Vanishing city

<strong>No Vulgar Hotel: the desire and pursuit of Venice</strong>

Judith Martin <em>W W Norton, 2

Venice’s survival over the years seems a mystery. After all, the idea of building a city on water, without obvious economic support, seems like the grandest of grand follies. Yet there are few places in the world more romantic, or more striking. As Judith Martin, a self-confessed “Venetophile”, explains, it is one of the remarkably few places where even first-time visitors can convince themselves of a deep and emotional bond.

Martin’s efficient, if occasionally superficial, account of Venice’s turbulent history and semi-detached relationship to the rest of the country (“Italians”, we learn, is used as a dismissive term for foreigners) has engaging anecdotes about the famous men and women who made the city their home, most notoriously Lord Byron, but also the more disparate likes of Henry James and Sir Elton John, all of which provides amusing colour.

Martin begins the book with reference to James’s The Wings of the Dove, specifically the beautiful, dying Milly Theale seeking a final refuge in the city. The unspoken parallel is surely that Venice itself, with its ever-rising water levels and lowering population, is doomed. All the more reason, then, to take in a visit to the city with Martin as your capable guide.

This article first appeared in the 14 May 2007 issue of the New Statesman, What now?