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!

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