The winter light in this city! It has the extraordinary property of enhancing your eye’s power of resolution to the point of microscopic precision—the pupil humbles any Hasselblad lens and develops your subsequent memories to National Geographic sharpness. The sky is brisk blue, the sun, escaping its golden likeness beneath the foot of San Giorgio, sashays over the countless fish scales of the lagoon’s lapping ripples; behind you, under the colonnades of the Palazzo Ducale, a bunch of stocky fellows in fur coats are revving up Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, just for you, slumped in your white chair and squinting at the pigeons’ maddening gambits on the chessboard of a vast piazza. The espresso at your cup’s bottom is the only small black dot in, you feel, a miles-long radius.
Such are the noons here. In the morning this light breasts your windowpane and, having pried your eye open like a shell, runs ahead of you strumming its lengthy rays—like a hot-footed schoolboy running his stick along the iron grate of a park or garden—along arcades, colonnades, red-brick chimneys, saints, and lions. “Depict! Depict!” it cries to you, either mistaking you for some Canaletto or Carpaccio or Guardi, or because it doesn’t trust your retina’s ability to retain what it makes available, not to mention your brain’s capacity to absorb it. Perhaps, you think, art is simply an organism’s reaction to its retentive limitations. At any rate, you obey the command and grab your camera, supplementing both your brain cells and pupils. As long as this city exists, as long as winter light shines upon it, Kodak shares are the best investment.
At sunset all cities look wonderful, but some more so than others. Reliefs become more supple, columns more rotund, capitals curlier, cornices more resolute, spires starker, niches deeper, disciples more draped, angels airborne. In the streets it gets dark but it is still day-time for Fundamente and that gigantic liquid mirror where motorboats, vaporetti, gondolas, dinghies, and barges like scattered old shoes zealously trample baroque and gothic façades, not sparing your own or a passing cloud’s reflections either. “Depict it,” whispers the winter light, stopped flat by the brick wall of a hospital or arriving home at the paradise of San Zaccaria’s fronton after its long passage through the cosmos. And you sense this light’s fatigue as it rests in Zaccaria’s marble shells for another hour or so, while the earth is turning its other cheek to the luminary. This is the winter light at its purest. It carries no warmth or energy, having shed them and left them behind somewhere in the universe or in the nearby cumulus. It’s particles’ only ambition is to reach an object and make it, big or small, visible. It’s a private light, the light of Giorgione and Bellini, not the light of Tiepolo or Tintoretto. And the city lingers in it, savoring its touch, the caress …
Copyright © 1992 by Joseph Brodsky.