redux: the beautiful waters of Venice

Was it the light, the sound of rain on the roof? Last night I dreamed of Venice and remembered that I’d done so around this time last year (a few days later, April 6). Reading back, I realized again how an important encounter haunts us for the rest of our lives, even encounters in books…

the beautiful waters of venice

 

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 —

the doorway.jpg

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
              have made
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.

venice

the beautiful waters of Venice

the beautiful waters of venice

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 —

the doorway.jpg

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
              have made
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.

venice

the scent of aging stone

Last night I dreamed of Venice. (Three nights ago, I dreamed my dad met the 14th Dalai Lama in a campsite in the Nicola Valley but that’s another story.) In the Venice dream, we were crossing a canal via a small stone and brick bridge. It seemed very potent — the green water, the grey light, the scent of aging stone. I often have very vivid dreams and I think of them as a kind of story-telling, a continuation of the narratives that shape how I live. But last night’s dream had something to tell me. It felt like that. I did a little dream research this morning to find out what bridges and water mean. One source tells me this: Bridges represent a transitional period in your life where you will be moving on to a new stage. If the bridge is over water, then it suggests that your transition will be an emotional one.

Well, the bridge was one we used regularly during the two weeks we spent in Venice in November, 2009. We walked for hours every day, stopping occasionally for small cups of espresso or glasses of prosecco (which cost the same as the coffee and which was just as restorative).

from the dreamI loved everything about those two weeks, which had begun as one, with the idea that we’d travel a little more through that part of Italy before returning to Paris where we’d begun that particular trip and where we’d end it. But after the first week, we decided we simply didn’t want to leave. Couldn’t leave. The production of La Traviata we saw, not in La Scala, but an ancient scuola. The wine bar we went to for simple suppers of pumpkin ravioli and salads of bitter greens. Dim churches filled with sad-eyed Madonnas and the odour of candlewax. The patron of our small pensione and his parrot Piero — Piero quickly learned how to imitate John’s laugh and we’d hear him chuckling in the reception area after we’d gone up to our room, an eerie echo.

Today it’s raining too hard to do any of the garden work that I’ve put off — putting things in the cold-frame and the sunroom, planting the last of the spring bulbs, mulching the garlic bed with bigleaf maple leaves. The house smells of roasted butternut squash from the garden and apples from Spences Bridge, ready for soup. I’m listening to Emmylou Harris singing “Hickory Wind” and thinking about those weeks in Venice. A dream’s symbolism can be complex, perhaps, or maybe it can also be a visual longing. If I close my eyes, I can hear Piero calling Ciao as we walked out for the day and the sound of our feet on the little bridge that took us into the beauty of La Serenissima.

the metaphysics of time

In my memoir, Mnemonic: A Book of Trees (Goose Lane, 2011), there are many brief meditations on time. As I was writing that book, my parents and parents-in-law were fading, and then dying. In the fall of 2009, my father (with whom I had a complicated but not unloving relationship) was in the process of leaving the earth. Well, he was, and he wasn’t.  I’d left my home on the Sechelt Peninsula several times in early fall to visit my mother in Victoria and assist her with arrangements for my father; he’d gone into hospital with a whole lot of medical issues (prostate cancer, dementia, plain ill-humour…) and with my help, and (more usefully, I think) the help of my brothers, we were trying to find a placement for him a long-term care facility. This coincided with a trip John and I had planned for ages — two weeks in Paris, a week in the south of France, and two weeks in Venice. My older brother Dan urged me to take the trip. We had a plan in place and there wasn’t much I could do — and it seemed that he might go on until the New Year in any case. I went to Victoria, held his hand (though he didn’t know me at that point), helped my mum with some stuff, and then went to France. I called at regular intervals and by the time we were in Venice, it seemed that my father was truly dying. It was strange to try to figure out the time difference and the logistics of who would be where at a particular time of the day. Should we phone my mum? Or my brother Dan (who was in Victoria)? Or my daughter Angelica, who lived in Victoria and who was helping her grandmother? Should I fly back to Canada? They all said no.  (Do I feel guilty about this? Oh yeah.)

In Mnemonic, I wrote this, in a section called “In Venice, a death”:

O the metaphysics of time: that I could stand at a phone kiosk on the Campo San Pantalon, calling my mother on a Saturday evening in November to reach her as she drank her morning coffee. “I won’t lie to you,” she told me. “He has a cough that the nurses say means he will probably die this weekend.” Her weekend was beginning was mine was half-finished.

I remember that time so vividly. I’d never been to Venice before though John had and it was so beyond what I’d ever imagined. People talk about the smell. In November there was no smell, beyond the drift of strong coffee from the little bars, the rich dense scent of history in every church or palace, the beautiful odour of gardens on Torcello as we walked from where we’d been let off by the vaporetto and then the dim smell of stone in Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta (built in 639) and the 12 c. Santa Fosca where I lit a candle for my father (he was a very lapsed Catholic but candle wax is a powerful link to him and his religious paradoxes).

P1010767

And when I called again, from the Campo San Pantalon, which was just opposite the little pension where we were staying, with its own glorious church, it was to discover that my father had died the night before. But what day? It was night for me, morning in Victoria, and they were talking about the previous night. I tried to grapple with my sense of time. What had I been doing? Where was I? Were the candles in time, or too late? Did the smoke mean anything in the cool November air on Torcello where cats prowled as we walked the path and where we stopped for a glass of prosecco for the pleasure of sitting at a small table and writing into our respective notebooks?

Time is again on my mind as I wait for the birth of my first grandchild, due any time now. I think of the baby’s father (my son) and how I was so impatient for his birth. I wrote a poem for him, which was printed on his birth announcement, and in it I confess to impatience:

Every day I vacuum and clean,

make sure your clothes are ready.

Please come. I wake in the morning

from dreams of you, I love you,

you are curled up back to my heart…

Today a note from the grandchild’s mother assured me she is comfortable and relaxed. So I tidied the linen shelves, sorted out what I wanted to keep and what I no longer needed (single sheets from the years when my children slept in bunk-beds or their own narrow pine-framed beds). I aired and refolded the sweet-smelling linen (sachets of lavender!) and organized the shelves for the next chapter of our lives.

How quickly those previous chapters have concluded themselves! My father five years gone, some of  his ashes under a copper beech I planted in honour of his father’s birthplace: Bukovina, “place of beeches”. My mother who followed him, exactly a year later, and some of whose ashes have joined him there. I still see the tiny bone fragments when I water. My children gone out into the world, their pine beds given away, and now the old sheets tucked into a bag for the thrift store. And in the thread of time that is always now, we are waiting for the new child to join the family, a basket of blankets and quilts ready for its bed.