The Venetians say that each one has a different way of reaching their destination and that none of them coincides with Google Maps, an impossible tool here between bridges, canals, steps or alleys longer and narrower than an endless corridor.
To ask for a place here is to dare too much because each questioned person will propose his own route through the labyrinth.
And there is an author who has found hers.
Eva García Sáenz de Urturi has placed her new novel in Venice, her particular Venice, and she shows it to us strolling along a route that crosses centuries, arts, crimes and the life of a woman involved in forgery.
From the ultra-modern Peggy Guggenheim Collection, which brings together works by artists such as Picasso, Ernst, Magritte, Pollock, Rothko and Duchamp, to the Acqua Alta bookstore, the mythical store where books are collected in gondolas and bathtubs to keep them safe when flooded. the Italian city, the new installment of this writer born in Vitoria 51 years ago covers the Venice of the Renaissance and modernity, the squares, the markets, the islets that nature has sprinkled on that whimsical map and even the Rialto bridge,
—Because it has that decadent air of a city frozen in time.
She had several novels located in the surroundings of forests, beech forests and green spaces in Vitoria, and also in Madrid.
But my character really liked falling in love with Venice and staying in a city so labyrinthine that in the end he couldn't get out.
It was an interesting metaphor.
Eva García Sáenz de Urturi, with her cell phone in the place where Ítaca, the protagonist, lives.Caterina Barjau
In reality, the author got to know the city a long time ago and in a very different approach: she spent a summer as a volunteer in a work camp in a suburb of Milan at the hands of the NGO Servicio Civil Internacional.
Her goal: to work in a school for underprivileged children.
The result: getting to know Venice as well and making a lot of Italian friends that she has kept over time.
On that first visit to the city, she suffered Stendhal's disease for the first time, which made her dizzy and not focusing well for several days: “I remember I had an analog camera and I took nine rolls!
It seemed to me that I was on the set of a movie, it is the only city in the world that seems frozen in time, in the 17th century.
My head exploded seeing so much beauty.”
The Basque woman who was volunteering at the time, who studied Optics and later obtained a position in the Administration, has become one of the best-selling writers in Spanish, with translations into multiple languages, a Planeta award and the determination to having climbed to the top since his first experience, which was desktop publishing.
With all that in his suitcase, he returned to Venice in the times of the pandemic to revive it, tour it, study it and take notes on everything he aspired to include in this new novel, The Angel of the City (Planet)
especially the legends that make it unique, the mysteries that their places hide and the secret dialogue between the spaces and their people.
The author of the White City Trilogy poses in front of the Acqua Alta Venetian bookstore.
We start, therefore, from the sculpture that gives its name to his book and signed by Marino Marini:
L'angelo della città
(1948) is a naked rider on a saddle who dares to exhibit his upright phallus in front of the Grand Canal and its palaces. .
García Sáenz de Urturi has chosen him because he seems to be guarding the city.
"I wanted that image of an angel of protection against the demons that also inhabit Venice."
And observing the city from here, as the protagonists do, gives the passer-by and the reader a unique perspective of everything they are going to witness.
The most impressive: a mysterious fire in the palace on the island of Santa Cristina that she has transplanted from the one that impressed the entire world at Notre Dame de Paris.
“That fire had a huge impact on me.
I had just been doing extensive research to develop the character of Eleanor of Aquitaine.
It was precisely the son of her first husband who ordered the construction of Notre Dame.
That is why I felt it very personal and I used that image to start this novel”.
Therefore, we already know two of its settings: the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and the island of Santa Cristina.
The writer, on a terrace in San Marcos Square. Caterina Barjau
The author travels through Venice on these cold and humid days that from time to time it is necessary to refuel.
Try one of the chocolates that flow in suggestive fountains in the shop windows;
take one of those sweets that are as dry as they are dense;
rub your hands and take refuge inside the
that takes us to the Rialto bridge without looking too far into the icy waters that have seen and starred in so many legends.
Here takes place a very special one that is already part of his novel.
When this famous bridge was built, the devil demanded from the architect the soul of the first living being to cross it, the author recounts upon arriving at one of the epicenters of Venetian tourism.
The architect then bought a rooster to make him parade, but the evil one found out about her, looked for the artist's pregnant wife and tricked her so that she would be the first to come.
This is how the devil took the life of the unborn baby and the sound of the wind that is heard under the bridge is attributed to him.
To his crying.
We will not continue, at the risk of revealing the continuation of a story that continues in its pages.
García Sáenz de Urturi returned to these streets at least three times to work on it.
He signed up for tourist routes on the mysteries of him.
He bought dozens of books in that famous bookstore, Acqua Alta, which has known how to adapt to the floods by turning the destroyed copies into walls and keeping the survivors in gondolas.
And he propped up a plot that intertwines his native Vitoria, also the origin of his main character (the policeman Unai), with this Venice to which his mother, Ithaca, an art forger, has ended up.
The writer, before the sculpture The Angel of the City, which gives the book its title.
“I returned to Venice with fear and verified, for the best, that it has not changed.
I am very interested in the ethnographic part of places.
The Silence of the White City
I talk a lot about Alava and Basque legends, about an idiosyncrasy wrapped in myths, humidity, forests and caves.
And what I did here was look for books on Venice and its legends.
There were a lot of witches that didn't interest me that much, but the devil seemed like a good counterpoint to the figure of the protective angel.
And so I used it."
What he did next was to follow a procedure that he uses in all novels: first, document himself;
then, designing the structure, and, finally, writing and rewriting what can add up to eight manuscripts.
I had to do a vast documentary work on the French Middle Ages and I managed to handle 140 books!".
"One hundred and forty books," he repeats.
"That is easy to say and that I studied for three years."
In the Kraken
the work of the agents was thoroughly documented.
“For two years I was going to a police academy, taking up to seven courses on criminal profiling, autopsies, technical eye inspections, and so on.
And only when I had a very, very high level did I stop”.
It is that the specialization does not weigh down then the rhythm or the narration.
From there, he spends three to six months planning the entire rundown and scenes.
"So you're a compass writer and not a map writer?"
—When you have many novels you end up making a mixture of compass and map.
In each novel I am very clear about the six or seven important scenes that I know have to happen and that they are like thumbtacks that I stick in their plot line.
And I allow myself to improvise a lot, but I know that later I get to that big scene that is there, waiting.
Each novel has a different voice, a different energy given to you by the characters, the plot, and the dramatic premise that you have invented.
It's like looking for the soul of the novel.
And each beats differently.
From this structure comes the writing, which he identifies as a process of placing layers and layers.
“It looks a lot like painting.
I remember once a young painter asked a master how many coats he was going to give and he replied: 'Until it looks real'.
That works for me."
In a first draft —he quotes Stephen King— it is about not stopping the ball, that everything continues.
In a second the lyric begins.
The third is that of details.
“And so things begin to emerge that were not in the planning or in the documentation, but in the novel itself.
It's like a garden in which you had planned ivy and suddenly gardenias come out because they come to life.
The more layers I give it, the more alive the novel and the characters are”.
View of the roofs of Venice and bell tower of the church of the Holy Apostles.Caterina Barjau
The author talks about painters and it is precisely in
El ángel de la ciudad
that the author plays with an event in Dalí's life that impressed her and that will also become a common thread: born after the death of an older brother too Called Salvador, the Figueres-based artist became obsessed with a Jean-François Millet painting,
, in which a grieving peasant couple leans over what appears to be a basket, the coffin of their dead baby.
Dalí recreated these figures in his own works and it is the ambition to unite them in an exhibition that leads the protagonist of this book, Ithaca, to come into contact with the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and with various characters from her novel.
“This was very disturbing for Dalí, it brought him many identity crises when he thought that he was nothing more than the reincarnation of a child who died.
For this reason, he had a very conflictive relationship with his father, ”says García.
“Those paintings that he did after Millet have never come together, they do now in my novel.
And I have brought them here because when I visited the museum, 25 years ago, I really liked the story of such a free woman, Peggy Guggenheim, heiress of so much money that she wanted to bet on avant-garde artists that nobody believed in at that time”.
The mystery that this author leaves in the air, beyond the ones that her novel opens and solves, is how a person who is so passionate about art, history, the Middle Ages, legends and all topics of science chose to study Optics today. those that he has been soaking in to build a career that already has nine successful novels.
“I chose it out of common sense, I wanted a career with an exit that would allow me to get to work immediately.
I finished my degree in three years and at 21 I was already in charge of an optician”.
And how was the jump from there to literature?
“It really wasn't a jump.
All writers come from other professions, which are the ones that feed us at first, ”she confesses.
But his vocation began much earlier.
"From the age of 21 or 22 I began to take courses in creative writing schools, in Madrid and Barcelona, while writing short stories."
García Sáenz de Urturi worked for 10 years in optics, 10 years as university administration staff and, after debuting in his first two novels, in 2014 he left everything to dedicate himself full time to literature.
Piles of flood-damaged books belonging to the Acqua Alta bookstore.
—Does it bother you that they call you a
—If as a child they told me that I was going to reach three million readers, I would have hallucinated.
It's not that it doesn't happen once in a lifetime.
It is that it does not happen in all lives, nor to millions of authors, who have readers in Poland, Brazil or Vietnam, in Taiwan or Russia.
It is a pride to know that those three million people read you and that they are faithful to you.
It will be that you are doing something right.
My novels have penetrated men, women of different ages, kids or older, and that's great.
Is she the writer she wanted to be?
—In this trade you are always an apprentice and when you have a few novels you start to be a teacher, but that duality of apprentice and teacher is very good.
García Sáenz de Urturi once again turns to Stephen King to describe what experience brings.
“When you have nine novels, there are many things that are filmed, you have a full writer's toolbox, and what in the second seemed like a dead end you already know how to solve it.
You know it's going to go well.
You are filling yourself with resources ”.
It is then, he relates, when you are mastering a trade that has a lot of craftsmanship.
“Just as a craftsman is a master when he has been working with wood for years, when you have several novels you notice the security”.
Changing register, choosing another plot, other characters and capers force her to relearn later.
"Each novel can be something totally different, in each one you must be 100% alive, give your best."
"And why do you write?"
- It's my way of being.
I need to do it every day just like eating and breathing.
—And how do you define your literature?
I don't know what genre I'm going to write in, nor do I care.
I would define myself as the author of characters and settings.
Time is running out in this great Venetian setting that Planeta has brought us to and it is time to return to Spain.
Does this city captivate you, like your character?
Would Eva García Sáenz de Urturi stay in the labyrinth?
I hope Venice never lets me out.
Every time I come here it stays with me and I hope I never get tired of it”.
Until next time, then.
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