Updated: Aug 12
As we stepped into the Gheto Nuovo my mind unexpectedly produced a Jewish word or at least a word of Jewish origin: Leviathan.
Not a word I'm overly familiar with I made a point of reading about it on Wikipedia when we returned to the hotel. Apart from the slippery definitions it has acquired over the centuries from "wriggling serpent who will be killed at the end of time" (Isaiah 27:1) to the more straightforward 'whale' the association that struck me most was the one with the seminal political work of Thomas Hobbes and the novel by Paul Auster.
In Auster's novel he includes a character based on the French conceptual artist Sophie Calle, a sometime controversial figure who was in the habit of following strangers and gathering 'evidence' of their existence. Unsurprisingly one of her investigations, 'Suite Venetienne', led her to Venice.
Furthermore Calle was part of a radical literary movement called Oulipo (Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle). Oulipo's roster included Italo Calvino, who famously reimagined the 13th Century journey of Venetian resident Marco Polo in 'Invisible Cities' and Georges Perec whose novel 'La Disparition' traced the disappearance of the letter 'e' within its own text, a technique that was commonly seen as a euphamism for the disappearance of European Jews during the holocaust.
Unfamiliar with both Perec and Oulipo I had been intrigued when I discovered the novel on the bedside table of my brother in law in Copenhagen a month earlier.
The day after our visit to the Gheto we visited the Biblioteca Marciana primarily for the privilege of viewing the 15th Century testament of the known world the Fra Mauro Map. The map, we later discovered, falls under the supervision of cartographer Piero Falchetta. Apart from being an esteemed authority on ancient maps and medieval travel writing Falchetta is most distinguished for his translation of 'La Scomparsa' (George Perec's 'La Disparition') for which he won the 1996 Leone Traverso Prize.
Despite the 20 million visitors a year documenting every centimetre of theirs and the city's experience Venice somehow manages to remind us of something unsettling. For everything we know there is something we don't know; or, more ambitiously, entertaining the thought that perhaps knowledge has a fixed size, for everything we learn there is something we forget. Like Donald Sutherland in 'Don't Look Now' as you pursue something you’re sure you can grasp or someone you are sure you have seen you lose sight of where it is you came from. And when you turn forward once again that which you were pursuing disappears beneath the surface leaving you unsure of what lies ahead and what lies behind.