A sonorous, fever-flushed tribute to Venice in extremis, and Habe's neo-expressionist extravagance suits the city's traditional aura of sweet decay (Thomas Mann et al.), here exemplified by the rotting palazzo of septuagenerian Signora Santarato. The palazzo--like all Venice (""a jewel disappearing in the clutch of a giant fist"")--is in peril from flood, from Exxon, and even from the City Fathers, who are on the kill, pocketing the foreign and domestic aid sent to ""recover"" the city. Yet the Signora, a frail Miss Haversham of the Grand Canal, attempts to reinforce the pilings of her family's ancient homestead against both the dark-to-come and the current proclivities of her wavering children: son Paolo, who has discovered that ""to be perceptive is uncomfortable""; alcoholic daughter Claudia; rootless American daughter Laura; and unsavory grandson Remus, whose own corruption is a celluloid parody of Venetian politics. But others will work to shore up beauty: grandson Romolo, who, at fifteen, is exploring first love; a virtuouso art forger; an antique dealer; and other children of Light who dare to climb on board the Ark before the Deluge. Between symbolic episodes in Habe's montage of deaths, deals, and paradoxes, the Signora sets about some wily deeds with her precious Titian, hires workmen to repair the palazzo, and outwits a few philistines. This is both a fact-based protest and a mood piece, sounding the mystique (or is it the knell?) of Venice--a dazzling but crumbling monument to both the ""prisons and palaces"" of human nature.