It is the day to day realities of everyday life that make this so fascinating. Venice has no cars, so delivering a washing machine involves a boat ride followed by a sack-barrow and a lot of trouble if there is a stepped bridge and if you live on the fourth floor because almost everyone in Venice lives in flats. Italian schools have a presumption that the teacher is always right so a teacher admitting that there is indiscipline in their class is challenging the parents to do something about it; the headteacher and his deputy utter bare-faced lies to maintain their position of power even though the solution proposed by the parents makes more sense than the status quo. When there is acqua alta (high tide) everyone goes about their daily business in wellies, even browsing in half-flooded bookshops. And everywhere there are the tourists.
The population of Venice has shrunk to 60,000; many Venetians are forced out by the high rents charged by landlords who can make more money from tourists. The tourists (16.5 million per year) outnumber the residents. In high season tourists clog the narrow streets and fill the waterbuses. So the residents hate the tourists and by extension almost all foreigners; xenophobic comments are made at Polly's children and she gets charged double the price for a coffee in a bar where she is not known. It seems unsustainable.
But what makes this really fascinating memoir a work of art is the lyrical quality of her prose. Open the book at random and you will encounter a brilliant sentence:
- "Here on this dank November afternoon I am witness to a crumpling up of time"
- "One aged crone shuffles, shoeless ... right-angled over her stick ... It is her saggy-stockinged feet that most strike me."
- "A flurry of heat and effort and luggage."
- "The diamond kites slide down from the skies, like charmed snakes."
Beautiful and brilliant. April 2015; 206 pages