from the chaise lounge on my terrace itrnseems that this was in another Hfe. Here,rnat last, I know I am where I belong, arnspark of cosmic indolence fortuitously restoredrnto the serene plenitude of the greatrngreen lagoon, or, in a less overdy Gnosticrnidiom and the more popular style ofrnDean Martin and Jerry Lewis:rnFirst I moved all mv stuff-arnWith a big motoscafo.rnNo, let me see if I can do better than that:rnThen I placed each bundle-arnIn a nice old gondola.rnAnd so on. When it comes to first impressionsrnof Venice, obviously the importantrnthing is to stem the creeping sentimentalismrnassociated with the otherwisernperfectly reputable soundtrack of a certainrnhomosexual cult movie based on arnlugubrious German novella, and nowrnthat that’s been pretty much achieved, Irncan be serious.rnSleeping in Venice is like no otherrnsleeping I’ve ever done. This is significant,rnbecause since my universit’ daysrnI’ve done more kinds of sleeping thanrnmost people at Yale have read dull books.rn”Not more than Harold Bloom!” I hearrnyou cry. Yes, even Harold Bloom. Myrnapproach is characterized by total commitment,rnwhich in this case mandatesrnthe ownership of some reasonably ‘oluptuousrnlinen, and even a kind of Talmudistrnfrenzy that seizes me whenever it isrnhme to turn off the bedside lamp. Sleeping,rnfor me, is more than the wise man’srnreading. It is the poor man’s gambling.rnVenice, meaning its 47,000 nahve inhabitantsrnand roughly twice as many naturalizedrnor resident aliens like myself,rngoes to bed eariy. By 11:00, 11:30 at thernlatest, the Venetians who have been outrnfor the evening are making their wayrnhome, and only the tourists still overhangrnthe canals and crowd the streets in giant,rnamorphous, apparently purposeless clustersrnof transient bodies and foreign vocables.rnThere are 1.5 million of them, annually.rnBy midnight, when the cafesrnalong the Via della Pace in Rome wouldrnjust begin doing their shady business, willowyrnyouths winking determinedly at thernwaiters in the hope of grabbing a whiternwire-mesh seat near the moving throng,rnhere —and I hesitate to sav it for fear ofrnbeing accused of only having seenrnVenice in my dreams, yet it is true—byrnmidnight all one hears is the occasionalrnsound of water splashing against woodenrnpiles and mossy stone.rnIn the daylight the piles, called bricolernin the Venetian dialect, look like giantrnstalks of white asparagus. Some seemrncenturies old. The streets are paved withrnidentical masegni, flagstones quarried inrnthe volcanic hills of nearby Padua sincernthe time of its annexation to the Republic.rnBut the onh’ sort of stone used inrnbuilding here, apart from Roman brick,rnis pietra d’Istria. There is a reason for this,rnas only three kinds of material—wood,rncombination red-and-yellow clay brick,rnand just this type of stone quarried inrnwhat is now a part of Croatia—can withstandrnprolonged exposure to the elementsrnin the primordial soup in whichrnthe city steams like a piece of toast inrnfresh bouillabaisse. Iron, whether in oarrnlocks or window latches, has a life expectancyrnof five years; untreated marblernmay last up to 20; granite, a while longer.rnThe very climate which is Venice, inrnshort, is a kind of subconscious releasernfrom individual responsibilit), where allrnconstructive striving within the elementalrnpool of life is ultimately useless and allrnhuman effort is doomed, dissoKing inrndue course into the rust and algae of thernages. That suits me fine, and a fresh graffitornin the Campo S. Stefano confirmsrnthat the indigenous attitude to life is conducivernto sound ratiocination: “USA Assassins,”rnit reads, “Milosevic Butcher.”rnBy the Rialto I saw some yomig soldiersrnin uniform, native Venetians onrnleave from their unit, chitchatting in dialectrnwith their gondolier friends. I askedrnthem, in my best foreigner’s Italian, forrnsome views of the war, which, as 1 write,rnis being waged from airbases an hour’srndrive from Mestre, and not exactiy underrna dense veil of international secrecy.rn”Bo!” they replied cheerfully, in theirrnown best foreigner’s Italian, giving me tornunderstand that they neither knew norrncared. Of what relevance is a world war ifrna gondola across the Grand Canal stillrncosts less than a thousand lire? Of whatrnpermanence is peace if the noblest marblernwill melt like a sugar cube? Drivingrnwooden bricole into the soggy primevalrnsilt, on the other hand —although likewisernnot of eternal significance —is anrnundertaking considerably less frivolous.rnA single one of these trammels of freernmovement, an ordinary tree trunk aboutrnnine meters long, may cost over $2,000 tornput up, as the right to perform such workrnis held exclusively, and in such perpetuityrnas there can be on this impermanentrnearth, by the professional association ofrngondoliers.rnAnd then there is the central issue ofrnlunch, which furnishes a further illustrationrnof the city’s collective idea of order,rnjustice, and fair play. At the world-famousrnHarr}”s Bar or any other restaurantrnof distinction, a seafood risotto and somerngrilled fish, with local Veneto white, willrnset you back $100 a head, $150 if you unnecessarilyrnupset the impeccably disciplinedrnstaff by wearing a baseball caprnbackward. But if a Venetian is one ofrnyour party, not necessarily acting as hostrnor paying the bill but merely present atrnyour table, you will not spend more thanrn$50 a head. This is no urban myth I amrnpassing on here, nor an open secret of therngossipy kind one finds in youth travelrnguides; it’s just the way it is, unapologeticrnand public as the nose on Shylock’s face.rnA fool might call it discrimination; but ifrnfools had their way, there would be norngood restaurants left in Venice. Thernmoral of the stor- is that justice is but anrningredient of happiness, and its obsessivernpursuit is as odd as a plateful of cumin, orrna liter of gin, for the main course.rnVenetians do not seize the day. Theyrnprolong it, believing that a good manrnought to live as the great city does, sinkingrnbeautifully and as slov’ly as can possiblyrnbe arranged. A complex web of apparentlyrnintractable urban traditions,rnruthlessly syndicalist superstitions, andrnopenly arcane practices of every description,rnwhich covers everything from thernflavoring oi grappa to the mooring ofrnboats, is actually an intricate and effectivernsafet}’ precaution, many centuries in thernmaking, designed to retard the processesrnof physical corrosion and social erosion.rnI hope it will not sound too sad if I say thatrna hundred years ago my own nation stillrnhad such retardant measures in place, orrnthat in the United States they werernforcibly dismantled not very long after.rnCertainly I have seen with my own eyes,rnwithin the last decade, how the wholesalernremoval of all arbitrary and arcane bulwarksrnagainst progress — in the name ofrnfairness, social mobility, and untrammeledrntrade in dogmeat-and-soybeanrnhamburgers —has made England notrnEngland.rnIt is equally sad to reflect that so muchrnof Italy is to suffer the same streamlinedrnfate. It is not specifically the specter of arnEuropean superstate, or the pursuit ofrnAmerican pseudo-prosperity, or the newrnfreedom sold by the communications industryrnas cunningly as General Motorsrn38/CHRONICLESrnrnrn