31 March 2008
29 March 2008
As it turned out, I did not take the day off today – too much on my “to-do” list.
But I did take my friend “L’s” advice and I let La Serenissima soothe me late this afternoon. The weather was beautiful, so I spent an hour at al Prosecco in Campo San Giacomo dall’Orio, my little corner of Heaven in Venice. I savored a paninetto (a little sandwich – how cute is that?) and a glass of their glittering organic prosecco… OK, it was two glasses. I settled down. I counted my blessings. Then I let my tired mind go blank. As always, al Prosecco’s brother-owners and Valentina treated me like royalty.
Afterwards I found this beautiful angel on the Salizada San Stae. His scroll reads, Domino locutum est per angeli - MDCCII. (I know MDCCII is the year 1522. Can anyone help me with the high school Latin?)
Sure hope this little break will banish the incubi and help me get back on track in the studio.
A perfectly awful day in the studio yesterday!
It began with a gruesome nightmare – a grim, Frankenstein-ish kind of mind movie in which I saw that my own head had been sawed open and hastily sealed up again, but by what mad scientist, and why? I wondered what damage had been done to me! My terror awakened me.
Maybe this incubo (nightmare) came to me because I am attempting to sculpt heads and hands for a current project. I know just how I see them in my dreams. But I am no sculptor. I grow more frustrated and feel more incapable with each misshapen effort.
I tried to work, but nothing would work for me. Everything I touched, I spoiled. Nothing would fit, nothing would stick, nothing would stay put. Expensive materials were breaking to pieces in my hands. Then I knocked over my precious jar of gel medium. I saw it spread across my workspace, utterly ruining my best-loved work diary and gooping up many other things. The last straw! I ranted and raged, even as I cleaned up the sticky mess and tried to save what I could. When I was finally exhausted, I abandoned everything and went out with my camera, hoping to find some peace and inspiration, a small sogno (dream).
Instead I found these hideous, deformed cherubs… more incubi!
I think it’s time for a day off.
26 March 2008
24 March 2008
Venice may appear to have sprung to life from a billowing crest of seafoam tumbling over the pearly lip of a scallop shell, like Botticelli’s Venus. But that romantic idea fades fast when one watches city engineers drain, dredge, and repair the infrastructure of a local rio – a messy process you see in progress here.
In fact this elegant city on the sea was hard won, wrested from the unpredictable lagoon, pinned into place with thousands and thousands of wooden poles pounded into its sticky mud. By happy accident, those poles petrified instead of rotting, due in large part to the oxygen-starved lagoon waters, thus providing as firm a foundation for a city as one could hope for away from terra firma. Later came the gouging out of the canals…
When La Serenissima’s not-so-pretty underpinnings are exposed for maintenance, the contractors always rig up some flimsy blind to hide the grim activity. It almost seems they want to protect her modesty. But I suspect it’s really intended to protect the tourists, to ensure that their image of the “fairy city of the heart” (that’s Byron, not me) is not spoiled by visions of scaly pipes, mottled muck, and the rotted refuse that collects at the bottom of her shallow waterways.
Nevertheless, if there’s a gap in that blind, natives, near-citizens (me included), and tourists alike all stop and take a peek at the goings-on. Fascinating! A canal dredge is a slippery, slightly smelly reminder that lovely Venice raised herself up from the sea almost 1,500 years ago and, impossibly, still stands against all odds.
22 March 2008
Venetians have an expression: Non ghe se Pasqua senza fogia, ne dona senza vogia.
"There is no Easter without leaves, and no woman without desires."
I know one simply doesn’t say such a thing, but…
I’m not a big fan of spring. Not my favorite colors, not the sort of images and anticipations I like, not the weather I prefer. I’m more the sweaters & autumn leaves kinda gal. (My willingness to give up even one glorious October day in Central Park showed my true devotion to La Serenissima last year.)
Other than the Fifth Avenue Easter Parade, I don’t care for Easter much either. It always strikes me as macabre – the gruesome story commemorated in pastel icing sugar and fake flowers. In the cheery, childish trappings of this holiday, all I see is the ham-fist of the Church as it commandeered and twisted ancient and beautiful pagan traditions for its own ends. (For Heaven’s sake, people! “Easter Bunny,” “Ostara hare…” think about it!)
But the Venetians certainly got that proverb right. It’s the female version of “In spring a young man’s fancy… “
Alas, this woman finds herself with many far-fetched and very elusive springtime desires, and few means to obtain them. Spring arrived here in Venice much too quickly for me.
20 March 2008
The exceptional design of La Serenissima’s flag is enough to tell you that she is something more, something apart from any other place on the globe. Fashioned in blood-red and brilliant gold, it bears her self-styled legend of Mark the Evangelist, and its six tails flutter and undulate so seductively that it simply cannot be ignored.
Show me any other city, province, satrapy, kingdom, or country, now or at any time in history, represented by a banner as bold, as vivacious, as memorable as this one. Such a place did not and does not exist.
18 March 2008
Kinda blue this rainy morning… I’ve had four days and nights of good, old-fashioned, boy-crazy girl fun with my new friend "L." But right this minute she’s boarding Alilaguna and heading back to Los Angeles. I miss her already!
I was lucky enough to meet "L" (a smart, pretty, funny gypsy) and her Venetian buddy "A" shortly after I arrived here last September. She was on her way back to the States that day, too. It was the magic of Venice, I’m certain. What are the chances two women with so much in common would connect in such a brief period of time? – I was ordering my coffee just as she finished hers. We spoke for two minutes. She took my blog address and kept up with me, and finally we met again last week.
What fun! I hadn’t realized how much I was missing the girlfriend routine. I’m talking about non-stop chatter that includes deep spiritual issues and shallow pajama party subjects. And I’m talking about dressing up, going out, and really working the flirtation muscle. "L" has lots of friends here, including a circle of gondolieri (oh my… don’t ask!). We made the rounds of our favorite haunts – we had a ball. Light hearts and lots of laughter.
"L" knows what I know about the gifts La Serenissima bestows on her female acolytes. Like me, she has her heart set on trying full-time residence here. I hope I brought her a little closer to it.
Ciao, Cara! A aprile!
16 March 2008
Here is the Venetian lion that author Jan Morris named “most pathetic” – “an elderly animal…bearing listlessly in his mouth a label inscribed (sic) Labore.” His twin is posted at the front gate and several brothers guard the garden walls of Palazzo Franchetti, perhaps better known as the Instituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ad Arti, near Accademia Bridge. Whether or not they bear inscriptions on their labels, none of them seem any too vivacious. And nearly all of them have lost their bushy tail tips. Can this have been the result of some weird vandalism, or merely a failure in their construction? Who can say?
I do wonder, however, why the curious inscription is in English, and what his maker was expressing about labor by attaching this idea to such a defeated, frail creature.
Think about it on the way to work…
13 March 2008
(Closing line of The Shawshank Redemption)
Recently my friend Craig (yes, that wonderful composer and pianist) came from New York to visit me. Craig knows me very well. He knows my reasons for being here. He knows how I struggle, and why. He knows how much I need this time to grow, to move ahead. It’s possible that I wouldn’t even be here if not for his persistence in keeping me on track to Venice.
One evening while we were enjoying an ombra at Schiavi, he asked to take my picture. He wanted to do this because he noticed something spray-painted on the bridge just over my shoulder. (You see it here.) The visual pairing of girl and graffiti seemed serendipitous to him, far from a coincidence.
But I hate being photographed, and I put up a terrible fuss, so he shut off his camera. Now I wish he hadn’t because he was so right. That brief, red scribble has since become something of a touchstone for me.
I almost always stop at Schiavi if I’m in the neighborhood. I like very well this nice, family-run enoteca, and the nice family that runs it. And now when I stop, I always notice the little one-word anthem, which is at once a noun and an imperative. It lifts my heart because here in aloof, shuttered Venice, it seems like it was somehow intended just for me.
Who, I wonder, would spray-paint that particular word? Who else (whom I may be passing on the street everyday!) knows what I know so well? – that “Hope is a great thing, maybe the best of things.”
I betcha anything that hopeful scribbler is another Shawshank fan.
10 March 2008
Venetians have an expression: Aqua turbia no fa specio.
"Turbulent water does not make a mirror."
Metaphorically speaking, the waters have been turbulent for me lately. I have been wishing for a long gaze into a fine, tranquil mirror, to see just who I am becoming as I near the halfway point of my stay here. There are certain things we learn about ourselves only from the reflection in another’s eyes, only from what echoes back to us when we search and inquire, “Mirror, mirror…?“
When I planned this year away from home, I insisted that all but one of my usual mirrors stay away from Venice and permit me the solitude I need in this introspective and transformative period. They have respected my wish with grace, for the most part, even when they could not fully understand it. This edict meant that I would be missing an important kind of input for more than a year. A very particular disadvantage, but a necessary sacrifice for the experience I needed. I had decided I would simply do without until returning to New York.
In fact, though, I came upon a surprisingly good mirror last autumn. Clear and deep, it was. It showed me an image of myself that thrilled and excited me. It sometimes answered even before I had inquired, and its answers gave me great satisfaction. I became terribly fond of looking into this mirror, indeed, thought of little else sometimes.
But then it was taken from me, or perhaps I myself broke it. And the serene waters around me became rough, choppy, certainly unsuited to reflecting.
It is fitting that, being female, La Serenissima has long been a city of mirrors. Few people know Venetians perfected the art of mirror-making, and kept that very profitable secret for a long, long time. A calle near San Marco still recalls those respected craftsmen so beloved by women, the spechieri. Venetian courtesans spent small fortunes for artfully-framed and (perhaps more important) precisely-situated mirrors, knowing well the worth of the advantage they could provide. Today even Venice’s cheesiest mask shop offers an opulent, gilded looking-glass to its patrons. And over the centuries, many have remarked upon the mirroring quality of the city’s waters and the occasional acqua alta. Consider this from Theophile Gautier:
“…each palace has a mirror in which to gaze at its beauty, like a coquettish woman.”
So, with all this reflection going on, and in my time of turbulent waters, I wonder why my lady Venice has not restored my lovely mirror to me.
08 March 2008
It’s “Women’s Day” here. Bright yellow mimosa blossoms have popped up everywhere and on everything – even the wrappers of chocolate eggs. City fathers (and, I imagine, mothers) have scheduled all sorts of events to commemorate, promote, and draw attention to the glories of, concerns for, and issues confronted by the fairer sex. Today, just because I’m female, I can attend many interesting lectures and programs and visit a wide range of museums and archives and Goddess-knows-what-else, all for fun and for free. And it’s all about me: “W-O-MAN.”
I hate to spoil the fun here, but I have a couple teeny quibbles with this celebration.
One: Why does 51% of the population merit only a single day of recognition? I really shouldn’t whine – we don’t even have a “Women’s Day” in the U.S. where “women’s lib” first reared its lovely head (and burned its bra!).
Two: In this post-liberation world, why do I so rarely feel any hint of the spirit of sisterhood from le donne Veneziane? Most of the women here seem to belong to the “every gal for herself” school. All too often I have felt the chill they exude to me, to other foreign women, and even to one another. Their snubs are usually so obvious, so high-schoolish that they’re laughable. Let’s just say I won’t hold my breath waiting for any of them to become my friend.
But no hard feelings, ragazze! I wish the same for you as I wish for myself today – freedom, health, comfort, fulfillment, and satisfaction, whatever your life choices may be. I wish all of you a very Happy Women’s Day.
06 March 2008
What great fun! Tonight the partners of my favorite restaurant, Enoteca San Marco (and the best-looking guys in town), opened a second restaurant. Actually, they re-opened a landmark osteria on the Erberia: Bancogiro.
Only a couple of years ago this area behind Rialto Bridge was my best Venetian secret – a string of really good restaurants with lots of outdoor seating right on the Grand Canal. It was easy to get a table and while away the afternoon with some great chow and some interesting people. But the secret got out (some of that was my fault) and it has become more and more difficult to elbow in here, especially on a warm day. If I’m any judge, it will only get worse with these guys around.
I cannot possibly oversell the restaurant experience they offer at Enoteca San Marco. My jaded palate is always amazed by everything that comes out of that itty-bitty kitchen. Their menu is sophisticated and innovative, their ingredients always super-fresh and very special. And the service is top-notch – knowledgeable and attentive without being stiff or snooty. Others I have sent to the restaurant report back the same. As for me, I always feel like a pampered princess there.
At Bancogiro they have a much larger kitchen, and a vaulted dining room overlooking the Canal. In candlelight it just oozes history and romance. I haven’t seen the new menu yet, but I’m certain it will reflect their admirable standards. My friends are sure to make a fortune here. And the Erberia is bound to be even more crowded now. Rats!
Oh well… If I had to lose my secret spot, I can’t think of anyone I would rather see profit from it.
Buona Fortuna, ragazzi!
04 March 2008
Since the first of the year I have been haunted by occasional insomnia. (Check the time of this very post.) My vampire nights begin almost exactly at 3:00 a.m. My eyes pop open and dozens of all-too-familiar thoughts come flooding in, and then I’m wide awake.
For a brief moment, I always have the stupid idea that I can get back to sleep – it never happens. Usually I just get up and work on something in the studio. Or else I dress and take myself out. Sometimes it’s a solitary passeggiata through the Piazza, sometimes a Grand Canal ride on the “N” (for notte) line. At least the latter offers me the sight of two other people – the vaporetto conductors.
Those of you who think Venice is entirely too crowded should really see it about 3:30 or 4:00 a.m. It’s a ghost town.
01 March 2008
No, I did not leap off the vaporetto and tumble into the aqua depths of the Bacino (a strange, almost erotic, recurring fantasy I have shared with a few of you).
Instead I thought of Eleanor Roosevelt’s wise advice: “Do something that scares you every day.” (Such a smart dame!) So I did. Armed with nothing but nerve, I visited some small galleries and I asked what steps I must take to present my work for their consideration. Simple. But scary.
Guess what… No one threw me out. No one laughed, no one looked suspicious, no one sneered. I was taken quite seriously. And I gathered some useful information that will help me prepare for the next step on this terrifying journey.
Looking at my materials and works-in-progress here on my dining table, I already know I am a little closer to my goal. I believe it will be easier to walk through those or any other gallery doors next time.
The moral of my Leap Day story is this: whatever it is your soul needs to do but you keep putting off until next week (next month, next year…), whether out of fear, or shortage of entitlement or resources, or plain old lack of time, do it now. Just do it. Do it without the money you think you must save first. Do it even if you don’t have everything ready and in place. Do it clumsily if that’s the best you can manage. Do it secretly if you must. But do it now.
I’m sure my friend Alan would say the same. So would Eleanor.
Do it. Leap!
(I thank you for all you did for me, Neighbor #1, including this. It was great fun being Neighbor #2. Rest in peace.)