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,ย  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!

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  1. Vikki says:

    It looks and sounds wonderful! I’d love to go….maybe one day ๐Ÿ™‚


  2. Lindsay says:

    It is, Vikki. The number of tourists is a problem, but there are lots of lovely places away from the madding crowd. And I love travelling everywhere by boat or on foot. Hope you get the chance to experience it one day.

  3. Thank you for the Brodsky extract. His poetic precision with language is really exquisite.

  4. Lindsay says:

    Wonderful, isn’t it? How about this for a follow up: ‘In winter you wake up in this city, especially on Sundays, to the chiming of its innumerable bells, as though benind your gauze curtains a gigantic china teaset were vibrating on a silver tray in the pearl-grey sky.’

  5. Yikes! How does he do that?
    And I found this from the same Watermark:
    ‘The eye in this city acquires an autonomy similar to that of a tear. The only difference is that it doesn’t sever itself from the body but subordinates it totally. After a while โ€“ on the third or fourth day here โ€“ the body starts to regard itself as merely the eye’s carrier, as a kind of submarine to its now dilating, now squinting periscope. Of course, for all its targets, its explosions are invariably self-inflicted: it’s your own heart, or else your mind, that sinks; the eye pops up to the surface.’
    Sadly, going to Venice ever again is way beyond my means. Sob

  6. Lindsay says:

    I know – it makes me wonder how I dare write anything about Venice! It’s a shame you can’t visit, Becky. I’d love to see some of your poetry about the place.

  7. Lindsay says:

    My first photo went AWOL. Let’s hope this one stays around!

  8. Polly says:

    Gorgeous photo, Lindsay. Though I’ve been to Venice many times, I’ve not yet made it to the cemetery island, San Michele. Next time I go, for I plan to go there for sure!

    heh-heh re the vaporetti ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. Lindsay says:

    Thanks, Polly. Not sure which photo you’ve seen. The first one I posted went awol for some reason, so I had to post another one – neither of them mine as I was looking for Venice in Winter (to match the Brodsky quote) which is most certainly isn’t at the moment! I think San Michelle is rather special.
    Usually the vaporetti are fine and go where I think they’re going to go, but occasionally – that is yesterday(!), they do the opposite!

  10. Gary Longden says:

    I visited Venice once, and was captivated by it.

    I would urge visitors to stay on the island, and explore from there. The tourist trade does dominate, but before 9.30am, and after 5pm, it goes quiet as most are day-trippers, indeed the restaurants and bars are quite quiet in the evening.early and late are the best times to explore.

    I recall waking up at 6am in the morning, and wandering down to the Grand Canal from my hotel just off St Marks Square, there was no-one around on a bright spring morning ,and it was as if I was watching a Canaletto painting, for real. It was the most beautiful man made landscape I have ever seen.

  11. Lindsay says:

    I think it’s the most beautiful, magical place, Gary. This is my seventh visit! There’s something about the quality of the light, the shadows, the reflections in the canals that combine to seduce the senses. And that’s without the glories of the Grand Canal! Although tourists dominate, they tend to congregate round St Mark’s Square, and there are lots of quiet places with unexpected treasures round corners. The feeling of having stepped into a Canaletto painting captures it exactly.

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