Book Review: The Politics of Washing Real Life in Venice by Polly Coles

The Politics of Washing

This is one of those books I probably wouldn’t have read if I hadn’t been visiting Venice.  I’ve written before about how I like my holiday reading to include something relevant to where I am travelling.  I also find having visited a place. and understood it a little more about it, I become interested in literature associated with it.

A trip to Venice was a highlight of 2016 but I can’t really pretend I came away understanding the heart of it any more than before I went.  Its a bewildering, fascinating, beautiful place to visit but difficult to fully understand as a tourist visiting for a few packed days of sight seeing.  On our last day in Venice when the acqua alta or high tide was rising and the rain was falling heavily, we found ourselves in a  book shop with a good selection of travel guides and english books.  I picked up The Politics of Washing immediately and read it soon after arriving home.  It has proven to be an excellent way of scratching beneath the surface of Venice’s watery streets.

Polly Coles, her husband and four children moved to Venice and this is the story of the year she and her family lived there.

“it is about the city, its corners and backwaters, and it is about the Venetians themselves and the ways in which they navigate their extraordinary home.  But most of all it is a plea to halt the daily violation of one of the earths most precious treasures by unregulated tourism: to preserve not only its stones but its living culture; to allow Venezia to become, once again just a bit more normal.”

This book gives an insight into what it might just be like to live in a floating museum besieged by tourists.  I loved the detail.  If you have been to Venice and been puzzled by the notion of actually living there and questioned how a washing machine would be delivered along tiny streets and into the narrow doorways which lead to peoples homes then this book is for you.  Of course it is much more than that, it is packed with history, would serve you well as an alternative travel guide, but is mainly a personal account full of anecdotes around real life in Venice.

Polly Coles writing is warm and affectionate toward a place she clearly adores but also finds perplexing and worrying in equal measure.

Although I read this post-Venice, I would strongly recommend it as pre-Venice reading if you are planning a trip.  It will I suspect make you a more inquisitive tourist, one who looks beyond the facade of the Grand Canale and the ridiculous beauty of St Marks Square.  It will make you a more respectful tourist and one who is sympathetic to the fragile glory of this beautiful city and the needs of those who are proud to call it their home.


  1. January 24, 2017 / 6:05 pm

    Sounds like a great book for understanding Venice and its problems! Do you have any other recommendations for similar books about other destinations?

      January 26, 2017 / 9:04 pm

      It really is. Vanilla Beans and Brodo by Isabella Dusi is a wonderful travelogue / personal story of life in Tuscany. I read it some years ago and it enhanced my visit. I clearly remember visiting one of the restaurants described by the author and having one of the best lunches of my life!

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