate spoke mockingly against the Pope, and the gathering, consisting mostly of other religious men, laughed along. “Another,” writes C, “asked why he had left the service of Cardinal B., answered that it was because His Eminence claimed not to be obliged to pay him, except for certain extra services which he demanded in his nightcap.” What?! C continues, “Another came over and told the Abate Gama that if he cared to while away the afternoon at the Villa Medici, he would find him there with due romanelle, who asked only a quartino.” That is, two young Roman girls who charged only a quarter of a zecchino.
After more ribald remarks, a pretty abate strolled in: “His hips and thighs make me think him a girl in disguise,” writes Casanova. Abate Gama explains that it is the castrato Beppino dell Mammana and waves him over. Beppino “gives me a bold look,” C writes, “and says that if I will spend the night with him he will serve me as a boy or a girl, whichever I choose.”
Casanova doesn’t name the cafe in this scene, but it is likely the Caffè Greco, which has been in operation on that site for 250 years. The street is now called Via dei Condotti rather than Strada Condotti as C says. What an interesting peek into Roman life in the mid-18th century.