This is a strange book in a temporal sense. Morris originally wrote in 1960 and returned to revise it in the seventies and eighties. My (library) edition is from the early nineties. As Morris describes the people, places and behaviours of Venice, it isn’t clear what is from when. This gives a feeling of a city that is both timeless and in perpetual decline. There are plenty of details but many feel quaint and out of date – whether they are or not. But despite it feeling easy to get lost in them, those details are well written and often entertaining. Morris, like so many, clearly has a passion for the city (and I can see why).
Really, there’s a theme here about the death of local societies. Morris describes elderly women who have visited the same green grocers that their family has used for generations. That wasn’t in evidence when I visited, and (from other readings) it would seem to have died out – but that isn’t unique to Venice. Perhaps the magical world of Venice just seems to amplify the processes that happen elsewhere. Specifically to the city itself, my favourite chapter was one two thirds of the way through that discussed proposed futures for the city – kept as a museum of sorts, turned into a hive of craft industry or demolished as a futurist stunt.
She loses me slightly in the last third of the book, which offers a look at the decline of and the sights of the other islands of the lagoon. Islands like Murano and Burano should be interesting, and there are good anecdotes sprinkled throughout, but I found the whole section a bit of a dreary end to the book. On the whole though, I like the book. I’m not entirely sure what it is meant to be: not history, not a guidebook, not exactly a travel journal – but it does conjure up a certain image of the city.