Oops! Forgot the Spritz!

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How can I throw a party to celebrate the publication of First Spritz Is Free and not serve a batch of spritz for everyone to drink?! Well, that’s what I did!

Today we gathered in my backyard around the doortable and under the grape vine to officially launch the book in California. The e-book is available, the paperback is done, and now it’s time to toast to all our work!

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Marco Zecchin and I both read from our chapters and signed everyone’s books. How fun! Unfortunately, our other local contributors were either traveling or indisposed, so we were sorry they couldn’t join us. But our friends gathered round and lifted a glass of wine to toa…..

Wait, wine?

Yeah, I forgot to make spritz for everyone!

Well, we dug up a bottle of prosecco, David grabbed his bottle of Aperol, and luckily we had more seltzer water on hand. Sadly, no olives or orange slices. But I did stir it all with an oar. Heather drank her first-ever spritz and declared that it tasted like the color orange. She also said it was persimmon-colored. And she declared it delicious.

And it was free.

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A spritz should be stirred with an oar!

Thanks to Laura Rice for the fabulous photos!

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No Bamboozling

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The boy and his sister held up the painting of the Ghetto Novo so their parents could take a picture of it. They were contemplating the nearly finished painting that showed the Ghetto at early nighttime, the sky an inky blue, the buildings like black shadows, but the ground floor shops illuminated and flecked with the red and green and orange of handbags, glass, books, and other wares for sale. Spots of color caught in the pools of water on the campo’s stones.

This is a slice of life in Tony Green’s gallery, Imaogars, in Venice’s Ghetto.

Tony has been living in Venice for decades, sometimes splitting his time with New Orleans, his other home. He captures both cities in his paintings—the music, the people, the buildings and canals and street life. While I visited with him this summer (the day before his birthday, in fact), he even pulled out a binder he keeps to show his New Orleans mural work to a couple from Pennsylvania who asked him if he knew the musicians at Preservation Hall. You see, Tony is also a musician, a guitarist in the style of Django Reinhardt, the prodigy who was missing two of his fretwork fingers. “For anyone who comes in and hasn’t heard of Django, I keep this around,” he explained, showing me the paint-splattered copy of a book on the musician’s life and music. “Recognize that guy?” he asked the Pennsylvanians as he pointed to a photo of himself in the book.

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In fact it was Tony’s music that introduced him to me years ago. Being a Django fan, when I saw the photocopied flyer on a wall in Venice, I made sure to attend the free concert. Tony and I hit it off and have even met up in New Orleans.

In the new book First Spritz Is Free: Confessions of Venice Addicts, Tony tells what brought him to Venice and shares a few of his funniest anecdotes of life there. Here’s an excerpt:

“Somehow living in a city with no cars, no crime, and no potholes encouraged my work habits that enabled me to reach higher artistic goals. And I’m still reaching.

I can remember one summer day walking through the sestiereof Dorsoduro when I abruptly stopped in front of this antique store to behold one of my paintings sitting there in the shop window for sale! So I entered and inquired to the owner about who was the author of this familiar self-creation. The shopkeeper proceeded to explain to me that the painting was the product of a long DECEASED American artist!

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Morto!!

Upon hearing this dreadful news, I immediately whipped out my Louisiana driver’s license, plunked it on top of the canvas, and invited this misinformed hustler to compare the two signatures.

PSYCHE!

Hey baby, you can’t bamboozle a dude who was born in Naples, conceived in Venice (Hotel Regina), and raised in New Orleans!”

The ebook is free and can be downloaded here. Tony is but one of 35 contributors, all sharing their love for Venice.

I wonder who will buy that painting of the Ghetto at night?

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Murder Can Be Fun, Too

When I taught freshman English for many years, it was all about suicide. Romeo and Juliet. Antigone. Dead Poets Society. Eek! How could we have any fun in a classroom like that? And yet we still found ways to play and laugh together.

So when I read the murder mystery The Venetian Game by Philip Gwynne Jones, you’d wonder why I smiled so much. There’s a murder, for gosh sakes! Multiples, even. And more threats of murder! And yet, I found myself smiling at the protagonist Nathan and his best friend Dario philosophizing over a Pink Floyd album, or Nathan’s thick-headed bafflement when Federica flirts obliquely with him. Or even a wry smile at a reference to Glen Gould or a pair of petty criminals characterized as Long Hair and Glasses. Who says murder can’t be fun?

Jones’ Venice is not merely that of palaces and grand churches, though those do pop into the story. When Nathan seeks out an informant on Giudecca, in the nether reaches of the island’s residential alleys, I recalled visiting a friend in that very neighborhood with its newish apartment buildings stacked next to grungy gardens past a failing fence. Or Nathan’s visit to the local communist hang out reminded me of being invited into the Old Men’s Drinking Room (at least that’s what I thought the sign outside the door said) that I once visited in Cannaregio. How does Jones know about all these out of the way spots?

If you read his first book, The Venice Project, you’ll know that he and his wife packed their life into a bunch of boxes and shlepped it all to Venice, where they have lived ever since, eating squid and other squishy Venetian delicacies. Philip teaches English and enjoys a sunset drink at Nico’s on the Zattere now. He also contributed a chapter to First Spritz Is Free, telling the story of falling in love with what became his home city. (Click on the title to access the link to your free copy!)

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Enjoying a sunset moment

Here’s another thing to smile about: Check out this prose: “Venice was drowning under a tsunami of tourists, and Something Had To Be Done. Of that, Il Gazzettino was certain. It didn’t know what, but it had no doubt that Something, ideally sooner rather than later, Had To Be Done.” Hihi! (That’s Italian for heehee.) See–fun writing, too! And one more word: Gramschi. The cat. I won’t try to explain the pleasures of Gramschi because it would be like explaining why someone should watch cat videos on YouTube. The pleasure is in the doing, not the hearing about the doing.

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Why do we love Venetian cats so much?

And sometimes I smiled not from the humor but from delight, such as when Philip has characters discussing Venetian artists and then Marietta Robusti comes up. Not Titian or Bellini or Tintoretto (her father), but one of the city’s lesser-known artists, and a woman who is often overlooked. It’s refreshing and a little unexpected to see her name on the page. Another delight was the sprinkling of Venetian dialect, such as Dario using the endearment “vecio” with Nathan–a term a couple of my gondolier friends yell across the water. I never knew how to spell this word, which means something like “old man” (or vecia for “old woman” when the guys use it on me) though they mean it in the sweetest way possible.

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Robusti’s self-portrait

In Chapter 11, we hear the phrase “Venetian game,” and my English teacher radar went ding ding ding! I’ll admit, I love when authors do that, just like when they bring a story full circle or reintroduce a theme later in the story. I know, post-modernism and all that, but hey, there’s a certain satisfaction in neatness.

Philip’s Nathan is in the interesting position of being the English Honorary Consul to Venice, which gives him the opportunity to meet an array of locals and visitors. But I won’t tell you much more about the plot of the story here. My aim is to share impressions and joys from reading rather than parrot a book jacket. But I hope this method leads you to The Venetian Game–and brings you some smiles as well.

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Image thanks to “Venezia Blog” where you can check out another review of The Venetian Game

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Venice, My Muse: An Interview with Bob and Edith Fusillo

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Usually I interview one person at a time, but this month I have something special–a couple who fell in love with Venice years ago. I was introduced to them by Piero Bellini, who often gives me good things to blog about. All three of them have contributed to First Spritz Is Free: Confessions of Venice Addicts, the new free ebook you can download here.

Edith retired after twenty-five years of teaching English as a Second Language to adults at Georgia Institute of Technology. After earning a Ph.D. in Elizabethan Drama, Bob lectured in Modern and Contemporary British art as well as performed as a concert folk singer, including a weekly TV show on the BBC. Enjoy this interview with Bob and Edith’s fun responses!

How has Venice seduced you?

Bob: With its constancy. It always seems wonderfully the same, from year to year. Much as we don’t notice our children and friends gradually growing older, there are changes in Venice, of course, but gradual. It always seems fresh and beautiful.

Edith: Venice is a beautiful, aging woman: the decay only adds to the sense that this was, and is, the most beautiful city in the world.

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The aging beauty of Venice never disappoints

What do you never fail to do in Venice?

Bob: Eat, drink, and be merry. So many lovely restaurants, staffed by so many lovely people that we have enjoyed for years.

Edith: There are many “must-dos” for us each time we return to Venice. We must make the rounds to see our friends, and that involves baking batches of chocolate chip cookies to take along. I learned long ago that being “la senora delle biscotti” was a good thing.

What is your Venice soundtrack?

Bob: Church Bells, suitcases rolling on the cobblestones, tourists singing drunkenly in the restaurant downstairs, raucous tourists at 3 a.m.

Edith: See my essay in First Spritz Is Free!

Walk or take a boat?

Bob: I much prefer the boat. Even after all these years, I still marvel at the trip up and down the Grand Canal. And because I am an old gink, I always get a seat.

Edith: When we first started staying for months at a time, we were young(er) and fit, so there was never much question about this: if if was possible to get there on foot, we walked. In these later years, we have mobility issues, so we have learned how to get from point A to point B with the fewest possible bridges. The opening of a stop for the #1 bus for the Market was a huge boon for us.

Which church or campo best epitomizes you? Please explain.

Bob: Campo Santa Maria Formosa: it is out of the way but very much alive with both local and tourist life. And I can sit and sip and feel local and still fill with awe at the Venezia of it all. And we often get a free spritz.

Edith: Our favorite campo is “our” campo, Santa Maria Formosa, because that is nearest us and we have multiple occasions to cross it in the course of a week—trips to the best butcher in town; visits to Bar Orologio for a sit-down and a spritz; off to Palazzo Cavanis for free concerts twice a week; and many other excuses. My husband used to go there to sit and smoke a cigar, but the elderly ladies grab the benches early in the afternoon and made it quite evident that he (or his cigar) was not welcome! (When I win the lottery, I will gift the square with multiple benches, one of which will have his name inscribed on it!) As for churches, we have two: the Frairi, which is one of the most extravagantly ornate churches in the city, with the most gorgeous Titan over the altar, and the other end of the spectrum, San Giovanni e Paolo, which is vast, spare, and inspiring.

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Campo Santa Maria Formosa has much to offer

Which is your favorite Venetian festival and why? 

Bob: I don’t seem to make it to festivals, unless the Biennale is one. Although I am involved in the art world, the Biennale is more of a Venetian event than an art exhibit. It is wonderful and frustrating at the same time to wander through, trying not to miss any of the almost hidden crannies. I always leave utterly exhausted and wondering if it was worth it.

Edith: We love the Regatta Storica because of the wonderful colors and energy.

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Sometimes it’s difficult to make sense of the Biennale

Spritz or Bellini?

Bob: Spritz Campari. However, I prefer straight Bitter Campari. I have ordered it for years and almost always am cross-examined as to whether I really mean Bitter Campari,  and not the soda-diluted sissy-stuff.

Edith: Easy—spritz, but Campari, not Aperol. The bitter edge and bright color epitomize all things Venetian.

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

Bob: Go to the Basilica and move through very slowly. Go behind the altar and go upstairs, and take your time. Then go out and buy a drink and look at it. And then come back at night and listen to the music and look some more.

Edith: It is a cliché, but we tell people to get lost! In the best sense of the word! Wandering the streets is the perfect ways to see the city, and while one is bound to dead-end at more than one canal, there is always a way back to a place that is familiar. Even after some forty years of walking the streets, occasionally I take a wrong turn and find myself in yet another magical neighborhood that I have never seen before. There is no end to the adventure.

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Venetian drinks are as pretty as their surroundings.

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

Bob: Difficult. Famous artists abound, Doges hip-deep. It would be nice to brag that I had met one. But I suspect that the going would be rather dreary. For a dinner I would be likely to enjoy, Casanova. It would be lively, and there are many things I’d love to ask. If someone else is paying, lots of Foie Gras.  But unless they spoke Italian, how about Fabrizio Plessi?

Edith: I would choose to revisit the wonderful dinners that we have had with our dear friends Edda (alive) and her husband Antonio (dead) Bellini, often with another wonderful friend who left us some years ago, “Captain” Georgio. We had all the classics, prepared by one or another of us—sepia nere, zambone, tiramisu (Edda’s special recipe was published in a cookbook!). They were long, noisy, convivial dinners where we felt like family. I miss those times and those people, very much.

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Who wouldn’t want to meet a doge with such a stylish hat?

Casanova: genius or cad?

Bob: Mostly a remarkable person. He led a rather spectacular life, always seeming to land on his feet. One of his recent biographers calls him utterly useless, but he produced strong memories and excitement as he went. To be a cad requires innocent victims — few of his were.

Edith: Genius, undoubtedly. No real cad would have endured with such admiration through all these centuries.

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

Bob: I would give a wonderful party for my Venetian and American friends. Put them up at the Londra Palace, reserve a big chunk of La Madonna for a long dinner, and kiss all the ladies.

Edith: This is a tough one, but I think I would spend a few days (and it would be very few for that amount of money) at the first place I ever stayed in Venice, the Hotel Danieli. It is one of the few places that has retained its original splendor, and while it is outrageously expensive, morning coffee on the roof terrace is not to be missed.

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The Hotel Danieli’s spectacular lobby and staircase

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

Bob: How about the Guggenheim? Whichever, it would have to be all mod con. Including a clothes dryer. And a large staff.

Edith: We have dear friends who owned a Paladian Villa north of Venice for 28 years. Having shared some of their experiences, I would pass on owning a palazzo, even for ready money. The bureaucratic headaches involved in keeping such a place in shape are horrendous.

Which gelato flavor are you?

Bob: So many favors, so little capacity. Chocolate to start. For the pre-dinner gelato, perhaps pistachio.

Edith: Unquestionably, noccioloso, sold, as far as I know, only at Boutique Gelato on San Lio. It is hazelnut gelato swirled with Nutella. Heaven.

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

Bob: Alas no website, no blog, the last book was a study of Elizabethan stage conventions –very little clamor for it.

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But of course readers can also read more of Edith and Bob’s writing in First Spritz Is Free. Hope you’ve enjoyed getting to know this fun couple. (And thanks to Piero Bellini for the lovely photo of the spritz!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Say “Ahhh!”

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In Venice this summer I visited the new Istituto di tecnologia dentale nel rinascimento. As you can see, it features artwork relating to early dental practices.

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Early orthodontia masks

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Tooth extraction device

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Another method of tooth extraction

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During winter, the dentist provided foot warming during examinations

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For anxious patients, a sand bath could calm them down

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Flamingo Spotting, Venetian Style

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“We’re secretly going flamingo spotting,” B wrote on her Facebook page, “but the boat captain doesn’t know it.”

She and her sister Laura, British ex-pats living in Venice for over a decade, had invited me to join them on the tour of the lesser-know reaches of Venice’s northern lagoon. The boat picked us up at Mazzorbo, so we had planned ahead and met at Fondamente Nove to catch the boat out together. Mazzorbo lies alongside the colorful fishing island of Burano. We arrived early enough to take a little self-guided stroll around Venissa, the farm-to-table Michelin starred garden restaurant that sits within a walled vineyard with its own bell tower. Brilliant purple artichoke flowers bloomed at the edges, and pears weighted the branches of a miniature tree. I wanted to hide among the vines and make my home there.

But instead, we clambered aboard the traditional boat painted red and captained by a tanned man of the lagoon. (I’m not sure what kind of boat this was. I later looked at photos of traditional Venetian boats, but I just can’t tell them all apart. Anyone know what this is?) Our captain motored us away from Mazzorbo and Burano and towards the marshes, careful to avoid the edges where the low tide might get us stuck in the mud.

His tour is billed as more sustainable—traditional boat managed by a local, moving at slow speeds, and teaching about the unique lagoon ecosystem. We took time to ogle the birds and learn their names, to beach the boat and peer close up at the marsh plants, to even taste a salty bit of one called salicornia fruticosa. “Venetians eat these lagoon plants,” we were told, and I could never imagine coastal Californians in my home state trying any such thing.

We learned about fishing practices, such as the small canals that run within the marshes where locals farm the baby fish that they then sell to fisheries elsewhere. And we saw giant fishnets managed from houses on stilts. Our captain also explained about the name Cannaregio; I always thought it was because canes grew in that part of the lagoon, and we did see a few small ones, but he said that it was because the cane workers used these waterways to deliver the cane shipments inland. He also pointed out a small mounded island that carries the legend that Attila the Hun buried treasure there.

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Attila’s treasure island

We passed islands like sand dunes risen from the lagoon floor, and islands abandoned by the present. One such was Sant’Ammiana, now merely a brick wall enclosing bushes and trees, where Venetians had once tossed the bones after they could no longer have their space at the cemetery. (Click on the link to read the wonderful background piece on the blog La Venessiana by Iris Loredana, another contributor to First Spritz Is Free.) “That island over there,” pointed our captain, “is owned by the Swarovski family, the ones who make the crystal.”

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Sant’Ammiana

We also saw ruins of a monastery the same size as its diminutive island. How could monks have lived there? Eating marsh weeds and clams they dug from the mud? Maybe not such a bad fate! In fact, we saw a family, each clad in a different rainbow hue, trudging in the shallows digging for clams. We also passed a duck blind and a boat abandoned in the middle of the marsh, apparently stranded when the high tide turned low.

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Boat abandoned when the tide went out

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Fishing a hat out of the lagoon

But did we see any flamingos? We saw seagulls, of course, and oyster-catchers, ducks, marsh hawks, and swallows. Apparently the flamingos visit in spring on their way south to Africa, but we were apparently too late to catch their show.

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Our route

 

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Catching the Creative Process

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Completed paintings. Can you spot the one I got to keep?

I whipped out my camera to catch the creative process, as Manuel Carriòn demonstrated how he creates his series of inky watercolors. With a wet brush, he spontaneously draws lines and swirls reminiscent of Chinese calligraphy. Before this water can dry, he uses a dropper to drip ink into these watery lines, letting it spread into channels and then mingle with the other colors he adds. He simultaneously created four such pieces as he elucidated his thoughts. You can see his process for yourself here.

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One of the best things about being a writer has turned out to be the way it connects me to others. I never expected this. My writing and Manuel’s art, plus our shared interest in Casanova’s life, brought us together, though complementary life philosophies have made us friends. I especially liked his focus on seeing the positive in things, in how we can work towards what we want to manifest instead of thinking about what we lack.

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The one that came home with me

Manuel lives in his gallery on the island of Giudecca. The front part along the fondamenta has big windows, a green marble shelf holding art pieces, and white spoon-shaped chairs just inviting you to sit and say something lofty or interesting. Art covers all the walls—art by Manuel as well as by others, including a series of portraits on the back wall and some of Manuel’s own watercolor calligraphy. He told me how he can open the floor-to-ceiling curtains that hide his bedroom at the back of the apartment and watch the sun rise across the Giudecca Canal. The one-way glass doesn’t allow others to see him in bed.

Manuel interviewed me on a live-stream Facebook post, which you can watch here. We chatted about how we met, my books, and our interest in Casanova. We spent some extra time on women’s history and its impact on men and women now—what lessons can history teach us?

Manuel has penned a chapter for the new book First Spritz Is Free: Confessions of Venice Addicts. In 2011 he moved to Venice from Ecuador and after studying in various parts of the world. In his piece he writes, “I love Venice with all my heart, and I feel that she is like a love that helps you grow and be yourself day after day. I often say that Venice is like a mirror of the soul that reflects beautiful things, even those that we want to hide. This makes us enter into a constant dialogue with the child inside us.” You can read the rest of his chapter by downloading the book for free here, or check out his work at his gallery.

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Manuel in Campo San Barnaba

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