Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Weekend Update (Sunday Edition):
Leon of Venice

Sunday, April 26th, 2009


On Friday evening, both Kathleen and I went over to the Upper West Side branch of Barnes & Noble to be on hand when Donna Leon appeared. Kathleen’s manifest interest ought to be all the recommendation that you need to start reading Ms Leon’s Commissario Brunetti novels. They were recommended by one of Kathleen’s clients well over ten years ago, but, having passed the tip on to me, Kathleen didn’t look into the books herself until quite recently, whereupon she became a big fan.

The place was packed. It was clear that Ms Leon’s readership had made the logarithmic jump between 82nd Street and Union Square. True, everyone was older than we were, or nearly. But if Ms Leon has younger fans, you can’t expect them to let themselves be caught dead on the Upper West Side on a Friday night. It was wonderfully idiotic of B & N to pipe an invitation to the reading through the store not once but twice after the event space became almost too crowded for safety. The events manageress did come up with an ingenious idea for getting rid of people: she warned us that a German television team would be filming the event. Anyone who didn’t want to be caught on German television ought, therefore, to leave. Once upon a time, a clutch of principled Upper West Siders would have marched out. But that was our parents’ generation.

For those of you who thirst for information about the Leon of Venice, I report the following items:

  • Signorina Elettra is based on Roberta’s aunt. And she gets her name from the aunt’s mother. Something like that. The aunt was working for an executive of the Banco d’Italia’s Venice branch during the period of South African proscription. One day, when her boss asked her to take a letter to a banker in J’burg, the aunt “declined.” To the apoplectic banker she sliced the air with her hands. “I am going to leave now, and have a cup of coffee. You can organize your thoughts, and, when I return, we will do something else.” When Ms Leon heard this story, she knew she had the right secretary for Vice-Questore Patta.
  • There will be a Paola Brunetti cookbook. It will appear in German later this year and in English in 2010. The recipes will be written by Ms Leon’s best friend, Roberta, who has served not only as Ms Leon’s reason for being in Venice (“I’d have settled wherever she and Franco” — Roberta’s husband — “lived”) but also as the inspiration for Paola’s quite fantastic lunchtime menus.
  • Ms Leon recently took four meetings in London with prospective producers of Brunetti videos. She has a favorite — which means that she has no objection to adapting her novels for the screen (and why would she, since the whole Brunetti business supports her true love, Il complesso barocco, an opera company noted for its Handel recordings, which, if you are a Brunetti fan, you will buy).
  • The Teatro la Fenice mounts operas about thirty nights in the year. The Spoleto Festival doesn’t pay its bills — claiming that everybody performs pro bono. For these reasons, Ms Leon’s opera company does not work in Italy.
  • Translations of the Brunetti books into Italian remain unauthorized. Ms Leon is, quite rightly, I think, convinced that Italian-language readers (as distinct from Italian readers of German or English) would devote themselves to pointing out that she understands nothing of life in Venice — not really.
  • Like Paola, Ms Leon is a smartass. At a Fourth of July party on the Grand Canal, given by a rich American woman, with the kind of guests that rich American women attract, someone who couldn’t remember Ezra Pound’s name asked, “Who was that crazy old guy who supported the fascists?” As if compelled by Tourette’s, Ms Leon replied, “Ronald Reagan.”

Daily Office:

Monday, February 16th, 2009


Matins: Alex Williams’ cheeky piece, “Bad Economy? Good Excuse,” seems to me to capture something about the Zeitgeist that is being overlooked. Isn’t it possible that a good deal of downsizing going on throughout the markets is motivated not by panic or uncertainty but by a desire to pass a lot of the gas that the economy has been building up for fifteen or twenty years (or more)?

Lauds: Regular readers will know that Lauds is for the arts that are not literary — but even so, Laura Cahill’s “readable furniture” seems closer to the library than to the gallery. (via Survival of the Book)

Prime: You know how people have their pictures taken by the Campanile in Pisa, so that it looks as if they’re holding it up, ha-ha. Pseudo Jeff at Ads Are Boring snapped photos of people while they were posing, but the posing is all that you see in his images, not the “joke.” Don’t they look silly!

Tierce: I’ve kicked off yet another category of blog entries: Capital Sins. This will be the rubric for the various manifestations of American anti-humanism, much of which appears to be one kind of racism or another. With its bloated prisons, the United States is clearly going about crime & punishment in a very bad way. Illegal mmigration is another matter that, try as they might, critics can never persuasively sell as a merely economic problem. An editorial in yesterday’s Times shows why.

Sext: The funniest thing that I’ve read in these unfunny times is Gideon Lewis-Kraus’s Letter from Frankfurt in the current issue of Harper’s, The Last Book Party.” The piece is funny even before the reporter gets to the Messe.  

That is, contemporary late-corporate publishing is a fallen world in which Lauren Weisberger, author of The Devil Wears Prada, gets really rich, while Richard Ford, one of the indisputably important novelists of our time, the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Independence Day and The Sportswriter, gets slightly less rich. None of the elegists say: What is coming to an end is the idea that Richard Ford is going to be richer than Lauren Weisberger. None of them say: What is coming to an end is the wishful insistence — for it is, ultimately, a wish, deeply felt, by a lot of people—that Richard Ford is going to be rich at all.

Nones: The highest court in France has acknowledged the state’s responsibility in the deportation of 76,000 Jews to prison (and death) between 1942 and 1944.

Vespers: At Emdashes, Martin Schneider writes about that singular anomaly, the smart person who “hates” The New Yorker. Matthew Yglesias, it turns out, is one such — although he has “caved.”

Compline: You just know that a 4% sales tax is going to chill purchases of online porn. Mean old Governor Paterson! (Thanks, Joe.)


Daily Office:

Tuesday, October 14th, 2008


Matins: Head scarves for women — in Turkey! How transgressive! But, wait: Does this mean that Orhan Pamuk completely fabricated the head-scarf controversy that kicks off his last novel, Snow? It was translated into English, by the way, four years ago.

Prime: Once again, Kathleen and I will be spending Thanksgiving at a pleasant old place on St Croix. But if it weren’t so far away, I’d prefer to do my beachcoming along the Gill Sands, on that remote and longed-for Indian Island jewel, San Serriffe.

Tierce: I thought that it would be very clever to say that I’m having my head examined today, but I Googled the phrase first, and it led me to the creator of FeedDemon. I don’t know anything about this app, but it looks very useful. Unfortunately, as a head case, I can’t deal with technology today — I’m leaving that to the doctors.

Vespers: Wow! Christopher Buckley has (a) endorsed Barack Obama and (b) resigned from The National Review. (Thanks, evilganome.)


Home, Sweet Home

Saturday, June 21st, 2008

Shown here: no more than a paltry simulacrum of the intense brilliance that blasted down, more light than heat, onto the terrace at the Huntington on Thursday morning.

We’re home. We reached the apartment at about twenty of eight. Our flight was delayed at LAX for an hour due to a problem with one of the engines that may have required no more than a system reboot. I shrug it off now, but not knowing how long we’d be detained, or even if &c &c, was close to unbearable. I just about managed to bear it.

Sometime after 4 AM, EST, with more than two hours to go, I looked round and saw that mine was the only light on. Everyone else was either asleep or considerate.