A Romance: How a place gets into novels…


Venice is filled with canals and Squares surrounded by ancient palazzos—perfect places to linger and reflect. Narrow fog-ridden calles run like silken spider-webs connecting the Squares and taking me ever onward in exploration of the city and myself. I am a writer and a photographer and I am in love with Venice.

I walk through an archway from which blind gargoyles stare down upon me. Suddenly, I am in San Marco. At the far end of that immense piazza, the greatest living room in the world according to Napoleon, I see the Basilica hunched over like a dowager keeping watch over all who dare to approach.

It is a place like no other— and like no other,  it is exists in a timeless space. I am drawn in, embraced and captured by Venice.

On the first night of my visit, I took many photographs. One of a shop window containing a marionette of Pinocchio and masks and other strange objects.  Eventually, I came to use this photograph for the cover of my second novel in The Osgoode Trilogy, Final Paradox.

I took a photograph through another window of a small cafe near the flat I was staying in.

If you look closely on the left hand side of the photograph you will see a mirror on the wall which seems to capture “another world.” It looks as if the camera somehow photographed women dancing in ball gowns and men in costume from another era. How this happened, I have no idea, but it is as if a spot of time opened up and my camera captured a moment from another century. It is more than possible to believe that sort of thing in Venice.

And so, I ask myself what qualities does Venice posses that captures me and demands that I use it as a setting? Of course, I know that I am neither the first, nor the last writer to be so enamoured.

There is a book called The Tao of Photography, by Philippe L. Gross and S.I. Shapiro to which I often turn. It is subtitled Seeing Beyond Seeing. Does that mean that one can learn to see beyond the visual—beyond the everyday which our senses readily perceive?

If so, what can you see? If you have read about Taoism, there is a concept that all we have to do is to take the time to look up from the daily treadmill and we will see—provided we open ourselves and become receptive. It is, in fact, a different state of consciousness, in which we see that we are all a tiny part of one unending fabric. That one perception changes everything we see and experience in this world.

I want to introduce you to Alexander Wainwright the protagonist of the Trilogy of Remembrance. As Britain’s finest landscape painter, he sees the world in the way I have just described. And so, his paintings are suffused with a numinous light. His viewers all say that they can almost see the “beyond” when they look at his paintings. You can find him in The Drawing Lesson, the first in the Trilogy of Remembrance. And eventually, you will find him in the next novel in that trilogy, provisionally entitled The Fate of Pryde.

For me, that different state of consciousness is readily achieved in Venice. If we open ourselves to it, we see that the city is ancient and that all time, past, present and future may be experienced. It can look as if all generations from the past are still milling about the squares talking, arguing, laughing—and perhaps even the future.

It is mysterious. There are so many hidden alcoves and twists and turns so that it is easy to get lost. When I roamed the city, I never really felt lost—although I was—because, wherever I was, I was exploring and eventually knew I would get back to my starting point. There is an ambiguity to its nature and even to its geography, at least at first.

With that sense of mystery, I question the city and myself—all my hopes, doubts, thoughts, feelings rise up and then something else happens. Parts of me hitherto unknown appear from the shadows and I am eager to examine these new aspects. And so, responding to Venice is like having a conversation with a differemt person It goes slowly, cautiously at first and then I reveal myself to the city  and the city to me. And this is also a revelation of me to myself and to the city. I am excited by the potentialities of this new relationship—dare I say friendship, or even love?

And so, I write because the city is a creative trigger. I have just published The Drawing Lesson, the first in the Trilogy of Remembrance. The protagonist, Alexander Wainwright, is an artist. Much of it is set in Venice. Alexander has lost his ability to draw and has gone in search of his art. What better place than Venice to look for it!

In A Trial of One, the third in The Osgoode Trilogy, the protagonist, Harry Jenkins is a lawyer, who is also on a search. But this time, he is on a hunt for a real treasure trove and is pursued throughout the calles of Venice by the malevolent Dr. Robert Hawke who claims to have a cure for Alzheimer’s—a dangerous combination of madness and brilliance.

And so, when you visit Venice, see if you agree with me and perhaps you can let me know. It is the city in which all potentialities may be realized. Perhaps, you would like to take a copy of A Trial of One or The Drawing Lesson, along

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About Mary E. Martin

Mary E. Martin grew up in Toronto, Canada. After earning an Honors Degree in History at the University of Toronto, she graduated with her law degree from Queens University, Kingston, Ontario. In 1973, she was called to the Bar of Ontario and began the general practice of law in Toronto, with emphasis on real estate, wills and estates and elder-care law. This law practice of more than 30 years was a great inspiration for The Osgoode Trilogy ("Conduct in Question," "Final Paradox" and "A Trial of One.") Her fourth novel, “The Drawing Lesson,” will be the first in the next trilogy, provisionally entitled “The Trilogy of Rmembrance.” She is also a photographer particularly with respect to her travels. She has had two commercial photography shows. Married in 1973, she and her husband live in Toronto. They have three adult children.
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