In addition to my affinity for the grande viaggiatore Marco Polo and the very name Mark (the city’s patron, as I wrote in April), that’s my personal connection to the book and to Venice. You see, in the nineties, I was one of those tourists, an American travelling by bus with a Slovak chorus. In our case, the overnight trip was from Central Slovakia to Trent, a couple of hours to the northwest of the city of canals. After a couple of concerts and three nights in dormitories, we (foolishly) travelled overnight to the Republic of San Marino, several hours south—which just wasn’t worth the hardship. Then we went back up Italy’s Adriatic Coast and spent a couple of hours in Venice before continuing to Croatia to give more concerts. Much more than twelve hours, but Scarpa is essentially right.
Venice native Scarpa’s portrays out-of-the-way places – and many common ones – lovingly; that is, like a lover who knows the other’s body all too well. Not all the smells are pleasant. Nor are all the other sensations of Venice. “Feel how your toes turn prehensile on the steps of the bridges, clutching at worn or squared edges as you climb; your soles brake you on the way down, your heels halt you,” he writes in the chapter “feet” (lowercase in my English edition—all the chapters are body parts). He observes that Venitians have little heart disease, thanks to all the stair climbing. In “mouth,” he introduces you to the city’s dialect and cuisine.
Venice is a Fish is a feast for all the senses. A movable feast, at 5 x 7” and 150 pp., you can easily take it on vacation, even to less exotic locales. Published in Italian in 2000, English translation 2008 by Shaun Whiteside.
For what it’s worth, there’s an experimental music album of the same name, based on Theresa Wong’s two-year sojourn in the city of Marco Polo. It has a lot of the same approach as Tiziano.