When I was in Venice, I found myself thinking about a book I had read many years ago, "Invisible Cities" by the Italian author Italo Calvino. In the book, Marco Polo describes to Kubla Khan the various cities he has seen in his travels. It isn't a novel so much as it is a collection of poetic prose pieces, a catalogue of imaginary places. There was something about the eerie, misty beauty of Venice, especially at night, that made me think of Calvino's book. I had to keep reminding myself that I was in Italy. I knew I was in Venice, but it didn't feel like part of Italy. I figured this feeling made sense, given the old line about how Italians are loyal to their town first, their country second. For much of its history, Italy was a series of city/states, feuding with each other and anything but united. Venice is different from Rome which is different from Naples which is different from Sorrento. It made sense that an Italian would right a book about various towns.
On Saturday morning I am killing time, waiting for the Uffizi museum to open. I walk around a plaza, turn a corner and what do I see? A sign advertising an art exhibit based on..."Invisible Cities" by Italo Calvino. "That's an interesting coincidence" I think. Later that day, I stop in a bookstore that stocks English language books. I stop in every bookstore I pass anyway. It's how I know I'm more bibliophile than reader. I like to look at books, even if I can't read them. In any case, I find a copy of "Invisible Cities." On the back cover, a critic is describing the book and says "but Calvino is really only writing about one city: Venice." Another coincidence, although I chalk this up to Calvino's evocative skill as a writer and my lucky guess as a reader.
Today while wandering around, I pass the "Invisible Cities" exhibit and decide to stop in. The artist, Pedro Cano, has created a different watercolor painting for each city described in the book. As I walk along, one of the paintings looks like Morocoo. Interesting. Another is of a fortress that resembles the castle ruins I hiked along in Sintra, Portugal. Okay. But one picture stops me dead. It is exactly like a photograph I had taken while climbing the stairs in the Guadi Cathedral in Barcelona. Not similar, but exact. The same composition, as if the painting was done from my photograph. I notice more Arabesque-style buildings, the type that I saw in Morocco. But I'm used to, and enjoy, odd coincidences, so I shrug it off.
When I see the painting of the Nazarenes, I get a little freaked out. (See my entry of October 15th, in which I discuss my fascination/obsession with the Nazarenes). It doesn't say "Nazarenes" but the two eyes, peering through holes surrounded by white, with a white triangular figure in the background, make it obvious that that's what they are. Next to it is a watercolor that features the head of a baby doll. When I was in Rome, there was a secondhand shop that had filled their window with the parts of babydolls. Some arms and legs, but mostly heads. I took a picture of that.
I was beginning to feel like I had wandered, by chance and odd coincidence, into a gallery that depicted pictures of my travels for the last two months. It felt seriously weird. Yes, many of the paintings had no connection with my trip, but the ones that did were very close.
There is (thank God) a rational explaination for this. I discovered the artist was Spanish and had travelled a great deal, doing the pictures from his travels. So he might know about Nazarenes, and Moorish architecture and Moroccan culture. But the sequence of chance events that led me to this gallery were too eerie. The similarities were too close. The way that it seemed to sum up my trip, at a time that I am also summing up my trip, was too unsettling. This dissolving of the line between the inside and the outside, between what I am thinking about and what exists outside of me, was just a little too much.
I've had similar experiences in the past, and I've learned to live with them and enjoy them. There is something about a pattern in your life that transcends your own control that's...interesting? Something to contemplate? But while it is happening, it is creepy beyond compare.
I'd like to point out at this point that no, I am not insane. Yes, walking into a gallery with pictures that depicted what I've been seeing for the last two months did happen to me.