Ross turned to me. "Now take another look at Venice," he said. "Take a careful look at the small drab houses along the narrow alley ways. The houses are probably damp. Notice the faint odor of mold in the air. In humanist terms Venice isn't a gem. It is a dump. It is a monument to inhumanity. It consumed people, from the smallest to the greatest. The executioner's platform has been removed of course, but its echo still lingers. Its corrupting influence gave Venice its power. If you look for it, you may sense its shadow. Venice has nothing to do with the goodness of living as a human being. In comparison with Florence, Venice is a sewer, which its canals indeed are."
"No wonder the imperial clique likes it here and feels invigorated coming to this city," Steve joked. "It's wonderfully devoid of human virtues. Of course, the tourists don't come here for art and culture that doesn't exist here. Nor do they come to be touched by its history. They come here to experience a fašade prepared for the tourists and to experience streets without cars and motorcycles, a phenomenon that you can only find in Venice. But its history? Well, you really don't want to get into that, do you? It would bring images to mind of James Fenimore Cooper's book, The Bravo, and those will haunt you."
"I don't think the Venetians would want their real history to be known," said Ross. Ross evidently understood something about the real history of the culture of empire that the place, its people, and what the name Venice came to stand for. He said that the armory had been responsible for building, repairing, and arming the vast Venetian fleet, which he said was the lifeline of the Venetian Empire. "Without ships for merchants and soldiers it would have been impossible for the tiny City-Empire to carry on its so-called trade. The ships carried slaves and workers and soldiers. With them the empire built the logistical support bases from which it would exert military pressure against far away places in order to impose its terms of buying cheaply and selling at a king's ransom. The Venetians were waging war for commerce. They were looting the capitals of other empires by their highly developed skill in coercion. When the coercion failed, they resorted to threats, which they had the power to carry out. In some cases they were simply destroying the opposing city-states altogether when they proved 'uncooperative,' cities like Constantinoble and so one. Without the highest quality hardware, which was produced at the imperial armory, the Venetians' world of spying and economic raping, supported by psychological warfare for which Venice had become notorious, would have remained a world of empty dreams."
"The Venetian Empire would have never become a significant force without its Armory," Steve agreed.
Ross described the Armory as a crossover point between the Venetians' sick greed and the productive force of skilled laborers, by whose products expeditions were sent out to ruin the economies of entire regions, expeditions that would make and break empires, that would change history and prolong the dark ages.
"That's what Dante saw, and that's what probably got him killed," commented Steve.
It appeared to me that Sylvia's first impression of Venice was a totally different one. She described it like a gentle rose opening itself, unveiling a world of romance and intimate feelings. To her our brief encounter with the dark 'hues' of East Germany and its Iron Curtain lay far behind us and almost forgotten as though it didn't really belong to the real world. The world before her was a world of sunshine, singing, dancing, shopping for fine clothes, dining at fine restaurants, having wine with every meal, and walks after the meals along cobblestones promenades or among thousands of pigeons that seemed to eternally 'grace' the famous St. Marcus Square. Sylvia loved the St. Marcus Square, flanked on one side by the old Dodges Palace where the physicist's conference was to be held, with shops at the street level and on the opposite side of the square. St. Marcus Square quickly became her favorite place to be, and so it became ours.
Not far from the square, we found a most elegant open-air restaurant with tables arranged right along the edge of the lagoon. The restaurant turned out to be a grand place for looking at sunsets with the island of Lido in the distance, and a forest of brightly colored masts nearby to the immediate right, and sails in the city's marina. After the sun had set, the scene became bathed in the warm, mellow light of countless lamps, a sparkling maritime atmosphere with strings of lanterns decorating many a boat. The splendor of the light show added a lighthearted, holiday kind of feeling.
"Everything is perfect here," commented Sylvia.
And so it was for what it was. In every restaurant a bouquet of flowers graced the table, and a bottle of wine stood ready to be poured. The lanterns along the waterfront where we dined that evening were brightly painted. Their purple tinted glass-enclosures hung from fine ironwork. Sylvia commented on how colorful and graceful everything was. One really had to look to find something that was plain or drab. Not even the tablecloths in the restaurants were plain. Some had a soft-colored pattern woven into them, or flowers printed on them. The people too, were colorfully dressed, at least the natives were. The drabbest dressers seemed to be the tourists, loaded with cameras and bags, except for those who had evidently discovered the local clothing markets.
We decided that we wouldn't be tourists in this regard.
Ushi wore a deep blue dress for our first evening in Venice, with a light-blue ruffled collar that extended low around her neck, graced by a thin chain of gold. Heather was dressed in yellow that matched the charm of Venice and its brightness. It also reflected her 'brightness' as a human being that had a beauty all of its own. I was the exception. I simply wore a white shirt and black pants, the standard requirement for official business environments. Ross, on the other hand, looked like he'd just come from Jamaica. Tony came close. Steve was the most elegantly dressed of us men. His dark blue silk shirt matched Ushi's dress perfectly. Sylvia was dressed in white, simple in style, but elegant in appearance. Most of what we wore was purchased, courtesy of Uncle Sam. To buy these clothes seemed like robbing the bank, considering the economic crisis that was still brewing back home in the USA. Nevertheless, our expenditures represented but an infinitesimal fraction of what was spent each single day on defenses that might become unnecessary if we were to succeed in our mission, and in what we felt it could accomplish in addition to it.
After ordering dinner at our first night there, Heather unpacked the glass sculptures that she and I had bought earlier to celebrate our being in Venice together. We had bought them in a tiny arts store that was crammed to the ceiling with anything from die cast junk to marvelous art works of the finest glass. We were told that Venice had become famous for glass-art, produced by world-renowned masters and their apprentices who were masters themselves of this delicate art. Heather had noticed one of the sculptures in the window. According to the card in front of it, it was made by a Venetian master whose name I couldn't pronounce. It was nearly hidden by a porcelain bowl.
Actually the store had three more sculptures of this type, similar ones, all made of perfectly clear optical glass shaped into smooth abstract forms. However, their real attraction wasn't primarily in the form itself. It was in the way in which the form worked to fracture the light. That's what fascinated me about them. To me, they represented our self-love becoming manifest in our love for each other in countless different ways. The more 'light' we put into our self-love for our humanity, the more fascinating became the sparkle of this light by reflection and refraction.
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