Literary Arcadia Literature and other things

Italian Nostalgia

John Berendt writes an interesting, well-crafted work in The City of Falling Angels.  He sets out to create a portrait of Venice; the city, the art, the people, the politics.  He succeeds.

I am trying to branch out in my nonfiction choices (ie: not just history).  But I also have obvious preferences- one is for all things Italian.  And if you are going to choose to read a nonfiction book about Venice you couldn’t choose better than this engaging book.

Berendt uses the story of the Fenice Opera House fire and its aftermath to delve into the ancient political and social environments of Venice.  He meets with politicians, lawyers, wealthy ex-pats, art restoration charity leaders, craftsmen.  He discusses the fire with Venice’s most famous glassblower, a witness.  He speaks with the investigators of the fire and the construction workers that were doing restoration work the night the fire started.  He does a very good job of wading through the accusations, rumors, and cover-ups endemic in Italian political life.

Woven in the Fenice story are others.  I especially enjoyed the intrigue behind the “Ezra Pound Foundation” (the one his own heirs didn’t know about!), and the constant back-biting behind the “selfless” philanthropic association “Save Venice”.

This book makes me miss living in Italy.  Yes there is frustration, with politics and the seemingly endless bureaucracy involved in doing the simplest thing.  But there is also a universal zest for living that I have rarely seen.  Whether they are spray-painting horns on a poster of Berlusconi (though the poster was replaced with a clean one a few days later), haggling over fruit prices at a stand, or praising the merits of a particularly fine espresso, Italians love and hate- they are never indifferent.  They were also unfailingly kind to this American student stumbling through Medieval streets and asking directions in terribly accented Italian.

 

 

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