Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Characters in "Ten Blocks on the Camino Real"

Giacomo Girolamo Casanova de Seingalt (aka Jacques Casanova), born April 2, 1725, died June 4, 1798, was an Italian adventurer and author. he was so famous as a womanizer that his name remains synonymous with the art of seduction. He associated with European royalty, popes and cardinals, along with luminaries such as Voltaire, Goethe and Mozart.

At the time of Casanova's birth, Venice thrived as the pleasure capital of Europe. the famed carnibval, gambling houses, and beautiful courtesans were powerful drawing cards for young men all over the continent.

On his ninth birthday, Casanova was sent to a boarding house on the mainland in Padua. This neglect by his parents was a bitter memory: "So they got rid of me," he later wrote.

Conditions at the boarding house were appalling, so he appealed to Abbe Gozzi, the priest who was his primary instructor. It was here in the Gozzi household that Casanova first came into contact with the opposite sex, when Gozzi's younger sister Bettina fondled him when he was eleven. "The girl pleased me at once, though I had no idea why. It was she who little by little kindled in my heart the first sparks of a feeling which later became my ruling passion." Although she subsequently married, Casanova maintained a life-long attachment to Bettina and the Gozzi family.

Casanova's growing curiosity about women led to his first complete sexual experience with two sisters, then fourteen and sixteen. He proclaimed that his life avocation was firmly established by this encounter.

He entered the University of Padua and graduated with a degree in law at age seventeen. He also studied moral philosophy, chemistry, mathematics, music, and was keenly interested in medicine.

At the age of 21, he set out to become a professional gambler but losing all his money, he turned to his old benefactor Alvise Grimani, who found him a job as violinist in the San Samuele theater.

At age 30, Casanova was arrested "for public outrages against the holy religion." Without a trial, he was sentenced to five years in an "unescapable" prison. During exercise walks, he found a piece of black marble and an iron bar which he smuggled back to his cell, spending weeks sharpening the bar into a spike on the marble stone. After his escape, he left behind an ironic note that quoted the 117th Psalm: "I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord."

Casanova travelled to England, hoping to sell his idea of a state lottery to English officials, working his way up to an audience with George III. He also spent much time in the bedroom. As a means to find females for his pleasure, not speaking English, he put an ad in a newspaper to rent an apartment to the "right" person. He interviewed many young women, choosing one "Mistress Pauline" who suited him well. Soon, he established himself in her apartment and seduced her. These and other liaisons, however, left him weak with venereal disease and he left England broke and ill.

His return to Venice was a cordial one and he was treated as a celebrity. Even the Inquisitors wanted to hear how he had escaped from their prison. But no financial opportunities came about. At age 49, the years of reckless living and the thousands of miles of travel had taken their toll. His easygoing manner was now more guarded.

In 1785, Casanova became the librarian to a Bohemian Count, but the Count often ignored him at meals and failed to introduce him to important visitig guests, and he was thoroughly disliked by most of the other inhabitants of the castle. Casanova's only friends in Bohemia seemed to be his fox terriers. In despair, Casanova considered suicide, but instead decided that he must live on to record his memoirs, which he did until his death at age 73. His last words were "I have lived as a philosopher and I die as a Christian."

For more than two hundred years since his death, Casanova has been best known for his prowess in seduction, but he was recognized during his life as an extraordinary person, a man of far-ranging intellect and curiosity. He was a true adventurer, a lawyer, clergyman, military officer, violinist, con man, pimp, gourmand, dancer, businessman, diplomat, spy, politician, medic, mathematician, social philosopher, cabalist, playwright, and writer.

Born of actors, he had a passion for the theater and for an improvised, theatrical life. But with all his talents, he frequently succumbed to the quest for pleasure and sex, often avoiding sustained work, and got himself into trouble when prudent action would have served him better. His true occupation was living largely on his quick wits, steely nerves, luck, social charm, and the money given to him in gratitude and by trickery.

Freely adapted from Wikipedia.
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