Thursday, 13 March 2014

Across the lagoon to an Armenian monastery

"By way of divertissement, I am studying daily, at an Armenian monastery, the Armenian language. I found that my mind wanted something craggy to break upon; and this was the most difficult thing I could discover - an amusement I have chosen to torture my imagination."
Venice, 17 November 1816/Lord Byron letter.
He rowed himself over in a gondola. I cannot imagine that he could swim that far. Glimpsed: The island in the distance from the vaparetto stop. An interesting point: Lord Byron swimming. Perhaps he swam because walking was difficult (club foot). But this is extreme swimming (cf extreme walking). Across the Hellespont. Up the Grand Canal (more later). Where did he practise?

The islands of the lagoon are islands of the mind, somehow. Mental solace.

Nothing on S Lazzaro apart from the Armenian monastery. (There was once a lepers' colony).
There are not many boats over - the 310pm from San Lazzaro - and on disembarking a sign saying that the return is 525pm. Immediately felt trapped: something about islands.
No choice but to take a guided tour - learned far more than I needed to know about Armenian culture. But glimpses of a famous visitor.
Always interesting to see what life is really like - now - from day to day (far more so than the relics in the museum - collected from far and wide). Did the monks eat like this when Bryon visited? in silence as someone reads from the pulpit.
Basic condiments. But what more does one need? (Byron sometimes starved himself - a vinegar based diet).
Then a sense of cloistered life, corridors and the library. A painting of Lord B.
He translated part of the gospels into Armenian. The guide mentions this. Would have translated from greek to Armenian, or from King James's English into Armenian? It diverted him for some months. Not an easy alphabet.
"The visitor will be convinced that there are other and better things, even in this life."
Lord Byron, quoted on wall plaque in the monastery gardens
Even in this life. He loved to party.
"As we now turned into the dismal canal and stropped before his damp-looking mansion, my predeliction for the Gran Bretagna (hotel) return in full force. But 'No - no," he answered. "I see you think you'll be very uncomfortable here, but you'll find it's not quite so bad as you expect.'
As I groped my way after him through the dark hall, he cried out 'Keep clear of the dog", and before we had proceeded many paces further 'Take care, or that monkey will fly at you..."
Thomas Moore, writing of his visit to Byron's residence, the Palazzo Mocenigo - which he had initially preferred to avoid and stay at the Gran Bretagna hotel. B's travelling menagerie.
Choices: Byron/Shelley and (to some extent) Moore had the means to make grand gestures in life, to turn in different directions - boldly go forth into the unknown. (Or perhaps with melancholy sally forth...)
Why? They knew that life could be snatched at any time. You could die of a violent fever. Medecine wasn't to be relied upon. How ironic that we - now medecine can prolong life - live so very cautiously, so very much with a life view of cycles - school/study/marriage/children/work/retirement.
When - if fortunate to have the means - we now could be so much bolder.

Reading and watching

  • Foot by Foot to Santiago de Compostela/Judy Foot
  • The Testament of Mary with Fiona Shaw at the Barbican
  • The Testament of Mary/Colm Toibin
  • Schwanengesang/Schubert - Tony Spence
  • Journals/Robert Falcon Scott
  • Fugitive Pieces/Ann Michaels
  • Unless/Carol Shields
  • Faust/Royal Opera House
  • The Art of Travel/Alain de Botton
  • Mad Men Series 6
  • A Week at The Airport/Alain de Botton
  • The Railway Man/Eric Lomax
  • Bright Lights, Big City/Jay McInerney
  • Stones of Venice/John Ruskin
  • The Sea, the Sea/Iris Murdoch
  • Childe Harold/Lord Byron
  • All The Pretty Horses/Cormac McCarthy
  • Extreme Rambling/Mark Thomas
  • Story of my Life/Jay McInerney
  • Venice Observed/Mary McCarthy