Underneath day’s azure eyes,
Ocean’s nursling, Venice, lies—
A peopled labyrinth of walls,
Amphitrite’s destined halls,
Which her hoary sire now paves
With his blue and beaming waves.
—from P.B. Shelley’s “View from the Euganean Hills”
I’ve been dreaming about Venice off and on for the last several weeks (in between dreams about houses missing an outside wall, pun-offs with Bob Wood—not as funny as it sounds, btw—or reading books with weird languages in them). It’s almost strange how Venice has crystallized into this mythic place in my mind—and I want so much to go back there, and enjoy it in a way I didn’t enjoy it two years ago. Like I really want to get lost there for maybe 3 weeks—but this time, I’d have my phone and a good map and I’d be on my own time table, and so it would be a controlled “lost”—I could explore at my will, and learn the city at my own pace, and see all the art (that I didn’t see before), and find interesting little alleys (that I didn’t have to map in my notebook so I could find my way back out of them), and visit the churches and the gardens and the other islands and the shopping districts (that I had to skip). I just didn’t have that time before.
(To wit: think about how the first day I was there was a complete wash, stranded as I was in the airport; the second day, I stayed in bed trying to recover from the emotional trauma of first day as well as from jet lag, and I was completely money-less except for maybe like €3 [which I spent on 2 cans of ambrosia of the gods Lemon Fanta] because I needed to find a bank—so that was 2 days out of 6 down. And then of course I was there for work, and I was on someone else’s schedule.)
By the end of that week, I was finally getting a feel for the city, and could make my way around with some autonomy—and then, hello, I had to leave. But it was in those last couple of days that I fell in love with Venice and realized that there’s a Venice book in me (right? all the writers who’ve been to Venice—Shakespeare, Henry James, the Romantics, plus gobs of others—fall in love with the city and thinks there’s a book in them about it), but I really need to get back in that milieu and absorb the rhythms and sounds and textures of the place to be able to write it. Or at least to write it with some authenticity, with the flavor of presence, and not just the hazy taste of memory.
I want to experience some of the touristy things—like take a gondola ride or visit the Peggy Guggenheim museum—and drink Aperol in every bar, and walk until I’m so tired all I can do is stumble upon little out-of-the way cafes and write for a couple of hours before I’m ready to walk back home. That would be my dream: to go back there (not in high summer—maybe, February, when it’s cold and rainy, the off-season for cruise ships—such weather would not deter my enthusiasm at all) and write and write and write and eat and drink and write. There’s a reason that staying in Venice was an expected stop on the Grand Tour for like centuries—because it’s a capital of culture (yes, yes, dead, white, male, upper class, Eurocentric culture—spare me the lecture), and putting yourself in that space, away from your home space, gives you a different perspective on the world. Maybe not a big difference in perspective—it’s still Western, it still has wi-fi—but it certainly influences your thought patterns. It’s certainly also influenced my writing—and I keep coming back to writing those little prose poem/ memoir hybrid pieces (like the one I was nominated for a Pushcart for). I have a number of them. I think there are more inside me though. Another trip to Venice would coax them out, I bet… (Haha.)
Speaking of things (roundabout) Venetian, I have to go to AWP’s annual chaos of a conference at the end of the month in Los Angeles as part of my new duties for The Atlanta Review. I do not look forward to the conference; it’s gargantuan, spread out over multiple hotels, full of 50,000 writers (and that’s not my usual hyperbole) rushing to panels and readings (and apparently, I’m reading too—so great, now I have to figure out what the hell to read)—but I hope that I can get out to Venice Beach (or Santa Monica) for a little bit of time. I need to see the ocean up close and personal, because it’s been a while (at least 14 years since I’ve seen the Pacific). And Venice Beach, for all the times I’ve visited, always amuses me. It’s quirky and endearing and strange, and I dig that. Again, like so much of my time in L.A. in past, I will be sans auto, so not sure how I’ll get out there. And a $60 taxi ride wouldn’t be my first choice for transportation, much as I’d like to go… But I’ll figure that out when I get there. Who knows, maybe I’ll write a few Venice Beach poems. That could be interesting.
As for Venice, Italy, I’ll get back there some day. My book will still be waiting for me to write it.