Sunday, November 22, 2009

Mimi and I watch 'Marley and Me'

It being Saturday night, and my having learned in Venice that to be alone is not to be abandoned, but a kind of silent privilege, it was with a peaceful heart that I stayed home, and turned on the TV. With luck (or Bershert I think it’s spelled, or Destiny it felt like in Venice) seeming strangely still operative, I tuned into a very bad print of the very bad movie, Xanadu, with my dancing teacher from Pittsburgh, Gene Kelly, in his fading role, unfortunate but fascinating, since his ego outweighed the wisdom of Cary Grant, who didn’t want his daughter to see him onscreen old, though old he still looked better than almost anyone else does young) and having had enough of the dark transmission and the sadly fading voice, I changed channels in time to catch the beginning of Marley and Me, which I had never seen, but doubtless unconsciously still resented, because I had better dogs with better stories than almost anyone, considering that Happy was on Oprah and would have been immortal, but she didn’t show the book.
Then even as the cast failed to capture me and I stopped feeling sorry for Jennifer Aniston’s being dumped by Brad because she truly has zip charisma, I got caught by what I knew was the inevitable ending, as everything ends for everyone but is somehow, like the loss of a child, particularly hard to face with the death of a dog. And as Marley packed it in, not only were my tear ducts but also my heart valves reengaged, and I remembered all my dogs.
The first was Bo. Spelt ‘Beau’ by the pretentious woman who owned him, a very rich lady who wanted to be in show business, so my husband went to have lunch with her at the Beverly Hills Hotel to raise money for a film project he had, where, instead, she sold him the dog. That will tell you a great deal about Don, my husband. “Say hello to Bo,” he said, coming home with this little Yorkie in his hand, and a sheepish expression, except it was more aptly puppyish, as he knew how pissed off I would be, as the last thing I needed or wanted at the time was a dog. Then, when I was at the height of my seeming success, on a book tour for The Pretenders, visiting the set of the Exorcist, Billy Friedkin sent me to the airport in his limo and when I got to LA my luggage was lost, and I freaked and was nasty, and the man at the counter said ‘It isn’t like it’s loss of life.’ When I got home they told me Bo was in the hospital, that Shani Wallis’ boxers had come down the hill, and in the words of my then little girl, Madeleine, “they made of Bo a trampoline.” I called the vets and they told me Bo would not live through the night, and I fell to my knees, honest to God I did, and prayed, and in the morning I went to the hospital, and he was alive. My friend Diane, my most spiritual buddy, called him ‘Bo, the Miracle Dog.’ He lived for many years, though with only one eye, so some were moved to refer to him as Sammy Davis, Jr.
When we were in-between homes, that is to say we were in escrow but couldn’t get our loan approved so went everywhere there was sanctuary, Diane’s home, and the farm Pat Paulsen had bought in Northern California where there were snakes, and which he had bought in a moment of not knowing where he would go either, to which he had absently invited us at a dinner party as he probably invited everyone and was stunned when we not only accepted but showed up, where Bo fell into a cattle crossing, and lost his sense of adventure. Then Marge Champion spoke to Mark Taper whom she was dating, and as he was on the board of the bank, our loan was approved and we lived there till and beyond the end of Bo’s life.
That sadly coincided with the untimely and agonizing last weeks of Don’s, when Norman Cousins sent us a healer, who first laid hands on Bo, who was failing, and Bo immediately became even more ill, so Robert, my son, said of the healer, “Don’t let that guy near Dad.” So I took him to the vets’ to be put down, and because I had a dying husband at home, did not have time to wait around or grieve. “Did the guy put a mask on before he brought down the blade?” Robert asked me, but I was in too much pain to realize how darkly funny and sad that was. And because I had Happy, the new puppy we had bought the kids for Christmas, the last Christmas we were to be a whole family, and there was so much on the unseen horizon that would tear us apart, I did not suffer over the death of Bo.
But when Happy died in Paris, at the Plaza Athenee, I fell apart, as Robert did when I called him to tell him I would have to put Happy to sleep, because Happy had had a heart attack running down the rue, and was suffering. I spoke very softly to Happy in the darkness, as he lay beside me on the bed, and soothed him, he was so frightened, and asked him to help me-- we had an appointment with a vet we didn’t know, to put him to sleep the next day. I stroked him in the darkness, and told him what a good boy he had been(the best, accompanying me everywhere in the world in the purse I smuggled him in until they started x-raying at airports, when he was busted.) When I turned on the lamp at four in the morning, he was gone, perfect and lovingly cooperative dog that he’d always been, so great he appeared on Oprah and would have been immortal, but she didn’t show the book.
Now all these histories and heart-searing moments came back to me last night as I watched with Mimi, my Bichon, so I guess I was off base in the beginning of this tale when I said I was alone. I wept into her soft, white, curly coat, and counted up her doggie years, and prayed she would have a very long life, as I pray for all of you, though I am embarrassed to pray. Camus, to drop an unloving name, said that people have invented God so they would not die, and it is hard to deal with being an ambivalent believer, struggling with Doubt, in this age of Sarah Palin, who has made religious feeling into an obscenity, or as Frank Rich put it so succinctly in his column this morning, “Oy.”
But whatever the absolute truth, if it turns out the truth can be absolute, there is no denying the spark of divinity that is in those little creatures, though Mimi showed signs of sibling rivalry this morning when I gave croissant crumbs to the birds in the park, so radiant with leaves that are even more colorful as they are dying, instead of her. But who says Divine Love can’t be jealous? Certainly not Oprah, who has given us two years to grieve not her passing, but her passing over, which some of us are hard put to do, since she didn’t show the book.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Out of Venezia

Well, she might have had a House in Ahhhhhhfrica, but I have one in Venice. I cannot tell you what street it is on, because street names mean nothing here, it is all in knowing which side of the canal is yours. I wandered today for several hours on tiring feet(thank God for Puma, though a litter would have better) trying to find the Bigleterria I think it’s called(as you all know I have a hard enough time spelling in English, but as Herbie-Huhbie he called himself, being Southern) Merritt, my Olde English prof at Stanford told me, as he and Joe Herben (Huhben) my Chaucer professor at Bryn Mawr had told their classmate Scott at Princeton, ‘If you write well enough someone will spell for you.”
Finally found the ticket office and now have official card to go on the Vaporetto for a month which is the least time I stay here, I think, though never say ever. The place that sells Broadband I never found, and maybe that is for the best, as I don’t want to spend too much time on the e-mail so I will have full focus for the novel if it comes. Most of my morning was spent trying to send from a regular computer at the Internet place on the corner when you can find what corner it is, and because I had never used a mouse(I have a keypad) it took me fifty minutes to send two messages and that cost six Euros.
But the Daily Word, (the magazine of Unity to which I subscribe as those of you who know me well or even a little know, I am eclectic in my search for spiritual faith, often not having any) today was ‘Something New.’ So I decided to try Something New and live my life instead of just writing about it. I have missed most of the places I’ve been, so busy was I trying to create a book, a poem, an article, whatever would take me to a more interesting future and so I have failed to experience the present, where I am, as if I had been forever texting even before it became a disease. Today I was everywhere I actually was, and it was really wonderful, as I was in Venice. Could have done without San Marco and the Rialto where I was really afraid I might die and then that I wouldn’t, but I finally got to a salad on the deck by the canal, and actually tasted. The lettuce was nature fresh and good enough so you thought you could like lettuce.
Walking through those little alleyways afterwards I could not help thinking of times in Venice past when I was fixated on buying things, and thought ‘When you are happy and present you don’t need to buy things.’ Nevertheless I did buy a purse. Big and soft and a color of red just off enough so it isn’t obtrusive or offensive, and big enough to carry everything in. Then I got on the Vaporetto with my painfully acquired pass that nobody asked to see, and got off at what I hoped was the right vaporetto stop and walked up a pretty street where there was a snack place called ‘La Revista.’ Having passed up the public toilet and saved the 1 Euro 50 they charge you to pee in public places, figured the 7. 50 Euro sundae was a bargain, especially since it involved a clean loo. I ordered the extravagant sundae I had resisted eating my whole life, but did tell them to hold the whipped cream, and relieved, went inside and relieved myself.
There was an elderly couple at the next table when I returned and we started to talk and of course it turned out he had been a professor at Bryn Mawr when I was there. But he taught math and the reason I went to Bryn Mawr was that they didn’t have a Math requirement to graduate. Nevertheless he spoke in terms of mathematics being actually poetic and his sense of loss when I brilliant student of his opted out for a course with Marianne Moore who appeared that year at Bryn Mawr, her AlMA Mater that semester, and went on in sensitive terms about what mathematics was or is, and told me he had helped Nash get his Nobel prize(a Beautiful Mind, see Russell Crowe, but not too closely) and then he spoke of what a coincidence it was that he and his wife should be there and we should speak but I don’t think so, since I don’t believe in coincidence with something like that, because what would it be, as my friend Taffy used to say, but ‘of course.’ Of course I drove through Bali and standing in the road when I didn’t even know he was there or how to get in touch with him was Jack. So of course I would sit down in Venice next to a teacher who’d been at Bryn Mawr and his wide. She complimented me on my purse, and I confessed how compromised I felt having given in to material feelings in view of the spirituality I was operating on for the day, but she pronounced it “a happy purse,” and said I had done the right thing. I would have invited them to my house for a drink but I couldn’t remember quite where it was.
Trying to find my way home there was yet another adventure. M. Rusconi, the great gentleman recently retired as Director of the Cipriani, had a dog once named Iago who actually made his way back to his house after having followed his master to the train station unobserved and forgotten, but I am not so smart as Iago. Desperate, finally, I called Connie Rusconi, his wife and mother of Pietro whose beautiful little house I am lucky enough to be renting after my escape from Capranica and asked her the name of my street. But she didn’t know either, so I returned with her on the phone guiding me by way of landmarks, churches, the place where their older daughter Francesca went to school. And now I am safe, unless the waters rise(you have to put metal slats in the doors if you hear the sirens.)
I am so happy to be here. So much for Karen Blixen. Happily I have stopped looking for love, so have not got my eye peeled for Robert Redford, but Clooney IS in town for the Festival, though my friends the Meads are deeply disappointed at the Cipriani, where he is staying, that they haven’t seen him. Maybe it’s better.

You Have to Have it Stolen in New York

As those of you know who have been following my high (alta) adventures know, I have just returned from a joyful and productive sojourn in Venice, in the Dorsoduro, the quiet and lovely part of that magical city, marred only un po by having my wallet stolen on the Vaporetto a few days before I was to return. Happily, or as a kvetch would put it, Thank God, I had friends who fed and wined me, as the incident as reported to Citibank resulted in their failure to stop my ATM from being used, or their sending me any new credit cards, so fortunately friends also staked me to enough to get to the airport, and home, I guess you could say it was, where I am now banking with Chase, I wonder why.
So today I went to the DMV to get a replacement for my driver’s license, and having been through a saga to get it in the first place (I spent enough time at Social Security to read the whole of Thucydides History of the Pelopennysian(sp?) Wars waiting for my social security card which I needed to get my driver’s license, and then had to have my name changed, since my SS was under Mitchell, my husband’s name, so I went through another series of classics I had no intention of reading while going through the rigamarole of changing my name to my name.) So it was Gwen Davis’ wallet they stole with everything in it in Venice, where I spent an unhappy morning at the police station getting an official report. All of this is to tell you how fortified I was for my return to the DMV, where they needed a passport(had it) Birth certificate(got it) SS card(done it) mail,(check) together in a packet I feared losing lest I vanish from the earth officially, and the police report, which you had to produce to avoid the $17.00 fee.
Semi-fearlessly I went to the Express Office of the DMV with all that stuff, stepped up and filled out what I needed to when a license is stolen, my coat was admired by Mrs. Robinson, who loaned me a pen, and then, to my absolute amazement the number she gave me was called immediately, and I went to the window.
“I have everything I was told to bring,” I said to the woman at window 1. “I don’t need it,” she said, “and in a minute I’ll show you why.” With that she turned her screen around and showed me my photograph which looked curiously like me. “And here’s the police report,” I said, giving her the Italian precinct which noted all that had been stolen, including my license.
“Where’s that from?” she said.
“Venice,” I said, adding “Italy.”
“That’s no good,” she said. “You need a police report from New York.”
“But it was stolen in Venice.”
“I can’t help that,” she said. “You’re going to have to pay $17.00.”
The good news is Mrs. Robinson said I could keep the pen.
Anyway, it’s good to be home, I think it is, though having been without newspapers for two months except for the occasional check-in with the International Herald Tribune and the Gazzetta Della Sport, which is what Matteo kept in the bar where I had my morning cappucinos, I find the New York Times overwhelming, and the news about Sarah Palin alarming. I don’t think most people realize just how dangerous she is, stupidity aside. She is skipping New York very smartly, but as she knows and we don’t seem to realize, the country is not New York, and it elected George Bush, the second time, anyway.
Oh I was so illuminated when I was there, and here I am paying attention to politics. Anyway, hail and whatever the opposite of Farewell is. I’m here.

Full Moon Over Zattere

So tonight, having gotten the blessing of my family—my daughter-in-law said she is happy I am here, and Silas said it was okay that I called him during the football game—I watched a golden moon rise in a very dark sky, and listened to a lot of young people singing along to Italian Carioca, many more words than I could follow in a moment, projected on a screen. But I did get to see the words to Billie Jean, that I had never really quite heard before, and I am sorry Michael Jackson ended as he did when he was capable of such involuted lyrics, grateful to be in Venice, hopeful that my work will go well, but thankful I can be here at all, with a mild night glowing on the Grand Canal, and God in His/Her Heaven I sincerely hope.
I send you all the fruits of the season: your own special energies and the will to prevail. This would have been my mother and father’s Diamond anniversary, had they not divorced when I was eleven, tried to kill each other several times, and died. I hope you all still believe in love, but it really isn’t essential. What matters is a heart full of appreciation and gratitude for being alive, the moment, and catching it as it flies, which it does and will.
Much love from a beautiful sidestreet off the Dorsoduro, near the Chiesa San Trovaso, with a Madonna attributed to Jacobello del Fiore. But what difference if he didn’t do it: it’s there. xx

A FArewell to Cone

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.

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 moré 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.

To Die so Young, and Singing

Dante’s Beatrice died of the plague. So probably did Petrarch’s Laura. So it’s a good idea not to get involved with an Italian poet in the age of Swine Flu. Still, having been instructed by my faithful editor and unofficial therapist to “lighten up,” after a day at the Lido and several ice creams, and a Jacuzzi finally taken, I followed, not my heart, but the music, and came upon a jazz band playing their pecs out on the Zattere, their imitation of Ray Charles flawless, and their rendition of ‘You Are My Sunshine’ with sax, electric guitar, keyboard and drums (Batteria, I love that) fine enough so I bought their CD(the Trio Santi Bailer, no matter that there were four of them, the Italians do not insist on accuracy in the face of pleasure) and felt merry, continuing on to a waterside(redundant,almost everything in Venice is waterside) pizzeria. I should have looked at their menu before my last REPORT: it’s spelled UOVA. But then as you may already know, I am not that good a speller even in English. My Olde English teacher at Stanford, Huhbie Merrit(Actually Herbie but his southern accent was very thick) had gone to Princeton with my Chaucer teacher, Joe Herben(no accent); the two of them had been there with Fitzgerald. He asked me “Mees Davis, what you want with a Master’s Degree anyway? I told Scott: ‘If you write well enough, someone will spell fo you.’.
Back at the pizzeria, the wine was watered, so I invited the couple at the next table, really cute Greeks, to share an actual bottle of wine. They were grateful and affectionate, and it was not until the second glass that the girl,Elli, an accountant, said they had to leave because Dimitri, a cafeteria owner, had a fever and was on medication he had to return to his Pensione to take. I tried to remember if we had actually embraced, and wondered if I drank my bottle of Purel I would live long enough not to get it.
Then understanding that we only live once unless the Eastern religions have it right, I continued on to where the lights were even brighter: a cruise ship at anchor. Stopping just before I entered the police station which I guess is there to make sure no one is bringing in drugs or more Libyans, I turned right and heard the strains of a guitar, not that well-played, especially after what I had heard on the Zattere, but a voice was trying for ‘That’s Amore,’ so I went in. A great old guy named Italo played his heart out and the proprietress, a dark-eyed, warm smiling woman welcomed me and a Bangladeshi sold me flashing red glasses with hearts on them, while her daughter, so slender and tall it was a struggle not to dislike her, danced. I had a great glass of wine and met a Croatian,their new chef, whose name is Robert which is my once favorite name, so will go back there tonight, in my struggle to live in the moment which actually works if you can do it, and wake up to the fact that you are in Venice.
Now to the Guggenheim, to buy an English language copy of Death in Venice, as my editor Robert told me to do to get myself out of myself and moving around, suggesting I go to all those places Mann visited in the novel to cheer myself up. I mean, really. You can imagine how depressed I was if he suggested Death in Venice as a spirit-lifter.

The Uova and I

I am so happy to be in touch with you all. It wasn’t easy. Fifty euros and a chiavetti later (that’s the thing that connects you) I was finally able to figure out how to send a personal e-mail, and, piu importante, how to get one back, without using up all fifty euros. All through my so-called career at the Wall Street Journal it was the Reports that kept me sane, or sort of, because as great as it was to go to all those places, and for all the great people I met, I was alone. But I had you.
At the start of this adventure I complained to my daughter and myself that I had never really been anyplace I was, I was so busy writing, or writing about the place, that I never actually experienced it, for all my training with Jack, my beloved Jewru. I had never been there, that is to say HERE, or anywhere when you got down to it.
So determining to be in the present, I screwed myself again, by believing I was in Venice to write, as I had not been able to even try to do in Capranica, though I had managed to fall in love(Samuele was eighteen months old, built like a tank, with a haircut like Aldo Ray, so I told his mother to join Netflix, as if they could find Capranica, and watch Pat and Mike, Tracy and Hepburn for those of you who are young.) But when I wrote(I started the moment I was sort of settled) it was, according to my lifelong editor and friend, Bob, who for all his many brilliant careers was never in the diplomatic corps, ‘awful.’ That is a word that resonates deep in the belly, and when I recovered and spoke to him, he told me to take some days off. “I know you don’t like to think about it,” he said, insightfully, “but we’re not getting any younger.” In other words seize the giorno, and enjoy that you are in venice where a lot of people would like to be. He assigned me Lido, so I went on the vaporetto and found my way to the beach and sat on some rocks and looked at a sparkling sea and waited for an epiphany, but none came. I’d been vegetarianing since I got here, imagining I wanted to live as long as possible so I could write many books and plays and movies and songs, but as I am uninspired I ate prosciutto and melon and prayed that God would forgive me, especially since it is Rosh Hashonah and not give me trichinosis. Then I had an ice cream , rum raisin, and ate only the raisins, oh maybe just a bit of the ice cream, and then when I got to the port I had, oh just half of another flavor. There are no full length mirrors in Pietro’s house, which is either a curse or a mercy. When I got home I took a hot bath, which is a major endeavor, as the water, now that Pietro has fixed it so it’s hot—I had dinner with his parents when it wasn’t, so wanting to be clean but not complain I carried several pots of boiling water(I hadn’t watched them, but they still took a long time) up the slippery stairs, praying the whole time, and finally had enough to at least bathe my parts. Now the water, fixed, comes in scalding, so I have to wait till there’s so much of it and then turn on the cold. This process takes about an hour until the tub is a decent level but I have still not been able to take a Jacuzzi which is one of its adorable if impractical features since you have to get it to exactly the right level or it explodes. The tub itself is also a peculiar shape—if I had paid more attention in Biology I could probably tell you if it resembles a paramecium or something more specific like a sperm, but you have to be very careful getting out or you can’t.
One of the great features of Venice is that they pick up your garbage if you leave it outside your door early in the morning. I saved my really important garbage, the too soft figs I bought from the boat the is on one of the canals every morning and made jam out of, but not the too soft ones, and the shell of the melon, with all its seeds, and some teabags and really unpleasant things and put it out this morning. Elisa, my darling friend, Pietro’s sister, in giving me the tour of the house, neglected to tell me they didn’t pick it up on Domenica, which is today. But the alert apparently went out to the wild roaming dogs, and when I opened my front door this morning, it had been torn to shreds, the contents scattered all over the street. So I had to get down on my hands and knees which also are not getting any younger, and pick it all up, put it in many other bags as it appeared to have many times replicated itself, and then toss soap and water in great pails onto the street, very Anna Magnani it felt like, before mopping it all up.
I am put in mind of Mr. Blanding’s Dream House, though it is missing Cary Grant, or the Egg and I, except they don’t make movies like that anymore, as none of them could star Julia Roberts. For some peculiar reason she was on an Italian TV show last night(I watch TV to try and improve my Italian,) which was kind of, I have to guess, since my understanding isn’t that sharp, the local Oprah, a blonde woman with a basso voice who goes on and on telling the heart-wrenching story of the wife who looked like Lorraine Bracco, and kept reacting with pain and some tears to the story of her and her husband, who was on a different screen, looking abashed at what he had or hadn’t done, and in between there were long close-ups of Julia Roberts looking really moved and patient that it was going on and on and on and only a little uncomfortable that she had nothing to do or say and couldn’t really chew her gum except when she thought nobody was looking. I am assuming she was getting a translator feed, as she did manage to put a consoling hand on the poor wife at a moment of particular related (I’m guessing) anguish. Finally Julia was invited to speak (“now?” I caught her asking) and she first of all (saying “First of all”) congratulated him on having such a wonderful wife, and then told him not to squeeze the toothpaste in the middle of the tube anymore, but otherwise there were no complaints, and then the wife came in in a wedding gown and crown and veil to the music from ‘Pretty Woman’, that song ‘SHE’ which I guess might have been Italian originally or at least is now, and they were allowed to have the wedding they apparently had been too hard[pressed for either time or money to have the first time, and Julia was the bridesmaid. It was all most peculiar, and I can’t imagine why she was there and could not help thinking, the whole time she was looking uncomfortable, that she was saying to herself “I must kill my fucking publicist.”
So that’s all the news from the Chiesa(thank you Howards) close to San Barnaba. I am going upstairs now to try and take a Jacuzzi. Perhaps by now it has cooled off, but if not, remember that I always loved you.

A Non-Death in Venice

So after a most daunting and un-auspicious beginning(there is a reason nobody ever heard of Capranica,) I am settled in my palazzetini(I don’t know if there is such a word, but the lovely Irish couple I met in my local wine-shop said this is not quite a palazzo,being very tiny but charming, and with a back garden,) near the Zattere, which yesterday was still slightly watered down or watered up== there were huge rainstorms two days before, giving rise to(not a pun) ‘High waters,’ so there are certain places in Venice you cannot walk, besides the canals. I have had many electronic adventures, including this one,the wireless that will connect only with a (try and find it in Venice) chiavetti and that erratic, so the e-mail unlike the pony express does not get through. I have no idea if or how many of you will get this. But I want you to know that I am thinking of you and trying to communicate, and if this doesn’t work there is always the iglesi(sp?) just a few meters away where I will send you my prayers, or the synagogue, if I make it to the Giudecca. I am trying not to be obsessed and do something besides my work, because my wise daughter said some eight or nine books ago(see Marriage) “That’s all you ever talk about—your work. You could make a recording.” So I am hoping to really look at Venice in-between trying to write this novel.
People are very calm here, as long as you stay away from San Marco where they get very excited and push, and my new Irish friends think it is because there are no cars so no traffic and much wine so no drugs, but I think it is because of all the pasta. And ice cream. Everywhere ice cream, the best in the world I think. It’s hard not to feel comforted.
I am going to try and send this now so I can get back to(switch on the recording.) Please let me know if you get this, and if not, know in your hearts that I am thinking about you, wishing those among you for whom it pertains, a Happy, Healthy, sweet and prosperous New Year, and the same to the rest of you who believe in everything else or nothing. Love from beautiful downtown Venezia.

In the Cell of Saint Somebody

Well, that was a short visit. Do you get a refund for not staying at that god awful place? And how long will you be in Venice? Can you write the book there? I'm so confused.
After reading your email I wanted to rent a helicopter and fly you out of there. It's like
you're in Somolia. Our heat wave has finally subsided which is a good thing. We had two weeks of almost 100 degrees daily. Miss you and hope everything works out...let me know when you are safely in Venice...

xxx J.

--- On Sun, 9/6/09, Gwen Davis wrote:

Date: Sunday, September 6, 2009, 7:01 AM
This place, where I sleep at least, brick floors, one tiny carpet too small to accommodate my yoga, not that I am that stretched out anymore, reminds me of a hotel I visited in my WSJ travels, overlooking somewhere I hoped I could find Thornton Wilder’s ghost. You know the place, where he was towards the end of his life--I just can’t remember the name, as I never knew where I was going while travel-writing, having no sense of direction and lacking the map-reading gene. Fortunately there were always people to Guide me(I have always relied on the kindness of strangers, and I spoke French=some.) It was West of Arles, that I remember, because I could understand why van Gogh cut off his ear, having spent too many days in that city, which seemed to me to lack a soul. This hotel was up a mountain looking down on whatever town it was, a few mountains in the distance, a garden below my window with a very happy, noisy young Italian family down there having a meal, calling to me to join them.
My room there was called the cell of St. Whoever, the place being a former monastery, all of the rooms and very small suites named after someone who had given their lives to the church, often literally. My particular cell—don’t suffer too much for me, it had become a Relais-Chateaux and there were live lobsters in a tank beside the dining room and you got to choose your victim, Michelin-prepared—was named after a saint who had pronounced the queen a slut or something worse, so she condemned him to death and while he was being Cheneyed, as I now like to think of it, he forgave her, so they made him a Saint, but not in time to stop the torture. I loved that cell. I was deep into a fantasy romance with a pallid youth who lived far away and was scared of me, so it was the right ambiance for yearning, much as I tried to keep it spiritual. The Italian family had a gorgeous brother who at their behest helicoptered down to meet me, I think, though I can no longer distinguish between the facts of my life and the fiction I was writing at the time, but yes, I think he actually arrived there. We had a delicious flirtation, or maybe it was the dinner, but he was a terrible kisser and I was still, though aging, in my late adolescence, so not really interested. But I loved that hotel the name of which is inscribed in an unpublished manuscript—it was really lightweight, as were my feelings at the time—so when I get home(if) I will let you know where/what it is, and what that place was the lights of which twinkled down below.
Today is the Festival of the Patron Saint of Capranica, whatever his name is, even the natives aren’t sure, so I went with Cristina, daughter of the proprietor who is mad at me for not loving it here, into the village, such as it is, to observe the celebration. There were cannon shots, and deafening firecrackers and ponderous brass music not unlike the parade in the Godfather, villagers dressed in short bright orange robes with gold braid carrying the huge gold and brass effigy of their Saint, radiating out from a painted wooden sun, looking almost more Buddhist/Hindu/Whatever than Catholic, it was so elaborate, the saint like Ganesha though missing the elephant nose. Anyway I will try and find out what he did before leaving here, which I do early tomorrow, having been rescued by my beloved friends the Rusconis, Pietro, their son, renting me his apartment in Venice, with a garden yet. There are just two obstacles between me and what sounds paradisiacal, and that is the Autostrada between here and Fiumicino Airport which I don’t know how to find( I have for some reason lost the gracious accompaniment of my host) and then getting to the train station in Rome. Oh, and getting a reservation. Trenitalia is closed on weekends, and online they said my credit card was unacceptable(they don’t take American Expresss, see the ads) and my MasterCard they will let me know within 48 hours if they can accept. Dispiriting as this is, I don’t want you to think I was able to overcome my fear and trembling in front of the computer. Cristina’s boyfriend is an electrical engineer at IBM and kindly did all the www. But even he was unable to get any satisfaction.
So pray for me, those of you who pray, that I will find the airport, not crash on the Autostrada(I did that once in Poggibonsi and broke my wrist in many pieces which offered me a nice exchange with John Updike some months later, at the New Yorker office, as being a golfer he had actually heard of Poggibonsi; as he shook my hand he noticed it was in a sling, and apologizing, asked if he had hurt me, and I told him “Not as much as the accident.) Those of you who don’t pray, visualize me arriving safely in Venice, happily puttering around my garden, being inspired at my computer. In the meantime I send monastic kisses to all of you and promise to let you know what the Saint of Capranica did, besides get the hell out of Capranica.

The Big News About Capranica

Besides that there are fig trees outside my little Casa door, the ripe upside of the locale, no hot water, towels that feel like Brillo and no place you can make a phone call—the checkout girl at the supermarket(where there is only an internal line) felt so sorry for me she gave me the nectarine for nothing, as I didn’t know where to weigh it, nobody has ever asked for a train schedule before from Rome to Venice so I am not sure what will happen when I try to leave, as I’m not sure I can find the airport to return the car and get to the Rome train station, passing on the dusty, barely maneuverable dirt road to I Castagni(the Chestnut)there is La Heaven Club. I took that as a good sign as once I wrote a charming movie about the afterlife for Jeff Bridges and Jamie Curtis with that title(don’t think either of them ever read it) so I thought I might have an unexpected blessing. Turns out La Club Heaven is a wife-swapping club in this place which has not even a cafe to have a coffee in the afternoon
I am hoping to live until Monday morning, having wasted completely six days of my life(“the problem is we think that we have time,” Jack says often in his talks) coming to this place I thought would be the perfect locale to write my great(have I still got it in me?) novel. As it is, I am still fucked-up in time, waking at three in the morning and then dosing myself to go back to sleep and waking at noon. Max Shulman, a darling man, a humorist from my extreme youth said the reason he wanted to be a writer was so he could sleep till noon, but I don’t think he meant after waking in the middle of the night and taking Atarax.
Went with Pepino, the scrabbly caretaker who is very calm and reassuring, to the railroad station to find out about the trains but as noted nobody had ever asked to go to Venice before. It is doubtful any of them have ever left Capranica, except perhaps the members of La Heaven Club who might have been looking for a heated pool. The lovely young daughter of Giuseppe, the owner of La Castagni, Cristina, came to introduce herself to me, and said she wanted to meet someone famous. I must assume my friend Kristin who found this place for me told Giuseppe I was this famous author, why he must be so offended that I fail to find it inspirational. This is sort of a suicidal version of A Year in Provence(Six Days in Capranica) except that nothing works out, and I have not learned to take joy in being here and, in fact, can’t wait to get out but am afraid of how I will get back to the airport to turn in my car, and rush to the arms of my beloved Rusconis who offer me shelter in Pietro’s apartment but first I have to get there.
So much for romantic plans of writing someplace exotic. Stay in your own houses and ask the Muses for clarity.

On the Road Again

It has been a long time since I literally faced something I HAD to do. Looking at the screen of the computer I am too tired to be really bright, too wiped to be ornery, having flown all night from NY to London, privileged to be actually stretched out on a semblance of a bed on the plane, but not comfortable enough to really sleep. I have lost the easily slipped on travel cloak, so apprehension built up in me on my way to this (I hope) great adventure, a country house some miles from Rome where I intend to (will I?) write my best book. The owner, Giuseppe Di Milia, is a retired Italian diplomat who bought it for when he retired for him and his wife, who has sadly died. I told Kristin, my friend who runs the travel service that found the place for me that if this were going to be a romance novel, I would get there and he would be Franco Nero. But it is not my intent to seek or even hope for love. I am fixed on the idea of my breaking through to a novel that is riveting, a tribute, un-put-downable. Tp dp that I must capture my own complete attention, and want nothing but art. Oh, and maybe Justice.

` Just do it.

The owner, Gisussepe, whom I believe to be in his seventies was to have met me at the airport, a gallant suggestion he made when I expressed some anxiety at finding my way to I Castagni myself. But he could not come and instead is sending his son. If this were a Nicholas Sparks novel, (see Message in a Bottle, the movie of which unleashed my first incident of projectile vomiting-really--) I would get to Rome, the son would have a yen for older women we would fall in love to the horror of the father, and, his objections finally overcome,Giorgio or Cesare or whatever his name turns out to be and I would finally get Papa's blessing, and he would go into town(there is one) to buy the ring- her hands(mine) have been bare since the early death of her husband. Whilst(I am on British Airways now) he drives to Rome for the jewel the widow waits, heart beating happily, her romantic optimism , her vanished dream of love restored. Then the son gets killed coming back on the Autostrada. (See Night at Rodanthe: that is his formula, love lost, love unexpectedly regained, and then he dies.) In their mutual grief, as Giuseppe consoles her, they fall in a sort of love, and she pretends to herself that old affection is as good as getting fucked.

I meant to write it last night on the plane from JFK to Heathrow, but I fell asleep, though I imagine if I knew how to touch-type I could have done it with my eyes closed.

ROME!!! There you are outside the window. Speak to me of Eternity, Art, Passion, the Glory of Nature, History, Women who Aspire, Five Coins in the Fountain(it's been a long time, and everything is more expensive.)

Not exactly how it turns out. Giuseppe is kind of a wreck, polite, gentille, showing up in place of his son, unable to drive my car as he has a tendency to stop short since it is an automatic, so I drive it myself. It takes forever, twisting road included, and Capranica is not a town, even, but a grocery store and a pizza parlor and one Gypsy with his wares, socks, potholders, strung on a line across what could generously be called a piazza. We dine in the pizza parlor, and he insists on picking up the check, which I allow him to do since there are, as Nancy Boyarsky predicted, no screens on the windows and no cross ventilation, so stuffy is too understated a word, and there are bees, even though G. promised me, charmingly, 'bugs are not available.' I have of course packed clothes for a Mardi Gras but understand now I can live in a T-shirt, and the pool, gotten to by tracking down an unmaneuverable staircase cut into the earth, with wooden slats, is too cold to swim in. Nothing works, not my cell phone, not the card I bought at the airport for 24 euros, (20 to the saleswoman, her commission for being smart enough to blindside me) and, finally wined out, or wined down, I go to sleep till 3 AM, resorting to prayer that this will not be as bad as it feels right now. I take a sleeping pill and sleep till 11 AM when Guiseppe is gone to Rome, leaving the aged caretaker Pepino to try and work the Internet. We finally get Giuseppe on the phone and he tells me he has never been so offended, presumably because I am obviously so unhappy with his beautiful, primitive country house, where he intended to live peaceably the rest of his life with his wife, who died. I apologize many times but he will not be consoled. I call my great friend in the hotel business, retired, Natale Rusconi for help in re-locating but he is napping.

Pepino and I go to the market where I buy a great deal of wine from Puglia, some vegetables and some sunblock, the thing I was most prepared to bring but have forgotten. Pepino weighs everything(except the sunblock) the terminal at the grocery store is down so my Master Card doesn't work. I pay cash and Pepino tells me Giuseppe is a hysteric, so that seems an indication I must not be.

I return to I Castagni(look it up on the Internet, it looks fucking palatial,) pick some ripe figs from the tree outside my door, eat them, carefully stepping between the over=ripe ones that have fallen on the ground, drink a great deal of NegroAmaro Puglia(really good) and try to believe, as the prophet of profit said, "Tomorrow is another day."