Friday, November 11, 2005

Frederick Rolfe/Baron Corvo in Venice

Being a fan of Baron Corvo it was tempting to spend an entire weekend trying to track down the places he lived, travelled, wrote, argued, traipsed in poverty, died and was buried. Some of this I did. I made the expected pilgrimage to the rather obscure tomb on the Cemetery Island and I tracked down the house where at least some of The Desire and Pursuit of the Whole was written – before he was chucked out by his English hosts for the acerbic nature of the book’s commentary on the English in Venice – but in the end, it turned out these were not the overwhelming Corvine moments of the weekend. In fact it was the city itself which spoke more eloquently of Corvo than the particular sites. It was the trip to the Cemetery which made me think hardest of Rolfe; it’s isolation in the lagoon, its austere walls touching the water all the way around… It wasn’t the house where the book was written that touched me as much as the site when you turn around and look at the square in which it sits, it was the thought of how often Rolfe had walked through the square, how well he must have known the small statues and odd-angled buildings that brought him close. Above all, it was being out on the waters of the lagoon… the persistent image of the weekend for me was the imagined sight of Rolfe’s barcheta sails unfurled and resplendent with painted naked young men and the cross of St George moving through the mist with Rolfe working hard on his oar at the puppa. Venice has changed hugely in many ways since the first years of the last century, and in other ways, not at all. It is the timelessness of the place which brings Rolfe to life again on its streets.

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