VENICE, Italy Six years ago, I traveled to Lago di Como with my friend Tamara. She's beautiful and brilliant, funky but poised, and greets the world with a wide smile. I want to be her when I grow up a little more.
One night we drank un po di vino. Well, rather a lot, perhaps. And she told me about the cremated bodies of her babies, stacked in ornamental boxes beside her Berkeley fireplace.
I almost wept. She and her husband seemed so in love. To imagine this pair mourning their lost children daily...
"Sometimes I feel like Peggy Guggenheim," she commented.
Erm. Say what?
"You know, Peggy Guggenheim? The heiress who buried her dead dogs in the courtyard of her Venetian modern art museum?"
The shoe dropped: "babies" meant animals, which makes the anecdote much less tragic. Not that I'm callous towards pet-parents I have membership in that club, after all but generally the natural order is not upset by outliving a retriever or goldfish...
To honor Tamara, Peggy and all bereaved mammas out there, my first stop in Venice is the Guggenheim. Kandinsky, Pollock, Picasso, Rothko, Klee, Chagall, Dali, Miro: the masterpieces tile the walls of this truncated, short-arsed palazzo.
The garden memorial a slab set into brick celebrates Cappuccino, Madam Butterfly, Sir Herbert and Hong Kong. Thirty years of "beloved babies," in fact.
Its style is austere and old-school: a conscious move to keep the spotlight on the art, perhaps? The museum's doyenne who bought a "picture a day" in the fraught days of 1939-40 rests beside her fluff dogs.
In photos, these aristocratic pooches appear small and yappy: the sort of devolved wolves I despise. Then again, I have a tabby that houseguests long to reincarnate as a throw rug. Quickly.