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The perils attacking Venice


Falling in love with Venice
John Julius Norwich Writer
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I first went to Venice in the summer of 1946 when I was about to be 17 years old, and I fell in love with it then and there. We only went for a day. My parents had a favourite hotel on Lake Garda that they went to every year. It was a very simple little hotel kept by a drunken Irishman called Leonardo Walsh, and it was ravishingly beautiful, 16th-century little house right on the edge of the lake. Pretty uncomfortable, but good food, fish straight out of the lake. And the most enchanting place, really. I think one of the loveliest places I've ever been to in my life. And they went there every year. They discovered it before the war and they went here every year and picked up when the war was over. And so this was the first post-war visit, and they took me with them. And one day my mother said, 'Let's go to Venice for the day.' And it was only two hours along the autostrada, and so off we went. We got up very early in the morning, I remember, and we drove off and got there at about 10:30 or 11. And I remember my first sight of the piazza; I was absolutely flabbergasted. In those days... I mean, I was not a sensitive child, I wasn't mad about looking at buildings or pictures or anything like that, but Venice hooked me from the very, very first day. And I remember that afternoon, my mother had some appointment, she had to go and see someone she hadn't seen since before the war or something, and my father and I were left together. And my father said, 'Right, I'll show you Venice.' He knew it very, very well, because they'd always gone there before the war as well. And he said, 'The great thing to remember about Venice is that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. However beautiful any individual church or palazzo may be, the ultimate miracle is the ensemble, is the whole thing; that is the wonder.' So he said, 'This afternoon we're just going to walk through Venice, we're just going to walk around Venice. We're not going into any buildings at all, except two. At the beginning, we're going to go into Saint Marks, and at the end we're going to go into Harry's Bar', and that's exactly what we did. And when we left, after we'd had our drink in Harry's Bar and met up with my mother, we got into a gondola, which in those days one used as a taxi in the normal way, got into a gondola and drove up to Piazzale Roma, where we'd left our car. And as we... as I sat in that gondola, it was just at twilight and all the lights were coming on, and I thought, this is the most beautiful place I've ever been to in the world. I must always... You know, I'm going to make this part of my life; it's too wonderful. I remember thinking that.

John Julius Norwich (1929-2018) was an English popular historian, travel writer and television personality. He was educated at Upper Canada College, Toronto, at Eton, at the University of Strasbourg and on the lower deck of the Royal Navy before taking a degree in French and Russian at New College, Oxford. He then spent twelve years in H.M. Foreign Service, with posts at the Embassies in Belgrade and Beirut and at the Disarmament Conference in Geneva. In 1964 he resigned to become a writer. He is the author of histories of Norman Sicily, the Republic of Venice, the Byzantine Empire and, most recently, 'The Popes: A History'. He also wrote on architecture, music and the history plays of Shakespeare, and presented some thirty historical documentaries on BBC Television.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: Venice

Duration: 3 minutes, 19 seconds

Date story recorded: 2017

Date story went live: 03 October 2018