Speaking of Casanova…

…which is exactly what I’ll be doing on May 16!

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Would you like to join me for an Italian soda?

Please join me at the We and Our Neighbors club house in San Jose, California. We’re doing a fundraiser for the clubhouse, which has been a community gathering place for over 100 years! The club first met in 1892 (!!). Here’s a little history from their website:

“The We and Our Neighbors club began when a group of Union District farmers’ wives met for an afternoon tea in June of 1892 at the home of Mrs. John Cilker. The day was so pleasant that the women decided to form a club to promote social ties, intellectual and cultural pursuits, charitable deeds, and recreation for the farm families of the neighborhood. The members agreed to meet every third Saturday of the month and, after much deliberation, decided to call the new club We and Our Neighbors.”

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The original women who started the club

How cool is that? So they’ve invited me to come speak about Casanova’s Venice. I’ll share information both about this city I love so much as well as the storied life of our man C.

The event is also a fundraiser for the club house. It’s free to enter, and we’ll be serving Italian sodas and cookies. (My partner RJ will be serving as soda barista for the evening.) But you can purchase raffle tickets for a tombola of great gift items. The club house was built in 1910–come check out this historic space and meet the community of women who keep it going.

We and Our Neighbors logo

Thanks for Vickie Johnson and the other women at We and Our Neighbors for organizing this event. Tell your friends, bring a friend, and join us!

Click  here for the flyer: We and Our Neighbors event

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More Remarkable Venetian Women

Gualberta Alaide Beccari

A Beautiful Woman in Venice details the lives of Venetian women from the 1300s onwards, dipping a toe into the 1800s. Then I came across this page from Venezia Autentica, which describes a number of “my” Venetian women and then adds to the list!

Women from my book also listed on this site include Cassandra Fedele, Gaspara Stampa, Moderata Fonte, Lucrezia Marinella, Arcangela Tarabotti, and Elisabetta Caminer, all proto-feminists, women ahead of their time, speaking out for women’s rights and education. I’m so pleased to know that others are promoting their work!

The Venezia Autentica site adds some wonderful lives to expand the list from the 1700s into the 1800s, with such women as Gioseffa Cornoldi, Maddalena Montalban Comello, Adele Della Vida Levi, Gualberta Alaide Beccari, and Ida D’Este. Check out their page to read about these women (many who can’t be found on Wikipedia or other sites). I’m happy to highlight their lives here, so that more women in history are remembered and credited for their contributions.

Ida D’Este

Let’s make this into a contest! Here’s a set of quiz questions about any of the women on this list. Send your answers to me at my email address (kathleenanngonzalez at yahoo dot com) and I’ll enter you into a tombola for an ebook copy of my book A Beautiful Woman in Venice. Deadline: One week from now, May 5 at midnight, Pacific time. 

The questions: 

  1. Which woman was a nun?
  2. Who ran a magazine titled “Woman“?
  3. Who was known as “la donna galante ed erudite“?
  4. Which writer was considered by many as the greatest Italian poet of all time?
  5. Which woman was an artist?
  6. Who started the first Italian kindergarten?
  7. Who was sent to a concentration camp?
  8. Which woman was a great boat racer?
  9. Who ran her own print shop?
  10. And the trick question (because the answer is not on Venezia Autentica but is in my book): Who wrote under a pen name but was actually named Modesta Pozzo?
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The Quaderno

In March, news broke about a rare find–a notebook written by Giacomo Casanova when he was six years old. It’s being referred to as the quaderno amongst the Casanovists I’ve been talking to. I didn’t post anything earlier because I waited to speak with some of the experts to learn more information.

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C’s grandmother’s house on Calle de le Muneghe

The quaderno was discovered by Luigi Pistore, the new director of the new Accademia Giacomo Casanova di Venezia. According to this article from a newspaper in Padua, it was found in a Venetian home among other papers. It was purchased by Giuseppe Bignami, who is a collector and owns other casanoviana, including one of the portraits. He authenticated the quaderno, he said, by comparing it to other samples of Casanova’s handwriting and dates the papers at 1731. It is believed that C’s grandmother, Marzia Farussi, oversaw his education at this time, as C’s father was dead and his mother often traveled as an actress.  Here’s another article that also discusses the quaderno and mentions the existence of C’s desk where he sat to write his memoirs.

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One church on Murano

I know a few folks who have seen the quaderno already, and I’ll go check it out this summer. From what I’ve seen, it consists of three pages, one of which shows the name “Giacomo Girolamo Casanova” copied out numerous times in large handwriting, like a child practicing writing his own name. Another page shows letters of the alphabet.

I shared this video a few posts back, but I’ll link it here again, as it pans across the pages of the quaderno. Visitors to the museum are not allowed to take photos of the pages, though I know that the director may grant access in special cases.

These pages raise many questions, besides just those of their origin. The biggest question I have is about Casanova’s age at the supposed time of this writing. I’ve heard that he was six when he produced these pages, though I’m unsure just how they determined this. But Casanova reports that he was an ill child, with many nosebleeds that often left him incapacitated and unable to learn. It wasn’t until age eight, he writes in his memoir, that he became a more sensible child after his grandmother snuck him away to visit a “witch” on Murano. Only after that did he begin schooling in earnest and develop his reasoning faculties under the guidance of Antonio Gozzi. Of course, we only have C’s own memoirs to go on, so we must trust his description of his childhood and what others said about him at this age, which we also know only through his memoir.

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In a gondola on the way to visit a “witch”?

About his childhood, Casanova relates, “And now I come to the beginning of my existence as a thinking being. In the beginning of August in the year 1733 my organ of memory developed. I was then eight years and four months old. I remember nothing of what may have happened to me before that time.” He then tells the story of his visit to the “witch” on Murano, and adds that before this visit “My disease had made me dull, and very poor company; people felt sorry for me and left me alone; everyone supposed that I would not live long. My father and mother never spoke to me.”

And here’s a particularly interesting detail. Casanova adds that after this incident, “…my memory developed and in less than a month I learned to read.” This implies to me that he didn’t read before this. I suppose it’s possible that he could write his name and the alphabet without being able to read, though taken with the other facts of his early life, it seems unlikely. Not long after this, Casanova’s father died, and C was sent to board in Padua and begin his education.

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Murano brick work

An interesting fact about the houses where Casanova grew up. There is a plaque on Calle Malipiero stating that Casanova was born in a house on that street. As I write in my book, and based on the research of Helmut Watzlawick, it’s more likely that C was born in  his grandmother’s house around the corner (see picture above), though his family later lived in the house on Calle Malipiero. But this “house” on Calle Malipiero has changed dramatically; according to the city plans that Watzlawick looked at, the interiors of many of these edifices were gutted and renovated so that the “houses” are no longer in their original format. If this quadernowere found in a house in Venice, it’s likely it would be a family house, because why would anyone else keep some random papers of a sick child? It’s not reported which house the papers were found in, but it’s probably not the Malipiero house.

I know basically nothing about certifying the authenticity of a document. I leave that to the experts. But I thought I’d share some of the details we know of C’s life in light of this new document.

(Quotes from C’s History of My Life taken from the translation by Willard R. Trask.)
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Casanova, the Perfume

Blogger Mr. Drink Wine Today tipped me off about this Casanova perfume by Grenoville. It’s a vintage scent, which I was able to purchase on eBay from a guy who inherited his father’s antique warehouse full of stuff.

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So I bought it, and it arrived just hours before I left for the airport to visit Casanovist Marco Leeflang in the Netherlands. The perfume was a gift to him, which he wore to our dinner out. It was a wonderful scent on him.

But I’ll admit here that before I gave it to Marco, I sprinkled a bit on the skirt of a Spanish dancer on a card I mailed to Mr. Drink Wine Today because he was very curious to know its scent. I mailed it from the airport to him in England. It was a faint scent to begin with, perhaps due to its age, perhaps that’s just how it is. But he had some fun writing this description, which I share with you with his permission:

“When a perfume called Casanova would have been made edgier had anyone had the nerve to add, of all things, a dash of straightforward vanilla, then you know it’s missed its design brief.
Most annoyingly, Grenoville’s Casanova – unlike its famous namesake – doesn’t even appear to try very hard to impress in the first place, seeming content to settle for the clean hygienic smell of a gynecologist rather than the in your face / slightly animal musk you hope announced the arrival of the world’s most famous lover.
As Venice’s infamous son exited his carriage after yet another adventurous journey across land and sea, we have no way of knowing how long it took him to warm up but it’s to be hoped that, once he’d engaged his seductive mojo, it dazzled for longer than Grenoville’s offering.  Whereas history suggests that none of those arduous journeys over potholed roads dampened Casanova’s gameplan, a single plane journey from the U.S. (courtesy of Ms. Seductive Venice) seemed to knock the scent for six; it arrived all lackadaisical like one of those nervous flyers who self medicates themselves to the eyeballs and arrives looking like a zombie. (If the ladies of Eighteenth Century Europe had walked to the tavern having heard word that the era’s greatest seducer was in town and had been met with this, they’d have justifiably gone home telling anyone that would listen to ‘not believe the hype.’)
Whilst initially faint and imperceptible, it’s worth pointing out that it did – after an afternoon of being scrunched in a pocket and then finally unfolded in the John Ruskin Gallery in Sheffield – momentarily slacken its mask a little in the shadow of images of Venice, lagoons and art. Maskless though its lack of mystery became apparent –  offering only the bad chat up line of one of those cheap hotel soaps of yesteryear that were laid out to let the weary traveller freshen up. (But with the caveat of it being a shower indulged in almost out of courtesy rather than any genuine gut feeling that you were going out that night to get lucky with some dazzling courtesan of lust.)
Standing beneath “The Western Fascade of the Basilica of San Marco” by John Wharlton Bunney I willed it hard to let its soapiness transmute into that moment of time before a great kiss when the air seems to turn creamy and fresh but, alas, it never developed and remained more like an unfinished fist bump with someone in a discount Walmart masquerade mask (discovered at stocktake stuffed under the toiletry bargain bin.)

All in all then, disappointing – more a best forgotten Thursday one night stand with someone whose unfortunate O.C.D. requires them to quickly wash themselves beforehands rather than the unforgettable touch of a soulmate in a weekend long orgy of pleasure. No excitement here I’m afraid …..”

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The John Bunney painting of St. Marks that Mr. Drink Wine references.

I think the orgy is happening with the colors in Mr. Bunney’s painting, rather than in the nostrils of Mr. Drink Wine Today.

A subsequent search has uncovered that there is another line of Casanova perfumes, for men as well as women, not from Grenoville, but under the name J. Casanova. Watch this space for a future perfume review….

…and be sure to check out the blog Drink Wine Today Because or his haiku blog here on WordPress!

https://drinkwinetodaybecause.wordpress.com

https://haikuthreesixfive.wordpress.com/about/

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The Voyeur

Last week when I was in the Netherlands, I visited the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. They had a special exhibit called “High Society,” which featured enormous full-length portraits of people in the upper classes from a number of centuries and countries.

The exhibit was developed in part to welcome the pair of portraits by Rembrandt that had been purchased jointly by the Rijks and the Louvre, who will share custody of them. These depict husband and wife Maerten Soolmans and Oopjen Coppit, I believe the only full-length portraits that Rembrandt ever painted. The exhibit was fantastic.

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The wedding portraits of Maerten and Oopjen

But there were also a few side rooms that concern you, dear Casanova fans, more. “High Society Uncut” held a collection of drawings that showed people’s sometimes fascination with vice; pictures showed such things as the road to hell paved with drink, or a drunk woman passed out on some steps.

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“After the Party” by Jacobus van Looij

Another room bathed in pink light and carrying a warning to keep the children out contained pornographic drawings. Since I don’t want my blog censored, I won’t be posting any of those here!

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The warning on the wall of the explicit room.

The third room focused on voyeurism, with drawings of people looking at nude drawings and other similar topics. I was surprised to see Casanova included–though of course it makes sense that he would be.

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I sent this picture on to a few Casanovists I know. Adriano Contini replied by sharing two more drawings depicting scenes from C’s life, which he found on the website for the New York City Library Digital Collections. But it’s confusing because the drawings are listed twice, with two different names: Adolf Gnauth and Julius Nisle. The artist? The publisher? If anyone finds out, please let us know.

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We got to have our own portrait taken with Maerten and Oopjen.

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Meeting Marco

You can’t find him on Wikipedia. I guess you just have to go to his house.

So I got on an airplane and flew for 11 hours then took a train and a taxi and ended up at the house of Marco Leeflang (*1933), a Casanovist since 1973 and one of the more important Casanovists of the second half of the 20th century. He has some 60 articles about Casanova to his name, which mostly appeared in the Casanova Gleanings and the Intermediaire des casanovistes. His specialty is the time Giacomo lived in Dux, and the documents Casanova left behind. He continued, computerized, and indexed the “fond Casanova” (background of Casanova) which Bernhard Marr (1856-1940) had started. Twice (1982 and 1998) he organized excursions to Dux and Czechoslovakia for Casanovists.

But we also owe a great debt to Marco for his transcriptions. He spent decades, in multiple trips each year, traveling to the castle in Dux (Duchcov)) and the archives in Czechoslovakia (when it was still Czechoslovakia) to sit with the papers Casanova left behind. These had been catalogued by previous archivists, but Marco transcribed volumes and volumes of work. Here’s a picture of him in 1998 sitting in front of the binders of papers he had completed.

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Being in Marco’s house is like coming upon a hidden treasure trunk–well, except his house is light and beautiful and full of art. He has a Thai wooden horse he bought at auction and a collection of blue glass bottles. Most fascinating, perhaps, is the collection of his father’s paintings: self-portraits, portraits of Marco’s mother, and numerous paintings of Marco as a boy, in one holding his monkey doll. Marco’s mother worked in marquetry, and a door and a panel display her masterful work.

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You may remember that I posted a picture of a sculpture in Hilversham called “The Artist.” Marco had commissioned this as a portrait of Casanova. Here is the model, with Casanova’s name inscribed at the bottom.

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And a bust, that sits on the mantel

Lucky me–I got to see a few samples from his extensive library of Casanoviana. He had every biography you can imagine, but also collections of letters and transcripts of which there are maybe two or three copies in the world. He has donated a number of his papers to the archives at the University of Virginia, and of course the Czech Casanova archives. My flight had been delayed five hours or I would have had more time to peruse the treasures of his library. But he did show me that my book is there among the rest!

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But that’s not all. Marco is a master chef! He created a five course meal for us, with a personal menu card printed for the occasion, and we enjoyed the meal while getting to know him and his wife Janna better. Marco served North Sea crab legs (an artichoke for me, the vegetarian), mushroom soup, white asparagus with potatoes and eggs, a cheese course, and a panna cotta with raspberry topping for dessert, attended by coffee and dessert wine. It was the best meal we had on our trip!

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I’ve corresponded with Marco for years now, as he had helped me with my research for Seductive Venice, and I got to meet him in Paris in 2012 to see the Casanova memoir manuscript when the French National Library purchased them. He is generous with his knowledge and his papers, often sending me things like copies of the letters of Francesca Buschini or Giustiniana Wynne or an 18th century passport. In coming posts, I’ll describe the 1998 gathering of Casanovists and other interesting tidbits.

I left town way too soon but managed to come back a few days later to have dinner with Marco and Janna again, at a nearby restaurant. Marco filled me with more stories, which I’ll share in the coming month.

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A walk with Janna, my partner RJ, and Marco before dinner

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The Letter–An Update

Since my last post, I received more information regarding the Casanova letter I showed.

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Here is a transcription by Furio Luccichenti:

Ieri ho avuto la lettera di mio fratello vi recherá sollievo sapere che sarà presto a Vienna.

Egli mi scrive che porterà a V.e. i 45 fiorini da me ricevuti per bontà sua e onorare la mia parola verso sua grazia che tanta gentilezza ha mostrato verso la mia mala sorte. 

Le prego di concedere la sua protezione a questo vostro umile e sfortunato servitore e spero nella benevolenza.

di V.e. 

Giacomo Casanova

Adriano Contini adds that the salutation is probably this:

Mio venerati(ssimo) Pa(drone) (?)

And the closing (before C’s signature) probably stands for this:

di V.E. (Vostra Eccellenza)

Translated to English, it goes something like this:

My venerable Master

Yesterday I got my brother’s letter, it will bring you relief know that it will soon be in Vienna.
 
He writes to me that it will bring to V.E. the 45 florins I received for his goodness to honor my word with your grace which so much kindness showed towards my bad luck.

Please grant your protection to this your humble and unfortunate servant and I hope in the benevolence.

Of course, any new document that shows up has to be authenticated. I have not heard if this one has been authenticated, or by whom. Adriano points out that it is quite possible today to get paper from the 18th century, so simply dating the paper is not sufficient. This letter is also undated. A few other things Adriano points out:

  1. The letter has no folds. Letters then were folded and usually sealed with wax, as envelopes were not used. “It may be a draft or a letter written and never sent,” Adriano states. Or perhaps it was a copy.
  2. Adriano has a good eye for details. He also points out, “Moreover, it seems to me that the calligraphy is very homogeneous and yet this is strange because periodically the pen was dipped in ink and as the ink ran out the writing became more slender. But it is also possible that, since the periods of the letter were very short, the ink was sufficient to guarantee homogeneity to the writing. And that at the beginning of each period the writer has dipped the pen in ink.”

These are great questions. I don’t know if others have already found the answers to them, but at least at the exhibit, no further explanation was given. I know a few of my readers out there are scholars of the 18th century and can perhaps add more helpful information about letter writing during those times.

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The letter on display

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