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One can imagine these semi-invisible figures as they were once dressed in all their splendour and glory.
Document have thought she was a decapitated corpse. There was also a Marino Marini, which I had bought from him in Milan. It was a statue of a horse and rider, the latter with his arms spread way out in ecstasy, and to emphasise this, Marini had added a phallus in full erection. But when he had it cast in bronze for me he had the phallus made separately, so that it could be screwed in and out at leisure. Marini placed the sculpture in my courtyard on the Grand Canal, opposite the Prefettura, and named it The Angel of the Citadel. Herbert Read said the statue was a challenge to the prefect. The best view of it was to be seen in profile from my sitting-room window. Often, peeking through it, I watched the visitors’ reaction to the statue. When the nuns came to be blessed by the Patriarch, who, on special holy days, went by my house in a motorboat, I detached the phallus of the horseman and hid it in a drawer. I also did this on certain days when I had to receive stuffy visitors, but occasionally I forgot, and the only thing to do in such cases was to ignore it. In Venice a legend spread that I had several phalluses of different sizes, like spare parts, which I used on different occasions.
Originally the entire house was open to the public on museum days. My poor guests – how they suffered! I had a houseguest, Philip LaSalle, who perpetually forgot that there was an exhibition and often found himself in the midst of strangers in his pajamas in the garden. I remember once the painter Matta locking himself up in his room in order to take a siesta. The lock was so seldom used that we had to get a locksmith to release him. I did not even have the privacy of my own bedroom, as it contained my Calder bed, which, strangely enough, against my turquoise walls looked as though it had been made for its ultimate destination. There is also a painting by Francis Bacon, the only one of his I have ever seen that didn’t frighten me. It depicts a very sympathetic ape seated on a chest, guarding a treasure; the background is all done in fuchsia-coloured pastel, which goes admirably with my turquoise walls, and with a curtain made out of an Indian sari and a marabou bedcover of the same colour. The rest of the walls are decorated by my collection of earrings, collected from all over the world. In addition to this, the room has Venetian mirrors and Laurence Vail’s decorated bottles and Cornell’s surrealist “objects.”
Princess Pignatelli once said to me, “if you would only throw all those awful pictures into the Grand Canal, you would have the most beautiful house in Venice.” And so it was considered. But no Venetian approved of my modern décor. In place of a Venetian glass chandelier, I hung a Calder mobile, made out of broken glass and china that might have come out of a garbage pail. I had sofas and chairs covered in white plastic that could be washed every morning, as my large family of dogs felt most at home in the best seats. (My two darling Lhasa terriers had mated with a gentleman dog specially brought for this purpose from America by Mrs Bernard Reis, and had produced 57 puppies in my home. About six usually remained in residence.) Over the sofas
I placed black-and-white striped fur rugs, which the dogs adored licking. This was also un-Venetian. Most Venetian, and at the same time un-Venetian, is a forcole, or gondolier’s oar-rest, which Alfred Barr presented me with for my garden. Those who don’t know what it is admire it as a wonderful piece of modern sculpture, which is just what Alfred intended.
I used to have a lovely Fiat car with a beautiful Ghia body, a motorboat, which I had made to order by the famous Oscar, and a gondola. I gave up everything except the gondola, my last remaining joy, made to order and beautifully carved with lions. First I used it to go to parties and to do errands in and to shop, like a car. Then I had it at my disposal all day and sometimes at night. Every afternoon during the warmer months, at sunset I go for a two-hour ride, which is sacred and with which nothing must interfere. Sometimes I take friends to see churches, if they do it briefly enough, as every hour is so precious that I can’t bear to interrupt the ride. Mine is the last private gondola in Venice, as all the Venetians, about 20, have given up their gondolas in favour of motorboats.
It is always assumed that Venice is the ideal place for a honeymoon. This is a grave error. To live in Venice or even to visit it means that you fall in love with the city itself. There is nothing left over in your heart for anyone else. There is no staying away for long. You are inevitably drawn back as though by magic. As to the Venetians themselves, they are all in love with Venice. With the rising tide their love mounts and with the receding tide it gently diminishes only to surge forth again when the sea pours back its waters. When Venice is flooded it is even more truly beloved. Then a new ecstasy comes over the inhabitants, as they sweep out the waters from their ground floors, in order to be able to proceed with their daily lives and normal existence. Normal existence is a façon de parler. There is no normal life in Venice. Here everything and everyone floats. Not only the gondolas, launches, barges, vaporettos and sandolos, but also the buildings and the people float. One floats in and out of restaurants, shops, cinemas, theaters, museums, churches and hotels. One floats luxuriously with such a sense of freedom, never tormented by traffic or even disturbed by the sound of a klaxon.
The nights also have their own special fascination and mystery. The people look quite different in the dimly lit city. One can barely distinguish their modern costumes. One can imagine these semi-invisible figures, as they were once dressed in all their splendor and glory, in their velvets and brocades and sables with their swords and jewels and even masqued in carnival time. To go out in a gondola at night is to reconstruct in one’s imagination the true Venice, the Venice of the past alive with romance, elopements, abductions, revenged passions, intrigues, adulteries, denouncements, unaccountable deaths, gambling and singing.
Out of This Century: Confessions of an Art Addict is published by Carlton Books