9780719808784Reviewed by Nina Longfield

“Ah, Venice.” I cannot think of Venice without adding the sigh of longing and nostalgia. Venice is one of few foreign cities that I would love to spend time in, get to know the back alleyways, happily be lost in then found in over and over. Polly Coles memoir, The Politics of Washing, gives the reader a vicarious invitation to the inside, underside, and every-side of Venice that the traveler (tourist) cannot experience.

Polly Coles begins her memoir, The Politics of Washing, in a rush. Her family of six is packing up to leave England for a year in Venice, Italy. As with any move, small distance or further, there are last minute emergencies, traumas and panics, but nothing can sway the Coles family from their set itinerary. In reaching Venice, they immediately stumble into a wait mode. This is the essence of Coles’ reflections, a lot of hurry and wait situations. However, as Coles explains, this is what Venice is about.

Coles shows the reader that Venice is a city of rich history and it is sinking slowly into decay. It is not the lagoon and threat of rising waters due to global warming that has the city faltering, but rather the rise in tourist tides brought in on giant luxury cruise ships that are eating away much faster at the once grand city than any environmental threat. Venice, during the day, especially within the grand squares throughout the city, is thronging with people. They are everywhere. Coles leads the reader into Venice behind the scenes and after the tourists have left for the day; this is when Venetians relax, wake, and reclaim their city for themselves. The Venetians are a tenacious people who will not give up their city to the outsiders.

The Politics of Washing allows the reader into everyday life within Venice. This is a city like any other. Children walk to school. Laundry is hung on strings between buildings to dry. Everyday necessities and luxuries are delivered via boat and cart. Unfortunately, one has to dodge about a bevy of heavy foot traffic most days when the ships arrive. And it is a common occurrence that must be endured and conquered when the city frequently floods through the cooler months.

Polly Coles shows Venice as it is. She holds nothing back. She is an outsider reporting the grandeur and squalor of the city. Coles writing is solid. She vividly describes both the beauty and despair of this ancient city. The Politics of Washing is a readable memoir, at times funny, enjoyable, and feels very real.

Rating: ★★★★½ 

Nina Longfield is a writer living in Oregon’s fertile wine country. When she is not reading or writing in her spare time, Nina enjoys hiking in the hills surrounding her cabin.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Robert Hale. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.