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If you stroll far enough, long enough eastwards

on Riva Degli Schiavoni (Shore

of the Slaves) – before it was a wide,

stone promenade it was sand and mud  –

stroll away from the crowds, past the Danieli,

the Arsenale, the vaporetto stops

and beyond, with San Georgio Majore

across the Bacino Di San Marco –

you come to the Shore of the Seven Martyrs,

where now private yachts and small cruise ships dock.


It was the Riva Dell’Imperio –



Some time after midnight, when the bars have closed,

the hoots and laughter of revellers

on the stone-clad stairs wakes us. Much later

wind, billowing through the open corridors

of the steel framed building, shakes our door

intermittently like some errant soul.

In the shallow valley below the hotel

a cock crows above the gusts and the rattles.




In the morning a warm west wind blows

over the sea from what was Carthage.



Cole Porter was an Episcopalian,

a farmer’s son, from Peru, Indiana,

whose ambition was to write ‘Jewish Tunes’.

My mother’s favourite song was ‘Begin

the Begine’, which Cole Porter composed,

the story goes, one evening at the piano

in The Ritz Bar of the Ritz Hotel, Paris.

The love song is in a minor key.

It personifies longing, wit, irony.


My mother and father met in the city

of Kano, Northern Nigeria.



We joined the queue one warm afternoon two days

before Victory Day, and the week Putin

was first crowned. There were police everywhere –

mostly, it seemed, armed thirteen year olds

in wide-brimmed caps. One halted the queue

to allow a group of be-medalled,

self-conscious veterans to enter first.

Inside, we were ‘forbidden to smoke, talk, photograph,

video, or have your hands in your pockets’.


Exiled to the conifer forests

of Central Siberia with its gnat

legions of summer,



Ten minutes or so into a performance

of Mathew Bourne’s ballet at Sadler’s Wells,

with the principal alone spot lit en pointe,

there was muffled shout off stage right

and a clatter as if a metal ladder

had been toppled. (Professional dance –

that always seems heartbreakingly effortless –

is always on the cusp of injury).

The music stopped suddenly, the curtains closed

– and, as the house lights came on, we were asked

to remain seated,



Lenin, to leaven his exile in Zurich,

would sometimes weekend in Luzern and,

after kalberwurst with onions and gravy

at the Wilden-Mann on Bahnhofstrasse,

would always visit the Panorama

in the Löwenplatz – or so it is said.


Panoramas were popular before

the illusion of photography,

still or moving, became reality.

They were cycloramas painted in oil,

typically fifteen metres high, one hundred

metres in circumference – often

with a three dimensional aspect:

in this case,