Saturday, 18 July 2015

Forgotten lessons from a famous seducer


A hot summer evening, many years ago, the Baron and his acquaintance The Seeker were enjoying the doubtless charms of a heuriger in Grinzing.

Somehow the conversation between the two men, which until then, as usual, had been all but monopolized by The Seeker's telling his experiences across the EU lands, shifted to the extraordinary life of Giacomo Casanova.

In a recent trip to Dux, the Baron had visited the castle where Casanova had died and spent his last years as librarian of a Bohemian noble.

- Do you remember, Herr Baron, Casanova depicting something akin to xenophobia in his memoirs? Someone mocking his colourful French full of Italianisms? Someone refusing to talk to him because he was a foreigner? Someone complaining that he got involved in launching the French national lottery despite not being French? Some wanton lady refusing his advances for not being able to share common childhood memories?

The Baron lowered his eyes and stared intensely at his glass, in the soft golden Viennese summer sunset, and recapitulated the Venetian's life. 

He had in his library, not only the 1993 French edition with the full text in 3 volumes, but some previous ones as well. From one heavily censored, to one abridged from the 1950's, bound in thick green leather, containing many piquant illustrations and only the saucy parts.

He had also J.Rives Child's seminal book about that immortal character, and was an abonné to L'Intermédiare des Casanovistes, now sadly defunct.

And yet, despite all his efforts, he really could never remember anyone treating Casanova different because he was Venetian; or not offering him employment; or refusing him care because he had not put enough money in first; or complaining he spoke French; or intriguing against him just because he appeared to have many talents besides seduction.

Yes, Casanova had been betrayed, lied, fought and deceived. He was guilty of those sins himself. Yet he had also been loved (a lot, we know), welcome, protected and admired. 

Giacomo Casanova had lived; he had sometimes won and often lost, particularly at the end of his life; he had gambled and escaped from prison, wrote books and devised financial schemes and open swindles. Like any other human being, he had tried to live his life the way he thought, or the way he could. Yet he has never been despised just by being The Other despite spending most of his life in foreign cities and courts.

- My dear friend, replied the Baron after a few minutes, there was a time when in this continent cultivated men were universally respected. Where gentlemen found themselves welcome from Saint Petersburg to Napoli. Where even men without fortune could try their luck wherever fancy and fortune brought them. Where conversation was an art, and true friendship a real possibility. Where talent was recognized, if not always rewarded. Where love was natural and libraries magnificent.

Not a word more was uttered that night between the Baron and The Seeker. 

His butler found the Baron even more circumspect than usual that night. And the fleeting light of candles was visible under the door of his library well into the warm summer night.




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