Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Voyage to Venice

While I was sitting at my sewing table patiently hand-overcasting the seams on my dress, I was also treading the streets and traversing the canals of Venice with John Berendt as my guide. You may remember him as the author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, the fascinating look at the city of Savannah, Georgia and some of its most eccentric and scandalous denizens.  He has followed that up with The City of Falling Angels in which he explores Venice and encounters another cast of uncommon characters.  Such as Archimede Seguso, a master Venetian glassblower who, with one son, is involved in a sad professional feud with his other son.  Or Daniel Curtis, the scion of a prominent nineteenth century American expatriate, unwillingly giving up the Palazzo Barbero where Henry James and John Singer Sargent were guests.  And then there's the daughter of Ezra Pound and his long-time mistress Olga Rudge, apparently bilked of her valuable trove of Pound papers by the director of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and his wife.  Berendt introduces the reader (or listener, as was my case) to these and more, probing all sides of the particular stories he is telling and more or less letting us draw our own conclusions. Through it all runs the story of the 1996 fire that destroyed much of the great and beloved Fenice Opera House and its effect on many of the people in the book.  Lots of juicy gossip, some poignant history and vivid travelogue all rolled in one terrific tome that will whisk you away from the everyday.     

Earlier this year I listened to Lucia: A Venetian Life in the Age of Napoleon by Andrea Di Robilant, her great-great-great-great grandson.  We first meet Lucia as a sixteen-year-old engaged to be married to Alvise Mocenigo from one of Venice's great families, and we follow her through a long life's vicissitudes, many of which are caused by the triumph of Bonaparte in Italy and his dissolution of the Venetian Republic.  There is also Avise's unfaithfulness, her own miscarriages, her love for an Irish officer in the Austrian military which results in the birth of a son.  We see her as in young bride at the Palazzo Mocenigo in Venice, at her husband's country estate of Alvisopoli, making her way in the court society of Hapsburg Vienna, residing in Paris where she socializes with the Empress Jos├ęphine and witnesses the fall of the Napoleonic Empire in 1814, while also studying botany at the Jardin des Plantes. Finally, in old age, back in a Venice still ravaged by the effects of Napoleon's occupation, she becomes a living relic of the city's great past, sought out and visited on Grand Tours.  The story resounds with her own words from her numerous letters, and we who have come to admire, appreciate and empathize with this woman can be thankful that her descendant who found those letters is such an engaging writer.

 The photos are from my one and only actual voyage to Venice in 1989. 

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