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  • Martin Sosnoff

My 71st Stay In Venice

I am addicted to Venice which I’ve visited summers, annually, ever since 1951. The Vaporetto was free then, a few coppers. You shared a room in a hostel for 5 dollars nightly, 15 cents for a bowl of pasta. No air conditioning in Venice early fifties. Rooms became sweat boxes. Everyone gathered in the Piazza San Marco and sang through the night.

My maiden visit to the Accademia was an eye-opener. An art professor was touring with his students while he condemned as fakes many of the collection’s Italian Renaissance painters that hung there. I’m talking about revered names that flow from everyone’s tongue: Tintoretto, Da Vinci, Botticelli, Fra Angelico and Raphael.

I lived the first 21 years of my life in Harlem. I was telling David Dinkins all about this, but I got a fresh response.”Yah! but you don’t live there now.” From City College, I was called up to serve as an infantry 2nd lieutenant. The ROTC had provided me with shoes and an overcoat plus $28 a month. I needed clothes and pocket change for coffee, and a BLT, down, mustard and mayo.

On our final protective line of fire in North Korea, I felt in the pit of my gut my country had failed me. North Korea is an arctic climate, but we had no mittens, pile caps, thermal boots, and Parkas. Our foe was properly equipped, but not us. Harry Truman termed the Korean War, a police action. If color TV were available then he would’ve been driven out of office. But, nobody knew the facts excepting us, dog-faced troops on the line.

Why doesn’t Joe Biden extend financial aid to all college applicants? Just make ‘em serve their country for 12 months, somewhere, someplace, Even in the Dominican Republic where one of my grandsons is teaching English.

I am 92, but young-at-heart,a New Yorker in my early twenties. Even before I landed on Wall Street as an analyst trainee, I took a serious interest in the art world. Abstract Expressionism took over the New York art world, early fifties. You could buy the work of Jackson Pollock for a thousand bucks. I was offered several paintings by Mark Rothko, but in 1953, just back from the Korean War my sole asset was a foot locker filled with old clothes.

Art dealers became my close friends. Before he died of AIDS, Alex Katz’s, dealer sold me his personal holdings. Sam Kootz, who was dealer for Pierre Soulages begged me to buy a couple of early paintings. “But, Sam,” I’d say, “ I don’t know when I’ll be able to pay you for them.” Soulages’ canvases went for $30 thousand in the sixties. By now all his world class pieces rest in museums. A representative piece will cost you at least $10 million, maybe more. I’ve 3 great works, not for sale.

Financial markets today, trading near 20 times earnings, leave me cold. I'm underweighted, judging the market’s worth at 16 times earnings not over 20 times forward optimistic projections. After raving for months that the Treasuries’ sharply negative yield curve between 10-year and 2-year paper is insane.

The 2-year price has begun to break down, but still is nearly 100 basis points overvalued. We’ll see. Punditry for equity market valuation is now pressing above 5,000 for the S&P 500. This is well over 20 times present earnings power.

I am still around 60% long and beginning to look foolish. In short, I am not happy with my cards but unready to bet a bunch. The NASDAQ 100 scares me too, 10% to 20% overvalued.

My week in Venice this July was particularly poignant. How often do you come across a great group of vintage photographs? There’s young Winston Churchill, svelte and handsome. I encountered Betty Davis as a pretty starlet dish, maybe 21. Did you know, Albert Einstein was not so bowed down by integral calculus equations, quite handsome.

The show at Palazzo Grassi whose space was awesomely redesigned by Francois Pinault is a collection of snapshots from the 1930’s. You’ll recognize the indelible faces which had determination written all over them.

Venice, July, 2023

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