Intentional Life Depicted then Jumbled

IMG_2782 IMG_2765

The date function on my camera recently stopped functioning. I think it had something to do with the changing of the batteries from Duracell batteries to Ultimate Lithium batteries, at the suggestion of Walter from Walter’s Camera shop, a decrepit little shop where I took my camera to try to determine why it wasn’t quick enough for me to capture pictures.


I know little to nothing about photography. I don’t know an F stop from the F Dash stop where I catch the bus each morning, but I do know something about impatience. I know quite a bit about impatience. Ask my son.  No, on second thought, don’t – he will not get back to you because he’s out fishing for a week or so. That will be frustrating for you and you will become impatient. Like me.

Anyway, so back to Walter. I went there with my Canon PC1431 camera, prepared to drop a few bucks to have him tune it up for me so that I could take better pictures with the camera that my son had given to me a few years ago.  Walter (or the man who runs Walter’s Camera shop, who, according to my friend/colleague Hannah, is not Walter), told me that I just needed new batteries. Nothing wrong with the camera.

So I went to CVS and bought the new batteries, which were expensive enough to make me feel like I had actually done something to repair my camera. Alas, all that happened was the date mechanism zeroed back out so that the camera now thinks all the shots are being taken in January of 1980. Why January of 1980? Is that when my little camera was born?  Of course, the camera was a gift which came without any manual. So I have consulted with very intelligent people to try to reset the date without success. And, due  to it’s natal confusion, the photos it now takes are no longer able to be sorted by “event” but are in a jumble. This means that the pictures I took last Friday of the Senior Designers’ Portfolio displays are now mixed willy nilly with the pictures I took in Los Osos of our great niece’s baby shower over the subsequent weekend. Try it sometime. Take the dating mechanism off your camera and shoot for a weekend then go back in and try to sort them out. Which ones are the local critters?


What happened to me was this slightly nauseating sensation of confusion – seeing pictures of students and work colleagues/friends/family (we spend enough time together that I consider them family) interspersed with beautiful central coast scenery and real family (with whom we do not spend enough time to be as well acquainted as the colleagues at work). That’s a whole other topic.  Not at all clearly defined, but sort of fun, at the same time. You should try it sometime.


Coming Out Across The Country 1979

In the spring of 1979, I was cast in a production of The Children’s Hour by Lillian Hellman at the Theatre Intime on the campus of Princeton University, where I was just finishing my freshman year. I was cast in the role of Karen Wright, one of two teachers in an all girl’s school who is accused of being a lesbian by a troubled young girl named Mary Tilford.  This is hardly noteworthy. The only really cool thing was that the role of Joe, Karen’s fiance, was being played by Richard Greenberg, now a Tony Award winning playwright, author of over 25 plays on and off Broadway, but at the time we did the play, just a Princeton sophomore, apparently smitten with me, according to our mutual friend, Joe. I remember an awkward movie date we had during the rehearsal period. I thought he was very funny but we had no chemistry. By the way, according to our peers, we were brilliant in the play. And Richard has made the Wikipedia page on Theatre Intime, along with Jimmy Stewart and Roger Berlind. I, alas, have not.

The young woman who played Mary Tilford, let’s call her Kate B. , lived in my dorm, Foulke Hall. Shortly after the play closed, she began a rather tempestuous affair with another student also named Kate – we’ll call her Kate R. The spring semester ended and we all disbanded, I to my Dad’s condo in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco.  I had been dating much more significantly in my mind than in his, as it turned out, a senior political science major named Dave N., who had promised that he would come to visit me in San Francisco that summer.  He had been close friends with our Resident Advisor in Foulke Hall, and I had been running with him and a group of seniors. I had been in the best shape of my life in that period, running 5-10 miles a day. I remember sobbing hysterically in the sun room on Chestnut Street, my stepmother Joan comforting me after I received his Dear Jane letter.

After the summer was over, the two Kates, B. and R., and a third friend named Kate W. and I decided we would drive back across the country in Kate W’s aging gold Volvo.  I have a snapshot – that’s what we oldsters call a photograph printed on photo paper – taken on the morning when we left SF. The picture was taken in a neighborhood in Berkeley. The four of us are leaning on the hood of Kate W’s car, four molls, each  looking tougher than the next one; I had pink cat lady sunglasses and a striped yellow dress on. Kate W.  and Kate R. had shiny aviator sunglasses. Kate B. also sported a pair of pink child’s sunglasses.  When I flip over the picture, it is inscribed “Coming Out Across the Country” August 28-Sept. 2, 1979.

Image 4

And there-in lies the tale. Kate B. and Kate R. were deep in the middle of their affair – they were all over each other in the front or back of the car. We had a great drive – talking about any and every subject that caught our fancy. We sang silly songs, stopped at truck stops to eat. We had little to no money for hotels – I remember all of us sleeping under a picnic table in a park along the way. We stopped in Salt Lake City and visited the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.   You really could hear a pin drop from the back of the congregation. They had a room at the back of the sanctuary where nursing mothers could take their babies – it had a program monitor so they could hear the service but the windows were sound proof so the babies could wail away and no one would be the wiser.

We almost crossed the Rockies in Denver, the golden laden Volvo groaning as it neared the top of the Sierras and then it coughed to a stop on the berm of the Interstate.  We were pretty unprepared for such an event. This was the era before the cell phone. Not even the big old-fashioned brick telephones existed for us – they were still four years away; not even a twinkle in Motorola’s eye.

First Cell Phone

Our response is what any 19-year-old car full of 19-year-old college coeds would be. We jumped out of the car and put our thumbs out into the air. And some good samaritan without nefarious motivations pulled over and took one of us to the nearest gas station, where we used a pay phone to dial a tow truck. We then got towed down into Denver to a car repair place where the Volvo was resuscitated in about a half day. We decided after that experience that we would stop to assist every car that was stopped on the side of the road for the rest of the journey. And we did stop several times. As a parent now, I shudder at the idiocy of our youth.

And all along the way from Berkeley to Princeton, the three Kates and I mulled over the prospect of the third Kate’s  and my coming out. I didn’t want to be inhospitable; in fact, in retrospect I remember some torrid kissing that happened with a lacrosse player in the stairwell of Henry Hall the next year.  But I was in no way interested in getting romantically chummy with Kate W. As much as I liked her – she was great – it just wasn’t going to happen. And there was some pressure in that little Volvo packed with hormonally charged women. I don’t remember having to fend anyone off -but I will say that it was a long six days out there in the middle of America.




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).

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.

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


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!

Letters from Venice – Part IX

December 14, 1982

Sunday, two days ago, was perhaps my coming out party in Venice. Sandy had a lovely party at James Mathis and Verena Freu’s apartment in Campo S. Vio, near the Anglican Church, wherein I had my theatrical debut as well.

Campo S. Vio

At James and Verena’s earlier in the day, we cooked and ate lunch, and I met Geoffrey, an English painter-hedonist-shockeur who invented seedy sides to some of the loveliest people I’ve met in Venice. Anyway, he roped me into reading at the Christmas Carol sing at the Anglican Church, Mathew verses 1-11 to the most devout Episcopalians I’ve met since St. Paul’s School. Each reader bowed or bobbed or nodded or inclined at the altar before reading , and all read with various personal inflections of English – I, the last and only American of the readers, was frightfully aware of the sharp edges to my words. But then last night, in the Vaporetto, speaking of Carol Bertrand’s very nasal lecture (American from California a la Libbet Lewis) said that when Americans speak, they “sing,” which was a lovely, if unique viewpoint on the difference between English and American speakers. Anyway, back to Church. The organist so butchered the Christmas carols by playing them at a lugubrious 17 rpms, that all conceivable joy was sopped from Hark the Herald Angels Sing. Also, I was seized by giggles because my friend Sylvano was there and had to share the hymnal with an incredibly uptight old biddy named Jeanne di Bianco – the next day I saw why I had recognized her. She is the president of the Circolo Bretannica in Venice. After the church (the service was run by Peter Lauritzen, well known historian in Venice, who looked quite a bit taken aback when I announced to him I was going to read), Sandy’s party was lovely, and I met some really great people. I got a call from one painter, Bob Morgan, whom I had talked with at length at the party. He went to Princeton in “65 and has been living in Venice for almost 10 years, except for two years which he spent in New York during those ten years. He is very interested in the theatre – we will go sometime when something besides Lady Chatterly’s Lover is playing – we both agreed it would be too embarrassing to go to it. I have seen one of his paintings at the Rylands – a portrait of Philip which is lovely, and which Augustus coos at when Philip is not at home to fill the role of coo-ee. Others of interest at the party were Marcia and Mary, two painters from Florence. They are Americans, too, but are here to study Europe’s cache of reproducibles. I saw the slides and pictures of Marcia’s work – really wonderfully done – she has a skill in drawing unequal to anyone I’ve seen in it’s verity to detail, but as she admits herself, there is a point after which one must stop copying, having learned and to on from there. I played traduttrice (translator) for Marcia and Sylvano who discussed her drawings. It was fascinating. All together, an exhilarating evening – at 12:00, James started playing his jazz records and we jitterbugged on the marble floor of their flat.

Last night I went to the Circolo Britannico – joined actually, and heard Carol Brentano’s lecture on the nativity paintings (selectively from 13th Century to 16th Century, which was fascinating. Afterwards, we went to a concert at San Stae, free, I Giovani in concerto, playing Vivaldi, Marcello, Mozart. They were for the most part pretty talented young musicians, but the most interesting thing to watch was their insegnatore (teachers), whose facial contortions and mannerisms would befit any page of Joseph Andrews, or any work by Hogarth. Really incredible. I disgraced myself by giggling throughout.

After San Stae, Louisa and I went to Montin’s where Virginia was showing her slides of the famous regatta, and of Venice proper. They were wonderful. She has a special eye for color and the possibilities of seeing the reflections in the canals of the palazzos – they looked like paintings by Munch, or Kirchna, with their distortions and too-close-for-comfort descriptions of a city of Atlantans, who only occasionally emerged to walk above the water on the rough boards flanking the Basilica. Some of them were really quite extraordinary.

Tonight we are purported to have the pleasure of having a real “Venetian” meal prepared for us by a friend of Louisa’s, Giorgio, who wants to come here with his food and do it in our kitchen! Sounds good!
Tomorrow we are celebrating Louisa’s birthday by going to the Fenice to see a ballet called Renard, by Stravinksy and another by Eric Satie, and a last piece by….oops, don’t remember.

Talked to Mom last night, and we are equally excited about her visit. She arrives eleven days from today! She said Strohmeyer (her editer at the Bethlehem Globe Times, where she was a life-style editor) was running around the office telling people it was her birthday, but apparently no party resulted. Damn. It was a grossly unsubtle hint to him to arrange something. So, things are looking up. I am loosening up, allowing myself to let go of what I don’t have here, i.e., MWM, Bob, Bill, Susan and Laura, and to embrace this city as the elegant terrarium in which I am potted for nine months! Having some liquidity financially has rounded my view of European living, I must say. Ciao for now.

Letter from Kaja McGowan, a dear friend from high school, St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire

Dated: December 15, 1982

Dear Els,

            It is ten days until Christmas and I wonder what it must be like to be in Venice. I’m so tempted to take you up on your offer to go and maybe I shall?! One never can tell what may happen. You’ll be surprised perhaps to know that I am now in Los Angeles. I came here in flight, so to speak, fearfully flying from commitments and the comfortable habit of living a domestic sort of life. I have such trouble at times resolving all the women in my soul. It is like Doris Lessing’s multi-colored compartments; I wish eventually to let all my women blend into one Golden Notebook. Conflicts forever arise between the woman biologic and the woman artist. I love Mark, but my soul felt trapped, my creative instincts submerged. What makes matters worse, is that I do not know the clar calling of my heart by I patiently wait for signs and manifestations for the nourishment of my soul. I had considered graduate school at UCLA, then I began to try for a folk ensemble dance company called Aman, and then suddenly,  I woke one day and knew my calling. I know begin the process of return to Bali and Indonesia, where I have been invited by my old teacher. I received a letter from a very famous Indonesian novelist/poet/ and philosopher, Sutan Takdir Alisjahbana. I met him in Bali, now two years ago, and he wrote a poem about me entitled, in translation, “the opening of a flower.” I choreographed a dance to the poem and performed it at  his art center in the mountains. It seems so long ago, and suddenly I received a letter inviting me back! It is so strange, because before the ltter arrived I had dreamed of my old teacher Tbu Reneng, and now I shall be returning to her and to the biography I’ve been dreaming to write on her life. Still, often, I do not always know if I have chosen rightly, those renunciations that I place at the foot of ‘art’! I love Mark, but my sould yearns for Bali? I believe that if feelings are strong between two people, love can withstand such inquests for the soul…

            And how are you and what are your dreams and plans? I shall always be close to you in spirit, but I feel a loss of touch somehow. It is frightening to think that is has already been more than four years since we have seen one another. I long to hear of your thoughts and your passions, how you are changing and the internal conflicts, if any, that you are facing…Tell me of Venice, too; I have such romantic thoughts about Venice! How will you be celebrating Christmas? I love what you write by Gauguin. It is so true. I close with a poem and a wealth of warm thoughts for a friendship renewed on paper bu internalized for eternities.

            If but to set this life upon one course

            And know the wiles that wait at every bent,

            T’would be such comfort to put all one’s force

            Toward singular intent.

            Yet life seems all one dabbling; of here & there,

            Of ebbe & flow, of never reaching far enough ahead

            Diversions trail like tousled hair,

            Ne’er taut as Ariadne’s silken thread.


            I wish you a very Merry Christmas

                        And an Equally Wonderful New Year!
Let’s attempt to meet sometime during the year to come – I’ll come to Venice!!!

                                                            All my love,



P.S. I shall be returning East in January to begin negotiations for Indonesian visas and perhaps to attend the Cornell Language Program in Java. Who knows, but if you write after January 11th, then my home address is best. Take care again and ride in a gondola for me – have you been serenaded nightly? (Just curious!)

Dec. 22, 1982

Interior Fenice Opera Venice

The Ballet was fantastic- I really learned what it meant to play with masks, and to realize fully the potential of a theatrical mask. The Renard piece fell pathetically short of this goal in its execution. The choreography was so loose that the dancers didn’t have much to show off – the whole piece seemed messy, though it had a fascinating ending in the crucifixion of Renard as a pseudo-Christ figure, with the emanation of “real” blood and the removal of his mask just as he was dead. But it seemed like a way of trying to save the piece with a convention, rather than concluding an already successfully deployed convention.

The second piece was a film  by Duchamp, Picabia, Rene Clair,, backed by the music of Eric Satie, and was in a Futurist/Dadaist vein. Both because the film had these absurd images, like a funeral parade breaking into a jog, then a full run, and eventually so sped up it resembled some futuristic image by Boccioni, it was fascinating. Appropriately, Peter Borten, an American in residence with the Fenice Symphony this year told me that the musicians had been instructed by the conductor to skip some passages and hadn’t heard so that the music, which already lacked a totally harmonious cohesiveness became more in spirit with the film itself!

But the “Boeuf Sur Le Toit” by Cocteau, music by Darius Milhaud was by far the most spectacular of the three. The original Raoul Dufy set, was built in an exaggerated, larger than life scale, so that the actors, who wore enormous paper mache heads seemed in scale (at least their heads) with the brightly colored bar wherein the story took place. Here, too, was an example of their having studied precisely, and in detail , the character type they portrayed, so as to have the whole body in tune with their head. Truly fantastic. The true skill of acting with a mask on comes when you can convince the audience, by means of your other body movements, gestures, postures, that your face has undergone a change of expression. This was accomplished by several of the actors, in particular, the police man, whose expression registered everything from an insouciant smugness to the terror of being decapitated! We went across to the Taverna to have a glass of wine, and met Peter Borton, who seemed very nice.

Thursday night was Louisa’s birthday, and she went to Harry’s Bar with Alvise. Linda and I went to a weird chamber music (more medieval) concert at the Hotel Metropole.

Hotel Metropole, Venice

Friday night, nothing really.

Monday night went to a club here in Venice, invited by James, and Sandy. Fascinating group of people, and the club was lovely – drank too much Prosecco, and awoke with a god awful hang over.

Tuesday night a party at the Rusconi’s house to thank all the volunteers for the Venice Committee. Lovely party. Some new characters, like Buzz Brunetta, a ’56 alum from Princeton, who was, when he arrived at the party, already sloshed, and who only got worse as the party transpired. Carol and Bob Brentano, a California teaching duo, here in Venice this year. Sam Packard, a Fulbright Scholar from San Francisco, who is in Venice working for an architecture firm and teaching at the University. Peter Stafford, a 50-ish hotelier who is going to Edinbugh to help establish a new hotel there, Paola Doria, a lovely Venetian woman who works part time at the Venice Committee and her husband and sun. I will miss Sandy when she decides to move on – she is truly a delight. I look forward to her meeting Mom in three days(!) when she arrives.

Got a telegram today from MWM which was lovely. It was so reassuring to know that it was a message from the heart and “hot off the press” as it were, because he sent it last night at 5:45 and I received it today only at noon! So close. It’s reassuing to know that I can make contact that quickly.

December 22, 1982  Telegram from MWM

Dearest Els,

Please consider this coupon good for a dinner for two in Venice Greet your family there Package will follow  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year I love you


Jan. 2, 1983

I put Mom on the plane to Milan this morning at 7:30, meaning our travels began at 5:35 from Fondamenta Nouve. We had a wild week, beginning on Christmas day, Saturday when Mom arrived. Linda and I cooked dinner, after her nap Mom came down to eat, but was really quite exhausted. Sunday AM we took Linda to the train to go back to England, then that afternoon, visited San Marco and walked around. Dinner Sunday night with Sandy, James and Verena. Mom was charmed by James, and we had a good quiche. Monday we spent shopping, and had a binge of clothes-buying for me, even at the Chi-chi Elisabetta all Fenice!!! Monday night we went to Montin’s for dinner with Sandy, stayed very late, drank very much. Tuesday AM we caught the 8:05 Rapido to Florence, checked into the Porta Rossa, went to the Uffizzi , looked for a couple hours, took lunch at the cafeteria there, then went back to the hotel for siestaville. Tuesday night, dinner at the Cantinetta Anitori, very nice. Wednesday AM, to the Academia to see David, then to the Duomo (or Tues. night to the Duomo? Yes) then went to the Palazzo Davanzanti and around to the Brunelleschi’s Loggia Dei Innocenti –

Brunelleschi's Loggia Degli Innocenti

lunch at Il Profeta, reportedly Harry’s Bar people. Afternoon train to Venice – dinner at home Wednesday night. Thursday lunch at Montin’s, after the morning at the Scuola Grande di San Rocco (where the Venice Committee offices were) and the Academia.  Scuola Grande Di San Rocco Scuola Grande di San Rocco Interior

Thurs. afternoon siesta. Thursday night “Pub crawling” with Sandy, starting at Harry’s, on to Floriano, on to Hotel Metropole for Jazz, and last to the Hotel Danieli for piano bar and prosecco! Friday night, after a crazy day of preparation, a New Year’s eve Party – Sandy, James, Verena and two friends of Sam’s, Deborah and Harvey. Good time. Saturday morning in, and afternoon at San Marco and home. Sandy over for dinner after drinks, and we talked until 11:00PM. Sunday 4:00AM up to go to airport…Phew. Not too much wasted time, though I’m sorry Mom didn’t see more of Venice’s sights – it seems we spent more time drinking than anything else!
Called MWM tonight to wish him happy birthday, etc. He has found a job driving a Sea Food truck in New York, no auditions yet. He spent Christmas out in Wisconsin with Kerri, who apparently is very unhappy. God, it was great to talk with him. He was talking about coming in May and staying until July, when he would fly back with me. Sounds spectacular, my only concern being that if we lose the apartment for June, he would really be up a creek. Damn. That would be a pisser. I am pooped. And so closes the Christmas chapter of Venice.



(Upon her returning to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Mom wrote the following column, which appeared in the Bethlehem Globe Times on January 5, 1983.)

Venice Doesn’t Dispute the 20th Century – It Ignores It

“Did you like the Academy?” Elsbeth asked as we exited Venice’s major museum.

“Yes,” I replied. “It was warmer than some of the other places we’ve been.”

I spent Christmas week with my daughter who is temporarily in Italy, and that comment was less the remark of a complete philistine than of a person exposed to such an unfamiliar profusion of art as to be dumbfounded. So many Titians, Tintorettos, Georgiones and Bellinis that, I am ashamed to admit, they began to run together in a blur. For an American whose proudest accomplishment in the past two years has been getting on speaking terms with a computer, spending a week in Venice teaches, among other things, a lasting lesson in humility.

In the United States, to be dubbed a holdover from the 18th century is a snide kind of opprobrium. In Venice, the centuries 12th through 18th are constant companions. The city, perched precariously on the northern rim of the Adriatic, subject to every caprice of tide that floods up its canals, preserves a museum of architecture and painting that recalls a philosophy in which man was noble, and God was king – along with the artists who described Him and the patrons who supported them. Titian’s tomb in the Venetian church of the Frari is as large as that of Cosimo de Medici in Florence.

It is not that Venice disputes the 20th century. It simply ignores it as irrelevant. With the web of canals and footbridges that cross them making automobile travel impossible in the city, heavy industry has centered in nearby Mestre. Venice remains a city of tourism, banking and art. With a population about the same as Bethlehem’s, it can be traversed by foot in little more than half an hour.

Elsbeth is connected with another great Venice industry – art scholarship – accompanying a graduate student with a fellowship to study the painter, Lotto, helping her to care for her 6-year-old daughter. That makes her part of the Venetian American community, a group of about 200, most of whom know each other, and have picked this city out of all the world as a place to live. Even after only a week there, it isn’t too hard to understand why.

One man I met made a fortune by the age of 38 with a shoe store in the Middle West. He has lived in Venice in a high-ceilinged antique-filled second-floor apartment overlooking the Grand Canal three of the 10 years since he retired. Since moving there he has read 400 books with discrimination, becoming an authority on the likes of Hemingway and Mark Twain, and exerting a magnetic attraction over artists, writers, publisher. While I was there, he was arranging for an apartment for the Russian poet, Joseph Brodsky, just then arriving from the United States.

It has been said of New York that the reason so many important things happen there is that people are crammed so close together that they constantly bump up against each other, producing a creative friction.

With its far smaller population, Venice seems much the same way. You can’t go out the front door, get in your car, and drive alone, privately to your destination. You walk. Starting out from a residential area with few people on the calle or stone-paved sidewalk, within a block or two beginning to meet others, till arriving near the Rialto bridge, the market center of the city, you are in the midst of a dense, chattering crowd.

If you choose to ride rather than walk, it will probably not be in the expensive gondolas or Chris Craft water taxis, but on the vaporetto, the lumbering boats that hold 70 or so people jammed together as in a bus.

People encounter each other in the piazzas and stop to talk a while, or they take coffee in a bar. In the winter tourists are fewer, but reportedly during the Italian equivalent of Mardi Gras, police are required to direct the press of pedestrian traffic, 40 percent of whom are dressed in costume even during the day.

The city itself wears a permanent costume-with its buildings rising straight up from the pavement, only an occasional vine peeking over a wall, a rare peek at a walled garden, it avoids barrenness by the variety of rooflines against the sky – the turn at the end of the twisting calle that opens on a bridge over a canal.

In December, geraniums still flamed in pots clustered outside second-floor windows, and outdoor flower stands were filled with roses and anemones. It is hard to find that American standby, carnations, anywhere. They are known there as “funeral flowers” and to give them is an offense.

Along the Grand Canal that snakes its watery way through the city, the palazzos appear boarded up, with their shutters closed and the paint peeling off their walls at the water line. But at night a lighted crystal chandelier elaborate enough to glitter at Versailles, glimpsed through a single open window gives a hint of the elegance of the life lived behind the mask.

Grocery shopping becomes and adventure – each item bought in its own special place- the bakery, where the baker called out to have a New Year’s almond cake not in his stock brought in – the open-air butcher shop where a female butcher skinned a chicken in one fluid motion – the green grocer where you may not touch the produce, but let him pick it out for you. Speaking in her charmingly hesitant but eager Italian, Elsbeth was given nothing but the best.

The one great disappointment was Harry’s Bar – the establishment once haunted by Hemingway, now frequented by celebrities who go there to hold court. We went only for a drink, having been warned it is too expensive a place to eat. When a new patron enters, every head in the place swivels expectantly toward the door hoping it will be a famous face.

The bar was crowded. There was one empty table.

We were asked if we wanted dinner. No, just a drink.”Well, you can’t sit down,” said the maitre d’, noting our interest in the table.

“But the bar is too crowded,” we said.

“You can’t sit down,” he repeated. “This is reserved.’

We stood momentarily, unable to believe we were actually going to be turned

 away. Could you say you’d even been to Venice if you hadn’t had a drink at Harry’s Bar?

            Apparently fearing we intended to remain rooted there indefinitely, our persecutor had a change of heart. “You can sit down for 15 minutes,” he announced.

            The dark paneling one expects to see is upstairs, I am told. We didn’t get that far. We sat in the tiny, brightly lighted room with a crowd of similarly unimportant people, who were far better equipped with furs and makeup. We looked at them. They looked at us. We each had one $5 glass of prosecco. Admittedly throwing it down in 15 minutes made it a fairly heady experience. We left.

            You can have Harry’s Bar. But Venice? Ah, that’s another story.

Shirley Collins

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)