Venice The Lion,the City and the Water by Cees Nooteboom

Venice The lion, the City and the Water by Cees Nooteboom

Dutch travel memoir

Original title – Venetië-de leeuw, de stad en het wate

Translator – Laura Watkinson

Source – review copy

I have featured three books before by the great Dutch writer Cees Nooteboom, I thought it was more oh well I have a few to add at some point. He is one of my favorite writers especially his travel writing I loved his letters to Posiden the yearly ode to the Spanish Islands he has spent many summers visiting.  here we have another place that seems close to his heart Venice he has been traveling there for over fifty years and he always tries to stay somewhere new in the city and he seems to have read most if not all the novels short stories and nonfiction books around the city itself.

A first time, there is always a first time. It is 1964, a rickety old train from Communitst Yugoslavi, final destination; Venice. Beside me, a young woman, American. The long journey here left its mark on us. Everything is new. We take the city as it comes. We have noexpectations, except for those asscoiated with the city’s name, and so everything is good. It is all stored away in the secret tissue of the memory. The train, the cty, the name of the young woman. We all lose touch, lead different lives, find each other our lives, find each other again, much later in the other side of the world, tell each other our lives. More than Fifty years after, that first day, in 1964, will find its way into a story, a story called “Gondolas”.The city, everything that had vanished in the meantime, will form the backdrop for that story.

The opening remembering his first time in the city.

Nooteboom is a wander whether on foot or the vaparetto that cross the city he first arrived on from a train from Communist then Yugoslavia in 1964 he has tried to discover something new each time. The city is full of tales he talks of the old city under the Doges. The earliest writers like Boccacio describing the city. The labyrinth nature of the city from Borges’s short story of the city he explanation of the word in Dutch which has a different meaning than in English. Then many great writers that had later written about the city he tells us of James and Mann Pound and Kafka. Later he later stays in a hotel that Kafka wrote his sad letters to Felice. This is a man that loves to discover anew the city every time he drifts from Rushkin’s time in Venice. Later we are discussing Cassanova and he reminds me of the books of Miklos Szenkuthy who write a book about Cassanova which had caught my eye a while ago. He brings to life the city its ghosts and the very fabric of the place.

A friend had once, long ago, spent her wedding night here, and she would later tell methat Kafka had written his sad letter to Felice in this hotel, a letter that probably read as if it were at last. That same year he had sent her more than two hundred letters and cards, so the message in this letter must have come as a nasty surprise. He has, he writes, reached the conclusion that art and love do not go together, he fears that nothing would come of his work. He expresses it more clearly in his diary:”Coitus as puinshment for the happiness of being together. I shall isolate myself from everyone, living as ascetically as possible, more ascetically than a bachelor, that is the only way for me to endure marriage”

His visit to the Hotel that Kafka stayed in

This is a book for any lover of Lit and Venice as he brings the city to life through those writers that have written about it, I have never been to Venice but love anything to do with the city ever have since seen Michael Palin working as a bin man the recent BBC series following the everyday folk of the city. Cees is a man of book and this for me has given me a list of books to read. As travel to the city is near impossible for the moment with the coronavirus meaning travel is hard you can see the city anew and vibrant through Cees eyes his fifty years of getting lost and discovering new things all brought to life by one of my favorite translators Laura. Have you ever read Cees travel writing?  Have you a city you want to visit at some time?

September 2020
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