There seems to be a bit of confusion over when Francesco da Mosto's first novel is coming out. It's called Black King and it's an historical novel set in Venice, of course. It was first announced as being published in early March but now Amazon are saying late May and the website of Ebury, the book's publishers, is saying 2098!

 A bit of forward-looking first. The series of BBC adaptations of Michael Dibdin's Aurelio Zen novels starts on Sunday 2nd January at 9.00pm on BBC1 with Vendetta (the second in the series) to be followed by Cabal and Ratking, but not Dead Lagoon, the one set in Venice, sadly. Rufus Sewell plays Zen, a little bloodlessly and unsquidgily according to a recent review of the series on Radio 4's Front Row, but overall convincingly, they say. The radio reviewers also revealed that Dibdin himself once wanted Alfred Molina to play Zen. Molina being the actor who played Magdalen Nabb's Marshal in a never-repeated 90s TV film.

It's December and so it's the traditional time to do the year-end best ofs. Mine are on my news page. Not a classic year for fiction with a Venetian setting, but some stonking good reads nonetheless. Not sure when/if I'll be visiting Venice in 2011, but have no fear - Vienna and Florence are on the cards. Also The Guardian reviewed city-pick Venice at the weekend. Click here to read it, and the FT is reviewing it next Saturday.

And in Donna Leon news...her Brunetti for 2011 is due out in April, of course, and is going to be called Drawing Conclusions. She also has a book and CD set coming out called Handel's Bestiary: In Search of Animals in Handel's Operas in which she writes about changing attitudes through history to some of the animals mentioned in some of Handel's arias. It contains illustrations by wacky German artists Michael Sowa - you know, he of the bunnies doing handstands and oddly athletic pigs.

My CDs of 2010
Folded Light Kelly
Shearwater Golden Archipelago
Botanica Who You Are
La Strada New Home
The Autumn Film The Ship and The Sea
Baxter Tell me like it is
Band of Horses Infinite Arms
The Acorn No Ghost
Jim Guthrie Now, More Than Ever
Arcade Fire The Suburbs
Lost in the Trees All Alone in an Empty House
Annuals Count the Rings
Sahara Smith Myth of the Heart
The Unfazed

I couldn't get the books up to 10, and I couldn't get the CDs down to 10.
American indie music dominates, and entertains mightily.

My Books of 2010
Stephen King  The Dark Tower series
Hilary Mantel  Wolf Hall
Justin Cronin The Passage
Cherie Priest Boneshaker
Mark Charan Newton  Nights of Villjamur
Paul Murray  Skippy dies
Iain Pears Stone's fall
Miranda Miller 
Nina in Utopia

A funny old year, dominated for me by big sci-fi reads, the biggest being the Stephen King series. Previously I'd thought Mr King a very bad writer, based on the one other book I'd ever read, but now I'm totally smitten by this mind-bogglingly wonderful series, which combines cowboys, King Arthur and sci-fi. Maybe he got someone else to write them. An advantage of e-book reading is that these doorstop tomes seem much less daunting when they are merely numbers counting down at the bottom of a Kindle screen, and you don't have to carry them around printed on lots of paper. All this big-book indulgence brought about by a mighty lean year for Venice-set fiction, with Iain Pears the sole standout.

Well, the event announced below went smooth and swimmingly and the book itself is a real Venetian treat, as well as more than something of a sampler of the books recommended by this site. Extracts were read (with mine mostly 'accidentally' concerned with vile smells and sewage!) and questions were answered - why IS Venice so strongly associated with death? Later there was mingling and talk of Venice and cats and Slovenia. And I got to sign some books -  a first! Photos from the event are to the right.

I'm the one in the grey shirt, the Oxygen team are Malcolm Burgess and Heather Reyes.

So, you remember that book that I wrote the introduction for that I've been going on about, city-pick Venice? Well, it's published on the 4th of November and, to quote the press release, it brings together over fifty of the very best writers on Venice, whose novels, memoirs, journalism, blogs, diaries and letters wonderfully evoke the past and present of La Serenissima as never before.

And there's a fab launch event -  a celebration of all things Venetian, with readings, discussions, samplings, competitions and Italian refreshments with the Oxygen team, Heather Reyes and Malcolm Burgess and Fictional Cities' Jeff Cotton, who has written a wonderful introduction to the book, on
Wednesday 10 November 2010, 7.45 – 9.30 pm,
at Brentwood Library, New Road, Brentwood, Essex CM14 4BP.
Tickets are free but ring 01277 264290 as places are limited. Brentwood Station (30 mins from Liverpool Street) is very close and there is local parking

I'm relying on the FictionalCities posse for a good turn out, and hoping that they'll behave themselves this time.

Leaving Venice aside for once, let's talk about Florence, my more than somewhat forgotten city. The bad news first: fans of Christobel Kent might be excited to notice that there's a new book in her series featuring  detective Sandro Cellini, but their excitement would be sadly misplaced. The new title The Drowning River is in fact merely a retitled reissue of her previous one A Time of Mourning. Is there any excuse for this tactic, which just results in duplicates and anger? I think not.
Much better news comes in the form of a free book through my letterbox. (With thanks to Jilian.) Meeting Dante by Ingrid Soren looks intriguing - a mixture of biography, autobiography and an appreciation of The Divine Comedy. Expect a review soon, informed by my guilt at never getting further than a few dozen pages into Dante's masterpiece.

My cunning tactic when planning my attendance of exhibitions in London is usually best summed up by the phrase 'wait 'til the crowds die down'. This 'plan' usually evolves into forgetting and rushing to catch the show during the last week. If I'm lucky. But the National Gallery's Venice: Canaletto and his Rivals  was obviously going to need better planning. So I rushed gleefully and gamblingly to the opening day and lucked out with sparse numbers and a comfortable morning's Venetian wallowing. The exhibition traces the development of view painting from Canaletto through Bellotto to Guardi, with a smattering of lesser-knowns like Carlevarijs and Marieschi. There's the expected highlights from the Queen's collection and the National's own, but also loans from private collections and a varied selection of other galleries. (The smattering of Canalettos in Spanish galleries is, it seems, due to the fact that his paintings were usually sent to England by sea, passing out of the Mediterranean by Gibraltar, and shipwrecks were then not uncommon.) So there's a good selection of familiar and unfamiliar artists and works, and some telling  juxtapositions. The audioguide is chock full of interest and stimulation, and also some humour, including the award for the best-painted paunch in 18th Century Venetian art. Even if you think that you know Venice and Canaletto pretty well there's more than enough freshness in the approach, choices and detail in the works to keep you fascinated throughout. Me I bought a season ticket.

A couple of news items related to subjects near to our Venetian hearts. Firstly the statue of Sior Rioba has had its head reattached, after its vandalising, stealing and finding in May. Lots of photos of the ceremony and unveiling here.
And then there's the blight of glitzy advertising hoardings on scaffolding, which we've been complaining about for years, but now that a big-name architect (and some museum heads) have noticed these horrors, during the recent architecture biennale, it's made it into the mainstream press. An interesting point in the article is that the blights might be strictly illegal. Not mentioned is the widely-held suspicion that the hoardings stay up long after the work has finished in order to maximise income.

I have returned. New ground was covered and many fine photos taken. Aside from my trip blog I've also added reports and photos to my Ruined Ospedale page and to the Venice and Cats page. On a less positive note I don't think that I'll be staying at the Domus Ciliota again. Click here to read why. Real life - phew!

     I'm in Venice - click here to read what I'm up to.


Clearing out some drawers I found a pile of old filofax pages, which contained diaries I'd written during my first two trips to Venice in 1990 and 1992. This offers up the possibility of my adding some formative experiences to my Trip Report pages. I haven't plucked up to read them yet, though - you know how it is with reading old thoughts - and they might not bear repeating.

A more uncomplicated pleasure was finding an old card advertising The Mandeer (see right). This long-closed Indian restaurant was my lunchtime haunt of choice on shopping trips in the 1980s. It did a bargain buffet lunch in a labyrinthine basement behind Tottenham Court Road. The nasty new block opposite the nasty block containing the YMCA was built over it. It moved to cramped ex-bank-like premises in New Oxford Street briefly, opposite the Hawksmoor church, but didn't last long there. Oh the chick-pea curries of yesteryear!


A bit of a roundup...I've joined Venice in Peril because, well, it was beginning to seem perverse of me NOT to have joined. So I've paid me 50 quid and am now liable to attend sundry talks and shindigs and to tell you all about them.

My next Venice trip is barely a month away. Intentions this time include more islands, a day out to Verona or Padua, keeping up my gelato-a-day rate and another visit to the Lido's ruined Ospedale. Talking of which, I've just spruced up my Ospedale al Mare page with a few new photos and lots of very old ones, like the one on the right.

The lean time for Venice-set fiction continues, but The Chamber of Ten by Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon is on its way and looks fantastical, at the very least. Then there's Secret Venice, a guidebook from Jonglez Publishing, which also promises to be something else. Reviews of both coming soon.


The eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed that I haven't had a new author on my new Venice Questions page for a good few weeks. Well that's because tricky negotiations have been going on and I can now reveal...well, regular readers of this site will know how I hesitate to use superlatives like legendary (except in relation  to King Arthur) but some of the authors I'll be featuring are veritable gods of Venetian writing. And first up, and to prove my point,  is John Julius Norwich.

Life is full of surprises, is it not? Last week I learned that this website had been mentioned in Marie Clare magazine (see right). The fact that it was in the July edition, which had been on sale for more than a month - the August edition was out - would seem to suggest that there are not a lot of  Marie Clare readers out there amongst you lot. So thanks to Gail in Brighton for the heads up, and to her hairdresser's for allowing her to tear the page out and send it to me, if they did!

Having a bit of a Mary Lutyens fest at the moment. Finding a novel set in Venice that she had written I looked her up, and what a life!  Firstly she's the daughter of Edwin, the great architect of the Raj, and then her mother Lady Emily, the daughter of the Viceroy of India, becomes a big noise in Theosophy, which eventually leads to Mary becoming the prolific biographer of Krishnamurti, the movement's messiah figure. Later she marries J.G. Links, who goes on to write one of the definitive guides to Venice. She's also known as the editor of John Ruskin's wife Effie's letters, in Effie in Venice amongst other volumes, and later wrote a biography of her father. The novel, Meeting in Venice, is reviewed here, with a review of Effie in Venice coming soon. Both books are unfortunately out of print, but I managed to pick  up both quite easily second-hand online.

If you've read Michelle Lovric's Book of Human Skin, and if I tell you that the Wellcome Institute in London has a new exhibition called Skin which looks at skin as 'a living document: with tattoos, scars, wrinkles or various pathologies, our skin tells a story of our life so far', you'll grin at the spooky synergy, and not be at all surprised that Michelle's doing a couple of events during the exhibition. First up there's a talk, called Skinbound, on Saturday the 3rd July in the afternoon, covering the many and varied skin-related themes of the novel. (Some wincing, and scratching, will be involved.) It's free, but you need to ebook here. Then later she's doing a personalised tour of the exhibition, on Wednesday the 28th of July in the afternoon, which does not require booking. See you there.

A bit of a lean time for new fiction set in my cities, as you may have noticed. So I hope you'll allow me to veer off topic a bit and recommend Venice - an architectural guide by Richard Goy. I don't usually do guides but this is such a sexy and chunky object of desire I must point you in its direction. And new architectural guides to Venice don't get published every year. It takes the trusted form of a lot of walks, but is copiously indexed. Obviously covering all the major buildings in all of Venice means that the info given tends heavily to conciseness, but it's good to know you'll find something about everything, as it were.

A last-chance plug for Michelle Lovric's talk for Venice in Peril - The Night Venice Nearly Died - The Conspiracy of Bajamonte Tiepolo 1310–2010. It's at the Royal Geographical Society in London on Tuesday 1 June at 7pm. It's a rare chance for non-Venetian-residents to get informed and involved with the major Venetian anniversary of this year. Involvement is necessary as there are still no plans for the Column of Infamy - the monument erected to mark the failure of the conspiracy - to be displayed anywhere but in a dingy locked basement. Tickets and further details are here, with more about the column and the conspiracy here.

Home, to sub-zero temperatures and a sub-standard new government - the Con-Dems. Oh well, the trip was a good one, and I came back to an unprecedented pile of three free reviewables in one week. Two are from London Books' Classics series - Wide Boys Never Work by Robert Westerby and The Gilt Kid by James Curtis - a couple of culty 30s low-life jobbies. Then there's The Pindar Diamond by Katie Hickman, a Venice thing. But I'm still only half way through (and mightily enjoying) Wolf Hall.

Jeff's in Venice - May 2010

The day of my departure for Venice (May 5th) is being marked by a bit of a Venetian mediafest. Jamie Oliver's latest globetrotting cookery TV series reaches Venice that night, promising risotto, prosecco and sea food action. And on Radio 4 A Perpetual Love Affair, a series about writers' relationships to Venice begins with Byron; to be followed by two more 15-minute episodes dealing with Henry James and Jan Morris. But Vampires of Venice, the Doctor Who episode going out on the 8th, seems to have been filmed in Trogir, in Croatia. Disappointing.

You know the famous Venetian statue of Signor Rioba (which you usually pass on the way to the Madonna dell'Orto) the one with the metal nose? Well some bastards have decapitated it. As of the night of April 30th/May 1st one of Venice's attractions is now a headless corpse. Words fail me, but the new mayor Giorgio Orsoni sensitively summarises when he says  ‘Last night’s act of vandalism forces us to confront the fragility of our artistic patrimony, constantly exposed to ignorance and lack of culture, and so difficult to protect.’

UPDATE 4.5.2010 The head's been found, in a plastic bag by a binman. It's said to be in good nick and also to have been theft rather than vandalism, foiled by all the ruckus. Hallelujah!

April's been a bit quiet around the site due to some sad family stuff in real life.  But as an antidote, both personal and site-related, I'm off to Venice next Wednesday. It's going to be more of a relaxing holiday than the solo church-centric canters of recent trips. I'm hoping to trip-blog a bit, and am expecting to feature less churches and more restaurants this time. I hope that the gelato and gatto rate will stay about the same, though, or maybe increase.

Number 4 is the one.

This is the palazzo that features my favourite rusty gate (see below).
If you panned the camera to the right you'd see a bridge,
with the façade of the church of San Pantalon beyond.

The dangers of restoration? I know which sign I prefer.
Nice of them not to move the tastefully-placed sliver of fallen stone though.


Evidently episode 6 of the current series of Dr Who is called The Vampires of Venice. The clip on YouTube has more (cute, shift-wearing) vampires than Venice, but let's wait and see - they might've done some actual location filming, and it might not have been around San Marco and the Salute.

A couple of correspondents have enquired as to the delay in my reviewing the new Donna Leon. To which question I reply: 'Don't ask me, ask the Heinemann publicity people!'  They've not come up with the goods, or indeed replied to my emails, for a fair few years now.  I was planning on waiting for my library reserve to come in, but have just weakened and ordered it from Amazon. What the hell, it's only £8.49.

Happy Easter! And to celebrate this time of chocolate eggs and simnel cake I'm introducing a brand new thing. It's called ...
The Venice Questions
 ... a new page where I e-interview authors and probe their thoughts and feelings about Venice. First up for a grilling is Michelle Lovric, celebrating the publication of her new book next week. More authors will follow and I'm not over-attached to the name, so that may change too.
I've also taken the Venice Questions quiz myself, on my Me page.

Fans of this site will hopefully have long been aware of Oxygen Books' series of city-lit/city-pick books which scoop up juicy fragments of fragrant writing relating to particular cities and make them into portable, readable and inspiring books. I warmly recommended their London and Berlin volumes on my London and Berlin pages in 2009, and now comes the news that a volume devoted to Venice is planned for November 2010 publication. And who do you think they're getting to write the introduction? Give up? Me!

If you're reading anything about Venice in the press at the moment it's probably regarding Brangelina and their brood swarming around town while Ms Jolie films The Tourist with Johnny Depp. They're staying at the Palazzo Mocenigo, which has sprouted a somewhat ostentatious canopy (photo below right) over its water gate, which says 'stay away' and 'look at us' in about equal measure. Not much info about the film in all this, but it seems it's a remake of a French film - a thriller about a tourist (Depp) used by Interpol (Jolie) to flush out a criminal with whom he once had a thing. The director's previous film was the wonderful The Lives of Others and Julian Fellowes is involved with the script, so it might not be that bad. Reports do tell of a 'sizzling' sex scene in a shower, filmed in the Palazzo Pisani Moretta, standing in for the Danieli Hotel (photo above right by Michelle Lovric). Also stallholders in the Rialto were paid €42,000 (€1000 each) for a day of filming when they had to close the market to shoppers. They also paid €64,000 to change the market curtains which were too grubby for their purposes, which included having Johnny Depp launch himself from the loggia above the fish market, landing on a curtain covering a veg stall.

At this time of year it's not exactly unknown for things to be a bit slow and the days to be dark. But blimey! Things are looking up a bit, though. This evening I gave the cats their evening feed without having to turn the light on! It helped that I was feeding them an hour early, but they didn't seem to mind.  There's a new novel set in Venice just out too -
The Venice Conspiracy by Jon Trace - which I'll try to grab a read of. And on a personal note...only three months to wait before I'm off to Venice for a week. Let's get this year on the road!

It's funny isn't it, how if you don't know that something exists you can't know how empty your life has been without it? No, I'm not talking about the iPad, I'm talking about Carabinieri-hat-shaped chocolates. Here's a photo, in case you don't believe me.

A date for all Venice-lovers' diaries. On the 1st of June this year's Venice in Peril summer lecture
The Night Venice Nearly Died - The conspiracy of Bajamonte Tiepolo 1310–2010 will be given by our mate Michelle Lovric, who'll be introduced by John Julius Norwich. The conspiracy makes for a gripping story, involving the planned murder of Doge Pietro Gradenigo, and was dramatically (and bizarrely) foiled. The contemporary relevance is provided by the continued confinement of the commemorative Column of Infamy which was made and erected so that this event should no be forgotten, but which remains woefully undisplayed in remote storeroom of the Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia.
The lecture is at
The Royal Geographical Society in Kensington SW London and tickets are available here. See you there.

Still looking forward...the immediate future seems to hold few new novels set in Venice. There's the new Donna Leon (A Question of Belief) in April, as ever, and a cash-in cookbook (
A Taste of Venice: At Table with Brunettis) is promised too. I'd be surprised if I was disappointed by the former, but expect to be by the latter. Although my mouth is watering at the prospect of Donna L's own favourite - the pumpkin risotto. But the new-novel dearth means I'll be attacking my backlog of older books. You know what they say about clouds.

It's good to have something to look forward to, is it not? The London National Gallery's big winter exhibition, beginning on the 13th of October 2010, is going to be Venice: Canaletto and his Rivals. We're promised a major show, with loans from private and public collections, including the Queen's, and also works by Carlevarijs, Marieschi, Bellotto and Guardi. Me I'm also looking forward to a possible trip to Venice in May.

A bit of a grim festive season for Venetian residents with the joys of snowy blankets soon turning to tricky ice and bad floods. There are photos on the BBC website, and intrepid correspondents have provided two more which I reproduce here. The early morning Piazzo San Marco photo below is by Graham Morrison. The gondola station in a blizzard to the right is by Kim Hart.

My Garden of Eden page is not the one I get the least correspondence about, and all you GofE fans out there might like to know that there was a Twenty Minutes program about the place on BBC Radio 3 last week. Click here to find out more. And I found a fascinating-looking article about Venetian gardens on ebay last week too, with a fair few pages about the GofE. But I've bought it now and will add any juicy stuff I glean from it to the page.

And in even better news - I'm an author! I made a book out of my trip reports and have self-published it using lulu.com. I got my first copy through the post today and, well, what can I say? It's a thing of great beauty. I can see now why they call this vanity publishing. Click on the button below to see, and buy!

 Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

My Books of 2009
Robero Bolaño 2666
Robert Charles
Wilson Spin
Elle Newmark
The book of Unholy Mischief
Ian R MacLeod The House of Storms
Chloe Aridjis
Book of Clouds
Michelle Lovric
The Undrowned Child
Carlos Ruiz Zafón The Angel’s Game
Ariana Franklin
City of Shadows
Colm T
óibín Brooklyn
Margot Lanagan Tender Morsels
Lorrie Moore A Gate at the Stairs

A lean year numerically for Venice-set novels, but it's straight into the
canon for the Ms's Lovric and Newmark. I read even fewer novels set in Berlin, though, and they both made the list. An unplannedly 'correct' sex-split, I notice, and an unusually high number of ofs in the titles.

My CDs of 2009
Grizzly Bear Veckatimest
Whitetree Cloudland
Hannu Harhailua
Woodpigeon Treasury Library Canada
Ohbijou Beacons
Fanfarlo Reservoir
Peter Broderick Music For Falling From Trees
The Apathy Eulogy Resolved to dream
Halloween, Alaska Champagne Downtown
The Dodos Time to Die
Silver Starling s/t
Ólafur Arnalds Found Songs
World's End Girlfriend Air Doll O.S.T.

Lots of American indie stuff again, but spiced up with some weird organic
electronica/modern classical stuff - my 'thing' of the year.

If you've ever thought it would be nice to spend some time in Italy during the Renaissance then you might like to investigate Assassin's Creed II. It's a new video game where you play as the son of a Florentine banker who becomes involved in murder and murky dealings that take him to cities large and small in Renaissance Italy, including Florence and Venice. You'll be doing a fair bit of killing, which might be a drawback, depending on what your plans for spending quality time during the dawn of western civilisation might be. But you do get to meet Medici princes, Machiavelli and Leonardo da Vinci. You also get to use flying machines, and stuff, designed for you by the latter.  The original Assassin's Creed was gorgeous to look at but tedious to play, I thought. This sequel seems to have kept the original's strengths and tightened up on its weaknesses. From the trailers the cityscapes look very detailed. Some of the architecture looks a little... adjusted, but much more authentic-looking than when Lara Croft did her thing in Venice. I've not played a new game in ages, but this is darn tempting.

There's going to be a mock funeral procession on the Grand Canal today marking the death of Venice, with 'death' defined as the population dipping below 60,000. This figure is disputed, of course, and doesn't include the 120,00 who live on Murano, the Lido and the other lagoon islands. Scientists from an American university will also be taking DNA swabs as part of research into residents' origins. There's a poster on the right, and a photo of the press scrum. And now some rather touching blogging on the event.

Things seem to be going a bit Berlin at the moment. The anniversary of the wall coming down is prompting some documentaries, including a long and well-reviewed one on BBC2 tomorrow night, called The Secret Life of the Berlin Wall. Also a Berlin volume of the city-lit series is just out and will be reviewed here soon, postal-strike willing.

A new series (the 8th) of German TV adaptations of Donna Leon's Brunetti novels has just started, with Through a glass darkly. Suffer the little children seems to be up next. Details are to be found here. Still no news of the rumoured BBC series, though.

My to-be-read pile of Venice-related novels has for a few months now contained a novel by David Hewson called Lucifer's Shadow, and now a kind correspondent has pointed out to me that he has a new one out, called The Cemetery of Secrets. But it turns out that they are one and the same, judging by the irate reviewers on Amazon who were suckered into buying the new one even though it's just the old one with a new and different title. Very naughty. And the aforementioned pile looks like it might just dwindle well over the coming months, as there seem to be  no new novels set in Venice planned for publication until well into 2010.

We went to the Turner and the Masters exhibition at the Tate Gallery last week. It deals with his influences, but also with the artists that he felt he needed to compete with and/or emulate during his career. (The current art-historical obsession with artist's competitiveness and rivalry leaves me cold and unconvinced, mostly, I must admit.) This stress left me leaving the exhibition pondering his limitations rather than his strengths - he just couldn't do facial expressions - but it has some nice  paintings in it, a few of which were new to me. One of these was The Depositing of Giovanni Bellini's Three Pictures in the Church of the Redentore, Venice, which  shows the three Bellini paintings arriving at the church in splendid procession in gondolas. This scene was an invention based on no known accounts, especially as the paintings in question are now known to not be Bellini's work, a fact established not many years after Turner painted the scene. The caption and the unfascinating audioguide didn't feel that this fact was important or interesting enough to mention. I disagree.

Home, and very happy to have had a great time this time. Tons of photos and loads of visits and facts to add to my Venetian churches website. Well the weather's turning colder so I didn't want to be on the streets anyway.

Gone to Venice
Featuring for your Guaranteed Delight
reports of sundry churches, cats, and cakes.
Also a pretty cemetery, a nude female torso,
a stupid boy with a frog, a hospital in ruins,
a painted submarine and a long-forgotten ballroom
 with crumbling cornices.

See... Jeff in Venice - 2009

There's a handy little function of Paint Shop Pro called
One Step Photo Fix.
If you keep 'fixing' the photo over
 and over you end up with photos like these two.

19.9.2009 Open House Saturday
Open House weekend happens in London every September and buildings ordinarily closed can then be wandered around in. And some that are usually open can be looked into too, but with the 'I'm just looking' rationale saving you from paying, buying, praying, or whatever. This year we decided to devote Saturday to a couple of local churches. This would also give my new camera (with its wide-angle lens) an outing, and a practice run for Venice next week. Not part of the scheme, but with a temptingly open door, was our nearest church, All Saints Tooting (right) which we had lived in Tooting almost 20 years without ever having been inside. It's big for a back-street church and turned out to be impressive inside, with odd wood panelling between the ribbing over the nave and aisles. This cladding may explain the church's popularity as a recording venue - the nice lady we got chatting to mentioned names like Previn and Barenboim. She'd lived in Tooting long enough to have got married in this very church, during an air raid, with the all clear sounding just as the bride and groom left the church. Christ Church Streatham (above and below right) has a bit of a Byzantine thing going on, and a fine detached campanile. The church was enthusiastically staffed and had a fine array of home-made cakes on sale, including a Caribbean coconut cake new to me, and very chewy and coconutty it was too. St Mary Balham (below) is another much-walked-past church, which turned out to an oddly flat and wide interior and an impressive dark decorated apse. And a very friendly black dog.


A fair bit of controversy was generated this week by a new London tube map. And that's not a sentence I thought that I'd ever type. Transport for London had decided to simplify the thing, you see, and so had left off the squiggly representation of the River Thames that runs through it. Judging by the pictures in the paper this was a success, but various blustering right-wing newspapers and rent-a-quote publicity seekers (like our mad blonde mayor, who would've seen the map weeks before he jumped on the bandwagon) decided to put their oars in, and so TfL have promised to put the river back for the next one, in December. One reason cited for wanting it back was that it is essential for North Londoners to be able to identify (and avoid) the stations South of the river. Such prejudice is neither unusual nor a problem. We don't want their sort down here either.

It was the first book launch I'd ever been involved with and I can't deny I was more than a little nervous, but last Thursday's event at the Italian Bookshop in London for Michelle Lovric's The Undrowned Child went off like a charm. Sitting in front of people and talking about books is not unlike running a book group, I suppose, which I'd done many times. But still...a basement full of strangers...more people upstairs listening....a microphone...a warm evening. But the crowd was pretty warm too, and we were pretty prepared. 'We' were me and Michelle - we were going to discuss the book and Venice after the readings - and the readings were coming courtesy of Claire Bloom, the most famous person I've ever chatted with, and poet/actress Geraldine Paine whose performance of the mermaids and the Butcher Biasio had collies wobbling on both floors. Follow that, as they say, and our discussion of things Venetian and literary was well-received and pretty smooth. And fun. The prosecco flowed afterwards, and Michelle signed some copies in an atmosphere of relief and bonhomie, and I got to talk to a few site fans too. It was good to finally meet some of you lot, and I thank all of you who came for your encouraging support. The Italian Bookshop staff did us proud too, and there was even talk of a future Fictional Cities themed event with a selection of authors. Watch this space for developments. The photograph of the window is by Graham Morrison and the crowd scene was taken by Beatrice Tura.

My letterbox flaps, there's a healthy thump, and I'm now reading Peter Ackroyd's new book - Venice: Pure City.  But do we need another such history/eulogy? Mr A's (largely London-set) novels range from the utterly essential to the safely ignorable and his London history books are largely loved, although I find them just too flowery in the writing. So far the Venice book is proving free of such flights, though, and I'm hopeful. There's a TV series too - here's the details and here's a video.

We all need new experiences and challenges, right? Well, in a month's time a new challenge is coming my way - my first ever involvement in a book launch party. My mate Michelle Lovric is having a bit of a 'do' to launch The Undrowned Child at the Italian Bookshop in London on the 10th of September. Full details are here.

I shall be interviewing her, about the book and Venice, as part of an evening of readings and chat. I've never done anything like this before but the excitement is just about winning out over the nerves. And I'm relying on support from you lot - there is a growing list of Fictional Cities fans committing to coming, so I look forward to meeting you too.




When in Venice be on the lookout for...police jetskis (above, photo by Michelle Lovric) and stupid art at the end of the Dogana (right, photo by Brigitte Eckert) that needs 24-hour security. Whether he's there to protect the 'art' from vandals or enraged aesthetes is not confirmed. The 8-foot-high sculpture is called Boy with frog and I've not seen it yet, but people who have all seem to share a desire to kick its ass into the lagoon.


We are all familiar with the pantheon of Venice-born worthies  - Marco Polo, Casanova, Vivaldi, Veronica Franco, Hugo Pratt...the list is long. And now, I've just discovered, it must be lengthened to include easy-listening maestro Mantovani. Who knew? He may not be a very familiar name to non-Brits, but he was the UK's answer to the likes of James Last and Bert Kaempfert amongst hi-fi fans in the 70s. Maybe if this was more widely known Vivaldi's domination of the Venice tourist-concert repertoire might be seriously threatened. Or not.

So few new novels appearing that are set in Florence, and I go and miss one! Christobel Kent, who's written a couple of Florence-set novels that I liked a lot, has a new one out. It's called A Time of Mourning and is her first venture into crime writing, featuring her new detective Sandro Cellini. Letterbox action expected any day now, so expect a review soonish.

The postcard (right) was picked up at the Venice Biennale, so it's actually art, but it made me grin nevertheless.


A couple of months back I mentioned Tiziano Scarpa's novel Stabat Mater and how it was another addition to the ever-increasing pile of works dealing with the pupils/muses/girls in Vivaldi's life. Reports of its superiority were confirmed by its winning Italy's big literary prize, the Premio Strega. Now comes news that Serpent's Tail (who also brought us Tiziano's witty cultural guide Venice is a Fish) have acquired the English language rights to Stabat Mater. The bad news is we're going to have to wait nearly two years to read it, as publication is set for early 2011.

This week sees the publication of The Undrowned Child, Michelle Lovric's new novel for older children. I think that it'll turn out to be easily the best Venice-set novel of the year and it certainly seems that it'll be getting the promotion that it, and the author, deserves. My review is here.
There's a handsome and entertaining (and very Venetian) site devoted to the new book at www.undrownedchild.com

A bit of a hiatus period at the moment for new books and interesting CD releases; and all the better TV series seem to have ended for the Summer. Yawn. A good time for headshaking at tedious and unsurprising political scandals, though, and festivals. The biggy amongst many in London is the Story of London 'celebration' happening all through June. It includes the Lives of Buildings weekend on the 26th-28th. All good stuff, only spoilt by having our idiot mayor grinning out from the publicity.

Looking at my updates list shows that, after a rash last May and June, my Florence-related content has been pretty sparse. There's just been nothing. But I have had a poke around found a tempting book called The Doorbells of Florence by Andrew Losowsky, where the author's photographs of Florence doorbells precede the stories that the bells suggest. I like the sound of that one. Also The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston, about the famous failure of the investigation into the famous murders, is now out in the UK. And in other non-Venice-related news, publishers Oxygen Books are bringing out books of writings related to particular cities, called city-lit, and amongst the first are London, in June, and Berlin, in November. Stick around for reviews, soon.

OK, so this site is called Fictional Cities because it deals with fiction written about cities, but sometimes the truth can be fascinating too. My pile of books to be reviewed is topped by three works of non-fiction which I think will prove this contention. First up is Piazza San Marco by Iain Fenlon, which  is so far proving an enjoyable, elegant and compulsive read. Then there's Venice, Cita Excelentissima: Selections from the Renaissance Diaries of Marin Sanudo which looks a bit heavier going but comes very highly recommended. Lastly a book which to see is to want - a handsomely illustrated book about Venice's many (now) abandoned islands called The Abandoned Islands of the Venetian Lagoon (Le isole abbandonate della laguna veneziana) by Giorgio & Maurizio Crovato. This last one has, apart from the Venice interest, the whole romantic ruins thing going for it too. Reviews soon.

More Donna Leon news courtesy of Carlo over at Italian-mysteries.com. In an interview last week in San Francisco the woman herself  revealed that she's only ever seen two of the German TV adaptations that she is so dismissive of, and only in German, which she doesn't speak. Also it seems that her favoured producer to make the mooted BBC series is the same one who did the recent marvellous adaptations of Bleak House and Little Dorrit.

Readers of my trip reports will know that after my somewhat lustre-lacking 2008 visit I resolved to miss a year to try and get my Venice-fan mojo back. Yea right, like that was gonna happen. I've just booked this year's trip for the last week in September, and am looking forward avidly. Gelati, gatti, getting into some odd palaces being used for the Biennale...you know how it is.

A bumper weekend for grieving J.G.Ballard fans in the UK Guardian/ Observer. The interview with his partner of 40 years was very humanising, and his last story finds the quintessential London author in Tuscany and taking the leaning of the tower in Pisa to a conclusion. My library has just provided me with the new Donna Leon, and I've spent folding money acquiring a copy of the Brunetti's Venice guidebook. So I'll be reviewing them soon, and hopefully we can move on from some Brunetti-full months, what with the TV-series marathon too. I've just bought myself a rather nice tinted photo off of eBay. There's a scan of it over on the right there  - I'd appreciate any ideas you might have as to where it was taken. Update November 2009: An answer at last! Albert H. writes to say 'It's looking north-west along the Rio Priuli from what is now the Ca' d'Oro Hotel. The bridge is Ponte Priuli, and on the right is Fondamenta Priuli.

The Vivaldi film with the big names that I wrote about in early 2008 remains firmly stuck in pre-production, and now it seems that one with small names has snuck into  post-production. It's a TV film and stars all sorts of Brit actors with little or no previous, including Mick Jagger's son as a pupil of Vivaldi and someone called Steven Cree as the man himself. A male pupil of Vivaldi is something new, to be sure, and all the other names of characters seem invented, so I'd anticipate the old poetic licence getting something of a thrashing here.

In 1981 artist Mario Mariotti invited citizen involvement in a project involving projections of images onto the façade of the Santo Spirto church in Florence. The response resulted in some impressive and quirky images projected onto the church. The shop in the Ricchi cafe in the piazza sells postcards. This is one, and I've put some more here.


One of my spies tells me that at a book signing last week in Cambridge Donna Leon said that she was in talks with the BBC about a new Brunetti TV series. This confirms rumours knocking around for a few months and gives us all something to look forward to. But who will they get to play Brunetti? And his wife? Crucial matters.

I've been offline for a bit, for the past week because I've been decidedly off colour - the worst stomach bug I've ever had laid me low for almost a week. So, from too-much-information to some recent-TV-documentary information. Baroque! - From St Peter's to St Paul's was a three-part investigation of baroque art and architecture on BBC4 by Waldemar Januszczak taking in Italy, Spain and England. Rubens and Rembrandt, Wren and Hawksmoor, Valasquez and Vermeer...the series ranged wide and was stimulating and unpompous, which is just how we like our art history. For a somewhat closer relationship to this site there was also a documentary revisiting the life of old-school documentary maker Alan Whicker. The first part of Alan Whicker's Journey of a Lifetime began in Venice, where AW found himself at the end of WWII and where his journalistic career began. He only lingers there for the first 10 minutes or so of the programme, but nicely sums up the Venice-love so many of us develop, and evokes the joy of post-war in Venice. There's also some black and white footage of his first documentary segment filmed in Venice in the late 50s.

The Sickert in Venice exhibition at the Dulwich turned out to be a small and enjoyable treat. Half of it is the portraits that rainy weather made him try on later visits, and that lead stylistically into his London paintings of women on grubby beds in dingy rooms. This section is maybe more for Sickert fans than Venice fans, but there are enough, and good enough, Venice views in the first three rooms to make a trip worthwhile. And some nice ones of out-of-the-way bits. The reconstructed Veronese altarpiece is well worth a look too.  The catalogue says that, staying on the Zattere, Sickert had been close to the Gesuati church and its Titian Martyrdom of St Lawrence. Wrong! That's in the Gesuiti all the way over in Cannaregio.

And within minutes of me posting yesterday's whinge, one of the books came through the old letterbox. The Madman of Venice by Sophie Masson looks like something a bit different, and you can expect a review here soon. And a parcel of books by Mark Frutkin, mentioned last month,
came this morning.

Almost a complete drying up of the flow of review copies at the moment, I'm afraid, despite my polite requests. Most annoying is my complete failure to make any contact with Heinemann's publicity department, to get a copy of About Face, Donna Leon's new  Brunetti novel, and of Brunetti's Venice, a book of walks. Their e-mail address has been non-functioning since Christmas, their webmaster promises to look into it and then goes silent too, and messages left on their voicemail elicit no response whatsoever. The eight new books supplied and reviewed in February and March last year contrasts somewhat mightily with this year's two. Amongst the books I've asked for are The Madman of Venice by Sophie Masson and Hidden Voices: The Orphan Musicians of Venice by Pat Lowery Collins, another novel about Vivaldi's Pieta girls.

As another one of those darn Birthday jobbies rolls around for yours truly, there is, of course, a Venice-related exhibition on in London - Sickert in Venice at the Dulwich. They have a display based around a reunited Veronese altarpiece on at the moment too. Due to circs beyond... my commemorative visit to the exhibitions won't be until next Friday. I'll let you know.

Yet another article in the Observer yesterday saying how Venice is dying, there are more tourists than residents, things are getting worse fast, nobody's making babies, we're all doomed, etc. It's interesting to note, though, that even when the place is full of tourists the residents still manage to outnumber them, just about. The plans for a Coke machine in every campo don't sound good though.

And in actual book news...Iain Sinclair's new book is a ramble around the London Borough of Hackney, called Hackney, That Rose-Red Empire: A Confidential Report. The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston, the story of the police mishandling of the famous case and their subsequent persecution of the two journalists who set out to discover the truth, has been published in the UK at last. And Drood by Dan Simmons looks like a fascinating and spicy speculation on the life of Charles Dickens around the time of the publication of  The Mystery of Edwin Drood. I've requested review copies of all of these but so far my letterbox has been sadly untroubled. In better book news I've just heard from Mark Frutkin, an author who's offered me a copy of his book The Lion of Venice, not an unusual title for a Venice-related novel, but an uncommon subject -  the life of Marco Polo. And Tiziano Scarpa has a new novel out about Vivaldi and the girls of the Pieta called Stabat Mater. He has done something fresh with this somewhat hackneyed subject, it is said, but an English translation is yet to be even announced, so we'll have to wait to see.

As the globe warms up and the waters rise  it's educational to ponder what it would be like if If London were like Venice. Be sure to check out the illustrations.

This week we didn't just have snow in London we had a snow event - more snow than we've had in 20 years. This resulted in either chaos or calm, depending on where you were and what you read. Out here in Tooting the early part of the week saw lovely quiet roads as the transport system shut down, schools closed and the bin-men and postmen decided not to venture out. Serious snowballing and snowman-building ensued.

I tend to avoid political comment on this site but Silvio Berlusconi seemingly cannot do or say anything without making me hate him even more. He's just reversed a court's sensible decision after a family's 10-year fight to let their comatose daughter die, justifying his action by saying that she's physically "in the condition to have babies". With the departure of G. Bush S. Berlusconi becomes Top Moron, it seems.

Like a cake I couldn't stop eating I've glutted on the TV adaptations of Donna Leon's Brunetti novels mentioned below, and they're now all watched and reviewed, but I want more! Greedy, I know, and let's also hope that the rumours of the BBC contemplating making its own Brunetti TV series are not unfounded. I'm about to start reading 2666, dedicated follower of literary fashion that I am.

The German TV adaptations of Donna Leon's Brunetti novels have been running since 2000 and the DVDs have long been available and annoyingly un-subtitled too. Now a suitably mysterious source has provided me with some subtitled copies of seven episodes (of the 16 made) and I'm working through them and reviewing them here.  A nice start to the year!

So here it is, 2009. What do you think of it so far? I know what you mean, but let's have high hopes - the end of the G.W.Bush years is in sight, and putting them behind us can't but be a good thing. Obama's got a deal of bad **** to deal with, but rather him than the other one and that porn star woman. In a narrower perspective there's the novels mentioned below to look forward to, and a new one by Geoff Dyer called Jeff in Venice and that one's got my name on it. There's also an exhibition opening in March at the Dulwich Picture Gallery called Sickert in Venice. Here's wishing all my readers all the best things in 2009 anyway.

A mysterious postcard found in a library book by a colleague.
Who are those hooded figures? Why are they boating in the flooded piazza?
Where has the campanile gone? Was the photo maybe taken around 1903?

In an extended sofa-gag sequence, after the new widescreen HD titles
premiered last weekend, The Simpsons' sofa makes a break for freedom
and their pursuit involves a gondola chase in Venice.

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