Venice Diary: Day 11: Thursday 13 February 2003

Dear Drummond,

Thank you for your various charming emails, and I’m sorry that I’ve been such a poor correspondent. Were you to be generous enough to respond quickly (to the yahoo address) then I would respond at once. I’ve abandoned my BMJ address while in Venice and communicate with only a few intimates. I asked Gaby, however, to forward important emails, and she’s smart enough to know that little is more important to me than your emails.

My main point is to suggest that you and Debs might come and stay in my palazzo ( I still get a tremendous kick out of that phrase even though I’ve now used it a hundred times). It has two bedrooms, two living rooms, two bathrooms, and a kitchen. It can sort of be split into two.

This probably strikes you immediately as a ludicrous idea. How could you drop everything and fly across nine time zones to Venice, especially with a war coming? But what could be easier? I think that the flights will be empty and cheap, partly because of the war. You arrive at Marco Polo Airport, where you take the vaporetto to San Marco. I meet you there and guide you through the alleys of Venice to my palazzo, where I’ll serve squid and rocket salad washed down with pinot nero.

There is load of space to work. You can get online. You can do everything you do in Oregon, only nine hours earlier.

Ralph Crawshaw, a great Venetophile, is coming from Portland on a whim. So why not you?

I’ll be here until 30 March.

Let me tempt your further. I’m sitting now in a room that is 30’ by 30’ with a 20’ wooden ceiling. There are two 9’ windows ahead of me that look out onto the 15th century courtyard that includes an olive tree. To my right is a 12’ high French window that opens onto a terrace. Beyond the terrace I can see the top of the marble covered Santa Maria dei Miracoli, which Ruskin (his book beside me) described as one of the two finest buildings in Venice in the Byzantine-Renaissance style. I can see the back of a statue of Christ, who stands at the front of the building. Beyond that blue sky. Amazingly the sun has shone for 10 of the 11 days I’ve been here. On the one day the sun didn’t shine it snowed, huge snowflakes. So much sun is, I think, unusual. Rain and mist is more normal at this time of year.

Inside the room is a huge and friendly wooden lion, a 6’ long model of a Venetian galleon, a stone pieta, a grand piano, a stuffed heron, the bust of a Roman god, a pot of blue hyacinths that fill the room with their gorgeous scent, and a pot of Sicilian oranges. The music playing is one of Bach’s solo cello suites. Around midday I switch to string quartets (either Beethoven or Schubert) and as the sun goes down to jazz.

I live like a monk, alone. In the mornings I read for an hour (first American Pastoral, now Rachel Ray (more Trollope)), then I walk either to the Fundamente Nuove (to look across the lagoon to the Dolomites) or to the Rialto market to gawp and shop (returning if I go there by traghetto), then I breakfast on porridge and marmellata di arancia amare on fresh rolls, and then work until 12.30. Next I take a walk, then lunch, then work for another two hours, and then walk for an hour and look at something interesting—yesterday Carpaccio’s stunning narrative pictures in the Scuola di San Georgio degli Schiavoni. I was the only one there, like being alone in the Sistine chapel. Then I work for another two hours, beginning to drink wine towards the end. Every third night I eat out in highly selected restaurants (Venice has many bad ones). I particularly like grilled eel.

I sleep very soundly, and my bowels move with marvellous regularity (you, being a medical man, will appreciate this).

Lin and Florence arrive next Monday (for five days), but by then I will have been alone for two weeks. I find this interesting and have never experienced it before. I have the occasional spasm of loneliness, but mostly I like being alone. Now my fear is that I may have problems readapting to being with others.

I’ve read Michael Dibdin’s book and enjoyed it. I liked the earthiness and sourness of it, but I now think he misled me into thinking that Venice is some sort of mausoleum. One of the things I’ve learnt from being here in February is that it very much isn’t. There are one or two tourists, but mostly the streets are filled with Italians (most of them, I think, Venetians) going about their daily lives. And the streets are filled—partly because most are so narrow and partly because everybody walks everywhere. A city that has no cars (or even bicycles) and is filled with walkers, where everything—bread, meat, vegetables, an expresso, fish, a newspaper, a meal, a sermon, and probably for all I know a woman—can be had within 100m. Such a thing is unknown in the US. Maybe I should invite George (Bush) to my palazzo. It might change him.

Best wishes


PS. There is clearly a balls up with your subscription to the BMJ, and I apologise. You seem to be paying the institutional rate when you should be paying the individual rate. Is it sorted, or do I need to take further action?

3.45. Home from the Ducal Palace, rather overwhelmed. The sky has become very grey, and it’s the coldest it’s been. Snow may be imminent. I need tea and cake, just like a character in Trollope.

Drummond rings in the evening to say that he and Deb will come.

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