Mosquitos, Murders, Some Art (Some Fate)

My roommate and I have been waking up to find a few new bites every day. It’s not just the mosquitoes with their droning whining…eeee…eeee…eeee… directly in my ear that wake me up with a start  – there are these little pesky bugs smaller than mosquitoes, but still annoying. They cling to the walls and ceiling of our room, even with the curtains’ ample nightly dose of bug spray. One side of my face and my right foot are covered with itchy raised bumps. The only drawback of the lack of shades. The Venetian night is truly all encompassing. James expresses the sentiment perfectly in “The Aspern Papers” saying, “I was seldom at home in the evening, for when I attempted to occupy myself in my apartments the lamplight brought in a swarm of noxious insects, and it was too hot for closed windows.”

During class this morning, we watched Nicolas Roeg’s “Don’t Look Now,” the embodiment, and now the culmination, of a 6-year fear. It had all started when I read Daphne du Maurier’s short story, upon which the film was based. It takes place in Venice and utilizes the darker side of the city as a setting for deception and a surprise murder. The weapon is a gleaming silver blade, a shocking death that I have even now ingrained in my imagination, incapable of a complete purge. I had not forgotten the vivid description. The movie did an excellent job of drawing out the darker side of the Venetian character and though a definite work of art in itself, the power of the short story lives on. Even driving to the airport, my family was still cracking jokes about this irrational fear, a fear that replaced that of the ‘giant orange bunny claw’ of my early childhood. This latter reference is something I will not delve into too deeply. I’ll say this much: many years ago, I had this dream where this monstrous rabbit was chasing me through a heavily wooded area. It was hard to forget the feeling of terror this instilled in me. Though even I find it pretty ridiculous and definitely a perfect topic of jest now, it’s interesting to relate this fear to my experiences with and of Venice.

It was hard to leave Boston and my new job behind. It was hard to go to another country with a group of people I had never met before. It was hard to allow myself to just get lost. Easy to get lost I guess but hard to lose what little control you have. “Don’t Look Now” no longer scares me, or at least in the same way that it did before. Neither does the GOBC (unintended but appropriate abbreviation!). We need our fears, we need our nightmares. They freeze us in our tracks for a little bit, but eventually we must break out, we must conquer them. They can even point us in the right direction. If you had asked me 6 years ago if I would be studying abroad with BC in Venice, I would have been a bit confused. That wasn’t in the plan. It simply wasn’t.

Later that afternoon, the class headed into Venice proper to visit La Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni, a beautiful old building, with chapels, lavish decoration, and artwork adorning the walls. Our focus would be the Carpaccios housed downstairs. His work appears in another movie we are watching and discussing: Paul Schrader’s The Comfort of Strangers, as well as in Proust. Saints Jerome, George, and Trifon are featured here. To me, these paintings bring everything a bit closer to us, art, religion, maybe even life itself. To convert. To enlighten. To translate. An offering, a paean of the artist to us, a hymn to Venice.

As we were already in the city, a group of us decided to do some sightseeing of our own. We went to the Doge’s Palace, a site that usually has throngs of tourists milling around it, but it was late in the afternoon, so we avoided the rush. This was much better than I had been expecting – not just a silly tourist trap. My favorite was the room covered in maps and a few globes scattered around, illustrating the power of the Venetian Republic at its height so many years ago. Though in some ways this may be looked at in terms of the world’s ongoing evolution, always changing and speeding away from us, in other ways it is a sign of the connections that exist throughout the eras, the rise and fall of different regimes. Obsolete? Decaying? Nah, it’s simply the evidence of a life gone by. It reminds me of that kid you see in movies spreading out a new map on their wall and then lovingly placing flags or stabbing tacks into the plaster – where they’ve been and where they want to go. It’s comforting to me somehow, someway.

Dream on but don’t imagine they’ll all come true

Dream on but don’t imagine they’ll all come true

When will you realize

Vienna waits for you

 I was starving at this point. The others were going to go back to the island for a little bit and then go out to a late dinner, something for which my stomach could not bear waiting. I also had to prepare my presentation for class the next day. Each of us has to do an exposé on one of the authors, books, or topics we are discussing in class. That way, the discussion begins with a student and it gives everyone a chance to be involved and delve deeply into at least one of the topics. Mine was to be given on John Ruskin, an artist, poet, thinker, and art critic. He dabbled in a lot, a bit of a Renaissance man. He believed that art was to be in accordance with nature and that function should be an important part of the work; if form and function are in harmony, beauty can be achieved. Some of his earlier works were published under the pen name “Kata Phusin” (the Greek translated as “according to Nature”). In the words of Kenneth Clark, art historian, Ruskin believed that “Good art is done with enjoyment. The artist must feel that, within certain reasonable limits, he is free, that he is wanted by society, and that the ideas he is asked to express are true and important…

Great art is the expression of epochs where people are united by a common faith and a common purpose, accept their laws, believe in their leaders, and take a serious view of human destiny

The class would be taking a field trip to Torcello, an island where I would give my presentation on Ruskin and selections from his work, Stones of Venice that refer to the church on the island.

So I decided to leave the herd and venture out in search of some food. Hoping for a relatively cheap place where I could pick up a few slices and avoid the crowds, I took a random route. Many of the places I passed, however, were expensive (all the menus with prices are posted outside the restaurant), sit-down deals. Finally, I came to this place called Crazy Bar that served pizzas and sandwiches. It looked a bit sketchy but oftentimes, those are the best places. One of my favorite pizza places back in Boston is quite unfortunate looking from the outside, completed with a neon sign. Apparently, things haven’t changed since the ‘30s, but the food’s amazing. Quite a classic. Once inside, I realized they didn’t have separate slices to go so I had to sit and wait while they made me a whole pizza, which, to be honest, I didn’t mind. The Italian man who took my order was absolutely shocked to find that I would be eating by myself. He asked me twice and looked at me strangely. (I was hoping he wouldn’t chop me up and toss me in the canal before I even got my pizza). When I paid the bill, he just says “So. Why are you alone, huh?” a question to which I replied in some vague, most likely incoherent way. I guess the whole loner concept is frowned upon in Italy, which makes sense considering the tradition, the custom, the social pastime that is the meal to Italians. It makes you wonder though: what, shouldn’t I be alone? I wasn’t exactly doubting myself, but it was definitely something to think about.

Little did I know, that as I snaked through the streets, in search of some good dark chocolate gelato (in a waffle cone), this question was soon to be answered. I must have taken a “wrong” turn somewhere (well that’s the very thing about Venice: can you really ever be wrong here?), literally leading me to the front door of an hardware store.

Just what I had stopped looking for. There was a hairdryer displayed prominently in the window. I couldn’t really believe it. The timing here. You think everything is so exact, so precise. The vaporetto is never late. Everything has an exact schedule. And yet, things happen when they shouldn’t, when it doesn’t make sense. For it’s right when you give up that you get the opportunity. After I blew out my hairdryer the first day (actually the entire fuse in our room), I had been walking around with sopping wet hair most of the mornings. Hairdryers aren’t sold in the supermarket or pharmacies here, just hardware stores.

I walked in. It was clearly a locally run shop, catering to the residents. I took a deep breath and let the smell sink into my nostrils. A warehouse smell, a bit like Home Depot when you first walk in, but before you get all the way down to the lamps and lighting section. Has to be one of my favorite smells in the world. The proprietor was speaking in rapid Italian to the man on the other side of the counter. They didn’t greet me, just turned and gave me a quick glance, but I was glad. We could both carry on our business. I wanted to just walk around, look for a bit. After I decided on a hairdryer (the smallest and the cheapest, keeping in mind that though I can’t use this at home due to the outlet situation, if I go abroad again, it will come in handy), the man behind the counter and I exchanged a few words, perhaps the fewest, with me speaking a bit of Italian and him some English.

I left the shop feeling accomplished and cognizant of the inescapable tug of fate.

N.B. The first time I used the aforementioned hairdryer it worked for about 2 minutes before automatically shutting off. I’ve since learned that one needs to work with it a bit and you’ll get 5 minutes. European electrical engineering…


Dusty wine and a Pile of kayaks: night walk

Come with me. Listen.

“the heels that echo as you walk the calli at night are the punctuation of your solitude.”     -scarpa

What is a Venetian night? It’s quiet. It is anything but quiet. It’s a remnant. And yet it’s a force in of itself. A character. It’s a literary device. It’s a synecdoche. A part that represents the whole. it’s a whole that represents a detail, the tiniest. It’s tangible. But as soon as you grab a hold of it, the edge slips away.

The night was warm with a full moon. The vestiges of the day remained but we fell into motion, silently following the professor. Turning, turning, turning. And slowly the events that had been part of the busy day were discarded. Motions were subdued; my senses were sharpened – I felt more and yet there was a certain dreamlike quality to it all.

It was darker, quieter. No one spoke. The somehow ultimately rhythmic cacophony of flip, flops, clicks, clacks, and shuffles were heard as 12 pairs of feet briskly walked down allies, along fondamentas, across bridges.

Saw a man with what seemed to be a butterfly net in his hands. The first thought that crossed my mind was what the hell is he thinking. It was a ridiculous sight. Crazy, idiosyncratic behavior such as this that seems to be fiction – it all might appear as if it is occurring outside a realm we know as our own.

The streets seem to have a layer to them, not purely tangible, not wholly olfactory — Dusty wine.

We had a surprise encounter in one particularly narrow ally. Some kids had attached a big teddy bear to a string and were letting it down into the street below and then hoisting it up again, allowing it to dance around on the heads of passersby. We all laughed, appreciating the ingenuity of these kids, as giggles and gleeful shrieks filtered through the night air.  It was a reminder that real people actually live here. There’s more to it than a giant carnival.

As we walked under some arches, my peripheral vision caught some kayaks stacked in a corner. They seemed out of place compared to the gondolas. It was a resonant glimmer of the interplay between the world I was used to and where I am now.

Looking around at everything we were passing got me thinking about this whole disappearing act Venice likes to pull. I mean you can be quite familiar with the area and still take a wrong turn, ending up at the edge of the canal, just where you were certain, you felt in your blood, that same trattoria or cicchetti bar was. Every time I venture into the city, I wonder whether I’ll ever make it back to these places. It is true: when you travel, you’re supposed to view everything as if, one day, you’ll make it back there. It’s not supposed to be a mad scramble. It just seems a bit harder to entertain this perspective when in Venice. It reminds me of the dance of love and loss.

The first couple that struck me on this night walk was a man and woman standing in the middle of a small square. They were passionately making out (for lack of a better euphemistic expression) and were in such a frenzy that they kept tipping each other over, sending the other one off balance, and staggering around in recovery. It was comical, yet desperately serious. A few minutes later another couple caught my eye, probably due to the striking contrast when juxtaposed in my mind with the first pair. They were walking a few paces in front of our group, holding hands lightly, arms spread apart from each other. All of a sudden, he raised his arm, drawing her arm up and over her head, spinning her around and drawing her a little closer. Their pace was never broken. It was simple, quiet. Full of grace. Like the Madonnas that adorn the street corners, protecting and watching over the city.

A familiar smell reached me as we crossed a bridge, a smell from the past, confusing me for a minute before I separated it from the tangle of memory, just as I would one of my necklaces when starting to unpack, and realized it was the same cologne this boy I used to like a bit last summer, and almost started to fall for, wears. Past and present hitting me in the face like hot air.

A reminder that memories are being made with each step we take. For even if we never consciously think about what we encountered or thought that specific night, it doesn’t mean that we are not forever marked by the experience. We’ll never be the same again.

Upon arrival in Venice, I was a bit disillusioned. Everything looked a bit grimy and faded. I couldn’t understand why newlyweds and lovers would flock to this city. But if I’ve ever understood anything, I now understand that. Venice is a perfect setting for love, or anything really. You just need to bring something with you. It’s a two way street.

Our professor confessed that he saw my friend and me earlier that day wandering around. The two of us had taken almost the same walk the 12 of us would take that night. Thinking about the layout of Venice, that’s pretty unusual.

Paths converge in Venice. For a twisted city of alleys and a complete lack of schematic layout, everything eventually straightens out. sempre diritto. I’m seeing and experiencing what I read, reading and thinking about what I’m seeing. It’s chiasmus embodied. Everything seems to be coming together into a cohesive whole, whatever that means. I think it’s different for everyone.

I think maybe I was looking, trying too hard to find this interconnectedness, especially during the past few years. When you just let go, even a little bit, relinquish your hold on order, on what everything means, it can hit you right between the eyes. If you’re not looking for something in particular, something too specific, you leave room for something to find you.

Venga con me. Ascolta.

Destra? Sinistra? Dritto?

After discussing this material further in class on Tuesday, I, along with one other girl from my class, headed into the city. We intended to do this right. We had no intentions, no destination, no map. It was a beautiful day, so getting lost was the best thing possible. After getting off the vaporetto, we walked along the water for a few minutes, until we turned down a random street, took a few more turns, finding ourselves in an utterly unfamiliar and probably residential area, with just a few people walking around, most likely heading home. Lots of laundry was hanging outside the windows, billowing above us in the narrow streets, forming a canopy as we strolled, sauntered by. With no time constriction, nothing was pressing, nothing needed to get done. Turning onto a fondamenta (a narrow street that runs alongside a canal, with buildings flanking it on the other side), we came across a grocery store. You would never have thought it could have fit. There was nothing else remotely commercial in the area, just quiet houses lining the water. I went to ask for batteries, of which they had none. Wondering where I could get them if not the major store in the area, I attempted to ask where I could find some, but no one could understand me. Empirical evidence that we were off the beaten path. We wound our way along, making random choices so as to determine right, left, or straight. Dead ends and streets that end in water often made these decisions a little bit easier.

While walking along, crossing into a few of the 6 districts (sestieri) which organize and divide Venice, we had been wondering where the major buildings were, so integral to a city, such as the school and the hospital. In the course of our travels, we happened upon both of them, passed a gas station for all the boats, noticed a kayaking rental place (if I have time…), saw the ambulance boat dock. That was interesting – it’s just so different. From here, one can look out across the water at the Island of San Michele, the cemetery. Brodsky, Stravinsky, and Pound are buried here. The hospital is essentially across the water from the cemetery. Seems a bit too convenient. It’s humorous in a very macabre way.

We continued to pass signs pointing us in the direction of streets, squares, and churches we had been encountering in our daily reading and discussion. Everything was somehow connecting.

We passed an Italian bookstore that just so happened to have the right kind of batteries for my camera. Chance at work again. Amazing but a little bit creepy.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, the Biennale has taken over Venice, in the subtlest coup one could imagine. As we walked, we passed Biennale exhibit signs. You can just walk right in to many of these buildings and browse through temporary galleries, showcasing all types of art. There was one sculpture of a fish head bleeding upon a chair. Another piece represented an eclipse – the interplay between light and shadow – on a brick wall, lights flickered and flashed in a pattern. It reminded me of Christmas and candlelight after the power has gone out. My favorite exhibition thus far was the “Dylan Paintings” of Maria Zerres, a German painter. Anyone who has ever met me, knows how I feel about Bob, so this was an amazing surprise. The art captured his spirit and his poetry.

Neither of us had eaten and all the walking had a ravenous effect. It was also quite warm, so it would be a nice respite to sit down and replenish the ol’ energy reserves. Many of the places we passed along the water were either closed (too late for lunch, too early for dinner) or beyond out of reach in terms of price range. As we moved away from the water, bakeries began to crop up left and right. We went into quite a few, before purchasing some cookies (both chocolate chip and lemon ones. The lemon cookies were actually banana yellow. I would never have considered trying them but the woman at the bakery misinterpreted what we wanted. It was a good, and utterly delicious, way to get out of one’s comfort level.

As the cookies had only whetted our appetite, we found a nice place to eat, sitting at a table outside, watching the people and fighting off the birds that would try to sit on the edge of the plates. Yes, very cute but not when they’re on the table trying to peck your food and sit on your head. To conclude our map-less experience, we tried to find a gelato place we had passed the night before. It had dark chocolate gelato in the window; needless to say, I was attracted to the place. God only knows what crimes I would have committed just to try some. Though that exact one was nowhere to be found, we came cross another gelateria that looked worthy. If I had to describe what manna would be like… I’m convinced that places disappear or at least realign when the eyes of the tourists are averted. The locals are, of course, in on the secret.

Class met for a second time. 10 pm by the vaporetto stop where our professor was waiting for us. He would lead us on a night walk through the streets of Venice. We would have to be utterly silent, ready and willing to follow, listening to Venice and the sounds of our own footfalls against the stones.

“St Mark’s…is not beautiful”

Monday. And thus begins the second week. Everyone was slightly groggy at 9 am, granted our late night travels. But we quickly got into our discussion of James’ “The Aspern Papers,” trying to work out the relationships within the text. This is one of the texts we read under the heading “Inversions of Beauty,” the week’s theme. Last week focused on “Paradoxes of Beauty” and next week, “Resurrections of Beauty.”

All three classes met Monday evening in Venice for a private guided visit to Basilica di San Marco. This meant no crowds and thus the opportunity to appreciate and actually recognize what we were seeing. We were regaled with the history of the basilica, had the opportunity to explore the baptistery, viewed the elaborate Golden Altarpiece (Pala d’Oro) up close, and descended to the small chapel underneath all the grandeur. The dichotomy between the earthy color of the marble closer to the floor and the gold of the ceiling separates the basilica into the terrestrial and celestial realms. I am usually not a proponent of excessively ornate churches, but the beauty of St. Mark’s got to me I guess. The architecture, the art, even the restoration process itself all demonstrate such human effort and talent that I was just left in awe. Thinking about this is enough in of itself to glorify God.

The floor was especially fascinating to me. The tiles were patterned and colored in beautiful ways and due to the basilica’s age and settling, the floor was as uneven as piles of windswept sand when you walk across the beach barefoot. Though of course unintentional, I couldn’t help but by reminded of Venice’s roots: water. The floor has a sort of uneven, yet coherent rhythm akin to that of the waves.

It is hard to believe that Mary McCarthy in “The Loot” could say what she does regarding Saint Mark’s, yet at the same time, I find myself agreeing. This is what happens on this island supported yet threatened by water. I quote: “St Mark’s as a whole, unless seen from a distance or at twilight, is not beautiful. The modern mosaics (seventeenth century) are generally admitted to be extremely ugly, and I myself do not care for some of the Gothic statuary of the pinnacles. The horses, the coloured marble veneers, the Byzantine Madonna of the front, the old mosaic on the left, the marble columns of the portal, the gold encrustations of the top, the five grey domes with their strange ornaments, like children’s jacks – these are the details that captivate. As for the rest, it is better not to look too closely, or the whole will begin to seem tawdry, a hodge-podge, as so many critics have said. The whole is not beautiful, and yet again it is. It depends on the light and the time of day or on whether you narrow your eyes, to make it look flat, a painted surface. And it can take you unawares, looking beautiful or horribly ugly, at a time you least expect. Venice, Henry James said, is as changeable as a nervous woman, and this is particularly true of St Mark’s façade.”

Roma, Roma

Rushing out of class, hurrying to print our ticket confirmations, we hurried to the vaporetto stop with our bags in order to catch the 12:10 so we could make our train. Timing was a little tight, but everything went smoothly and the 12 or so people who had planned to go boarded the train to Roma. It was my first train ride apart from the T. We arrived at the Termini station in Rome about 5 hours later, assuring me that trains were the way to go when traveling inside the country.

The group had essentially planned to not plan, so we humped our bags a block or so, looking for a hostel or very cheap hotel that was ideally, neither in a state of immense decay and filth nor a front for a drug ring. We happened upon Hotel Adventure. Doesn’t the name say it all? We did some bargaining and figured it out: they held onto our passports temporarily (and our Euros, permanently) and in return, we received the keys to one quad, one triple, and two double rooms.

I was in one of the doubles on the 6th and top floor. Not bad at all. We looked out onto the nearby rooftops and in the distance, if you really leaned out, more of the city beyond.

It was interesting encountering cars for the first time in about a week. When crossing our first Roman streets, we forgot to look. It took a while to become inured to that once again. Vespas are rampant in the streets, even more so than I had expected. They are parked all along the roads and there are always a few couples out for a ride. I had to fight to contain my burning jealousy. I’ve always harbored this desire to own one. It would be red or cream I think.

The two days we spent were packed. Inordinate amounts of walking under a scalding sun, resulting in a lot of tired, dirty feet and aragosta/ pomodoro arms. But it was all worth it. We split into about 3 smaller groups, so everyone could see what they wanted to, when they wanted to. My group decided to visit the Pantheon, the Vatican, St. Peter’s Square and Basilica, the Colosseum, the remains of the Roman Forum, the Arch of Constantine. While we were walking to the Colosseum, a military parade passed us by. People stepped back onto the grass and watched. It was fascinating: military vehicles from WWII, including the amphibious vehicles (duck boats) rolled by, with soldiers and nurses (I’m guessing reenactors) in period uniforms waving.

We attended the pope’s blessing on Sunday. Though I had not planned on doing this, it was actually a really cool experience. So many people from so many places. And he addressed all of us in our native tongues. It reminded me a bit of Pentecost, where everyone could understand each other.

We also weaved among the crowd near the Trevi Fountain, getting expensive gelato and relaxing a bit. I tried kiwi. It was one of the most refreshing things I have ever tasted. So good I spilled it all over my skirt. Luckily, one of the men working there noticed and rushed over with some water and napkins. Gotta love those Italian men… My friends and I were greeted with nods of approval and cries of “Ciao Bella!” whenever we passed a group of men. At one of the gelaterias, after he took my order, the guy asked me if I loved him. I let him down easy, telling him I didn’t, but that he seemed like a very nice man. Harmless but it’s always good to be in a group and keep your wits about you nonetheless.

Two of us visited the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj, a beautiful art gallery housed in a breathtaking building (literally, a palace) with an incredible courtyard. Unfortunately, admission prices were steep. 10,50 for one ticket. The sign offered a student rate (with valid id) of 7,50, which I must say, I made a valiant effort to get. I don’t usually carry my BC id with me when I go out; it’s just another thing to lose, so I showed him all my other ids and even my key card for my room on San Servolo, which was emblazoned with Venice International University. The guard, however, was adamant and the attempt was thwarted. The museum was definitely worth it, especially getting the chance to see the pieces I had studied in art history this past year. I couldn’t really believe that I was standing in front of the real thing, after having spent countless hours, poring over slides and the pages of my textbook.

Carracci, Bernini, Caravaggio, and other art lined the walls. The gallery offered an audio tour that you could essentially design yourself. You pick the paintings and rooms you want to hear more about and punch in the number. It’s a great opportunity to learn, yet not be overwhelmed. The halls were atmosphere and quiet, very still, with faint strains of classical composition, influenced by the art of Caravaggio, playing in the background.

The train ride home was not as smooth as the one en route to Roma. Midway along a tunnel, the train stopped. Just stopped. All motion. Then the main lights went out. A few seconds later, all of the lights had gone out. There was apparently a problem with the motor and there was no power. That includes the AC. I must admit: I kinda wanted to flip out, but I managed to keep it to myself. The PA kept crackling on for updates, all in Italian. We were able to figure out we would be moving in 15 minutes or so and thus, would only be a little delayed. True to their word, the lights came on and the train moved out of the tunnel, building up speed, until we were once again flying back to Venice.

Stepping out of the station and onto terra firma (or an aqueous version of it), I breathed a sigh of relief and a bit of exhaustion. I think we all did. It was nice, peaceful to be back. You don’t appreciate Venice until you visit Rome. At least not entirely.

When my parents asked me what city I liked better, I had to really stop and think about it. It’s not really something to which you can give a definitive answer. Like the water of Venice, it’s liquid; fluid and changeable. I guess I would say that if I had to move, settle permanently to one of them, it would be Rome. I’m a city person, but my consistent escape would be Venice. Sometimes it’s just nice to have a place that seems to escape the confines of reality.

Out in the Field Known as Venice

I was actually just reflecting on my experience at the Lido. Yes, it was comical to see older men in tiny teeny speedos, but if you think about it, they have the right idea. Every summer, putting on a bikini is always a concern. Everything just seems wrong and I somehow always end up wishing I had asked for a wet suit for Christmas. But that’s ridiculous. I definitely felt more comfortable on the Lido and that’s something I really would like to take back to Boston with me. Of course, I’m not advising making a habit out of running around scantily clad, especially after all this superb food. It was a good lesson, however: skip the self-consciousness and the anxiety. Just be comfortable and have a good time. Appreciate it.

After class in our usual room at our usual time, 9-12, the class ventured out to the city for a field trip, lunch, and then some exploration that would actually get us into our text. We ate at an osteria, a small, casual place, with pictures on the walls and wine bottles lining the ceiling that served us meat and cheese plates and sandwiches. Simple but just what I needed – a great alternative to something heavier. The shop was tiny, but in Italy, you don’t feel that. Upon exiting, our professor pointed out the design above the door. It was a small relief of the head of Dionysus, apropos considering that we had just read and discussed Nietzsche’s “Dionysus and Apollo,” connecting the two elements, one’s lighter side and the side that gravitates to the darkness, to Mann’s Death in Venice. After eating, we strolled through the streets of Venice, passing Harry’s Bar, a place where Ernest Hemingway was a frequent patron (some would say he made it famous, others, it made him famous) and then embarked on the next leg of the journey. We all boarded a single traghetto (translated as ferry, but it’s essentially a gondola) that would take us across the Grand Canal to Santa Maria della Salute. One of the texts we had been discussing earlier in the week was Henry James’ “The Grand Canal,” a piece where James expounds upon Salute and the Tintoretto painting, The Marriage in Cana in the sacristy.

It’s pretty unbelievable what happens when you’re able to see firsthand what these authors are talking about. It can be a transformative experience. If I were reading some of these texts at home or at BC, it would, admittedly, be difficult to throw yourself into. But with class discussion and on-site visits, you can actually put yourself in the shoes of the greats. You can tilt your head up to the same angle, until it hurts, to see the Tintoretto, just as James did.

It was quite a warm day so we just walked around, got some gelato, and enjoyed the sun playing upon the sparkling water. When I returned to the island, I did some more exploring and visited the galleries, one of which is on the first floor of my dorm.

The piece of art I was particularly enthralled with was Renato Mambor’s Rain Collectors. Before reading Brodsky, before coming to Venice, I would have glanced at the piece, what looks to be ten blue men standing in a semicircle and written it off, perhaps with scorn, perhaps with a laugh, as modern art for the sake of being modern. But, I took a second look. And I’m glad I did, for if I hadn’t, I would never have been able to appreciate and draw a parallel, make a canal if you will, between these multiple forms of art: nature, Brodsky’s writing, and modern interpretative sculpture. Mambor’s work serves a pragmatic, as well as an aesthetic, function in that it collects rainwater, in its pure, natural state. In his words, “Slowly, it was beginning to rain. Rain fell vertically, it touched with little holes the water of the Laguna, and it penetrated, without any resistance it fused into a unicum. Water is said to keep memory. My thoughts, recorded onto a liquid ribbon, will reappear one day in an artwork, using the rainwater… [The water cycle] awakens the awareness of life’s capacity to transform itself” (exhibit plaque). This is striking, especially when compared to Brodsky’s exposition of the water of the tear, as he says, “a tear is an acknowledgment of the retina’s, as well as the tear’s, failure to retain beauty” (109). It can be ephemeral, only capable of residing in the annals of memory.

The experiences one has in Venice, whether they are of a physical or a more cerebral sort, and the impression it leaves upon one should be recorded, remembered, brought back into the light of knowledge. The impact that one leaves on the city ought to be celebrated no less. Art is thus the manifestation of this impact.

The Scottish Adriatic (and other such Tales)

After class in the morning, a small group, just 6 of us, went to the Lido. It was a beautiful day, quite sunny and warm, perfect beach weather. We took the vaporetto there, enjoying the views across the water. Water that is a light green, sea foam color. Our island, San Servolo, looks out over the Lido. If we had a rowboat, kayak, inflatable raft, anything, it would be a five-minute trip. Instead, it took about an hour, switching lines included.

Upon arrival, we, of course, headed to the free beach, which is pretty much a straight shot from the station. There are so many restaurants, brightly colored hotels, little shops, and gelaterias lining the streets. I had no idea it was such a bustling, pleasant place. It’s essentially a sophisticated beach town with an undeniably Italian flair.

The sand was crowded, but not excessively so; after only a bit of searching for the ideal spot, we found it and spread out. I immediately ripped off my outer layers and went splashing into the Adriatic Ocean. I’m not really sure what it is but I get exhilarated whenever I’m in salt water. It’s a feeling of drunkenness, you feel out of touch with the real world, yet there’s an extreme awareness. Times like these are when I feel most alive. While my friends sunbathed on the sand, I screamed, spluttered, and swallowed salt water. To me, the water was warm. But that’s just because I’ve grown up swimming in the Atlantic, staying in until my skin turned blue and my fingers were all pruny. The waves were pretty good – I was knocked off my feet a few times and had to bob back up to the surface, clutching my bathing suit and laughing hysterically. There was a big group in the water around me, acting equally moronic and loving every minute of it. They were thrilled to find out I spoke English and we started talking. Turns out they were a high school group from Scotland ‘on holiday’ and they were just finishing up an art tour through Venice. (Wouldn’t have minded attending that school.) They started called me Queenie, because of the name I so happen to share with the queen and peppering me with questions about college and the Red Sox. Most of them had always wanted to travel to Boston and when I admitted a desire to see Scotland and the suurounding area, they assured me that I shouldn’t bother. It just goes to show you that everything’s relative.

I said goodbye and ran out of the surf when lightening started to flicker far out on the horizon, diving into the warm sand, desperately trying to dry off and catch some sun before the storm, but succeeding only in getting sand in everyone’s eyes and covering myself in wet sand, soon to turn into mud. I would be taking the vaporetto home still half wet. We stopped for gelato on the way and began to make tentative plans for the upcoming weekend.

Later that evening, some of us headed out for dinner to a lovely, quite ambient, restaurant where we all sat at one long table. My lobster  spaghetti was unbelievable. ( The Italian word for lobster is aragosta  – I just look for opportunities to use that word. It doesn’t come up as often as I would like in everyday conversation. Speaking of which, I was the only one who got burned at the beach, due to the reflection of the water. Oh well, I need some color.)

After dinner, the group headed back to Campo Santa Margherita to see what was going on. It started to get late, it was raining a bit, and I didn’t want to miss the last vaporetto of the evening, so I left the campo with one of my classmates before some of the others, beginning the elusive search for the route back to the vaporetto stop. As we walked, the streets became quieter and very still, and with each passing moment,the streets and alleys began to look less and less familiar. Occasionally, as the two of us talked over changes of direction and tried to look at a map, there would be bursts of noise as a group would walk down the street. We asked for directions, which led us, for some time, in the right direction, but it seemed that we were inextricably stuck in the intricate maze. As we were  standing near one of the vaporetto stops (not the one that would get us back to the island), looking at the map and the timetable, planning our next strategy, a man caught somewhere between his 20s and middle age, walked by, murmured something about the time of the next vaporetto. I didn’t reply, as it was not only the wrong stop, but also I was not about to trust or make eye contact with a man I didn’t know, late at night by a canal. He was just pacing around the area, perhaps waiting for the vaporetto that was to soon arrive, making me nervous, causing me to envision scenes ending with my classmate and me in the canal. He heard the two of us debating the best route back to the San Zaccaria stop, approached us again, more directly this time, and started to give us directions. We must have seemed confused and beyond worried so he just said quietly “Follow me.” That was it.

I wasn’t sure what to do so we followed him. It was one of the longest walks of my life. Adrenaline throbbed through me, allowing blood to flow and my eyes to observe. I was on the lookout and ready to sprint at any given moment. After over 5 minutes of this silent marching, I was ready to just sprint away. Where was he leading us? But then the area began to look familiar, or at least more familiar than anything else had looked, and I gave him another chance. It was over ten minutes later by the time we emerged back out on Piazzo San Marco. It looked especially incredible that night. The lights and the silence and the relief, the tremendous sense that we had made it.

After thanking him profusely, we went our separate ways. The two of us to catch the vaporetto, the man probably back to the area where he was before the disturbance, just trying to live his life. I’ll never forget that night. I wouldn’t usually say this, but I am convinced that the man who led us was nothing short of a guardian angel.