La­ment for a lost Venice

The Asian Age - - Oped - By ar­range­ment with the Spec­ta­tor

I’m in Venice for the film fes­ti­val that just ended and, as an Amer­i­can hu­morist once wired his pa­per: “Streets full of wa­ter, stop. Send funds, stop.” What is there to say about Venice that hasn’t al­ready been said or writ­ten by bet­ter men or women — Thomas Mann and Jan Mor­ris to men­tion just two? Yes, Venice evokes higher thoughts, but not this time. I was think­ing of By­ron as I chugged past the Palazzo Mocenigo where he lived, when I spot­ted a gon­dola with five Chi­nese women on board, all fiercely con­cen­trat­ing on their mo­biles. “Stop that and look at the build­ings, girls,” I yelled at them. They com­pletely ig­nored me and con­tin­ued tex­ting, even on a gon­dola in the midst of Vene­tian splen­dour.

Venice is now a mi­cro­cosm of what the world will be like, say, 100 years from now: full of Chi­nese and Indians walk­ing around an­cient mon­u­ments with vac­u­ous ex­pres­sions, to­tally re­moved from their sur­round­ings. Ah, Venice! What a city it once was. Any­thing could hap­pen there. Its peo­ple were cruel. Only a Vene­tian could fire at the Parthenon, as Morosini once did, blow­ing up the most per­fect ed­i­fice ever. His de­scen­dant was a great buddy of mine when we were young­sters. I once asked Fabrizio how any­one could com­mit such an atroc­ity. He shrugged and asked why not. The Turks were in­side fig­ur­ing that no one would ever fire on the sa­cred site. Well, a Vene­tian did just that.

The Vene­tians also took over the Io­nian Is­lands, where the Taki fam­ily came from, keep­ing away the hated Turk and of­fer­ing us, among other good­ies like ti­tles, a Re­nais­sance, one the rest of oc­cu­pied Greece never ex­pe­ri­enced. The re­sults are easy to spot: Io­nian Greeks of a cer­tain age are civilised and po­etic. The rest of the Hel­lenes may be made of sterner stuff, but they are cruder, and have Le­van­tine man­ners. Be that as it may, I feel lit­tle affin­ity with the Venice of to­day. Venice back then was empty ex­cept for a few chic visi­tors and us par­ty­go­ers. It was, to use an un­der­state­ment, par­adise.

Now, as they say, Venice is sink­ing, lit­er­ally, and over­run by the bane of the mod­ern world, tourism. Thou­sands upon thou­sands are dis­gorged ev­ery day, and they walk about aim­lessly, tak­ing self­ies, clog­ging up the bridges and turn­ing the sinewy nar­row streets into

Cairo-like bazaars. Great cafés such as the Flo­rian are half full dur­ing peak hours, the mobs of tourists never hav­ing heard of it, thank God.

Show­ing at the fes­ti­val was James To­back’s The Pri­vate Life of

a Mod­ern Wo­man, star­ring Si­enna Miller and Alec Bald­win, a film that stayed with one for days after watch­ing it. Although it was called a mas­ter­piece by some crit­ics, I spot­ted a re­view in a ma­jor English news­pa­per that claimed view­ers were scram­bling for the doors. That is an out-and-out fab­ri­ca­tion. I was present and no one left ex­cept for the odd oldie seek­ing to re­lieve him- or her­self. My friend Michael Mailer was the pro­ducer of this movie that will as­tound you. What will fur­ther amaze you is that the same team, Mailer-To­back and Taki, that shone so bril­liantly in

Se­duced and Aban­doned four years or so ago has done it yet again in an­other doc­u­men­tary,

Venice Lives! Jimmy To­back calls it a cross be­tween Se­duced and

Aban­doned and The Tal­ented Mr Ri­p­ley. I see it as a light ver­sion of

Death in Venice, ex­cept that I don’t look at all like the beau­ti­ful Sil­vana Mangano, who plays Tadzio’s mother. Ac­tu­ally, the doc­u­men­tary is about the death of beauty, and To­back dies in the film look­ing as bad as Aschen­bach did, but a bit heav­ier than Dirk. And less sweaty be­cause he drowns in the Lido.

I also at­tended the HBO open­ing of Agnelli, a doc­u­men­tary about the fa­bled Fiat owner, in which I had a very small part. Not many no­ticed me sit­ting in the au­di­ence. In fact, not a sin­gle per­son. I guess ap­pear­ing in movies is not what it’s cracked up to be, and doesn’t guar­an­tee in­stant fame. In my case, it was the op­po­site. A po­lice­man ush­ered me away un­til the di­rec­tor in­ter­vened. The pro­ducer of the Agnelli saga was Gray­don Carter, and he has also pro­duced

Late Lunch, which stars Reinaldo Her­rera and Taki talk­ing over lunch about the good old days. It took three years to film, but it’s now ready. Will it lead me to Grau­man’s Chi­nese Theatre in Hol­ly­wood, where stars leave an im­print of their paws? I wouldn’t bet on it, but then stranger things have hap­pened. Like Venice turn­ing into Dis­ney­land and be­ing over­run by Chi­nese mobs.

Taki

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