So inspired by my insightful editor not to try and be inspired, but instead take advantage of the fact that I am in Venice where, if I am not seeming to lord or lady it over you, so many of you might enjoy being, I continued my explorations of the artistic mind of Thomas Mann, and made my way on foot—I thought it would be longer,but once over the Accademia Bridge it was a very small stretch of the leg-- to La Fenice, the fabled opera house which has been here for centuries in between burning down, and is due to perform a new ballet by a company from Hamburg of Tod im Venedig. That’s Death in Venice in Deutsch which should give you some idea why I am so afraid of Deutsch. That Death should be Tod is not so bad, but that the lyricism or Venice, Venezia, can be transmuted to Venedig is what makes the language so formidable, and deepens even more the puzzle of how Goethe and Heine could have been so light on their linguistic feet, and given such beauty to the world with their masterpieces, which in German is Meisterstucken, and that’s pronounced ‘schtooken,’ making it even worse. Hamburg is even in the opinions of Germans a place of remote and cold people, except for the whores in the windows, so it will be interesting to see what they do to the ballet. The images of the Meister, Mann, do themselves dance in the mind: there is a feverish dream that the writer hero of the tale, Aschenbach, has shortly before his own finale that demands a ballet as many nightmares do, though few are so poetically transcribed.
So there I was at the box office and the ticket seller, Stefano, offered me the “least worst” seat, which was 35 euros, but not until after much delay and whatever the Venetian equivalent of ‘folderol’ is, where he said I had to come back tomorrow because the Internet was down and many people might have been trying for the same seat. I offered to deal with the Internet myself, a prospect more horrifying to me, secretly, than any thought of returning, but that seemed to bring him to full present attention and he sold me the least worst seat for opening night, which is the 29th, so stay tuned. Then I continued on to the important and grand local bookshop in St. Mark’s Square which I had been avoiding like the plague in ‘Death in Venice,’ and that, too, was surprisingly close. When you take the Vaporetto, as it glides so gently through the Canals, except when it bumps up sharply against the dock, shocking the vertebrae of all those waiting, there seems to be great distances between places which is not at all the fact. It was practically right there, as I discovered once I stopped to inquire at Fendi, which was unfortunate as they had a full length mirror and I saw for the first time where all that ice cream had gone. Pietro, my sweet landlord, is about six feet four so the mirrors above the two bathroom sinks are so he can comfortably see his face, so all I had been seeing was my eyes which had been unchanging and reasonably bright, so I imagined I was getting away with it. The saleswoman in Fendi wasn’t sure where the famous bookshop was, though it turned out to be almost facing. There I was able to buy the English language version of my guiding tale, which I thought I had read in my (it turns out) long-ago youth. Reading it though, as translated by Joachim Neugroschel, which should give you some idea, it seemed more heavy-handed and stilted than I remember anything of Mann’s, including or maybe especially The Magic Mountain. But even so, the writing is strangely gripping, particularly since Aschenbach is ‘too overburdened by the obligation to produce,’ which felt chillingly familiar, along with ‘his concern that the clock might run down before he had done his bit and given fully of himself.’ So there I was, my own hero, relating completely except for the fact that I have no international renown, knighthood or Nobel Prize, which my friend George D’Almeida told me years ago I could get along with anything else I wanted as long as I no longer wanted it, but I never really wanted or even dreamed of a Nobel prize, just a publisher who saw the good in my writing and stayed loyal and in business and alive which of course none of them has done.
I sat there in the almost square near San Barnabas, which is my ‘hood, at a small café called Imagine, eating a salad and devouring the tale, unable to leave until it and Aschenbach were finished. “Normally,” Mann wrote “whatever refreshment he gained from sleep, food or nature had been promptly expended on some work;” which is and was, alas, pretty much the truth about me, no matter how unrealized or failing to be accepted or lauded or recognized, poor Gwennie, but then, he goes on to say: “but now any daily strengthening by sun, sea air and idleness was generously and inefficiently consumed in euphoria and sensation,” which, alas, as all the publishers say when they are turning you down after telling you how much they enjoyed reading it, had not happened to me as there was no beautiful young boy I was trailing, that part of my life clearly being over, thank God and Gloria Steinem who to some are the same. What euphoria and sensation I have had have, as the full length-mirror showed me, have come from ice cream and pasta, which I understand now I must give up. Sigh.
But it was a great relief understanding that I am under no obligation to do anything more while I am here than enjoy and explore Venice, especially after making it clear to Citibank that I am really me, since my ATM card had stopped giving me any money until I answered the many security questions as they were sure it had been stolen, since I didn’t inform them, the supervisor told me after a half-hour of my asking to be connected with someone higher, that I was leaving the country(ours.) I didn’t know they were my mother. I only thought they were my bank.
At any rate I relaxed after that,(except I hope I left my Mastercard at the Café 1518 which I couldn’t find out until today since they’re closed on Tuesday and I’d hate to have to go through that grilling again.) Went last night to Arsenale to have dinner with Pietro at his other apartment which a French madwoman he befriended has stolen the keys of and denounced him to the tax police but that is another story. We had some takeaway fish from a junk tied up at the dock(very slow service but good calamari) and he told me the story of his apartment which is magnificent and was the home of the cannon maker from the Lepanto(I think it is) war, which was Christians against the Turks and if they hadn’t won with his cannons Europe would be Muslim, a fear that continues and renews to this day.
Then he walked me to the vaporetto(hoping she wouldn’t come while he was being such a gentleman and use the keys to steal things from or trash his apartment, as she is in a lunatic rage since she made a move on him that he rejected—I told him to explain that to the tax police and use the word ‘erotic’ which would get their full attention). I got off at Ca Rezzonica, my stop, and made my way through San Barnabas stopping at the overpriced and overrated especially by themselves as they advertise the flavor of the month outside ice cream stand, and ordered the very very chocolate for my final cone. The vendor gave me a taste of pistachio which was great deal better than the chocolate. “The test of ice cream,” said an oceanographer standing nearby with some colleagues who have come here for a conference, “is always pistachio. If it’s too green, go away.” My very very chocolate was icy and disappointing, rather like a fudgicle that had been watered. I threw it away half-eaten and did not go back for a redo in pistachio because once you have made up your mind this is the last one, it better be the last one as there are many full-length mirrors in America, to which I will return the 6th of October, as originally planned. There’s no point telling myself I have to write the new novel someplace else.
That burden having been lifted, I awoke this morning strangely light and carefree, so much so that I thought I would take my meditation in the bathtub. There was no hot water.