Magazine article The Spectator

Rocking Round St Mark's

Magazine article The Spectator

Rocking Round St Mark's

Article excerpt

I have visited Venice in all seasons but I am particularly partial to January when grey lagoon mists drift through the squares and the silvery chimes of church bells shiver the veiled canals. Then, when the trippers have gone back to Missouri and Tokyo, the real Venice begins to come to life, like a huge tableau whose dusty, woebegone marionettes have miraculously acquired the gift of animation.

Where do they come from, these creaking counts and principessas, who only show their faces after the last tour group has departed for the airport. They creep back to their tables at Harry's Bar, the Cipriani's microscopic hostelry, to snatch at plates of hot salted cod and polenta. They sit in Florian's nursing the cioccolata calda of Casanova and contemplating with watery eyes the silence of St Mark's.

Only this January it didn't happen like that. Oh, no. Some jerk, with authority from the mayor, put up loudspeakers all over St Mark's Square. One, this defaced what even Napoleon thought the world's most beautiful salon. Two, it's now a saloon. The speakers pump out pop music from ten in the morning until late at night. Rock around the pigeons? No thanks. Even the birds have flown.

Death in Venice has taken on a new meaning. Death by decibels, death by Disneyfication - though even Disneyland stoops to nothing lower than mawkish `easy listening'. This, on the other hand, curdles the milk in your Limoges and makes the martini glass do the shakes on its marbletopped table. The mayor, Massimo Cacciari, is supposed to be a philosopher-poet, at least that's what he calls himself. I dread to think what his pentameters are like.

This is a sore subject I know, and sorest of all for me. Last time I wrote about the Italians not having much culture anymore I got a pizza in my ear and a stiff letter -- well the paper was stiff, anyway - from the Italian attache in London. Still the point is that what the Italians are now doing with Venice is what Napoleon and a series of moronic Habsburgs failed to do in a century - turn it into a puppet state of King Vulgarity.

Take the Fenice opera house. When it burned down three years ago everyone wept and swore that this gioiella would be rebuilt by the millennium. It was the ancient soul of Venice. …

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