The Chums Of Chance In Venice, Or How The Cool Kids Played Tetris In 1902
Anamorphous image of Tetris creator Alexey Pajitnov.
Returning to the Chums thread, we find Our Heroes in Venice, while The Inconveniece undergoes an upgrade. In keeping with the boy's-comic style, everything's gone Italian, the Chums are now "Gli Amici", the Inconvenience the Seccatura, and so on. The boys seem the same, Noseworth and Suckling continue their bickering, Miles lost in his own innocent agenda, moved by another occurence of the Picardy thirds. On a scouting misson, they come in over Murano, (famous for it's glass-blowers) and soon come across their target - the Isola Del Specchi, the Isle Of Mirrors itself. Once again, they find themselves followed by The Bol'shaia Igra, which raises suspicion among the crew - how do the Russians always know where The Inconvenience will be?
John Singer Sargent, "Small Channel In Venice". Source
On land again, the boys gather for dinner beside a little canal. Randolph ruminates out loud on his motivations, the first of many examples of the boys' desire for at least partial independence from their job in the sky. As Counterfly chats up the waitresses for information on Padzhitnoff, the Russians turn up in the very osteria (cafe) the Chums have chosen! The boys decide to stand their ground, and Randolph toasts all with their motto, "Red blood, pure mind".
The wineglasses turn out to have been a gift from Domenico Sfincuno, whose wish is to claim what he feels is his family's right to the Dogedom of Venice. Made ineligible for the Dogedom, the earlier Sfincuno family formed an alternate (to the Silk Road) trade route to the markets of the East, and the current Sfincuno hires the Chums to recover the lost route - the Sfincuno Itinerary - a "map or chart of post-Polo Routes into Asia, believed by many to lead to the hidden city of Shambala itself."
An anamorphoscope. Source
It turns out the Itinerary is more than a simple map (or route). In another example of light-trickery/duality, the Itinerary is suggested to be anamorphous (or more specifically "paramorphous" in nature, viewed with a specially-made mirror-device, ground at the time by the asylum-artisans of the Isola Del Specchi from... wait on it... Iceland spar. Is the Itinerary a map of real terrain, or of "the architecture of dream" (250:21)?
Miles, gazing at frescoes, finds himself inside "the prophetic vision of St. Mark, but in reverse" - he appears to/becomes a winged lion-being, who proclaims the Chum's current mission as a "pilgrimage", a serendipitous contract as part of a larger (in this case Christian) scheme of things.
Counterfly has a mysterious evening with a young woman, revealing a cigarette lighter that he claims "found him" from the future. The woman reads Tarot cards for him, and finds to her surprise The Campanile, the famous Venetian tower will be struck down soon. Counterfly spends the night, going AWOL in the morning. Suckling comes to fetch him, Counterfly speculates on a life on the ground. Returning to The Inconvenience, the crew tells them of Padzhitnoff's stocking his ship as if 'preparing for an engagement". In a fun moment, Pugnax invites a dog-friend on board in his native dialect, Dog.
Through a series of moment-flash descriptions, it becomes apparent there was a sky battle between The Inconvenience and The Bol'shaia Igra, seen by only the ubiquitous background figures (lasagnoni) in scenes such as these. There is another presence, "some visitation" during the battle, a "lethal impedance in the air". The battle rages, the Campanile comes into range, then Padzhitnoff "saw the ancient structure separate cleanly into four-brick groupings... rotating and translating in all available modes". The Campanile is falling - in the shape of a Tetris game!
The collapsed Campanile in 1902. Source
Randolph wonders remorsefully if one of their armaments ("sky-fish") could be the cause of the historic tower's fall. They meet with Padzhitnoff, who explains the destruction was caused by something else "out there". Talk turns to Japan, where it turns out one of the Chums previous employers was targeted for assassination by the Russians over their role in Manchuria. It becomes clear to the Chums that the Russians are after the Sfincuno Itinerary as well. Once again, routes and rails, connections from point-to-point in both geography and time come to the forefront, asking more questions than answering as the chapter comes to a close.
Notes And Comments
p243 Lots of bells in this chapter, from the bell-flowers (campanula?) in the opening passage to Miles comment on the loss of La Marangona, the largest bell in the now fallen Campanile
243:09 Convenient The Inconvenience drydocks in Venice, no?
p243 Scouting for the Isle Of Mirrors, looking below the surface for hidden meaning
245:37 - 246:06 Pynchon's description of the early evening, "Somewhere an accordian was wrenching hearts..." is another one of those passages, a striking example of descriptive genius
246:38 Suckling channeling Bogart: "...with all the spaghetti-joints in this town..."
247:03 "Purple Thanksgiving", tacchino (turkey) in pomegranate (purple) sauce
247:19 Both red & white wines together in the glass?
249:07 Political commentary: "Those whose enduring object is power in this world are only too happy to use without remorse the others, whose aim is of course to transcend all question of power. Each regards the other as a pack of deluded fools."
250:18 The Professor's speech once again points toward an alternate reality, but as we're apparently inside a comic book already, it's difficult to say what is and isn't real in the first place
250:28 Frescoes of "Istrian stone" - According to this source, there were "two moving lions in Istria stone" originally sculpted on the dado above the belfry of the Campanile. I wonder if they had wings?
p252 I'm enthralled with the writing here, almost 'from memory', a recollection of what it was actually like, rather than what actually happened, "blurry, wet dusk", "silver and niello", "Glagolitic", "radio-lenses", the beautiful dialog
254:20 "Chums... were expected to die on the job. Or else live forever..." Of course, that's what comic-book heroes do. Interesting how these particular heroes seem to be aware of a life 'beside' the one they're expected to live
255:23 Pugnax talking in dog-speak, comic-book reality
256:14 "Fourspace" - the real world (three dimensions plus time)?
256:20 Gunners "abolishing Time", GR/ATD concepts coming together right here, at least for me
256:29 Tetris: how cool is *that*? But here's the coolest part - for those of you who didn't pick up on it during the character's original introduction - guess who invented Tetris? Alexy PAJITNOV!!!