Back to Venice…at least in my reading…

I read about Venice a lot.  There’s something about all that water and all those boats and the absence of cars and the complex history and the crumbling, sinking buildings and the Byzantine influence and the mosaics that just keeps pulling me back.  One of these days, I’m going to find the financial wherewithal to follow through on a decades-old desire to spend a few weeks/months living there, but in the meanwhile, I read…

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Venice:  A New History, by Thomas F. Madden (Viking Penguin, 2012) is an excellent addition to the many narratives about this fascinating city.  Madden is a scholar, and he writes with the precision and attention to detail of one, but his narrative reads easier than many history volumes.  He makes a complex story accessible, and I found that it filled in many gaps in my understanding.  I even found myself briefly mentioned in its pages, although not in a particularly flattering way:

During the 1970s and 1980s the arrival of budget travelers (many clutching their copies of Let’s Go!) led to a steady increase in the numbers, but not a corresponding increase in revenue.  Before cheap international flights, it had been nearly impossible to get to Venice without money in one’s pocket.  By the 1970s that was no longer true.  Student travelers and others watching their wallets would frequently stay in a low-cost pensione in Padua or Mestre and simply take the train into Venice.  These day-trippers wanted to get into Venice, see the major sights, and get out before it was late or they had spent too much money…

Ummmm.  Yeah.  That was me in 1981.  Clutching my Let’s Go and with so little money in my pocket that I used my Eurorail pass as a cheap pensione, sleeping on the train from Vienna to Venice, then catching the next night’s train to Rome.  Yet even as a destitute student, there are some things money can’t buy, like the awe I felt when I stepped into the Basilica of San Marco, or rode a vaporetto down the Grand Canal at sunset. When I went back with my family in 2005 I had a bit more money in my pocket, even springing for a gondola ride…touristy, yes, but SO cool! Though we still slept outside of the city to save on costs, we did stay very late, long after the day-tripping tourists had left.  Many of my favorite memories are of the meals we ate in out-of-the-way restaurants where we were the only customers, of the way the water reflected the lights, and of the feeling as we explored back streets that we were walking with ghosts.  I’m grateful that both times I visited the city, I did so in the “off”  season, so have never contended with the tourist hordes that friends have said ruined their time there.

A Question of Belief (Guido Brunetti Series #19)               The Golden Egg

I am reminded of these fleeting memories every time I pick up a “Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery”  by Donna Leon.  I was enjoying the vicarious experience of a non-tourist Venice so much that I read two of these gentle mysteries in succession:  A Question of Belief (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2010) and The Golden Egg (2013).  Though I’m not necessarily a great lover of the mystery genre, I like Commissario Brunetti a great deal.  He is a thoughtful, history-reading policeman who cynically knows how to navigate the corruption of Italian bureaucracy in pursuit of a greater good.  His ruminations on the vagaries of human nature make for intelligent reading, and as he works through his days he allows us the privilege of seeing a Venice far removed from that photographed by the day-tripping tourists.

I’ve been looking seriously at an Italian language school recommended by a dear friend.  If other possibilities for European travel (Istabul and Greece?  Granada and Sevilla?) don’t pan out, next fall may very well find me studying Italian in Venice and sleeping in the school’s student housing in the Paladian Cloister on the Guidecca.  And isn’t sleeping in a cloister a far cry from sleeping on a train?!

Europe 2005 130                                           Europe 2005 150   Europe 2005 067



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