“Moonlight Becomes Her”
I knew it was coming, of course, because I’d asked her to send it to me, but opening the package that contained my review copy of Dream of Venice was an event all the same. I have the distinct privilege of actually knowing the book’s editor, JoAnn Locktov, and my review copy came directly from her. The plain, padded manila envelope was made special by the flair of her handwriting with its swooping curls and flourishes. Upon opening it, I held the book itself, carefully wrapped in black paper set off with a gold seal, the better to enhance the book inside. It’s the kind of touch that only someone like JoAnn would add, but once you do something like that you create an expectation in the mind of the recipient: this is going to be exceptional. I have to say the book more than lives up to that kind of packaging.
Because of our professional relationship (I have occasionally written blogs about some of her clients) JoAnn knows how passionate I am about Northern Italy. I have several times described it as the modern Fertile Crescent because the Renaissance was born there. But the creative fervor that seized the land at that time did not dissipate with the intervening years. It accelerated. These days whenever I come across a new product that is both innovative and beautiful, the likelihood of its being made in Northern Italy is huge, which necessarily raises the question of why that should be so. I frankly don’t know. The roots of this artistic innovation are forever buried in antiquity, but a starting point might well be the birth of Venice.
Who in the world would look into a shallow bay, note that the center of it is dotted with an archipelago of some 118 tiny, individual islands and conclude that the very thing to do would be to pound wood pilings into the ground, cover over them with limestone plates, erect magnificent brick or stone buildings atop these pilings, and tie all of the component parts together with a complex system of canals and over 400 bridges that is a wonder to this day? And there’s more. Because they’re artists, they are forever creating. Venetian glass—to cite a single example—is world-renowned because it has a beauty and intricacy you simply won’t find anywhere else.
But I really don’t want to talk about those things. Those who are interested can do their own internet investigation. I want to talk about this book, this accolade, this romance, this tribute to what must surely be the most romantic city in the world. It’s not a book ON Venice so much as it a book OF Venice. The photographs are stunning, but they’re not the usual postcard fare; they’re photos that work very hard to capture the essence of the city itself, to serve as a sort of memoir for those who have been fortunate enough to visit the city, but also to show people like me who’ve never been there what a trip to this fabled city would be like. This is how Sylvia Sass describes Venice in the book: “Everything seems like an apparition floating in time, belonging to a world that exists just in my imagination.”
This is not a book on the history of Venice or the topography or any of the problems it may be having with subsidence. It’s a book of paeans, love poems, tributes, descriptions, reminisces and reactions from literally dozens of people who have fallen in love with Venice over the years. Some of them are household names, others not so famous, but all of them are articulate, talented, and passionate about the object of their affection.
It’s a book meant to be savored, like a book of poems. Read through poems as though they’re prose, and you’ve missed the entire point: the music, the rhymes, the nuances—all the things that make a poem ring. The same is true of Dream of Venice. I’ve read it three times now, and each reading enriched the experience all the more. When someone like Claire Bloom writes an enchanted passage on “this veiled city built on water—and on dreams,” how can you do anything but read that passage again?
Some of the contributors really did write poems, but all of the selections, poetry or prose, are nothing less than love poems for what truly is the most remarkable city in the world. And I say that as one who has never seen the city, but spending so much time with this remarkable book I feel like a denizen, one of those who lives there year round and loves the city no matter the rising tides, settling monuments, or upheavals caused by a most necessary extensive maintenance program. It’s a city of both inconveniences and charm, but the latter so outweighs the former that only an ingrate would care to mention having to walk to dinner because no cars are permitted on the island. But where would those cars go, and who would want them there, and really now, you’re surrounded by a bliss that has been centuries in the making. Don’t resist it; succumb. You have nothing to lose but the stress that brought you to this escape.
Venice is a city for lovers and jaded travelers, the curious, the wretched, the harried, the many people infected with the western world’s incessant hammering on forever seeking more, because here where everyone walks, there is peace. But Venice has its biggest impact on artists. Artists are different people. They see things differently. They are often quiet when surrounded with a crowd of people engaged in a dozen different conversations. While others prattle on about the events of the day, the artist is softly looking for the next project.
Sometimes the project seems to pick the artist. An object is encountered and suddenly, without ever consciously willing such a thing, the artist is transfixed, enchanted, utterly taken over by a project the artist suddenly sees as a moral imperative. And the oddest thing is this: sometimes the gestation period for an art project stretches over a great many years. But night after night, while the rest of us lie comfortably asleep, the artist wrestles with a concept that simply must be realized.
JoAnn Locktov had just such an experience when she first saw Venice. She says, “I went for the first time in 1996 with a water color group to celebrate a ‘big’ birthday. The visit was life changing for me because I found out that one could fall in love with a place, an emotion formerly just reserved for other humans. On that first trip I decided that I needed to find a way to integrate Venice into my professional life and I did.”
Currently, she is the author of two books on contemporary mosaics and often writes about Venetian artisans and exhibitions. They’re projects that take her to Venice almost every year, usually in the winter months, which I found a bit perplexing until I read this passage from Eleonora Baldwin in the book: “The season that best fits the most beautiful man-made city is winter, when the laguna is in monochrome. No crowds, no tourists, no noise. Just the sound of languid canal water lapping the sides of the gondola, the distant wailing horn that announces high tide.”
And still it wasn’t enough. JoAnn wanted to share her love. So now it’s this book, but it’s only the first offering from a publishing house she’s formed herself to promote the city she loves.
Some of this is hard to convey, but there are people who have such a flair for what the rest of us consider insignificant. I look at how JoAnn wrapped that book for me, and I see the same kind of care throughout in the book that was inside that wrapping. She said that she thought I would enjoy the physical aspects of it, and she’s right; I do. It’s because of my own experiences as a woodworker. I often run my hands over a finished project before applying a varnish or oil, in part to check for any missed imperfections, in larger part for the sensuousness of the wood itself. I felt the same way when I handled this book. It has a wonderful feel to it, and the paper used is exquisite. It’s been put together by one with an eye for beauty and a sense of the inherent rightness which one sometimes finds in things, but only if one knows how to look for it.
JoAnn told me that wanted to make her book a tactile experience, which seems an impossible task until you see what she has done with it. The photos themselves are filled with texture, the work of Charles Christopher, whose work is nothing short of brilliant. In fact it was the discovery of his photography that caused JoAnn to create this book. Beyond the texture of the photographs the paper selections were very specific. But, really, what makes this work so well is the synthesis of the book itself, the positioning of so many haunting pictures alongside quotes that are as right as rain. I’m told Venice is a tiny city, not much more than twice the size of New York City’s Central Park, a place to visit, to inhabit, to experience, to savor, to walk through at any hour, but especially so at night. Linus Roache writes of midnight walks and of being, “overwhelmingly seduced by the silent stillness and mystery that will always be Venice.”
When I first saw pictures of Dream of Venice I thought it was a coffee table book, but it’s not, and she didn’t want it to be. She told me that to her, “Coffee table books are large, heavy expensive tomes. I wanted this to be a small, light, affordable book. Something that could pack easily, or fit under your pillow to inspire dreams. It is meant for people who have visited Venice and people who have never been.”
JoAnn asked me to review it, in part because of the writing I have occasionally done for her clients, in larger part because she knows I’ve never been to Venice, and she was interested in my reaction to the book. So here it is: A trip to Venice is now Number One on My Bucket List. For those who don’t know, that’s the list of things one wants to accomplish before kicking the bucket. One of the more delightful vignettes in Dream of Venice dealt with an old man, a Venetian, who wanted to kiss a beautiful woman in the moonlight just once more. That part of things is the more easier attainable aspect of the venture because I already know I will not visit Venice without Christine, my wife of thirty-eight years. And once there we’ll just have to wait for a full moon and a cloudless sky. We can stand on any of hundreds of different bridges, all of them beautiful, all of them unique, all of them enchanted. Call it my own little dream of Venice.
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