20 September 2008

Jeremy’s Book Club

Back in July when I went to dinner with the cast and crew of Death in Venice, I met a woman who offered me entry to a regular Sunday evening gathering of English-speaking expats. It’s called “Jeremy’s Book Club,” but I think that’s only because the host is so generous with his vast library of books, magazines, DVDs, and CDs. It’s strictly honor system. Guests carry out and return armloads of English-language entertainment every week. (Again, it’s not right to show the location, but I can let you see this pretty bas relief in the neighborhood.)

Conducted in Jeremy’s very personal, very English sitting room, I would say Book Club is really more of a salon. We – writers, artists, performers, professors, business people, professionals, past residents, and out-of-towners – certainly do not study any books together. Rather, we talk about a wide variety of subjects, and especially about Venetians and life in Venice, over tea and biscuits. There’s even a spoiled spaniel, sniffing at the coffee table for stray cake crumbs while we chat.

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed Book Club the first time I went. I had been getting by on occasional visits from friends and a few Venetian relationships that were a bit thin, due in part to the language barrier and in part to the closed nature of Venetian culture. I was hungry, I suppose, for real conversation without the struggle of constant translation into Italian. I was longing to be heard, understood, and (with luck!) appreciated for my commentary instead of my conjugation.

I find it quite refreshing to join the circle at Jeremy’s. For one thing, I get to renew my gratitude for my madrelingua (mother tongue) – I see how well this precious tool serves me. For another, I always learn something from the bright people there, and I always laugh. I’m building some interesting friendships, too. But here’s an odd question: why do you suppose I always feel just a hint of guilt, just a tiny bit lazy, just a slight sense of having undone something when I come away from Book Club? Why do you suppose I haven’t yet mentioned it to any of my Venetian friends?