Palo Alto Weekly 15th Annual Short Story Contest
by Jane Moorman
It was Carlo who decided that the best way for me to return to
Venice was not to take my regular vaporetto which stopped nearly
in front the house I lived in during my marriage. It would be better
to take the car ferry from the mainland straight to Lido Beach.
I could pass close enough to survey the activity on the wide promenade
of the Zattere, but distant enough so that I could not call out
to anyone I used to know. I expected to be haunted by the bells
of the Church of the Gesuati. But the facade was so gloriously out
of scale with the surrounding pallazzi, and the color of the water
was so truly the color of its name-- "Acqua"--that by the time we
arrived at the Lido I was enchanted to be back in Venice.
| About Jane Moorman
Jane Moorman was a little surprised that her story, "Venice
Again," won first place.
has written other short stories, but this is the first one
she's had published. She has gotten "the nicest rejection
letters from literary journals."
Moorman, who used to live in Venice, based the story partially
on a trip she made back there after moving away.
"I just kept wanting to write it," she said, adding that
she sent copies of it to her former creative writing teacher,
The reason Moorman was surprised her story won is that she
primarily considers herself a visual artist, a painter.
She moved to Palo Alto three years ago when she left Venice
after the breakup of her marriage.
She works as an art teacher at Escondido School, after formerly
working as a graphic designer for a New York publisher.
Moorman, 48, was born in Oakland but grew up in Pasadena.
She decided to relocate to Palo Alto from Venice because she
once worked at Addison-Wesley on Sand Hill Road and likes
Moorman said she will continue writing.
She will also continue painting, playing the viola, taking
ballet lessons, and belly dancing.
"I'm a complete dilettante, and in French, that doesn't have
a pejorative meaning," Moorman said. And she should know,
since she speaks French and Italian and "teaches a little
Spanish" at school.
Moorman recently had a viola recital at the Palo Alto Art
Center. She played a piece, "Desotona," that was written by
a composer friend of hers after reading her story. (Desotona
refers to the large Venetian funeral gondolas.)
"I have a dream job and have been able to do everything I've
wanted," Moorman said. "All of these dilettante things have
gotten recognized here." But they are things she has largely
done for a long time, or things she has come back to, Moorman
Moorman paints in the style of what's called California impressionism.
Interestingly, although she has painted a lot of pictures
of Venice, she said it is easier to paint here. "Everything
is tight and close there," she said, compared to California.
She doesn't own a computer, so Moorman spent a lot of time
at Kinko's when she was writing and revising her story. Enough
time that when she won, she told the Kinko's crew and invited
them to Weekly-sponsored party for the short story contest
Moorman, who is cheerfully nonchalant about her success and
her varied abilities, said that it would be wrong to call
her a Renaissance woman. "The correct phrase is 'Renaissance
Man,'" she said, adding that it could be used for a woman,
Is there anything she hasn't
done that she is interested in?
She pondered a moment before answering.
"My father was a doctor," she said, "and I sometimes wonder
if I should have been a doctor, too."
It's never too late.
My family friend, Carlo, his overly made-up girlfriend, Ilaria--with
sparkles on her lips at 3 in the afternoon--and I made our way to
the Grand Excelsior Hotel for a swim. We wandered through rows of
beach cabanas named for constellations, finally finding Vega--where
we had been invited by Carlo's friend, Luciano. Four well-tanned men
in tiny bright bathing suits and expensive sunglasses were smoking
and playing cards. When we emerged from the dressing room ready for
the beach, they eyed our figures with the autonomic appraisal Italian
men are born to make. One murmured approval of "the lucky cards he
was dealt" and they all doubled their bets. We were told that Luciano
would meet us after our swim. Completely satisfied with their lives,
their Marlboroughs, suntans and telefonini, all calls become conference
calls. When dinner plans cannot be agreed upon they say "I'll call
you back in 15 minutes".
I walked across the wide white beach to the end of the breakwater.
My strong legs propelled my dive far out into Adriatic Sea, beyond
groups of talkers who never got their hair wet. Many Italians don't
swim because they believe it is necessary to wait at least three
hours after eating, which leaves little time in the water. I swam
my California Crawl and surfaced at the next breakwater--walking
past topless, smoking women of all ages baked to a tobacco color
and men who sunbathed with their legs wide open to tan their inner
Back at the cabana, the card game had ended and the Italians could
smoke and joke with us uninterrupted. I spoke Italian with abandon,
my errors prompting good-natured teasing and comedic improvisation.
I was surrounded by a hilarious troupe of Marcello Mastroiannis
resplendent in near nudity.
We met Luciano, the handsomest of all, at his apartment by the
Arsenale. From grand arched windows I beheld Palladian churches;
the Redentore and San Giorgio Maggiore. Across the Bacino of San
Marco was Longhena's Church of the Salute. The silhouettes of all
three churches had been visible from my husband's house. But now,
in another quarter of Venice, in parallax view, features previously
hidden in cast shadow were revealed to me in the setting sun. We
toasted with the region's sparkling wine, Prosecco.
At a nearby fish restaurant, I was in such a celebratory mood,
I answered a hearty "yes" when the waiter suggested an assortment
of antipasti misti for all. This is the costly solution to group
indecision that Venetian restaurateurs have been buying country
houses with for centuries. But that night I loved even that. Bring
on the capesante, capelungi, granchio, cebiche di pesce spada, coda
di rospo, fiori di zucca ripieni, and a great bottle of wine. Per
tutti. Offro lo! The August heat intensified my appetites. Ilaria
excused herself between courses to redefine and amplify her just-for-love
mouth with a blood red border containing the freshened sparkles
that glistened like mermaid scales. Carlo expertly and intently
paid no attention. There is complete understanding between Italian
men and women. Unabashed Peacocks both, each are simultaneously
cat and mouse. It is said that Italian men and women deserve each
After dinner, we decided to have ice cream on the Lido to wait
for the car ferry back to the mainland. Another gigolo type served
us. I began to think that men look good tanned to the extreme, with
shirts unbuttoned to the diaphragm to display taut pectorals. Our
waiter's gold chain glistened on his hairless chest in concert with
Ilaria's glitter, now spread to her throat and decolletage. She
began eating her ice cream slowly with a miniature spoon. It is
my opinion that Venice does not have very good ice cream. It had
been disappointing living above a gelateria with mediocre ice cream.
Byron and Goethe each complained about the indifferent tourist fare
in Venice; high prices, meager portions. Florence, however, produces
superior ice cream. In the '80s I lived in the Centro Storico of
Florence near Vivoli, the famous gelateria. In the mornings, I watched
the pretty Vivoli girls in starched white aprons and caps like dollops
of whipped cream lugging in crates of fresh fruit and buckets of
thick cream. The semifreddo ice cream was exquisite--creamy and
airy. Not far from Vivoli was another gelateria whose production
was icier, fruitier. In those days, sometimes my friends and I would
get a juicy scoop at one place and walk by the Arno to Vivoli for
another angelic pallina of gianduia or nocciola. In Italy, the farther
south you go, the prouder they are of their ice cream. One summer
on the Island of Ischia, by Capri, I ate cucumber ice cream with
the perfect sweet-to-cream ratio, the color of which seemed cooler
next to the warm weathered walls painted in tones of melon to pumpkin.
The streets of the Lido were still busy and just as hot at 1 a.m.
I finished every lick of bad ice cream. We bid Luciano "buona notte"
and drove to the car ferry. I would have liked to walk on deck to
be hypnotized by reflections of churches and the tracery of balconies,
to pass close enough to my favorite cafe to watch the waiters stack
chairs, water down the fondamenta, and to hear the busboys sportingly
break bottles into the recycling bin as the screeching, rolling
door was yanked down half way closed to send away late clientele.
Occasionally, when returning from a party, my husband and I would
be beckoned to duck under the door to have a nightcap with Gianni,
the proprietor; to talk of the day, of the old days, of boats and
fishing. But this night I was tired. Venice had satisfied me and
protected me. I was spent. And so, in the back of the car, I lay
my head on Ilaria's scratchy lurex sweater, and fell fast asleep.
I found out later that as I slept, Carlo and Ilaria had slipped
up to the top deck and behind a lifeboat "deserved each other" as
the ferry passed through the Giudecca Canal. Carlo told me that
at the moment he deserved her the most, he happened to turn his
head and saw the facade of my former residence pass in the night.
A few days later, I returned to Venice, to the island of Murano.
I wanted to buy more of the blue swirled glasses I had received
as a wedding present, later broken in my hurried departure from
Venice. They were painfully thin, as if they were mere crusts which
had formed around wine. I also wanted to buy beads to string my
The route to Murano is magnificent. Only from the water can one
get enough distance to observe the luminance of Venice for the walkways
are too narrow to afford perspective. Canaletto, Sargeant and Whistler
hired boats from which to sketch. I remember standing on the prow
of my husband's little boat, rowing in unison with him. At dusk
from the low vantage point of his boat, we could see the frescoes
on the ceilings become visible when the candles of the chandeliers
were lit. Now on course to Murano on the public vaporetto, the horizon
extended before me. The geology of the lagoon was perceptible--little
island continents that make up the archipelago of the Venetian Empire.
Late August begins to give some relief from the heat of Ferragosto,
the Ascension of the Virgin. The white-hot sky yields some blue.
The buildings sharpen in shades of burnt rose and scalded egg yolk
yellow. Marble, the accessory that goes with everything, glistens
Expecting the same shrewd hard sell of the Venetian souvenir sellers,
I was charmed instead by the gracious manner of the Muranese who
waited on me. They brought me beads of mercurial opalescence, withfilo
d'oro, macchie bordeaux, little concentrated planets of glass, some
irregular barocco shapes, with Lapis colored centers bleeding into
gold halos. I was captivated. My cheeks flushed as I opened each
drawer. I was happy to spend too much money. Finally sated with
treasure, I went to a Baccaro for cicchetti--little nibbles or tastes,
and an ombra--a glass of wine--literally shade or shadow. Murano
is a real place with real jobs. The artisans are proud of producing
glass, something besides tourism. They work hard and need good food.
I was delighted that baccari on Murano are genuine, not tourist
places. The workers speak the hearty Venetian dialect, the wine
isn't overpriced. And the cicchetti--little shrimp, clams with parsley
sauce swirled in the shells, and puffy rice balls were the best
I'd tasted. A large assortment of tramezzini triangle sandwiches
of soft white bread were stacked in precise pyramids in a glass
case, covered by damp tea towels. The embroidered corners were pulled
back to fill an order, then lovingly replaced, as the discrete towel
of a masseuse uncovering and covering one part at a time. These
tramezzini were not the usual unctuous tuna fish bathed in mayonnaise;
rather; They were fresh crab with rucola, golden calamari, melanzane
with large chunks of parmigiano. My glass was filled to the very
top with a cool prosecco, then topped off after I had a few sips
by the dapper barrista, who addressed me as "Signora". As a signora,
I could be simpatica without crossing the line to disponibile--
available. I could join in conversation with the customers, alternately
accepting and offering ombras, cicchetti and caffe. I met their
complaints of the heat without missing a beat, "Fra poco, Natale.
" Soon it will be Christmas. Italians are fatalists and accept the
long-range cycle of life. In winter when everyone complains of the
freddo cane (dog cold), the response is "Fra poco Ferragosto."
After cigarettes were snuffed and prosecco flutes drained, the
most talkative worker said, "Come, I'll take you to Coco. He'll
give you a glass horse." Game for anything, I followed him across
several bridges through a buttressed sottoporteggio, the light of
the lagoon beyond, blinding in contrast to the dark courtyard of
the glass works. Coco, the glassblower was as red as the embers
in the fornace--a combination of heat and ombras. He signaled me
to take a blue glass horse with a tail sweeping like the train of
Flamenco skirt. It was a tourist horse, but for me he was as magnificent
as the equestrian statue of "Colleoni," which stands in Campo San
Giovanni e Paolo. "You shall call him Cocchino," I was gently ordered.
I stopped for a moment to look through the arch at the lagoon. I
smelled the sea and heard the slap of the little waves. The beach
was not sand, nor the sludge of the canals of the main islands of
Venice. It was made of smoothed jewels of glass-glimmers offilo
d'oro, millefiore ruby and sapphire--a kaleidoscope shifting with
the tide. I scooped up my riches with vague ideas of making mosaics.
But perhaps I just wanted the loot as proof of my return to Venice.
I thanked them and hummed Figaro as I made my way to catch a vaporetto.
Being laden, I missed the boat. At the stop there was a little vine-covered
pergola where coffee was served. I heard a deep Venetian voice saying
"Another will come." How can old Italian men make me blush? Whether
he was talking about another boat, another fish in the sea, another
love or another ombra it was worth celebrating. I sat down at his
table. The postcard seller deserted his stall to join us. Strong
blue-overalled glassworkers with swirls of smoke around their heads,
sat down, and stirred A handsome young man approached. My host proudly
called, "Nephew, what do you think of this bellissima donna?"
"She is una rosa" he replied.
"Because she will wither and die one day?" the uncle responded.
"No. Because women are beautiful, but they have thorns. Le spine,
"He's from Napoli," the old man said, as if that explained it.
I shook hands goodbye all around and caught the vaporetto. I pushed
forward to the bow. Losing my balance as I came starboard for a
better view of Venice, I was righted by the strong arms of the Neapolitan.
Was he following me?
"Are you going to the mainland? I asked. "No, to the cemetery.
I am the electrician there. I must take you to the Cimitero di San
I had never thought of visiting the island cemetery, but he seemed
so intent, so compelling, that I had little choice but to follow
him. After I had left Venice, my husband's friend, the poet Joseph
Brodsky, had been buried in the Venetian cemetery.
"I will go with you," I said, "I have someone to visit."
Three years before his death, the Brodskys' infant daughter was
baptized in Lucca. My then future husband collected four-leaf clovers
for me in front of the family chapel while we waited for the godfather,
Mikhail Baryshnikov. At the service, I held my lucky bouquet and
listened to the baby's mother and aunts sing in jubilant harmony.
The echoes in the tiny church turned all melodies into fugues. The
priest, probably knowing that he could never make a devout Catholic
of Joseph, benevolently decided that it was, after all, a fine thing
that Joseph had the same name as a favored saint. He invoked him
as often as he could, "In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost,
and St. Joseph too." Afterwards, at the party, Baryshnikov overheard
me telling a viola joke--the classic "How do you tell the difference
between a violin and a viola? Answer: A viola burns longer." He
told me another one. Before long, people came in from the terrazza,
and the room hushed as I was asked to repeat more and more ridiculous
viola jokes to Joseph. He translated them into Russian, making what
sounded to me like impromptu rhymes in playground rhythms, a form
he delighted in. It was an improbable but memorable collaboration.
Too soon after that joyous baptism and then my own wedding, I was
to visit the grave of a dead father, husband and poet--but not with
the man I married.
A stranger bade me to follow. I had been provided with a guide;
an ardent, Neapolitan Virgil to accompany me in the face of the
loss of what might have been. On the path past Stravinsky's and
Diahgalev's monuments, the pin on the hinge of my dark glasses fell
out. "I will fix them," the electrician said. He seemed frantic
about how to accomplish this as he didn't have his tools. He spied
a twig broom the faithful bereaved use to sweep the graves, bent
off a bit of the rusty wire which bound the twig bundles, and inserted
it into the hinge. My perfectly restored glasses were presented
to me as if they were a tiara. At my polite thank you, he tenderly
took my hand to his chest and said, "At your service, Signorina."
Now that he had my hand, he did not let it go as he led me closer
to Joseph's grave. I think he took me the long way around past the
ceremonial platform where desdotona, boats of 18 oars, led the funeral
gondolas of society's most illustrious dead. We came to the section
were he thought Joseph Brodsky lay. I found Ezra Pound's grave.
I knew Joseph's was near because I had heard it had been something
of a scandal that Joseph was buried so near the alleged fascist
sympathizer. As I turned from Pound, I had to arch my body to avoid
a lone, overgrown rosebush, but I misjudged and was scratched deeply
on the forearm. It bled immediately. My electrician was thrilled
that now he could offer me the service of first aid. With a clumsy
grasp, he tried to wipe away the blood, but succeeded instead in
smearing it across my arm on to my dress. He muttered, "Le spine,
le spine," and kissed me fully on the lips, only partly to assuage
Two meters away lay Joseph Brodsky; his name, and dates of birth
and death engraved in Cyrillic on a simple headstone. Perched on
top were pens and pencils that must have been left by aspiring writers
and literary pilgrims. Underneath the pile were notes in many languages
written on improvised paper; Paris metro tickets, bits of map, Polish
stamps, corners of journal pages. I impulsively added my sketching
pencil to the pile and under it, tucked in the torn remnant of my
out-of-date Venice boat pass, my expired Carta Venezia.
"I must go. I don't even know your name," I whispered, turning
"I am Michele, from the island of San Michele."
On the vaporetto, I recognized a passenger. She was as beautiful
as I remembered her, elegant as always, in handmade shoes and crisp
summer linen. Not all aristocrats rise to the adjective "noble,"
but she did in grace and kind humor. We chatted light-heartedly
and shared news. When the boat approached her stop, she rose, took
my hand and looked at me squarely. "It was a great loss for Venice
when you left." She kissed me twice and disembarked.
I silently repeated her words trying to believe them. Perhaps I
was smiling as the vaporetto made it's way around the Eastern tip
of the island through the wide canal. I smoothed my stained dress
over my hips, hefted my treasures, and when the boat made its bump
at the landing, the rope was looped around the bollard and the gate
was slid back, I stepped off and returned to Venice.
From the judges
The author creates a sense of place with the use of specific and
--Kim Silveira Wolterbeck
This story can transport us to Venice--with its rich imagery,
its sharp details, its lush writing. The writer knows her world
and writes about it with confidence and sophisticated style.
Like the magnificent Byzantine meringue that is Venice's Basilica
di San Marco, "Venice, Again" is stylized, ornate, a bit overdone
and a delight to the eye as well as the spirit. I loved the telling
detail, the mysterious missing husband, the cigarette smoking, preening
Italians, and much, much more.