We've moved from Baltimore, Maryland USA to Venice, Italy in pursuit of living our dream!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

A secret spot in Campo San Giovanni e Paolo

Buongiorno, tutti!

For the last four months, my Wednesday routine includes trotting off to Cannaregio for a 6pm English lesson. My student, Francesco, is a lovely Venetian man who is fairly competent with the English language, however doesn't have much opportunity to keep up with speaking it. Thus, the weekly conversations. We talk for most of the time, spending the other portion reading an excerpt from a newspaper or magazine. Recently, upon suggesting he read a book, he jumped up and pulled a book from his book shelf.  This book:

Venice Ghost stories Alberto Toso Fei The Venice Experience blog

I love this book. In fact, I love all of Alberto Toso Fei's books. If you are a lover of Venice you probably have already discovered his many fascinating books with stories of unique spots and happenings in a Venice of an older time. At any rate, Francesco had never opened the book before. So together we cracked it open,  I selected a short excerpt and he began to read. 

The problem with this book for Francesco is that it is originally written in Italian which has been translated into English.  It's a complicated read because the sentence structure is Italian. What he needs is a book written in English, not translated into it.  But more on that a bit later. 

The story we read describes something that happened in Campo San Giovanni e Paolo, on the northern end of the Castello district.  Francesco, who has Venetian grandparents and has lived in the city as an adult for more than 20 years and also spent much of his childhood here visting his family, did not know this story.  I had read the book years ago so was familiar with the story.  I'm in Campo San Giovanni e Paolo often, but it's been ages since I went to actually look at the site of this particular episode Alberto Toso Fei describes. The other day as I walked through the campo, I took time to search more carefully.  

Campo San Giovanni e Paolo wall sign The Venice Experience blog
Campo San Giovanni e Paolo The Venice Experience blog
Campo San Giovani e Paolo
  Campo San Giovanni e Paolo, named after the Saints John and Paul, is one of the largest and most important campos (neighborhood squares) in the sestiere (district, in Venetian dialect) of Castello.  It's a popular spot for locals and tourists alike. Tour groups flock to this campo to see the famous statue of Bartolomeo Colleoni, the church of San Giovanni e Paolo, and the magnificent Scuola Grande di San Marco.   The campo is also known as Zanipoli, in dialect for Giovanni e Paolo

Church of San Giovanni e Paolo The Venice Experience blog
Church of San Giovanni e Paolo, built in the 1300s
Since the end of the 1500s the funerals of all Doges took place in this church, and inside you will find the tombs of twenty-five Doges. One of Venice's most historic and impressive churches.

Bartolomeo Colleoni statue The Venice Experience blog
Statue of Bartolomeo Colleoni

Alongside the church you will find the Scuola Grande di San Marco, with it's exquisite marble facade. And it's this building that figures into the  subject of the story.  But before I go on with that, look carefully at the following photos that show some of the detailed carvings decorating the front of the building. 

Scuola Grande di San Marco The Venice Experience blog
Scuola Grande di San Marco, Castello

lion on the front of Scuola Grande di San Marco

close up of a lion on Scuola Grande di San Marco

And here's where the story begins.  The Scuola had been restored in 1495 after having been nearly totally destroyed by a fire. Cespo Pizzigani, a very talented Venetian stonecutter, worked on the designs on the front of the building and became quite famous for his work here.  In 1501, Cespo's wife fell ill. He used all of his resources to find ways to save her but in spite of this she died. In ruins, Cespo ended up spending his days begging at the foot of the bridge on the corner of the Scuola.  

Often, to amuse himself, he'd take a nail and scratch etchings into the marble on the side of the building, mostly of ships that were docked along the canal side. 

One of Cespo Pizzigani's etchings on the Scuola doorway

One night, as Cespo was at the Scuola he witnessed a horrible event.   An angry young man visited his mother who lived near the campo, gets into an altercation, stabs her and rips her heart out, then drops it as he runs away with it in his hand. 
He ran screaming into the canal and drowned.

Rumor has it you can still hear his desperate screams in the campo as he searches for his mothers heart.

Cespo Pizzigani,the stonecutter,  who was sitting in the shadows by the Scuola doorway, made a sketch of the event he witnessed that night.

Look closely. You'll see a man in a turban, holding a heart shaped object in his hand. This etching is on the doorway as you enter the main door of the Scuola Grande di San Marco.

Over the years I've enjoyed tracking down many of these little obscure yet fascinating stories from Venice's past. They make this city come alive for me.

Now back to my student, Francesco. We read a few stories from Fei's book. Fun for me because in addition to helping him with his English, these stories were new to Francesco.  Unfortunately, the language of the book in the English translation is difficult.  So we put that book aside.

I've taken him a copy of a Donna Leon book! Written in English by a native American English speaker, Donna Leon writes mysteries set in Venice.  I'll get Francesco learning about this city yet!

*Story of the man with the heart from Alberto Toso Fei's Venetian Legends and Ghost Stories, A guide to places of mystery in Venice.


Kaye said...

A good Donna Leon book to give him is the first one, "Death at La Fenice" - lots of detail about the city and its people

Michelle said...

What a wonderful way to introduce him to very well written American English. It's funny that I used a Donna Leon quote in my latest blog post. I often tell people what I love about her books is that I feel like I am walking right alongside the Commisario on his investigations around the City of My Dreams.

karen said...

Ciao Michelle! I was looking through my shelves for something in English and you know what books I have...Donna Leon! We have some by an author named Henderson, but the language in those is even more complex than the Brunetti books. Francesco, my student, has a very good vocabulary, but he's finding Donna Leon a challenge. I think that's just what he needs. And so we do a page or two at a time.

The weather, thankfully, cooled off last night and this morning. We've been baking here!

Had you seen these carvings on the Sculoa doorway before? I am fascinated by these little things !

Hope all is well in Seattle, and give Diavolo and extra petting from me, as if he needed more. He's one well loved cat!

karen said...

Hi Kaye,

Yes, I agree. And there's something to be said for starting at the beginning of the series too. However I doubt my student will become a big Donna Leon reader. it's funny, most Italians I've talked to about this don't know the books nor know anything of the author, even though she's lived here for years.

Michelle said...

Actually I'm not surprised when Venetians/Italians don't know Donna Leon as she purposely does not have her books translated into Italian because she prefers to be anonymous in her adopted city. I did see her in Campo Santa Maria di Formosa...I think it was my last trip. She realized that I had recognized her and she looked like the proverbial "deer caught in the headlights" and I just kept walking...didn't approach or try to take her picture.
One of the many things I love about her books is the wonderful vocabulary so not really for someone without a good grasp of English....or at least a really good dictionary.

Yes, I've seen the doorway but not close up so not those little carvings....sort of an ancient graffiti. I was adoring the lions the day I visited the Chiesa next door. I'll have to get myself a copy of that book.

Diavolo sends purrs back to you. He is an excellent loud purrer.