Nov
18

pitching in

By · Comments (4)

“Tarring the Boat,” 1873, by Edouard Manet (Barnes Foundation, Lower Merion, PA).  Lino was born in time to see this seemingly simple procedure before it went the way of the dodo.  One man gripped a large handful of blazing reeds, and the second man spread the scalding tar by means of a stick which was tightly wrapped at the end with pieces of sheepskin.  The burning reeds kept the pitch at a higher and therefore more spreadable temperature as Man 2 laboriously applied it to the boat’s hull.  I have seen a gondola-builder use these burning reeds, passing them slowly across the hull to gradually remove the varnish; he told me that the lagoon reeds emitted a flame that was more humid than that of many other potential tools, and was thus less traumatic to the boat.  You see?  People don’t use a technique just because there isn’t any other — there is almost always a reason.

Here is a new warp (or weft) to the fabric of life in LinoLand, otherwise known as the place where he has known just about everybody still left in Venice.  Or in this case, not still left.

The case in point: A death notice we came across for a certain Gastone Nardo.  Strangely, this is someone I also knew (a little, and very late. Like, I met him twice.)  He was the gondola-maker at the Squero San Trovaso when I came to Venice, and I was invited to a boat-launching there one freezing February day.  That’s the most I can say about him on my own account.  But of course Lino knows more.

“Well,” Lino said, “he wasn’t always a squerariol (boatbuilder) He came from a family of pegoloti.”  “Pegola” is Venetian for “pitch,” not as in baseballs but as in scorching hot tar, which was the immemorial way to water- and shipworm-proof boats until the middle of the last century.  Knowing how to handle, and apply, boiling pitch to the hull of a boat is probably not something you’d learn as a weekend hobby; it was certainly an important craft.  But you can understand that a pegoloto was several hundred rungs below squerariol, so I admire him intensely for having undertaken to learn how to build gondolas.  Working your way up from chopping lettuce at Quiznos to chef at the Restaurant Le Meurice is one thing, but it isn’t much easier working up from a searing cauldron of pine-derived hydrocarbons to constructing one of the great boats of the world. But he did it.

A friend walks past a recent harvest of reeds by the lagoon of Caorle. They were also useful, not to say ideal, for many uses other than boat-scorching, often woven together in various ways by fishermen and sailors to form latticework known as “grisiole” in Venetian.

But just because nobody uses pitch anymore doesn’t mean it has left Venice altogether — it lives on in a very common daily phrase which is almost as useful as the stuff itself.  It’s a verb, actually: “impegolar” (im-pegh-o-YAR), to metaphorically cover with pitch, to cleverly entrap somebody in a way that a tiptoeing saber-toothed tiger at La Brea would perfectly understand.

I’ve never heard it used by someone admitting to having committed this act on someone else — it’s always been the person who has been deviously empitched who will say it.  Life in Venice, and anywhere else, still offers far too many opportunities to use this expression. Generous, well-meaning, let-there-be-peace-and-let-it-begin-with-me people are fated to walk right into somebody’s loaded tarbrush.

A perfect example of this phenomenon happened to Lino years ago at the hands of his late brother-in-law, Sergio; they were two guys who have rarely, if ever, been known to block out a cry for help.  Sergio, especially, was famed across campi and campielli as one of the best-natured men ever to walk the earth, so of course he was exploited.  But he didn’t go alone.

One day he agreed to help some neighbor carry “a table and four chairs” downstairs and transport them to an apartment on what was virtually the street next door.  Keep “four chairs” and “street next door” firmly in mind.

A boat was needed.  Lino had a small boat.  Would Lino help him fulfill this modest and glowing-with-goodness little project?  Of course Lino would.

And of course Lino and Sergio found themselves “impegolai” in a gigantic moving project that lasted two whole days, schlepping chairs, tables, huge plants in massive clay pots, a divan, credenza, and all the kitchen furnishings including the stove down four, or maybe it was five, flights of stairs. Moving Day! Meanwhile, the beneficiary of this effort, the man of the house, lay peacefully sleeping in bed, and they were even cautioned to work quietly so as not to disturb him.  Naturally this apartment was on the top floor of the building.

And all of this cargo had to carried into the new apartment, naturally, including the bed which was available after the man of the house had awakened (not because of any random noise by the trio of movers), and gone out to do something else, thoughtfully getting out of their way.

From Point A to Point B in Lino’s little boat. The inconvenience of the water route is matched only by the inconvenience there would have been by land. In this case, Lino and Sergio had some help from Bruno, but Bruno was about the size of Willie Shoemaker, so I’m not sure how much he could carry per trip. Still, help is never to be sneered at.

Do not think that finding yourself impegola‘ once means it will never happen again, because  the trick is that these projects always start small (“four chairs”).  So one time the parish asked Sergio if he’d carry away “a few packages” of old newspapers to be recycled.  Yes, even in those long-ago days paper was usefully disposed of at a macero (a pulping mill) in Campo San Silvestro where a trendy little bar-cafe is now lounging around.  Boat needed, with Lino, though only for half of the project.

In this case the cargo — mountains of newspapers — was merely to be unloaded at Lino’s family’s waterside storeroom. Sergio figured out how to get them to the pulping place on his own. Maybe Lino told him that his boat couldn’t take it anymore.

By now I don’t have to say that the “few packages” turned out to be towers of stacked newspapers requiring many roundtrips.  But these things never happen on a boring Saturday afternoon when you literally have nothing to do.  In this case, it was the Saturday of the Redentore, which sort of a summertime version of Christmas Eve, if you want some comparison between the importance of what you’re doing and what the family expects you to be doing.

So instead of preparing his boat for the evening’s festivities (eating, drinking, hanging out with other boat-borne friends, watching fireworks), Lino was rowing his boat around half of Venice again and again to help out Sergio because Sergio said he’d help out the parish.  Why that particular day and not the following Monday?  Because otherwise it would have been convenient, and if you find yourself impegola‘ it’s precisely  because the activity involved cannot be postponed and it must be at the least convenient moment and because only you can accomplish it.

To be fair, Sergio’s Redentore was also twisted out of shape, because that’s the world that people with hearts of gold inhabit.  Beautiful, true, but  completely tacky with pitch.

A few steps from the Arsenal is the “First Sidestreet of the Pitch.” Must have smelled amazing. Everybody with headaches all day and insomnia by night.  Perhaps not much different from the people living next to the pulping mill.

Categories : Venetian-ness
Comments (4)

One of the best things about Venice is how, the minute you walk outside, you are surrounded by curious and beautiful and surprising and amusing things.  It used to be that most people would notice at least some of them; now that 98 percent of humans spend all their time staring at or listening to electronic devices, I suppose most of the aforementioned curious, etc. things could just move away and live somewhere else, like Turkmenistan, and nobody would notice.  “Hey! Where’d Venice go?  I was just checking my email/Twitter feed/Facebook quagmire/WhatsApp” (by the way, nothing is app), and the city’s just gone.”  Of course, for the same reason they probably wouldn’t notice in Turkmenistan that a World Heritage Site d/b/a “the most beautiful city in the world” had suddenly sprung up in their midst.

But I still wander around looking at things, and here are a few I came across recently:

A highly superior dog exploiting his master’s feet on the 5.1 vaporetto.

You thought he couldn’t be any cooler? How about this?

And speaking of vaporettos, I don’t know if the doll gets a special rate, but she certainly has been given a great seat. I’m not sure I’d have had the liver, as they say here, to ask to sit there.

I finally noticed, after years of passing the church of San Trovaso, that above the door to the belltower a guardian being was long ago installed to ward off evil spirits.  He’s not the only one in Venice, but he does have a certain charisma.

However, if I were an evil spirit this face would more probably cause me to ask “Do you feel like talking about it?”

There are many other canines to be found around Venice, in a variety of breeds and material. If this pooch is supposed to be scaring away evil spirits, he’s got a funny way of doing it. Maybe he plans on wagging and licking them to death.

A bit of worldly wisdom in a shop window, expressed perfectly in Venetian: “When I talk, they don’t listen. When they listen, they don’t understand.  When they understand, they forget.”

And while we’re on the subject of understanding, there is something so complicated about three dimensions in a small space that it defeats people’s comprehension. This image needs no further comment from me, though I had several ready at the time.  When you and many other people need to disembark, they have to squeeze through the backpacks here like hot pig iron through rollers.  (One point, though, to the man on the right for color-coordinating his pack and jacket.  Point deducted for the vileness of the color.)

Two stuffed toy rats in a training potty. The world is a great and imponderable place and Venice is doing its best to keep up.

 

Categories : Venetian-ness
Comments (4)
Oct
24

Is Venice that way?

By · Comments (5)

The Venice Marathon finishes in the most beautiful city in the world. Or maybe not.

The classic foot race known as a marathon is generally predictable, from the distance (26 miles/385 yards or 42 km/195 meters) to the winner (so often an athlete from Kenya or Ethiopia or Eritrea).  And why should the 32nd Venice Marathon, which was run last Sunday, October 22, have been any different?

Why indeed?  That’s what people would really like to know.

Because in 31 years here no competitors in the lead have ever somehow taken the wrong road at the 16-mile point.  And yet on Sunday there was a little peloton of East Africans who were some distance ahead of the 5,962 other runners.  Abdulahl Dawud, Gilbert Kipleting Chumba, Kipkemei Mutai and David Kiprono Metto were following the motorcycle at the head of the race, as per normal, and when it turned right, going up the ramp onto the overpass leading to Venice, naturally they followed.  Except that they were supposed to be on the highway below the overpass.

The drone — or helicopter — showed this scene in real time. Unbelievable. (itv.com)

Of course there’s nothing strange about seeing the front runners on an empty road.  It just turned out to be the wrong empty road. (Sports Illustrated)

As two precious minutes ticked by, somebody else on a motorcycle caught up with them, yelling (I imagine) “What the hell, you guys?  You’re supposed to be down there!”  I imagine this because Lino and I were watching the live broadcast and you could easily see the men begin to turn around and trot back the way they came, no longer in the lead although still all by themselves, race essentially over. In fact, it was literally over; they withdrew immediately.  One doesn’t run 26 miles/385 yards, or at that point one hour and 15 minutes, for the sheer euphoric joy of it.  Who was responsible for that wrong turn?  If you know, the world would like to hear from you.  And so would the four runners.

As if we needed another problem, here it is: The winner, Eyob Faniel — who finished with an amazing two-minute lead over the rest of the pack — was born in Eritrea but is a naturalized Italian citizen and runs for the Venicemarathon Club.  Fun fact:  It has been 22 years since an Italian won the Venice Marathon.  About time, you say?  Somebody else might have been thinking the same thought.  I’m not usually one for conspiracy theories, but the optics here, as the current expression has it, are not attractive.

Here is what Lorenzo Cortesi, general secretary of the Venice Marathon, has said (translated by me): “We need to evaluate if this was an error by the vigili urbani (a sort of local police), or by us.  The service autos exited the barriers and the local police didn’t close the street.  The motorcycles, then, weren’t able to transit the underpass.” (I totally do not understand this last bit.  You want the people to run on a road that the motorcycle is forbidden to take?)  “But I wouldn’t want the significance of this race to be limited only to this.”  Of course you wouldn’t.  Neither would I, if I were in charge.

But enough unpleasantness!  Backpats generously administered by Signor Cortesi to the 2,000 volunteers involved, not to mention to everyone involved in the successful completion of all the unusual elements which the Venice Marathon requires: “Just think of the fact that we have to transport from the mainland to the arrival area, with 12 big trucks and 12 boats, the sacks of all the personal effects of the athletes.”

I can confirm that the organization was impressive as seen from ground level, from the chemical toilets to the bags of snacks to the massage tables with massagers waiting for massaggees.

But although the scaffolding and some bridges and the bleachers have all been removed, the questions refuse to go away.  It used to be that everybody would be talking about how people ran.  Now the only thing they’re talking about is where.

On Thursday, things began to be done on the Riva dei Sette Martiri. Unusual things for the Riva, normal things for the marathon, which is held on the fourth (and usually also the last) Sunday in October.

This spacious area in the Giardini Pubblici was soon to be revised to accommodate the immediate needs of thousands of exhausted and sweaty people.

The accommodation was, first of all, big tents for changing your clothes. Smaller tents were for medical attention of various sorts.

Masses of runners downshifting after the 10K race, which preceded the main event by a few hours. The brown-paper bags contained cartons of fruit juice, cookies, fruit and something else — I only got a glimpse inside one. The broad plastic wrappers were temporary blankets doing double duty as large posters for the main sponsor, Huawei Technologies. I should have mentioned that the official name of the event, as announced by the speaker in virtually every sentence, is “Huawei Venice Marathon.”

Yes, there will be garbage. Let’s see…thousands of plastic blankets and paper bags of food and busted shoelaces and fistfuls of used tissues, or whatever runners throw away when the party’s over, all have to be collected and carried off by the hardy trashmen and women of Veritas.

 

Three of the 12 enormous boats loaded with bags which contain the bags of runners’ personal effects trundled toward the Giardini to wherever the pickup point was organized.  If you’ve ever had any reason to inquire about the cost of renting one of these boats, you won’t have to ask why there are so many sponsors for this event.

As you see: Sponsors. Job lots of them, which is the only way these affairs can exist.

We sat in the bleachers watching the overjoyed 10K runners cross the finish line. The sky threw down some gobbets of rain but it didn’t last long.

The jumbotron was a great way to watch the big race as the runners coasted along the Brenta river. It all seemed so peaceful and normal…

A few sections of the temporary bridge used for the feast of the Redentore bring the runners from the Zattere across the Grand Canal to San Marco.

There was a little soupcon of acqua alta in the Piazza, but the higher stretch in the center of the square meant the runners kept their feet dry (which was not the case on one memorable day some years ago when “sloshing” entered the event’s description).

The fabulous finish by Eyob Faniel was pretty exciting. I don’t want the backstory to discolor what was a great moment for the spectators anyway.  Nobody had truly grasped the whole situation at this point, and a guy running with nobody to be seen behind him is irresistibly thrilling.

And of course, crossing the finish line was a huge experience for the myriad unsung runners racing against themselves.

And after the glory come the showers. Follow the helpful hand-drawn arrows to hot water and soap, the happy ending after the happy ending.

 

Categories : Events
Comments (5)

If it weren’t for the lagoon, maybe people wouldn’t care quite so much about Venice. Interesting thought to ponder. But the lagoon would probably be better off without Venice, because then it wouldn’t be abused and tormented to make sure that Venice won’t have some water in the streets sometimes.

What everybody loves about Venice (among many things) is how old it is.  And that is indeed a thing to love.  I imagine all those amazing designers and builders and artists working away centuries ago, believing that their handiwork would last for, oh, maybe ever.  And because they were first-rate craftsmen, it turns out that most of them were right.

You might say that MOSE is also going to last forever, but not in a good way.  I don’t write updates on the continuing calamity that is the world’s most preposterous project because I’m bored by the mendacity, magnitude and monotony of the problems.  Everything has gone, is going, and will be going, wrong with this thing until Jesus comes back, so updates are pointless.  In fact, I’ve begun to suspect that the whole thing started with a bunch of drunk people sitting around one summer afternoon on some rich person’s yacht or private mountain, who decided to break the boredom by inventing a game in which the winner is the one who finds a way to waste the most money on the most pointless enterprise in the history of the world.  If you can call it “winning.”  Bonus points for environmental damage, or if somebody dies.

But the latest headlines have barged into my brain and made me think about it again, if only briefly, and my thoughts are not lovely.  I can sum it up for you:  Yet more things have been discovered to be screwed up, and fixing them will cost lots more money.  This has become the refrain of the Marching Song of the MOSE Squadron, while the bass singers set the jaunty rhythm “Money for me, money for me, money for me…..”  And as you read, consider (as I have) that if I had done the calculations, it’s obvious they would have come out all wrong.  But I am not a civil engineer (I’m hardly civil at all) and I do not have a piece of paper from some institute which implies that I have studied how to do this work.  But we must face the fact that the perpetrators of all this have such certificates.

Is there something about water that just baffles engineers in Venice? They ought to be experts, yet somehow the smallest details are just left unfixed. One might say that the flow of the water and/or the position of the grate of this fountain don’t really HAVE to match up, but then one considers the possibility that the designer was later hired to work on MOSE.

Here’s the headline on September 

MOSE, the gate of the lock at Malamocco has to be redone.

I will translate the main points in this and the following article:

The gate on the lock basin (“conca“) at Malamocco has to be redone.  After the 400 million euros already spent, another 20 million will have to be invested for the “lunata,” the semi-circular breakwater shaped like the moon which protects the ships from waves and current as they position themselves to enter or as they exit.

Here is the inlet between the Adriatic (to the right) and the lagoon (to the left). It’s sort of like two boxers facing off  before the gong. Clockwise from “lunata” we find: The construction yard of the caissons for MOSE, the tiny hamlet of Santa Maria del Mare, the lock to permit shipping to pass when the floodgates are closed in the inlet, the nature park at the Alberoni, the inlet which will be blocked by the raised floodgates in the case of exceptional high tide, and the Alberoni seawall.

The lock, you may recall, was dug to permit the passage of ships between the Adriatic and the lagoon whenever the floodgates are raised.  But evidently every good idea contains the seeds of its own destruction, if you play it right.  It was constructed in 2007 by the Consorzio Venezia Nuova (by means of the mega-company Mantovani) and designed by Technital ten years ago, which Vitucci recalls as  “the golden age of MOSE, when money poured in without limits and without too much control.”  But even then the design was clearly flawed, for which almost everybody involved is now paying the consequences.

Inadequate.  Even though the breakwater extends 1300 meters (4,265 feet), its basin is too small for the latest generation of container ships, making it too risky for the big ships to attempt to enter the lock.  Other than that, the “mobile” parts of the lock — the gates — cannot function because the water exerts too much pressure.  The persons making those calculations might have been interrupted by a phone call, or the arrival of a pizza; anyway, it doesn’t work. This problem was discovered in 2015 when the gate gave way in the first storm.  Urgent interventions are now in the hands of a Belgian company.

But not to worry!  The president of the Magistrato alle Acque, Roberto Linetti, says that fixing it will only cost 18 million euros because the foundations are still good.  And meanwhile, they’ll be able to add a few meters to allow the ships to pass. So you see?  In the end, it was a good thing the gate didn’t work.

Infinite.  Or “unfinished.”  Or “unfinishable,” perhaps.  What now bears the tired title of the “MOSE scandal” consists, as Vitucci lists it, of: “Bribes and consultants, off-the-books payments and always-positive evaluations rendered by friendly experts, extra costs due to the lack of competition and the necessity of accumulating “black” (untraceable) funds to pay the bribes.  But also there have been obvious errors, such as the lock. What was intended to be a structure to prevent penalizing the port activity when the floodgates were up has been shown to be, at the end, the umpteenth useless big project.

Waste.  The lock is far from being the only problem — there are the collateral “major works” connected to MOSE, each one of which is its own little one-act tragedy. The “jack-up,” the large “ship” which cost 50 million euros for transporting and moving the gates constructed by Comar and Mantovani, remains anchored at the Arsenal and has never been used because it doesn’t function, despite the repairs that have been made. There is also the damage to the seawall at San Nicolo’ on the Lido, which collapsed a few days after it had been tested.  Tens of millions of euros thrown into the sea, as Vitucci (and probably many others) puts it.  Damages will need to be paid for all those, too, but it’s not clear by whom.

This is the “jack-up.” Big, expensive, impressive, it makes no pretense of working.

But wait!  There’s more!  Is anyone wondering how the various components are managing to resist encrustation and mold?  I can tell you!  But before I do, pause to marvel at the astonishing presence of salt in seawater, not to mention algae and all sorts of cretures which insist on attaching themselves to things. Who could possibly have known, or even guessed at random, that the Adriatic contains salt and water?

The headline in the Nuova Venezia on September 7, 2017, on a story written by Alberto Vitucci:

Mold and degradation, the MOSE gates are already blocked. 

“Big works = big mafias.” I don’t usually agree with graffiti, but this sums up the situation with admirable clarity.

The encrustation is increasing; the paint is already old.  And without electricity it’s impossible to raise the barriers.  Mold and degradation in the corridors of the caissons beneath the lagoon.  And the gates, exposed for six months to the weather and salt at Santa Marina del Mare, have to be repainted.

The installations.  The latest problem is the delay in building the electric plant to raise the gates.  MOSE needs energy to raise the gates because it doesn’t exploit the natural energy of the sea and waves.  … Unlike the sequence of events at San Nicolo’, where the power plant was installed first, at Malamocco it was decided to position the gates on the lagoon bottom before the power plant was built.  Result: For several months the gates have lain on the bottom but it’s impossible to test raising them.

Corrosion and fouling. The first inspections revealed corrosion and encrustation.  The lack of electricity has prevented the correct ventilation underwater where the cables and systems pass, not to mention the workers.  The walls are covered with a layer of mold 5 centimeters (2 inches) deep. MOSE is a system conceived to remain underwater, and without maintenance, the problems multiply, such as the corrosion of the hinges (of the gates) that was reported several months ago. What to do? The Consorzio Venezia Nuova announced a competition for bids on the construction of the systems.  Two groups won, the Abb Comes of Taranto and the Abb Idf of Brindisi. But the proposal to realize some temporary systems to move the gates wasn’t approved.  It would have cost 14 million euros, so just let the gates sit underwater, blossoming.

Several months ago, the gates underwater at Treporti began to show accumulations of barnacles, mussels, and crabs — sea-dwelling creatures which were not exactly unknown before the work started.

The paint is peeling. Because there is no electricity or apparatus to install them, the 30 gates that were supposed to be lowered into the water have been waiting for months on the construction site of the caissons.  The delay is due to the non-functioning of the “jack-up.” (Some gates were constructed in Croatia and brought across the Adriatic from Split.)  During these months, the workers have battled the weather and the seagulls, which have begun to nest in the gates, as follows…..

MOSE: Even the seagulls are stripping the paint.

Information from the article by Alberto Vitucci, La Nuova Venezia, 29 April 2017

It turns out that the beached (so to speak) gates sitting at the construction site are a very attractive home for nesting seagulls, sort of like LeFrak City for waterfowl.  But their guano is damaging the paint, and eventually corrodes the metal too.  The birds stab at the peeling paint with their beaks, trying to strip it off (boredom? sport? snacks?).  Protective tarpaulins have been spread over the gates, but large spaces have been left open for work on the hinges, so ….

Bring on the scarecrows! (I mean gulls): Deafening recordings of frightening sounds.  They tried an amped-up donkey braying because an ethologist said that birds are afraid of it.  Birds, sure, but not gulls, who fear almost nothing anymore.  Next, a high-volume dog growling. Nope. In the end, the only thing that works is a cannon firing blanks, so cannonfire is now periodically heard in the lagoon, followed by the wild flapping of hundreds and hundreds of wings of birds that soon return.

How long will all this be going on?

The timetable.  According to the latest schedule — after deadlines passed from 2011 to 2014, then 2017, then 2018 — the work will be finished by 2021.  Four (or five or ten?) more years of astonishing stories to come.  And I haven’t even said anything about the subsidence of the lagoon bottom beneath the caissons due to the powerful force of the tides (tides? there are tides in the sea? what??) which appear to be distorting the position of the gates…..

Life on earth requires many adjustments. Shown here is a reasonable solution to a problem. I have no images of a reasonable solution to any of MOSE’s problems.

 

 

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Categories : MOSE, Problems
Comments (4)