I arrived in Venice three day ago. It is fantastic here – truly bellissima. The apartment is great, too, very big. I moved into my room today – Louisa and Charlie, a friend from Princeton who is here visiting have gone away for a week of travels in Italy, to Florence, etc. We three had a great time last night and went to El Souk, the Discoteca of Venezia and danced and drank up a store – it was really fun. Interesting, too – all the men watched themselves in the mirrors – very consistently.
Today I went to visit San Marco for the first time – God, it was so impressive. I could see from the water at the front of the Basilica that “acqua alta” is not joke. It really does get deep and puddles are a given.
Took it easy the rest of the day, and moved, etc. Tonight I took a walk around Venice with my map, but without looking at it once. In a way, it was also a test for myself. I find myself becoming increasingly reticent to make contact with people on the street – there is an expectation that I will be approached by someone only interested in coming on to me. I’m concerned about this rather egotistical paranoia, but the truth is, they do come on…a lot. Boring to write about and read, Els. (Especially thirty years later)
I found a really soothing spot tonight – on the Fondamento Nouve, right on the back end of the Hospitale Civile, there is bridge under which boats can pass to make deliveries at the hospital – thus, there was an interior, hollow lapping sound that was almost chilling, combined with the all encompassing exterior sound of the water off the island. And the lights of the boats drilled across the murky night – oh, so great! A mist that cooled me off. It will take time to make Venice my home, but the physical plant is so beautiful. I’ve never been in a more beautiful city.
Oct. 27, 1982
Yesterday I found the Palazzo Fortuny
and the Cecil Beaton retrospective ’22-71. He really had an extraordinary sense of appropriate images and his choice of subject and paper, etc. It was fascinating to see his concern with opulence and fabric in the thirties when such consciousness would almost have been sacrilege. His Modella Russa was absolutely exquisite – very much like Fred Sommer’s collages. His dramatic control of light, and his appraisal of contrasts of light and dark fabrics/grounds are truly amazing. One photo of Audrey Hepburn where the actress, dressed in black, was in front of a brown wall and held up her pallid white hand in a gesture of halting the viewer from coming closer – a guarded gesture – really beautiful contrast of the hand against the wall.
Julie, the American across the court came over for coffee today, and we went to see a Groucho Marx movie and then I had dinner at her house with her husband, Paolo – wild arrangement – she speaks English, he Italian – and never the twain shall meet. It’s ok, they both seem to understand – neither is at a disadvantage. More tomorrow.
Oct. 28, 1982
The hardest thing about adapting to life here in Venice is this sense of busyness I have culled all my life, and the fear of lethargy which is pervasive these days. It would be easy for me to spend all my afternoons with Julie, but in doing so, that would allow her to speak when we meet people, and while I’m hearing Italian spoken, I would not be speaking. I also need a project. Learn Italian – why is it when I have this opportunity I am so afraid of speaking, of knowing how to speak.
Nov. 2, 1982
Susan Smith called last night and it was a true lifter of a call – to know Bob and Bill and MWM are thinking about me. She said she thinks MWM is making plans to come over!!
Anyway, I was inspired, and today I spoke only Italian, at the market and in the shops; even bought a Gazzetino, and read it!
Tomorrow I meet with Philip Rylands at the Guggenheim, and I don’t even have my letter of introduction from Peter Bunnell. Oh hell. I wonder what there would even be for me to do at the collection.
Sunday, Julie & I went to the Lido and rented bicycles and tooled around. It was beautiful, the fog was lounging over the Laguna, and it was impossible to see from the Lido to Venice.
(Had we been able to see this is what we might have seen)
I bought notebooks today to begin my “project” – recording poetic observations viz. art in Venice. The opening is a poem about one of the Cecil Beaton photographs from the retrospective 1922-1971 at the Palazzo Fortuny. I think it’s weak at best, but it will provide a framework for my writing. I need an “advisor” to keep on my tail about it. Hmmm. “Phil?” Anyway, I’m babbling.
Nov. 8, 1982 (Written in red ink on a white folding stationery) Return address:
c/o L. Gallavresi
To: Bob Stern
55 Park Place
Princeton, NJ 08540
These are my red Ruskin letters. (This means I just wrote one to MWM, in which I also quoted Ruskin.) For you, I found a great passage on the virtues of architecture:
“…we take pleasure or should take pleasure in architectural construction altogether as the manifestation of an admirable human intelligence; it is not the strength not the size, not the finish of the work which we are to venerate: rocks are always stronger, mountains always larger, all natural objects more finished; but it is the intelligence and resolution of man in overcoming physical difficulty which are to be the source of our pleasure and subject of our praise. And again, in decoration or beauty, it is less the actual loveliness of the thing produced, than the choice and invention concerned in the production, which are to delight us, the love and the thoughts of the workman than his work. His work must always be imperfect, but his thoughts and affections may be true and deep.”
Stones of Venice, App. 7.
Found that and I thought of you, because it not only applies to you as architect, but Bob the doer and builder of beautiful things, whether they be prints, sets, or relationships. I love you very dearly, Bob.
Susan called two nights ago and raised my spirits to their peaks! She also sent me a letter that I got yesterday. She sounds as though McCarter agrees with her and her home in Hopewell sounds lovely, too. Have you seen it? She told me about her new “friend” Gary. I am so glad she met someone nice and close to Princeton! Long distance with John didn’t seem to work too well.
I met Philip Rylands, had of the Guggenheim collection here in Venice, and he told me there might be things for me to do for visiting American scholars, the end of November. Also, he might use me as a babysitter for his 16-month-old son. “My wife is going absolutely mad,” he said. Very stuffy young Brit.
I cleaned the whole fucking apartment today, down to the tiles, which are the floors for the whole place – white tiles, which show all. Tonight I am making Gnocchi Verdi, and after trying to explain to the hardware store man what I wanted was ‘cheesecloth” –“la stoffa che e poroso per prosciugare l’acqua del formaggio, etc. etc.,” he told me they don’t use it here in Venezia. Well my next stop was the cheese store, and sure ‘nuf, the ricotta was so solid it didn’t need to be drained. Lesson 3 in living day to day in a foreign country where you don’t know the idiotic colloquial expressions…yet. I am really improving. My cheese man told me “parla bene l’italiano.” Flattery, flattery…
Tell Bill I say hello and give him a loud succulent smack for me. Talking to Susan made me feel so much closer to y’all there!
Louisa is away lots, but we have a great time when she is here. The neighborhood kids are little hoods, and I am sitting in the kitchen listening to Brahms and the sound of their little toys being hurled all over the Goddamned courtyard. Ah the bliss of urbanity. Now the little fuckers are pounding on my window. Excuse me while I get my shotgun.
Love to MWM. But you two take care….xoxo Els