Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Breakfast in mist and a visit to St Mark's Basilica

A news flash came through last night on my iPad: L'Wren Scott hanged herself - apparently - in her flat in Manhattan from a door knob with a scarf of her own design. Truly awful: and somehow, one fears, something to do with the corrosive power of celebrity and the rottenness of celebrity. Mick Jagger, who apparently didn't refer to her as his girlfriend but 'someone I'm seeing' - the eternal adolescent.

I am staying at the Pension Calcina, where Ruskin apparently penned Stones of Venice.

The morning is misty: there is excellent red currant jam. The taste reminds me of home.
There are fat pink carnations by the church candles on the breakfast table, but I can't really take a picture.

Read Ruskin in preparation for St Mark's: have avoided it up to now - too many tourists. But I am one, after all - and after the mosaics in Ravenna I can hardly ignore it.  Step away, says Ruskin, from the dark
flag-stoned cathedral close of the English shires to the Byzantine wonders of Venice.

"... there arrives a great vision out of the earth, and all the great square seems to have opened from it in a kind of awe, that we may see it far away; a multitude of pillars and white domes, clustered into a long low pyramid of coloured light; a treasure-heap, it seems, partly of gold, and partly of opal and mother-of-pearl, hollowed beneath into five great vaulted porches, ceiled with fair mosaic, and beset with sculpture of alabaster, clear as amber and delicate as ivory - sculpture fantastic and involved, of palm leaves and lilies, and grapes and pomegranate, and birds clinging and fluttering among the branches all twined together into an endless network of buds and plumes; and, in the midst of it, the solemn forms of angels, sceptred and robed to the feet and leaning to each other across the gates... And around the walls of the porches there are set pillars of variegated stones, jasper and porphyry and deep-green serpentine spotted with flakes of snow, and marbles, that half refuse and half yield to the sunshine....."

Such prose!
Mary McCarthy notes that some people, on hearing that she has an assignment to write about Venice, say - how lucky! Those are the uninitiated. Those who know - how much has been written -  realise how difficult it is  - and are slightly more cautious in their congratulations. So much has already been said.

Ruskin, by the way, loves the mosaics. He feels that they are truer in their purpose than some of the great Renaissance art - where we wonder at the painter's skill, rather than his religious feeling.

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