Venice may be La Serenissima, queen of the Adriatic, but my short visit there last month was anything but serene. I was desperately trying to catch up on research for my current book, His Reluctant Mistress, the second part of The Aikenhead Honours Trilogy. Most of the story takes place in Austria, but part of it takes place in Venice, where my heroine has lived for years.
I had roughly a day and a half to see and record everything I needed. With hindsight, I realise that wasn’t long enough, even though I had worked out a schedule for myself so that I could visit all the key places for my story. Apart from some of the normal tourist venues, I needed to visit the Maritime Museum and the opera house, La Fenice.
You may remember that La Fenice was burnt down just a few years ago as a result of arson, though it has now, at last, been rebuilt. Now you can even get there by gondola. Very romantic. But I really wanted to see inside it so, having spent the first morning dodging the rain in the Doge’s Palace and the Museo Correr, I was going to spend the afternoon at La Fenice. Or so I thought.
It didn’t work out that way. There are tours of La Fenice, but only between 1.30 and 2.30 in the afternoon, on certain days of the week. I had arrived, totally soaked by the pouring rain, at 2.45 p.m., and I was leaving the following morning. I got as far as the foyer of the opera house and stood there, dripping, and gnashing my teeth. It was some consolation that they were able to sell me a DVD of the restoration project, which included quite a lot of historical material about how La Fenice used to look. But I was still disappointed.
It’s difficult to try to probe the history of Venice under Napoleon. Almost all the books and histories stop in 1797, the year when the Venetian Republic fell and French rule began, and then start again after the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Venetians say they still hate the very idea of Napoleon. Perhaps that’s why there is so little visible information about the seventeen years after the Republic ended?
I was told that, very recently, the local council bought a statue of Napoleon which had stood in Venice at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The council thought it would be proper to restore it to its original place, since it was part of the city’s history. Venetians disagreed, vehemently. There was a huge outcry that such a thing had been bought by the city.
It seems the council compromised. The statue is now in the Museo Correr, but tucked away under the stairs so that it can’t really be seen. I think it’s the Venetian version of “out of sight, out of mind.”