Watermark: An Essay on Venice by Joseph Brodsky

I bought this book at the gift shop of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and read most of it on a train from Venice to Florence; I’d thought, after reading Two Cities by Cynthia Zarin, that I should read something by Joseph Brodsky, and when I saw this in the gift shop it seemed the obvious choice. Brodsky writes about arriving in Venice in December and returning to Venice in December: his Venice of winter fog and inadequate heating and “the smell of freezing seaweed” seemed distant in time and mood from the early-autumn Venice I saw, full of tourists, the sun glinting off the water, but a good counterpoint to it: a way into another of the city’s moods. I love Brodsky’s description of his first impressions, arriving at night: “The backdrop was all in dark silhouettes of church cupolas and rooftops; a bridge arching over a body of water’s black curve, both ends of which were clipped off by infinity. At night, infinity in foreign realms arrives with the last lamppost, and here it was twenty meters away.” And I love his vivid descriptions of Venice moments he experienced: going to a party at a palazzo someone inherited after “nearly three centuries of legal battles” (the dark old rooms with dark old paintings and dark old mirrors; old drapes disintegrating at a touch), or hearing from Olga Rudge about how she first met Stravinsky, or taking a nighttime gondola ride around San Michele (where Brodsky’s own grave now is).






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