Thursday 10 January 2013

The real deal or the raw deal? - Michelle Lovric

I’ve been offered some Air mile tickets, so I’m facing a tough choice. Should I go home to shabby old Venice or should I try the shiny, new, improved, chlorinated  Venice experience that I could get at The Venetian® Macao-Resort-Hotel?

In the Italian version, I’d have to deal with the inevitable transport strike, the staggeringly brief opening hours at offices where I struggle with bureaucracy, even when I wear my special ‘get-things-done-in-Italy’ shirt with its crevasse of a neckline. I won’t be able to see the bottom of the canals for the historic murk – and the surface layer of washing machines tipped in at midnight because not everyone will stoop to a ‘get-things-done-in-Italy’ shirt to have their defunct appliances taken away legally. I’d have to push my way onto the crowded vaporetto to get to the Rialto Market and breathe in air filtered through the armpits of backpackers who deploy their luggage as weapons. I’d have to cower from the lethal old ladies ramming their trolleys into my soft tissue in the supermarket. At midnight, I might have a personal encounter with a rat in my calle. Come the next morning, I’d be trying not to look at the salt efflorescence creeping up my outside wall.

But if I fly off to The Venetian® Macao-Resort-Hotel, I’ll have none of these problems, particularly if I opt for the ‘Shop and Pamper Package’.  No backpackers’ armpits in this safely luxurious environment! The rats will be expensive Mickey Mouse figurines. For I’ll be ‘surrounded by the world's finest brands’ as I ‘stroll along winding cobblestone walkways’. When I’ve shopped to dropping point, I can ‘experience a romantic gondola ride’ on the clear swimming-pool blue waters of the San Luca, Marco Polo or Grand Canals and ‘be enthralled by the serenading sounds of the Streetmosphere™ performers and singing gondoliers who transform The Grand Canal Shoppes into the romantic sounds of old world Venice.’ And the Rialto Bridge will be conveniently right next to the Campanile, instead of a winding walk through the teeming alleys of real old world Venice.
Photo of The Venetian® Macao-Resort-Hotel from Wikipedia Commons
If it’s a business trip I was planning, the spanking new Venetian® Macao-Resort-Hotel would enliven my corporate jamboree in ways the ancient Adriatic city could never dream of: Bring the Commedia dell’Arte of 18th century Venice to your event with The Venetian’s exclusive Streetmosphere™ performers! Comprised of outstanding vocal, visual, and musical talents from around the world, the Streetmosphere™ artists perform memorable arias in Italian, English, and even Chinese. It’s the perfect way to make your event a truly Venetian Experience!’

Alternatively, ‘The Singing Gondoliers will infiltrate and pretend to be part of the event staff… until the hi-jinks begin! Featuring hilarious jokes, interactive humor, and amazing vocal performances by 3 of our finest performers from London’s West End …’

Of course, real old Venice has no cobblestones and no gondoliers from London’s West End. Few arias are sung in Chinese along our canals. And Marco Polo is not a waterway but the airport on the mainland. Campo San Luca, when I last looked, didn’t have a canal running through it. All the worse for that, I guess.

Most of all, the real Venice is not trademarked, so anyone can rip off her image. Yet Macao’s pastiches of the real Venice deploy trademarks to protect themselves from anyone profitting by association. They have commissioned their own logo, which just happens to be of a golden winged lion, symbol of Saint Mark and the real Venice.

A question I’d like to ask The Venetian® Macao-Resort-Hotel is whether it pays any royalties to the real Venice, while trading off her image? If so, I’ll be happy to hear about it and would bless the organisation for its generosity. I note that the organisation behind this resort, and the one in Las Vegas (The Venetian® Resort-Hotel-Casino) both support local charities. But I could not find any mention of tribute to the visual source of their imagery and romance. Real Venice needs all the help she can get to restore her crumbling fabric, her churches and her canals. If they crumble any more, in fact, they may not be worth ripping off much longer. Venice would not be too proud, I’m sure, to accept a financial acknowledgement of the value of her image from The Venetian® Macao-Resort-Hotel.

In fact there is a Venetian trademark available to organisations who wish to form a commercial association with the city’s image. I admit it’s not the most attractive thing, but it has the dignity of legality and the honour of contributing to one of the world’s great heritage sites.

I don’t want to  bring the History Girls into disrepute for infringing anyone’s trademark or criticising anyone's business. But here’s a link to a video about The Venetian® Macao-Resort-Hotel  so readers of this blog can make up their own minds.

Meanwhile, I myself am still debating whether to go to Macao. So many delights!

Among the top ten things to do in The Venetian® Macao-Resort-Hotel are to ‘indulge in Macao's famous Portuguese tarts and other sweet treats at Choi Heong Yeung Bakery, Pateloria Koi Kei or Kee Wah Bakery.’ I’ll admit that real Venice lacks Portuguese tarts: the usual ones, mostly from Moldavia or the Ukraine, tend to hang out on a notorious highway on the mainland.  

Speaking of tarts, if I go to the real Venice, I’ll miss out on the Macau Venice’s Playboy Club, where ‘the entire theme is presented in an elegant, understated manner, as the nostalgic era of the Playboy Club is updated for the 21st century Las Vegas. Of course, it wouldn’t be the Playboy Club without the signature Playboy bunnies, and they are in force.’

Real Venice is looking more and more lacklustre, being bunnyless (though there used to be a white one who haunted the scaffolding on Ca’ Foscari for few years). La Serenissima is also deprived of the ‘understated’ nostalgia that the ‘discerning customer’ is looking for: nostalgia is anything but understated in the disreputable ruined old duchess of a city. Nostalgia wraps you in its canal-scented arms, buries itself in your heart and has its way with you, from the moment you arrive there.

And then again, if I opt for the real Venice, then I’ll miss another top ten highlight: a visit to Asia's first interactive football at The Manchester United Experience store: ‘You won’t be standing on the sidelines. You can dribble like Ronaldo, attack like Berbatov, and strike like Rooney.’ What’s worse, I shall miss out on the “FISH LEONGTHE LOVE LIBRARY WORLD TOUR 2012 MACAU VOLUME” package, on which details are sketchy, though the title is alluring. If I was ever planning to get married again, I could choose from Venetian Macao’s two sumptuous wedding packages, the Romantico and the Bellissimo, which include bridal costume hire, hair and make-up, and photos in crystal frames.

Can anyone help me decide where to go this weekend?

There’s also the option of Wellington, New Zealand, where the image of Venice is so expansively used for advertising that I might as well be floating down a canal.
In the end, though, my indignation about these other Venices dissolves into introspection. What do historical writers like me do if not trade off the romantic emanations of the places where we choose to set our novels? Eighteenth-century Venice, my usual resource, is simple code for giddy decadence. Henry VIII’s London brings with it a crowd of associations that save the writer the trouble of creating a new world. And so on.

My own deployment of Venice begins to worry me. What can I give back to the city? Well, love and respect are part of my novels. Venice is always a character in them, not just a setting. I also know of children who have nagged their parents to take them to Venice because of my books. I have even devised tours of Venice based on my stories. But is that a good thing for La Serenissima? Do I add to her serenity? No. Although my books take people to islands, squares and hidden cloisters far from the madding crowds of San Marco, Venice doesn’t need me to bring any more tourists than the 22 millions she suffers annually.
By writing for children, and embedding some of the city’s lesser known history, do I perhaps educate? Or do I merely entertain? And what excuse is there for my adult novels? I continue to worry.

And is it even the true Venice I represent? By catering for the modern sensibility of my readers, do I pastiche, unforgivably perhaps?  By adding the fantasy elements to my children’s novels – flying cats, talking statues, mermaids – do I betray the city? Are my novels a species of literary Venetian Macao?

So does anyone have any thoughts on the debts incurred by those of us who use and inevitably pastiche real places in our books?  What are our duties and responsibilities to them?

Michelle Lovric’s website


Sue Purkiss said...

I think we celebrate places by writing about them, and if what we write is published, by drawing attention to them. Reading numerous detective novels set in Italy just recently has certainly shifted Venice, Sicily and Rome even further up my list of places to visit.

But the Macao hotel - no, that doesn't get onto the list at all!

Jean Bull said...

I've been to both, Michelle, well the one in Las Vegas, anyway, not Macau. The resort is fabulous, but can only be a reflection of the true Venice, like a Hollywood film. And like Hollywood films, writing about real places, should encourage people to go and see the actual city or country for themselves, and discover its true identity.

adele said...

Those kinds of places are fun but they are NOT THE REAL THING. They miss the age, decay, HISTORY etc of an ancient and rather pleasantly spooky city. And your books are nothing like that whatsoever. They are books which only add to the real place's character. That's quite different. That's allowed and fine, I reckon. Lovely post.

Leslie Wilson said...

Good God, is all I can say. I remember Macau in the '80s, when it was a rather agreeably crumbling old-China town with a pleasant relaxed Portuguese flavour, a respite from the incessant activity of Hong Kong, with a couple of floating casinos in the harbour. We took a bicycle rickshaw along the waterfront to see the temple of A-Ma, and then went to stay on one of the two islands. It was nice, and provided me with material for my later novel set in old Hong Kong, by giving me a flavour of what it looked like. I can believe that there is an imitation Venice, but it indicates that Macau is right up there with the brash new moneymaking China. Can't believe they've trademarked themselves.

rosemary said...

The Venice you write of Michelle...makes one wish to learn more about it and experience it for yourself.
I don't feel myself a normal bog standard tourist by any means and your books adult and children have opened up so much more for me than if I hadn't read them at all !!
Keep up the wonderful work !!