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)
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.