Magazine article The Spectator

Don't Look Now

Magazine article The Spectator

Don't Look Now

Article excerpt

My boy didn't want to go to Venice.

His in-built cant detector, these days becoming more finely tuned with every passing day, had alerted him to the possibility that Venice was going to be educational.

'Why Venice?' he said tetchily, as we got on the train at Trieste. 'Because it's the most beautiful city in Europe, ' I said, cringing to hear myself sounding so pompous.

Appreciation of beauty is not a high priority for my boy at the moment. And he'd had a late night. The pallor of his face made his acne stand out like a warning pattern on a tropical insect's wing. On the train he sat opposite me with his great ruby lips ajar, refusing even to betray an interest in his surroundings by looking out of the train window. The mental shutters were down and they wouldn't be up again till we were back at Trieste. I didn't blame him. It is indeed profoundly disappointing to discover that your father is prone not only to cultural nostalgia of the most fatuous kind, but also to the fatuous cultural nostalgia of a social class to which he doesn't belong.

'When I said, "Venice is a beautiful city", ' I said, trying to redeem myself, 'what I should have said was that Venice has been said to be a beautiful city by certain writers. Writers don't exactly know what beautiful is any more than the rest of us. But writers tend to influence opinion because by and large they are the only people whose thoughts are printed and distributed, and because everyone else, even the most highly educated and progressive, has a curiously primitive reverence for the printed word.

'Venice might be hideous, ' I said. 'Very likely there have been historical eras in which the place was seen as deplorably vulgar. But we might as well go, if only to test our resilience to received opinion.' I needn't have worried. My boy's resistance to received opinion was already this morning of an Olympic class. We were crossing a vast flat plain of rich, recently ploughed soil and bare, windswept vines, fenced to the north by a fairy-tale line of snow-capped Alps. My boy stared resolutely at the floor, not even glancing up as a monk wearing a brown mediaeval habit, sandals and designer sunglasses, searching prayerfully for an empty seat, passed through the carriage.

At Venice, the carriage emptied, we followed the monk through an art deco railway terminus and were immediately sucked by the crowd down a tiny Venetian side street. …

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