She Would Have Fallen

She Would Have Fallen
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Peggy Guggenheim was a legend when, in Venice, my college roommate and I wangled an invitation to have tea with her at her palazzo on the Grand Canal. She is said to have slept with a thousand men in Europe. Whether or not that is true, her second husband was the surrealist artist Max Ernst. When I was still in grade school, she was already assembling a collection of modern art that included works by Chagall, Dali, Duchamp, Klee, Ernst, Magritte, Miro, Picasso, Man Ray, and many others.
I suppose she deigned to invite two young anonymous guys to tea because we had sent a letter from the president of our college asking people to show every courtesy to recipients of our traveling fellowships. It was the year Venice made her an Honorary Citizen.
The collector was around retirement age when we met in the spring of 1962, but still delightfully naughty, still enjoying a glorious laugh. Over tea, she told us risqué stories, and one in particular has stayed with me. A woman was coming to visit her by boat and losing her balance she grabbed at a nearby outdoor sculpture. It happened to be a naked modernist horseman with a generous erection. The visitor's desperate hand clutched the nearest point of apparent stability, which happened to be the rider's bronze penis. Over the years did I add the flourish that the organ was detachable and that the good lady kept her grip as she recovered?
In any case, I now find on the internet that Miss Guggenheim acquired a 1948 sculpture by Mario Marini, "The Angel of the City." Judging by a photograph, this piece of art could have been involved in the story. Her house, I gather, is now a museum open to the public, but without the collector, who, I suspect, was the best part. Although the Massachusetts Puritans who started our college might not have been amused.

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