Michelle Lovric’s anthology
about the city has been described as ‘delightfully unhackneyed’. Instead
of rounding up the usual suspects – foreigners writing about Venice – she
has looked deeper into La Serenissima’s own literary history, translating
into English for the first time many delightful and moving poems and
If Venice is a museum, her rooms are the most beautiful in the world, and
her exhibits still very much inhabited. In this anthology, the voices of
today’s Venetians mingle with those of their ancestors, just as they still
do on the streets of the city. Recite a few words from Arnaldo Fusinato’s
1849 masterpiece ‘Addio a Venezia’ and almost any Venetian will declaim
not just the rest of the stanza but the whole stirring poem, reproduced
here in English for the first time.
The laments of the fifteenth-century diarist Marino Sanudo are today
repeated in Il Gazzettino, almost word for word, week by week. The
Venetians are still well served by their vast repertoire of ironic and
earthy proverbs. The warning cries of the gondoliers are the same; the
greeting gestures the locals reserve for their own kind are unchanged;
identical seasonal delicacies – frittole, galani, musk melons –
perfume the air at the same times of year.
It is these
things, and the pleasure Venetians have taken in them since time
immemorial, that are the stuff of this book. Where possible, they are
described by native writers, in hymns to hot chocolate, paeans to dried
cod, private letters, diaries and memoirs.
Who better to
conjure up the hedonism of eighteenth-century Venice than notorious native
sons Lorenzo da Ponte, Carlo Goldoni and Giacomo Casanova? Or to
describe the pretensions of Venetian literary life than Goldoni’s
arch-rival Carlo Gozzi? Who else but Baffo could describe San Marco as the
place to find ‘bitches of all breeds/who go there to wag their tails…’,
parading themselves in such a manner that the poet can scarcely restrain
himself from pinching them.
Who better than Doge Francesco Morosini and historian Pompeo Molmenti to
describe the fantastical origins of their own city? The bluestocking
Dogaressa Giustina Renier Michiel explains why pigeons haunt San Marco
to this day. Riccardo Calimani describes the near-extinction of the
Venetian Jews in the Holocaust.
Other voices, some now long forgotten, describe uniquely Venetian joys and
tribulations. Here are the astonishing lyrics to the songs the workers
sang as they drove down the piles that form the foundation of the floating
city. A sixteenth-century merchant bemoans his six-year run of unspeakable
ill-fortune on the high seas. Veronica Franco, the courtesan-poetess,
implores a friend not to set her daughter up as a prostitute in Venice:
‘do not allow the flesh of your poor daughter to be slaughtered and sold,
and to become yourself her own butcher’.
The secret city also reveals herself in her ancient documents: the
original ‘wanted’ poster for the perpetrators of a legendary crime, the
brutal murder attempt on the saintly Paolo Sarpi; a Renaissance treatise
on how to detect the signs of possession by demons (if someone cannot eat
the flesh of a goat for thirty days, for example). In the expense-book of
the artist Lorenzo Lotto we see what it cost to undress a potential
life-model ‘only to look’.
Also included are pieces that were written for the entertainment of the
Venetians themselves: the tale of the wicked nuns and their exhausted
gardener; the original and much darker account of the Moor of Venice upon
which Shakespeare based his Othello.
refreshing thing about this anthology is that it is dominated by the
Venetian perspective, a perspective that invokes a living city rather than
a museum. Spurning the usual sentimental or nostalgic rhapsodies about a
dying city, Michelle Lovric has opted for a wonderful array of Venetian
proverbs … extracts from Venetian historians and famous writers such as
Goldoni and Casanova, poems, fiction and earthy songs sung by the men who
drove the wooden piles into the subsoil of the lagoon … If there is such a
thing as a ‘real Venice’ you’re more likely to find it here than in your
average guide book.’ Age
‘As long as
it stands above the waters of its lagoon, Venice’s charms will continue to
seduce its visitors. I can’t easily think of another book that might so
beguilingly lead the newly succumbed to prolong their engagement with this
most promiscuous of lovers.’ Independent
planning a first trip or you’re already one of Venice’s many lovers, then
this collection will make a great companion.’ Times Online
'There have been many
miscellanies of writings on the subject of Venice, but Lovric – who lives
in the city and knows the city intimately – has unearthed some fascinating
pieces that have eluded other anthologies.'
The Rough Guide to Venice and the Veneto
has been one of the supreme indulgences in the city for centuries. Not hot
chocolate as sold in fashionable chains of coffee-shops in England and
America: Venetian hot chocolate is another experience entirely. With the
consistency and colour of a mud bath, this beverage is more food than
drink, richer than the swarthiest chocolate mousse, recalling a time when
chocolate was so highly valued that ten cocoa beans were worth one rabbit,
one hundred a slave and twelve a night with a courtesan.
chocolate’s charms have been serenaded by the city’s creative talent:
Pietro Longhi painted the society lady drinking her morning chocolate in
bed, Casanova describes travelling with sticks of chocolate in a strong
box, and the poet Antonio Sforza, the maestro of Luisa Bergalli,
wrote this effervescing poem to his favourite drink. It was published in
Rime di Antonio Sforza, 1736.
Sforza also dedicated a poem to a well-known chocolate-lover of the
eighteenth century, the portrait painter Rosalba Carriera, whose house,
near the Guggenheim, is marked with a plaque on its Grand Canal wall.
Rosalba was famed for her delicate pastel portraits, many of which can be
seen in the Accademia Galleries.
Praise of Hot Chocolate
Let it never
be said that,
before going to bed
I don’t put my right
and my left hand together
without saying a requiem
for that good Christian
whose family gave him
the name Columbus.
Not just because he found
pure silver and gold,
because for me he did
that in vain;
Not because he conquered lands
for the Spanish king –
since I’m not so fond
of the Spanish myself.
But simply because he brought
from the new world
the sweet blessed potion
that we call Chocolate.
And for that I have a
greater devotion than
have the Certosine Friars
for their wine-drenched fry-ups.
It has no beginning or end,
the love that I have for the
daughter of cocoa,
of cinnamon, sugar and vanilla;
I would go three hundred miles
barefoot just to drink a
little cup of it,
I would pawn my Breviary
and my robe.
Truly my guts
are (and I wouldn’t like to tell you
any wickedness) for chocolate
like a pig’s lusting after acorns.
I would give up all beverages,
I would give up tocai, and
and the whole genealogy of wines
if I could only be given
that holy liquor which
touches my heart,
which only to name it
makes my mouth water.
But there are lots of idiots
who believe that the Gods’ ambrosia
would be a better drink than Chocolate …
He who never tries it could not believe
how many blessings it has for us,
delivering us first of all from all evils,
apart from death …
My soul, dead and buried,
will go begging that my flesh,
turning under the earth
until it becomes earthenware
shall not be made into plates or urinals
but instead into little royal cups
for holding Chocolate
So that after death
I shall be still in my beatitude.
taken from Venice -
Tales of the City
copyright © Michelle Lovric
Venice: Tales of the City from amazon.co.uk