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The Aspern Papers

Chapter V
I was seldom at home in the evening, for when I attempted to occupy myself in
my apartments the lamplight brought in a swarm of noxious insects, and it was
too hot for closed windows. Accordingly I spent the late hours either on the water
(the moonlight of Venice is famous), or in the splendid square which serves as a
vast forecourt to the strange old basilica of Saint Mark. I sat in front of Florian's
cafe, eating ices, listening to music, talking with acquaintances: the traveler will
remember how the immense cluster of tables and little chairs stretches like a
promontory into the smooth lake of the Piazza. The whole place, of a summer's
evening, under the stars and with all the lamps, all the voices and light footsteps
on marble (the only sounds of the arcades that enclose it), is like an open-air
saloon dedicated to cooling drinks and to a still finer degustation-- that of the
exquisite impressions received during the day. When I did not prefer to keep
mine to myself there was always a stray tourist, disencumbered of his Baedeker,
to discuss them with, or some domesticated painter rejoicing in the return of the
season of strong effects. The wonderful church, with its low domes and bristling
embroideries, the mystery of its mosaic and sculpture, looking ghostly in the
tempered gloom, and the sea breeze passed between the twin columns of the
Piazzetta, the lintels of a door no longer guarded, as gently as if a rich curtain
were swaying there. I used sometimes on these occasions to think of the Misses
Bordereau and of the pity of their being shut up in apartments which in the
Venetian July even Venetian vastness did not prevent from being stuffy. Their life
seemed miles away from the life of the Piazza, and no doubt it was really too late
to make the austere Juliana change her habits. But poor Miss Tita would have
enjoyed one of Florian's ices, I was sure; sometimes I even had thoughts of
carrying one home to her. Fortunately my patience bore fruit, and I was not
obliged to do anything so ridiculous.
One evening about the middle of July I came in earlier than usual-- I forget what
chance had led to this--and instead of going up to my quarters made my way into
the garden. The temperature was very high; it was such a night as one would
gladly have spent in the open air, and I was in no hurry to go to bed. I had floated
home in my gondola, listening to the slow splash of the oar in the narrow dark
canals, and now the only thought that solicited me was the vague reflection that it
would be pleasant to recline at one's length in the fragrant darkness on a garden
bench. The odor of the canal was doubtless at the bottom of that aspiration and
the breath of the garden, as I entered it, gave consistency to my purpose. it was
delicious-- just such an air as must have trembled with Romeo's vows when he
stood among the flowers and raised his arms to his mistress's balcony. I looked
at the windows of the palace to see if by chance the example of Verona (Verona
being not far off) had been followed; but everything was dim, as usual, and
everything was still. Juliana, on summer nights in her youth, might have
murmured down from open windows at Jeffrey Aspern, but Miss Tita was not a
 
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