Friday, April 8, 2011

Joseph Brodsky, 'Watermark': on Venice

"It is as though space, cognizant here more than anyplace else of its inferiority to time, answers it with the only property time doesn't possess: with beauty.

And that's why water takes this answer, twists it, wallops and shreds it, but ultimately carries it by and large intact off into the Adriatic

Joseph Brodsky, 'Watermark'

Water, time and beauty... Brodsky's brief meditation on the influence of Venice on his Baltic imagination captures mine. As he notes, "For this is the city of of the eye, your other faculties play a faint second fiddle."

Mom, Shaku and Leah got off the vaporetto at Accademia, right in front of the museum, a short stroll to our pensione, down one alley, over one modest canal, along the fondamenta on the other side and into the sanctuary of the garden.

They were heading back to the pensione for a late afternoon rest on the last day of our two week journey across northern Italy. A well-deserved break from the miles and miles we have walked along these acutely and poetically named lanes and squares. The Venetians have such lovely language for each of them: fondamenta (along a canal), sotoportico (a covered passage), corte (courtyard), riva (a wide fondamenta along the lagoon), calle (street), rio (canal) and campo (square).

There's a delight in simply listening to the Italians speak, trying to catch the odd verb or description using their hands to enunciate, explain, procrastinate, describe, elucidate, gesticulate, usually with a laugh or smile or a charm as their eyes seek to evoke as much emotion as their words.

Not to mention, as Brodsky notes, that listening to them speak is also simply watching them , their lips, their eyes, their hair as they move through their own charmed city, flamboyant, attractive, flowing in the weaving movement of these narrow lanes.

Moi, of course, couldn't get off the vaporetto.

There isn't enough time in the day to fill the eyes or the memories. After a morning in the San Marco square, even in April full of tourists, staring plaintively at the glittering Byzantine mosaics on the cupola ceilings and walls of the thousand year old basilica, then peering through glass at the astounding jewel-encrusted Pala d'Oro, the alterpiece of 250 minature life-like figures made from enamal and gold filigree orginally from Constantinople itself (like so much that was taken during the 4th Crusade when Catholic Venice sacked Orthodox Constantinople en route to Muslim Palestine), Mom was ready for a rest.

But we still had time left on our 24 hour vaporetto ticket, so I simply took the front seat out in the open air, put my legs on the railing, watched to make sure Mom, Shakun and Leah got safely off the long-bodied water taxi, then put my eyes to work...

As the vaporetto continued up along the Grand Canal in the mid-afternoon sun, as the centuries of marble and stone carved palazzo floated by. A sign on one where Lord Byron lived for two years in the early 19th C., revelers holding their drinks on a portico, refurbished homes next to buildings that hadn't seen a coat of paint in a century (or two...), tourists in gondola sliding up the narrow, side canals, more tourists pouring over the Rialto bridge, gothic windows with thick, damask curtains closed tight in silent rooms, a 20 m. poster advertisting photos of the Hemingway years in the Veneto, the water rocking us gently as we went from side to side at the vaporetto stops, cupolas and campanile rising above the ochre, burgundy, olive, musturd and peach colored buildings lining the Grand Canal.

I was reminded of decades ago when Scott and I rode the ferries up and down the Bosphorus eating fish sandwiches just watching the hills and fortresses along that Asian passage.

In so many ways, Venice is the other side of the Bosphorus, two cities united by uniting East and West...

You feel here so much closer to the Orient, the charms and architecture and art of the eastern Byzantine become Islamic world.

Sailing to Byzantium...

Now that is a poem worth reading again...

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