... and some licenses about local names.
Sometimes in dreams, I recreate in absolute detail my own neighbourhood, but the streets are transformed and change their name and appearance. Squares are rearranged in the new urban grid and even bars are transformed inside renewing their parishioners and bartenders. Interestingly, from one dream to another, although the circumstances and history are changed, dreamlike topography remains unchanged as having a timeline continuity owning a stable geography, absolutely unshakable.
I am convinced that the place names in the Venice of Hugo Pratt doesn’t come from his own dreams, at least not from the time of dreaming sleep. Rather come from his memories and from the names he would thought most appropriate to each case and each story, or those he used for himself.
Corto Maltese in Siberia, (Corte Sconta detta Arcana in its original Italian title) first vignette shares the same text as the last one in Fable of Venice:
There are three hidden and magic places in Venice: one on the Amor degli Amici alley, another near Maraveglie bridge, and the other on the street dei Marrani, near San Geremia, in the old Ghetto. When Venetians became tired of established authority they go to these three secret places, and opening the doors that are at the back of the yards, they will go away forever to wonderful countries and different tales.
But the scene doesn’t match with the same courtyard, the same corte. In the first case it is assumed that is part of Melquisedech’s house facade in the Ghetto Vecchio. In the Fable we are in another courtyard, the corte Sconta detta Arcana (the hidden courtyard called Arcana), recalling author's childhood. But not either correspond to any of those squares linked by the Nostalgia Alley, but the court Botera in Castello neighbourhood. This is one is close to San Zanipolo and is only accessed through a private gate. Private but also more accessible is the yard of the Corte Sconta restaurant in Pestrin Street, near San Martino, also in Castello, where, in addition to eating great, you can take a picture of the prattian toponym nizioletti.
In the text of the same vignette, Pratt refers to three magical places for the Venetians. Amor dei Amici does really exists. It is a narrow alley extending an L-shaped between campo San Polo and San Tomà. In the corner there is a masks shop which, by night, stained the walls next with a greenish tone from its neon lights. The lane ends abruptly in three steps leading to the river Frari, straight to the water. I’m not quite sure if this is some kind of parable about the name. I've always trusted otherwise.
The Ponte delle Maraveglie is the second place. It is next to Lyceum Marco Polo and joins the fondamenta Bollani and Priuli. I walked around the house and apart from the story of the family who named the bridge and tavern once crossed I have not found anything special, but enough either.
On the street dei Marrani there’s more to tell. As Marrani were known the Jews who had converted to Christianity for convenience or obligation along the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries Spanish persecutions. After the expulsion from Spain in 1492 some of these Sephardic Jews settled in the Venetian ghetto. Pratt puts this street in the vicinity of San Geremia, in the Ghetto Vecchio. However, San Geremia is outside the Ghetto, and around there, at least at present, there’s no street by that name. The photograph illustrating the prologue of the Fable is salizada Santa Giustina in Castello district.
Nearby are truly hidden spaces where get lost, how the ramo Gradenigo, Bombardieri street or Capeliera courtyard near Zorzi street. Precisely the latter is near the Zorzi va in Corte Nova street and in its vicinity there’s corte Buello or corte Nova, which Pratt named Maltese or Boca Dorada. This is also private and is at the bottom of a dead end properly closed by a gate. Yes it is true that there was a courtyard known as the Maltese, but its name was due to the existence of a accommodation namesake in court today called corte Contarini del Bovolo by the palace of the same name.
The last yard, mentioned in the preface of the Fable is dell'Arabo d'Oro, according to Pratt toponomastic. This corresponds to Rota courtyard once again in Castello district, between the campi de le Gorne and Do Pozzi, near the Arsenal. I do not know if formerly there was any image above representing a golden Arab. At present, hanging on a wall, in a small chapel with a golden relief of a Madonna and Child locked and flanked by fresh roses.
Without leaving the neighbourhood is the sotoportego dei Cattivi Pensieri, the passage of bad thoughts. An angel, hence its real name, sotoportego dell'Anzolo, blesses with his right hand pedestrians passing under their wings. With the other hand seems to pull up his skirt. Joining him there’s two shields belonging to the family Erizzo, which provided the Serenissima Republic some Dux and some admiral.
Finally Nostalgia bridge, as seen in the prologue’s picture, corresponds to Widmann bridge over Ca'Widmann river, beside the palace built by Baldassare Longhena in the seventeenth century to the eponymous family of Austrian origin. This is already in Cannaregio sestiere, but even in the foothills of Castello. Pratt’s nona (grandma) took him often to visit the ghetto, but his family lived near campo Bragora in Castello. I do not know whether could be once true or not, but it isn’t hard to imagine a very young Hugo baptizing their favourite spots in their childhood raids, or maybe even not so young.