Casanova’s Love Elixir

More than once in his memoirs, Casanova writes about enjoying a nice cup of hot chocolate, which he mentions more often than coffee.

Capitalizing on that idea, Caffe Florian in Venice’s Piazza San Marco is offering a special Valentine’s Day chocolate inspired by Casanova:

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The website describes the chocolate as “a 100% dark chocolate medallion flavoured with cinnamon, pepper and cloves, made according to the original secret recipe of Giacomo Casanova’s chocolate, especially prepared to seduce women.” In my reading about Casanova and in his memoirs, I’ve not yet come across any special recipe he used. Can any of you, dear readers, tell me where to find this? I’m guessing that Caffe Florian isn’t giving out the recipe!

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Casanova In Place: A Symposium in Venice, June 2019

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I am thrilled to announce an upcoming symposium for the study of Giacomo Casanova!

I’ve been working on this since last summer, and registration is now open. The symposium runs from 28-30 June, with optional excursions on the 27th and July 1 so participants can get to know Venice, the city of Casanova’s birth. Here’s the symposium description from the website:

Known as one of the eminent travelers of the 18th century, Giacomo Casanova visited much of Europe and wrote one of the era’s most important chronicles, as much a travel account as an autobiography. Exploring his interactions with people in the many cities he visited and on the roads reveals insights into both the man and his times. How do we, of other places and times, expand our understanding of his contributions? Join us in Venice, Casanova’s birthplace and heart-home, to explore the impact of place and time on Casanova’s identity, writing, and ideas.

This symposium aims to bring together anyone interested in the study of Casanova’s life and letters. A rich variety of participants will engender rich discussion and invite new ideas and perspectives. On offer will be events both academic as well as popular.

The Symposium will include papers, readings from published books, and receptions. Optional extra excursions may include a trip on the Burchiello, a tour of the Casanova’s cell in the Doge’s Palace,  and walking tours to Casanova sites in Venice. The reception will be held at the Galleria Redentore on Giudecca and the lectures will be held at the Centro Cultural Don Orione Artigianelli in Dorsoduro. 

We’ll have a presentation of papers from Gregory Dowling, Cyril Frances, Jean-Christophe Igalens, Mladen Kozul, Malina Stefanovska, Nicola Vinovrški, and the team of Stefano Feroci and Tom Vitelli. On Sunday there’s a panel discussion with authors who have written about Casanova, including Barbara Lynn-Davis and Sergei Tseytlin.

We’ll also be screening the film version of Casanova, the production from the Northern Ballet choreographed by Kenneth Tindall with creative collaboration from Ian Kelly.

All are welcome to attend. Check out the website, send me your questions, and we’ll all meet up in Venice!

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Culture Salon

My publisher, Giovanni DiStefano at Supernova Edizioni in Venice, attended the Salone della Cultura in Milan, this past weekend, January 19-20, 2019. And guess what–those are my books on his table, for everyone to see!

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My books alongside Andrea Perego’s book in English and Italian

Here’s a view of the hall, to give you a sense of the scope of this event:

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A photo from the event’s Facebook page gives you an idea of the set up

Books are a big part of the salon, but they are definitely not the only thing on offer. Besides rare and antiquarian books, you’ll find paper art, calligraphy, photography, and jewelry. Also listed are discussions, authors, and publishers, so lots of opportunities for networking, exploring, and connecting.

These photos were shared with me by Andrea Perego, featured in this month’s “Venice, My Muse” interview. You can see his book, The Laws of Time / Le Leggi del Tempo, next to mine. Here’s a link to The Laws of Time at Book Depository if you wish to order a copy.

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My publisher, Giovanni DiStefano with Supernova Edizioni, is on the left

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The Lady with the Greyhound

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Riveting. This portrait, one among many stunning likenesses, pulled me towards it. I saw it last spring in Amsterdam. But of course I was also drawn to it because Luisa Casati lived in Venice–lived largely, I should say. Here’s a short description of her exploits.

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At one point, after her parents had both died, Luisa and her sister were the richest women in Italy. Other exploits: She sometimes wore live snakes as jewelry, and she kept cheetahs as pets, which she took for walks. Casati had an affair with Gabriele d’Annunzio and maintained friendships with Fortuny and Poiret. From roughly 1919 to 1924, she lived in the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, which most people equate with Peggy Guggenheim, another eccentric patron of the arts. Casati’s parties there were legendary, with the menagerie of animals and the free flowing drugs available, plus of course the glittering array of fashionable folks.

Luisa Casati’s singular style and life inspired many artists, photographers, writers, filmmakers, and of course, fashion designers. It’s a long list. Even Jack Kerouac was reportedly enamored of her portrait, this one by Augustus John.

A new book, The Unfinished Palazzo by Judith Mackrell, tells the story of Luisa and the other two women who went on to own the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni: Doris Castlerosse and Peggy Guggenheim. I began reading it when I was at my friend’s house in Rome last summer, but I didn’t accept his kind offer to keep the book because my suitcase was too full by then! I want to finish it–though I feel a bit like a voyeur. 

So next time you’re at the Guggenheim museum, close your eyes and imagine the rooms overrun by jungle animals, draped in exotic fabrics, peopled by the glitterati of a hundred years ago. Can you hear the cheetahs whisper their breathy chants to you?

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The Notorious SCS

America is fortunate to be living with the Notorious RBG (Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg) in our times. But Venice in the early seventeenth century was lucky to have the Notorious SCS.

Sarra Copia Sulum.

Her friend and mentor Rabbi Leon Modena provided Sarra’s epitaph, complimenting her by writing, “Wise was she among women, / A jewel for the miserable, / and of every poor soul / A friend and companion.” And numerous friends of hers came to her defense when other scholars defamed her, stole from her, or accused her of stealing her writings from others. Sarra wrote a number of poems, which she shared with Ansaldo Ceba, a Christian cleric, who destroyed most of her work but published his own correspondence with Sarra, profiting from her intelligence and notoriety.

Why the Notorious SCS? Sarra was accused of heresy when she wrote about the immortality of the soul. A (probably) jealous scholar put her in harm’s way with this accusation, which could bring censure to her as well as to her community.

But Sarra deserved better treatment. She brought together Jews and Christians at her literary salon in Venice’s Ghetto. Really, no one else was doing this, and certainly not a woman, who, in the early part of the seventeenth century, rarely ran salons because they ran the risk of being labeled as unchaste. Shaul Bassi writes that “Where others decreed separation, she envisioned dialogue and exchange.”

I bring up SCS today because my friend Rita recently gave me a copy of Poems for Sarra/Poesie per Sara published by Damocle and organized by Beit Venezia and the poets Meena Alexander, Rita Dove, and Esther Schor. In the Introduction, Bassi writes, “This book is a tribute to Sarra, and a promise to continue our effort to nourish the tradition of the Ghetto as a foundry of ideas, always choosing poetry over silence.” I’ve chosen a few poems to share with you here.

 

“Do Not Pity Me, Ansaldo Dear”

by Esther Schor

 

Do not pity me, Ansaldo dear

that heaven has no saint to guard my life

from sickness and despair, to keep me safe

from all my enemies; to teach me fear

of evil intellects and baleful souls.

Tell me this: Why trust a guardian

who chose a glorious martyrdom

of iron nails and arrows, broken wheels,

eyes on a golden salver streaked with blood

over ordinary ecstasy:

the rascal bells of San Giorgio

at midnight dared the sea

to scale the steps of Cannaregio–

at sunrise, all the ghetto, one bright flood. 

 

“In Praise of Fragments”

by Meena Alexander

 

Shall I make a house with sticks?

A house of breath

for the freckled butterfly?

Will it come to me?

I grip a fistful of paper

There is ink on my fingernails

On the whorls of my palms.

What burns like paper?

Only the soul.

 

“Sarra’s Blues”

by Rita Dove

 

I am not the one you hoped for

(it is morning it is light)

I am not the one you think I am

(the air is stale the light is sweet)

 

I will not give in to sorrow

(though the lapping water purrs)

I will not be duped by joy

(I can hear the earth’s dull groan)

 

You cannot find me in these lines

(I have not gone it is too soon)

I cannot find the noblest rhymes

(I did not die this afternoon)

 

From wan day into the evening

(brackish spittle clanging skull)

From grim evening into night

(water settles light decays)

 

What I whisper will not soothe you

(sour washrag fevered lamp)

Do not look for peace or wisdom

(do remember do regret)

 

I have nothing left to tell you

(the muffled chorus swells)

I will not live forever

but I shall not die today.

I wrote a short book about Sarra, titled A Living Memory: Immortality for Sarra Copia Sulam, which you can get from Supernova Edizioni in Venice, or I have a handful of copies left if you want to buy it from me. Here’s a link to the ebook, or just contact me if you want a paperback.

And here’s a video to show you where Sarra may have lived. I haven’t been able to confirm a home for her, but this palace is a likely candidate.

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Venice, My Muse: An Interview with Andrea Perego

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This month you’ll meet another person fascinated with both Venice and Casanova. Andrea Perego is a Berlin-based Italo-Australian journalist and writer. He lived in Sydney where he worked as a broadcaster journalist for SBS Radio, and in Venice, where he earned his diploma in Archival Studies, Palaeography, and Diplomatics at the Archivio di Stato. Andrea and I actually share the same publisher in Venice: Supernova Edizioni. With Supernova, he has published the novel The Laws of Time, set in 1730 Venice, Casanova in Berlin, from Giacomo Casanova’s original manuscript, in four languages (French, Italian, English, and German), and the short story collection Red Moons and Cornflowers. He is now working on projects in Venice and Berlin.

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How has Venice seduced you?

I had begun writing the novel The Laws of Time when I was living in Sydney, working as a journalist. Then I decided to come back to Europe. I chose Venice for two reasons. First, of course, was to write the novel and to be where it takes place. Second, because I always felt attracted and rejected by Venice, depending on Venice’s moods, not mine. I wanted to understand why that happened, and how that seduction and rejection could live together and be part of the same feeling of love.

That’s how I got trapped.

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What do you never fail to do in Venice?

Smell the sea, the lagoon, the calli, look for rats (I find them funny and sweet), visit my friends and a couple of museums, sit al mercato, on the Grand Canal, on a pier, for a spritz.

What is your Venice soundtrack?

“Ohè… Ohè, pope…” Ah, I’m joking. That’s what the gondoliers say when they row around a corner. It’s probably, as for many others, the not-so-silent-silence, the lapping water, chirping birds, distant chatter, mixed with the smell of wet stone and the canals. “The gentle swash on the shores and the embankments, almost inaudible, had the remote sound of monotonous immobility, of time suspended between night and early morning.” (The Laws of Time). And the bells. They are so distinctive. A friend of mine can recognize all the different bell towers from the sounds of their bells.

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Walk or take a boat?

It depends how tired I am. Mostly I walk, but when I have to cross the Grand Canal I far prefer the gondola-traghetto.

Which church or campo best epitomizes you? Please explain.

Venice epitomizes only itself.

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Which is your favorite Venetian festival and why?

I’m not going to be popular here. I’m not into festivals, far too many people and too loud. I’ve seen them all: Salute, Regata storica, Carnevale, Redentore… Maybe Salute is still quite real and November is wonderful. But, again, not really my cup of tea.

Spritz or Bellini?

Do I have to choose? There’s a time for a Spritz and a time for a Bellini. Why discriminate?

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What do you always tell friends to do when they visit the city?

I suggest they should visit Palazzo Mocenigo, Ca’ Pesaro, and Ca’ Rezzonico. They are great museums, a little off the beaten track, and allow you to explore different areas of the city. Piazza San Marco and that area is a must, of course, but if you want to have a more personal experience of Venice, go between midnight and 6 am. You will avoid the crush of people. Try not to take pictures. It’s all about what you feel, not just what you see. Try to take memories, not photos.

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If you could have dinner with any Venetian, living or dead, who would it be and why? What would dinner be?

There are a few choices here. It could be Caterina Cornaro, the “queen of Cyprus,” to see what her court near Asolo was like and have dinner with her friends, Pietro Bembo and so on. But I think I’d be more attracted by some composer or some painter, just to see how they worked, to observe how they wrote their music, what paper they used, what ink, their creative process, or how they painted, where they painted, what their studio was like, how they mixed their colours. That does it for me. One name above all? I think Giorgione. He was born in Castelfranco, in the Venetian mainland, but he lived and worked in Venice. Finally I would find out something more about his magnificent, mesmerizing portraits. And about the actual dinner? Anywhere. I’d let him decide and take me to some taverna near his studio. Menu: a meat dish and red wine. I want to try something cooked on the fire, see how they did it, and taste the wine of the 1500s.

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Casanova: genius or cad?

A genial cad. One does not exclude the other, like it or not. Many liked him, many others didn’t.

What would you do with $30,000 U.S. to spend in Venice?

I’d rent a palace for a night, for a great dinner. I’d have some cooks preparing dishes from the 1700s, meat, fish, cakes, and biscuits. Just for the pleasure of trying those recipes. I’d pay the students from the Conservatorio to have music in every room, and I would leave the doors open for everyone coming and going, for all the Venetians, and not only. I’d invite students, homeless people, friends. With boats available and ready outside the door to go… wherever.

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If money were no object, which palazzo would you buy?

This is a difficult one, there are so many. Maybe Palazzo Mocenigo on the Grand Canal, the first floor where Byron lived. Or Palazzo Polignac, one the most elegant Renaissance buildings. Third option: Palazzo Donà dalle Rose at Fondamente Nove. Last but not least, Ca’ Dario, it’s not opulent but cosy and I like its garden. And I’m not superstitious.

Which gelato flavor are you?

Amarena (black cherry).

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How can readers learn more about you and your creative pursuits?

Please see my Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/itsandreaperego

There’s also a page about The Laws of Time. The whole world of the novel is there: pictures, paintings, and everything about Venice in 1730, how people dressed, what they used, etc. It’s a great site for whoever likes Venice:

https://thelawsoftime.wordpress.com

And, of course, read The Laws of Time.

 

 

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Quattro Minuti con Casanova: Teatro Sant’Angelo

I haven’t posted a Quattro Minuti episode in a while, so here’s a new one to start your new year! The last two posts featured other theaters that Casanova was connected to: Teatro Goldoni and Teatro Benedetto. In today’s video, you’ll learn about Casanova’s stint as a theater manager at the Teatro Sant’Angelo, which is now a hotel. Yes, he was so much more than a famed lover–he was also an innovative theater manager and writer. This video gives you a taste of his mad skills, and for more details you can read the fuller description in Seductive Venice: In Casanova’s Footsteps.

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The former Teatro Sant’Angelo is now a hotel on the Grand Canal

Thank you to the mother and daughter who were kind enough to film me this day last summer! And don’t you love the sound of splashing water and the church bells in the background? Ah, to be in Venice! This video has only 31 views at the time of this posting. Help me increase those numbers!  🙂

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