Next week a dear friend of mine is coming to Venice and, as I normally like to do with people who live abroad, I want to get her a nice book on Venice. I'll immediately confess that I tend to give the same books over and over, but she is a quite frequent visitor and I already gave her Venice is a Fish by Tiziano Scarpa, Venice and its lagoon (historical artistic guide) by Giulio Lorenzetti and the evocative Dream of Venice book, so I was looking for something different. As you know, recently a new illustrated bookshop and teahouse called sullaluna opened in F.ta della Misericordia, so I decided to see if I could find something there.
As soon as I entered the small, yet extremely cosy, bistrot I looked at the big wooden table on my left and saw Venezia by Jirò Taniguchi, a Japanese manga writer and artist who passed away last year. The book was originally published in hard cover in 2014 and is part of the truly stunning Louis Vuitton travel series, the version at sullaluna was the more affordable (thank goodness) paperback, in Italy printed by Rizzoli&Lizard. To get an idea of the magic behind these drawings, I suggest watching this video on the making of the book, which I found very touching.
Taniguchi had been sent to Venice and, since it was his first time, before his arrival he had looked through lots and lots of pictures of the city. Obviously, when he arrived, reality exceeded his imagination and he felt overwhelmed by the unique charm of Venice, and I personally think that his emotions are well mirrored in his comic and, while skimming through its pages, I could feel his sensitivity and fascination towards my home town. Taniguchi wanted to add a story to his images, so the book begins with the reproduction of some old photos discovered by chance by the protagonist after his mother's death inside a lacquered box, pictures and drawings taken in the 30s in Venice. The protagonist then heads to Venice to trace down the events and places of those photographs.
By the way, in 2014 the Espace Louis Vuitton, in Calle Ridotto in Saint Mark's, had organised a very clever exhibition that combined Tanighuchi's drawings and some old photos by Mariano Fortuny, taken exactly in the Venice of those years. How nice (BTW, at the Espace there is always a small exhibition, free of charge, so do look at their page because, so far, I found them to be very interesting)! I knew I was going to buy the book because I was more than positive that my friend would love it, but I wanted to have a good look at it too, so I ordered a slice of cremino cake (a gluten-free and vegan double chocolate cake, delicious!), a pot of Jasmine green tea and a couple of cookies and sat down.
I could recognise every single place depicted and looking at those beautiful images I realised how, we Venetians, tend to take so many things for granted or consider them as seen and re-seen; for example, I rarely take pictures of gondolas in the Saint Mark's basin because for us, well it is something kind of obvious, the usual photo... but look, isn't it just beautiful? How can I blame first time visitors when I see them taking pictures at every corner and trying to keep with them and bring home at least a part of this magic? This is why I enjoy reading books written by foreigners, because they help me see my city through different eyes and perspectives and in Taniguchi's case I believe he truly felt it, Venice really moved him and I am very appreciative of the way he approached it, with the right dose of curiosity, but also with great respect.
In this book, one really gets to see all of Venice and even the islands! I mostly looked at the Cannaregio drawings, this because right now I am preparing a super cool workshop (will publish a presentation post about it on Monday, so please stay tuned!) that will take place in this district, so during these days I've been wandering through its calli, campi and campielli and particularly enjoyed recognising some of my photos in his drawings. What you see below, the Madonna dell'Orto church and courtyard, the Jewish Ghetto, the Gesuiti and other inner areas, are not even five minutes from sullaluna, so one can actually experience the book just by following his drawings, creating fun and clever itineraries. Being Venetian, what I can say is that this man looked at my city carefully and there is not even one single trivial image, he really captured the details and I find it very sweet.
Being so recent, the comic presents a Venice that still exists, that is still tangible and experienceable and not some imaginary and inexistent city that lives only in somebody's imagination. Details like the broken nose of one of the statues in Campo dei Mori, precisely the one of Mr Rioba (whose head had been stolen by a vandal in 2010 and was luckily found a couple of days later in the nearby Calle Racchetta), or the several bas-reliefs depicting oriental scenes with camels and turbans, all find place in his travel diary, which to me seems so detailed I am planning to buy a copy for myself too!
Anyway, about Mr Rioba, when you pass in Campo dei Mori don't forget to (delicately) touch his nose, it is said to bring good luck. That group of statues, in fact, is linked to a Venetian legend, according to which the four statues represent three Greek brothers, Rioba, Sandi and Afani and their servant, who had moved to Venice to trade precious fabrics, but they would try to scam their clients whenever they could, assuring high quality and asking for significant amounts of money, while providing cheap products. One day, Santa Maria Maddalena went to their shop to punish them: she entered pretending to be a client and asked for a piece of fabric, when they gave her the fabric she asked if it was of good quality and they gave her their word, saying "might we be transformed into statues if we are lying" and, in that very moment, they turned into stone.
For centuries, Venetian families would stick on Rioba's nose some satirical and colourful notes addressed to the more noble families, then in the XIX century the statue lost its nose, eventually replaced with an iron version. From that moment on, it is said that touching his nose brings luck... but I'm not sure why and what type of fortune it should lead to. Still, it's interesting, don't you think? There would be so many more stories to share about the details captured in this book, but I'll leave you the pleasure to make your own discoveries!
So, if you are looking for an original book on Venice for a friend or for yourself, Venice by Taniguchi really makes a wonderful gift. If to this you add the possibility of being in Venice and following his footsteps...well, I think there is nothing more you could ask for...
Book: Venice by Jirò Taniguchi