Wednesday, November 18, 2009

CORRECTION:To Die So Young and Singing, this one

The nuts at the Hotel Des Bains are rancid. That is the place in the Lido where Thomas Mann lived and wrote Death in Venice., which I had failed to visit on my first visit, trailing his footsteps and the advice of my editor, who said ‘Go get an English edition and then go where he went,’ followed by a second aviso to ‘lighten up.’ Those might seem to cancel each other out, but not really. These have been better days because I am actually looking at Venice rather than waiting for my Meisterstuck. His suggestions were augmented by an Englishman and his wife whom I met at the local wine bar who told me there was a ballet of the classic coming, and also that they had seen La Traviata at La Fenice, where the ballet is going to be but Traviata is no more. So I bought a ticket to Traviata that was to be perfomed last night at the Scuola Grande San Giovanni Evangelista- try asking directions for that one. But first I spent some time at the Hotel Des Bains, where I had the rancid nuts. It would hard for nuts not to be rancid at the Hotel Des Bains. It is imposing and impressively ancient, and, I would venture, unchanged since Mann wrote his Meisterstuck there, including clerks in long dark waistcoats and several scenes Stanley Kubrick left out of The Shining. So I sat on that regal porch and had my Aperol Spritz, a seemingly light aperitif to which one could easily become addicted, and the rancid nuts, to which a sensible person wouldn’t, unless driven by a strange intensity and being within hearing range of some people from New Jersey.
I used the ladies’ room downstairs, where the locks are as ancient as the hotel, and turned mine the wrong way. So I couldn’t get out. There was no one within hearing distance, the place is vast, so I had some anxious moments where I imagined it was my end, and the article would read ‘Author Found Dead in the Toilet,’ which is, I’m afraid, a projection of how I have felt about my career of late. But I finally got out and Vaporettoed back to San Marco to the Montadori bookshop which I told you was across from a narcissistic salesman at what turns out morĂ© accurately to have been Hermes, to buy the Blue Guide to Venice, which my friend George D’Almeida who lives in Radda in Chianti said would be like having him with me, always a good idea, as there is little George doesn’t know about everything. When we were very young in Rome where he and Anne were living at the time, and I was living for a year, he gave an eloquent tour of the Sistine Chapel to Julius La Rosa whom I somehow had found, I can’t remember how, probably at American Express. So I bought the Blue Guide(25 Euros) and also a Donna Leon novel about Venice that my friend another Donna had recommended and I really resented because at this time I don’t want to read anything but Masters and myself if I ever produce again. Still, I am trying to follow the fin rouge, the little red ribbon according to Pietro who owns this little house, that connects you to whatever you’re supposed to find and learn. I hope he didn’t get that from the Da Vinci Code.
Then on to San Toma to begin to try and find the imposingly named place above. Grand is indeed the right description: a climb up marble stairs to the main room , a magnificently sculpted Madonna (unless it was the Evangelista, I haven’t read the Blue Guide yet) recessed in the back wall behind the stage where the performers were to sing. Violetta was blonde and actually quite pretty, not fat, a reality that factored in sympathetically when she was somewhat off key. But at that moment it became my madeleine, Proust’s, not my daughter, and all there had been in my life of opera came rushing back at me.
Puggy, my beloved stepfather, had been orphaned in his youth(read The Motherland, The Motherland, available at for $1.19,) and he and his brother had a monumental struggle to survive economically and make it on Wall Street. So when he became wealthy, which he was when my mother married him, he had a subscription to the Met, then an imposing building around 39th Street as I remembered, where we would be limousine on Thursday nights. This was preceded with a formal dinner in their dining room, also imposing, where he would sit at the head of the table and read aloud the Milton Cross book about what happens in what scene, and my Mother would shout ‘Skip, Skip,’ the same thing she would say at the Passover Seder. Then we would go to the opera, and thrilled as he was to be able to afford it, and in such a good row and on the aisle, he would fall asleep.
Later on, as it turned out, my life having been orchestrated better than a novel, he became involved with his son’s ex-fiancee(I never have to make anything up and if that prick Michael Korda hadn’t dissed my wanting to do a sequel, it might exist) an heiress from D.C. whose family had refused to let her marry Mickey, his son, b when they were in college, because he was a Jew. So Mickey tried to commit suicide, cutting his wrists only on the wrong side. Then lo, all those decades later, she came to Puggy for financial advice, my mother accused them of having an affair, so they did, divorce ensued, and he married Kathy, who was, she said and maybe even thought, a singer. I called him once when she was rehearsing for her debut, which he paid for in an invited concert at Spence, and as I remember she was in the background rehearsing. The Mad Scene from Tosca, I think it was, appropriately. Vocally it reminded me of nothing so much as Charles Foster Kane making whatever her name was sing at the opera house in Chicago. I mean he paid for it, Puggy.
So all of this went through my mind as I watched Traviata, the church, or Grand Scuola version, which was quite like a road company, only with a recessed Madonna or maybe Evangelista. The upside was, though, they gave you a flyer before that summarized what would happen, in a more succinct version than Milton Cross, so my mother wouldn’t have had to say ‘Skip, skip.’ I did, however, skip out before the finale, where, according to the flyer, she sings ‘To Die So Young,’ which it constantly surprises me I no longer am.
Then I stopped in at a little garden restaurant and had some terrible fish as I am trying to swear off pasta and ice cream and saw an adorable two year old who reminded me of my Robert when he was that age and irresistible and could also read minds(a nanny we had while we were living in London said she was thinking: ‘Robert, you’re irresistible,’ and two year old Robert turned to her and lisped “Whath irrethithible mean?” She had to lie down for several hours. I took his picture which upset his mother and I apologized. People were always taking his picture she said, because he was so adorable. His name was Akki, and his father is here to do a study at some university on ants. Later I saw them in Santa Margherita, a piazza where hundreds of students were gathered, I thought to have a protest, but they turned out just to be drinking and being students.
Many of them were Polish, two of them were beautiful archeologists, who feel this is the right place to be, because everything is about the past. I’m not sure I think so.