From the archives: Journal excerpts from 2003 in Italy, between my first and second visit to Albania.
Tobiolo and Cherubs at the Galleria Borghese, Rome
There was a storm in the night and the thunder was so loud it startled me from sleep and I cried out. The rain heaved itself against the windows and the balcony and lashed the rooftops and the trees outside. But by the morning, it was fair. There was a sneaky blue strip in the sky. It won't rain again I say, as if I knew what I was talking about. P makes us two small cups of strong coffee and says nothing.
We go to the Galleria Borghese. There is one Tobiolo e l'angelo (I forget the artist's name) where the angelo is wearing a bright red robe that looks as if it’s made of shiny plastic material, like rainwear with reflective qualities. Tobiolo has a spiky hairdo, filtered with wires of light, like a nascent halo. His hand is in the angel's and he looks up at him, trustingly. The angel is much taller than him. Tobiolo holds a large fish and his dog scampers on the path.
In The Two Faces of Love, by Titian, there is amor sacro and amor profano. I feel it’s a shame to divide them like that. Amor sacro is fully clad and has her head turned away. She does not look like someone who would be easy to get to know. She looks a little aloof. Amor profano on the other hand, is wearing almost nothing, just a drape over her hips – she looks towards, she looks more inviting, she looks – ready for encounter and there is only one way you feel, you could encounter her. One time of night, or evening, one mood, and one response. Can you meet that beauty, can you look her in the eyes? She is not so much a suppliant, as a sign. Unmistakeable as a blue sky. Or a rising tide.
|Titian's Sacred and Profane Love: from Wikimedia commons|
Between them, in a kind of earth-filled container, a small, winged figure is examining what’s inside it. It could be earth, it could be a pile of dark leaves, it's really not possible to say what he's looking around in. I don't know if it’s Eros, looking for some sign or clue or uninterested in either of the two women and intent on uncovering his own buried treasures. Or maybe he's a flustered minor cherub, given a directive by Eros, which he let fall and is looking for – or one that is simply following some desirable trail, or drawn into the presence of the women, as onlooker or guardian.
You see them in many of the paintings. Seeming-detached, with no clear role. Yet drawn too, like understudies learning by watching and listening, content simply to be there.
In another, where Venere ties a scarf round the eyes of Eros, she looks almost dreamily, in another direction. Another winged cherub is at her back, chin resting on her shoulder, like a child content to be around adults, but without understanding of what is going on. Drawn in by the energy. Two other women come towards Venere, from the right of the picture – one holds a bow, the other, the quiver full of arrows. They are involved, they have their parts to play. Yet it’s the blindfolded one, who has his back to us, who will make the action that will result in consequences. Up to that point, everything is well-prepared, appointed. The roles are scripted and the words are worn as carefully as clothes. But once the arrow has been loosed, nothing can be certain, or foretold.
|Titian's Venus Blindfolding Cupid: from wikimedia commons|
Well, that’s always how it is, isn't it? Once love and desire come in, we are no longer in control. Which is just as well, for that's where life comes in. Possibilities, consequences and unravelling. Breaches in the wall. Rips in the fabric and gaps in the heart.
Walking through train stations and airports yesterday, I thought how much of life has to do with parting – with meeting and with parting. When there is movement, there is meeting and parting and meeting again. There are endless scenes of separation. Movement involves this, it is inevitable. But the wonder of it is that it makes meetings possible and it makes moments possible – whether they last for seconds of time, or days or weeks, moments of linking with the connectedness of things, they are made possible through movement.
Now, of course, will also become memory, even while, in this moment, it is background. The chirping of a caged bird, on a nearby balcony. The swaying of the plastic strips separating the living room from the balcony. The movement of fresh, damp air from outside, brushing past my skin.
I think of other balconies, on almost the same latitude as here, but not much, only a little, for I do not want to focus on a sense of loss. I am after all working on a landfill operation, shoring up the crater in my heart.
It began to rain, when we came out of the Galleria Borghese. First of all the thunder was distant, then it came closer, carrying torrents of rain in its wake. We sheltered in a narrow doorway. In some streets, the water was several inches deep and reached half way up the wheels of parked cars.
I thought you said it wasn't going to rain today, said P.