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Walk #1 Sample

Here are the first two sites for Walk #1:

Our starting point for Walk #1 is an important site in Casanova’s life—the place where he met his patron, Signor Moneybags, the Senator Matteo Bragadin, on April 21, 1746. The bachelor senator was attending a wedding at the Palazzo Soranzo in Campo San Polo.

Stand in the middle of the campo with your back to the church of San Polo, originally founded in the 800s, and look at the longest expanse of buildings in front of you. The four-story Palazzo Soranzo, numbers 2169-71, is colored a soft red with white stone wainscoting halfway up the door, and has pointed Byzantine windows framed in white and medallions depicting a strange bestiary of lions and birds. It’s actually two palaces together—the one on the left from the fourteenth century and the one on the right from the fifteenth—and it’s still inhabited by members of the Soranzo family, though the plaques on the walls also show various offices. The canal just to the left used to run in front of the palace here but was filled in and shortened in 1761; entrances to palazzi generally let onto canals rather than land. Look for the white stone on the ground running parallel to the palazzo, which probably denotes the former canal line.

The 1746 Soranzo-Cornaro wedding went on for three days, and twenty-one-year-old Casanova had been hired as a fiddler. He had learned to play the violin from his teacher in Padua, Abbe Gozzi. Having recently returned from a trip abroad to Naples, Rome, Corfu, and Constantinople, Casanova needed the money from this wedding gig, although he generally considered being a musician as beneath him.

The campo was likely teeming with sumptuously dressed senators in reddish-purple robes, women in trailing low-cut gowns decorated with pearls and Burano laces, men in jewel-tone silk breeches and ruffled coats, buckles on their shoes and watches on their waistcoats. Gondolas lined the canals, with their black cloth or wooded cabins called felze and attentive gondoliers in striped shirts sporting the colors of the houses they served. Stringed music probably poured from the windows, where could be seen tables laden with fine seafood dishes under candlelit Murano glass chandeliers.

Casanova left the building at four a.m., the same time as Senator Bragadin, and the young man saw the elder drop a letter. When Casanova returned it to Bragadin, the Senator invited the honest musician to a ride home in his private gondola. (Biographer John Masters questions if Bragadin dropped this note on purpose as an invitation to the young man to accompany him to his bedroom, and while there is evidence that Casanova had some homosexual encounters during his life, it’s unclear if that is what initiated this meeting between the two [Masters 226]).

Within a few minutes of entering the gondola, Bragadin suffered a stroke, complaining of terrible numbness. Casanova recalled, “Greatly alarmed, I open the curtain, take the lantern, look at his face, and am terrified to see that his mouth was drawn up toward his left ear and his eyes were losing their luster” (2:191). Casanova ordered the gondoliers to stop at Calle Bernardo (which we will visit in a moment), jumped off the vessel, and found a surgeon to bleed the fainting man, tearing off his own shirt to bandage the Senator.

They quickly rowed on to Palazzo Bragadin, where Casanova stayed by Bragadin’s side for days and personally oversaw his care. In fact, Casanova had desired to study medicine, read widely, and had taken numerous chemistry courses, so he actually had some knowledge of the care he was providing, including preventing Bragadin’s surgeon, Ludovico Ferro, from bleeding Bragadin to death. However, Casanova was either superstitious or conniving, as he wrote, “I answer that I will sleep in the chair in which I was, since I felt certain that if I left, the patient would die, just as I felt certain that he could not die so long as I remained there” (2:192). The friendship that grew from this accident was to be the most important one in Casanova’s life. Bragadin virtually adopted Casanova, saying, “I have come to know you; if you wish to be my son, you have only to recognize me as your father and from thenceforth I will treat you as such in my house until I die” (2:200). Bragadin kept his word.

Campo San Polo, which was a popular site for bullfights, festivals, and a “bonfire of the vanities” in 1450, is also the site of an entirely different event in Casanova’s life, one that shows his penchant for vengeance. If you’re facing Palazzo Soranzo, exit the campo to your left. Pass the restaurant La Corte on your left, and in front of you will be the end of the street, resulting in the canal. You can imagine when this canal used to run though Campo San Polo, and in fact, the sign on your right for Rio Tera’ S. Antonio gives it away. Rio Tera’ means a filled-in canal, and you’ll see these around the city and on our walks. On the building before you you’ll see the sign for Calle Bernardo; follow it as it turns to the right and then left and you’ll come upon the Ponte Bernardo, a pretty spot to watch for a gondola gliding by (and you can gaze at the lucky people who have gotten the one terrace table at Da Fiore, one of the city’s best restaurants). Somewhere on the Calle Bernardo is where Casanova beat his enemy Razzetta, who supposedly lived at the last house before the campo, though it’s unclear which one this was.

Casanova’s mother had left Venice to pursue her acting career when he was just nine, leaving Casanova and his three brothers and two sisters with Marzia Farussi, their maternal grandmother. When Marzia died on March 18, 1743, the family home and its contents were to be sold, but Casanova felt that he had a right to take and sell the furnishings himself. “I knew that I should be taken to task,” Casanova wrote, “but it was my father’s inheritance, upon which my mother had no claim; I considered myself within my rights” (1:157). One of the Casanova family’s benefactors, Alvise Grimani, had taken on the task of disposing of the household and finding places for the children. Grimani hired Antonio Razzetta as “confidential agent,” a sort of gopher-cum-spy who had the locks changed to keep out Casanova, which just infuriated the destitute young man.

At the order of Grimani, who was peeved with Casanova for selling the family furnishings, Casanova was being held at the fortress at Sant’Andrea on a nearby island. Apparently Razzetta wanted to keep the furniture profits for himself and trumped up accusations against Casanova. So Casanova concocted an elaborate plan to escape his prison. He would pretend to have a sprained ankle, knock out his guard with good brandy, sneak out the window of his cell, hire a boatman, and row to Campo San Polo where he knew Razzetta lived.

Casanova bought a good stick and waited on the steps of the next to last house on Calle Bernardo, before the campo, thinking he’d toss Razzetta into the canal (the one that used to run before Palazzo Soranzo). The nights were darker then, with only candlelit lanterns far apart; many people procured a lantern bearer to escort them from place to place. When he heard footsteps approach, Casanova leaped out at the startled Razzetta and beat him with the cane, leaving the man with a broken nose, bruises on his right defending arm, and three lost teeth. A lantern carrier who heard the commotion also came running and received a broken hand for his pains. But Casanova’s alibi held. Casanova said that if he were questioned, “I shall answer that I am sorry to be innocent” (1:186). He was found not guilty of the crime, though behind closed doors his friends all seemed to know he had done it, and he kept the cash he had earned from selling the goods.

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