The Hummingbird Chronicles- Torpor

This morning I awoke before it was light out. I have been attending a spin class three times a week, at 7:15 and I wake up early enough to read the papers and have a pot of tea before I trudge to the gym.

Last night, I had filled the feeder at the far end of the balcony with all that was left of the sugar water, then I had made some more before going to bed. So this morning I dashed outside to get the feeder to refill it while the kettle heated and was startled to see a hummingbird sleeping on the rail of the feeder. His bill was pointed upward, his neck had retreated into his body, the shape of a cotton ball with a toothpick pointing straight up. I had read about the state of torpor that the hummingbirds, but had never witnessed it first hand. It was thrilling, and I moved to within about a foot of the feeder, watching his tiny chest heaving up and down.

Ten minutes or so later when the light was brighter outside, I peeked out and saw that he had woken and gone.

The building rises steadily outside of our window. Our view of the Los Angeles skyline has always featured the US bank building but now just the crest of the building is still visible, and probably only for another week or so until they add the next floor.

I did make it to the class at 7:15, but was overcome with such torpor that my little legs weren’t getting me up the hills or over the jumps or even through the sprints. In my mind I was crouched on the railing of the feeder, like a little cotton ball bird.  Well, hopefully I will do better on Wednesday!

Letters from Venice XV – Final entry from 1983

July 24, 1983

So much time has passed. I am moved into my new apartment, in Campo Santo Stephano. santostefano3

Bob is here, and we are having a very active and undirected summer.

Our biggest social event of the past two weeks was the Festa del Redentore, to which we were escorted by the gang from Paradiso Perduto, cook Maurizio, waitress Francesca, and we went in their huge boat/barge into the basina to watch the fireworks shot off above S. Marco – it was fabulous – the boat all decked out with ivy and a pergola with paper lanters which were lit and spent as desired. The fireworks were masterful –never had I seen such diversity and elegance in fireworks – one would wish that the MX missile could be replaced by such a race – could you imagine an arms race of fireworks – who could create the most beautiful light! Festa Del Redentore

Then off to the Lido where there was dancing until dawn. Fell asleep on the beach with Pierre Giorgio, a friend from NE of Venice. Sandy McCaw was down and so we had a great time.

(Get Bob to help fill in the details of this night – really wild chases of Sandy by this Venetian who wanted her madly. We ran giggling all over town to escape his advances.

The Feste della Madonna della Salute is preceded by the construction of an enormous temporary bridge over the grand canal from near San Marco to the Salute). It was quite a feat of engineering, the legs of the bridge resting on barges in the Grand Canal.

Festa Della Madonna della SaluteBridge for Festa della Madonna della Salute

August 8, 1983

Just returned from a week in Switzerland at the International video Festival, an incredible experience. We stayed in barracks-type accommodations (all paid) in a Hotel that resembles one of the war summer retreats for wives and kids – fold down 50’s ashtrays in the bathrooms, etc. It was a fascinating festival – merging in a conference of video art (concorso between seven or eight European countries, USA, Canada), a presentation of recent advances in computer manipulated graphics; and all that’s new in the world of video pinball and video discs from Atari. Our NYU group, led by Angela Churchill, Philip Rylands and Dottessa Marangoni,  was busy trying to put together a video tape to present to the conference, which we did, but we were so busy we missed much of the conference and concourso.

Villa Favorita 2 Villa Favorita LuganoOther highlights in the week included a trip to Lugano to the Villa Favorita, where the Leningrad collection was visiting – Matisses’ Red Table and the painting of the stool infront of the infamous bathers – it was a real orgy of paintings, Cezanne, Gauguin, etc. On the way back from Switzerland, then there was a stop in Varese to see Count Panza di Biume’s villa, La Villa Menafoglio Litta Panza

Count Panza di Biumowhich is jam-packed with contemporary installations from Dan Flavin light pieces – an entire corridor with six adjoining rooms of  varying “moods” Dan FlavinDan Flavin 2and Sol Lewitt penciled walls in many of the corridors and main salas, an incredible installation by Mary Nordman, who has created a black box with optical effects and the most exaggerated echo effects I’ve ever heard – I stayed in there for close to ½ hour, singing and playing with sound – others who were equally in tune with my excitement shared the experience with me – really a mind-blower. The whole week was one of the most significant for me since I’ve arrived in Europe. Video really turned me on – that it could be accessible to me too, was very exciting.

Saw Pierre Giorgio before he went on vacation in the Pyrenees. He’s a very sweet man – a bit like a bear, but very gentle. Architect from Cividale, north of Trieste, almost on the Yugoslavian border – I look forward to seeing him in late August and September through December. Enough for now – a quite quiet evening at home. Began working at the Guggenheim today – saw too many people without real contact – tomorrow must throw myself in a little more. X0x0

(This is the last entry in this journal. I returned to the US in late September of 1983).

Lucky Chris – Part 3

This morning in the Los Angeles Times, there was the story of a homeless man in South L.A. who had passed away in the previous week (by Sandy Banks).,0,3334246.column#axzz2rUQNkOT3

I thought about how quickly this man had spiraled from relative security, living in his own apartment to living for a decade on a street and dying homeless. Nevertheless, the article was  successful at shattering the anonymity of the homeless – that indeed, in spite of the current situation in which he found himself, he had developed caring and charismatic relationships with many people in that neighborhood. But no matter how much people looked forward to seeing him, he still stayed on the street and died on the street.

It made me remember the time in our son Chris’ life when he was just out of high school and took a job as a security guard in the Macy’s Plaza office tower in downtown LA. He worked the night shift, and on his patrol, he encountered many homeless people around the building. His job, of course, was to move them along, to discourage them from loitering around the building. But what he did instead so moved me. He didn’t exactly befriend them, but he talked with them and always interested in their histories, he gave them a few dollars, or took them some old clothes in a bag from home, and brought their stories home to us in the morning when he returned, exhausted, in the early hours.

I remembered, too, how my  well-educated, financially secure and sophisticated mother, late in her life became obsessed with the notion that she might become a bag lady. It was incomprehensible to me where this idea came from, but I think the fear of that end sometimes fueled her long hours as a journalist.

Recently Chris moved out of the crazy peoples’ house that he lived in for two months until the landlord lost it and went after the other roommate with a knife. I urged him to move out before the end of his paid up month had passed.  It occurred to me that I was encouraging him to become homeless, but he has returned to live on his uncle’s fishing boat, where he will be working next year. The life of a fisherman is about as economically mercurial as any profession, and Fisherman’s Wharf is a hub for homeless and destitute people. It saddens me that the city in which my son has chosen to live and work has virtually no housing for low income people. That he basically has to sleep in his office in a sleeping bag in order to make a living as a deck hand. Doesn’t seem right, does it?

Letters from Venice – Part XIV

Letter to Bob Stern

Dated May 3, 1983

Dear Bob,

Enough time has passed without correspondence from these quarters! I am on the #1 (Vaporetto to and from the Lido) coming back from a glorious 3 hours of sun on the Lido, and thought of making the trip again with you this summer.

I am working on finding an apartment for you, MWM & me or I think there might be a space (only 1) at S.Stae. I’ll talk to Carl tonight about it.

(Letter switches to typed)

Now I am at work at the Venice Committee and as per normale, there isn’t enough work to keep me occupied. Carl didn’t come back last night in time to come to dinner with Alberto and Dida, so I will see him today.  My Dad and Joan arrive in less than 4 days, and I am getting pretty excited about their visit.

Now the Scuala Grande is filled with the beautiful sound of the voice of Eleanora’s sister, who is going to give a concert here on Saturday night. Do you remember Eleanora from the night that we went to Archimboldo’s? Her sister looks exactly like her. But god can she warble!

The future bodes well, Bob. I will go tonight to try to find Philip Ryland to talk with him about a possible job at the Guggenheim next year, because there is talk that his secretary might be leaving, and that would be a great paying job, as well as steady. Who knows what could happen in Paris – For the first time in my life, I don’t feel like hurrying into the harness. I think that for me is a lesson well learned. It may seem like an excuse for not pursuing work in the theatre, but I figure that any experience like learning Italian and working at a job that demands constant bilingualism can only help to any extent of expression. (that sentence didn8t [sic] mean anything, did you notice? I wrote ext and had to complete the word. How pigra…)

By now you have heard from RISD and have had to make what sounded like a not too difficult decision to go to Yale.

I was struck by your mentioning that Susan had called me and hadn’t gotten much out of me. I feel I guess a little defensive when she called because I have so many distorted feelings about my decisions to stay, and I want to tell her what I am doing in the realm of romance, but like Venice, Princeton and the theatre community seems hungry for details (not that I flatter myself as having a private grapevine with various succulent tendrils curling around my news) but for example, this thing with Alberto is really nice, but I know that when MWM comes, I will immediately transfer my attentions back to him, and I would prefer that he not know about Alberto until I can explain it to him face to face, you know? Because I would hate to think that it would affect his decision on how long to stay, etc. It wouldn’t be fair for him to hear it third hand. Do you think that I am being cavalier or careless? I don’t flatter myself either to think that he hasn’t had a lot of girlfriends this year, but I would feel bad to hear that he had had someone relatively steady, because I know how easy and natural it is to transfer affections to someone you see everyday…worse, or more fear provoking is the idea of falling in love –something I am fascinated by as an idea. By all rights I should be in love with Alberto – I’m not. Bob, thank you for receiving this letter and ‘being’ with me—I assume your eyes are still following along… Enough on the romantic front. Tonight there is a dinner party/birthday party for Massimo, Felicia’s new romantic interest. It will be all Italian…. Oh fear in my heart. I feel as though I am on a plateau after which I can’t improve unless I study. And I don’t know where my concentration has gone in that realm. It’s really awful. I did just read a fascinating book that was somewhat related to my thesis, called Sherwood Anderson in Paris, 1921. It would have radically transformed my thesis had I read it last year, because here was this prototypical American writer whose one American novel, Winesburg Ohio, I held up as a relic of worship to the American painters. When in fact I discovered in reading this book, that he was quite negative on America at least while in Paris, and criticized the very things I had thought him to venerate…Alas. Anyway. It was a fascinating read.

I am going to sign off now so that I can play the piano a little before I leave the Venice Committee and so that I can mail you this dangerous epistle before tomorrow. Bob, so soon I want to see you again. Please promise me that you will come and bring MWM with you…. All my love and baccii


From a folded piece of unlined paper, with a passport style photo attached with scotch tape:

“I am presently living in Venice. Having studied Alfred Steiglitz as collector and curator I am interested in spending a month with the collection of another Europhile who in contrast to Steiglitz chose Europe to house her collecting and collection. In doing so I hope to know better that personality which embraces and harbors creative persons. Did stylistic homogeneity exist between the artists chosen or where personal politics equally important in shaping Steiglitz’s and Guggenheim’s collections?

Guggenheim application, May 6, 1983

May 20, 1983

MiraHad another great trip in a rental car with Dad and Joan after they had been in Venice from May 8-12. Ate at Arcimbaldo, Montin, Da Bepe, Paradiso Perduto and a great lunch in the country at Mira, at a place called Nanin, which Alberto took us to. We spent a beautiful day in Padova before lunch, followed by an afternoon in Vicenza.


But Tuscany’s hills are incredible. I was transported to dreams of Tuscan farm life and the hill towns of San Gimignano

San Gimignano

and Gaiola in Coltibuono were history realized – this is the spot to which Cosimo and all the other Medicies carried their contemplation and villa-solitude.

Gaiola in Coltibuono

Fiesole near Florence

Florence is another story all together. Had a good time with Amy, Julie and Carrie (Cousins)- one night for Pizza at Fiesole and the birthday party amidst the low wooden-beamed dining room and three communion dinners which surrounded us. But the air is thick with fumes and I realized by my absence from Venice how much an American abroad I am – an uncomfortable feeling at best.

Yesterday at the Lido my necklace from MWM snapped off and fell under the boards in front of the Hotel des Bains  (site of Thomas Mann’s novel, “Death in Venice”)– I take it as an omen – and await his news. I had a man with a mask and snorkel search for 15 minutes under the dock, without success. It was pretty upsetting.

May 27, 1982 Friday

MWM arrives Sunday AM in London and comes south immediately. These days have been very hectic and busy with the group from America, some of which are really charming. Louisa lectured today on Titian and Belini (in the Frari) and the group swooned with her capacity to extend information generously and intriguingly.

My lesson for the week is learning to live in the present and not planning too far ahead without consulting the parties involved and listening to my own real feelings, not what my ideas are of what my feelings should be.

Have taken an apartment until December 1 here between S. Angelo and Santo Stefano – three people – Bob, MWM, and I. After eight months, I am quite nervous about seeing MWM again.

June 16, 1982

About to embark on our trip south to Tropea – three weeks after my work started as assistant – MWM has arrived and with him has come my very real awareness of how much I have changed over these nine months away. Not to say he has not – he has a great deal, and I feel a certain sadness at having lost we had in Princeton – that period of my life, our lives, in which we fulfilled each others needs and still do to a certain extent.

I am immensely looking forward to experiencing this fall working and living alone in Venice – without constraints of Anna – to better know myself? To organize my search for jobs in San Francisco, which becomes daily my homing instinct.

June 20, 1983

Tropea Tropea2

Tropea is all I imagined a tropical resort to be. The beach is wide and white, surrounded by river worn cliffs rivaling Dover in beauty – riddled with “windows” and capitals of sandstone. Lizards scuttle up their sides as I vicariously explore the watery passages of Calabrias land walls. The first day was beautiful, the second rainy – three days with just Enrico & Juditta & MWM– now Antonella, Gigi and Valentina have arrived. A bit “in casino.” (chaotic) Yesterday I went snorkeling for the first time and discovered an entirely new world under water –schools of neons and lonely lemon perch pick at the coral-studded bottom which is banded into alternative reefs and h ighway sized sand bars. The water is clean and blue azure turquoise and any other color of blue you could imagine. Paradise on earth. I think of Mirano a great deal – am reading E.M. Forster – ingénues in Europe – learning the ways of culture and love as well as “Passage to India” an incredibly powerful book on colonialism in India.

June 21, 1983

I have decided to go to Lisbon to meet Mom and Nana and Grandad. It is a two day trip by train, through Italy vial Milano to spain, then on local rails to Lisbon. Should be quite an adventure, never having seen Spain or Portugal. A little crazy also.

(My handwriting is really wobbly here. I remember desperately wanting to escape from MWM and my discomfort at the distance between us. He was having a nice time with my friends, but I was a basket case.)

June 22, 1982  In Train on Way to Lisbon.

Maybe Tropea was just a little too perfect? The company was fabulous, food great, weather fair to good. But when I decided to pick up and go to Lisbon, I got a rush akin to the one I had leaving Lee and Bob in Florence last fall – frightened of the unknown but knowing that the end of the voyage was worth it. Part of what drove me from Tropea, too, was the placidity of relations with MWM – I have realized in the past few days/weeks how much difficulty we would have were we to stay together – we never discuss things- I find myself holding back from him and never initiate conversation  out of anything other than fear of the lack of both.  I called Alberto twice from Tropea, once to hear his voice, once to try to get him to come to Lisbon. The second time he asked me why I was going alone – had MWM and I fought? Magari, I responded (Would that we had)., And as I drove off on the train last night, he stood solidly on the platform, and I knew, and I think he knew, for he’s no idiot – that things were not the same anymore. I feel too argumentative. No, we’re not tight! I wanted to say the other night when I tried to talk with him about the passion lacking. All the time I am speeding through fields of red poppies towards a city which beckons me like Oz, not because my grandparents and mother are there, but because I want to know more now about that part of the world is and what Alberto knows and loves – I’m making the same mistake again. I’m reading “Ten Little Indians” and in spite of its debatable value as a dramatic work, I’m seeing myself acting, or setting props for it. How much longer shall I deny myself the joy of theatre? It’s really crazy. I’m also reading too much E.M. Forster, whose spineless heroines, or rather heart-motorized characters find themselves in similar situations to mine, footloose and searching for meaning for themselves.

I am looking forward to my new life this summer – I begin working Monday morning at 10:00AM, returning to Venice from London how? Bo (Venetian dialect for I don’t know) My new apartment awaits – MWM goes off to Geneva, Bob arrives and Alberto waits to discover his bisexuality via a pair of American best friends. Ah, another entry of immortal words. Believe 80% of it for now, Els.

Later – speeding toward Venice!!!!!

I am so incredibly burned up – after disappointment, anger, tears and humiliation, I have given up getting to Lisbon by Saturday – it was not physically possible given the misinformation that that cretin in Tropea gave me – 150,000 lire later. What bothers me most I think is that I cried in Milan when he told me I couldn’t get to Lisbon – in front of about 20 people and later, balled my eyes out at the next desk. Can’t reach Louisa in Venice , who must be out of town, so have to go directly to S. Stae- bad timing. I’m just so disappointed, and I know how disappointed Mom will be when she hears I had come ½ way to see them. And the pisser is that now I’m stuck in Venice during my one week of vacation without money. Christ, what a drag. MWM and Enrico & Juditta, Antonella, Gigi and Valentina all at Tropea. AARGH!

Letters from Venice – Part XIII

March 6, 1983

A fantastic week. I have finally come out of hibernation. February is lethal for me – some people have menstrual cycles which debilitate them for 5 days per month – I have February. Unbelievable – in the future, I will plan my life to take me on vacation in February to southern sunny climes! Saw Pat Methany in concert Friday night – fantastic. My adventure in Mestre – went alone, met some great people in trying to get back to Venice. But the concert was incredible. Lyle Mais, his pianist, is a genius. Truly and the concert felt structured rather like a church service with “As Falls Witcheta Falls so Witcheta Falls Falls” – a powerful sermon of destruction and fear of imminent war, with sound effects of choppers and sounds I’ve never heard coming from a guitar, all followed by the recessional music, then another ½ hour of fabulously optimistic music – he truly brings joy to his audience members.

Thursday night saw “Io, Bertolt Brecht” with Giorgio Straler and Milva, who sang “Surabaya Johnny” in the most powerful rendition I’ve yet seen. Wow. Talk about flashbacks.

I joined the Canottieri Querini, rowing club and will go Tuesday at 1:00pm to row. I can’t wait; also started running again, and was waxed for the first time – what a trip to see my legs for the first time without hair festoons! I’m on a rush!

5 hour lunch today with Peter, Sam, Ronny, Jim, a new friend who dances with Carol Carlson at the Fenice – last night, Saturday dinner at Montin, then to Jim’s for Lemon Vodka – ouch. Things are picking up.

Still no word from MWM or Bob – distance is a big drag…But I am getting up and spring is coming!

April 4, 1983

Far too long has passed – Bob has come and gone and my life has taken on a whole new tone – while Bob was here, for a week, I started to get to know Carl and Caroline, two Australians and from there my circle has expanded immensely, and I’ve seen some towns outside of Venice – two days ago we drove to Mantegnana, a beautiful 14th century walled city, the only complete remaining wall in Northern Europe? Or even all of Europe. Also went to Este and spent the whole day speaking Italian – great experience – I would so much rather spend my time here with Italians and Italian speakers than with English people – they have a lot more fun, too. Next weekend I am going to the mountains with Carl, Caroline and Albert – that would be great fun. The places where we went the other day were in the Eugenian hills which are incredibly dramatic mounds which rise totally without warning out of the plains and are punctuated with cypress trees and edifices ranging from 17th Century Palazzi to 15th Century Tempietti. The group was fun that went – Carl and Claudio, his “Romano,” Francesca, a student of Chinese at C’Foscari, Albert, a student of critical literature also at Ca’ Foscari. Louisa, Anna, me and Caroline. We went in two cars and swapped places back and forth all day – a very dynamic group.

Bob’s visit last week was fascinating in its effect on me – it woke me up to the truth about working in the US. I’m putting together my resume for job hunting from Venice this spring – thinking , too, of working a few months in Venice at the Guggenheim if it were to work out. Philip Rylands has put me on the top of the waiting list for an internship, and I feel sure it can work out.

Verona NightWent to Verona last week with Frank and Felicia and Anna and met some lovely people , Mariella and Gian Carlo with whom we ate lunch and they showed us around. An incredibly powerful “arena” was the arena worn by centuries of rain and the seated spectators of theatre history.


I hope to go to the mountains with Alberto and Caroline this weekend, which would be fabulous to get away from Venice over night – first time since Christmas in Florence with Mom.

Easter Dinner(s) yesterday began at Casa S. Stae with a boned stuffed chicken created by Caroline, who has now been coined the assassin because of the unfortunately untimely death of Ned Guinness of apparent “food poisoning” two weeks after her arrival asa new cook. We only tease her. Then she and I went on a bar crawl for a few glasses of prosecco and finally ended up on the Zattere where I left Caroline with my buddy Christopher who is back in Venice for Easter – happy bunny…I went on to Carol’s house, expecting our Easter Dinner of duck, but she was sick in bed so we had to return to our house to cook and eat the glorious little duckies with Tom, the German Art Historian. It was a lovely evening, though I drank far too much, comme d’habitude these days. Today was a recuperative day spent in sun and walking all over with Anna, then a two hour nap tonight.

Letter to  Bob Stern

Note: New Address   Patton Ave., Princeton, NJ

Dated April 14, 1983

Dear Bob,

Your fabulous letter (s) came this week and Carl and I met at a torrid [sic]café near the Rialto to exchange news – I missed you so much this week, as I’ve been faced with a number of difficult decision about the future of Els in Europe –I am here at least until the end of August as I’ve accepted a job at the Guggenheim from the first until the 31st and I have a possible apartment in Venice (Sylvano’s house – he’s going to Greece in August) from the middle of July until Aug. 31st. Then I’m thinking of going to Paris, as I have a lead on an apartment there in Sept. It is difficult to plan when I don’t know what Mark’s up to, but I have decided to go ahead and make my own decisions based on my needs and my desires – sounds selfish, perhaps, but what else can one do, given the circumstances?

I am very excited about the possibility of living in Paris – the only thing I would like was a respite to come back to the USA to touch base with my grandparents, as they are getting on in years.

Your plan to come to Venice is divine if it works out. I think I will have this apartment, and of course, there’s Sicily, or maybe a place in Casa St. Stae; I didn’t tell you of the new developments on the Casa St. Stae – I am now involved with  “big” Alberto – Oh what a Peyton place. (Edited by the 54 year old author…)
What a crass letter. You needn’t share it with anyone! Carl kicked his heels up when he got your letter and grinned all afternoon and I’m sure, far into the night!

Louisa and I are having a huge party tonight – billed as a Disco. There are 40 people invited! Oh my God!! (A Frankism)

I’m teaching English now to a Doctor who is going to the states on Sunday for a month or so. Pay’s good but I need to find more jobs!

Zanna-doo went back to school today….:))) Long 2 wk vacation. I love you Bob Stern! Come Back!

April 20, 1983

Peter and Sam Judge to arrive tomorrow, and the household has been a bit strung up lately. I have been getting my resume out to people – called Paris about the Gallerie 55, and Fiona Scanlon seems to be doing a production in September for which I will apply – sent my resume to her as well as to Bob Edgar.

I am not ready to return to the states – talked to MWM on the phone, and per normale, he is hesitant about coming to Europe. As the day approaches I am becoming very nervous that I have put too much expectation on his visit. As I have met people and even fallen in love, how can I assume things will be the same – he is probably looking toward visiting then returning to the states – am I going to return, too? I have taken a job at the Guggenheim in August, I am here at least until then – $600 for working one month, and little prospect for earing money. I gave three English lessons to a Doctor going to the states – it’s good money – I’ll continue to look for positions. Tomorrow I’ll go to a lecture at the Cini Fondazione by American architect Richard Meier – good place to post a notice…Oh…I have to take charge…

Last Thursday, the 14th, Louisa and I had a party of 40ish people – great. Anna made the invitations with me – watercolors. She constantly amazes me with her choice of colors and sense.

May 2, 1983

I can’t believe how fast spring is coming and playing itself out – constant attention given to matters of body, heart and soul. Am seeing quite a bit of Alberto, roommate  of Carl P. He is a student of Spanish & Portuguese literature. We had a great trip around the lagoon on Friday and Saturday on his moto. I think I’m making things complex for myself, but then I always find myself coming back to the issue of fear of doing unexpected things, and risk-taking.

Now have a job for July also at the Guggenheim – rumor has it Philip’s secretary is leaving and that would be the job for me to take. Another year in Venice? Why? Why not if I had a salary and a place of my own…Connie Rusconi was very encouraging – says I should pursue it.

Sherwood Anderson in Paris, 1921:

            There are places that must be seen alone. The exclamations of people terrify, they are like whiplashes on tender flesh. Even intelligent comment is hurtful. Once does not receive the caress of beauty through the intellect. It creeps upon you or flashes down on you like a stroke of lightning. There is the necessity of readjustment, or rebuilding something within. Every new and beautiful thing seen destroys while it seals (heals?) You are a tender, hurt, shattered thing emerging from the womb of some great mother. Silence and solitudet. The sweet, the golden thing. Long after perhaps we shall speak to each other.


Letters from Venice – Part XII

February 9, 1983

Carnival is in full swing, fuller, I guess starting this upcoming weekend. My opening night of Carnivale, I went to a bar with a friend (PB) and the place was jammed full of British students all in costume. There is a life to the streets which is magnetic, and a latent sexuality in every gesture and glance, as well as a playfulness and new liberty to laugh with and at people who pass by “in maschere.” Yesterday I smiled at a woman who was walking by Anna’s school when I was there picking her up, and when we emerged 5 minutes later, she asked me if she could take my picture, and did so several times – she liked my colors, she said – she was from Norway. My face was painted in Mondrian-like swaths of white and red and yellow, with strong vertical and horizontal bars of black. The fact that she wanted to take my photo was  flattering. Went to Bob Morgan’s for dinner last night. You know what I really miss here – are friends who listen, share conversations, ideas themselves. I have met an extraordinary group of talkers. And I’m learning what is interesting to listen to, an invaluable lesson in learning how to talk with people.

Jane R. dropped a bit of a bombshell on me the other day and asked if I would want Connie R’s job as head of the Venice Committee because she is thinking of retiring. It’s a big question – staying would be interesting, especially if MWM were here, but it would do zero for my career and less, I think for my self-image. If I could get a job interning at the Guggenheim, that would be inducement as well…Keep turning it over in my mind…

On Brendon Gill (from letter Feb. 9)

He was trying to draw parallels between New York and Venice, both maritime cities, New York, as of late reclaiming old buildings from decomposure and in the future (predicted Gill in his charmingly blindly optimistic way of glossing over the social evils of NYC for its architectural details of beauty) reclaiming its waterways to return New York to its marine serenity…But as with hearing someone like Buckley or Robert Pincus Whitten, you came away feeling so flattered by Gill’s chumminess and with a sense of being one of the sapient insiders that it took several hours for the sick ‘hangover’ feeling of knowing wherein are born such skills of inclusion and by inevitable contrast exclusion to set in.


February 20, 1983

Today, Anna, Louisa and I went to Burano to see the colorful houses. I have and an invaluable lesson this week both in child care and in working techniques. I know now what it is like to be employed and to have a child at the same time and to have to take responsibility for both without complaining either to your employer or to take it out on your child. Sheila Hale left, though, satisfied with my work, and Anna and I integrated my work into our days via a series of controversies and compromises that I think, left both unscarred.

Burano was beautiful, a tiny-scaled city with houses of a myriad of hues, and  a lace school wherein was displayed the most impressive collection of lace pieces I’ve ever seen.

Lace School Burano

I had a rush today of “I can’t believe I live in Italy’ which has been a long time in coming. Friday night I handed all over to Sheila and then went to pick up PB, my one 25 year-old friend (all the others being a lot older) to go out for a drink and met two other women, one Ruth, from Vienna, the other, Michella, from Venice. Speaking in Italian to people my own age is so much easier and more satisfying. I think I might get Michela’s phone number and invite them over to dinner when Louisa goes to Florence, or some night after she comes back.

Venice Committee tomorrow morning. Connie Rusconi must think I’m truly a flake – last Monday, hysterically, I called to say I wouldn’t come in. Sheila had given me a fit and quite a bawling out that day. I’m learning, living, loving, and lasting! God, I’d love to talk to MWM tonight.

February 24, 1983

Fascinating evening with Sylvano discussing opportunities in theatre here and making things happen – he is really very encouraging, even inspiring, but his comments hit home, too. He spoke of forming a theatre company, but I am so shy of not knowing the arena into which I would be thrusting perhaps an entirely unacceptable organism. One thing I’ve always felt not sure enough is the depth of my theatrical vision. What is my vision beyond providing a secure safe place for directors and actors to perform in- am I no more than a good rallier? Am I willing to know Italian well enough so that no longer is a barrier to my participating fully integrally in the Northern Italian (North American?) Theatre world?

While I am in agreement with Peter Brook that a living theatre is vital (no pun intended) how do we create that living theatre – was anything that I’ve done or seen living? In a sense that profoundly lifted its performers or its audience? Maybe “Patience” but intellectual froth.

Lucky Chris – Part 2

I have on my desk at home a little 2″ x 3″ picture – an adorable full length view of Chris at 2 years, 4 months, or about 1 and 1/2 months after he came to live with us. It was taken just inside the door of our dear friends, Jennifer and Harris’ condo in North Hollywood. It was Thanksgiving day, 1991, and Chris is dressed up. He is wearing adorable red and green checked pants and a bow tie in the matching fabric. He has on a yellow cardigan with shiny brass buttons, and a white button down shirt and white sneakers. Just on his right shoulder, you can see a glimpse of the same red and green plaid fabric in what must have been suspenders. His expression is classic Chris – eyes wide open, direct and impish, his mouth in a gentle smile. His left hand reaches deliberately for the door handle which is just head height, and his eyes say, “Watch me – I’m going to bolt.” Believe me, we were always watching Chris as he told us directly that he was going to bolt. He looks happy and well fed, secure in our love even after so brief a time.


I remember about that time, that he had only eleven words in his vocabulary – ball, jeep (everything vehicular was a jeep), Dad (referring to his foster parent Jim, not his adoptive dad, Jim), dog, cat, and a few other simple words. This would have been one of our earliest social engagements beyond trips to the park, and this adult Thanksgiving dinner with our friends Harris and Jennifer, was not holding Chris’ interest. He was ready to depart as this picture so exactly conveys.

Chris now lives in San Francisco, and works as a fisherman. He continues to surprise and worry and entertain us with the antics of being Chris. Back in early November, Chris told us that he had found a place to live through Craig’s list. He had advertised “Free Fish” because who doesn’t like free anything, as he had written on his Facebook account. He moved into an in-law room in a house in San Francisco with a couple of disabled roommates.
Chris has always been kind and understanding about disabilities or differences in people. He has compassion and yet a good sense of humor about things that are just not fair, right, or on the up and up. He has been pretty clear-eyed about the writer’s benefits of living in this household. He and I constantly joke that “Well, you will get a lot of material out of this episode.”

But in the past few days, he has suffered from the following things which would make anyone question his luckiness:
1) Power went out in his room. He had not lights, TV, computer use, etc.

2) He witnessed the woman of the couple in convulsions on the couch and had to call 911 while her boyfriend sat on the couch next to her eating cookies and doing nothing. She has still not come home from the hospital, leaving her unstable and agressive boyfriend in charge at the house.

3) Hearing loud fighting and shouting the other night from the upstairs kitchen area, Chris popped out onto the stairs to hear the other roommate saying, “Put the knife down.” Police were called and his male landlord ended up at the hospital for psychological examination.

4) While the roommate was gone, Chris called the psych ward at the hospital and was told that his male landlord was in the process of being discharged. Chris went to sit in his car to watch the house to try to assess his own safety, and saw a black van pull into the driveway. His landlord’s brother got out of the van and proceeded to retrieve his belongings from Chris’ downstairs room because “My brother wouldn’t let me get my stuff when he kicked me out three months ago.”

5) Later that night, the landlord returned and Chris awoke in his downstairs room just off the garage to the smell of car fumes. He went out into the garage to find him running the motor of the car in the garage with the door closed. Police were called again and  the landlord was taken away again for observation.

6) Two days later, he has returned home and has begun calling Chris the “n” word, and being otherwise verbally abusive. “GET OUT OF THERE!” I said for the 15th time in two days.

Chris has now packed his clothes and cleaned his room. Metaphorically, he stands at the door, looking back at me and smiling. He has come a long way from that early stance at the door – much has happened to our son, much of it good, much of it not good, much of it life-altering. I suspect this is one of those instances where his life will be altered for the better. There is never a dull moment with our son, that’s for sure. Open the door, son!

Letters from Venice – Part XI

January 12, 1983   On “Over the River and Through the Trees”

Hemingway insists on the dissection of this absolutely dissolute old colonel’s life and this old team mentality of “you can’t love ‘em until they’ve lost a limb’ – it is not (I don’t think) the male chauvanist pigness of the man is man, war is hell party line that bothers me (although evidently it has made a bad impression) so much as the absolute neglect he has exhibited in the development of his other characters, especially the 19-year-od Contessa with whom the Colonel (autobiographically accurate) falls in love. I mean really…she’s a twit. He has this one love scene in a moving gondola that is a mix between those trite cinematic effects of trains going through tunnels at the climax of a love scene and a bad translation of an Italian “Joy of Sex” manual. You should read it after  you’ve been in Venice – nothing else could possibly warrant its digestion save familiarity.

The Poison Pen

Letter to Bob

Dated January 18, 1983 (the day after my 23rd birthday)

Dear Bob,

It was so fantastic to talk with you this afternoon (morning for you!) What a birthday present! And did I mope this afternoon after? No, I wrote a letter to Caroline, slept a ½ hour, and then took a walk in the dusk to deliver a note for Louisa. I saw everything through “Bob” eyes! The news that you could arrive in a month has greatly livened me up! It was very warm today and though’ the fog had receded by this afternoon; the Venetian gray winter doesn’t seem to let up.

As a treat, I must tell you about my birthday luncheon. My friends James and Verena invited me to pranzare at their apartment, which is an entire floor of a palazzo overlooking a campo that overlooks the Grand Canal, a lovely place. They had invited this professor named Bernard Hickey, who is Australian and teaches at the University of Venice, which is called Ca’ Foscari. Anyway, he is absolutely cherubic and after several glasses of Chianti, he was chirping about how lovely birthday parties are, etc. Really very funny little man, with white hair and a very Australian accent – he reminded me of a character from Alice in Wonderland at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. Anyway, nor was I feeling any pain, and was explaining what I thought about this love scene from Hemingway’s “Over the River and Into the Trees”, waved my arm over the table, spilling my wine, which hurled across onto Professor Hickey’s front – at which point he chortled,

“Oh, what fun! Now it’s really a party! Thank you my dear – you’ve really made it a party!” In all sincerity! He really wasn’t being facetious! His point was that I had spilled first, letting everyone else know that it was OK to spill, much to the chagrin of the hostess, who on command produced a patch of exactly the same material as the original cloth and undid my social gaff – It was quite riotous…

So passed my birthday luncheon – the dinner was a bit tamer – but all in all, quite a fun day! Followed by your great call – I stay tuned for more details on your sojourn – it would please me to no end –infinitely. It is lovely in Venice in the winter!

Awaiting your loving letters…and missing you, Bobbino…

Love, Els xoxox

January 19, 1983

Had a wonderful birthday – James and Verena invited me over to their house for lunch, with Bob Morgan and Bernard Hickey, then picked up Anna and went to visit Jane Rylands – had had quite a bit to drink at lunch. Dinner at Montin’s with Louisa, Anna & Ronnie, as well as the Ostrows (Steven’s folks) Bob and Bill called yesterday to wish me Happy Birthday. Today I spent about two days with Bob Morgan, who is a twenty-year-old forty-year-old. He is consumed by negativity and these bad experiences of people seem to plague him – is my naivete just revolting or what? I think I’m getting carried away with this Henry James novel. Of course Miss Archer is an appealing character to relate to and just my age…Meeting such characters as Bernard Hickey (Mad Hatter) is enough to make one romanticize in the style of James. He just chortled all over at lunch. Really funny guy.

January 23, 1983

Big events yesterday included buying a black woolen long cape and going to Italian Theatre for the first time. The theatre was very bizarre, heighted by quasi-comprehension and wondering whether its all female cast and thus sexual undertones were supposed to be shocking or not. They were not.

Yesterday was also the opening of a show called “New Drawings in America” at Ca Pesaro, to which Anna and I went. Really some bad stuff – one full painting of glitter – Sunset at Lake George. Bob Morgan’s birthday, so I bought him a little glass beetle for his garden for good luck. It’s hard to believe he is 40 years old. He seems much younger than, say, Bob Stern or Mark – really projects a great deal of negative feedback on people. But when he spills his guts, so to speak, he is interesting. I am fascinated by the variety of things he has done – talked today about his New York shows (he’s a painter) and how he got his first show by going around to about 30-40 galleries with his box of 10 slides. Ivan Karp at OK Harris told him some places he should go and one of these told him if he could get together thirty paintings of the quality of his slides, he could get a show that September. Which he did. It must be almost worse than auditioning!

I learned today from Ronnie Katzenstein, that there is in Vicenza a foreign-American oasis, in the military base. There they use American money, have satellite phone systems which cost like local calls within the states, have beamed over American TV, and can fly anywhere in the world for $10. I could go to the US for $10 if I were in the military –unfucking believable. I guess that’s why the military budgets are so grossly out of proportion. It really makes one blench, though.  Listening to T.S. Elliot. It is great:

In an old house

            There is always listening

            And more is heard than is spoken

            And what is spoken remains in the

            Room waiting for the Future to hear it.

            And whatever happens began in the past

            And presses hard on the future.

            The agony in the curtained bedroom

            Whether of birth or of dying

            Gathers in to itself all the voices of the past, projects them into the future.

            The Treble voices on the lawn

            The mowing of hay in the summer,

            The Dogs and the old Pony

            The stumble and the wail of little pain

            The chopping of wood in autumn

            And the singing in the kitchen

            And the steps at night in the corridor

            The moment of sudden loathing

            And the season of stifled sorrow

            The whisper, the transparent deception,

            The keeping up of appearances,

            The making the best of a bad job-

            All twined and tangled together,

            All are recorded.

            There is no avoiding these things

            And we know nothing of exorcism

            And whether in Argos or England

            There are certin inflexible laws, unalterable in the nature of music.

            There is nothing at all to be done about it.

            There is nothing to do about anything.

            And now it is nearly time for the news

            And we must listen to the weather report and the international catastrophies.

                                                                                    T.S. Eliot


Have you ever noticed how….

…people respond to food pictures on face book more than almost any other thing? This morning, in an effort to prep for a small dinner I am hosting tomorrow night after work, I baked a pecan pie. Morning is not my best time, and I put two tablespoons of butter in the microwave to melt it, and about 40 minutes later, when I opened the door to reheat my mug of tea, there the butter was, sitting there in its little ramekin, about three feet north of the actual pie, which was nearing completion in the oven.

Hmmm. I just poured it on top of the pie, shut the oven door, and took a picture of the beautiful browning top of the pie. Posted it on the book of face.

Almost instantly, people responded.

This week, my son the fisherman (I know, sounds like some kind of lead-in to a bad bar joke) posted on the book of face about his very quirky living situation. Complete with photos of the disgusting kitchen conditions. Instant response from people.

Why is that? Must be that by showing people what you are cooking, or what your cooking space looks like, you are revealing an intimacy about your private life that without the photos your friends might have no experience of.  Well that’s just depressing! Wouldn’t it be so much better if I invited over all my friends for tea and baking before work?

We are so tied up with our devices. I got into the elevator tonight at my building with a guy and his bike, and one of my other neighbors from my floor. I had seen this fellow over the weekend heading out for his virgin bike ride in downtown LA and I had urged him to be safe.

Tonight, I asked him how his ride had gone the other day. (He had no helmet with him today, so he must no longer be scared of getting hit.) He said it had gone fine, but he had fallen while walking down some stairs while texting and had banged his head.

I fell last week while crossing the street. I was holding my phone in my left hand and it smashed down onto the pavement when I fell. To this moment, I couldn’t swear that I wasn’t looking at it when I tumbled, but I am positive I wasn’t texting. Pretty sure, anyway.

When I told the other neighbor in the elevator about my fall, she said she had almost bumped into a person walking because she was texting and not paying attention.

Wake up, people!!! Somebody’s going to get hurt. Let’s all just sit at home and send pictures of our food to each other. Sounds safer than actually being out in the world sharing a meal or god forbid, walking across the street….

Letters from Venice – Part X

January 7, 1983

Anna and Louisa were slated to arrive in Venice tonight at 7:00. Alvise, poised with flowers and I with an unabashed grin awaited as the 7:30 train from Trieste arrived in the station repleat with leering outlookers and No Judges…Tomorrow morning there is a train from Yugoslavia. But I only wonder where they are tonight?

Two days ago, Sandy and I went to Padova and saw Giotto’s fresco-encrusted Capella Scrovegni and the Basilica del Santo, magnificent.

Capella Scrovegni

Last night, I took Sandy out for dinner at Montin’s, the occasion being commissioned by her departure from Venice this morning at 11:40. I was very saddened, “I was sad” as Sandy so charmingly says, to say good-bye to one who has been my best friend here in Venice, she was someone I could always count on to do things with, and ventured to many places others don’t dare. I send my best wishes to her via air waves. I hope she gets a job in Rome with the Daily American – that would be a terrific boost to her morally and financially. Though I guess not really so terrific financially, Sandy introduced me to more people in the 1 ½ months we knew each other than anyone else in Venice has. And she knew the most interesting people. I hope/trust I will see them all again.

And so, the riccio sits in the fridge awaiting Anna as do I (though not from the fridge). Sylvano  reappeared again today, like a Fuller brush salesman returning to his best customer – whatever the hell that means, though I’ve been speaking Italian somewhat, I was surprised at how tongue-tied I was today. Partially contributed to by the fact that I am feeling molto distacca da lui sessualemente. I just realized after talking to MWM the other day that it’s not worth it to me to play these petty little flirtations when I’m not even attracted to him powerfully, except as an interesting intellectual playmate – for that we are well suited. I just won’t let myself be bullied.

Letters from Venice:

What a happy coincidence, that the first letter I picked up was this one.
Letter to Bob:  Labeled “Part 1, stay tuned!!!”

Postmark dated Jan. 1983 (day unreadable)

Dear Bom [sic]

Really, what the fuck was that? I’m blushing. Try again…..Dear Bubberdoobyduckydart! Oh I love you Bob! Stern! I can’ tell you how joyous your pink pelican pouch of love made me. I feel a little silly. This measly little aerogramme hardly seems abastanza in ritorno! We’ll see. Or Vediamo.

Your carta di Natale era bellissima, e benfatto…. Ho travato il cuoro rosso nel centro. E? Rotto? Oppure semplicemente malscritto? Spero che hai sbagliato con la stampa, e infatti, il tuo cuoro non e rotto.

But from the sound of your letter, rumors of which I had heard from Susan, this was perhaps not merely a typo….I can only say I’m very sorry, B ob, that things didn’t work out, but also it’s better to realize that now? But it doesn’t make it any easier, I know. What you said was very lucid, I think it would be a mistake to stay living and “loving” in 55 Park Place- please live with Gary & Michele – I can’t think of two better people whom you could build a very warm home with, however temporary until June. I’m sure, I hope, that your relationship (platonic) with Bill would improve without that separate tension – do the divorce, then mend the fence…. (Thanks, Abby!)
The thought of you quasi-solo at Xmas time made me very sad – I can’t stand seeing good things wasted – damn, damn, damn. I had a party Xmas eve while waiting for Mom to arrive Xmas day, which needed you! It was a good party, but drinking gets fairly dull. My Christmas with Mom was pretty good – I was shocked by how wiped out by the trip she was. I got a letter from her today so I know she’s survived. She said she had a good time, but the letter felt a little formaloso…. Ah well, it can never be the way you plan/dream it!
I am working now – in the morning doing interviews for the hotels that I’m looking at for this guidebook I’m collaborating on. It is fascinating. And well paid, though that harvest hasn’t yet come in. I heard yesterday from Ed the Funk, who is living at home, working 60-65 hrs/week in a warehouse and had been studying for his GRE’s. He’s going to apply to Grad Schools…. he and Raquel are doing well…. together again. He thanked me for the tape of Nightstage, which I had totally forgotten about doing or sending. That made me quite Newstage –sick, MWM sick, etc. But it was good to hear from Eddie. He is really embarrassed about going back to school. Oh hell, why does everyone have these “should” complexes about what they should be doing? They are doing what they are doing now. They will do what they will do. Now, take me, Miss perfection…. I am doing nothing that will advance my Career. I am meeting people, having fun, seeing a lot, and maybe learning Italian. But when I come back to the US (Yes, I still plan to do that in July) I think I will look for a job in Washington, DC – I know this is a jump – Damn. Stay tuned – I’ll continue on another aerogramme. Ciao, Bello!
xoxo  Els

Letter to Bob labeled “Part 2 wherein the author describes future plans & passions

Postmarked Jan. 14, 1983

Dear Bobby,

Now where was I. I was talking about when I come back to USA. I got a letter from Bob Edgar who moved to Washington, DC and works for Wolf Trap Center. He had a job for me in January. But if he still has a job I will go there in July. Now…MWM…I am more in love and more uncertain…scared than ever visa-vi MWM. He is coming in May and may stay until July when I go back. I do want to make a go of it with him wherever. I don’t want to live in New York, but I want to see how he’s doing. It’s so weird being here without him—sometimes I get scared that our idyllic relationship was a figment of our mutual imaginations. Obviously I can’t make any decisions based on only three months with him and so far, four without. I know I love working with him, and I support his work and he mine. Yes, I have met other men here –no, no one has touched MWM in my mind – I really think he’s an incredible individual. Anyway back to the job issue. I will go to Washington if there is a job – I will definitely want to talk with you about where you’ll be going –if to Yale, etc. When you come to Venice (I wonder if he noticed how subtly and easily that sentence co-opted Bob Stern to come to Venice?) …Seattle has all the old appeal of the Old West, and I could be coerced into going there to live. Susan says she’s planned my baggage move to Hopewell, but I couldn’t work at McCarter, I don’t think.

I think we need a conference –can you come to Venice, bring MWM, Susan, Bill and 4 sharp pencils? I have found out where all the good conference facilities are.

It started to snow today, but it was so pathetic, it was barely noticeable. But I noticed! It even made me get that happy first-snow feeling.

Anna and I are having a rough honeymoon- Poor Louisa seems really tired out and sometimes a bit short-tempered. I hardly blame her – she has quite a bundle of a 6-year-old…I am counting the days until July – I wish I knew more Origami. We have carnival to plan for, too. Wee are going as due porcini and uno porchino. (Get out yer dictionary, it’s really quite clever – I was berry proud).

Allora; siamo arrivati al fine di questo discorso, questo saggia. Scrivero di piu nel futuro. Fai la stessa roba, ok? Oppure vienei qui e noi possiamo parlare noi stessi…

Skiddly doo dad a. Good fortune and find a cozy housetta in Princeton to share with Gary & Michelle. Thank you for your magnificentary epistolary spedition. I hope I have given you enough nitty gritty – I realize none is very specific, but that I keep daily in my journal, which will be published in July – color of napkins at the luncheon table, etc…. I love you!  Ciao, Els xoxox

January 11, 1983

Coming back to write in this journal A.A. (after Anna). I see the closing sentence of my last entry, and it seems to be my theme song. The first two days of Anna were incredibly rough, due to a bad case of jet lag, culture shock, parental change, any number of factors. But today, Anna was one of the happiest kids I’ve seen around. She had glowing reports from her teachers, who said she was 100% more responsive today. Louisa and I had a great talk tonight – I’m in a very luck position, hired by someone who is sensitive to not dream of taking advantage of me, and we will settle into a very workable arrangement, I’m sure. Lots of mail these days, from MWM, Susan, Tim Stone. I guess just the rebound after my partying over Christmas, and worrying that I’ll be dropped out of the social scene, though there is no reason to fear that. A liberal dose of insecurity goes a long way.

Incredible letter from Kaja on Sunday, with the news of her imminent return to Bali & Indonesia. I never dreamed of such exotic end for Kaja, or for myself, for that matter. She talks of perhaps coming to Venice – what a wild reunion that would be. Ah, dreams!