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City Of Falling Angels, The: A Venice Story

by John Berendt
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Product Details

  • Publisher: Penguin Books
  • Publishing date: 30/06/2005
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 9781594200618
  • ISBN: 1594200610

Synopsis

Past Midnight: John Berendt on the Mysteries of Venice

Just as John Berendt's first book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, was settling into its remarkable four-year run on The New York Times bestseller list, he discovered a new city whose local mysteries and traditions were more than a match for Savannah, whose hothouse eccentricities he had celebrated in the first book. The new city was Venice, and he spent much of the last decade wandering through its canals and palazzos, seeking to understand a place that any native will tell you is easy to visit but hard to know. For travelers to Venice, whether by armchair or vaporetto, he has selected his 10 (actually 11) Books to Read on Venice. And he took the time to answer a few of our questions about his charming new book, The City of Falling Angels:

Amazon.com: The lush, cloistered southern city of Savannah was the locale of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Venice, the setting for The City of Falling Angels, is vastly different. Was it the difference itself that drew you to Venice?

John Berendt: Savannah and Venice actually have quite a lot in common. Both are uniquely beautiful. Both are isolated geographically, culturally, and emotionally from the world outside. Venice sits in the middle of a lagoon; Savannah is surrounded by marshes, piney woods, and the ocean. Venetians think of themselves as Venetian first, Italian second; Savannahians rarely even venture forth as far as Atlanta or Charleston. So both cities offer a writer a rich context in which to set a story, and the stories provide readers a means of escape from their own environment into another world.

Amazon.com: I enjoyed your rather declarative author's note: that this is a work of nonfiction, and that you used everyone's real names. In your previous book you did use pseudonyms for some characters and you explained that you took a few small liberties in the service of the larger truth of the story. Why the change this time?

Berendt: When I wrote Midnight I thought I would do a few people the favor of changing their names for the sake of privacy. But when the book came out, several of the pseudonymous characters told me they wished I'd used their real names instead. So this time, no pseudonyms. As for the storytelling liberties I took in writing Midnight, they were minor and did not change the story, but my mention of it in the author's note caused some confusion, with the result that Midnight is sometimes referred to now as a novel, which it most certainly is not. Neither is The City of Falling Angels. In fact, I dispensed with the liberties this time and made it as close to the truth as I could get it.

Amazon.com: In The City of Falling Angels, a number of fascinating people serve as guides to the city, each with a different idea of the true nature of Venice. Who was your favorite?

Berendt: I don't have a favorite, but Count Girolamo Marcello is certainly a memorable, highly quotable commentator. "Everyone in Venice is acting," he told me. "Everyone plays a role, and the role changes. The key to understanding Venetians is rhythm, the rhythm of the lagoon, the water, the tides, the waves. It's like breathing. High water, high pressure: tense. Low water, low pressure: relaxed. The tide changes every six hours."

I nodded that I understood.

"How do you see a bridge?" he went on.

"Pardon me?" I asked, "A bridge?"

"Do you see a bridge as an obstacle--as just another set of steps to climb to get from one side of a canal to the other? We Venetians do not see bridges as obstacles. To us, bridges are transitions. We go over them very slowly. They are part of the rhythm. They are the links between two parts of a theater, like changes in scenery. Our role changes as we go over bridges. We cross from one reality ... to another reality. From one street ... to another street. From one setting ... to another setting."

Once I had absorbed that notion, Count Marcello continued: "Sunlight on a canal is reflected up through a window onto the ceiling, then from the ceiling onto a vase, and from the vase onto a glass. Which is the real sunlight? Which is the real reflection? What is true? What is not true? The answer is not so simple, because the truth can change. I can change. You can change. That is the Venice effect."

I was not terribly surprised when he later told me, "Venetians never tell the truth. We mean precisely the opposite of what we say."

Amazon.com: Now that you know Venice well enough to be a guide yourself, what would you say to a visitor looking for insight into the character of the city?

Berendt: Tourists generally shuffle along, on narrow streets so crowded as to be nearly impassable, between the major sights of St. Mark's Square, the Rialto Bridge, and the Accademia Museum. All you have to do is to step off these heavily traveled alleyways, and in a few moments you will find yourself in quiet, much emptier surroundings. This is more like the real Venice. Another thing to do is to go into the wine bars where Venetians stand around drinking and talking. They will very likely be speaking the Venetian dialect, so you won't be able to understand them, but you will get a sampling of the true Venetian ambiance enlivened by the pronounced sing-song rhythm of the language. I'd also suggest stopping someone in the street and asking for directions. Almost invariably, you will be rewarded with a genial smile and the instructions, Sempre diritto, meaning "Straight ahead." This will only leave you more confused, because when you attempt to follow a straight line, you will be confronted by more twists and turns and forks in the road than you thought possible, given the instructions. This is part of what Count Marcello described as "the Venice effect."


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  • Wonderful Insights into City of Venice
    From Amazon

    I read City of Falling Angels a few weeks before my wife and I took our first trip to Italy. I didn't have much time for detailed research about Venice, but I wanted to get a taste of the city's history and culture. I couldn't have found a more perfect book in Falling Angels. While Berendt's tale is ostensibly focused on the fire that burned down Venice's famous Fenice Opera House, the story turns quickly into multiple threads all orbiting around modern and historic Venice. Berendt lived in Venice and so can provide a peek into a Venetian's view of life and existence within this unique city, but he never becomes a true Venetian and so is able to retain objectivity and perspective. I visited Venice as a true tourist, but as someone who wanted to understand what Venice is really like (beyond its reputation as an Adult's Disney World), I felt that Falling Angels added wonderful flavor to my brief taste of the city. The book is well written, very readable and has a strong sense of drama throughout. I highly recommend it.

  • City of Duplicity
    From Amazon

    John Berendt, arrived in Venice in 1996 shortly after a fire had destroyed the city's famed Fenice Opera House. Berendt uses the symbolic fire, and the dubious circumstances surrounding it, as a jumping off point to explore the unique and strange world of Venetian culture. Berendt imbeds himself within high Venetian society, spending several years rubbing shoulders with the many wealthy American expatriates living in the city. In addition he spends time getting to know simple artisans, and the members of the intellectual community. What emerges from Berendt's narrative is a city cloaked in an enigma of deceit and duplicity. Venice is a city loosing ground to the rising sea water, all the while trying to prevent the loss of its identity to foreigners who; are paradoxically trying to "save the Venice". I enjoyed, The City of Falling Angels. Each chapter is a different vignette about life in this most unique city, ranging from the struggles of locals to hold on to their way of life and worrying about the future of their beloved city, to the absured scenes of Carnival. The book nicely weaves in the story of what becomes of the Fenice and what becomes an arson trial, into the larger story. The fire and arson are not so much a who - done - it, as much as a literary device becoming metaphor for the city itself. I have not read Berendt's more acclaimed Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, so I don't have that to compare it to. However I picked up this book more as a sort of travel logue of Venice and found it to be a light read and good snap shot of the city.

  • Guide books are more exciting
    From Amazon

    If you want to know what Venice is like, buy a Rick Steve's guide book or something, or better yet just go there for a few days. Having spent time in Venice, I can say that this book does a mediocre job at capturing the atmosphere. Perhaps it's not mediocre...perhaps it's simply twisted via the eyes of the writer. I'm not sure. Either way, this book feels like nothing more than name dropping and gossip. Few of the characters are particularly colorful. Most seem to be glib yet obviously less-than-fully-engaged Venetians (Venice is their humdrum life...you can almost sense them wondering "why is this silly American so interested in local gossip and a restoration project?", and he even irritated me as a reader on their behalf), as well as mind numbingly boring wealthy outsiders and transplants with waaaay too much time on their hands. In short, this book lacks direction, is gossipy in the worst way, and even worse the gossip is dry and pointless. It goes nowhere meaningful. It gives some background as to why many Venetians seem to roll their eyes at the mention of "Save Venice" and its ilk (which may well be doing more harm than good to Venice's future), but the tedium of the book is in no way worth it.

  • The City of Falling Angels
    From Amazon

    Book was new and in perfect condition as stated. Shipping and transaction all went smoothly.

  • A Glimpse Through the Venetian Blinds
    From Amazon

    This is one of those books that are pure reading pleasure. Not too scholarly, not particularly historical, occasionally bordering on the gossipy but (or shall I say therefore) pure joy. I was in Venice once, in the mid-nineties. I spent a few days in the beginning of April when there were (relatively speaking) few tourists. The weather was nice and cool. Still, there was one thing that is branded in my memory - the terrible stench rising from the canals. I can only imagine what it smells like in the summer. I was surprised that the author never mentioned the smell of Venice. This book is a kaleidoscope of different Venetian personalities, many great and petty at the same time. I finished the book feeling that sociologically, Venice is no more than a small village.

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