P U B L I C A T I O N S > F
R A N C E S S T I L L M A N ' S E
U R O P E D I A R Y
I..........Going from Here to There
XII..........Paris in the Fall
Thursday, June 12th
I have just written home to Emmy Lou: "This is the most fantastic
city — it is a combination of Coney Island, the Orient,
and the remains of 16th century splendor. We both feel that we
are walking in a dream as we wander through the narrow streets
and across the little bridges. Our room overlooks a canal, and
last evening when a gondola drifted past, with a singer strumming
a guitar and pouring out a melody as only Italians can, even our
middle-aged hearts beat taster, and we felt exhilaratingly romantic."
The atmosphere seemed charged with romance
from the moment we embarked on the big passenger boat last night,
on the Grand Canal. We had asked for the Pension Della Venezia,
which had been recommended to us, and we were instructed to take
the boat to the Rialto Bridge. I shall never forget my sensations
as the boat glided forth from the landing at the railroad station.
I kept saying to Ary: "Isn't this silly! What a foolish kind
of city! I feel am if I were riding in the "Tunnel of Love'
in Coney Island!" It seemed so theatrical — the drifting
boat, the dark night, the bright lights illuminating the ancient
marble palaces along the shore*.
And then the Rialto Bridge loomed up, strikingly picturesque with
its single high span, its parapet and balustrade, its covered
arcades. We got off the boat at the station beyond the bridge.
The streets were narrow — no wider than a side-walk —
and dimly lighted. Figures merged from doorways or dark alleys
with a suddenness that was startling — there were occasional
bursts of laughter or fragments of song from open doorways —
gondolas drifted past along the narrow canals. It was all very
mysterious and a bit frightening and I held Ary's arm tightly.
Finally we were at Bella Venezia and bargaining with the shrewd-faced
proprietor for a room. Then, the little canvas bag safely in the
room, we went out in search of coffee.
Again I clutched at Ary's arm as we walked through the maze of
dark streets, past tiny cafes and shops and over little bridges.
And then suddenly we came out into a large opening, and there
was fairyland! It was colorful and bright — dazzlingly bright
— it was tremendously wide, and it was gay with music. At
one end was an Arabian lights building, indescribably striking
in its Oriental splendor, and on all sides were long columnar
shadow buildings, flat looking, like a stage set. Extending far
out from these shadow buildings were row upon row of tables, crowded
with men and women eating and drinking as the band played Viennese
waltzes and in the center of this vast, brilliantly lighted space
streams of people paraded, laughing and talking and eyeing the
cafe crowds. And this was my introduction to St. Mark's Square!
This morning when I went to the window I almost expected to find
that the canal had disappeared and it was all a dream. But no,
there it was, and as I ate the breakfast which the maid brought
up to me I watched the crowds passing on the bridge and the boats
pulling up to the back door of the pension laden with baskets
of vegetables and fruit.
After breakfast we set off for St. Mark's again, curious to know
if it would still be glamorous by daylight. To my great satisfaction,
I found it had lost none of its magic. The Cathedral itself with
its Oriental character is amazing. The brilliantly colored exterior
with its arches and Gothic tabernacles and Oriental domes and
bronze horses is fantastic to behold, and the interior is fabulously
extravagant with its marble walls encrusted with gold, its slender
columns of rare stones, its mosaics, its statues, its altar-piece
set with precious gems. To me the outstanding feature is the early
Byzantine mosaics in the atrium, so naive in conception and so
charming in color and design, especially the Adam and Eve series
and the scenes of Noah and the Ark. But the entire structure delights
one by its very lavishness and exuberance.
Adjoining the Cathedral is the Palace of the Doges, where the
rich and powerful rulers of the Venetian Republic once reigned.
More or less Gothic in style, its outer walls are encrusted with
small pieces of marble in bright colors. The building was officially
closed, in preparation for the holiday ceremonies which were to
be held in the afternoon, but a special group of sightseers was
being guided through and we joined them. They went through quickly
and we had just a superficial glance at the dozens of vast halls,
ornately decorated, with lavish use of red and gold, and the walls
lined with huge paintings. We shall have to return to look at
them at our leisure, particularly the many Tintoretto murals.
Before leaving the Palace the guide led us through the famous
Bridge of Sighs, which was built to connect the courts in the
Palace with the Criminal Prison adjoining. Externally it is a
graceful structure, high above the waters of the Grand Canal,
its sides enclosed and covered by an arched parapet above. But
the interior is all gloom. You feel it closing in around you
the terrifying gloom and chill of this stone passageway and the
damp, foul-looking cells beyond it. It was in this dread prison
that centuries ago political prisoners languished in unspeakable
misery, sometimes for months or even years, awaiting execution.
Back to the pension for lunch. Our waiter is French-born, and
is happy to speak his native tongue. And there is a little red-cheeked
apprentice waiter, a boy of about twelve, who trots solemnly from
table to table, polishing glasses and silverware with a big white
napkin. After lunch we went back to St. Mark's Square, where the
holiday procession was forming — dignitaries of the church
and of the city, groups of priests and monks and nuns, and hundreds
of school children. The procession was elaborate, with robes and
mawtles of scarlet and magenta, banners of red velvet and gold,
tall, flower-decorated torches — all the elegance which
characterized such festive events in the sixteenth century. For
Venice and the Venetian art of that period were a triumph of gold,
a glorification of surface richness and sensuousness, and even
in their religion, although there were on the surface elements
of humility, there was nothing truly spiritual.
*A few days later.
Never once have I lost that sense of unreality. The city has come
to be more familiar, the Coney Island aspect has worn away somewhat,
but always it seems like one place set aside from all the rest
of the world, where nature and man have conspired to create something
of reckless fantasy.
Friday, June 13th
I am sure we will tell today's story over and over in the years
to come, and probably people will think it is a fabrication. Surely
it is only in Venice that it could have occurred, in this fantastic
city, where no happening, no matter how bizarre, should ever surprise
It all concerned the lost passport. Ary has been uneasy about
it and has had a presentiment of farther trouble. He has a terrible
dread of bureaucrats and all that pertains to officialdom.
Early this morning we made our way over countless little bridges
until we came to the American Consulate. The reception room was
already crowded. Clerks were rushing back and forth with piles
of letters and documents; American tourists, with worried expressions,
were standing in groups about the room; Italian mothers with crying
babies were sitting patiently while their husbands argued with
It seemed that we waited hours. Ary grew more and more nervous.
Finally we were ushered into the office of the Vice-Consul in
charge of passport matters.
The Vice-Consul himself looked harassed and exhausted. His desk
was piled high with papers. A dark-haired secretary hovered over
the desk, assorting papers, answering the telephone, taking swift
notes as the Vice-Consul dictated to her. At last she left the
room and the Vice-Consul turned to us.
Ary's hand shook as he laid on the desk the papers the serious
young man in the Police Station at Milan had typed so laboriously.
He started to recite the story of the lost passport. But the Vice-Consul,
with merely a glance at us, had plunged at once into the many-paged
document. Suddenly he straightened up stiffly and turned a flushed
and angry face toward Ary.
"This name Kushner," he thundered, pointing accusingly
to the document Who told you to use this name? Where
did you get the name Kushner?'
Ary's knees were shaking. He looked in bewilderment at the police
document and then at the angry official. He took a deep breath.
"Why, why Kushner? he stammered. "That was my
mother's maiden name."
There was a look of suspicion on the Vice-Consul's face which
we were unable to fathom. "Where did your mother get the
name of Kushner?" he persisted.
Ary looked at him helplessly. "Kushner" he said, "Kushner
was the name of my mother's father — my grandfather."
Where did this grandfather named Kushner come from, the Vice-Consul
demanded. Did he have brothers, this grandfather named Kushner.
What had happened to them? Did the brothers have children? Did
Ary know any of them?
On and on went the questions, always coming back to the name Kushner.
And all the while the man behind the desk eyed Ary with such a
strange intentness. His look was suspicious — it was puzzled
— now there was a note of eager friendliness — and
again he drew back and his manner was cold and stern. Once he
shook his head and muttered something to himself. He seemed to
be going through some inner emotional experience.
By this time we were both thoroughly bewildered,
and I could tell that Ary's nerves were at the breaking point.
One more question about the Kushners and something would snap.
And just then the door opened and the dark-haired secretary appeared.
She was carrying a sheaf of papers. When she spoke we could hardly
believe our ears. For this time it was she who used the name Kushner.
She placed the papers in front of the Vice-Consul. Then, "Will
you please sign these, Mr. Kushner," she said.
When the secretary finally left the room the official turned to
Ary. There was warmth in his manner now. The suspicion and indecision
"I have never known anyone of my father's family, the Kushners"
he began. "I have always wanted to locate some of them. My
father died when I was very young. But my mother had a photograph
of him. And as I have been recalling the photograph and looking
at you, it seemed that you could well be my father's younger brother..."
He and Ary talked on and they established beyond a doubt that
they are distant cousins. Eventually the conversation came back
to the missing passport. The Vice-Consul dictated a cable to the
State Department in Washington requesting a temporary passport
for us. It should be ready before we left Venice, he told us.
When we returned to the Consulate in the afternoon, with the photos
for our passport, we found that word of the morning's happenings
had spread. Everyone seemed to be eyeing us with interest. The
young man at the reception desk addressed Ary as "Mr. Kushner,
then blushed in confusion, and corrected himself. As for the Vice-Consul,
he came out of his office to greet us, and he put a slip of paper
in Ary's hand. "This is my address, and detailed directions
for reaching my home," he said. "We are having a party
Sunday evening. I shall expect you there."
Saturday, June 14th
Yesterday afternoon and again today we have been feasting our
eyes on Venetian paintings. We have spent hours in the Palace
of the Doges, where the walls are adorned with enormous canvases
by Tintoretto and Veronese, the Scuola di San Rocco, where Tintoretto
compositions based on themes from the Old and New Testaments predominate,
and the Accademia, where one sees the whole range of the Venetian
masters, including Jacobo Bellini and his sons Gentile and Giovanni
Bellini, Carpaccio, Titian, Veronese, and again Tintoretto.
I told Ary I feel as if we have been swimming in color. For the
Venetian painters of the Sixteenth Century were intoxicated with
the newly discovered medium of oil paint, which permitted them
to obtain color of a brilliance and an intensity hitherto unknown.
They handled this new medium with consummate skill. Consequently
that vague thing which artists call "painting quality",
that intangible something which makes the canvas and the pigment
"come alive", seems to permeate every mural and every
portrait. And how perfectly suited this richness of color and
of texture was to the spirit of opulence and elegance which characterized
Titian gave to his portraits and figure compositions an incomparable
sensuality of color and of form. No wonder that during his long
life of almost a century he influenced every Venetian painter
of his time. They all tried to emulate the great master, whose
creations had such surface beauty, such excitement of the senses.
Veronese, solely preoccupied with this surface beauty, produced
canvases of monumental size, which were marvelous spectacles,
glittering pageants of figures and landscapes, of soldiers and
But to me it is neither Titian nor Veronese, but Tintoretto who
dominates the scene in Venice. Of course one must remember that
in those days the chief object of all Venetian painting, even
the religious scenes, was the glorification of the Doges. Religion
was looked upon as a branch of the State, and in the religious
paintings the on-lookers, the saints, the apostles and other religious
figures were quite frankly representations of the Doges, their
chamberlains, their ladies, all bedecked with gleaming fabrics
and glittering jewels. For example, the angel who appears as often
in Tintoretto's Biblical scenes is a sophisticated looking blond
who, you imagine, could have been a favorite courtesan of the
Nevertheless Tintoretto rose above all this surface superficiality,
and his paintings, although rich in color, are far more than merely
sensuous. They have a power, a breadth, and a sweep of movement,
a feeling of vast space, a vision that seams comic in its scope.
What superb creations of his line the walls of the Seuolo and
the Doges' Palace. To my mind the most impressive is the painting
of Christ in Paradise, surrounded by a throng of heavenly angels.
It covers the whole wall in one of the great halls of the Palace;
you feel that it could just as easily cover the entire stretch
of the heavens. A wonderful deep, blackish kind of blue predominates;
the effect of the sky is dramatic, and the grouping of the angels
has infinite grace and rhythm. (A sketch of this painting hangs
in the Louvre, but the original is much more powerful.)
It is said that El Greco and Delacroix, among others, were greatly
influenced by Tintoretto. One can easily see how the mysticism
of El Greco evolved from this more earthly but soul-stirring vision
of Tintoretto, and how Delacroix, taking his inspiration from
Tintoretto's bold and exciting movement, developed his explosive
and fiery romantic compositions.
Sunday, June 15th
Today was devoted to exploring the city, with emphasis on the
romantic setting, rather than on paintings. We took the big boat
(they call it the Vaporetta) down the Grand Canal, past all the
marble palaces, once so proud and so impressive in their ornateness,
now shabby, and as Ary says, mourning for their lost splendor.
We sat at our-door cafes overlooking the water and watched the
boats — the gondolas drifting slowly by, the cargo boats
with their piles of wood, of stone, or of grain, the commercial
steamers and the chugging little motor boats, a touch of twentieth
century progress rather disturbing to the romantic tenor of the
We walked for hours. I had always thought the canals were the
only thoroughfares in the city and was surprised to find such
an elaborate system of bridges and so many streets and squares
and plazas. Starting out from the great gilt clock tower in St.
Mark's Square we wound our way down the Merceria, the principal
shopping street of Venice, until we reached the Rialto, the section
about the Bridge, famous for centuries as the business district
of the city, where foreign merchants met and did their trading.
We peered into shop windows and admired the fine laces and the
red Venetian glass work. We gazed in fascination at the array
of foods spread out in the windows of the restaurants. It seems
that the restaurants vie with one another in the variety and attractiveness
of the dishes which are placed on display. Even the dining room
of our little pension boasts a display table laden with plates
of sea food, cold chicken and roasts, fruit and vegetables, and
cakes. (We avoid ordering any dishes that have been on the table
for more than a day...)
The party at the Kushners' was the event of the evening. We arrived
there late, tired and foot-sore after our long day of sight-seeing.
To add to our discomfort, we had lost our way in the maze of streets
and bridges, in spite of the explicit directions Mr. Kushner had
given us. However, he and Mrs. Kushner welcomed us so warmly that
we forgot our fatigue.
There were interesting guests — the group
from the Consulate, several artists who were invited in Ary's
honor, and other friends of the Kushners — quite a cosmopolitan
crowd. Ary, who is eloquent in every language but English, in
which he is shy and self-conscious, beamed with pleasure as he
held forth alternately in French, German and Spanish. He was particularly
happy when Peggy Guggenheim dropped in, for Peggy is known as
a pioneer in the modern art movement, and the American modern
painters admire her and feel they owe her a debt of gratitude.
She asked us to come to see her in her marble palace on the Grand
Canal, which we shall do.
Monday, June 16th
This was our last day in Venice, and it was a busy one. In the
morning a visit with Peggy Guggenheim in her gleaming white marble
palace. She was having a late breakfast, and while we waited for
her a distinguished looking, white-haired man came in and introduced
himself: "I am Herbert Read." I admire Herbert Read
immensely, for his scholarliness and open-mindedness on the subject
of art, and I had thoroughly enjoyed his talk at the Twentieth
Century National Conference in Paris, in May. I told him so, and
I think he was pleased. Ary and he talked together and were just
getting into an interesting conversation about the role of the
subconscious in art and the necessity of having a conscious check
on it, when Peggy Guggenheim appeared. We looked at her very fine
collection of paintings, most of which we remembered from New
York. I was particularly interested in those of her ex-husband,
Max Ernst, who was one of the pioneers of the surrealist school.
Another palace in the afternoon — this time to visit Professor
G., whom we had met during our wait at the Consulate the other
morning. He had tried to engage Ary in conversation about Italian
painting and had insisted that we visit him.
The Palace was in a state of disrepair and the Professor bought
it several years ago for a song. He has done a remarkable job
in renovating it, but he explained that the constant pressure
of the water is wearing away the foundations, especially since
the motor boats bring a rush of water into the holes which have
been hollowed out by rats. This is a very serious problem which
threatens the entire city of Venice. However, in this particular
case it is expected that the building will last several centuries
more — three or four at least — so the Professor need
have no worry about his investment!
There is a souvenir shop in one section of the main floor. The
rest of the building is occupied by offices, except the top floor,
where there are two enormous apartments, occupied by the Professor
and his wife and their daughter and son-in-law. Fortunately there
was an elevator to ascend. The Professor and his wife led us through
a maze of rooms, rich with heavily carved woodwork and frescoed
ceilings, and crowded with sumptuously upholstered furniture,
heavy tapestries, crystal chandeliers, delicate china, and all
sorts of finely wrought objects d'art. However the rooms were
shuttered and dim, and I found the whole atmosphere stuffy and
Every room was hung with paintings, and we climbed a narrow winding
stairway to the room where the Professor keeps the bulk of his
collection. All in red and gold, the room originally was a library,
the books having been stored in dozens of closets built into the
wall and profusely ornamented in gilt scroll-work. Now they are
an ideal store-place for the Professor's paintings.
He pulled out a number of canvases to show us. Practically
all of them were late Renaissance in style and obviously of doubtful
origin. Ary was quite polite until toward the end of our visit,
when he told the Professor that he really has no interest in that
period and infinitely prefers the earlier Italian paintings, particularly
the Sienese School. Whereupon the Professor took us into a bedroom
to show us a so-called "Lorenzetti" hanging over the
bed. Unfortunately it had been retouched, he told us, and the
eyes and nose spoiled.
I saw in the Professor a prototype of the "private"
art dealer one finds in every large city where there are wealth
and pretentious to art collection. We have seen these dealers
time and again in the second-rate auction galleries in New York.
With an almost imperceptible nod of the head they motion to the
auctioneer their bid on the dimly painted portraits in heavy gold
frames which have an "old master" air. A touch here
and there and a vague but impressive sounding story as to their
"discovery" and they are ready for resale at a high
Before our visit was half over the Professor evidently realized
the extent of Ary's knowledge of art. He would retreat with a
little smile and a shrug whenever Ary questioned anything. But
all in all it was an extremely pleasant afternoon and one more
interesting experience to add color to our stay in this amazing
Monday, June 16th, continued.
We had invited the Kushners to have farewell dinner with us at
the pension this evening. When we told the proprietor yesterday
that we expected guests from the American Consulate, he was overcome
with the honor that had befallen his establishment. He kept referring
to "Signor the Consul" and after correcting him several
times, we decided that he preferred to think of our guests as
the Consul and his wife, so we made no further effort to set him
straight. He insisted on ordering the dinner himself and said
he would supervise it personally.
When we entered the dining room with the Kushners we found that
the entire place had been cleaned and polished for the occasion.
The waiters were wearing newly starched white jackets and stood
about stiff and ill-at-ease. Our own waiter was flushed with excitement
and his serving was really a virtuoso performance. The little
red-checked apprentice waiter wielded his napkin with greater
zeal than ever. He used it to polish the glasses, to clean the
chairs, to wipe the perspiration from his forehead. Evidently
he had told all the youngsters in the neighborhood about the distinguished
guests that were expected, for every now and then a group of boys
and girls would appear in the doorway and stand gazing open-mouthed
at our table. Even the waiters from nearby cafes seemed to find
it necessary to come in on some errand from time to time, and
of course they cast a glance at our table and they passed by.
There were flowers on the table, and the food was really superb,
from the antipasto to the delicious mélange of fruit in
liqueur which is their special dessert. We were all in good spirits
and the whole dining room beamed at us as we sat there talking
and laughing. The proprietor looked in, and we called him over
to our table and introduced him to the Kushners, and he was as
thrilled as if he had received a decoration.
After dinner we walked over to St. Mark's and sat there at a cafe
table taking in the gay spectacle for the last time. It was only
when the two bronze men-at-arms at the top of the clock tower
struck twenty-four (midnight) that we embraced our newly-found
relatives and regretfully bade them "Arrivederci."