Venice

Hm. There’s been very little content on this thing for the last two months. That’s no good. Must set about fixing it.

I have a good excuse for two weeks of the eight—I spent them on a words-cannot-do-it-justice trip to Italy. I ate wonderful food, I drank wonderful wine, and I confirmed that Rome is indeed hands-down my favorite city in the world. I also discovered Assisi and Lucca, and visited Lake Albano (no, I did, really! Also the town of the same name. The odds are good that my family originally comes from one or the other).

And I fell in love with Venice.

We had pretty much the best possible weather, partially because September is a good time to go and partially due to sheer dumb luck; the Venetian climate is not, so we were informed, customarily so kind to tourists. We had three bright, clear days—sapphire sky, turquoise water, gondolas tossing on the frothy wakes left by speedboats, sunlight striking the canal like a scattered handful of diamonds.

We rode the viporetto (the water-metro, essentially) and the elegant old buildings with their boarded-up windows went by like the opening of Swordspoint. I looked down from the bell tower in St. Mark’s Square, and the angle of the sunlight gave the Grand Canal the aforementioned effect of a thrown handful of diamonds. One gondola bobbed through the diamonds and across the wakes of the canal’s traffic to ferry its passengers from St. Mark’s to the silver-grey Gothic basilica opposite, and the word “breathtaking” doesn’t even come close. I was expecting Venice to look like the setting of a comedy of manners; seeing the setting of a fairy tale surprised me.

And watching modern everyday life go by—on the side streets, away from the tourist-focused performance art of the main areas—filled me with delight for three days straight. The list of “things I had never thought about” (with regard to living in a city built on the water) never stopped growing. The hot young guys in their little sports-car speedboats. The FedX delivery truck boat, piled with packages and a mattress. The other delivery truck boat piled with tomatoes. The fire truck boat. The men from the fire boat blocking off part of the canal one night while one of their number (dressed in a wetsuit and scuba gear) submerged and surfaced rhythmically, searching for… we were concerned, until he emerged holding the purse of an immensely grateful woman who had been watching from the sidewalk. The casket, laden with wreathes and accompanied by people in black, winging its way on a motorboat to the little offshore island which appears to exist only to house mausoleums.  Every single one of these moments brought a realization of, “Oh, of course they do it that way; they’d have to; I just never thought about it.” When it didn’t look like a fairytale, it looked like a science fiction story.

Because seriously, Venice is unreal. In my line of work, I tend to think about worldbuilding a whole lot, and if you created a secondary-world city like Venice, no one would buy it. Right, so I have this idea for a city-state… and it really is just a city. It has no means of producing its own food at all; it imports everything from the mainland. And get this: it’s built on the water. No, I mean seriously, they drained canals and built buildings, so the water laps against your front door, and you leave your house and hop into your boat and you go everywhere by boat. Everywhere: there isn’t even a bridge to the mainland. (There wasn’t until 18-something.) And this city-state, it’s ruled by a Duke, except it’s also sort of a republic, much more enlightened than what most of the rest of Europe is doing at the same time. It has a lukewarm relationship with the Church, and a trade-based relationship with the East, so it largely manages to avoid religious fanaticism.  There’s a lot of back-room and back-alley maneuvering, though—and have I mentioned the back alleys? The streets that aren’t water are twisty and narrow and a rabbit-warren, the ideal setting for rogues, and some of those back-alley canals are the perfect dark quiet places to dump bodies into. The city is also known for masked balls, and even two hundred years after Napoleon they think of themselves as Venetian first and Italian second, and the city is sinking, no really, it actually is, so the water laps up even higher against the front doors than it did in the famous paintings, and no one has come up with a solution to halt the sinking, so in the long term, Venice is doomed.

At what point in this paragraph would you have stopped me to say how idealistic and far-fetched the whole idea sounded? But that’s Venice. For real.

The experience left me wanting to write something set in a secondary world based on Venice, write something set in Venice, and read lots of things written by other people set in Venice. I’ll gladly take recommendations that fit into the last category, if anybody has any.

Comments (4)

JulieOctober 18th, 2010 at 10:41 pm

Venice is the very top of my list of places to go — has been for years.

Have you read the Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke?

HeatherOctober 19th, 2010 at 11:32 am

No – sounds like maybe I should.

AdamOctober 19th, 2010 at 2:40 pm

One of the interesting thing about the need to maintain versimilitude is that many things that are “realistic” in the sense that they have actually happened are destructive of versimilitude because they appear too contrived. For example, Sorkin commented that he could never have included something like Bush v. Gore on The West Wing, because it would have seemed ridiculous. See also “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

LizzieOctober 19th, 2010 at 3:02 pm

Not fiction, but John Julius Norwich’s history of Venice is an absolute classic. Fascinating, fascinating place– not just in its own history, but in its history in the public imagination.

Leave a comment

Your comment