About the Author

Susan Swan

SUSAN SWAN's fiction has been published in twenty countries and received numerous honours. Her first novel, The Biggest Modern Woman of the World (1983), was a finalist for the Governor General’s Award for fiction and the Smith’s Best First Novel Award, and is currently being made into a film. Her other books include the short story collection Stupid Boys are Good to Relax With (1996), the novel Last of the Golden Girls (1989), and The Wives of Bath (1993). The film adaptation of The Wives of Bath, called Lost and Delirious, has been released in 32 countries and was featured as a Premiere Selection at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival. Her most recent novel, What Casanova Told Me (2001), was published to rave reviews. Susan Swan lives in Toronto, Ontario, and is an associate professor of Humanities at York University.

Books by this Author
The Western Light

The Western Light

A Novel
edition:Hardcover
also available: eBook
tagged : literary
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What Casanova Told Me
Excerpt

Harvard University Archives
Pusey Library, Harvard Yard
Cambridge, MA 02138

April 29, 2000

Luce Adams,
291 Brunswick Avenue,
Toronto, Ontario, M5S 2M2

Dear Miss Adams:

As instructed by your aunt, Beatrice Adams, I am returning the family documents found in the St. Lawrence cottage, along with my comments on their authenticity.

The journal of Asked For Adams, with its lined pages and red-ribbed trim, displays features commonly found in late eighteenth-century diaries. Its most notable characteristic is the title embossed in gold leaf, which mentions your ancestor’s travels with Casanova. In the absence of a watermark it is difficult to confirm a date, but the journal looks to be a colonial product, perhaps manufactured in an East Coast American paper mill before the cheaper method of using acid to break down wood pulp was discovered.

I’m afraid I wasn’t able to decode the Arabic manuscript with the interesting designs incised on its leather cover, nor do I have any idea why something so curious was found in the same box with your family documents. Perhaps some linking documents were misplaced or destroyed. However, I can say with some certainty that the paper used in the manuscript with Arabic writing has been treated with aher, a sizing material made from egg white and rice flour.

I had better luck with the letters found with the eighteenth-century journal. The 1795 Fabriano watermark and the signature, Giacomo Casanova de Seingalt, appear to be authentic. In addition, the frequent slips in syntax suggest that the letter writer was someone who used French and Italian as promiscuously as Casanova is known to have done.

Remarkably, most of his letters are in fairly good condition and eminently readable. Eighteenth- century letter writers wrote in a prose more akin to modern English than the fussy, over-descriptive language used by the Victorians. The Sansovinian Library in Venice will be delighted to have them on loan.

In closing, please note that I have included a photocopy of the old documents so that your family can read them without fear of damaging the paper.

I suspect your ancestor’s journal will be of general historical interest but it is the letters by Casanova that considerably increase the financial value of these documents.

Sincerely,

Charles Smith

Part One

The City of Longings

Wrapped tightly in a pink plastic raincoat, the box of old documents lay snug in the bow of the motoscafo. Luce Adams sat huddled nearby, peering out the window of the cabin at the domes of San Marco rising up through the fine, slanting rain. In the next seat, an older woman in a dove-grey Borsalino was snoring, her head rolling with the swells. A young man sat in the stern, fiddling with an enormous telephoto lens.

As the motoscafo pulled up alongside the Molo, the boatman spoke rapidly in Italian, pointing at the square where hundreds of empty benches stood waiting, as if in preparation for a celebration.
Scusa, signora.”

The young man entered the cabin and bent to touch the shoulder of the middle-aged woman. She recoiled, pushing back the brim of her hat to see who had disturbed her sleep.

“The boatman wants to be paid.”

He rubbed together his thumb and forefinger, his eyes turning to Luce as she stooped to retrieve the box near her feet. Glancing at the rain outside, Luce opened her travel pack and carefully placed the box inside and fastened the clasp. The older woman left the cabin and gave the boatman his lire, and, smiling and gesturing, he began to heave their suitcases onto the dock.

Just as the two women stepped onto the Piazzetta, where a cat was chasing pigeons across the stones, the sun rose in the east, lighting the sky of rainclouds beyond San Giorgio Maggiore a muddy pink. They stood staring at the sea streaming like grey-green banners beneath the medieval churches and palazzos. The misty rain still fell and from the faraway Lido came the faint, doleful boom of waves. Across the Piazzetta, Luce noticed the young photographer pointing his camera at the Basin of San Marco. She turned and saw half a dozen small boats slipping like water bugs out of the fog: in the light skiffs, rowers in sleeveless jerseys bent over their oars.

“This way!” Lee Pronski called, and Luce followed her companion across the square that Napoleon had once called the largest living room in Europe. Luce walked with a slight forward stoop, pulling the cart stacked from stem to gudgeon with their luggage.

* * * * *
After several minutes of walking down side streets, Lee stopped by a small Venetian bridge and stared into the window of an antiquarian bookstore. Its door stood open even though it was early for Venice, and the vaporetti chugging by on the canal looked largely empty. With a yelp of excitement, Lee disappeared inside. Dragging the luggage cart behind her, Luce walked over to see what had claimed her interest. The window of the shop was draped with a regatta poster proclaiming Vogalonga, Venezia 14 maggio. Below the poster, Catholic reliquaries were displayed alongside a pile of ancient books in Italian whose titles she couldn’t understand. Next to the books stood several diminutive figurines.

She peered closer. The Venus of Willendorf. There was no mistaking the huge, swollen stomach bulging over a tiny pubis, or the featureless face hidden beneath a bumpy topknot. But she had never seen the ugly figure with two beaky faces standing next to the Venus. From inside the shop, she heard her name being called. She parked the cart by the door and stepped inside just as the woman shopkeeper was explaining to Lee that these figures were thousands of years old.

“Well, no. These are only copies of Paleolithic artifacts.” Lee picked up the double-headed icon and licked it, causing the shopkeeper and Luce to exchange startled glances. “Pure sandstone,” Lee nodded.

“Another fertility goddess,” Luce sighed.

“They’re much more than that!” Lee paid the clerk. “Here, Luce. I’d like you to have it. See the wavy bands across its chest? The chevrons indicate her metaphysical powers.”

“Your mother is knowledgeable,” the clerk said, smiling at Luce.

She’s not my mother, Luce wanted to reply. My mother is dead. She stuffed Lee’s gift into her enormous knapsack and they set off again through the narrow streets.

* * * * *
At the Hotel Flora, the bellhop greeted the women with a sympathetic smile, his eyes resting on Luce in her rain-soaked jacket.

“A bit of weather never hurt anyone.” Lee waved at the terrace where a waiter was setting the tables with bowls of croissants. “Luce, why don’t you change out of your wet things and meet me for breakfast?”

“I’m not hungry,” Luce mumbled.

“What did you say?”

“I think I’ll go to bed.” Luce bowed her head and started up the stairs after the bellhop, now bent double under the weight of her travel pack.

“I see. Well, sleep all day if you like,” Lee called out after her. “I’ll leave instructions at the desk on where to meet for dinner.”

Luce offered her mother’s lover a barely perceptible nod.

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When Autumn Falls

When Autumn Falls

by Kelly Nidey
illustrated by Susan Swan
edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback
tagged : seasons
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