Venezia – 3 Giorno – On This Day In Venice

Lunedi 8 maggio

On this day in 1798 on the island of Murano, my great great great grandfather, probably best known as Lord Byron’s gondolier and bodyguard, was born. The fact that I am in Venice this week was not a part of my plan, it’s just the way the dates fell on my AirBNB booking.

After breakfast at Goppion, where I met two tourists (one of whom teaches English on mainland Italy), I headed off to Fondamenta Nove to catch the vaporetto to Murano to meet my new cousin.

Paola Falcier is a writer and Murano resident whom I met on the internet a couple of months back. We were both researching our Murano Falcier ancestors and there was a reasonable chance we were related. As it happens, we’re not directly, but we’ve stayed in touch and she’s been a willing victim via Whatsapp as I improve my Italian. We’re still hopeful of finding a connection somewhere. The research continues.

We did a huge circuit of Murano taking in the Fondamenta Venier, which used to be the Fondamenta degli Angoli which is where my Falcieri family lived and where Tita and his siblings were all born.

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We also visited all the churches, a glass factory, the cemetery and I was introduced to a whole host of friends and relatives who had all heard of my impending arrival.

My ancestors on Murano (Falcier, Nichetti, Gaggio and Caurlin) were liberally spread across the southern part of the island and were hanging out around San Stefano, San Pietro and San Ciprioni but there are also connections to San Donato. Between  1814 and 1818 Tita’s father, who had drifted between being a wine seller and a boatman, had picked up his wife and children and decamped to Venice where they had taken up residence at the Palazzo Mocenigo Casa Nuova as ‘gondolieri de casada’ to Lucia Mocenigo, famous of Andrea di Robliant’s books, and later residence for 3 years of Lord Byron after he left the Frezzeria. Why they moved I have no idea. I am guessing they had contacts, probably a family member, already there.

After we parted I headed off to Al Timon. I had found a language exchange group via ‘Meet Up’ and, even though I had spent all day with Paola speaking almost nothing but very broken Italian, I had the chance over cichetti and Aperol to give it another go with my host Michele.

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After this I cut the day short. Paola reckons we clocked up about 8 miles today and tomorrow is another full day. My visit is now half way through. This makes me a bit sad, but I have plenty left to do.

For now, Tita, wherever you are, Buon Compleanno.

What Did I Spend?

Today was quite a cheap day. Breakfast at Goppion was 2.60 Euros and I only picked at cake and cappuccino during the day. Water is freely available throughout Venice at the various fountains so you have no excuse for dehydrating here. Cichetti and two Aperol at Al Timon cost me 10 Euros.

The vaporetto return to Murano Colonna from Fondamenta Nove in Cannaregio cost 10 Euros.

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Di Venezia Con Amore

Forgive the impersonal nature of this blog post. Today I arrive in Venice – actually I’ll be somewhere over mainland Europe when this drops onto your timeline. I don’t know when I will get internet access so this is damage limitation, by way of a quick pre-published introduction to say hello from here. If you are in Venice, drop me a line. I am open to all sort of interesting liasons over prosecco, cichetti and anywhere else dreamy and romantic as ever Venice is.

The aim over the next six days is to document my time here with observations, the kinds of photographs you don’t normally see (I promise no Grande Canale panoramics), thoughts on prices, where to eat, artesans, people and the history I see as I trace my ancestors back and forth. I will also be tracking my spending, to see just how true it is that Venice is an overpriced tourist trap. I am very budget conscious so this will be an interesting exercise.

Ciao. Ci vediamo dopo…from somewhere over Europe.

Bradenham Manor – A Home For 16 Years

I probably write too much about Venice (as if that could ever be an actual thing).  For those of you who do not know Venice, this might make my recent timeline boring. For those of you who do, you will get it. Even so, it is time for another subject.

Towards the end of April I retraced my steps back to Bradenham Manor in Buckinghamshire, once the home for 20 years of Isaac D’Israeli and his family, and where Tita eventually landed himself in 1832 and for the next 16 years. It is also where he met his future wife.

Bradenham is a beautiful building nestled in the Chiltern Vale. It is also possessed of a uniquely tranquil ambience that everyone notices when they enter. This of course is in direct contrast to the recent and extraordinary adjustment in the internal furnishings of this country manor cum training centre. We are all at a loss.

Even so, Bradenham for me represents a poignant time in my family history. I have visited it before, but not since reading the many letters from and to Sa Disraeli. Most of them are written from the house, and often about the goings on in it. It has a formed a substantial part of my book rewrite, and for obvious reasons once you see it.

Her letters are an indispensible gem in our knowledge of Tita Falcieri’s life not just at the manor, but also what was going on back in Italy and also in London. I’m saving all the interesting bits for the book rewrite. But I have included here a few of the quirkier photographs I took when I was last there.

I was blessed with the opportunity to wander about the house at leisure. It is a jumbled assortment of rooms, corridors and staircases, confused further by the numerous alterations over its life which make it a challenging but fascinating jigsaw And this of course makes it a lot of fun to explore.

Towards the end of the day as things began to wind down I sat and read the chapter from my book that deals with Bradenham and read a few scenes from the script, the section also set at Bradenham. And it really is quite an extraordinary feeling – reading of events that took place in the very rooms where you are now sitting.

Back To The Grind

My three weeks just south of London have come to an end. In case you’re out of the loop I’ve been housesitting a Boston Terrier named Malibu for a few weeks. My parents don’t live that far away so I’ve been making the most of the proximity to catch up with them and meet my brand new nephew. I’ve also taken myself into London for a couple of days of research at the British Library (that’s the image at the top of this post in case you are wondering).

Manchester for those of you that don’t know the geography is a 5 hour drive from my parents, so I rarely come down this way. And when I do, it’s usually via the medium of other tasks. It’s a lot to justify especially when you run your own business.

Primarily the reason was to get away from my day job and finish revising the second edition of my book which needed a lot of new material putting in. My time here has gone remarkably slowly, and though I don’t feel like I’ve done an awful lot with my time I have achieved what I came here to do – finish the book.

It’s gained a lot of pages and I’ve thrown a few out. And this edition will come with pictures once I’ve forked out for the copyright and got some artefacts properly photographed. There are lots of exciting things to show you and I hope you will be inspired. I doubt the copy will be out by the time I go to Venice in May. But rest assured the link will be up when it’s done.

In the meantime I have continued to plough away at my Italian lessons. And I’ve gained myself a Manchester based Italian penpal via WhatsApp. I’ve also managed to expand my Italian family tree and my grasp of the language seems to be coming on well.

So yes I suppose it has been a good few weeks. Back in Manchester it’s time to return to business. And in just five weeks I will be in Venice. After 10 years absence I am finally back at the ancestral home. And it cannot come soon enough.

Heirlooms And The Stories They Tell

It is fitting that I publish this post today – 10th March. It is the 140th anniversary of Sarah Falcieri’s death. Sarah, my great-great-great-grandmother, was Tita’s wife officially for 25 years and was with him as his partner for about 13 years before that when they both worked as staff at Bradenham Manor in Buckinghamshire for the D’Israeli family.

My family is lucky to still own her memorial ring. And it is this single object that set me on the road to finding out about our unique genealogy and our connections to Lord Byron and Benjamin Disraeli.

It is significant for another reason. Because it is ironic that we know more about Tita than anyone else in the family and yet we have nothing that is personal to him. Sarah on the other hand is illusive to us in the records and yet here is something which is as close to her as it is possible to get. For the ring itself contains a lock of her hair.

There are only two discernable mentions of her in the records pre January 1849 when she married Tita in London. The ring therefore is a highly prized object and continues to be a source of interest and frustration as I search through archives looking for tiny scraps of her life to add to the story.

The only other tangible item that connects to her is a letter she wrote to Benjamin Disraeli in early 1875 following Tita’s death, thanking him for the pension he had obtained for her from Queen Victoria. In mentioning her husband she conveys exactly the person he was:

‘I have only one regret – that my dear husband could not have been cheered before his death by the knowledge that such an event was possible. I do not know which would have caused him the greater delight, – the idea of a public recognition of services which, though indeed faithful, no one knows better than you, Sir, were rendered without desire of reward, or the assurance of the continuance towards him by yourself personally of that kindly feeling of regard….’

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Sarah Falcieri’s memorial ring – authors copyright

You can read my book ‘A Most Faithful Attendant – The Life of Giovanni Battista Falcieri‘ by purchasing it here.

 

Retreat

From today I am on retreat in Croydon. You heard me right – CROYDON. For two and a half weeks I am ensconced just south of London – me, my laptop, a back catalogue of good tv and a small Boston Terrier named Malibu. Yes, I’m house sitting again.

I’m not just doing it out of the goodness of my heart, however. It gives me a much needed change of scenery. I need to quench my travel bug which can’t be sated any other way because things cost money. Routine drives me crazy. It also puts me in the enviable position of being a captive audience to do what I hope will be the ‘nearly’ final proof read of the second edition of my book which I’ve been doing since last November.

I also need some thinking space to fill in the gaps in my film script – it’s currently the thing nagging in the back of my mind. There are just too many distractions at home both personally and professionally. Here, I know noone. I can hide away and just get on with it. With some dog therapy thrown in for good measure.

Venice, the BBC and a Gondolier named Roberto

I remember my first trip to Venice very clearly. It was 2003. I was recording a segment of ’50 Places to See Before You Die’ for the BBC. It was a whirlwind trip. 3 days, one Italian camera crew and one English born Venetian guide – Patricia Weston Liani.

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Filming in San Marco Piazza – where else?

Most of what I wanted to see was kept at arms length due to a tight schedule and I knew next to nothing about Venice except the basics of my ancestral roots there. Ironically we were here for the BBC not for me, but it was a precious first trip and I still remember it clearly.

It included just what you would expect for a tourism heavy programme. We landed at the Basilica. Filmed in the San Marco Piazza and went on a gondola ride right up the Palazzo Mocenigo where Byron had lived and Tita had worked with his family.

They recorded my every reaction. I’m sure they wanted tears, but I didn’t give it to them. Inside though there were a hundred emotions raging through me that only I really understood. Really my first trip should have been alone. I was here for very personal reasons. Everything about the place spoke to me and I had no time to answer back.

But I can’t complain. We arrived from Marco Polo on a private motorboat, were put up at a very nice hotel and everything was expenses paid. I was in heaven.We even bumped into my English cousins who happened to be staying in the same hotel as me. Which was very odd.

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Do you see that smug look – that’s me about to get into my first ever gondola – Roberto at the helm

I went back every year after that – another four visits of a week each. It was never enough. And I never went alone. Always with people who yearned for the tourist traps. Then circumstances changed and I stopped being able to afford the trips.

This year I am going back twice. It’s been 10 years. And I am going alone for the first one. This will be the first time I can genuinely just wander to my hearts content, avoid the hotspots and spend hours just gazing at the water as it laps the traghetto.