I’m in Venice for the film festival that just ended and, as an American humorist once wired his paper: ‘Streets full of water, stop. Send funds, stop.’ What is there to say about Venice that hasn’t already been said or written by better men or women — Thomas Mann and Jan Morris to mention just two? Yes, Venice evokes higher thoughts, but not this time. I was thinking of Byron as I chugged past the Palazzo Mocenigo where he lived, when I spotted a gondola with five Chinese women on board, all fiercely concentrating on their mobiles. ‘Stop that and look at the buildings, girls,’ I yelled at them. They completely ignored me and continued texting, or whatever they do nowadays, even on a gondola in the midst of Venetian splendour.
Venice is now a microcosm of what the world will be like, say, 100 years from now: full of Chinese and Indians walking around ancient monuments with vacuous expressions, totally removed from their surroundings. Ah, Venice! What a city it once was. Anything could happen there. Its people were cruel. Only a Venetian could fire at the Parthenon, as Morosini once did, blowing up the most perfect edifice ever. His descendant was a great buddy of mine when we were youngsters. I once asked Fabrizio how anyone could commit such an atrocity. He shrugged and asked why not. The Turks were inside figuring that no one would ever fire on the sacred site. Well, a Venetian did just that.
The Venetians also took over the Ionian Islands, where the Taki family came from, keeping away the hated Turk and offering us, among other goodies like titles, a Renaissance, one the rest of occupied Greece never experienced. The results are easy to spot: Ionian Greeks of a certain age are civilized and poetic.