Hello from Venice!
The Marciana allows PENS. Next to the manuscripts! Poised above the precious parchment! I had a very mild case of agita pretty much all day from watching a slackjawed Dutchwoman holding her ballpoint in the same hand she was using to turn manuscript pages. It was like watching the people riding around on bikes in Mantua with babies balanced on the handlebars. It gives me displaced anxiety.
Marciana locker room.
I'm not sure what exactly turned the worm, but this girl was feeling really unwell on Friday. Could it be the 10 hours of sunshine I got all at once after weeks and weeks of rarely seeing it for more than 15 minutes at a time? The calamari and strange new fish not getting along with the rest of the body? The hours and hours spent on boats and floating docks? I dunno - but I felt very sick - feverish and nauseated and really miserable. Of course I became convinced that I had mal du debarquement, imagining that this would possibly be something I'd be more vulnerable to after having my balance nerve destroyed by the vestibular neuritis, etc., but by the time I got back to the hotel I knew it was just exhaustion. There is a kind of shaking, feverish nausea where I just feel like bursting into tears all the time that I know is from not sleeping. I hadn't had a good, full night's sleep in nearly a week. I'd been getting some sleep, just not good sleep in a comfortable bed or nearly enough of it, and eventually that makes me physically sick. I almost managed to sleep in this morning, but had a wrong number call in the hotel that woke me up around 9 and I never managed to get back to sleep, just stuck in that weird dreamlike state where you're neither awake nor asleep and everything is weird.
Piazza San Marco at twilight.
I'm sure that tomorrow I'll be able to get plenty of much-needed sleep. I wish I was someone who could go to bed early, but I'm not. If I go to bed before 10, I will wake up in the middle of the night, around 2 or 3 in the morning, rarely able to get back to sleep, and it ends up making things so much worse.
I still don't feel very well, but I walked a ton today (I finally figured out that my pedometer isn't turning off and on and resetting itself - it's rolling over to 0000 when it gets to 9999 steps, of course - all those times I thought at the end of the day "I know I did more than 6000 steps" it must have been 16000, and so on. So anyway, today I walked about 8 miles total, and I'd say that I was lost for about 5 of them. I started by walking from San Marco to the Campo Santa Margherita, crossing at the Rialto bridge instead of the Accademia bridge so I could see more things. Venice being an absolute rat maze, it's pretty goddamn easy to get lost. It took me two hours to walk from San Marco to Campo Santa M. Two hours. Walking non-stop. And I was rescued by a kindly white-haired Italian grampa who saw me perched on a stone bridge with my map in one hand and my compass in the other, with an expression on my face that I imagine was somewhere between "doomed" and "murderous rage". It was not a good moment for me: it was the moment that I realized my @*#&(*&^% map is not oriented to true North, the printer turned it like 30 goddamn degrees. @)(#*@($*)(@#(@*#)(*#. But he was so sweet! And finally I was there, and I could have lunch, and I was so hungry and disappointed to find the place was nothing like what I'd expected (e.g., full of food you could proceed to eat without cooking, like markets in Paris and Vienna and Munich and etc. I ate in a restaurant, again paying twice what I'd pay in Paris for food of half the quality, but I will say that the lasagna was actually pretty damn good, though the scallopini was not. Pretty, though. I had a charming little lunchtime companion. He only had bread, though.
Still, I ate it for the protein, and the mixed salad, and then I stopped in a grocery store to buy food for tonight and tomorrow, and as there was no way in hell I was trying to walk that stuff out of The Shit, which would require me to use a map one-handed in the wind while toting a bag in the other, I took a vaporetto back to the Piazza San Marco.
I would like to reiterate my advice to buy a vaporetto pass when in Venice, for whatever duration your stay if you're living la vida turistica on all those days. You can walk until your legs terminate in bloody stumps if you want, but I can guarantee you that at least 8 times in one week (which is what it will take to break even with buying single tickets) if you are doing some hardcore sightseeing, you're STILL going to want to get from A to B without hitting every single letter in the Roman AND Sanskrit alphabets in between, and when you have walked for hours and end up stumbling across a vaporetto stop and you can just leap on board as nimbly as a gazelle and be whisked across the romantic waterways, the pass will be like a Get Out of Jail Free card, and I promise you it will be worth it. It absolutely will.
I didn't really mind being lost that much, because at least I was lost by myself and not in a zerging horde of tourbots, and I took a lot of pictures. Streets in Venice that can be walked on as opposed to boated up and down on are narrow. Very, very narrow. This is not an awesome place to pedestriate if you're claustro and it gets old fast. It’s not the best view in the world when you’re walking around in them, and they seem to go on forever. I was always sooooo happy to get to a waterway and a bridge because at least the road was going to open up a little bit for a tick and there would be something to see besides BRICK WALLS CLOSING IN ALL AROUND AIIEEEEE. This is why I have so many pictures of gondolas. I’m always so goddamn happy to see something that isn’t a brick wall.
See what I mean?
That last street is the one that leads to my little hotel. You can kind of see the little deco neon sign down there. I’m really tired of fighting my way down it. Attention tourists: you do NOT need to walk side by side and three abreast down these goddamn streets! They are narrow! Can people get around you? If no, you’re doing it wrong.
Occasionally the streets end in water. Sometimes a dock. I was standing on one of those when I took these:
Venetian kitty had a misspent youth (his ears bear the tale!) but is now living in a very nice little gated courtyard, which he lords over like a little pasha.
I can now add to my collection of pictures of Venetian civil servants (I have postman, police, and ambo) - firemen!
They are backing the bus in, so I think that this is actually the fire station!
Another picture of the interior of a gondola. They are so pimp. They should come with pimp cups and pimp sticks for people to hold while they’re riding around, and free purple drank for passengers, and they should pump out pimp music and bounce on springs like lo-rida pimp sedan. If they did, I would take one. Instead I just make fun of the people who take them because seriously, they’re getting robbed. Unless they get the one gondolier I’ve seen who actually does that sings opera arias. That guy is freaking awesome.
I met this woman the other night but didn’t get around to uploading the photos til now – she makes the most amazing masks. Not all of the ones in the store are hers, she has a workshop of people too, but she was in the middle of painting masks with colored waxes when I showed up. We talked for a little while and she agreed to let me take some pictures:
The masks were so unique and special – not like the mass manufactured crap in a lot of the stores and on the streets.
I like this shop too but it reminds me of that crazy aunt of my friend Marilyn, the one who collected the porcelain masks that all looked alike but were painted differently.
Plague doctor masks. When I was teaching Plato to NATO in the fall semesters I always offered extra credit to students who made functional plague doctor costumes for Halloween, and I’ve seen a few costumes that were really amazing. One kid even used a pair of novelty “nerd” glasses to get the optical distortion effect that was supposed to prevent transmission via the gaze!
I went for another walk in the early evening and saw:
These street shrines with bars on them make me want to fashion FREE THE VIRGIN MARY signs and NO PRISON FOR THE MOTHER OF CHRIST and post them adjacent but I know Italians wouldn’t find it amusing. At all.
It is my belief that I am owed a Nobel Prize for CUTE PICTURE on account of:
Seriously. Can you believe that coat? Putting a cute baby in a teddy bear coat is like the cuteness equivalent of a fried Mars bar.
In other news of the cute, I’m kind of powerless to explain why I could not resist this little piece of Murano glass- because it is tiny – but I just couldn’t. I looked at it and looked at it, and held it, and looked at it, and finally I bought it. And then I brought it home and looked at it and looked at it and looked at it some more. It’s a clear glass marble (a bit flat on the bottom for standing up) with a perfect tiny goldfish and air bubbles and everything. So tiny. And its little face is so so so cute. Love is weird.
I bought some ice cream – I will say this for Venice: their ice cream is priced humanely (1.50 Euros) and is so unbelievably delicious.
I had a good day on Friday, though I was feeling pretty bad physically - it was productive. Had fun sourcing a manuscript with another obscure name of a dead monastery. Ask me how much I wish I could bring the Marciana's set of Orbis Latinis and all their map books back to the hotel with me to paddle around in all evening. LOTS. I had a wonderful time looking through all of their reference works. Honestly, every reading room I go to gives me another handful of entries in my mental reference bibliography on manuscript study, especially when it comes to area-specific resources - indexes of colophons unique to that library or area, catalogues of scientific manuscripts from libraries in a specific country or region, etc. etc. - I'm learning a lot. I can say that much for a moral certainty: I am learning a ton. Archive librarians will teach people who are appropriately humble before them. Most academics have to be the expert ALL THE TIME, have to constantly say "Oh, I knew that" or "Oh, that's not how I do it" or whatever, simply can't help themselves even though it's terribly tiresome, and I think it makes most archival librarians a little hesitant to take on a pedagogical role with even a junior researcher, because honestly, nobody gives high hat like an academic who is bristling from the imputation that they might not know everything on the fucking planet. Fragile little tweedy egos, so insecure. Not me, man. I'm not insecure about my expertise. That would be like feeling insecure about my Porsche. IN THE SENSE THAT I DO NOT HAVE ONE.
So I made friends with a nice archivist who ushered into a back room wherein I was shown many marvels of reference works, some of them so old that they'd be in special collections stateside. It was cool. There's no map or list of usuels like at Richelieu, so this is just one of those things... And in that room, there was a set of books SO AWESOME and SO OUT OF PRINT for like 200 years, and I am going to translate it and find a publisher and make some money. All I have to do is find a copy through ILL or microfilm or something when I get home to work off. It is so cool. It was really hard to set those volumes aside and get back to my real work. You will see!
What was really odd is that the Marciana is on the San Marco piazza, and the windows are ancient - not at all insulated in any way - so the sound of shrieking teenagers and the water dashing against the stone and the clatter of tourists and carts and so on comes in as though there was nothing between us and that at all, and even more peculiarly, so does the smell. In places close to the windows this is more evident, but it's true for the whole room. I went over to the shelves where the watermark reference books were and discovered that I could smell the wet stone, the water, the cigarette smoke, the exhaust fumes of the vaporetti - it was as if the outside was inside. I actually pulled the curtain aside a smidge to see if the window was open. Nope. At one point the room had become so cigarette smoky from the tourist teenagers smoking while leaning against the walls and watching the gondoliers that I started to marvel at the fact that it's always like this, ever and always, and nobody has ever tried to stop it or make a no smoking area around the reading room or anything. Funny.
Also, nobody in the Marciana reading room speaks English, but that's ok because they all speak beautiful French! So I did not have to deal with miming things like “Where can I find your LED light sheet” and “Is there a bibliographic file on these manuscripts?” and so on. Unfortunately, one of my manuscripts has never been microfilmed, so it’s going to be freak expensive to get at. I’m going to whale on transcribing some of it Mon and Tues, and see if it can’t be sorted out some other way…
After I got back to the hotel I decided to hang out at the plaza for awhile, not walking, just sitting quietly and people watching:
This guy’s job is like the very modern definition of “clean the Stygian stables.” Can’t you just totally see the job description? “City worker sought for position in which enjoyment of futile, never-ending labor of cleaning up after people acting like total pigs. Must use broom made out of plant parts following ancient recipe of a Stregheria witch. Send photo CV.”
These ladies were so cute backseat driving each others’ photographs. My guess is mother and daughter.
The absolute HIGHLIGHT of my peoplewatching in the plaza was finding myself positioned exactly between two groups of people engaged in an incredibly loud screaming match! For real! In one corner, you’ve got the Italian teenage girls! Screaming like banshees! Gesticulating wildly! Flipping the bird, which is to say, two fingers forked up in a scooping gesture while parted, with the back of the hand facing the target, as if to say: get fucked by a pitchfork, asshole! And gesturing at their asses and armpits! Screaming in real indignation, I mean seriously, like someone said something real bad. In the other corner! A group of older male German tourists! Who are laughing so hard that one of them actually done fell over! I of course start taking pictures!
Then one girl sees me taking the picture of her group and flashes me a victory V (thank god it wasn’t the bad one), then indicates that I should also document that the guys are assholes! I assume, not knowing what she’s really saying, which is in Italian. They all come over and surround me and explain to me, when I ask them what the hell is going on, that the elderly Germans contain in their midst a FARTER! And that this gentleman FARTED while standing in front of one of the Italian girls who was, at the time, seated! And hence FARTED IN HER FACE! And they are SUPER PISSED ABOUT IT. The Germans, on the other hand, are just absolutely dying they are laughing so hard, not because farting in someone’s face is funny, but because there is absolutely nothing on this planet more terrifying and hilarious than a pissed off Italian teenage girl. Much less a gang of them! It was so awesome.
Tonight I heard the high water alarms go off in Venice. Rain has been forecast, quite heavy rain tomorrow, and evidently they are expecting very high waters. High to the point of requiring wading boots, probably not. But we’ll see! Torrential rains are expected tomorrow, so I guess it could get interesting.