Diana Lawrenson

— Writer —

Diana Lawrenson Pages to Places Blog

Welcome to my blog that takes you from pages to places. Come and discover some quirky, little-known, or loose-but-relevant links from books to places around the world. You might even like to add a book suggestion of your own to the topic.

16 June 2016 | Italy, Venice


Venice. Gondola in a canalIt wasn’t The Merchant of Venice that made me want to see the city of canals, nor the way so many people spoke glowingly of their time there. It was Vikram Seth’s An Equal Music where place, music, human nature and physical decline become entwined as one.

Venice is always flooded with tourists and, depending on tides, wind and other factors, can be flooded with water, too. It has spawned popes and painters and been the inspiration for writers and musicians. For Marco Polo, Vivaldi and Casanova the city if 117 islands was their birthplace.

We arrived at Marco Polo airport and shared a water taxi to our hotel. The prevalence of waterbuses and water taxis as a means of transport is obvious, but daily business by boat hadn’t occurred to us until we spotted a laden baggage boat.

As we took in the architecture, history and tourist sights, daily life in Venice unfolded before us. Blue and white boats of the state police plied the canals, as did the black and red craft of the carabinieri – the military corps police.

Venice market. Chilli pepper posyNot far from the Rialto Bridge is the market. In the midst of browsing its supply of fresh fish, fruit, vegetables and chilli pepper posies, a two tone siren blared and froth-topped waves slapped the canal walls in the wake of a water ambulance speeding by. Down narrow side canals where residents moor their own small craft, garbage barges collected household rubbish while other boats delivered fresh and frozen goods to stores and restaurants.

Express delivery? No problem. There are boats specifically forVenice, crane on barge that purpose, too. A fire? Call the fire boat. Hearses are boats.  Even theatrical constructions are floated in for performances. A new building is going up – the crane and digger arrive by barge.

We had a gondola ride because you can’t go to Venice and not have one. That’s romance. And a job for the gondoliers. But Venice is slowly sinking. Acqua alta – high tides – require the erection of wooden walkways for pedestrian traffic.  A week after we left photographs of a massive acqua alta appeared in newspapers around the world. Aluminium chairs from a coffee shop we’d stopped at bobbed about, tourists in gumboots and plastic ponchos negotiated the raised walkways, and a few frolicked in the murky water. It was an adventure of sorts but I’m glad we missed it, and Venetians are hoping the high tides will soon be controlled by the Mose flood barrier that’s nearing completion.

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  • Venice: Pure City by Peter Ackroyd
  • An Equal Music by Vikram Seth
  • Vivaldi’s Virgins by Barbara Quick
  • The Four Seasons: a novel of Vivaldi’s Venice by Laurel Corona
  • Night Letters by Robert Dessaix, recommended by Pauline Luke
  1. Another lovely post and very real to me – I was in Venice 10 days ago. My experiences were a little different i.e. a very crowded bus-boat and not a taxi and may daughter and I walked and walked getting nicely lost along the alleyways and streets of this beautiful city. It’s uniqueness will always stand apart.

    1. Lucky you! I’d love to return one day.

  2. I too love Venice and I loved ‘An Equal Music’. I haven’t read ‘Night Letters’ but it is now on my list of TBR (to be read) novels.

  3. Through your evocative description I revisited Venice in my mind….such a magical place.
    I must put the books you recommended on my “to read” list.
    My favourite was Robert Dessaix’s Night Letters.

Would you like to suggest another relevant book to add to the list?

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