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An American In Venice

The Rialto Bridge in Venice.
The Rialto Bridge in Venice. "Unless you go out in nature and go for a walk in the Alps, there are few places where everything you see is beautiful," Donna Leon says of her adopted home. (Copyright Richard Gunion)

A few blocks away, Sepeda turns down a quiet calle to point out Do Mori, one of the distinctive Venetian wine bars ( baccari ) that serve sandwiches and appetizers in tapas-like quantities. A venerable, narrow establishment with doors on either end, it is Brunetti's favorite and one of Sepeda's as well. Her longtime spouse-equivalent, Craig Manley, who's come along for the tour, has a story about their first Do Mori experience.

They'd just befriended Leon, who had loaned them her apartment and said: You have to go to Do Mori. Splitting up to do some shopping, they'd arranged to meet there. "I was waiting for Toni and trying to be really cool," Manley says -- lingering and sipping his wine as he figured a real Venetian would do -- when in barreled six workers from a construction project nearby.

"Roberto, the owner, just lined up their little ombre , their little glasses of red wine, and they just walked right in, shot them, and walked right through the other end," he says, laughing.

"So much for lingering!" Sepeda says.

It's not so easy, getting through that invisible door.

A few minutes later, though, Sepeda ends the tour with a passage more generous to perpetually excluded visitors.

It's from "Death and Judgment," a book dedicated to her and Manley, and as it begins, Leon's detective is headed for Piazza San Marco, the ultimate tourist destination:

Brunetti found himself, to his own vast surprise, looking kindly upon the tourists who strolled past him, mouths agape and steps slowed by wonder. She could still knock them over, this old whore of a city. And Brunetti, her true son, protective of her in her age, felt a surge of mingled pride and delight, and hoped that those people who walked by would see him and somehow know him for a Venetian . . . part heir to and part owner of all this."

"Well that's Brunetti," she says cheerfully. "And the rest of your day?"

* * *

The rest of your day goes by in a haze of open-mouthed gaping and wonder-slowed steps. Every calle you wander down, it seems, ends in an archway through which some real Venetian's ancient home throws a burnt-orange reflection into a tranquil canal. The next morning, inspired by "Through a Glass Darkly," you head for Murano to watch the maestri , the master glassmakers, glide through their crowded workspace like dancers twirling molten glass.

When you get back, you call Leon -- just off the train from Zurich -- and arrange to meet in a bar on Campo San Giovanni e Paolo. Here she comes now, across the bridge over the Rio dei Mendicanti, a fine-boned, silver-haired woman in black who looks as if she's lived here all her life.


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