Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Letter from Venice (7) 5-10-16

Venice is a preposterous invention, a mental construction, a fantasy which has been, unaccountably, embodied. If it didn’t exist and someone suggested building a whole city on a petrified forest of tree trunks driven into the clay beneath mudflats, at the mercy of the sea, they would be considered insane. Because of this one always has the sense of walking through the capillaries, canals and divagations of someone’s brain. One is inhabiting a cerebral projection that has no more reality than a dream and which will vanish as soon as the power source is cut. And yet I have always assumed that my flesh and blood has substance and displaces the air around it and this corporality of mine, to all intents and purposes, seems to thread its way through the magical city. The paving stones of the calli and fondamente bear my weight as do the arched bridges taking me over the canals, and the green-shuttered buildings resist my urge to pass through them and disappear. And then, on top of these resistant facts, this phantasmal cake is iced with beauty, with the onion domes of St Marks, the pink stone of the Palazzo Ducale, the stark white facades of San Giorgio and the Redentore and the ever-changing reflections of the sea surrounding the city and in its canals.

I arrange my days in visits. In the morning I will see the Veronese paintings in San Sebastian and the Tiepolo in the Gesuati, taking boat numbers 4.2 and 2 to reach the far side of town. In the afternoon, on my return, I will visit Joseph Brodsky’s ‘Watermark’ and Eugenio Montale’s “Ossi di Seppia” (Cuttlefish Bones) which I encountered too early at university and never got to grips with. Now I have a wonderful second hand library book from a school library in Connecticut. It is a hardback with the poems in the original Italian with excellent English translations by William Arrowsmith.

In this way I have two distinct modes of travel and both are equally exciting.

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