Well that's 2016 and its
festive period over, and good riddance to both. My lack of
festive cheer is due to our cat Peter's illness worsening
after Christmas, and us having to make that sad last trip to
the vet on the 29th. He was a cat more dog-like in his
devotion and affection and he will be sorely missed and warmly
remembered. Attempting to lift our gloom we've booked a sudden
few days in Venice for later in January, encouraged by those
of you who have written recommending the ease and
crowdlessness of winter stays. So, chins up for 2017 being a
relief after 2016.
I may (or may not) have
mentioned this a while back, when it was announced, but now
that it's here - on Netflix - I must mention the TV series
Medici: Masters of Florence. It's got lots of Italians in
it, along with some faces from Game of Thrones and
Dustin Hoffman. I'll give it a watch and report soon.
As a famously awful year comes to an end I think that I'll
restrict myself to expressing the glib wish that 2017 will be a
year less characterised by politicians lying and beloved celebrities
From a less global perspective my own year was good, with
plenty of trips and lots of art history course stimulation.
The pre-renaissance concentration continued from my Early
Medieval V&A course into a focus on (and trip to)
well as a (somewhat disappointing) trip to
Durham and the very undisappointing exploration of the Romanesque churches of
Cologne. And then there where the carved altarpieces of
Next year is starting more solidly Italian with trips to Milan,
Bologna and Urbino planned. But my life-changing event of 2017
will be my 60th birthday, in March, when I'll start receiving
my work pension, get free tube, train and bus travel in London,
and cheaper rail journeys outside London. This last benefit
I'm planning to parlay into visiting more English cathedrals.
The free tube travel will save me more than £60 a month, even
leaving aside the fact that it'll also encourage me to get out
A solid year for my churches websites, with The Churches of
Venice continuing to grow in visitor numbers and generate
most of the feedback. There was a sudden sharp spike in visitors in October
and November, for some reason - a trend repeated on the
Churches of Florence site too. A page devoted to the
scuole was added to the Venice page, following my March
visit to Venice and Padua, which also saw the Padua page much
improved. And a Siena page is
nearly ready to add to the Florence site.
A few personal downers included a missed flight home from
Venice, a trip to Bordeaux cancelled because of exaggerated
fears of travel chaos caused by an air-traffic controllers
strike and our cat Peter's recent illness.
But, back to positivity, I acquired my first ever hat this
month, as reported on my
Cologne Trip page.
I think that it suits, and has prompted no little
In the past few years I have become a keen art-history
student, a traveller to very many European art capitals, a fan
of Medieval and Renaissance Music, and now, maybe, a hat
person. Life begins after retirement? I'd say yes.
With high hopes for good and new things in 2017 for all of us.
My Books of 2016
Elizabeth McKenzie The Portable Veblen
Sylvain Neuvel Sleeping Giants
Martin Seay The
Sarah Perry The Essex Serpent
Jodi Taylor Just One Damned Thing After Another
Jonathan Carroll The Land of Laughs
Dominic Smith The Last Painting of Sara de Vos
N. K. Jemisin The Fifth Season
Robert Jackson Bennett City of Stairs/City of
Francis Spufford Golden Hill
Robert Dickinson The Tourist
A year in which I indulged my weakness for the fantastical
and the science fictional.
The more literary temptations seemed sparse and the
need to escape the grimness in the wider
real world also probably played no small
My CDs of 2016
Kesang Marstrand For My Love
Oh Brother Big Sister Thanks & Praise
Lily & Madeleine Keep It Together
Band Of Horses Why Are You OK
What to Fear
A Moon Shaped Pool
Angels Bend Closer
My early music 'thing' this year was more
focused on choral
music, especially from further east,
and I was even drawn to some modern choral stuff too.
Capella de Ministrers Ramon Llull -
Chronicle of a Medieval Voyage
Dalmatica: Chants of the Adriatic
Schola Cantorum Reykjavik
Meditatio - Hvild
Madrigal Chamber Chorus
Documents Of Vocal Culture In Wallachia, Moldova and Transylvania
Searching to see if there are
any interesting novels set in Venice on the horizon I found a
Kindle release I just have to pass on. It's called The
Beatles in Venice and it's by one Alessandro Tonussi. The
plot involves the 'Paul is dead' rumours of the late 60s, and
the supposed substitution of a double, we are told in a blurb
written in somewhat fractured English that does not encourage
In a burst of Donna Leon-related activity there's review of
the unofficially-subtitled episode of the German TV series
that I got hold of on the Brunetti TV
page, I've updated the info there about forthcoming episodes,
and there's the hot news that 2017's new Brunetti novel,
published in April as always, is to be called Earthly
Fans of the Marco Vichi's
Inspector Bordelli series, set in Florence in the 1960s, will
be pleased to know that the English translation of number
five, Death in the Tuscan Hills, is out in the UK and
US next week. The last one appeared in 2013
so it's been a while. Also I'm well into Martin Cruz Smith's The Girl from
Venice, also out in the UK next week - it's been out in
the US for a few weeks - so expect a review soon. And (spoiler
alert!) expect it to be a good one.
Tomorrow to Florence! Not so
much of a box-ticking church research trip this time, more of
a holiday. But the new big Duomo Opera Museum will need a
visit, as will the Spedale degli Innocenti, which has also
reopened recently following much work. Ditto the Misericordia,
promising fourteen rooms of art, furniture, manuscripts and
everyday items. A correspondent also recently pointed me to
the new-looking website of the
Piccoli Grandi Musei of Florence which provides opening
times for the Diocesan Museum next to Santo Stefano al Ponte
(which I've never found open) and the museum at San Sebastiano
dei Bini in via Romana. OK, so maybe some box ticking. The
only slight downer is the possibility of bumping into Tom
Hanks, as the world première of the film of Dan Brown's
Inferno is in Florence this Saturday.
Keep it to yourself but I've
managed to download an
unofficially subtitled version of the German Brunetti TV
series episode from 2015, 21. Beastly Things. The subtitles look
to be a bit
machine-translated, with a tendency to nonsense, but it still looks
pretty watchable. I'll do so and report back.
I've not hitherto
read anything by Martin Cruz Smith but I have heard of him,
and novels set in Venice (and Florence) by authors you've
heard of come but once a year, on average. The Girl from
Venice is published on the 18th of October. Another
familiar name is Brandreth as Gyles Brandreth was an annoying
'celebrity' with a misspelled name way back before reality TV
and such phenomena supplied us steaming piles of them. (He
wrote a novel set in Venice too, which I've never been able to
bring myself to read.) So the fact that The Spy of Venice:
A William Shakespeare novel is by one Benet Brandreth pits
memories of Gyles and his annoying jumpers against the fact
that it's well reviewed. Benet's own website tactfully doesn't
mention that Giles is his dad, for so I find to be the case,
on the Daily Telegraph website, of course. I intend to read
and review both, but admit that such promises from me have
rung a bit hollow lately.
Way back in 2010 I
Venice Questions a page where authors were interviewed
about their (usually new) books and answered questions about
what Venice meant for them. It was meant to ingratiate myself
and my site with publishers but became a bit too much faff for
the fun. I mention this because Hallie Rubenhold, the last
subject grilled, has a new book out, called French Lessons.
It's the sequel to
Mistress of my Fate and moves Henrietta Lightfoot's
fraught life to Brussels, briefly, and Paris. I'm enjoying it
at the moment and you can expect a review soon. I'll be
dusting off my
Works page to accommodate it, as it comes between her
London and Venice-based adventures. The author's Lady
Worsley's Whim was filmed by the BBC in 2015 as The
Scandalous Lady W and stared Natalie Dormer, of Game of
Thrones fame. This raised Hallie's profile even more than
appearing on this site, and may explain why the new book's
cover comes with recommendations by telly history types like
Simon Sebag Montifiore and Lucy Worsley.
It's always good to hear from
authors, and Stephanie Storey has been in touch this week
regarding my difficulty (as I reported back in February) with
getting a review read of her novel about Leonardo and
Michelangelo called Oil and Marble. I had since acquired a
copy, as it happens, through a sequence of events, emails and
dubious downloads I'd decided not to torture you with the
telling of. Anyway, expect a review in the not too distant.
And so June is upon us,
a.k.a. 'The Month With No Trips'. But there's always books.
Any novel whose blurb name-checks David Mitchell and Umberto
Eco has got to be worth investigating, even if you end up
chuckling at the chutzpah. The Mirror Thief, a debut novel by
Martin Seay, also attracts attention by being set in three
Venices - the Venice Hotel in Las Vegas, Venice Beach CA, and
the real one - and in involving three time periods. Expect a
review soon. No, really!
As the years go by finds of
'new' films set in Venice get fewer and further between. When
they crop up they usually have titles that don't have the
words 'Venice' or 'Venetian' in them, to explain their
slipping through the net for so long. Which is the case with
Le Cadeau, which became Bankers also have Souls in the
US and was never released in the UK. It stars Pierre Mondy, a
French comedy actor whose fame hasn't travelled well, as a
bank employee who gets given a prostitute as a retirement
gift. He doesn't realise, of course, thinks she's just
attracted to him, and all sorts of hilarious misunderstanding
ensues, we're told. I don't feel massively drawn to it but I
promise to watch it and report.
Brescia, Bergamo & Monza
Off to Brescia
tomorrow, flying to Milan at the crack of dawn, literally - a
6.25 flight fergawdsake! I'm back Sunday night, so (fingers
crossed) expect gory details and lovely photos next week. The
Rome-trip gout-afflicted toe is now almost utterly pain-free
and the cold has settled into an occasional annoying cough.
Improved health and the Spring beckon!
(For those whose first language
isn't cockney I may need to begin by pointing out that 'dodgy'
is, where I come from, a euphemism for 'illegal'.) So, having
told you a while back that I'd had no luck acquiring a review
copy of the new Donna Leon you may be perplexed to notice that a
review has appeared. This is due to my having found a dodgy
download. And the review copies I mentioned on 29.2 looked to
be in the bag but the publisher's press person, after
confirming that I would accept e-books, has gone all silent
on me. I'm not holding my breath, and advise you to respirate
as usual too.
As Spring slowly approaches so
does the prospect of the publication of the new Brunetti from
Donna Leon. I managed to get a rare review copy last year, but
of the two PR people involved one's email bounces back as
non-existent and the other has not replied. And trying to find
the person now responsible for William Heinemann press by
working through the divisions and levels of the
PenguinRandomHouse Megacorp hurt my brain and proved
fruitless. But I've just placed a reserve with my local
If you've ever had your
interest tweaked by my page devoted to
Constance Fenimore Woolson
and Henry James in Venice you might be interested in the
just-published Constance Fenimore Woolson: Portrait of a
Lady Novelist by Anne Boyd Rioux. Ms Rioux has also edited
a new volume of CFW's stories just out, called Miss Grief
and Other Stories.
A couple of new novels
which look to be up this site's street, both reviewed on the
same page in the New York Review last weekend and both from
the same publisher. There's The Weeping Woman by Zoe
Valdes, which promises to explain why a spurned lover of
Picasso should decide to withdraw from the world following a
trip to Venice with a pair of gay male fans of said artist.
There's only really the Venice bit that appeals, but I hope to
have my anti-modern-art prejudices confounded. The other is
Oil and Marble: a novel of Leonardo and Michelangelo by
Stephanie Storey which requires less explaining, and has a
gorgeous cover. Review copies have been requested.
(A positive response initially, and a promise of ebooks, has
been followed by silence. Oh well.)
I'm heading for
(Baroque) Rome tomorrow. Expect some trip reporting when I return -
next weekend - as the hotel's the same one as last year and so
probably still blocking uploading. Toodle-pip until then.
I've just started to read Ascension
by Gregory Dowling, mentioned just before Christmas, and it's
started with one of the most intriguing and encouraging first
chapters I've read in a long time. Add to that my discovery
that Tonya Macalino has written a sequel to
Faces in the Water,
which I liked a lot, called Stealing Lucifer's Dreams,
and of a similarly fantastical novel called The Serpent,
the first in something called the Gameshouse series by Claire
North, and we have a winter of juicy Venice reads in prospect.
In these deadish
days as real life slowly starts up again surprises are even
more welcome than usual. Through the letter box this morning
came a very good one. Called
Jones & Sawers'
LONDON, it's a wacky idea
calligraphically and tastefully realised - a folding map of London
where streets and parks and buildings are labelled with the
books that mention them. It comes courtesy of
today's trip into town, for example, I started out with
Dracula and Piccadilly Jim, through Vile Bodies,
Possession and A Society, where I took some library
books back; then through The Greek Interpreter and
The Drowned World to The Well of Loneliness, where
I bought a cake. The back of the map lists all the books with
the relevant sentences. It also lists eight 'useful and
interesting' related websites including...well I said it was a
morning for nice surprises.
It's a new year! And tomorrow
normality returns after the gruelling and dingy grey break.
And with the new year comes news of the new Donna Leon
Brunetti novel. It's called The Waters of Eternal Youth,
and so an unusual non-cliché-derived title. It concerns a cold
case resurrected by Brunetti following pleas from a Contessa
friend of his wife's mother. Her daughter nearly drowned 15
years ago, saved but suffering brain damage that sees her
still mentally a teenager. Brunetti's discoveries are
described as dark and murky, you won't be surprised to learn.
Sounds juicy though. Out in April.
Santa Maria dei Miracoli in Brescia - a painting
the Santa Giulia museum.
Education, change, and travel are all good things, I think you'll
agree. In the
four years since I quit work I have spent more time being talked
to about art then in my whole life before that date, and
I have been on 23 trips to cities to see art. I say all this not
(just) to make you insanely envious, but
to illustrate my contention that change is good.
This year saw an unprecedented, and unrepeatable I think, tally
of 10 trips. At times in the Spring there were less than two
weeks between them, which leaves very little time for
battery-charging (real and emotional) and smalls washing. On the
other hand I only read and reviewed 6 novels set
in Venice in 2015. This falling off of obsession may explain why
the number of visitors to Fictional Cities also declined. But,
as I say, we all change and our priorities and enthusiasms evolve.
More gratifying was the growing popularity of my Venice Films
page, which took up plenty of the slack. Previously this site's
most visited page had consistently been a side-interest one
devoted to London's Secret Tunnels.
The Venice Churches site's popularity continued to grow, though,
and my 'content' this year spread to a newspaper, a French TV
documentary about Casanova and possibly to apps too. I've also
just found out that 2016's new edition of the Rough Guide to
Venice, and the Pocket Guide version, will contain
recommendations for my sites. Next year should see,
aside from the usual gradual improvements and revisions, the addition of
a page devoted to the scuole to The Churches of Venice
and maybe even the long-promised book, which I now have a firm
(and good?) idea for. The Verona and (especially) Padua pages need work
too, and hopefully will get improved in 2016. On The Churches
of Florence I got Fiesole done, but other bits still need work.
The process of giving the best and most interesting Venice
churches their own (expanded) pages has been achieved, and it's
happening to the Florence ones too.
My art-history course focus slipped back to the early medieval
period this year. Early Christian imagery, manuscripts and
mosaics were the unsurprising affection grabbers, Anglo-Saxon
jewellery's appeal was more of a shock. This whole
process is encompassed by 2015 being the year that the V&A and
then the British Museum became my London haunts of choice. The National
Gallery did return my email (of complaint) but has yet to fully win
back my love.
A heartening year health-wise too, which I'll share with you. At my yearly check-up in 2014
my doctor had warned of the irresistible approach of diabetes,
due to my blood pressure and the ageing process, and sent me on
a course. He said he'd wait a year to let me make lifestyle
changes before prescribing yet more medication. So I approached my
Summer 2015 check-up with trepidation, but a certain amount of
confidence as my blood pressure was stable and I'd had to make a
new hole in my old bought-in-Venice black belt. The crucial blood
test revealed blood- sugar levels that I had not only kept at 2014
levels but had returned to their 2013 levels. I'd tamed these sugar levels
without too much deprivation of chocolate and cakes, just by
cutting it out of meals and decreasing choc and cake portions, and
beating the aging process! Many more years of travelling and
reporting on foreign cakes are therefore in prospect for your
Wishing you all health and happiness in 2016 too.
My Books of 2015
Tom Rachman The Imperfectionists
Marta Maretich The Merchants of Light
Ben Lerner Leaving the Atocha Station
Karim Miské Arab Jazz
Natasha Pulley The Watchmaker of Filigree Street
Sara Taylor The Shore
Philip Kazan The Painter of Souls
Iain Pears Arcadia
Tonke Dragt The Letter for the King
Patrick DeWitt Undermajordomo Minor
David Mitchell Slade House
Rupert Thomson Katherine Carlyle
Ursula K. LeGuin The Wizard of Earthsea series
Sloane Crosley The Clasp
My CDs of 2015
Rae Morris Unguarded
Great Lake Swimmers A Forest of Arms
The Staves If I Was
My Morning Jacket The Waterfall
Low Ones and Sixes
Downpilot Radio Ghost
Egidius Kwartet & College The Leiden Choirbooks
Margaret Little & Sylvain Bergeron Doulce Mémoire
Biber's Rosary Sonatas
This last collection was a surprise joy in various versions,
of which three came out this year, the best by
Rachel Podger, Lina Tur Bonet and Sirkka-Liisa Kaakinen.
German Baroque lute music
was my other big old thing of
2015, played by the
lutenist likes of Miguel Yisrael, Alberto Crugnola and Bernhard Hofstotter.
As far as
celebrity endorsements go there's no beating an uncompromising
religious fanatic dead these 500 years. Savonarola surely had
the future creation of this very website in mind when, in a
sermon of the 1490s, he urged the citizens of Florence to call
to mind the beauty of Florence and maintained that this mental
image would be more beautiful than the real thing, and that
spiritual enlightenment would thereby result. This could well
be my mission statement.
tame author this week
wrote and pointed me towards
a treasure trove of (mostly) old and foreign-language films on
DVD, all for around $12.50. So, to begin with, expect reviews
of Cronaca Familiare, Cronache di poveri amanti , Dove vai
in Vacanza, Anonimo Veneziano and Nudo di Donna
The news that the Cohen Media
Group have acquired the rights to restore and release thirty
Merchant Ivory films is not particularly exciting, you might
think, especially as it doesn't include the biggies, like
site-fave Room With a View. However, this total does
include nine documentaries, including Venice: Themes &
Variations which we've been hearing good things about for
And somewhat belatedly (it's been out since August!) I've
caught up with the TV movie/pilot of
Casanova, produced for Amazon and directed by Jean-Pierre
Jeunet, of Amelie, Alien: Resurrection, The City of Lost
Children and Delicatessen fame.
Secrets d'Histoire French TV documentary about Casanova
that I supplied some photos of the church of San Samuele for
was broadcast last Tuesday and is watchable online, if you
live in France, or know how to make your computer pretend that
you live in France.
I've been back a week, from
Venice, and have been busily feeding the fruits of the trip
Churches of Venice. Photos, facts, upgraded
observations, previously unvisited churches revealed...and
I've started giving the more fascinating churches a page to
themselves, which allows me to expand the coverage and photos
of the art.
Just hours before I'd
read the version of the famous Florentine Madonna-defacing
episode in the
The Painter of Souls
I'd been asked if I could supply some photos for
this article. Which was a spooky enough coincidence. But
then it turned out that the article in question was written by the
author of the novel!
A new novel telling the story
of the life of Filippo Lippi, called The Painter of Souls,
by an author whose previous - also Florence-set - novel we liked
a lot, Philip Kazan, and it's been out since the 16th of July!
I'm slacking, but expect a review before too long. I don't
anticipate it will surpass Linda Proud's
A Gift for the Magus,
but that one was special.
A film which has more than a
hint of the fantastical and stars Salma Hayek, Vincent Cassel,
Toby Jones, John C. Reilly and Shirley Henderson has got to be
worthy of our attention. Add to that Tuscan and Apulian
settings, including some Florence scenes and I'm definitely
interested. It's called Tale of Tales (Il racconto dei
racconti), it premiered at Cannes and is the first
English-language film by Matteo Garrone, who wrote and
directed Gomorrah. It's not out in the UK until next
June but there are some downloads knocking around already.
I don't think I've made any
secret of the fact that for a while now my reading and visits
have reflected an attitude towards Venice that can best be
described as 'getting a broader perspective'. But, whilst I'm
still of the opinion that there's much more to life, literature
and art appreciation than that which Venice contains and
inspires, I am spending a week there in September (and another
in November) so expect a fair bit more content devoted to a city
we all rank near the top.
Sometimes it takes news as
mind-boggling as the fact that a church you've never been in
in Venice is currently open, and hosting an art installation
comprising ranks of fridges, to make you realise you've got to
get yourself there, soon. Sadly said exhibition ends today,
but I'm booked and going anyway, in mid- September. There are
other churches specially open, and five new rooms in the
Accademia too, you see.
I'm off to Madrid tomorrow,
mostly to soak up the Flemish Primitives in the Prado, and
their current Rogier van der Weyden exhibition. Toledo and the
Thyssen-Bornemisza are on the list too. It's my first trip to
Madrid, and indeed to Spain. I'll report back when I get back.
year ago I reported that Paolo
Sorrentino (The Great Beauty, This Must Be the Place)
was filming his new one in Venice. Youth, which premiered
at Cannes a few weeks back, tells the story of two old geezers
Fred and Mick (played by Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel) one a
director and the other a conductor, who go on holiday together.
It has been released in Italy, but there's no UK release date as
yet, the USA release being December 4th 2015. I've managed to
scan through a rubbish video recording made with a video camera
in an Italian cinema, with no subtitles yet, of course. Not a
lot of Venice-set content, by the look of it, but a dream
sequence involving drowning in rising waters in Piazza San Marco
looked striking. Moving along to Florence, the new season of
Hannibal has moved its action there, and taken Gillian
Anderson along too. And Eddie Izzard's in it! Jumping in at
Season 3 goes strongly against my completist instincts, but
that's what I'm planning.
Off to Amsterdam tomorrow but
I'm thinking of travelling light, with just my new and lovely
small (Dell Venue 8 7840) tablet and so putting up the trip
report when I get home, thereby not posting daily by choice
rather than because of the hotel's darn wifi restrictions.
We're not going for any particular exhibitions but because
both the Rijksmuseum and the Mauritshuis have had big
rebuildings of late. And it's been nearly 20 years since our
I mentioned a few months back
that Edward Sklepowich's Urbino
Macintyre mysteries, which are set in Venice and which we
like a lot, were to be published in ebook form. Well they were,
and you can get them on Amazon, but annoyingly not in the UK yet.
An English Man in Paris
technical problems (like in Rome) I wasn't able to do daily
updates from my hotel, but it's all there now!
Jeff in Florence
Cities has had a bit of a quiet March and April reviews-wise
but things are about to get a little manic trips-wise. Visits
to Florence, Paris, Amsterdam and Madrid are all coming soon, with barely
Personally I wouldn't have thought that we needed another film
about Casanova, but it seems that Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the
somewhat unprolific director of Delicatessen,
Amelie, and TS Spivet and stuff, is in pre-production with Amazon on a
TV film of Casanova's escape to Paris.
In case you were
looking forward to eventually watching the most recent
episodes (19-22) in the Brunetti TV
series I've just been told that MHz, who broadcast
and make the DVDs of the subtitled versions, are saying that
Donna Leon has contractually forbidden them from releasing
them in non-German-speaking territories. How disappointing is
Back from my trip
below with a worthy cause to publicise. If you've read Ali
Smith's fine novel How to be Both you'll have been
intrigued and enthused by the fresco cycle at the heart of the
novel, painted by Francesco da Cossa. They are in the Palazzo
Schifanoia in Mantua and the one fascinatingly focused on in
the novel depicts the month of March coincidentally. If you've
been there you'll remember the refreshing little garden behind
the palazzo and it's tastefully quaint and ramshackle cafe.
Well the garden and the cafe are now threatened with
demolition and building over. The area around the place is
pretty run down and I noticed many empty buildings but no, the
plan is to spoil one of the city's major attractions, and one
destined to become more popular as Ali Smith's book is
discovered by more people. Not as guaranteed as it would be if
we were talking rubbish by Dan Brown, but still. If this
annoys you too I have a petition form I can send you a scan of
if you can rustle up the signatures of maybe a dozen art and
literature fans and scan and email it back. It's all
being coordinated by the artist who also runs the cafe - I
have his email address but hesitate to post it here and
subject him to a spam blizzard. Nothing online yet, but it can
only be a matter of time.
Another trip, but a short
Mantua & Ferrara
I speak of wonders, and of their continuing not ceasing.
Yesterday I sent an email to Heinemann asking for a review
Falling in Love, Donna Leon's new Brunetti, due out on the
9th of April, and this morning lo, it came through my letterbox. A
cheering turn of events, to be sure, as it's been many a year
since one of my emails to them has even been answered.
My love of publishers and their press officers has increased
no end. Expect a review before the weekend's out.
Discussions during my Rome trip suggested that my received
downer on Martin Randall tours might be misplaced, so I'm going
to try them out in November with a Venice trip. 'But Jeff' I
hear you cry 'we rely on you for your compendious and reliable
knowledge of Venice, what can a veritable sage of Venice learn
from taking a tour'. Well, I say, with a smug but accepting
smile, the trip concentrates on palazzos, some privately owned
and not commonly visitable. Also I'm not so well versed in the
palazzi, and the tour is led by Michael Douglas-Scott,
who impressed and entertained on a one-week course on the
Northern Italian Courts at the Courtauld last year. It also
includes a private visit to the Basilica San Marco (so I can
plug that self-conscious gap in the Churches of Venice) and even
a gondola trip up the Grand Canal.
If you're on my
mailing list for irregular news bulletins you would have got
one from me a few days ago via a service called Mail Chimp.
This was the first time I'd used this method, forced on my by
bt's limits on the number of emails possible in any single
batch, and it worked fine, mostly. Teething problems like it
not being immediately obvious who the message was from and the
instructional bit towards the end can mostly be blamed on the
service not giving me the expected opportunity to review the
mail before sending it. Apologies for any confusion - the next
one will be perfect!
A bonus was the scaring up of emails from site friends I'd not
communicated with in a while. So I can tell you that there
will be a new edition of the Rough Guide to Venice early next
year, there's been another novel about Vivaldi and the Pieta
girls called Isabella's Libretto and that Roberta Rich
is working on the final draft of the third book in her Midwife
series, which we have loved so far, called The Trial of a
Midwife and set in Venice (after the second book's
action's shift to Constantinople) and in a Palladian villa on
the Brenta. Also the San Marco press have a biography of Lord
Byron in Venice out, called Byron - Venice, which also
covers his journey through Europe and his time in Ravenna.
Expect a review soon.
Due to technical problems I
wasn't able to do daily updates from my hotel,
but it's all there now!
Some quiet weeks, as
is pretty usual for this time of year, with a few books reviewed and
some tasty cakes added to the
Cakes page. But trip season is upon us, a little earlier
than usual this year. Next Wednesday: Rome!
Change of plan - I
was going on an art tour taking in Assisi and the Piero trail
in April, but instead I'm now going to Rome at the end of
February. I'm promised frescoed churches and villas, the
Forum, the Capitoline Hill, St Peter's and, wait for it, a
private evening visit to the stanze and Sistine Chapel.
Searching for recent
and forthcoming novels set in Venice got me a couple of
possibles onto the Kindle amongst the self-published masses.
Most of these don't make their way onto my list, which is
becoming less blindly comprehensive now - I'm no masochist,
but maybe if I was it would make me more likely to read some
of the numerous BDSM novels set in Venice that have been
published recently. This year's release of the 50 Shades of
Grey film will presumably do nothing to staunch this flow.
In less spanky news, I was happy to get an email from Edward
Sklepowich last week informing me that his excellent
Venice-set Urbino Macintyre
series is being republished as ebooks by Mysterious Press
later this month. He also tells me that although he is working
on a new novel in the series he is nearer completion of a
mystery set in the old medina of Tunis during the early days
of the revolution. To my shame I don't know what any of that
means, but we shall see.
A downside of late-2014’s glut
of new novels by big names (and personal faves) is that 2015
is looking like a lean year for new fiction. Maybe just in
comparison, but I think not. We wait until March for Kazuo
Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant, his first novel since
Never Let Me Go ten years ago. It’s the story of a
couple’s journey across post-Roman Britain and their
encounters with ordinary people and strange creatures, it
seems, and looks the best hope for something juicy and new
before the Summer. Runner-up possibilities are provided by
Sarah Hall, Daniel (Lemony Snicket) Handler, Kate Atkinson and
We Brunetti fans will be waiting with trepidation for
Falling in Love in early April to see if Donna Leon can
see off the doubts engendered by the disappointing By Its
Cover, and its seeming to end many pages before its
But all of this is overshadowed by the UK General Election in
the spring and the long build up to the new Star Wars film in
December. (Enoch Powell removes his shiny black
helmet and says ‘Nigel, I am your father!’)