Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Ackroyd's Venice

Peter Ackroyd is an English biographer, novelist and critic whose prolific work includes books on Dickens, Shakespeare, Chaucer, but also on London, the river Thames and Venice.
His "Venice Pure City" is seen as "sumptuous" by The Times and as "brilliant" by Independent on Sunday, so there can be only one conclusion: he really knows Venice, its history and glory, its mystery and beauty.
The book is comprised of eleven chapters and a Venetian chronology and they develop topics such as how the state of Venice was formed, the empire built on trade, the city's secrets, sacredness and its shadows. the book is full of pictures ranging from old maps of Venice to the interior of the basilica of Saint Mark or Titian's paintings of Venetian personalities.

"How could they build upon mud and water? It was possible, however, for wooden poles of from ten to a dozen feet in length to be sunk into the mud before reaching a layer of harder clay and dense sand that acted as a firm foundation. This was the 'boundary' at the bottom of the lagoon. So there sprang up small houses known as casoni made from the wood of poles and boards with pitched roofs of wattle and reed. " (page 7)

Ackroyd talks about the dialect spoken in Venice, the invasions that took place centuries ago and, did you know that it was not called Venezia until the thirteenth century?
Being built upon the sea, Venice became the city of miracles and in the Venetian chronicles the city was always presented as a great and shining place.

In this fascinating account, the writer even talks about the Venice weather:
"But the most celebrated wind is the scirocco, the warm wind that comes from the south-east and can persist for three or four days. (...) The scirocco itself has been blamed for the Venetian tendency towards sensuality and indolence; it has been accused of instilling passivity and even effeminacy within the citizen." (page 29)

With almost five hundred pages, the book is a pure gem when it comes to discovering or rediscovering the Venice behind the tourist attractions and I heartily recommend it to anyone who is in love with the city. By the way, did you know that in the sixteenth century there were five hundred gardens in Venice? :)

The Guardian develops on the subject of Gardens in Venice here.

Read for my pleasure, the Venice in February and the Non - Fiction Reading Challenges

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Magical Venice

It may seem to be exclusively a place of magical excitement, but there is more to it than that. February in Venice is carnival season, where things are far from what they seem, and it is impossible to distinguish between the performers and the spectators. Revellers flit through the alleys, and ghostly masks hang from the ceilings and walls of tiny shops. it is easy to get caught up in the crowds of people who have flocked to Venice for the carnival, to munch on fritelle, small doughnuts made only during carnival season, and to forget that there is more to Venice than just entertainment...

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Vivaldi's Women

 Venice is not just about gondolas, canals, bridges and masks during the carnival... Venice also means classical music, and among the many composers that were inspired by the music of the waves and the courtesans' laughter Vivaldi, The Red Priest, is representative of what Venice means when it comes to "serious" music. There is so much more than The Four Seasons when Vivaldi's music is concerned. He spent a lot of his time, almost 40 years, writing music for the girls who were housed in La Pieta, a foundling hospital where abandoned children were brought in.
 Back in 2006, BBC 4 decided to film a documentary about the former Oxford Girls Choir, now a choir that sings and plays Vivaldi's sacred music, named Schola Pietatis Antonio Vivaldi. The women wear Venetian costumes during their performances and sing Vivaldi's compositions for his pupils back in the 18th century. Besides seeing La Pieta from a different perspective, I was really impressed by Micky White's passion of discovering the women behind Vivaldi's choir.
Watch the entire documentary here. Enjoy! 

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Snowflakes and Venice

And if this picture is not enough to make you tackle our Venice in February reading challenge, here's an interactive map of the mesmerizing city of dreams...