Asked in ever more incredulous tones, the question is warm with sympathy on the lips of friends and cold as Damask steel in the mouths of enemies. "Why Palermo?" One frivolous reply is that, back in Venice, the crab season is now over; the white-sneaker hydra of package tourism is about to hot-millipede it over the bridges; and our cook, having just won $3,000 after translating her dream of a school of fish into lottery numbers, has gone on holiday. Another is that our new apartment in S. Stae, which had been found at the 11th hour just as the proprietor at Palazzo Mocenigo was threatening to call in the law, has a sitting tenant who will not leave before autumn. He is Paolo Costa, and I can't very well call in the law to throw him out because he is the mayor of Venice.

Still another explanation is that once every two years, in high summer, my beloved Venice loses face and becomes a kind of cultural sewer. This is the season of the Biennale, the witches' sabbat that brings all the world's scum to our canals by way of the art galleries, the charitable foundations, and (for all I know) the real estate agencies and the massage parlors of New York and London. I was there for the opening dinner, held on a converted tugboat belonging to the director of the Guggenheim, and was so repulsed by what I saw—not that I am easily repulsed, mind you, least of all by massage parlors—that I took the next flight to...

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