Definitely not your father’s travel guide: A native Venetian offers some playful aperçus about La Serenissima.
Venice is a fish: “How did this marvelous beast make its way up the Adriatic?” Venice is a tortoise: “its stone shell is made of grey trachite borders…which pave the streets.” Venice is whatever novelist, poet and playwright Scarpa feels like making of it in his English-language debut, an entertaining, highly idiosyncratic look at la dolce vita veneta. Organizing his random agglomeration of musings by parts of the body, he suggests in the chapter on feet that tourists simply let theirs wander. “Why fight the labyrinth?” he asks. “Let the streets decide your journey for you…Lose your bearings. Just drift.” Let your legs absorb the never-flat surfaces of the city’s calli (streets), open your heart to the “permanent state of romantic excitement” that leads Venetians to make love outdoors on every street corner. (There are some hilarious anecdotes in this chapter, including one about a guy who offers a jovial “Hi!” to a passing acquaintance without disturbing the activities of his girlfriend, kneeling in front of him.) Hands (rubbing centuries-old plaster), face (hidden behind the famous carnival masks), ears, mouth, nose, eyes—each gives the author an excuse to strut his stuff. Scarpa provides insider information about the best local dishes (wholemeal spaghetti, fried sardines and calves liver, each sautéed in oodles of onions); about the meaning of street names, which generally commemorate “foul deeds and popular customs”; about why the city is plagued by flooding (deep channels dug in the lagoon to accommodate oil tankers). It’s all exceedingly readable and agreeable—and nothing more. Venice’s remarkable 1,400-year history as a crossroads between East and West is nowhere in evidence, and the city’s character is rendered in such broad strokes that it approaches caricature.
Plenty of atmosphere and attitude, but not much else; this would have been better as a snappy magazine article.