Several years ago, I began reading Casanova’s memoirs. I managed to scrounge the entire six-volume set in paperback, and now I dip into it, in no particular order, whenever I find myself without something to read. He writes about his affairs, of course, as well as his duels, gambling, legal affairs, illnesses, travelling, and a million other things, and what keeps me reading is that he is a fabulous storyteller.
I happen to be reading about his imprisonment in the prisons of Venice, known as The Leads, because of the material used to roof them. He was denounced, more or less anonymously, for having prohibited books in his rooms, books about magic, astrology, and other blasphemous subjects. Somebody was settling a score.
The conditions of his incarceration are awful – the stifling heat, the fleas, the lack of books, paper and pens, poor food, poor light, and the occassional roomate thrown in, some of whose company is worse than solitary confinement. He contrives to dig a hole in the floor through which to escape, but just before the breakout day, he is moved to another cell, a palace compared to the rat hole he is in.
He did get out eventually, and wrote a pamphlet about it that became fantastically popular, burnishing his reputation as an adventurer. Others had escaped, but none had written about it! Casanova was a multi-talented fellow, and rather philosophical. His memoirs are sprinkled with observations on the nature of man and fate – at one particularly dark moment in his story he remarks, “one can get used to anything.“
The image above is the Bridge of Sighs, which leads from the interrogation quarters of the Doge’s Palace to the state prisons. It’s quite famous, and despite its criminal associations, architects have imitated it, or claimed to, quite a bit. This bridge in Oxford is called the Bridge of Signs, but it looks more like the Venetian Rialto.
At least this old bridge in NYC with the same name connects to a prison, known as The Tombs. The other two are simply skybridges, that you see here and there around the city. Shall we imagine that the desparate sighs of imprisoned white-collar workers can be faintly heard?