Wide Open Spaces

Well, here we are in the midst of the new normal–a term I’ve always hated, absolutely hated–and the adjustment has been…problematic, but not anything I can neither handle nor deal with. I am up at the break of dawn today because today, tomorrow and Friday I get to start my work-day at 7:30 am at the screening stations. As we all know, Gregalicious absolutely is not a morning person, so this is going to be…interesting, to say the least.

I cannot be held responsible, quite frankly.

I started reading Daphne du Maurier’s story “Ganymede” last night, and no, I still haven’t finished reading “Death in Venice”; I opened the Kindle app on my iPad to see if the ebook was there–it was–and then I opened it and clicked on the table of contents for “Ganymede” so it would be ready when I was and I started reading and…three pages later I tore my eyes away and stopped. I can see, yet again, this is du Maurier in top form; I can’t wait to finish reading it so I can discuss it, along with “Death in Venice” and “Don’t Look Now”, altogether; particularly as there are some thematic similarities between the three tales. As I am working on my own Venetian story (“Festival of the Redeemer”), I think it’s interesting and fun to read other classic stories set in Venice. (Don’t come for me, I know “Ganymede” is more influenced directly by “Death in Venice’:, but I can see, and would argue, that “Don’t Look Now” also shows some of the Mann influence–perhaps not as much as “Ganymede,” but it’s definitely there.)

I was also thinking last night about Anne Rice’s Cry to Heaven, which is also set in Venice. It’s one of my favorite Rice novels (along with The Witching Hour and The Tale of the Body Thief) but it’s also been quite a while since I read it, and I think I only read the book the once, to be perfectly and completely honest. It’s set in the Venetian world of opera and power politics within the Venetian government; and of course John Berendt’s The City of Falling Angels is also about the burning of the primary opera house in Venice and the political fallout that followed within the city. Venice and New Orleans, at least in my mind, are very similar; both cities are dominated by their proximity to water, after all, and their relationship to that water affected the way the cities developed and also the kind of cities they are. I hope to one day be in Venice for Carnival–but that would also require me to be filthy rich, but like all Americans I still cling to that dream that someday I’ll become a one-percenter, even though it becomes more and more unlikely every passing year.

We are still watching the highly addictive and thoroughly entertaining Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and as it gets progressively darker and darker and more and more appealing, as I did the other day, I can’t help but think how much better Riverdale would have turned out under the more loose standards of Netflix, as opposed to the CW.

This version of Sabrina is ever so much more entertaining than the old Melissa Joan Hart version, that’s for fucking sure. But I also tend to prefer the dark side.

The light is coming up outside. It feels like it’s been about a million years since I got up this early; but then again–the old pre-pandemic quarantine world seems like a different time and place, as though it belonged to someone else; which is kind of how the pre-Katrina world has seemed to me since the evacuation. Some of my co-workers brought up the imminence of the upcoming hurricane season–which begs the question: how and when and where would New Orleanians evacuate to during a quarantine, when the vast majority of hotels and motels everywhere have been closed and shuttered?

Then again, in these days and times, it’s probably best not to think about that until it becomes absolutely necessary. That’s the key to surviving these times, or at least how I survived the Katrina aftermath: don’t look ahead, don’t think about tomorrow; just think about today and what you can do to get through it because every passing day is a victory, one to go into the win column, and yet another step forward to that unknowable future.

I didn’t write anything last night when I got home from the office;  I was very tired–both physically and emotionally–and so I just kind of wanted to relax and rest. I did the dishes and retired to my easy chair for the rest of the evening, knowing I’d have to go to bed fairly early, and so I did. Tomorrow and Friday both I have to get up at this ungodly hour; although I am hopeful it is only for this one particular week. And who knows what tomorrow, or next week, will hold at the day job?

Hang in there, Constant Reader–these are tough and strange times.

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Freedom

Thursday. I don’t have to go in until later today, which is nice; it gives me the morning to slowly wake up and get going. I didn’t sleep well last night for some reason so I am going to be really tired this evening; which is fine, I suppose. Maybe I’ll sleep well tonight, who knows? Paul came home just as I was getting ready to go to bed, which was nice. Normality, such as it is, has returned to the Lost Apartment. I started reading William J. Mann’s Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood. It won the Edgar several years ago for Best Fact Crime, and I’ve been wanting to read it for years. I’ve know Bill for years–I was also there at the Edgars the night he won–and have always enjoyed his work.

I started writing that short story “Burning Crosses” yesterday, and am trying really hard to not allow fear to stop me from working on it. I think it could be a really good story, but…it’s also potentially a dangerous one to try to tell. but I can’t let fear of reaction stop me from working on something. That’s just not a good thing, you know?

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“Everyone in Venice is acting,” Count Girolamo Marcello told me. “Everyone plays a role, and the role changes. The key to understanding Venetians is rhythim–the rhythm of the lagoon, the rhythm of the water, the tides, the waves…”

I had been walking along Calle della Mandola when I ran into Count Marcello. He was a member of an old Venetian family and was considered an authority on the history, the social structure, and especially the subtleties of Venice. As we were both heading in the same direction, I joined him.

“The rhythm in Venice is like breathing,” he said. “High water, high pressure: tense. Low water, low pressure: relaxed. Venetians are not at all attuned to the rhythm of the wheel. That is for other places, places with motor vehicles. Ours is the rhythm of the Adriatic. The rhythm of the sea. In Venice the rhythm flows along with the tide, and the tide changes every six hours.”

Count Marcello inhaled deeply. “How do you see a bridge?”

“Pardon me?” I asked. “A bridge?”

“Do you see a bridge as an obstacle–as just another set of steps tp climb to get from one side of a canal to the other? We Venetians do not see bridges as obstacles. To us bridges are transitions. We go over them very slowly. They are part of the rhythm. They are the links between two parts of a theater, like changes in scenery, or like the progression from Act One of a play to Act Two. Our role changes as we go over a bridge. We cross from one reality…to another reality. From one street….to another street. From one setting…to another setting.”

I love Venice. We spent a mere twenty-four hours there on our trip to Italy several years ago, taking the train from the magnificent station in Florence through the Italian countryside north and then across the lagoon to the Venetian station. I walked ahead of Paul through that Italian station, unable to wait to catch my first glimpse of the city from the top of the stairs rising from the piazza and vaporetto station on the Grand Canal.

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I was enchanted from that first glimpse.

I’d always wanted to visit Venice–ever since reading Daphne du Maurier’s brilliant story “Don’t Look Now” and seeing the film version, which is incredible–and also Anne Rice’s Cry to Heaven. Seeing Venice, even if was only for twenty-four hours, was wonderful. We were also incredibly lucky because Venice wasn’t crowded; apparently that’s become a huge problem (goo.gl/ePMQjT). It was even a problem when Berendt was writing The City of Falling Angels.

The title comes from a sign Berendt saw one day while strolling around Venice, near an old church that was crumbling and in need of restoration: BEWARE OF FALLING ANGELS. Apparently, the statues of angels on the sides of the church and along the rooftop had become loose with the rotting of the masonry, and one had fallen, almost hitting a pedestrian. The book reminded me so much of Venice, and why the city had enchanted me during my all-too-brief visit. I want to write about Venice; I’ve been toying with a story for years, and as I am just now starting to write my Panzano story, maybe I will soon write the Venice story.

Anyway, Berendt is best-known, of course, for his book about Savannah: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, which I read decades ago when it was new. I enjoyed it; it was an examination of the quirks and curiosities of the city, built around the lens of a murder committed by a member of Savannah society. The City of Falling Angels is the same type of book, only viewed around the lens, not of a murder, but the burning of the Fenice Opera House. It did turn out to be a crime; two men were convicted of arson, but Berendt uses the fire, the investigations, and the subsequent trial, to view Venice; and along the way he takes a look at the quirks, eccentricities, and curiosities of a place that, like Savannah, is quaint and historic and beautiful–yet also very small. A lot of the things he talks about in the book–the concerns of locals that Venice is no longer for the Venetians, that the city is losing its neighborhoods to tourism; that poorer and middle class Venetians are being pushed out in the name of tourism–are concerns that we locals now have about New Orleans, so that made the book even more interesting to me. When we were there, we stayed overnight at a wonderful little family run hotel just off the Rialto Bridge and on one of the side canals; the Hotel San Salvador. We, too, had a lengthy conversation with two of the young women working there–members of the ownership family–who told us the same thing: Venice is no longer for the Venetians. Their family can no longer afford to live in the city, despite owning a hotel there; they live on the mainland and commute into the city. Most of the city’s apartments are being bought up by foreigners who then rent them out to visitors, so it is also affecting business for establishments like the Hotel San Salvador. I loved the hotel, it was charming and quaint and cozy; I loved the second floor lounge overlooking the canal below, and the family who owned and operated it were so nice, friendly, and charming. If and when we return, we will undoubtedly stay there again.

I’ve met John Berendt exactly once; he was very nice, and I liked him. I like his books, too. My character, Jerry Channing, who appears in both The Orion Mask and Garden District Gothic, and whom I’ve considered spinning off into his own series, is based on him only in that he writes the same kinds of books and articles Berendt does; kind of a cross between Berendt and Dominick Dunne. (I still might spin Jerry off; a lot of my short stories, which have first-person narrators who are never identified, are told in what I imagine Jerry’s voice to be) In fact, Jerry’s biggest success is a book called Garden District Gothic (very meta of me), which is about the quirks and curiosities and eccentricities of New Orleans, viewed through the lens of a society murder in the Garden District. The Scotty novel that bears the same title is an investigation into that case twenty-five years later, in fact (again, very meta of me).

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Anyway,  I highly recommend The City of Falling Angels. I think I enjoyed it a lot more because I’d been to Venice, but it definitely made me want to go back. It’s very well-written, and a lot of fun to read.

And now back to the spice mines.