Paperback: Venice Is a Fish: A cultural guide, By Tiziano Scarpatrs Shaun Whiteside

Why is Venice a fish? "Just look at it on a map," writes Tiziano Scarpa. "It's like a vast sole stretched out against the deep." Other cultural histories talk about the birth of a city in terms of military or commercial success, but to Scarpa such determinism is "poppycock" – and perhaps that's just the translator being polite. Scarpa's approach is from the soul, not the mind. (Or does he simply possess a soulful mind that acknowledges the importance of dreams and dreaminess?) One moment you're being told of a novel by Bohumil Hrabal about a child who's obsessed with nails, constantly hammering them into the floor ("Venice is made just like that; except that the nails are made not of iron but of wood, and they're enormous, between two and 10 metres in length"), the next Venice becomes a tortoise, "its stone shell is made of grey trachite boulders... which pave the streets".

Do people fall in love more easily in Venice? Scarpa's answer features a theologian, a psychoanalyst, a world- champion bodybuilder and a poet; and, like everything else in this book, it says more about Venice than you'd ever imagine.

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