Delhi Proustians – Marcel’s Dream, Venice
Du côté de chez Proust.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
In his novel In Search of Lost Time, Marcel Proust’s narrator said, “When I went to Venice I found that my dream had become – incredibly, but quite simply – my address!”
Proust visited Venice in 1900. The Delhi Walla is visiting it in 2014. Overwhelmed by the town’s old churches and grand houses, its gondolas and bridges, and especially by its Delhi-like streets, I resorted to Lost Time to reorient my feelings. And I discovered that Marcel was also taken in by the labyrinthine alleys of Venice.
After dinner, I went out by myself, into the heart of the enchanted city where I found myself wandering in strange regions like a character in the Arabian Nights. It was very seldom that I did not, in the course of my wanderings, hit upon some strange and spacious piazza of which no guidebook, no tourist had ever told me.
I had plunged into a network of little alleys, calli dissecting in all directions by their ramifications the quarter of Venice isolated between a canal and the lagoon, as if it had crystallised along these innumerable, slender, capillary lines. All of a sudden, at the end of one of these little streets, it seemed as though a bubble had occurred in the crystallised matter. A vast and splendid campo of which I could certainly never, in this network of little streets, have guessed the importance, or even found room for it, spread out before me flanked with charming palaces silvery in the moonlight. It was one of those architectural wholes towards which, in any other town, the streets converge, lead you and point the way. Here it seemed to be deliberately concealed in a labyrinth of alleys, like those palaces in oriental tales to which mysterious agents convey by night a person who, taken home again before daybreak, can never again find his way back to the magic dwelling which he ends by supposing that he visited only in a dream.
On the following day I set out in quest of my beautiful nocturnal piazza, I followed calli which were exactly alike one another and refused to give me any information, except such as would lead me farther astray. Sometimes a vague landmark which I seemed to recognise led me to suppose that I was about to see appear, in its seclusion, solitude and silence, the beautiful exiled piazza. At that moment, some evil genie which had assumed the form of a fresh calle made me turn unconsciously from my course, and I found myself suddenly brought back to the Grand Canal. And as there is no great difference between the memory of a dream and the memory of a reality, I ended by asking myself whether it was not during my sleep that there had occurred in a dark patch of Venetian crystallisation that strange interruption which offered a vast piazza flanked by romantic palaces, to the meditative eye of the moon.
While walking towards San Marco, I discovered two bookstores. Laibrarie Francaise stocks novels in French; it had many books on Proust. The novelist’s photo was also pasted on the wall, along with photos of other artists and authors such as Pablo Picasso and Virginia Woolf.
Libreia “Aqua Alta” keeps a black cat and thousands of (mostly Italian) second-hand books. A staircase in the bookstore’s courtyard is made of antique hardbounds. The owner gave me an old black & white photo of Venice for free because, he said, he was very fond of Delhi.
Seeing Proust’s dream