Not much of a canal—not much of a painting ground really, to the masters who have gone before and are still at work, but a truly lovable, lovely, and most enchanting possession to me their humble disciple. Once you get into it you never want to get out, and, once out, you are miserable until you get back again. On one side stretches a row of rookeries— a maze of hanging clothes, fish-nets, balconies hooded by awnings and topped by nondescript chimneys of all sizes and patterns, with here and there a dab of vermilion and light red, the whole brilliant against a china-blue sky. On the other runs the long brick wall of the garden,—soggy, begrimed; streaked with moss and lichen in bands of black-green and yellow ochre, over which mass and sway the great sycamores that Ziem loves, their lower branches interwoven with zinnober cedars gleaming in spots where the prying sun drips gold.
Only wide enough for a barca and two gondolas to pass—this canal of mine. Only deep enough to let a wine barge through; so narrow you must go all the way back to the lagoon if you would turn your gondola; so short you can row through it in five minutes; every inch of its water surface part of everything about it, so clear are the reflections; full of moods, whims, and fancies, this wave space—one moment in a broad laugh coquetting with a bit of blue sky peeping from behind a cloud, its cheeks dimpled with sly undercurrents, the next swept by flurries of little winds, soft as the breath of a child on a mirror; then, when aroused by a passing boat, breaking out into ribbons of color—swirls of twisted doorways, flags, awnings, flower-laden balconies, black-shawled Venetian beauties all upside down, interwoven with strips of turquoise sky and green waters—a bewildering, intoxicating jumble of tatters and tangles, maddening in detail, brilliant in color, harmonious in tone: the whole scintillating with a picturesqueness beyond the ken or brush of any painter living or dead.
On summer days—none other for me in Venice (the other fellow can have it in winter)—everybody living in the rookeries camps out on the quay, the women sitting in groups stringing beads, the men flat on the pavement mending their nets. On its edge, hanging over the water, reaching down, holding on by a foot or an arm to the iron rail, are massed the children—millions of children—I never counted them, but still I say millions of children. This has gone on since I first staked out my claim— was a part of the inducement, in fact, that decided me to move in and take possession—boats, children, still water, and rookeries being the ingredients from which I concoct color combinations that some misguided people take home and say they feel better for.
If you ask me for how many years I have been sole owner of this stretch of water I must refer you to Loretta, who had lived just five summers when my big gondolier, Luigi, pulled her dripping wet from the canal, and who had lived eleven more—sixteen, in all—when what I have to tell you happened.