Spring has arrived in Venice. I feel it brushing against me as I step off the train.
I am here to look at Palazzo Zenobio and the space in which we will be showing The Swimmer. Our curator, Agnes Kohlmeyer, has arranged to meet us for dinner and has also set up a series of meetings for tomorrow morning. But there is no sign of Paul Whitty the sound artist and composer.
'Get the number two vaporetto to the Rialto and follow signs to Santa Maria Formosa,' I text.
There is a longish pause during which I wonder if he has missed the plane. Then comes the reply.
'Splendid-have set off down an alley...where a shouts are you?'
Dinner with Agnes is as usual an elegant affair and begins with Aldo greeting us at the front door.
'Aldo is not a cat,' Agnes tells Paul who had not met him before. 'He is human. Now tonight we have some fish soup, which Aldo loves, and then, we have octopus. What's the matter Roma, you don't look happy. You don't like octopus? Is it the shape of the animal you don't like? Shall I cut it up on your plate? Although he would look magnificent on the table, no? I see you are not happy. Why don't you have a drink, instead. And some cheese? And then, we talk?'
Agnes does not pause for breath. She has the energy of sixty curators, we tell her. In the morning, after we had seen the space we tell each other, we'll make a list of all the things left to do.'But tonight,' declares Agnes, 'we relax!'
Not easy with an octopus on the table and Aldo pawing me for attention.
The following morning we set off, walking, at a great pace to the meeting with the organizers at Palazzo Zenobio. Agnes wears her orchid earrings, and Paul and I, our hangovers.
'Come along,' Agnes said, briskly, 'we only have ten minutes.'
The sun had flung jewels of light across the lagoon and the air sparkles with a blueness that confirms, yes, winter is finally over. Ahead, in the distance, clear and beautiful, are the Alps.
I have been working on my new novel for weeks and weeks, glued to my desk, ignoring the grey skies. Now the manuscript is with my editor and suddenly, I feel free.
'First we need to sit quietly in the space,' says Agnes. 'We need to think how the work will look in it. Then we talk about the party. Are we joining with the other pavilions? Can our budget stretch to food, do we also want a banner?''Yes,' I say faintly, hurrying behind her. 'We need to discuss the catalogue, too …'
Paul seems to have vanished again. Perhaps he's having a sleep on a pavement somewhere. Above us in the narrow calle washing hang like flocks of white birds. A seagull is crying.
At the palazzo we are met by Mauro who will be our man-on-the-ground, before, and during the exhibition. Then, we go in, and as often happen, the space itself begins to reveal other possibilities. Excited we are all talking together. We open windows, make decisions; which room is best for showing the film, which should have the installation. How will the sound be played. Paul is busy taking photos, I am looking at the marks on the walls. We must paint it a dirty white, we decide.
'I will surpervise the painting,' Agnes says, 'so that it is precisly what we want.
The rooms have a lost feel to them; abandonment and memory lie everywhere.
When the Sri Lankan army take people away they come at night, dragging their victims from their beds, bundling them into white vans, removing them to places that are the stuff of nightmares. Only when daylight comes is it possible to see the scuff marks on the floor, signs of a struggle to escape, evidence of the brutality of what happened. No, I think, we will not paint the rooms too much. We will leave the marks on the floors, we will honour memory.
Time stands still as we sit, half in sunlight, and consider these things. A picture emerges, slowly. This is why it is so important to see the space, Agnes reminds us. The work that has been planned for so long is beginning to become a reality.
It is time to sign the contract and Paul asks about plug sockets and security for the equipment he plans to drive over from Britain. Samuel, the organiser is charming. Agnes asks him if he still has the copy of The Swimmer I gave him last year, when I first visited.
'Of course,' he says, smiling gently. 'I will never give it away.'
There is a feeling of great generosity amongst all these people working on this Biennale. We meet some of the other curators. In total there will be five exhibitions in this building. Iceland, Armenia, Switzerland, another British group and us. The Lebanon seems to have withdrawn which is a pity. It would have been nice to have had them opposite this work about Sri Lanka.
'See you in May!' we say, smiling and shaking hands as we leave.
It is time for lunch.
'Let's move away from the sun towards the shadow,' says Agnes, making the literal translation sound poetic.
I notice a text message from my editor in London. She likes my new book. Phew! I think, and suddenly the day pivots on an axis of airiness and pleasure and other possibilities. In a few hours I have to be at a broadcasting studio by the railway station for the recording of a conversation for Front Row. We will be talking about the Galle Literary Festival in Sri Lanka.
'No wine for lunch, then!' laughs Agnes.
And, two hours after that, we will be flying north, towards home, leaving this beautiful gilded city behind. The only place in the world where pigeons walk and lions fly.
Ci vedemio presto, Venezia!