July 9, 2011

Cannavaro Retires

Soccer legend and Italy’s 2006 World Cup winning captain Fabio Cannavaro retires after persistent knee injuries. The photo of him holding the trophy aloft became the defining image of the 2006 tournament.



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Enduring Questions: Traditional approach vs. postmodern approach. I stand for the former, what about you?



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Henry James’ Venice

My summer readings’ list includes re-reading Henry James’ Italian Hours, published almost exactly one hundred years ago, in 1909. It’s a classic collection of essays, three of which are about Venice—James had visited Venice for short periods in 1869 and 1872 but his first extended stay in the city took place in 1881—and the novelist’s “special relationship” to this wonderful city. As his biographer Leon Edel has written, “Venice was one of the greatest topographical love affairs of James’s life.” Apart from his hints to the “misery” of Venetian people in those times—a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then, though changes are not always for the best…—what he wrote is surprisingly topical, and amazingly true. Take this statement for instance:

Venetian life, in the large old sense, has long since come to an end, and the essential present character of the most melancholy of cities resides simply in its being the most beautiful of tombs. Nowhere else has the past been laid to rest with such tenderness, such a sadness of resignation and remembrance. [“The Grand Canal”]

However, if what he loves most about Italy, as he wrote in another essay in the same collection (“Florentine Notes” Part I), is “the faculty of making much of common things and converting small occasions into great pleasures,” this is true a fortiori in the case of Venice. And that seems to be the leitmotif of the essays on Venice. The following two excerpts are fairly representative of the whole:

[Venice] is a city in which, I suspect, there is very little strenuous thinking, and yet it is a city in which there must be almost as much happiness as misery. The misery of Venice stands there for all the world to see; it is part of the spectacle--a thoroughgoing devotee of local colour might consistently say it is part of the pleasure. The Venetian people have little to call their own--little more than the bare privilege of leading their lives in the most beautiful of towns. Their habitations are decayed; their taxes heavy; their pockets light; their opportunities few. One receives an impression, however, that life presents itself to them with attractions not accounted for in this meagre train of advantages, and that they are on better terms with it than many people who have made a better bargain. They lie in the sunshine; they dabble in the sea; they wear bright rags; they fall into attitudes and harmonies; they assist at an eternal conversazione. It is not easy to say that one would have them other than they are, and it certainly would make an immense difference should they be better fed. The number of persons in Venice who evidently never have enough to eat is painfully large; but it would be more painful if we did not equally perceive that the rich Venetian temperament may bloom upon a dog's allowance. Nature has been kind to it, and sunshine and leisure and conversation and beautiful views form the greater part of its sustenance. It takes a great deal to make a successful American, but to make a happy Venetian takes only a handful of quick sensibility. The Italian people have at once the good and the evil fortune to be conscious of few wants; so that if the civilisation of a society is measured by the number of its needs, as seems to be the common opinion to-day, it is to be feared that the children of the lagoon would make but a poor figure in a set of comparative tables. Not their misery, doubtless, but the way they elude their misery, is what pleases the sentimental tourist, who is gratified by the sight of a beautiful race that lives by the aid of its imagination. The way to enjoy Venice is to follow the example of these people and make the most of simple pleasures. Almost all the pleasures of the place are simple; this may be maintained even under the imputation of ingenious paradox. There is no simpler pleasure than looking at a fine Titian, unless it be looking at a fine Tintoret or strolling into St. Mark's,--abominable the way one falls into the habit,--and resting one's light-wearied eyes upon the windowless gloom; or than floating in a gondola or than hanging over a balcony or than taking one's coffee at Florian's. It is of such superficial pastimes that a Venetian day is composed, and the pleasure of the matter is in the emotions to which they minister. These are fortunately of the finest-- otherwise Venice would be insufferably dull. Reading Ruskin is good; reading the old records is perhaps better; but the best thing of all is simply staying on. The only way to care for Venice as she deserves it is to give her a chance to touch you often--to linger and remain and return. [“Venice” Part I]

There is something strange and fascinating in this mysterious impersonality of the gondola. It has an identity when you are in it, but, thanks to their all being of the same size, shape and colour, and of the same deportment and gait, it has none, or as little as possible, as you see it pass before you. From my windows on the Riva there was always the same silhouette--the long, black, slender skiff, lifting its head and throwing it back a little, moving yet seeming not to move, with the grotesquely- graceful figure on the poop. This figure inclines, as may be, more to the graceful or to the grotesque--standing in the "second position" of the dancing-master, but indulging from the waist upward in a freedom of movement which that functionary would deprecate. One may say as a general thing that there is something rather awkward in the movement even of the most graceful gondolier, and something graceful in the movement of the most awkward. In the graceful men of course the grace predominates, and nothing can be finer than the large, firm way in which, from their point of vantage, they throw themselves over their tremendous oar. It has the boldness of a plunging bird and the regularity of a pendulum. Sometimes, as you see this movement in profile, in a gondola that passes you--see, as you recline on your own low cushions, the arching body of the gondolier lifted up against the sky--it has a kind of nobleness which suggests an image on a Greek frieze. [“Venice” Part IV]

~ First written for The Metaphysical Peregrine ~



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