Thursday, November 21, 2013

Poetic and Pictorial Venice

No Vulgar Hotel: The Desire and Pursuit of VeniceNo Vulgar Hotel: 
The Desire and Pursuit of Venice 
by Judith Martin

"This tendency to blather about Venice's beauty, using any excuse to pronounce the beloved name, is a hazard of being a Venetophile.  A greater hazard is holding conversation with a Venetophile.  But what lover ever failed to argue that beauty alone would not have been sufficient to ignite the noble fever?  Venice also has its domestic virtues.  Really."  -  Judith Martin, No Vulgar Hotel, p 27.

Over the years I have travelled a little, mostly for business and seldom for pleasure. Thus I have not travelled to many of the favorite locations for tourists and with books like this one I do not need to do so. Judith Martin (aka "Miss Manners") has travelled to Venice and written about that travel covering the history, aesthetics, and practical aspects of that lovely city by and on the sea.
I especially enjoyed her literary discussions in the sections entitled "Venice with Your Imaginary Friend" and "Venice Depicted". The references include Henry James's The Wings of the Dove, Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited, and much more. She also discusses American expatriates including the fabulously wealthy longtime residents, the Curtis family.
I have always enjoyed the classical paintings of the artist known simply as Canaletto and Venice was one of his favorite subjects. But, I was unaware until I read Ms. Martin's book that he "was apt to rearrange buildings as if they were furniture, regularly distorting a view for balance . . ."(p 131) His desire to maintain classical balance in his paintings aside, his depictions of Venice are elegantly beautiful demonstrating his genius and the genius of his age. But there is more. From Browning's poems to Wagner's diaries the literary vision of Venice mirrors the inspiration that its' beauty expresses.  There is also the cinematic Venice of film whether portrayed as romantic comedy in David Lean's Summertime (David Lean is one of my favorite directors and one of the many reasons for this is his ability to capture the essence of foreign locations from London to Moscow to Burma to the Arabia of the hero Lawrence) or in more sinister films like Don't Look Now based on DuMaurier's novel or The Comfort of Strangers adapted by Harold Pinter from Ian McEwen's  novel.
The author clearly loves Venice. Doing so she does not write about it in a sense that expresses the vanguard of sophisticated opinion, for this is not a book that really breaks new ground. However it covers the old ground impeccably. It is a thoroughly delightful read for anyone even remotely interested in Venice.

View all my reviews

1 comment:

Brian Joseph said...

I have never been to Venice but I really need to get there. This book sounds superb.

I am not sure why, but the two films that you mention Don't Look Now and The Comfort of Strangers seem to be linked in my mind to this fabled city giving it the an extra level of dark mystique in my psyche.