Magazine article The Spectator

Keeping One's Head above Water in Venice

Magazine article The Spectator

Keeping One's Head above Water in Venice

Article excerpt

GONDOLAS AND GRAPES by John Hall Sibilline Press, 25, pp. 320, ISBN 0954219805

I have an unusually vivid recollection of the first time I met John Hall. I went to his flat in Chelsea to be interviewed - as I thought - to establish whether I might make a suitable lecturer for his Pre-University Course in Venice. However, when I arrived, he got straight down to the nittygritty of how many lectures I would be giving, what titles I had in mind, and so on. I must have been all of 25, and had never given a proper lecture - by which I mean one without a written text - in my life. In retrospect, it strikes me that John must have been mad, or at least that if his trust did not lead to total disaster, then that only proves that he is one of those truly rare people whose guardian angel puts in a lot of overtime.

The Venice Course - aka the John Hall Course - has been going since 1965, and has survived all the intervening economic lows, not to mention the vicissitudes of changing university entrance systems and a gradual sense that a 'gap' year partially spent in the Serenissima is a wimpy option if one's friends are backpacking through some torrid zone or other. It is routinely accused of being a sort of arty finishing school, but that slur never quite explains the number of its alumni who are en route to Oxbridge, nor indeed the fact that some have returned to the fold as lecturers. John Hall is characteristically elliptical about his own energy in keeping the project going through the acqua alta of crazed Italian bureaucracy that constantly threatened to sink him, and eloquently evokes the wonderfully eccentric heroes and heroines of the expat community in Venice, as well as the migrant population of lecturers he has lured to the city over the years. …

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