Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

All Aboard the Viking Sea

Up at dawn after a wonderful night’s sleep – we have to have our bags in the hallway by 5 a.m. for pick up and taking to the ship.

Venice at dawn:

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We decide to go to the big buffet today, and, while the buffet is lavish, the dining hall is crowded and noisy, and service is slow and confused. We are nostalgic for our breakfast the day before, quiet, serene, plentiful if not lavish, enough. We could make our own cafe mochas. We go back to our room and debate whether we have time for another vaporetto ride before the shuttle to the ship, and decide we probably don’t, but we do have time for one last wonderful walk. This hotel is in a great location for uncrowded walking.

By 10:30, there is a large crowd waiting, and we are lined up to go aboard the shuttle to the ship. It is a short trip, then we are offloaded and we walk about a quarter of a mile to the processing terminal. I mention this because we don’t really enjoy being a part of a herd, and because people considering travel on the Viking sea cruises need to know about the walking involved, especially if they have mobility issues.

There is a demographic who is on these cruises. No children. These are “destination” cruises, and while they have entertainment on board, entertainment is not a big draw, nor do they bother with casinos. They are destination rich, and enrichment lecture rich. They have a gorgeous spa, and nice fitness room, plus a jogging track on deck 2 and a fitness deck on deck 8. But many people in my demographic begin to have mobility issues, some use canes, some are in wheel chairs, and they struggle with these aspects of the trip, the herding, the walking, even though it is a short distance.

Another snaking line and then we are photographed and given ship cards as we process. Our bags go through screening, and then we enter the ship, to wait in one of the lovely ship spaces to be able to go to our cabin. It isn’t a long wait, but I am stewing a little. We are wasting time! We are in Venice! We don’t have to stand in line; we could come later and process in! We have a quick lunch and head to our cabin.

Our cabin is lovely. We took a “penthouse” because to us, the cabin matters. Philosophies differ, many people choose small cabins, or cabins closer to the fine restaurants because they don’t intend to spend much time in their cabins. We are less social. We like the destinations, we like the spa, and we take our meals in the restaurants, and we spend time in our cabin. We love having our own “veranda” and we like having enough room to lounge around and not bump into one another. This pretty much fits our needs.

 

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One thing we loved is that it is sparkling clean. We also love that there is fresh water waiting for us, and it is refilled every night. Viking excels in these small, but important touches. Notice that there is room for two people to pass each other between the bed and the storage units.

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Lots of places where you can charge up your phones, iPads, computers, camera batteries, etc., and the outlets accept a variety of plugs, and the outlets are plentiful.

 

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A double closet, in the hall way so it doesn’t inconvenience a person sleeping in a bed or the other person who might need to get into the closet while the other person is sleeping. Small matter? It matters! There is also a safe behind one of the drawer units, and up top, an in room individual coffee maker. I never used it because coffee was available everywhere on board, and you could drink it in lovely areas.

One person on Cruise Critic criticized that the coffee was bland and never felt caffeinated. I didn’t find the coffee bland, but I also wondered about the caffeination. But a little less caffein is probably not such a bad thing for me 🙂

 

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Storage under the flat screen TV with two sets of three drawers each, and two great shelves for shoes., under which is a longer drawer.

 

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Another of those small things that matter. We had bedside lamps, and we also had these more focused individual bed lights so that one could read while the other slept. Lovely touch. When I didn’t have enough hangers, Fernando, one of our cabin stewards, quickly brought me more; he and Dina made us feel like treasured guests, and every wish was fulfilled with a smile.

 

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More drawers on the right, and a pull out drawer / refrigerator on the left. Contains champagne, which we didn’t drink, and whatever beverages we wanted – we are so boring, we had a little beer, a little wine and mostly coke and ginger ale. Never touched the hard stuff.

I neglected to take a photo of the bathroom, which was beautiful, all beautiful surfaces and glass, with drawers and shelves to hold all the things you keep handy in bathrooms, and lovely toiletries so we didn’t need to bring any hair shampoo, conditioner, soap, shower caps, or even a hair dryer. While some mornings were chilly, the floors in the bathroom were heated, oh what sweet luxury. The towels were oversized and thick, and the bathrobes ample and warm. Some people wore their bathrobes to the spa, one man even showed up at the fire drill in his bathrobe!

 

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Our veranda. We loved being able to sit or stand outside as we entered or departed a port, but it is hardly private. There are people just like us with verandas on either side, so you can’t help but overhear one another’s conversations. We are sort of private people, so we rarely talked while on the veranda, or even if the door to the veranda was open.

 

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Storage, TV, water . . . we loved that there was a bridge camera, and that the TV also showed the time. It was a huge relief NOT to watch TV, with the utterly vicious election going on.

We had booked ahead, having heard about the super restaurants on board. We ate dinner the first night in Manfredi’s, an Italian food restaurant. The food was really, really good. In the bread basket the table was this very unusual bread, just a thin thin sheet, sort of like peanut brittle, only savory, with slices of garlic baked into it. I’ve never seen anything like it, and it was delicious.

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The food was delicious. And we never went there again. We cancelled our second reservation. The food was wonderful, but too much. We had no control over how much would come. The tables were very close together, and some the people spoke very loudly. The staff was attentive and helpful, but there was also a lot of loud inter-staff co-ordination, a lot of clatter as they picked up dishes, and clanking as flatware and tableware were picked up together. It was noisy, and not private, not elegant dining. The staff sent in orders by cell phone, and to do that effectively, you have to be paying attention. It wasn’t working for us. The food is delicious, but I can’t even remember what we ate.

We explored the ship, and unpacked and fell into bed. At some point, I felt a slight bump, and could sense movement, so I went to the veranda – and we were leaving Venice. I opened the door, which squeaked, and wakened AdventureMan, who joined me, and we sat whispering to one another, watching the lovely sight of slumbering Venice at night drift by. We know that we had extraordinary luck; Venice in late October can be really rainy. We would take that chance. We would go back again in a heartbeat.

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Leaving Venice

 

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November 15, 2016 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Beauty, Bureaucracy, Cultural, Customer Service, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Italy, Safety, Travel, Venice | , , , , | Leave a comment

Venice Does Halloween

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We remember while living in Germany, Hallowe’en was celebrated very differently; people would light candles and visit graves, and on All Saints Day, the following day, would take picnics up the the graves of their loved ones. Now, from store windows, it appears some of the American symbols have become accepted in Venice.

November 15, 2016 Posted by | Adventure, ExPat Life, Germany, Interconnected, Italy, Venice | , | 1 Comment

Dinner at La Palanca, Giudecca

There is a freedom to being retired, a lovely freedom, you begin to care a lot less about “should.” Like, “OMG, we’ll only be in Venice for three days we SHOULD ________” and there are a million things to fill in the blank. We’ve actually been in Venice before, and that takes off a lot of pressure. When we feel, in late afternoon, like a nap before dinner, we don’t feel guilty, we take that nap.

After napping, we know where we want to go, we’ve read about it on Trip Advisor and passed it several times, La Palanca, right by one of the vaporetto stops. La Palanca does not serve dinner, but they do serve little snacks, and after our wonderful lunch at Rosa Rossa and our Tiramisu at the cafe, we aren’t interested in eating a big dinner, a snack is fine with us.

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This is the only photo I could take; this is the bar where people are gathered. There is a party of ten or so back where we are sitting, all old friends and neighbors, drinking, eating snacks. Just after I took this photo, more and more people come in, almost all standing around this counter where wine, beer and little open faced sandwiches are served continuously. We were there a couple hours, we never felt out of place, although everyone else knew each other. One man had his little dog with him, and the dog was a big hit.

If we were going to live in Venice, I think we would like living in Guidecca, where there are not so many tourists, and life seems to be more normal. We like the neighborhood feel, and we don’t mind the vaporetto rides.

We shared a grilled caprese (tomatoes, basil and mozzarella di bufolo) sandwich, then, later, saw a tray of shrimp with onion coming out, and AdventureMan got a couple of those. The onions and the shrimp were pickled; it was a small treat, but memorable.

La Palanca does a great lunch time business, and had we not gone to Rosa Rossa, we would have tried to eat a lunch here. They get great reviews.

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After leaving, we took a last vaporetto ride by night, and by the time we returned, the neighborhood party at La Palanca had spilled out onto the large sidewalk along the canal. It was a Thursday night, maybe they are all celebrating that the weekend is near.

November 15, 2016 Posted by | Adventure, Cultural, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Food, Italy, Living Conditions, Restaurant, Travel, Venice | , | Leave a comment

“You Will Eat Every Bite, and You Will Smile”

We wander the streets, following Guido Brunetti’s path, and then wander back towards San Marco and our shuttle back to the hotel. We’ve spent the day wandering, on foot and on vaporetto, and we are beginning to feel a need for a nap before dinner. Wandering in Venice is sheer delight:

 

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When we get to where the shuttle is supposed to be, there are, literally, hundreds of touristy looking people, and fortunately, several Viking people. We ask about the shuttle back, and they say it will come in half an hour. We head for the nearest cafe and check to make sure it has a ladies room, which it does, but oh-my-goodness, no seat, no lid, and a pull thing to flush, just like the old days when we lived in Germany when I was a kid.  These people know the value of location – take a look at the prices.

 

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The waiter was shocked! Shocked! when we asked for ice cream. No! No! Never in October! (LOL, we didn’t know!) I ordered a coffee and AdventureMan ordered a Tiramisu.

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The Tiramisu was fabulous, everything we have dreamed of so long. It had liqueur in it! It had that unforgettable taste!

 

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We tell a story in my family of our first trip to Italy, when I was 15 and my sisters were younger. It was my Mother’s birthday, and at the hotel where we were staying, they presented her with a surprise birthday cake. It was all so lovely and so gracious. My Mother cut the cake and the waiters brought pieces of it to us, and then, as my mother bit into her piece, she grimaced – the cake was soaked with liqueur. She told my father in a low voice, and he looked at us girls, with a fixed smile that told us he meant business and said “You will eat every bite, and you will smile.”

We were raised to be gracious, and to have grateful hearts. I don’t remember being so all-full-of-gratitude at the time, but I grew to like the Italian style. and didn’t realize how much I had missed it until I tasted this REAL tiramisu.

I remember that also, very graciously, after we had each eaten our piece, even my little 6 year old sister, choking down that liqueur soaked cake, my mother asked the management to please share the joy of her birthday by sharing the rich cake with all the employees and guests (it was a large cake).

November 15, 2016 Posted by | Adventure, Beauty, Chocolate, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Customer Service, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Food, Humor, Italy, Living Conditions, Restaurant, Travel, Venice, Women's Issues | | Leave a comment

“Guido Brunetti Sent Us” (Rosa Rossa Restaurant)

AdventureMan and I read a series of detective novels set in Venice by author Donna Leon, who lives there. Commissario Guido Brunetti is a patient, thoughtful and smart detective, working under a lazy, corrupt and greedy boss in a country rife with corruption. Each book has a social issue in Venice as its topic, and not lightweight topics – the arrogance of dumping trash, boatloads of trash, off the coast of Somalia (had you ever heard of that before? Neither had I. But it is true, and it has ruined traditional Somali fishing), big pharma and tainted drugs, sex tourism and human trafficking, governmental bribery – Donna Leon fearlessly tackles them all.

Guido Brunetti loves Venice, and he loves his family. His solace in life is his wife, a professor of literature at the university, and his two children. His wife cooks meals that make the reader’s mouth water as they read, or Guido and one of his lieutenants will stop at a restaurant for lunch.

In one of the books, “Blood From a Stone,” American tourists give evidence to a stabbing they witness on their way to dinner. To thank them for their help, he directs them to a GOOD Venetian restaurant, and tells them to say Guido Brunetti sent them.

We don’t say that. No matter how real Guido Brunetti has become to us, we know he is not real, and we don’t say he sent us. But we do take the tiny winding back lanes to find Rosa Rossa, and while we order familiar salads, we also order Venetian specialities for our main courses.

Rosa Rossa on a tiny but busy street:

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AdventureMan’s favorite salad; he loves Caprese:

 

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I had a garden salad:

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I love black spaghetti, or Pasta Nero. It is made with squid, and squid ink, and I first had it at a lovely dinner a long time ago in Damascus, Syria, served by a beautiful Italian who swore t me that this dish is Southern Italian. If so, I ordered it anyway, in honor of Beatrice, and it was delicious.

 

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AdventureMan ordered Pasta with Squid and pepperoncini, and he said it was very piquant, and that he has never eaten so much squid in his life at one time.

 

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We passed on dessert, knowing we still had miles to walk, and possibly a gelato toward the end. We had such a short time to enjoy Venice, searching for and finding Rosa Rossa was a lot of fun, and a great adventure. They took good care of us, and the food was delicious.

November 14, 2016 Posted by | Adventure, Books, Bureaucracy, Civility, Community, Crime, Cross Cultural, Detective/Mystery, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Food, Italy, Local Lore, Restaurant, Venice | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Donna Leon and The Golden Egg

“What are manners?”

“What is ‘nice’, what does it mean?”

“What is ‘kind’?” the most adorable little boy in Pensacola asked me. It was bath time, a time when we have some of our best conversations, and you never know where the conversation will go.

 

I love these conversations because I have to think, too, but most of all, because I love to watch this little boy’s mind grow in grasping concepts and perceptions. He is four; his class in school is on the letter “U” this coming week, and already he can sound out words in the books we read together. He knows what a globe is, and how it differs from a map. He knows his address, and he can point to Pensacola on the globe.

He knows things because we talk to him, and because he goes to school and his teachers talk to him. His mind is wide open and he is eager to learn, and he asks the most wonderful questions.

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Donna Leon’s Commissario Guido Brunetti has a new case that troubles him. He knows the dead man, not well, but he would see him in his quarter, and he often saw him helping out at the local laundry. He assumed the man was deaf and retarded, everyone knew that. When the dead man has no papers, in bureaucratic Italy, no birth certificate, no medical records, no finance records, no record of social aid (he is poor as well as disabled) Brunetti is troubled. How could such a familiar figure be so undocumented?

 

His mother is no help; her stories are transparent lies about travel to France and her son having grown up in the country with people whose name she cannot remember.

 

It is a troubling book. If you read Donna Leon, you will understand how close and wonderful and articulate Brunetti’s family is, how loved and cherished their children. We eat meals with them, we understand how the Venetian vernacular distinguishes those to whom one speaks more frankly and those to whom one lies. Brunetti’s a detective; the things he sees often trouble him, but this case troubles him more than most.

 

I can’t tell you more without spoiling the ending. All I can tell you is that it will encourage you to love your children, hold them closely, and give them all the benefits in their life-toolbox of attention, instruction and loving discipline that a parent (and grandparent!) can give.

March 16, 2014 Posted by | Books, Bureaucracy, Character, Circle of Life and Death, Civility, Communication, Community, Crime, Cultural, Detective/Mystery, Family Issues, Fiction, Interconnected, Italy, Law and Order, Living Conditions, Mating Behavior, Parenting, Relationships, Values, Venice, Words | Leave a comment

The Most Expensive Soap in the World Made in Qatar

There is nothing so lovely not so luxurious as a really good soap. My niece introduced me to my very favorite, an Iris scented soap from Santa Maria Novella in Florence which she brought me as a house gift when she visited in Germany.

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This (below) is not the Florentine soap made by nuns. This soap is not for sale; it’s for promotion and for royals only – From Qatar’s Gulf Times:

 

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Al-Sherif shows off the soap as Dr Hassoun (second right) and other guests look on at the unveiling yesterday.  PICTURS: Jayaram

The “most expensive soap in the world,” made of pure gold dust, olive oil and virgin honey and embedded with diamonds, was unveiled by Khan Al-Saboun Bader Hassoun and Sons at the Qatar Pool and Spa 2013 at the Doha Exhibition Centre yesterday.

 

Weighing around 100gm and with a price tag of $3,800, the soap dubbed ‘Qatar Royal Soap’ with the word ‘Qatar’ in Arabic inscribed on it, is being dedicated to Qatar and its great achievements in many fields, especially in winning the bid to host the FIFA 2022 World Cup.

 
Khan Al-Saboun Bader Hassoun and Sons chairman Dr Bader Hassoun explained that the soap was specially made for royalty aside being beneficial for the skin due to its natural and organic contents.

 
“Our company, based in Lebanon, has been known for specialising in natural and organic beauty products for years and we have very committed patrons due to this specialisation,” said Dr Hassoun, whose family has been in the soap making business for over eight centuries.

 
He said that the soap, though highly valued, has not been produced for commercial purposes, though it was earlier reported that it will be available for sale in Al-Saboun City Center – one of the company’s six branches in Qatar.

 
“We have made only this one piece in order to showcase our capabilities for inventions in soap making and just to express our respects for royalty. So, the soap will not be for sale,” he maintained. Lebanese singer Reem al-Sherif was present at the launch.

November 8, 2013 Posted by | Arts & Handicrafts, Cultural, Doha, ExPat Life, Italy, Living Conditions, Qatar, Shopping | , , | Leave a comment

Donna Leon and Beastly Things Made Me Cry

I can always count on Donna Leon. She gives me a good read, a solid mystery, a social issue, the louche damp atmosphere of Venice and the Venetian aristocracy, and my good friend Guido Brunetti, police commissario, with his lovely wife and dear children and great Italian meals.

This time, she fooled me.

A barrel chested man is found floating in the canals with no identification. When identified, he is found to be a veterinarian, separated from his angry and hostile and broken-hearted wife.

Then Donna Leon pulls me way out of my comfort zone – TWICE. First, there are parts of the book I can scarcely read, as she talks about the meat industry. I’m reading this book, dealing with the meat industry, and I’ve just watched the movie GreY posted on the devastation meat eating causes in your metabolism and blood; the passages in Beastly Things sealed the deal – I don’t think I can eat red meat again. I’m not sure I can even be around red meat. Leon is fearless; she spotlights issues few dare to tackle. There are issues here that are not for the faint-hearted. Read at your own risk.

It’s a tricky mystery, and at the end, Leon catches me by surprise again, as she describes the funeral of the veterinarian, a very unusual funeral, where his patients are also in attendance. It was hard to read. My eyes were blurring. If you like mysteries, if you have pets you adore, this is the sweetest literary funeral you will ever attend.

October 3, 2012 Posted by | Books, Circle of Life and Death, Community, Crime, Cultural, Detective/Mystery, Education, Fiction, Food, Health Issues, Hygiene, Italy, Law and Order, Living Conditions, Technical Issue, Values, Work Related Issues | Leave a comment

Clemenza’s in Fort Walton Beach

We have friends we have known for a long time who live only an hour away, and while we don’t get together as often as we would like to, we manage about once a month. We try to find places “in between” which there really aren’t very many, but our friends mentioned, if we wouldn’t mind the drive, that they had found a new restaurant they were enjoying and they thought we would, too, Clemenza’s in Fort Walton Beach.

We read the reviews on UrbanSpoon, which I am beginning to think is a big mistake. Some just seem like sour grapes, some seem over the top without being specific, and some seem like hate mail – we pretty much disregard all those. So while a lot of people really enjoyed Clemenza’s, others complained about problems with service, and problems with tasteless food.

Our experience was very different.

For once, we arrived before our friends, and that is not that easy to do. We were seated, and while we were waiting, I had a glass of wine, just a glass of the house Chianti, which was OK, but a little sweet for my taste. AdventureMan asked me how it was, and I said “OK.”

A gentleman at the table next to us asked me how my wine was, and I said “It’s OK. It’s not bad” and he asked what I had ordered. I told him the house Chianti, and repeated that it was OK, did he want to smell it? (I can always tell a lot just from sniffing, and I only bother tasting if it smells really good.) He thanked me and said ‘no.’

Minutes later, AdventureMan said “I think that might have been the owner.”

“Oh no!” I said, but it made sense that it might have been. Mere seconds later, he appeared at the table with a new glass of wine and asked me to taste it. Heaven. A very nice red; he called it the upgrade, and it was truly an upgrade. I felt embarrassed, but also delighted at that kind of attention to detail.

AdventureMan asked one waitress if she had tried the restaurant’s Red Beans and Rice on the blackboard specials, and she laughed and said ‘no’ but she could assure us they were really good because the cook was her stepfather, and he served the best red beans and rice at home and she was sure we would be delighted if we ordered them.

This was all starting off pretty good!

My favorite pasta, so simple but I just adore it, Aglio Oglio was not on the menu, but I asked the waitress if the chef could do it, and off she went to ask, coming back with a big grin and telling me he would be glad to.

Better and better.

Our friends arrived, conversation was lively, the restaurant was almost full, and delicious looking dishes were arriving at other tables. We placed our orders, and told her there was no hurry, and there really isn’t. As much as we like good food, we meet up to enjoy one another’s company, and good food is just icing on the cake.

Oh, What icing.

We shared appetizers, an Caponata and Calimari Fritti. YUMMMMM. The Caponata was perfect, and the toast was a little garlicky and well toasted, so the caponata didn’t make it soggy. The Calimari were light and melted in your mouth. Great start.

Side salad:

In a short time our main courses arrived. My Aglio Oglio (garlic and oil) was perfect. A little spicy, as I had asked, and a perfect size for lunch, just enough, not too much, just right. Everyone was happy with their entrees.

Clemenza’s Carbonara:

Pizza Margherita (look at that wealth of fresh basil and that thin crust, baked in a wood-burning oven 🙂 :

When the food and conversation is this good (and my upgrade Chianti) you just don’t want to stop. We split desserts, Tiramisu and Mama’s Custard Pie, both excellent choices:

We lingered over coffee, and no one was shooing us out. It was a superb experience overall, delicious, tasty food, attentive service without being intrusive, just a great overall experience. We were impressed. We look forward to meeting up here again. 🙂

July 17, 2011 Posted by | Cooking, Customer Service, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Florida, Food, Italy | , | Leave a comment

John Berendt and City of Falling Angels

When AdventureMan brought home City of Falling Angels for me, I thought it was another mystery by the author of the famous Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. I had loved that book, full of unforgettable characters living in Savannah, Georgia, so I was a little puzzled with the immediacy and real-life feeling of this new mystery when I started it.

It’s set in Venice. The main “character” observes – much like Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil – Venice, and its population. He arrives just after the horrendous fire that totally destroys La Fenice, the opera house, and we meet a wide variety of characters right off, experience the fire through their first hand experiences. We smell the smoke, we feel their horror as the fire grows, and spreads. We are depressed when the fireboats cannot quell the flames because the waters in the canal have been emptied, and are too low in the others.

I kept waiting for Commissario Guido Brunetti, Donna Leon’s Venetian detective, to show up.

I was about half way through the book when I realized – this wasn’t fiction. It was John Berendt living in Venice, meeting with and interviewing all these fabulously interesting people. Yeh, sometimes I am so SLOW!

But I was hooked. I kept reading. The mystery is how did the fire at La Fenice start, who started it and why. In the end – and believe me this is not a spoiler, because this book is really only peripherally about the fire at La Fenice – people are convicted, but you are never really sure these are the right people, or if, indeed, there was really a crime, or if the crime was negligence – but how can negligence be a crime if it is part of the culture?

One thing Berent says that Donna Leon also implies – don’t go to Venice during tourist season! Go when tourists are not there – after carnival, when it is cold, when it is raining. Stay in Venice, and walk, off the paths the tourists on their one-day-in-Venice travel. Visit the small markets, drop in for a coffee where the locals are drinking, but most of all – walk. And walk. and walk.

This is not an exciting book. It will not hold you on the edge of your seat like some horror thriller, turning pages because you are afraid to turn out the lights. The horrors in this book are the gossip, the strivings of various people to enter into Venetian society, the cut-throat competition for invitations, and who gets the prime seats at the opening night at La Fenice.

On the other hand, I loved his attention to detail, the ease with which Berendt got people to talk to him, the clarity with which he captures their personalities. I loved his description of the interiors, and how he uses the voices of others to paint in a detailed picture of Venice today. I loved being inside the Venetian community, and hearing their innermost thoughts. This was a book I looked forward to at the end of a long day, it took me to another – and fascinating – world. I just wish Commissario Brunetti had showed up. 🙂

May 4, 2009 Posted by | Books, Bureaucracy, Community, Cultural, Detective/Mystery, ExPat Life, Italy, NonFiction | 4 Comments