Wednesday, August 10, 2022

575. A Summer Anthology (4): The Heat is Noble

Ricketts and Shannon visited Venice at least three times, beginning in 1899, then in 1903 and in 1908; on the latter occasion staying at the House of Desdemona on the Grand Canal owned by their friends Edmund and Mary Davis, and more commonly known as the Palazzo Contarini Fasan. 

Paolo Salviati, photo of Palazzo Contarini Fasan, c. 1891-1894[detail]
Boston Public Library: William Vaughn Tupper Scrapbook Collection]

It would not be their busiest holiday; there was plenty of idling and lazing around, as a letter to Michael Field indicates.

Charles Ricketts to Michael Field, 20-21 May 1908

[British Library Add MS 58089, ff 93-5]

Dear Poet

[...] We passed through a northern Italy empty of field flowers but agre[e]able with tall green corn and grapes of white Accassia [sic], this is splendid this year and saturates the Lido where we go to bask in steady after lunch boredom every day. The heat is noble and the air superb. I like the Palazzo immensely and we shall stay on here after the departure of our hosts, – that is if Shannon is still of the same mind. We shall lunch at the Guadri [sic] and dine among the trees at the Lido, which is a vulgar place.
We went for a wonderful night trip in the Gondola round a Ghostly island to St Giorgio, the sky was dominated by a perfectly flagrant Hesperus or Venus. I forget which but some unabashed star three times its normal size; the water like velvet became alive with diamond insects (some sea fire fly) while the air vibrated with the noise of countless grasshoppers, metal[l]ic & persistant [sic] like the sound of a bronze Sistrum echoing from some garden. At night the summer lightening [sic] threads a great wall of which hangs over the city for a while, then the place melts into wonderful deeps of rich gloom and varied lights, while the falling stars shoot out about the dome of the Salute which becomes at night a palace of frosted silver locked till an angel shall arrive. Our balcony faces the Salute and I spend a great part of the night there.
Our vast bedroom overlooks the charming well like garden, with a Syringa clambers [sic] against our window & a tree of the enclosed (this is new to me): remains a huge larch and a real well for the encouragement of mosquito[e]s. On the ceiling of our room a late pupil of Tiepolo has painted Fame driving Time away from a lady holding a book of poetry or accounts. It seems the upper flat is covered with Longhi-esque frescoes, the interior having been entirely rehandled in the 18th Century. Duse stayed here and her presence has succeeded in scaring away what remained of the ghost of Desdemona.
We are leading a bestial life. I have not once been inside St Marco & nearly fell asleep in the Accademia, which has been entirely rehandled since our time. Venice is crowded & rents enormous, which is not interesting.
The Painter
A tiny scorpion was found this morning and drowned in a tumbler of old Venetian glass.

Indeed, the actress Eleonora Duse stayed at the Palazzo, in 1893, long before Edmund Davis bought the property: "She thought that she had found the perfect refuge in Venice when she rented an apartment in the Palazzo di Desdemona adjacent to the Grand Hotel on the Grand Canal but it proved to be uninhabitable", and a friend offered her "an apartment on the top floor of his own residence, the Palazzo Barbaro, situated between San Vio and the Catecumini [...]. This was to be Duse's refuge for the next three years." She left this suite of rooms on the top floor" in July 1897. (Giovanni Pontiero, Eleonora Duse. In Life and Art, 1986, p. 107; William Weaver, Duse. A Biography, 1984, p. 108). 

Thanks are due to John Aplin for providing the text of this letter.