Saturday, July 17, 2010

Venice: Pure City, by Peter Ackroyd


Ackroyd does Venice, his sonorous, scene-painting prose advancing in rhythmic columns until no quarter of the city has escaped assimilation. Pigeons in St Mark’s Square, the Bridge of Sighs, the Rialto, the Grand Canal, the carnival, the evolution of the gondola (gondoliers, incidentally, are famed for their discretion), Casanova, Galileo, Tintoretto, Giorgione, Titian, The Merchant of Venice, John Ruskin, Henry James, Thomas Mann – Ackroyd leaves no stone of Venice unturned. It is a “city of miracles” one moment, a “city of myths” the next, each incarnation offering numerous opportunities for Ackroyd to do his thing, which is to synthesise a vast amount of information gathered by researchers into an immensely readable, thematically structured tome. (Ackroyd also loves to pause and unpack a symbol: water, for instance, is “an intimation of impermanence”.) It’s not all art and light. After all, Venice gave the world the first Jewish ghetto and (according to Ackroyd) Venetian cuisine is truly terrible. Venice is certainly encyclopaedic, but transplanted from his beloved London, it sometimes feels as if Ackroyd’s imagination isn’t wholly engaged.
[from the Guardian 10.07.10]

The image above, incidentally, comes from a story in Harmsworth's Magazine (1899). Go here to see more nineteenth-century images of London underwater. 

Let me see, it must have been in 1910 -- the year of the floods -- that the last subsidence occurred. It would have come about naturally in time, geologists said, but the climax was certainly precipitated by the Government's action in allowing London to be undermined to such an extent when the new coal fields were discovered under the city in 1900. We had been steadily raising the embankments of the Thames, but the floods swept these away, and one morning we awoke to find our streets converted into waterways.  
Of course, nowadays the idea of London being flooded isn't entirely fiction . . .

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