Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Something Strange Happened Here
The odd thing is, something strange did happen.
I started out to go to the part of the Biennale you reach from the Bacini vaporetto stop. Robin had told me about some interesting things there, including another video from the Russians who kicked out the jambs in 2007 with a stellar three-screen video event.
There is no easy way to get there; it is a remote corner of Venice, and you take the 41 or 42 depending on which way you are coming from. On the way, the motoscafo stopped at Certosa and I thought maybe I should get off there, since I had never been there and Robln had also described some interesting things there. But I stayed onboard, figuring that if I had the energy I could swing by on my way back. It was very hot, the sun brilliant, and not the best day for trekking outdoors.
I also neglected to eat anything this morning. I had coffee, and that was all. I was getting very thirsty and hungry, and was completely annoyed at myself when I got off at Bacini and realized that as part of the Arsenale half of the Biennale, these exhibitions, although geographically separate, were also closed on Tuesdays.
I was on the motoscafo back toward Certosa when it happened. I was feeling very good up to then, but a wave of anxiety swept over me, small at first, intensifying as inexorably as a Rossini crescendo. I felt anguish and uncertainty about the future, a good sign that some bad waves were generating deep down my brain stem. The motoscafi are not like the vaporetti; they are smaller, narrower, and closer to the water. The 41 cuts through the lagoon where it is often rocked by serious wake from the heavy boat traffic around it. It was hard to stand. I felt woozy and weak-kneed and had to sit down. I tried to be rational and remind myself that I was alert and breathing albeit dizzy and a little seasick. But for those moments, everything seemed to be closing in a tight vortex, Sartre's nausea. I was tempted to get off at S. Pietro, to stand on solid ground, but stayed seated; as the boat neared Certosa I stood, unsteadily, and climbed to the deck where the fresh air was brisk and reinvigorating.
I started feeling better as soon as I got off the boat. The breezes on Certosa dried up my cold sweat, and as I walked the long jetty the other symptoms seemed to pass. I was hungry and thirsty but the intense dizziness dissipated with solid ground under my feet.
Which is when I thought: that's how it happens. It. The big one. The 9 magnitude on the mortality scale. It doesn't come announced; it comes in the instant and totally blows your mind as well as whatever other systems fail.
I counted back from ten, went through the days of the week, named as many presidents as I could, recited the No. 1 vaporetto stops from P.le Roma to Lido and back again. I knew who and where I was, and I was beginning to ease back into the beauty of the afternoon and the peculiar landscape of Certosa. But the hot breath of mortality, the most intense anguish, leaves its imprint, like the time I choked on a piece of candy and was fading to black before the Tootsie roll was Heimliched out of me. It startled me, and then it passed, like the waves. It made me think differently.
As you approach on the very long jetty from the vaporetto stop you notice three things immediately: the enormous elephant, trunk raised, wading into the lagoon; the chrome ring that frames the view like a circular silver frame, and the rows and rows of expensive boats cued up along the fondamentas, people in bathing suits working on them in the fierce lagoon sun.
I walked through the fancy hotel complex and explored several of the paths leading into the island. Certosa is rather large, and having no idea where the footpaths led, and given the temperature and my persisting unease at whatever had just happened, I headed back to the vaporetto stop, caught a 42 to Arsenale, and had a rolled pizza vegetariano and an acqua frizzante under the shade of a pale umbrella. I had sat under the same umbrella in San GImignano, and in Firenze. The waiter asked me about Richard, and I stopped by Paolo's to tell them "ciao" from Riccardo.
Everything was the same, but the view was different. The moment was different. The past was different. The future was different. And finally having regained something of a sense of well-being, I headed home to record it here, because it was a trigger point, one of those reminders one stumbles into whenever one assumes one knows what is really going on.
The message: you never know. You do your best.
There were some splendid views on Certosa; juxtapositions of nature and utility that raised the question: what is art? Can it be something utterly unintentional, that viewed in a certain way becomes extraordinarily beautiful; a sort of found art. Is art, like beauty, truly in the eye of the beholder?
I am not becoming a solipsist, an unreconstructed relativist, but from what little I understand of the quantum physics, we change things by experiencing them, the past and the future interpenetrate the present, and sometimes nature collapses into one moment the full impact of our mortality, to humble us and make us greatful, and if we are smart, we listen.
THE STORY IN PICTURES