to be a bit of confusion over when Francesco da Mosto's first
novel is coming out. It's called Black King and it's an
historical novel set in Venice, of course. It was first
announced as being published in early March but now Amazon are
saying late May and the website of Ebury, the book's publishers,
is saying 2098!
of forward-looking first. The series of BBC adaptations of
Michael Dibdin's Aurelio Zen novels starts on Sunday 2nd January
at 9.00pm on BBC1 with Vendetta (the second in the
series) to be followed by Cabal and Ratking, but
not Dead Lagoon, the one set in Venice, sadly.
Rufus Sewell plays Zen, a little bloodlessly and unsquidgily
according to a recent review of the series on Radio 4's Front
Row, but overall convincingly, they say. The radio reviewers
also revealed that Dibdin himself once wanted Alfred Molina to
play Zen. Molina being the actor who played Magdalen Nabb's
Marshal in a never-repeated 90s TV film.
December and so it's the traditional time to do the year-end
best ofs. Mine are on my news page. Not a
classic year for fiction with a Venetian setting, but some
stonking good reads nonetheless. Not sure when/if I'll be
visiting Venice in 2011, but have no fear - Vienna and Florence
are on the cards. Also The Guardian reviewed city-pick
Venice at the weekend. Click
here to read it, and the FT is reviewing it next
And in Donna Leon news...her Brunetti for 2011 is due out in
April, of course, and is going to be
called Drawing Conclusions. She also has a book and CD
set coming out called Handel's Bestiary:
In Search of Animals in Handel's Operas in which she writes
about changing attitudes through history to some of the animals
mentioned in some of Handel's arias. It contains illustrations
by wacky German artists Michael Sowa - you know, he of the
bunnies doing handstands and oddly athletic pigs.
My CDs of 2010
Folded Light Kelly
Shearwater Golden Archipelago
Botanica Who You Are
La Strada New Home
The Autumn Film The Ship and The Sea
Baxter Tell me like it is
Band of Horses Infinite Arms
The Acorn No Ghost
Jim Guthrie Now, More Than Ever
Arcade Fire The Suburbs
Lost in the Trees All Alone in an Empty House
Annuals Count the Rings
Sahara Smith Myth of the Heart
Dolorean The Unfazed
I couldn't get the books up to 10, and I
couldn't get the CDs down to 10.
American indie music dominates, and entertains mightily.
My Books of 2010
The Dark Tower series
Hilary Mantel Wolf Hall
Justin Cronin The Passage
Cherie Priest Boneshaker
Mark Charan Newton Nights of Villjamur
Paul Murray Skippy dies
Iain Pears Stone's fall
Miranda Miller Nina
A funny old year, dominated for me by big sci-fi
reads, the biggest being the Stephen King series.
Previously I'd thought Mr King a very bad writer, based on the
one other book I'd ever read,
but now I'm totally smitten by this mind-bogglingly wonderful
series, which combines cowboys, King Arthur and sci-fi. Maybe he got
someone else to write them.
An advantage of e-book reading is that these doorstop tomes
seem much less daunting when
they are merely numbers counting down at the bottom of a Kindle
and you don't have to carry them around printed on lots of paper. All
this big-book indulgence brought about by a mighty lean year for Venice-set
fiction, with Iain Pears the sole standout.
Well, the event
announced below went smooth and swimmingly and the book itself
is a real Venetian treat, as well as more than something of a
sampler of the books recommended by this site. Extracts were
read (with mine mostly 'accidentally' concerned with vile smells
and sewage!) and questions were answered - why IS Venice so
strongly associated with death? Later there was mingling and
talk of Venice and cats and Slovenia. And I got to sign some
books - a first! Photos from the event are to the right.
I'm the one in the grey shirt, the Oxygen team are Malcolm
Burgess and Heather Reyes.
So, you remember
that book that I wrote the introduction for that I've been going
on about, city-pick Venice? Well, it's published on the 4th
November and, to quote the press release, it brings
together over fifty of the very best writers on Venice, whose
novels, memoirs, journalism, blogs, diaries and letters
wonderfully evoke the past and present of La Serenissima as
And there's a fab launch event - a celebration of all things
Venetian, with readings, discussions, samplings, competitions
and Italian refreshments with the Oxygen team, Heather Reyes and
Malcolm Burgess and Fictional Cities' Jeff Cotton, who has
written a wonderful introduction to the book, on
Wednesday 10 November 2010, 7.45 – 9.30 pm,
at Brentwood Library, New Road, Brentwood, Essex CM14 4BP.
Tickets are free but ring 01277 264290 as places are
limited. Brentwood Station (30 mins from Liverpool Street) is
very close and there is local parking.
I'm relying on the FictionalCities posse for a good turn
out, and hoping that they'll behave themselves this time.
aside for once, let's talk about Florence, my more than somewhat
forgotten city. The bad news first: fans of Christobel Kent
might be excited to notice that there's a new book in her series
featuring detective Sandro Cellini, but their excitement
would be sadly misplaced. The new title The Drowning River
is in fact merely a retitled reissue of her previous one A
Time of Mourning. Is there any excuse for this tactic, which
just results in duplicates and anger? I think not.
Much better news comes in the form of a free book through my
letterbox. (With thanks to Jilian.) Meeting Dante by
Ingrid Soren looks
intriguing - a mixture of biography, autobiography and an
appreciation of The Divine Comedy. Expect a review soon,
informed by my guilt at never getting further than a few dozen
pages into Dante's masterpiece.
My cunning tactic
when planning my attendance of exhibitions in London is usually
best summed up by the phrase 'wait 'til the crowds die down'.
This 'plan' usually evolves into forgetting and rushing to catch
the show during the last week. If I'm lucky. But the
Venice: Canaletto and his Rivals
obviously going to need better planning. So I rushed gleefully
and gamblingly to the opening day and lucked out with sparse
numbers and a comfortable morning's Venetian wallowing. The
exhibition traces the development of view painting from
Bellotto to Guardi,
with a smattering of lesser-knowns like Carlevarijs and Marieschi.
expected highlights from the Queen's collection and the
National's own, but also loans from private collections and a
varied selection of other galleries. (The smattering of
Canalettos in Spanish galleries is, it seems, due to the fact
that his paintings were usually sent to England by sea, passing
out of the Mediterranean by Gibraltar, and shipwrecks were then
not uncommon.) So there's a good selection of familiar and
unfamiliar artists and works, and some telling
juxtapositions. The audioguide is chock full of interest and
stimulation, and also some humour, including the award for the
best-painted paunch in 18th Century Venetian art. Even if you
think that you know Venice and Canaletto pretty well there's
more than enough freshness in the approach, choices and detail
in the works to keep you fascinated throughout. Me I bought a
A couple of news items related to subjects near to our Venetian
hearts. Firstly the statue of Sior Rioba has had its head
reattached, after its vandalising, stealing and finding in May.
Lots of photos of the ceremony and unveiling
And then there's the blight of glitzy advertising hoardings on
scaffolding, which we've been complaining about for years, but
now that a big-name architect (and some museum heads) have
noticed these horrors, during the recent architecture biennale,
it's made it into
the mainstream press. An interesting point in the article is
that the blights might be strictly illegal. Not mentioned is the
widely-held suspicion that the hoardings stay up long after the
work has finished in order to maximise income.
I have returned. New ground was covered and many fine photos
taken. Aside from my trip blog I've
also added reports and photos to my Ruined Ospedale page and to the
Venice and Cats
page. On a less positive note I don't think that I'll be staying
at the Domus Ciliota again. Click here to read why.
Real life - phew!
in Venice - click here to read what I'm up to.
out some drawers I found a pile of old filofax pages, which
contained diaries I'd written during my first two trips to
Venice in 1990 and 1992. This offers up the possibility of my
adding some formative experiences to my Trip Report pages. I
haven't plucked up to read them yet, though - you know how it is with reading
old thoughts - and they might not bear repeating.
A more uncomplicated pleasure was finding an old card
advertising The Mandeer (see right). This long-closed
Indian restaurant was my lunchtime haunt of choice on shopping
trips in the 1980s. It did a bargain buffet lunch in a
basement behind Tottenham Court Road. The nasty new block
opposite the nasty block containing the YMCA was built over it.
It moved to cramped ex-bank-like premises in New Oxford Street
briefly, opposite the Hawksmoor church, but didn't last long
there. Oh the chick-pea curries of yesteryear!
A bit of a roundup...I've joined
Venice in Peril
because, well, it was beginning to seem perverse of me NOT to
have joined. So I've paid me 50 quid and am now liable to attend
sundry talks and shindigs and to tell you all about them.
My next Venice trip is barely a month away. Intentions this time
include more islands, a day out to Verona or Padua, keeping up
my gelato-a-day rate and another visit to the Lido's ruined
Ospedale. Talking of which, I've just spruced up my
Ospedale al Mare page with a few new
photos and lots of very old ones, like the one on the right.
The lean time for Venice-set fiction continues, but The
Chamber of Ten by Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon is on
its way and looks fantastical, at the very least. Then there's
Secret Venice, a guidebook from
Publishing, which also promises to be something else.
Reviews of both coming soon.
The eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed that I haven't had
a new author on my new Venice Questions page for a good few
weeks. Well that's because tricky negotiations have been going
on and I can now reveal...well, regular readers of this site
will know how I hesitate to use superlatives like legendary
(except in relation to King Arthur) but some of the
authors I'll be featuring are veritable gods of Venetian
writing. And first up, and to prove my point, is John Julius Norwich.
Life is full of surprises, is it not? Last week I learned that
this website had been mentioned in Marie Clare magazine (see
The fact that it was in the July edition, which had been on sale
for more than a month - the August edition was out - would seem
to suggest that there are not a lot of Marie Clare
readers out there amongst you lot. So thanks to Gail in Brighton
for the heads up, and to her hairdresser's for allowing her to
tear the page out and send it to me, if they did!
Having a bit of a Mary Lutyens fest at the moment. Finding
a novel set in Venice that she had written I looked her up, and
what a life! Firstly she's the daughter of Edwin, the
great architect of the Raj, and then her mother Lady Emily, the
daughter of the Viceroy of India, becomes a big noise in
Theosophy, which eventually leads to Mary becoming the prolific
biographer of Krishnamurti, the movement's messiah figure. Later
she marries J.G. Links, who goes on to write one of the
definitive guides to Venice. She's also known as the editor of
John Ruskin's wife Effie's letters, in Effie in Venice
amongst other volumes, and later wrote a biography of her
father. The novel, Meeting in Venice, is reviewed
with a review of Effie in Venice coming soon. Both
books are unfortunately out of print, but I managed to pick up
both quite easily
If you've read Michelle Lovric's Book of Human Skin, and
if I tell you that the
Wellcome Institute in London has a new
exhibition called Skin which looks at skin as 'a living
document: with tattoos, scars, wrinkles or various pathologies,
our skin tells a story of our life so far', you'll grin at
the spooky synergy, and not be at all surprised that Michelle's
doing a couple of events during the exhibition. First up there's
a talk, called Skinbound, on Saturday the 3rd July in the
afternoon, covering the many and varied skin-related themes of
the novel. (Some wincing, and scratching, will be involved.)
It's free, but you need to ebook
here. Then later she's doing a
personalised tour of the exhibition, on Wednesday the 28th of
July in the afternoon, which does not require booking. See you
A bit of a lean time for new fiction set in my cities, as you
may have noticed. So I hope you'll allow me to veer off topic a
bit and recommend Venice - an architectural guide by
Richard Goy. I don't usually do guides but this is such a sexy
and chunky object of desire I must point you in its direction.
And new architectural guides to Venice don't get published every
year. It takes the trusted form of a lot of walks, but is
copiously indexed. Obviously covering all the major buildings in
all of Venice means that the info given tends heavily to
conciseness, but it's good to know you'll find something about
everything, as it were.
A last-chance plug for Michelle Lovric's talk for Venice in
Peril - The Night Venice Nearly Died - The Conspiracy of
Bajamonte Tiepolo 1310–2010. It's at the Royal Geographical
Society in London on Tuesday 1 June at 7pm. It's a rare chance
for non-Venetian-residents to get informed and involved with the
major Venetian anniversary of this year. Involvement is
necessary as there are still no plans for the Column of Infamy -
the monument erected to mark the failure of the conspiracy - to
be displayed anywhere but in a dingy locked basement. Tickets
and further details are
with more about the column and the conspiracy
Home, to sub-zero temperatures and a sub-standard new government
- the Con-Dems. Oh well, the trip was a good one, and I came
back to an unprecedented pile of three free reviewables in one week.
Two are from London Books' Classics series - Wide Boys Never
Work by Robert Westerby and The Gilt Kid by James
Curtis - a couple of culty 30s low-life jobbies. Then there's
The Pindar Diamond by Katie Hickman, a Venice thing. But I'm
still only half way through (and mightily enjoying) Wolf Hall.
Jeff's in Venice - May 2010
The day of my departure for Venice (May 5th) is being marked by
a bit of a Venetian mediafest. Jamie Oliver's latest
globetrotting cookery TV series reaches Venice that night,
promising risotto, prosecco and sea food action. And on Radio 4
A Perpetual Love Affair, a series about writers'
relationships to Venice begins with Byron; to be followed by two
more 15-minute episodes dealing with Henry James and Jan Morris.
But Vampires of Venice, the Doctor Who episode going out
on the 8th, seems to have been filmed in Trogir, in Croatia. Disappointing.
You know the famous Venetian statue of Signor Rioba (which you
usually pass on the way to the Madonna dell'Orto) the one with
the metal nose? Well some bastards have decapitated it. As of
the night of April 30th/May 1st one of Venice's attractions is
now a headless corpse. Words fail me, but the new mayor Giorgio
Orsoni sensitively summarises when he says ‘Last night’s
act of vandalism forces us to confront the fragility of our
artistic patrimony, constantly exposed to ignorance and lack of
culture, and so difficult to protect.’
UPDATE 4.5.2010 The head's been found, in a plastic bag by a binman.
It's said to be in good nick and also to have been theft rather
than vandalism, foiled by all the ruckus. Hallelujah!
April's been a bit quiet around the site due to some sad family
stuff in real life. But as an antidote, both personal and
site-related, I'm off to Venice next Wednesday. It's going to
be more of a relaxing holiday than the solo church-centric
canters of recent trips. I'm hoping to trip-blog a bit, and
am expecting to feature less churches and more restaurants this
time. I hope
that the gelato and gatto rate will stay about the same, though,
or maybe increase.
Number 4 is the one.
This is the palazzo that features my favourite rusty gates (see
If you panned the camera to the right you'd see a bridge,
with the façade of the church of San Pantalon beyond.
The dangers of restoration? I know which sign I prefer.
Nice of them not to move the tastefully-placed sliver of fallen
episode 6 of the current series of Dr Who is called The
Vampires of Venice. The clip on YouTube has more (cute,
shift-wearing) vampires than Venice, but let's wait and see -
they might've done some actual location filming, and it might
not have been around San Marco and the Salute.
A couple of
correspondents have enquired as to the delay in my reviewing the
new Donna Leon. To which question I reply: 'Don't ask me, ask
the Heinemann publicity people!' They've not come up with
the goods, or indeed replied to my emails, for a fair few years
now. I was planning on waiting for my library reserve to
come in, but have just weakened and ordered it from Amazon. What
the hell, it's only £8.49.
Happy Easter! And
to celebrate this time of chocolate eggs and simnel cake I'm
introducing a brand new thing. It's called ...
... a new page where I e-interview authors and
probe their thoughts and feelings about Venice. First up for a
grilling is Michelle Lovric, celebrating the publication of her
new book next week. More authors will follow and I'm not
over-attached to the name,
so that may change too.
I've also taken the Venice Questions quiz myself, on my
Fans of this site
will hopefully have long been aware of
Oxygen Books' series of
city-lit/city-pick books which scoop up juicy
fragments of fragrant writing relating to particular cities and
make them into portable, readable and inspiring books. I warmly
recommended their London and Berlin volumes on my London and
Berlin pages in 2009, and now comes the news that a volume
Venice is planned for November 2010 publication. And who do you
think they're getting to write the introduction?
Give up? Me!
If you're reading
anything about Venice in the press at the moment it's probably
regarding Brangelina and their brood swarming around town while
Ms Jolie films The Tourist with Johnny Depp. They're
staying at the Palazzo Mocenigo, which has sprouted a somewhat
ostentatious canopy (photo below right) over its water gate,
which says 'stay away' and 'look at us' in about equal measure.
Not much info about the film in all this, but it seems it's a
remake of a French film - a
thriller about a tourist (Depp) used by Interpol (Jolie) to flush out a
criminal with whom he once had a thing. The director's previous
film was the wonderful The Lives of Others and Julian Fellowes is
involved with the script, so it might not be that bad. Reports
do tell of a 'sizzling' sex scene in a shower, filmed in the
Palazzo Pisani Moretta, standing in for the Danieli Hotel (photo
above right by Michelle Lovric). Also
stallholders in the Rialto were paid €42,000
each) for a day of filming when they had to close the market to
shoppers. They also paid €64,000
to change the market curtains which were too grubby for their
purposes, which included having Johnny Depp launch himself from
the loggia above the fish market, landing on a curtain covering
a veg stall.
At this time of year it's not
exactly unknown for things to be a bit slow and the days to be
dark. But blimey! Things
are looking up a bit, though. This evening I gave the cats their
evening feed without having to turn the light on! It helped that
I was feeding them an hour early, but they didn't seem to mind. There's a new novel set in Venice
just out too -
The Venice Conspiracy
by Jon Trace - which I'll try to grab a read of. And on a
personal note...only three months to wait before I'm off to
Venice for a week. Let's get this year on the road!
It's funny isn't it, how if you
don't know that something exists you can't know how empty your
life has been without it? No, I'm not talking about the iPad,
I'm talking about Carabinieri-hat-shaped chocolates. Here's a
photo, in case you don't believe me.
A date for all Venice-lovers'
diaries. On the 1st of June this year's Venice in Peril summer
The Night Venice Nearly Died - The
conspiracy of Bajamonte Tiepolo 1310–2010
will be given by our mate Michelle Lovric, who'll be introduced
by John Julius Norwich.
The conspiracy makes for a gripping story,
involving the planned murder of Doge
and was dramatically (and bizarrely) foiled. The contemporary
relevance is provided by the continued confinement of the
commemorative Column of Infamy which was made and erected so
that this event should no be forgotten, but which remains
woefully undisplayed in
remote storeroom of the
Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia.
The lecture is at
The Royal Geographical
in Kensington SW London and tickets are
here. See you there.
Still looking forward...the immediate
future seems to hold few new novels set in Venice. There's the
new Donna Leon (A Question of Belief) in April, as
ever, and a cash-in cookbook (A
Taste of Venice: At Table with Brunettis)
is promised too. I'd be surprised if I was disappointed by the
former, but expect to be by the latter. Although my mouth is
watering at the prospect of Donna L's own favourite - the
pumpkin risotto. But the new-novel dearth means I'll be
attacking my backlog of older books. You know what they say
good to have something to look forward to, is it not? The London
National Gallery's big winter exhibition, beginning on the 13th
of October 2010, is going to be
Venice: Canaletto and his Rivals. We're promised a
major show, with loans from private and public collections,
including the Queen's, and also works by
Carlevarijs, Marieschi, Bellotto and Guardi.
Me I'm also looking forward to a possible trip to Venice in May.
bit of a grim festive season for Venetian residents with the joys
of snowy blankets soon turning to tricky ice and bad floods.
There are photos on the
BBC website, and intrepid correspondents have provided two
more which I reproduce here. The early morning Piazzo San Marco flood
photo below is by Graham Morrison. The gondola station in a
blizzard to the right is by Kim Hart.
Garden of Eden page is not the one I get the least correspondence
about, and all you GofE fans out there might like to know that
there was a Twenty
program about the place on BBC Radio 3 last week. Click here to
find out more. And I found a fascinating-looking article about
Venetian gardens on ebay last week too, with a fair few pages
about the GofE. But I've bought it now and will add any juicy
stuff I glean from it to the page.
And in even better
news - I'm an author! I made a book out of my trip reports and
have self-published it using lulu.com. I got my first copy
through the post today and, well, what can I say? It's a thing of
great beauty. I can see now why they call this vanity publishing.
Click on the button below to see, and buy!
My Books of 2009
Robert Charles Wilson
The book of Unholy
Ian R MacLeod The House of Storms
Book of Clouds
Carlos Ruiz Zafón The Angel’s Game
City of Shadows
Margot Lanagan Tender Morsels
Lorrie Moore A Gate at the Stairs
A lean year numerically for Venice-set novels, but it's straight
cannon for the Ms's Lovric and Newmark. I read
even fewer novels set in Berlin, though, and they both made the
list. An unplannedly 'correct' sex-split, I notice, and an
unusually high number of ofs in the titles.
My CDs of 2009
Grizzly Bear Veckatimest
Woodpigeon Treasury Library Canada
Broderick Music For Falling From Trees
Eulogy Resolved to dream
The Dodos Time to Die
Ólafur Arnalds Found Songs
World's End Girlfriend Air Doll O.S.T.
Lots of American indie stuff again,
but spiced up with some weird organic
classical stuff - my 'thing' of the year.
you've ever thought it would be nice to spend some time in Italy
during the Renaissance then you might like to investigate
It's a new video game where you play as the son of a Florentine
banker who becomes involved in murder and murky dealings that
take him to cities large and small in Renaissance Italy,
including Florence and Venice. You'll be doing a fair bit of
killing, which might be a drawback, depending on what your plans
for spending quality time during the dawn of western civilisation
might be. But you do get to meet Medici princes, Machiavelli and
Leonardo da Vinci. You also get to use flying machines, and
stuff, designed for you by the latter. The original Assassin's
gorgeous to look at but tedious to play, I thought. This sequel
seems to have kept the original's strengths and tightened up on
its weaknesses. From the trailers the cityscapes look very
detailed. Some of the architecture looks a little... adjusted,
but much more authentic-looking than when Lara Croft did her
thing in Venice. I've not played a new game in ages, but this is
going to be a mock funeral procession on the Grand Canal today
marking the death of Venice, with 'death' defined as the
population dipping below 60,000. This figure is disputed, of
course, and doesn't include the 120,00 who live on Murano, the
Lido and the other lagoon islands. Scientists from an American
university will also be taking DNA swabs as part of research into
residents' origins. There's a poster on the right, and a photo of
the press scrum. And now some rather touching
blogging on the event.
seem to be going a bit Berlin at the moment. The anniversary of
the wall coming down is prompting some documentaries, including a
long and well-reviewed one on BBC2 tomorrow night, called The
Secret Life of the Berlin Wall.
Also a Berlin volume of the city-lit
series is just out and will be reviewed here soon, postal-strike
new series (the 8th) of German TV adaptations of Donna Leon's
Brunetti novels has just started, with Through
a glass darkly.
the little children seems
to be up next. Details are to be found here.
Still no news of the rumoured BBC series, though.
to-be-read pile of Venice-related novels has for a few months now
contained a novel by David Hewson called Lucifer's
and now a kind correspondent has pointed out to me that he has a
new one out, called The
Cemetery of Secrets.
But it turns out that they are one and the same, judging by the
irate reviewers on Amazon who were suckered into buying the new
one even though it's just the old one with a new and different
title. Very naughty. And the aforementioned pile looks like it
might just dwindle well over the coming months, as there seem to
be no new novels set in Venice planned for publication
until well into 2010.
went to the Turner
and the Masters exhibition at the Tate Gallery last week. It
deals with his influences, but also with the artists that he felt
he needed to compete with and/or emulate during his career. (The
current art-historical obsession with artist's competitiveness
and rivalry leaves me cold and unconvinced, mostly, I must
admit.) This stress left me leaving the exhibition pondering his
limitations rather than his strengths - he just couldn't do
facial expressions - but it has some nice paintings in it,
a few of which were new to me. One of these was The
Depositing of Giovanni Bellini's Three Pictures in the Church of
the Redentore, Venice, which
shows the three Bellini paintings arriving at the church in
splendid procession in gondolas. This scene was an invention
based on no known accounts, especially as the paintings in
question are now known to not be Bellini's work, a fact
established not many years after Turner painted the scene. The
caption and the unfascinating audioguide didn't feel that this
fact was important or interesting enough to mention. I
and very happy to have had a great time this time. Tons of photos
and loads of visits and facts to add to my Venetian
churches website. Well the weather's turning colder so I
didn't want to be on the streets anyway.
for your Guaranteed
of sundry churches, cats, and cakes.
Also a pretty cemetery, a nude female
torso, a stupid boy
with a frog,
a hospital in ruins, a painted submarine and a long-forgotten
ballroom with crumbling cornices.
Jeff in Venice - 2009
a handy little function of Paint
Step Photo Fix. If
you keep 'fixing' the photo over
and over you end up
with photos like these two.
House weekend happens in London every September and buildings
ordinarily closed can then be wandered around in. And some that
are usually open can be looked into too, but with the 'I'm just
looking' rationale saving you from paying, buying, praying, or
whatever. This year we decided to devote Saturday to a couple of
local churches. This would also give my new camera (with its
wide-angle lens) an outing, and a practice run for Venice next
week. Not part of the scheme, but with a temptingly open door,
was our nearest church, All Saints Tooting (right)
which we had lived in Tooting almost 20 years without ever having
been inside. It's big for a back-street church and turned out to
be impressive inside, with odd wood panelling between the ribbing
over the nave and aisles. This cladding may explain the church's
popularity as a recording venue - the nice lady we got chatting
to mentioned names like Previn and Barenboim. She'd lived in
Tooting long enough to have got married in this very church,
during an air raid, with the all clear sounding just as the bride
and groom left the church. Christ Church Streatham (above
and below right)
has a bit of a Byzantine thing going on, and a fine detached
campanile. The church was enthusiastically staffed and had a fine
array of home-made cakes on sale, including a Caribbean coconut
cake new to me, and very chewy and coconutty it was too. St Mary
is another much-walked-past church, which turned out to an oddly
flat and wide interior and an impressive dark decorated apse. And
a very friendly black dog.
fair bit of controversy was generated this week by a new London
tube map. And that's not a sentence I thought that I'd ever type.
Transport for London had decided to simplify the thing, you see,
and so had left off the squiggly representation of the River
Thames that runs through it. Judging by the pictures in the paper
this was a success, but various blustering right-wing newspapers
and rent-a-quote publicity seekers (like our mad blonde mayor,
who would've seen the map weeks before he jumped on the
bandwagon) decided to put their oars in, and so TfL have promised
to put the river back for the next one, in December. One reason
cited for wanting it back was that it is essential for North
Londoners to be able to identify (and avoid) the stations South
of the river. Such prejudice is neither unusual nor a problem. We
don't want their sort down here either.
was the first book launch I'd ever been involved with and I can't
deny I was more than a little nervous, but last Thursday's event
at the Italian Bookshop in London for Michelle Lovric's The
Undrowned Child went
off like a charm. Sitting in front of people and talking about
books is not unlike running a book group, I suppose, which I'd
done many times. But still...a basement full of strangers...more
people upstairs listening....a microphone...a warm evening. But
the crowd was pretty warm too, and we were pretty prepared. 'We'
were me and Michelle - we were going to discuss the book and
Venice after the readings - and the readings were coming courtesy
of Claire Bloom, the most famous person I've ever chatted with,
and poet/actress Geraldine Paine whose performance of the
mermaids and the Butcher Biasio had collies wobbling on both
floors. Follow that, as they say, and our discussion of things
Venetian and literary was well-received and pretty smooth. And
fun. The prosecco flowed afterwards, and Michelle signed some
copies in an atmosphere of relief and bonhomie, and I got to talk
to a few site fans too. It was good to finally meet some of you
lot, and I thank all of you who came for your encouraging
support. The Italian Bookshop staff did us proud too, and there
was even talk of a future Fictional Cities themed event with a
selection of authors. Watch this space for developments. The
photograph of the window is by Graham Morrison and the crowd
scene was taken by Beatrice Tura.
letterbox flaps, there's a healthy thump, and I'm now reading
Peter Ackroyd's new book - Venice:
But do we need another such history/eulogy? Mr A's (largely
London-set) novels range from the utterly essential to the safely
ignorable and his London history books are largely loved,
although I find them just too flowery in the writing. So far the
Venice book is proving free of such flights, though, and I'm
hopeful. There's a TV series too - here's
the details and here's
all need new experiences and challenges, right? Well, in a
month's time a new challenge is coming my way - my first ever
involvement in a book launch party. My mate Michelle Lovric is
having a bit of a 'do' to launch The
the Italian Bookshop in London on the 10th of September. Full
details are here.
I shall be interviewing her, about
the book and Venice, as part of an evening of readings and chat.
I've never done anything like this before but the excitement is
just about winning out over the nerves. And I'm relying on
support from you lot - there is a growing list of Fictional
Cities fans committing to coming, so I look forward to meeting
in Venice be on the lookout for...police jetskis (above, photo by
Michelle Lovric) and stupid art at the end of the Dogana (right,
photo by Brigitte Eckert) that needs 24-hour security. Whether
he's there to protect the 'art' from vandals or enraged aesthetes
is not confirmed. The 8-foot-high sculpture is called Boy
and I've not seen it yet, but people who have all seem to share a
desire to kick its ass into the lagoon.
are all familiar with the pantheon of Venice-born worthies
- Marco Polo, Casanova, Vivaldi, Veronica Franco, Hugo
Pratt...the list is long. And now, I've just discovered, it must
be lengthened to include easy-listening maestro Mantovani. Who knew? He may not be a
very familiar name to non-Brits, but he was the UK's answer to
the likes of James Last and Bert Kaempfert amongst
hi-fi fans in the 70s. Maybe if this was more widely known Vivaldi's domination of the Venice tourist-concert repertoire
might be seriously threatened. Or not.
few new novels appearing that are set in Florence, and I go and
miss one! Christobel Kent, who's written a couple of Florence-set
novels that I liked a lot, has a new one out. It's called A
Time of Mourning and
is her first venture into crime writing, featuring her new
detective Sandro Cellini. Letterbox action expected any day now,
so expect a review soonish.
The postcard (right)
was picked up at the Venice Biennale, so it's actually art, but
made me grin nevertheless.
couple of months back I mentioned Tiziano Scarpa's novel Stabat
how it was another addition to the ever-increasing pile of works
dealing with the pupils/muses/girls in Vivaldi's life. Reports of
its superiority were confirmed by its winning Italy's big
literary prize, the Premio Strega. Now comes news that Serpent's
Tail (who also brought us Tiziano's witty cultural guide
is a Fish)
have acquired the English language rights to Stabat
bad news is we're going to have to wait nearly two years to read
it, as publication is set for early 2011.
week sees the publication of The
Michelle Lovric's new novel for older children. I think that
it'll turn out to be easily the best Venice-set novel of the year
and it certainly seems that it'll be getting the promotion that
it, and the author, deserves. My
review is here.
a handsome and entertaining (and very Venetian) site devoted to
the new book at www.undrownedchild.com
bit of a hiatus period at the moment for new books and
interesting CD releases; and all the better TV series seem to
have ended for the Summer. Yawn. A good time for headshaking at
tedious and unsurprising political scandals, though, and
festivals. The biggy amongst many in London is the Story
of London 'celebration' happening all through June. It
includes the Lives
of Buildings weekend on the 26th-28th. All good stuff, only
spoilt by having our idiot mayor grinning out from the publicity.
at my updates list shows that, after a rash last May and June, my
Florence-related content has been pretty sparse. There's just
been nothing. But I have had a poke around found a tempting book
Doorbells of Florence by
Andrew Losowsky, where the author's photographs of Florence
doorbells precede the stories that the bells suggest. I like the
sound of that one. Also The
Monster of Florence by
Douglas Preston, about the famous failure of the investigation
into the famous murders, is now out in the UK. And in other
non-Venice-related news, publishers Oxygen
Books are bringing out books of writings related to
particular cities, called city-lit,
and amongst the first are London, in June, and Berlin, in
November. Stick around for reviews, soon.
so this site is called Fictional Cities because it deals with
fiction written about cities, but sometimes the truth can be
fascinating too. My pile of books to be reviewed is topped by three
works of non-fiction which I think will prove this contention.
First up is Piazza
San Marco by
Iain Fenlon, which is so far proving an enjoyable, elegant
and compulsive read. Then there's Venice,
Cita Excelentissima: Selections from the Renaissance Diaries of
Marin Sanudo which
looks a bit heavier going but comes very highly recommended.
Lastly a book which to see is to want - a handsomely illustrated
book about Venice's many (now) abandoned islands called The
Abandoned Islands of the Venetian Lagoon (Le isole abbandonate
della laguna veneziana) by
Giorgio & Maurizio Crovato. This last one has, apart from the
Venice interest, the whole romantic ruins thing going for it too.
Donna Leon news courtesy of Carlo over at Italian-mysteries.com.
In an interview last week in San Francisco the woman herself
revealed that she's only ever seen two of the German TV
adaptations that she is so dismissive of, and only in German,
which she doesn't speak. Also it seems that her favoured producer
to make the mooted BBC series is the same one who did the recent
marvellous adaptations of Bleak
of my trip reports will know that after my somewhat
lustre-lacking 2008 visit I resolved to miss a year to try and
get my Venice-fan mojo back. Yea right, like that was gonna
happen. I've just booked this year's trip for the last week in
September, and am looking forward avidly already. Gelati, gatti,
getting into some odd palaces being used for the Biennale...you
know how it is.
bumper weekend for grieving J.G.Ballard fans in the UK Guardian/
Observer. The interview
with his partner of 40 years was very humanising, and his
story finds the quintessential London author in Tuscany and
taking the leaning of the tower in Pisa to a conclusion.
library has just provided me with the new Donna Leon, and I've
spent folding money acquiring a copy of the Brunetti's
So I'll be reviewing them soon, and hopefully we can move on from
some Brunetti-full months, what with the TV-series marathon
I've just bought myself a rather nice tinted photo
off of eBay. There's a scan of it over on the right there -
I'd appreciate any ideas you might have as to where it was taken. Update
November 2009: An answer at last! Albert H. writes to say 'It's
looking north-west along the Rio Priuli from what is now the Ca'
d'Oro Hotel. The bridge is Ponte Priuli, and on the right is
Vivaldi film with the big names that I wrote about in early 2008
remains firmly stuck in pre-production, and now it seems that one
with small names has snuck into post-production. It's a TV
film and stars all sorts of Brit actors with little or no
previous, including Mick Jagger's son as a pupil of Vivaldi and
someone called Steven Cree as the man himself. A male pupil of
Vivaldi is something new, to be sure, and all the other names of
characters seem invented, so I'd anticipate the old poetic
licence getting something of a thrashing here.
1981 artist Mario Mariotti invited citizen involvement
in a project involving projections of images onto the façade
of the Santo Spirto church in Florence. The response resulted
in some impressive and quirky images projected onto the church. The
shop in the Ricchi cafe in the piazza sells postcards. This is one,
and I've put some more
of my spies tells me that at a book signing last week in
Cambridge Donna Leon said that she was in talks with the BBC
about a new Brunetti TV series. This confirms rumours knocking
around for a few months and gives us all something to look
forward to. But who will they get to play Brunetti? And his wife?
been offline for a bit, for the past week because I've been
decidedly off colour - the worst stomach bug I've ever had laid
me low for almost a week. So, from too-much-information to some
recent-TV-documentary information. Baroque!
- From St Peter's to St Paul's was
a three-part investigation of baroque art and architecture on
BBC4 by Waldemar Januszczak taking in Italy, Spain and England.
Rubens and Rembrandt, Wren and Hawksmoor, Valasquez and
Vermeer...the series ranged wide and was stimulating and
unpompous, which is just how we like our art history. For a
somewhat closer relationship to this site there was also a
documentary revisiting the life of old-school documentary maker
Alan Whicker. The first part of Alan
Whicker's Journey of a Lifetime began
in Venice, where AW found himself at the end of WWII and where
his journalistic career began. He only lingers there for the
first 10 minutes or so of the programme, but nicely sums up the
Venice-love so many of us develop, and evokes the joy of post-war
in Venice. There's also some black and white footage of his first
documentary segment filmed in Venice in the late
at the Dulwich
turned out to be a small and enjoyable treat. Half of it is the
portraits that rainy weather made him try on later visits, and
that lead stylistically into his London paintings of women on
grubby beds in dingy rooms. This section is maybe more for
Sickert fans than Venice fans, but there are enough, and good
enough, Venice views in the first three rooms to make a trip
worthwhile. And some nice ones of out-of-the-way bits. The
reconstructed Veronese altarpiece is well worth a look too.
The catalogue says that, staying on the Zattere, Sickert had been
close to the Gesuati church and its Titian Martyrdom
of St Lawrence.
Wrong! That's in the Gesuiti all the way over in Cannaregio.
within minutes of me posting yesterday's whinge, one of the books
came through the old letterbox. The
Madman of Venice by
Sophie Masson looks like something a bit different, and you can
expect a review here soon. And a parcel of books by Mark Frutkin,
mentioned last month,
came this morning.
a complete drying up of the flow of review copies at the moment,
I'm afraid, despite my polite requests. Most annoying is my
complete failure to make any contact with Heinemann's publicity
department, to get a copy of About
Donna Leon's new Brunetti novel, and of Brunetti's
a book of walks. Their e-mail address has been non-functioning
since Christmas, their webmaster promises to look into it and
then goes silent too, and messages left on their voicemail elicit
no response whatsoever. The eight new books supplied and reviewed
in February and March last year contrasts somewhat mightily with
this year's two. Amongst the books I've asked for are The
Madman of Venice by
Sophie Masson and Hidden
Voices: The Orphan Musicians of Venice by
Pat Lowery Collins, another novel about Vivaldi's Pieta
another one of those darn Birthday jobbies rolls around for yours
truly, there is, of course, a Venice-related exhibition on in
London - Sickert
in Venice at
They have a display based around a reunited Veronese altarpiece
on at the moment too. Due to circs beyond my commemorative visit
to the exhibitions won't be until next Friday. I'll let you know.
in the Observer yesterday saying how Venice is dying, there
are more tourists than residents, things are getting worse fast,
nobody's making babies, we're all doomed, etc. It's interesting
to note, though, that even when the place is full of tourists the
residents still manage to outnumber them, just about. The plans
for a Coke machine in every campo don't sound good though.
in actual book news...Iain Sinclair's new book is a ramble around
the London Borough of Hackney, called Hackney,
That Rose-Red Empire: A Confidential Report. The Monster of
story of the police mishandling of the famous case and their
subsequent persecution of the two journalists who set out to
discover the truth, has been published in the UK at last. And
Dan Simmons looks like a fascinating and spicy speculation on the
life of Charles Dickens around the time of the publication of
Mystery of Edwin Drood. I've
requested review copies of all of these but so far my letterbox
has been sadly untroubled. In better book news I've just heard
from Mark Frutkin, an
author who's offered me a copy of his book The
Lion of Venice,
not an unusual title for a Venice-related novel, but an uncommon
subject - the life of Marco Polo. And Tiziano Scarpa has a
new novel out about Vivaldi and the girls of the Pieta called
He has done something fresh with this somewhat hackneyed subject,
it is said, but an English translation is yet to be even
announced, so we'll have to wait to see.
the globe warms up and the waters rise it's educational to
ponder what it would be like if If
London were like Venice. Be sure to check out the
week we didn't just have snow in London we had a snow
event - more
snow than we've had in 20 years. This resulted in either chaos or
calm, depending on where you were and what you read. Out here in
Tooting the early part of the week saw lovely quiet roads as the
transport system shut down, schools closed and the bin-men and
postmen decided not to venture out. Serious snowballing and
I tend to avoid political comment
on this site but Silvio Berlusconi seemingly cannot do or say
anything without making me hate him even more. He's just reversed
a court's sensible decision after a family's 10-year fight to let
their comatose daughter die, justifying his action by saying that
she's physically "in the condition to have babies".
With the departure of G. Bush S. Berlusconi becomes Top Moron, it
a cake I couldn't stop eating I've glutted on the TV adaptations
of Donna Leon's Brunetti novels mentioned below, and they're now
all watched and reviewed, but I want more! Greedy, I know, and
let's also hope that the rumours of the BBC contemplating making
its own Brunetti TV series are not unfounded. I'm about to start
dedicated follower of literary fashion that I am.
German TV adaptations of Donna Leon's Brunetti novels have been
running since 2000 and the DVDs have long been available and
annoyingly un-subtitled too. Now a suitably mysterious source has
provided me with some subtitled copies of seven episodes (of the
16 made) and I'm working through them and reviewing them here.
A nice start to the year!
here it is, 2009.
What do you think of it so far? I know what you mean, but let's
have high hopes - the end of the G.W.Bush years is in sight, and
putting them behind us can't but be a good thing. Obama's got a
deal of bad **** to deal with, but rather him than the other one
and that porn star woman. In a narrower perspective there's the
novels mentioned below to look forward to, and a new one by Geoff
Dyer called Jeff
in Venice and
that one's got my name on it. There's also an exhibition opening
in March at the Dulwich Picture Gallery called Sickert
Here's wishing all my readers all the best things in 2009 anyway.
mysterious postcard found in a library book by a colleague.
are those hooded figures? Why are they boating in the flooded
Where has the campanile gone? Was the photo maybe taken
an extended sofa-gag sequence, after the new widescreen HD titles
premiered last weekend, The Simpsons' sofa makes a break for
and their pursuit involves a gondola chase in a
Venice where the
canals have railings.