May 1, 2012

A Travel Guide to New Venice (Part III) – Aurorarama releases today!


The expanded paperback edition of Aurarama is available now in paperback

This is an occasional series by Jean-Christophe Valtat, author of Aurorarama, which releases on May 1st from Melville House. Aurorarama is the first installment in Valtat’s The Mysteries of New Venice trilogy. Read Part I or Part II here-



The life in New Venice revolves around, unsurprisingly, the overall bipartition of the Year in two distincts “seasons”,  the “sunny” Spring and Summer on one side, the “nocturnal” Autumn and Winter, known as the “Night of the Gods”, on the other.

While the first part of the year is mainly devoted to work and outside activities, the second half  is regarded by some as a time of seclusion and hibernation and by others as a six-months long party, dedicated to the pleasures and excess of all sorts which made the city legendary, at least for its own denizens.

Together with the climatic conditions, the isolation, and the will to foster and maintain a common culture can explain many particularities of the local social life. Through an endless series of festivals and holidays (even if the Carnival has recently lost a little of its sheen with the interdiction of masks), the city is constantly celebrating its own myth, congratulating itself for its endurance and  its exceptionality. This usually gives New Venetians a keen sense of their identity, and the traveller a still keener sense of being an outsider.

Indeed, on a first encounter with foreigners, New Venetians may seem a bit aloof in spite of -or because- their extremely formal manners and quaint elegance. In conversation, they are prone to private jokes and obscure allusions, their use of English remaining sometimes unfathomable to the visitor, like this curious and somewhat tiresome obsession for alliterations ( often  explained by the ancient Italian belief that the air of Venice provoked stuttering).

But the traveller has to be warned that, although they are a law-abiding people in many respects – there is surprisingly little crime- the sybaritic New Venetians have a view of moral life that is rather frightfully advanced or, some would say, scandalously permissive.

If alcohol is used with no more (or no less) excess than in any other Northern culture, New Venetians add to this diet a wide range of  local synthetic drugs (the famous “psylicates” crystals), without which, they claim, life over 80° would be simply be impossible. Needless to say that it is usually regarded as the main reason behind the inhabitants’ somewhat peculiar sense of reality.

Recent policies have tried to curb down the drug consumption, but with very little success, as it is widely regarded by the inhabitants as an unalienable right and more of a cultural tradition than a social issue. Moreover, offering drugs is an integral part of the local hospitality. It is regarded as extremely rude to refuse, but we should remind the traveler that the most extreme caution is in order with these unusual substances.

No less peculiar is their approach of amorous life. If marriage remains an institution, adultery is not regarded as a felony and divorce laws are rather liberal. In a city where government-funded “pornoperas”(see below) constitute a prestigious form of art, where saunas, hot springs and light clinics are open to both sexes, we should not be surprised that free love, “eskimo-style” spouse-swapping and polyamorous relationships are regarded almost as part of the normal sociability. This laxity is encouraged by the fact that there are few children in New Venice, most of them being reared in discreet Polaris-Guild institutions located under slightly milder climates until they are of age to join their parents.

In any case, this “Bluetopia” is a facet of local life that the sensitive traveller may find most uncomfortable to adjust to. Or maybe not.

St. Mark's Dream - Will it save the city's soul?

The scandalized tourist may always seek solace in the relatively numerous churches, which not only cater to the citizen’s taste for rituals, but also to certain mystic tendencies that have always been associated with the polar regions. If Catholicism seems to tower above the city thanks to the impressive dome of St-Mark’s Dream Cathedral, it is but one of the many cults or sects, traditional or otherwise, that have been encouraged by the Seven Sleepers. Accordingly, the spiritual traveller can  make offerings or pray to a wide array of religious figures, from the A of Apollo, the Patron-Protector the city, to the Zs of Zinzendorf or Zoroaster.

 Next Week: Culture and Science

JEAN CHRISTOPHE VALTAT is the author of Aurorarama.