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My White Ladies


( In 1986 my wife Alla and I moved from Toronto to live in Europe. This is from my notes in Venice, Italy, where we lived for 18 months.)

A February day, 1987


From my rooftop eyrie, seventeen very old church spires pierce the gentle blue-white
Venetian sky – a fraction of the one hundred plus campaniles of the 1500’s.
And here I sit, in my morning’s glory. Ah, but what is that friendly sound?
It’s my White Ladies!
My grand eyrie companions, the squawking seagulls, have begun their dancing
approach to the bread crumbs I strategically placed on the balcony wall. What
can be said about them with words light enough, for surely they do not drop
nor plummet from the sky onto the ledge, but rather, they alight – delicately,
quietly (now), with respect. They’ve come all together, in a neighborly
family way, and this morning seem to be strutting their stuff stridently
-as if I didn’t see them all every day.

None of my Ladies go out ever without eye-shadow; they get all dolled
up in ermine white, apply slick black eye lines just so, and put on a pair
of not too flashy red shoes. But wait, here come the country cousins!
I’ve watched them approach , white on white sky, gliding the airwaves, motioning occasionally with long, elegant wings, reviewing my offer below in alternating
wheeling’s and stalls.
I feel like a sea Admiral on the bridge, my winged fleet parading for inspection – in the Italian way, of course, all bella figura.
This squabble of gulls is hungry; they descend in one squawking, haranguing
mob, driving off the earlier elegance, some snatching bits in hovered flight,
others barely touching with toe tips, snapping up and swallowing up even as
they flee. Others, pensive yet abiding, settle just long enough to get flat-footed, gobble
one, then two bits, and carry off a third.

And so the affair goes on each day between my Ladies and I. Being the Ladies that they
are, they always leave a few crumbs for their lesser feathered colleagues. By the time
I ascend to my roof-top studio tomorrow morning, I suspect the crumbs will be gone, a reward for the sufficiently hungry, patient and discerning pigeons and sparrows who, even now, have their eyes on the last remains of this evanescent morning.

Time to go downstairs for a walk before going to teach English.

Fog, damp, dank and dancing in wisps and curls, is rolling and lolling all through the
calles and campos of Venice this February day. People slip silently through the silvery silk substance that coolly strokes their faces. Melting into the murky, grey allies, their breath hangs in the air-space they occupied just moments ago. The thick-as-oil greygreen, lap lap of the canal water is paired with this equally muted and viscose visibility, and all is absorbed into infinity… piano..piano.

When I am content
What is there to do?
For doing is not Being,
As looking is not Seeing.