Yearning for la dolce vita

A few years ago, my friend Hugh Mulligan of the Associated Press was wandering around Venice when he stumbled upon the Palazzo Pisani on the Grand Canal.

“I bet you’re an aristocrat,” he told me.

“You think?”

“Those are your ancestors, and you probably have a lot of lire waiting for you in a bank on the Rialto.”

I got to fantasizing: Joe Pisani of Pine Rock Park lineage was really Giuseppe Pisani, an Italian aristocrat, and once I got my inheritance, I could become one of those wealthy playboys who wear purple shirts with padded suits made of Spandex and go to parties in gondolas and purr “Ciao, Bella” to the signorinas, while snacking on raw garlic.

Then, another friend saw a painting of a Pisani nobleman in Venice that looked like me.

“All us Italians look alike,” I said. “Are you sure it wasn’t Luciano Pavarotti or Jerry Vale or Lady Gaga?”

“No, he had your features.”

“How so?”

“He was bald.”

With that piece of evidence, I was sure I had blue blood in my veins. (In Italy, I’ve been told, eight out of 10 people say they’re descended from nobility, even the cabbies. All you have to do is wear a cape, hold your cigarette like Salvador Dali, put gel in your hair or shave your head like Bruce Willis.)

I’m convinced the lifestyle of an Italian aristocrat combines the hedonism of The Jersey Shore with the delights of QVC and Emeril Lagasse’s culinary concoctions.

When I finally landed in Venice, a waiter saw my Amex card and said, “PISANI is a very important name in this city.” He told me to track down my ancestors and figure out how I ended up in Pine Rock Park when they were living in palaces and dining at Harry’s Bar while I had to settle for Larry’s Deli.

At the Ducal Palace, I found a portrait of Doge Alvise Pisani, an 18th Century ruler who wanted to hobnob with kings but was a “poor prince” who spent more than he made. That was my life story. I had his genes, and my credit card debt was proof.

Later, I walked down Pisani Street — actually it was an alleyway — and visited the Pisani Gritti Palace, which Hemingway said was the best in the city.

My research uncovered the trendy Ca Pisani Hotel, 17th Century writer Pietro Pisani and Libreria Pisani, a library of rare manuscripts.

I also discovered the magnificent Villa Pisani, built to celebrate Alvise’s election and later bought by Napoleon. On the ballroom ceiling is a painting by Tiepolo titled, “The Glory of the Pisani Family,” which includes a fellow who looks like me having his teeth whitened.

Writers, book-lovers, spendthrifts and social climbers. I had to be part of the clan.

Having noble blood will open doors — I can start a Pizza Hut or a Subway and serve Italian combo grinders on the Rialto and yell “Facciamo festa!” (“Let’s party!”) at the women.

Where’s my kayak? La dolce vita, here I come.


Joe Pisani may be reached at [email protected]

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