Letters from Venice – Part VIII

 

Nov. 16, 1982

Three days or four into our training. We are running every morning much to the amusement of the Venetian commuters, and it is a welcome quickening of the physical system.

Yesterday, I met Jane Rylands and her 16-month-old son Augustus. I was charmbed by both but remained convinced that naming your baby Augustus is tantamount to cruelty. I will enjoy working for her, though. It is great to get out with a purpose and goal. Tomorrow morning Louisa and I are going to volunteer our services at the Venice Committee – stuffing envelopes. But I just get so bored without work. You know you’re in trouble when your day’s high point is shopping for celery root!

Went to hear a concert of Stravinsky and Bartok at the Fenice Grand Theatre the other night. I am impressed by the novel presentations of music I’ve seen in Venice. One piece by Stravinsky called “Feu d’Artifice’ was presented with a futuristic light show amidst a fabulous set. But the Bartok ‘opera’ was called “Castello di Barbablu” (Castle of Bluebeard) and was really very interesting. Set in a simple symmetric set, the rogue Bluebeard and his too-curious consort moved in a carefully choreographed dance which was repeated four times in the course of the piece, once in blue light, once in yellow, and once in red as she discovered the coffer (coffin) filled with dolls and another luckless wife. The music was incredibly dramatic, as Bartok is, and the sets, lights and choreography contributed to a very powerful performance by the five performers. Three of the four women in the piece began as almost a running crew, all dressed in rustling floor-length black dresses, with their red hair piled in buns atop their heads. They glided across the floors in the castle, helping the “new” wife to undress, preparing the bed, down left, etc. But in the end, in a great horror sequence, they appeared as previous wives and glided up to a mirror behind the center upstage door and wisped away as apparitions. It was quite beautiful.

 

Dec. 3, 1982

Long time no write. Shitty/great day today. I am waiting for a transfer of money from the states, courtesy of George Setton, and a causa del scciopero (strike), the bank is closed and knew nothing of it. And I am very frustrated at not being able to express myself very well. But what the hell – it’s challenging. I met a wonderful guy who lives in the Corte – actually, he has a studio there – named Sylvano. He invited me to go to a poetry reading tonight, which should be fun.

I am immersed in this translation I’m doing for Serge, Louisa’s friend. 60 pages of bad English to worse Italian. Keeps my mind going and supposedly pays well.

With Christmas just around the bend I am so excited that Mom is coming. It doesn’t feel like Xmas so much, only because I lack the ubiquitous American reminders of its imminence, no Christmas music on the radio, and the meekest of Xmas decorations in shop windows. I do prefer the restraint, but at the same time, I always enjoy “getting in the spirit” which seems far off yet.  I can buy a little Xmas tree at the Rialto, and decorate it with little ornaments Juli bought little earrings to decorate hers with.

Letters from Susan and Bill still make me incredibly homesick, as did Aunt Nancy’s death – obviously tangential to the other emotions as well. It is crucial for me to get out to these lectures and concerts to keep busy – as I am a busy person and living a a quasi-solitary life doesn’t agree with me at all.

Last night we watched “Gli Uccelli” (The Birds) by Alfred Hitchcock

and today they were netting piccione (pigeons) in the Corte right outside my door! I came up the calle from doing my shopping and encountered a very unlikely pigeon-feeder, a stoop-shouldered sunburned man, bent at the waist, cooing at the birds, while dropping seed, and backing up down the calle toward the Corte del Palludo. (the courtyard outside Louisa’s rented house – means Court of the Swamp) I asked him what he was doing, and he told me that they were capturing the pigeons, taking the sick ones to the hospital, and the healthy ones to Milano! My own theory is that all the little buggers were on their way to the bouillon factory. Little ironies that are just too much to ignore sometimes! Really it was quite funny. So my days are laced with connections with people and funny events and are colored with success and failure, just as Mark predicted they would be. I’ve always been a sort of dilettante, I fear, and being here for this length of time makes such a position impossible to hold. Because the beauty of dilettante-ship is to be able to move on to the next thing when the first becomes too difficult, or when you perceive you might fail. But I’ve done it this time! I’ve gotten myself in a country where I don’t speak the language very well, know about three people, and can make myself completely miserable if I so choose. But hell, that’s no way to go.

 

 

December 5, 1982

Made a new friend in an artist who lives in the Corte del Palludo. Very cool guy. We went to a poetry reading the other night, which was difficult to understand, but I can tell a great deal from gestures and presence as actors, as well as intuit something of their involvement with their poetry. Last night Sylvano and I talked about his painting and how it relates to philosophy – the pre-Aristotelian denials of the reality of things and thingness. We talked about music as a drug, and how music doesn’t exist except as a drogue. My involvement in these conversations is still fairly limited verbally, but I understand a great deal when I listen.

Today, Sunday. I am going to Torcello with Sandy (an American expatriate in her mid to late 50’s whom I had met and liked immediately), and it’s a beautiful day. At four is a concert of Stravinsky’s “Sagra della Primavera” (Rites of Spring) which I have always wanted to hear – I will imagine Isadora Duncan dancing in burlap as I listen. I am looking forward to a ballet in a week or so, based on Cocteau’s piece “Boeuf sur La Toit” and another to the music of Eric Satie.

Louisa’s birthday is coming up, so I hope to treat her to this ballet for her present.

Julie and I had a falling out over Sylvano, my artist friend, and from her expression and reticence to talk about him, I imagine that she has had more than limited dealings with him in the early days of Venice. I am sort of in a quandary because there is this wall between Julie and me, and unlike with my friends at home, she is unwilling to acknowledge its existence, surely she expects that I will drift away from such a reception – is that what I will do? It reminds me a little of the dynamics with a friend at Princeton. Speaking of which, I must write to her. Got a fantastic, loving, news-filled, action packed letter from Bob, who has applied to Yale Graphic Arts program. I hope he goes- he is so talented it makes me puke! (Not really) As I said, he will be my one internationally acclaimed friend!
The translation goes, but slowly, tortuously. Sergio asked me to come to “teach” English to his son – very surreptitiously in the guise of a chess player/backgammon pal.

Should be interesting. I have never laid eyes on an English book to see how the language is taught. Blindly I go. Which will be funny considering my mancanza dei paroli italiani. Vediamo. (lack of Italian words. We’ll see)

 

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