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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The City of Falling Angels

            This non-fiction book is a colorful presentation of the city of Venice, its history, culture, and personalities, beginning with the depiction of the 1996 fire at the historic La Fenice Opera House. It is written by John Berendt, who coincidentally happened to be in Venice at the time and decided that the city was worth further investigation.
            Berendt explores Venetian history, its environmental problems, and its culture. He introduces us to some of its famous past and present visitors such as Henry James, Robert Browning, and Woody Allen, and expatriate residents such as the poet Ezra Pound and his mistress Olga Rudge, and the American Daniel Curtis who purchased the Palazzo Barbaro, and whose descendants remained there. Other intriguing residents are presented. One is Archimede Segus, a renowned Venetian glassblower who creates a collection of glass based upon his impressions of the fire; we also meet the entrepreneurial developer of rat poisons, a writer of erotic poetry who commits suicide, a couple who become indispensable to elderly and wealthy individuals so that they can appropriate their literary and art collections, and more.
            Berendt follows the investigation of the fire, at first thought to be an accident, then a case of arson. Was the Mafia involved? Berendt also follows the fundraising adventures of the American Save Venice Foundation whose efforts to raise money for rebuilding the opera house became tainted by the petty squabbles between its members.
            Berendt also is the author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and wrote and edited for New York and Esquire magazines.

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