Saturday 20 June 2020

1988 Venice

Venice 1.1.88

My fourth trip. Venice is like memory: full of twists, sudden open spaces, sudden unknown views, dead ends. Sitting in the Ristorante Ponte di Rialto, I see the chef start preparing the pizzas for the evening.  An almost sensual experience as he rolls, breaks and moulds the wet clinging dough.  It looks alive, proto-human.  Typically, this is acted out at the front, in full view of the world  the Italians ever the actors and show-offs.  The gondolieri row from the waist: they lunge into the oar, doubling up.  The most striking thing about the Rialto bridge is how tacky it is – the wooden boards in winter look like an old railway arch.

The Rialto area is unusual in that there are fairly broad promenades each side of the canal.  Normally the water is only glimpsed along rii, or at a dead-end alley.  The Grand Canal is almost a secret place.  The paradox of memory: that you only remember how good things were in retrospect.  At the time the details get in the way, or you are not aware of an event's significance.  Gondolieri are like taxi drivers: they pull out in front of traffic with sublime disdain.  To be in Venice for the first time is like recalling a memory you never had.

From Rialto to Campo Santa Margarita – via Santa Maria dei Frari – as amazing as ever.  Campo Santa Margarita was also as strangely moving as before: its suddenness, its size.  I went there to find a café: closed, alas.  But further on in the campo an even smaller, more intimate one nestled.  I entered to growled but friendly Venetian accents.  The cappuccino, like all first cappuccini in winter, was ambrosia.  

Then along the Calle Lunga Santa Barbara to the Fondamenta Zattere Al Ponte Lungo, to the Church of Santa Maria del Rosario (Gesuati).  Again, curious to have one long path, and to be walking along the water.  Odd too to have the ghostly vision of Giudecca floating opposite, punctuated by Palladian churches.  Finally along to the Peggy Guggenheim gallery.  More thoughts on memory: in the middle of the gallery, photos of Peggy, with Henry Moore etc.  A gallery to her memory, in fact.

San Michele enshrines another sort of memorialisation.  Fondamente dei Mendicanti – a floating crib lit by a lurid green light – by the Ospedale Civile, with its internal landing bay for ambulance boats.  When in Venice, it is hard to remember we are there, in the only Venice.  In search of dinner, I went east.  I entered Piazza San Marco for the first time on this trip: my spirits rose at the huge open space, the tiers of white lamps like ribbons of light, and at the end, the great bubbly mass of San Marco itself. It is simply the most exuberant building in Venice.  And next to it, like a sentinel, the gentlemanly campanile.

I struck out into the backstreets; my goal, Santa Maria Formosa.  My feet moved half hesitating, half hurrying.  At each turn, views would strike me with a strange familiarity.  I crossed a bridge, and there in front of me was Santa Maria Formosa herself.  In remembrance of my first last meal in Venice, I ate in the restaurant nearby.  It seems to have moved up market.  The service was rather surly, but the food was quite good.

Campo Santa Maria Formosa was dark and quiet; even my old corner café had shut up shop.  I moved on, in the only direction possible. And there it was, the forestiera at the angle of the canal, by the bridge.  It was bigger than I remembered, but otherwise – again – looked unchanged.  Lights were streaming through the leaded panes of the main living room; I could see the beams of the roof and some mouldings on the wall.  Walking round to the left, I could make out the crude strip-lighting by the door to the men's dormitories.  I half expected to see myself staring out at this doppelgänger.

Thereafter I just wandered.  Venice at night is not the same as Venice by day: it is even less knowable.  The canals become invisible, just gaps in space; landmarks lurk in darkness.  There are pools of light under the lamps, islands.  There are very few people in the backstreets; everything is anonymous and deathly.

I ended up on the north side of Venice, opposite San Michele, whose cypresses could just be made out.  I passed down the Fondamente dei Mendicanti, past the garish floating crib, down to Santi Giovanni e Paolo, with the Colleoni statue high on its plinth.  Monuments, public memorials – art and the world is littered with them.

Thence a circuitous wander till I came to San Zuliano – the first time I have seen this, or noticed it; a fine facade, unusually placed in its own tiny campo.  Passing the cinema of San Zuliano, I heard the film "Opera" rolling: the projectionist's room gave straight onto the street.

Back in Piazza San Marco – again, with the past and memory pushing me on, there was only one way to go, to the piazzetta, to sit under the lion.  Except that the lion was not there.  His column was, certainly, but Venice's symbol had gone for a walk.  Disconcerting for memory to be thwarted so brutally in this way.  Sitting there, San Giorgio Maggiore was, happily, as stunning as ever.  But even this had changed subtly now.  I had read up Palladio's works; now Le Zitelle and Redentore – both lit up on Giudecca – entered my mental field around him.  I had been corrupted by knowledge and with it, my memories.

I wandered along towards Santa Maria Della Salute, looking grand floodlit.  Back through Piazza San Marco, past Florian's – which I'd never noticed before; it looked very pretentious – I must go in.  Then out along the Riva degli Schiavoni, past Vivaldi's church (we have Goldoni's two accounts of Vivaldi in his "memoirs", yet we know practically nothing of Vivaldi – except his music).  Out towards the funfair (dead), back to the hotel after another session under the lionless column, looking at Piazza San Marco in the sodium glare.  Somebody was letting off very lewd firecrackers.  Back to room 89, listening to Brahms organ music and motets, plus some jazz – all very late-night music.

2.1.88 Venice

Following the itineraries from Lorenzetti's astonishing book does have the advantage that you go places you would never have found: the feet have memories too, and tend to take the same tracks.  For example, Calle Goldoni, and Ponte Goldoni.  From the bridge there are myriad paths and canals.  Corte Grimani, looking back to Ponte Tron, I will remember this for Goldoni's sake.  Campo San Luca – a small, attractive, gratuitous place.

Along Riva del Carbon: Ca' Loredan.  Campo San Benedetto – small, but powerful: hidden by a nondescript building.  Adjacent to it, Palazzo Martinengo – a pediment of a church eats into it.  Opposite, the huge Palazzo Pesaro, some of its gothic windows bricked up.  All rather sad.

Amazing wooden staircase to the inside of Museo Fortuny: huge old oak beams.  Within: empty – I had to knock up the custodian.  To enter is to step back hundreds of years.  Everything on the first floor is hither and thither: Moorish helmets by the front door – with its typical round, leaded windows.  The exhibition seems to be revealing a studio – presumably of some Spanish painter of the early part of the century: there are monumental casts, huge lights with reflectors, lots of small oils, an enormous set of steps – for painting? - rich costumes – for historical scenes?  On the walls, thick hangings.

It is crazy.  Like a film-set, an old attic, a forgotten world, a memory.  I don't understand the place; and like Venice, I don't want to.  With only a few hints I can create my own meaning which is far richer.  There are signs – copies of Tiepolo, a quaint artist's settle with built-in easel.  But how can I have memories of this rich chaos?  It is like the Grand Canal: I may recognise it, have memories of it, but how except through years of familiarity can I ever get to know every moulding, pillar and arch?

One room is done out like a garden pavilion, with grottoes and views of distant country scenes.  In Venice you forget there is grass or countryside: this world takes over.  In the corner of this room there is a simple Duchamp-like basin with a crude tap.  All around it, there are daubs of old paint, as if in some de Kooning piece.  Above it, randomly, a dried ram's head made of clay.

Another theme is naked women disporting themselves.  They are young and beautiful; what memories did they hold for the painter and models when both were old?  Curious lamps hang from the ceiling: they look like Damascened shields, but are made of cloth.  The air is chill, and the faint stench of old Venice hangs over the scene.

One picture seems to be of the rooms: it shows an artist's studio, hangings everywhere – as in this exhibition.  Light streams in through an open window.  In the corner, there is a painting of a grey-bearded man, painting.  Among the casts there are two (!) of the death mask of Wagner.  None of this is labelled, but this is what cultural memories are for.  Other casts includes the Belvedere torso.  The Wagner is disturbing in its reality, its implicit outrage of the dead, helpless face.  At the other end, more naked ladies.  None of the paintings is signed.  Modesty or arrogance?

In a room marked "security exit", strange machinery.  A huge model of a domed theatre with amphitheatre-like seating.  Two strange devices, halfway between dynamos, phonographs and god knows what (theatre lighting systems?).  One painting signed: M Fortuny Madrazo: why the sudden weakness?  What did his wife – or any painter's wife – think of all his voluptuous nudes? The man locks up after I am gone.  A world closed.

Near the Grand Canal, the small bridges offer tantalising glimpses.  For example, Ponte de l'Albero: I can see a palace and glimpses of vaporetti and gondolas.  Images like life: partial, evanescent. One advantage of Lorenzetti is that he takes you every inch of the way: not just the hot spots.  Campiello nuovo e dei monti is odd – it is raised, probably because it was a churchyard.  What of all those buried here?

Piscina San Samuele.  Palazzo Querini - 15th century, but decrepit and easily missed.  A tablet to Francesco Querini (d. 1904), an Arctic explorer who died there.  A shocking sign: "Autoscuole Europe": uh?  Salizzada San Samuele: Veronese's house; could have been built in the 19th century, judging by its appearance.

Calle de le Carrozze - 10th century well head – Byzantine.  Campanile of San Samuele – a shock to see such Romanesque work: good clean lines, unflustered.  Reminds me of the church near Les Deux Magots in Paris.  Corte del Duca Sforza on the edge of the Grand Canal.  A two-person gondola-skiff – one gondoliere and a young lady.  Earlier, I saw what looked like a racing four-man gondola charging down the Grand Canal. Fondamenta della Scuola: "divieto di nuoto" – in the water?

Calle de Teatro, non c'e'Santo Stefano, glimpsed as it shuts (11.30am): unfortunately the rest of the world takes no account of Lorenzetti.  Campo Sant'Anzolo (=Angelo).  Cimarosa's land.  Many fine palazzi, brooding over all, Santo Stefano's leaning tower… Ponte Storto – another quirky corner: Calle Caortorta, giving on to the back of La Fenice.  San Fantino – Lorenzetti lovingly lists everything – including the only work of one Cesare delle Ninfe; his memory lives on.  

When we travel with someone, it is almost as a custodian and validator of our memories.  "Do you remember…?" we can say to prove our own memories have an objective existence.  This is why spouses, lovers and friends are so important: it is the old philosophical idea of our knowledge – like god's – creating the world.  Without fellow memories we are condemned to lonely solipsism.

The Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo is striking.  The spiral staircase looks quite new compared to the surrounding flaking walls and general squalor.

Walking with Lorenzetti is not easy; he is a perfectionist, a pedant, an enthusiast.  Sometimes you lose him as he dashes off down some tiny side alley while you are admiring the view.  He is inconsiderate: opening times, the difficulties, the audacities of seeing some of his objects, are great.  Like most people in love, he presumes a great deal, and is not really interested in your opinions, only your assent. (San Lorenzo on his griddle in the Gesuati – like Lorenzetti on his griddle of streets, all of us with the network of our memory…).

The diary is the ultimate recourse against oblivion.  But at its heart is a paradox: the more we write, the less we do.  Art at least allows us to be selective, heightening here, forgetting there.  But diarists like Pepys are something else: why did he do it?

Leaving someone close is like amnesia – voluntary or imposed: we lose great chunks of our past with them.  Perhaps this is why couples stay together long after affection keeps them that way naturally: to part would be to destroy their past as well as their relationship.  To leave requires a sense of optimism – which why the young do it far more easily than the old.

I have very few memories before Cambridge; thereafter I have developed an almost photographic recall of places I have visited. Food too can bring back the memories.  I am now eating fegato alla veneziana: it brings back vivid memories of when I ate this in Rome, just down from St. Peter's, two years ago.  

As in all this, time is relative.  A relationship may proceed so slowly, amount to so little, that seven years is less than seven months of an intense, experienced-packed affair.  Some people seem to have done nothing in their decades; others have lived – and suffered – a lifetime in a year.  Trips are the same: months in a city may teach less than a few days.  

On the Lorenzetti trail again – past San Moisè – definitely one of the most memorable facades – wild over-the-top Baroque, all swags and wild columns.  The soot and grime seem appropriate – so biased are we in our appreciation of the past.  Down the Calle del Teatro San Moisè – which opened with Monteverdi's "Arianna" – mostly lost.

Santa Maria del Giglio, or Santa Maria Zobenigo – a family extinct in the 12th century.  Santa Maria Zobenigo – very Bramante, especially the exterior, with its rounded braces – to the memory of the Barbaro family – four statues on the facade and maps and reliefs of various cities.  Inside, a fine organ case with instruments – reminds me of St Michan's in Dublin.  Wildly baroque side altars with rounded, broken encrusted pediments.  Rather horrible.  Rubens in the sacristy – he doesn't belong in Venice.  San Maurizio knocked down and re-built with a different orientation – so much for the past…

I stand on the Accademia Bridge; again.  To my left, there is that garden as shockingly green as ever; to my right, the Accademia.  I can count 19 palazzi from here to Santa Maria della Salute; but I may be wrong.  In any case, what do I know of them?  All I will remember is the idea of the Grand Canal, details will go.

Rio Terrà Foscarini is strange because it reaches from one side of the water to the other and is straight – an old canal that was filled in.  Gesuati not yet open – the world ignoring Lorenzetti again.  So across to Giudecca.

The old vaporetto is no longer as cheap as I recalled it – L.1500.  It is also rather disconcerting crossing the old Canale della Giudecca – is seems so far – again, I recall my last trip to Venice – when I took Linea No. 5 – all the way out to Murano and nearly missed my plane – vaporettos are like that: they have a mind of their own.

Walking along the fondamente of Giudecca is strange: across the way lies the real Venice – this is some kind of ghostly double.  And the Canale looks horribly magnified, as if the two sides are drifting apart.  To a café, just by Il Redentore.  This is none of your posy jobs: this is more Glaswegian minimalism.  Full of old men with thick glasses, stern-looking women, mad-looking ones clutching huge blue boxes.  On the wall, there is a technicolour photo of San Giorgio Maggiore, a faded print of Italy's football squad, a pennant for Florence, a still-life oil painting.  I drink yet another cappuccino – the taste of Italy.

Buonarroti lived on Giudecca when in exile from Florence, 1529: "per vivere solitario".  Il Redentore – built in commemoration of deliverance from the plague.  Facade very like San Giorgio Maggiore – but cooler, not so violent and thrusting.  From its steps it is particularly impressive – the edges of the pediments catching the shadows.  I enter and find Italian hymns playing.  It is probably appropriate.  The interior is much more lived-in than San Giorgio Maggiore: lots of candles, lamps, candles; and at this time of year, a presepio with the characters in 18th century garb.  It is dark and hard to make out Palladio's design.  Perhaps you really need faith to appreciate this church, whereas San Giorgio Maggiore is more purely aesthetic.  Churches are difficult: can we seem them truly as just works of art?  If not, what are atheists to do?

The view from the steps is wonderful: the sky is darkening, and the pink lights line Zattere and the Riva degli Schiavoni.  San Giorgio Maggiore is gradually glowing with its cool light. Zitelle is closed, but looks half-realised – not echt Palladio.  But the view from here is something else.  The bells are ringing: not single peals, but four notes.  San Marco is lit up, but half-obscured; La Dogana shines with its golden ball; La Salute rises proud at the end of the Grand Canal; Ospedale della Pietà visible too.

Vaporetto No. 5 back – rather worrying in its long, circuitous way.  To the Gesuati.  It turns out to be a real theatre of a church – very dark (at 5.30pm), with the altar and baldacchino black and brooding.  Tiepolos on the ceiling.  Unlike Redentore which jars in places, this feels of a piece.

I have seen so many churches today: how can the memory retain them all separately?  What will my memories be?  Compare looking at a room full of Jackson Pollocks at the Guggenheim (again): how do we look at them and remember them?  At least the churches have conventional figures, standard designs; what do we do with modern art, which has neither, and which tends to invent everything as it goes along?  There is interesting evidence on how we look at a painting's image: we jump around from salient point to salient point – a bit like a guided tour, moving continuously along a route, but stopping at the highlights.  All our memories are therefore journeys through a sequence of images, and past key points in those images.

Back to the hotel, past an antiquarian print shop.  I enter, and ask about views of Santa Maria Formosa.  They have two: the same, but first and second impressions, separated by a century.  £350 one, £175 the other.  The image is very simple: of the church and that end of the campo.  Quite effective.  I am sorely tempted… vediamo.

Eats at a nicely informal pizzeria Al Teatro Goldoni – which is precisely where I am now, to see – and possibly even hear – "Le donne gelose" by Goldoni himself in the theatre, which is just a few metres away.  Let's hope it is not entirely in Venetian dialect.  Curiously, the seats are not numbered.  This means that there is a huge, disorganised scrum to get a ticket, and then another pell-mell to get a seat.  I find myself in row G, on the end of the central block to the left (G11?).

The interior of the theatre itself is a curious mish-mash.  It is modern, with tolerably spacious seats – my father would approve – but the boxes above have an old-fashioned air about them.  The seats are rust-coloured, the walls of the boxes a horrible green.  The ceiling has the requisite chandelier (small), and a strangely oriental design.  Amazingly, there are no programmes; help.  A fairly small proscenium stage, with minimal set.

Alla fine del primo tempo – yes, well, it's almost "A Life for the Tsar" time: that is, I'm having to guess most of it as I did in Moscow when watching Glinka's opera in the Bolshoi all those years ago.  The dialect is very attractive to the ear – just incomprehensible save for the occasional word.  I shall not even try to guess the plot.  I will note though that people are not laughing very much – confirming my worst suspicions that Carlo is not a laugh a minute, whether in English or Italian.  The best bits come from the integration of the commedia dell'arte with the action.  The set is dull, the acting very static.  I am confused by the total emptiness of the boxes in the theatre.

The stones of Venice are a huge palimpsest, even though the city is not.  Everyone feels obliged to say "I was here".  On the Rialto bridge, there is one dated 1/1/88; and another which says "1915" – but no name; the span of graffiti is no doubt greater.  

Venice divides up according to the section of the Canal Grande: Rialto to Accademia etc.  The secret parts of Venice: just along from the contrapuntal Santi Apostoli; along the totally horrible Strada Nova – even worse with its Xmas lights, there is a tiny, dark alley, Ramo Dragan, which comes out under a low entrance to a jetty.  From here the Canal Grande curves away strongly to the Rialto, and round to Ca' Rezzonico and Ca d'Oro.  Opposite there is a fondamenta; it is completely empty now.  Magic.

Everywhere in Italy you get bill posting to the memory of the dead: "e' mancato all'affetto dei suoi cari…"  Passing Santi Apostoli – amazing, slow chant – but neither Gregorian nor anything else I know…

More secret parts: Campiello dei Miracoli; Ponte de le Erbe – three bridges visible, totally nowhere. Ultimo numero del Sestiere del Castello: 6828 (ha!).  So many secret places: Ponte del Piovan o del volto; rii split, bridges, back of churches.  Miracoli (again).  This has the makings of a nightmare; or like a memory which will not come back.  As I walk round and round, I have the image of another Italian city; I cross cobbled streets to a large square, brightly lit; Rome? It will not come back, even though I walk into this square again and again.  Then I find myself where I started, near the Rialto.

The second half of the Goldoni was better in some ways; the scene at night, everyone masked, was atmospheric and strangely moving.  I still could not understand what was going on; but I could take it metaphorically: maskers, confused groping, mistaken identities.  This is the cancellation of the past and memory – compare the Carnevale in Venice.

There are various stages to remembering a language: first the words themselves come back, the the ability to string them together.  Finally, you can begin to understand speech; the last phase is coping with dialect.

The Lorenzetti walks are becoming atolls of knowledge: when I come across a familiar street, I feel safe.  Certainly his itineraries divide up Venice.  What of Ruskin's "Stones of Venice"?  I have seen so many churches today; how can I remember them? How can I remember the Jackson Pollocks?

3.1.88 Venice

It's raining.  The streets and campi reflect the buildings around them. It is as if they remember their original state of water.  Venice is not designed for umbrellas: its streets are too narrow, and they stop you from taking in the view.

To the Accademia.  More changes: no free admission for journos.  A new law of 1985; how time flies.  So I pay the L.4000 and find myself face-to-face with Paolo Veneziano… At the left-hand base of the picture, two tiny people: due devoti, muscling in.  Room IV: a wonderfully stern San Girolamo – with yet another devoto (no wonder San Girolamo looks so miffed).  In the Piero della Francesca room.  The green of the hills that characteristic ochre (how do we remember colours? - it is like perfect pitch).

Room V: Giorgione's "La vecchia" with her scroll of "Col tempo" attains its sadness through the eyes.  The eyes which look at us, look at herself in a mirror: she sees this scraggy face and old body – but the continuity of her consciousness means that she cannot relate it to her self-image which is of the past.  It is as if the box we live in grows old, while the spirit inside does not.

Part of the richness of "La Tempesta" for us is in its mystery.  We cannot read it like some religious scene; it is romantic in its self-completeness.  So how can we look at it?  At the elements – the woman, the man, the lightning, the distant town, the broken pillars, the separating stream – or we can construct our own story, a path through the picture.  One thing is certain, it lives in the memory because of its magic.

Veronese's "The Feast in the House of Levi" dominates Room X; it is so vast. I know this painting, and yet I have never seen the dwarf by the stairs before, nor the gilt sculptures above the arches.  We trust that paintings and places do not change in the interim; but of course we have no proof…  There are – as near as I can tell – 64 people in this painting: how can I remember them?  What do I remember?

We must pass through a gallery as through Venice: picking certain routes, certain stopping point.  Otherwise everything becomes an undifferentiated blur.  Room XVII is one of the best: therein are contained the views of Venice by people like Giovanni Migliaia, Canaletto, Grandi.  It is the shock of recognition: Bernardo Bellotto's "Scuola di San Marco by SS. Giovannai e Paolo", Guardi's "San Giorgio Maggiore" – with the old campanile, thinner and taller.  

The wonderfully soft yet strong portraits of Rosalba Carriera, the paintings of Pietro Longhi – surely the real chronicler of Venice.  Room XX: the Gentile Bellini procession in front of San Marco – hundreds of people.   The changes and the continuity with the image today.  Past the little Madonna on the stairs.  I buy a postcard of part of "La Tempesta".  The bells are ringing clangorously in Santa Maria della Salute: how can I capture the moment?  A passing ship in the Canale della Giudecca sounds its horn – in tune with the bells.

Santa Maria della Salute is almost perfect; this may be because it represents the life-work of one man, Longhena.  The octagonal form is inspired: it is so gracious and airy; then the presbiterio, opening out again, out-tops even this antechamber.  The space beyond the altar extends this volume.  Again memory fails me: the cool white and grey of the main space reminds me of somewhere, but I can't think where.  Like so much of Venice, this place is a fractal (sic): you can home in at deeper and deeper levels, and find more and more detail.  For example, the altar, with its powerful baroque sculpture – almost Bernini.

I find myself in Caffè Florian; I noticed just along from here is a shop called Jesurum – I immediately thought of John Jesurun.  Now I sit in the window, with views of a wet and cold Piazza San Marco.  I have ordered cappuccino and a small cake; the bill, I notice, is a mere L.9,800 – just under £5.  This reminds me of my most expensive cup of coffee: it was in the Guggenheim Museum in New York. The pound was at its all-time low – about $1.15, and the coffee cost $2.  Yikes.  This seems more justified, because expected.

What can I say about this place?  I have never been here, so it is a new experience, a new memory.  It consists of three or so shallow rooms.  They are elaborately decorated with middle-eastern images of coffee et al.  The ceiling too retains an Islamic, oriental element.  All the walls are covered with glass, which with the old fading mirrors add an air of being in a museum – or a goldfish bowl.  The art deco lamps are help by bronze putti.  The seat is plush red velvet.

Why am I here?  Why are any of us here?  The tourists, no doubt, because it is famous: one more experience to tick off the list.  This is partly why I am here (partly?).  It is pleasant, to be sure, but £5 pleasant?  So is my response here any different from tourists in front of "La Tempesta"? At least I am conscious of what I am doing; though I would be pressed to find any better justification for it.

The music which acts as ampoules of the past is nearly always pop.  This is a for a good reason: the very greatest music says too much by itself - to accommodate yet more layers of meaning either does violence to the music, or it is simply overwhelmed.  But most pop is essentially trivial, and is the perfect vehicle for memories.  For the same reason, third-rate classical music like Albinoni's Adagio etc., will also do.  For me, I am reduced to a snivelling emotional wreck when I hear certain tracks from Supertramp's "Breakfast in America", Joni Mitchell's "Blue" and Sade's "Smooth operator"…

Writing is a journey: a path from the first sentence to the last.  Of course, you can jump, like taking short cuts; but this only takes you to another part of the loop: we are locked in the sentence's unidirectional linearity.  This writing mimics in part my walks: ideas and impressions are the sights and sounds. We contain within us our memories as one long journey: of our body.  It is as if a camera is running all our waking (and dreaming) hours; the camera is mounted in this strange device, which perambulates the world.

When we walk these unfamiliar or barely familiar scenes, choosing left or right for whatever reasons, there is a kind of determinism at work: whatever made us go left at this spot before is likely to affect us in the same way next time.  This presupposes a degree of constancy in the surroundings which will enable the same forces to work on us.  Venice, pre-eminently, offers that.

Looking in a libreria, I see a poster of the views of Venice.  They are the same as those I saw yesterday; apparently this is a definite series.  They are by two artists: Canaletto and Vetterini (I think – my memory is too short term), published in 1740-ish.  

With Lorenzetti again.  Inevitably, perhaps, his itineraries tend to start in Piazza San Marco.  As a result, you must move with the crowds for a while.  So, moving along Merceria di San Salvatore is a pain; turning down the tiny Calle dei Stagneri O de la Fava is a relief.  Across the Ponte de la Fava, there is a typically cut-off church, a very bare brick facade which reminds me of Gerona.  It is not often that the narrow winding streets become claustrophobic, because they are normally inhabited, there are windows and doors.  Calle Ramo Drio la Fava is different: it sidles past Santa Maria della Fava, whose steep wall bears down on you.  

To Campo San Lio.  Another delightful campo which I have never seen before; or have I?  It is like a game of deceit practised by a city.  To Campo Santa Maria – though only a few hundred metres from Piazza San Marco, I have never seen this in my trips to Venice.  Ponte del Cristo.  Three canals meet at a right angle; down the smaller, two bridges; the larger moves away grandly.  (Whilst admiring a stunning black-haired young lady mouthing beautiful gravelly noises down the phone in Campo Santa Maria, I put my foot in a juicy one: the first time on this trip – and how apt…) Fondamenta dell'erbe: traditionally a pictorial viewpoint (I saw a postcard of it today).  Attractive Gothic palazzo at the end of the fondamenta.  Beautiful carved wooden door.  

I had not expected to see Santa Maria dei Miracoli so soon.  Last night, when I came across it twice, it seemed miles from anywhere, as if it were one of those places which we can only find late at night, or in exceptional circumstances – as in "Le Grand Meaulnes".  But here it was, sitting by the side of a small canal.

Inside is even more amazing: jewel-like is the only description for the tiny details of the place.  Rich grey marble facing the walls of the nave, veined like blue cheese, make the whole surface bubbling and alive.  The design is unusual:  a raised altar with balustrade, plus a gallery at the back.  Otherwise a simple barrel vault, ornately carved, gilt, and with 50 or so square paintings of saints and patriarchs.  The optical effect is curious: because of its regularity, it assumes a kind of hypnotic power.  The floor too is marble.

The carving around the base of the main arch over the altar is beautiful: mermaids and cherubim.  Rich intricate forms and gilt under the gallery.  The supporting piers have carving which is fully three-dimensional: there is space between parts from the body of the stone.  The facade is very different too: porphyry and marble, with a large rose window.  Brilliant composition down the side of the church from the Ponte dei Miracoli: the pilasters line up hypnotically.  Another fine view from Piazza Santa Maria Nova.  It looks like a train, with its narrow, compact form.

What can one say about Santi Giovanni e Paolo?  Well, Lorenzetti tries to say it in densely-researched pages.  This church has more in it than most museums; you could spend three days, two weeks, just looking at everything here.

Santi Giovanni e Paolo is huge: I had forgotten the sheer impact of it.  I had vaguely remembered the monuments; but not this amazing density.  It is like a huge memorial to Venice's glorious past, placed in a Musée d'Orsay-type setting – a barn, a railway station, a huge Battersea Power station (but imagine turning Battersea Power station into Santi Giovanni e Paolo).  Someone has lit the apse; the altar is visible now; I think I prefer it dark, like Gesuati.  The monument on the right of the nave with the three statues is particularly striking.  As ever, I ask: how can I look and see and remember all this?  I can't, and so shall not try.  I shall walk round (note: Lorenzetti is organised as an anti-clockwise circuit), trying to find among the desperate richness of Lorenzetti things I see.  NB: this is like memoriousness: too much data, not enough info because these is no way to organise it on paper.  Perhaps hypertext is the answer, or an intelligent book, context sensitive.  At this level, a wise fellow traveller is necessary, perhaps.

Imagine how many years of Lorenzetti's life it took to write the book.  Note too there is no other guide like it: not for London, Paris, Rome etc.  Venice is unique.  Because of its size, you can walk it; because of its art, it is memorable; because of its uniqueness random wandering pays off: every step.  It is all so integrated and connected – links by culture as well as space (Lorenzetti says this in his intro): "a guide in time as well as place".  This is the book of his life as well as lifeline.  Compare Proust: his novel is a guide to his life – and to people as well as places, of Faubourg Saint-Germain, his Venetian nobility.

With all the monuments, the walls seem crawling with life.  The very simple design of the church is probably crucial, especially the pillars and windows (which are few).  The chapel of the rosary comes as a surprise: it is warm, there is the smell of incense.  It is also alive with sculpture, carving, painting.

I love the pay-as-you-go lighting systems in Italy: L.200 in a little box for five minutes or so.  It sums up memory and visiting these places so well: you always have a finite time – so what do you look at?  I always try to turn away before the light goes out: active rather than passive loss.  I have been here about 90 minutes; it is dark, very cold; I am less than half-way round the itinerary: Lorenzetti has defeated me.  I'm going home - well, "home".

It is 6 o'clock in Piazza San Marco; the campanile's two bells are a semitone apart and hang in the air like a gamelan.  It reminds me of one 6am two years ago.  And now they have stopped, and other more distant bells ring in answer.  Older, less pure. Like San Gimignano, Big Ben, Cambridge, church bells everywhere, to remind people, to commemorate.  Bells mark time – for example in music..."mortuos plango, vivos voco".

Lorenzetti beat me because of time: it was dark and I was barely half-way round his itinerary.  Lorenzetti does not work in the dark: you need the long views.  Venice at night is not the same city – you would need another Lorenzetti.  I was also beaten by the trump card of Santi Giovanni e Paolo; I was not prepared for the sheer richness of its holdings.  I found myself in a black hole of culture: its massiveness and attractiveness were too great.

But like all such failures, it is also a victory.  A victory in that I have gained the knowledge that Santi Giovanni e Paolo is far richer than I imagined; that Lorenzetti is not to be taken so lightly.  Next time I will be better prepared.  And this is part of the attraction of Venice: the next time, the sense that your memories of now and the past will contribute further.  It is when there is nothing to look forward to, no further richness, that ennui sets in.

I am sitting now just by the Sotoportego e Corte de Ca' dei Riva; I am probably in the corte part.  From my table, I can see Florian across the way.  People walk across my view like fish in an aquarium.  Like fish, they glance in at me.  They remind me of Bede's bird winging its way through the hall.  They cannot resist looking in; and when they meet my stare, they quickly turn away.  People move past the confined space like characters in a strip cartoon – snapshots.

Going out the long way to the station.  It is much further than I remembered.  Near the station, the shops get tawdrier and tackier.  The station is not just a railhead, but a beachhead of the outside world; here everything modern seeps in.  The station itself is surreal: this unadorned slab of light, with the huge waste of space in front.  It looks like the aliens have landed.  And opposite, San Simeone Piccolo, my first sight of Venice.  Along the way, half-remembered sights, plus lots that were completely strange.  It is a different world beyond Santi Apostoli.

The way across the bridge is strangely disconcerting: the streets are narrow, poorly signposted, and unattractive.  There are no churches, no campi, not even canals; you wonder if you have made a mistake.  Again, the feeling of disjunction.  There are trees in Campo San Giacomo dell'Orio.  I have never been there before.

Now I stand under what looks like the market: colonnaded and arcaded, opposite where I looked yesterday.  Totally devoid of people; certain parts of the city are a ghost town.  I am directly opposite my little calle: I can see people crossing along the Strada Nova.  Opposite me, down the whole stretch of the canal, there are probably just 20 windows lit up; who lives in these palaces?  And what happens in the rest of them? 

From the Rialto I took No. 1 vaporetto.  This is how the Grand Canal should be seen: from the water, at night.  It is quiet, there is practically no other traffic; and the palazzi brood gloriously.  In fact, Lorenzetti puts this as the last main itinerary, rightly so: as you pass along, you can see all the little campi and fondamenti along the canal, and can join them together with a different thread.  Ideally one day you would join up all the bridges by travelling through the rii.  But there is an irony: Lorenzetti's itineraries are predominantly about walking; only Jesus could walk the last itinerary.  For the rest of us, the speed of the boat becomes another apt symbol of how experience rushes by us with little time to take it in. 

Passing by Santa Maria della Salute, it is clear that this is a total masterpiece, a kind of Venetian Taj Mahal.  At night, the orecchioni seem to flow down, and there is a veritable forest of statues up there (50, perhaps?).  San Giorgio Maggiore palely lit up across the water.

4.1.88 Venice

A quick glance at San Marco.  Again the richness, but especially the sense of time.  In its darkness and design, this moment could be 1000 years ago.  Looking at some of the friezes in the cupola, I thought: each of these has a meaning and intent: is it possible to know them all?  He – Lorenzetti - did…

On the Lorenzetti trail.  From San Marco to San Zulian (what a good Venetian name).  The facade is rather odd, with windows in the pediment, and a large commemorative slab in the face.  Also inscriptions in Greek and Hebrew.  Then on round the back streets to Santa Maria Formosa.  This is definitely mine.  The Querini-Stampa gallery is closed (again).  It is very cold today: I can barely hold my pen; but the sky is beautifully clear.  

It is so cold I have had to return to the hotel to write.  It is strange how I can bring back with me the images: the last monument on Lorenzetti's itinerary was, aptly enough, San Lorenzo – still unrepaired since World War I.  It has a fine brick facade, and is set behind its own deep square, leading to the canal – one of the long straight ones which cuts through from north to south. It is quite foggy now; it will be fascinating to see Venice under this aspect.  Very "Don't Look Now"...

I follow Lorenzetti's back-routes to San Francesco della Vigna.  An absolute warren, poor but interesting.  The facade is familiar – not from before, but because it has a characteristic Palladian design of two pediments, one piercing the other.  It is massive and impressive. The interior is rather four-square – the same grey and white as Santa Maria della Salute.  It is quite light, and packed with minor art, according to Lorenzetti.  

Back to Santa Maria Formosa.  The facade facing the campo is, like its name, very full and flowing.  Inside is simple, and looks typically 17th/18th century, rather than older.  It seems a living parish church.  I walk to the Accademia, and then round and round; I am cold and exhausted.  However, I did come across the Locandia Stefania near San Tolentini – which I am pretty sure is where I stayed my second time in Venice.  It cost me L.10,000, I recall.  I also remember the green-blue colouring of the walls, the central hall – very cold, and my very small room, barely a cupboard.

I was looking for somewhere to eat; there was a place near to the locanda, but unspecial.  I probably should have taken it.  My wanderings finally brought me back to the Accademia, and then beyond (to the Peggy Guggenheim gallery), where I have found a trattoria of sorts.  Venice is defeating me: although being here is an amazing experience, I cannot take too much of it.  I am still not sure that I have taken it in – that I am here.  I look from the Accademia bridge, at the sights, but it is like an image, not my reality.  I think I will have to leave writing about it for a while.

I must own up to doing something rash: I spent L.300,000 on a print.  I hope this is another small victory.  Not just any print, of course: Canaletto's view of Santa Maria Formosa, engraved by one Visentini: second edition, sometime around 1800.  It is an interesting object: a second pull of an image engraved from a drawing of a sight 200 years ago.  And now it will grace my world as one of my artefacts.

Correr Museum – Venice's image of itself, and a unique view on to Piazza San Marco.  There is a picture from around 1650 which shows Venice almost identical to today.  Crazy image by Antonio Canova: it is called "Ritratto di Amedeo Svayer". He looks about 30 stone, and has what seems to be a skinned rat on his  shoulder.  A roomful of lions of St. Mark.  The library: a fine high room.  A roomful of apprehensive-looking Doges.  With their wigs and hats they look like sheep.  A roomful of coins.  After roomfuls of third-rate Madonnas, it is a relief to get to the cases of Urbino maiolica – very peaceful colours. Then a slow cappuccino, plus an equally slow read of "La Stampa", still my favourite Italian newspaper.

Leaving Venice is easier than you might think – if only because it is a place where you always intend to return to.  Therefore nothing feels closed off, finished.  All those things you meant to do, you can do next time.  Thus this time I failed in a number of respects: I never finished yesterday's Lorenzetti itinerary; or visited San Giorgio Maggiore; or San Michele.  It does not matter.  

Disgusting as it is, I love the smell of Venice.  When you leave a hotel or gallery, it hits you and says: "it's me".  The fog has lifted slightly; as the light fades, it acquires a blue hue as my eyes have been corrupted by the yellow lamps in the hotel.  Outside, I can see a small rio with covered gondolas.

The mist and the night: perhaps the kindest way to leave it; just like the lights going off in the churches.  The city sinks into darkness as if into its waters – as one day, millennia hence, it will indeed do.  Thereafter, it will exist only as a memory, like Atlantis.

Walks with Lorenzetti

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