I love Venice! I can imagine some people might hate it: in some areas, it’s overrun by tourists; shops are full of gew-gaws; and you keep getting lost. Wherever you go, there are people standing with maps wondering where on earth they are.
The vaporetti are no less confusing. You think one is going up the Grand Canal and it turns out it goes along Giudecca Canal. You think you’re going to Lido and you’re on your way to Piazzale Roma. I exaggerate, but you get the picture. If you take a number one vaporetto, which goes up and down the Grand Canal and pulls in at every stop, don’t expect to reach your destination quickly! But you will have a wonderful ride along what has been described as ‘the most magnificent avenue in the world’.
Despite all the irritations, I love Venice. I’m planning to include some chapters set here in my next novel. I’ve used places I love in my previous novels – Lyme Regis, Dorset, in Unravelling; Ischia (an island in the Bay of Naples), Rothbury in Northumberland, and Penzance in The Piano Player’s Son; so, it’s got to be Venice next time – oh, and Plymouth – another love.
But Venice has proved a potent stimulus for writers for centuries, so what can I say about it that hundreds of writers haven’t said before? Probably nothing – all I can do is put my characters here and hope that reveals something. Characters and place can be a powerful mix.
Earlier in the week, I went to the cemetery island, San Michelle. Stravinsky, Diaghilev and Ezra Pound are all buried there. I seem to remember when I first visited (a long time ago) you had to work to find the graves. Now, they are carefully signposted. The signposts also include directions to Joseph Brodsky. Brodsky?
When I got back to my apartment, I looked him up. I’ve heard the name, but know nothing of his work. He was a Russian poet who paid long and regular visits to Venice. By chance, one of the books I’ve brought with me has a reflection on Venice in winter from Brodsky in it:
(Looking across the lagoon to San Giorgio photo courtesy of NY Times)
‘The winter light in this city! It has the extraordinary property of enhancing your eye’s power of resolution to the point of microscopic precision. […] The sky is brisk blue; the sun escaping its golden likeness beneath the foot of San Giorgio, sashays over the countless fish scales of the laguna’s lapping ripples […] In the morning this light breasts your window pane and, having prised your eyes open like a shell, runs ahead of you, strumming its lengthy rays – like a hot-footed schoolboy running his stick along the iron grate of a park or garden or … ‘ (Watermark)
Great stuff! And I love the movement from sight to sound in this. Oh, Brodsky!