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The City of Falling Angels


The City of Falling Angels

Early in the year 1996, Venice watched while the Fenice Opera House
burned to its destruction. John Berendt arrived three days later.
Intrigued by the rumors circulating among the Venetians as to the
source and cause of the conflagration, he decided to hang around
for a while so he could listen to the stories and, as a bonus,
experience the city without its usual herds of tourists. For
several years thereafter, he followed the investigation. Was it
arson, or negligence? Maybe an act of God? Or possibly a more
sinister explanation, one involving mafia ties?

While watching the reconstruction of the Fenice --- from
contract-letting to celebratory grand opening --- Berendt
interviewed a virtual who's who in Venice list of names, dropping
some very familiar ones. The Venetians told him of their most
famous residents' quirks, like the poet Ezra Pound's vow of silence
and art collector Peggy Guggenheim's plans for burial with her

He also encountered a host of not-so-familiar people, but seems
particularly drawn to colorfully outlandish and flamboyant
characters --- something there is certainly no shortage of in
Venice. He met the Plant Man who "appeared at first to be a shrub
that moved." One evening while having a drink, he met Capitano
Mario Moro, a happy man who liked to dress in official uniforms,
none of which represented his actual profession, that of an
electrician. And somewhere in his wanderings, Berendt was
introduced to the Rat Man of Treviso, an eccentric entrepreneur who
made a fortune selling rat poison because he studied and understood
what rats like to eat.

Berendt discovered that there is a rhythm to life in Venice, as
steady as the rise and fall of the tides in the canals. He shows us
the real Venice, a crumbling city awash with history, unlike any
other in the world, with its gondolas and vaporettos taking the
place of cars and trucks, and its pigeons charming tourists and
annoying residents. He gives us a sampling of what it might be like
to live there. "It's contradictory, hypocritical, irresponsible,
dangerous, dishonest, corrupt, unfair and completely
mad….Welcome to Venice." He also gives us a sort of tour book
glimpse at its landmarks, the enchanting Rialto Bridge, St. Mark's
Square and its not-uncommon floods, the wonderful façade of
Santa Maria della Salute, and the glassworks at Murano.

A city with a perpetual Carnival atmosphere, it is clear that
Venice does not take itself too seriously and prides itself on its
uniqueness. However, it's a small city with big problems --- and a
continuous struggle for political power and prestige. And Berendt
reveled in learning its secrets. There's one quote that he wrote
after a stroll, but it seems apropos of the Venetian way of life:
"…it occasionally felt like walking through a funhouse,
especially at times when, twenty minutes after having set out on a
course that I had thought was a straight line, I discovered I was
right back where I started."

THE CITY OF FALLING ANGELS reads like a mystery mixed with
travelogue. Just how much better can it get than that?


Reviewed by Kate Ayers on December 27, 2010

The City of Falling Angels
by John Berendt

  • Publication Date: September 26, 2006
  • Genres: Literature, Nonfiction
  • Paperback: 414 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (Non-Classics)
  • ISBN-10: 0143036939
  • ISBN-13: 9780143036937