And the Winner Is…



Thank you to all who “liked” the first “Venice, My Muse” interview with Barbara Lynn-Davis, and to those who left comments. I love how people connected with Barbara’s responses and then added their own favorite places, paintings, memories, and details.

Barbara will be mailing out a copy of Casanova’s Secret Wife to Cecilia, our lucky winner!

I plan to post a new interview each month, and some of these will have giveaways as well. Keep watching this space, and keep your comments coming. 🙂


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Tombola Ends Soon!

Reminder that tomorrow, Thursday, August 31, at midnight Pacific Time, the raffle ends to win a free copy of Casanova’s Secret Wife by Barbara Lynn-Davis. If you haven’t yet seen it, you should read my interview with her in the post “Venice, My Muse: Interview with Barbara Lynn-Davis.” Here’s the link:

Interview with Barbara Lynn-Davis

To enter the raffle, known in Italy as the tombola, please comment on the post and also “like” the page.  The tombola is open to all across the globe, whether you read this blog on WordPress, Facebook, or LinkedIn. Keep those comments coming!


Me with my tombola tickets in Venice this summer.


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Vigna Murada


The boat house at the dock helps you know you’ve found the right place

Vigna Murada, the original name of the island now known as Lazzaretto Novo, has had inhabitants since the Bronze Age. Most people think of it, however, as a quarantine island, where ships and their crews and cargos were held for forty days to prevent the spread of the black plague or other diseases. (In fact, the word “quarantine” derives from this Venetian practice.) Nowadays, you have to request the boat captain to stop and let you off at Lazzaretto Novo before they travel on to Sant’Erasmo. I did just that, with my friend Vonda Wells (who runs the A Beautiful Woman in Venice tour company) when we were there last month.

Vigna Murada means “walled vineyard,” and the restored walls and wild woods make this name easy to believe. When Vonda and I arrived, a guide told us in Italian that the gates to the walled area wouldn’t open for about ten minutes. When that time came and passed, we decided to take the “nature walk” that circumnavigates the island (about a kilometer). Within minutes, we were plunged into a shady forest, whacking spiderwebs out of our faces and startling bunnies from the underbrush. (No kidding! At one point, about ten bunny rabbits bounded across the lawn!) We crossed a little bridge and were greeted by marshes sprinkled with purple sea lavender and other wild foliage with such tasty names as glasswort and artemisia. A plethora of island birds, including egrets, herons, and “swamp hawks,” baffled us with their odd calls. We tried to puzzle out the bell towers of Murano and Torcello and Venice in the distance.

Back at the now-open gate, the guide ushered us past a row of ancient mulberry trees. “They are perhaps 200 years old,” he said. Roman statues, which had been recovered from the lagoon, lay beside them.


At the Tezon Grande, our guide explained that this 16th century building, which is 100 meters long, is the second longest building in Venice, after the Arsenale’s corderie. We gaped at the well-preserved graffiti still adorning the entrance wall. It includes sketches and doodles, dates, notes, names of boats, and a drawing of an ancient gondola.

“It looks like the boat in the Church of  San Trovaso,” I said. The guide looked surprised at me and said, “Brava. Yes, it is similar, the same time period.”

Archeologists and excavators have been hard at work at Lazzaretto Novo, unearthing remains, cleaning up artifacts, cataloguing their work. It’s an absolute treasure trove of pots, buttons, pipes, glass, rings, knives, and bones. Lots of bones. Two cemeteries outside the walls of the Tezon Grande collected the remains of Muslim and Christian sailors who died while on the island. Those who were sick with the plague were often sent to Lazzaretto Vecchio, the older hospital island, while Lazzaretto Novo’s purpose was to quarantine the goods until they were safe to transport into the city. But of course many died while at Lazzaretto Novo as well.

The guide showed us a video (in English, also available in Italian) that outlined the island’s history. It was impressively well-made and also informed us about the ecological work being done to preserve the island’s water, flora, and fauna. We then toured the grounds with him as he led us past ruins of foundations, past a restored well-head, and up stairs that allowed us to look out over the wall and across the lagoon.

Lazzaretto Novo has fifty dorm beds. You can actually stay there and help with an archeological dig or to restore the marshland. They offer Archeology Camp for teens as well as underwater archeology and naval architecture. Don’t you just want to sign up right now?!


A sketch of the original buildings. Notice the two cemeteries outside the walls.

Vonda and I were pleased beyond our expectations as we left to find some lunch at Sant’Erasmo across the canal. On the dock, we had to push a button and wave to signal the next vaporetto to stop and pick us up. I loved my time on Lazzaretto Novo but wasn’t too keen to be the only inhabitant on that lonely island at night.

You can reach Lazzaretto Novo by vaporetto from the Fondamente Nove docks. Here is a link to details:

Visiting Lazzaretto Novo

Or if you do a tour with Vonda, she can help you arrange your own visit on one of your independent days.

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Carillon Venezia

The cutest music box EVER!

Or click here: Carillon Venezia

When I showed this to my partner RJ, he said, “And you didn’t buy it?” I couldn’t! The video was sent to me by my friend Adriano.

I hope it makes you smile as much as it did me.

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Venice, My Muse: An Interview with Barbara Lynn-Davis

Welcome to a new series I’m beginning today. Since I’ve been getting to know more and more of my readers, I thought it’d be fun to create a set of interview questions to highlight their love for Venice. I’m titling this “Venice, My Muse” to honor the many ways that Venice inspires our community of Venetophiles. Watch out–you might be next!

My first interview is with Barbara Lynn-Davis, who you may remember as the author of Casanova’s Secret Wife, which I reviewed a few weeks ago. Barbara earned an art history degree from Brown University and went on to complete a Ph.D. in Renaissance art at Princeton. She currently teaches art history and writing at Wellesley and makes time to write novels as well. Here are her responses to my questions:

Head shot Barbara Lynn-Davis

How has Venice seduced you?

I first became enchanted with Venice while working as an intern after college at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. I lived with an 86 year-old Yugoslavian countess (she always proudly insisted I call her “contessa”.) She owned a fairly modest, 2-bedroom apartment overlooking the Giudecca Canal. Because she was monetizing her apartment by taking in students, she gave me the most beautiful bedroom, the big one overlooking the water. Watching the shining blue-green lagoon each day, the gondolas and fishing boats and occasional ocean liner, that soft Italian light floating in the windows and onto the Oriental carpets and pastel-painted furniture … I fell in love for a lifetime.

What do you never fail to do in Venice?

I love Venice in the dark especially, when the day has been screaming hot and night is a balm. I never fail to stop and inhale the perfume of jasmine climbing through garden gates. I close my eyes and imagine what it would be like to be inside such an enclosed and treasured place, as to have a garden in Venice is the ultimate luxury.

Walk or take a boat?

Walk, mostly. But when I was living there working on my dissertation, I also loved the convenience of popping into a gondola traghetto that went from Piazza San Marco to the Church of the Salute. It cost next-to-nothing and was a way to experience a (bumpy) gondola ride that otherwise I could never have afforded!

Which church or campo best epitomizes you? Please explain.

Love this question! For me, it’s definitely Campiello Barbaro in Dorsoduro. To me, it is perfect: its intimate size, the canal that runs along one side, and most of all, the view of the back of Ca’ Dario, where a fifteenth century open-air loggia overlooks a high-walled pocket garden. I adore this campo so much that in my book, I imagined my main character, Caterina Capreta, living in this perfect spot.

Ca' Dario and Campiello Barbaro

Ca’ Dario and Campiello Barbaro, photo by Barbara

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

I always tell my friends to see the painting by Vittor Carpaccio of St. George and the Dragon in the Scuola di San Giorgio deli Schiavoni. A scuola was a confraternity dedicated to the civic good, and many of the more than one-hundred confraternities in Venice were also patrons of the arts. This painting depicts St. George fighting for the life of a frightened princess in Libya. Carpaccio had never traveled to such an exotic place, and instead, he conjured the scene through his imagination and resourcefulness: for example, to portray the large gateway visible on the shoreline he used a woodblock print (prints circulated widely in Venice at this time) of an actual gate in Cairo. In the end, to see this glowing painting still on the walls of the confraternity is to feel eerily, magically transported back in time.


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

With Casanova, naturalmente! I would want to share the meal he tells us he savored with lover Marina Morosini in his casino: game, fish, truffles, oysters, fruit, sorbet and Burgundy wines. I would also settle for a big bowl of macaroni and cheese, which I know he also enjoyed 🙂

Casanova: genius or cad?

In my view he is clever, funny, a risk-taker, adventurous, and seductive. Not afraid to say it: I adore him.

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

I’ve done a lot of research on Murano as once an island of convents, villas and gardens. That is, it was Venice’s green space (to use a modern term.) But a visitor today to Murano does not get this feel at all. I dream of somehow recovering this sense of an island devoted to the pleasures of nature, whether restoring a single building and garden or maybe even designing a new green space for people to enjoy and reflect in.


Gazing towards Murano’s fields beyond the houses

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

I think I would buy Ca’ Dario, but there’s a superstition that it is the “house that kills” so that’s a bit of a dampener on my enthusiasm.


Would you rather be a courtesan or a noblewoman? Make your case.

I would much rather be a noblewoman. Noblewomen, at least in the eighteenth-century, had quite a lot of freedom. For example, they enjoyed the company of cicisbei, basically boy toys whose role it was to make a woman feel beautiful and accompany her out in society. Sometimes these cicisbei were also lovers, sometimes not. Readers will note that in my book, the social life of Caterina Capreta is very circumscribed, but she is a merchant’s daughter, belonging to the more traditional cittadino class. Noblewomen had it much better (as usual.)

What is your favorite cicchetti? Do you have a cicchetti story?

My favorite Venetian snack are tramezzini (English-style tea sandwiches.) I include a recipe for them on my website, below. I made them recently for my writers’ group and they were a huge hit. Even if you think you don’t like mayonnaise and white bread, you will likely discover that when combined with these savory Italian fillings, you do!

Which gelato flavor are you?

Bacio, for sure 🙂

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

Visit my website, for a multisensory experience of Venice: an excerpt from my book, plus art, music, food and drink, and an invitation to “walk with Casanova” in the company of Kathleen’s marvelous guidebook, Seductive Venice: In Casanova’s Footsteps.

And a final note:

In order to encourage more engagement with my blog, I’m also offering a raffle! If you “like” this post on WordPress or Facebook and also leave a comment, your name will be entered into a raffle to win a copy of Barbara’s book Casanova’s Secret Wife. Deadline: August 31 at midnight Pacific time.

Carpaccio’s painting at the Schola di San Giorgio (as mentioned in Gregory’s comment, below)

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Redefining Beauty Videos: Giustiniana Wynne


Giustiniana Wynne

Giustiniana in her later years. No portraits remain of her from her youth.

Today I’d like to remember Giustiniana Wynne. She died on this date in 1791. But Giustiniana was not forgotten as her life neared its end. “The poor Countess is to die,” wrote her niece Betsy on June 23, 1791. “There is no remedy for her. Papa says they are all in a very great distress about it.” “Papa” was Giustiniana’s brother Richard Wynne, who was with her on August 22, 1791, when Giustiniana passed away after nine months of suffering from uterine cancer.

Video: Giustiniana Wynne

I’ve made a previous video at Palazzo Businello-Giustiani, relating the story of Giustiniana’s brief affair in Paris with Casanova. In this new video, I acknowledge my narrow understanding of her life: She was an important author who should be remembered for her literary contributions, and I didn’t know that about her when I did my initial Casanova research for Seductive Venice: In Casanova’s Footsteps.


Palazzo Businello-Giustiani is the brown one

With A Beautiful Woman in Venice, I give a much fuller picture of her life, which you can hear about in short in this video. Thank you to the two teenagers who filmed me on the dock across from the Erbaria. Behind me, you can see Palazzo Balbi, which Giustiniana visited often as a teen, even receiving marriage proposals at that time. She later lived in the Palazzo Loredan degli Ambasciatori, down by the Guggenheim museum.


Ambassadors to Venice often lived in this palazzo

(By the way, why is it that YouTube always offers the worst thumbnail images to post with each video? I always have my mouth pursed in some strange way, or my eyes popping out. Don’t get me wrong–I love and appreciate YouTube’s service, but I always end up looking like a dufus.)
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Random Journal Entry #6

It’s been a long time since I posted a piece in this occasional series, where I dip into my journals from past trips to Venice. While waiting in the airport to fly back to Venice this summer, I read through my journal from 1996–the first time I went to Venice! My very first trip was over spring break with students, and then I returned in the summer for two weeks by myself. This entry and the ones that follow are excerpts from that summer. I’m keeping my spelling errors as is (they crack me up!), but I’ve changed some names for the sake of friends’ privacy.

The Church of Santi Apostoli, whose bells I’d hear each night

August 3, 1996

Arrived yesterday in Venice with no baggage thanks to Alitalia. Washed my hair with bar soap this morning. I’ve found a wonderful spot right now on the Grand Canal. Not too many people, shade, and a glorious breeze that billows my skirt. The humidity here leaves me permanently sticky, so this wind is the best feeling yet.

My room [at Hotel Bernardi] is like a little monastery cell with a curtain. It seems like it’s below ground level because it has a thick outside wall and a very deep, high set window with bars on it. It’s actually on the ground floor, though, and despite the thick wall, every noise comes directly in. I went to bed early but was woken periodically by noise of Friday night merry-makers. A group of drunken men were singing opera [at Ai Promessi Sposi restaurant across the way] till the wee hours. One guy led while the others joined in. Whenever the lead reached his strongest notes, his dog would yowl along with him until the men broke into laughter. I drifted in and out of sleep listening to this.

The canal at the end of the street near Hotel Bernardi

I met a little black and white cat on my street, Calle d’Oca. I clucked my tongue and he waited for me to catch up to pet him. In the morning when I went out I noticed him just in time to see him throw up a hairball.

I’m listening to my new Puccini tape on the walkman right now. It makes me feel like life here has a soundtrack. After a while I forget I’m even wearing the headphones. I’ve no one to talk to anyway, except the postcard salesman who tried to pick up on me. He was cute, too, and stood too close on a warm day. I think I might just keep listening to Puccini for the whole two weeks I’m here.


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