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VENICE – what to read on your first visit.

17th November 2020

VENICE – what to read on your first visit.

I was recently having an in depth chat with JoAnn Locktov, who runs Bella Figura Publications (publishers of the fabulous coffee-table books: “Dream of Venice” series). She is very knowledgable about Venice  and has spent a good deal of time living in the city.

Her two suggestions are:

VENICE - what to read on your first visit.Venice is a Fish by Tiziano Scarpa

Built on an inverted forest, paved with a tortoiseshell of boulders, Venice is a maze of tiny alleys, bridges and squares. Tiziano Scarpa wanders through the city, recounting the customs and secrets that only Venetians know. With everything from practical advice for aspiring Venetian lovers to hints at where to find the best bacaro, Scarpa waves the tourist in the right direction and, without naming a single restaurant, hotel or bar, relates the secret language needed to experience the real Venice. So ignore the street signs – why fight the labyrinth? Venice, the fish, is ready to swallow you whole!

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VENICE - what to read on your first visit.

City of Fortune by Roger Crowley

Medieval travelers were overwhelmed by Venice’s affluence – the sacks of spices! the bales of brocades! – and driven to distraction by its seeming paradoxes. The city was surrounded by sand and mud, yet its markets dazzled with variety. Since there was no land to speak of, it had no feudal system, yet its councils handed down orders like holy writ. Its people reveled in their republican freedom, yet bowed undemurringly to the collective good. Even the physical city defied logic: a wooden settlement perched on piles in a swampy lagoon had turned into the densest urban area in Europe, its brick bell towers jostling for airspace, its stone palaces squatting on reclaimed land.

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The book that started our exchange was the recently published collection of personal musings and observations, brought together by Cees Nooteboom, a Dutch author who has been visiting Venice since the 1960s and has a wealth of experience and knowledge about the city to share with his readers.

Venice by Cees Nooteboom, translated by Laura Watkinson

With this treasury of his time spent in Venice over a period of fifty-five years, Nooteboom makes himself the indispensable companion for all lovers of “the sailing, amphibious city”, and for every new visitor.

Because he is a master storyteller with an inexhaustible curiosity, and always with a suitcase of books (to which new discoveries are added), he brings vividly and poetically to life not only the tumultuous history of the Republic but along the way its doges, its villains, its heroes, its magnificent painters, its architects, its scholars, its skies, its canals and piazzas and alleyways, and on his expeditions its “bronze voices of time”.

Those who know and love this city and its literature will recognise Nooteboom – in Laura Watkinson’s fine translation – as the dazzling heir and companion to Montaigne, Thomas Mann, Rilke, Ruskin, Proust, Brodsky, and Donna Leon. His homage to Venice is a generous introduction, learned and enchanting, and worthy of its magnificent subject.

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When I went to Venice in the early 2000s, a friend pressed The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt into my hand and already the seed of reading books that are transportive was being planted (which of course resulted in the creation of TripFiction). I really enjoyed reading it and found it offered just another level for my visit.

The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt

Taking the fire that destroyed the Fenice theatre in 1996 as his starting point, John Berendt creates a unique and unforgettable portrait of Venice and its extraordinary inhabitants. Beneath the exquisite facade of the world’s most beautiful historic city, scandal, corruption and venality are rampant, and John Berendt is a master at seeking them out. Ezra Pound and his mistress, Olga: poet Mario Stefani: the Rat Man of Treviso: or Mario Moro – self-styled carabiniere, fireman, soldier or airman, depending on the day of the week.

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And our fifth suggestion? We think a novel to complement the other four would be just perfect! We do of course have our own favourites – Miss Garnet’s Angel by Salley Vickers is a real classic read for the city. Absolutely loved In The Company of the Courtesan by Sarah Dunant and Vaporetto 13 by Robert Girardi was the first novel I actively took on a trip to the city. If you love a good crime mystery, then the Nathan Sutherland novels by Philip Gwynne Jones are good and immersive reads (great on location), and Gregory Dowling offers a good historical perspective on the city. And I guess you can’t really make a good list without mentioning the first lady of Venetian mystery writing, Donna Leon….

If you do need more inspiration, then check out  our Ten Great Books set in Venice article and if you want to explore our full database and research all our books set there, you can do so on this link. Pasa na bèta xornada (that’s Venetian – and yes, they have their own dialect – for “have a lovely day”)

Tina for the TripFiction Team

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