Fiction / Anne McGouran
:: Venice, 1595 ::
In spite of all my efforts, the Doge’s trotters are fit to appear alongside the dwarves and amputees he brings out at court entertainments. There’s a gouty pouch on his left foot that resembles a sixth toe. No matter how I pumice and cauterize, his bunions resemble overripe figs.
“Pierino,” he sighs, “when I’m dead they’ll all gloat: ‘We sure squeezed the last drop out of Doge Grimani.’”
“Do not distress yourself, Most Serene Prince. I’ll prepare a chamomile poultice without delay.” (I might have to rethink those drawstring thongs—maybe invent some kind of toggle.)
Whenever I come up with a new treatment, the Doge pats my head and calls me his “clever young worthy,” which puts me on a rung just below his Persian wolfhounds. Most days he’s easily pleased—a tot of moscato, some rice and peas, relief from those cracked heels and jaundiced toenails, protection from his grasping wife.
Nowadays Her Ladyship has to be ferried around in a sedan chair by four portaseggette till she can walk unaided in her 27-inch cork-platforms—the latest fashion from Moorish Spain. Last week, two ladies-in-waiting came to me with overstretched ankles. “The Dogaressa sends us on bogus errands then fines us for tardiness,” Faustina whispered. “She’s got stumpy legs and a grimy yellow neck under that fancy ruff.” While I made up special heel padding, the ladies took turns swiveling on the fancy new stool with a moveable seat I won at dice.
At least the campaign to erect a statue of the Doge is going well. Guess all his well-placed election gifts didn’t hurt. A goccia a goccia s’incava la pietra. (Drop by drop one wears away the stone.) He was pleased with the long-toed corrective shoes I fashioned for his audience with the Persian Ambassador. I sewed a goatskin upper onto a leather sole, turned it inside out to conceal the seam. Unfortunately the old boy tripped while descending the Giants’ Staircase, the Dogaressa glaring at him from out of those pink slits.
When I learned the Dogaressa’s coronation will set the old boy back 144,000 ducats, I sent a message to Faustina. “Wouldn’t Her Serenity like a pair of winged platform sandals to complement her towering headdress?” I scraped bronze gilding off an old mirror and blended it with marble dust and sand to resemble wings. The soft padding conforms to the shape of the Dogaressa’s foot, but the genius part is the underlayer. Trace amounts of ground viper, dung, and mercury will slowly leach into her sensitive soles. She won’t be allemanding with her courtiers any time soon. Like we corn-cutters always say, “Pain comes on horseback but goes away on foot.”
I’d best nip over to Manin’s Print Shop before he gets to work on my calling card. My first choice was “Piero Cafisi: Expert in the Eradication of Painful Corns, Stone Bruising, and Cutaneous Excrescences,” but I’ve settled on “Renowned Specialist in Indelicate Foot Conditions.”
From the writer
:: Account ::
Three years ago I became fascinated with the Dogaressa, the Venetian Doge’s official spouse. Out of the thirty-five Dogaressas, I decided to research Dogaressa Morosina Morisini-Grimani, whose extravagant coronation was the last on record in Renaissance Venice. I wondered if she had any political influence.
Meanwhile, my husband and I booked a two-week getaway in New York City. Our guest house (according to their website) contained part of an Italian Renaissance library that once belonged to the Duke of Urbino. I got it in my head that the Duke of Urbino was Morosina Morosini’s husband. At the local reference library I photocopied floor plans of a 14th century ducal palace, including its elaborate ceiling medallion. When we finally checked into the House of the Redeemer, I rushed downstairs to the storied library clutching my photocopies. I gazed up at the vaulted ceiling only to discover that the medallions didn’t match. A historian later clarified that the library actually belonged to Federico da Montefeltro. My bad.
I abandoned my Dogaressa story and began to think about the lives of minions at the Venetian court. I reread Elizabeth Janeway’s Powers of the Weak: “a wise mistrust of the powerful and a willingness to exercise dissent” is necessary if the weak are to rule their own lives. I thought about gossip as a weapon of the weak. The fictional character of Piero Cafisi emerged after I read an orthotics brochure which said that “corn-cutters” predated podiatrists.
Anne McGouran’s stories and essays appear or are forthcoming in Cleaver, Cutbank, The Smart Set, Mslexia, Queen’s Quarterly, Orca, Switchgrass Review, and Gargoyle Magazine. She lives in Collingwood, Ontario where she has developed a fascination with ice huts and orchard ladders.