29 September 2007

A golden rainstorm

Earlier this week I was awakened before dawn by brilliant flashes of lightning and fierce thunder. Rain poured down my neighbors’ houses in great, glassy sheets. My own room was filled with a strange ocher-colored light. I opened my window to see the storm. As I watched, the sky changed from charcoal-tinged russet to pale blonde, with every possible shade of orange and gold and yellow in between. One by one, my neighbors' dim windows brightened with their own yellow lights

Although I could not fully capture this spectacle, these pictures will give you some idea of the experience.

28 September 2007

Settling in

I had thought I would do a much better job of keeping everyone up-to-date on my comings and goings here in Venice, but the truth is, I was having too much fun to sit down and write about it. So now I will provide a brief catch-up…

“Deana 2” turned out to be a bright, breezy, pretty little apartment, if all decorated in (yuk!) blue. I have really enjoyed the views – my inner court neighbors on one side and what you see above on the other, Piscina de Frezzaria.

I’ve had a great time shopping for my groceries and cooking in my little angolo cottura (efficiency kitchen). Thus far I have been able to turn out respectable spaghetti alla checca (spaghetti with fresh tomato sauce), penne alle noce e gorgonzola (penne with gorgonzola sauce and fresh walnuts), spaghetti con vongole (spaghetti with clams), involtini di melanzane (eggplant rolls stuffed with creamy cheeses), panzanella (tomato & stale bread salad), pappa di pomodoro (tomato & stale bread soup), insalata amalfiata (fennel, orange & olive salad), spiedini di pollo e di gamberi o di capesante (skewered, grilled chicken or shrimp or scallops), caponata (eggplant salad), polenta con funghi (cornmeal mush, grilled and served with sautéed mushrooms), verdure alla griglia (every kind of grilled vegetable you can imagine). Not bad for only having two electric burners and a bar fridge!

I also like the cheap and cheerful experience of visiting the wine vendors. True, we’re not talking any fine Barolos here, but you can get very good house wine for shockingly low prices – a liter for only slightly more than the price of a glass at any osteria. Plus you have the added pleasure of chatting with the vendor for a few moments as he fills up your plastic bottle.

Here is a list of things you need but don’t even think about having to buy when you move to Venice:
Laundry soap, dish soap, cleanser, floor cleaner, glass cleaner, toilet bowl cleaner, sponges, scrubbers, dishcloths, a dish rack...
A knife – Dear Heaven, how I miss my Henckels!
A funnel – How else will you get the wine you buy from the wine vendor’s cask into a decent storage bottle?
A peppermill – It’s rare to find my favorite condiment being served anywhere here.
A nutcracker – I left only about six of them back at home.

Here is a list of things that are really great fun to buy when you move to Venice:
Hermetically-sealed bottles for storing the wines you buy from the wine vendor’s casks
A thermos for taking your coffee over to Accademia Bridge just after dawn, where you can watch the Grand Canal when it's being used by the regular working folks of the city
Incredibly clever, washable, sticky, stretchy plastic circles for sealing bowls in the fridge – like permanent plastic wrap
A chic little glass plate with three round dents for the “mostarde” you will serve with your cheeses when your guests come for dinner - and it only costs one euro!
Your first bag of freshly-roasted coffee – and all your coffee afterward, if your coffee vendor is as handsome and warm and charming as mine!

Here is a list of things that are surprisingly affordable in Venice:
Tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes! – I have eaten more than 50 perfect tomatoes thus far.
Prosciutto – Soft, sweet, fresh, fragrant, delicious, and available everywhere for a pittance.
Parmigiano Reggiano – I keep thinking the chunks must be mismarked.
Really good quality sea salt – I bought roughly a pound in a very chic box for the equivalent of 15 cents.
Lovely real linen curtains – What a pity I will have only two windows in my new apartment, and they already have curtains!

Here is a list of things that are incredibly expensive in Venice:
Eggs - Here you get four for the price of a dozen in the U.S. Only for the Diamond Jim Bradys!
Shelled walnuts – Entirely beyond my budget. Unshelled ones are only slightly less costly, but they're super-fresh.

Here is a list of things you cannot buy for love nor money in Venice:
An ordinary, cheap glass vase – I guess the Murano folks have a lock on this whole area. Those of us on a budget must display our birthday flowers in our thermos.

27 September 2007

Buon Compleanno

Shortly I will catch you up on all I’ve been doing these past weeks. But I can’t let my birthday week pass without acknowledging the many gifts and kindnesses I received while I celebrated. I appreciated the cards and emails from home – thank you! These lovely flowers came from the staff of Hotel Bel Sito – beautiful, no? There was early caffe latte with some old friends, and a prosecco treat and picturesque luncheon (although I forgot to take the picture!) at al Prosecco with my new friend Erica. And she brought me two – TWO! – beautiful books! (Wasn’t I lucky she was visiting Venice at the right time?) We had a good talk and a long walk in the brilliant sunshine, a visit to an exhibition featuring the history of Venetian rowing, and one last aperitif at Hotel Flora. In solitude I visited the awe-inspiring San Giorgio Maggiore to light a candle in gratitude. Then I came home and dressed for the evening. The fellows at Enoteca San Marco treated me to wine and a delicious supper (on the most chic new plates!) and even provided me with their old style paper tablecloth (because I couldn’t possibly scribble and draw on the fresh new linen!). We all talked and laughed about the examples of Venetian dialect I have been studying lately. All in all, it was one of the very best days of my life – all the better because I did not have to end it by packing my suitcase. That night the entire year ahead stretched before me with all its possibilities.

26 September 2007

My angel

Before we leave Bel Sito, I want to show you the Baroque church just outside my balcony window, Santa Maria del Giglio o Zobenigo (1683). I see it when I wake up, day or night, and I always look up to my copper-winged angel, who trumpets fiercely at my demons, one hand outstretched to guard me here below...

Sometimes I pass through the campo just for a comforting glimpse of the angel.

21 September 2007

What I do is me: for that I came.

I open by offering you a lovely poem by the Jesuit Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889). You will enjoy it more if you read it aloud, hear the rhythm and play of his words –

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell's
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves - goes itself, myself it speaks and spells,
Crying “What I do is me: for that I came."

He describes the irresistible and utterly natural act of “selving” – of fully becoming oneself by means of what one is compelled to do in life. Manley goes on to say that this act is the very fulfillment of grace itself -

I say more, the just man justices;
Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God's eye what in God's eye he is -
Christ - for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men's faces.

Now, if you know me at all, you know I am certainly not a religious person. But you also know I long for grace, for authenticity, for fulfillment. If one can get past Manley's Christian POV, the essential idea is wonderful: live in grace by being yourself, by doing what you naturally do.

I found a brief, entertaining homily, the inspiration for which was this same poem. I think the author does a fine job of illustrating the concept of the grace in selving with a story from his own backyard: http://www.bc.edu/bc_org/prs/stign/homilies/2004-C/2004-e5c-homily1.html

The story of my year in Venice begins today, my birthday. It must begin here because it really began here four years ago, when I spent another birthday at this lovely little hotel in Venice. I was not expecting anything more than a brief vacation. Instead I experienced an awakening, a shift in nearly every aspect of my inner life. I have often called this awakening my “Sleeping Beauty moment.” I did not know I had been sleeping. I did not know I desired such change. But, once glimpsed, it was irresistible. And the drive to return here, to pursue further, has never ebbed.

I have had the privilege of celebrating each birthday and almost every “spring break” in this same spot since then. Every time I come here, my life gets better. I become more authentic, more self-aware, more satisfied. Perhaps more important, I find I have terrific energy and inspiration for my work in the studio after I have spent some hours “selving” along Venice’s streets and canals or here in Hotel Bel Sito.

I was lucky to find it at all. I owe a debt of gratitude to Susan Walton for leading me to this place that has played such an important role in shaping my life: my body, mind, and soul, my outlook, my attitude, my plans, my wishes, my hopes and dreams. I owe another to the charming people here who have treated me so well, who welcome me “home” each time with warmth and good humor.

Who was I before I came here? I already know the answer to that question all too well.

Who would I be now if I had not come here? I have no wish to know the answer to that question.

Venetians have an expression: Dime che so, ma non me dir chi gero.
“Tell me who I am, but not who I was.”

So it begins.