1x1.trans Walking around, looking back

The lion has recently been restored, and if I gaze at his splendor, I think less about people. Sometimes this is a good thing.

We wandered up to the Rialto market this morning, a first-class walk if you start early.  The nearly empty streets and the general air of starting over fresh is always a great thing.

As often happens, we saw some people and some things that brought forth a small spate of reminiscences, inspired first by the extremely ancient man seated in our favorite cafe, alone, silently munching a small sandwich.  Whenever I see old people (especially men) alone, it makes me sad, and if they’re eating, I feel even sadder.

But Lino soon straightened me out.

“He was a gondolier,” Lino started, as soon as we were out the door.  “Irritating! (Fastidioso!).”  In pronouncing certain words, the tone of voice adds the necessary intensity.  In this case, the word came out at an octave above middle C and apart from the note and the delivery of this significant word was the way he drew it out ever so slightly. This gives the idea that the irritatingness was a long-term, probably inborn trait, not traceable to any specific event.

“He was always arguing, always quarreling,” Lino went on. “There was a protest organized by some gondoliers year ago in City Hall, and things got a little heated, and he pulled down a chandelier.  That got him some jail time.”

But for him, the jail wasn’t “the cooler.”  When he got out, he went right back to infuriating everybody.  One day he took it upon himself to protest something else — Lino doesn’t remember what — and he affixed an outboard motor to his gondola.  That got him another stint inside.

Please don’t ask me what laws he had broken.  I can imagine that “destroying government property” would apply to the first case, but have no idea about the second.  Disturbing the past?

To continue:

“One day I was at home, and I suddenly heard a noise” (sort of a booming thud, it seemed to be).  “I went downstairs to look around, and there was his gondola with a huge hole in the hull, slowly sinking.

“Somebody had taken a big crowbar and smashed through the bottom of the gondola.”  There are crowbars which can weigh 15 pounds.  I’m thinking one of those would have done the job.

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As you see, there are many vulnerable areas in the gondola’s hull, and if you know the trick, you can slay the whole boat.  (www.followgondola.eu)

“Also, the person didn’t drive the crowbar into the center of the space between two ribs.  He rammed it through the hull right next to one of the ribs, which is the weakest point.”

Who would have had means, motive and opportunity?  Well, lots of people, I suppose, but one sort of person was qualified to know exactly where to strike, like a particularly adroit  matador, and that would be another gondolier.

So our man got his gondola repaired and went on with his life, which entailed carrying tourists around in his gondola and annoying everybody.

“His son also became a gondolier,” Lino concluded.  “He was a good kid, much calmer.  Nothing like his father.”

And so the man retired, and now can be seen sitting at our cafe, at least once in a while, eating his snack all by himself.  Perhaps reminiscing, as old men do, but his reminiscences must be like constantly rising vapor, the sort you see coming from fumaroles on a temporarily dormant volcano.

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These gondoliers could be friends, I suppose. Or at least not enemies.

We headed back home, and were strolling along the Calle de le Acque.  We paused in front of an imposing building which now houses a branch of the post office (make note, if you ever need one between the Rialto and the Piazza San Marco).

“That’s where the bomb blew up,” Lino said.  Excuse me?

“It was back in the Seventies; the headquarters of the Gazzettino were in this building,” he said.  “It was printed here, too — the building’s right next to the canal, where the boats could load up the newspapers.”

The late Sixties to early Eighties, a period now known as the “Anni di Piombo” (Years of Lead, as in bullets), saw many terrorist attacks by domestic extremist groups, and I won’t begin a list here; I only mention it to clarify that this bomb was not an isolated incident.

“One morning (Feb. 21, 1978 — 37 years ago today!) there was a big explosion here, and a security guard was killed.”

His name was Franco Battagliarin, he was 49 years old and came from Cavallino Treporti on the edge of the lagoon.  He was passing early that morning, and noticed an object placed in front of the main door.  It was later found to have been a pressure cooker, which in those years was a favorite container for homemade bombs because it gave a sort of turbo-charge to the detonation.

Battagliarin went closer, decided to pick it up to move it, and was killed instantly by the blast.

The extreme right-wing group that called itself “Ordine Nuovo” (New Order) telephoned the Padova office of the newspaper a few hours later, claiming to have placed the bomb as “revenge for dead comrades.”  The paper had offended by publishing articles critical of the right wing.  Battagliarin was just an unforeseen by-victim.

Venice declared a day of mourning and flew the gonfalone of San Marco at half-staff for several days; his name is remembered each year on “Memory Day,” which is dedicated to all the victims of terrorism.

Back to Lino, who was at work that day at the airport, as usual.

“That day, the union steward came to us, furious, saying we would strike for a day to protest this attack directed at a ‘democratic newspaper.’

“And I was asking myself, ‘But wait — up until yesterday, you were always telling us that the Gazzettino was the newspaper of the bosses'” — in simpler words, the oppressor class.  “And today suddenly it’s a democratic paper?

“Anyway, at the meeting I said, ‘Instead of going on strike, we should all give our pay for one day to the family.'”

Sound good?  Only to him.  A chorus of “Are you insane?” followed.  So they went on strike one day, and he just kept on working.  Later a long line of co-workers came slinking up to him, each of them muttering “I’d have kept working too, but I didn’t have the courage,” to which Lino replied, “Numbskull.”

I think that’s enough stories for today.  I need to rest.

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The former headquarters of the Gazzettino looks like just one more old building in Venice. And who would ever look at the steps?

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A squarish stone and non-skid strip cover this catastrophic spot very nicely.  I’d like to go in and buy stamps to any country that doesn’t have crazy people.

 

Categories : Venetian-ness
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Feb
18

Carnival afterthoughts

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Here is a picture of the world yesterday, when frolic and carousal were the purpose of life:

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Frittelle are so last year. We wandered into a pastry shop near the Rialto and discovered “mamelukes,” which have totally overthrown every other Carnival delicacy in my world. The mamelukes, as you know, were a military caste in medieval Egypt, and flourished from the 9th to the 19th centuries. Because of southern Italy’s unfortunate first-hand experiences with Saracens, “mammalucho” has long since become a term you might use to refer to somebody who is a little slow of wit. In this case, however, the term refers to these seductive little four-inch-long bits of sweetness. I’d have bought the whole tray if I’d known how much I was going to like them.

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Where frittelle are primarily fried dough, these are primarily I don’t know what. Bits of candied fruit, obviously, but there’s a minimum of matrix. I don’t usually promote places (though I love to promote things, such as this), but you should know that these are created at the Pasticceria Targa at number 1050 on the Ruga del Ravano.  I doubt that they’ll be there before next year’s Carnival, but this will give you something to look forward to.

Lino was telling me about Carnival when he was a lad — or rather, not-Carnival.

“Who celebrated Carnival?” he asked in his characteristically rhetorical way.  “It was right after the war and nobody had anything to eat.  Everybody was just trying to survive.”

There’s another reason why there was no costumed jollification before Lent.  “The government forbade you to wear a mask,” he said.  Why?  “For fear of reprisals.  There was a lot of settling of scores from the war.” He means civilian scores, struggles between Fascists and Socialists on the home front.

“I had two uncles — I can’t remember their names right now,” he went on.  “They were really vocal Socialists, and every time the Duce came to Venice, they were put in prison.”  Ostensibly for their own protection, but more probably to keep whatever peace could be kept while company was visiting.

But prison didn’t have to be involved in these domestic conflicts.  Mussolini’s squads of paramilitary “Blackshirts” (officially known as the Voluntary Militia for National Security) were notorious for taking political dissidents and forcing them to drink large quantities of castor oil.  That experience would certainly leave a memory that would call for redress.

“And the Ponte brothers,” he went on.  “You remember Bruno Ponte, he worked at the airport with me. My older brother, who was a Socialist, told me that when the brothers went home at night, they walked backwards to their front door, holding machine guns, so nobody would shoot them in the back.”

Carnival?  You mean, let’s all dress up like Mozart and walk around the Piazza San Marco so people can take our picture? I’d say people weren’t really in the mood.

Now we have to say a word about today, Ash Wednesday.  You might be aware that it is a day of abstinence and penitence, which used to involve a number of practices, most of which no longer survive.

The major custom (apart from going to Mass and having ashes sprinkled on your head) was to abstain from eating meat today.  Only fish.  Or maybe nothing, if anybody were to feel extremely penitent.

Therefore it has long been the custom for the butcher shops to be closed on Ash Wednesday.  A cynical person might interpret that as “They might as well, if they’re not going to have any business.”  But in any case, the tradition is still observed in our little lobe of Venice and, I’m guessing/hoping, elsewhere.

Butcher shops, though, are in a steep decline, so this valuable reminder of at least one day a year when they’re not standing there ready to provide T-bone steak is probably going to disappear eventually.  After all, the supermarkets are all open and are merrily selling meat of every sort, including tripe.

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“Wednesday closed. The ashes.” So either stock up now, or go buy fish. Or pizza or hummus or tofu or whatever people eat when they want to show how independent they are.  “No meat today?  Fine.  I’ll just eat a couple of grilled scamorzas.”

I see I started with food and I’m ending with food.  Maybe this abstinence thing is beginning to affect my brain.  I mean, stomach.

 

Categories : Food
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Feb
17

Arrivederci Carnival

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I had no intention of going to the Piazza San Marco during Carnival, much less on Martedi’ Grasso, otherwise known (not here) as Mardi Gras, the last day of the fracas.

But the sun was shining, the wind was blowing, and we figured, why not?  So we went.

It was less chaotic than I had imagined, which was nice.  In fact, it verged on the placid.

And best of all, MY “Maria” won the pageant, and was crowned the Maria of 2015.  I was as shocked to discover my wish being fulfilled as I was the one night in my life that my bag was first onto the carousel at baggage claim at I can’t remember what airport.  And just as happy, too.

Here are some glances at the closing hours of revelry, not including the fireworks which we heard later on.  It seemed as if they were exploding from various points in the city and gave a satisfying concluding note to it all.

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The contestants vying for the prize for best costume had very fine outfits, though not many were as original as what we saw outside the show ring. This doge and his attendant (I’d have to study up on who his servant represented. One of the Council of Ten? Doubtful.) came from Palermo because they love Venice. I myself think it would have been much cooler for him to have dressed up as Roger II of Sicily, or some other non-Venetian notable. Dressing as a doge in Venice is like dressing up as Wyatt Earp in Dodge City.

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This extraordinary personage came into the special area (entrance ticket: 30 euros) a little late, and after a brief while departed.

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I imagine that eventually she needed a place to sit down and rest her stilts.

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I’m always glad to see some costume that isn’t an 18th-century-powdered-wig-tricorn-hat-walking-stick-beauty-spot conglomeration. No matter how elaborate that sort of outfit may be (and the gowns almost always look as if they’re made of upholstery fabric), it’s a look that isn’t very imaginative, and becomes very monotonous. So this turbaned wonder gets points from me.

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On the other end of the spectrum was this homegrown marvel, whose costume basically means nothing and whose sign (in Venetian) translates as: “I’ve got a lion between my legs, grr grr meow meow.” Still, people were happy to be photographed with him, even if they didn’t know what it said.

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This astonishing family seems to have been born and bred in a pastry shop. At first I thought the cakes were fake, but now I’m not so sure. If the hats are real, I want to be there when they bet against eating them.

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Food as accessory. I like it. You don’t have to keep it clean or find somewhere to store it.

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I like a lady who takes her rat out for a promenade.

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And I especially like that she gave the little rodent a Carnival mask.

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Yes, those are security people. I believe they were armed; there was some publicity about extra surveillance of the piazza this year.

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And here is Irene Rizzi, the Maria of 2015, bigger than life on the jumbotron behind the stage. She’s all decked out in some Chinese headdress for reasons that were unclear, though the presenters were babbling something about Marco Polo and the spice trade.

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The supreme moment of the afternoon was the closing event: Drawing a version of the Venetian flag up the same cable that the “Angel” had slid down, all the way to the top of the campanile of San Marco. A small group of men sang the “Hymn of San Marco” in an oddly drifty, lounge-y way. I’d have brought in trumpets, myself.

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And up it went. The wind was very cooperative in adding verve to the procedure.

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A man was waiting at the summit to wrangle the banner inboard.

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I think it’s so wonderful that these three ladies came out that I do not know what else to say. I love them.

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Sunset is totally the best time to be in the piazza.

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See you next year.

Categories : Venetian Events
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Feb
13

More looking around

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While I’m working on a post with slightly more substance, I thought I’d send out a few recent diverting glimpses:

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A week ago I saw the first peach blossoms of spring, accompanied by a few pussy willows. Some people look for daffodils or primroses, but the peaches do it for me. Seeing them now in this form means I won’t be seeing them later in edible form, but this is definitely a good sign.

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For anyone who might have wondered what this sign could have been promoting, it is mostly written in Venetian. (I say “mostly” because the Venetian for “oggi” is “ancuo.”) The Italian equivalent would be: “Cosa bolle oggi in pentola. Zuppa di trippa, pasta e fagioli, musetto caldo.” “What’s boiling in the pot today? Tripe soup, pasta and beans, hot musetto.” Musetto is a thick sausage-like object about 6 inches long which is made of ground pork, specifically the muso, or face, or snout, of the pig. It’s hugely good but only in the winter, when foods involving hot fat exert their fatal appeal.

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Who says Carnival is only for walking around in the Piazza San Marco? The cashier at our local supermarket is totally into the spirit.

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I spied this pair of unknown birds at low tide (admiring how cleverly their colors blended with the mud). Lino thought they were jackdaws, a species of crow known here as  “tacoe” (TAH-kow-eh), or Coloeus monedula. However, a sharp-eyed reader has confirmed them to be hooded crows (cornacchia grigia, in Italian), Corvus cornix.  Never seen them before.  If I’d been in a motorboat I wouldn’t have seen them this time, either, they’d long since have flown away.  Another fine reason to row.

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On a small side street there is still someone using the old-fashioned doorbell, as in door + bell, a real bell, which rings upstairs when you pull on the handle so conveniently placed outside.  I’m showing the entire door to draw attention also to how high the handle is.  No funny games by bored little hands, for sure.

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This is a sturdy, businesslike handle that seems to discourage frivolous ringings. The proprietor’s name is incised on the small bronze rectangle, and the floor he or she or they live on.  When Lino was a lad, most people had doorbells like this one, but his family didn’t add a name tag.

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The wire reaches all the way up to the designated domicile and disappears into the wall (obviously).

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A few steps down the street, there is another house with the old doorbell handle, but this one doesn’t completely convince me.  There may well be three tenants, but the two modern doorbells  make me wonder.  I must go check sometime.

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This is the bell that rang in Lino’s childhood home, salvaged from an extremely damp (as you see) storage area more or less at canal level. An object something like a nail (he doesn’t remember exactly) was passed through the tightly-wound roll of metal on the right, which held the bell upright against the wall. The wire to be pulled from below was attached just above the bell.

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And it makes a spectacular clang. Bronze on bronze makes it impossible to say “Oh, was that you? I didn’t hear anything.”

 

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Categories : Venetian-ness
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