Scarpa, who has published essays, novels, and poetry, offers a native's view of Venice, pieced together from Venetian history, his own personal life, and the kind of anecdotes that don't often make it into traditional travel guides. (The title refers to the shape of Venice when seen on a map.) Scarpa exhorts the traveler to leave guidebooks behind and see, smell, taste, and hear his Venice, an often dark place where the canals stink, church bells and heels echo through narrow streets, and the city's deadly beauty (radium pulchritudinis) is kept in check by scaffolding and unsympathetic modern buildings. Later chapters of his book include two that are variations on earlier chapters, presumably to fill out what otherwise is an intriguing but slim volume. Also included is a short essay on Venice by Guy de Maupassant. Although called a guide in the subtitle, this is not a travel guide, per se, but a meditation on a place.
Café Life Venice is the third in the "Café Life" series authored by Wolff and Paperno (Rome and Florence are their previous volumes). It's an attractive little book, full of color photographs of 17 cafés, bakeries, wine bars, and gelato shops and equally colorful and entertaining stories of their owners and of Venice. Readers will feel ready to greet the owners as if they were old friends after having read about them in such familiar detail. Travelers on a budget should check another guide for prices, since this includes none, as well as for more choices. While travelers to Venice will find much to appreciate in both of these books, they should regard them as supplements to comprehensive travel guides. Both are recommended forpublic libraries with large travel collections.
Linda M. Kaufmann