As Italy no longer requires that travellers from Britain quarantine for five days I've been idly toying with the idea of booking a week (or so) in Ferrara and/or Venice in mid-October. Seven nights at the hotel I stayed at last time in Venice, the Palazzo Stern, is €2184 euros. But the Mercure where I stayed in Ferrara last time is £304 for seven nights. Both are 4-star and both include breakfast and the ability to cancel for free. Madness! Or I might just wait until January or February 2022 in the hope of more normality having returned by then.

As the supposed return of post-Covid normality in England is upon us the facts contradict the assertions that this is a wise move, and that it will actually be achieved soon. It doesn't look like we'll be casting off our masks anytime soon, if we're sensible, and the prospect of foreign travel remains shaky. It's looking like the nearest I'll be getting to Venice this year might be the tempting Canaletto exhibition in Bath

I have just started reading a novel by Sarah Winman called Still Life. The recommendations promoting it were so fulsome and gushing that I approached it with a fair amount of scepticism, which was swiftly dashed by the sparky and engaging opening and the extremely pungent picture painted of Florence in 1944, as the Germans retreat. Stay tuned for a full review soon.

I'm just back from a week in Edinburgh and it sure felt good staying a while in a hotel in a new city, complaining about the breakfast, and exploring churches, a fine gallery and so many burial grounds! And discovering the local confectionary. Click on the link below to share in it all.

April to June 2021
Edinburgh Trips
Cathedral Towns Between Lockdowns Trips
Cynthia Saltzman Napoleon’s Plunder and the Theft of
Veronese’s Feast
David Hewson The Garden of Angels Venice
Laurie R. King Island of the Mad Venice
Anna Bellani The Venetian Safari

On the 17th of May museums and galleries reopened and so I've been busy going out. The Victoria & Albert museum and the National Gallery, twice each, St Paul's Cathedral and Westminster Abbey, the British Museum, today for the excellent Thomas Becket exhibition, and on Wednesday I've the John Soane Museum, an old personal fave. Phew! as I'm sure you'll agree. These visits have all needed prebooking, with the numbers of visitors kept very enjoyably low. The return-to-normality date of 21st June has just this evening been postponed until 19th July, which is disappointing but - selfish silver lining - may keep these visitor numbers down pleasantly for a while longer.

The last of my guided art history trips to Italy - to Parma - has just been cancelled, and moved to 2022. Trips abroad, and the likelihood of smoothness and comfort when we are initially allowed, are still looking like dicey prospects, so I'm planning to stay on my own island this summer. A week in Edinburgh in June has just been added to Medieval Suffolk in August and Durham in October, and hopes for Italy later in the Autumn remain desperately high.

A bit of a revival in Venetian fiction fondness going on with yours truly, possibly because I'm missing the place, but the Spring rush helped. On the lockdown easing front libraries and non-essential shops reopened this week, with galleries and such to follow mid-May. Meanwhile I'm busy visiting and photographing the Magnificent Seven Cemeteries in London, a couple of which I've never been in. So many daffodils!


Reviews January to March 2021
David Hewson The Garden of Angels Venice
Laurie R. King Island of the Mad Venice
Anna Bellani The Venetian Safari
Philip Gwynne Jones The Venetian Legacy Venice
Jonathan Chalstrey Punch! Florence
Amelia B. Edwards The Story Of Salome short story Venice
Ross King The Bookseller of Florence
Donna Leon Transient Desires
Francis Spufford Light Perpetual London

Adding to the Spring reviews below comes a copy of David Hewson's Venice-set The Garden of Angels, which has suffered some odd UK/US, hardback/ebook staggered publication in recent months. And a novel by
Jonathan Chalstrey of the life of Pietro Torrigiano, the sculptor who was responsible for Michelangelo's busted nose, called Punch! Well what would you call it?!

But in other ways the year is turning out typical. I've just had my review copy of Donna Leon's 2021 Brunetti (the 30th!) called Transient Desires, and Philip Gwynne Jones' new Nathan and Federica novel The Venetian Legacy is coming soon. I'm also currently reading Ross King's The Bookseller of Florence and have been made aware of the recent novel City of Vengeance by D.V. Bishop, another Florence fix. So it's looking like a traditional Spring reviews glut, I'm happy to say.

As Italy, and abroad generally, is not looking to match our vaccine provision and lockdown-easing measures I've booked a couple of guided UK trips -  Medieval Suffolk (including Sutton Hoo, Lavenham and Southwold) in August and Durham (with Jarrow) in October with an art historian who's also a good friend. But I've not given up hopes of Italy in the Autumn.

So on Monday we Brits were shown our slow way back to normality. Very much from my personal perspective the stages we pass before then are as follows.

8th March Schools reopen
29th March Meeting friends and family outdoors is allowed. We’re going to see the family on the 30th, for the first time since last October. Travel outside one’s locality now allowed. The return of the Brick Lane bagel run?
12th April Non-essential shops, libraries and hairdressers can open. But why not art galleries and museums? A very good question, so far not sensibly answered. Holidays in this country will be allowed in self-contained accommodation.
17th May Museums and galleries can now reopen, as well as restaurants and hotels. Also international travel can resume, but this will be reliant on other country’s vaccination states and rulings, of course.
21st June All restrictions lifted. Mass mask burnings?

For me I can see myself getting out in the fresh air more in March as the stay-at-home rule is relaxed. I’ll finally get to take my library books back in April, but it would’ve been nice to have been able to go see some art while I’m in town. But I won’t be able to do that until May. Let’s hope day trips out to cathedral towns will happen then too. City breaks in the UK are tempting me for the summer, but Italy is looking unlikely before the Autumn. It’s good to be able to make plans, though.

We're still in covid lockdown, and as a new season of art-history trips approaches - Spring - so a new batch of cancellations is upon me. Lucca this March is now Lucca in March 2022 and Siena in May has just been cancelled and is now Toulouse and Albi, also in March 2022. Parma and Modena this June has yet to cancelled, but is looking dicey, I'd suggest. I'd like to vaguely and broadly conject that unabroad holidays might become possible in late Spring, with foreign travel maybe in the Autumn. The roll-out of the vaccine and the fall in the rate of transmission and deaths across the UK suggests that some optimism may be in order. Our esteemed leader is set to make some sort of announcement on the 22nd of this month.

But back to business. David Hewson, an author we like, has a new novel set in Venice out sort-of soon called The Garden of Angels. I say sort-of soon because it is published in the UK in hardback and on audio on January 29, 2021, with the e-book out in the UK and US on the 1st of March, and the US hardback out on April 6th. This odd and confusing mishmash of publication dates is blamed by the author on his website on the current Covid situation. But how does that explain the ebook coming out a month after the hardback? The blurb tells us that the book concerns 15-year-old Jewish boy whose grandfather presents him with a musty manuscript which tells the tale of what really happened to said grandfather in Nazi-occupied Venice. Sounds hopeful.

If I say that this week has been important and auspicious you might suspect me of exaggerating, but... On Monday we took delivery of two new cats from Cats Protection, left on our doorstep in their carriers as the need for social distancing has adjusted the whole homing process. They are called Minnie and Lily and I have created a new page detailing their settling in. It's maybe a bit too detailed, but it has sweet photos. Not so many of Lily yet, as she has been slow to emerge much from her preferred spot behind the sofa, although today did see much progress and many sightings. And this week has seen me and Jane both get the Covid  jab - her on Wednesday and me this morning. The process was swift and easy for both of us, and it's hard not to see the future looking brighter. Holidays ho!

The festive season and the turning of the year has seen a scrappy series of measures in the UK which has finally resulted in Lockdown 3, which doesn't currently look like being lifted until mid-February at the earliest. The basic stay-at-home message is mostly being softened with the promise of the vaccines. I am not top of the list for the jab, but I am also not at the bottom. Meanwhile online art-history courses continue, some new site pages are planned, and hopes that travel will be possible in the spring spring eternal.

from Convent Paradise by Arcangela Tarabotti,
edited by Meredith K Ray & Lynn Lara Westwater

Season's Greetings
Well, that was a year we won't forget in a hurry, for me not least because my cultural highlight and favourite album in years became Folklore by Taylor Swift! The other big news was all that virus business, which meant I didn't make it to Italy at all this year, for the first time since 2005. But I did get to Ghent in March, for the big Van Eyck exhibition, which I didn't get to see because it closed the morning after my group arrived. (In reporting here on my personal experiences this year the wider tragedies and widespread stupidities are taken as read about.)

During the long first lockdown period in the UK I got good work done on new pages devoted to the churches in Ferrara and Pisa, but they need visits made and photos taken before becoming presentable. I also grew a beard, and shaved it off, and bought all sorts of gothic architectural doodads to at least make home seem a bit more churchy

The summer's relaxation of lockdown was my opportunity to get around many tourist-free cathedral towns accessible by (very empty) trains. I managed days in Ely, St Albans, Peterborough, Salisbury and Canterbury, and we had a few days in Norwich experiencing a new-normal hotel stay. And having not been to Westminster Abbey since evolving out of  short-trousers I visited twice. Getting into the blissfully-empty National Gallery at the end of July, having not been there since March, saw another record broken: five months without an altarpiece!  September now looks, with hindsight, to have been the best time to have chanced flying to Venice, say, but I didn't. The cancellations and unpredictability kept me cagey, and local. In October we lost Oscar, our remaining sweet cat, which didn't help matters.

But Lockdown II in November saw the back of Trump and hopeful news regarding vaccines, so the prospects for 2021 are now looking quite bright. But then again this time last year I said that surely 2020 surely couldn't get any worse than 2019! And as I'm posting this it's just been announced that most of the UK is going into Tier 4, which amounts to a lockdown for Christmas, in contrast to the foolish easing previously planned.

Guided trips postponed from 2020 might take me to Lucca in late March, Siena in May and Parma in June. I'd be foolish putting money on the March one going ahead, but I am crossing fingers for the other two. Early 2021 is also full of Zoom art courses, continuing a good thing from Autumn 2020. (Did you know that online use of the word 'unmute' rose by 500% in 2020?) I'm hoping to explore more tourist-free attractions in the UK too, and there's the prospect of new cats.

2020 is not a year that we'll forget in a hurry, that's for sure, so let's hope for an equally memorable 2021, but for entirely sunnier reasons.


My Top 10 Books of 2020
Richard Russo Chances Are
P.G. Wodehouse Mike and Psmith
Having read all of the Jeeves and Wooster and Blandings books over the past couple of years in 2020,
a year when the light escape of Wodehouse novels was almost essential, I moved onto the
Mike series and the Monty Bodkin books. Mike and Psmith is about school and cricket but was strangely memorable.
Emily St. John Mandel The Glass Hotel
Matthew Kneale Pilgrims

Martha Wells The Murderbot series
David Hewson Shooter in the Shadows
Arkady Martine A Memory Called Empire
Laini Taylor Strange the Dreamer
Susanna Clarke Piranesi
Maggie O'Farrell Hamnet
Jonathan Coe Mr Wilder and Me

My Top CDs of 2020
Caribou Suddenly
Agnes Obel Myopia
Various The New Pope (Original Soundtrack)
Lanterns on the Lake Spook the Herd

Sufjan Stevens The Ascension
Taylor Swift Folklore/Evermore
A sparse year for new releases in the popular spheres, presumably because the release/promote/tour
tactic was not possible. But this very impossibility caused the recording and release of the very special
Folklore. Colour me a Swiftie!

Alberto Crugnola Lautengalanterie
In a year when a lute could variously be heard on new releases with a harpsichord, an oud, a violin,
a viola and a chitarrone I just loved me some more solo German baroque.

SEON Excellence in Early Music collection
You might think I'm cheating a bit in choosing a collection of 20 CDs for one of my top CDs,
but the set actually contains 85 CDs. I've just been smitten by the Early ones, a lot of which feature the excellent Niederaltaicher Scholaren. The label was something of cult, it seems, in the 70s, on vinyl.
I found a stray download which is just as well as the only time I've found the big box for sale it was £975.

I also got keen on sombre scordatura solo violins played with a church organ,
mostly works taken from the
Vienna Minoritenkonvent Manuscript XIV 726,
 on recordings by Stéphanie Paulet or Gunar Letzbor.

As looking forward in hope becomes a global phenomenon next spring is looking like the prime time. It's when the restrictions in the UK might end and the time by which those most at risk will all have had the vaccine, it is said. Closer to the concerns of this site, the new Brunetti, called Transient Desires, is out on the 8th of April, and Philip Gwynne Jones' new Nathan and Federica novel The Venetian Legacy is published on April Fool's Day 2021.

We’re a week into Lockdown 2 in the UK, and as museums and cathedrals are closed until early December my life currently consists of food shopping, online art-history courses and working on the websites. The Churches of Florence colour scheme is no longer green, but a tasteful terracotta and The Churches of Venice is benefiting from some good stuff found on Oxfam’s online bookshop.

New novels set in Venice and Florence are sparse, but Philippa Gregory, who I’ve never read, has a new one called Dark Tides out in a couple of weeks set in restoration London, Venice and early America. Otherwise it's romantic novels and reprints of Shakespeare. For Florence the hot non-fiction news is that Ross King, author of Brunelleschi’s Dome and Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling and a recent giver of two lectures amongst the aforementioned online courses, has a book out on April 1st 2021 about the printing-press nuns of San Jacopo di Ripoli in Florence. And by a weird coincidence the same day sees the publication of The Florentines: From Dante to Galileo by Paul Strathern. Also spooky is the fact that on March 4th 2021, two days before my birthday, a debut novel is published set in Venice and Florence with a heroine whose surname is also my mum’s maiden name. It’s by Laura Vaughan and is called The Favour.

Also Trump's days are numbered and the vaccine news is looking hopeful.
Into the future!

Reviews and Trips August
to October 2020
Lucretia Grindle The Faces of Angels Florence
Valerie Martin I Give It To You Florence
Us Venice TV
Christobel Kent The Viper Florence
Norwich Trips

When the coronavirus situation improved in the summer, and lockdowns were eased, it looked like a September or October trip to Italy might be possible. But the improvement is looking short-lived and Autumn is bringing new restrictions and measures and it's looking increasingly unlikely that I'll be getting my ass to Italy this year. I have been working on pages devoted to Pisa and Ferrara for my church sites, but they need more church and photos to be presentable. Three art-historical guided trips, to Siena, Lucca and Parma, have been postponed from this year to the first half of 2021 and I really hope that they, and some solo church research trips, happen. I'm getting around England, our cathedrals are grand, and empty museums are a treat, but I'm definitely suffering gelato, altarpiece and fresco withdrawal symptoms. Life goes on, though, and hope helps.

Could 2020 get any worse? Well yes, for us, because our cat Oscar is now no longer with us. I’ll spare you the details, and just share a photo of him looking sweet, which he was. Always. He’d been with us since we brought him and Peter home on the 7th of October 2006. 14 years is a long time, documented on this page. We had to decide that the time had come, and it undoubtedly had, so we’re feeling the usual combination of relief, grief and guilt.

You know the cliché of crowds of people swarming across London Bridge to
show how busy and bustling London gets? A mid-week lunchtime 12.11.2020.

Not sure how I missed this one coming, but there's a new Sandro Cellini novel by Christobel Kent just out. It has the uncharacteristically short title of The Viper, it's the first one since 2014's The Killing Room, and it bills itself as the last. This latter fact makes Marco Vichi the only writer of a Florence-set crime series still running.

I took advantage on my upcoming lack of trips to renew my passport, as there had been scare stories of long waits in the press. It came in under two weeks, but is depressingly blue and British for my EU remainer soul. Maybe I'll get one of these Bollocks to Brexit covers - see right.

My plans for an Autumn trip to Venice are a bit discouraged by the increase in cases in Italy, due to young people coming back from holidays, so it may end when holiday season ends. New measures involve closing nightclubs, which will impact my holiday plans mightily, of course, and you now must use face protection between 6pm and 6am in outdoor areas where the public might gather. Weird, says the man usually in bed by 10. The number of flights from London is very reduced, presumably because of lack of demand, and cancellations seem rife, with fewer flights to then transfer to.

But if I become braver I'm now toying with Pisa and Florence, as I've just started making a Pisa churches page and it'll be good to visit a crowds-free Pisa Duomo and the Uffizi and Accademia in Florence. Almost booking flights for late September there seem to be only about 12 people on them so far.

Just back from four days in Norwich. Getting the hang of the new normal as far as hotel stays go, and cathedral visits, was reasonably plain sailing. Everything has to be booked in advance, rooms are serviced only if you ask, breakfasts are waitress-served, and cathedrals have a set route and you have to wear a mask. But it seems that new-normal group travel to Italy is not to be, for me, as my art-guided trip to Lucca next month has just been cancelled, due to not enough people being willing to go ahead with it under current circs. It's been postponed to next March, by which time, fingers crossed, we might be back to a normal normal.

I just got an email saying that my next-up guided art trip, to Lucca, Pistoia and Prato in September, is going to happen, which will be exactly six months since I last left the country, for the deeply unsuccessful trip to the Ghent Van Eyck exhibition in March just as lockdown began. I must admit to feeling a bit trepidatious about being a guinea-pig for socially-distanced group travel, but the company's email was reassuring. I feel the need to support them too, as well as the tour guide and the tour manager, who are now friends. And I flipping need a holiday.

The past couple of weeks have seen my first trips on public transport into central London since March too.  First I went to get bagels in Brick Lane. The steamy-glasses mask-wearing on the tube wasn’t as bad as I’d expected, but everywhere was spookily empty – two or three people in most tube carriages, no queue of tourists in the bagel shop, no lunching workers, and Spitalfields market a howling waste. The emptiness is much more noticeable in the centre of town than in residential Tooting. This was even more of a thing when I went to the London Library, which had just reopened. Presumably as it’s even more reliant on tourists the West End was even more post-apocalyptic – hardly anyone walking along Piccadilly, maybe three customers in total in Fortnums and Hatchards. And the huge Waterstone's (which used to be Simpsons of Piccadilly when my dad worked for them) I had almost to myself. And absolutely no stupid Yoda buskers outside the National Gallery – maybe they all caught the virus. Silver linings indeed. And I have a visit to the National Gallery booked for next Tuesday. The new normal?

Reviews & Trips January to July 2020
Chris Beckett Two Tribes London
David Hewson Shooter in the Shadows Venice
Dorian Gerhold London Bridge and its Houses
David Mitchell Utopia Avenue
Charles Dickens Dombey and Son

David Whittaker Mindful of Venice Reflections and Meanderings

Christopher Bollen A Beautiful Crime Venice
Philip Gwynne Jones Venetian Gothic
Van Eyck in Ghent and Bruges (or not)  Trips
Donna Leon Trace Elements Venice

More easing of lockdown is coming, even if the whole process is fraught with confusion and suspicions of economic considerations outweighing safety concerns. Donald Trump and Boris Johnson are both happier with the self-serving macho posturing and war metaphors than they are with compassion and good sense, as ever. A joke, usually - less so when so many people are dying. So travel to Europe for us Brits is looking possible this year, even if the US's still-rising contagion and death figures look like leading to a ban on travel from the US into the EU. Also the reopening of galleries and museums in the UK from the 4th of July opens up the possibility of comfortable visits next month, with few tourists and no school parties. Shall we risk a bit of optimism?

News comes my way, roundaboutly, of a new David Hewson novel set in Venice called Shooter in the Shadows, coming out in July. He is an author guaranteed to give good Venice so I have hopes. It first appeared as an audiobook and will be very inexpensive as an ebook.

After three months of lockdown in the UK there's now some easing. There's no immediate prospect of easy travel abroad, but at least the prospect of having to put yourself into quarantine when you return seems to be receding. There's still the close contact involved in aircraft seating and the likelihood that the airport check-in and security process will become even more tedious and lengthy though. Also my hotel in Venice might be typical in saying that their breakfast buffet will be replaced by a la carte or room service, which will take away much of the essential joy of breakfasting. But still - a spark of hope. 

After two months of lockdown in the UK there's talk of easing, and some planning, but not much prospect of anything approaching normality for a while yet. I'm a bit of an antisocial bugger so I'm not pining for meetings with groups of friends or trips to the pub, but I am missing art, the London Library, restaurant meals, and trips to Italy - this is the first year since 2009 that I've not had spring trips there. But on the positive side I have started a page devoted to Ferrara on Churches of Venice, as well as revising the Venice pages there, am getting a lot of reading done, have discovered a new favourite fruitcake (Walkers Strathspey Rich Fruit Cake), and have begun growing a beard.

All my websites are now shifted to new hosting and are working, I'm very happy to say. With several tripless months now in prospect, and spending so much time at home, I'm now contemplating projects. Adding a new city to one of my church sites, in optimistic anticipation of a comprehensive visit, is one option. Another is being more systematic about each church having an image (and a discussion?) of its best painting, at the very least. And this site could do with a little tinkering. So now's the time - if you've ever thought 'Jeff's websites are great but I really wish he'd...' let me know.

The lockdown in Italy due to the coronavirus has meant the cancellation of my trips to Florence this month and Siena in April, and my trip to Ghent for the big Van Eyck exhibition also didn't exactly go to plan. (Click here for the full, if short, story.) Leaving London gripped by low-key panic, no posters or masks were to be seen in Brussels or Ghent when we arrived by Eurostar. Then at our first breakfast our group was told that all the museums where now closed, with shops and restaurants to follow the next day. We managed a day looking at the outside of buildings in Bruges, which was very empty, while our tour company got us new Eurostar tickets to bring us home the next day. As you know I am not a man prone to profanity but...

It’s the week of my birthday (shared with Michelangelo and Kiki Dee) and regular readers will know that this event usually coincides with my first trip of the year, and next week I’m off to Ghent for the big Van Eyck exhibition. I’ve also just got my review copy of Trace Elements Donna Leon’s new Brunetti, after needing to chase-up and get reassured that one had been sent weeks ago. Pshaw! I suppose one day is still technically an advance copy. I shall start binge-reading it today to review soon, of course, but also because the new Hilary Mantel comes out tomorrow too - The Mirror and the Light, the last in the Wolf Hall trilogy. The next few weeks should also see me reviewing Philip Gwynne Jones's new Nathan Sutherland novel Venetian Gothic. And art shows devoted to Rembrandt, Nicholas Maes, Titian and Artemesia are all in prospect. Also yesterday I had my birthday/holiday haircut, so the year is finally getting going, with reads, trips and exhibitions that have me wetting myself with anticipation.

As the year slowly gathers steam I am, as a nod to New Year's Resolutions, mostly adding to the London Cakes page!


The bridge in St James's Park that I'm standing on had no tourists on it!

The island where most of the action in the novel takes place has a fictitious name
but is based on the one pictured on the cover, the
Madonna del Monte.

eason's Greetings

I'll not begin by putting my 2019 into a global context this year, as it's all been so depressing that ignoring it and taking refuge in books about art, Anglo-Saxon burial rituals and cemeteries has been the only thing to do.

Some years sparkle, and some years just shine consistently and warmly but don’t exactly catch fire, I’m sure you’ll agree. 2019 started well with good courses and two cunningly alphabetically-ordered trips to Sicily and Siena. The first was a long-anticipated feast of mosaic and cosmati work, but less anticipated was the, well, packs of feral dogs and piles of shit that you just don't get in the prosperous north. Siena, though, was one of those trips where you suddenly just 'get' a place and feel a connection. But it was also a place where I felt a stabbing pain pain in my calf, which lingered through May and meant that I had to cancel a guided trip to another long-anticipated destination – Assisi. I compensated with a swiftly-booked trip to Mantua in June, revisiting a trip I had much enjoyed in 2015, except that then Mantegna's Camera degli Sposi had still been closed, which had rankled and made a return inevitable. The downside of this trip was a stupid episode involving the ‘loss’ of my credit-card wallet, the upside was that it began a sequence of fine and bright hotel rooms with excellent views. Trip-taking suffered a bit of a slump in the summer, except for (a fine sunset-facing room in) Cardiff in July. Educationally the summer slumped too, with my first failure to get onto a Courtauld summer school in many a year.

The autumn saw trip-joy begin again in earnest with a week in Ferrara and Bologna, the first with a room with a view of the Castello from my bed and the second the side of San Petronio, and the sound of some regular choral music recitals within. Lingering in Ferrara, previously only visited for single days, was a treat, and I was happy to put the finishing touches to my Bologna churches page, although the work never really finishes, thankfully. Both of these cities also saw a firming up of my fascination with Italian Monumental Cemeteries, which had been fired up in Siena too. (I’ve also been visiting some big local London cemeteries and becoming a bit obsessed with the BBC archaeology documentaries and ancient burials.) My last trip of the year was to Venice. It was my first in almost two years, and a good re-immersion, in the week before the serious flooding. I spent three hotel breakfasts in Venice just tables away from Ridley Scott, and did not speak one word to him, which showed disappointing reticence on both our parts. In more heart-warming celebrity news I am now, through a complicated connection, the proud possessor of a copy of I Am C-3PO - The Inside Story, signed For Jeff by the robot himself.

More prosaically Venice was my first trip with a sexy new camera (a Fujifilm X-T30 mirrorless) for which I now have a new very-wide-angle lens, which means that I’ve now got to revisit every church, especially the ones across narrow streets, to get even more of them in! Even more prosaically all of my sites will be moving to new hosting next year, a process begun in recent weeks, and I hope this will go so smoothly you won’t even notice.

On a related point, my site-connected email addresses seemed to get unreliably in 2019 and so I changed the link to my 'real' email address, and have since had notably more site-related communications. This may be a coincidence, but if you sent me an email in 2019 and I've not replied it's likely because I never received it.

Courses on still life paintings and illuminated manuscripts begin 2020, and trips already booked include the Jan van Eyck exhibition in Ghent in March and Florence in April; with guided trips to Parma and Modena in June and Lucca, Pistoia and Prato in September.

Anyway, 2020 - let's hope that things really can't get any worse.


My Top 11 Books of 2019
Andrea Perego The Laws of Time
Diane Setterfield Once Upon a River
Mark Haddon The Porpoise
Jeanette Winterson Frankissstein
Jo Walton Lent
Neal Stephenson Fall; or, Dodge in Hell
Giorgio Bassani The Novel of Ferrara
Robert Harris The Second Sleep
Virginie Despentes Vernon Subutex One
P.G. Wodehouse A Pelican at Blandings
after 2018's year of Jeeves and Wooster, in 2019 I read
 the Blandings books, and this was one of the best.

and the audiobook of
George Saunders Tenth of December

My Top 11 CDs of 2019

La Luz Floating Features
Highasakite Uranium Heart
Aldous Harding Designer
Keren Ann Bleue (Deluxe)
Vampire Weekend Father of the Bride
Oh Land Family Tree
Underworld DRIFT Series 1
Maria Taylor Maria Taylor
Burial Tunes 2011 to 2019
Various German Lute Music
A set of 9 CDs of already-favourite music by favourite players,
 but still one for the desert island.
Tiburtina Ensemble Cor Europae - Christmas in Mediaeval Prague

Reviews November & December 2019
Hisham Matar A Month in Siena Siena
Susanna Clarke Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell Venice
Hallie Rubenhold The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women
Killed by Jack the Ripper
The Books That Made Me Self indulgence
Some 2019 Tintoretto books

News of next year's fruitful Spring rush of Venice novels begins with Donna Leon's new Brunetti coming out on the 5th of March (in time for my birthday again) called Trace Elements, and then in April there's Philip Gwynne Jones's new Nathan Sutherland novel Venetian Gothic.


for the first time in ages

In a bookshop in Bologna last week I spotted a novel called Medici ~ Ascendancy by Matteo Strukul, the first in a trilogy. My first thought was: do we really need another book about the Medici, let alone three? I looked up the author, he's Italian and has an unusual background in crime fiction, comics and computer games, so one might expect something fresh, but his other novels have dealt with Michelangelo and Casanova. What next? Vivaldi and the Pietà girls? Pshaw!

I'm just back from

Ferrara and Bologna
where I went for the working on Bologna's churches, two cemeteries and some end-of-season gelato. Mission accomplished! It's good to take Autumn trips and so return from the warmth of Italy to the chill of the English autumn, but the contrast this time, between short-sleeves in the evening and air-conditioning in my hotel room and putting the central heating on and searching out the winter coat was too drastic!

Those of you paying attention may have noticed that, despite announcements to the contrary, I was not in Venice last week. But fear not - I will be there in the first week in November. The churches specially open for Biennale shows will still be open and From Titian to Rubens: Masterpieces from Antwerp and other Flemish Collections, the exhibition in the Palazzo Ducale which opened last Thursday, the day I was due to come home, will still be on. So all is good.

Reviews June, July & August 2019
Tinney Sue Heath Lady of the Seven Suns: a novel of the woman
Saint Francis called Brother
Related works
Jo Walton Lent Florence

Tinney Sue Heath's A Thing Done
was a novel set in Florence that I liked lots a few years back. So an offer of her new one was greeted with joy. It's called Lady of the Seven Suns and deals with the life of Francis of Assisi from the viewpoint of a rich Roman patrician woman who becomes an acolyte and a sturdy supporter. I'm half way through and finding it a gentle but moving read, from a perspective mixing faith with pragmatism. It's out on September 1st and I hope to get my review up next week.

Also Michelle Lovric, a friend of this site in the early days, has a new Venice-set novel for children just out called The Wishing Bones. The plot revolves around an orphan, Casanova and the bones of Saint Lucy, it seems, and promises the return of the author's lovably stroppy mermaids.


Mantua & Ferrara

Reviews April
& May 2019
Allison Levy House of Secrets
Jess Kidd Things in Jars London

It seems that guidebooks are waning in popularity, what with the internet and all. It's still gratifying to get good head-swelling plugs in them, though, like the new edition of the Rough Guide to Venice and the Veneto, from which the image on the right was snatched.

In less-good news, the healing hopes of my last posting turned out to be misplaced, and a return of sharp pain meant that I had to cancel the Umbrian hill towns trip at the last minute, which did not make me happy! A swiftly-booked trip to Mantua, on a revisit of a trip I much enjoyed in 2005 should hopefully see me getting into Mantegna's marvellous (I'm told!) Camera degli Sposi this time. Trips to Cardiff, with Gloucester Cathedral, and Venice are disappointment-soothing prospects for July and September too.

It's been weeks since I returned from the Siena trip below, and only now can I report the healing of the pulled muscle I came home with. I can finally go places without limping back! And walk for pleasure, rather than just supermarket supplies. (Thank you Boots support bandage.) Which is just as well as I have a new medieval course at the V&A starting tomorrow, and a guided trip booked to Umbrian hill towns next week. Those damn hills! But I sure got plenty of church-website work done, and lots of reading. As a fiction fan I've always had a novel on the go, since my teens, but recently the habit of a non-fiction book too has become established. Currently, though, I'm reading about the Habsburgs, the history of the Bible and the Palazzo Rucellai  - all three non-fiction! It's not natural. On the baked-goods front I ate the last slice of simnel cake yesterday and today the last of the Colomba di Pasqua, so I feel that this Bank Holiday weekend marks the divide between Siena/Easter and my striding, without pain, with hope in my heart, into summer. Shame the central heating's still on though.


Reviews February & March 2019
Donna Leon Unto Us a Son is Given Venice
Philip Gwynne Jones The Venetian Masquerade
Philip Kazan The Phoenix of Florence

If my many mentions of House of Secrets - The Many Lives of a Florentine Palazzo by Allison Levy whetted your appetite and you're wondering why no word...I'm glad to report that a copy is finally on its way, after much correspondence. Even better is the news that following one brief email a copy of The Venetian Masquerade by Philip Gwynne Jones fell onto my doormat this morning (see flyleaf snapshot right). Expect a review before the end of next week, as I have just started reading, and been immediately smitten by Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield, which I heartily recommend already.


In other review (copy) news...House of Secrets (see 4.2.2019 below) is proving hard to get, but the author herself is now onto it. I've requested the new one by Philip Kazan, called The Phoenix of Florence, from his publisher and I'm quietly confident that The Venetian Masquerade by Philip Gwynne Jones will be through the old letterbox comfortably before it's 4th of April publication date. The spring rush - maybe I should save some up for the summer lull!

Wonders never cease, as I'm sure you'll agree. Old fans will remember how regularly I whinge about the publisher Heinemann's resistance to sending me review copies of the Brunetti novels of Donna Leon. The number I've managed to wangle out of them these past 20-odd years is less than the fingers of one hand, of a Simpsons character! But fatalism is not in my nature and so I asked again this week, and this morning a fresh hardback of Unto Us a Son is Given dropped through my letterbox. Amazeballs! Expect a review next week.

After a fair amount of faff a trip has been booked to fill a tempting gap in my schedule as course terms finish a fair few weeks before Easter this year. First it was going to be Milan, to start a new page on Churches of Venice maybe. This plan was discouraged by discovering that in the week I wanted my hotel of choice was charging €900 a night, with the weeks either side averaging around €200, including the Easter weekend. I still haven't figured out why. So to prevent further mind bogglement I've decided on a week in Siena, to quietly add data and depth to the relatively new Siena pages on The Churches of Florence. But before then, I'm off in early March for my first-ever time in Sicily. Sicily then Siena - them old librarianly alphabetical-ordering instincts are still strong. Maybe I'll pop down to Sidcup in between.

On the Florence front there's some subtle media fuss about House of Secrets - The Many Lives of a Florentine Palazzo by Allison Levy. It's about Alberti's admirable and handsome Palazzo Rucellai, its history and later role as lodgings for the author. A review copy has been requested.

Reviews January 2019
The Aspern Papers Venice films
Andrea Perego The Laws of Time Venice

This morning's surprise was a new film of The Aspern Papers, starring Vanessa Redgrave, Joely Richardson and Jonathan Rhys Meyers (see right). IRL VR is JR's mum, of course, and here VR plays JR's aunt. Also JRM was married to JR, when he was Henry VIII and she was Catherine Parr. Oh FGS!

Buona Epifania! The weekend papers’ book pages have had their previews of 2019, telling us what books we might look forward to. The only Venice-mentioning novel amongst the literary stuff is Gun Island by Amitav Ghosh. Due out in June, it’s the story of Deen, a book dealer whose ‘extraordinary journey...takes him from India to Los Angeles and Venice via a tangled route through the memories and experiences of those he meets along the way.’ Hmm. Due later that month is The Orphan's Song by Lauren Kate, another novel about 18th century musical orphans, but from the Incurabili this time, as the orphan here sings rather than plays the violin. The author’s books usually have titles like Fallen and Torment and have windswept women in long frocks and lots of wild hair on the covers.

In April we can expect The Venetian Masquerade by site-fave Philip Gwynne Jones, a far brighter prospect. He also reissues To Venice with Love, his moving-to-Venice memoir, on the 7th of March, the day after my birthday. More of a shocker is the new Brunetti from Donna Leon, Unto Us a Son is Given, coming out not in April, as they always do, but on the 5th of March, the day before my birthday! But out first is The Laws of Time by Andrea Perego, which combines an 18th century setting with a murder, unfolds in a single day (not my birthday) and features Rosalba Carriera. Could be juicy, it's out tomorrow.

The pickings for Florence-fiction fans are even slimmer, so far. Aside from the new one by Philip Kazan, called The Phoenix of Florence, in February, late May sees Lent by fantasy author Jo Walton, which seems to be a fantastic take on the life of Savonarola.



Spot the location!

click on the links below to read news from
   2007-8   2009-10   2011-12   2013-14   2015-16  2017-18


Venice // Florence // London // Berlin