Venice, 1595

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.