In addition to being one of the greatest poets of the twentieth century and a Nobel Prize laureate, Joseph Brodsky, was madly in love with Venice and his Watermark: An Essay on Venice stands among the best literary portraits of the city. The following is an excerpt from an interview with Brodsky appeared on the «Paris Review» in 1983.
Tell me about your love affair with Venice.
In many ways it resembles my hometown, St. Petersburg. But the main thing is that the place is so beautiful that you can live there without being in love. It’s so beautiful that you know that nothing in your life you can come up with or produce — especially in terms of pure existence — would have a corresponding beauty. It’s so superior. If I had to live a different incarnation, I’d rather live in Venice as a cat, or anything, but in Venice. Or even as a rat. By 1970 I had an idée fixe to get to Venice. I even had an idea of moving there and renting a ground floor in some palazzo on the water, and sit there and write, and drop my cigarette butts so they would hiss in the water. And when the money would be through, finished, I would go to the store and buy a Saturday special with what was left and blow my mind [puts his finger to temple and gestures].
So, the first thing I did when I became free to travel, that is, in 1972, after teaching a semester in Ann Arbor, I got a round-trip ticket for Venice and went there for Christmas. It is interesting to watch the tourists who arrive there. The beauty is such that they get somewhat dumbfounded. What they do initially is to hit the stores to dress themselves — Venice has the best boutiques in Europe — but when they emerge with all those things on, still there is an unbearable incongruity between the people, the crowd, and what’s around. Because no matter how well they’re dressed and how well they’re endowed by nature, they lack the dignity, which is partially the dignity of decay, of that artifice around them. It makes you realize that what people can make with their hands is a lot better than they are themselves.
The rest of the interview can be found here: http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/3184/the-art-of-poetry-no-28-joseph-brodsky