It was Venice in high season. Tourist groups thronged the piazzas (those flags!) while day trippers from Mestre and beyond hunkered down in the waterfront food emporiums that promise food just like "back home" (plastic-wrapped menus with lurid illustrations). After several days in an airless B&B with views of an air-conditioning duct, we were ready for an overnight stay at the legendary Cipriani hotel, just a 10-minute ride from St Mark’s Square on a swanky private launch — but a world away from the scourge of mass tourism. While we waited for the hotel’s boat my friend, deeply embarrassed, pretended not to know me; earlier, I had made the cardinal error of buying an "original" Louis Vuitton weekend bag from a smooth-talking sidewalk salesman. The other guests on our launch pretended not to notice. Long known as a hidey-hole for celebrities, the Cipriani in all its dusky-pink glory is nothing if not discreet. We saw no-one we recognised, but the afternoon of our arrival I watched fr...

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