|| Print ||
|Written by D.W. Richards|
|Thursday, 13 August 2009 00:00|
Perhaps the best word to describe my life since meeting my partner Robert would be unusual.
This past May, for example, I travelled to his home in Venice, Italy, for the first time. During the two-week sojourn, I took part in a series of commemorations that he'd arranged to honour a departed friend, including a garden party dedication of a sculpture Robert had commissioned, as well as an evening of music and dining.
While this agenda doesn't seem all that unusual at first glace, when you take into account the fact that half-acre gardens, in a city where buildings are packed tighter than Hollywood teeth, are rare (read: unheard of), the sculpture (shipped from the United States) was the size of an apartment refrigerator, and the evening of music was for a private audience of eighty at Palazzo Cà Zen with both opera singer and accompanying pianist flown in specifically for the event, the word "unusual" starts to seem more applicable. Throughout the evening, I managed to represent Canada quite well (suppressing my need to interject an affirming "eh" during conversations, and maintaining a nonchalant air of: "Oh this? It happens to me all the time. I'm on the circuit.")
Although dinner following the recital took place in two great rooms of renaissance opulence (yes, opulence), there was still a convivial atmosphere amongst the guests seated in groups of eight at lavishly adorned round tables.
I've never felt so unilingual in my life as I did during dinner. English sounded course and filled with rough edges when compared to the fluidity of the Italian, French, and Spanish words perfuming the air. Everyone could, and would, speak English, yet their kind mercies on my behalf were just further reminders that, while they were linguistically nimble, I was, comparatively, all-thumbs.
The arranged seating placed me beside a charming and beautiful woman named Nella Habsburg. It was then that I slipped down the rabbit-hole... Her husband, Dominic Habsburg, was also at the table, and 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. (Incidentally, Dominic finds such formality rather amusing. Of course, if I were in his place I would spiel off the honorific, in its entirety, every time I answered the phone, drolly followed by, "And you are?")
Ever eager to promote (preface with the word 'shamelessly' if you feel the need) my novel, The Fifth Pillar, I slowly wove the topic of literature and writing into my conversation with Nella. As it turned out, she loves to read. Unfortunately, being an socialite experienced at engaging complete strangers in conversation, she saw this tiny crevice of common ground as a wonderful place from which to hang our entire discourse. She spoke at length about her favourite literary finds, and gave several recommendations in which 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, her husband received a call. It seemed to be a call both he and Nella had been expecting, yet dreading. After a brief exchange with the caller, Dominic left the table, agitated and sombre.
From what I gathered, the reason he was upset went something like this: a local mayor, from where Mr. Habsburg's ancestral home of Bran Castle of Romania (also known as "Dracula's Castle" of Bram Stoker fame) is located, wanted to parade an artefact sacred to Dominic in hopes of attracting tourism. The artefact being: his grandmother's (former Queen of Hungry) preserved heart. While I'm confident many of us are sympathetic of 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 of us are at risk of a similar incident occurring in our own lives. There was, and still is, something otherworldly about the entire scenario.
The next morning, Robert 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, Nella 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".
All Photos by D.W. Richards and Robert Wilk.
(Cult)ure interviewed Richards upon the release of his novel, The Fifth Pillar: The D.W. Richards Interview