Veronica Franco and I visit Dundee
Maybe it was at San Stae that all the Japanese tourists got off
and an Adriatic mist jiffy-bagged us safely and alone to Discovery Quay.
- Prossima fermata – Banchina di Scoperta.
I am smaller, weaker than she is, and with a tendency to frown,
but I love to hand her off boats and out of sports cars half-escort
half-coachwoman, while she exercises precision with an elegant step
or a swing of her legs; this time there’s a buzz in my Nikes because
there’s a nativity in the concrete. I tend to avoid the centre of things,
I slink by walls; Veronica drapes herself round Desperate Dan
and takes selfies, stopping on the safe side of a pout. At Tannadice
we catch United’s home game, which enchants her like the Regatta
or like the frantic Sienna horsemen do, her limited Scots vernacular
making innocence of the boys’ bad-mouthing the Ref about his eyesight
and hair loss and parental deprivation. In a corner shop she surprises me
in Urdu, explaining later about her conversations with Princes
from the Gangetic Plain, then – oh! those fingernails again, this time
the deep red of a classico riserva DOCG – she traces across the dimpling,
whealing shrink-wrap of the top-shelf jazz mags, sheened under spotlights.
- How lucky you are in your liberty (she says) to make such trade
in the art of love.
I snap at her that she’s mad, that they’re sheer exploitation,
whoremongering, and create a female underclass; she’s patient
through my radical clichés, but shakes her head, distracting me
by making a cloud through which the light from
the poster-rich window barely filters.
- You couldn’t be more wrong (she says) for this is commerce,
which made La Serenissima great. And if these are whores,
they are so at an arm’s length, there’s a virtual plane –
the surface of the image – between them and the john;
the catharsis is a cut-and-come-again.
(I check her eyes for the tell of a pun, but she is calm, serious,
her eyebrows at low port)
- You don’t seem to realise (she continues) how inevitable it is
to make good business once a discussion is opened, how every debate
where Venus is invoked becomes an opportunity. This…
(she makes a sweep, and good-taste rings and bracelets flash
across those gaudy, half-coy covers, making sistrum-music
to all-hail the ‘Asian Babes’)
- could make Dundee the Serenissima of the future, its song of liberty
to the world, the reason why folk beat a sea-path to its shore. This
is no exploitation, but the gentle rise and fall of supply meeting demand
– the demand being your society’s ineptness at understanding
what men want, what they are – you have taken that, remodeled it,
and made the matter of the courtesan, if I may sororitise these women,
a virtue from necessity; and they are as safe as nuns, their nudity a habit.
Your craft, your ingenuity, they have made jewels of next-door girls.
(here her hand sweeps the shopkeeper)
- may keep his wife close, but he knows what sells, and so I salute him!
I didn’t have the heart to put her straight, her laterality was so breathtaking
– the way each hemisphere of her brain handled her thinking,
batting the issue about like balls onto and off the gallery of
a real tennis court – as was the beauty of her self, her persona
whether intentional (masked, as if for Carnival) or unintentional;
She was the craftswoman, making her naivety effortless wisdom.
Besides, there was a toot-toot from the quayside, the cough and rasp
and steady growl of an engine, our vaporetto was impatient to be home,
and everything was silenced for the business of handing her on board.
Wooden Mary, will you never learn you’re a kitchen-maid
and Veronica’s a queen? You play cards with her, you know
you can’t tell when she’s bluffing and when she has a hand full
of seductive red, of royal pictures, of cups, of swords, of coins;
and now as the sun comes out on the Firth of Tay, and she leans
on the vaporetto’s rail taking pictures with her iPhone,
and you can feel the captain’s gaze on her like the tide makes
our course crabwise, and, and, and, and… you’ve no answer
to anything about her, no insight whether she’s a casuist
or common-sensical, you reflect that there is no nudity
like the bare face of someone in plain, damned love.