Saturday, November 9, 2013

"Venice. Streets filled with water. Advise"

This quip came via telegram from Algonquin wit Robert Benchley to the delicious David Niven, although I'm certain that had it been the 20-teens instead of the 1930s, it would have been a tweet.  [The quip has multiple permutations & attributions, all wonderfully tracked down by Quote Investigator]

Earlier this year the polyphonic segment of my life brought me the opportunity of singing a concert of Venetian masters Gabrieli and Monteverdi with a brass quartet in Venice.  I planned the trip months ago, which give me the time to read a trifecta of Venice literary nesting dolls:

Geoff in Venice, Death in Varnasi
Jeff Dyer

Venice is the city that never disappointed and never surprised, the place that was exactly like it was meant to be, exactly synonymous with every tourist's first impression of it.

There is no real Venice: the real Venice was—and had always been—the Venice of postcards, photographs, and films. Hardly a novel observation, that. It was what everyone always said, including Mary McCarthy. Except she'd taken it a stage further and said that the thing about Venice was that it was impossible to say anything about Venice that had not been said before, 'including this statement.'

Venice Observed
Mary McCarthy

The Venetians invented the income tax, statistical science, the floating of government stock, state censorship of books, anonymous denunciations (the Bocca del Leone), the gambling casino, and the Ghetto. The idea of the Suez Canal was broached by Venice to the sultan in 1504. They were quick to hear of new inventions and discoveries and to grasp their practical application.

Casanova had the true Venetian temperament: cool, ebullient, and licentious.

In the traditional Venetian serenades, played from cruising gondolas, the songs today are all Neapolitan. Foreigners cavil at this, but the Venetians point out that there are no love songs in the Venetian repertory—only witty exchanges between man and maiden.

Death in Venice
Thomas Mann

When Aschenbach first feels the urge to travel, he sees in his imagination a landscape like that of the Ganges delta; the climax of this vision is the frightening epiphany of a tiger in the thicket. When he calms down and makes realistic travel plans, he decides he need not go "all the way to the tigers."

And so we go full circle back to Dyer's Geoff doing what Aschenbach did not, and going to the Ganges for his oblivion.

Please ignore McCarthy's warning about saying anything about Venice that hasn't been said before, and follow me on twitter for bulletins from the canals of 2013.


Allan Hoving said...

Streets frozen. Please advise.