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The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt
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The City of Falling Angels (2005)

by John Berendt

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Showing 1-5 of 90 (next | show all)
When one thinks of Venice, the imagery of gondolas and waterways and brightly colored carnival masks usually come to mind. Venice itself is a complicated city and lends itself to an air of old world intrigue. John Berendt fell in love with the city the first time he visited. Upon a subsequent visit, Berendt arrived three days after a devastating fire has ravaged the grand a historic La Fenice Opera House. Rumors of arson swirl among the community prompting Berendt to put on his investigative persona and dig in the ashes of history. Eventually, through meeting a cast of colorful characters, he uncovers the truths and fictions surrounding La Fenice Opera House and Venice.
Special note: if you want to read City of Falling Angels, do yourself a favor and listen to it on CD and make sure to get the version with Berendt's interview at the end. His explanation for the title of the book is eyeopening. ( )
  SeriousGrace | Feb 21, 2018 |
Journalist and best-selling author John Berendt arrived in Venice just days after the iconic Teatro La Fenice was destroyed by fire in 1996. Berendt spent the next few years investigating the cause of the fire, Venetian popular opinion about the cause of the fire, the history of La Fenice, the plans for rebuilding it, and the progress of the reconstruction. He interviews Venetians, members of Venice's expatriate community, artisans, philanthropists, politicians, and lawyers. Each chapter explores a different facet of Venice and its history. The conflicts he unearths concern more than the cause of the fire (negligence or arson)? He explores conflicts surrounding the legacy of poet Ezra Pound and the conflicts within nonprofit organizations dedicated to preserving and restoring Venice's cultural artifacts. Berendt has remarkable access to key individuals on both sides of the controversies. It makes for a page-turning read. The only thing missing is illustrations. ( )
1 vote cbl_tn | Jan 23, 2018 |
This book produced the same sensation in me as a reader as Berendt's previous work, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil did, which is make me desperately desire to travel to the city in question. Berendt has a true talent for making a place come alive through both description of setting and introduction of character.
The nominal main story of this work revolves around a destructive fire at the Fenice Theater in 1996. Berendt introduces us to the investigators of the disaster, possible suspects and also important bystanders and witnesses.
In addition to this theme, there are a couple of sub-plots, one involving the late mistress of Ezra Pound and a shady-seeming couple who befriend her and pretty much steal all of the memorabilia of her relationship with Pound as well as other important ephemera she has in her possession at the time of her death as well as the last years of her life. This couple also seems to have had a suspicious relationship with Peggy Guggenheim at the end of her life.
The other subplot regards a fight for prominency amongst the leadership of the Save Venice charitable organization. There is quite a bit of name-dropping throughout.
Berendt is thorough in tracking down witnesses and others who might have information regarding any of these plot points and seems to have spent years investigating and collecting material for this book. In fact, the last pages deal with the reopening of the Fenice after 8 years of reconstruction, in 2004.
Unfortunately, the City of Venice did not have a pleasant reaction to the publication of this book, characterizing it as 'nasty gossip', since many of its prominent citizens are painted rather uncharitably, and unlike Savannah has no need of an American book to make it a popular tourist destination, it has and will continue nevertheless to see visitors inspired by their perusal of this work. ( )
  EmScape | Jan 8, 2018 |
This is a wonderful journalistic-novel set in Venice, about the Venetians who live there and the Americans that attempt to live their lives there. Their world - as presented in this book - centers mainly on arts, artists, and architecture, the descriptions of all makes the reader wish desperately to go and experience true Venice (not a Venice overrun with tourists) for themselves. ( )
  J9Plourde | Jun 13, 2017 |
Even though this book was set in Venice, a city we visited a couple years ago, it wasn't enough to keep my interest. ( )
  janb37 | Feb 13, 2017 |
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Epigraph
BEWARE OF FALLING ANGELS - Sign posted outside the Santa Maria della Salute Church in the early 1970s, before restoration of its marble ornaments
Dedication
For Harold Hayes and Clay Felker
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"Everyone in Venice is acting," Count Girolamo Marcello told me.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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John Berendt shares what he learned about the city of Venice and its people in the months following the fire that destroyed the city's historic Fenice Opera House.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0143036939, Paperback)

Past Midnight: John Berendt on the Mysteries of Venice

Just as John Berendt's first book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, was settling into its remarkable four-year run on The New York Times bestseller list, he discovered a new city whose local mysteries and traditions were more than a match for Savannah, whose hothouse eccentricities he had celebrated in the first book. The new city was Venice, and he spent much of the last decade wandering through its canals and palazzos, seeking to understand a place that any native will tell you is easy to visit but hard to know. For travelers to Venice, whether by armchair or vaporetto, he has selected his 10 (actually 11) Books to Read on Venice. And he took the time to answer a few of our questions about his charming new book, The City of Falling Angels:

Amazon.com: The lush, cloistered southern city of Savannah was the locale of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Venice, the setting for The City of Falling Angels, is vastly different. Was it the difference itself that drew you to Venice?

John Berendt: Savannah and Venice actually have quite a lot in common. Both are uniquely beautiful. Both are isolated geographically, culturally, and emotionally from the world outside. Venice sits in the middle of a lagoon; Savannah is surrounded by marshes, piney woods, and the ocean. Venetians think of themselves as Venetian first, Italian second; Savannahians rarely even venture forth as far as Atlanta or Charleston. So both cities offer a writer a rich context in which to set a story, and the stories provide readers a means of escape from their own environment into another world.

Amazon.com: I enjoyed your rather declarative author's note: that this is a work of nonfiction, and that you used everyone's real names. In your previous book you did use pseudonyms for some characters and you explained that you took a few small liberties in the service of the larger truth of the story. Why the change this time?

Berendt: When I wrote Midnight I thought I would do a few people the favor of changing their names for the sake of privacy. But when the book came out, several of the pseudonymous characters told me they wished I'd used their real names instead. So this time, no pseudonyms. As for the storytelling liberties I took in writing Midnight, they were minor and did not change the story, but my mention of it in the author's note caused some confusion, with the result that Midnight is sometimes referred to now as a novel, which it most certainly is not. Neither is The City of Falling Angels. In fact, I dispensed with the liberties this time and made it as close to the truth as I could get it.

Amazon.com: In The City of Falling Angels, a number of fascinating people serve as guides to the city, each with a different idea of the true nature of Venice. Who was your favorite?

Berendt: I don't have a favorite, but Count Girolamo Marcello is certainly a memorable, highly quotable commentator. "Everyone in Venice is acting," he told me. "Everyone plays a role, and the role changes. The key to understanding Venetians is rhythm, the rhythm of the lagoon, the water, the tides, the waves. It's like breathing. High water, high pressure: tense. Low water, low pressure: relaxed. The tide changes every six hours."

I nodded that I understood.

"How do you see a bridge?" he went on.

"Pardon me?" I asked, "A bridge?"

"Do you see a bridge as an obstacle--as just another set of steps to climb to get from one side of a canal to the other? We Venetians do not see bridges as obstacles. To us, bridges are transitions. We go over them very slowly. They are part of the rhythm. They are the links between two parts of a theater, like changes in scenery. Our role changes as we go over bridges. We cross from one reality ... to another reality. From one street ... to another street. From one setting ... to another setting."

Once I had absorbed that notion, Count Marcello continued: "Sunlight on a canal is reflected up through a window onto the ceiling, then from the ceiling onto a vase, and from the vase onto a glass. Which is the real sunlight? Which is the real reflection? What is true? What is not true? The answer is not so simple, because the truth can change. I can change. You can change. That is the Venice effect."

I was not terribly surprised when he later told me, "Venetians never tell the truth. We mean precisely the opposite of what we say."

Amazon.com: Now that you know Venice well enough to be a guide yourself, what would you say to a visitor looking for insight into the character of the city?

Berendt: Tourists generally shuffle along, on narrow streets so crowded as to be nearly impassable, between the major sights of St. Mark's Square, the Rialto Bridge, and the Accademia Museum. All you have to do is to step off these heavily traveled alleyways, and in a few moments you will find yourself in quiet, much emptier surroundings. This is more like the real Venice. Another thing to do is to go into the wine bars where Venetians stand around drinking and talking. They will very likely be speaking the Venetian dialect, so you won't be able to understand them, but you will get a sampling of the true Venetian ambiance enlivened by the pronounced sing-song rhythm of the language. I'd also suggest stopping someone in the street and asking for directions. Almost invariably, you will be rewarded with a genial smile and the instructions, Sempre diritto, meaning "Straight ahead." This will only leave you more confused, because when you attempt to follow a straight line, you will be confronted by more twists and turns and forks in the road than you thought possible, given the instructions. This is part of what Count Marcello described as "the Venice effect."

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:04 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Venice, a city steeped in a thousand years of history, art and architecture, teeters in precarious balance between endurance and decay. Its architectural treasures crumble--foundations shift, marble ornaments fall--even as efforts to preserve them are underway. This book opens in 1996, when a dramatic fire destroys the historic Fenice opera house, a catastrophe for Venetians. Arriving three days after the fire, Berendt becomes a kind of detective--inquiring into the nature of life in this remarkable museum-city--while gradually revealing the truth about the fire. He introduces us to a rich cast of characters, Venetian and expatriate, in a tale full of atmosphere and surprise which reveals a world as finely drawn as a still-life painting. The fire and its aftermath serve as a leitmotif, adding elements of chaos, corruption, and crime and contributing to the ever-mounting suspense.--From publisher description.… (more)

» see all 6 descriptions

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