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Venice [Abridged] [Audio CD]

Jan Morris , Sebastian Comberti
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
Price: CDN$ 31.65 & FREE Shipping. Details
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Book Description

May 1 2010 Non-fiction
In 2010, the 50th anniversary of the first publication of "Venice" is celebrated - one of the finest travel books on the world's most famous tourist destination! This book has been slightly updated without disturbing its period flavour, and is being celebrated by Faber, the book publisher. In the intervening years, Jan Morris has proved to be one of the finest observers of history seen through contemporary eyes, with a string of superbly written books, including the trilogy on the British Empire. "Venice" is perhaps Jan's supreme achievement though, and remains, for many, the best book on a city without compare. To be heard on the way to Venice, whilst there, and on return.

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Here, revised and introduced by the author, is Jan Morris's portrait of La Serenissima, published 50 years ago and still without equal. She cherishes every cranny: the city's 3,000 alleyways, its jails, its waterways and its buildings decaying like 'dukes in threadbare ermine'. She presents its past, its art and its language, which Byron called 'sweet bastard Latin'. A suitably respectful narration - with an Italian flourish. - Rachel Redford, The Observer If you are going to Venice this summer, and even if you are not, Jan Morris's Venice makes excellent listening. Newly revised, it is introduced by the 84-year-old Morris herself, then the dulcet voice of Sebastian Comberti takes over narration. It opens historically but takes in architecture, culture, practicalities (the boats of the fire, police and ambulance services, the rubbish collectors who are slowly creating a whole new island) and the mysteries of death. Morris fell in love with Venice when there during the Second World War, and her accumulation of memories is heartfelt, personal, quirky and enlightening. Perfect for a leisurely approach by Eurostar and night train to Venice, but just as good for whiling away the dull hours commuting to work. - Christina Hardyment, The Times 'I was in my 20s when I wrote this,' says Morris in the introduction to her best known travel book, 'and I like to think that its faults are the heady faults of youth.' What faults? Fifty years on, it is still the best all-round guide to a city that, despite the ever-present hordes of tourists, remains the most magical destination on earth. Listening to this equally magical audio made me long to go back and check out all those less touristy bits that so enthralled young Morris - the alley too narrow for Browning to open his umbrella, the crypt allegedly containing Mary Magdalen's finger, the fish market 'laden with sleek wriggling eels, still pugnaciously alive, beautiful little red fish packed in boxes like shampoos, heads upwards ... soft bulbous octopus furiously injecting ink ... a multitude of sea matter ... sliding, sinuous, shimmering, flabby, spongy, crisp, all lying aghast upon their fresh green biers dead, doomed or panting like a grove of brilliant foliage among the tundra of Venetian stone.' Yes, the descriptions do go on a bit, but that's part of the charm. It was written, says Morris, 'in a rush of enthusiasm like the splurge of a love affair'. The enthusiasm is infectious. Venetian history, culture, religion, food - she relishes them all, from the glory years between the 12th and 15th centuries when La Serenissima controlled the trade routes between east and west, to the nuns at one of the more fashionable convents claiming their right to supply a mistress for the new papal nuncio, to the notice on the Grand Canal: 'It is forbidden to spit on the swimmers.' Don't go to Venice without it. - Sue Arnold, The Guardian --This text refers to an alternate Audio CD edition.

From the Back Cover

The classic evocation of Venice, acclaimed as one of the finest books ever written about the city.

'Entertaining, ironical, witty, high spirited and appreciative....Both melancholy and gay and worldly, I think of it now as among the best books on Venice; indeed as the best modern book about a city that I have ever read.' -Geoffrey Grigson

'One of the most diverse and diverting books ever written about Venice...A taut and personal report, wholly absorbing, quickened by vivid prose and astringent humour.' -Sunday Times

'For those to whom Venice is a memory, a treat in store, or even a dream, the broad canvas of this book covering a thousand years in the life of one of the most complex, original, and active communities the world has ever seen, is a work of lasting interest.' Guardian

'Venice is not a guide book exactly, although no visitor to Venice should omit it from his satchel. It is a highly intelligent portrait of an eccentric city, written in powerful prose and enlivened by many curious mosaics of information...A beautiful book to read and possess.' -Harold Nicolson, Observer --This text refers to the Paperback edition.


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Most helpful customer reviews
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Recreating magic May 3 2004
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Morris writes like the city she is describing -- layer upon layer of rich, vivid, historical detail that sounds more like a family memoir than a history book. In so doing, she manages to recreate, in writing, the exact sensation of being happily lost for an indeterminate time amid the paths and bridges that comprise this amazing place.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  9 reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best book ever written about any city Aug. 5 2011
By Phil Clapham - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
"Venice" is one of those very, very rare books that forces you to slow down your reading so as not to miss a word. This is not a travel guide... Morris lived in Venice for years, and writes as only one with intimate knowledge of every alleyway of a city's body and soul can. The writing is astonishing in its consistency: every paragraph holds a richness of language and of imagery that is at times breathtaking, and the writer's imagination routinely transforms the mundane into glorious metaphor. Here are (quite literally) random paragraphs, these on Venice and tourism in summer:

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"Confronted by these multitudes, in summer the character of Venice abruptly coarsens. The cost of a coffee leaps, if you are anywhere near St. Mark's, and is gradually reduced, in topographical gradations, as you take your custom farther from that avaricious fulcrum. The waiters of the Piazza brush up their brusquest manners, in preparation for the several hundred people each day who understandably believe that there must be some mistake in the bill. Souvenir stalls spring up like garish fungi, and the market is suddenly flooded with straw hats, gondoliers shirts, maps printed on head-scarves, lead gondolas, spurious antiques, a million water-colours and a thousand paper-weights in the shape of St. Mark's Campanile.
The unsuspecting visitor, stepping from the steamboat, is accosted by a pair of ferocious porters, who carry his bags the fifteen-odd feet into his hotel lobby and demand, as their compulsory payment for this service, the price of a substantial meal, with wine. The withered sacristans of the famous churches, brushing the dust from their cassocks, emerge eagerly from the shadows to drag you to the very last dismal pseudo-Titian of the vestry. Pampered young men pester you to visit their showrooms. The cry of Gondola! Gondola! follows you like an improper suggestion down the quays. There is a queue for the lift to the top of the bell-tower. Enough people peer into the horrors of the dungeons each morning to make Casanova s head reel. There is a shop near St. Mark's so well adapted to every possible shift in the balance of power that the homesick tourist may buy himself the flag of Yemen, the Ukraine, Bolivia, or even the United Nations.
And chanting a sing-song melody of triumph, the guides of Venice come into their own again. "Guides", wrote Augustus Hare in the 1890's, "are usually ignorant, vulgar and stupid in Venice, and all but the most hopelessly imbecile visitors will find them an intolerable nuisance" (though in later editions of his book he dropped the bit about the imbeciles). Nevertheless the guides of Venice flourish, the directors of itineraries boom, and many a poor holiday-maker staggers home at the end of a day's pleasure as though she has been grinding corn on a tread mill, or attending some crucial and excruciating viva voce. There are 107 churches in Venice, and nearly every tourist feels he has seen at least 200 of them: for the guides and guide books presuppose an unflagging whip-lash energy in their victims, an utter disregard for regular meals, and an insatiable appetite for art of all periods, standards and purposes."
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Or this, about Venetian cats:

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"Venice is... a metropolis of cats. Now and again the sanitary authorities have conducted a cat-hunt, to sweep away vagrants and scavengers: but so fond are the Venetians of their cats, even the mangiest and scabbiest of them, that these drives have always ended in ignominious failure, and the animals, spitting and scratching, have been hidden away in back yards and boxes until the hygiene men have gone. The population of cats thus increases each year. Some lead an eerily sheltered existence, and are rarely allowed out of doors, only appearing occasionally, like nuns, upon confined and inaccessible balconies. Many more are only half-domesticated, and live on charity, in old drain-pipes from which sympathetic citizens have removed the grilles, under the seats of laid-up gondolas, or in the tangled recesses of overgrown gardens. You may see them any morning wolfing the indigestible entrails, fish-tails and heads, wrapped in newspapers, which householders have laid down for them: and on most winter afternoons an old lady arrives to feed the cats of the Royal Gardens, near St. Mark's, while a man in a sweeping overcoat so manipulates the flow of a nearby drinking fountain that a jet of water is projected into a declivity among the paving-stones, forming a cat's basin, or a cat-bath."
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Sigh. Morris packs more imagery and life into each paragraph than most writers manage in a chapter - or an entire book. This is the type of book that makes those of us with delusions about our own writing want to give up and go home. Confronted by such richness, the would-be writer stalls. The one or two clever and (he feels) well-constructed phrases which he has turned over in his mind to describe some event, thought or feeling, and polished to what he has seen with a quietly sheltered pride as a burnished luster, suddenly seem, in comparison to just about anything Morris has written in this wonderful book, dull and sadly wanting. Rather like a teenaged girl who privately primps and fusses over her appearance in front of her bedroom mirror for hours until, finally satisfying herself that she must be irresistible to men, steps out of her front door to rudely discover that the street is full of supermodels.

"Venice" is one of the best books I have ever read, and I have never found a book that so completely captures the life and character of a great city as this does. For those who love language - and Venice - it is pure pleasure from start to finish.

Quick biographical note: Jan Morris was formerly James Morris - s/he underwent a sex change in 1964 (which explained the perplexing fact that I couldn't find any first editions under the author's female name).
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Recreating magic May 3 2004
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Morris writes like the city she is describing -- layer upon layer of rich, vivid, historical detail that sounds more like a family memoir than a history book. In so doing, she manages to recreate, in writing, the exact sensation of being happily lost for an indeterminate time amid the paths and bridges that comprise this amazing place.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A lyrical account of life in Venice (note: James Morris is Jan Morris) July 24 2005
By Ian Kaplan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Cities like Rome and Bologna have been important centers for hundreds or, in Rome's case, thousands of years. Today they are active cities that not only attract tourists, but have modern industry and culture. Venice is the old bones of an imperial power. The palaces, churches and art that exists in Venice are the relics of Venice's past wealth and power. Today Venice exists as a cultural tourist attraction.

In planning to visit Venice, I've worried that it is a sort of cultural Disneyland. A place that exists only for tourists.

When I think about traveling somewhere, I hope that it will be a wonderful experience. So I try to learn as much about a place as possible. Travel essays provide at least one person's view of a place. Venice by James Morris is a rich account of Venice and its history. Reading the book, I felt that I could feel the city through Morris' perspective.

James Morris was one of the early transexuals and became Jan Morris, the noted travel writer. Venice was originally written when Jan was James and she did not change the authorship with later editions. From reading the introduction, I think that this is because in Jan's view James really did write the book. This was an earlier avitar of Jan's and she wishes to honor his perspective.

Jan Morris is a wonderful, lyrical writer. Reading her writing, I feel a bit like I'm walking the canals and experiencing Venice. Reading this book made me much more sure about my decision to visit these old bones of empire.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars brillliant evocative prose-poetry about the most interesting city that has ever existed Nov. 23 2013
By adorian - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This amazing book was first published in 1960. I'm sure Venice has changed a lot since then, but since it's about the entire history of Venice, what's a few decades to us? The book is part guide book, part history, part art appreciation, and all brilliance. The prose is beautiful beyond belief. Some of the sentences have the dazzling effect of a golden arrow shot through your brain. This is not the cold-stone prose of Ruskin. This is vibrant colorful perfect word-painting.

I especially loved the section about all the lion statues scattered throughout Venice, especially the unfortunate and less famous ones. Another fascinating section involves the many bell towers (which ones collapsed and why). The section on lace-making is marvelously detailed.

Very often, the author will resort to listing things, but each noun in the list might have an unexpected glamorous adjective that makes the list something you'll stop and read again. And all the time, you might be jealously thinking, "Why can't I write thrilling prose like this?" I have never read a book that so brilliantly captures the smells, colors, sounds, cuisine, textures, sociology, artworks, and history of a city the way this one does.

Just one example to support my point about the prose. (p. 273) "Old women huddle about in their long black shawls, like undernourished eagles." Wow!
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wish I could like it more. Sept. 17 2012
By Alexander Suraev - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The first time I read this book was after my first visit to Venice, sixteen years ago. I was fascinated by the virtuosity of the text but when the book was nearing it's end I've realized that the feeling I get now and then is not of elation but of a mild irritation. The tone the author chose is perfectly suitable for an essay, but at the longer run was beginning to feel a bit one note and repetitive, Morris hops from one theme to another looking to me less a virtuoso and more off an eccentric and even - forgive me for that blashemphy - a scatterbrain.

But in 1996 I just thought that the reason for that exhaustion lies in my lack of true interest in Venice, it's not potent enough to carry me happily from the first page to the last.

Since then I've read Norwich, Ackroyd, Tiziano Scarpa, Frederic Lane, Christopher Hibbert and others, last of all a very compilative and uninspired book of Paul Strathern, after which I've decided to revisit the work that had started me on this trip of learning - hopefully, as an antidote to Strathern.

Finished rereading it couple days ago and have to admit I was getting irritated after first two thirds of the Morris' book - just like before. Author's relentless showing off, all these lists of different lions, all the chattering, hopping, making noises, not giving up on all this when you are already in the third hundred of pages made me realize my first impression was probably right, and it's not my faltering interest that I have to blame for failing to appreciate the style and substance of the classic.
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