Jul
31

Santa Marta: party on!

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1x1.trans Santa Marta: party on!

“La Vigilia di Santa Marta” (The Eve of Santa Marta) by Canaletto. c. 1760. (Wikigallery.org). This view shows the Zattere, with the church of Santa Marta the last building in the distance.  I realize that they did not have stadium lighting back then, but I’d have hoped to see more of the famous illuminated boats.  I think he was paying too much attention to the geometry of the painting and not enough attention to what was really going on.  Or maybe that’s just my way of saying “I wish I’d been there.”

July 29, as all the world knows, is the feast day of Santa Marta.  Or in any case, now the world knows.

She is essentially forgotten here; her church has been deconsecrated, swallowed and partially digested by the Maritime Zone, and her celebration — once one of the greatest of the many great festivals here — is gone forever.  Only a painting by Canaletto brings us the tiniest (and darkest) glimpse of what was once a very big night in Venice.  Her name today is used mainly to refer to the adjacent neighborhood.

The reason I didn’t get this post finished by July 29 is because I got lost reading assorted accounts, some of them first-hand, about this uber-fest. It didn’t take me long to conclude that the fabled feast of the Redentore, which has remained a very big deal, was really nothing so remarkable compared to Santa Marta’s.  The Redentore had fireworks, it’s true, but Marta had fresh sole.

Fish was an excuse for a colossal boating party?  Why not?  The Venetian civil and religious calendar was bursting with events of every type and voltage. A very short list would note the festivals of Santa Maria della Carita’, Palm Sunday, S. Stefano, “Fat Thursday,” May 1, or the Doge’s Visit to the Monastery of the Virgins, S. Isidoro, the taking of Constantinople (1204), the regaining of Candia (1204), S. John the Baptist “Beheaded,” Sunday after Ascension Day, the victory over Padua (1214), the defense of Scutari (1479), the victory of Lepanto (1571), S. Rocco, Corpus Domini, the victory of the Dardanelles (1656), and the conquest of the Morea (1687).  These are just a few of the major events; the Venetians also commemorated defeats. There was something going on almost every day.

But there was always room for more, and although Santa Marta couldn’t claim to have sponsored any particular victory, discovery, or other noteworthy occurrence, her feast day conveniently fell in the period when the weather was suffocatingly hot, and the sole were in season.  Plus, her church was located on a little lobe of land facing lots of water, and there was a beach.  All this says “Put on your red dress, baby, ’cause we’re going out tonight” to me.

1x1.trans Santa Marta: party on!

Joan Blaue’s map of the late 1600′s shows the peninsula crowned by the church of Santa Marta, but I don’t see a beach. On the other hand, I do see rows of rafts formed of logs — “zattere” — in front of their eponymous stretch of waterfront. Nice.

1x1.trans Santa Marta: party on!

On Ludovico Ughi’s 1729 map, “Pictorial Representation of the Illustrious City of Venice Dedicated to the Reign of the Most Serene Dominion of Venice,” we see something like beach surrounding Santa Marta’s headland. To each cartographer his own.

1x1.trans Santa Marta: party on!

And this is how how that little lobe of land looks today. The big docks at Tronchetto were built in two stages in the 20th century, and Santa Marta (lower right corner of land) has become an afterthought. (www.panoramio.com)

The basic components were: Everybody in Venice, either on land or on the water, regardless of social station or disposable income; every boat in Venice — so many boats you could hardly see the water, festooned with illuminated balloons and carrying improvised little arbors formed by frondy branches; music, song and dance, and lots and lots of fresh sole.

1x1.trans Santa Marta: party on!

A “genteel” sole, who was more the star of the evening than Santa Marta herself.

July is the season for sfogi zentili, or Solea vulgaris, and while the Venetians could bring their own vittles, plenty of them also bought the fish which had just been saute’d, either on the beach or on the street by enterprising entrepreneurs.  If you were really in luck, there would be moonlight, too.

The best and most famous chronicler of this party was Giustina Renier Michiel, who was born in 1755 and belonged to several  patrician Venetian families.  She spent 20 years researching her six-volume work, Origine delle Feste Veneziane (1830), but the fact that she had personal memories of many of these events makes her books exceptional.

I started to translate what she wrote about the feast of Santa Marta, but she went on so long, and her style sounded so curious in English, that I became tired and discontented.  So I’m going to give some bits and summarize the rest.  Anyway, it’s clear that the event was so phenomenal that even people who saw it finally gave up trying to describe it adequately or coherently.

Here is her version of how the festa was born:

In the old days many groups went out in certain boats to fish for sole, the best fish that one eats in July.  (Lino concurs with date and description.)

And in the evening they would go back to the beach by the church of Santa Marta and feast on the fish, enjoying the cool air that restored their depleted strength after the labor of fishing, as well as the heat of the season.

Later on, as the population became richer, and softness set in, the work of fishing was left to the poor people, who had to do it in order to live, and what used to be a fatiguing labor changed into a singular entertainment.”

My version: It didn’t take long for everybody else in Venice to say “A cookout on the beach?  We’re on our way.”  Everybody started making Santa Marta’s Eve a great reason to head for her neighborhood and eat fish, garnished and enlivened by the classic saor sauce of sweet-sour onions.  It was like a gigantic clambake, a barbecue, a luau, for thousands and thousands of people.

Obviously the beach was too small for everybody, so the boats made themselves at home on the Giudecca Canal, “whose waters could only be seen in flashes, and almost seemed to be strips of fire, agitated by the oars of so many boats that covered the water and which doubled the effect of the lights which were on the boats.”

1x1.trans Santa Marta: party on!

The “Bucintoro dei Savoia,”also called the “Bucintoro del Po,” is the only surviving example of a Venetian peota of the 18th century.  It was built in 1730 by a squero on Burano for Carlo Emmanuele III di Savoia and is now the property of the Civic Museums of Torino.  Most noble families had one, and they were just the thing for big events such as the Regata Storica, processions honoring doges and kings, and alfresco picnics featuring a big fish fry.

The patricians came out on their fabulously ornate peote, and often carrying musicians who sang and played wind instruments.  There were scores of the classic fishing boat called a tartana, draped with variously-colored balloons and loaded with laughing families and friends.  There were artisans in their battellos, and hundreds of light little gondolas, and plenty of gondolas da fresco, and there were even the burchielle, the heavy cargo boats that carried sand and lumber.  If it could float, it joined the vast confusion of boats being rowed languidly in every direction, or tied up along the Zattere where there was just as much happy turmoil ashore.

1x1.trans Santa Marta: party on!

Or, if you were a fisherman, you might come out in an equally impressive (in its way) boat — a caorlina da seragia. Only a few still exist, and this very old craft has retained its original pitch waterproofing. You could fit several families, aristocratic or otherwise, into this monster.

1x1.trans Santa Marta: party on!

Or if all you had was a little s’ciopon, you’d have bedecked it too, and come out with the food and family.

The Gazzetta Urbana of 1787:  “Along this riva, called the Zattere, the cafe’s and bars are crammed to overflowing with people.  There are tables set up outside their doors, and everything is so lit up that it seems to be daytime.

“The passage (of people) in all the streets leading to Santa Marta was dense and continuous, and the splendid gathering at the Caffe of San Basegio, at the head of the Zattere, formed a separate spectacle, in which our Adriatic beauties, wearing modern shimmering caps in the Greek style, ornamented with plumes, inflamed with their glances the hearts of the young men who, like butterflies, always flutter around the flare of a woman’s beauty.”

Also amid the throng were little ambulatory kitchens — a man with a basket of sole would put two stones on the ground, then lay two bunches of sticks crosswise on them, light a little charcoal under them, pour some oil in a pan, and stand there bawling for business.  He kept container of saor ready to put on the fish.

Renier Michiel:  “The entire length of this district was full of a grand concourse of people, moving toward the piazza of Santa Marta which was the best vantage point to enjoy the spectacle.  On the piazza there were more food vendors, some of them selling roast chicken.  There is a racket of cups, plates, the yells of the vendors, the music from the boats on the water. Every house is transformed into a sort of tavern where people eat and drink, and there was perfect joy and harmony.”

“Perfect joy and harmony”?  How can this be (apart from the fact that she was looking back on it, years later, when the festival was gone forever)?

I think it’s because Santa Marta was secretly taking care of people. She is the patroness of cooks, butlers, laundry-workers, servants,  housewives, and waiters. Though I suppose you could just say “housewives” and leave it at that.

Because as Santa Marta, and 99 percent of women on earth, can attest, while some people at a party are laughing and scarfing the canapes and playing with the dog and singing comic songs and reveling in industrial-size helpings of joy and harmony, there’s at least one person somewhere in the background doing everything to make it seem as if there is absolutely nothing that needs to be done.

And I have no doubt that when the boats went home at dawn on July 29, there was somebody who had to put the boat away and swab the bilge and pick up every single fishbone, as well as deal with the dishes and the wine- and saor-stained clothes.  Behind every great saint is somebody with a bucket and mop, I say.

1x1.trans Santa Marta: party on!

You can barely make out the “Punta di Santa Marta” from the roof of the Molino Stucky Hilton.

1x1.trans Santa Marta: party on!

The church of Santa Marta in 1934 was only slightly in the way of progress.  Trains came down onto the waterfront to deliver or collect cargo to the ships in the maritime zone.  No more beach.

1x1.trans Santa Marta: party on!

There’s still a church in there somewhere behind the parking lot.  Ex-church, that is, restored and now used as an exhibition space. Nice that it’s not falling to ruin, but any possible trace of character or history has been thoroughly expunged.

1x1.trans Santa Marta: party on!

I realize that it wasn’t ever the most heavily decorated building in Venice, but they seem to have gone to the opposite extreme here.  Seen from this angle, it could be a Potemkin church.

1x1.trans Santa Marta: party on!

To review in closing: This entire area of water was completely covered with illuminated boats full of people singing and eating and laughing and being happy. And I think it’s safe to say that most of them were not tourists. That’s something else to recall occasionally — that Venice had an amazing life that had nothing to do with tourism.  Seem strange?  They’d think we’re even stranger.

 

 

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1x1.trans My last word on viale Garibaldi

We left our story — “The Interminable Quest for the True Provenance of the Viale Garibaldi, as Recounted by People Living and Dead (I suppose that should be “living or dead”), with Illustrations and Funny Spelling” — at an uncomfortable point between things I knew and things I only thought I knew.

Several readers have since written me giving me more information and opinions than I’d expected (that’s not saying much, considering that I expected none).  My ensuing labors to sift, evaluate, cross-check, confirm, and make at least one educated guess have led me to the last thing I’m going to say about viale Garibaldi.  Not that there couldn’t be more, and there probably is more, but my interest is dimming and I’d bet yours is too.

The story so far:

1x1.trans My last word on viale Garibaldi

A view of the church of San Giuseppe di Castello, by Antonio Canaletto. The church in the foreground was torn down , houses built in its place, and a row of trees was planted in front of the houses.

Canaletto painted a picture showing a section of Castello as it no longer appears.  I deduced from the painting that the vantage point from which he painted it was a canal which was later filled in to make the present gravel walkway lined by lime trees named the viale Garibaldi.

Please note that much confusion can be avoided by remembering that via Garibaldi and viale Garibaldi are not the same thing.  “Viale” is a word which, among various translations, means “tree-lined avenue.”

A reader questioned my original assertion and its various geographical and geometrical elements, and proposed that the  water seen in the painting was instead a glimpse of the Bacino of San Marco, where its rippling wavelets caressed the smooth stone surface of a working riva (fondamenta).  He proposed it in less overwrought terms.

I found a map by Joan Blaue (date unknown by me, except that it was made in the 1600′s) which shows that there was indeed a riva in that place, leading down into the waters of the Bacino of San Marco, and not at all the canal I had imagined.

In brief, I was wrong and he was right.

1x1.trans My last word on viale Garibaldi

A cropped section of the view shows the location as it was just before Canaletto’s day. Although the proportions seem to be a little hinky, there is no denying that the churches painted by Canaletto were facing the Bacino of San Marco. He doesn’t show as clearly as Ughi does (below) the street that became the viale, but I see that it’s there.

Another reader then wrote with more information and opinions, and attached a detail from another map, which I am showing here.  It was made by Ludovico Ughi in 1729 — slightly after Canaletto’s time, but probably not long enough to matter to our story.

As you see, Ughi identifies a clearly non-canal strip of territory as “Cale di S. Domenico di Castello.”  If it was a calle (street) in 1729, I’m going to assume it was a calle in 16-whatever-it-was when Canaletto painted his picture.

Or maybe you can’t see it.  It’s the broad line that begins in the “crook” of the waterfront and goes north till it hits the “rio di Castello,” the canal which became via Garibaldi.

1x1.trans My last word on viale Garibaldi

Detail of the area in question from Ludovico Ughi’s map of 1729. The “Cale di S. Domenico di Castello” is located exactly where viale Garibaldi is today.

Conclusion: Making assumptions can be dangerous, as my original post demonstrated, but I think the evidence is now reasonably clear that the present viale Garibaldi was not a canal in the 17th century.

That’s really all I’m interested in saying about this.  Whatever it was, or wasn’t, or dreamed of being, but couldn’t, or might have been if Napoleon or Nikola Tesla or Fannie Bloomfield Zeisler hadn’t intervened, is a story I’m not going to be pursuing anymore.

I’m all for knowledge — the more, the better, even as it gets broken and reassembled in ever-tinier pieces and shapes.  But unless somebody can convince me that Jimmy Hoffa is buried under the third bench on the right, I’m going to leave this subject and go on to something else.  Perhaps something more interesting, maybe even more important. But at least it won’t be about the viale Garibaldi.

Categories : Venetian History
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Jul
24

Root canal

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1x1.trans Root canal

A map of Venice by Joan Blaeu (1596 – 1673), official cartographer of the Dutch East India Company. I realize that Jacopo de’ Barbari’s bird’s-eye view of Venice (1500) is more famous, but this version is just as full of insane detail. In fact, I think the watercolors are a great help.

A reader whose brain is no less sharp than his eyes has written to query (fancy word for “question”) a point I made concerning the provenance of Viale Garibaldi.

He was skeptical concerning my statement that the viale had once been a canal, despite the painting by Canaletto which I presented as evidence.  And he referred to three sources which, while not conclusive, did dim the lights on what I had thought was pretty clear.

Naturally, being questioned brought me up short, but it was a fine excuse to do some research of my own.  I enjoy this because it means I’m acquiring, if only briefly, big topheavy loads of knowledge, and that’s just about my favorite thing.  When I was little they would have had to send out the rescue squad — if anybody had noticed — to pull me safely from the pages of the encyclopedia, where I would float for hours, drifting from one unexpected thing to another.

The ease of being able now to paddle along the Interweb, as a friend calls it, means that I can be lost for more time than ever before, clicking my way through people, battles, cities, works of art, plants, styles of architecture, titles of neorealistic films, and if I pause for breath, seeing what Wikipedia entries look like in some extraordinary language like Frysk.  May its tribe increase.

Here’s a philosophical puzzle:  Was I seeking information in an effort to prove myself right?  Or was I trying to prove him wrong?  In the great scheme of things, they aren’t exactly the same, though probably the pleasure one feels at being right isn’t one of those pristine emotions enjoyed by spiritual mystics, but is given an agreeable little zing by the fact that your questioner was wrong.  After all, if a person is right in the forest, and there’s nobody there to hear…. Well, let’s move on.

1x1.trans Root canal

A cropped section of the view shows the location as it was just before Canaletto’s day. Although the proportions seem to be a little hinky, there is no denying that the churches painted by Canaletto were facing toward the Bacino of San Marco. And what is now Viale Garibaldi was occupied by a stretch of pavement with steps going down into the water, as he so clearly portrayed.  The thrill of new knowledge is only slightly muted by the effort now to erase what I see every day and try to see the city as they saw it.

I was wrong. Viale Garibaldi wasn’t born as a canal, it was a riva (embankment with steps) facing the Bacino of San Marco.  And while it doesn’t give me much satisfaction to be seen as having purveyed likelihood as certainty, this has been a useful reminder to check anything I write before I hit “Fly, little birdie, fly!” and off soars my prose.

So although the time involved in this effort has only shortened my infinite to-do list has exactly one item so far, I can say the day has not been wasted.

 

Categories : History
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Jul
16

Cutting up

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1x1.trans Cutting up

In case you might wonder why the Austrians filled in this canal, I was told by a knowledgeable source that they built stables in what is now the Giardini, and created this modest stretch of street in order to be able to promenade on horseback, performing a miniature version of the promenades in the Bois de Boulogne or the Vienna Prater. Which is why the bridge at the end of the street is a simple arch, without steps.

1x1.trans Cutting up

The horse- (and stroller- and shopping-cart- and skateboard-) friendly bridge.

 

A few days ago a powerful storm passed through, strewing rain and wind everywhere (though it stopped short of throwing hail, I’m glad to say, nor did any tiles go frisbeeing off roofs — my own ballpark-way of measuring the ratio between windspeed and danger).

But I forgot about trees.  We discovered the following morning that these can also be useful, potentially life-threatening, indicators of wind.

The viale Garibaldi (not to be confused with via Garibaldi) is the shady length of filled-in canal which stretches 785 feet (239 m) from the aforementioned street to the Giardini vaporetto stop.  During the summer its enclosing rows of lime trees provide the most heavenly shade, and there is always some breeze.  The benches, especially during the heat of the day, are almost always occupied by people who are either eating or sleeping, which leads Lino to refer to this space as either the refectory or the dormitory.

1x1.trans Cutting up

A view of the church of San Giuseppe di Castello (in background), by Antonio Canaletto. The church in the foreground was torn down as part of Napoleon’s Let’s-Make-Venice-More-Beautiful campaign, houses built in its place, the canal in the foreground filled in, and limetrees planted along its borders. In other words, this view is painted from the perspective of a person standing on what was to become the viale Garibaldi. (www.canalettogallery.org)

We weren’t surprised to discover that a tree had been blown down, but I was surprised to see what damage it had wrought.  Lime trees bless us briefly with the most heavenly perfume each spring when the flowers bloom, but evidently their root system is not adapted to the conditions here.  By “conditions” I don’t mean the possibility of wind, which exists everywhere, but the likelihood of wet and shallow subsoil.  Even if it doesn’t rain for weeks and the leaves all turn brown, I am convinced that the aforementioned former canal (which continues to flow through a large pipe beneath the gravel) maintains some level of moisture which disturbs the balance between horizontal and vertical.  If I’d ever studied physics, I’d know what to call this. I suppose “topheavy” will have to do meanwhile.

Lime trees, or linden, have carried sacred significance for millennia for Slavs, Germans, and Greeks.  I respect the leaves’ purported healing properties also.  But I have learned that while it’s a great thing to wander among them at blossomtime, you’d better keep away when the wind rises.

Keeping as close to houses as you can manage, in case any rooftiles decide to join the party.

1x1.trans Cutting up

The firemen had quickly gotten to work removing this fallen giant, which must have been spectacular blocking the entire road. Happily, the spectacle of damage to humans or houses was nowhere to be seen.

1x1.trans Cutting up

I don’t normally think of the tops of trees as being especially dangerous, but clearly the weight of the tree was enough to smash the frail wooden fence, and not-so-frail stone bench. That was impressive.

1x1.trans Cutting up

For anyone who wanted to read this tree’s palm according to the rings, this was the perfect chance. However, the plant’s life story now has no future to predict, except for what happens next…

1x1.trans Cutting up

Off to the mulching mill of Valhalla on Monday.

1x1.trans Cutting up

Later that same day, toward evening, busted-up tree was to be found, in all its leafy glory, a few steps from our hovel. Were they the same bits, moved to a better pick-up point? Different bits? Different tree? Suddenly dissected trees seemed to be everywhere. Till even later that evening, when we returned from elsewhere and it was all gone. Perhaps taken somewhere for constructing leafy bowers for Phyllida or the Faerie Queene.

 

 
1x1.trans Cutting up
Categories : Nature
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