I went to Venice with a doughty band of Vermont College of Fine Arts students in the summer of 2008. Unlike most visitors to the sinking city, I did not hang out on the beach looking for young Polish boys. In fact, I did not see the beach. Faced with large, confusing situations (life, for example), I try to focus on tiny goals. I went to Venice intending to find one bar and one painting; my friend Karen Mulhallen (see her poem in an earlier post) had suggested both. Right away, I could not find the bar. I got separated from the group. I wandered aimlessly in foetid, miasma-ridden back alleys that always seemed to end at a canal. I saw black clad beggar women, a sinister blind accordion player with a wedding party, chess sets in the shapes of animals or Saracen armies. Sometimes in the distance I would see VCFA students who would wave wanly in my direction. The heat was terrific. I felt as if I were in a Thomas Mann story. I felt as if there wasn’t enough passion in my life. I drank too much coffee. After many hours of wandering, I found what I was searching for, the Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni, a sort of guild hall for Slovene immigrants (long ago). It was closed. I wandered in the old Slovene quarter, saw a woman walking away from me down an alley that led to a canal who seems, in the photo I took, not to be wearing underpants. I saw stray dogs and a couple making out on a bench in a weedy square. The sun was hot. By chance (I later realized) I took a second photo of the woman. I felt that she was my Tadzio, that she would lure me to some malarial doom. At a stall that sold fine, ancient works of art to discerning tourists, I bought a kitchen apron with Michelangelo’s David on the front and a Venizia baseball cap. I returned to the Scuola which was now open. The inside was like a large square chapel with huge paintings on the walls, all by Vittore Carpaccio depicting the truly exciting life of St. Jerome. The last on the right as you come in showed St. Augustine in his study (how St. Augustine comes into the life of St. Jerome I don’t know). St. Augustine sits at his writing desk amid piles of books, pen in hand. He’s staring off to his left, slightly amazed. You can’t quite tell what he’s looking at. There’s a window; perhaps he’s spotted a woman going by without any underpants. But his eyes aren’t aimed at quite the right angle. He could be looking at that the orrery suspended above the window. Mostly he’s just looking. The painting is called “Vision of St. Augustine” which makes me think, you know, that it’s meant to imply that he was short-sighted or perhaps myopic. The study seems outsized and empty. Books along the wall, a special reading chair with a lectern (looks like a piece of exercise apparatus). At the back, there is some sort of home entertainment centre. In the middle of the bare floor sits a diminutive, fluffy, white dog staring up at the saint. Unlike the saint’s eyes, the dog’s are focused, deliberate, curious and intelligent. The dog looks just like Karen’s dog Lucy. As I was examining the painting, two beautiful Venetian women came in with plastic sheets and ladders and covered it up “for restoration.” They climbed ladders, put on attractive white masks that made them look even more beautiful, mysterious and Venetian and set to work with tiny instruments. I stumbled out into the blazing sunlight with my precious Michelangelo art work under my arm. There is another Carpaccio in the city, with the same dog. I could have gone on, but time was late and my students, no doubt, had been missing me.
Oh, I wondered what happened to you.
Seems I bought the matching boxers to your apron.
Everyone, This is Michele, a VCFA graduate, who was on the Venice trip in 2008. Apparently, we frequented the same fine art dealer.