5 Reasons Why Venice is for Nerds; plus, Iain Banks

  • Share
  • Read Later

1) Extremely Efficient Caffeine Delivery Systems. The Italians, they’ve really nailed something here. You roll into some hole in the wall, you ask for coffee. They don’t bring you coffee, they bring you espresso, for maximum caffeine density. You don’t even have to sit down if you don’t want to, you just do it like a shot. A chair would just harsh the buzz. Then you’re gone, back out into the city, vibrating with mild stimulants. By the end of the week I was rolling doppio, twice a day.

2) Extremely Efficient Alcohol Delivery Systems. You can drink wine pretty much all the time. Factor in the massive caffeine intake and your whole consciousness is constantly being re-engineered, chemically, over the course of any given day. It’s way cyber.

3) They Don’t Play Sports. Well, they probably do, but it’s not like there’s a stadium in Venice, or even much in the way of playing fields. You’re in a medieval city hacked out of nothing in the middle of a lagoon — where are you gonna put your jocks? Plus I’m sure the ball would always be falling into canals and such.

4) It’s All About Culture Contact. At first I wondered why I felt like I was walking through a Star Trek episode all the time — more so even than usual — until I realized that Venice is basically all about alien cultures interacting. It was a major point of call for western traders heading east and vice versa, all of whom would leave bits of language and art and technology and such behind them on their way through, along with their money, of course. It’s your basic wretched hive of villainy. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are Jawas running some of those old junk shops. Who would’ve noticed? (Yeah, I’m mixing references here. Leave me alone, I have a caffeine headache.)

5) It’s an Artifact. There’s no way to explain the weirdness of Venice till you go there, but if you haven’t been, I can’t emphasize this enough: the whole thing is a construct. They built a city out of practically nothing in the middle of a lagoon, by sinking millions of wooden pilings into mud. It’s this massive half-ruined piece of medieval gadgetry — Venice is as much a technological artifact as the Death Star, or the Ringworld (or Halo for that matter), or a Dyson Sphere, or one of Iain Banks’s orbitals.

Speaking of whom, I cadged an early copy of the new Iain Banks novel Matter to take with me on vacation. I had actually thought that his last Culture book, Look to Windward, might be the last in the series, so I was extremely extremely excited to get a look at the new one, and it’s up there with Banks’s best work — it’s hard to imagine a better author to tour Venice with, what with his interest in jaded cultures and inter-civilization contact and constructed habitats. Much of Matter takes place on an artificial planet called a Shellworld, which consists of concentric hollow spheres. It’s a huge book, and the cheapo Kinko’s binding that the manuscript came in burst asunder early on in the week, so I was hauling around Venice with these thick stacks of loose paper. But it was very worth it. More on this anon.