Swans Commentary » swans.com July 31, 2006  



Venice: Nobody's Town


by Peter Byrne





(Swans - July 31, 2006)  "What is it about Americans and Venice?" I ask myself. Then I burrow deeper into the mountain of books about Venice and realize that not only Americans are infatuated with the island city. Everyone else is just as taken with the place, even the Italians, though their village chauvinism being what it is -- bred in the bone -- they view Venice from a different angle. They are surely impressed by the strange ingenuity of the city, but they look on it with a colder eye. That leaves the Venetians, the ones still alive and kicking. Their views appear not to interest anyone much. Yet it's hard to believe they don't have opinions and maybe even lives of their own.

It seems the rest of the world, all those Venice lovers, would simply like the surviving Venetians to get out of the way or recede into history and its annals with a bit more snap. Consensus among visitors is well established on the subject and runs from the sweatiest day-tripper or package tour denizen right through to academic historians and belle-arti buffs. Venice belongs to them, not to the people who actually live there. Of course the locals have their place as background. Movies need extras. But the Venice script, the story line, is a mind game played on the back of a city reduced to myth.

Just now anti-Americanism sets the fashion note in Western Europe, so it behooves us to join the crowd and look at how Americans have twisted Venice into their very own personal thing. One could, though, build at least as strong a case against British, French, or German claimants, not to go farther afield, who prefer their dream of the blessed isle to its humble waterlogged citizens.

John Ruskin laid the impregnable groundwork of Venice viewing. He not only thought that the actual inhabitants were guilty of lese majesty by their existence; he didn't like their forebears either. To Ruskin's mind, you had to go back before the 15th century to find anyone worthy to live in Venice. The primitive, age-of-faith city had been corrupted by mercantile rationalism about then. Ruskin thundered all this out in library-shaking prose that still echoes over the lagoon.

The narrator of Proust's Remembrance of Things Past actually ended his enjoyment of Venice when he finally managed to visit it for the first time. It had taken him a couple of thousand pages of mooning over the proposed trip before packing his bag and setting out. Venice in print and paint was his real love. He treasured his preconception of the place, his idea of it. Up against the solid stone and artifacts of the island city, he lost his footing. And if he couldn't cope with the geographical place, what chance did its inhabitants have of making him aware of them?

Thomas Mann's Death in Venice put German culture's stamp of doom on the city. Both the protagonist Gustave Von Aschenbach and Tadzio, the object of his obsession, are, with all due respect for their fine manners, only up-market tourists. Their sessions of peek-a-boo haven't anything to do with the city's life. A few menials from the local labor pool do appear to trim their hair or wait at table, and the bodies piling up from the plague are presumably native Venetians. No mean feat was Mann's, and one still thinks twice about whistling a happy tune while strolling along the canals. Though Paris, London, and -- for heaven's sake, Chicago -- lost more lives to cholera in the 19th century, Venice remains forever the plague-ridden city where beauty goes hand in hand with hideous death.

The Olympian novelist Henry James best sums up the American case. He deftly interlaced the threads that had been spun for centuries. Sunny though its ruins might be, Venice was a Republic raped by foreign autocrats and ruined beyond repair. It continued to decay, but so slowly that James could hold the city up as unchanging and permanent while the rest of the 19th century metamorphosed in a wild fandango around it. He called it a fantasyland. "It remains strangely the Venice of dreams, more than of any appreciable reality." But, beware, the heat generated by all that unclothed art in one place not far from where the Romans had frolicked, and the city's admixture of unfamiliar courting and marital customs, made for -- the dependable Anglo-Saxon dirty mind aiding -- a hot-bed of sensuality.

James' experience of Venice, when not visiting art galleries and seeing the sights, was colored by his stays with the very rich Curtis family in their Palazzo Barbaro on the Grand Canal. The patrician life of these Americans so bemused him that he began to wonder if the plebeians he spied from the Curtis's balcony might not lose their picturesque charm if properly fed and clothed.

When James chose Venice as a setting for his fiction, he knew better than to give Venetians anything but walk-on roles. They were an unknown quantity to him. The Aspern Papers (1888) had originally been set in Florence. He moved it to Venice in order to show his villain's inability to see real beauty even in the one place it could hardly be ignored. The story concerns a callous American literary man forcing entry into the life of a helpless old woman, vaguely American, bearing a French, not an Italian name, for his selfish ends. The saintly heroine of The Wings of the Dove (1902) is an American whom heartless, mercenary people are out to fleece. They aren't Venetians either. But James seemed to think that Venice with all that unreality, decrepitude and licentiousness was a great setting for tales of fraud and deceit.

To spell all this out, James wrote a long essay in 1882 and set down impressively what we might call the ultra sensitive American's view. He said that Venice "of all the cities of the world is the easiest to visit without going there." In other words, just as Proust's alter ego would find, we know everything that matters about Venice from the tons of books and piles of pictures, without ever venturing over the water to touch down there. But this "visit" accomplished without actually setting foot in the city had nothing to do with the Venetians on the ground, going about their grotty lives in fairyland. They no more inhabit those books or pictures than today's five-star hotels.

James goes so far in his essay as to cast the city in an erotic posture:

The creature varies like a nervous woman, whom you know only when you know all the aspects of her beauty.... The place seems to personify itself, to become human and sentient and conscious of your affection. You desire to embrace it, to caress it, to possess it; and finally a soft sense of possession grows up and your visit becomes a perpetual love affair.

But we mustn't jump to conclusions. Those unfamiliar with James's biography might take the steamy language to mean he kept a mistress hidden away on a lesser canal, found a soul mate in the Venice brothel that would delight Graham Greene years later or had consummated a sex-tourist's passion in the bottom of a gondola -- that he had, after all, got close to the people of Venice. Not this Henry James who, in the language of his day, was "one of nature's bachelors." His sexuality went entirely into his novels. Academic snoopers haven't been able to tag him with any sexual intimacies, female or male. Some researchers have noted a senile twitch of homoeroticism, but they used a very thick magnifying glass. It was nothing that actually got him out of his armchair. The eroticising of Venice was only another way of keeping the city in his head, a dream, without inhabitants.

If Mary McCarthy wasn't a disciple of James, she followed him in writing with feeling about Venice. Her Venice Observed (1956) could almost be the next chapter in the story he told. James said he hardly spoke to Italians in Italy "save washerwomen and waiters." McCarthy, farther removed from Victorian snobbery, tells us about her renting agent and her landlady. But they are mere shadows in a book that consists mainly of remarks on remote history and a sharply written personal perusal of the great Venetian paintings. It engages with what's real, but the reality McCarthy observes isn't so much Venice as the art that's been created there.

McCarthy might speak of "Venetian concreteness and visualizing power" or tell us that in contrast to the Tuscan school "Venetian painting from beginning to end is a riot of dress goods." But does this get Venetians on to the stage or does it merely bring Venice down out of James's head and display before us, not Venetians, but a Venetian art gallery? When McCarthy talks of the "eternal Venetians" that Veronese painted, it's only a mellifluous way of short changing the residents of Venice in the nineteen fifties.

In his day James decried the tourist "hordes" and "a herd of fellow gazers." He pontificated: "There is nothing new to be said about Venice." McCarthy goes along with him and then one step farther: "And there is no use pretending that the tourist Venice is not the real Venice.... The tourist Venice is Venice."

At this point in the Venice phantasmagoria as recorded by our more delicate sensibilities, I want to say whoa, what's this place you're talking about? Could we, please, begin afresh? The island city of Venice is a blob of land with tails on each side sitting in a lagoon system, hard by the Adriatic coast of Italy. An hour's brisk walk will get you from one end to the other and it takes half that time to go from top to bottom.

The city belongs administratively to the Veneto. This region, one of the most prosperous in Italy, holds it own economically even in the glum present of zero national growth. It's the home of a fervent Catholicism that can surprise Italian visitors from more secular regions. Politically it harbors just now a European embarrassment in the shape of the Northern League, a foul-mouthed swarm of small-minded provincials. (Their spokesman, an ex-Minister, recently called the French National soccer team, "N.....s, Islamists and Communists." Previously he sported a t-shirt emblazoned with a disputed Danish caricature of Mohammed.) The League's aim is to separate the Veneto from poorer regions of Italy. Think Minnesota opting out of the USA because it doesn't want federal tax money going to Louisiana and Alabama. Italians possessed of any civic sense that extends beyond their own backyard wince when the Leaguers spout their simple-minded venom against immigrants, the poor, the capital in Rome, and anyone who isn't one of their own, if possible a blood relative. But small, grotesque parties have weight in the Italian political system that relies on heteroclite coalitions in order to function at all.

The city of Venice doesn't share the Veneto's prosperity, which is based on widespread and intense small industry in medium sized cities. Venice's own industrial area, Marghera, within sight and polluting distance on the mainland, has been in crisis for decades. The city's port facility that always furnished jobs and revenue has also declined steadily and may well dwindle to nothing.

Venice, everyone knows, is sinking and subject to ever increasing flooding from Adriatic high tides. A mega project called Moses, meant to save the city by constructing sea gates, has been the source of controversy for years. Opponents say it would be preferable to raise the city by pumping water beneath it and that the gates will destroy the delicate balance of the lagoon. There are as many experts against the project as for it, and an odor of pork presided at its conception. But work on Moses has actually begun. At present the official position seems to be, We've started the goddamn thing and can't stop now.

Faster than Venice's economic decline, and tied to it, is the city's loss of population. It fell from 110,000 in 1950 to 75,000 in 1992 and now stands at 62,000. Italy has one of the lowest birthrates in Europe and that of Venice is lower still. Young people leave in search of work and more ample housing. Venice is no place to start a family and the population gets older every year. Wealthy seekers of second-homes and scarcity have inflated house prices and driven up the cost of living. The cramped nature of the city rules out large stores offering discount shopping and the need to bring everything in by water increases costs.

The island economy depends on tourism and the service industries, but these hardly solve its problems. Europeans now tend to spend a few days in Venice but take their vacations in places like Mauritius or the Caribbean. Many Italians often only show up for a day's excursion. There's not much money in school trips. Hoteliers lament the passing of the well-heeled sojourner of yore who would hang himself with his necktie rather than gobble a slice of pizza in the open air. The so-called mass tourist satisfies his curiosity about the city without cars by a quick look-around, and he doesn't come back.


I ought to declare my interest before launching into another invidious comparison between the highflying literary daydreamers of Venice and the wide-awake Venetians on the ground busy worrying about unemployment and finding a place for their children to set up house. Venice was my home for several years. More than once I took that brisk walk across town in a rainstorm to get to work. The waterbuses can't operate when the water gets too churned up or rises so high they can't dock or pass under the bridges. I often paused on one of those bridges -- there are some four hundred -- and looked down at the Grand Canal, wondering about its lethal concentration of dioxin, PCBs, and DDT. In less contemplative moments I argued about whose garbage had been set out in the wrong place. As often as not the garbage man and his barge didn't turn up on schedule and swollen plastic bags would obstruct the idyllic view for the day, postponing all poetry.

My friend Carlo, who lived nearby, played peacemaker in these neighborhood territorial disputes. Even against everybody's common enemy, acqua alta or high water, he avoided wild curses. The rest of us would get wound up and let ourselves go against this Venetian scourge. Chewing out an act of God offended no one. True, Carlo made his home on a dry upper floor, but he was a calming presence all the same.

Far from Venice now, whenever I pick up another book about the city, I wish for someone like Carlo to appear in its pages. It never happens. My last hope was John Berendt's non-fiction portrait of contemporary Venice. The City of Falling Angels (2005) promised to leave the ageless myths alone and dish up the quotidian dirt. The canny American author's previous book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1994), had managed to put Savannah, Georgia, on the tourist map and increased downtown real estate prices fourfold.

I was encouraged by Berendt's assurance that his interest was "not Venice per se but people who live in Venice." Nevertheless, it was soon apparent that Carlo wouldn't stand a chance. "People" for Berendt were rich and worldly, if possible genuine aristocrats or at least plausible phonies. What used to be called socialites were welcome. He aimed to get behind expatriate Venice, but ended up sitting around collecting high-end tittle-tattle from the city's shop-worn upper crust. In their provincial boredom they'd been waiting for someone just like Berendt -- an outsized ear on top of a cash register.

Italians weren't amused by Berendt's retailing of recent Venice scandals. Not that they felt besmirched. Quite to the contrary, they saw misdeeds in Venice as small beer compared to what they read every morning in their national newspapers. This Signor B. was a naive beginner at scandal mongering. He made heavy going of the criminal arson that destroyed the La Fenice opera house in 1996. But the building has been rebuilt and opened again in 2003. The magnificent Petruzzelli Theater in Bari was burnt out by felons in 1991 and city officialdom is still at loggerheads about whose brother-in-law will get the contract to refurbish it.

As for Berendt's revelations of hanky-panky in the struggle for Ezra Pound's personal papers -- a spare scandal he held in reserve to treat us to when tension over the opera house fell -- they could at most cause an eyebrow to rise at a tea party for Italian librarians. Italy has bigger fish to fry just now. It won the World Cup soccer competition this year while trying to bury a national soccer scandal that makes the Chicago Black Sox throwing of the 1919 World Series look like a locker room prank. Referees were suborned and matches fixed in a far-reaching and long-standing conspiracy that constituted, not isolated crimes, but a whole thriving criminal system. One of the world's most famous soccer leagues will find it hard ever to regain credibility.

Berendt gives a piquant account of the rivalry between two American millionaires to control the Save Venice philanthropic association. One, a puffed up cosmetic surgeon, had the habit of saying, "Venice would be better off without Venetians." The other, heir to the Piggly Wiggly grocery chain fortune, convinced himself he actually belonged to the European aristocracy that he had spent his life sucking up to. A perplexed Venetian of some standing commented, "Why must they come to Venice to save it? It's nice, of course, the money they give. But it doesn't have anything to do with generosity. It means they want to look important. ...Venice will save itself. Go and save Paris."

Cleary the epic battle fought between Dr. Botox and Piggly-Wiggly over whose name would appear above the other on Save Venice stationery didn't interest Italians. They had their teeth in the story of Bernardo Provenzano, the Mafia super boss, aged seventy-three. The police had been looking for him since 1963, during which time he managed to father two sons and lead a pretty full life, never relinquishing the reins of his empire. He'd been living around the corner from his family residence in Corleone, Sicily, and regularly sent his dirty laundry home for his wife to look after. The police would still be "not finding" him if a rival Mafia family hadn't dropped Provenzano in their lap. Conspiracy theories are not wanting since the boss of bosses was arrested on April 11, the very day that Silvio Berlusconi fell from power in Rome.

No, I wasn't going to find out about someone like Carlo by reading a book by the patron saint of Savannah property developers. Humbler Venetians appear in it in roles like the suspects that turn out to be innocent in a detective thriller. They merely give the private-eye space to get his breath back before uncovering the evil top banana. But what would a story about Enron, Jeffrey K. Skilling and Kenneth L. Lay tell me about the life of a Bronx subway rider or a driver on an L.A. freeway? If I wanted to know about Carlo, I'd have to go and see him. Which I decided to do.


I went straight to the Locanda Sant'Anna in Castello. During my time in Venice I'd often settled visiting friends there. It was near my home in the fag-end of Venice where the island finishes and you only have to climb over a bridge to find yourself on San Pietro, another island altogether. In all logic it should have been a quiet corner, as it was far from Venice's main lines of communications. You got off the waterbus and had to walk half a mile to where I'd lived.

But in the tourist capital of the world remoteness is never more than relative. I used to sit at my kitchen table looking out on the footpath for San Pietro Bridge. Even on a vile January morning I'd see an early-rising visitor walking past. His expression would say he was no run-of-the-mill tourist, but a lone wolf traveler, shrewd enough to come to Venice in the middle of winter when he could have it all to himself. He glowed with the thought that he'd also now discovered the city's back door. I'd wish him well under my breath, turn up my gas heater and go back to reading the morning Gazzetttino. But the next time I looked up at the frosty brickwork opposite my window another lone wolf would come loping along with a neat pack on his back and the same self-satisfied look on his face.

I knew where to find Carlo after breakfast. He was an honorary official of an old-folks club. They had a pleasant room complete with a tiny garden and a bar that served snacks. Sure enough he was installed at a table there and the discussion in course made me feel I'd not been away for some years. Carlo's principal duty was to plan the club's annual summer outing on the lagoon. That's what he was discussing now with a couple of hard-bitten cronies. The outing on a rented ferry had little to do with sight seeing. The participants had all been born within spitting distance of the lagoon. It was a social occasion and more particularly a chance to sit down to a very special meal.

Some social clubs decorate their walls with pennants and trophies of sporting contests. There are photographs of winning teams. Carlo's club had group pictures of well-fed faces from past summer excursions. The two friends opposite Carlo considered last year's choice of a trattoria on one of the minor lagoon islands as a serious mistake. Carlo defended it like a politician his policy when his honor and future were at stake. The opposition was two pronged - good cop, bad cop. The mild fellow praised the antipasti but bit his lip over the main course of vitello alle acciughe. His partner came down hard on the whole meal. He had all sorts of historical comparisons at his fingertips. There was an unsurpassed risotto nero con le seppie in '98 and even the '03 meal, though overpriced, managed to finish with a glorious dolce allo zabaione.

Carlo took me for a walk. This was established practice for the male retirees of Venice. Alone or in pairs they would set out every morning on something like an obligatory circular tour. There were set stops at half a dozen bars. Each pause would involve a glass of white wine and a few minutes of gossip. The aim was to complete the circuit and be home just after midday as lunch was being put on the table. You would actually meet old timers half trotting not to miss a stop before the knell of noon.

I wouldn't say that our reunion was a disappointment, but I was struck by how Carlo touched pretty much on the same subjects he talked to me about before. There was his and his wife Laura's health; his pride in his grandson; the career in a municipal office of his daughter, an only child. I noted the usual absence of Carlo's son-in-law from our conversation though I'd met the harmless fellow and knew he existed. I steered the talk back to Carlo's earlier years. But here again I heard what I'd been told before. Carlo had worked all his life as an electrician in a boat-outfitting establishment on San Pietro Canal. Seagoing ships had gone into dry dock there to be done over. The fact that the company was adjacent to and in some sense a successor of the Venice Arsenal that had produced sea craft by a kind of assembly line process in the Middle Ages meant nothing to Carlo. On the other hand he was very interested in how his retirement pension differed from that of various other people he named.

As we walked Carlo pointed out things that came back to me as having been pointed out by him before. There was the Tuscan's house. This interloper had come to Venice a half-century ago from Tuscany, but had never managed to be considered a Venetian. There was the clump of houses where the Dalmatian Italians had been settled when Yugoslavia took over their coastal region after WWII. There was crazy Luigi with the game leg who had lived on the floor above me -- I'd forgotten his face but would remember his dragging step over my head forever. Why Carlo thought him crazy I never learned, and Luigi always seemed quite normal to me and admirably discreet for a Venetian. It probably went back to some misstep of a half-century before, like getting his shoe caught in a boat's propeller.

As noon approached Carlo got nervous about being home on time. We'd kept to the white wine routine at each stop, but it hadn't dulled his appetite. At the last bar, he re-introduced me to an old man I'm sure I met a decade before. His distinction was having been a British prisoner in North Africa during WWII. I remember our first meeting had proceeded in the same way and in the same words. Shaking hands with the ex-captive of His Majesty George VI, I spoke to him in English. He grinned but didn't understand a word, and I had to ask him about Field Marshal Rommel's strategy in Italian, in which he replied, preferring to talk about the curious things the Brits had given him to eat in the desert.

Maybe it was when Carlo went home to lunch and Laura that the problem became clear to me. I walked along the Riva degli Schiavoni, past Vivaldi's Church, with the Ducal Palace ahead of me and wonderfully built-over San Giorgio Island out in the water to my left. I had to sympathize with Ruskin, James, and McCarthy. It was very hard not to ignore the people trudging along beside me and hoist myself up on mental stilts to be alone with all that splendor.


My Venice trip was over. I caught a launch for Marco Polo Airport. It wasn't my first project that didn't work out in the hard glare of other people's lives. Of course it had been good to see Carlo and Laura and to learn they were still thriving in their quiet way. But I had to drop the last part of my plan. That had been to bring together ordinary Venetians and the mythologists of the city. In the kindest possible way I'd intended to expose Carlo to a sample of the Venice myth. I'd help him through the airier parts. The point was to get him wrestling with the dream. I was sure some sort of synthesis was possible and eager to see him embrace it. My friend's enlightenment would please me no end. In fact it would in a sense be mine as well. This would be an experiment in presenting one world to another -- Mr. Ordinary, the man on the canal, would meet Dr. Hyper Aesthesia.

I felt I was fortunate in having found a book in Italian to do the job. In the early 1990's a group promoting Venice had commissioned a book on the city by the American novelist Harold Brodkey. According to their practice the Consorzio Venezia Nuova had first published the book, a novel, in Italian translation. I now had a copy of Amicizie Profane (1992) in my brief case beside the 1994 original Profane Friendship. But I'd had second thoughts about lumbering Carlo with one of these two slabs. I'd checked out his bookshelf, and found, well, lighter stuff, and not much of that. So I'd decided to begin with something less demanding. After Brodkey died a little book of his musings on Venice appeared, My Venice (1998). I thought I'd feel out Carlo with a fairly straightforward Brodkey thought from this slim volume. Radical, yes, but not metaphysical or quite so whimsical as a fugitive balloon. It was this:

How I wish for the causeway and the railway to be dismantled, and for Venice to be cut off from the mainland and the lagoon restored to a swamp, for the city's filled-in and paved canals to be returned to water, for Venice to be unpedestrian, isolated, impractical, wholly itself and unlike the rest of the world.

Thinking it over now, maybe I should have chosen a more poetic and less concrete thought. Brodkey is full of those. Carlo wouldn't have found fault with, "The sky was deep red, maroon-vermilion, dark crimson, and purple, flames or sunset." But could he have visualized it? Could anyone? Laura, though, might have been disconcerted by, "City noises here resemble the sounds of breath, the sounds of someone in bed beside you, the sigh and shuh and creak of the mattress, the rustle of sheets, the clicking of eyelashes..."

Be that as it may, I stuck with Brodkey's great big destructive wish to cut the city off. It could be that the moment wasn't quite right. Laura and Carlo had invited me for an evening meal. The point had come, after several memorable dishes, for the refusal of whiskey. This was a ritual, the same as I remembered from years back. In fact it was probably the same bottle of whiskey from years back. Because Carlo didn't touch whiskey. He was an enthusiast for wine, local Merlot or Tocai, and downed an occasional glass of grappa. He kept the whiskey out of pure exoticism and urbanity. I think one of his great disappointments in me, apart from my having turned my back on Venice, was that I didn't drink whiskey either.

I had to repeat the bit about knocking down the causeway twice before Carlo took me seriously. Laura had retreated somewhere when the whiskey bottle and the long words appeared.

Then Carlo said, "Knock down the causeway? Why?"

"Well. It would make Brodkey feel better," I said, lamely.

"He takes the train when he goes to Padova?"

"He wants Venice to be completely on its own," I said. "No more railway station, either."

"No? Our mayors have fought for years to have the north-south trains stop in Venice. Where would they stop if there was no station?"

"Brodkey would get rid of the tracks too."

"Well, he probably comes here on vacation by plane. But Laura and I go to the mountains in August. You know how impossible Venice gets with the heat. I suppose we could take the bus."

"No causeway, no bus, no station, no train." I could see that Carlo began wondering about me.

"Does he know about the free shuttle bus the hyper market runs from Piazza Rome to Mira? Laura figures that she saves a hundred euros a month by making a trip every Saturday."

"I don't think Brodkey does much shopping."


"Look, he wants the whole lagoon to go back to swamp."


"Well, that's how it used be."

"No. No. It was never swamp. My grandfather told me he used to fish in a sandolo as a boy and didn't pick up a single weed in his net. And, you know, when I was twelve the water was so clear we swam right over there in the San Pietro Canal."

"Brodkey means a long time ago, like fifteen hundred years."

Carlo thought that over. So did I. This wasn't going to work, but I went on anyhow.

"He also wants those filled-in canals dug out."

The filling in had also taken place a long time ago and it was news to Carlo.

"Like Via Garibaldi" I explained. "That was a canal. Napoleon had it filled in. Brodkey wants it dug out."

I'd lost Carlo for good. Via Garibaldi was where he spent half his day, sunny side in winter, shady side in summer. Everything was there, his church, his favorite bar, the good pastry shop, the pharmacy. He caught the waterbus nearby.

"You know, Carlo, I think I'll have that whiskey after all. But you must join me."

He apologized for not having a soda siphon like he'd seen in TV movies. We had one glass and then another. I felt Brodkey fading out of the evening.

"You see Carlo, this Brodkey wanted Venice to be like no place else."

"Well, it's not big like Milan or scruffy like Mestre."

I let it go at that, adding only, "He had strange ideas. He didn't even want people to walk around here."

"No? How would we get to the boat landing or to the doctor's office or the football stadium?"

"I suppose he wanted you to grow wings."

Carlo liked that, but had had enough of whiskey and other exotica for one evening.

I wasn't through with Brodkey though. I had hours to pass in the airport and more on the plane, and nothing but Profane Friendship to read.

It wasn't that bad a novel, a D.H. Lawrence kind of love story between the author's alter ego and his mirror image. All you had to do was to filter out everything he said about a strange place he called Venice and it became quite believable.


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About the Author

Peter Byrne was born in Chicago, attended universities in Quebec and Paris, and lived for long periods, teaching and writing, in Montreal, London, Paris, Italy -- north and south -- Sofia, and Istanbul. He now lives in the Italian city of Lecce within sight of Albania on a very clear day.



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Published July 31, 2006