Under Water

Article excerpt

LONGER AGO THAN I HAVE ANY DESIRE to admit, I made my first and only trip to Venice, as part of a summer tour with a group of college students. The supposedly "liberal" National Student Association, which ran the trip and featured get-togethers and "exchanges of ideas" with college kids in every country we visited, was later revealed to have been a CIA front organization. I guess the idea was that we would captivate the blase, red-leaning youth of Italy and France with our fresh American optimism (why we wouldn't be in danger of being overpowered by their European cynicism and pungent cigarettes, I don't know). These days youngsters don't need the CIA to make introductions; just hanging out at hostels, clubs, or other teenage haunts will do the trick.

At any rate, what I remember most strongly about Venice is that unlike any other city of the dozen or so I became acquainted with that summer, it was shockingly familiar at first sight. Not in the soft-focus rumination of "I must have lived here in another life" but as a matter of practical fact. In his article in these pages, John Lukacs writes of the city's "coruscating beauty immediately recognizable, the fabulous vista immortalized by its own Canaletto and Guardi and hundreds of other great painters, including Americans." I was fresh from a college survey course in art history, and viewing slide after slide of Venice translated into paint must have had a deep effect. …