South Asia has the monsoon season; Lapland gets the white nights; Egypt endures the periodic simoom.
Here we have two separate months of heartless humidity, almost inevitably in October and April, two otherwise lovely months which in Venice reveal their dark, unregenerate side by smothering the city in a combination of cool temperatures and sodden, sticky air. Even when the sun shines, the dampness in the atmosphere is implacable. A gauzy mist softens the city’s silhouette, which is sheer photo-fodder, but its meaning in real life is quite otherwise. I haven’t given this phenomenon a title yet because I generally call it by short, rustic, Anglo-Saxon names.
The sheets on the bed remain repugnantly damp, the towels refuse to dry, potato chips no longer crunch. I am forced to wash the clothes even though I know they will not give up their moisture without a long, long fight. Five days after hanging them on the line, I’m still touching them and trying to convince myself that they’re dry. Of course they’re not.
Gone is that heavenly summer period in which you could hang out a huge soggy beach towel at 10:00 AM and by noon it would be crackling like desiccated firewood. Not yet arrived is the long winter season in which the radiators toast the underwear and bake the bedsheets. We have to accept this interval because, frankly, the longer we can put off turning on the heat, the better for everyone; the gas bill is an instrument of torture unknown to the Inquisition (deepest respect to the victims thereof), and after the recent unpleasantness between Ukraine and Russia, we know the gas bills will be higher yet this winter.
So much for the sense of touch around here these days. Clammy.
As for sounds, some are new, and many are old but more noticeable, or maybe I’m just becoming more sensitive.
Here are some highlights from the daily soundtrack:
From around midnight to 6:00 AM, a voluptuous silence wraps the city as far as I can hear. It is plush, it is profound. It’s so beautiful that I’m almost glad to wake up just to savor it.
At about 6:00, I hear a few random swipes of the ecological worker’s broom rasp across the paving stones. It must be exhausting work, because it lasts such a short time.
At 7:30 I begin to hear small children walking along the street just outside our bedroom window — you remember that only the depth of the wall itself separates my skin from theirs — on the way to school. Little mini-voices mingle with the bigger voices of whoever is accompanying the tykes up to via Garibaldi. If the day has started right, it’s a charming sound, though sometimes the voices make it clear that everybody needs to hit “reset” on their personal control panels.
Between 7:00 and 8:00 comes the thumping, clanking sound of the empty garbage cart bouncing down the 11 steps of the bridge just outside, guided by the ecological worker who sees no reason to fight gravity because he knows he’s going to face a serious battle with it on the return trip, his cart loaded beyond the brim.
At 8:00 sharp we get the morning hymn played five times from the carillon in the campanile of San Pietro, just over the way. The piece is performed in several keys — mainly the key of flat — and the melody has worn itself into my mind so deeply that if the bells were ever tuned I think it would actually disturb me, like those people who lived along Third Avenue in New York who were so used to hearing the elevated train roaring past their windows that the day the train was removed, the transit company switchboard was overwhelmed with calls from panicky people crying, “What’s that noise?” It was the silence.
Around 9:00 there is a brief but savage skirmish between what sounds like three dogs. This struggle to establish supremacy will be repeated, again briefly, toward 8:00 this evening.
At 2:00 the middle school in via Garibaldi lets out, releasing flocks of young adolescents in a homeward swarm. These children do not go silently, meditating on the poetry of Giosue’ Carducci or the whims of the isosceles triangle. Engage feet, open lungs. You can hear their chaotic shouts all the way down the street. Lino says, “They’ve opened the aviary.”
At 7:30 PM the carillon rings a another out-of-tune hymn five times. I always thought three was the mystic number, but here it’s five.
For a while, the evening noises separate and recombine in various ways (children, dogs, etc.). But peace is not yet at hand. It’s almost 11:00.
11:00 PM is the Hour of the Rolling Suitcase. Actually, by now almost every hour, and half-hour, belongs to the rolling suitcase, whose grumbling across the battered masegni has become a sound more common than shutters scraping open or banging shut.
What is it about 11:00? Where is this person (or persons) coming from? The flight arrivals list for Marco Polo airport gives options such as London, Vienna, or Barcelona, and Treviso Airport might be sending us passengers from Brindisi or Brussels, but whatever the starting point might have been, I marvel every night to hear that some intrepid soul’s day has been spent coming to Venice, and now he or she is finally here. Every. Night. Maybe I should set up a little refreshment stand by the bridge and offer some kind of energy drink, like at a marathon.
And speaking of 11:00, some time around then I hear a vivacious small group come down the street, walking from the direction of Campo Ruga toward however many homes they belong to. You could imagine a bunch of friends meeting every once in a while, and even going home later than 11:00 (which often happens in the summer). But what kind of a group always breaks up at 11:00? In high spirits? Coming from the direction of Campo Ruga? A mah-jongg club? Tango lessons? Choir practice? A renegade chapter of the Loyal Order of Moose? I cannot conceive of what could be going on that would require a group to attend every night, especially in this neighborhood. And yet, they pass, and happily. This, too, perplexes me. Happy every night? Where do I sign up?
But wait. The day isn’t over yet. Now we come to midnight — or almost.
For the past week or so, just as the day has drifted toward midnight, and every normal noise has faded away, and every normal person has shut the front door behind him or her, we’ve heard a sudden heavy metallic CLONNNNNGGGG from the other side of the canal. No, we don’t ask for whom the bell is tolling, because it’s not a bell. It’s the red metal stele which indicates the direction of the Biennale ticket booths; a local consumer of controlled substances evidently cannot physically tolerate, philosophically accept, or rationally justify its verticality. It must be horizontalized, immediately. Maybe it’s some prehistoric variation of hydrophobia.
And in the morning, another person or persons stands it upright again, our own lonely little menhir unknown to archaeology.
Lino discovered the culprit one evening, and pointed him out to me the next day. But what I still don’t know is who puts the signpost upright again the next morning.
Maybe it’s Sisyphus.
I’ve been noticing all sorts of interesting things around the city over the past few days, and while I regret to imply that a funeral qualifies as “interesting,” I will state that often the deceased is extremely interesting and makes me sorry I never knew him or her, and often never even heard of them until the dread news was published.
A case in point is Bruno Fusato Signoretti.
The “interesting thing” was his funeral cortege this morning, which didn’t completely surprise me when I saw it from the #1 vaporetto. I had only heard of him two days ago, when his obituary in the Gazzettino alerted me to the human behind a name with which I was familiar in exactly one way: Glass. That is, I knew that the name Signoretti was an important one on Murano, and that this company, or person, had begun (like many commercial ventures here) to sponsor some of the racers of the major Venetian regatas.
But there was much more to say about him, which I have learned now that he’s gone.
I have mashed up a few biographies, one written by Tullio Cardona in the Gazzettino, and the other by Maurizio Crovato on the website veneziaeventi.com. Here goes:
Gondoliers and Murano are in mourning. On October 5, Bruno Fusato “Signoretti” passed away in his house on the Lido. He was 74 years old, and had been fighting a difficult disease since last March.
Fusato began working as a gondolier, son of a centuries-long tradition; his family was noted among gondoliers since 1600. In more recent times, his grandfather Vincenzo, nicknamed “Cencio,” was chosen by Prince August Wilhelm of Prussia for his excursions in the lagoon in 1907, and when Cencio got married, the Prince sent him a silver coffee service and 1000 lire. (The new gondola he was able to order cost 300 lire, to give some idea of the magnitude of this gift.)
Bruno’s father Luigi was the gondolier of Princess Margaret and Queen Elizabeth II.
When young Bruno began his career as a gondolier, he was known for being able to make six “murane” a day (roundtrips in his gondola from San Zaccaria to Murano). He became the substitute gondolier for Albino Dei Rossi, the legendary Venetian-rowing champion known as “Gigio Strigheta,” filling in while Gigio was training for the races. “Thanks to this young man,” Strigheta quipped, “when I’m not working, I make twice as much.”
What with his love for the gondola, and for the regatas, and for his city, Bruno began to diversify. He retired from gondoliering and began to organize tourist traffic to Murano. Then he opened stores in London, and finally, in 1986, he acquired an abandoned glass furnace on Murano and established an important center for glassmakers and designers.
He also lived a kind of parallel career of philanthropy and benefaction. As Crovato states, he always kept the “old gondolier” in him. There was not one racer, not one aged gondolier, alone and forgotten, who didn’t receive help from him in moments of need.
In 1991 he dusted off the abandoned tradition of the “disnar” (dinner) of the competitors before the Regata Storica. He sponsored difficult art restorations, and when La Fenice opera house went up in flames in 1996, he was a founding member of the reconstruction fund-raising initiative, and its first private contributor.
After September 11, 2001, he created the idea of the “Baptism of Venetian-ness” (battesimo di venezianita’). I can’t tell you how it worked, but it raised funds for the firemen of New York.
His last joy, as they put it, was the victory of Giampaolo d’Este and Ivo Redolfi Tezzat of the Regata Storica 2014, a team which he had sponsored.
In remembering him, Tezzat gave Signoretti the baptism of gold, at least in Venetian terms:
“What he said, he did.”
In a city where words outnumber deeds by an impressive margin, this is a statement whose brevity conceals a universe of meaning.
Here’s some news on sick leave in Italy: There’s a lot of it, especially on Monday.
Today is Monday, as it happens, which is why I bring this up.
A recent statistical analysis reveals that more than 30 percent of workers in the public sector have availed themselves of a doctor who will certify that they aren’t able to come to work that day, the day being Monday, as I mentioned, or what they might prefer to call Sunday 2.0.
In Calabria, the numbers collected for 2012 showed an average number of 34.6 sick days; “average,” of course, means that some people took even more. This number doesn’t specifically say that that month was made up exclusively of Mondays, but we can suppose that at least ten of them were.
Whether this indicates that the environment at the toe of the Italian “boot” is extremely unhealthy, or that there are so many wonderful things to do there that a mere weekend isn’t enough to enjoy even a few of them, I am not qualified to say.
I do have some theories, but will leave you to your own conjectures.
Walking along my favorite leafy arbor — otherwise known as viale Garibaldi — one recent afternoon, I glanced at one of the benches.
Something was sitting on it, and it wasn’t a human, though a human had evidently passed that way only recently.
It was a stately cone crowned with chocolate gelato, chastely wrapped in a white paper napkin, and stuck between the slats like a creamy little moa from Easter Island, but much more fragile. While it’s true that the seething elements of time and tide will eventually reduce everything to nothing, this delicacy had a head start on almost all of us.
As I gazed at it, still musing, I heard the softest little thnk.
There had been no heroic struggle. When the meltage reached the perfect point of intersection with gravity, divided by its own weight and volume and the distribution of same (I’m losing track of my geometry here), the brave, if brief, little monument succumbed. And I continued on my way.
Ten minutes later, I returned. The bench was still occupied, but not by the cone and its liquefying burden.
The cone was gone. A man was sitting on the bench, talking to a woman standing in front of him. He didn’t seem concerned about sticky drying ice cream, because there was no sign of it. Apparently only I knew it had ever been there.
Let me review: A gelato-topped cone is placed on a bench by an unseen person, for unfathomable reasons (unfathomable because there are two garbage cans within a few steps of the bench). The cone collapses. A man sits on the bench by the now unseen cone.
Which was real, the unseen man or the unseen cone? And while I’m thinking about it, is ice cream essentially more transitory than the man?
Let me think.
The frozen milk awaits
Heat and heft combine a kiss
Life essence disperses.
More on the meaning of life around here when I find the time.