Marlena de Blasi, a divorced American food writer and chef, living in Italy, travels to Venice on an assignment. Venice has always intimidated her, with its many layers, and she is gradually learning to love it. It is while Marlena is dining with her friends at a cafe in Venice that she notices a stranger looking curiously at her. Soon enough, Marlena is surprised to receive a call on the cafe’s telephone from the stranger. The stranger is persistent, and after a few refusals, Marlena agrees to meet him alone. In the course of this meeting, she learns that the stranger is in love with her, that he fell in love with her at first sight after seeing her across the Piazza San Marco when she visited Venice a year ago. All the stranger has seen is a side profile of her, and he is convinced that she is the one with whom he is destined to spend the rest of his life. Over a few more meetings, Marlena falls in love with the stranger, too. She cannot dispose of her house in Rome and her job soon enough to move to Venice to live with and marry the stranger. Improbable story? Yes. Fiction? No. This is the real-life love story of Marlena de Blasi and the stranger, Fernando, and with the beautiful Venice, written charmingly in her book A Thousand Days In Venice.
The language of the book is sheer poetry and magic. It transports you to Venice instantly, and makes you fall in love with it, too. It makes you feel the ups and downs that the author and Fernando went through, as if you are witnessing the trials and tribulations of your friends. When the chapters of the book are named ‘Why shouldn’t I go and live on the fringes of an Adriatic lagoon with a blueberry-eyed stranger?‘, ‘If I could give Venice to you for a single hour, it would be this hour‘, and ‘A white wool dress flounced in twelve inches of Mongolian lamb‘, you can well imagine what the prose would be like. I loved the book to the core.
The romantic in me was thrilled to read about Marlena and Fernando’s love affair, impractical though it seemed in later chapters of the book. Marlena seemed to be in a rush to go off to Venice and get married to Fernando, without even knowing him so well, and later, she seemed to oscillate between her gut feeling and the practical advice of friends to think her relationship through hard. Fernando, at times, sounded like a control freak and a selfish man to me, paying no heed to Marlena’s feelings. But then, who am I to judge someone else’s love and how it makes them feel? To each his own.
Later in the book, there is this conversation between Marlena and Fernando:
We have been married for two years. I try to remember life without him and it’s like trying to remember an old film I thought I’d seen but perhaps never did. I ask him if he’s sorry we didn’t find each other when we were young, and he says he would never have recognised me when he was young. And, besides, he was too old when he was young, he says.
‘I feel the same way,’ I tell him, remembering when I, too, was so much older.
When I read this, I was happy that Marlena and Fernando did what they did.
And, of course, the romance of Venice crept into my heart and, slowly and gradually, stole it. I am now desperate to visit Venice at least once in my lifetime. Marlena’s descriptions of Venice are utterly beautiful, and I want to experience the same. Marlena and Fernando’s wedding amidst gondolas in Venice and their getting on a train to Paris for their honeymoon took my breath away. I would love to see a couple get married that way! Ah, the sheer romance of it all!
Take this description of Venice’s marketplace, for instance:
The tribe at the market and Do Mori staged a sort of bridal shower for me this morning, and so my market sack is full of roses and chocolate and lavender soaps and six newspaper-wrapped eggs from the egg lady, who also offered precise instructions that Fernando and I should each drink three of them, raw and beaten up with a dose of grappa, for strength.
I hear her (Venice) whisper: Take my hand and grow young with me; don’t rush; don’t sleep; be a beginner; weave pearls in your hair; grow potatoes; light the candles; keep the fire; dare to love someone; tell yourself the truth; stay inside the rapture.
What is to not love?
A Thousand Days In Venice is a beautiful book about love and Venice, and it made me dream to no end, like travel books usually do to me. I would highly recommend this book to everyone. I bet it will make you fall in love with love, romance, and Venice, too.