One of our dearest collectors, who bought a number of paintings from me each year–almost always selecting MY favorite works–wanted us to accompany her on a trip to Paris. However, we were involved in a lawsuit against the gallery there by the French government. I was accused of not having paid certain taxes on my work, and the truth was that the shipping companies had apparently pocketed the money we had paid them to cover the taxes. At the same time I think some of the French artists were jealous of the success I was having in Paris, and there were some bizarre issues with politics, and even the Russian mafia. I had been able to retrieve my work which had been taken to a warehouse in Le Bourget, with an armed bodyguard, a friend with an impressive military background. It turned out to be an expensive and difficult task, but the paintings came back to us in huge birch plywood crates by ship. So Paris was not a place where I could go. Instead, we flew to Venice, as I had some paintings in the gallery in Paris inspired by that city. One, “Venetian Poem,” is in the permanent collection of the Springfield, Massachusetts Museum of Fine Art.
I found an excellent place to stay, as our son Matthew was just starting to walk, and needed “room.” I was able to rent the entire floor of a Gothic palazzo overlooking the Rialto Bridge, the customs house, and the fish market.
The palazzo had five marble balustrade balconies, and Matt and I spent hours watching the moon shining on the Grand Canal at night (he did not find sleeping at a normal time easy, which is still the case today). When he was asleep, I avidly watched the daily activity, and began writing down my impressions. He seemed to adapt to Venice in unusual ways. When we toured the Ca Rezzonico, the museum guards were very excited and kept pointing at Matt and the aristocratic children in the large gilt framed 17th and 18th century portraits. Indeed, with his pale complexion, very blonde hair, and blue eyes, he appeared to have stepped right off the wall and into the terrazzo floored rooms. A discrepancy was the tether we had, to keep him out of trouble! He was not fazed by the pigeons that dive bombed us in the Piazza San Marco, and was greatly fascinated with the boats, the lights, the fountains, and any visible machinery. He was able to get the television to work, when three intelligent adults failed to do so, and loved opening and closing the massive leaded glass French doors that opened onto the Grand Canal. There was a large dark wood table, that looked as ancient as the doors, which were the color and character of the choir stalls in the churches and cathedrals. This part of the palazzo had been the Tuscan consulate at one time, and perhaps the table had been from that period. It gave me a perfect place to write the poems I am going to share in this post, inspired by the watery world of the “Queen of the Adriatic.”
Just imagine. It is November. Cold, dismal, rainy, and the worst flooding in 40 years. But the colors! It was “pentimento,” layers of colors blending from time present to times past. Faded earth colors of silent palaces, striped poles to tie up the spectral black gondolas. A pastiche of centuries from modest beginnings to unbelievable power and grandeur, and then desuetude. To me, Paris, Rome and Venice speak, inspire me as a muse. The first poem is deep with my perceptions; the second is a humerous montage of the present and the past.
How Small Becomes Large
( a poem by Peter Stilton)
Venice looms small on the horizon,
Where staccato spires of campaniles
Pierce purple-grey shrouds with seagull sounds.
The Alps and Dolomites were white,
Glittering in the sun below the plane,
And now we approach Venice
In a mahogany boat;
Americans searching for a place,
Like Paris Fifth and Sixth,
Which still converses with its past.
Walking water-bounded busy streets
We ruminate Romantically
As Venice unfolds as large,
Story upon story, stone on stone,
And feeds expectant eyes
With passages Byzantine and Baroque.
Bisected and linked by emerald channels,
Venice reveals herself in mosaic polyphony,
Bounded by the tides of a turquoise sea,
Charted to remain unchanged
Behind a gilded mummer’s mask…
It holds to our eyes a magical mirror
Wherein we see, mysteriously,
Things which were, but will never be again,
Where east met west in Romanesque arcades,
When golden domed Venice
Was empress of a pearl encrusted sea.
Courtesans in black seductive shuttered gondolas
Have been replaced by refrigerated fish lockers
On larger barges painted red and blue,
And dollies upside down with wheels
Pointed up to purple gray skies.
Bins of busted terra cotta,
Sacks of concrete and bottled water,
Cranes to take garbage somewhere else,
Hippopotamus ponderous vaporettos
Bearing tightly packed passengers…
All gliding along the Grand Canal.
Quick turns of the tiller
Prompt gasps from our balconic box seats…
The Venetian opera proceeds horizontally
Towards the open water
And deforested lands
With vertical chimneys of chemical corruption.
Madama Venezia survives the changes of centuries,
With plaster patches and restoration,
And courtesans glide seductively by
In our fog fed imaginations.