10 March 2008

Mirror, mirror

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.