He was born on April 2nd, 1725.
A little celebration was in order, I thought.
A man so gifted in many ways was not adverse to gifts himself. He loved novelty of all kinds.
I gave Casanova words for his birthday. He liked words, and was a great connoisseur of them. He was also keen on oysters, stinking ripe cheese, the smell of a woman’s sweat, but I couldn’t deliver any of those items to his sadly unmarked grave in Bohemia.
My gift was in fact one I’d prepared earlier, and published in my first novel for adults, Carnevale, which tells the story of Cecilia Cornaro, a young portrait painter who becomes one of Casanova’s lovers. I believe it was the first novel written from the point of view of a woman who loved him. The book is about to be reissued by Bloomsbury with a new cover.
I’m not the only one celebrating Casanova at the moment.
My gift of words is to be displayed as part of Il Grande Mosaico, Opus magnum, a collection of tiny canvases on the most controversial of Venetians. Only in this prismatic way can one hope to glimpse even a paltry proportion of the many sides of this fascinating character, who was, in his time, a trainee priest, a necromancer, a violinist, the author of a science fiction novel, a philosopher, a diplomat, an inventor, a spy.
The idea is the masterpiece of Manuel Carrión of the Carrión Gallery, founded in January 2014 at the Giudecca.
Here is how I made my tile.
Obviously, I began with the poem ...
Casanova's Recipe for Chocolate Cake
First, you need the lips to eat it.
Lips of purple heather, lips of persimmon, lips like mandarin skins scraped through honey.
And then the occasion to eat it.
The first time you make love to her, the last time you make love to her, one of the times in between (may they be many, or at least long).
Of course you also need the sweet wine to moisten it.
With the soul of a bottle inside you, your tongue sees more clearly. This is true, be it Falernian, Scopolo, Tokay, Burgundy, pink partridge-eye Champagne, or that liquid chalk they make in Orvieto. No matter. Maraschino from Dalmatia, even, with cinnamon and sugar. Or milk. Once I myself, on my knees, suckled from the rose-pink spigot of a young mother in Milan.
In those days, I had teeth.
Where was I? O yes, chocolate cake.
Then you need a bed.
A bed to lie on, a bed to feed on, sleep on, in which to lose the crumbs to lick off the next morning.
And a surprise is always acceptable, too.
A snuffbox with a secret spring, an unexpected dearth or luxuriance of hair,
a fruit preserved for just this moment,
a virgin who proves as amorous as a pigeon.
Oh, and yes, you need a chocolate cake, too.
Send out for one immediately!
(from Carnevale 2001)
A birthday present needs attractive packaging. So I made my unusual shopping list of images - spigot, breast, chocolate cake, snuffbox ... Then I searched my collection of ephemera to find them. I used to be a packager of illustrated books, so I happen to have useful drawers full of images for 'devices', 'death' and 'body parts'.
I found what I wanted and arranged them around the poem.
Then glued them.
And photographed my tile
And sent it to indefatigable Rosemary Wilmot who’s been kindly coordinating the UK end of operations for the Carrión Gallery. She and her husband Brian had it printed to the right size and mounted on the tile … to go to Venice.
So Happy Birthday, Casanova.
Wish I could blow out your candles.
Here's a sneak preview of the new Carnevale jacket at left.
The Bloomsbury edition is out in June.
You can see all the Casanova tiles here:
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