Toute existence est une lettre postée anonymement; la mienne porte trois cachets: Paris, Londres, Venise; le sort m’y fixa, souvent à mon insu, mais certes pas à la légère. –Paul Morand, Venises
[All of life is a letter posted anonymously; mine bears three stamps: Paris, London, Venice. It was fate that took me there, though I often didn't realize it, but certainly not casually.]
Perhaps it’s some belated fin-de-siècle fates that have assigned me to these three Jamesian cities, but for better or worse they’re where I’m linked; they are my subjects and my backdrops and my milieux. It seems somehow appropriate, then, that my first novel, about Venice, is being published in Paris before anywhere else, just as I prepare to move to London, at least part-time for now.
Morand, in his wonderful book-length essay Venises, reflects on his career as a diplomat and his relationship to history, to literature, to his family, and to place, writing lyrically about his connection to Venice, but also his tendency to find “Venices” elsewhere– in Paris, London, and even Bangkok. Anywhere there is unpredictable water, canals, waterways, watervistas, there is another Venice. And he reads back these cities onto Venice, where “every street is the Seine.”
Paris, as I have said, is where I taught myself to write, sitting in cafés imitating Ernest Hemingway, but as Paris became my new everyday, I moved indoors from the cafés, and developed the writing habits that are, by now, inseparable from the work itself. (That’s a fancy way of saying I can only write on my couch.) But spending more and more time in Venice gave me a space away from my everyday life– even in a beautiful city like Paris, daily life becomes humdrum– to measure the effects moving to a foreign country were having on my psyche. To set my first novel in Paris seemed too obvious, and potentially limiting– I didn’t want to typecast myself as someone who could only write about her own experiences, and expatriates in Paris is a subject that I believe has to be approached with either sheer innocence or advanced cynicism, neither of which I had at the time. So I turned to Venice, which seemed the perfect metaphor for the act of building your home in a place where you have no foundation to do so– no land to build on, only bits of mud.
The result, in English, is Floating Cities, but for now– and as of today!– the book is out (only) in French under the title Une Année à Venise. To have my first book come out in the city where I became a writer seems the sweetest of coincidences.