Tuesday, April 14, 2015

A Venice Apartment to Die For, Part 1

The view from the windows was of Ca' Mocenigo and a facade of what could be the heads of the nine muses. Or were some of them the Moirai, the three weird sisters of Fate who spin out (and snip off) our lives?
The great advantage that we readers have over the doomed would-be lover Gustav Aschenbach in Death in Venice or the pair of doomed lovers in Ian McEwan's The Comfort of Strangers, is that we can see quite clearly when their desire or passion has carried them too far. In fact one of the unsettling pleasures of such books is watching the process by which the protagonists drift further and further from the shores of reason or good sense, is observing the various points at which, on the very verge of returning to the safety of what might be called the terra firma of their routine lives, they disastrously tack further out to sea.

The protagonists think or feel or imagine themselves sailing toward some experience of great beauty or intense passion--of some experience somehow very near the mysterious heart of Venice. But of course we know they're headed toward that "undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns."

In so far as we sympathize with the characters as if they were real people, we'd like to stop them from pursuing their fatal course. But to the extent that we're enjoying the book as readers, we'd like them to press on, as all the drama of the book depends upon their ultimately ineluctable journey toward disaster.

Which is a long way of saying we are relieved to have escaped from the calamity of living in a distinctly Venetian apartment with a view of the Grand Canal, regardless of how much material it might have provided for this blog. Or the writer of my obituary.

When I recently wrote of our search for an apartment, and our discovery of a promising one, the only obstacle to our enjoyment of the latter seemed to be the dander of the previous residents' large black furry male un-neutered dog (http://veneziablog.blogspot.it/2015/03/renting-apartment-in-venice-part-3.html). (It's reported that un-neutered male dogs and cats with dark fur produce the most hyper-allergenic of dander.)

If only it had been so simple. What became clear after I wrote that piece is that regardless of whether any dander persisted, the apartment's once-beautiful upholstered furniture definitely had a very serious dust mite infestation. We'd already gotten rid of the rugs, which were hopelessly filthy, so we tried having the living room furniture professionally cleaned. When they were new, 40 or so years ago, the couch and chairs had been costly well-crafted examples of modern design, on a par with the Eero Saarinen dining room table and Achille Castiglioni Arco floor lamp with which they shared the large high salotto.

They turned out to be too far gone, though, to benefit from the professional cleaning. It wasn't just that the once-white upholstery was brown and stained (it could be covered), it was that the mites were unreachable deep inside the furniture. As they were, too, in all the mattresses (one of which appeared old enough and foul enough to have been the death bed of Marco Polo).

Well, furniture, you might say, can be disposed of. And so it can, if you succeed in convincing the owner of the apartment, La Signora, to do so. In spite of the fact that her own architect, who'd known her for more than two decades, told her that the furniture was, unfortunately, ruined (by a combination of long neglect and recent tenants), it was no sure bet that La Signora was going to listen.

And, yet, that wasn't the real problem with the apartment.... The real problem was that there were so many problems with the apartment.

Or, more exactly, the real problem was that there were so many problems in an apartment whose beauty and promise kept you laboring to rectify problems that, it turned out, could probably never be rectified--short of extensive, and very expensive, renovation. 

Like every dark Venetian love story, the harbingers of doom were present from the outset. The apartment wasn't cheap by our standards. But a sunny place from which you had, from almost every window, a view of Lord Byron's old digs on the Grand Canal (in Palazzo Mocenigo) really should have cost more to rent, judging by the asking prices for the gloomy view-less apartments we saw elsewhere. (The lone window without a view of Palazzo Mocenigo looked out, instead, on the beautiful gothic windows of Ca' Goldoni.)

But like so many lovers--and nearly every lover of Venice, in particular--we believed we'd happened upon a hidden gem. Visions are granted to the fortunate lover--at least that's what he or she believes: fortuitous encounters, special insights. Aschenbach, for example, believes himself granted a sublime vision of timeless transcendent beauty--while most everyone else seems to see a pretty pubescent Polish boy, trooping along on family outings.

The apartment was hardly transcendent when we arrived to take possession of it on February 1, and in spite of the rental contract's original declaration that it would be delivered in "ottimo stato" (perfect condition). It was not even in the "buono stato" (good shape) to which this phrase was amended before we signed it. No, it was a complete mess.

Now, this should have bothered us more than it did. Especially as the appointment we'd set way back in November to see the apartment two weeks before taking possession--to do the inventory of the apartment's furnishings with La Signora's representative, which is a typical step in renting a furnished Venetian apartment--had been cancelled. The tenant, we were told, the one who lived in the apartment before us, was being troublesome, slow in getting out, and refusing to make it available to be seen.

So we arrived on February 1 to find what was little better than a dump, with, among other eyesores and useless things, two large old broken tv sets, a broken dishwasher, an oven that also didn't work, and a main bathroom without hot water.

Due to contractual obligations, we'd be obliged to pay rent on our old apartment from which we were moving for the first two months we lived in our new place. That is, for two months we would have two apartments and pay two rents, which was a painful financial prospect but one we couldn't avoid if we were not going to miss out on our new dream apartment just off the Grand Canal.

As it turned out, what we'd only ever thought of as a great hardship, turned out to be our great lucky break in this whole matter. As I'll recount further in Part 2.

[To go directly to Part 2, click the following link: http://veneziablog.blogspot.it/2015/04/a-venice-apartment-to-die-for-part-2.html]


  1. Does that mean you are back in the Sant'Elena appartment with the friendly landlords? Can't wait for next installment.

    1. Yes, Rosalind, we're back in our old place, to which we feel lucky to have been able to return to, and where we're happy to be. I hope you'll enjoy the next part(s).

  2. Are you obliged to keep those old matresses, and at whose expense do you clear the "plagued" furniture out?

    1. The landlady was responsible for removing or repairing the worst of or most broken of the furniture, Anna, as even she and her representatives had to admit that certain things were in such a state as to be beyond use in one way or another. Though it became more complicated when it turned out that even in the opinion of her own architect the living room set either needed to be completely reupholstered or disposed of, as you'll see....

  3. A case of "a blessing in disguise" it sounds like for you and your family. This was a beautiful post, even if the contents were mite ridden and dirty! Can't wait to read the next installment either.

    1. I fear it will turn out to be a very expensive "blessing in disguise," Bridget, but, yes, we're happy to be out of a place that seemed actually hazardous to one's health. I'm happy you liked the post and hope you'll enjoy the next part, too.

    2. I too know those expensive "blessings"….glad that you were able to stay where you lived prior. Hope that writing about it helps...

  4. Oh, boy. A cliff hanger! Hurry and free us from this tension, please.