Alexander Wainwright at The Savoy

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Alexander Wainwright at The Savoy
Alexander Wainwright at The Savoy
My author, Mary E. Martin frequently refers to me as Britain’s finest landscape painter and this I
find somewhat embarrassing.
I am a modest man who tries to live a quiet life in London. I find that such a lifestyle is best for
the creative life which is quite challenging for me. But first, before I begin my story, let me
introduce you to my neighbourhood. In the photograph below, you will see in the distance, my
studio which is on the third floor of the red brick building.
My building is on the Embankment and has a marvelous view of the Thames from which you
can see Westminster and Somerset House which houses the Courtald Gallery.
Westminster and Big Ben
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Somerset House
Looks like a dark and dreary day on the Thames, but considering what was about to happen in
my life, that is appropriate. That morning, I received a note from my friend and art dealer, James
Helmsworth. Below, you can see his gallery, where I exhibit my work.
Helmsworth and Son
Jamie has always given me sound advice and has done much to foster my career and so, I like to
help him whenever I can.
But back to his note. It was marked Urgent!
The note read: Please join me for tea at the Savoy this afternoon. I need your help on matter
pertaining to Rinaldo. Cheers, Jamie
Rinaldo? What on earth could Jamie want with him? Rinaldo is a famous conceptual artist but
his art is nothing like that which Jamie usually handles. To be polite, Rinaldo is a disturber
with a mission to disrupt the entire art world. He is not a man to be trifled with!
Rinaldo, the conceptual artist.
The story about Rinaldo and me is set out in The Drawing Lesson, the first in the Trilogy of
Remembrance. I could write more about him, myself, but read the book and you will find out for
yourself.
He is both my nemesis and the one responsible for my artistic salvation.
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But back to tea with Jamie at the Savoy. I entered this grand hotel on the Strand in London and
looked about for Jamie.
In the lobby of The Savoy
Where could he be? After ten minutes, I did find him and, over tea, heard his incredible request.
Because he knows the history of my artistic arguments with Rinaldo, I was very much taken
aback!
But first, I want to talk to you about fictional characters—I, being one and also Rinaldo and in
fact Jamie.
For you, who sit at your computer or in your arm chair, I have no doubt that you feel entirely
real. You breathe, you blink and rub your eye. You feel the rumbles in your stomach which tell
you it’s time for dinner.
Interestingly enough, Rinaldo, Jamie and I feel exactly the same way. How that could be
possible, I have no idea. All of us feel very real except for one aspect— we wonder about
whether we have free will. Do you, as a real person, have the same concern? I would not think
so.
Here’s another question about fictional characters. Why do some live in the hearts and minds of
readers forever while others drift off into the mists of time? Take for example—Ebenezer
Scrooge or Mr. Pickwick. Both of them seem to have sprung fully formed as real people from the
mind of Charles Dickens. There must be some special qualities in those characters which
contribute to longevity. Perhaps it is in their genes.
The Charles Dickens Museum
Which reminds me—the other day I visited the Charles Dickens Museum just to have a quiet
word with that superlative author.
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Mr. William Sykes
Whom do you think was there? None other than Bill Sykes of Dickens’ Oliver Twist fame! Now
there is a notoriously vivid character that his lived in the hearts and minds of the reading public
for a century and a half! I know quite a lot about being a fictional character, but it would be truly
wonderful to have the longevity of Mr. Sykes.
I assure you that, as a fictional character, I feel as deeply and intensely as any living human
being. That is why the tale, which I am about to impart, is a highly emotional one for me and, as
it turns out, has an ending which I should have seen coming.
Because it was Jamie Helmsworth’s decision to invite me for tea at the Savoy, I was somewhat
suspicious. Jamie is actually a very clever, canny art dealer and so, I knew he had a very special
request to make of me—one that he felt I might well decline.
As I entered the tea room, I spotted him seated alone in the far corner. He stood up and waved
me over. His smile was genial. I felt guarded as his eyes darted about. We sat down.
Savoy Tea Room
“A very fine place for our meeting, Jamie,” I said, as I shook his hand. “What’s the
occasion?”
His smile seemed fixed. “I thought you might enjoy it.” His manner was, shall I say—
nervous. Before I could say more, the waitress arrived with the tea service and set out all the
sandwiches and cakes and poured the tea.
Tea is served.
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Normally, Jamie, in matters of business, is very direct and clear. Although he is most sensitive to
matters of taste in art, he wants no misunderstandings in business, when it comes to negotiations
of terms. As we began our tea, he did everything he could to avoid coming to the point of our
meeting. He asked lengthy questions about my latest painting and about our mutual friends.
At last, I set down my cup and said, “Listen Jamie, this is all very pleasant…” I waved my hand
about to encompass the whole room. “But please—tell me what’s on your mind.” I could not
have been more surprised by his answer.
He made much of folding his napkin and setting it in place. At last he said, “It’s about Rinaldo.”
“Good Lord, Rinaldo? What about him?”
“I’ve been asked by a prospective client to make him an offer for his latest work.”
“But you don’t represent Rinaldo! Why did this client come to you?”
“Nobody seems to know where Rinaldo is. But this prospective client seems to think you might
be able to find him.”
“Me? Why me? Rinaldo despises me and my art. And his conceptual art work is completely
beyond my comprehension.”
Sighing, Jamie closed his eyes for a long moment. “The client believes only you can find him.”
“Why me? Rinaldo wouldn’t cross the street to say hello to me.”
Jamie shook his head. “The prospective client thinks Rinaldo may be in Venice. In fact, he has a
few leads. He wants you to go to Venice to find him. All your expenses would be paid, of
course.”
I was astounded. It’s true Rinaldo and I go back a very long way. But our relationship was
severely affected when I won the Turner Prize and—he did not.
My work is best described as representational art. That is, when you look at the canvas, you can
see the nature of the subject matter. My entry for the award was called The Hay Wagon. His was
a ditch built down the concourse of the Tate Modern Gallery in London. Bloodied implements of
war were flung on either side of the ditch. So, you can see how we differ artistically speaking.
Shocked, I continued to stare at Jamie. “But what does this client think I can do that he cannot
himself?”
Again Jamie sighed. “He’s convinced that, because you saved Rinaldo on the Williamsburg
Bridge in New York, that he will respond to you.”
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I did not save Rinaldo—no one can. But that story is recounted in The Drawing Lesson. Shaking
my head, I said, “I very much doubt that…”
James clasped my hand and said earnestly, “Please, Alex. All you have to do is fly to Venice for
a couple of days—at the client’s expense—and follow up the leads. Look at it as a pleasant
vacation.”
“Who is this client?”
“Marco Polo.”
I began to laugh.
“Marco Polo Design House of the USA. The owner, Mark Savanti lives in South Beach, Florida
and he is ready to pay munificent sums of money.”
I said. “All right, Jamie. I’ll do it, but only as a favour to you.”
Greatly relieved, Jamie shook my hand heartily. We left the tea room.
“By the way,” I said out in the lobby. “What is the artwork in question?”
James shook his head. “Apparently, it’s five dishes of rotting fruit.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Yes and it is up to the purchaser to replenish the fruit. Apparently that act creates a bond
between artist and viewer.”
“Given the nature of the art work, I’d better hurry.” Chuckling, I waved goodbye. What a
strange man Rinaldo was!
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Rinaldo the Conceptual Artist Responds
to Alexander Wainwright, Stuckist!
I haven’t had a chance to say a thing yet, but it’s only fair to be permitted some time to respond.
It’s true. We do go back a long way, but our differences do not arise from his winning the Turner
Prize—rather, he has become far too set in both his ways and his thinking to be a worthwhile
artistic companion.
In New York, I tried to get him to collaborate with me in my latest project. But it was not to be. I
suppose it’s not entirely his fault. After all, not everyone can be a visionary!
Another problem! He spends much of his time criticizing and undermining my work in a very
unpleasant fashion. Only ignorance can be at the root of this.
You see, I am the illegitimate grandchild [metaphorically speaking] of that famous artist—
Marcel Duchamp, who was the first conceptual artist. We conceptualists challenge the notion
that art must be pretty and pleasing. The aesthetics of much art criticism spring from a bourgeois
mentality.
Marcel Duchamp conceptual artist and master chess player.
Primarily, we raise the fundamental question—What is art? For example, perhaps you’ve seen
Marcel’s clever rendition of the Mona Lisa [with a moustache] or perhaps you’ve heard of
Duchamp’s ready-mades—Bottle Rack.
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That great artist would find an object in the world [such as the bottle drying rack] and change its
context. The artist might put the object in a frame or onto a pedestal and then he would call it art.
You see, once you start doing such a thing, the question of –what is art—becomes blurred. If I,
as the artist, say it is art, then it is art. You can see that this would affect the entire superstructure [and commerce] of the art world. No artist need rely upon a gallery owner or a critic to
enter the world of art-making. The gate-keepers fell.
And so you see, Alexander is stuck in the past with his rivers and fields, hills and dales. The one
fine aspect of his art is this—There seems to be a magical light emanating from all his paintings.
In any event, Alex is not an irredeemable soul. And that is why I want to meet with him in
Venice where he will be very close to my little project. In the meantime take a look at this video
about stuckism. It’s rather stuffy, but you’ll get the idea of our debate.
If you’d like to learn more about our little argument, be sure to read The Drawing Lesson, by our
author, Mary E. Martin. Although I think she prefers Alexander, she says she has attempted to
find some balance. Please do let me know what you think! That is all for the moment.
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Memory, Dream and Art
The more I thought about it, the more concerned I became about hunting for Rinaldo. Something
was afoot. Before I flew into Marco Polo airport, I happened to get out some old photos of my
last visit. Click to see some of my photographs of my last trip to Venice.
Memory is sometimes tricky. These photographs show a Venice filled with a haunting quiet. The
Venice I found on my trip to find Rinaldo was an utterly different place—or being.
But then, why should I expect to find Venice just as I had left her? Undoubtedly, I was a
different person and necessarily would see her with new eyes. It seems to me that you cannot
return to relive a place, a person or a time. You cannot hope to recapture and relive a memory.
That is why we have art.
Art, in each and every one of its forms captures a moment, a state of being in time. Because
everything else in this world is malleable over time, art serves the purpose of capturing that
moment and holding it fixed for us—as if you could return to a still, fixed point. It gives us a
dearly needed sense of permanence [and resting place] in this river of time; but enough of my
musings. The plane dropped from the clouds and soon I was on a water taxi bound for my hotel.
Water taxi
James [and Marco Polo] had been very generous with the funds for this expedition and so, I
stayed at the Hotel Carleton overlooking the Grand Canal.
Carleton Hotel
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By the time I had settled into my room, it was almost time for dinner. Expecting to relive at least
some part of my last visit, I went for a stroll to the heart of Venice—San Marco.
It was still early in September and crowds filled the Square and everywhere else.
Small child in San Marco
Present reality made it difficult to recall why I had fallen in love with the city on my last visit. In
fact, I preferred to deny that reality so as to carry those first images—untainted— in my heart. I
sat down for some dinner in a café.
I thought about the stillness captured in my pictures which I had entitled Memory, Dream and
Art. Of course, that is why writers write and painters paint—to express a moment in time—
whether it is a moment within or outside oneself—or the mingling of the two.
But the crowds reminded me of a story which a friend, Daphne Bersault told me. I met her on
the Orient Express and spent time with her in Venice on my last trip. She was a beautiful
woman—in fact she was my muse. When she was in San Marco, she heard a story from another
woman, Penelope, whom she happened to meet. Penelope had been coming for twenty years to
San Marco every year on the 21st of April to talk with her long since departed son.
You see, through a moment’s inattention of his mother, that little boy was snatched from the
crowds in San Marco and never seen again.
Small child in San Marco.
Throughout my dinner, I contemplated how one could endure such deadening pain for years on
end. Yet, each year, she returned, not in hope of finding him, but just to talk with him.
My sense of loss was miniscule compared to hers. I had only lost my sense of place and time.
She had lost her little child. You can read much more about my visit to Venice and all that
happened there with Daphne in The Drawing Lesson.
I turned my mind to how on earth I would find Rinaldo amongst the crowds of Venice.
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Rinaldo Hiding in Venice
I am back. I am watching all that transpires.
Where do you find beauty? In a slag heap? With lots of ugly, awkward cranes pivoted against the
skyline?
Slag heap in a port.
If you are like my friend, Alexander Wainwright, you will not find beauty here. Like a schoolboy
with a crush, he is in the thrall of Venice and would consider my picture ugly. He would never
understand the statement about decay and the passing of time with my picture of rotting fruit.
One glance at this image and you will think of the cruelty of time.
Sample of Rotting Fruit
In his Venice picture [below] just look at the light shimmering on the water. How alive it looks!
See how beautifully the light falls upon such architecturally ornate buildings looking upon the
Grand Canal. That’s Alex idea of beauty. Pretty—isn’t it? But that’s all it is—pretty. It has
nothing significant to say.
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Now look again at my dreary slag heap—the awkward dirty yellow cranes jumbled together with
the scrap metal heaped in dirty, black piles. To me, great beauty is to be found in my picture. It
shows art’s darker underside. No light can exist without dark. And so, beauty is not some fixed
idea but truly in the eye of the beholder. Also, my picture has much to say about hard labour and
sweat and tears.
Alex thinks art’s purpose is to capture a moment in time and freeze-frame it. For me, I want to
capture that wave of energy which leads to creation and ride it wherever it goes. Alex scoffs at
my fruit bowl project, but I want to use that creative energy and pass it on to the viewer, who
then collaborates by replenishing the fruit. Do you understand me? Sadly—l rather fear not!
I was planning to leave for Greece, but I’m stuck in Venice in a cramped flat overlooking some
godforsaken little canal. Every morning, I am deafened by the robust singing of the gondoliers.
Cursing, I pull the curtain against that “lovely” Venetian light and crawl back under the covers.
In the afternoon, I make my notes on my latest artistic project which will involve Alexander—
although he does not yet know it. The project is underway and is going extremely well.
Why do I not simply arrange with Alex to meet up in Venice, especially when he is bringing me
an offer from a prospective purchaser of my work? Let’s call it a psychological experiment– this
my work of art. Alex must hunt and chase me first. Call it performance art. After all, Alex is a
good “soldier” a will follow along. I guarantee it will be most entertaining.
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Alexander Begins his Search for Rinaldo
On my first night in Venice, I found a café not far from the hotel, where violinists played
Vivaldi—that brilliant Venetian who composed music centuries ago. I sat outside on the patio
and had a wonderful view of the Grand Canal. I ordered veal with lemon and a glass of
Chardonnay.
Venice leads inexorably to a mood of recollection and contemplation. One moment it shimmers
and laughs in the noonday sun dancing on water.
The next, it grows dark and sullen under heavy, cloud-laden skies. Such shifting moods can bring
on hours of contemplation.
As I sat alone at the table, images of Daphne, almost immediately, sprang up in my mind’s eye.
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As I said before, I met Daphne on my last trip to Venice on the Orient Express. As an artist, I am
constantly in search of my muse.
When I first saw her in the dining car, time stood still. The Maitre’d seated us together. Perhaps
it was only a trick of light but, to me, she was an ethereal vision encompassing the entire
universe. Her polite smile made a bright façade but her deep blue eyes were tinged with
unfathomable regret. She was so familiar to me that I wondered if we had met in another time
and place or perhaps in a dream.
The next evening, after dinner with her, I was so enchanted…so inspired by Daphne that for the
first time in many months, I drew a dozen sketches—all of them of her. I knew she was my muse
and that my art was returning. I rushed to her cabin with the drawings. She let me in and I
showed them to her. She asked how she could be my muse when we had only just met. Sadly, I
frightened her by my intensity when I said,
“My art comes from deep within. Some places are comfortable, familiar rooms, which I have
often visited in dreams and reveries. Others are wonderfully fanciful and enchanting lands. And
still others contain the terrifying stuff of nightmares. But all those places have their treasures
and must be explored and intimately known if one is to create. Some quality, an essence, within
the muse is like a candle flickering in the dark, illuminating everything in those rooms. That light
leads the poor artist through his own private heaven and hell ever onward to his creation.”
I’m afraid it was more of a speech on my part than a conversation. But nonetheless, we enjoyed
much of Venice together. If you want to hear more of that story, you must read The Drawing
Lesson.
At last, my dinner was set before me and I broke off from my meandering thoughts of Daphne
and returned to the question—Where to find Rinaldo?.
When I returned to my hotel, the concierge waved me over.
“Signor Wainwright, I have an envelope for you, delivered when you were out.”
“Thanks very much.” I sat down in the lobby and opened the envelope. A note was enclosed
which read,
My Dear Alex,
Such good news to hear you are in Venice! You’re just in time to partake of my next art project. I
have a little game in mind. Look at the photograph enclosed and try to guess where that place is.
I will meet with you there tomorrow at six o’clock and then we shall have some supper. That will
give you enough time to solve my little riddle./ Rinaldo.
I withdrew the photograph.
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A musical score.
There must be a thousand places in Venice where one might find such a book of music. I asked
the concierge and he merely shrugged and said,
“Sir, music is played everywhere in Venice. If you wish, I will ask my colleagues in the
morning.”
Thanking him, I returned to my room and, after going through several guide books, came up with
nothing that matched the photograph. It was not an easy night.
Next morning after breakfast, I spoke with the concierge who shook his head when he saw the
photograph from Rinaldo.
He said, “It’s a volume of a musical score, probably from the sixteenth or seventeenth century,
Signor. But more than that, I cannot say.”
“There must be museums of composers in the city.”
The concierge slowly polished his glasses. “I could direct you to the music school. They might
know.”
“Yes please. Is it nearby?”
“Not more than twenty minutes, Signor.” He took out a pad of paper and began to draw a map.
“Here is the school of Ancient and Classical Music.” He drew a large dot in the centre of what
appeared to be a very deep and complex maze. “If you keep turning left as you come to the sixth
bridge you will find it very easily.” He smiled at me—I thought with some malice—and turned
away to speak with another guest fumbling with his maps.
I took the concierge’s drawing and stepped outside the hotel. Which way to go? I turned the map
about and squinted at it. Finally I set off.
Almost immediately, a camera flash went off—directly in my eyes—or so it seemed.
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Of course, people are forever taking photographs all about Venice. Although nearly blinded, I
tried to see the person with the camera. He was a small man with a gnarled, thin and narrow face.
Hoping I was going the right way, I hurried on over the bridge.
As I descended the steps on the far side, another flash went off. This time, it was a woman who
took the picture. But again, she might well be taking a shot of her friend on the bridge.
I studied my map for several moments and, although it seemed an unlikely route, I followed the
calle leading off to the left.
Almost immediately, my path narrowed and I was forced to turn back.
I realized I was breathing heavily. I’ve always wondered about how our physical bodies warn us
of danger, which is not otherwise apparent to the senses. I felt the hair stand up on the back of
my neck. I thought I heard footsteps. Someone started to whistle. I heard a clicking sound—like
a camera taking pictures.
I quickened my step, expecting to meet someone at every turn, but at last, I arrived at a bridge
leading to the other side of the canal.
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Just as I was relaxing, another flash went off. I struggled with the question—Am I becoming
paranoid? Of course, if you want to go about the world and accomplish things, your answer to
the question must be—Yes—you are paranoid! There is no danger. And then you carry on.
If you don’t, then every little event will grow into something threatening. I decided to forge
ahead.
I took one more turn. There it was! My music school. I entered and showed the clerk the
photograph. A broad smile broke upon his face.
“Signor, that is the manuscript of the great Antonio Vivaldi. There is a museum next door where
it is possible for you to see the music.”
Indeed, the museum was just across the palazzo. I stepped inside a darkened corridor. There it
was—just as in Rinaldo’s photograph—the musical score. I spent a few moments examining
some of the other items—the statues, the cello and piano in the museum.
Vivaldi’s musical score.
But it was only eleven o’clock in the morning. Rinaldo would not meet me here until six in the
evening. How to spend the rest of the day? A strange question for one who loves Venice!
Just as I was leaving, I caught, from the corner of my eye, a man who seemed to be watching me
intently. When our eyes met, he swiftly turned away and was lost in the crowd. An uneasy
feeling indeed!
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Rinaldo’s Revenge
It’s been such fun having someone follow Alexander about Venice in search of the Vivaldi
Museum. But I must admit, he found it a good deal more quickly than I expected. My
photographer has gotten some excellent photographs of him with a wonderful variety of
expressions on his face.
During the morning of his search for the Vivaldi musical score, his visage expressed everything
from mild annoyance to furious anger. From real worry—even trepidation—to relief. How shall I
best use these photographs?
Do these little additions to his pictures remind you of Duchamp and the Mona Lisa?
Now I expect your reaction may well be –How puerile! How could anyone think that
making silly scribblings on the photographs of Britain’s finest landscape painter makes
any sense? And how could anyone think it is art?
My point is this: A century ago, Duchamp’s Mona Lisa was laughed at. Today, it is praised by
the finest critics. Perhaps Alex will find his lasting fame through my work [drawn glasses and
beard] and not his own pretty, but dull, landscapes. I’m giving him a real chance with this work.
By the time I am done with Alex in Venice, it will all become clear!
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Alexander Waits for Rinaldo
Have you ever wondered why a particular person is in your life? Once in awhile someone
invades your existence and it seems as if it’s for a special purpose. No, it’s often not a pleasant
experience, but somehow, it seems necessary. I believe that’s how I feel about my friend,
Rinaldo.
Nemesis
Take a look at these two statues from the ancient city of Corinth. It was entitled Nemesis,
Goddess of Vengeance and Balance in the Universe. Don’t they look ever vigilant—for the
least imbalance? That’s Rinaldo. And if he cannot find imbalance, rest assured he’ll do his best
to create it.
It’s rather complicated but, despite his antics, I feel drawn to him—and mildly sorry for him. Of
the two of us, I believe he is the more driven— gripped by anger and the need for revenge. I
prefer a quieter, more detached life.
With most of the day to fill until I could meet him at the Vivaldi Museum, I began to wander
aimlessly about Venice. I returned to San Marco where I sat down in a café and ordered a latte.
Cafe on San Marco.
Suddenly, it struck me that I was staring out onto the precise location of a inexplicable event
which took place on my last trip to Venice.
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I had been with Daphne, my muse, that afternoon. I told you about her earlier. She was
concerned about her chance meeting with Penelope, the mother of the little boy who was stolen.
She feared that the woman had drowned herself in the Grand Canal and so we returned to San
Marco where she insisted she could see a body floating not far from shore.
She was right. At our urging, the boatmen recovered the body. Not Penelope—but an old man.
The gondolier gave a bird-like cry. “Look at his mouth!”
I bent closer. A fine silver chain hung from the blue lips of the drowned man. “What on
earth…?” The gondolier reached down and tugged gently on the chain.
From the dead man’s lips slid what looked like a beautiful watch fob.
The boatmen gasped and crossed themselves.
I asked, “Why are you so frightened?”
The boatmen began to chatter. “It is a sign. The people are right. The man is evil. For years he
has walked the calles speaking to no one. When people play tricks on him, he chase them and
shout.”
“That’s surprising?” I asked. “Naturally, he would be angry.”
One of the boatmen stepped forward. “You do not understand, signor. He place curses on the
children. We must protect…”
Immediately, I thought—Ignorance and fear. I opened the watch, but it was actually a
compass, in a beautifully scrolled silver case. Its face was made of gleaming white pearl and it
had delicate, silver hands. Ah yes! The direction of life!
At last, when the police officers arrived, one of them said, “L’estraneo! This old man is the
outsider, the stranger. His eyes frightened many and so they played tricks on him—mostly
mischief, but he harmed no one.”
Sadly, I reflected upon the fate of those driven from, or those who held themselves apart from
normal society. I could not help but think of Rinaldo.
You can see a little of this scene with the old man and the compass in The Drawing Lesson
Video.
Now I know that many new art movements have been provoked by people just like Rinaldo—the
outsider, the one who sticks his thumb in the establishment’s eye. One school of art holds sway
for a year or two—or for a century or more. And then, the inevitable occurs. The old style is
exhausted. And new ideas take root.
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Perhaps that’s why I have a certain affinity for my nemesis. Perhaps he is in my life for an
important purpose. You know—the idea of the thorn in the side which is meant to tell you
something—but what?
At six o’clock, on the dot, I entered the Vivaldi Museum looking for Rinaldo. The building and
the display of instruments were quietly impressive. Only a salesclerk, hidden behind a rack of
postcards, was there.
In the Vivaldi Museum.
While I waited, as patiently as I could, I read a good number of signs. Apparently, the museum is
located in the orphanage where Vivaldi taught music. Certainly the composer gained much
recognition for his work, but when he died, he was given a pauper’s burial.
How quickly one can fall from exalted status to the grave of abject poverty! Again, I
thought of all of society’s outsiders. This great man–still enchanting listeners with “The
Four Seasons” centuries later– was buried in a pauper’s grave.
Suddenly, a man approached and shoved a note into my hand. A camera flash went off no doubt
recording my surprise. Without a word, he turned on his heel and marched from the museum. I
squinted in the dim light to read the note:
Alexander! Meet me at Harry’s bar just around the corner at 6:30. You know where it
is. Cheers, Rinaldo.
Suddenly, I was weary. I sighed deeply—so much so that the clerk looked up in alarm. I
crumpled up the note and headed off for Harry’s Bar.
Harry’s Bar entrance.
Indeed, I knew exactly where to find the bar, fortunately close by. I walked back to San Marco
and within a few minutes I was standing at the door of the bar. I entered.
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Harry’s Bar has a very welcoming atmosphere! But Rinaldo was nowhere in sight. I took a table
against the wall and sat facing the room. Rinaldo is not a man to be trifled with. In fact, I wanted
to maintain my guard and so I ordered a Perrier water and waited—and waited.
I have been in Harry’s Bar a number of times before. Some occasions have been most pleasant
but one—on my last trip—was a near a disaster. I have a very good friend, Peter Cummings, who
is a famous novelist—in fact the winner last year of the Man Booker Prize for his wonderful
novel, The Paradox of Perception. We met one night at Harry’s Bar. He was with his parents
and I was with Daphne.
I had not seen Peter for almost a year and he was still very angry with me, feeling that I had
deserted him at the moment of his greatest need. For a great writer, that often comes just after the
completion of the first draft.
He had wanted me to read it, but I refused. Why? I just knew Peter had to travel the road to his
wonderful creation—alone. My input would have been a serious mistake.
Peter, because of his father, has lived a life filled with fury. A child who is beaten and humiliated
becomes a man glowing with rage.
As I sat in the bar waiting for Rinaldo, Peter’s face rose up before me, contorted with fury, as it
was that night. That evening, my last words implored him to let go of his anger.
I said,
“Only you have power over your anger. But without your anger, you would not have
written that superb novel. Someday, when you are able and ready, you may replace that
driving fury with something else. Then you will write all the other books st ill within
you. You must cherish your talent and insight—even though it causes you the greatest
pain.”
It was an exhausting evening. Peter and I did not mend our friendship until almost a year later.
But I still believe that I was right in what I said—at least, in the daytime, I think so, but at
night…I wonder.
The Drawing Lesson sets out everything that happened that evening. The events concerned
Daphne greatly. Because I may have appeared cold and callous, of course, she wondered what
sort of man she had found in me.
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Rinaldo’s Party Invitation
By the time Rinaldo finally arrived at Harry’s Bar, a large party had grown at the counter.
Rinaldo is not a tall man and so, it was several moments before I spotted him in the crowd. When
I waved at him, he rushed to my table.
“Alex! Wonderful to see you at last! I must say you picked up on the first clue—the photograph
of the Vivaldi musical score—in record time. Very clever of you.”
Sighing deeply, I regarded him with care. “You have some tricks planned for me? A bit of a wild
goose chase you’ve sent me on…”
Something about Rinaldo reminds me of that great Surrealist artist, Salvador Dali. It’s not just
his appearance, but—as with Dali’s art—you’re never sure with Rinaldo just where you stand.
Often his world seems like another dimension of reality which few people, if any, share.
Salvador Dali .
I said, “James asked me to find you in Venice, because he thinks, for some reason, that you
would not hide from me.”
“How extraordinary!” Rinaldo’s moustache waggled in the air. “I’m always ready to talk to
anyone about an artistic project, Alex. In fact, I really want to collaborate with you on something
I’m working on.”
I groaned. “Listen Rinaldo, remember New York City and the Williamsburg Bridge?”
Rinaldo actually tittered. “It didn’t come off quite as planned.”
“I should say not! You were trying to…”
“Alex! I thought we’d agreed that there was no malicious intent on my part.”
I gazed at Rinaldo for some moments. Here sat the man who had tried to destroy my reputation
with his hare-brained scheme. You can read all about that in The Drawing Lesson. You will
doubt Rinaldo’s claims to innocence.
Trying to maintain a neutral tone, I said, “Apparently, someone is very interested in your concept
of bowls of rotting fruit.”
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Rinaldo pressed two fingers to his lips and shook his head. “Not here Alex. Not in Harry’s Bar.
It’s no place to discuss business.”
“Where then?”
He leaned across the table and grabbed my sleeve. “Come to the Palazzo Grini tomorrow
afternoon, say at 5 o’clock.” He waved his arm dramatically. “There we will discuss business.”
“What is the Palace Grini and where do I find it. I can’t stay in Venice for long.”
Rinaldo gave me a wink and pulled out a notepad. After a moment of furious scribbling, he
pushed the paper across the table. It purported to be some sort of map.
“ Listen, Alex. It’s going to be a little party with lots of interesting artists on hand. Do say you’ll
come!”
“But how will we discuss business at a party.”
By this time, Rinaldo was on his feet heading for the door. He turned and winked at me. “Don’t
you worry, friend. We’ll find a way.” And then he was gone.
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Rinaldo’s Party
For one, such as I, who cannot help feeling for others, it is difficult to relate this sad story. I
know Rinaldo is a trouble maker par excellence! But I cannot help but sympathize with him. I
realize this is a strange relationship with one’s nemesis.
The next afternoon I took a water taxi to the Palazzo Grini for Rinaldo’s party.
On the way to the Palazzo Grini.
The boatman had some difficulty reading Rinaldo’s map, but at last I was at the landing. As I
mentioned, I am always slightly on guard when it comes to Rinaldo, not knowing what he may
have up his sleeve at any given moment. When I rang a bell, the gate slowly swung open.
I could write paragraphs, even an entire book about what happened next, but I leave that sort of
thing to my author, Mary E. Martin. Because, as a painter, my creativity is mostly visual, I have
made this little video which will tell you about the Palazzo Grini. Rinaldo has also made a video
which will tell you much about his character and—mine.
At the party, Rinaldo and I chatted amiably enough on the patio for some time—about nothing in
particular. Then I glanced about. Suddenly, it struck me—the ballroom was still empty—very
odd, indeed. I turned to my host. “Where are the other guests? Am I so very early?”
Rinaldo grinned and shook his head. “Really Alex! Where is your imagination? Don’t you see all
the people here? Let me introduce you to Magritte and his friend Man Ray—such a superb
photographer.”
I frowned deeply as Rinaldo took me by the arm and ferried me across the ballroom.
“Let me get you some wine, first, Alex.” Rinaldo stood behind a bar where bottles of wine and
elegant long stemmed glasses were set out. “White or red, my friend?”
John Constable, painter.
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Breaking from me, he waved at some imagined person and called out, “Mr. Constable! I do
admire your paintings. So glad you could come.”
Stunned, I managed to mutter “White, thank you.”
Wine glasses in hand, we crossed the room again to stand in front of two portraits.
The Artist Magritte
The Photographer Man Ray
Without batting an eye, Rinaldo proceeded to introduce me to the pictures of both artists—in
very flattering terms. I looked about the room.
Normally, I pride myself on noticing many details in the phenomenal world. A painter must have
this ability. Therefore, I cannot explain how I had not noticed the true appearance of the room
until this moment. Or so it seemed to me, if only for an instant.
A very deserted ballroom
It was not just empty. It was barren of all sign of any human habitation. Had Rinaldo mastered
some powerful trick of the eye? Eyes closed, I faced in the opposite direction. When I turned
back and opened my eyes, the room was still empty, but far from the desperately barren vision of
moments ago.
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Rinaldo realized my disorientation. He took my arm and led me to some seats in the corner.
He said, “My friend. Would you like to see a little video I’ve made about art?” He waved his arm
as if to encompass the entire room. “All the other famous artists are gathered here to see it!
There’s Matisse and Picasso over there!”
My heart sank. There was no doubt! The man was completely and utterly mad! Or was he?
It could well be just another ridiculous trick.
“Listen,” I said. “We were going to discuss business today. Jamie has received an inquiry from
Mark Savanti, owner of the Marco Polo Fashion House in South Beach, Florida.”
Rinaldo sucked in his cheeks. His eyes bulged.
“Savanti is interested in your concept work—five bowls of rotting fruit,” I continued.
Rinaldo smirked. “And you’ve come all this way to tell me that?”
I nodded.
“Please tell James Helmsworth that Mark Savanti and I have already concluded our business.”
“What? How could that be?”
Rinaldo gave a insouciant shrug. “Heaven knows, Alex. You have been sent on a wild goose
chase!”
“By whom?” I nearly shouted.
Rinaldo smirked. Then perhaps six real people [or so I thought] entered the ballroom with
cameras and sound equipment. “You see, Alex, you have been the subject matter of my art
project. You’ve followed instructions perfectly.
“You set this all up. There is no Mark Savanti wanting to buy anything. Now I saw how stupid
the whole trip had been. Even though, I was shaking with rage, I rose to go. “If this is your
notion of art, I’m appalled! I suppose you’ve recorded my every move since I left London.”
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Rinaldo broke into a what only can be called a cackle. In fact, he bent double in paroxysms of
laughter. When he finally caught his breath, he said, “It will make a wonderful film, Alex. You
have become an integral part of my artistic project—performance art of the conceptual variety.”
Then he rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “You see, my friend, you would not cooperate in the
Williamsburg Bridge project in New York and so we simply had to stage another one. It is a
lovely concept—what one artist will do for another.”
Infuriated beyond speech, I marched to the door.
“But do stay, Alex. Before you leave, you must see the video.”
Before I could object, he dragged me back down beside him on the sofa. He clicked a remote. A
screen dropped down and the video began.
“It’s my artistic manifesto,” he smirked.
When his insulting little show was over, I stared at Rinaldo but could find no words. I got up and
walked the length of the ballroom to the door. Again, the room looked just as desolate and
deserted as I felt.
Rinaldo did not follow me. Downstairs, I found the door to the landing where, fortunately, a
water taxi awaited me. All the way back to the Carleton Hotel, I wondered why I had fallen for
one of his idiotic schemes again. Alex, the good soldier—he always called me. Back at the
hotel, I phoned the airline and arranged for a flight back to London that night.
You may well wonder why I do not despise Rinaldo…why I accept his overtures. After all, I
have called him my nemesis—the one who works so hard to humiliate me at every turn.
I pondered that question on my flight. I strive to be a kind and compassionate man, but I may be
flattering myself to think that’s why I try to keep an open mind about Rinaldo. Perhaps it’s
because I believe my nemesis has something to teach me. But what?
A Message from the author, Mary E. Martin:
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I hope my short story has intrigued you. Perhaps you might like to read more in The Drawing
Lesson, the first in the Trilogy of Remembrance.
The Drawing Lesson
Purchase at Amazon
Purchase at Barnes and Noble
And at many other online bookstores!
Visit my website at: http://remembrancetrilogy.com/
And follow me on Twitter and Facebook!
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