Everything that happens in Venicernhas this inherent improbabiHt’, ofrnwhich the gondola, floating, insubstantial,rnat once romantic andrnhaunting, charming and absurd, isrnthe symbol.rnCome to think of it, what I am in a positionrnto offer here is a whole list of specificrnpromises, which may at first soundrndifficult to fulfill but are perfectly realistic.rnI promise not to exploit the simile ofrntrompe-Voeil when speaking of “thisrnpainted deception,” meaning Venice. Irnimdertake never to allude to the “friendrnof Byron’s, the Countess Querini-Benzoni,rnla biondina in gondoleta.” And, ofrncourse, I will make no reference whateverrnto the story of the city’s founding, apocryphalrnor not, b}’ refugees from Attila thernHun:rnRefugees, fleeing from him on thernmainland, sought safety on the fishingrnislets and began to build theirrnimprobable city, houses of wattiesrnand twigs set on piles driven intornthe mud, “like sea-birds’ nests,”rnwrote Cassiodorus.rnEquallv off-limits will be the city’srn”eternal present,” together with its allegedrnfunction as “part museum, partrnamusement park,” and the contentionrnthat “the tourist Venice is Venice: therngondolas, the sunsets, the changing light,rnFlorian’s, Quadri’s, Torcello, Harry’srnBar, Murano, Burano, the pigeons, thernglass beads, the vaporetto. Venice is arnfolding picture post-card of itself.” Morernuncompromising still will be the pitilessrncurtaining off of all mirrors, and possiblyrnof all other reflective surfaces, rather inrnthe manner of the childbirth scene inrnWar and Peace. Without such apparentlyrnsuperstitious precautions, the unwaryrnreader might be led to believe thatrnIt is all for the ear and the ee, thisrncity, but primarily for the eye.rnBuilt on water, it is an endless successionrnof reflections and echoes, arnmirroring.rnAnd, final and most important, in thernmonths to come, the hoariest platihide ofrnall will be laid bare and obliterated, inrnthis space as in civilized modern minds,rnthis being the view that “nothing can hernsaid here (including this statement) thatrnhas not been said before.”rnThis view, with its parenthetical nod tornHenry James, as well as ever}’ single onernof the astonishingly banal quotationsrnabove, is drawn from Mary McCarthy’srnslim and influential volume of culturalrnreportage, which the New Yorker first serializedrnsome 40 years ago, Venice Observed.rnWhen Count V—, a kind neighborrnpossessed of an inquiring mind and arnwholly admirable cook, asked my opinionrnof the little paperback edition he hadrnlent me, I answered that, despite the recentrnHiss revelations, there were somernforms of McCarthyism I still found deplorable.rnStupid Russian joke, I know,rnbut at least the celebrated authoressrnwould hae been ofi’ended.rnAnyway, here is how the celebrated authoressrnelaborates that last point, aboutrnthe utter futility’ of gazing into Venice’srn”mirror held up to its own shimmeringrnimage”:rnOne gives up the struggle and submitsrnto a classic experience. Onernaccepts the fact that what one isrnabout to feel or say has not onlyrnbeen said before by Goethe orrnMusset but is on the tip of therntongue of the tourist from Iowarnwho is alighting in the Piazzettarnwith his wife in her furpiece andrnjeweled pin. Those Others, the existentialrnenemy, are here identicalrnwith oneself After a time inrnVenice, one comes to look wiflirnpity on the efforts of the newcomerrnto disassociate himself from therncrowd.rnNote the unmistakably McCarthyistrntouch, so instinctively felt by us Russians.rnFrom the cowardly safety of the grave,rnshe is now trving to smear me with thernsame tar brush she has used on that honestrnand probably not at all loquaciousrnlowan. She goes on:rnHe has foimd a “litfle” church —rnhas he?—quite off the beaten track,rna real gem, with inlaid coloredrnmarbles on a soft do’e gray, like arnjewel box. He means Santa Mariarndei Miracoli. As you name it, hisrnface falls. It is so well known, then?rnNot to me, baby. We’re all rednecksrnhere, for once.rnQuite apart from the colossal snootinessrn—and of the cheapest, bath-and-racquetkind,rnof course —inherent in fliis approachrnto a place of whose very language,rnafter all, this American observer is largelyrnignorant, what is culturally catastrophicrnabout her argument is the inevitablerncompanion of country-chib snobbery,rnguidebook materialism. Indeed, muchrnof the book consists of a thinly veiled registerrnof the pictures and architecturalrnmonuments she has visited, so that, byrnimplication, the reader can draw the conclusionrnthat once he, too, has seen allrnthere is to see, there will be, logically, nornneed to stay. To want to stay is to want torndisassociate oneself from the crowd,rnwhich is at once futile and pitiful. Tornwant to stay is to want to leave New York.rnLast week, as it happens, I had to attendrnthe wedding of an American couplernheld at great expense at the old Rothschildrnstronghold of Ferrieres, near Paris.rnThere were 320 guests, for the most partrnyoung, rich New Yorkers. One exceptionrnwas a 20-year-old Italiarr, whom I overheardrnasking the mother of the bride ifrnthe chateau had belonged to her family.rnWhy no, she said, I thought a little toorndreamily. Then to the bridegroom’s family,rnhe guessed again, helpfully. No, shernsaid, this time a little more firmly. Thernbov from Tre’iso thought about her answerrnfor a while, as if wondering whetherrnsaying anything else on the subject mightrnnot seem impertinent, but curiosit)’ gotrnthe better of him. Then why are you havingrnthe wedding here, he asked.rnYou see, it’s the material infrastructurernthat counts, I wanted to shout to him. It’srna kind of all-the-madeleine-you-can-eatrnrestaurant they’re running over there,rndon’t you understand? An all-the-literar’-rnallusions-you-can-find library. Rent thernchateau, check out the church, recognizernthe paiirting—these are the associations.rnAnything else is an endless successionrnof reflections and echoes, arnshimmering mirroring and all that rot.rnDuring cocktails on a famous lawnrnbounded by a famous lake, I spoke withrnno fewer than a third of the New Yorkrncontingent, mostly—like the Italian —rnout of plain conversational curiosit)’, asrnwell as the customary order to mingle.rnEveryone I spoke to was expensivelyrndressed, even beautiful, perfectly behaved,rnand worked for an American investmentrnbank. But by the end of the secondrnminute of conversation, which, Irneventually realized, was the momentrnthey found out that I live (live?) inrnVenice (Venice, Italy?), each of thesernbright young things in succession turnedrnon his or her heels and walked away withoutrnso much as a pitying glance.rnNow fairly desperate, I tried London asrn38/CHRONlCLESrnrnrn