Location: Seattle, Washington, United States

What you have here is an old guy. In education for 30 years, started teaching elementary, ended as library and media director of community college. I've enjoyed mountain climbing, sports car rallying, was pipe major of a bagpipe band, played guitar and sang during the folk revival, walking and hiking later in life. Now fairly sedentary. Enjoy reading, esp. mysteries and fantasy, but my reading is pretty eclectic. Enjoy movies, giving Netflix a workout.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Two Tales of One City

With apologies to Charles Dickens: I’ve just read two books about Venice almost back to back. The first was Venetian Tales by Jane Turner Rylands. This was a book of short stories which got a pretty good review in the Seattle Times. Rylands is a longtime resident of Venice and her husband is the director of the Guggenheim Museum in Venice. I found the stories fairly average. They were undoubtedly based upon acquaintances of Rylands or Venetian characters who are well known. They were well-written but seemed New Yorkerish, interesting but sometimes going nowhere.

I followed that up with The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt, the author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. This was a non-fiction about Venice. It opens with the fire which destroyed La Fenice, the opera house. There are stories about the investigation of the fire, whether it was arson or negligence, the bids for reconstruction and the rebuilding. Meanwhile there is a large section about Save Venice, an organization which helps save buildings and art works. Its membership is largely wealthy Americans and Berendt details the struggle for power within the organization. And to link with the previous book, there is much about Ezra Pound, the poet, his mistress, Olga Rudge, a concert violinist, and the aforementioned Jane Turner Rylands, who sort of schemed her way into Rudge’s life and founded the Ezra Pound Foundation. Rylands and the Ohio lawyer who drew up the incorporation papers outvoted Olga Rudge and spirited the papers of Pound away, ultimately selling them to Yale University for $100,000. The aging Olga Rudge saw $7,000 of that money. Not a kindly story that Berendt tells.

Other stories are about the simple man with the uniforms of police, firemen, medical aid helicopter personnel and many more who was busy directing the various forces in fighting the opera house fire; the rat poison magnate, who formulates said poisons for various parts of the world based upon human eating habits, various expatriates who have lived in Venice for a long time, the glassblower who spent his last years in recreating the fire in glass vase, the poor poet who left a million dollar estate and the prosecutor responsible for the investigation into the fire. I found The City of Falling Angels a much more fascinating book than Ryland’s book of short stories. And forgive me for my enthusiasm for books about Venice. The city fascinates me though I have never been there. There are also some very good mysteries set in Venice written by Edward Sklepowich.


Blogger adamosf said...

Venice is our last planned stop after our brief tour of Italy following the wedding we are attending on Capri. Perhaps I should read Berendt's book before the trip for a bit of background. Of course, we will also be in Naples, Rome, and Florence, which could lead to a lot of pre-trip reading. :)

3:09 PM  

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