Tuesday, June 10, 2014

merchants of venice

There are moments in life that seem as if they are taking place on stage.  Or have taken place.

Yesterday, a moment right out of Arthur Laurents's pen played itself out in St. Mark's Square.  The square, of course, is the place where everyone who either loves or hates Venice shows up to marvel at -- or grumble about -- the splendor of the cathedral and its bell tower.

But those are tourists.  Venice also has its romantics.  The kind of people who believe that the magic of Venice will change their otherwise drab lives.

You can see them sitting at the cafes that front that arcade surrounding the square.  Mostly women.  All dreamy-eyed and hopeful that their day, the next "perfect" man, or even their lives will come together as if it had been scripted by Jane Austen -- or maybe even Barbara Cartland.

There is something seductive about a sidewalk cafe.  Maybe it is the table nestled in the shade with just enough heat radiating from the pavement to reaffirm that we are still alive.  That we are people of passion.  Despite all evidence to the contrary.

And the magnet is music.  Since the start of the twentieth century, a small band has performed at the Cafe Florian.  Yesterday, it was a piano, a bass, a violin, and an accordion.

Now, I know what you are thinking.  An accordion?  The instrument of people who failed at comedy?  But the group was quite good.

Their music floats across the square grabbing those of us who still long for a world of liveried waiters at cafes where waltzes are played to let our inner hopes soar.  And to actually reach out for one magic moment and touch what we thought was only an ethereal spirit.

That was why the women next to our table was there.  To play out her role as Leona Samish.  She allowed herself to be baptized by the strains of French and Italian composers who may have imagined that one day their music would heal the souls of the distressed.

She paid for her coffee and walked off in her private world where men were kind and people would see her as the person she imagined she was.

Venice sells everything.  As merchants, they have a reputation for deadly competition.

But they also sell something intangible.  The possibility that a moment here can be translated into a better life elsewhere.

It is, of course, a lie.  But one of those lies we all fall prey to during our lives.

And maybe we are all better for it.  In one way or another.

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