Venice diary: Day 30 part 2: Sunday 9 March 2003

Walking with Drummond along the Fundamente Mercantili (painted by Canaletto) I finally see a coffin, laden with flowers, on a boat and on its way to San Michele. I’ve wanted to see such a sight, another important Venetian tableau. My impression—perhaps wrong—is that Drummond doesn’t want to look. Here too is a man full of vision, mental energy, books he wants to read and write, and places he wants to visit, but with one tin and one buggered hip. “I think I’m right in saying that I hold the record for walking through the Himalayas, and now I feel ashamed.” That word again.

Inevitably I wonder how I will be feeling about death if and when I’m 65 or and frailer than I want to be.

A small thrill. Nicola Magrini—doctor, lovely man, and new member of our editorial board—showed my editorial on spending less on health care and more on the arts to his friend, the conductor Claudio Abbado.  Two years ago Abbado had stomach cancer and was advised (including by Nicola) against chemotherapy. Death was thought to be close, but remarkably he’s fine. He was taken with my lines: “Is it possible to be severely disabled, in pain, close to death, and in some sense “healthy”? I believe it is. Health has to do with adaption and acceptance. We will all be sick, suffer loss and hurt, and die. Health is not do with avoiding these givens but with accepting them, making sense of them. The central task of life, believed people in medieval times, is to prepare for death.”

I feel some pride in those lines.

Another tableau. I’m breakfasting in my palazzo, eating Jackie’s marmalade, and reading my Clapham neighbour John Lanchester’s review of three modern Chinese novels in the New York Review of Books. He uses a wonderful phrase “the glamour of fact.” Did he invent it? Behind me is the couch where Joseph Brodsky, Russian winner of the Nobel prize for literature, slept. Yesterday my good friends left for Oregon. The world is small.

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