Posts Tagged ‘Catherine the Great’

Job advice from Casanova … with a few diet tips, too.

Saturday, June 15th, 2013

CasanovaI had no idea that Giacomo Casanova was so interesting – he was, by turns (sometimes very quick turns), a wannabe priest, a military man,  a cardplayer, a diplomat, a gambler, a courtier, a musician, a spy, a con man, and a development officer in Paris.  Above all, he is remembered as a writer. His memoirs stretch over a dozen volumes.  Who’s up for that?

Thanks to James Marcus, you don’t have to be.  During a recent conversation over coffee in New York City, James slipped me his riveting new translation of The Duel, a 70-page autobiographical account from the Venetian’s memoirs about his imbroglio with Franciszek Ksawery Branicki, over a ballerina Casanova didn’t really care much about. Both were wounded, neither fatally.

duelIt’s the development work  that took Casanova on an intensive tour around Europe.  He was promoting a lottery system for government fundraising.  It had succeeded in Paris but… Frederick the Great wasn’t interested, and Catherine the Great turned him down flat.

He landed in Warsaw, among other places.  I thumbed through to see if he included any descriptions of the city, its squares and architecture.  But no, it’s all about people and gossip.  The 18th century was like that. Here’s some advice on his job search in Russia:


Don’t mess with him. He’s Polish.

Those who visit Russia out of simple curiosity should not aspire to make a fortune there. ‘What has he come here for?’ is the phrase endlessly pronounced and repeated. The only way to assure a job and a a fat salary is to present oneself beforehand to the Russian ambassadors at various European courts. If these worthies are persuaded of a person’s merits, they will speak up on his behalf to the Empress, who will send for the individual and pay for his journey. At this point the supplicant is assured of a fortune, since nobody wants to throw away the travel expenses on a person of meager talents: this would suggest that the minister who spoke up on his behalf had been hoodwinked, and this is not acceptable, since ministers are supposed to be shrewd judges of their fellow men. The worst possible job candidate is a decent man who has traveled to Russia at his own expense.

There’s an awful lot about eating – including an account at Fontainebleau, “among the circle that dines with the Queen of France – or to put it more accurately, watches the Queen of France eat.” He also offers a few diet tips, just before the famous duel:

…people who eat and drink to excess end up with both mind and body in a drugged and drowsy state. What comes next is the lethargy known as sleep – the inevitable outcome of excessive, crude, and badly prepared food. (French cuisine, which enjoys universal praise, generates neither untimely sleep nor indigestion nor regrets, at least in those who moderate their consumption.) There is no man and no woman who is not more attractive, more eloquent, more animated, more courteous, more judicious, and more self-possessed after a fine meal.  Such a person will experience a wealth of splendid thoughts and singular inspirations, bringing real pleasure to miserable humanity, which, if left to its own devices, is a bottomless font of wretchedness, boredom, and frantic discord.

Given that a healthy body is derived from good food, there can be no doubt that a tranquil spirit comes from the same source, since it is a product of nothing but physical sensations. Pity the gluttons, then. Very few of them know how to eat well.