The Covid years.


Season's Greetings
This time last year I expressed tentative hopes for 2021 turning out much better than 2020 - worseness taking some doing. These hopes were, it turns out, more than a little misplaced. Christmas got cancelled by Covid, Lockdown 3 followed swiftly and was definitely the worst fun, lasting well into the Spring. We got our jabs and two new monochrome cats, Lily and Minnie, so there were some bright spots. April and May I dedicated to visiting all of London’s Magnificent Seven Cemeteries, plus St Paul’s, Westminster Abbey and masses of museum visits when they reopened. In the summer I managed trips to Edinburgh, (Medieval) Suffolk, Norwich and Durham. The many cemeteries of Edinburgh proved something of a 2021 highlight in their monumental variety. Medical procedures involving having a camera inserted where no camera should be, and having a toothache and a tooth out, cast a bit of a pall over the summer, but I’m officially clean-bill-of-health well now.

Things looked to be heading well in the right direction in the Autumn, and foreign travel began to look possible, if not exactly easy and comfortable. And then Omicron came along and trepidation and uncertainty returned, and they remain as I type this. Another year passes without one visit to Italy, then, and my raison d'être, it can be argued, remains unsatisfied for a second year.

I continued to prepare my new Ferrara churches page, still pending an actual full-on photo-and-visit week. Help came from an art student from Athens who I 'met' on an online V&A course who has just presented her dissertation on Leonello d'Este.  I've also had stout and sterling help from two visitors to Venice this year, one from Prague one from the USA, with opening and scaffolding news, thereby keeping my info fresh in odd times. Which is all very heart-warming: international cooperation at a time when we're hunkering down.

So I'll simply and swiftly end with fingers crossed again for a new year of travel and good health.

My Top 11 Books of 2021
George Eliot Middlemarch
 Ben Hopkins Cathedral
Laurie R. King Island of the Mad
This is the 15th of the author's series of novels featuring Mary Russell and her much older sidekick
Sherlock Holmes in the early 20th century. The other, non-Venetian, volumes in this series,
read in order, were the comfort-reading highlights of 2021, a year which needed them.

Bridget Collins The Betrayals
Maylisde Kerangal Painting Time
Natasha Pulley The Kingdoms
Sarah Winman Still Life
Jas Treadwell The Infernal Riddle of Thomas Peach
Colm Tóibín The Magician
Cal Flyn Islands of Abandonment
Makiia Lucier Year of the Reaper

My Top 11 CDs of 2021
Birdpen All Function One
The Anchoress The Art of Losing
Flock of Dimes Head of Roses
Birdy Young Heart
Chantal Acda Saturday Moon
The Weather Station Ignorance
Big Red Machine How Long Do You Think It's Gonna Last?
Lindsey Buckingham Lindsey Buckingham
Aimee Mann Queens of the Summer Hotel
Elbow Flying Dream 1
Voces8 Infinity


Having somewhat overindulged in art-book-buying of late I committed myself to NoBookvember. Feeling virtuous at having achieved that goal I thought 'why not blow the money saved on some lovely stained-glass', and searching ebay found this panel (see below right). Still unsure how I'm going to display it, though - it's pretty big and heavy. Also: how's your Latin? Google gives me...

d. d.
Grateful Parents
because of life
Walter Basil Louis Bonn
AD 1897

News of novels for us to look forward to in 2022. The Angels of Venice by Philip Gwynne Jones sees Nathan Sutherland investigating the death of an art historian during 2019's bad floods, but we'll have to wait until July to read it. Venice-set books containing the word Angel are far from rare - Miss Garnett's Angel, The City of Falling Angels, The Garden of Angels, The Painter of Angels and Angel of Venice, to name several. The new Brunetti from Donna Leon is published in March, a few days before my birthday, as usual, and is called Give Unto Others. Also it'll be 30 years next year since the first Brunetti, Death at La Fenice.

July to November 2021
Daniel Wallace Maze Young Bellini Venice
Durham Trips
Serge Simonart Venezia Venice
Carpaccio in Venice: a guide Venice
E.M. Forster A Room with a View Florence
Sarah Winman
Still Life Florence
Norwich Trips

With only a couple of cold months left in 2021 I am becoming resigned to staying in my own country until next year. Travel to Europe  has become possible, but what with the talk of passenger locator forms, green passes, and the PCR/antigen tests business, not to mention the need to wear a mask, I am think that waiting for the Spring might make for a pleasanter experience. The first of my guided art trips postponed to 2022 is Toulouse in March - neatly exactly two years after my last (Covid-cursed) trip abroad, to the Van Eyck exhibition in Ghent. Two years! Still I've kept busy and my churches pages have all been refreshed with book reading and updated with reports from more intrepid travellers, as well as sundry sprucings up and tidyings. Some memorable travel around my own country too. Onward!

I came back from my trip to Durham to weather not as cold as when I went, and a letter from the NHS inviting me to book my covid booster jab.  I went online that night and booked an appointment the next  morning at a vaccination centre in an ex-chemist's near Amen Corner. It all went v. smoothly, with no queuing, and while I was waiting my statutory 10 minutes before leaving one of the volunteers kept me entertained showing me her string tricks, where you entwine and knot a loop of string around your fingers and them tug an end and it comes miraculously undone, without the loss of even one finger. Magic! Or to put it another way – isn’t the NHS wonderful!


Fans of
The Master, Colm Tóibín's fictionalised life of Henry James, will be excited by the prospect of The Magician, a similarly sharp look at the life of another very Venice-connected author, Thomas Mann. I've only just started it but it already has me, not least for, when dealing with Mann's early years in Lübeck, not flinching from his early encounters with marzipan, what made Lübeck famous.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David Whittaker Mindful of Venice Reflections and Meanderings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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Venice // Florence // London // Berlin