Sunday, February 25, 2007

Rising From the Flames - Part 1

The first time I flew into Venice I had a view of the entire lagoon from the Lido to Torcello. I remember thinking: I’m either going to be terribly disappointed or I’m going to love this city. Venice became one of my favorite places in the world. Granted I am not alone in that.

In Venice Observed Mary McCarthy says of La Serenisima: Nothing can be said (including this statement) that has not been said before. And she’s right. But that doesn’t stop people from making those statements, writing about Venice or using it as a background for their stories. At the moment I am in the middle of reading two books about Venice: Donna Leon’s Through A Glass Darkly and John Berendt’s The City of Falling Angels.

Leon is one of my favorite mystery writers and Commissairo Brunetti, his wife Paola, Signora Elettra and even the detestable Vice-Questore Patta have become old friends over the past 10 years. In the 15 novels that have appeared since Death at La Fenice - number 16 is released in April - the characters have grown, some have died – I still haven’t forgiven Leon for what happened to Bonsuan - and as Brunetti has become more aware of the political life in Italy the stories have become darker and bleaker. But through them all run a love of family, friend, food, music, Venice and Venetians and they’re damned good mysteries. One of life’s real mysteries is why it took so long for Leon to catch on in North America. Her books have been popular in Europe for almost two decades but it is only within the last five years they have been available in North America. I have to thank Naomi and Cathy who introduced me to Brunetti and Leon.

Berendt – whose bestseller Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil I have yet to read – uses the senseless fire at La Fenice in 1996, and the equally senseless bureaucratic squabbling that turned rebuilding into a 7 year nightmare - to reveal the village that is Venice. So far it has been a fascinating look into a society that is insular, inbred and incestuous. Much like the world Leon paints in her mysteries.
Laurent and I did not see the glory that was Fenice before the fire – our first visit was in May 1996 and we saw and smelled the results from our room at the Hotel La Fenice next door - nor after the restoration. However if we're lucky we may just get a chance to see it sometime in the next few years.

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