Wow – Canada!

Canada through the eyes of world literature

The Aromatic Sweat of the Beloved

The Story of My Life by Giacomo Casanova

Giacomo Casanova, The Story of My Life (1794?)

The publication history of this book is rather convoluted, so 1794 is a provisional date; Casanova was working on the book at that time. Those who want to investigate such things can start here.

On to the passage in question:

I have always loved highly savoury dishes, such as macaroni made by a good Neapolitan cook, olla podrida, the glutinous codfish of Newfoundland, aromatic game meats, and cheeses that attain perfection when the tiny creatures inhabiting them begin to become visible. As for women, I have always found that the one I loved smelled good, and the stronger her perspiration, the sweeter she smelled to me.  (p. 7; from the Preface)

Who would have guessed Newfoundland was so sexy? Donne compares his lover’s body to the province; for Casanova, its cod remind him of the smell of a lover’s sweat. Two libertines, two mentions of Newfoundland; what an honour for our easternmost province.

Given the extent to which this blog ponders the themes of insecurity, inferiority and so on, I think we should pause here and just revel in this moment: Casanova loved the taste of Newfoundland cod. “Glutinous” might sound like a put-down, but, here at least, it clearly isn’t.; in fact, it’s a compliment. And thoughts of the strong flavour of Newfoundland cod lead him into thoughts of the strong scent of a lover. Could this be as good as it gets for references to Canada? We shall see.

The idea of macaroni as a highly savoury dish must also surprise Canadians accustomed to Kraft Dinner or the President’s Choice variants. Obviously Neapolitans have their own way of doing it.

That bit about the cheese though – ugh.

Fake Canadian Reference Alert

Having first attempted to cure the patient with oppilative remedies, Doctor Zambelli sought to correct his mistake with castoreum, which brought on convulsions and finally death. The tumour burst through his ear one minute after he died. The doctor left after killing him, as if he had no more business in our house. My father died in his prime, at the age of thirty-six. (p. 18)

The note on “castoreum” is as follows:

An extract made from the dried perineal glands of the beaver.

I confess: When I first read that sentence, I thought I had found another reference to Canada. What’s more Canadian than beavers? One of the standard symbols of Canada, a beaver even appears on our nickel:

Canadian Nickel (Tails side)

I considered beavers a North American animal, but a little research (yes, I do some now and then) told me there was also a Eurasian variety, slightly different from the North American. It’s impossible to tell from the text, but it seems likely that the castoreum given to Casanova’s father came from a Eurasian beaver.

At least the Latin name of the North American variety, Castor Canadensis, is clearly a reference to Canada. And, while we’re on the subject of Latin, the description of the doctor leaving as soon as the patient was dead, as if he had nothing more to accomplish, could be straight out of Martial.

I can’t leave this book without commenting on the Penguin edition of Casanova pictured above. Normally I’m a fan of Penguin books, but this one is terrible. It’s a tie-in with the 2005 Casanova film directed by Lasse Hallstrom and starring Heath Ledger, which was an amusing little comedy but hardly a masterpiece; that led to the book cover being defaced by this depressing notice:

Penguin Casanova Cover Blurb

I can’t stand the faux come-on language of “take pleasure in the movie” and “let the real Casanova seduce you.” This isn’t just cheesy; it’s cheese in which the creatures inhabiting it have become visible.

But what’s really depressing about the book is that the excerpts break off just when things are getting good; to give you but one example, Casanova’s threesome with two nuns is simply summarized by the editor. What’s the point in reading Casanova if you’re going to miss the threesome with two nuns?

The answer is no point, no point at all.

Fortunately there’s a better edition, which we’ll take up one of these days.

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2 thoughts on “The Aromatic Sweat of the Beloved

  1. You may being a bit disingenuous as we both know that New Found Land was not part of Canada until a few years 1794. But other than that foible, a very interesting and comic post.

    Also, the only good beaver is Canadian beaver. Take that as you will considering the subject matter.

  2. Hi! I simply want to offer you a big thumbs up for the great information you have
    got here on this post. I’ll be returning to your site for more soon.

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