Tag Archives: Italy

Literary Travel: Venice, Italy, with Peter Ackroyd

News Editor

Peter Ackroyd is a fellow who recently experienced a dramatic change of focus: after writing many books about London, England, he now anticipates the publication of Venice: Pure City, by the venerable British firm Chatto & Windus. The tale of this book is told to us by Peter Popham, by way of The Independent. Popham is no shabby wordsmith himself. One of the things he tells us about Venice is:

A lot of the magic resides in the silence…to wake in the morning knowing you are in a crowded city, and not to hear a single cough or roar or growl of an internal combustion engine. That alone is the worth the price of the air ticket.

Also, much of the appeal of Venice seems to be in its refusal and/or inability to change. It’s one of the few places on earth where a 16th century time-traveler could wind up and still be able to navigate the streets. Paradoxically, another part of the attraction is the city’s ability to get you good and lost, which has been exploited by several novels and feature films. And in a third aspect of that permanence is the impermanence, the instability, the precariousness of the city’s footings when confronted by the sea. One of the reasons to go to Venice has always been the “last chance” factor, the possibility that next time, it won’t be there.

And, to add a fourth layer of ambiguity, Ackroyd explains in his book how Venice was once as much a token of the shining future as any World’s Fair full of monorails and robot houses. Popham, in his review, says that during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, Venice was “an avant-garde place which was demonstrating, boldly and with stunning success, entirely new ways of getting rich and flaunting and enjoying the wealth created.” Kind of like the dot.com era.

In a bonanza for the literary travel aficionado, this article lists several writers and artists in other fields who have been inspired by Venice, and exactly what they did about it: Shakespeare, Sir Elton John, Robert Browning, Henry James, John Ruskin, Nicholas Roeg, and of course the notorious Lord Byron. Apparently, Venice recalls its vanquishment by Napoleon in 1797, like the American South remembers the War Between the States. Ackroyd points out that there was a time when a third of its population existed on charity. This was the scene the Romantic poets descended upon, proceeding to romanticize the ruin of a formerly great principality.

The decades rolled on and Venice became a cultural center again, with all its film festivals and Biennales. It’s always been a capital of commercialism, which tourists are quite acclimated to. Reportedly, around 16 million visitors throng to Venice each year. For various reasons. On August 28, counterculture icons and artistic collaborators Annie Sprinkle and Elizabeth Stephens celebrated their Blue Wedding in Venice. Not their first wedding, but their fifth. There’s a whole high-concept performance art thing going on here, which is worth looking into. Details and great pictures come from Greg Archer (who writes about film, TV, and the arts in general, as well as ecological matters) at HuffPost.

Yes, there’s always the romance of Venice. In The Third Tower Up From the Road, Kevin Dolgin relates the story of his first visit — long before meeting his wife, it should be noted.

We spent our days walking through the tiny streets, pausing on the bridges, chasing the pigeons, and we spent our evenings riding the vaporetti, strolling through the piazze, eating sparingly in sidewalk cafés and making love in the large soft bed.

Irresistible! As long as there are canals, hotels, and cafés, Venice will never go out of business.

photo courtesy of Chiara Marra, used under this Creative Commons license

To Calcata, Italy, in Search of a Holy Relic

News Editor

When does a trip become a quest? When the traveler is in search of a specific object or goal. In the case of David Farley, the goal has caused some raised eyebrows. Mike Barish, a New York freelancer who is fond of sports and whiskey, and also a TravelTalk blogger at Gadling, looks into the peculiar mission of this travel writer who has just published a book called An Irreverent Curiosity. Barish says Farley has written:

a truly enjoyable, educational and funny chronicle of his time in Calcata, Italy searching for Jesus’ foreskin…Along the way, he met a wide array of locals, each quirkier than the last. He deceived priests at the Vatican, befriended a woman who talks to birds and managed to put a tiny village back on the map.

Farley had visited the little Italian village of Calcata before, when he and his wife lived in Rome, and found a rather weird place populated by even weirder people — in the best possible way, of course — artists, mystics, actors, and other kinds of bohemians. What brought him back? Farley has written travel articles for the New York Times, the Washington Post, and quite a few other publications, and his essays have appeared in several anthologies published by Travelers’ Tales, so it’s not unusual that he should go to Italy. But what motivated this unusual mission?

We checked out David Farley’s own site, the better to, so to speak, flesh out the story. The holy relic was once in the keeping of the legendary emperor Charlemagne, but at some point in history was stolen by a soldier and somehow ended up in Calcata. Apparently, like any holy relic worthy of the name, it was responsible for a certain number of miracles, and people began making pilgrimages to the mountain town. Then, in 1983, the object was stolen. And to find out what happened after that… we would have to read the book, wouldn’t we?

Speaking of Rome, it will surprise no one to learn that Kevin Dolgin has been there, and written about it in The Third Tower Up From the Road. He has some rather unusual theories which are aired in “The Nesting Habits of Roman Cars.” The question is, has Kevin discovered a whole new field ripe for scientific inquiry? Or is all this speculation the result of too much vino? It’s up to the reader to decide.

photo courtesy of kdrack , used under this Creative Commons license

Venice Earns Dubious Distinction

pigeons 2By PAT HARTMAN
News Editor

Today we consider some of the cootie capitals of the world with Stephanie Chen, a writer/producer at CNN who specializes in writing about business, crime, and travel — not surprising, since she formerly worked for The Wall Street Journal and The Miami Herald. More recently, Chen took on the task of following up on a press release which announced the results of their poll concerning the most un-hygienic tourist spots around the globe. Chen concludes:

Though it is unlikely to get sick from visiting one of these places, health experts say germs are always a gamble. The more people who touch and visit a spot, the more germs there are in the mix, they say. Their traveling advice? Travelers should load up on hand sanitizers and wash their hands often on their trips.

Also, they should wash their mouths out with soap, if they’ve kissed the famous Blarney Stone of Ireland. Legend or no legend, smooching this rock seems like a risky venture, but 400,000 people a year do it anyway, Chen reports. While hanging upside down, incidentally. Less strenuous for the participating visitor is the Wall of Gum in Seattle, site of an accumulation of used chewing gum that has reached science-fictional proportions. The layer of pre-masticated gum is, we are told, several inches thick. Chen’s online article includes a link to some video footage which includes close-ups of various sections of this wall, which look like abstract art if you don’t think about it too hard.

Another germy lip-magnet is the tomb of infamous writer Oscar Wilde, who currently resides in the Père Lachaise Cemetery of Paris. The stone edifice is kissed by many, many people who should know better. A friend from New Jersey told me once of a custom observed in the neighborhood where he grew up. If you dropped a cookie or an apple or any other foodstuff on the ground, the correct procedure was to pick it up and “kiss it to God,” after which it would be safe to eat. Apparently some kind of related superstition operates in the minds of these pilgrims.

The immediate environment of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, CA is also under indictment for harboring a multitude of germs, since tourists are fond of pressing their hands into the handprints of famous stars. Which are on the ground. But hey, the forecourt of the theater is mopped every day by the staff.

pigeons3Then there’s the Piazza San Marco, in Venice, Italy, where you can get up close and personal with more pigeons than you ever imagined possible. The “living room of Europe” is visited by 2 million people in the average year, and by thousands of pigeons who don’t wear diapers, if you take my meaning. The Piazza also contains lots of outdoor cafes, where the conjunction of food and salmonella bacteria makes some travelers more than a little nervous. A single pigeon produces approximately 26 pounds of you-know-what every year, which is not only bad for people, but corrosive to the historical monuments that also populate the enormous square. The city has taken measures, like banning the vendors who sell pigeon-feed grain to tourists, and forbidding the locals to throw rice at the bride and groom after weddings.

Elisabeth Rosenthal reports in The New York Times that pigeons are not the only problem in Italy’s ancient municipality. The Italians are the world’s leading drinkers of bottled water, and most of them leave their empty containers in the trash cans of the Piazza San Marco. Rosenthal explains that, because of the roadless nature of the Venetian urban area, trash is collected by men in wheelbarrows, at a cost of “$335 per ton compared with $84 per ton on the mainland.” Local officialdom has recently undertaken a public relations crusade to convince people to drink tap water, which originates from the same wells as one of the most popular brands of bottled water, and the city offers plenty of public water spouts where the traveler can refill an emptied bottle of designer water, and make it last all day.

Now, if only the pigeons could be trained to carry empty plastic bottles to the landfill…

feeding pigeons photo courtesy of j.reed , used under this Creative Commons license; sign photo courtesy of Mike_fleming , used under this Creative Commons license