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It's one of the most famous cities in the world.
Immortalized by writers throughout the years, frozen in amber by film and photography, the picturesque survivor of a wild history whose centuries encompass splendor, decay, pestilence, beauty, and never-ending wonders. A city built on water, whose geographical position once almost saw it rule the world and form a vital crossing point between West and East. A city of merchants, artists, glamour, abject poverty, philosophers, corrupt nobles, refugees, courtesans, and unforgettable lovers, buffeted by the tides of wars, a unique place whose architecture is a subtle palette reflecting the successive waves of settlers, invaders, religions, and short-term rulers.
Venice is ever present in the popular imagination, and there is no denying its incomparable visual beauty. The flow of the Grand Canal and its cortege of palazzi, the famous bridges, the thousand and one churches, Piazza San Marco and its pigeons (and annual floods), the glassblowers of Murano, the Doge's Palace, the calm waters of its lagoon, the 117 neighboring islands so full of dark history and legend, the gondolas, carnival time, the markets overflowing with food, fish, jewellery, and trinkets—all images that evoke the beauty and strangeness of Venice in everyone's mind, whether you have been there or not.
They call her La Serenissima, La Dominante, the Queen of the Adriatic, the City of Water, the Floating City, and the City of Canals.
Venice has always been a magnet for writers, and the pilgrimage there has become a necessary rite of passage. An endless list would include, in no particular order of importance or chronological order (somehow chronology is of no importance when it comes to Venice; it is a city to a certain extent frozen in time, poised on a knife edge between the past and the future, where decay is an integral part of the surrounding atmosphere): Thomas Mann, Lord Byron, Daphne du Maurier, D.H. Lawrence, Jan Morris, Patricia Highsmith, Kazuo Ishiguro, Henry James, Goethe, George Sand, Robert Browning, Goldoni, Ruskin, Evelyn Waugh, Mark Twain, Shakespeare, John Berendt, Donna Leon, Tiziano Scarpa, Marcel Proust, Michael Dibdin, Dickens, Joseph Brodsky, Hemingway, Philippe Sollers, Sarah Dunant, Ezra Pound, and possibly the best-known Venetian author of them all, Giacomo Casanova, the great seductor and the epitome of Venice's edgy blend of sensuality and morbidity. And don't get me started on all the filmmakers who've attempted to catch the true essence of Venice on celluloid, while dodging the clichés and the tourist throngs ...
Whether they have lived there at some time or not, all these authors have written about Venice and its fascinating atmosphere, its smells and colors, its people and visitors, in a myriad of different ways. So why yet another book about Venice? As Erica Jong puts it, "Was it Henry James or Mary McCarthy who said, 'There is nothing new to say about Venice'?"
Unlike any other place, the new Venice is also the old Venice, and change in this most curious of cities is something almost imperceptible and invisible to the naked eye. Walking just a few minutes away from the Rialto Bridge, for instance, and losing yourself in backstreets, where the canals and small connecting bridges leave just enough space to pass along the buildings without falling into the water, it's as if you are stepping into a past century altogether, with no indication whatsoever of modernity. You wade through a labyrinth of stone, water, and wrought-iron bridges, and after dark feel part of another world where electricity isn't yet invented, a most unsettling feeling nothing can prepare you for.
In a city overcome by tourists, that would not be able to make a living without them, the ambiguous relationship between visitors and residents becomes a source of tension and studied hesitancy. Venice today is indeed a city in decline, slowly sinking with no real plans yet settled upon to avert the inevitable further decay, where the population is shrinking year after year, its youth abandoning its shores for lack of opportunities outside of service industries or actual criminality. At its center are the architectural splendors, on its margins the industrial port and factory zones and all their attendant murkiness. A complex but perfect background for the seductions of "noir," and despite the contrast between a rich historical past and the evolving present, as was the case in the volume dedicated to Rome in this same Noir Series, which I edited with Chiara Stangalino, a fresh canvas for writers to conjugate new waltzes in darkness, balancing the old, the new, and the in-between, the undeniable beauty of the surrounding landscape and the rotten core on the inside that of course never features on all the picture postcards of Venice most of us blissfully ignore to our peril.
I've always felt that Venice belongs to the world, attracting us from all over in its spiderweb of beauty, crumbling stones, and water, so this time around I didn't just invite Italian writers to let their imaginations loose on the city, and summoned the mischievous and noir imaginations of writers hailing from the UK, the USA, Canada, France, and Australia too. The portrait they draw in Venice Noir is compelling, as hapless visitors and troubled locals wander the canals, bridges, and waters of La Serenissima, with a heartful of darkness and wonder, evoking all the secrets, sounds, sights, and smells of the city. And there's not even a gondola in every story! Which goes to show that in any noir city, you should expect the unexpected.
Maxim Jakubowski February 2012
Excerpted from Venice Noir Copyright © 2012 by Akashic Books . Excerpted by permission of Akashic Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of ContentsTable of Contents
EMILY ST.JOHN MANDEL/DRIFTER (Canal Grande)
BARBARA BARALDI/CLELIA VINCI, POLICE INSPECTOR (Ponte del Rialto)
MIKE HODGES/SIGNOR GAUKE'S TONGUE (Piazza San Marco)
MARY HOFFMAN/A CLOSED BOOK (Cannaregio)
PETER JAMES/VENICE APHRODISIAC (Murano)
MARIA TRONCA/TOURISTS FOR DINNER (Santa Maria Formosa)
MATTEO RIGHETTO/CLOUDY WATER (Ghetto Nuovo)
TONY CARTANO/RENDEZ-VOUS (Calle Larga)
FRANCESCO FERRACIN/THE COMEDY IS OVER (Marghera)
ISABELLA SANTACROCE/DESDEMONA UNDECESIMA (Grand Hotel Bellosguardo)
MICHELLE LOVRIC/PANTEGANA (Palazzo Loredan)
FRANCESCA MAZZUCATO/LITTLE SISTER (Ghetto Vecchio)
MAXIM JAKUBOWSKI/LIDO WINTER (Lido)
MICHAEL GREGORIO/LAGUNA BLUES (Mestre)
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