discovering the hidden worlds of women composers

The heart is not for sale


This image, of the fish market, has stayed with me from my trip to Venice, some weeks ago. My first morning in the city, I tried, and for the moment failed, to visit the church of Santa Sofia in Cannaregio, where Barbara Strozzi – father incerto, mother perhaps a courtesan, certainly a servant – was baptised back in 1619. Strozzi didn’t just live and write music in the shadow of the courtesan. She was a courtesan. (Well, actually, as ever, it’s bit more complicated than that, but it will all be explained in chapter two. Probably.) Cannaregio was Strozzi’s territory. She lived and worked in the neighbourhood, plying her two trades, music and sex.

So, when I turned from Santa Sofia, and looked across the Grand Canal to the Pescheria’s red awnings, the words I saw scrawled there seemed to speak across the centuries. I think the words mean, in Venetian dialect, that ‘the heart is not for sale’. Brave, defiant words but they don’t carry much weight in Venice now, and they certainly didn’t for Strozzi.

It’s impossible to wander around Venice without beginning to question one’s own sense of time and space. (It’s also impossible to write about Venice without stumbling over clichés). My grip on reality was not helped by running into a film crew

venice film recreating a vision of fifteenth century (?) Venice nor was it helped by seeing young naval officers lined up in their finery, a triumphant expression of la bella figura, overlooked by the lion of St Mark. It was hard to imagine them at war.


Fortunately, reality can always be restored with an aperitivo. Go to the square of San Giacomo dell’ Orio, look for ‘Al Prosecco’ – but don’t have prosecco, have one of the well-kept, beautifully-served big northern Italian reds, and watch a more mundane world go by. In a city where you can pay an awful lot for terrible food, you can enjoy a plate of lovely cheeses, complemented by home-made chutney, for, well, still a lot more than Palermo, but it is Venice. Kids play football, people talk, buy groceries at the Co-op. When I briefly lived in Venice, this was ‘my’ bar, and I am still very, very fond of it and its owners.

I stopped off there before taking the night train to Vienna. A glass of nebbiolo, a plate of cheese and salad, a few minutes of ordinary life, Venetian style, and I was ready to say goodbye, at least for a while, to Strozzi and her city.


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2 thoughts on “The heart is not for sale

  1. Caroline on said:

    Hi Anna
    Really enjoying your posts! They are brilliant!
    Funnily enough, we were in Venice for Brian’s birthday with our friend Adrian who drove us there, from Trento via Castelfranco as we were on a Giorgione mission to see the Castelfranco Madonna and then to the Accademia to see the Tempest. Stopping more often than not to have a Prosecco.
    Found a hostelry near the Rialto called hotel Canada Venezia, 64 euros… Dumped bag and caught boat to island of Torcello to see Byzantine mosaics. Followed by spaghetti alle vongole and frittura mista. Plus more Prosecco..
    Accademia and Guggenheim next day then back over the mountains to Trento.
    Next weekend staying with Ed in Nottingham, he is working over Easter, and going to meet gf Philippa, following weekend off to Norwegian fjords on MS Ryndam. Brian off to Malaysian Borneo mid May, I declined that one, too many long haul flights and couldn’t find a birder to take me out while he is working.
    But have found Bert de Bruin the Bergen birder who is going to take us out along with his 8 month old daughter.
    Hope we can meet up end May/june
    All the best
    have fun!
    Love Caroline and Brian

    Sent from my iPad

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