Few elements to life hold quite as much charm, as the ability to climb out of bed in the morning, walk over to a window adorned in renaissance-styled plasterwork, and gaze out on to the Grand Canal. Yet it was this simple pleasure that confronted me the other morning as I awoke.
The sun stretched in to my suite at the Marco Polo, where I had been staying for about a week, and divided the room in it’s familiar golden glow. It felt good to be alive, and as I concentrated on a working gondola that was making its way to the back of a restaurant with a grocery delivery, there was an abrupt knock at the door.
“Yes?” I shouted from where I was standing. I had, in the past, been used to the odd room invasion from over-complimentary fans, and had grown used to checking now before I opened the door.
“‘Ello Signore ‘Olley, it is me, your Venezian amico, Giuseppe. Let me in, you old rogue, eh?” came the return from behind the door in an espresso and Marlboro soaked lilt.
Giuseppe Romano had been a friend of mine for almost twenty years, ever since we shared a room in Colombia during the blasted uprising. We had been through some wild adventures, and it was my hope that after the phone call that I had left on his answer machine the night before, he would turn up at some point today.
“Giuseppe,” I sang, as I opened the door and embraced the four foot two, hairy ball of a man that stood before me. “It’s been so long,” I said taking a step back and inspecting him.
“Too long,” he nodded back at me.
We sat down, and for the next hour we caught up with all of the news from each other, whilst eating the breakfast that room service had delivered. Giuseppe then explained, rather mysteriously, that he had to be on his way in order to locate a certain book that he had promised to find for the Princess of Monaco.
“Dear chap,” I insisted, “after all these years, we cannot let old times go so easily. I will accompany you on your errand, and then perhaps we can entertain ourselves in some other way later on? Come now, I will just put on some clothes and I will be ready in a jiffy.” After minimal reluctance, Giuseppe capitulated and, as I am a man of my word, in the jiffy that I had promised we had hit the alleys of Venice.
We walked only a short distance, as after all nothing in Venice is longer than a medium distance at best, before Giuseppe stopped at an unmarked door and announced that we were there. He knocked, and was greeted by an even smaller Italian who resembled Danny Devito but spoke with a high pitched squeak.
He led us both through a long, musty corridor until we emerged in a room, as big as a concert hall, full of books. I was informed that this was the oldest bookshop in all of Italy, and although it resembled a library I was assured that they were all for sale at one price or another. During the Inquisition it had been kept closely guarded in order to protect some of the more religious content, and now it was only known to those that knew.
My Italian is perfect, and I followed the brief discussion between Giuseppe and the book wizard to the letter, but I would hate to show off here. Suffice it to say that after the tete-a-tete, the man disappeared quickly and we followed at quite a pace.
In a dark recess, sandwiched between two tall, mahogany sets of shelves, was a small cabinet that was locked. The man provided a key to Giuseppe and then disappeared, literally. We both looked at each other suspiciously and then my friend bent down and attempted to open it. I had seen a cabinet similar to this in my old school at Cambridge, and knew that there was a knack to the working of it. I rested my hand on the top left corner, and felt for a small indentation. Once I had found it, the key turned easily, and Giuseppe opened the door as quietly as if the books were asleep within.
The book that the Princess had requested was a collection of Cannaletto’s earlier studies of nudes, which at the time had been presumed to be too erotic, even for the decadence of 18th century Venetian society. He famously moved to landscapes after this brief excursion in to the human form, and one look at the GCSE B Grade material presented in this book explained why. However, whether it was to protect Cannaletto’s reputation or just because they were bad, the book had been hidden away for centuries.
Giuseppe turned around and handed me the tome, before carefully closing the cabinet and standing up again. He placed the book into a specially designed velvet bag, and we made our way back to the entrance.
I was pleased to notice an entire shelf of Italian translation Michael J Holley’s nearer the counter, and felt humbled to be included in the presence of such masters. That was until my eyes fell upon the book of the week promotion on the counter which was Fifty Shades of Grey.
After the arrangements were made between the two Italian nationals, Danny Devito then ushered us through a curtain, and we found ourselves, to my surprise, in the Venetian residence of the Princess of Monaco.
If this passage was strange to me, I had no time to ponder, because as soon as I recognised where I was, the Princess herself appeared from the terrace. Of course, I knew the Princess well, and we had always enjoyed an incredibly passionate relationship, once breaking a love-swing in a Lear Jet somewhere over the Indian Ocean.
She cordially greeted us, and dear old Giuseppe produced the Cannaletto Book in it’s velvet bag. The Princess looked astonished, as she flicked through the pages of Cannaletto’s conquests, pausing occasionally and turning the book to better understand the artist’s point of view. Eventually she began to laugh, and like a steam train engine, she started quietly and eventually warmed up into a full blown roar.
“Whatta isa the problemo?” asked Giuseppe, not quite getting the joke.
“Well,” laughed the Princess, between involuntary fits of squeals, “well, the thing is quite extraordinary.”
“Yes, it is rather bad,” I added.
“No, no, no,” said the Princess still laughing. “It’s not the sketches that make me laugh so. I asked little Giuseppe here, if he could arrange for me today to have a ‘look at Cannaletto’s views’.”
“Eh?” puzzled Giuseppe, “I thoughta you saida the ‘book of Cannaletto’s nudes?'”
We all enjoyed the joke this time, and I found myself still laughing as Giuseppe, riddled with embarrassment, ran directly through the adjoining room, out to the terrace and over the balustrade into the Grand Canal. The Princess and I then spent the rest of the afternoon together, enjoying the Venetian sun, inspired by Cannaletto’s cheeky little book.