O, that this too too solid flesh would melt…
Don’t threaten me with love, baby. Let’s just go walking in the rain–Billie Holiday
I was sitting at a table outside a backstreet cafe in La Serenissima, watching the autumn rain come down in sheets. The downpour hitting the awning above my head sounded like a carpet being beaten with wild enthusiasm.
I was the only customer–enjoying the rain, savouring the caffè corretto (coffee with grappa is ‘corrected’ coffee: I love that) and contemplating the way the surrounding buildings, already crumbling, appeared on the verge of melting into the murk of the canal. Liquifaction, dissolution, things returning to the primal source–it all engendered an agreeable melancholy.
The owner brought me another grappa on the house. I invited him to join me. We both contemplated the deluge.
“No wonder we’re the suicide capital of Europe,” he said. I thought perhaps, given my imperfect Italian and his strong Venetian accent, I’d misunderstood. He handed me a copy of Il Gazzettino, the local daily and pointed at a front page article. Sure enough, Venice was apparently the most popular destination in Europe for people intent on suicide. According to the article, autumn and winter were the most popular times for visitor suicides. Considering this, I decided that it made perfect sense. Venice is a melancholy place at the best of times: in autumn and winter, when it’s raining or foggy or misty, it’s even more so.
Venice has always struck me as perfect illustration of what the passage of time and the elements do to the monumental vanity of man. Every damaging high tide brings the city closer to falling back into the lagoon from whence it sprang. Wandering the back streets, along the small, little-used canals, one senses a city that is moribund. The young flee to the mainland, old family businesses and local markets close and the elderly shuffle about waiting for the next damp, cold season (Venice is freezing in winter) to carry them off.
Surrounded by the fading, crumbling glories of the past and a dying city, it’s hard not to draw the right conclusion–everything ends. Worlds, empires, cities, lives. Venice demonstrates that nothing could be more natural. It’s a comfortable place to make an end. Hence it’s popularity as a suicide destination.
So let’s have poems on death, dissolution and melancholy weather. Like this:
What was Ashore, then?… Cargoed with Forget,
My ship runs down a midnight winter storm
Between whirlpool and rock, and my white love’s form
Gleams at the wheel, her hair streams. When we met
Seaward, Thought frank&guilty to each oar set
Hands careless of port as of the waters’ harm.
Endless a wet wind wears my sail, dark swarm
Endless of sighs and veering hopes, love’s fret.
Rain of tears, real, mist of imagined scorn,
No rest accords the fraying shrouds, all thwart
Already with mistakes, foresight so short.
Muffled in capes of waves my clear signs, torn,
Hitherto most clear,—Loyalty and Art.
And I begin now to despair of port.