The year is 1753 and you are at the spot to lose your fortune, the Ridotto in Venice. The thousand-year-old Republic is still a few decades away from Bonaparte rounding up the horses on the Piazza San Marco, but at the Ridotto’s eighty gaming tables it’s faro (a variation on baccarat derived from the king card “pharaoh”) that is pillaging the coffers of Europe’s crème.
You have paused in the sala lunga, the candlelit hall where the crowd lingers to lick their gambling wounds, when the long shadow of a slender boyish figure dances by like a moth in the flickering flames. It belongs to Andrea Memmo, twenty-four-year-old member of the Venetian ruling caste who is doing what such men are meant for – chasing after a captivating woman, seventeen-year-old Giustiniana Wynne, while her mother runs interference. “I don’t know how it all ended at the Ridotto,” he writes Giustiniana the next day. “As long as I was in your mother’s range I tried to conceal myself.”