all of us, islands…

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For his 60th birthday in February 2011, Scott had first planned for us to celebrate in India. He always celebrated birthdays but “big birthdays” required advance planning, and this one he was planning two years ahead. We even had purchased the plane tickets. Abruptly, at the end of the summer prior to our trip, he changed his mind. We went first to Amsterdam and then on to Venice and Florence  instead. Venice is heavy with art, nostalgia and romance. Even Scott was not able to articulate why the sudden change in itinerary but in retrospect it sure seems like there was divine guidance. Save India for last.

The following transcript is an original story written by artist/designer Brian Foo comparing New York City to Scott’s beloved Venice. It was written specifically to fit in with characters Brian developed for his Continuous City book. This particular chapter was written especially for Scott with his collaboration describing for Brian via email his favorite buildings and bridges in Venice (which Brian illustrated for us in beautiful watercolor paintings to go with), the reasons he loved Venice so much, and discussions about our life together as a couple and what was happening to him physically in his end days. Brian created a metaphor for dying, relationships, and memories that resonates deeply. Consider that Scott also lived on an island for the last decade of his life prior to going to Goa. The story is short but if you don’t have time, skip down to read where the italicized dialog by “Pearl” begins. And click here to read Brian’s essay on how this chance brush with Scott via influenced his work.


<ALLEN> How do you think New York being an island has affected her residents?

<PEARL> Well, one thing is that there’s a clear boundary between “us” (New Yorkers) and “them” (non-New Yorkers), which was built and sanctioned by nature.

<PEARL> In other places, humans need to define those boundaries. So those lines are more abstract and much more fragile–they can expand, they can shrink, they can be erased.

<ALLEN> Do you think the island makes New Yorkers feel alienated or exclusionary?

<PEARL> Perhaps. I definitely feel New York promotes a certain “every man is an island” feeling.

<PEARL> Despite the millions of people, it’s very easy to feel alone. I guess one’s moods and tendencies inherit her city’s geography.

<PEARL> Like Texan cities are sprawling, pushing borders along the great American frontier, highly conducive to a “maverick” culture.

<PEARL> The temper of San Franciscans are cooled by the breeze of the Bay.

<ALLEN> Interesting. So what about a city like Venice? It’s a city of over a hundred islands, separated by canals and linked by bridges. How is that reflected in the Venetian mindset?

* PEARL pauses

<PEARL> Well maybe Venetians, like New Yorkers, are still islands. But perhaps the bridges indicate a certain openness to connect, but only one or two at a time.

<PEARL> And maybe they like to travel between themselves and others, in boats along the canals.

<ALLEN> That sounds very zen and meditative.

<PEARL> Yeah I guess navigating the paths along the borders of you and others sounds both skillful and serene.

<PEARL> Maybe those paths are actually the memories they shared together.

<ALLEN> True, because the canals would not exist without the islands, just as memories would not exist without at least two people to form them.

<PEARL> Or maybe the canals are their relationships. And the bridges are shared memories, used to traverse and admire their relationship, their canals.

<ALLEN> But Venice is at risk of sinking. The islands may be overcome by the canals. What would you make of that?

<PEARL> All islands, like people, are at risk of disappearing. Whether through death, distance, or simply through a relationship that diminishes.

<PEARL> When you lose someone, your relationship and your memories overtake them, just like the canals would overtake the islands.

<PEARL> And when all the islands disappear, and the bridges collapse into the canals, there will just be a sea of memories left.

<PEARL> But those memories will no longer be bordered by the edges of their former islands. Some memories between two particular people will meet with the memories of two completely different people.

<PEARL> A memory of a sunset might be mixed with a memory of a child’s first words. A passionate argument might be fused into a memory of a night of salsa dancing. A child’s first memory might hold the hand of a dying man’s last memory.

<PEARL> A passing sailor might run his hands along the water to feel the dynamism of a lost city. But that city would not be dead. It still produces currents that rock the ship, crashes waves, and shapes the coasts of distant lands.


C’a’ D’oro, Venice  © Brian Foo Comissioned by Scott Morgan

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