Sunday Salon: Venice by Jan Morris
It is an extraordinary piece of travel writing. Jan Morris knows Venice. She lived here with her family, and uses this experience to the full in this book.
She explored, it seems, each part, each obscure 'calle' or lane,
each minor canal.
Somehow Jan Morris seems to become Venice. It is almost a merging of flesh and masonry. If a cyborg is a cybernetic organism, Jan Morris, in this book, becomes an urbanorg.
She is fond of the tattiness of the place, and its decaying splendour.
She tastes the food
the tiny hidden restaurants,
and the eccentricities of the people.
She describes the famous places
with her own idiosyncratic view-point, which makes them even more memorable (remarking, for instance, that the second horse along in St Mark's, whinnied softly to her once in the quiet of a winter's morning)
and affection (the gondoliers have their own code of practice and are not as extortionate as they appear because during winter they make barely a Euro).
The history of the place is gently administered to the reader in the form of fascinating anecdotes (for instance the fact that some of the lions set into the walls of the Doge's Palace have letter-box mouths which used to swallow rumours and accusations that could send an innocent citizen to the gaol-house).
But the overall impression is of a place where East meets West, domes sit alongside spires,
exotic merchants of one religion meet the traders of another,
where an ancient heritage is carelessly acknowledged in private gardens (because there is so much of it littered around)
and the brashness of the modern day is tolerated, but mostly ignored.
When the time comes to leave she is sad, but has somehow conveys that she has had enough. Venice is too rich to imbibe for long, she seems to imply. Even so - it must have been a poignant final scission.
I am going to try and read the book again before I return - like the addition of a little spice it makes a marvellous experience even more memorable, and three nights was no where near enough.