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The City of Falling Angels [Format Kindle]

John Berendt

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Past Midnight: John Berendt on the Mysteries of Venice

Just as John Berendt's first book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, was settling into its remarkable four-year run on The New York Times bestseller list, he discovered a new city whose local mysteries and traditions were more than a match for Savannah, whose hothouse eccentricities he had celebrated in the first book. The new city was Venice, and he spent much of the last decade wandering through its canals and palazzos, seeking to understand a place that any native will tell you is easy to visit but hard to know. For travelers to Venice, whether by armchair or vaporetto, he has selected his 10 (actually 11) Books to Read on Venice. And he took the time to answer a few of our questions about his charming new book, The City of Falling Angels:

Amazon.com: The lush, cloistered southern city of Savannah was the locale of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Venice, the setting for The City of Falling Angels, is vastly different. Was it the difference itself that drew you to Venice?

John Berendt: Savannah and Venice actually have quite a lot in common. Both are uniquely beautiful. Both are isolated geographically, culturally, and emotionally from the world outside. Venice sits in the middle of a lagoon; Savannah is surrounded by marshes, piney woods, and the ocean. Venetians think of themselves as Venetian first, Italian second; Savannahians rarely even venture forth as far as Atlanta or Charleston. So both cities offer a writer a rich context in which to set a story, and the stories provide readers a means of escape from their own environment into another world.

Amazon.com: I enjoyed your rather declarative author's note: that this is a work of nonfiction, and that you used everyone's real names. In your previous book you did use pseudonyms for some characters and you explained that you took a few small liberties in the service of the larger truth of the story. Why the change this time?

Berendt: When I wrote Midnight I thought I would do a few people the favor of changing their names for the sake of privacy. But when the book came out, several of the pseudonymous characters told me they wished I'd used their real names instead. So this time, no pseudonyms. As for the storytelling liberties I took in writing Midnight, they were minor and did not change the story, but my mention of it in the author's note caused some confusion, with the result that Midnight is sometimes referred to now as a novel, which it most certainly is not. Neither is The City of Falling Angels. In fact, I dispensed with the liberties this time and made it as close to the truth as I could get it.

Amazon.com: In The City of Falling Angels, a number of fascinating people serve as guides to the city, each with a different idea of the true nature of Venice. Who was your favorite?

Berendt: I don't have a favorite, but Count Girolamo Marcello is certainly a memorable, highly quotable commentator. "Everyone in Venice is acting," he told me. "Everyone plays a role, and the role changes. The key to understanding Venetians is rhythm, the rhythm of the lagoon, the water, the tides, the waves. It's like breathing. High water, high pressure: tense. Low water, low pressure: relaxed. The tide changes every six hours."

I nodded that I understood.

"How do you see a bridge?" he went on.

"Pardon me?" I asked, "A bridge?"

"Do you see a bridge as an obstacle--as just another set of steps to climb to get from one side of a canal to the other? We Venetians do not see bridges as obstacles. To us, bridges are transitions. We go over them very slowly. They are part of the rhythm. They are the links between two parts of a theater, like changes in scenery. Our role changes as we go over bridges. We cross from one reality ... to another reality. From one street ... to another street. From one setting ... to another setting."

Once I had absorbed that notion, Count Marcello continued: "Sunlight on a canal is reflected up through a window onto the ceiling, then from the ceiling onto a vase, and from the vase onto a glass. Which is the real sunlight? Which is the real reflection? What is true? What is not true? The answer is not so simple, because the truth can change. I can change. You can change. That is the Venice effect."

I was not terribly surprised when he later told me, "Venetians never tell the truth. We mean precisely the opposite of what we say."

Amazon.com: Now that you know Venice well enough to be a guide yourself, what would you say to a visitor looking for insight into the character of the city?

Berendt: Tourists generally shuffle along, on narrow streets so crowded as to be nearly impassable, between the major sights of St. Mark's Square, the Rialto Bridge, and the Accademia Museum. All you have to do is to step off these heavily traveled alleyways, and in a few moments you will find yourself in quiet, much emptier surroundings. This is more like the real Venice. Another thing to do is to go into the wine bars where Venetians stand around drinking and talking. They will very likely be speaking the Venetian dialect, so you won't be able to understand them, but you will get a sampling of the true Venetian ambiance enlivened by the pronounced sing-song rhythm of the language. I'd also suggest stopping someone in the street and asking for directions. Almost invariably, you will be rewarded with a genial smile and the instructions, Sempre diritto, meaning "Straight ahead." This will only leave you more confused, because when you attempt to follow a straight line, you will be confronted by more twists and turns and forks in the road than you thought possible, given the instructions. This is part of what Count Marcello described as "the Venice effect."


An Evening in Venice 

THE AIR STILL SMELLED OF CHARCOAL when I arrived in Venice three days after the fire. As it happened, the timing of my visit was purely coincidental. I had made plans, months before, to come to Venice for a few weeks in the off-season in order to enjoy the city without the crush of other tourists.

"If there had been a wind Monday night," the water-taxi driver told me as we came across the lagoon from the airport, "there wouldn't be a Venice to come to."

"How did it happen?" I asked.

The taxi driver shrugged. "How do all these things happen?"

It was early February, in the middle of the peaceful lull that settles over Venice every year between New Year's Day and Carnival. The tourists had gone, and in their absence the Venice they inhabited had all but closed down. Hotel lobbies and souvenir shops stood virtually empty. Gondolas lay tethered to poles and covered in blue tarpaulin. Unbought copies of the International Herald Tribune remained on newsstand racks all day, and pigeons abandoned sparse pickings in St. Mark's Square to scavenge for crumbs in other parts of the city.

Meanwhile the other Venice, the one inhabited by Venetians, was as busy as ever-the neighborhood shops, the vegetable stands, the fish markets, the wine bars. For these few weeks, Venetians could stride through their city without having to squeeze past dense clusters of slow-moving tourists. The city breathed, its pulse quickened. Venetians had Venice all to themselves.

But the atmosphere was subdued. People spoke in hushed, dazed tones of the sort one hears when there has been a sudden death in the family. The subject was on everyone's lips. Within days I had heard about it in such detail I felt as if I had been there myself.


Shortly before nine o'clock, Archimede Seguso sat down at the dinner table and unfolded his napkin. Before joining him, his wife went into the living room to lower the curtains, which was her long-standing evening ritual. Signora Seguso knew very well that no one could see in through the windows, but it was her way of enfolding her family in a domestic embrace. The Segusos lived on the third floor of Ca' Capello, a sixteenth-century house in the heart of Venice. A narrow canal wrapped around two sides of the building before flowing into the Grand Canal a short distance away.

Signor Seguso waited patiently at the table. He was eighty-six-tall, thin, his posture still erect. A fringe of wispy white hair and flaring eyebrows gave him the look of a kindly sorcerer, full of wonder and surprise. He had an animated face and sparkling eyes that captivated everyone who met him. If you happened to be in his presence for any length of time, however, your eye would eventually be drawn to his hands.

They were large, muscular hands, the hands of an artisan whose work demanded physical strength. For seventy-five years, Signor Seguso had stood in front of a blazing-hot glassworks furnace-ten, twelve, eighteen hours a day-holding a heavy steel pipe in his hands, turning it to prevent the dollop of molten glass at the other end from drooping to one side or the other, pausing to blow into it to inflate the glass, then laying it across his workbench, still turning it with his left hand while, with a pair of tongs in his right hand, pulling, pinching, and coaxing the glass into the shape of graceful vases, bowls, and goblets.

After all those years of turning the steel pipe hour after hour, Signor Seguso's left hand had molded itself around the pipe until it became permanently cupped, as if the pipe were always in it. His cupped hand was the proud mark of his craft, and this was why the artist who painted his portrait some years ago had taken particular care to show the curve in his left hand.

Men in the Seguso family had been glassmakers since the fourteenth century. Archimede was the twenty-first generation and one of the greatest of them all. He could sculpt heavy pieces out of solid glass and blow vases so thin and fragile they could barely be touched. He was the first glassmaker ever to see his work honored with an exhibition in the Doge's Palace in St. Mark's Square. Tiffany sold his pieces in its Fifth Avenue store.

Archimede Seguso had been making glass since the age of eleven, and by the time he was twenty, he had earned the nickname "Mago del Fuoco" (Wizard of Fire). He no longer had the stamina to stand in front of a hot and howling furnace eighteen hours a day, but he worked every day nonetheless, and with undiminished pleasure. On this particular day, in fact, he had risen at his usual hour of 4:30 A.M., convinced as always that the pieces he was about to make would be more beautiful than any he had ever made before.

In the living room, Signora Seguso paused to look out the window before lowering the curtain. She noticed that the air had become hazy, and she mused aloud that a winter fog had set in. In response, Signor Seguso remarked from the other room that it must have come in very quickly, because he had seen the quarter moon in a clear sky only a few minutes before.

The living room window looked across a small canal at the back of the Fenice Opera House, thirty feet away. Rising above it in the distance, some one hundred yards away, the theater's grand entrance wing appeared to be shrouded in mist. Just as she started to lower the curtain, Signora Seguso saw a flash. She thought it was lightning. Then she saw another flash, and this time she knew it was fire.

"Papa!" she cried out. "The Fenice is on fire!"

Signor Seguso came quickly to the window. More flames flickered at the front of the theater, illuminating what Signora Seguso had thought was mist but had in fact been smoke. She rushed to the telephone and dialed 115 for the fire brigade. Signor Seguso went into his bedroom and stood at the corner window, which was even closer to the Fenice than the living room window.

Between the fire and the Segusos' house lay a jumble of buildings that constituted the Fenice. The part on fire was farthest away, the chaste neoclassical entrance wing with its formal reception rooms, known collectively as the Apollonian rooms. Then came the main body of the theater with its elaborately rococo auditorium, and finally the vast backstage area. Flaring out from both sides of the auditorium and the backstage were clusters of smaller, interconnected buildings like the one that housed the scenery workshop immediately across the narrow canal from Signor Seguso.

Signora Seguso could not get through to the fire brigade, so she dialed 112 for the police.

The enormity of what was happening outside his window stunned Signor Seguso. The Gran Teatro La Fenice was one of the splendors of Venice; it was arguably the most beautiful opera house in the world, and one of the most significant. The Fenice had commissioned dozens of operas that had premiered on its stage-Verdi's La Traviata and Rigoletto, Igor Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress, Benjamin Britten's The Turn of the Screw. For two hundred years, audiences had delighted in the sumptuous clarity of the Fenice's acoustics, the magnificence of its five tiers of gilt-encrusted boxes, and the baroque fantasy of it all. Signor and Signora Seguso had always taken a box for the season, and over the years they had been given increasingly desirable locations until they finally found themselves next to the royal box.

Signora Seguso had no luck getting through to the police either, and now she was becoming frantic. She called upstairs to the apartment where her son Gino lived with his wife and their son, Antonio. Gino was still out at the Seguso glass factory in Murano. Antonio was visiting a friend near the Rialto.

Signor Seguso stood silently at his bedroom window, watching as the flames raced across the entire top floor of the entrance wing. He knew that, for all its storied loveliness, the Fenice was at this moment an enormous pile of exquisite kindling. Inside a thick shell of Istrian stone lined with brick, the structure was made entirely of wood-wooden beams, wooden floors, wooden walls-richly embellished with wood carvings, sculpted stucco, and papier-mâché, all of it covered with layer upon layer of lacquer and gilt. Signor Seguso was aware, too, that the scenery workshop just across the canal from his house was stocked with solvents and, most worrisome of all, cylinders of propane gas that were used for welding and soldering.

Signora Seguso came back into the room to say she had finally spoken with the police.

"They already knew about the fire," she said. "They told me we should leave the house at once." She looked over her husband's shoulder and stifled a scream; the flames had moved closer in the short time she had been away from the window. They were now advancing through the four smaller reception halls toward the main body of the theater, in their direction.

Archimede Seguso stared into the fire with an appraising eye. He opened the window, and a gust of bitter-cold air rushed in. The wind was blowing to the southwest. The Segusos were due west of the theater, however, and Signor Seguso calculated that if the wind did not change direction or pick up strength, the fire would advance toward the other side of the Fenice rather than in their direction.

"Now, Nandina," he said softly, "stay calm. We're not in any danger."

The Segusos' house was only one of many buildings close to the Fenice. Except for Campo San Fantin, a small plaza at the front of the theater, the Fenice was hemmed in by old and equally flammable buildings, many of them attached to it or separated from it by only four or five feet. This was not at all unusual in Venice, where building space had always been at a premium. Seen from above, Venice resembled a jigsaw puzzle of terra-cotta rooftops. Passages between some of the buildings were so narrow one could not walk through them with an open umbrella. It had become a specialty of Venetian burglars to escape from the scene of a crime by leaping from roof to roof. If the fire in the Fenice were able to make the same sort of leap, it would almost certainly destroy a sizable swath of Venice.

The Fenice itself was dark. It had been closed five months for renovations and was due to reopen in a month. The canal along its rear façade was also closed-empty-having been sealed off and drained so work crews could dredge the silt and sludge from it and repair its walls for the first time in forty years. The canal between the Segusos' building and the back of the Fenice was now a deep, muddy gulch with a tangle of exposed pipes and a few pieces of heavy machinery sitting in puddles at the bottom. The empty canal would make it impossible for fireboats to reach the Fenice, and, worse than that, it would deprive them of a source of water. Venetian firemen depended on water pumped directly from the canals to put out fires. The city had no system of fire hydrants.

THE FENICE WAS NOW RINGED BY A TUMULT OF SHOUTS and running footsteps. Tenants, routed from their houses by the police, crossed paths with patrons coming out of the Ristorante Antico Martini. A dozen bewildered guests rolled suitcases out of the Hotel La Fenice, asking directions to the Hotel Saturnia, where they had been told to go. Into their midst, a wild-eyed woman wearing only a nightgown came stumbling from her house into Campo San Fantin screaming hysterically. She threw herself to the ground in front of the theater, flailing her arms and rolling on the pavement. Several waiters came out of the Antico Martini and led her inside.

Two fireboats managed to navigate to a water-filled canal a short distance from the Fenice. Their hoses were not long enough to reach around the intervening buildings, however, so the firemen dragged them through the kitchen window at the back of the Antico Martini and out through the dining room into Campo San Fantin. They aimed their nozzles at flames burning furiously in a top-floor window of the theater, but the water pressure was too low. The arc of water barely reached the windowsill. The fire went on leaping and taunting and sucking up great turbulent currents of air that set the flames snapping like brilliant red sails in a violent wind.

Several policemen struggled with the massive front door of the Fenice, but to no avail. One of them drew his pistol and fired three shots at the lock. The door opened. Two firemen rushed in and disappeared into a dense white wall of smoke. Moments later they came running out. "It's too late," said one. "It's burning like straw."

The wail of sirens now filled the air as police and firemen raced up and down the Grand Canal in motorboats, spanking up huge butterfly wings of spray as they bounced through the wakes of other boats. About an hour after the first alarm, the city's big fire launch pulled up at the landing stage behind Haig's Bar. Its high-powered rigs would at last be able to pump water the two hundred yards from the Grand Canal to the Fenice. Dozens of firemen ran hoses from the fire launch into Campo Santa Maria del Giglio, feverishly coupling sections together, but it was immediately apparent that the hoses were of different gauges. Leaks sprayed from the couplings, but the firemen carried the linked hoses, such as they were, up to the rooftops around the Fenice anyway. They directed half the water onto the theater in an attempt to contain the fire and the rest of it onto adjacent buildings. Fire Commandant Alfio Pini had already made a momentous strategic decision: The Fenice was lost; save the city.

WHEN THE LIGHTS WENT OUT, Count Girolamo Marcello was midsentence in a conversation over dinner with his son on the top floor of his palace less than a minute's walk from the front of the Fenice. Earlier in the day, Count Marcello had learned that the exiled Russian poet and Nobel laureate Joseph Brodsky had died suddenly of a heart attack, at fifty-five, in New York. Brodsky had been a passionate lover of Venice and a friend and houseguest of Marcello's. It was while he was staying in Marcello's palace, in fact, that Brodsky had written his last book, Watermark, a lyrical reflection on Venice. That afternoon Marcello had spoken by phone with Brodsky's widow, Maria, and they had discussed the possibility of burying Brodsky in Venice. Marcello knew that this would not be easily arranged. Every available plot on the burial island of San Michele had been spoken for years ago. It was generally understood that any new arrival, even a native Venetian, would be dug up in ten years and moved to a common burial site farther out in the lagoon. But for a non-Venetian, Jewish atheist, gaining approval for even a temporary burial would be a quest fraught with obstacles. Still, there had been notable exceptions. Igor Stravinsky had been buried on San Michele, and so had Sergei Diaghilev and Ezra Pound. They had all been buried in the Anglican and Greek Orthodox section, and all would be allowed to remain there in perpetuity. So there was reason to hope that Brodsky could be buried there, too, and this was on Marcello's mind when the lights went out.

Father and son sat in darkness for a while, expecting the lights to come back on. Then they heard the sirens, lots of them, many more than usual.

"Let's go up and see what's happened," said Marcello. They headed upstairs to the wooden deck on the roof, the altana, and as soon as they opened the door, they saw the raging fire.

Marcello decided they should leave the house at once. They descended the stairs, feeling their way in the darkness, Marcello wondering if the six-hundred-year-old palace was doomed. If it was, the most impressive private library in Venice would disappear with it. Marcello's library occupied most of the second floor. It was an architectural delight, a high-ceilinged space complete with a wraparound wooden gallery that could be reached only by climbing a secret stairway hidden behind a panel in the wall. The floor-to-ceiling shelves held forty thousand volumes of private and state papers, some of them more than a thousand years old. The collection amounted to a treasure trove of Venetian history, and Marcello regularly made it available to scholars. He himself spent long hours sitting in a thronelike black leather armchair perusing the archives, especially the papers of the Marcello family, which was one of the oldest in Venice. Marcello's ancestors included a fifteenth-century doge, or head of state. The Marcellos had, in fact, been among the families that built the Fenice and owned it until just before World War II, when the municipality of Venice took it over.

Marcello walked to the edge of Campo San Fantin and found himself standing in the midst of a crowd that included the entire city council, which had rushed in a body from Ca' Farsetti, the town hall, where it had been in an evening session. Marcello was a familiar figure around town, with his bald head and close-cropped gray beard. The press frequently sought him out for comment, knowing they could count on a frank, often provocative quote or two. He had once described himself to an interviewer as "inquisitive, restless, eclectic, impulsive and capricious." It was the last two of these behavioral quirks that asserted themselves as he stood in Campo San Fantin looking at the burning opera house.

"What a shame," he said. "It's gone. I suppose I will never see it again. The reconstruction will take so long, I'm sure I won't be alive when it's finished." This remark was nominally directed to the person next to him, but it was really intended for the ears of a handsome man with a dark beard in his mid-fifties who was standing a few feet away: the mayor of Venice, Massimo Cacciari. Mayor Cacciari was a former Communist, a professor of philosophy and architecture at the University of Venice, and Italy's most highly regarded contemporary philosopher. Being mayor automatically made him president of the Fenice, which meant he had been responsible for the security of the theater and would now be in charge of rebuilding it. Marcello's remark clearly implied that, in his opinion, neither Cacciari nor his left-wing government had the competence to do it. Mayor Cacciari gazed at the fire with a look of deep despair, unfazed one way or the other by Marcello's obliquely worded taunt.

"But I would suggest," Marcello went on, "that if they want to rebuild the place as it was in its prime-and by that I mean as a social place, a meeting place-they should make it into a great discotheque for young people."

An old man standing in front of Marcello turned around, aghast, tears rolling down his cheeks. "Girolamo!" he said. "How can you say such a thing? Anyway, who knows what the hell young people will want five years from now?"

A deafening crash resounded in the depths of the Fenice. The great crystal chandelier had fallen to the floor.

"You have a point," Marcello replied, "but, as everybody knows, going to the opera has always been a social thing. You can even see it in the architecture. Only a third of the seats are positioned so they have a good view of the stage. The rest, particularly the boxes, are really best for looking at the audience. The arrangement is purely social."

Marcello spoke with a gentle bemusement and without any trace of cynicism. It seemed to tickle him that anyone could think that generations of operagoers, like the Marcellos, had been drawn to the opera by anything as lofty as music or culture-Benedetto Marcello, the eighteenth-century composer and one of Girolamo Marcello's forebears, notwithstanding. Throughout its existence, the Fenice had been hallowed ground in the social landscape of Venice, and Girolamo Marcello had a broad knowledge of Venetian social history. He was, in fact, regarded as something of an authority on the subject.

"In the old days," he said, "the private boxes had curtains you could close, even during the performance. My grandfather loved going to the opera, but he didn't give a damn about music. He would open the curtains only for highlights on the stage. He would say, 'Silence! Now we have the aria!' and he would pull open the curtains and applaud . . . 'Good! Lovely! Well done!' Then he would close the curtains again, and a servant would come from the house with a basket of chicken and some wine. Opera was just a form of relaxation, and anyway it was cheaper to take a box at the opera than heat a whole palace for an evening."

Suddenly another enormous boom shook the ground. The floors in the entrance wing had collapsed, one onto another. People standing at the edge of the campo leaped backward just as the roof of the entrance wing fell, sending flames and burning debris high into the air. Marcello went back upstairs to his rooftop altana, this time fortified with a bottle of grappa, a video camera, and a bucket of water in case any of the airborne embers should happen to land on his roof.

Within minutes-as Girolamo Marcello's video camera whirred and clicked, as Archimede Seguso stared in silence from his bedroom window, as hundreds of Venetians watched from rooftops, and as thousands more all over Italy followed live television coverage of the fire-the roof of the auditorium collapsed with a thunderous boom and a volcanic eruption that shot flaming debris 150 feet into the air. A powerful updraft sent chunks of burning embers, some as big as shoe boxes, arcing over Venice like comets.

Shortly after eleven, a helicopter appeared above St. Mark's, swung low over the mouth of Grand Canal, and scooped up a tankful of water. Then it soared aloft again, banked over the Fenice and, to cheers from rooftops, dropped its water. A hissing plume of steam and smoke coiled up from the Fenice, but the fire kept burning undiminished. The helicopter turned and flew back to the Grand Canal to load up again.

It suddenly occurred to Girolamo Marcello that his wife, Lesa, who was out of town, might hear about the fire before he had a chance to tell her that her family and her house were safe. He came down from the roof to telephone her.

Countess Marcello worked for Save Venice, the American nonprofit organization devoted to raising money for restoring Venetian art and architecture. Save Venice was headquartered in New York. Lesa Marcello was the director of its Venice office. Over the past thirty years, Save Venice had restored scores of paintings, frescoes, mosaics, statues, ceilings, and building façades. Recently, Save Venice had restored the Fenice's painted curtain, at a cost of $100,000.

Save Venice had become a hugely popular charity in America, largely because it was set up to be, in a sense, a participatory charity. Save Venice would organize event-filled, four-day galas in Venice in late summer during which, for three thousand dollars a person, subscribers could attend elegant lunches, dinners, and balls in private villas and palaces not open to the public.

In winter Save Venice kept the spirit alive by mounting a fund-raising ball in New York. Lesa Marcello had flown to New York earlier in the week to attend the winter ball. This year it was to be a masked ball, based on the theme of Carnival, and it would be held in the Rainbow Room on the sixty-fifth floor of Rockefeller Center. As he picked up the telephone to call his wife, Girolamo Marcello suddenly remembered that the ball was scheduled for this very night.

Détails sur le produit

  • Format : Format Kindle
  • Taille du fichier : 901 KB
  • Nombre de pages de l'édition imprimée : 444 pages
  • Editeur : Penguin Books (26 septembre 2006)
  • Vendu par : Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Langue : Anglais
  • Synthèse vocale : Activée
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  • Classement des meilleures ventes d'Amazon: n°169.740 dans la Boutique Kindle (Voir le Top 100 dans la Boutique Kindle)

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Amazon.com: 3.6 étoiles sur 5  327 commentaires
108 internautes sur 117 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Berendt's "Falling Angels" Tells a Fascinating Story 30 septembre 2005
Par John B. Tipton - Publié sur Amazon.com
Like so many of the literally millions of readers who found John Berendt's "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" an endless source of pure reading pleasure, I have been eagerly awaiting his next book. Well, the wait was more than worth it. I grabbed my copy of his new book, "City of Falling Angels" the very first day it went on sale. Berendt has now taken us to Venice and he digs beneath its surface--just as he did in Savannah--to find fascinating tales of intrigue, human folly and human decency. I found myself devouring it and yet at the same time wanting to slowly savor its interwoven stories. While the author introduced me to Savannah, with Venice he takes me to a place I thought I knew well--only to discover that I had been the merest of tourists on my many trips there until I had John Berendt as my guide. He goes beneath the obvious fascination of the city's history and art to introduce us to Counts and Marchesas, electricians and fruit-and vegetable sellers, artists and poets, criminals and politicians. In "Falling Angels" the core event is the destruction by fire (arson?) of Venice's famed historic opera house, the Fenice--and the byzantine aftermath of this great loss to the city. But, as in "Midnight," Berendt is not content to merely tell a gripping story. He once again introduces us to a series of memorable characters, some petty and venal, some filled with charm and wisdom, all fascinating. While this book is a work of non-fiction and true in every detail, Berendt has an amazing ability to delve into a place and get its inhabitants to divulge their secrets to him like a great journalist. In "City of Falling Angels," just as in "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil," he combines this skill with the art of a novelist in getting the people to tell their stories. Such authors as Henry James, Thomas Mann and Daphne du Maurier have famously SET novels and short stories in Venice. John Berendt gets Venice to tell ITS story.
175 internautes sur 208 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Another hit?????? 28 septembre 2005
Par Robert Busko - Publié sur Amazon.com
John Berndt hit a home run in 1994 when he wrote Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, an interesting expose about Savannah and some of the more colorful characters that called that wonderful city home. Serving as a focal point was a midnight murder and subsequent murder trial. Midnight in the Garden spent four years on the NYT best seller list and made Berendt a world wide celebrity.

Berendt has released his second book, The City of the Falling Angels and it reminds me a lot of Midnight. First is the location. While I have to admit Savannah and Venice aren't alike, they do both ooze atmosphere. Savannah, quaint but somewhat isolated is so different from the ancient and worldly city of Venice that it seems hard to understand their connection. You'll have to read the book first, but I think you'll see why Berendt selected Venice.

Secondly, Berendt manages to find some really interesting locals to put in the book: Olga, the former mistress of Ezra Pound, an artisan glass blower, the Rat-Man, and pigeon exterminators, et al. These provide the color that was such an interesting part of Midnight.

Finally, the loss of the Fenice Opera House and the subsequent trial of the arsonists gives the book an anchor similar to the murder trial in Midnight.

Berendt is a consumate story teller. His prose is like boating on a calm canal.

Whether The City of Falling Angels can come close to achieving the status and success of Midnight remains to be seen. As for me I found The City of Falling Angels and terrific read.
42 internautes sur 48 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 A BOOK FOR THE AGES 2 octobre 2005
Par Jack Winter - Publié sur Amazon.com
It seems like whenever there's a good book about a place, we're told "It's so good it makes you want to go there." John Berendt's first book, "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" apparently did that for Savannah. But in the case of "The City of Falling Angels", I felt that even if I went to Venice a hundred times, I'd never get the kinds of insights I got from reading this book.

Just the way Venice is so unlike any other place -- a tiny, canal-filled, floating museum of a city that once was actually a world power -- I learned that its inhabitants, perhaps inevitably, are equally unlike those of any other place.

Nowhere but in Venice could I find Massimo Donadon, a "chef" who cornered a whopping 30% of the world's rat poison market by studying different countries' food preferences -- and then making his rat poison taste like those foods, since that's what local rats grow to like after they eat a place's garbage. (Butter for France, pork fat for Germany, curry for India.) And apparently no one but Berendt ever discovered the entertaining, carnivalistic characters like him (and many, many others) -- even though several literary giants, such as Henry James, Thomas Mann, and Ernest Hemingway had their chances.

And there's virtually nothing in "Angels" that you can find in any book of its kind. Or any book, period.

"Angels also has its "serious" side. It meticulously investigates the 1996 fire (accident or arson?) of one of history's most renowned opera houses. And while doing this, it gives us a basic cultural and political portrait of probably the world's most unusual city.

It's obviously tempting to compare "Angels" to "Midnight" -- since it's also about a city, and "Midnight" was such a record-breaking hit. But a much better reason is that it shows that Berendt isn't a one-shot wonder. Nor is he a writer who found subjects so rich that any first-rate writer could have made good books out of the them. It demonstrates that he's a writer who must now be recognized as one of the very best around.

The elegance, ego-lessness, and spareness of his prose are the equal of any contemporary writer I can think of. His writing is never excessive or needlessly detailed -- and it never draws attention to itself or its author.

After I finished "Angels", I wondered what had made it so easy to read. A quick riffle of its pages gave me the answer. Whereas most of our best writers frequently confront me with huge blocks of type -- making me almost want to cry out for oxygen, or peek to see where one of those mountainous paragraphs ends -- Berendt's pages are pleasing to the eye. I know I'll always have breathing space -- and his rhythm will become my rhythm.

It's a shame that his perfectionism has kept him from writing a larger number of books. (And God knows why he chose to start so late.) But one thing is now clear: He's someone from whom we can expect nothing but fine works.

I just hope he doesn't make us wait so long again.

Nevertheless, I'm grateful.
28 internautes sur 31 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
3.0 étoiles sur 5 Conflicted Feelings and I'm not Entirely Sure Why 26 décembre 2005
Par E. Esquivel - Publié sur Amazon.com
I stopped reading after page 168. Cold turkey.

I loved "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" so I was pre-disposed to liking "City of Falling Angels." But I just couldn't get into it. It isn't Berendt's writing. It's crisp and his sentences are well constructed and easy to read, as always.

So what is it? I think, suspect, really, that it's because, at least until page 168, the book's mainly been about the rich and "famous" of Venice. Oridnary people, the common man, hardly appear. Yes, there is the rat catcher of Venice, the men who "control" the pigeon population and the man who wears a different uniform every day - really interesting people - but that's about it and their appearances are all to brief. Mostly, "City of Falling Angels" has been about the foibles of rich people - transplanted Americans, in large part. In my book, at least, the rich and privileged of Venice aren't nearly as compelling as the ordinary Venetians who made too brief an appearance. Which leads me to another point, contrasted with the people who made up "Midnight in the Graden of Good and Evil" - the man who wanted to poison the city's water supply, Lady Chablis, etc. - the people who appear in "City of Falling Angels" are positively boring in comparsion - their penchant for wearing nothing but white and transforming rooms in a Venetian palace into a Mars Embassy, notwithstanding.

I was expecting more or, at the very least, different. I didn't want the "grand" stories. I wanted the small but interesting ones about oridnary people. Unfortunately, "City of Falling Angels" isn't about them. And, for me at least, that is a shame.
24 internautes sur 28 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Truth, selected and arranged to make literature 4 octobre 2005
Par krebsman - Publié sur Amazon.com
I noticed some time ago that whenever anyone in a movie goes to Venice, something bad happens. Donald Sutherland gets hacked up by a deranged dwarf, Rupert Everett gets his throat cut by a sadistic admirer, spinster Katherine Hepburn gets her heart broken by a married man. Even Shakespeare had Venice as the setting for intrigue, usury and betrayal. Venice is a place where bad things happen. Now John Berendt, author of MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL, takes on the fabled city at the turn of the new Millennium and achieves some dazzling results. It's still a city of duplicity, con games and corruption despite its glorious artistic, literary and historical heritage. Berent uses the city as the setting for a series of related essays dealing with arson that maybe was not arson, suicide that maybe was murder, feuding old Venetian families, feuding expatriates, duplicitous philanthropists, and out-and-out swindles by supposedly respectable people. Who is lying? Who is telling the truth? Is there such a thing as truth? A lot of this book is very anxiety-inducing, especially those parts dealing with people who are obviously crooks who are obviously going to get away with it. Berendt has the extraordinary gift of being able to write truth as if it were fiction. One of the episodes, "The Man Who Loved Others," could just as easily be anthologized in a collection of great short stories. As a big fan of Berendt's previous book, I dropped everything to read this one. I'm glad I did. This intelligent and literate book is wonderful writing. We'll be talking about it for years to come. I'd especially recommend the book for anyone who has been to Venice or plans to go as well as fans of Henry James. The best parts of this book are as good as the work of James himself.
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