Notes on Leaving Venice:
The Story Behind the Book
In nearly four decades on planet earth, the longest I’ve ever lived in one city was the four years I spent at college. In all my moves, the main constant has been books. When you’re always going to new places where you won’t know anyone, you develop a hearty affection for the wonders and the reliability of the written word. Things like cars and furniture were easy to let go; books demanded a return on the fidelity they had given me. I’ve crossed back and forth over the oceans with fewer clothes than books. And though the weight of the pages was greater than a few pairs of pants, so were the rewards.
My itinerant lifestyle developed a certain flavor, an accidental serendipity that found me living in the right places at the right time: Las Vegas when it was the fastest growing city in the U.S., Prague when it was freshly opened to the West in the early 90’s, San Francisco during the dot com boom. While most everyone else I knew was upwardly mobile, I was content just being mobile. I fine tuned my timing, learning to stay just the right amount of time in any one place. Long enough to get to know it and acquire some intimate awareness and some people that might be sorry at my departure. But not long enough for them or I to grow too accustomed to one another. Then a quick visit back to somewhere where they might be happy at my return, however briefly, while I mustered up the funds and the restlessness to go again.
When the routine developed a bit too much familiarity, I began to seek out places at the wrong time. Venice in the winter is one of those. A love affair in Venice with summer is something you can’t help but it brings with it the realization that others, many others, have done and seen and felt what you’re seeing. But get there in winter when the Piazza is still quiet, when there are less tourists and Tevas than there are flood ramps and pigeons, when you can still get a table easily at Harry’s, when the small streets and canals are not so busy and you see more gondoliers in the bars than on their black boats and you start to realize you’re having a whole different type of affair. Something a bit special, something that seems secretive, more seductive and maybe even unique. Maybe something profound you can’t get over. And then there comes a time when you pack up your books and depart for less enchanted shores.
You find yourself reading everything that has been written about Venice, like some sort of besotted lover clinging to old love letters. And if you read and write incessantly, at first you try and fight the urge to write about someplace like Venice, somewhere so well chronicled in poetic prose. Then comes a time when you pine for your Venetian life and, against your better judgment, you give in and write your own love letter, come what may. Maybe you truly had seen some things different than anyone else had or maybe the allure of Venice, La Serenissima, is boundless enough to sustain everyone’s affection, to make everyone’s story true. Perhaps there were others that were thirsty, too, for a taste of how sweet and magical life could be, others who wanted to escape to a life more beautiful.
But in fiction and in fact, Venice is so sublime that you find yourself in a predicament. You can fall in love with Venice, sure, and you can even make someone else do so if you string together the right words. But then what? Where and why would one leave Venice if they didn’t have to? Where would they go? Fortunately I had someplace in mind – a spot I had visited while doing some travel writing some years before and which had stayed with me, a spot that seemed almost the embodiment of perfection. A little nook in the Saronic Gulf that was at once right at the very center of things and deliciously far away from things. That type of place.
Indeed, why leave Venice? Maybe loving Venice rings with the dull throb of cliché but then clichés become so because so many people understand the feeling. If you loved Venice, what would it take to make you leave and where would you go, and why? I guess that’s the story, really, and somehow writing about it makes you feel closer to it even as time and distance draw you ineluctably farther away. Even as you write about some of the tragedy inherent in life, you find that you get to like mankind a little more, you feel a growing bond of appreciation for the people who saw something in those little shallows in the upper reaches of the Adriatic and decided that really those murky mud banks might like to be something great. And they could be. If people could do that, there, then what couldn’t they do?
Notes on Leaving Venice:
Notes on Leaving Venice is an intimate expatriate novel rich in wry and insightful commentary on modern culture, religion, war, and love played out in Venice, Prague and Greece. An ill-fated affair with the wife of his boss in San Francisco consigns Kyle Vandermar, a 35-year-old travel marketing executive, to Venice’s Office of Tourism where he is expected to be the lure for skittish post Sept. 11 American tourism dollars.
Kyle ‘didn’t move to Venice to become a drunk or a thief’ but takes turns at both as he steals a gondola, purloins a painting from a church, and befriends a philosophical Venetian bar owner. Living excessively, he grapples with God and society while seeking his place in the world. Kyle immerses himself in Venice’s past and present, her canals and campos where he meets a mysterious artist who won’t reveal her name and finds himself falling in love with Venice and the girl – who disappears.
Kyle is beckoned to sing the siren song of Venice in some of Europe’s most interesting cities including expatriate haven Prague, where his over indulgences and drunken adventures include a jump off Prague’s Charles Bridge and a marriage of convenience in an effort to do a ‘small favor for a revolutionary’ and secure the American dream for the sister of one of the leaders of Prague’s Velvet Revolution.
Back in Venice, while America readies itself for the second invasion of Iraq, Kyle is a misfit solitary newlywed in the world’s most romantic city eventually learning how to follow his heart – and with whom to share it. Ultimately Kyle and the woman he loves construct a new life for themselves on Hydra and discover, in the quiet off season autumn on a Greek island in the Saronic Gulf, the secret to being happy and finding one’s place in these chaotic and uneasy times.
A novel that explores the urge to be somewhere else while setting up a romantic and poetic conclusion of finding a person and a place you may never want to leave. At turns reminiscent of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises sated with Joycean interior insight and Graham Greene flair, Notes on Leaving Venice is a satisfying exploration of the self, of love and life in which the captivating city of Venice plays a central role.
PREVIOUSLY PUBLISHED NON-FICTION
The Worldwide Party Guide
(Pride-Frost Publishing, 1997)
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