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Venetian perfection
July/August 2018

Torcello and the Venetian lagoon viewed from the campanile (©DEREK WINTERBURN CC by-ND 2.0)

“But how do you stand the tourists?” Everyone asks me this. When I say I’ve just moved to Venice, it’s the inevitable response. Such is the image of the poor, raddled bride of the Adriatic, her beauties buried under selfie sticks and cheap masks, her skirts besmirched by the effluvia of gargantuan cruise ships, her great plague churches, Redentore and Salute, defenceless against the new pestilence of mass travel. The right answer, I suppose, is “But how do you?” How do you bear the bottlenecks on the M25, the Central Line at Bank, the tat of Oxford Street, the painful nostalgia of Covent Garden? Given that no one in their right mind would hang out in Leicester Square on a Saturday afternoon, one simply applies the same formula — avoid Rialto in the day and San Marco between 10am and 4pm and the ravening hordes won’t bother you in the slightest. Perhaps in repeating the truism, the sceptics are merely observing Henry James’s diktat that there is certainly nothing new to be said about Venice, and better so, since “it should be a sad day indeed when there should be something new to say”, but the truth of the remark signals the real challenge of Venice — the sheer impossibility of writing about it. Everything that can possibly be said has been said already, and said better. Venice is overgrown by the mould of literature to such an extent that not a single new word is able to penetrate her dreamy, timeless walls. All that remains is quotation — as Gustaw Herling said.

The Venetian empire was founded in the seventh century on Torcello, out in the lagoon. In 1935, Giuseppe Cipriani took over the old tavern on the island and founded another. I shouldn’t attempt to describe the wonder of the mosaics at Torcello any more than the exquisite sweep of the Grand Canal, but the Locanda offers a verbal wrestle with perfection on a more human scale. Both readers of this column will recall that it has Views on Harry’s Bar in the city, whilst the various outposts of Cipriani from Manhattan to Istanbul are variously horrible, but Locanda Cipriani might just be the restaurant. All great restaurants share a psychological quality, whereby they convey to the customer, the moment she arrives, that their only intention and purpose is the giving of pleasure, and at Locanda Cipriani this is compounded with the most exuberantly beautiful setting, in its history and composition, that I, certainly, have ever seen. When I went recently, the walled garden, with the view over the lawns to the tower of the basilica, was boisterous with lavender and roses, the long, thickly leaved pergola brimmed with green thoughts in green shade and the moeche were still in season. These soft-shelled crabs are a refined and rather vicious delight — conventionally put in a barrel to ingest their own stuffing of flour, parmesan and spices before being deep-fried alive, and the Venetians go nuts for them. We ate six with a smooth glass of Soave and watched the butterflies in the poppies on the high bank which gives onto the lagoon.
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