This book is a sheer delight for any visitor who has been charmed by Venice and longs to go back. Not for the unitiated, this is not a travel book for those who have never been there. It assumes some knowledge of the city and often teases with references to locations and legends that are familiar to visitors of the Veneto but which can be maddeningly vague for the person who has never experienced the phantasmagoria that Venice can be. Beautifully written, it evokes the moods and majesty and, sometimes, historical horrors of the world's most fascinating city.
This is not a travel guide of the pedestrian Where to Stay? What to Buy? What are the Main Attractions before I move on to Florence and Rome? variety. It is an homage, a paean, a rhapsody to one of the most hauntingly beautiful places in the world. In revealing the most intimate secrets of La Serenissima, the most Serene Jewel of the Adriatic--secrets that only a lover would know, Morris captures the melancholy evanescence of a city that is preposterous in concept. Its light-refracted palaces, adorned by lace-fretted windows, seem suspended between sky and water. As insubstantial as glass, Venice resembles a dreamscape that has somehow transgressed the laws of gravity.
I am a chronic lover of Venice; I have experienced it from the tops of the Campaniles of San Giorgio and San Marco to the bottom of the Grand Canal (Yes! Just like the movie, except instead of being rescued by a handsome Venetian, I was fished out by brawny German tourists--what with my shearling jacket, corduroys and camera equipment it took three of them. I then suffered the green slime-covered humiliation of slopping back across the city to my hotel in the Frari, much to the glee of passing urchins.).
After reading Morris, though, I began to look at Venice with new eyes: Morris showed me where to find "the madcap menagerie" of sculpted lions, monsters, crocodiles and a myriad of other beasts, as well as enlightening me on the subtleties among their infinite attributes; Morris inspired me to scrtinize the walls; peer into the crannies; notice remarkable fragments of sculpture, including the bocche di leoni--renaissance mailboxes in the shape of gawping lion-heads, conveniently placed on the sides of churches for disgruntled members of the public to denounce their enemies anonymously. Morris taught me to savor the change in seasons, to delight in the restless play of the water as I stood on the quay of the Giudecca Canal contemplating the impossible magnificence of a rainbow arching over the bacino, from the Campanile of San Marco past the Campanile of San Giorgio (And there I stood without a camera, since it had rusted after my Grand Canal misadvenure!).
Morris taught me that Venice is a living entity of reflected light shimmering under the bridges; of muffled sound, except for lapping water and the plangent cries of terns. Morris taught me that this charmed city is the source of infinite possibilities, be they as simple as floating silently back and forth along the Canal Grande in the front seat of a vaporetto and breathing in the salt-caressed air, or ambling through Venice's singularly-deserted back streets; and--the greatest gift of all, Morris taught me to be blind to the gaudy profusion of souvenir shops; to be deaf to the great gaggles of tourists glutting the Piazza San Marco; to be immune to the insistent hawking of gondaliers, whose importunings stalk one "down the quays" . . . 'like an improper suggestion" .
As the author suggests , "past and present are curiously interwoven" in Venice. In a city where the very plaster peeling from its crumbling ancient bricks has a story to tell, the erosions of Time become irrelevant.
This book (titled Venice in the UK) was first published in 1960 under the byline of James Morris, when its English author was a foreign correspondent living in Italy. The current edition's seamless blend of history, social commentary, and personal travel narrative make it essential reading for anyone with a serious interest in Venice. - Durant Imboden, Venice for Visitors, [...]