27 Venetian gloss

by Malcolm Redfellow

Some time back the Pert Young Piece brought a street-map (ahem!) of Venice back from her travels. Malcolm later tried it in situ: it doesn’t help. Perhaps the whole nature of Venice contends against mapping. Once, just once, the Lady in his Life and Malcolm hit upon a bar somewhere in Santa Croce: it was so pleasant, so delightful, so obviously positioned on a corner that, despite repeated back-trackings, they could never again locate it.

Once a year, for these last two decades, Donna Leon has given us an update on the doings of Commissario Guido Brunetti. He has become so “real” that he now has a cookbook and a guide-book. This latter (as right), by Toni Sepeda, is not a guide to the novels; but a guide to some of the many traverses Leon has him make through his native city. It comes with a cover in keeping with the novel-sequence (not too grand a term) and with an introduction from the Noo Joisey girl herself:

I first became aware of how little, and how badly, I knew Venice about thirty years ago, when I was invited to dinner at the home of friends of friends. I’d been there for dinner a number of times, but I’d always gone in the company of my friends Roberta and Franco, trailing along as the foreign guest. They, Venetian for generations, led the  way, and I walked along with them, listening, learning Italian and a bit of Veneziano as we walked. I heard the names of their friends, picked up vocabulary, greeted the relatives and colleagues we passed on the street, stopped to have a coffee, was advised which shops to use and which to avoid.

Every trip  with them had been a discovery as well as a bombardment of information. Because they led the way, I didn’t have to be bothered with boring details like where to turn left or where to turn right: I merely followed the leader. They were the sharks, I the pilot fish following in their wake.

This time, however, and for reasons I no longer recall, I had to get there on my own. And couldn’t. The host lived, I knew, over near San Giacomo dell’Orio, down on the right of that little calle that  ran into the canal, almost at the end. Further, I knew that Franco’s father, during World War II, had once fallen into the laguna when he went fishing with a man who lived on the second floor of the house opposite the apartment I was looking for.

Unfortunately for my purposes, the dinner began at 8:30, so it was dark when I walked through Rialto, on the way to what I was sure was the campo. Map? Me? I wasn’t a tourist, was I, so why would I bother with a map? I was the friend of Venetians, on the way to dinner at the home of other Venetians, so why a map?

A half-hour later, I stumbled upon Campo San Giacomo dell’Orio and began to look for the little calle that  ran  down towards the canal, the one where lived the man who … etc. etc. etc. They all looked alike. Even if I had had a map, I had no idea of the name of the calle, and I doubt that any map I might have carried would have marked the address of the man who was with Franco’s father when he fell into the laguna.

Finally I went back to the campo and asked in a bar where Giuliano the jeweller lived. When I finally arrived, I lied — of course — about  the delay and we got on with the serious business of drinking and eating.

Thanks to Google Maps, anyone can try and follow suit.

The bar, which the Lady in his Life and Malcolm could never rediscover, must also be in that Bermudan triangle.

Brunetti’s Venice is one of those books that Malcolm secretly treasures, which is why — weeks gone — it still lingers bedside, out of the guilt pile, and not yet consigned to the attic shelves. Much merely transcribes, with commentary, passages from the original stories — though it doesn’t come up-to-date on the later novels — but that makes it all the more delightful: it allows Malcolm to rediscover books from years gone by, and which he has not re-read. He would not want to use it for walking tours of the once Most Serene Republic: Brunetti’s Venice is a country of the mind, not of this earth, and not over-populated with tourist parties (which, no doubt, is why so many of Donna Leon’s tales take place “out of season”). Malcolm also doubts that, when he occasionally visits the city (always when it’s not a crush of American cruise-boaters, Japanese and — most recently — Chinese crocodiles), the routes suggested would accommodate Acqua Alta.

He just wishes he could locate that idyllic bar.