Here is the latest in my monthly series of interview with Venetophiles. This month we feature another writer.
Gregory Dowling grew up in Bristol, England, and graduated from Oxford University. From 1979 to 1981 he taught in language schools in Naples, Siena and Verona. In 1981 he moved to Venice, where he has lived ever since. Since 1985 he has worked at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, where he is now Associate Professor of American Literature. In addition to his novels (six thrillers), he has done numerous translations from Italian into English, has co-edited two anthologies of poetry, written a book on American narrative poetry, a book on the English verb system and a guidebook to Byron’s Venice, as well as numerous scholarly articles on British and American literature. He is editor of the British section of the Italian poetry-journal Semicerchio. For many years he wrote and regularly updated the sightseeing pages of the Time Out Guide to Venice. His most recent novels, set in 18th century Venice, are Ascension and The Four Horsemen.
How has Venice seduced you?
My first visit was in 1979 and I had come from Naples. The first thing that attracted me about it was that there were no cars – and no car-horns. And although I came in July I loved the fact you could find empty places where there was no-one but you, a well-head and a cat. I still have a photo of the square behind the church of Angelo Raffaele testifying to this. Perhaps I would have a different impression if I had first arrived in July 2017…
What do you never fail to do in Venice?
I’m always in Venice and I fail to do a lot of things…
What is your Venice soundtrack?
I suppose the correct answer to this is anything that isn’t the Four Seasons. But I associate Venice with all kinds of music. Including Vivaldi…
Walk or take a boat?
Well, I live at Sant’Elena so I frequently take a boat. However, I try to arrange things so that I take the boat in to work (my department is near Campo San Barnaba) and walk home in the evening. It is the most beautiful city-walk in the world.
Which church or campo best epitomizes you? Please explain.
Not sure I can claim to be epitomized by any of them. A favourite campo is San Giovanni in Bragora; it’s small, has all the right ingredients (church, trees, benches, a bar, one fine gothic palazzo), and is never overwhelmed by tourists, even though it’s only five minutes from St Mark’s. In the afternoon it is full of local children playing. And the church is a jewel, with paintings by Cima da Conegliano and assorted Vivarinis… I couldn’t resist setting a scene in my recent novel there.
Which is your favorite Venetian festival and why?
Well, base commercial reasons prompt me to say La Sensa (my 2015 novel is entitled Ascension and the festival figures prominently); however, the current version is rather a feeble affair compared with the glory days (a Mayor can never quite match a Doge, and certainly there is nothing to match the Bucintoro), so I’ll go for the more obvious Redentore. It still seems to be a moment when the Venetians take back their city for an evening at least; certainly that’s the impression I get when I see the tables laid out along the riva at Sant’Elena.
Spritz or Bellini?
Well, spritz is usually cheaper…
What do you do when you’re alone in Venice?
Write – or try to…
What do you always tell friends to do when they visit the city?
Go for a night-time walk. See some of the less central churches and museums (Madonna dell’Orto and Sant’Alvise, for example; the Querini Stampalia and Ca’ Rezzonico). Get lost (not difficult to do, if it’s a first-time visit).
If you could have dinner with any Venetian, living or dead, who would it be and why? What would dinner be?
I think Goldoni would be fun. And there are quite a few meals described in his plays. The one Momolo orders in L’uomo di mondo wouldn’t be bad; he also offers good advice on how not to get diddled at the market.
Casanova: genius or cad?
Both. And if he weren’t a genius (or at least a very brilliant entertainer), we would have no interest in his caddishness.
What would you do with $30,000 U.S. to spend in Venice?
Buy a boat. But then I’d have no idea how to row it or maintain it, so probably $30,000 wouldn’t go very far, once you throw in the hired gondolier and upkeep…
If money were no object, which palazzo would you buy?
Ca’ Dario wouldn’t be bad. But there’s also a very fine neo-gothic one at the foot of the bridge by the Giardini boat-stop, with fantastic views in all directions.
Would you rather be a courtesan or a noblewoman? Make your case.
Probably not best-suited to answer this question.
How can readers learn more about you and your creative pursuits?
I’m the author of six novels, three of which are set in Venice: Every Picture Tells a Story (1991), Ascension (2015), The Four Horsemen (2017). The last two are part of the on-going series of Alvise Marangon Mysteries, set in 18th-century Venice (Polygon, UK; St Martin’s Press, USA).
More information can be found on my website: www.gregorydowling.com