Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Venice's Cafe Florian

Venice Cafe Florian Probably no coffee house in Europe has acquired so world-wide a celebrity as that kept by Florian, the friend of Canova the sculptor, and the trusted agent and acquaintance of hundreds of persons in and out of the city, who found him a mine of social information and a convenient city directory. Persons leaving Venice left their cards and itineraries with him; and new-comers inquired at Florian's for tidings of those whom they wished to see. "He long concentrated in himself a knowledge more varied and multifarious than that possessed by any individual before or since," says Hazlitt, who has given us this delightful pen picture of caffè life in Venice in the eighteenth century:

"Venetian coffee was said to surpass all others, and the article placed before his visitors by Florian was the best in Venice. Of some of the establishments as they then existed, Molmenti has supplied us with illustrations, in one of which Goldoni the dramatist is represented as a visitor, and a female mendicant is soliciting alms."

So cordial was the esteem of the great sculptor Canova for him, that when Florian was overtaken by gout, he made a model of his leg, that the poor fellow might be spared the anguish of fitting himself with boots. The friendship had begun when Canova was entering on his career, and he never forgot the substantial services which had been rendered to him in the hour of need.

In later days, the Caffè Florian was under the superintendence of a female chef, and the waitresses used, in the case of certain visitors, to fasten a flower in the button-hole, perhaps allusively to the name. In the Piazza itself girls would do the same thing. A good deal of hospitality is, and has ever been, dispensed at Venice in the cafés and restaurants, which do service for the domestic hearth.

There were many other establishments devoted, more especially in the latest period of Venetian independence, to the requirements of those who desired such resorts for purposes of conversation and gossip. These houses were frequented by various classes of patrons—the patrician, the politician, the soldier, the artist, the old and the young—all had their special haunts where the company and the tariff were in accordance with the guests. The upper circles of male society—all above the actually poor—gravitated hither to a man. For the Venetian of all ranks the coffee house was almost the last place visited on departure from the city, and the first visited on his return. His domicile was the residence of his wife and the repository of his possessions; but only on exceptional occasions was it the scene of domestic hospitality, and rare were the instances when the husband and wife might be seen abroad together, and when the former would invite the lady to enter a café or a confectioner's shop to partake of an ice.

The Caffè Florian has undergone many changes, but it still survives as one of the favorite caffè in the Piazza San Marco.

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