Tuesday 30 June 2009

The writer goes shopping in a gondola - Michelle Lovric

Here’s a typical morning in Venice, during the period of writing The Undrowned Child.
You go to the San Samuele traghetto for the 8.30 gondola to Ca’ Rezzonico.

You mutter viciously to yourself all the way: the reason you have to drag your trolley across the Grand Canal is that all the food shops in your area have closed down to be turned into mask shops for the tourists.

You’ve already mentally drafted a droll, germane blog about this by the time you arrive at San Samuele. The gondola stazione’s deserted. The boat’s padlocked to the pole. You notice a young gondolier sitting disconsolately on a nearby bench. He whimpers that the two-man traghetto cannot start because his partner has qualche problema – some problems, and won’t be arriving for work this morning.

Ah, you sigh. This is why you go nowhere in Venice without a notebook. You sit down on the mossy wooden steps and write a scene in which your heroine, desperate to reach the other side of the Grand Canal in order to save the city from a terrible disaster, is forced to swim for it, jostling through four-metre sharks and a vast sea-creature’s tentacles, which are currently masquerading as the striped painted poles.

Eventually a substitute gondolier is found. You’re poled across the jade-green water. At the nearest vaporetto stop you ask for the new timetable for the ferries. The summer season officially started five days ago. But no orario di navigazione. The lady at the counter explains that the printer has qualche problema. You make a note: in The Undrowned Child, the ephemera of Bajamonte Tiepolo’s bloody revolution shall be printed in Venice’s most haunted house, Ca’ Dario. And ahead of time.

You go to the erborista for some flax-seed capsules to soothe eyes rendered glassy and red-rimmed by the computer-screen. But unfortunately the erborista’s distributor has qualche problema di consegna – some delivery problems. You should try again next week. Or the week after. Chissà? Who knows? Chissà indeed. (I hear this phrase so often in Venice that I gave it as a name to a grumpy mermaid in The Undrowned Child.)

You set off to Friselle on the quest for rare and precious light bulbs for the kitchen hob. The sign on the door announces that the premises shall open at 9.00am. At 9.20 you’re still waiting outside. A man shuffles up and unlocks the door. One look at his face and you know that he has qualche problema in a big way. You keep your voice low, state your business, and leave him to his misery as quickly as you can. But you take in the moist grooves of his forehead, the mouth dragged down as if hooked on a line, the desperate, shadowed eyes – and you reserve a special place for him as the doomed side-kick of the villainess in your next novel. That’s the face he shall wear as he drowns in the icy waters of the Adriatic …

You drag your trolley back to the traghetto. Of course, it’s on the other side of the canal. Of course, the boys are having their pausa. You listen to the dripping of the gelato melting on your new tea-towels inside the trolley. You scribble a brief description, imagining your heroine lashed to an iceberg in the lagoon, being tortured by the sun shining through a cunningly mounted magnifying glass.

When you get home, your husband asks you, ‘Did you remember my …?’

‘No,’ you interrupt ferociously, running to your computer, ‘no, I did not. I had qualche problema.’


Dianne Hofmeyr said...

I have qualche problema... one of them being that I'm jade-green with envy, Michelle! shopping down the road at my local seems a little flat after this!

Anne Rooney said...

Fantastic post, Michelle. Glad you worked out the posting issues :-) I had wondered about that name, Chissa. I love your typical day in Venice. Must say, that traghetto seems to have qualche problema every time I want to use it, too. I will read the last third of Undrowned Child with all these cues in mind now. Fantastic book, too :-)

Elen C said...

What a lovely post!
I wouldn't swap my local greengrocer for the world (she calls me 'my lover' then argues with her husband in Italian), but if I had to swap I'm afraid I'd be stealing yours.

Brian Keaney said...

You're in Venice and you expect us to feel sorry for you! Mi dispiace ma no e possibile.

Linda Strachan said...

Wonderful post, Michelle.
It is so Italian, and one of the things that both irritates and delights me every time we go to visit my relatives there. Also the reason why I could probably never live there full time.
All the same, I'm afraid I agree with Brian it is a beautiful place to have such problems. So no real sympathy here, either!

Anonymous said...

Lovely to read about Venice! It did occur to me when we were there that lugging a shopping trolley about there would be a big PROBLEMA! But good to see you putting it to such fine use!

Katherine Langrish said...

My eldest daughter, finishing her second year at uni,is helping one of her tutors set up a website for Renaissance festivals. She's going to go to Venice with her for a conference on water festivals... envy!
'But,' my daughter says sadly, 'all the people on the conference with me will be - well - old...'
Ah, youth.

Anonymous said...

LOL, how very Italy.

Mary Hoffman said...

Love this post, Michelle! What proportion of time do you live in Venice and what in London?