Monday, 29 June 2015

The Capital-ists

It's a beautiful morning. I take the 5.1 vaporetto from Ferrovia to Giardini. It's not too crowded at this time of day, and I even manage to get a seat outside. It's noisy, like all the smaller vaporetti, but, in the early morning sun of a perfect summer's morning, it's the loveliest of journeys.

When I arrive, I take a coffee and brioche at Paradiso. I check my watch. I'm early. Plenty of time yet. I take some time just to stand and look at one of the finest views in all Venice, across the bacino to the church of the Salute and the Grand Canal. Then I head off to the the gardens, and wave my pass at the guards at the entrance. They know me by now, but they still have to check and, in any case, the system doesn't seem as reliable as it might be. But this morning everything is functioning perfectly, and they wave me through.

There's still another thirty minutes until the gardens open to the public. The Central Pavilion itself has a slightly eerie feel to it. The spaces are empty, except for a few staff, but all the video installations have been set in motion, and play to an invisible audience. 

The pavilion is a maze, but I know my way to the Arena by now. There's no-one else to be seen, so I just sit down and take out my script. Gary Moore's Still Got the Blues is playing over the loudspeakers. I wonder, at first, if it's a new installation that I haven't heard about; but then I realise it's just the technical crew relaxing before the start of another long day. Gary isn't here to make art. He's just here to play the blues.

Francesco, my co-reader, arrives. He usually sports a splendid Marxian beard but he's had to trim it back. He's got a part-time job in a bar, he explains, and his boss didn't like it. Besides, it's a bit hot in the summer. We go through our parts together, making sure they're marked up correctly and that we're in agreement as to when one of us passes over to the other.

Giovanni, our technician, places two music stands on stage and then mics us both up. We take our places on the left and the right of the stage, and wait. Giovanni gives us a wave. It's time. We walk on, and place our scripts on the stands. I start to read. "Chapter 2 : The Process of Exchange..."

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The email had come out of the blue. Would we be interested in taking part in a project for the Biennale, with the artist Isaac Julien? A 'dramatic reading' of every last page of Karl Marx's Capital.

Marx? For money? In the Central Pavilion? The Biennale was the reason we first came to Venice, in 2005. We had no idea then that, just ten years later, we'd have the chance to actually be a part of it.

We had to get through a few auditions first. Isaac - friendly, smiley and relaxed - has very definite ideas on how the project is to work. It is not just supposed to sound like somebody reading a lecture on Radio 4. No. It has to be acted. Somehow, we have to find a way to make it live, to make it a performance.

And, somehow, we made it through to the final squad of eleven. There will be three half-hour performances a day, by two readers, until the end of the Biennale; a timetable that should allow us to read the entire work perhaps three times.

Volume 1 is actually quite an interesting read. There's some fine writing in there, plenty of righteous anger and even a few jokes. There's also a great sadness there : upon reading it, one is struck by the feeling that - for all the undoubted advances made  - we have not come as far as we should. And when he rages at the unfair distribution of wealth, and of the exploitation of the vulnerable, of the desperate and of children...well, it's easy to bring to life.

At the moment, however, we're making our way through Volume 2,  a much drier tome heavy on economic theory, formulae and tables. It's difficult to find a way to lift this off the page. My way is just to pretend that this really is the most interesting thing in the whole world and hope this carries the audience along.

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A certain amount of preparation is necessary before each reading, as the text needs to be divided between two readers. I sit on the sofa, marking my part up. Mimi, obligingly, comes and sits on top of it. She looks up at me, wide-eyed. I don't know what you're doing, but I do love you. I smile and scratch her behind the ears. She purrs, stretches, and picks experimentally at the spiral binding. And again. Then a little bit more. And then suddenly her claws are out and she's scrabbling away furiously at the pages. In a panic, I tip her off before she can shred the entire volume and she stalks off in a huff. I examine the damage. The top pages are in a bit of a state, but, fortunately, not the bits I have to read.

Our cat is not a Marxist. And this saddens me.


Sunday, 21 June 2015

All the First Lady's Men

It's Friday afternoon, and I've had some good news. My only student this afternoon has cancelled, leaving us free to do fun stuff. So we get the boat over to Giudecca in order to knock off a few more Biennale installations. In all honesty, a lot of it isn't really that great, although Francesco Jodice's Weird Tales (and, yes, it is an HP Lovecraft reference) at the Michela Rizzo gallery is worth a look.

   We're on the part of the island nearest to Sacca Fisola, a mainly blue-collar residential area but one dominated by the enormous Molino Stucky Hilton hotel where none other than Michelle Obama is supposed to be staying that night. We're expecting the island to be in lockdown, but there's no sign of anything special.

   I'm going back to Mestre for some end-of-term beers and Caroline is joining us later; so I get off the vaporetto at Piazzale Roma. As I walk along the fondamenta I notice a police boat going past. No surprise, really, as the Questura is near here. But then there's another boat. And another.

   I'm perhaps ten metres from the Ponte della Libertà. I stop walking, to take it all in. A cortege of outriders on jet skis emerges from under the bridge. And then there's a water taxi. The curtains aren't drawn and I can just about make out the figures inside. Bloody hell. It's her. It's Michelle Obama, with her daughters and her mum.

   The taxi is followed by a water ambulance. Then another police boat. Then another group of outriders. Every cop in Venice must be here. And then, yet another boat on which a man in a balaclava and body armour is training a gun on the bridge. Well, I call it a gun. It's actually a piece of field artillery that's bigger than he is.

   There's a really cracking photograph to be taken here and I start to reach for my bag. And then I stop. A man with the biggest gun I have ever seen is less than ten metres away from me. I'm suddenly aware that what I want most in the world, right now, is for him to think well of me. I move my hands away from my body. And then I stop moving until the cortege is out of sight.

   Thirty minutes later, I'm in a bar in Mestre and Michelle, I presume, is in a suite in the Molino Stucky. And I realise that I really don't envy her at all.