This essential book for cultural travellers by Maria-Jose Gransard is reviewed by Patricia Cleveland-Peck
For any Venice devotee who finds travelling enhanced by following in the footsteps of writers, artists and musicians this book will prove an absolute treasure – and surely there can be no other city in the world which has inspired so many artists to so much great work?
The author, who divides her time between London and Venice where she conducts seminars and runs walking tours not only has superlative knowledge of the city but she has also researched the writings of not only famous but also lesser-known literary figures very deeply. Her great achievement is that rather than having produced a tedious catalogue – for let’s face it, many artists have reacted to the charms of La Serenissima with rather similar expressions of amazed delight – she has managed to give us a text which is fresh, entertaining and informative.
The use of small but vivid detail enlivens the book throughout – at the very beginning, for example, we learn that at a Doge’s banquet Henri III of France was given a table napkin made of sugar and towards the end that Louis Aragon, a doctor, attempted suicide in Venice but underestimated the lethal dose.
Above all this book is a true guide for the author indicates which of the sites mentioned we can see or visit today together with any changes and also contains an appendix detailing the people and their Ventian locations.
It is divided into six themes: Faith, Art and Politics; Haven and Inspiration; Illusion and Disillusion; The Grand Tour; Lust and Love and Death and Mystery, and these do shape the text more interestingly than would a merely chronological account. The scope is wide with the works of 100 English, German and Spanish artists placed not only in a geographic but also a historic context which takes us from before Venice’s role as a halt on the journey to the Holy Land right up to the current pleasures of Harry’s Bar.
The author mentions that over 500 films have been made in the city. She pays especially attention to Thomas Mann’s story Death in Venice directed brilliantly by Visconti, Don’t Look Now directed by Nicholas Roeg from a short story by Daphne du Maurier and one of my personal favourites Anonimo Veneziano directed by Enrico Maria Salerno from a script by Giuseppe. Berto.
Within pages of this book I was happy to meet many familiar and well-loved characters; Thomas Coryat who in 1608 walked 1975 miles to Venice and back in the same pair of shoes, Henry Wotton, British ambassador who famously defined his role as being that of an “ an honest man sent to lie abroad for the good of his country.” Also Casanova, George Sand, Marcel Proust, Mariano Fortuny, Ernest Hemmingway, Paul Morand, Henry James and many, many more. I also I learned many new facts about some of them such as the appalling story (a true echo of The Aspern Papers) of Mary Rudge and the Ezra Pound documents.
I was also introduced to many new writers – or do I mean ‘too many’ new writers? I was reading this book at my computer ( which was handy for looking at paintings mentioned) but this meant it was also all too easy succumb to the ‘one click’ and purchase yet more books for my personal Venice library. Even so I still have a long wish list – plus many notes to accompany me on future walks and explorations of the city for which I am grateful.
This is a richly satisfying book for any of Venice’s legion of enthusiasts and admirers.
Published by I.B.Tauris @ £16.99