Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Letter from Venice (6) 4-10-16

I jump on the boat for the Cemetery island of San Michele intent on viewing the graves of the famous buried there. I have read that, in the Protestant (Evangelisti) section, lie the bodies of Ezra Pound and the Russian dissident, Nobel prize-winner, Joseph Brodsky. Brodsky became an American after leaving the USSR and wrote in English. I have noticed his book on Venice, ‘Watermark’, in a lovely bookshop near to the Campo Zanipolo where I often sit and read over an americano. In the Greek and Russian Orthodox sections of the cemetery are to be found the graves of Diaghilev and of Igor Stravinsky and his wife. I disembark and quickly find the sheaf of A4 size maps at the entrance lodge which indicate the whereabouts of the illustrious dead. Imagine my disappointment when, finding the two sections side by side I discover that both have been taped off with police tape from which hangs a notice forbidding entry to them alone for reasons of a 2014 act regarding the use of chemicals. By the entrance of the Orthodox section there are chemical carts and sprayers on the floor. I make a swift decision and pass under the tape of the Protestant section, swiftly locating Brodsky’s clean and modern grave (he was buried in 1996) whose headstone bears his name in both roman and cyrillic characters. I am unable to locate Pound’s grave and, wishing to avoid a confrontation with a guardian, I step back into the main body of the cemetery. I don’t attempt the Orthodox section deciding to return on another day.

On leaving I spot a notice bearing a picture of a race of seagull – gabbione or, in Latin, Larus Michahellis - which, it explains, soils the gravestones when it breeds on the island. For this reason they have installed loudspeakers at strategic points amongst the mausoleums, family vaults and gravestones which emit loud recordings of seagull alarm calls, destined, they hope to frighten away the offending seabirds.

As the vaporetto approaches my home stop of Ospedale I notice, bolted on top of the modern four storey hospital building behind a high wall on the quayside, a large circular helicopter landing pad. Glancing down one of the canals leading into the city as I walk along the Fondamenta Nove I catch sight of gondoliers punting casually while consulting their mobile phones unbeknown to their passengers.

On my way home I duck into the Calle Fumo to buy the glass insects which my wife has selected from pictures I have sent her. I have chosen a Monarch butterfly, a green iridescent beetle and a small red-eyed fly. They are all made by the world famous flame worker - 72 year old Vittorio Constantini who, once he has put aside the fish he was working on, wraps the objects in much cotton wool before accepting payment in cash (with a 10% discount) as, he assures me, his card machine is broken. Earlier in the day, at the Glass Museum on Murano, I had seen some of his gorgeous creatures on a table ready for a new display which opens next week.

I return and, a child of my time, download the Kindle edition of Brodsky’s English language essay on Venice for £5 instead of the 16 Euros asked for by the bookshop. My guilt in not subscribing to local business is assuaged without too much difficulty as the Euro price seems grossly over-inflated even though it is a foreign language book. The opening pages describe his midnight arrival in the city at the Santa Lucia railway station, stepping out onto the Fondamenta to be met by a beautiful Venetian academic, the only person he knows in the city, and, immediately, I know that I have found a new author to give me great pleasure. His prose is muscular and quirky with many asides and jokes and I view the 140 pages ahead of me with excitement.

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