When retired bond lawyer Dial Parrott talks about Venice, people love to listen.
The former partner and senior bond counsel at Updike, Kelly & Spellacy in Hartford fell in love with the Italian city when he was on his honeymoon in 1982. After traveling there about 12 times, he wrote a non-fiction book, The Genius of Venice: Piazza San Marco and the Making of the Republic, which came out in September.
He was able to bring the city to life so well that a former colleague at Updike Kelly was persuaded to book a trip to what’s often called the floating city. “Of all things, he was a bond lawyer, one of these dull, boring practices, and he had this interest in Venice,” said Parrott friend and former colleague Thomas Gugliotti.
Gugliotti said that he traveled to Venice because of Parrott. “After talking to him, you will want to go. He just brought it alive.” Parrott was born and raised in Mississippi, served in Vietnam and attended Princeton University and the University of Virginia School of Law. For a time he drove a cab in Boston. He was also a journalist. While he enjoyed his career as a lawyer, he acknowledges that it wasn’t “who I am at the bottom.”
“I’m more aesthetically inclined than the practice of law allows you to display,” Parrott said.
It all started with a 1982 honeymoon trip to Venice and Paris. Parrott liked Paris.
“But when I got to Venice, it just discombobulated my mind. It wasn’t like anything I had ever seen before,” Parrott said. “My first reaction is ‘I’m just blown away by what I’m seeing…”
The water, including the iconic canals, was part of the reason he was so taken by the city. But the architecture was even more spectacular to him. “The architecture has a lot to do with being built on the water,” Parrott said. “The architecture is a reflection of the water.”
Parrott said he has visited Venice about a dozen times in all. Sometimes he goes with his family. Other times he goes by himself, studying the architectural wonders and examining “behind the scenes” aspects of Venice that most tourists don’t see.
In 1992, after attending a career counseling session for lawyers, he decided he should become a documentary film maker, using his Venice knowledge to write a script. At the time, he acknowledged, he had found himself bored with “law work and wondering how I could scratch my itch for something more fun, more creative.”
At one point, he wrote to Ken Burns to see if the famous documentary film maker was interested in the Venice project. Burns never wrote back.
Eventually, the idea of a film morphed into an idea for a book. From 2003 through 2011, Parrott sent about 60 query letters to publishers, hoping to find one that would print the book. There was “lots of praise for my efforts, but no takers,” he said. He now acknowledges that he was not even sure anyone was actually reading the sample chapters he mailed out.
Parrott said his old firm was very supportive of his passion, allowing him to use a conference room to review slides of Venice and discuss chapters of the book. In 2011, he decided to self-publish and found an editor and book designer. As they were about to publish, the editor decided — without telling Parrott — to show the manuscript to friends at Rizzoli Publications. The New York company decided to publish the book, which was officially released September 3.
Amazon, which is selling the book, describes it as “an ideal volume for lovers of Venice and architecture aficionados, combining in-depth history of this singular city with more than 100 color photographs and maps.”
“Dial Parrott’s view of Venice is a heroic one. From their lagoon, the bold and calculating Venetians forged a city that stands today not merely as an attraction for millions, but as a testament to architectural genius: the epitome of what we now call New Urbanism and a shining example of Western communal art.”
Parrott, who left his legal career about a year ago, is now working on his second book about Italy. Meanwhile, his former colleagues are enjoying his debut effort. Gugliotti is reading the book now and says it is “extremely well researched and well written.”
“Dial is a great storyteller, and he does a wonderful job of telling his favorite story, the history of Venice,” Gugliotti said. It’s a pretty impressive effort, he said, “from a transplanted son of the South.”•