Friday, July 30, 2010

CITY OF FALLING ANGELS by John Berendt (2005)

When Teatro La Fenice burned to the ground in 1996, Venetians were outraged and heartbroken. Was it arson? A mafia hit? Mere accident?

In CITY OF FALLING ANGELS, New Yorker John Berendt tries to get to the bottom of what started the fire and in the process finds himself whirling headfirst into the complicated layers of Venetian social codes.

At one fundraising formal dinner he sits beside the Rat King, an entrepreneur who caters to the geographic tastes of rats as he develops his poisons designed to dry out their little rodent corpses. So, Italian rats nosh toxic pasta, the Dutch ones prefer a hint of cheese and salmon and the American ones scarf down granules with the styrofoam and plastic base of takeout containers.

Other intriguing characters include the Murano glassblower Archimedes Seguso who created extraordinary vases with the coloured flames of the Fenice fire leaping and licking through a darkened background and the serial gerontophile Jane who first cozied up to Peggy Guggenheim and then to Ezra Pound's widow Olga Rudge.

If you are planning a trip to Venice, then Berendt's book must be in your travel bag. He is excellent entertaining and edifying company.

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