Thursday, 20 August 2009

the architecture of a parrot - Michelle Lovric

Have you ever thought that life would be easier if all writers married other writers?

Look what happens when you ‘marry out’.

When a writer marries an architect, she gets to type her manuscripts gothic-ly onto a dusty keyboard in a dusty corner, quaffing her coffee from chipped cups. For she dwells in a permanent building site.

On the other hand, the writer also learns to see things in a whole different way: whereas I look at the Venetian palazzi that surround us only to read the murders and rampant romances inscribed on their blistered paint, he sees the architect’s blueprints. Sometimes these are not uninteresting: sneaky soil-pipes, rampant rustication, Boschean chimneyscapes.

That’s all well and good. But what happens when the architect comes home with the seedling of a story that’s just begging to be nurtured into life, but literarily-speaking empty-handed?

Frustration, that’s what happens.

Like the day my husband rescued a parrot for the Guardia di Finanza, the Italian VAT tzars.

The tzars slouch about in a long grey barracuda of a boat. One day last summer, my husband saw the barracuda ripping its sides in an attempt to reach a narrow bank where a vivid green parrot was clinging to some moss. Uniformed tzars barked peremptory orders. My husband and our friend Bruno were to approach the parrot in our tiny boat, the Coniglio galleggiante, (‘the floating rabbit’). Bruno grabbed the bird, and, slightly pecked, handed it over to the officers.

This had the makings of something good, right?

But even under torture, even under scorn, even subjected to blatant bribery and other pleasant blandishments, my husband was been unable to deliver any more salient details about the rescued parrot of the Guardia di Finanza: the stuff writers ask about. Was it, for example, the Guardia’s own office parrot? A more exciting escaped contraband parrot? Confiscated from Columbian drug-runners? Pining for the Fijords? Escaped from gilded cage in a contessa’s gilded palazzo? Was it a he or a she? Did it have an exotic name? Did it speak, or better still, swear? In Venetian? Or Italian? (Venetian swears are like obscene short stories, often involving mothers, household implements and biologically-challenging insertions). What (getting desperate) about the architecture of the parrot itself? What were the Intelligent Designer’s plans for it? Green, red? Yellow tailfeathers? Lovely plumage?

No. Not a chirp. Not a whistle.

The spouses and offspring of writers should be constantly aware of their responsibilities. If something good happens to them, they should put on the siren and rush home with a stack of fresh, throbbing, juicy detail in the mental equivalent of a padded organ-transplant cool-box, every little incident lovingly packed away for the writer’s use, uncorrupted even by interpretation, exaggeration or embellishment. (That’s the writer’s job.)

Oh dear. I remind myself of the ever-charmless James McNeill Whistler, who came to Venice in 1879. Whistler affected a Japanese cane wand to orchestrate conversations, often referred to himself pompously in the third person. When his housemate, also an artist, showed Whistler his sketch of a Venetian scene, he was told: ‘This is a good subject. When you find one like this, you should not do it, but come and tell Whistler.’

But seriously, the more I think about it, the more I think there should be Arvon courses and UEA degrees in ‘Being Married to, or related to a Writer’. Lessons in making coffee, anxiety therapy, but most of all: delivering the raw material urgently and in good condition. I’d sign up my husband right away.

Meantime, we’ve appointed our boat the new Servizio per la Salvaguardia dello Pappagallo, the Parrot Rescue Service, ‘su appuntamento’ to the Guardia di Finanza. I had a logo designed by the talented Lisa Pentreath, whose daughter Emily was the very first reader of my novel The Undrowned Child.
But I remain inconsolable. I love my new insignia, but I know that the really good story got away.


Pippa said...

As another writer married to an architect, I share some of your frustration but actually think there's a lot in common between the two creative processes - the need for a strong structure alongside originality and insight into humankind. My architect is a very good and useful critic of my work, and I'm not sure I'm as useful to him in that way!

Stroppy Author said...

But that parrot is whatever you make it, Michelle. Parrots live a long time. Maybe it knew a certain cat of the Campanile...

What a fabulous story he brought home to you, even without the back story. I would have loved to see the parrot clinging to the seaweed and the customs officials struggling to get it :-)