Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt

Our family likes to travel, even though we haven't been able to go as many places as we would like. Mostly, we tend to travel to kid-friendly sites, like Disney World. The food's always pretty good, the beds are comfortable, and the views are, well, pretty in a manufactured kind of way. With a little imagination, I can almost believe that Cinderella's castle becomes real at nighttime. For travel to true castles and other lush locales, I have relied on books for years. Travel memoirs are an excellent way of learning about a country or region without having to leave the couch. (Remember the armchair traveler in Anne Tyler's The Accidental Tourist?) John Berendt's nonfiction analysis of Venice in The City of Falling Angels is a scintillating account of a sinking city. He covers the people (some with local ties) who try to literally bolster Venice up, but end up bumping into each other's egos. Berendt's talent lies in showing Venice's flaws and making them beautiful: the elegance of a crumbling building, the lithe scrappiness of the city's cats and rats, the goodness beneath those big egos, and yes, the beauty of a stone angel, even as it falls. I never knew much about Venice until I read this book, but now I want to know more. Or even visit one day, if Disney World ever exits our itinerary.

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