Sunday, September 3, 1978. When I was 24 years old I took a two-week tour of Italy, spending most of my time in the north. On the first Sunday of September every year Venice holds a regatta on the Grand Canal and the course of our arriving ship was impeded thereby. It was a hazy, late summer afternoon and the image of Venice emerged gradually as if by magic through the mist as the ship approached the city bit by bit. It was a sublime moment. I had in mind the muted cellos at the beginning of the great duet from Verdi’s Otello, “Già nella notte densa s’estingue ogno clamor,” which might be loosely translated, “Already in the thick mist all clamor has ceased.” In retrospect, I think of Thomas Mann’s insight: “The happiness of writers is the thought that can be entirely emotion and the emotion that can be entirely thought.”

We stayed at the Grand Hotel des Bains, a declining luxury hotel on the Lido. Built in 1900 to attract wealthy tourists, it is remembered for Thomas Mann’s stay there in 1911, which inspired his novella Death in Venice.