From the excellent, delightful and inspiring Maps to Anywhere, by Bernard Cooper. As good an answer as any to the question “Why Write?”
In Italy, the dogs say bow-bow instead of bow-wow, and my Italian teacher, Signora Marra, is not quite sure why this should be. When we tell her that here in America the roosters say cock-a-doodle-do, she throws back her head like a hen drinking raindrops and laughs uncontrollably, as if we were fools to believe what our native red rooster says, or ignoramuses not to know that Italian roosters scratch and preen and clear their gullets before reciting Dante in the sun.
In Venice there is a conspicuous absence of dogs and roosters, but all the pigeons on the planet seem to roost there, and their conversations are deafening. When the city finally sinks, only a thick dark cloud of birds will be left to undulate over the ocean, birds kept alive by pure nostalgia and a longing to land. And circulating among them will be stories, reminiscences, anecdotes of all kinds to help pass the interminable days. Even when this voluble cloud dissipates, the old exhausted birds drowning in the sea, the young bereft birds flying away, the sublime and untranslatable tale of the City of Canals will echo off the oily water, the walls of vapor, the nimbus clouds.
There were so many birds in front of Café Florian’s, and mosquitoes sang a piercing song as I drank my glass of red wine. Waving them away, I inadvertently beckoned Sandro, a total stranger. With great determination, anxious to know me, he bounded around tables of tourists.
The Piazza San Marco holds many noises within its light-bathed walls, sounds that clash, are superimposed or densely layered like torte. Within that cacophony of words and violins, Sandro and I struggled to communicate. Something unspoken suffered between us. We were, I think, instantly in love, and when he offered me, with his hard brown arms, a blown glass ashtray shaped like a gondola, all I could say, all I could recall of Signora Marra’s incanting and chanting (she believed in saturating students in rhyme), was “No capiche.” I tried to inflect into that phrase every modulation of meaning, the way different tonalities of light had changed the meaning of that city.
But suddenly this adventure is over. Everything I have told you is a lie. Almost everything. There is no lithe and handsome Sandro. I’ve never learned Italian or been to Venice. Signora Marra is a feisty fiction. But lies are filled with modulations of untranslatable truth, and early this morning when I awoke, birds were restless in the olive trees. Dogs tramped through the grass and growled. The local rooster crowed fluently. The Chianti sun was coming up, intoxicating, and I was so moved by the strange, abstract trajectories of sound that I wanted to take your with me somewhere, somewhere old and beautiful, and I honestly wanted to offer you something, something like the prospect of sudden love, or color postcards of chaotic piazzas, and I wanted you to listen to me as if you were hearing a rare recording by Enrico Caruso. All I had was the glass of language to blow into a souvenir.