The Club of the Lost Paradise | Borja López Cotelo

Dei Greci was walking slow along the street. It was Thursday, and in the calm atmosphere of these last hours of the day, Venice was looking like another city. I crossed the bridge, got lost for the multicolored Riva degli Schiavoni and sat down in the edge of a channel to seeing to spend the life, allowing that my legs should range to few centimeters of the water. The red stucco of the fronts seemed to me to be at the time voluptuous, sonorously, and I began to imagine long nights of lust and carnival.

Drawing of Sverre Fehn, by NORBERG-SCHULZ, Ch. & G. POSTIGLIONE [1997]2007. Sverre Fehn. Opera Completa. Milán, Mondadori Electa S.p.A.

He was thinking about all these things when I realized that it was not only; to my side, cut away against the livid light of the lanterns, I distinguished the figure of an old man in the one that up to this moment it had not repaired:

-When I sit down here – he said – I remember why I return to Venice again and again.

This city has a few dimensions that follow you, and always it gives you the welcome.1

I scrutinized his face, but in the semidarkness scarcely I could distinguish his clear hair and a few small eyes. After a few seconds, I stuttered:

-Certainly, gentleman … ¡ and then there are these fronts of the red obscene one!

To the blond one it entertained my absurd puntualización. Prorrumpió in a guffaw, spent his arm on my shoulder and suggested:

-I know a trattoria where they prepare the best bacalà mantecà of Venice. It is not far from here.

Drawing of Sverre Fehn, by NORBERG-SCHULZ, Ch. & G. POSTIGLIONE [1997]2007. Sverre Fehn. Opera Completa. Milán, Mondadori Electa S.p.A.

I accepted the invitation: this man seemed of trusting and I was hungry. On having put in foot I discovered his colossal stature, which it was making me feel as one of these dwarfs of circus. While we were walking, it began to speak on some trips of youth, and in his recollections they were mixed the night and the stars:

In Morocco … the desert plain joins the villages as the sea joins the islands – it made clear – the people leave the oases and the peoples mounted in camels or donkeys, guided only by the stars and the Sun.2

It was exactly what was looking alike to be doing in this night of moon: to wander for alleys of silvery pavement, without fixed course or beacons that they us were guiding.

-The successive history – continued the elder-, was the conversation with the night and his stars.3

-When it began to turn the night?4– I answered, metaphysician.

A new guffaw was the response to my rhetorical question:

-Already we have come – it announced-. Here it is.

Drawing of  Sverre Fehn, del Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design

However much I looked around me I did not see any sign of a restaurant, not still of a tavern. The old man struck with decision a very old door of wood, which prompt yielded to leave at sight a narrow, dark and dismal stairs; without turning, it started descending.

I did not have any more remedy than him continue, and a few seconds later I discovered that not even this sinister threshold had prefigured the scene that it was going to contemplate: a shaded hut, illuminated only by candles parpadeantes on that there was floating a dense smoke of opium and hashish. To left side and right, a collection of extravagant prominent figures they were lounging languid on armchairs draped in it sedates. Between them, since emerged of the glooms, an elegant maître advanced towards us:

-The table is ready – it reported-. Don Carlo waits for them for time.

He guided us later up to a door placed in the opposite end of the room, after which we discover an extraordinary stay: a small crypt on whose walls – stained by the dampness of the lagoon that, undoubtedly, was surrounding us beyond the ashlars – it was resting an ogival vault, maybe we were before the dungeon of a former palazzo or the last track of a few catacombs!

And there, sat with severe expression, there was another man who fixed his look in us.

-Good nights, Teacher – greeted the old man, at the time that it was doing an almost liturgical reverence-. I ask him to forgive our delay.

There is no culture to the north of the Alps…5– the retainer murmured, contradicted.

He was a singular man. His thin beard was framing a sharp face that, together with his aquiline nose and his gray hair brushed backward, he was awarding an aristocratic and delicate aspect. It had the sunked eyes sheltered after a few round and excessive glasses.

We sit down to the table and the maître served Petrus up to filling our glasses forged with Murano’s blue glass. The old man lifted his and exclaimed:

-Cheers!

Drawing of Sverre Fehn, by NORBERG-SCHULZ, Ch. & G. POSTIGLIONE [1997]2007. Sverre Fehn. Opera Completa. Milán, Mondadori Electa S.p.A.

The slow movements of our host, his careful way of putting the glass in the table after every drink of wine, his look señoril and layabout, were making it seem – at least less to my eyes – the very same reincarnation of the Dogo Foscari 6.

The old man, from whom now yes it could distinguish the face, was looking like on the other hand a more prosaic mundane, great man. It was the one who began the conversation.

-Teacher, would like to be grateful to him first that permits to explain my project. Some time ago that I have this aspiration … they have passed already fifty years since I drew it for the first time, and still do not be if Venice will have accepted it.

The Venetian smiled with a mixture of commiseration and skepticism, and the blond one began the story of this project that I was eager to know:

– It will see – said the old man-, in Venice every tree is precious … and in the plot it had a few7

Later, his speech became confused. It began to speak about the northern light, about a world without shades; it was gesturing frantically, almost desperate. Neither the host nor I were dealing about what he was speaking.

Suddenly, his look stopped in the tablecloth – made with the thinnest Egyptian paper-, took a nib and planned on him a succinct drawing:

Drawing of Sverre Fehn, de FJELD, P. O. (2009). Sverre Fehn.

-I was born in the Country of the Long Shades8,in this Ultima Thule not known for the southern ones – it made clear-. When I had to do the project, I scarcely was overcoming thirty years. Venice looked like to me an invention that exists as a container of dreams looking for the inexplicable thing…9a city that lives in the magic reflection of the light between the channels of laguna.10 Because of it – it continued-, in the distant 1958, I outlined something like that:

Drawing of Sverre Fehn, de NORBERG-SCHULZ, Ch. & G. POSTIGLIONE [1997]2007. Sverre Fehn. Opera Completa. Milán, Mondadori Electa S.p.A.

-This one is the project – it summarized-. An interference in the nature that blurs the beams of this Mediterranean Sun to bring to Venice the light of the North.

The host and I had silenced. The clarity of these essential sketches had made any word unnecessary, they had illuminated an unintelligible speech.

In this instant, breaking the silence, the maître appeared with an enormous tray of couscous.

– I have taken the freedom of changing the menu – indicated the Teacher-. The bacalá does not sit well at these hours. Already I have an age …

The blond one smiled and showed his conformity; there seemed he to like it the idea of experiencing a strange flavor:

-In the end – he thought-, Venice is the city of the thieves, the city of the merchants. Any possible goods happen across this city.11

Drawing of Sverre Fehn, de NORBERG-SCHULZ, Ch. & G. POSTIGLIONE [1997]2007. Sverre Fehn. Opera Completa. Milán, Mondadori Electa S.p.A.

We ate, and meanwhile the old man spoke keenly it brings over of Venice and his artists. He assured that, when it was looking at Carpaccio’s pictures, it was possible to imagine to yes same across the whole Venetian life12.

The Teacher, much less loquacious, was chewing slowly the semola of grain until suddenly, moved by an interior drive, it supported the cutlery in the table, it extracted of his pocket a worn-out pencil and affirmed:

I want to see the things, do not rely any more that of this … because of it I draw.

Only I can see the things if I draw them.13 -While it was declaring these words, his graphite began to delineate on the tablecloth a meticulous image:

Drawing of Carlo Scarpa, of SCARPA, C. (1985). Carlo Scarpa. Barcelona, Gustavo Gili

– This is in what I am interested of Venice – he said-. How it will be able to accept the advent of ‘ the new thing ‘.

I, who up to this instant had remained comfortable in my guest’s paper of stone, startled when the blond one turned towards me and inquired:

– And you, boy? What might you tell us of Venice? …

I remained silently … there was getting frightened the idea of speaking opposite to these two strangers! – is it the first time that you visit the city? – he insisted-. You will be able to tell something to these two old men!-

After a few seconds of doubt, the effects of the narcotic smoke that was corrupting the air pushed me to count my history:

– I grew in the End of the Earth – I began-. There the land meets the sea as a knife meets the skin: everything is concrete, absolute, violent …-

I took my felt-tip pen and, as if about an epidemic initiated in the hands of these two men it was treating itself, began to illustrate my statement…

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– The first time that I saw Venice – continué – looked like to me a spectrum that was floating in the lagoon…

Borja López Cotelo´s drawings

-Then I understood that actually it is an illusion, the trick of a conjurer, pure wile: his islands rest on million stakes fixed in the mire, on which an extravagant world of luxury germinated, damascened and golden bread … I am hypnotized by the trees that begin to show on his reddish walls … where are his roots? … maybe they are they those who keep the islands stingy to the bottom of the Lagoon! … Venice is, first of all, an act of faith … – I concluded.

Borja López Cotelo´s drawings

The End of the Earth! – it exclaimed the blond one while he was laughing-, how many ends the Earth will have now that we have lost the horizon14? In my country we are called it Verdens Ende 15

The maître irrumpió again, bringing I obtain a coffee of sharp aroma and liquors of five continents.

Drawing of Sverre Fehn, de FJELD, P. O. (2009). Sverre Fehn. The Pattern of Thought. Nueva York, The Monacelli Press

We drank up to losing the notion of the time. The Teacher was looking every time with major interest at a geometrical design that was adorning the vault, while the old man and I were discussing which of the ends of the land was worthier of this name.

The density of the smoke was growing at the time that, uninhibited for the drunkenness, we were celebrating our newborn child friendship and were practising ours mutual compliments.

A music invaded then the crypt; we hear a few confused exclamations and, suddenly, both elders got up like possessed by a top force to rush towards the principal room. I got up staggering, I ran after them and, beyond a delirious multitude, was thinking about admitting on the scene to … Joséphine Baker!

To my side, the Austro-Hungarian one of austere elegance mesaba his generous moustache while it was sighing: – this one yes is a woman! The Siren of the Tropics

Drawing of Sverre Fehn, de FJELD, P. O. (2009). Sverre Fehn. The Pattern of Thought. Nueva York, The Monacelli Press

I did not return to see my companions. In the chaos of this crammed hut, the smoke and my drunkenness were doing impossibly to separate a face from other one.

I know recognize the end of a night of holiday, and – though the crowd still was dancing waved-, for me this moment had come. I crossed the room to gain the door and in my way I listened, knocked down on a divan, how a bearded man with Catalan accent was digressing on the time and the recollections. I raised the narrow stairs and in the last step I read ‘Club of the Lost Paradise’. I opened the door and could see that, in the clean sky of the dawn, the Sun and the moon still were following of distant view, they continued looking. Meanwhile, on the fronts ocres and red of Venice, the first shades of the day were projected.

I half-closed the eyes. This light me was turning out to be unbearable.

Borja López Cotelo. Doctor architect

A Coruña. may 2012

Notes:

1 FJELD, Per Olaf (2009): Sverre Fehn. The pattern of thought, Nueva York, The Monacelli Press, p. 54

2 FEHN, Sverre en NORBERG-SCHULZ, Ch. & G. POSTIGLIONE [1997]2007. Sverre Fehn. Opera Completa. Milán, Mondadori Electa S.p.A., p. 276

3 Ibid., p. 277

4 BORGES, J.L. (1998). El tamaño de mi esperanza. Madrid, Alianza Editorial. The book was written in 1926.

5 Carlo Scarpa said it to Sverre Fehn in a meeting in Venice, during the construction of the northern pavilion in the Giardini I gave Castello. See FJELD, Per Olaf: Op. cit., p.64

6 Dogo is the title with which, between the Byzantine domination (s. The VIIth) and the Napoleonic conquest (1797), there was distinguished the supreme justice and maximum leader of the Republic of Venice. In the 15th century, under Francesco Foscari’s mandate, the republic expanded to the italic peninsula.

7 Per Olaf Fjeld indicates that Fehn had done this affirmation in more than one occasion; to see FJELD, Per Olaf: Op. cit. p.54

8 VV.AA. (1992). Sverre Fehn: L’Architetto del Paese dalle Ombre Lunghe. Nápoles, Fratelli Fiorentino.

9 Fjeld, P. O.(1983). Sverre Fehn. The Thought of Construction. Nueva York, Rizzoli International Publications Inc., p.112

10 Sverre Fehn en NORBERG-SCHULZ, Christian y POSTIGLIONE, Gennaro: Op. cit., p. 204

11 FJELD, Per Olaf (2009): Sverre Fehn. The pattern of thought, p. 54

12 Ibid.

13 SCARPA, C. (1985). Carlo Scarpa. Barcelona, Gustavo Gili.

14 ‘When it was possible to identify the horizon with a line planned on a leaf of paper, the mystery dissolved once and for all. The reason had tamed the irrational thing’, Sverre Fehn in FJELD, P. O.: Sverre Fehn. The Thought of Construction, p. 27. One of the tests included in this volume that synthesizes great part of Fehn’s ideas, titles ‘ The loss of the horizon ‘.

15 South end of Tjøme’s island, placed in the fiord of Oslo, which literal translation is a ‘End of the World’. We can mention also the Galician Finisterre, or the French Finistèrre …

Borja López Cotelo

Borja López Cotelo, arquitecto por la ETSAC desde 2007, y doctor por la UdC desde 2013.

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