Changing Temples – Venetian Intercourse?


Venetian Intercourse?

Three floors up and across the narrow Venetian street called Corte de Ca’ Serasina an older woman pulls the clothes in off the line stretched across the Corte. A light rain has interrupted the routine of her drying laundry day. As she pulls pins and lifts clothes, she calls across to her neighbor on my side so as to alert her to the problem at hand. I sit in the doorway of my ground floor apartment just in and out of the rain. She notices me noticing her and exchanges a bit of brief pleasantry which, because of my paucity of Italian, goes generally, but not totally, uncomprehended – context is everything. So the best possible smile is extended in return, along with a good natured, good humored wave of the hand at the rain, and she delightedly talks on.

Her laundry, her neighbor’s laundry, the laundry of at least a dozen people creates a visual kaleidoscope of colored shirts and sheets, intimates and towels, pants and patterned socks. The scene is a perfect replica of those innumerable, almost prototypical photos of village streets with just such an assemblage. The ubiquity of such photos indicates some powerful, intrinsic appeal. That appeal certainly existed on that day at that time. Is it the merging of domesticity into the public arena? What is so deeply satisfying about such a scene? Is it iconic – reflective of a tradition or practice that bespeaks presence in the public space now lost to the laundry room? Is it an aspect of social intercourse that is more subtle than the rather obvious interchange that occurred between she and I and that occurs neighbor to neighbor as they are doing those particular chores?

Is it because domesticity is present and right smack dab in the middle of public space? Is it reassurance that people inhabit this street, that these small palazzos are homes, that the exteriors are thinner in a way, that the front yards of modern life are more often buffer and landscaped isolator – rarely, rarely inviting and even more rarely evocative of the domesticity that lies within?

If clothes and the lines upon which they dangle are a domestic version of public space, then the Venetian Campo is a public square reflecting the very essence of social intercourse in public space. Life there is both more and less than that found in a city park, an engineered and designed replica of the evolutionary ancestor of public space. The Campo is generally a rare dynamic of both commerce and leisure. The leisure of casual humanity – not New York City, Fifth Avenue at high tide humanity – but a humanity of children chasing children with their delightful din of fun; adults visiting, watching children, drinking Spritz, reading papers, traversing with purpose or strollers or friends; young adults grouped as they “must’, constantly circling, changing, moving, communicating, watching, wanting. There emanates a quiet poetry of daily life that elicits that same pull and attraction that the clothes over hanging streets create. The commerce merely accentuates the social. It is commerce of pizza by the slice eaten on benches; it is outdoor tables generating wine and spritz socializing; it is fruit and vegetable stands attracting a grandmother or two; it is tobacco shops, each with their unique specialty, be it miniature cars, fancy pipes, children’s dolls and toys, small Mirano glass figures and bottles, or high water boots and umbrellas; it is bakeries and restaurants and countless other variations on the theme.

There is a mythic quality to this combination of commerce and leisure that appeals to an evolutionary nature within – perhaps merely survival as necessity, but, also, the deeply satisfying essence of community, that most necessary prerequisite for survival: “Where ever two or more are gathered”, sort of thing. Our delight in the illustrations of social intercourse reflected in Campos or lines of clothes strung across our vision reflects an all too common diminishment in that necessary component of life – a lack of the social community. Narcissus drowned because the only social intercourse he could accept was with himself. FaceBook and Twitter are separate species evolved as Electronic Campos containing symbiotic systems stimulating a reasonable approximation both of being lost in the self and of interaction with others. Television, a not very distant cousin of Electronic Campos, shows similar genetic traits. Think of Dallas, Downton Abbey, or any of the slew of New Age soap operas which not so obscurely satisfy what is lost by stimulating envy, lust, pathos, and other interactive dreams that replace the missing. With flaunt-able wealth, a touch of the highbrow, and contrast with “just folks”, these sirens calling to our prime time appeal to us because they are replicas of lives and dramas that are realized in a Campo, they are immersion in our need to be connected to others – as if these almost people were merely bringing their laundry in out of the rain and we are watching from our doorway while trying to communicate across a type of linguistic barrier. It is a one way barrier in that it lacks the very heart of community, the essence of social interchange.

Vital, imperative. Instinctive. Genetic. Evolutionary. Fundamental. No matter the form of adaptation to its lack, such interchange is an essence of our humanity. The lack of it defines the social loner who violently demands interaction no matter the cost in school children, runners, co-workers, family, non-believers. The cost of failing to socialize is extraordinarily high both for the individual and the community. Electronic Campos are small failures and small successes in that socialization. Clothes lines strung across our vision and Venetian Campos remind us of that to which such successes strive.

Continued . . . .

Changing Temples Pt. 25 – In Absentia

Changing Temples Pt. 25 – In Absentia

There is still great pleasure in contemplating the notion of Changing Temples both in terms of the exceptional surprise at the very deep satisfaction found in writing the installments but also in the accuracy of the metaphor. The writing satisfaction has been something from the inside out. The fact that there were actually readers of the installments added tone and color and savor to that satisfaction. There is no question about that. There is something stirring in the thought of someone in the wide universe out there being a participant in the ideas, the discoveries, the examination of this strange jouney called Changing Temples. Thank you for rewarding me in that way. It means more than can be said.

That is prelude to a brief discussion of the long, long interlude since the last installment and the not so brief interlude before the one previous to that. In part, my keyboard went on the fritz. In part, I have been RePatriating. But, in truth, it was much more than that. My best friend was sure I was “a bit off the reality rails”. Consequently, the last installment, “Einstein’s Relativity Rails”, was a sojourn out of my mind in order to observe the journey, the rails, the conductor, and, particularly, the lounge car, where, thanks to Italian Prosecco, I was spending many pleasant hours. There is a saying in Al-Anon that “the mind is a dangerous neighborhood, don’t go in alone”. It was also a sojourn out of that dangerous neighborhood where OCD tendencies and loneliness did a Tango. As noted, the sojourn was brief. So the deep veracity of the Al-Anon slogan was revealed.

The dangers are subtle, teasingly diaphanous. The Philosophers that have meant the most to creating the self that is Changing Temples vigorously contend that there is no spending of this life’s energy, or evaporation of the finite days given to one, that can honestly be said to be better or worse. As Hamlet rightly observed, “there is no good or bad, but thinking makes it so”. That nutshell of Hamlet’s has been explored by Montaigne, Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, Pyrrho, Ovid, Cicero, Epicurus and boundless others. “External circumstances take their savor and color from the inner constitution.” (Montaigne)

Put in a slightly different frame of reference, “Fortune does us neither good nor harm; she only offers us the material and the seed of them, which our soul, more powerful than she, turns and applies as it pleases, sole cause and mistress of its happy or unhappy condition.” (Montaigne)

It is tempting beyond description to evaluate one’s daily “use” of this life (the Protestant Ethic gone viral) or one’s application of the material and seed granted by Fortune. What is wasted time? There are significant traditions which answer that question by discussing the uncountable treasure that is each moment of life because of that fascinating construct called Death. It is having that end in mind that makes one evaluate and assign to it either quality or utter, spendthrift wastefulness. That is not an altogether false basis, but it is still thinking that makes it so. “Thus ease and indigence depend on each man’s opinion; and neither riches, glory, nor health has any more beauty and pleasure than its possessor lends it.” (Montaigne)

So, at least temporarily, there is an escapee from that dangerous and boundless nutshell of the mind who once again encounters the deeply significant way in which Keats captures the very heart of Changing Temples:

When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain,
Before high-piled books, in charact’ry,
Hold like rich garners the full-ripen’d grain;

How rich the garners may be is a matter for others, but the brain teems and now these high-piled blog installments will be bursting with grain again.

Continued . . .

Changing Temples Pt. 24 Einstein’s Relativity Rails

Einstein’s Relativity Rails

“Right now, I feel you’re a bit off the reality rails.”

“Marriage, its sorrow and woe, its fragile joys.”
Patrick O’Brian, ‘The Far Side of the World’

Einstein proposed a thought experiment about a traveler on a train whizzing along the rails of time and space. The experiment, of necessity, included an observer watching all this. The proposed reality centered around a theory that the observer of that person riding the rails is subject to issues of time dilation and space contraction. Apparently, what is true for the observer is also true for the person on the train. In other words, the person on that train sees time and space differently than does the person watching him.

There is certainly nothing more fundamental in the world of a traveler than space and time. And there is nothing new about each of us seeing the world entirely differently than even our life partner or child or best friend. Given that Einstein was himself an observer subject to this difference, is it possible he got things turned around? A 65 year old rail traveler certainly does not observe that time is dilating. Perhaps Andrew Marvel, the (Meta)physics poet, had a better theoretical understanding: “But at my back I always hear Time’s winged chariot hurrying near; and yonder all before us lie deserts of vast eternity.” For that particular microcosmic traveler, those heard sounds are everything and time is, relatively, contracting at the light speed of Einstein’s train. Additionally, the Space of his life rather distinctly appears to be expanding in its infinite desirability just as that unearthly speed hurtles him through it hell bent for eternity.

We have subsequently learned that an observer changes the very nature of what is seen by the act of observing. Perhaps that is why the older the rider the more the route, the observable diminishment of the equipment, the obsession with time, the internal Engineer who may be altogether asleep at the switch, all bespeak this difference in perceptible dilation and contraction. Perhaps the interplay of two Universal Constants like that existing between space and time bespeaks differences in the observed and the observer’s relative sense of what constitutes being on or off the rails.

The Universal Jokester has declared one Constant that has been described in the macrocosm as the great loneliness of Space. While we may see tremendous, apparent differences between the Galaxies around us and the Quarks and Quirks of the subatomic world within us, we can retain some faith in the veracity of the old adage: what is true in the macrocosm is true in the microcosm. In the microcosm of human life the route and the reasoning, the observed universe, are certainly influenced by this Constant, so an observer from the platform of relationship might well wonder why the very rails themselves do not seem to be under the train at all times or may seem laid, however laboriously, in an altogether strange and incomprehensible direction; ostensibly toward that Jokester’s other Constant, best summarized as the physics of marriage.

The poor sap on the train really doesn’t know any thing else. His direction in the observable world may trouble him in a vague, unobservable way but he is no more capable of reversing dilation or contraction than Einstein was in believing that God plays dice with the universe. Thus the thought experiment must turn upon the interplay between those rails being ridden through the space of the time continuum and the light speed traveler seeking to change trains and tracks from one Universal Constant to the other; not to mention the influence of the Jokester’s ultimate Constant, Chance.

In real world terms terms, the rails are simply each individual’s route toward a Unified Theory of the Universe. They are laid as a route and timetable through daily relativity. Apparently, Einstein’s dream of finding such a Unified Theory remained and remains unattained. Any surprise then that we mere mortals may go off the rails occasionally in search of something more physically tangible that is said to reside in that alternative Constant, especially before the rider has entered the final station on his space time route?

There is a Meta to physics wherein the very rails upon which the rider hurtles along through that great loneliness of space and time are said to be constructed anew each morning of life. How elaborately, and often unconsciously, do we construct a route for ourselves through the burden of each long day’s journey into night. Certainly the labors of previous days inform, and at times dictate, direction, commitment, energy, and perspective, but curvatures in that space and time traveler’s universal attempt to transfer to that other Constant can be profound and unimaginable to an observer standing on the platform of relationship.

The observable world of those careening through the constraints and curvatures of such space time Constants can so easily appear to be off the reality rails. Expressed another way by Samuel Johnson upon watching a friend go to the alter for his second marriage: “There goes the triumph of Hope over Experience.” Those subject to the one Constant are riding through the space time continuum of Hope, however dilated it may be, however woeful, sorrowful, and fragile the alternative Constant.

Continued . . .

Changing Temples – Pt. 23 Venice the Improbable

Venice The Improbable

How can a city of such renown be improbable? There’s no place like Rome. There’s no place like Paris. There’s no place like New York City. That refrain rings out constantly from travelers or residents. Of course it is true, but it is also false. False given the reality of Venice. Those fine metropolises share inescapable commonality with each other, with Venice, and with most every other major city – museums, cuisine, architecture, ethnicity. But Venice lacks a commonality that is an ever present diminishment of the delight of other cities. Venice is improbable precisely because there truly is no place like her, period.

The reasons are geography and geography. The most important consequence is a social culture unparalleled anywhere. Venice is actually comprised of approximately 118 small dry spots separated by canals – “the silver trails of water up between all that gorgeous colour and carving” (Elizabeth Barrett Browning) – and interlaced with bridges. Those dry spots and canals, when observed in toto from the air, comprise what looks exactly like a jig saw puzzle fish. Everything that is needed for daily life for the 60,000 people of Venezia and the 60,000 daily tourists who descend upon her enters through the mouth of the fish by truck across a nearly 3 mile causeway or by boats across the Venezia Lagoon. The fish’s mouth contains parking garages for car commuters, a Bus Plaza (no terminal), and a Train terminal. Also contained in that ingress point are the facilities for LARGE cruise ships, each disgorging their 4-6000 passengers. From that hustle and bustle point is the transition from typical to improbable, the escape from the commonality of any city anywhere except Venice. As an interesting side note concerning the cruise ships, tax records show that in about 1575 around 700 ships berthed in Venice in one year. In 2012 there were around 700 cruise ships that berthed in Venice. The difference in cargoes and impacts are worthy of many an installment. Suffice it to say however that, even in 1575, pilgrims to the Holy Land and those first journeyers on the Grand Tour comprised a touristic component to Venetian daily life not much different than now.

So, Venetian geography is the point of departure from commonality. Absent from the common is the incessant demand of city life, the drone of auto and truck and bus and brakes and horns, the exhaust, the motorcycles and bicycles, and the instinctive watchfulness to keep from being run over, except by gawking tourists. Well, that is not precisely true. In July a Vaporato (water bus) backed into and over a gondola killing a tourist. Ah, the hazards of modern city life.

Every person and every last thing arriving in Venice is distributed by boat along the canals. When the people land they walk. When the goods are landed upon the quays hand cart guys take over and deliver to shop, restaurant, hotel or home. Everything left over, the detritus of daily life, the garbage, must exit by hand cart and then again by boat. Imagine for a minute the breadth of those words “every last thing” taken in their broadest possible connotation. Whether it’s the apples, wine, postcards, material for the famous Venice Carnival masks (or even the masks themselves, if from the now ubiquitous Chinese shops), flour for the fantastic bakeries, butter or Perrier water bottles, fish, vegetables, flowers, hotel laundry, everything transits by boat and hand cart. No pickups, no vans, no trucks, trolleys, only boat and hand cart. Hand carts: some are the simple two wheel trolleys ubiquitous in the world. Those of the package haulers, the shop or hotel suppliers, the garbage men, and etc. are larger, of course, but inventive in clever ways with an extended set of front wheels to make the transit over the steps on the innumerable bridges less of a pain in the ass.

This whole methodology of supply is fascinating for several reasons. First, as described in an earlier posting here, Alberto and Deborah were forced to move apartments – four times eventually. That was an education in the unique hand cart trade that brought me to the level of journeyman status at least. Second, while traveling on a Vaporatto I noticed men at a dock area slinging boxes and sacks from boat to shore. On the boat were the words “Poste Italiane”. Something as fundamental and as simple as the mail service must be accomplished by boat and then hand cart. There are refuse boats – every old plank, every bag of old plaster taken out from palazzos in renovation – recycling boats, funeral boats, wedding boats, ambulance boats, fire “truck” boats, police boats, (even prisoner transport boats), taxi boats, bus boats, and, of course, gondolas. One walks or boats.

Third, I watched an empty Perrier bottle float by in the canal one day – cast aside by the thoughtless. It recalled to mind that the hand cart fellows are very much like the water carriers in Paris in the late 1700’s. The brothers Perrier in 1792 implemented the first system for bottling water. At that instant in time there were upwards of 20,000 Parisians whose daily employment was to carry water to every apartment, every loft, every habitation, no matter how many stories up – at a cost of something like 20 cents. The result of Perrier progress was the near immediate unemployment of 20,000 people that left even Parisians aghast.

Fourth, there is the eternal question of why Venice is so expensive. Beyond the usual premium that any heavy tourist destination exacts from the pocketbook, the transit of goods is the answer. There is one saving, inexpensive grace however – Wine. Which is good! There is to be seen on many a boat transporting materiale significant numbers of very large, 5-7 gallon glass bottles ensconced in either plastic or real wicker – Demijohns they were called at one point in history. Well, I am pleased to report I discovered a shop where those demijohns are used. The only description that seems adequate is “a bulk wine store”. Arranged on flour and shelf are perhaps two dozen such demijohns filled with wine and from which proceed tubes with attached valves. One brings in an empty container or three of what ever sort – most bring in left over, large, one litre water bottles – which the proprietress then proceeds to fill with your choice of 8-10 different wines! There have been little old ladies who have filled a left over, quarter liter water bottle which they then tuck into their purse and walk merrily away. Heck the store even has a box of the larger, liter water bottles ready for free use by customers. What results is a fine take home supply of wine costing about $1.5 US for the liter bottle. A “refill” in such an environment is a memorable, memorable experience. The following days also possess a certain quality to them admittedly.

Continued . . .

Changing Temples Pt. 22 Music Hath Charms 2nd Movement

Music Hath Powers 2nd Movement

There was a time when I could write like a banshee with certain music playing – I could, quite literally, not stop the subconscious, or what ever that is inside of us speaking and seeking outlet; that flow of mind or soul or heart straight through a pencil onto the page. I cannot describe it accurately. It flowed out without stop, without censor, without the necessity for grammar. I wrote some interesting poetry and letters that way. Now some four plus decades later, the same thing can happen with just the right melody or tune or what ever it is that defines the nature of a song that compels the words to come out like water out of a hose. It closes down the censor, as I call it, and lets nothing but feeling or heart or soul or slop come out. Don’t stop that music!

Vanity Fair: ‘Hitchin’ a Ride’, Moody Blues: ‘Ride My SeeSaw’. In the old days I would lift up the record player stylus and put it down again and again and again just so I could keep writing and see what came forth. Not just so I “could” keep writing really but so that there “would” be an opening of that magic casement from whence unheard, unvisualized, unthought, unimagined treasures of word combinations would flow out in jeweled (or so I thought) strings.

Nowadays, the marvels of modern electronics allow multiple replay with a mere flick of a finger. The right music can still activate that casement – “Open Sesame” works each time. But not with the electronics I have available here and now. The song that just got me going in the old way, the song that gave rise to all this has ended. I was just feeling that old release. Was there depth available? Was there ever really any depth available? What is it in that soul of ours that seeks expression and pretends to depth? Insight? Hardly possible when one looks even slightly askance at that wisdom produced by so many over so many millennium – nothing new to be added there. New variations on the theme? Well, there is some hope there. The theme being of course – at least in this instance – the human condition. That marvel that compels the individual, defines the culture, describes the species. Who are we? Not just as that species but as that individual with desires rampant, mind so engaged that many religions, especially in their esoteric sects, spend their whole essence trying to get us to turn it off, if even for just the briefest of moments. We organize, we memorize, we collectivize, we quantify. We think! We agonize! We contemplate.

Yet, are we all of that merely in response to a recognition that is truly unique to our species – the prescience of death? Not just understanding after it has occurred – elephants have been shown to have a very real cognizance of a death occurrence. But we humans are part and parcel of a condition of temporality realized. I know, so what?

Because the what is that filler we create to add significance. The filler we use to override that horrible rationality that pervades the daylight of modern life and shovels that filler back into some place we can so easily close the door upon. How Keats filled. How Mozart filled. We think it genius. I think it merely some condition of spirit that allowed them to ignore the oppression of the norm, ignore the whole conception that we only pretend at the act of creation. How often have you heard: “I’m not creative”. Bah humbug.

One could say, of course, that we were made “in His image” – so creation is what we do, who we are, and what is to be hallelujahed in us. How many people strive to carve out from the necessities of this oppressive, demanding existence those brief moments of creativity? Think of your mother, your father, your aunt, your sibling – are there not ordinary people of ordinary existence who find a way to create, to seek to outlast temporality. It is not from taking the “long” view but that rare gift of living moment by moment where the mind finally quiets into the task, the censor finally being closeted for an all too brief moment, a moment not of survival but of art – however mean, however common. That is the art that leaps out at you throughout Venice. Countless people took the time – if only to hire someone else who could quiet their mind to let the creative leap out.

So much of political revolution is in response to censorship of thought, word, or deed, or community, or what ever the censor that dominates us finds expedient. Just as in the macrocosm so to in the microcosm. There is a censor that seeks to condition our human condition. Survival it might be. Replication of the species it might be. Responsibility it might be. But censor it is. Go not softly into that dark night. Rebel, I have only my censor to lose. Otherwise, I have a distinct sense that I can count on it marching with me into death, forever talking, forever overriding, forever demanding no until it is too late to recognize its shallowness.

Changing Temples Pt. 21 What Condition Our Condition

“Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)”
Kenny Rodgers and the First Edition
with Glen Campbell on Guitar. 1968

I like to think that it is some form of artistic sensibility in operation, but I have always had what can only charitably be described as an over-active . . . . .. Ah! how I would love to probe your mind to see what word(s) you might use to fill in that blank. Whether because you know me (too well) or you have a sense of the human condition, if you guessed “libido” you would have been wrong (though that is also certainly true). No, my fill-in was fantasy life. Is there a difference?

If truth be told, I have had to constantly (and I can count decades of such constancy) reign and constrain. Keeping a “present mind” has always been a great challenge – greater than my capacities, but, like the Light Brigade, I keep charging into the the canon fire of reality. Seemingly vast sections of the “self-help” section of any real or ether book store are aimed at present mind, in one form or another. I’ve done my fair share of sampling over the years. I am a New Age Sensitivity Training survivor.

With the “use by” date rather visibly imprinted on my particular corporeal package, I sometimes feel that I will have it all well figured out on the day I die, for I certainly have not demonstrated such comprehension to date – no matter how often I’ve been reminded or recognized the perishability of the contents of that package.

So here I sit in ancient, or is it modern, Istria watching as Romans or is it Venetians or Croats walk by. They and many others have walked this street over the ages. The human parade is what I fantasize walks along these streets, the composition of which makes one entirely unsure which age he is observing. I do not abide by the conception that humans have changed over the last . . . well, how long do you think humans have retained the characteristics we see – like fantasizing? Let me be blunt, my unapologetic bias is that technological change can be a very specious indicator of change in the fundamental nature of the human condition – that condition which operates from the inside out.

One of my favorite indicators of this abiding condition, that I cannot be sure whether I watch 1st. C. Romans, 17th. C. Venetians, or 21st. C. Croats, comes from an Ancient Greek named Hesoid (who lived sometime between 750-650 BC, about the same generation as Homer). He said: “The dilatory man is always suffering calamities”. I first found this reference in Michele Montaigne, who cited it to show it was certainly an active human attribute in the late 1500’s when he was writing his famous Essays. So, some 2700 years after Hesiod, some 425 years after Montaigne, what is not true about that insight into the human condition? What could be more true of that parade than that we continue to manifest that same characteristic some 2700 years later?

Somewhere in our ancient past we became this conscious being, this compilation of more than just instinct but a being of compiled faculties: projection, reflection, contemplation, communication, fantasy – all constructed or interwoven so as to satisfy wants and desires that transcend the mere organic implementation of skills to survive and perpetuate – how else can Art, for one, be explained? Are not the human wants and desires we see in the Pageant not merely fantasy in different guises?

We now have some verifiable, identifiable thousands of years of in kind variations of individuals walking in the parade: Theseus and his 13 companions marching into the city of Minos for his rendezvous with the Minotaur, Odysseus walking into the welcoming arms of the Phaeacians offering their boat for the last leg of his journey home, Aeneas marching into Latium to be wooed by two fighting groups – descendants of Troy and descendants of “those who several generations before had descended from the trees” – and in choosing would bring about the transformation that would become the great Roman Empire, the Gallic prisoners of Caesar walking behind him in his Triumph in Rome (a uniquely special parade only decreed/allowed by the Roman Senate for great victories – but accompanied, as was the tradition, by a man standing behind him in his chariot whose responsibility was to whisper in his ear “remember, you are mortal”), or Wayne marching on Denver in protest of war: “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh”, “Hell no we won’t go”. Each of these was fantasy trying to interweave with reality.

Our universal, human parade is one of fantasizing about our obligation to end the scourge of the Minotaur, to never forget the importance of home and hearth, to recognize the necessity of escape from Troy, to acquire the power of Caesar, to end a wrong headed war. Our condition is to incorporate fantasy into intention. We imaginatively conceptualize. We create a digestible mix of fantasy, obligation, responsibility. I would add that the very oldest of records or rememberant myth show that in every culture our condition is to dose ourselves with any substance capable of disguising for a brief moment the vast indifference of Nature to the fantasies we began to weave when we wake up the next morning. Consequently, perhaps the hardest fantasy of all is acceptance that the parade will go on without us. It is perhaps that fantasy which is part of the very condition when seeks to bring a sober depth to our attempts at making this life significant.

Continued . . .

Changing Temples – Pt. 20 Women of Venice

What is true of two very special women of Venice may be true of any woman one is attracted to – they are known only by representation. The first I spotted on the island Cemetery of San Michele in Venice. She emerges in high relief from what I swore upon seeing her for the first and second time was green alabaster or marmo verde more precious than many a gemstone. In reality, she is cast from mere bronze, but some how made alabaster or marble scrumptious by the patina of oxidation and the startling detail: obviously gorgeous hair piled, piled, circled, and pined; slender, oh so very appealing body draped in a gauzy, but permanent negligee sufficiently modest for a tomb. She lies upon a divan, the almost breathtaking beauty of a young woman in light repose; head turned toward you with lips that practically speak: “kiss me”, “wake me, Dear Lover”. She makes one believe the story of Pygmalion, where the poor fellow chipped, chiseled, and sanded so much love and beauty and heart into ivory that even Venus took pity and gave it a life of womanhood, motherhood, and death. Or the story of Daedalus using quicksilver to give his statutes voice. One aches to hear her voice, to know her womanhood, to age with her into death.

The representational facts are sparse: “Sonia” is engraved on the stone accompanied only by “Born 20 Febbraio 1885 a Za Bomgewka, RU. Died 6 Febbraio 1907 a Venezia”. Below, on the flagstone is Russian writing. Merely sharing her story and a picture was sufficient to convince several Italian University friends to join up for a second trip and to bring along a Russian speaking colleague to help ferret out more facts. Miscommunication prevented the rendezvous, but a mid-twenty something Italian woman named Mariagrazia accompanied me. She was intrigued by my effusiveness and desirous of visiting the grave of a recently deceased friend for whom she had made all the arrangements.

Mariagrazia looked at Sonia while I was waxing eloquent about all the poetic, romantic possibilities. She looked for awhile and said: “she committed suicide and drank something to do it”. I was not dismissive, but it did make me laugh for its ingenious inventiveness. I was skeptical, but it was an intriguing idea. Given all my predilections, this Sonia and that scenario seemed just too implausible. The next day I received an email from Mariagrazia with Google search results showing the astounding, surreal nature of her intuition. Sonia Kalinskey was, by one account, of Russian aristocratic origins who came to Venice during carnival and died from a self-administered dose of laudanum in the magnificent, Five-Star (then and now) Danieli Hotel “due to a disappointment in love”.

There is another whole story about the deep intuitive soul of Mariagrazia, but best left for a separate episode. I now wish I had asked her who she thought loved Sonia so much he dedicated his own, smaller version of Taj Mahal riches in order to realize such a careful, oh so very loving, homage. I say “he” because I was convinced from the first glance that no one but a lover would have scoured the Venezia Terra Firma for a modern Pygmalion. Perhaps that lover was the sculptor himself, though the evidence speaks against it. We know he was Enrico Butti (1847-1932). His age, the other sculptures he was creating throughout Europe at the time speak of solely a commission. Some patron, someone ensured that mere bronze was imbued with something so close to Sonia, so very close to a woman who would break any man’s heart that, like the Ivory Girl, she too emerges almost capable of being palpably touched, kissed, and very tenderly loved; A beauty who would otherwise have merely taken her forgettable place in that common parade of aging, birthing, laughing, suffering and disappearing into just another Mausoleum shelf – the kind of shelf where her long gone, loving representer resides unknown. But, his caring and his obvious love has left her to me these one hundred years hence – a dynamic specialness, a ravishing hint of companionship.

It is entirely possible, of course, that my conviction was entirely wrong. Perhaps longing obscures the deeply loving father or mother wounded the wound that life will never cure; parents forever diminished at the loss of so precious a child, at the loss of their young Darling on the cusp of bringing those deeper joys adult children bring into the life of the aging. Perhaps their sorrow was the love that gave her her last form from which she might well be saying: “Wake me to the day Dear Papa”. “Oh Mama, kiss your girl into life”.

Continued . . .


Changing Temples Pt. 19 – Magical Exceptionality

Magical Exceptionality

I did not know what else to call it but a gift from the Gods – in this case the Roman versions. A fine, life-loving Venetian named Davide, did a much, much better job than I – he called it “the magical side of an exceptional moment”. That moment was an electricity failure. Usually not an event one would categorize as auspicious or a gift from Olympus. That moment was an out door cafe in a broad street of three to four story 16th and 17th Century buildings, green window shutters thrown open to catch even the faintest of breezes on a 93 degree evening with high humidity. The various pastels of the buildings are nicely toned by the soft street lights and ever softening light of day. The cafes all have full tables spread out on either side of the street; one just down the way filled with a family and friends crowd of at least 40. The street is filled with many casual walk-abouts. Everyone is drinking something! The ambient sound is the buzz of laughter and talking, good humored social engagement.

Then, as middle dusk is settling in, the Spritz before me is mellowing my jitters from having just finished a long travel day from Odessa. I remember distinctly my breathing deeply and observing with consciousness yet one more time the deep ambience of Via Garibaldi and thinking about how much I love that particular scene and how much I want to imprint it into my memory. That moment was eliciting a pleasure in my soul that escapes the poet’s best efforts. Then the lights in the long street flickered, flickered and disappeared. All of a sudden, I felt ever so deeply a part of an exceptional out of time moment that returned me to what I believed in my heart Venice of 500 years ago would have been like with her beautiful pastels and greens and marbles highlighted by the fading daylight.

I extricated myself from friends whose interest was in finding artificial light. I wandered abroad in the now early nightfall neighborhoods. Stunned is the only word I have for it. In the last fifteen years or so I utter the word “Wow” when seeing something or hearing something of extraordinary specialness – Titian’s “Assumption of Mary”, Rembrandt’s “Saint Anne”, an exceptional moment where light and flower and shadow combine into absolute beauty. It is not a particularly intelligent expression, but it usually jumps out of my inner self unsolicited, untainted. Occasionally, I will catch myself repeating it because I can find no way of letting the joy loose from my heart. It is a weak, New Age, burned-again hippie kind of word, but it is my way of acknowledging a beautiful Zen moment, of reveling in this beauty that surrounds our daily existence. That street light deprived night was the first time I have ever caught myself saying “Wow” again and again and again and again; the complete sensory overload of antiquity, history, artistic sentiment in marble and mortar and architecture, softness, and ancestral humanity knocked that word out of me over and over again.

This was the Venice experienced by Lord Byron or Albrect Durer or Rousseau or Edward DeVere or Goethe. As I wandered the streets, I felt I was wandering with them, particularly with their sensibilities. Interestingly, our way would be lit by someone with a torch, with a “link boy”, who would be paid a small sum for the task. Shakespeare’s Falstaff makes reference to such a lad when teasing Bardolph about his shining red face: “Thou hast saved me a thousand marks in links and torches, walking with thee in the night betwixt tavern and tavern.” (Henry IV, Pt. 1, Act III, scene 3).

Occasionally people hurry past me, modern link boys, but oblivious to all but their modern torch being used to get to somewhere else. They leave behind them the last twilight showing steps of a bridge inviting one to say “Wow” and to keep walking in the midst of the Ancien Régime or any period when this city was what it has been for so many hundreds of years.

There was also an additional stillness – no air conditioners, refrigerator condensers, a lessening of foot traffic. Restaurant tables now dotted the way with candles. People were subdued, not so much by the lacking but by the magic of antiquity totally unadorned, unaltered, unfiltered, lighted by the last remnants of day. Windows showed the flickering of candles finally able to cast their shadows in complete abandon. A woman sits on a bench in a now near dark Campo. I am totally in the middle of the hundredth “Wow”, so I say, “Fantastico, Non?” “Yes”, she replies in English, “it is extraordinary”. How tempted I was to sit and share with this stranger who understood and who could speak English! But I did not want the apprehension of a strange man to unsettle such a divine moment; on I walked.

While I happen to cherish my own Romanticism, I think it is fair to ask whether this was truly such a unique experience aside from the cries of joy and pleasure in my soul? The first power plant in Italy was built in Milan in 1883 for the purpose of illuminating La Scala, the famous Opera House. Soon after, Molino Stucky coverted his giant flour mill in Venice from gas to electricity. The Arc lights used at La Scalla would have been in the range of 2000-3000 candle power. Modern, ordinary street lights are 250-440 candle power while an “ornamental” street light is around 400 candle power. So, for at least one hundred years my romanticism would be misapplied.

The torch light of reality also shows that romantic misapplication for many hundreds more years. According to one source, the oldest system of street lighting in the world was established in Venice during the 12th century. The Doge declared the lighting of the streets necessary due to the rash of robberies and murders which were easily carried out in the dark and twisting alleyways of the city. At first devotionals to various Saints held candles at each corner, later followed by oil lamps at the state’s expense. Another source has it that the Arabs had street lamps in Cordoba, Al-Andalus in 1000. Neither source noted the Chinese who, of course, beat everyone, and the word lamp is from the Greek meaning torch, so “lighting” by humans certainly predated even my romantic projections of a “natural” evening.

But I think it fair to say that even a few candles or torches here and there would not have rendered my wild imaginings less romantic during that brief twilight time. All in all I guess it just sheds a little light on something I find more and more convincing as I experience this city. It is best expressed in Davide’s final thought, “we don’t have the quality as humans to forget Venice”.

Continued . . .

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Changing Temples Pt. 18 – Music Has Charms . . .

“It is not in soul-searching or constant introspection that we encounter the Lord.”
Pope Francesco

Thanks to a dear friend who had a traveler’s agenda I would never have pursued, and thanks to my desire to hear authentic music performed within the innumerable churches of Venice, I have visited fantastic basilicas, churches, and friaries. With perhaps one or two exceptions, these churches and their frescos are “depressing” – the greatest exception being a Titian entitled “The Assumption of Mary”. In it Titian inspires one to look through the eyes of Peter, who, with one hand in the coffin and head turned to watch Mary being taken to The Lord, was clearly being that same Peter I have always known and loved for his insistently questioning humanity – “Don’t wash my feet!”, “I’ll never deny YOU”, “We’ve fished all day”, “Is she really up there?” etc., etc.

By “depressing” I mean, of course, a constant refrain of suffering, suffering, suffering. From the Buddha onward, that thematic reference point for human existence is certainly not one which can be denied, but it does get . . . well, depressing.

This whole rendition has to do with another “serendipitous” moment – I want to Easter Sunday Service at a Anglican Church here in Venice. I had been aiming since my early planning stages to attend Easter Service at one of the Grand Basilicas because there is no ritual and ceremony of Easter that can beat the high Catholic. However, the small, comfortable, English speaking community of St. George’s Anglican Church was appealing. I had gone to Maundy Thursday Service (5 people) and to Good Friday Service (13 people), by which time I was considered part of the congregation and asked to read Scripture. I was, ultimately, attracted by the “acceptance”, and the English, of course. At the Easter Service there was a vocalist who sang during the Offeratory and the Preparatory for Communion who was clearly NOT, I repeat NOT, an amateur. It turns out she is an Opera Diva of some local and international renown. She and other colleagues have established a musical ensemble (Venice Music Project, Stagione Di Musica Antica), with several goals – to provide a bit of recompense in an expensive city, to promote Baroque Music with original instruments, and to raise funds for the restoration of Cheisa di San Giovanni Evangelista (the Church of Saint John the Evangelist) – all of which I clearly can support without equivocation. So, I found out from her (New Jersey born) that their group was having a concert that very afternoon to celebrate Pasqua (Easter). I went.

For $26 U.S. (“Ridotto e.g. Senior Citizen charge – my goodness an advantage to being old!!!) I experienced a minor epiphany. This was the music presented: “Musica per Venerdi Santo e Pasqua (more or less, Sacred Veneration Music of Easter/Passover) Musiche di: Vivaldi, Haendle” and “Stabat Mater di G.B. Pergolesi”. The Vivaldi and Handel were instrumental and the Pergolesi was with Soprano, Mezzo-Soprano and instruments. I was so uplifted! I mean UPLIFTED! I saw with new eyes. I felt a degree of sublimity that is altogether too rare. I realized in my own simple-minded way that it was this very sense of transcendence that was what was intended by these masters of music – to lift the heart beyond the suffering and depressive nature of what was depicted around one and show beyond question why those soaring vaults, those frescoes, those statutes, those burial plaques, were meant to remind one of the transcendent nature of faith and hope and life. I will never enter one of these 13th C. – 18th C. churches in the same way again.

Continued . . .

Changing Temples – Pt. 17 The Constitution of Tragedy

The Constitution of Tragedy

Article I – Preamble

This is about Alberto and Deborah. I have made mention of Deborah here – that delightful Southern Belle with attitude and humor and a heart as big as the world. She came to Italy at 17 years of age and, to all intents and purposes, she has hardly left. Art History Major. Taste to die for. A true Chef. Wit that is instantaneous. Age? Not altogether indeterminate – but one does not, after all, ask a Lady, particularly a Southern Lady, her age.)

Alberto. 78. He was a professional boxer who fought 23 fights – the story of his 23rd fight is worth an episode in and of itself. He played premier league “football” (Soccer to the Euro uninitiated) for many years in England; one consequence is that you cannot tell whether he is a native English speaker or not. He won three dance contests in the 50s. Fisherman par excellance. Kind. Great Good Humored. Quick with wit. Can get by in six languages, but is almost totally dyslexic, so he can read only with great difficulty, and writing poses similar challenges. Native Venetian. A difficult, hard childhood – hard as in he was sold as a child; which he more than survived, he transcended. A man in love with the traditions of Venice. An unfailingly friendly man who does the Passeagato (the afternoon, or evening – hell anytime of the day – walkabout with his friends, stopping for a Prosecco or a Spritz, talking, enjoying).

Article II – Why Janus Has Two Faces

What significance does the word tragedy carry anymore? One can only hear it associated so many times with multiple school shootings, women kept prisoner in a basement, runners being blown apart just because of their love for the Big Race, and etc. before its application on a smaller, more individual level loses not only import but meaning entirely. Nevertheless, tragedy can sometimes be a blight, a calamity, a transcending adversity that asks us to refocus on its real meaning, to re-visualize the application of it to two everyday people and their personal Waterloo. As Aristotle noted and the Romans affirmed: Life is composed of the tragic and the comedic. Because the tragic has become so much of a constant staple of concentration in our media afflicted lives, I think we forget to laugh to relieve the pressure. Consequently, failing to laugh, I think we inure ourselves to tragedy’s true, emotional and spiritual impact. In Alberto’s case, only gallows humor could suffice at any rate.

Article III – The Best Laid Plans

Alberto and Fema lived together for some 20 years in a fine, fine Apartamento that she owned. They did not marry. They had a relationship, by all accounts, which transcended the “need” for marriage. When Fema became ill, they set a marriage date. The Commune of Venice cancelled that date – you have to know Italian local politics to appreciate that. Two hours before the new date and time Fema died. Fema was a practicing attorney. She left a will that was witnessed. The will left their 5th Floor Apartamento to Alberto. Fema’s sister fought the will in Court for years (and even brought criminal charges against Alberto saying he had forged the will). What can only be seen as a travesty of justice beyond description resulted in Alberto losing the case.

Article IV – Why?

Let us just say the word – avarice. This Apartamento is easily worth 1 million Euro ($1.3 million US).

Article V – A Classic Venetian Life.

How can words describe physical reality? It is damn hard. The glass of Italian wine next to me helps actually! Imagine a five story building (Palazzo in Italian) that sits right on the quay overlooking the Grand Lagoon of Venice – not the Grand Canal mind you. Still, this somewhat “lesser” cousin has delights that makes the Grand Canal rather ordinary. The Apartamento is on the fifth floor. It has floor to ceiling windows in bedroom, living/dining room, and extra room which overlook the expanse of the Lagoon as it sparkles in the sun light and hosts boats galore coming and going in their steady, necessary courses. One can see, in the near horizon, the many islands of the Veneto, in the far horizon the Great Adriatic. It faces basically South, so the rooms are light, airy, and sun-filled. Oh, and yes, just off that small, extra room, it has a small terrace. Venice is peculiar. Because space is so precious and valuable, what we think of as terraces in America are here rather – well much more than rather – small. It will fit two chairs, plants, and a small table. For the view it affords, see above and then add in that you can watch the passeagato of people on the Quay below. One could easily wile away hours just enjoying the sea, the sun, the sensation of a world quietly passing by for your personal pleasure and edification. The rooms are beautifully spacious and comfortable. Alberto and Deborah lived together in the apartamento for 10 years.

Article VI – An Italian Life

Alberto worked his whole life. Because he only had one year of schooling (remember the “sale”), he could not get a work card in Italy, because such requires 5 years of schooling. So, he worked at what he could get. One employer, who he was with for many, many years did not pay into the state system (we in America call it Social Security). He, you guessed it, did not tell Alberto. As a consequence Alberto has only the most basic of pensions that amounts to 500 Euro a month. The apartment was his retirement not just for living accommodations but, when the time came, to sell and have the resources to take care of himself. There is more here though. Alberto has spoken to me many times about his sense of responsibility for Deborah’s welfare. He knows that she has reasonably sufficient, independent means, but he is a fine, honorable, loving man, and he feels the deeper blow of failure in that regard.

Article VII – Pre-Nup

After court hearings at numerous levels, an appeal court ruled against Alberto and ordered him out of the apartamento in 15 days. If any of you have lived somewhere for many years, you know well what I refer to when I talk about the accumulation of a life. This was the accumulation of two lives well lived. The Courts also ordered that Alberto pay his sister-in-law’s court costs. Because he and Deborah married, her accumulated life goods are now under threat of confiscation to pay his debts – this despite their having executed a Prenuptial Agreement, valid under Italian law, that declared their goods as separate. So, in order to prevent their possible attachment, Deborah had moved to storage most of her valuable furniture, art, and those things accumulated over her years in Italy – accumulations which make a highly intelligent, art-historian’s house a comfortable, pleasant, and tremendously satisfying environment.

Article VIII – Consequences.

On the evening of the day of the court ruling and the eviction notice, Alberto got sick, very sick. Lung based.

Article IX – Consequences

“I am worn out, for the first time in my life, I am worn out.” Alberto repeated this to me a number of times as we moved their worldly belongings away from the home he loved. Actually, it was as others moved the belongings. Alberto was too sick to do much, something which affected him greatly as a man: “I’ve always been capable and strong”, he would say over and over.

Article X – Consequences.

Alberto lost 13 kilos in 30 days. He is a typical Venetian – small of stature, solid, definitely not heavy or “fat”. From solidity and tone, his arms and legs have turned to the loose skin that one sees in the nursing homes. He has now gone to numerous appointments for internal problems that could be quite serious.

Article XI – When A Heart Breaks.

Deborah told me of numerous occasions when Alberto would just break down crying. There is more here than words can ever express. Here was a confident, boot-strap scrapper, generous, full-heart Italian who cannot now stop tears when alone or with his Amore. There is still more. One of Alberto’s attributes is easily understood – he worries about not only caring for Deborah now and when he has died, but that she should not have to finance him. If anything could tear the heart out of a genuine man – besides losing his home of 30 years – it would have to be seeing oneself deprived of the ability to financially support the one you love or, even worse, in seeing her independent assets being put at risk because of you.

Article XI – How Far Must That Be Carried?

There are 66 steps up to the Apartamento. They hired a “moving” company to come for the big items – refrigerator, furniture, beds, marble counter tops, cabinets, etc all went by hoist out of and down from the window and on to a boat to be taken to storage. All the rest of the accumulation of their lives, had to be carried down those steps and then be hand carted off to various spots where friends were letting them store their now packed up life. Remember, in Venice it is either boats, hand carts, or hands – no pickups backed up to the door! I told Deborah that the experience had at least cured me of one important vice – that of envy for those Venetians who live in the top floor apartamentos!!

Article XII – I’m From The Government, And I’m Here to Help.

Midst all this, a representative of the Commune of Venezia (the city government) told Alberto in the presence of Alberto’s brother-in-law not to hand over the keys at the end of the 15 days (as ordered by the Court), for he was not supposed to be made homeless by such actions. When they refused the key turnover (against their own lawyer’s advice), the lawyer quit them, and the Commune Representative then said he never said any such thing. This all resulted in a police visit.

Virtually everything had been moved out of the Apartamento (remember the 15 day notice!) just when a representative of the court showed up to sequester any property for the court debts. Luckily, he was a considerate fellow, and he also did not know about the storage area on the ground floor chock-a-block full of goods to be hauled away the next day.

Article XIII – When Temporary Becomes An Affliction

Friends let Alberto and Deborah use their empty apartment temporarily for a month. So, we moved interim possessions into that apartment – only three flights up!. Af then end of that month it was off to another temporary apartment – only three flights up – for two months. The operative word here is temporary. Imagine your life thrown into the chaos of temporary living on fifteen days notice. To help that imagination note that it is high season in Venice, an expensive place at any time. Now with July well advanced and, more importantly, all of Europe set to take vacation in August (the owners do not leave their keys with their apartment managers, so when they are on vacation, you cannot view an apartment), there is a desperation setting in.

Article XIV – Pummeled Again

I liken the unfolding story of Alberto (and Deborah) to his being in the boxing ring. Except here, he receives blow after blow after blow and there is neither a ref to stop the fight nor a bell to end the round. One small example: Ordinarily, in the Italian system, someone in Alberto’s circumstances and limited pension would be eligible for public housing. Because Deborah has an apartment (which is rented out to help pay their daily living costs), which she owned prior to the marriage (see Article VII Prenup Agreement above), Alberto has been refused public housing.

Article XV – Kicking When They Are Down

Apparently, being awarded the fine apartamento was not sufficient. Now the former sister-in-law is using the legal system to seek back rent from the date of Alberto’s first wife’s death – at 2000 Euros per month. She is seeking to take Deborah’s assets since Alberto has none.

Article XVI – What is Tragedy?

What constitutes tragedy? What one sees in Alberto’s last 8 weeks is something you would swear could only be in a book or a movie or a fable meant to provide lessons to the young. From what was, he is now an old, vulnerable 78: Vitality sapped, humor, mostly forced. The passeagato is rare. The fishing he loved so dearly is rare, but returning slowly, thank goodness. He makes a good face of it, rallies as we say in the States, but it is heart-breakingly brief and only enough to make you sadder than you can imagine – having seen what tragedy can engender in two months. I have not addressed the effect of this upon Deborah and upon their relationship. In all conscience I cannot. It moves from the reportorial to the personal. I trust that your sense of the human condition can fill in the blanks.

Article XVII – Post Script

I now know more deeply the helplessness one feels in the face of tragedy – all one can do is lend a hand, climb and carry, trundle hand carts, comfort the afflicted, and fantasize about sudden wealth that would buy their beloved apartamento and move them back in.

Continued . . .