Our columnists take a break from worrying about their domestic situations to ponder Venice's empty canals, melancholy reminiscence and the debate over who struts better: Mick Jagger or Nick Cave.
Our writers Rosie Paterson and James Fisher blogged for Country Life throughout the lockdowns of last year, when (one way or another) they ended up alone for the duration. Both used to the time wisely: they revealed the rules of cycling, ranked musical instruments (and not in a good way), shared tales of curious robins, video chat and little old ladies winching shopping through windows. You can catch up on all their columns here.
Now, though, our intrepid pair have moved on — one to become a home owner, the other, er, not. And now, they’re facing the perils of living with parents as an adult, and the coming of winter. They have our sympathy.
The means I will go to get out of domestic chores are, if I do say so myself, nothing short of extraordinary.
Last week, I filled in my Aunt’s German passenger locator form, set up her NHS app (on an iPhone old enough for even Apple to have forgotten ever manufacturing it) and checked her into her BA flight. In return, she hoovered the stairs.
The week before, I decided to put some distance between me and the topic of all household debates, the dishwasher. Around 800 miles, from here to Venice, Italy. You know what they say about distance. Heart growing fonder and all that.
Post lockdown, Venice is even more glorious than ever. Clearer canals (no dolphins, though I was lucky enough to spot a crab), noticeably fewer tourists and emptier galleries, museums and shops.
This year, La Serenissima is celebrating its 1,600th birthday — a milestone by anyone’s standards, but hopefully not one they felt compelled to celebrate with cake and candles. The city is, after all, essentially balancing on very old, flammable wooden stilts. At Aman Venice, a 16th century Palazzo turned hotel on the Grand Canal (the Arrivabene family, custodians of the building for more than 200 years, still live on the top floor), the fireplaces had been relegated to a purely decorative role.
In 1571, the Venetian Republic joined a coalition of Catholic states and fought against the Ottoman Empire at the Battle of Lepanto. It was the largest naval battle in Western history since antiquity.
A carved wooden lamp that once illuminated the deck of one of the warships, tall enough to rival a modern day street lamp, stands in the hotel lobby. Frescoes by Cesare Rotta and Giovanni Battista Tiepolo adorn the ceilings of the first and second Piano Nobiles. There isn’t a dishwasher in sight.
There’s something immensely powerful about watching a man sit at the piano and sing songs about his dead son for two hours. It’s even more powerful when that man is Nick Cave, who tragically lost Arthur in 2015.
This was the first proper ‘gig’ that I have attended since That Thing happened in March 2020. Now, you might wonder as to why I chose to return to the live music scene with Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. Surely this should be a moment of celebration and joy, rather than melancholy reminiscence. Well you are wrong in two ways.
Firstly, Nick Cave is one of the most talented and authentic musicians around. He’s everything Mick Jagger tries to be: an established and thoughtful singer and songwriter, as well as exuding the kind of charming arrogance that makes him the centre of attention without any effort. While Jagger has to practise his warbling struts in studios before any major tour, with Cave it is purely organic, as he almost haunts around the stage, enrapturing his audience.
Furthermore, the assumption that these songs of Arthur were melancholic was one that you made, and not one that I wrote. This was a two-hour celebration, on a personal level and on a more macro one. ‘We’ve been waiting to come to London for a long time,’ said Cave. ‘It’s good to finally get here.’
It is good to finally get here, wherever precisely ‘here’ is. All we know about here is that, after 18 very long months, it is a long way away from ‘there’. In the past few weeks, I have been to see friends, I have been to see family, I have drunk pints at the bar and been to a club of the night. Here feels very normal, so normal in fact, that there were times last weekend where a whole day was passed with friends without mentioning ‘there’ once. Instead, we talked about Brexit. Some things have longevity, but it feels like maybe this pandemic isn’t one of them. We can but hope.
But in the spirit of that day at the pub, this is going to be the last piece in which I reference ‘there’. It’s ironic, really, considering this column was born out of an isolated madness. But, as Nick reminds us, things that are born out of tragedy do not necessarily have to reflect them. We needed there to get to here, but now we are here, we need there no longer.
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