Some years ago, possibly on my last trip to Venice, before my 10 year hiatus and long before my own book had begun to take shape, I bought a copy of Kathy Gonzalez ‘Free Gondola Ride’ from the Liberia Studium at San Marco. Compared to what I know now, I had uncovered only the tinest fragments of my family’s connection to Venice. Now of course, there is an entire family history to enjoy. If you have an interest it’s easy to find. Just look two inches to the right of this text.
Roll on to 2018 and after much drafting and many emails, and all thanks to Kathy’s hard work, we are now published in the same book together ‘First Spritz Is Free’, along with a whole host of other Venetophiles from all around the world who wanted to divulge their most intimate thoughts on that city to you dear readers.
Of course, Tita Falcieri was the subject of my piece, how could he not be, but it was about much more than that. When you discover your love for somewhere that is about more than restaurants and warm weather and get away locations, you want to find a way to communicate that to others. Venice, whether you are a native or not, Italian or otherwise, touches the very soul of the people who are ensconced within the pages of ‘First Spritz is Free‘. It should touch yours too if you can look beyond the public face, which isn’t actually that difficult.
It is a noble cause and a chance for many people who have been connected via Twitter and Facebook and the Save Venice cause, to be united in one place and all for one purchase so that you can begin to understand the magic, and the beauty and the sheer brilliance of that place.
It has been an incredibly long time since I last posted on this account. I had anticipated announcing the publication of my book to coincide with the annniverary of Byron’s birth back in January, a deadline that was missed. As was the anniversary of his death in April, and that of Tita’s birth in May which would have been the most apt launch date.
Instead, it is now the height of summer and almost two years since I began revising and rewriting my original publication of the biography of my great-great-great grandfather Giovanni Battista (Tita) Falcieri, Lord Byron’s gondolier and bodyguard. It has been a huge and incredibly exciting journey. The amount of new information I have uncovered has been immense. Anyone who bought the original ebook will not recognise the new publication. It is certainly worth the new investment.
Being involved in the layout and printing process of this book has been an eye opener and the part that has taken up a good proportion of my time. It is not something that I want to have to repeat any time soon. My part as an author and researcher, bringing together all the facts and figures into a narrative, is the bit I love. I am happy to spend hours in libraries and archives searching for information. I am happy to write it up. But I have discovered that I dislike the process that comes afterwards. It is not my forte. And without a doubt, it made me quite sick of the project by the end. But that is a feeling that will pass. Now it is over I am already tentatively excited for the future of my publication – my life’s work.
Unavoidably I have had to have a huge part in the behind the scenes process. I have no agent, no editorial team and no publisher. I had the help of one person doing the alterations to the final layout, grading images and putting it all together print ready for 4edge Limited, a UK based printers, whose patience over my stalled completion date has been admirable. Then I have had to check the book, proof it, and check it again on screen and in print. If I have read my book once, I have read it a hundred times and that may be a conservative underestimate.
But at last, it is here. It is a real book. It is a saleable item. It is something you can hold and put in your bag and peruse on the way to work or take on holiday. You can read it in Venice, or Greece, or London and enjoy what I have enjoyed and see, first hand, the places where the story unfolded. There are pictures, many never before seen. Many are from family archives or private collections.
This version is not available as an ebook. I confess to disliking ebooks. I realise this puts the cost up, I realise it means paying for postage. I realise it means you, the customer, will have to dig deeper. But I hope this means that you will value it more, and value the work that has gone into it. Tell me where else you are going to get this book about this fascinating man, a reluctant hero from a bygone age?
I hope it will sit on your bookshelves along side other books on similar subjects, on the subjects of Tita’s contemporaries like Byron, Shelley and Disraeli. I hope you will fill it, as I have done with other books, with post-its and coloured tabs marking important passages. I hope it will be dog-eared from the number of trips it has joined you on. I hope you will make notes in it, use it for research of your own and be inspired by it enough to consult your own genealogy and look for your own reluctant heroes.
Of course, the work has not ended. Perhaps it has just begun. I now have to sell my small masterpiece. And once again, there is noone to do this for me. I have to market it, package it, post it around the world. There is no publisher or bookshop or assistant to help me in this. And I find that slightly terrifying. I have never done anything quite like this before. Thankfully, office administration and managing business finances are two of my skills and as I have been running my own business for the last seven years, I am quietly confident I can manage the basics of it. But I confess to a nervous trepidation.
I realise there are people all around the world that have been waiting for this book for a long time. Not as long as me I assure you, but I hope you are all still there and I hope that your patience is satisfied by what you can now read. This book is unique in its subject. And unique in its telling. And I hope you will appreciate what an achievement it is, to have something so unusual and worth sharing.
For more information about buying your copy, go here or send enquiries to email@example.com and follow my blog and Twitter for more updates.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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….’
You can read my book ‘A Most Faithful Attendant – The Life of Giovanni Battista Falcieri‘ by purchasing it here.