Gondola Stuff: Pizzeria Ashtray

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Isn’t this the coolest gondola ashtray ever? I have only a couple of the fabulous Venetian ashtrays that restaurants used to use. (My friend Bob has quite a collection that I really covet.) But this one, shaped like a gondola, tops them all.

Along the side is the name of the restaurant: Ristorante Pizzeria Fuin da Lili.  You can tell it’s from way back in the day because the phone number is only six digits. I’m assuming it was in Venice because I bought it there in an antique shop some years ago, and because it’s shaped like a gondola!

Anyone know this place?

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A Cassone to Hope For

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A cassone is a large chest, often used for a women’s trousseau and sometimes called a wedding chest. They were a prized possession and status symbol for many families and were often displayed in the bedroom. These beautiful specimens here were on display at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston when I visited last year. IMG_0682

Titian’s famous painting, the Venus of Urbino, shows a cassone in the background, which has led some people to speculate that this is a wedding portrait, though the woman’s gaze and posture are far more racy than other wedding portraits of the time. The real woman who sat for Titian’s painting, we believe, is Angela del Moro, a courtesan and friend of Titian’s (with quite a story that I won’t go into here, though I wrote a chapter about her in A Beautiful Woman in Venice). You can see that a servant is kneeling before the cassone.

Someone once gave me a hope chest, I guess a sort of modern equivalent of the cassone. But I wish mine looked like one of these!

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Why Should Someone Read …

…my books?

You can find out the answer to this and other questions in an interview recently posted by the Italian American Press, an online resource listing dozens of books about Italian American topics. They include fiction, history, biography, memoir, mystery, romance, sports, travel, children/teens, cooking, and much more.

You can read my interview below, or access it on the website where there’s so much more to explore and discover. This is your chance to support writers of Italian American topics or find more ways to celebrate this vibrant culture.

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What inspired you to write your books? 

The city of Venice inspires me to write. When I can’t be there physically, I am instead there vicariously by reading and writing about it. When I walk through Venice’s streets or glide down her canals, I always wonder what is behind the doors and walls of these beautiful old buildings, so I began researching these places to find out their stories. I also love to learn about history through the lives of individuals who lived through it, and that’s easy to do with Venice because so many interesting people have lived there. I was inspired to learn more about the lives of the gondoliers and got to know them personally, which became the book Free Gondola Ride. Hearing their stories about Casanova’s house made me want to find out where Casanova really lived or visited, which sent me into a couple years of research to discover over 90 Venetian locations he had been in. The result was the book Seductive Venice: In Casanova’s Footsteps. Though dozens of books have been written about Venice’s history, it’s almost always from the male perspective, so I was curious to discover what women had done in the city and launched into research about them, producing A Beautiful Woman in Venice. When I learned about all these remarkable lives, it just makes me want to learn even more and to share their little-known stories with others.

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What is the most important attribute of your books? 

I strive to write books that are engaging and help the reader care about the people I’m writing about. Particularly when I write about historical figures like Venetian women or Casanova, I want the writing to be accessible so that anyone will enjoy picking up the book and be pulled into these stories or find some way to connect with the subjects, whether it’s through humor, sympathy, shock, astonishment, admiration, or some other emotion. I also always hope that readers will finish one of my books with a greater love for and interest in Venice, to preserve it for future people to enjoy.

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Why should someone read them?

History is composed of millions of stories, yet despite that, many people’s voices are missing, such as the women of Venice. People should read A Beautiful Woman in Venice to learn about the ways women were such an integral and necessary part of Venetian society, even though they don’t appear in most history books. Women’s lives add layers of beauty and complexity to our understanding of Italian history. I hope that people will read my book Seductive Venice for two reasons: to begin to see Giacomo Casanova as a full human being, not just a stereotypical gigolo, and also to see Venice with new eyes that will reveal the stories that happened in Venice’s streets, churches, theaters, and drawing rooms. Reading Free Gondola Ride will allow readers to get to know the gondoliers as real people, with all their playfulness, knowledge, and generosity. My books will help readers see a side of Venice beyond the crowded squares and the gift shops, peeking into Venice’s rich and delicious history and people.

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Buying books directly from my website is often faster than shopping on Amazon, and for books that I sell directly, I donate fifty cents of every sale to Save Venice or Venice in Peril. You can access all the books from my main website at www.kathleenanngonzalez.com.

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Nuns Like Tchotchkes, Too

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Who can resist taking a picture like this? Don’t you want to know what each of them bought? I vote for heart-shaped sunglasses, which were in this summer, or a striped gondolier shirt, or maybe friendship bracelets all around.

 

Shot at Campo San Geremia, summer 2018.

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Dear Evelina,

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Do you ever wish you could meet people from the past? Evelina van Millingen Pisani is one of those intriguing characters I’d like to share a cup of tea with. 

I got to know her in the book Evelina: A Victorian Heroine in Venice by Judith Harris, a writer based in Rome. The book opens with a flood about to engulf the land Evelina is protecting, the inheritance from her late husband, Count Almorò III Pisani. 

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But then we flashback to Evelina’s chaotic heritage; for example, her father, a British doctor, was accused of having murdered Lord Byron. Evelina’s French mother Marionca was both victim and perpetrator in her own turmoil, it seems: Harris tells us of her manipulations, affairs, and alarming reactions to events, but in the face of her husband’s neglect as well as machinations against her by other family members, some of her behavior seems understandable. Wherever the truth lies, Evelina escaped this chaos and found refuge in her adoring husband, a Venetian Count from the noble Pisani family.

I won’t try to summarize the whole story here–you can find that on Amazon or, better yet, you can read the book yourself! Harris meticulously digs through letters, news reports, and other historical documents to piece together this family’s curious history. Instead, I’ll share some of the highlights in the book for me, a more personal reaction rather than a book review.

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One thing that drew me to the book was Evelina’s connection to the Villa Pisani in Stra, where she lived with her husband. Designing the garden was a balm to her, and her home became a refuge where she could invite friends and escape the heat and humidity of Venice. I visited the villa some years ago, reveling in the gardens, particularly the hedge maze and the orangery, Victorian garden features that I admire. I’m happy to report that my partner RJ and I made it through the maze to the center building. 

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The gardens that Evelina created

Evelina also surrounded herself with other interesting folks from her era, including a close relationship with Margaret Symonds, daughter to writer John Addington Symonds, who visited her often at Villa Pisani. (Personally I loved Symonds’ biography on Frederick Rolfe, the English author who is buried in Venice; Symonds’ writing depicts this eccentric as both exasperating and sympathetic, a difficult feat.) Henry James was another admirer of Evelina’s pluck, determination, and management skills, and the Curtises, Daniel and Ariana, were her neighbors, with their constant flow of artists and writers visiting Palazzo Barbaro. Moreover, Isabella Stewart Gardner was also a close friend–and of particular interest to me since last summer I finally visited her former-home-now-museum in Boston, which is modeled after Palazzo Barbaro.

So you can see that books can inform us and entertain us and delight us, and when they intersect with the things we already know and love, that’s a bonus. In Evelina I’m sure you’ll find your own bonus, whether it’s reading about Lord Byron’s death, or life in Constantinople, or growing up in Rome. Have fun finding out!

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Author Judith Harris

Judith Harris also contributed to First Spritz Is Free: Confessions of Venice Addicts, with her chapter “Venice Between Poetry and Pragmatism.” Here’s an excerpt, where she tells more about the Curtises’ role in Venetian society:

“After the Napoleonic era, Venice increasingly attracted artists, writers, the ultra-cultivated and the merely wealthy from all over Europe as well as the United States. Especially the Americans found Venice a soothing instance of decadence and pleasing contrast from the manufacturing cities of the US Northeast, like Boston. Finding it meant buying it—and the great double Palazzo Barbaro on the Grand Canal passed into the hands of the rich Bostonian merchant banker Daniel Curtis and his wife, who became the doyennes of Venetian society.

At that time the Venetians themselves were in deep trouble. Many were also in debt, for the Austrian rulers (ousted only in 1866) neglected the Venetian ports in preference to Trieste. At the same time the manufacturing revolution sweeping Northern Italy bypassed Venice for the better-connected Milan and Turin. So many jobs were lost that the Venetian population declined by one quarter in just a dozen years.

The one hundred or so aristocratic Venetian families sold off their palazzi, paintings, and possessions, one by one. The Curtises, who first rented the fifteenth century Palazzo Barbaro in 1880, purchased it in 1885 for the equivalent of around $16,000. (In 2017 its top two floors were sold for $2 million.) The Curtises found the palazzo(in reality a double palazzo) in terrible condition, and painstakingly and expensively restored it to its former glory. The interior of its piano nobile was painted by John Singer Sargent, who happened to be a Curtis cousin.”

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Palazzo Barbaro

(Images from http://www.cnn.com/style/article/worlds-most-impressive-labyrinths-and-mazes/index.html, http://www.villapisani.it, judith-harris.com, and Wikipedia.)
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Traduzione–Seductive Venice in Translation

I am so pleased to announce that Seductive Venice: In Casanova’s Footsteps, has been translated into Italian!

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A Venezia con Casanova for sale at the Palazzo Zaguri bookstore

As you may already know, Seductive Venice is the title of the American edition of the book, published by my small press imprint Ca’ Specchio. The book has also been published by Supernova Edizioni in Venice under the title Casanova’s Venice: A Walking Guide.

Now the Italian translation is available! Known as A Venezia con Casanova: Itinerari e storie nei luoghi frequentati dal famoso seduttore, it’s the same book but in Italian. It’s really a labor of love and devotion, with a backstory to warm my heart. My friend Adriano Contini, a Casanovist (who you may remember me mentioning as a pignolo, the nickname for someone who is a stickler for details), shared the original book with his friend Tiziana Businaro. Because she had some spare time and wanted to challenge herself, she began translating Walk #1 from the English into Italian. It turned out to be fun! So Tiziana continued, and Adriano volunteered to check details, find quotes in Italian, and check and recheck the manuscript until it was perfect. My publisher Giovanni DiStefano at Supernova published the book this summer, and it can now be found in bookstores around Venice or for sale on the website.

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What a thrill for me to see my writing translated by another! And in the process, Adriano and I have become better friends, and I’ve gotten to know Tiziana and met up with her twice in Italy. I’ve learned that writing is not only about writing–it’s also about connecting with people, sharing ideas and celebrating the work we do and the topics we’re passionate about.

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L-R: Adriano, Stefano, me, Tiziana in 2017

Please tell all your Italian-speaking friends about this new edition and encourage them to take a walk in Casanova’s shoes around the city of his birth. You’ll visit over 90 locations, more than other guidebooks to Casanova’s Venice, and probably in neighborhoods you’ve never seen. Who’d expect to see where Casanova parked his boat, where his hairdresser lived, or where he passed out in church?

But if you really want the original American edition in English, please visit my website to order your copy.

Here’s a tidbit from the Prefazione:

Qui abitava Casanova, il più famoso seduttore di tutti i tempi” disse il

mio gondoliere costeggiando il Canal Grande. Indicando un cadente

pa lazzo bianco, continuò: “Casanova ebbe molte amanti e abitò molte case.

Os ser van do le finestre del palazzo fantasticavo sulle gesta di quell’uomo

che incarnava l’edonismo, la raffinatezza, il fascino della città che

egli chiamava la sua casa.

Tuttavia, dopo diversi giri in gondola, notai che ogni gondoliere mi

indicava una casa diversa, anche se il percorso era sempre lo stesso: da

piazza San Marco, proseguendo verso San Polo, scivolando sul Canal

Grande … e ognuno asseriva che quella era la casa natale di Casanova o

dove aveva abitato o che era solito frequentare. Guardando numerosi

video su YouTube, relativi ad altri giri turistici in gondola, mi resi con –

to che la cosa si ripeteva. Non sapevo che pensare. Ero dapprima meravigliata,

poi incredula, infine divertita da questo fenomeno, finché non

mi è venuta l’ispirazione di investigare da me. Dopo aver cercato notizie

su una novantina di siti relativi a Casanova, posso dirvi che poco

corrispondeva con quello che mi indicavano i gondolieri. Ci prendevano

tutti in giro? Cosa avrebbe detto Casanova, egli stesso maestro nell’arte

di manipolare, di tutte queste invenzioni?

Dov’erano le vere case di Casanova? E cosa accadeva realmente in

quelle case? Ora potrete scoprirlo voi stessi!

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Time for an Update!

Lots of fun things to tell you about, so today you get an entry full of updates:

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First Spritz Is Free is making its way around the world! Besides being free to download on Smashwords and Book Funnel, you can order your copy on Amazon–which is what people have been doing in a number of countries! It’s so wondrous to think that our book full of love for Venice is on the bookshelves and in the hands of readers around the world! Click on the highlighted links to access your copy. It’s had over 1,760 ebook downloads and 76 copies sold on Amazon!

In fact, I, the publisher, and the other 34 contributors are making no money on this project. All royalties and proceeds are going to charity. So I’m also happy to announce that I’ve sent off a round of donations: $100 each to Save Venice, to Venice in Peril, and Comitato No Grandi Navi! Thanks again to all the authors who contributed their essays, that we can raise some money to support the city we love so much.

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I also had a lovely, fun day getting to know people at the San Jose Little Italy festa on September 30. Hundreds of people came by my table, where I was selling my books and my handmade bookmarks that feature Murano glass beads. In fact, those books sales of First Spritz also allowed me to donate more to charity! Unfortunately, fellow author and photographer Marco Zecchin wasn’t able to join me at the last minute, but lots of his friends came by to say hello, and you can see his book and photos on the table of goodies. A special hello to Nancy, a reader who has come out to hear me speak before and who has bought all my books. I think of myself as a little pipsqueak nobody writer, so to know that someone out that has read all my work is very exciting! You can see a pic of me with Nancy that day here on Instagram.

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