Sunday, December 19, 2010

A life filled with incident

Filled with incident is the perhaps the best description of how my life has gone since meeting my partner, Robert. Though we had been in contact for over a year and had previously met in Boston, Montreal and Toronto, my first trip to his home in Venice was May 2008. During my two-week sojourn I took part in a series of commemorations that he had arranged to honour a dear and departed friend. Among other events celebrating his life, were a garden party dedication for a piece of sculpture that Robert had commissioned and an evening of music and dining.

On the surface the agenda admittedly does not seem all that unusual.  Except that half-acre gardens in a city where buildings are packed tighter than Hollywood teeth are rare (read: unheard of), the sculpture was the size of an apartment fridge and had been brought from the United States and the evening of music was for a private audience of eighty at Palazzo Cà Zen where both the opera singer and his accompanying pianist had been flown in specifically for that evening. Then “unusual” seems to be a bit more applicable. Rest assured that throughout it all I managed to represent Canada quite well by suppressing my need to interject an affirming eh and also by maintaining a nonchalant air of: Oh this? It happens to me all the time. I’m on the circuit.
The Garden at Robert's Palazzo

Sorry for the Martha Stewart adjectives that are about to come but there is just no way to be both accurate and descriptively modest concerning the dinner that followed the recital. Although it took place in two great rooms of renaissance opulence (yes opulence), there was still a convivial atmosphere among the guests as they were seated in groups of eight at lavishly adorned round tables.

I have never felt so unilingual in my life. English sounded course and filled with rough edges compared to the fluidity of Italian, French and Spanish that perfumed the air.  Everyone could and would speak English, yet their kind mercies on my behalf were just a further reminder that they were linguistically nimble and that I was comparatively all-thumbs.

The arranged seating placed me beside a wonderfully charming and beautiful woman named Nella Habsburg. That is where I slipped down the rabbit-hole.  Her husband, Dominic Habsburg, was also at the table. I defy anyone to say his appellation in one breath. Go ahead, I double dare you. Breathe in and start now: “His Imperial and Royal Highness, Prince Imperial and Archduke of Austria, Prince Royal of Hungary and Bohemia and Prince of Tuscany”. I may have forgotten a title here-or- there, but you get the gist. As an aside, Dominic finds such formality rather amusing. If I were in his place I would spiel off the honorific, in its entirety, every time I answered the phone. Which I would then drolly follow up with, “And you are?”

Ever eager to promote (preface with the word ‘shamelessly’ if you feel the need) my work I slowly wove the topic of literature, and more specially writing, into my conversation with Nella. It turned out that she loved to read. Yeah! Unfortunately, being an experienced socialite used to engaging complete strangers in conversation, she saw this tiny crevice of common ground as a wonderful place from which to hang our discourse.  She spoke at length about her literary finds and gave several recommendations where Venice served as the backdrop.  So remarkably extensive was her knowledge that I was left without an opening.

At the very moment she had offered to buy me a copy of Venice for Lovers, Dominic had received a call. By both his expression and Nella’s it seemed to be one that they had been waiting on, yet dreading. After a brief exchange to the anonymous caller Dominic left the table agitated and sombre.

From what I gathered the reason for his upset goes something like this: For the sake of drawing tourism, a local mayor where the Habsburg’s ancestral home, Bran Castle of Romania, also known as Dracula’s Castle (of Bram Stoker fame), was located had wanted to parade an artefact that was sacred to Dominic. That artefact being his grandmother’s (former Queen of Hungry) preserved heart. While many would be sympathetic toward a man having to deal with such a crass and invasive act from a tactless political dullard, I can also say with equal confidence that very few are at risk of a similar incident occurring in their own lives. There was, and still is, something otherworldly about the entire scenario.

For the next morning Robert had arranged to meet with some of the evening’s guests for a Prosecco and continental breakfast at Piazza San Marco. In spite of the upsetting news of the prior evening, Dominic and Nella took part. True to her word she thoughtfully brought a copy of Venice for Lovers with a gracious inscription that felt appropriate to my new life, “To David & Robert with love, Dominic & Nella Habsburg Venice, 5/17/09”.

1 comment:

  1. Hi I have some pics of Nella on here 18th .

    Is she alive ?