Thursday, 5 July 2007

Rigoletto - the opera that is (eventually) set in Mantua

Rigoletto (1850) is the first operatic masterpiece of Giuseppe Verdi, born in Piacenza, (home of Donatella and Milena) and practitioner in Milan. The opera is based on the controversial play by Victor Hugo, “Le Roi S’amuse”. In fact the 1832 play was banned in France because it was thought to insult King Louis Phillipe. Hugo sued, lost, but became even more famous as a defender of free speech. “Le Roi S’amuse” wasn't performed for 50 years.

Ironic then that when Verdi wrote Rigoletto for Venice, its then rulers, the Austro-Hungarians, insisted the action be moved from France… Mantua, and set about the time of those pleasure-hungry Gonzagas were getting the big frescos going.

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Millions or Dreams?

Tycoon: how to turn your Dreams into Millions” is a new book currently being heavily promoted in England it seems. Its author, Peter Jones, is a rich man (I hope) who is now getting richer by fronting reality television about “business” – there is some kind of tie-in with Simon Cowell, the music and media entrepreneur and Pop Idol gürû. I’ve never seen “Dragon’s Den”, one of Peter Jones’ shows; his next venture, I read, is a series called: “Tycoon”. Hence the tie-in book: “hugely inspiring” Amazon writes. Peter lives with his wife and children in Surrey.

Standing in the 80 foot high, fresco-covered, sixteenth century “Room of the Giants”, just one room in the vast Palazzo Te on the outskirts of Mantua, I’m reminded of this book, and of a more pressing question. Not: how to turn your Dreams into Millions; but how to turn your millions into dreams. In this context buying a £50 million diamond encrusted Damien doesn’t quite make the cut, I feel. Nor fronting the “Dragon’s Den” and living in Surrey.

It isn’t just the effect of time passed that makes the cathedral at Amiens, or the octagonal church in Lodi; the mountain valley house of Jean Jacques Rousseau in Chambéry, or indeed the Gonzaga family’s Palazzo Te in Mantua such operatic sensory experiences, it is their spatial and social harmony, their meaning: the dreams they inspire, not their cost. (Though that these are not the tourist-heavy set-piece city splendours of Milan or Paris or Venice probably does help.) Towards the end of my visit I stumbled across three executives waiting for a meeting in a private room. “Are you a tourist?” asks the fourth, a guide. “Not so much a tourist, more a traveller,” I say: and so sophisticated remains this palazzo that everyone politely laughs. I feel quite Horace Walpole.

Whether renaissance, mannerist, baroque or gothic, at core these spaces conform to the Bauhaus edict of function and form; and then add a little “dream”. If we understand that part of this function is the making of wonder. (Meraviglia, is the word which Claudio Monteverdi uses when writing - in Tom’s time - of music’s capacity to create a similar sense – a controversial and modern(ist) idea for 1608). Seeing any of these creations does not induce envy, only awe. Awe to be in their presence; and awe for those who commissioned, designed and created them. Whoever they were. Beauties or beasts; Venus, Mars or Gonzaga.

Most of all, perhaps, is a sense of appreciation that these are public spaces now; not the hidden fortresses of a modern mogul or master of the universe with wall-to-wall carry-out from this year’s Venice Biennale. Or, indeed, a sixteenth century member of the Gonzaga family.

Much of the fresco art at the palazzo Te is overtly sexual, and in an interesting irony, Giulio Romano, the artist who commissioned and supervised the works for Frederico Gonzaga, only escaped imprisonment (unlike those who published the images - more soon) by arguing that they were for private consumption.

In the Palazzo Te, as in, say, Fountainbleu, the money is certainly on and “in” the walls – but frankly that is the easy bit. As Ulrich Ruckriem told me here (we both loved this Palazzo, especially its gargantuan frescos – not so much for their supreme artistry, as their meraviglia), “modern architecture is so much about the vanity of the architect, not the space or the art itself.” What works here so brilliantly is that art and architecture join forces to overwhelm us at vast scale.

But to prove history no barrier to such vanities, up the “secret” Gonzaga route from the palazzo back past the city walls and on to Mantua’s grand central squares and Palace, there is Mantegna’s home, a perfect and classical town house built with mathematic “classical” precision as a square with an internal circular courtyard. It is a spatial masterpiece – and also a very overt statement of Mantegna’s own sense of his worth as a painter. Perhaps, as a blogger, it just safer to say that “all is vanity”.

The equivalent now would be for, say, David Bowie to commission a Norman Foster town house located on the corner of The Mall and Whitehall in London; or 50 Cent to finance a Frank Gehry creation somewhere between the White house and the Senate in Washington. In this regard the Palazzo Te is Mantegna’s house times about a hundred.

“This Citie is marveilous strong, and walled round about with faire bricke wals, wherein there are eight gates, and is thought to be foure miles in compasse: the buildings both publique and private are very sumptuous and magnificent: their streets straite and very spacious. Also I saw many stately Pallaces of a goodly height: it is most sweetly seated in respect of the marvailous sweete ayre thereof, the abundance of good meadows, pastures, vineyards, orchards, and gardens about it. For they have such store of gardens about the citie, that I thinke London which both for frequencie of people, and multitude of howses doth thrise exceed it, is not better furnished with gardens…”

But Mantegna is for tomorrow. As Chris from Odcombe says, it really is impossible to do any sense of justice to Tom’s places in the time he spends there. And when so many forces, radical, “new” and changing the way we see things, are around every corner. Mantegna’s perspective, and Virgil’s poetry and the saucy secrets of Il Moda are – still – yet to come. Operas too.

Constructed between 1524-34 for Federico II Gonzaga, Marquis of Mantua, the building of the shell of the Palazzo Te took less than two years. Being located outside the city walls on the site of the family stables, it is able to combine architecturally the best of city palace and country villa. Designed as a “pleasure palace” it is also known as a “villa suburbana.” Small town suburbia has never quite looked this good before. And probably won’t ever again. Not with Tesco and Walmart and McDonalds having bought up all the land.

“…Truely the view of this most sweet Paradise, this domicilium Venerum & Charitum did ever so ravish my senses, and tickle my spirits with such inward delight, that I said unto my selfe, this is the Citie which of all other places in the world, I would wish to make my habitation in, and spend the remainder of my dayes in some divine Meditations amongst the sacred muses, were it not for their grosse idolotory and superstitious ceremonies which I detest, and the love of Odcombe in Somersetshire, which is do deare to me that I preferred the very smoke thereof before the fire of all other places under the Sunne…”

Once the shell of the Palazzo Te had been built a creative team of plasterers, carvers and fresco painters worked for ten years on the interiors. – until little wall space was left undecorated. Olympian banquets; the prime Gonzaga horses in the Sala dei Cavalli, perhaps most impressive of all the giants and grotesques losing out to the Olympians above in the Sala dei Giganti. Sex, sex, sex: with Cupid and Psyche.

Here, privately then, and today for everyone to consume, are painted myths with a social purpose, it seems. Myths as part of a relatively small body of “ancient” and, usually Greek, stories about “figures of origin…images of ‘inventors’…scenarios of oral performance by musicians and poets”. Stories that had returned to pre-eminence with the growth of Renaissance printing and scholarship, as Stephen Campbell writes, were now the basis for an art that was part of a knowing social process in creating brand new myths of status. As Alasdair McIntyre writes in “After Virtue”: we are all the stories we inhabit.

Campbell believes that these works have a precise social target: to translate the contemporary power and status of their patrons into something that appears to have “always” been there, and to locate it in a domestic, non-religious setting. Thus are the smaller foundation myths of the individual self established. More of that with fellow Mantuan, Virgil, soon enough.

In “The Cabinet of Eros,” Campbell writes of art from sixteenth century Mantua:

“Myth is to be distinguished from history (and sacred history) not only by virtue of particular kinds of subject matter and style, but through its identification with parts of the enclosed domestic sphere: the study, the gallery, the collection, as well as villas and garden loggias, all spaces associated with privileged leisure and private life and defined by their difference from both public and sacred space. This is not to say that mythological imagery is absent from city streets and civic spaces, where especially in the later sixteenth century, it takes the form of allegorical spectacles of princely power and its legendary origins…”

What Campbell argues is that even then, at the time of this Gonzaga art-boom in Mantua, such powerful, often erotic, paintings are “framed as works of artistic fiction…the often sensational presentation of pagan eros, rhapsody and violence…is protected by an insistence on their trivial, marginal, escapist – above all non-exemplary – character.” Which is not to say that experienced today they don’t shout out both: Saucy and look at me (or “amount to an attempt at cultural self-definition” in Campbell’s words) in ways that are all too familiar – and democratized – now. Reading Campbell I find it hard not to think of the Beckham marriage with the golden crowns and chairs; Sting riding to his second wedding on a white horse…

And to continue the theme, just as modern myth – let us say of the “tycoon” or the “celebrity” – is as much about word as it is image: column inches, “Hello” magazine lawsuits, and massive web-stats; so too in the era of mythological paintings. [The paintings need…] “…to be understood in relation to the world of books [especially those of Virgil, a fellow Mantuan, and Ovid, the first century Roman poet], on some occasions mediating between a reader and a text, and on others between the text and the world.”

But in simple terms, these paintings are all about size, and not just their vast scale: penises are not the classical acorns; neither are they always asleep. Bacchic revels have the look of big-budget hard-core. Clothes are optional, and the sensual is not disguised very well.

What Campbell describes - when confronted with the massive mythological art productions of sixteenth century Mantua - as “not merely a reassuring sense of self-legitimation [for the Gonzagas] , but a productive self-estrangement, a reinforcement of alternatives for thinking about human nature…the alternative is offered to the confessional model of Christian devotion and to the disciplinary/theraputic model of Stoical meditation,” seems strangely contemporary. Seems “having it all”. Turn your dreams into millions, be self-estranged enough to have a country estate, be a baron of your own surburbia; have more sex. Beat the status quo, go solo: produce the Powerpoint and woo the investors and soon you will be “different”, away from hoi polloi, beating the opposition…or something like that. I think I read somewhere recently that the “west” now has its greatest income disparity in 200 years. I am looking forward to seeing some of these new Gonzagas’ dreams, not hearing about their billions.

I think.

In sixteenth century Mantua building this Palazzo was part of a process about creating an ideology of pleasure, reflected upon and located as part of the “thoughtful life” by a tiny, artistically acute, elite that didn’t – in fact - have long to go. The French equivalents lasted a good deal longer. Only here today, wandering the vast palazzo in a fever of enjoyment, the creators and patrons of this secular, modern–seeming pleasure-principle ideology appear to be more versed - better read, perhaps - in the dreaming, than in the making of the millions. Today we can all enjoy the space. And learn a little about the geometry of art, and love.

Footnote for “Tycoons” everywhere: in 1630 Mantua and the Palazzo Te was sacked by 36,000 mercenary members of the Imperial Army of the Holy Roman Empire: they brought the plague as well. The palace was rooted from top to bottom. The Gonzagas, already weakened, and now joined hyphenetically to the Nevers family, lost pretty much everything. And Mantua was taken over next by the Habsburgs in 1708, was crushed by Napoleonic siege in 1796, given back to Austria in 1814, and joined the “United Italy” in 1866. Two years ago it was voted the best place to live in all of Italy. It’s a hell of a town.

And to think Shakespeare sent Romeo here in “exile” from Verona. I haven’t seen Verona yet, but it better be bloody good. Then again, the closest Shakespeare got to Italy was Dover. So he can wait until Padua at the very least.


“In the long run, I shall be happier to be moderately praised in the new style, than greatly praised in the ordinary,” Monteverdi wrote to Giovanni Doni in 1633. What he did was, in the early part of the seventeenth century, help to define the music, drama and “language” of modern classical music. “L’orfeo” may not be the first opera, but it is still a part of the contemporary repertoire. His evolutions caused ructions, fights with Artusi, and the creation of what he calls the “seconda practtica”. I leave it at that for now: here’s the video.

The Stradivarius Project

Here is the man's violin in strange kinds of action. Bless the net

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

The Betwixt Instrument

In the 450 years since the violin emerged in Italy it hasn’t changed much: improvements haven’t improved things. Thus the market for Stradivari grows with the bust-proof economic resilience of a north London house.

As with many of the best ideas, the violin is essentially rather simple. Made of pine, a wood with a velocity of “conducting sound” around 15 to 16 times greater than through the air lengthwise, and across only two to four times. It is, I learn, the “most musical of woods” according to the author, Paul Stoeving in his “The Violin”.

The first known violin maker lived and worked in Brescia, which comes on Tom’s route after Venice (the home leg, as it were). Gesparo da Salò’s pupil, Paulo Maggini took this skill on. He died in Brescia in 1632.

But that is Brescia; what about Cremona, where for 100 years the fame of the Amati family’s violins spread far and wide? I suspect the inter-city rivalries of two towns separated by a few hundred kilometres will never be reconciled over the violin. What is clear is that Cremona’s PR has always been better. And in Stradivari it has a Renaissance Brand-Leader whose “equity” has never fallen.

Antonio Stradivari was an apprentice to Nicolo Amati from the 1660s. But it is not until old age, 56 years old, that the violins we think of began to emerge. Why I like the violin within Tom’s World is that ownership of the instrument – not a Stradi, nor an Amati or a Maggini, or a Guarneri – but a “fiddle” was one key to becoming betwixt: the predecessors of the violin virtuosi where what in Germany were called “Spielmänner” and we might call wandering minstrels and strolling players. These were the men and women who wandered from the ninth century onwards; whose lives improved a little with the Crusades, the times of “Troubadours”. And it is worth noting that just as Tom fails to mention violins in Cremona, so too the “Syntagma” a supposedly definitive work on musical instruments published in 1619, and written by Michael Praetorius, a German, does not mention the violin.

Paul Stoeving tells the early story of fiddlers and fiddling (the pre-violin, and pre-orchestral instrumentation) well:

“…a poor despised lot, the company of acrobats, punch and judy men and trainers of performing dogs, monkeys, etc. a kind of free community which had grown out of the barbarous conditions prevailing in Europe for several centuries after the great migration of people. They enjoyed neither the rights of citizenship nor the privilege…of religious sacraments. Their children were considered illegitimate, were not allowed to learn a trade, and what they left by means of property was confiscated by the state…[their hair] the men were compelled at one time to wear short to distinguish them from free born men and women – a cruel, barbarous restriction for which later violin and piano virtuosi seem to have taken their justifiable revenge by allowing their locks to grow, as a distinguishing feature, to about double the conventional length.”

Stoeving paints a picture of the musicians at court, wrestling with “music” and “politics” and laying the foundations for, say, Bach, while, excluded and outside - the fun in Shakespeare - “the poor fiddling, blowing drumming knight errants eked out a precarious living on the high roads.” I like the resonances: to buskers, rock and roll, rebellion; and to the stories that the betwixtness of popular music generates.

Tomorrow night the concert season begins in Cremona.

Half the Full Monty

Cremona is, as I have written already, a music town; it is only in contemplation, which means getting back to real books, and a library, that even a few of its musical hauntings become easier to hear. Cremona is not just about violins, the Amati family and their heirs, the Stadivari; it is also the birthplace of the man who forged “opera” into a separate musical form.

And “opera” – like “Shakespeare”, Rousseau’s “rights of man”, Mantegna’s “perspective”, the Lumière brothers’ “documentary”, Coryat’s “tourism”, to name just a few “ideas” or modes available to witness on my route – is part of Europe’s grand DNA. One of the key architects of post-Second World War European restoration was Jean Monnet, often nick-named the “father of Europe.” He once said (according to Anthony Sampson, in his The New Europeans): “Europe has never existed, one has genuinely to create Europe.”

Well, opera is part of that story, a strand, one of the things that helps to create and recreate “Europe”. As is the story of Orpheus; someone once said that with his first song, “civilisation began”. So too opera: a collage of music, theatre, dance, spectacle and narrative; betwixt each individual form, not for “church” nor a ‘masque, not a play, not a novel. It is holistic, the sum not its parts: Opera’s ‘stretch’ is what film-makers from Orson Welles to Michael Powell, Jacques Demy to Martin Scorcese or Bernardo Bertolucci strive for in cinema such as Citizen Kane or The Red Shoes, Last Tango or Goodfellas. Opera’s reach is what we experience each time we watch a summer blockbuster, a mixture of sensory experiences collected together to show us impossible visions. Opera’s sensory range is what we find in computer games, albeit in five (or 50) interactive levels, rather than scripted acts.

And opera’s story begins in Cremona; begins with Claudio Monteverdi. Later stories might take us to Mantua, Venice, to La Scala in Milan, to Paris; to Bayreuth and Richard Wagner’s own journeys in Europe, both as man and myth and fashionable movement. But in Cremona where, now, as the streets and squares change through a day: from market to restaurant, promenade and café centre and dating-ground, musicality in rhythm and tone, mood and motion, infuses the experience of being present.

Monteverdi was born in Cremona in 1567 on May 15 (he had his 40th birthday on the day that Tom sailed from Dover to Calais); his “L’Orfeo”, not precisely the first opera, but probably the seventh, and the one which we have complete records, was performed at “carnival” in Mantua, four hundred years ago this year. More of L’Orfeo from Mantua, soon.

Monteverdi is, like so many artists of Tom’s time, a figure betwixt. He is seen as the bridge between Renaissance and “Baroque” music. A prodigy who was writing motets and madrigals for his teacher, Marc'Antonio Ingegneri, the maestro di capella of Cremona’s cathedral, at the age of 15, Monteverdi moved 80 kilometers to Mantua when 23, to become first vocalist and viol player, and later, aged 35 conductor to the court of Vincenzo Gonzaga the First. It is in Mantua that “opera” is really born. And it is in the years, often filled with controversy about his “art”, between leaving Cremona and the production of “L’Orfeo” that Monteverdi creates the intellectual framework for “the modern in music.”

In a specific book, investigating the female voice in the late Renaissance and early Baroque, to which I shall return - Bonnie Gordon’s “Monteverdi’s Unruly Women” - the author writes of the composer:

“…his compositions bring into relief points of tension in a rapidly changing culture…few have considered his music in the context of ideas about sense and the body…To be sure, social mores in the decades around 1600 demanded tacit women whose quieted voices supposedly reflected their chastity and distanced them from inappropriate eroticism. But music from that time regularly depended upon and displayed trained women’s voices. This paradox inflected musical productions with tantalizing contradictions that situated women’s bodies and sonorous expression precariously between harmless pleasure and threatening excess. It also created a space in which women could, through singing, seize power…”

Again, half way through this journey, taking a pause to contemplate, it is clear that I have missed so much along the way. The “quieted” woman is one such thing. Tom almost never mentions women until the courtesans of Venice; in Padua shortly I will encounter a “shrew”. And yet all though my journey I’ve been thinking about women, of marriage rituals, family, of how travel and modernity have changed the role of mother, lover and friend. And now, one hour of reading something more researched than Wikipedia or the museum hand-out (in 14 languages) and I am plunged back into “Casaubon Complex”. More of this in Mantua proper. And some context about Google and Microsoft’s plans to “digitize” the world’s knowledge.

How far still we are from a world of portable knowledge: I had thought that the internet, the memory stick, the phone would aid these journeys. And whilst they can help, it is a very different experience I have with “information” and “knowledge” when travelling, being a mobile researcher, juggling the moment and the haunting and the “thing that should be seen”. The result is a surface polishing - one of Cremona’s mysterious varnishes for its famous violins – rather than the depth which comes from just a morning with a library and its books.

For twenty minutes in Mantua Ulrich Rückriem talked to me about the magic maths of triangles; of how explaining the triangle has eluded the greatest minds for so long: for the traveller today, betwixt the moment when the convergence of GPS, data, and place brings ‘knowledge’ to a precise geographical co-ordinate, and the pre-internet world of a guide book and, sometimes, an informed guide in a museum, what is missing is the crucial third point in Ulrich’s triangles of form. What is missing is the experience of depth. That only comes back in the library.


From a man who was also Tom - not Tim

A few weeks ago I wrote to one of the people who has made this journey before. I asked the "Peregrine"of Odcombe how his sense of Tom had felt and evolved as he travelled.

"I agree with your concerns about getting close to Tom, our worlds are so different that a 'vision' of Tom's journey is difficult to see in modern living. Tom's journey is about discovery of new and different worlds. The modern journey is full of familiar sights; a McDonalds in every town, high streets of shops that could be in any Euro town, fashion that is completely borderless. However, there are... things I found, that made me close enough to Tom to get that electric feeling that he was here.

The first is simply just meeting random people, not meeting "typical" French, Italian or Swiss, just meeting people...The second was in the cities of Italy, particularly Verona, Cremona, Vicenza, Padova and to a certain extent Venice. The centre of these cities are relatively unchanged and have that feeling of history. I found in all these places that I had to linger for far longer (except Venice) than Tom did, just to get the feeling of a places; I don't like rushing.

Like you, I am baffled as to how Tom managed to travel, write, absorb his surroundings and deal with the normal 'shit of the day' in the time he had. Although 17th century Europe would have been far more geared to walking as a means of transport, he must have been one fit cookie. I also wonder if there was just more to see and write about.

... I would have loved to have seen his actual notes he took while he was travelling, I'm sure he was very disciplined and organised. There are rumours in Odcombe that there was a trunk full of 'village' documents once stored in the rectory; that had some how been 'lost'...

...I have a couple of challenges for you. As Tom was obsessed by churches I thought it fitting that I visited as many as possible while in Venice. I managed 9 in one day, although I had to go back to a few the next day to actually look at the art. The other challenge is to actually walk the section from Mezzoldo to Morbegno, take as long as you need, it is worth it."

Chris (peregrine of Odcombe)

I emailed Chris from France when worried that Tom would be invisible to me throughout the journey; in Italy Tom's ghost does appear: in Vercelli, Lodi, Cremona...etc. But as Chris says, it is almost impossible to get the same "idea" of a place as Tom - that's to say how it is contemporaneously - in the "time" he takes. Mantua has taken a week (and three posts are still being nurtured). On the official Coryat schedule I am far behind. Tom stayed in Venice for six weeks, leaving for Padua (again) on August 8. I am now going to take a few weeks pause to "prepare" for Venice. Anyone who stays there for six weeks these days is likely to be a billionaire. The next couple of weeks will be about posting contexts to the first part of the trip; filling in a few of the gaps that time didn't permit during May and June; and getting ready for the "thing" that is firstly Venice, and secondly the "Rhine". And for Chris's "challenge". Nine Venetian churches in a day!


Monday, 2 July 2007

Coffee Perfecto

In 1901 Luigi Bezzera, an engineer from Milan, created the first espresso machine which used steam to make coffee. But espresso as we know it was born in 1947 when Achille Gaggia, a bar owner in Milan, invented a way to brew coffee under pressure.

France: How to Live There in Print

How to live in France just by reading Picture from Treviso

"Francophile porn: Living the ex-pat fantasy

Before I had the inspiration of writing posts on the geography of different regions as a way of learning about France, I considered another option: reading books about relocating to various parts of the country. Thanks to Peter Mayle, it's almost a sub-genre in itself, which I'm tempted to call ex-pat porn. So to match Craig McGinty's invitation last week of doing a virtual blog tour of France, here's a selected list of books by people who moved there, and what they found."

Street theatre two: Salome

Salome. There will be more Salome & Wilde, shortly.

Enter Oscar Wilde: Salome next...first Dorian

"As soon as he was alone, he lit a cigarette, and began sketching upon a piece of paper, drawing flowers, and bits of architecture, first, and then faces. Suddenly he remarked that every face that he drew seemed to have an extraordinary likeness to Basil Hallward. He frowned, and, getting up, went over to the bookcase and took out a volume at hazard. He was determined that he would not think about what had happened, till it became absolutely necessary to do so.

When he had stretched himself on the sofa, he looked at the title- page of the book. It was Gautier’s “Emaux et Camées,” Charpentier’s Japanese-paper edition, with the Jacquemart etching. The binding was of citron-green leather with a design of gilt trellis-work and dotted pomegranates. It had been given to him by Adrian Singleton. As he turned over the pages his eye fell on the poem about the hand of Lacenaire, the cold yellow hand “du supplice encore mal lavée,” with its downy red hairs and its “doigts de faune.” He glanced at his own white taper fingers, and passed on, till he came to those lovely verses upon Venice:

Sur une gamme chromatique,
Le sein de perles ruisselant,
La Vénus de l’Adriatique
Sort de l’eau son corps rose et blanc.

Les dômes, sur l’azur des ondes
Suivant la phrase au pur contour,
S’enflent comme des gorges rondes
Que soulève un soupir d’amour.

L’esquif aborde et me dépose,
Jetant son amarre au pilier,
Devant une façade rose,
Sur le marbre d’un escalier.

How exquisite they were! As one read them, one seemed to be floating down the green water-ways of the pink and pearl city, lying in a black gondola with silver prow and trailing curtains. The mere lines looked to him like those straight lines of turquoise-blue that follow one as one pushes out to the Lido. The sudden flashes of color reminded him of the gleam of the opal-and-iris-throated birds that flutter round the tall honey-combed Campanile, or stalk, with such stately grace, through the dim arcades. Leaning back with half- closed eyes, he kept saying over and over to himself,–

Devant une façade rose,
Sur le marbre d’un escalier.

The whole of Venice was in those two lines. He remembered the autumn that he had passed there, and a wonderful love that had stirred him to delightful fantastic follies. There was romance in every place. But Venice, like Oxford, had kept the background for romance, and background was everything, or almost everything. Basil had been with him part of the time, and had gone wild over Tintoret. Poor Basil! what a horrible way for a man to die!"

Sunday, 1 July 2007