Feast or famine, when it rains it pours, yada yada yada. I prefer to write SOMETHING when I post, and it takes time, and time is the thing that’s not been prevalent lately. My good pal Steve Coulter has helped me out here, however, by letting me know about Mark Helprin’s recent publication The Pacific and other Stories, which I’d love to get my hands on. The aforementioned Steve gave me a copy of Helprin’s A Soldier of the Great War for my birthday some years ago, an immensely satisfying read which introduced me to Helprin’s writing, such a pleasure.
It’s rare to find anything written about Venice today that’s both well-crafted and adds a novel perspective to the ongoing mystery of why this place fascinates so many of us to the degree it does. This piece is one of them, I think; but I’m going to let Mr. C present it to you as he did to me, then you can decide for yourself:
This is from the first story in The Pacific and other Stories (the one I told you about), by Mark Helprin. The story is called Il Colore Ritrovato.
The speaker in the story is the manager of a world famous opera star, named Rossana Cadorna (her real name was Rosanna Scungili, but he changed it: “can you imagine an American or English opera singer whose name was Jane Octopus-Slice?”) Many years before, when he was just a bookkeeper in a dark little factory that made gears for motor scooters, he discovered her as he walked by the laundry where she worked and heard her singing. In his words, “she had a voice that one could love forever…”
Tell me if he got it right…
To the question what is the difference between Venice and Milan other than a difference in tone, in the sunlight, and in the air, the answer is that Milan is where you busy yourself with the world as if what you did really mattered, and there time seems not to exist. But in Venice time seems to stop, you are busy only if you are a fool, and you see the truth of your life. And, whereas in Milan beauty is overcome by futility, in Venice futility is overcome by beauty.
It isn’t because of the architecture or the art, the things that people go to look at and strain to preserve. The quality of Venice that accomplishes what religion so often cannot is that Venice has made peace with the waters. It is not merely pleasant that the sea flows through, grasping the city like the tendrils of a vine, and, depending upon the light, making alleys and avenues of emerald or sapphire, it is a brave acceptance of dissolution and an unflinching settlement with death. Though in Venice you may sit in courtyards of stone, and your heels may click up marble stairs, you cannot move without riding upon or crossing the waters that someday will carry you in dissolution to the sea. To have made peace with their presence is the great achievement of Venice, and not what tourists come to see.
What Rosanna can do with her voice, the sublime elevation that is the province of artists, anyone can do in Venice if they know what to look for and what to ignore. Should you concentrate there on the exquisite, or should you study too closely the monuments and museums, you will miss it, for it comes gently and without effort, and moves as slowly as the tide.
Couldn’t have said it better (read: nearly as well) myself. Thanks, Mark. (Thanks, Mr. C.)