Some years ago I read Berendt’s book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and I absolutely loved it. Wonderfully written, wonderful out of the ordinary people. When I saw that he followed up this book with a book about Venice, The City of Fallen Angels, I bought it and it has decorated by TBR shelves ever since.
Finally, I grabbed it and started reading. As with his other book you are drawn in to the history of the city. He manages to find all these interesting people that he contacts to get their story. As with the Midnight book, the main story is a legal one. The opera house in Venice burnt down while it was renovated. Now they are searching for the people responsible, either by arson or by accident. This leads us into the thorny area of Italian law, where for a foreigner, once your inside, there seems to be no way out!
The wonderful palazzos of Venice also hold a big part of the story. Family histories that goes back a long way, the difficulties of keeping up the palaces today. Henry James was here, which should be no surprise. He seems to have been in most of the lovely places in Europe. The Barbaro palace (during the writing of this book it was sold by the family who had inhabited it since the middle of 19th century) was the fictional Palazzo Leporelli in James’ The Wings of the Dove, and he was a frequent houseguest of the Curtis family. It seems that even today his description of the palace is recognisable. I have not read this one so it is now on my list to read (as if it was not long enough!).
“On his first visit as a house guest at Palazzo Barbaro, Henry James was met at the water entrance by white-gloved servants, who led him from his gondola on to the carpeted steps of the landing platform and up the courtyard stairs to the piano nobile. He was enchanted by all of it: the luxury, the polish, the reminders of the distant past ‘twinkling in the multitudinous candles’. But eve as he gazed at the Barbaro’s painted walls and sculpted ceilings, James had in mind a very different sort of palace.”
This different sort of palace was a derelict place inhabited by two lonely ladies. It was all fictional, and characters in his new novel The Aspern Papers (review here). A lovely book, like most of his books.
Other famous characters are Ezra Pound and his mistress Olga Rudge who lived in Venice for many years. Berendt gives us the story of their Venice life and the ‘menage a trois’ they lived in since Pound was married. Olga Rudge was a well known concert violinist and seems to have been an amazing character, full of life. She lived to be over 90 years old.
"Curious to have a look at the house where Ezra Pound and Olga Rudge had lived, I went to Rio Fornace, a tranquil canal in the quiet district of Dorsoduro. There, a few steps off the canal in a shady cul-de-sac, I found 252 Calle Querini, a narrow, three-storey cottage. A marble plaque mounted above the door bore the inscription ‘With unwavering love for Venice, Ezra Pound, titan of poetry, lived in this house for half a century.’"
Berendt takes us through many more events of Venice and it is a charming read. He choses a few people, famous or not, and gives us a glimpse of the life they live. He manages to make the city come alive with its characters that define the inhabitants of Venice. There are not only tourists there. I have been to Venice two times, and will go there again. This time I might bring John Berendt’s book with me, and follow him to see another part of Venice. As far as I can see, he has not written any more books, but I am eagerly waiting for the next one!
This was one of my TBR books, so glad that I finally took it down from those shelves to put it on the R (read) shelves! Small things in life make us happy.