Last night I dreamed I was in Venice, trying to find my way across a narrow canal. Somewhere there was a bridge, though I couldn’t see it. Gondolas passed but wouldn’t stop. I was wearing a black dress and the scarf I bought at what was the equivalent of a dollar store on the Campo Santa Margherita. And in the dream I didn’t want to leave, which is just about how I felt when I was in Venice for real in 2009. We’d booked a small hotel for a week, planning to travel on to Ravenna afterwards, but at the end of the week, John asked, Do you want to leave? and I said, No. So we arranged another week in the small pensione we’d found not far from the Campo Santa Margherita and settled in for more walks along canals, more visits to churches and museums, more glasses of Prosecco in the little bar near our pensione where you could order a second glass and the host pulled a hose from the tank to your glass and refilled it because of course the Prosecco was on tap. For one euro.
I loved the light in Venice. It was November when we were there and the sky and water were almost the same colour. The grand buildings were reflected in water with the sky inverted and I kept losing my balance. My inner balance, I mean, because walking on the ancient cobbles was just wonderful. One of my favourite books about Venice is Joseph Brodsky’s Watermark and I kept thinking of it as we walked.
Water equals time and provides beauty with its double. Part water, we serve beauty in the same fashion.
One morning I took John on a little adventure. I’d bought a book for him, about Ezra Pound in Venice, and I’d worked out how to find the Calle Querini, in the Dorsoduro, where Pound had lived with Olga Rudge for almost fifty years. He is a complicated poet, I know, with as much in his work and his life to question as to admire. But that day, we found the house, with the little nametag by the bell —
It was such a private thing, the tag, the bell, the door to the place Pound called “the little nest.” I could only be grateful for poets and their lovers and how time sometimes collapses in a whoosh of wind and water and you are there in an immortal city among the gods.
I have tried to write Paradise
Do not move
Let the wind speak.
that is paradise.
Let the Gods forgive what I
Let those I love try to forgive
what I have made.
In Watermark, Brodsky writes of a recurring dream of Venice and I too dream of the canals and the light.
This is the winter light at its purest. It carries no warmth or energy, having shed them and left them behind somewhere in the universe, or in the nearby cumulus. Its particles’ only ambition is to reach an object and make it, big or small, visible. It’s a private light, the light of Giorgione or Bellini, not the light of Tiepolo or Tintoretto. And the city lingers in it, savouring its touch, the caress of the infinity whence it came. An object, after all, is what makes infinity private.
Thank goodness for dreams, that almost a decade later I can return to Venice, the same place it was then, as it was a century earlier, and keep counting. Where the poet still lives with his lover and another poet still returns to the city winter after winter and the years have accumulated, not passed. And we are still there too, looking into water for our own reflection, the bridge suddenly visible.