For those of you who follow my blog, I like to recommend books and write book reviews. You'd know that my son has also just returned home from backpacking in Europe with colorful stories and memories to cherish for a lifetime. In honor of his adventure I picked up and devoured a funny, sweet, and amazingly well-written novel called Losing Venice, by Scott Stavrou, Rogue Dog Press. My son did not manage to visit Venice on this trip, but he did travel to Prague, which was just one of the many colorful backdrops to Stavrou's novel.
Travel marketing (tourism) executive Mark Vandermar is living what most people would consider an interesting and cushy life, ensconced in the tourist-packed city of Venice. Vandermar is lonely and droll and mischievous in his solitude (sometimes the main character's sense of humor does him no favors).
Vandermar has been sent off to a place for work, in a city where tourism abounds, due to a bad choice he made at his former place of employ. Quite honestly, he has little work to do in his little office of the Venezia Tourism Council that overlooks the graffiti on the British Consulate across the Grand Canal. Mark likes to stare at this graffiti, organize his desk and ... well, drink ... that's for sure.
He spends an inordinate amount of time positioning his Campari bottle just so on his desk precisely at the moment when "the afternoon sun slanted through [his] office window and it began to cast a beckoning red-hued shadow that generally stretched out to touch the back edge of [his] computer at three o'clock." This signaled cocktail hour at the office!
For those of you who don't like to drink, you might be put off with all the drink talk, the drunken escapades that yielded a multitude of hangovers, the falls into the canal, and late-night shenanigans in the campo.
But for those of you who do approve of a moderate amount of drink talk and some raunchiness, this novel was hilarious! At its heart is a sweet little love story in which each of the two main characters are soul-searching for their definition of meaningfulness and happiness in both their personal life and work endeavors. The story quickly advances to a pivotal purpose: Mark's quest to find a no-named chestnut-colored hair artist with whom he had one brief, but lovely encounter, who has all but vanished from his life.
Set during the younger Bush's term in office, there is some political discourse in addition to lively narrative about what it means to be American, or what is perceived as "Americanness", and not all of it is flattering.
But my favorite parts of the novel were the descriptive passages about Venice: "I took drinks and newspapers in many campos, savored being unknown while sipping a caffe macchiato or a small glass, un umbra ... I strolled across the small bridges of the city and worked on tailoring a new costume for my existence, one that I could fit well and which would be [of] my own design. There was an enchanting freedom in the anonymity of being abroad, a competing elixir of exile brewed from being outside the culture..." Connor Heath, did you feel this way as well on your Great Britain/European backpacking trip?
Now for the tender love story bit. Stavrou writes: "I could see her chestnut colored hair pulled up under the edges of it [a black velvet hat], and I sat and watched as she worked diligently on her painting, switching between the brushes she held like chopsticks in her left hand as she created a small world of her own on her canvas."
And that in large part is what this humorous, touching little gem of a book is about. Creating your own destiny. An interesting, lively, funny read that will tug at the travel bug in all of its readers.