Reviewed by Wendy Lipke
Margaret Cameron is new to sharing her work, but a brief conversation with a friend, who remarked that she’d seen it all and she could write a book, changed everything. As the author recalls, the assertion arrived like a wind-blown leaf in an overgrown conversational garden. I decided to write that book.
Under a Venice Moon is a love affair with Venice. Until the recent pandemic, Margaret Cameron had spent two months of every year in this Italian city. The Venice she loves, is not the destination of the travel brochures with the ‘fug of packed bodies, sweat and warring perfumes’ which bring to mind a ‘bundle of clothes, ready for the washing machine’ (6). Her Venice is the place of ordinary folk, being aware that it had always attracted a rich blend of eccentrics with the ‘questionable behaviour within the ranks of its aristocracy (that) had been whispered of for centuries’. (35)
This book is a recount of Margaret’s trips to this location. She is now in her sixties and has retired. She lives in Perth, Western Australia and although she had travelled overseas before, it was usually with a companion. I could readily relate to this narrator. Here was a woman after my own heart who before she travelled did her research. She was a woman who loved to find out the history of the destination and the unusual things which most travellers did not get to see. She was a woman who loved to explore, to find out where one path led and what was around the next corner. As she recounts these discoveries, the reader is transported to a new world, one that they may never get to experience for themselves.
The author’s writing includes the long history of Venice, information about important families, buildings and famous people who have resided here regardless of longevity. There are ‘tales of the wacky and the wicked – tales of mischief’. (34) These are found within the chapters, of which there are seventeen, that all have a title and wise saying. The one which brought a smile to my lips was the Venetian proverb belonging to chapter 10, which said, ‘fortune is like a cow: to some she shows her good side, to others her backside’.
But this is not just a story about one woman and Venice. Although most of the content is set in Europe, there is an Australianness that also permeates the writing. Margaret, for all her love of Venice, has been moulded by her Australian culture. Her real life in Perth kept her ‘as busy as a kelpie in the shearing yards’ (41) and sometimes her mind remained ‘as empty as the Australian outback’. (54)
I loved the way this writer was able to turn what might have become repetitive into something which retained interest through her use of language to create interesting pictures of the everyday. ‘There’s something unnerving about leaving the train or an aircraft…being coughed up, spat out and abandoned to a new environment’ (57) and ‘Children raced past like scraps of paper blown by the wind’. (172) The descriptions of the landscape were also treated in a similar vein with cafes braceletting the canals and the grass-speckled islands which rose bare centimetres above the lagoon surface like tattoos on a watery skin.
If there was one thing that jarred a little with me, it was the repetition of sayings of the vein, ‘then I bumped into a thought’ (14) or ‘another thought took up tenancy’. (53) But who could not enjoy the comparison of the cities Rome and Milan with one referred to as ‘a luscious, ripe mango and the other a tightly polished, crisp apple, (45-46) or the vision of well-to-do ladies enjoying a drink after their retail therapy who were ‘well beyond full bloom…with petals starting to brown at the edges’. (173)
I enjoyed my journey through the Venice of the people with Margaret Cameron. ‘No splashing gondola oars. No strutting over-fed pigeons. The other side of the coin from the image of Venice recognised the world over’. (113)
She has a lesson for all travellers, especially the solo adventurer about the serendipitous nature of life. A ‘greeting, a casual remark and an impromptu conversation’ (171) makes a holiday different and better. Examples of her experiences are well documented in the recount of her relationship with this iconic place.
Under a Venice Moon
by Margaret Cameron