This site is all about how stories add spice to our ideas and feelings about the cities we love. My favourites have long been London, Venice, and Florence and so I made this site, where I list and review all sorts of novels and films set in these three cities. Each city has indulgent side pages too. These deal with subjects like Venice's cats, London's cakes, and Lost Florence.

I've also been casting my net wider of late and posting reports on my trips to other European cities as a service to travellers who share my enthusiasm for art, cakes, cats, and ice cream. Fiction reviews feature here too. You'll find them listed in the handy
Trips Menu

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into the box as usual and then type in

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My other sites are...


These sites also have their own Facebook page...
The Friends of Fictional Cities
and the Churches of Venice and Florence

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Festive Greetings

Some years seem full of fresh developments and some seem to be more characterised by consolidation. (This wise observation is in no way to be related to the ongoing global tragedies of Brexit and Trump, of course, which just fester and get more farcical with each passing year.) Website-wise Siena and Bologna, my two newest pages, got solidly improved after visits this year. No new pages were begun in 2018, but fruitful visits to Milan and Arezzo made both of these cities possibilities. Other trips this year took in Lincoln, Leeds, York,
Florence and Nancy.

No visit to Venice for me this year despite the lure of the Tintoretto exhibitions, but a trip is planned for 2019, to take in the Biennale and a tie-in exhibition devoted to the demolished church of San Geminiano, involving its links with Dutch painters and a Tintoretto once owned by David Bowie.

There was increased contact with academic admirers this year, which is always heartening, and I discovered that The Churches of Venice had been cited and linked to in a reference on the Tate Gallery's website, and on another page there my site is even cited to contradict the previous misidentification of a doorway! Much useful Venetian information and updates (and photos) came from a fair few of you this year. (You know who you are!) Which was all good.

As you may know us retired people need structure, but 2018 developed oddly. April was dominated by a great rush of Venice novels, but my usual clustering of Spring trips didn’t happen, although I did go away more in the Summer. Courses and summer schools, taking in close encounters with illuminated manuscripts, Byzantium’s influence on Italian art, and the Dutch Golden Age kept me well stimulated. And then in the Autumn there was a sudden blizzard of new novels by favourite authors, none of whom are exactly prolific and none of which was less than wonderful. They were The Labyrinth of the Spirits by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami, Melmoth by Sarah Perry and Now We Shall Be Entirely Free by Andrew Miller. The last one was verily the best book I’d read in many a year.

In prospect for 2019 are courses on Paradise, Purgatory and Hell, The Courts of Renaissance Italy, and divers Medieval matters. Anticipation of a mosaics course propelled me, at last, to book Sicily in March. Also planned are guided trips to the hilltowns of Umbria (Assisi at last!) and Medieval Shropshire.

I hope that you have plenty to look forward to too.



My Books of 2018
Imogen Hermes Gowar The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock
Carlos Ruiz Zafon The Labyrinth of the Spirits
Haruki Murakami Killing Commendatore
Sarah Perry Melmoth
Andrew Miller Now We Shall Be Entirely Free
Paraic O’Donnell The House on Vesper Sands
Christelle Dabos A Winter's Promise
 Ben Schott Jeeves and the King of Clubs
After spending 2017 reading all of the Jeeves & Wooster stories how topping
it was that Ben Schott was surprisingly able to channel the master so well.

My CDs of 2018
Nils Frahm All Melody
Neko Case Hell-On
Great Lake Swimmers The Waves, The Wake
Death Cab for Cutie Thank You for Today
Aurora Infections Of A Different Kind – Step 1
Frontperson Frontrunner
Tina Dico Fastland
Dan Mangan More of Less

Konrad Ragossnig Renaissance Lute Music
Evangelina Mascardi Laurent de Saint-Luc: Pičces pour luth
Jadran Duncumb Weiss & Hasse: Lute Sonatas
My lute thing continued (three above) and a modern choral thing began (two below)
Latvian Radio Choir Silvestrov: To Thee We Sing
Chamber Choir of Europe Lauridsen: Les Chansons des Roses
Utopia Chamber Choir Piae Cantiones
A nice combination of troubadour pluck and percussion with choral loveliness.


click on the word NEWS
above for more news (with photos!)

click on the titles to read all about them

Featuring a spookily coincidental focus on Mantegna and Bellini. Also guidebooks, a fruity old novel, sadness, and a rather fine film.

I had my first visit to the Mantegna and Bellini exhibition at the National Gallery this morning, and it's a firm recommendation: intelligent arrangement, impressive and well-chosen loans, good audioguide and not too crowded. Highlights include the Crucifixion panel from the San Zeno altarpiece in Verona, which has still not been returned after Napoleon swiped it, which means it's much easier to see up close and appreciate than the altarpiece is itself. And Mantegna sure has a way with classical architecture, and rabbits. I came away more of a Mantegna fan than before, but Bellini is still my man. How they interacted is the fascination of the show, which moves to Berlin next spring, if that helps.

A bit of a Bellini book bonanza at the moment. Lives of Giovanni Bellini is a palm-size  but comprehensive and plushly-illustrated compilation of roughly contemporary writing about Bellini by Vasari, Ridolfi and Boschini, with the letters between him and Isabella d'Este as a bonus. It's edited and introduced by the Getty's Davide Gasparotto and looks like an ideal stocking-filler for the Bellini fans in you life. Giovanni Bellini: The Art of Contemplation by Johannes Grave is a much more major career survey. I'll be reviewing both soon. And then there's the Mantegna and Bellini exhibition in London in prospect, in connection with which I'm going to a one-day talk and a two-afternoon course. I strongly doubt that you can have too much Giov Bellini, but I think that I'm going to find out, one way or the other.

Florence and Arezzo

Searching for something fresh in the fiction line to read on my upcoming trip to Florence (and Arezzo) I'm not getting any anticipatory frissons, I have to admit. There's a new Philip Kazan, called The Phoenix of Florence - we like him but it's not published until next February. Fiction set in Florence featuring Leonardo is far from rare, as are novels where conspiracies are uncovered, crimes committed and members of the Medici family murdered. Also Florence and feminism and female artists is a definite thing. So a series that mixes up all of this stuff, called the Da Vinci's Disciples series, should be no surprise. It features a team of female painters secretly trained by Leonardo and the books look to be dark and tasty, but it takes a lot to make me forgive the making of the heinous Dan Brown mistake of using Da Vinci as a surname, as regular readers will know. There is a new Marco Vichi out while I'm in Florence, but I haven't read his previous one yet. So maybe I will.

more news here

December 2018
Graham Greene The Ministry of Fear London

October 2018
Milan Trips
John Ruskin Mornings in Florence

September 2018
Lives of Giovanni Bellini  
Florence and Arezzo

August 2018
Marco Vichi Death in the Tuscan Hills

June & July 2018
Leeds and York Trips
Nancy Trips

April & May 2018

Claudia Caramanna et al Paintings from Murano by
Paolo Veronese
Tristan Palmgren Quietus Florence

March 2018
Donna Leon The Temptation of Forgiveness Venice
Philip Gwynne Jones Vengeance in Venice
Roberto Tiraboschi The Eye Stone Venice
Siena Trips

February 2018
Gregory Dowling The Four Horsemen Venice
Imogen Hermes Gowar The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock London
Lincoln Short trips

November & December 2017
Vienna Trips
Norwich Short trips
Glenn Haybittle The Way Back to Florence
Giovanni Boccaccio The Decameron Florence

Venice // Florence // London // Berlin

Copyright © Jeff Cotton 1998-2018
Twenty years? Blimey!