Venice: A Parallel Universe

by Angela Guillaume

Three years ago I had an idea for a story set in 19th century Venice, at a time when the city was on its speedy decline, assisted by the municipality's take-over by the Austrians. I have always had a fascination for this city. From many books and movies, Venice is known as a city full of romance and mysteries, the host of the famed Carnival where encounters with masked strangers in period costumes could lead to untold adventures. And then it's a case of, what happens in Venice...

I wanted to present something different with my story - an unlikely romance blooming at a time when hope seemed to be lost; when Murano, the glass-making capital of Europe, was fast crumbling at the hands of the Hapsburgs who favored Bohemia. So far I'm only into Chapter One of this book, and have been putting it on hold to work on other projects, but I'd like to tell you a little about it (and hope not to bore you!). This is a romance between two would-be enemies living on opposite sides of the fence, yet, what happens between them is inevitable right from the start. We have a focused, hard working heroine who is frantically trying to save her family and their business from drowning. She has no time for frivolities, and certainly not for dallying with the sometimes cynical, but mostly feisty hero who, after leading a privileged life, doesn't know the meaning of wanting for something. A man who represents those who would do her countrymen harm. This is a hero, however, who hides a depth and warmth of character beneath all the disillusionment. And, Italian blood also flows through his veins. Basically, it's a story of danger, intrigue, helplessness, and the love of two completely different people. Throw in a sexy smuggler with a double identity, a vicious villain, a scorned mistress, and an apparently spoiled younger sister, and voila' - there's the recipe for (what I think is) an interesting plot.

So what better way to research my story than to actually visit the scene? While visiting my family in Europe I booked a flight and week's stay in this amazing city, right in its pulsing heart in St. Mark's Square. I was so taken that I blogged about it here afterward.

I was so excited when I went because the city of Venice turned out to be paradoxical in itself. It is like a person with multiple personalities, and it is as though it isn't sure which one to go with - a city of opposites, just like my characters. For instance, Venice is rich in history, but the demands of the modern world are both welcomed and despised. One example is tourism. Venice needs tourists, but the millions of visitors who travel there each year are putting a toll on the city, both on the emotional well-being of the locals, and the physical health of the city. These feelings are reflected in the menu offerings in some restaurants, for example - those that cater mainly for tourists are outrageously overpriced and verge beyond the mediocre in some cases. Well, this is not so surprising, as touristic spots often sport this characteristic. However, the Venetian businesses seem to have really mastered this art and my strong impression is that they don't care what others think of their style. I garnered this from the fact that courtesy was not offered across the board; in fact, it was lacking surprisingly often in the eating establishments.

The locals, I think, would really like to see an unspoilt Venice. They would like to walk out in the morning and see not so many strange faces, hear not so many strange languages being spoken. They'd like to nod to their neighbors as they pass by, and not have to move to the side every two seconds to make way for a Japanese group of 20 trailing each other through the alley. The Venetians know that not much has changed since the city was built, with the exception of the fact that Venice sinks a little bit more into the Adriatic every year. One day, although quite far in the future, it will be gone forever, with all its riches and memories. On that day, there will be no more tourists, with their loud voices reverberating through the alleyways and hidden squares. In fact, there will be nothing left. The Venetians, I strongly feel, resent that these strangers who come to Venice are hastening her destruction with their mere presence. At the same time, they are proud to share their unique culture with the world. Talk about mixed feelings!

I mentioned in my original blog how the author John Berendt described Venice in his book "The City of Falling Angels" as a city that is “easy to visit and hard to know.” This quote really struck a chord in me and I believe it's really true. Venice is a place many people want to see at least once in their lifetime, yet, once one is there, all the landmarks one visits, all the sights one takes in, merely scrape the surface of truly getting to understand this place.

Many places in Venice sparked fascination in me. The turn of a dark, deserted alley, the small bridges curving gracefully over the canals, the random door half immersed in water, reminding me of a time in the past when all of it would be visible. A sobering thought. One area where the paradox that is Venice was lived out in all its splendor was St. Mark's Square - specifically, the cafe's. Cafe' Florian, on one side, used to be a haven to the locals in the 19th century. This place had seen the creme of Venetian society, and especially, the rebels, the Bohemians, the characters that made a mark on history. Personages such as Venice's own Casanova and the French writer Moliere frequented this cafe', while those with patriotic souls conspired, while drinking coffee in these picturesque surroundings of hand-painted walls and delicate furniture, to overthrow the Austrian regime. On the other side of the square is Quadri, the cafe' where the enemies of the Venetians, the Austrians, liked to meet and socialize. One can even see this from the decor inside Quadri; it reminded me of a place in Vienna, seeming almost a little misplaced at times.

In the end, I'm happy to note that Venice gave me all I needed and then some - the historical background for my book, the motivations for my characters, the feel of the city which cannot be savored merely from pictures, and even old recipes used for glass blowing collected from some old books in a library.

I returned with the knowledge that what Venice gifted me with was something I could never get in its raw, undiluted form from any book or Travel Channel show. And now, being in agreement with Berendt, I fail to completely grasp the psychological and emotional complexities of Venice and its inhabitants, yet, possibly, just possibly, I managed to figure them out a little. Because truly, Venice is not of this world. It's a parallel universe, a well of inspiration for any author. I think everyone, especially a writer, should - indeed - have a chance to see this place at least once in their life!

~ Angela ~

No Rules. No Formulas. Just Love.

"Mile High to Heaven" and "Mr. & Mrs. Foster" available at Whiskey Creek Press Torrid.


  1. The things we 'have to do' for research! I am glad it worked out so fine for you - and I am honoured to be able to say I know first-hand what you are talking about!

  2. I can't wait to read that book set in Murano, Angela! I saw venice come alive for me in this post - so I wonder what it will be like in a full book. :) Hugs

  3. Aw girls, thanks for your comments. Hopefully I'll get to write it after I finish 2 other books I have in mind and partly on paper. xxxxxxx


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