All photographs by Damien B. Donnelly. Venice, Italy, May 2009
All photographs by Damien B. Donnelly. Venice, Italy, May 2009
Scene in Europe, Scene 7, Eruptions in Pompeii
“You remember the dust in Florence, Marty? Well, let me tell you, I was wrong, that wasn’t dust, this is dust. How many bubkes did this cost us? Look at it, I mean, the parties certainly done and dusted in this fakakta place,” Sophie complained, not for the first time, to her long serving husband as a sea of sweat swept its way down her neck, seeping under the strap of her bulging brassiere strap and on down to places her husband hadn’t seen in years, “and where are the people? I read in a book they had folks from ancient times, days of yore or what-have-you, who were turned to stone, literally, and you could see them! Well, I ask you Marty, where the hell are they?”
“That’s a lot to deal with all in one go, Soph. You want me to start anywhere in particular?”
“Oy, Marty. It was rhetorical, re-tor-ic-al,” she repeated phonetically, “don’t be a schmuck, if I ever needed an answer to anything, have I ever asked you? Come now Marty, let’s face it, you don’t send a dog to the butchers shop!”
Marty ignored her little saying, and the knowing dig, but was grateful that, since being in Europe, she’d actually managed to reduce her spewing of confusing little rhymes, phrases and all around sayings about what to do or not do with life, though never her’s, alway other peoples, but she rarely managed to use the right saying at the right time, he knew her more as a woman who liked to be heard than to put too much worry into the content of what she was actually saying.
“If we ever get to Berlin, you can be advised to just lock me up in Jane’s apartment, after we check it out first, mind you, and then just leave me there, night and day,” she told him.
“What, so you can take to peeing in the closets like Mary Margaret’s old klutz? That was a narrow escape, I tell you.”
“I just need some structure, can’t you understand that?” she asked him as she twisted her fanny pack back around to the front, “I need walls that are built to last, air conditioning, the fresh smell of polish. I believe the Germans know the difference between a bomb site and a bloody good building,” Sophie said, ignoring the still painful reminder of the loss of two shiksas who seemed like the perfect travel companions who they’d bumped into in Barcelona but who turned out, regretfully, to be no more than one half of a pack of lunatics.
“You can’t say that,” her husband told her.
“You wanna bet? Show me a good German and I bet they can show me a perfectly made bed with hospital approved corners and a decent martini, but I will say this,” she said, looking up along the remains of a cobble stoned road and off into the distance, “I will confess to being very partial to this landscape. Look up there, at that mountain, the pointy one,” she said as she mustered up enough force to raise her arm through the weight of the midday heat, “I wonder if they have a cable car or yet another form of decrepit transport to get up there. I’m sure the view from the top is just darling. And away from all this soot into clear breathable air. I need something to get my mind off all those vulgar men, loitering around that backwards station this morning. What is it about Italian men and their need to constantly touch themselves, as if it makes us gals all wanna run up to them and have a go on it ourselves?”
“I’m not sure what you mean about the Italian’s and having a right old go on them, but I do know about that mountain up there. That’s Vesuvius, Sophie!”
“Oy, look at you, who’d have known it? A schmuck like you knows the name of a hill. Marty, you wanna build one of those now, too.”
“It’s not a hill Sophie, or a bloody cathedral, and I never wanted to build a cathedral in the first place, thank you very much. But I will tell you that that hill you’re talking about, that’s the damn volcano that tore this place apart,” he informed his uninformed wife, “but if you want me to send you up, then I tell you now, Sophie Moskowitz, I’ll sure as hellfire carry you up there myself,” he told her, eye to eye, in no uncertain terms, “and throw you in.”
“Marty,” she yelled at him as the already ruined walls shook from the force of her gravel grazing voice.
“Sophie,” he yelled back, sending further reverberations into the city of what used to be.
And then there was silence. It was a standstill. It was 40 years of marriage together, day in, day out. It was 50 days on holiday, alone but together, back to back, with no family to break them up and distract them from each other. It was Pompeii and the weight of its own destruction in the scorching midday sun reflecting poorly on their own long standing, but often fragile, union. It was blisters, bowels, bunions. It was flights, fatigue and foreigners. Eruptions were bound to arrive, eventually. They just had no idea who would blow first.
After 30 minutes of time out, Sophie found Marty sitting in the remains of the 80BC Roman Amphitheatre, looking more broken than usual as he sat on one of the steps, melting in his white tracksuit. What a vision, she thought to herself, this ancient site with its rising stone walls all around her and her ancient husband amid it, certainly no gladiator but, well, he’d done her well, so far. Maybe his angina was acting up again, she thought as she came towards him, although she was secretly more concerned that he’d get dirt stains on the seat of his white pants.
“But you love me,” she began coyly, hopefully and her head nodded with a mix of rejection and old age.
“But I love you,” in said as his facial frown cracked like plaster and he reached out and took her fine freckled hand in his as he stood up, next to her, and they looked around as if there were Pompeiian King and Queen.
“You know Soph, we’re just like this place. Once young and happy and now just crumbling under a heavy layer of ageing.”
“Oy vey, I gotta tell you Marty, you sure are full of shit sometimes. The only thing heavy about us is your mozzarella and basil filled pizza belly. How I ever managed to marry so beneath myself, I’ll never know,” she told him, much to his surprise as she looked out over the walls of the amphitheater until her gaze closed in on the point of Vesuvius, once again, “but I guess we gotta face it,” she continued, rubbing her free hand along the length of her husbands arm, at the end of which their hands were forever entwined, “it’s gonna take more than a volcano to tear us down!”
All Words and Photographs by Damien B. Donnelly
Scene in Europe,
L’Ora Blu- The Hour of Blue
All was cloaked in sombre shades of azure as dusk gently fell. Henry, 21 and fair haired, wandered through the shadowy slender streets of the ancient city that awoke within him so much of his, as yet, unspent youth and energy. He was only now beginning to feel the pulse of blood rushing through his body as he finally understood what it was like to look upon life and taste its endless bounty. Free and far from family ties, he’d been travelling through Europe on his father’s seemingly endless wallet of money and his mother’s gin flavoured blessing and quickly found temptations too intoxicating for his nubile body to say no to. He had a swagger in his step now that had replaced his teenage goofiness and the stubble, newly worn on his high cheek boned face, still enticed his own fingers to stroke its magnificence.
Having spent the last hours of sunlight in Piazza San Marco, amid the lure of the orchestra and the popping of champagne corks which increased his relaxation with every explosion, he left the small group of Spanish ladies who’d gathered around his table, intoxicated by his charm, carefree gaze and ripening musk, and wandered off alone to explore the island, leaving the grandeur of the Bell Tower, Basilica and the Doge’s Palace, stopping along the way to watch the market traders of the Rialto Bridge close down their stalls for the evening before he let the island and its canals be his guide. After taking a turn somewhere to the north of the island, through a cluster of narrow side streets of scorched red walls, lined with drain pipes, hanging baskets and swaying blankets on balconies being aired, he approached a rundown old bridge where a wane woman leaned over the balustrade and permitted troubled tears to fall into the water. Her taffeta skirts, in bolts of brilliant blue, billowed in the breeze while in her hand she held a single white zinnia. As Henry drew close to the woman, her scent enveloped him, an aroma reminiscent of his grandmother’s pantry filled with cinnamon sticks and almond paste wrapped in muslin cloths.
“Why are you crying, Madame?” inquired Henry, “don’t you think Venice is already filled with enough water of its own?”
“Tis the hour of melancholia, sir,” she replied and, as their eyes met, she saw immediately in his those sparkles of youth and life that were so recently his gain and so long her loss. She looked away, as if to shield herself from more unnecessary pain, turning her gaze instead to the zinnia which trembled in her hands, hands that had once been complimented on their texture and tone, which now looked like cracked particles of paint longing to fall from a mural upon which it had rested for far too long.
“I am Padua,” she told him, but her eyes remained on her fading reflection in the water beneath her, “I was once worshiped like this Venetian City, had a youth that was considered priceless and a lust for life that was worshiped by all, and not just the myriad of merry men who courted me constantly. But time is cruel and now I’m as broken as the bridge upon which I stand, as the city upon which it leans into. So quickly fallen from momentous to meaningless and I’m falling still,” she said as she dropped her single zinnia into the canal.
Henry quickly bent by the water and retrieved it, still intact, though dripping with its own tears, but when he rose there was nothing more to see except for the empty broken bridge and a rusting balustrade held by nothing but the grip of unyielding time. It was then that he noticed the old and pealing poster on the wall just across the bridge, advertising the perfume.
L’Ora Blu was written in sapphire smoke escaping from an open bottle. “We are nothing more than the memories we make,” it read, “remember who you once were in the melancholic magic of L’Ora Blu.” And there, in print on the cracked poster, was Henry’s vanished woman, younger certainly, but still recognisable. As he watched the last of the light caress the wall, her fragile hand extended out to accept a zinnia from a man serenading her from a gondola, while the rest of her body leaned toward another hand, beckoning her deep into the shadows.
Time is cruel, he thought to himself, remembering her words, but then he remembered the bar from the previous night with its own myriad of merry maidens and he turned away from the scented shadows and headed off for continued adventure with that newly acquired swagger. As he hummed a tune to himself, he was totally unaware, that with each footstep he took, another petal fell from the single white zinnia that he still held in his, as yet, unblemished hand.
All words and photographs by Damien B. Donnelly
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