The unexpected is always expected


Each day in each week in the so-called most beautiful city in the world often feels like a loaded coal cart which I am pulling along a rusty track.  Instead of coal, however, which hasn’t been burned here for quite a few decades, my daily cart, so to speak, is loaded with the same detritus of which life is composed pretty much everywhere: appointments, shopping, cleaning, public transportation challenges, all enlivened by the occasional strike which makes the usual inconveniences even more complex and invigorating.

Still, I’d rather be here than in Fargo or Yazoo City.

While I’m hauling the daily freight, though, there is a steady supply of tiny events throughout the day, running on a sort of parallel track, which form their own little train of entertainment.  I’ve finished with this metaphor now.

For example: Last Sunday morning I was walking across a nearby small campo which I was surprised to see embellished by an unusual arrangement of objects.  It wasn’t a relic of the recently-closed Biennale (though it made a lot more sense than many of  the putative works of art I’d seen).  It was a token of the vox populi, or rather, the vox of one person, crying in the wilderness, a person who had suddenly snapped.

Little blue plastic bags and a strip of white paper. If you recognize the bags, you can guess what the paper's for. Spontaneous denunciations show up on walls and doors, decrying some behavior which has become intolerable. But this is the first time I've seen a sign on the ground.







The bags -- by now a neighborhood staple, though they're not always blue -- contain dog poop. If you think this is gross, you should know there are still plenty of people who deny that their dog ever eliminates. But this person has had enough: "Disgusting pigs," the writer begins: "Pick up your dogs' poop. Uncouth pigs."






Another voice recently made itself heard on the neighborhood notice-board at the Giardini vaporetto stop.  This board, like all of them, is entirely improvised, a sort of stationary town crier which serves an obviously useful purpose, despite the fact that it is pretty much illegal.

Augusto Salvadori, the previous sub-mayor for tourism, as well as the self-appointed arbiter of decorum, civic uplift and general improvement of tone, made a stab at abolishing these little outposts by threatening to fine anybody who dared to tape or glue their humble advertisement on any public surface. Seeing that these notices always carry a phone number, this threat could have been scary, except that the snarling tiger had no fangs or claws, otherwise known as the power of enforcement.  So the notices continue to bloom and, in my view, continue to serve a useful purpose. I happened to find a good, inexpensive seamstress this way, and I’ve also got the number of a computer geek stashed somewhere, which I took down off a strip of paper near the San Pietro vaporetto stop. So I’m glad they’re still there, even if they are ugly.

But the other day I came across a notice advertising a room for rent. This in itself isn’t noteworthy; since the city is awash in budget-restricted residents of every sort, from students to Eastern European women working as caretakers, accommodations are always eagerly sought — more eagerly sought than offered, may I say.

But this particular notice, on second reading, carried an unpleasantly different connotation.

It said:  “Fifty-year-old will share with a girl or working woman an apartment which is sunny, near the Santa Marta vaporetto stop, a single bed in a small room available.  The house is composed of an eat-in kitchen, small living room and two rooms of which one is occupied.  Contact Francesco (followed by his cell phone number).”

I spent a lively five minutes telling Lino what I thought of a man offering his extra room explicitly to a female, and no nitpicking about age.  My reaction could be summed up in one word:  “Swine.”

Today, to my surprise, I came across the same skeezy announcement taped up at the vaporetto stop by the hospital.  Why was I surprised?  He must have put these up all over town.  What struck me was that someone had written on it my very own thought: “Porco.”  Pig. It made me feel a bond with someone I’ll never know. Maybe there are people all over the city who have thought, or written, this opinion.  We should form a club.

But all the surprises aren’t so rank.  There was a beautiful little bonus on the other side of the bridge as we left early this morning: A boat piled with fish.

Maybe you don’t care about fish, but any sign that somebody has gone out in the lagoon and come back with something finny is a great thing.  It used to be as normal as learning how to swim by hanging onto your mother’s washboard in the canal (not made up).  Now people go buy salmon and lobster at the fishmarket.  You’ve heard this rant before.

They were grey mullet, which I’ve caught myself; sometimes an especially exuberant one jumps into the boat.  But this was quite a haul, and there must have been at least 50 of these creatures all tangled up in a heap of net, against which most of them were still fighting, except for their brothers who had long since suffocated underneath everything.

Even the trash collector stopped to inspect the catch and discuss its finer points with Lino.

The few people who were out at 7:00 stopped, or at least slowed, to have a look.  As a sign of the continuing deterioration of culture here, one woman asked if they were sea bass – this, in a neighborhood where people once knew their fish better than the multiplication table.

Another young woman’s sole remark was, “I wouldn’t take them if you gave them to me.”  This is guaranteed to hit one of Lino’s most exposed nerves.  “She grew up eating LOBSTER,’  he hissed sarcastically to me. People used to thank God on their knees for food, not to mention fresh fish; the idea that you could reject such bounty really fries his ganglia.

A little girl walked by on her way to school, with her little brother.  She paused to look at this mound of goodness, then stretched out her closed umbrella and pushed the tip gently against the cheek of one fish.  Then she turned to walk away.  Her little brother thought it was funny.  “What if the fish ate your umbrella?” he asked her, laughing.  Maybe he had imagined the fish suddenly rearing up, like Jaws, swallowing her and her umbrella whole, never to be seen again. She didn’t reply.

If you pay attention, you will always see something beautiful.  Perhaps you don’t think that beauty could qualify as unexpected here, but there are so many different kinds, at so many different moments, that some of them are bound to surprise you.  Like the mountains at sunrise.

No more need be said.



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  1. Becky says:

    That apartment advertisement is really horrible 🙁 I hope no-one takes that sad guy up on his offer. Unfortunately, if someone is really desperate…who knows what will happen.
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  2. I don’t get what the blue bags and paper was being used for? lol.. I must be out of the loop, drugs I assume.

    • Erla Zwingle says:

      As I attempted to clarify in the caption, the blue bags contain dog poop. The white paper was used for writing one person’s angry response to the uncouth neighbors who leave their dog’s excrement around in bags (which are not always blue, but you can always tell what they are).

      • Lidia says:

        I’m surprised by the number of people who don’t pick up after their dogs. It’s disgusting, I’m on that guys side.

        I mean really, how hard is it to make sure you have a few bags on you, they cost something like $2 for 100 of them. Sorry, bit of a rant since it’s spring and as the snow melts, I’m seeing just how many people didn’t bother to pick up over the winter.
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  3. Fishes seem not so much. Catch more fishes…. again!
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  4. It’s ridiculous whoever place the blue bags contain dog poop. It’s horrible really.