Spotted Today in Venice

Russia was uninvited to the Biennale.
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The Newest Casanova Biography

A couple weeks ago my newsfeed blew up with articles about the newest biography on Casanova: Adventurer: The Life and Times of Giacomo Casanova. This review by the Guardian calls C a “career criminal” and particularly focuses on incest, pedophilia, and sexual assault. The Economist talks about the “dark side of Casanova’s hedonism,” calling C a “rapist and murderer.” I was concerned seeing these comments.

I’m not excusing any of C’s behavior, but I’ve also read a number of analyses of his actions within the context of the eighteenth century, so I was hesitant about exploring this new work. Written by Harvard English professor Leo Damrosch, it chronicles C’s life with more of a modern lens. Or so it seems.

But then I came across a podcast on Princeton Alumni Weekly: “PAWcast: Leo Damrosch ’68 on the Life of Giacomo Casanova.” The interview by Elisabeth Daugherty allows Damrosch to speak for himself about his impressions of C and his aims in writing this book, which feel more balanced and nuanced than many of the newspaper reviews. I haven’t read the new book and won’t draw any conclusions yet. Damrosch worked from the original manuscripts and apparently consulted the scholarship coming from modern French scholars (he doesn’t name them here, but I can guess at a few important names). Certainly for Casanovists, any new biography is of interest.

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Dear Venice, Wish You Were Here #20

This postcard is a bit different from the others in that it was sent from Rome to Venice, but it is still an image of Venice. The sender, Bob, will explain this shortly. Here’s the text, which I think I’ve gotten mostly right, though the name of the hotel in Rome is unclear.

Hello folks:

I want to get a card to you, but find these are all I have as I haven’t bought any here yet. Met an American on the train who had been in Ven. 3 days & spent them at Lido & saw nothing. Arrived Florence at 7 a.m. Went to Pitti Palace Museum, left at 1 and got to Rome at 7 p.m. After some difficulty got check cashed. Staying at Pension Milton fine.

Thank you very much, Sincerely, Bob

So what is the check for? Why did Mrs. Fred A Healy owe Bob money or need to pay him? And the best part–who are John and Charlie in the gondola pictured on the front of the postcard? I love that it’s addressed to Mrs. Healy at the American Express office in Venice. I’ve heard of people doing this, but to see an example, and from 1928, makes history come alive.

And, just sayin’, Bob should slow down and enjoy these cities more. He admonishes the man who stayed in Lido and saw nothing, and then he himself spent a mere few hours in Florence and only saw the Pitti Palace. Really? Not even the David or any of the churches?

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In Casanova’s Footsteps: Rome–Palazzo Madama / The Bargello


Etching of the Palazzo Madama by Giuseppe Vasi, 1754.

This entry relates to the episode when Casanova met Betty and Sir B.M. on his way to Rome. See previous entries about Palazzo Decarolis for more of the story.

“The Bargello in Rome is a person who can do a great deal, who takes on all sorts of business, and who is very expeditious when he sees clearly and when his clients are not afraid to spend money.” The Bargello was a basically the Chief of Police in Rome, and Casanova offered this explanation when meeting with Rome’s Bargello in 1760. Casanova availed himself of the Bargello’s services immediately upon arriving in the city with Sir B.M. and Betty to bring justice against Count de l’Etoile who had so wrongly used the beautiful Betty.

“What we demand,” he told the Bargello, “is perfectly just, and you see that we could obtain it by the ordinary legal procedures; but, being in a hurry, I have come to ask you to take the whole matter in hand, and, to help you to look into it speedily, I offer you the fifty scud which we shall save in court costs.” Casanova explained in his memoirs that the Bargello lived in ease and “ceremony” due to such offerings.

Casanova gave the Bargello a bill of exchange that he believed was fraudulent, plus he arranged to turn over the Count’s trunk and letters. It turns out that the Bargello was already aware of this scheming character–where he was staying and that he had already visited the customs office to try to retrieve his trunk. Casanova adds, “He said that the thing was grave enough to send him to Civitavecchia (to the galleys), if we would give a hundred scud instead of fifty.”

The Bargello worked swiftly, informing Casanova and Sir B.M. that their prey had been imprisoned later that day. then the next day, “The Bargello had provided us with an advocate,” Casanova wrote, “who at once made out a document in which he summoned the prisoner to pay the costs of the journey and of his arrest, and a pecuniary compensation to the young woman he had deceived, unless he could prove within six weeks, on the testimony of the French Ambassador, that his title of Count was genuine; meanwhile he was to remain in prison.” Am I the only reader who bridles at this show of privilege? Why should man of rank be released when a “commoner” would have to fulfill his prison term?

Sir B.M. asked to speak with the actor “Count de l’Etoile,” actually wagering that his bill of exchange was a fraud. Various difficulties prevented this from being arranged, however, and Casanova joined Sir B.M. and Betty on a trip to Naples where they visited Lord Baltimore.

The Bargello most likely had his offices in the Governatorate of Rome, the same place as Rome’s Governor. The offices had been located in the Palazzo del Governo Vecchio. Before 1755, this would have been in Palazzo Nardini, but Pope Benedict XIV relocated the offices to the Palazzo Madama, which is where Casanova likely met with the Bargello in 1760. The palace is located on Piazza Madama, not far from Piazza Navona.  At the time of Vasi’s etching, the square hosted an open air market, selling wine in particular, which is evidenced by the small cart you can see in the lower left corner of Vasi’s drawing.


Contemporary photo of Palazzo Madama by Roberto Piperno.

(Quotes from C’s memoirs come from the translation by W. Trask, Vol. 11, Ch. 9, plus the notes. Research  on the Bargello and the Palazzo del Governo Vecchio plus information and photos of the Palazzo Madama come from with the assistance of Roberto Piperno.)
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Another Casanova Conference!

Make your plans now to be in Chieti-Pescara to attend an International Conference on Casanova, September 22-23, 2022. The full title is “Levantine Sociabilities in Europe in Giacomo Casanova’s Time: Spies, Imposters, Courtesans, and Men of Culture.” See the link for the details and location.

Pietro Longhi, The Ridotto in Venice

You can see from the title that the conference will focus on Enlightenment values of sociability–people coming together, sharing ideas, traveling, letter writing, diplomacy, and much much more. If you enjoy Enlightenment or 18th century studies, it looks like you’ll find much to learn and discuss here.

The keynote will be delivered by Malina Stefanovska, my co-producer of the Casanova in Place Symposium in Venice 2019 and a professor at UCLA. There are lots of presenters and papers here, so the discussion should be rich, varied, and fresh. I won’t be able to attend this one, so I hope others can and will tell me all about it!

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Venetian Emoji #13

“I’b god a code in my nose bud my goadee is still cool.”

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Voices from Venice Conference: The Videos

The Voices from Venice Conference, created and hosted by the Guild of St George on April 2, 2022, was an unmitigated success. People from all over the planet attended, dropping their comments and questions into the chat. And the speakers were superb: A wide variety of experts and locals who provided context and information about their fields of expertise.

This conference offered an opportunity to bring together a wide ranging community of people with different interests and areas of expertise. We all love Venice; we are all doing good work; and we all are working towards a hope-filled future. The Guild’s conference has given us an opportunity to come together, and in unity of purpose we can achieve much more. A friend of mine, Jose-Arnaldo, once told me that I am a relacionadora, one who brings people together. I think this conference was a relation-builder. and as one of the speakers pointed out, when we come together, we are more powerful agents of change. I think of this collection of videos as primary sources–the voices of people now that future generations may listen to and reflect on this moment in time. There is much value in coming together, sharing ideas, and centering these authentic voices.

The lovely folks at the Guild of St George have divided the day’s talks into separate videos to make them more accessible for viewing. You can hear more about the role of the lagoon itself in Venice’s ecosystem; about over-tourism and some positive suggestions for improvement; about the creative communities of writers and artists who envision Venice’s future; and about the political players and policies needed on board for change. Of special interest were Jane Da Mosto from We are here Venice and Tommaso Cacciari from No Grandi Navi, both organizations that sales of Venice Rising support. Key speakers included author Salvatore Settis (who wrote If Venice Dies) and Francesco Bandarin, a former director of UNESCO. Oh, and me. :). It was the middle of the night for me, but I’m told that my tiredness didn’t show!

Members of the Guild Peter Burman and Simon Seligman managed the day beautifully, and Rachel Dickinson offered opening and closing remarks to frame our thinking. It was a triumph, and I offer much gratitude to all who made it happen.

And what’s next? Perhaps a new book? If you get all the way to the end of the final video, you may hear some details about this.

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My New Addiction

Thanks to a friend, I have discovered a new guilty pleasure (though really I shouldn’t feel guilty about it, I suppose!)

Real estate agents sometimes make videos presenting their properties. I love any excuse to peek inside a palazzo (Biennale events are a great entrée). I found myself oohing with pleasure and astonishment at these lavish apartments.

Here is an apartment in Castello that has its own bridge leading to it. The courtyard offers light as well as canal access plus its own pozzo. (I daydreamed about arriving in my own gondola, with my own gondolier, of course.) I especially loved the sitting room with what looked like a former fireplace now displaying art objects. Take the tour of it with Danilo Romolini, pictured here.

This place offers magnificent windows that drench the room in light. The courtyard has a staircase worthy of Romeo and Juliet with fresco fragments fooling the eye into seeing another balcony. I love the high ceilings and terrazzo floors and sense of airiness. You could live a cozy life here or throw magnificent parties! The building is situated across from Ca’ Goldoni, on a bridge I’ve crossed countless times and that Casanova’s mother no doubt crossed on her way to visit the playwright Carlo Goldoni.

But this palace on the Grand Canal is stupendous. You could have your own balcony overlooking the Canal. The rooms are enormous, begging to be filled with your friends and family for lavish gatherings. The large windows welcome in so much light, and the dining room, decorated with vines and leaves, produces the sense that you’re having dinner in the woods. It’s hard to imagine that I could buy such a place (well, it will have to be merely in my imagination, as the price tag is beyond my means!)

At least these videos (and many more) are available to view. Please share your favorites!

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Sharing: “Why Are Venice’s Hotels Arming Guests With Water Pistols?”

I couldn’t pass up sharing this article with you from Italy Magazine. (The news has run in a number of other publications as well.) Some hotels in Venice are handing out orange water guns to guests to scare off the pesky seagulls. I guess I need to pack my own bright orange water gun now or wear a bright orange jacket!

“Why Are Venice’s Hotels Arming Guests With Water Pistols?”

Photo from
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Want a Peek?

Have you ever wondered what’s behind those tall brick walls as you walk down a calle in Venice? You know, the ones with wisteria or orange trumpet vines drooping over, and maybe you get a peek through a gate into a secret garden?

Image by Google, from the website

Thanks to Vince Gratzner who shared this link with me, you get to see inside not one but two secret gardens today. Oddly, they’re actually in a short documentary from Real Royalty about Empress Sissi of Austria. The home and garden where she lived is on the Giudecca island in Venice, known as the Giudecca Eden, sadly closed to the public (though if you want to see it, contact tour guide Luisella Romeo who might have information for you). Go to roughly minute 32 of the documentary to catch the beginning of this section.

Though is was immaculate when the Princess lived there, the garden is now quite lush and unkempt. It was allowed to grow wild under the ownership from 1979 to 2000 of the artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser (yes, that guy who created the amazing Seuss-like houses). Enjoy this very rare footage into this garden and check out the statues, pathways, fountains and other hidden gems. (Who ever expected to see a boat in a garden?) You’ll also see the terrible damage sustained by the garden from the 2019 aqua granda.

The video also contains peeks into an enormous green space in Venice: the garden of the Grand Hotel Palazzo Dei Dogi in northern Cannaregio. Go to roughly minute 45, which describes the botanical garden that Empress Sissi visited, which is now the hotel gardens. Luisella tells me that if you ask nicely the hotel “lets you see the garden when they don’t serve breakfast.” Or you can just be a guest there. In any case, what a treat! Go to roughly minute 45, which describes the botanical garden that Empress Sissi visited.

Next time you need a break from the cobbled streets and stone bridges or the big crowds, look for one of Venice’s hidden gardens instead.

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