you buy a palazzo, you must learn how to care for it

Venice, sugared almonds and why I am here

My Dear Ones,

It has not been easy for me to find this time to write to you, but thank god, here I am. Life has been chaotic due to my palazzo renovations in Venice, and the architect has run out of Carrara marble for my jacuzzi. His foreman suggested Brazilian marble to my face (I know!) and I felt a strong urge to push him into the Grand Canal – but I gripped the side of my chaise longue and had a silent word with myself. Manuelita! I said; ignore that fool! Think of those poor souls on that rainy little cake of an island. Stop with the marble, tell Giuseppe to find a laptop, and start dictating!

Long have I wished to dictate this to you.

To be in Venice this month is strange, given we are sliding into the cold months and I am normally to be found in the southern hemisphere. And yet: you buy a palazzo, you must learn how to care for it. Giuseppe is my majordomo in Italy, and the typer of these adorable messages (I have never learned to type). He is also the exquisite overseer of these endless renovations and the cushion between me and the foreman. To calm my nerves, I have been on a few walks around the city. It is such a theatrical place! Walking these dark and crumbling alleys, I feel much as I did as a young girl when I made a short foray into the moving pictures and walked among the film sets. (Such an existence was not for me: I did not enjoy having a dark and crumbling director telling me what to do.)

Giuseppe spends all year in Venice (a bind in the winter mists, where one cannot tell the difference between the freezing water and the paths next to it), and he says that living here makes him forget what the real world is supposed to be. The real world is a subjective construct, cariño, I say. I raise my hand to the enormous triple-ceilinged entrance hall of my ancient palazzo and tell him that this the real world, too. A tapestry flaps in the Venetian breeze, another Meissen ornament teeters in the dust, and so our life goes on.

(Giuseppe, cariño: please make a note: we have run out of sugared almonds. Please go to Signora Falli’s and buy some before 4 o’clock today, otherwise what with this issue with the marble I cannot vouch for what words might come.)

(Dearest friends, with regards to these almonds: you know, of course, that I am no longer a practising Catholic, but I remember those sugared delights from the endless confirmations I attended – who could not – and I have discovered that no one does a sugared almond like Signora Falli. It’s like eating a bit of your childhood whilst burying delightfully into the present, all at once.)

And you – you are over there, in Britain! Truth to tell, I cannot imagine such an existence. But do not worry, my little cake island friends; I think of you often. A fact I rarely divulge is that I was, for a time, educated on your shores. Educated is a loose description. My parents sent me there, away from the heat and flowers to a cold hard bed with a single sheet and an unending learning of things that proved utterly useless in my wonderful life of sex and business. But let us forget algebra and the boring Magna Carta: for I have the fondest memories of your squat hedgerows filled with sour berries and dull brown birds. Your fascination with duchesses! And your woolly clothes – so many of my teachers wore the colours of a pheasant. Not to mention the particular shade of blood revealed inside that unfortunate bird once it has been shot. I still hate to hear a pheasant.

(Giuseppe suggests we edit this once our exertions are over. I have refused. All you will get here is the purest essence of my mind, unfiltered. I said to G. that I wish to think of these writings as the electronic version of a solid bar of Chanel no.5, resting in your palm: powerful, timeless, and only for the grown-ups. And let me be frank: in this world where we kill ourselves for perfection, not everything has to be combed over and over, like a child’s head with nits.)

Anyway. As you well know, I never let mortality’s cold claw knock on the door of any of my properties. But with two ex-husbands dead, and several dear friends who have drunk their last corporeal margarita, it is hard not to think of the end and when it might come. Obviously we’re talking decades, maybe my whole lifetime over again. I cannot imagine my own life ever ending; there is still so much to do and see and think and eat and drink, and many men I still intend to take into my bed, diary and flight schedules depending. For the dreary reaper to interrupt me in the core pleasures of being ALIVE is quite simply a demonstration of his endless bad manners. (He is a man, of course. I see him wearing polyester trousers.)

When I have a tarot sitting with my seer, whose name is Prudence, she deals my hand, and I never see the Tower or Death — none of the problematic ‘ending’ cards ever come up. It’s all Cups and Pentacles for me. I’ve been going to her for twenty years, as regularly as my enema lady (nameless) and my wonderful plastic surgeon, Dr. Eden (ridiculous, but true) and Prudence can’t believe it. But as my witness, she will testify: I’m a Ten of Cups girl. I was born on a barrel, my friends. And I’m just gifted at keeping it rolling.

However. There have been losses. And so much has happened to me in my lives, so many deals and deeds and misdeeds; so much moonlight and suntan and tequila, so much running away only to find myself coming back, that I thought: memoirs, Manuelita! Tell them your truth. And for the love of god, do it in little bits so you don’t get completely exhausted.

(Giuseppe has halted my dictations to make a point, and it is one I grudgingly consent to. I will not always be telling you my truth. This is because Shawgrove and Catt, my lawyers in New York, have told me I can’t. Lawsuits are a bore, but still: there is so much to tell, regardless. And who knows, maybe here or there I will slip a little? Manuela never slips of course, unless she means to.)

I can’t wait. But for now I must go, my darlings. Mark Rothko, one of my whippets, has just come in, and looks mournful for a go-round in our gondola. Not to mention how my stomach – as tiny as it is – is rumbling for a sugared almond.

Manuela never forgets you. I am here for you. Take care of yourselves on your little island!

À la prochaine.