Another prospect to set we Venetophiles' pulses racing: April 2009 sees the publication of the annual Brunetti novel from Donna Leon. It's called  About Face and promises a plot involving the Mafia and dubious waste disposal. Added joy comes in the form of a book called Brunetti's Venice: Walks Through the Novels by Toni Sepeda also due out in April.

Everyone else is doing their year-end lists and so I've not resisted. My best books and CDs are over on the right. And looking forward to 2009 - site favourite (and site friend) Edward Sklepowich is swiftly following up 2008's Frail Barrier, his eighth Urbino Macintyre mystery, with The Veils of Venice in May.

Well, having watched two of the episodes (mentioned below) which find the Dorrits in Venice I must admit to disappointment. Some exterior shots of characters crossing bridges and arriving at 'Venetian' palaces, plus our heroine passing in front of the Madonna dell’Orto, twice, and resting in front to of San Giorgio Maggiore is about the limit of the use of real locations. The interiors all seem to be shot in English country houses, or on sets looking very much like. The scene where the Merdles and the Dorrits meet and compare their mad hair-dos in an 'art gallery' was very obviously filmed in the long gallery of a country mansion and the supposed interior of the Ca d'Oro looked very Robert Adam.

Following the recent very bad flooding  in Venice, much sympathy to all of my Venice-based readers and all those now drying out and recovering, and having to put up with the drowned rats.

Reading:  Neal Stephenson Anathem
Watching:  True Blood (new US TV series)
Listening: The Acorn Glory Hope Mountain

A bit of a bumper night on TV tonight for fans of this site's subjects. At 8 o'clock the 9th episode in BBC1's fine 14-part adaptation of Little Dorrit sees the Dorrits' arrival in Venice and at 9 o'clock on BBC4 is the first of Andrew Graham-Dixon's two one-hour programmes devoted to Vasari. Plenty of Florence fixes in the latter methinks.

My Books of 2008
André Romijn Hidden harmonies: the Secret Life of Antonio Vivaldi
Carmina Burman The Streets of Babylon
Grace Brophy A deadly paradise
Linda Proud The Rebirth of Venus
Lisa McGarry The Piazzas of Florence
Kate Summerscale The Suspicions of Mr Whicher
Nick Harkaway The gone-away world
George Mann The Affinity Bridge
Naomi Novik Temeraire - His Majesty's Dragon
Neal Stephenson Anathem
Nothing really knocked my Venetian socks off this year, with Florence having a better year. The list is chronological, and so also reflects a year in which the early part saw swarms of suitable books and review copies, with a distinct drying up towards the end. This and my leaving my reading group saw me descend into self-indulgence and available e-texts for my new Sony Reader toy, which helped some sci-fi catch-ups and discoveries dominate the latter part of my year.

My CDs of 2008
The Acorn Glory Hope Mountain
The Battle of Land and Sea
Bon Iver
For Emma Forever Ago
Hymns for a Dark Horse
Department of Eagles
In Ear Park
The Dodos
Fleet Foxes
French Kicks
The Walkmen
You & Me
Alphabetical this time, and showing a distinct bias towards the first six letters of the alphabet. American indie stuff, mostly. So who cares about the plight of the big record companies? Not me. The Verve, Elbow and Coldplay nearly made it onto the list though.

And in Venetian scaffolding news...a news item in the Guardian last week about the scaffolding on Venice's historic buildings being covered in tacky adverts: Outrage in Venice as giant ads smother cultural jewels  It's all to do with funding, evidently. And in better news: the scaffolding on the Salute dome, which has been blighting one of THE classic Venice views for years now, is partly off. Brigitte Eckert, creator of a fine Venice blog, in German, provides the news, and a photo - see below right.

Readers of my new Berlin page might like to know about a season of radio readings of stories and excerpts on Radio Four this week, covering the city's  history from the 30's up to the present. Click here for details and to listen. The blurb for the season reads Five authors write about the city described by Karl Scheffle in 1910 as "condemned forever to becoming and never being". Which is very true but also very mystifying.

I want to speak to you today about waves, and how they ebb and flow. The early part of this year I was awash with new books to review, and e-mails from readers of this site; but with the onset of autumn there has been a considerable drying up of both. Oh well. The other ebbing has been in the flow of books (and plays) about the life of Vivaldi: five between Autumn 2007 to Spring 2008, and yet nowt these past six months. (And the planned films seem to have gone very off the boil too.)  However, the last book that I read on the subject, and thoroughly enjoyed, has just been published.  The Four Seasons: a novel of Vivaldi's Venice by Laurel Corona. Check out this site for sample pages and some useful background information.
Reading: Naomi Novik Temeraire - His Majesty's Dragon
Watching: Little Dorrit on the BBC
Listening: 1970s stuff - Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Steely Dan...

I try (sometimes successfully) to steer clear of politics on this site, but I must just send a big Trans-Atlantic pat on the back to all my American readers for electing a president who's full of hope, replacing one who's been so full of... It'll take a while for the rest of us to truly forgive and forget the George W. years, but the time is approaching when you can travel to Europe and hold your heads up proudly, and not pretend that you're from Canada.
Reading:  Peter Ackroyd Dickens
Watching:  Iron Man
Listening: Jacaszek Treny

In almost complete contrast to the e-book below is the kind of book produced by the Folio Society. Here it's almost more important to own the book than to read it. Almost. They are a book club, but no ordinary book club, because their thing is that books should be things of beauty.  They produce very covetable illustrated editions of a range of already-published books, from the classic to the not-so-classic. I joined a few years back and let my membership lapse so they've been bugging me ever since, but I've just rejoined. The temptation I couldn't resist? Well rejoining got me a book called A History of Venice in Painting, an extremely large and plush book (not actually published by the Society) which goes for £120 usually, but the intro offer knocks 100 pounds off, and there's a free spiffy Folio edition of John Julius Norwich's History of Venice (see right) thrown in too. How could I resist? For this I have to buy four of the Society's books in the coming year. Not a hardship. Some other books which might tempt readers of this site in these extremely undisposable editions include A Room With a View, Brideshead Revisited, a collection of Daphne Du Maurier short stories called Don't Look Now, Jan Morris's Venice and a volume of Casanova's memoirs.
Reading:  P.G.Wodehouse Something fresh
Watching:  Smiley's people
Listening: Department Of Eagles In Ear Park

Being a bit of a gadget lover I've had my eye on e-book readers for a while. My heart has been moved somewhat but my head has always had its doubts, so my credit card has been untroubled. Until now. I've just bought a Sony PRS-505 Portable Reader System. It's a lovely thing: well designed, with page-turning buttons in just the right places (just above the bottom of the 'crease' and half way up the right-hand edge) and the screen is very, well, paper-like. The battery lasts forever, too, as power is only used when you turn a page. Arguments about whether such things will replace real books miss the point, I think.  This being that e-book readers serve subtly different purposes. There are times when one wants to read downloaded or e-mailed text files, times when you want to travel light and have a large choice of reading matter, and the free files on Project Gutenberg means an e-reader owner never has to worry about which edition of a classic to buy (except where the thorny issue of different translations arises). Other advantages I've found this past week is being able to have the 'book' open resting on a lap or table and also being able to truly read one-handed.  Useful when eating a doughnut with the other hand, a situation that can often otherwise lead to greasy pages.

Henry James's testicles are not a subject I've dealt with before, but an article in yesterday's Guardian posits that an injury that he sustained in this area may answer some questions about his sexuality. There's been much conjecture about whether James was a closet homosexual, asexual or just plain scared of consummation. (His treatment of Constance Fennimore Woolson provides material for all three theories.) He writes of the intimate injury too in such an obtuse late-Jamesian way that we're not even sure what the injury was. In The Aspen Papers the narrator, following his crucial moment of amatory cowardice, finds himself staring up at the Colleoni statue in Campo San Zanipolo. The point here being that the famous mercenary was known, it seems, to have had three testicles, a fact he even proclaimed on his coat of arms, with its representation of three coglioni. The implication that the narrator of the novella 'didn't have the balls' is thereby maybe also applicable to James himself. Interesting also that two such non-consummatory types as as James and Ruskin should feel so drawn to a city associated with Casanova and Byron, and become equally associated with it in our minds.

Home safe, mosquito bites itching, I've done a final sprucing of the trip page and have starting doing improving things to my churches site. Normality returns. Sigh!

We have wi-fi! With apologies if you've been dropping by and hoping to read about my adventures this past couple of days. There is now some content, as we say, and all is revealed.

Venice beckons, and I'm up at the crack of dawn tomorrow to catch an Easyjet. I hope to be posting daily bulletins on my
September 2008 Venice Trip page.
So to keep up with all the latest gen on important stuff like ice cream, cats, scaffolding and cakes, you know where to look.

This vaguely Turneresque painting is called Venice, it's by one James Holland, and
comes courtesy of the Manchester Art Gallery. But where does it represent exactly?

Iain Sinclair, like Peter Ackroyd, sometimes writes prose which puts literary style way above content, and to accuse them of a tendency to fluffy overwriting is a big understatement. So it gives me joy to report that an article by Sinclair in last Saturday's Guardian is a truly fascinating (and unobtuse) account of a forgotten author's lost works and Sinclair's search for more information about his life. The writer's name is Roland Camberton and his best book Scamp is very out of print. I found only one second-hand copy online, going for 75 quid.
And if you have fond memories of the excitement caused by
The Sultan's Elephant in London in 2006 you'll need to know that Artichoke, the group behind it, are doing another such thing in Liverpool on the 5th,6th & 7th of September called La Machine.

There have been a few new site-related book out lately that I've not been able to get review copies of so I'll mention them here pending their later paperback appearance. Jason Goodwin's The Bellini Card is a novel featuring his detective hero Yashim the eunuch and a lost Bellini painting in Venice.  The setting is historical, but it's the 19th Century, which is not common. It is also the century of the setting of another Venice-set novel, The World Before Her by Deborah Weisgall. Then there's The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston, the account written by one of the journalists involved of their exposure of the incompetent investigation of the famous serial murders, and the harassment they suffered at the hands of the police.

When people click on the link on my front page to send me an e-mail they usually say nice things and I always reply, as many of you will know. Having not had my ego stroked in a fair few weeks I was checking my spam folder for something else, and found a half-dozen mails from you good people lurking in there. I have replied to these now, but if you've sent me an e-mail in recent months (the spam folder self-deletes mails after a couple of months) and had no reply please accept my apologies, and do write again.

Some London-related stuff today. Last week I went to an exhibition at the Wellcome Collection about what we can learn from old skeletons dug up in London. Quite a lot, it turns out. Details of diet, as well as the illnesses and afflictions that people survived as well as what they died from. There's an example in the exhibition of an arrow in the spine that was one of the former rather than the later. Pains are taken to relate the remains to where they were dug up, and the result is a solidly interesting little exhibition. The permanent display of Sir Henry Wellcome's collection of medically-related artefacts is weird and wonderful too.
Then last night on BBC2 there was a documentary about how London has changed since 1945, made using contemporary aerial photography and comparing it to an aerial survey made by the RAF just after WWII. Not nearly as fascinating as it sounded, the doc was good on how London as a city has resisted any kind of planning, how the haphazard street plan has changed little since medieval times, and how this still shapes the city now. The programme is part of the BBC's Britain From Above season, and to celebrate they've set up an archive of aerial photography footage.

More Berlin-derived observations, regarding photographic habits this time. Now I find the taking of photographs of one's relatives and friends posed in front of famous sights a strange thing at the best of times, usually resulting in a photograph that isn't a good portrait and isn't a good view. But whilst visiting the Topography of Terrors exhibition in Berlin I witnessed  a chap taking a photograph of his blonde smiling girlfriend in front of a display board of mug shots of Nazi war criminals! And then visiting the vast Russian war memorial, featuring two huge statues of Russian soldiers down on one knee with heads bowed, a man was taking a photo of his two children up on the plinth with one of the statues with them adopting the same pose as the soldier. All too bizarre.

I'm back from Berlin, and now have another favourite European city to add to the list. I did intend to get me to a cyber café but the one nearest the flat looked a bit squalid, and by the time I got to Sunday I thought it'd make an interesting lifestyle change to last a whole week offline. I also unusually did without DVDs, a TV, my iPod, Indian food and hummus.

Berlin was big, full of skyscrapers and vast swaths of wasteland, cranes, loads of graffiti, marzipan-a-go-go, some great paintings, and it was very hard on the feet. The real-life things I liked most were the lack of crap and litter, the lack of threat and tension, even on the public transport system, and the very real lack of in-your-face annoying mobile-phone use on the trains too. And did I mention the marzipan? I found a shop selling only marzipan near our flat, and have returned home with bars bought in KaDeWe flavoured with pineapple, mango, ginger, and strawberries and chilli.

The place has had such an utterly grim recent history, but it's all barely visible in the fabric of the city, what with allied bombers and the post-war (and post-wall) desire to erase all memories. So much of the content of the guide books and instructive displays is telling you about buildings and such that were once there and the stuff, usually death and suffering, which went on in and around them. It can be frustrating, but makes a mental map and a lithe imagination pretty much essential to understand what went on. And novels help. I'm considering making a new Berlin books page.

I mentioned a couple of months back an admirable plan to rebuild the Euston Arch. Now come two more, less tempting, projects. The first is to rebuild the Skylon, the pointless pointy symbol of the Festival of Britain demolished in 1952. The campaign began by projecting the thing onto the side of a building near its original site.
The other (less serious) plan launched last week was one to raise London's 'lost' rivers from the sewers through which they nowadays run. Not really a practical option in Central London as the original courses are long lost and the Fleet and Tyburn would run through some very lucrative areas, so that the landowners not take kindly to replacing high-earning offices with non-earning riverbanks I would think. Nice dream though. There's a map of the lost rivers here. And in Venice news - hailstones the size of walnuts fell last weekend. There's an arty photo
below right.

Francesco da Mosto has a new series on BBC2 in the UK called Francesco's Mediterranean Voyage. I think that his accent qualifies him as Italy's answer to Inspector Clouseau, but Lucy Mangan in the Guardian accuses him of having 'an accent that could make you pregnant by the end of the programme.'  Anyway, the series is far more Venice-concerned than the somewhat generic title would suggest, as in it our man voyages around the old Venetian Empire following in the wake of his ancestors 500-odd years ago. The first episode is a Venice-treat especially, as it deals with his preparations and leave-taking. I could do with less of the self-conscious set-up encounters with locals, but the series looks set to give good art and lush photography. Episode 2's visit to a church outside Split to see some famous frescoes was especially jaw-dropping.

An article in the Sunday Telegraph magazine a couple of weeks back recommending summer reads rightly singled out The girl of of his dreams by Donna Leon but wrongly doubled her up, describing her as a 'thriller-writing partnership' and saying that this is a good place to start if we've never 'sampled their wares'. A weird mistake, even if you suspect the writer of the review is mixing her up with Nicci French, as that partnership writes very different books from our Donna.

A new scheme to cut down on the plague of mineral water bottles bobbing around in Venetian canals involves the handing-out of free re-usable bottles along with a map of Venice's water fountains. Despite my love of the (locally produced) San Benedetto water this seems a stunningly good idea to me. There are also posters featuring Venice's mayor encouraging you to drink more tap water, with the snappy slogan I drink the Mayor’s water too.
Reading:  Brian Ladd The Ghosts of Berlin
A fascinating investigation of the arguments that developed around the  demolishing, renovating or rebuilding Berlin's many contentious buildings, statues, and even commemorative plaques. When your recent history is so grim and fraught with meaning what to do but reach back to a time before...but to do that is fraught with meaning too.
Watching: A Wild Sheep Chase: In Search Of Haruki Murakami
Despite the author's unwillingness to be interviewed on screen, this BBC TV film still managed to evoke the essence of the novels and what makes them special.
Listening: Coldplay Viva La Vida
Approach without preconceptions and prepare to be very pleasantly surprised. Hold on...that sentence contradicts itself doesn't it?

If the three cities featured on this site were my children Florence would be the one I feel bad about neglecting. Not quite locked in a cupboard under the stairs and fed on bread and water, but getting much less attention than Venice and London. But it's not all my fault - there just aren't a lot of novels written that are set in Florence, and I get many less hits and e-mails related to Flo than the other two cities. But this year has been different: four novels, a lovely book about the piazzas, and even a couple of additions to the films section. Something of a renaissance then.

Look, nobody's perfect right? And you never told me! Expect reviews soon of some books I missed. Continuing the musical theme over on the Venice page  Interrupted aria and Painted veil by Beverle Graves Myers are described as 'baroque murder mysteries' featuring a castrato detective in 18th Century Venice.  Then there's The Italian Lover by Robert Hellenga's - it's the sequel to his Sixteen pleasures, it came out last year, and it passed me by completely. With thanks to Richard from California for making me aware, and to the generous folks over at Poisoned Pen Press and Little Brown.


Maybe I'm spoilt, but it's been so long since I've had to buy a newly-published novel set in any of my three cities that when my polite request for a review copy is met with silence in the inbox and through the letterbox...well I'm disinclined to spend my hard-earned to give them free publicity. Am I being a bit of a prima donna? I think not myself, so if you're waiting to read reviews of Steven Carroll's Twilight in Venice or A Stopover in Venice by Kathryn Walker you might just have to wait for me to buy the paperback.
6th June Update: I have now been sent a copy of Twilight in Venice - so do hold your breath for a review, soon.
In more playful news - the new Nancy Drew computer game is called
The Phantom of Venice. Check out the weirdly pseudo-Venetian scenes here. There's also a little teaser video on which Nancy sounds to be at least in her 50s, which is about right I suppose: time passes. In the press release Venice is described as 'one of the world’s most unique cities known for its interlocking canals' and the games are said to be 'targeted to female play preferences' and it's claimed that they 'engage and empower players'. Phew!

One of the saddest and most shameful recent architectural losses  for London was the magnificent Euston Arch. It was demolished when the nasty 1960s Euston Station was built, despite much campaigning at the time. Now there's to be another new station building, and the possibility of rebuilding the arch has been mooted. There's a website - go and read the whole sorry story and support the new one.

It seems that a large earth-drill tip has appeared from under the paving in front of London's City Hall on the Thames. I smell an elephant. Click here for more.
Reading:  Conrad Williams The Unblemished
I'm not a big horror fan and so I'm reading most of this with my eyes closed.
Watching: Mirrormask
Not perfect, but magical and very stylish.
Listening: Bon Iver For Emma, Forever Ago
Getting and thoroughly deserving a lot of glowing reviews.

The London Daily Telegraph was having a splutter yesterday over the new Andrew Davies adaptation of Brideshead Revisited including a scene in Venice with a love triangle between Charles, Sebastian and his sister Julia. I don't see the objection - the relationship between these three always seemed like a bit of a love (if not sex) triangle to me, even if Julia coming with them to Venice is not in the book. Over at the official website there's a trailer which gives the impression of much Venice, and that the Charles/Julia thing gets passionate in this version. We'll see. Nice to see they've kept the use of Castle Howard as Brideshead from the TV series.

Letting one's opinion of a work of literature be swayed by its appearance is a famously unwise thing to do, but with The Piazzas of Florence by Lisa McGarry it was love at first fondle. From the lushly textured terracotta cover, via the tasteful crimson embellishments within, to the fold-out watercolour maps this is one gorgeous piece of printing. Even the stitched-in bookmark is a lovely colour.  As to how the content lives up to the presentation (and there is text aplenty - this is no mere gift book) watch this space.
Location porn is a new phrase on me, but an article in the film supplement of The Observer last week was all about a love of films for their locations. It mostly mentions films set in parts Mediterranean, leaving a pervy obsession in films which revel in Venice, Florence and London to these here parts.

The London Eye being built in 1999.

The church of Angelo Raffaele in Venice,
 before its 2004 restoration

Longer term readers of these posts will know that I'm usually a positive and optimistic sorta guy but it's hard to look on the bright side after last week's election of Boris Johnson as London's new mayor. He's a buffoon, you see, who was only voted in because his predecessor, Ken Livingstone, had the temerity to try to make central London a bit less of a smoggy and congested drivers' paradise, and make the place better for pedestrians. He had had some success but powerful business interests and the newspapers they control put their corrosive might behind the idiot Boris and now we  have a wacky cartoon character running our city. My only bright thought is hoping that he'll soon be forced to resign over some new and spectacular examples of the gaffs and incompetence he's famous for.

And regarding them links I mentioned last time - we now have an answer to the question of the number of bridges in Venice. Contradictory totals have reigned so far, but it turns out that some engineers from the Worcester Poly have been out to Venice, counted them, numbered them, and made a map. Go engineers! The total number? 473, including private bridges and the Ponte di Calatrava, the new one.

An email today presents a fascinating flurry of links, and some ambitious projects. The source is the Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts and the impressive Venice-related projects that their students have undertaken. But the fingers and pies radiate out from here, and include a Wiki (online encyclopaedia) devoted solely to Venice, starting here, and a project/site setting out to identify and preserve Venice's street art - all the impressive stone plaques and statues and such that are such a joy to find on Venetian rambles. There's also talk of some fruitful collaboration between me and my sites and them and theirs - I'll keep you posted.
A highlight of last week, and my life so far, was starting to read the third book in a series and finding a review of mine of a previous volume quoted on the back (
see right) - a first!
Reading:  Linda Proud The Rebirth of Venus
The third book in the Botticelli trilogy with the gritty details of renaissance philosophy presented as digestibly and enjoyably as before, with art and intrigue and a good story too.
Watching: Cloverfield
Don't believe the reviews - gripping and exciting and impressive.
Listening: New CDs by the B-52s and Was (Not Was)
A sudden and surprising 1980's wacky-funk revival.


I write today of the Garden of Eden. Back in 2003, after discovering it on my trip of 2002, I made one of my digression pages (here it is) devoted to this fascinating place. It's fascinating because it's the biggest private garden in Venice, has a reputation for dilapidated splendour, and yet remains an inaccessible mystery. I was reminded of the place last week by an e-mail from Polly Higgins, who is visiting Venice this week and had also stumbled upon the place and been fascinated. The years since I created the page have not seen any news slip out as to the place's fate or owners - if you Google garden eden venice my small page is your first and best option. Some feelers have been sent out this week, though, and so let's hope.
Reading:  James Meek  We are now beginning our descent
If you loved The people's act of love you'll certainly want to read this, the new one, but be prepared for something very unlike - much less strange, but just as compulsive.
Watching: Blowup
What a weird film!
Listening: Elbow The seldom seen kid
Reviewers are sounding all surprised at how good this one is. Where have they been?

Poking around Amazon for future Venice-set fiction I've come up with a few. Firstly a promising-looking first novel called A Stopover in Venice by Kathryn Walker which is due in August. Then there's another novel concerning our favourite baroque composer   The Four Seasons: A novel of Vivaldi's Venice by the interestingly named Laurel Corona and set for publication in November. Sooner, in April, we have Steven Carroll's Twilight in Venice, which concerns itself with Venice and cellists. Ingratiating e-mails are already on their way to publishers.

Who dreamed of a White Easter? Things pretty quiet around here, so thoughts turn to odd coincidences. Three of the last four books I've read for the site (including my current read) have taken around a 100 pages to get to the place/reason for which I was reading them. Strange and interesting, or more than a bit boring?
Reading:  Grace Brophy  A deadly paradise
Commissario Cenni comes from Umbria but goes to Venice on page 115.
As gripping as Donna L. but more muscular.
Watching: In A Lonely Place and Kiss Me Deadly
Two more film noir treats - both weird and wonderful, but in very different ways
Listening: R.E.M. Accelerate
Sounding revitalised and jangly after a depressing run of rubbish releases.

In the Google Earth satellite image above you can see the extent of
the Garden of Eden (bottom right) with the church of the
Redentore (top left) included so that you can place it.

My local tourist attraction.

An interesting new interview with Edward Sklepowich, a fave and friend of this site, has just gone up on Italian-Mysteries.com. And through my letterbox this week have dropped A Deadly Paradise by Grace Brophy and The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie. Reviews soon.
Reading:  Ann & Jeff VanderMeer (eds) The new weird
If you know what to expect from the likes of VanderMeer, Miéville, and M.John Harrison then you'll  know the kind of stuff you'll be getting here. Like Gormenghast, only much shorter and occasionally weirder.
Watching: Juno
Very funny and touching and very far from being the  pro-life propaganda flick that some have suggested.
Listening: Dirtmusic
Sounds like unspecial strummy Americana at first, but soon begins to snag and grow.

Brigitte over at the German Venice blog writes and recommends a Venice-set novel by Carlo Fruttero & Franco Lucentini called L'amante senza fissa dimora which translates into English as The Lover of no fixed abode. Poking around a bit I can find no firm information about it ever having been translated into English, and it seems very unavailable if it ever was. But some mentions of a novel by them called No fixed abode are sprinkled around other sites. A bit of a mystery.

Today is my birthday! And not only that, but World Book Day too! Pardon my paranoia but I don't think that this is a coincidence - some shadowy presence is sending a message I think. Anyway, I implore you, my people, to celebrate my day with observance of the primary tenet of my personal philosophy, The Central Guiding Principles: Read more books, eat more cake, stroke more cats. Go in peace.

Yet more Vivaldi stuff. My knowledge of Ezra Pound and Olga Rudge is pretty much confined to the story about the sordid tussle over their letters as told in John Bernedt's City of Falling Angels. But now I read about how Rudge, a famed violinist whose reputation overshadowed her lover's initially, was a leading figure in the 20th Century rediscovery of Vivaldi. Her transcribing, promotion and  performances contributing much, with Pound's help, to the composer's current reputation. She also dyed her hair red in his honour. Let's remember her this way. And it seems that Antonio Vivaldi the motion picture, with Joseph Fiennes as Vivaldi, has not been cancelled. There's a website and it has a trailer. But said trailer is bizarrely made up of clips from other Venice-set films and scenes featuring the actors in other period films - wearing facial hair and floppy white shirts without buttons, basically - except for Malcolm McDowell, who's in a modern suit.

Yet another fictionalised account of life in the Pieta, featuring Vivaldi and the girls, comes my way. This follows Vivaldi's Virgins and Hidden harmonies, and comes just ahead of a promised DVD of The Red Priest of Venice, the play put on in San Francisco I mentioned last month. This time it's a radio play, broadcast by the BBC a couple of weeks back, called Daughters of Venice by Don Taylor. So far - I'm about half way through - it's pretty much your standard tale of girls-with-limited-choices, with some added broad humour provided by a naive and smitten English milord and his cynical valet. In fact there's an attractive streak of cynicism running through the play that's making me much more likely to return for part two. I'll keep you posted. And then there's luggage labels - here's a link to a page with photos of 867 of the lovely little buggers, quite a few featuring Venice. There's few on the right.
Reading:  Iain Crichton Smith Consider the lilies
Just the story of an old woman during the Highland Clearances being told she has to move, and how she reacts and her life changes. But just wonderful
Watching: The Killers and The Blue Dahlia
Two of the best film noirs (films noir?) and I'd not seen either of them before!

Listening: Margareds
Kingdom Of Patience
Proving that Poles can do trip-hop (as well as doughnuts) better than most.

Overheard in the National Gallery in London today, as I'm walking past a school class getting a talk on Titian's Bacchus and Ariadne, the teacher saying: 'Yes, but can anyone tell me why there wouldn't be a motor boat..?'

How many bridges are there in Venice? This is the hot question of the day.
In Edward Sklepowich's novel
Frail Barrier, which I've just read, Urbino says that there are around 400. Yet Venice is a fish, which I'm currently reading, says 500, which is a bit of a big discrepancy. In an e-mail exchange Mr S himself says that as far as he knows there are 395, including the new glass one, and suggests that a higher figure might include the small private bridges to palazzo entrances, and such like. Puzzling. Does anyone out there have a copy of Campi e Campielli (Venice's A-Z) and a lot of patience?

I find it fascinating to monitor the terms which web-searchers put in which then lead them to this site. By far the most popular is courtesan. I imagine that most of the people who find themselves here after putting that one in don't stay very long, although I shouldn't assume that such searchers aren't looking for info on Veronica Franco, of course. However I pass on, without comment, a search term which, I know not why, lead to a visit to my site last Saturday - clitoris in uk.
Reading:  Robert Louis Stevenson Kidnapped
Having loved New Arabian Nights I thought I'd try something else.
I'm not exactly gripped, but also not giving up yet. It's just so Scottish!
Watching: Laurel & Hardy
A fine big box of 21 DVDs is available in the UK.
It's giving me much joy, and will for many months yet.
Listening: k.d.lang Watershed
She's got it back - the best since Ingenue.

Two books slip wetly through my letterbox this morning: one is the Venice volume of The Liquid Continent trilogy mentioned below, the other is called Venice is a Fish. Expect reviews soonish. I say -ish because the fish one has a review embargo slapped on it until the 14th February, which I presume applies to me as well as print media.
Reading:  Steve Erickson Zeroville
The best novel about the mystic mysteries of filmmaking since Flicker
Watching: No country for old men 
The first 100% classic Coen brothers film in so so long
Listening: Emmylou Harris Songbird: Rare Tracks & Forgotten Gems
The gems and the sweepings, and all damn good.

More Vivaldi news:  my last news item scared up an e-mail from Lisa Murphy in San Francisco who recently premiered a play about the composer's relationship with Anna Giro and Paolina Trevisana.
Read more about the play (with some interesting background material) at redpriestofvenice.com or watch it on youtube. Lisa also mentions that the film with Joseph Fiennes has been delayed so much now that the omens are that it may never appear. To finish with good news...my mention earlier this month of my lack of luck getting a review copy of
Frail Barrier from Edward Sklepowich has resulted in an e-mail from the man himself, who's going to send me a copy. Result!
Reading:  Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Half of a Yellow Sun
Every bit as good as they've been saying, if not better.
Watching: Sense and Sensibility BBC 2008 
Proof that it WAS worth doing it again.
Listening: The Very Best of Ethiopiques
If you think that you've heard it all after listening  to all those African music reissues of the 80s, you're wrong.

Reading (and loving) the Vivaldi novel mentioned below I had a poke around fact-checking and found out about two films about the composer, one just out and one in pre-production. The one in pre-prod is said to be due later this year and is to star Joseph Fiennes as the man himself. So it seems that the little chap gets to play Shakespeare and Vivaldi! The one that came out last year is French, called Antonio Vivaldi, un Prince à Venise and, judging by the cast list, seems to play the Anna Giro card - the famous 'secret mistress' conjecture. Vivaldi fans might also be interested to know that there's a site where you can download pdf files of a couple of good biographies for free. It's here.

The small swarm of new Venice-set novels I mentioned in December has begun to slip through my letterbox, including one dealing with The Secret Life of Vivaldi. But if you're looking for a review of Frail Barrier by Edward Sklepowich then breath-holding is not advised. The publisher has refused my request for a review copy and unhelpfully supplied a pdf file for reading on my computer. Now I have many odd habits, but taking my computer to bed is not one of them. Also on the horizon is a reprint of  The Venetian Mask by Rosalind Laker which is due in March, as is The Troubles of Janice 4: Voyage to Venice, an erotic graphic novel. If your heart is not faint check it out here. And Nicholas Woodsworth has written something called The Liquid Continent - A Mediterranean Trilogy, of which volume two is about Venice and its relationship with the briny stuff.
Reading:  Michael Chabon
Gentlemen of the Road
A rollicking respite from seriouser tomes.
Watching:  Civilisation - Save Our Souls
Matthew Collings on the continuing influence and importance of  'visionary British art guru' John Ruskin - mighty clever and stimulating stuff.
Listening: The Radio Dept Pet Grief
Not sure why I've taken so long to discover this bunch of Swedes but I love them now, as they obviously love the Pet Shop Boys and Prefab Sprout. Giving shoegazing a very good name.

We're well into that post-festive quiet stretch, with very few people working (although I was yesterday) and with nothing much going on but a lot of TV to catch up on. So let's look forward to the return of real life, and the weekend of the 19th/20th of January when The Temple in London, one of my favourite places for Sunday-walk seclusion and the reek of history, is having an open day. It's part of a year of events (details here) to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the place's founding.
Reading:  Thomas Quinn The Sword of Venice
Watching:  Love soup
Listening: Tom Middleton Lifetracks

But when I do look back over this year I can't help but see it as one of my best. For a chap who has previously gone years without trips to Venice and Florence it seems nothing short of miraculous to me to have had three trips in one year.  A trip to Venice in March warmly celebrated my half-century, and was swiftly followed in April by my first visit to Florence in 13 years. Another week in Venice in October was mostly spent taking photographs for my Churches of Venice website - another very good thing about this year. And as the year ends I seem to be getting more review copies, author contact, and encouraging e-mails than ever, so I enter 2008 contented and with high hopes.  I hope that you do too.

At a time of year when the media are full of articles looking back over the best this, the worst that, and the most embarrassing examples of the other, it's good to look forward, and 2008 is looking good  for Venice fiction. Early in January there's a new Urbino Macintyre mystery called Frail Barrier by Edward Sklepowich, and you don't get one of these every year. Grace Brophy is a new name on me, but  A Deadly Paradise has a Venice setting, as does Elizabeth Adler's Meet Me in Venice. Then there's a new Donna Leon in the spring, called The Girl of His Dreams and for Florence fans there's the last Magdalen Nabb, called Vita Nuova.

This year will not go down as one of the most sparkling for Venice-set fiction, so it's good to get news of the immanent publication of the sequel to one of my (surprise) faves of a couple of years back. Thomas Quinn's Lion of St Mark gripped me like nautically-themed books rarely do, and now there's The Sword of Venice. He's kindly sending me a copy, so expect a review early in 2008. London had by far the better books written set in it this year, but then again it usually does.
Reading: Philip Pullman The Northern Lights
(re-reading and re-loving it)
Watching:  Cranford
Listening: A Whisper In The Noise Dry land

My Books of 2007
Michael Chabon The Yiddish policeman’s union
Clare Clark The nature of monsters
  Arnaud Delalande
The Dante Trap
Charlie Fletcher
Stone heart
A. M. Homes This book will change your life
Giulio Leoni The Third Heaven conspiracy
Cormac McCarthy The road
Haruki Murakami
After dark
Belinda Starling
The Journal of Dora Damage
Robert Louis Stevenson New Arabian Nights
Anne Tyler
Digging to America

My CDs of 2007
The Antlers In the Attic of the Universe
Amy Cook The Sky Observer's Guide
The Reminder
A Fine Frenzy One Cell in the Sea
Kate Havnevik
Modest Mouse
We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank
Radiohead In Rainbows
Sissy Wish
Beauties Never Die
sonata mix dwarf cosmos
Underworld Oblivion with Bells

Call me shallow, if you must, but my attitude to any so-called 'wave' of immigrants to the UK is best summed up by the greeting: 'Welcome to my country - I hope that you brought tasty treats.' In which spirit I've just added some yummy Polish cakes to my surprisingly popular London Cakes page.
I've also just been made aware of Capitan Venezia a very Venetian superhero, whose web-site and comics seem to speak only in Italian at the moment.
Reading: Anton Chekhov The complete short novels
Watching:  X-Files series 1
Listening: Timber Timbre Medicinals

Travellers on the London Underground will know about the in-train announcements warning them about the next station, and to do things like 'Mind the gap'. The woman who reads them is colloquially called Sonya, because she gets on ya' nerves. But it turns out she's actually called Emma Clarke and she's just been sacked for posting mp3s of spoof announcements like "We would like to remind our American tourist friends that you are almost certainly talking too loudly" on her website. The news item is here and the spoof announcements are on www.emmaclarke.com although the site seems to be currently groaning under the strain of demand.
Reading: Alan Bennett
The uncommon reader
Watching:  At The Height Of Summer
Listening: A Number of Small Things: A Collection of Morr Music Singles

An interesting article in the UK Guardian newspaper last week about the representation of cities in films. Nothing about Venice or Florence, but a bit about London. Read it here.
Reading: Margaret Atwood Oryx and Crake
Watching: Ratatouille
Listening: Radiohead  In Rainbows
In Memory of Me is an Italian film released last week in London which is set in San Giorgio Maggiore and features other Venetian locations. Stately and dour are a couple of the more complementary words used in reviews, slow and implausible are a pair of the less encouraging. It is on at one of my favourite comfy London cinemas, though, so I might give it a go next week. See a trailer here.
Reading: David Peace
Tokyo Year Zero
Watching: The lives of others
Listening: Robert Plant and Alison Krauss Raising sand

A surprise Florence fix in the shape of a new version of A Room With a View on ITV1 in the UK this Sunday night. Comparison with the Merchant/Ivory version is inevitable, but the new adaptation is by Andrew Davies and seems to be more faithful to the concerns of the book. We'll see. Details here.

A bit of a site redesign going on - I hope that you lot like it. I'm gradually phasing out the pseudo-calligraphy font in favour of that chunky olde-printe look. 
Regular pavement-pounders around town will be well aware of the phenomenon of stopped clocks - old clocks in public places and on buildings that have stopped and have never been repaired or rewound. Well, now there's a website, campaigning to restart them, with photos, although you have to take it on trust that the clocks in the photos are stopped because, well, you know.

Reading: P.G.Wodehouse 
Uncle Dynamite
Watching: Tell no one (and a flipping wonderful film it is too)
Listening: Canon Blue Colonies

I went, I did it, I came back with just over four hundred photographs on my memory card. No, I can't believe it either. Thanks to all who commented, encouraged and passed on weird fruit and cool Venetian ska band recommendations.
Reading: An Accademia gallery catalogue
Watching: New season Heroes and Simpsons
Listening: Band of Horses Cease to begin

I'm off to Venice early tomorrow morning and, technology willing,
should be doing daily updates to my October 2007 Trip Report

This time next week I'm off to Venice and, well, you remember what it was like waiting for Christmas as a kid?  I'm hoping to do a daily bloggish thing, so fans of cats, cakes and churches should stay tuned.
Reading: Christi Phillips The Rossetti letter
Playing: Halo 3
Listening: Jim White Transnormal Skiperoo

If the world is divided into pigeon-haters and pigeon-feeders I suppose I'm with the feeders. The authorities in Venice, though, like city authorities everywhere, look upon the flying rats as a big problem, and have now banned the throwing of rice at weddings in the city as it encourages scavenging flocks. They say that the birds are also damaging buildings by pecking for bits of food that blow into cracks, which sounds very like a self-justifying exaggeration to me. Not sure where all this leaves me and my chucking little bits of my lunchtime panini to them from church steps when I'm there. I'm a man who likes to feel solid pavement under his feet, but the presence of contrasting flashes of chaotic nature is good too.
Reading: Sarah Waters The night watch for the 2nd time
Watching: Pushing the daisies
Listening: Mùm  Go Go Smear the Poison Ivy

Open House Weekend Day 2
Less luck with the pot-luck method this morning, and the churches were all closed for services. But we'd booked to visit the Government Art Collection, where they store and administer the art that's used to decorate embassies abroad and other UK government buildings. Pretty darn fascinating. It's near Tottenham Court Road but only after I'd booked was its exact whereabouts revealed, and I can't reveal this secret location because if I did I'd have to...etc.

Open House Weekend Day 1
Some city churches were visited which can't help but be a little dour when compared to Venetian Churches full of Bellini and Titian, but they can be handsome nonetheless, and very calming places it must be said. We also had a look around the Vintners' Hall, admiring its wood panelling and chandeliers, and using its very plush toilets. Then on to the Unilever Building (the curved building at the North end of Blackfriars Bridge)  recently gutted and rebuilt inside and now called 100 Victoria Embankment, or l00ve for short. Views from the roof terrace were really spectacular (see right). It's still owned by Unilever, though, and the very generous free cup of tea and Walls ice cream for each visitor are both their products. But still...better than a box of washing powder.

Open House Weekend looms, and neither of us are working or on holiday, so a full weekend of pavement pounding and door darkening is in prospect. This year the weekend also features trips by tube train down Brunel's Thames Tunnel. The increased popularity of the event and the increasing need to pre-book weeks in advance is making the event less fun with each passing year I think. But hey, I'm an old misery!

Reading: Jim Crace The Pesthouse
Watching: Californication
Listening: Valgeir Sigurðsson  Ekvílibríum

You would think that receiving for review yet another novel featuring a 17th Century Venetian courtesan as the heroine (The Rossetti letter) might fill me with, well, not exactly keen anticipation and joy. But you might be surprised to learn - I was - that the most popular search term input in August by people who end up at this site is 'courtesan'. So every time I mention the word courtesan, I'm increasing my hit rate. And that's three times in this paragraph so far.
Reading: Arnaud Delalande  The Dante Trap
Watching: The IT crowd series 2
Listening: Oakley Hall  I'll Follow You

Sad news of the death of Magdalen Nabb, writer of the Marshall Guarnaccia mysteries without which fictional Florence would be a very much poorer place. She was just 60 when she died of a stroke whilst out riding. At her funeral last Monday carabinieri in full ceremonial dress formed a guard of honour. She had just finished a new Marshall mystery called Vita Nuova which will be published next year.
There was a  fine obit in The Guardian.

A lean year for Venice-set fiction seems to be perking up a bit. I've managed to cadge a copy of The Dante Trap by Arnaud Delalande out of the publisher, and am hoping to also get a review copy of The Rossetti letter by Christi Phillips. It's good to see titles still subtly trying to sound a bit like The Da Vinci Code, even after having decided to drop the somewhat obvious use of the word Code. There's also The Love Academy by Belinda Jones which is chick-lit and hence, ahem, beyond my remit.

A new interview with Donna Leon here (with a somewhat strange photograph) which you can even listen to. And there are links to a map and a list of location to guide you to Brunetti-related spots. Also a German Venice blog by a new friend has some rather good photos of the new Calatrava Bridge.
Reading: Scarlett Thomas The end of Mr Y
Watching: The Claim
Listening: Seventeen Evergreen

The talk on the Venice sites is all about the new bridge over the Grand Canal - the forth, and first new one in 73 years. It's all red and spindly and modern and so is causing a bit of a ruckus, but it's up by Piazzale Roma bus station where the competition for the description 'eyesore' is pretty fierce. It looks more like eye balm in the photos and there's a good one with the report in the New York Times.
Reading: Rupert Thompson Death of a murderer
Watching: Carnivale Season 1
Listening: Amy Cook The Sky Observer's Guide

I've just started the new and last Michael Dibdin and it is, as reported, very full of food. In chapter two Zen unenthusiastically tucks into a southern pasta dish which he describes using the word 'gloggy' - a  new word on me and an unappetising word. But when you're describing pasta cooked in mutton fat unappetising is really the most you can hope for.
Reading: Michael Dibdin End games
Watching: The Simpsons Movie
Listening: Miracle Fortress Five roses

As the nation catches its breath after finishing ...the Deathly Hallows, attempts to dry out, hopes for some summer soon, and waits for The Simpsons film one can only say: interesting times. To the right is me as a Simpsons character, courtesy of simpsonizeme.com. I'm not convinced.
Reading: Michele Giuttari A Florentine Death
Watching: Dexter
Listening: The Antlers In The Attic Of The Universe

OK, so maybe a grown man shouldn't really be looking forward so much to the new Harry Potter (tomorrow!), but it's a big deal for lots of people, a big event involving a book, and that's not a common occurrence, especially for a work of fiction. And I can't see it happening again, soon or maybe ever, except maybe for the sequel to The Da Vinci Code and how depressing a thought is that?

The tally of new novels set in Venice published in any given year usually easily outstrips those set in Florence, but as the second new novel set in Florence published this year plops onto my doormat the Tuscan town easily pulls ahead. It's called A Florentine Death by Michele Giuttari, who's a former police-chief in Florence. I'll be reading and reviewing it soon, but I've a reading group book to finish first, and the new Harry Potter of course.
Reading: A.M.Homes This book will save your life
Watching: 30 Rock
Listening: Scott Walker Scott 1, 2, 3 & 4

Well what do you know - there's a PC computer game called Venice Deluxe. It's a bit like Breakout, as you control a gondola at the bottom of the screen and shoot pieces of treasure up to be caught by wheels and see-saws, and you also catch stuff coming down. The idea is to stop Venice sinking. The Venice styling is bit vague and mostly just olde and stony looking, with lions, but let's not carp. You can download a free trial here.
Reading: Michael Chabon
The Yiddish Policemen's Union
Watching: Buffy Season 1 - starting again!
Listening: Cherry Ghost Thirst For Romance

It happened in February last year, and now it's happened again - all the chocolate machines on the London Underground have been taken out of service, and have been so for a few weeks now. Why?  Also Adam and Eve - should they have belly buttons as they weren't born in the usual way?

This site has been smoke-free from the beginning, but from today smoking is banned in all enclosed public spaces in England. I cannot think of a law that I have been waiting for more avidly, or one which makes me happier. No more will I have my meals out spoiled by noxious fumes from selfish smokers, and no more will I come home from an evening out and have to put every item of clothing in the wash before I go to bed. And then get out of bed to wash the smoky smell from my upper chest hair before sleep. In other and sadder news - the final Aurelio Zen novel from Michael Dibdin is published this week. There was a fine piece about him in Saturday's London Guardian.
Reading: Frederick Rolfe The desire and pursuit of the whole
Watching: The shining
Listening: Josh Haden Devoted

Readers of my self-indulgent and cake-infested trip reports will know how much time I spend in Venetian churches - they being the places to find peace, the best art and some of the most impressive architecture in Venice. But I've long been disappointed at the lack of good books on the subject and the poor quality of the information available on the subject on the internet. So, I thought, why not plug that latter gap, with the help of someone I know who knows more than me? We are now in the process of making something fine, comprehensive and entertaining. More news soon.
Reading: William Faulkner
As I lay dying
Watching: Hot fuzz
Listening: Lavender Diamond Imagine Our Love

Reading around the Venice blogs - I really must make a links page one of these days - I note that there are plans to allow discrete advertising on the sides of vaporettos for the first time, and also on scaffolding on buildings on the Grand Canal. This last idea could fall flat methinks, as most scaffolding on buildings in Venice is up so long the average product would be long superseded by the time it comes down!
Reading: Robert Louis Stevenson New Arabian Nights
Watching: Doctor in the house
Listening: Sissy Wish Beauties Never Die

I've recently been getting a lot of pleasure poking around this web site. It has interactive maps of Venice with little arrows that you click on to see the photographic view in that direction and some good suggested walks. It's a joy to explore favourites spots and find new views. And the photos are excellent too.  Also over at Slow Travel a Google map has been made of Venetian churches.
Reading: Alan Campbell Scar night
Watching: The Green Man
Listening: Candie Payne I Wish I Could Have Loved You More

I've been adding bits of text and screen captures over on the Venice films page, mostly brought about by rewatching Dangerous Beauty and Who saw her die? The latter's memorable chase through a misty derelict warehouse turns out to have been filmed in the Molino Stucky, which was then derelict, and had been for ages, but which is now - following a suspicious fire, of course - a luxury hotel, which opened this week
Reading: Haruki Murakami After dark
Watching: Old Open University TV programmes on renaissance art
Listening: Kate Havnevik Melankton

To coincide with an Anthony Gormley exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in London statues of the man himself have been placed on many nearby roofs, and several far-off ones. It's a weird pleasure spotting them and there are rumours that some people have thought that the statues are real people about to jump. A couple of pics I took yesterday are to the right.


In March I went to the Canaletto exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London and saw an exhibition of artists' self-portraits from the Uffizi in Venice, and raved and ranted about it.  And now,  by spooky coincidence, the Uffizi exhibition has come to the Dulwich. Go see them if you can - they'll probably be better-presented than in Venice, and there'll maybe be a better audioguide.
Reading: Don Delillo White noise
Watching: End of season Scrubs, Simpsons, Lost, Heroes,
and Brothers & Sisters.
Listening: Girlyman Joyful Sign

Reading Darkside by Tom Becker makes we ponder, and not for the first time, why the Brit tendency is to write such stories of lone heroes with very few living (or well) parents (see also Harry Potter, Philip Pullman, Dr Who, Frodo, etc.) and the parents are also almost always not what the seemed; while the American way is usually strong on the family unit (see Steven Spielberg, Six Feet Under, The Simpsons, The Sopranos, 24, Alias, and most recent 'serious' US fiction).
Reading: Patrick Hamilton The slaves of solitude
Watching: Scrubs
Listening: Modest Mouse We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank










The boy is back and full of gelato, mozzarella, olive oil, tomatoes and stories. I've  done a Tuscany Trip Report thing - full of pithy observations and cat and cake pictures. If the recipe works why change it, I say.
Holiday Reading: Anne Tyler Digging to America
Holiday Watching: A bizarre and incomprehensible Italian TV game show involving boxes tied up with string, and someone seemingly guessing that one had a hippopotamus in it, and it did, but it was a computer cartoon. Then the enthusiastic young ladies in small silver bikinis came on and everyone danced to YMCA. And I had not been partaking of anything stronger than raspberry ice cream, I can assure you.
Holiday Listening: church bells and birdsong


So it's off to Tuscany tomorrow, with trips to Siena and Arezzo planned, and a few days in Florence booked - my first visit there in 13 years. I hope that my Florence page will benefit from some new photos, and the freshening of enthusiasm that I'm sure will result. But there's no arguing that the flow of novels set in Florence is considerably slower than that of those set in my other two cities, which is a bigger reason why that page seems sometimes to gather dust, I think.  I'm back on the 2nd of May. Miss me!
Reading: John Connolly The book of lost things
Watching: Brothers and sisters
Listening: Husky Rescue

Interesting to read that the Customs House in Venice, empty these past 30 years, is to become a museum of modern art. There's been a tussle for the place between the Guggenheim Foundation and billionaire 'French luxury goods magnate' Francois Pinault, and the latter seems to have won. He's already filled the Palazzo Grassi with his shiny modern ... art - you might have passed it and thought 'What's that incongruous and huge poodle made out of balloons doing there?' Mr Pinault's son recently got Salma Hayek up the duff, it seems, and so it's hoped that the museum might open in time for their wedding, or failing that the 2009 Biennale.


To the Queen's Gallery behind Buckingham Palace today to go see the Art of Italy exhibition. Only two rooms of paintings, mostly mannerist and baroque, but so many real gems you don't feel short changed, with Tintoretto, Caravaggio and Giov Bellini providing highlights. A few of the paintings have been loaned to recent exhibitions but most you'll not have seen, and they'll be going back into one of the Queen's big cupboards when the exhibition finishes. The rooms of drawings I found much less interesting. The audioguide is free and fascinating though.
Reading: Granta 97 The Best of Young American Novelists 2
Watching: Brothers and sisters
Listening: Feist The reminder

So farewell then, sadly, to Michael Dibdin who just died at the age of 60 after a short unspecified illness. He started me off on the Italian crime thing and was arguably the author who first introduced us to the darker side of Italy. At least that's what the Guardian leader argued yesterday. They printed an obit too.

I have never in all my visits to Venice seen a boat being driven by a woman. Vaporetti, private boats, water taxis...never under the control of anyone without a willy. So news that a woman is attempting to become a gondolier is pretty amazing, but not new (she's being trying for a few years) but now she's done it.
Reading: P. G. Wodehouse Hot water
Watching: The Belles Of St. Trinian's
Listening: Alison Krauss A Hundred Miles Or More - A Collection

 The word on the street in Venice at the moment is incaprettato, which translates as 'trussed up like a goat'. This being the state of a corpse found near the Ponte delle Guglie last week. It's a standard Mafia method, it seems, and a bit too Donna Leon methinks, in a city famous for its lack of serious violent crime.
Reading: Chine Miéville Un Lun Dun
Watching: Northanger Abbey on UK ITV last night
Listening: Logh North

Today I put up a page of pics and news and stuff from my Venice trip of last week and updated the Venice and Cats page, but only a bit - I didn't find many.
Reading: John McGahern Amongst women
Watching: Yokel chords - a superb Simpsons episode from a few weeks back.
Listening: Art of Fighting Runaways

Could I have chosen a better week to visit Venice? I think not - early enough in the year to be relatively empty but with weirdly warm weather, allowing the wandering around in the short sleeves, the sitting outside restaurants in the evening, and the consumption of gelati abroad with no frostbiting danger to hands. Perfect! Some interesting discoveries, and new favourite places too. I'll do some sort of page later in the week. Meanwhile, in London it's snowing.

You wait ages for a novel for young adults set in an alternative London, and then three come along. After Stone heart I noticed Darkside by Tom Becker and I've just managed to blag a review copy of Un Lun Dun by China Miéville. So, I'm off to Venice on Sunday, and I'll be checking out the feral cat situation, as reported on the cats page and doing all the usual stuff - churches, art, cakes, gelati, blisters - but I'm not doing the day-to-day blog thing this time, as a certain amount of off-lineness seems an attractive and relaxing prospect, as does not lugging my laptop. I'll report back after, though, have no fear.
Reading: Barry Unsworth Stone Virgin
Watching: Casino Royale
Listening: Dolorean You can't win

Happy Birthday to me!
Today I'm being taken to the exhibition of Canaletto paintings of London at the Dulwich Picture Gallery, and then on Sunday I'm being taken to Venice for a week, which takes a fair bit of the edge off the old aging angst I can tell you.

UPDATE: The exhibition was a treat: small but well-chosen, and with a bonus selection of Venice views painted whilst in London, and two big walls of his architectural capriccios (
right) which are special faves of mine. The big difference between his Venice and his London paintings being that the London you see is long-gone and sometimes barely recognisable.

Life's currently a little chaotic here at fictionalcities HQ as we have Hungarian builders in demolishing our kitchen prior to building us a bigger one. So dust, disruption, and traumatised cats, but it will be great when it's finished, hopefully by Easter. Anyway, on a more relevant topic, Linda Proud, the author of  A tabernacle for the sun one of my most favourite Florence/Medici/art novels has been in touch offering me its sequel, Pallas and the Centaur the existence of which is (good) news to me.
Reading: Charlie Fletcher Stone heart
Watching: Flushed away
Listening: Bat for Lashes -  Fur and gold

A kind reader of this site writes with some suggestions for the Venice film page, a request for my Top 10 Venice Reads, and the idea of covering spoken-word versions. Useful suggestions all. Also a link to a piece about Venice by Muriel Spark from 1981. He also reminds me about The Books of Venice: A Conference on the Book in Venice being held in Venice, March 9th-10th. If anyone out there can pass on any knowledge of what the discussion of the topic Fictional Venice throws up I'd be grateful.

A couple of fascinating-looking sites, courtesy of this week's
Time Out
magazine, and both pretty much self-explanatory:
workhouses.org       victorianturkishbath.org
Reading: G. W. Dahlquist
The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters
Watching: The Best of youth
Listening: Beneath the surface vol.3 -  a Bella Union sampler

If you're in London, living or visiting, you might be wondering where you can download an operatic walking tour of London. Well go to andwhilelondonburn.com
I've not tried it myself yet, but it looks like it might be something.

Reading: Donna Leon Suffer the little children
Watching: The comfort of strangers
Listening: Sophia Technology won't save us

Hello Librarians! A ten-fold increase in my hits yesterday seems to be almost solely down to a mention on a librarians' board called Fiction_L - you're all very welcome. Maybe you could do some shelving while you're here. And today's post brought a proof review copy of the new Donna Leon. Happy days!

This year's Donna Leon has been announced, called Suffer the children and out in April, as ever. I've also just noticed that DL's earlier Brunetti books are being republished in the UK using the (very different) American titles, thereby sneakily confusing many people into buying new novels which aren't. Tut-tut. Check out the Venice novels list on this very site to prevent unwanted purchases. What a service!
And in yet more double-title mayhem I've just found out that the novel
The Third Heaven Conspiracy, which I've just reviewed, is called The Mosaic Crimes in the US. This is a direct translation of its original Italian title, but lacks that Da Vinci Code touch.
Reading: Justina Robson Keeping it real
Watching: The Prestige
Listening: Robert Gomez Brand new towns








I'm trying to come up with an idea for a postcard to publicise
my site, and this is one try.

A bit of a book backlog at the bedside currently, including a Pullmanesque fantasy of Venice under the Pharaohs by Kai Meyer,  reviewed somewhat sniffily, but interest-tweakingly, in this weekend's Guardian and leant me by a friend. Sent me by kind publishers are David Hewson's The Lizard's Bite and the book I'm reading at the moment, a tale of Dante solving the strange murder of a mosaicist in medieval Florence. Reviews to follow. The backlog caused by my having to plough through Emma for my reading group. I know that the divine Jane A. is rarely spoken of in the same breath as the word plough, but I just found it too pompous and spun out this time around, with the snobbery more annoying than amusing.
Reading: Giulio Leoni The Third Heaven Conspiracy
Watching: Little Miss Sunshine
Listening: Eddi Reader Peacetime

SNOW!? In defiance of global warming it actually snowed, and it settled, in London last night. It was mostly melted away by midday, but not before I managed to get some pics of our confused white cat Oscar in the garden. A couple are over on my Cats Page - you'll know if you want to go there. Nicely killing two of this site's birds with one exhibition, as it were, is 
Canaletto in England: A Venetian Artist Abroad which is, by all accounts, only a few paintings shy of being better titled
Canaletto in London.
Reading: Jane Austen Emma
Watching: The host
Listening: Babel soundtrack

The past few days have been made spooky by e-mail contact with another chap with my name, who also makes web-sites, is the same age as me - his birthday being within a few weeks of mine - and whose favourite place is also Venice.
Reading: Alan Bennett Untold stories
Watching: The Simpsons Season 9 DVD
Listening: The Album Leaf Into the blue again

Pausing only to wish a Happy New Year to all my readers, a little late I admit, I move on to...the Venice and Cats page, which has been updated, and photos added. And I'd like to mention the Divan Fumoir Bohémien, a very tasteful blog which has mentioned me warmly and which is a visual feast such that it more than makes up for my only having schoolboy French. The blogmistress also gives space to a spiffy-looking graphic novel with a Venetian setting called Les Voyages d'Anna by Emmanuel Lepage (image right) which I really must try to get hold of.
Reading: Cormac McCarthy The road
Watching: The last kiss
Listening: Marisa Monte Infinito particular


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Venice // Florence // London // Berlin