The Gondola By My BedTuesday, November 14, 2006
It 1953 my PANAGRA (Pan American Grace Airways) DC-6B from Buenos Aires landed in Managua, Nicaragua. From there I switched planes to Mexico City. It was a Pan Am Lockheed Constellation, in my opinion the most beautiful commercial airliner to fly. To this day I remember smelling Managua’s wonderful humid air when I walked on the tarmac to get to my plane. A beautiful and beautifully uniformed stewardess (the correct epithet then) offered me a stick of Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit in case my ears popped on take off. For me that was as good as travel ever got.
Now I avoid having to listen to, “For your comfort and safety please remain seated until…..” If I were to get instant discounts for not making the airport security check beep I might consider flying again. I would never board a cruise liner. They don’t go anywhere. In 1967 the Río Aguapey, an Argentine merchant marine Victory ship built in 1945 in the Burrard Docks in Vancouver, took me from Buenos Aires to Houston. The four-week voyage stopped in every Brazilian port on the way. I was the only passenger and when I wasn’t sunning myself or eating at the officers’ table a French-sounding concoction called an entrecott (it was always a steak), I read Spengler’s Decline of the West. Nothing of Spengler remains except a quasi Germanic memory of being chained to a yardarm with Prussian blue smeared on me when we crossed the equator.
I like to travel in the comfort of my bed with a large mug of Granville Island Tea Company's Earl Grey. With Alexandre Dumas I can go to 17th century Paris and not run into any American tourists. In Spanish I can read of similar situations in Madrid and the Spanish campaigns in Flanders in the delightful books of Arturo Pérez-Reverte. They feature the swashbuckling Capitán Diego Alatriste y Tenorio who would get along fine with D’Artagnan. Thanks to Celia Duthie, who introduced me to Arthur W. Upfield, and to my bibliophile friend Robert Blackwood who found most of the 28 out of print novels, I have followed Detective-Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte through most of Australia.
But my true passion is to read about Venice. The closest I have ever been to a Venice gondola is the one you see here that I photographed outside Vancouver's Maritime Museum. I like to visit the Venice of Vivaldi in such books as Gore Vidal's Vidal in Venice or Alejo Carpentier's Concierto Barroco. I follow Michael Dibdin’s (upper, left) shrewd but sad Venetian cop Aurelio Zen, solving a murder in his bleak city in the dead of winter in The Dead Lagoon. That may may be the finest novel I have ever read on Venice. It may be Acqua Alta but I don’t get wet. Last year I discovered (even though Robert Blackwood told me about her for years) Donna Leon’s Venetian novels in which commissario Guido Brunetti tries to solve crime and corruption with a little more success than figuring out exactly who his mysterious secretary Signorina Elettra really is. There are 15 in all and I have read all. And I need not feel guilty about staying in bed. After all Henry James wrote of Venice:
“Venice has been painted and described many thousands of times, and of all the cities in the world is the easiest to visit without going there.”