08 October 2009

“The Venice effect”

“The rhythm in Venice is like breathing,” he said. “High water, high pressure: tense. Low water, low pressure: relaxed. Venetians are not at all attuned to the rhythm of the wheel. That is for other places, places with motor vehicles. Ours is the rhythm of the Adriatic. The rhythm of the sea. In Venice the rhythm flows along with the tide, and the tide changes every six hours.”...

“Do you see a bridge as an obstacle?... To us bridges are transitions… like changes in scenery, or like the progression from Act One of a play to Act Two. Our role changes as we go over bridges. We cross from one reality to another reality. From one street to another street. From one setting to another setting.”...

“A trompe-l’oeil painting… is so lifelike it doesn’t look like a painting at all. It looks like real life, but of course it is not. It is reality once removed. What, then, is a trompe-l’oeil painting when reflected in a mirror?”…

“Sunlight on a canal is reflected up through a window onto the ceiling, then from the ceiling onto a vase, and from the vase onto a glass, or a silver bowl. Which is the real sunlight? Which is the real reflection?”

“What is true? What is not true? The answer is not so simple because the truth can change. I can change. You can change. That is the Venice effect.”

Count Girolamo Marcello, speaking to John Berendt
The City of Falling Angels

We human beings are notoriously resistant to change. Why? Because change makes a dreadful mess of things. Change is a very clumsy, undignified business. Change robs us of our certainty, or – more accurately – our illusion of certainty. Change can make us look foolish or selfish. Change might irritate or frighten those around us, making them suspicious of us, leaving us without our usual support systems, forcing us to explain or appease. Change often causes us to doubt ourselves, makes us feel timid and embarrassed. And change almost never happens smoothly, nor without extracting a price.

Two years ago I moved to Venice to… well… to change. Really, to accelerate the change in myself that was already well underway. What a fool I was! I believed in a few months’ time I would reach some particular internal state, recognize it, breathe a sigh of relief, be satisfied, finally feel authentic and at ease, and move on. Life would make sense then, and everything would fall into place.

I’m here to report: it doesn’t work that way. Or at least it hasn’t so far.

The past summer in New York was tough. It set me back a few steps on my journey. I did some back-sliding, lost my way a bit. This brief visit to my other home showed me that La Serenissima and I are not finished with one another yet – not at all. Perhaps we never will be. I see that I must have both Venice and New York if I am to enjoy balance and peace in my life, if I am to conduct my studio life in a satisfying way. Why? I still don’t really know. It’s very weird, this drive to seek the two cities’ contrasting energies and influences to guide and shape me. And achieving my bi-continental goal will certainly not be easy. At present I really can’t afford to live in either place! But in truth, I have no choice. I am fully under the spell of “the Venice effect.” And the only constant in my life is change.

01 October 2009

Report from Venice

Remarkable how much can be jammed into eight short days! Still… I did not manage to do the little personal things that meant the most to me while I was there. It would seem I have lost my anonymity in La Serenissima, and therefore my beloved solitude. I love the friends I have made in Venice, certainly, and I was delighted to be with them again. But I was neither a resident (although I kept turning to go “home” to my old apartment instead of my hotel) nor a tourist while I was there. It was difficult to be between these roles.

The particulars of the trip…

Having studied weather predictions, I was prepared for a full week of showers. Instead I got a string of hot, sunny summer days. I had also shortchanged myself on clothing to avoid Delta’s overweight charges. Two big mistakes for someone who likes to dress up three times a day while in Venice.

Everyone at Hotel Bel Sito gave me the usual principessa treatment, particularly on my birthday. I even had my own reserved breakfast table on the terrace every morning!

My birthday partying included lunch at al Prosecco (as usual) and supper at Enoteca San Marco (as usual). As a pre-birthday blow-out, my friend "E" took me to a new place we had never visited - Cantinone Storico. What a pleasure to spend time with her again! I really gilded the lily by having supper at Bancogiro on my last night in town, thereby stretching my celebration to the financial limit.

If you have followed this blog, you know an important Venice task for me is snatching old posters for use in my work. Curiously, there was a dearth of paper loot for me to filch this time. I cannot explain it, but it seemed there were fewer current ones posted, and the outdated ones had been rather efficiently stripped away. Thus I came back almost empty-handed this time. (Above you can see one rain-mottled beauty I coveted but could not manage to carve away with my little Exacto knife.)

Many shops and restaurants have closed or changed hands since I left. The presence of Chinese immigrants grows daily. Venice already had far too many of their glutted handbag shops back in spring. Now this situation has become something of a bad racial joke in town. Sadly, this is happening at the expense of those everyday services that the local folks really need – a hardware store, a cobbler, a fine little bakery, and the like.

But the Tuesday morning mercato in Lido was exactly the same, thank Heaven. I happily rooted through the rummage sale and I brought home a bagful of those magnificent greasy walnuts they sell there. My gal pal “D” accompanied me, and she showed me where in that neighborhood one can buy the best fishing worms. (I might need to know that someday!)

There is another tango night now. It’s in Campo Santa Margherita on Saturday evenings. So far it hasn’t exploded in popularity the way the original did. Probably due to the loud, annoying student crowd milling around between the bars there.

This year’s Biennale was as foolish and time-wasting as ever. There were only a handful of truly captivating artists represented. Mostly it was stupid things like a single sheet of pink paper creased once and framed in Plexiglas or a few primary-colored Tinker Toys stacked on a stick. (Snore!) There was entirely too much self-important, amateurish, boring video nonsense, although there were two elaborate and terribly moving video installations that relied on sophisticated technology along with poignant history for effect, most notably the Hungarian entry, Col Tempo.

I mourned my lack of a kitchen because the fish market was full of gorgeous, glittery creatures and the late summer produce was looking like something from a movie set. I had to settle for just a taste of my favorite mozzarella bread and a few pieces of perfect fruit. In particular it broke my heart that the season for chiodini (clumps of tiny, tasty mushrooms called “little nails”) began just as I was departing. I remember well how good they are roasted briefly with garlic, shallots, and butter…

It was an absolute delight to eat and drink in my favorite places again. The summery weather made the gelati irresistible. I had my second coffee at Marchini Time almost every morning. And of course, the daily giro hour – the thing I miss most about living in Venice – was the very best part of my stay. Here in New York a glass of prosecco runs about $15 plus tax and tip. But in Venice this quaff runs like water – cheap and cheerful. It’s nothing at all to bump into a friend on the street and pop into the nearest bar for a bubbly pick-me-up. Now that’s living!

17 September 2009

Another homecoming

I am almost jumping out of my skin! Tonight I return to Venice.

It’s just for a brief holiday. I will be a tourist again, and it seems like that will be the hardest part for me. I keep wondering, How will it feel to pass by my house on Calle dei Fuseri? But maybe my status was changed by my extended residency. Maybe I’ll never really be a tourist in Venice again.

Anyway, tourist or not, I will stay at Hotel Bel Sito again (albeit in the little “nun’s cell” rather than in my usual room with its balcony and bathtub – finances just wouldn’t permit that luxury this time). The important thing is, I will celebrate my birthday among friends in La Serenissima again.

I also wonder, Is there any other madness as sweet as obsessive anticipation? It seems just like old times around here…

I have counted down the days, just as I always used to do.

I have exchanged excited email with the friends I expect to see again.

I have made sightseeing and study notes from my many books – amazing that there is still so much for the lady Venice to reveal to me.

I have outlined the days and nights of my holiday calendar, without cramping the ever-hovering spirit of Serendipity, a surprisingly frequent phenomenon in Venice.

I have indulged in my very favorite form of OCD – packing, unpacking, and re-packing – more than a few times.

I have been trimmed, styled, manicured, pedicured, polished, waxed, and threaded.

And, of course, I did not sleep a wink last night. Good! That means I will dream away this dark transatlantic night and wake up tomorrow morning, watching the Alps give way to the blue-green lagoon…

Finalmente! The SuperShuttle van is due in just minutes… I am on my way home again!

20 May 2009

Gains & losses

It’s the two-column list, that trusty old tool we use for seeing how everything turned out when it’s all over. A personal P&L. Here’s how I fared during my 20 months in Venice:

- My hesitation to speak Italian
- My hesitation to identify as an artist
- 2 friendships that brought me great joy in their brief histories
- Almost 20 pounds (without dieting!)
- A very expensive pair of progressive lens eyeglasses
- My financial security (only a temporary loss)

- The improved ability to read, write, and converse in Italian
- The chance to help some Italian friends speak English
- The joy of proverbs from the Venetian dialect
- A closer relationship with an old and dear friend
- A bunch of great new friends – people whom I hope to know forever
- The restoration of one of those two lost friendships (jury’s still out on the second)
- A lot of information on a wide variety of subjects
- Improved exercise, dietary, and housekeeping habits
- A good many new recipes and kitchen practices
- A whole new wardrobe of things I never dreamed I could actually wear
- Lots more shoes, boots, and handbags
- Lots more books
- The rare experience of playing the role of a spy
- Some amazing insights about my own personality and sexuality
- A few unexpected, even shocking romantic adventures and, thus, many memories – some bitter and some delicious
- Greater freedom from concern about what people think of me
- More confidence in myself as a woman
- More trust in my intuition
- My first public show of studio work
- Considerable entitlement to proceed with that studio work
- And real, actual, cold, hard cash payment for some of it
- Many, many new ideas and lots of materials for future studio work
- This blog to remind me of the whole wonderful experience when I’m old and grey

This journey wasn’t without pain and sacrifice, and it wasn't entirely the way I had imagined, but all in all, I have to say I did pretty well.

And I also have to give thanks to all the people who encouraged and helped me. You know who you are, but you cannot possibly imagine the depth of my gratitude to you. Thank you so much. Grazie mille.

15 May 2009

Was I really there?


Something I was not expecting… a sense of disbelief that any of this happened at all, that I ever had a home and a life in Venice, that it all goes on without me now.

Painful. And strange.

11 May 2009

Per Veneziani soltanto

What’s wrong with this picture?

Yup. It’s another illusion. This time the windowsill is that of my New York brownstone, and the ceramic impostor mimics the typical Venetian take-out espresso cup.

(Probably this little joke is amusing only if you’ve been reading this blog since the beginning.)

07 May 2009

Two Avalons

Yesterday morning I took my last look at La Serenissima from the window of my New York-bound jet. As we climbed higher, I could easily make out the Piazza, Rialto Bridge, even my own little campo. I searched for my friends’ homes and my favorite spots. But the clouds were closing over her and, just like the mystical island of Avalon in the King Arthur legend, she faded into the shroud of mists. Ethereal. Elusive. Too strange and beautiful to exist, to endure. As she disappeared from my view, it seemed impossible that I had ever really lived there at all. I confess that I wept bitterly.

The flight was cramped and torturous – nine long hours of tasteless food, brain-dead movies, inane jabber from the seat-kickers behind me, and nonstop screaming and crying from a toddler a few rows ahead of me. Nine long hours of wondering what lay before me, probably the most unwilling traveler on that crowded flight.

Descending toward our destination, I looked over a deep layer of the same dense, dull clouds I had left behind in Italy. Then the mists parted and I caught my first glimpse of Manhattan, my other Avalon. It took my breath away, just as it always does when I come home…


But I just left “home…”