Magazine article The Spectator

Remembrance of Things Past

Magazine article The Spectator

Remembrance of Things Past

Article excerpt

Going to Venice with someone you don't really love is as recklessly short-sighted as intentionally losing your virginity during a meaningless onenight stand. It's a seminal adventure that should be saved up; the clichéd carrot dangled before every true romantic's heart. It's one of those exquisite, rare cities that stands alone -- albeit precariously -- and unfailingly delivers.

To go too soon or to go with the wrong person is like reading Anna Karenina at 17 and passing it off as just a slushy romantic novel. You have to have really lived, lusted and tumbled off the tightrope a few times before you can recognise Tolstoy's depth of agonising passion and have any comprehension of what it's like to have loved and lost. I think the same criterion applies to Venice.

I was lucky. I went for the first time with my husband in 1984, newly pregnant with our first child. We went in the middle of winter and, as we sped from the airport in our luggage-laden vaporetto, it began to snow.

Proper, cinematic snow. My first impression of Venice, therefore, was of a distant, ghostly jewel rising from the lagoon like a watery mirage. For me it was a coup de foudre.

We could ill-afford to stay at the Danieli, (www. danieli. hotelinvenice. com), but Johnnie had made the grandest of grand gestures and surprised me by booking us into a shuttered and chandeliered room (the size of our studio flat in London) which overlooked the Grand Canal. As we checked in I can remember feeling quite giddy with happiness.

I'd always imagined Venice to be full of smelly canals and hordes of tourists jostling one another before dimly-lit Tintorettos, but out of season it's a glorious ghost town, its emptiness only enhancing its charm and operatic magnitude.

When we walked through the Piazza San Marco -- once rightly described by Napoleon as 'the best drawing room in Europe' -- it was carpeted with thick snow. At night as we picked our way between the pigeons, heading for the warmth of hot chocolate at Florian's, it felt as though we were drifting through a painted stage flat. It was a totally surreal and out-of-body experience. The eerie solitude of the square just compounded the elegiac, haunting allure.

Certain cities come with their own epitaphs and consequently have built-in expectations. …

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