Letters of Anton Chekhov, by Anton Chekhov

To His Sister,

VENICE, March 25, 1891.

Bewitching blue-eyed Venice sends her greetings to all of you. Oh, signori and signorine, what an exquisite town this Venice is! Imagine a town consisting of houses and churches such as you have never seen; an intoxicating architecture, everything as graceful and light as the birdlike gondola. Such houses and churches can only be built by people possessed of immense artistic and musical taste and endowed with a lion-like temperament. Now imagine in the streets and alleys, instead of pavement, water; imagine that there is not one horse in the town; that instead of cabmen you see gondoliers on their wonderful boats, light, delicate long-beaked birds which scarcely seem to touch the water and tremble at the tiniest wave. And all from earth to sky bathed in sunshine.

There are streets as broad as the Nevsky, and others in which you can bar the way by stretching out your arms. The centre of the town is St. Mark’s Square with the celebrated cathedral of the same name. The cathedral is magnificent, especially on the outside. Beside it is the Palace of the Doges where Othello made his confession before the senators.

In short, there is not a spot that does not call up memories and touch the heart. For instance, the little house where Desdemona lived makes an impression that is difficult to shake off. The very best time in Venice is the evening. First the stars; secondly, the long canals in which the lights and stars are reflected; thirdly, gondolas, gondolas, and gondolas; when it is dark they seem to be alive. Fourthly, one wants to cry because on all sides one hears music and superb singing. A gondola glides up hung with many-coloured lanterns; there is light enough for one to distinguish a double-bass, a guitar, a mandolin, a violin. . . . Then another gondola like it. . . . Men and women sing, and how they sing! It’s quite an opera.

Fifthly, it’s warm.

In short, the man’s a fool who does not go to Venice. Living is cheap here. Board and lodging costs eighteen francs a week — that is, six roubles each or twenty-five roubles a month. A gondolier asks a franc for an hour-that is, thirty kopecks. Admission to the academies, museums, and so on, is free. The Crimea is ten times as expensive, and the Crimea beside Venice is a cuttle-fish beside a whale.

I am afraid Father is angry with me for not having said good-bye to him. I ask his forgiveness.

What glass there is here! what mirrors! Why am I not a millionaire! . . . Next year let us all take a summer cottage in Venice.

The air is full of the vibration of church bells: my dear Tunguses, let us all embrace Catholicism. If only you knew how lovely the organs are in the churches, what sculptures there are here, what Italian women on their knees with prayer-books!

Keep well and don’t forget me, a sinner.

A picturesque railway line, of which I have been told a great deal, runs from Vienna to Venice. But I was disappointed in the journey. The mountains, the precipices, and the snowy crests I have seen in the Caucasus and Ceylon are far more impressive than here. Addio.

VENICE, March 26, 1891.

It is pelting cats and dogs. Venetia bella has ceased to be bella. The water excites a feeling of dejected dreariness, and one longs to hasten somewhere where there is sun.

The rain has reminded me of my raincoat (the leather one); I believe the rats have gnawed it a little. If they have, send it to be mended as soon as you can. . . .

How is Signor Mongoose? I am afraid every day of hearing that he is dead.

In describing the cheapness of Venetian life yesterday, I overdid it a bit. It is Madame Merezhkovsky’s fault; she told me that she and her husband paid only six francs per week each. But instead of per week, read per day. Anyway, it is cheap. The franc here goes as far as a rouble.

We are going to Florence.

May the Holy Mother bless you.

I have seen Titian’s Madonna. It’s very fine. But it is a pity that here fine works are mixed up side by side with worthless things, that have been preserved and not flung away simply from the spirit of conservatism all-present in such creatures of habit as messieurs les hommes. There are many pictures the long life of which is quite incomprehensible.

The house where Desdemona used to live is to let.

BOLOGNA, March 28, 1891.

I am in Bologna, a town remarkable for its arcades, slanting towers, and Raphael’s pictures of “Cecilia.” We are going on to-day to Florence.

FLORENCE, March 29, 1891.

I am in Florence. I am worn out with racing about to museums and churches. I have seen the Venus of Medici, and I think that if she were dressed in modern clothes she would be hideous, especially about the waist.

The sky is overcast, and Italy without sun is like a face in a mask.

P. S. — Dante’s monument is fine.

FLORENCE, March 30, 1891.

I am in Florence. To-morrow we are going to Rome. It’s cold. We have the spleen. You can’t take a step in Florence without coming to a picture-shop or a statue-shop.

P. S. — Send my watch to be mended.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 13:06