|Outside the Caffè Florian - Venice Carnival 2018 - Photo: Cat Bauer|
Creatum: Civitas Ludes is the theme of this year's Carnival. Chosen by Marco Maccapani, the artistic director, it sort of translates to "Creativity: City of Games." Now, what Venice considers games might not be everyone's definition. It can include games of seduction, gambling, pranks and mischief -- even exotic animals. And there are masks involved.
|Playing cards printed by Antonio Moro (1841)|
The Archive has dug up some official documents about the behavior of its citizens. In 1310, Venice created the Council of Ten to overcome the revolt against the Doge and the Republic by Bajamonte Tiepolo. It was supposed to be a temporary body, but became a permanent fixture by 1334. Over the centuries, its powers grew greater until it had almost unlimited authority over all governmental affairs, including Venice's diplomatic and intelligence services.
The ten individuals, who were limited to a term of one year, became Venice's spy chiefs -- and Venice had a vast network of spies, one of whom was Casanova. In 1539, another, even smaller, unit was created: the State Inquisitors -- three super-secret judges who wore masks and had as much authority as the entire Council of Ten, and could independently try and convict those accused of treason. Needless to say, being called in front of the Council of Ten or the State Inquisitors was a terrifying prospect.
|Council of Ten prohibiting all lotteries whatsoever under penalty of 500 ducats|
But the most interesting document is one dated 1754 from the State Inquisitor about Casanova, who is called a card player and a "hyperbolate." Casanova had returned to Venice the year before from his own Grand Tour, and was under surveillance due to his wild escapades, and association with Freemasonry and secret rites. The next year, on July 26, 1755, at age 30, he would be arrested for affront to religion and common decency, and thrown into the Piombi prison in Palazzo Ducale, from which he would make a daring escape.
We know a lot about Casanova because he wrote a terrific erotic memoir called, The Story of my Life, which you can read for free in English as an ebook thanks to Project Gutenberg. Because Casanova is such a clever writer, I thought my readers might enjoy an excerpt from the man himself. Casanova describes an adventure that he and his gang-of-eight had during Carnival 1745 -- ten years before his imprisonment -- when they snatchede a pretty young woman away from her husband and his two friends and seduced her -- much to her enjoyment. She did file a complaint with the Council of Ten -- not because of the orgy, to which, according to the complaint, she had willingly succumbed, but because she was frightened about the welfare of her husband.
Here's Casanova, in his own words:
We were seven, and sometimes eight, because, being much attached to my brother Francois, I gave him a share now and then in our nocturnal orgies. But at last fear put a stop to our criminal jokes, which in those days I used to call only the frolics of young men. This is the amusing adventure which closed our exploits.
In every one of the seventy-two parishes of the city of Venice, there is a large public-house called ‘magazzino’. It remains open all night, and wine is retailed there at a cheaper price than in all the other drinking houses. People can likewise eat in the ‘magazzino’, but they must obtain what they want from the pork butcher near by, who has the exclusive sale of eatables, and likewise keeps his shop open throughout the night. The pork butcher is usually a very poor cook, but as he is cheap, poor people are willingly satisfied with him, and these resorts are considered very useful to the lower class. The nobility, the merchants, even workmen in good circumstances, are never seen in the ‘magazzino’, for cleanliness is not exactly worshipped in such places. Yet there are a few private rooms which contain a table surrounded with benches, in which a respectable family or a few friends can enjoy themselves in a decent way.
It was during the Carnival of 1745, after midnight; we were, all the eight of us, rambling about together with our masks on, in quest of some new sort of mischief to amuse us, and we went into the magazzino of the parish of Santa Croce to get something to drink. We found the public room empty, but in one of the private chambers we discovered three men quietly conversing with a young and pretty woman, and enjoying their wine.
Our leader, a noble Venetian belonging to the Balbi family, said to us, “It would be a good joke to carry off those three blockheads, and to keep the pretty woman in our possession.” He immediately explained his plan, and under cover of our masks we entered their room, Balbi at the head of us. Our sudden appearance rather surprised the good people, but you may fancy their astonishment when they heard Balbi say to them: “Under penalty of death, and by order of the Council of Ten, I command you to follow us immediately, without making the slightest noise; as to you, my good woman, you need not be frightened, you will be escorted to your house.” When he had finished his speech, two of us got hold of the woman to take her where our leader had arranged beforehand, and the others seized the three poor fellows, who were trembling all over, and had not the slightest idea of opposing any resistance.
The waiter of the magazzino came to be paid, and our leader gave him what was due, enjoining silence under penalty of death. We took our three prisoners to a large boat. Balbi went to the stern, ordered the boatman to stand at the bow, and told him that he need not enquire where we were going, that he would steer himself whichever way he thought fit. Not one of us knew where Balbi wanted to take the three poor devils.
He sails all along the canal, gets out of it, takes several turnings, and in a quarter of an hour, we reach San Giorgio where Balbi lands our prisoners, who are delighted to find themselves at liberty. After this, the boatman is ordered to take us to Saint Genevieve, where we land, after paying for the boat.
We proceed at once to Palombo Square, where my brother and another of our band were waiting for us with our lovely prisoner, who was crying.
“Do not weep, my beauty,” says Balbi to her, “we will not hurt you. We intend only to take some refreshment at the Rialto, and then we will take you home in safety.”
“Where is my husband?”
“Never fear; you shall see him again to-morrow.”
Comforted by that promise, and as gentle as a lamb, she follows us to Do Spade. We ordered a good fire in a private room, and, everything we wanted to eat and to drink having been brought in, we send the waiter away, and remain alone. We take off our masks, and the sight of eight young, healthy faces seems to please the beauty we had so unceremoniously carried off. We soon manage to reconcile her to her fate by the gallantry of our proceedings; encouraged by a good supper and by the stimulus of wine, prepared by our compliments and by a few kisses, she realizes what is in store for her, and does not seem to have any unconquerable objection. Our leader, as a matter of right, claims the privilege of opening the ball; and by dint of sweet words he overcomes the very natural repugnance she feels at consummating the sacrifice in so numerous company. She, doubtless, thinks the offering agreeable, for, when I present myself as the priest appointed to sacrifice a second time to the god of love, she receives me almost with gratitude, and she cannot conceal her joy when she finds out that she is destined to make us all happy. My brother Francois alone exempted himself from paying the tribute, saying that he was ill, the only excuse which could render his refusal valid, for we had established as a law that every member of our society was bound to do whatever was done by the others.
After that fine exploit, we put on our masks, and, the bill being paid, escorted the happy victim to San Giobbe, where she lived, and did not leave her till we had seen her safe in her house, and the street door closed.
My readers may imagine whether we felt inclined to laugh when the charming creature bade us good night, thanking us all with perfect good faith!
|From the Archives 1754: State Inquisitors re: Giacomo Casanova|
That complaint was comic throughout, for the three rogues shewed themselves very brave in writing, stating that they would certainly not have given way so easily if the dread authority of the council had not been put forth by the leader of the band. The document produced three different results; in the first place, it amused the town; in the second, all the idlers of Venice went to San Giobbe to hear the account of the adventure from the lips of the heroine herself, and she got many presents from her numerous visitors; in the third place, the Council of Ten offered a reward of five hundred ducats to any person giving such information as would lead to the arrest of the perpetrators of the practical joke, even if the informer belonged to the band, provided he was not the leader.
The offer of that reward would have made us tremble if our leader, precisely the one who alone had no interest in turning informer, had not been a patrician. The rank of Balbi quieted my anxiety at once, because I knew that, even supposing one of us were vile enough to betray our secret for the sake of the reward, the tribunal would have done nothing in order not to implicate a patrician. There was no cowardly traitor amongst us, although we were all poor; but fear had its effect, and our nocturnal pranks were not renewed.
Three or four months afterwards the chevalier Nicolas Ferro, then one of the inquisitors, astonished me greatly by telling me the whole story, giving the names of all the actors. He did not tell me whether any one of the band had betrayed the secret, and I did not care to know; but I could clearly see the characteristic spirit of the aristocracy, for which the ‘solo mihi’ is the supreme law.
|Venice Carnival 2018 - Photo: Cat Bauer|
Go to the official site for the program of Carnevale di Venezia 2018.
Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog