The calafati party downBy
San Foca is the patron saint of caulkers, hence he is also the patron of The Societa’ di Mutuo Soccorso fra Carpentieri e Calafati: The Society of Mutual Aid between Carpenters and Caulkers.
I can’t say there’s much work for either of these categories here anymore — certainly not as much as there was when the Venetian Republic was in full cry. But these craftsmen were always near the top of the food chain, considering that Venetian power was essentially naval. A statement to this effect was recorded in the Venetian Senate, for what reason I know not, on July 13, 1487 (translated by me): “… carpenters and caulkers, have been at all times the most appreciated and accepted on the galleys and other of our ships because in every need of any sort these men are the most adapted and necessary of any other kind of man.” Considering the wear and tear a Venetian ship was likely to undergo in its life, especially after cannon began to be used, your caulker would have been up there with the navigator and the cook as far as the well-being and probable safe return of the crew were concerned.
If you’re still not convinced that caulking is such a big deal, consider how much, as the song goes, you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. An example: On the night before a certain battle, which I’m not going to pause to look up just now, the Venetian admiral was pondering the odds for winning the imminent battle with the unpleasantly superior Turkish fleet. Hope for the best? Or just send a batch of men at night to swim under the Turkish ships and rip out the caulking sealing the planks of their hulls? Dawn broke to what must have been a quiet but busy sound from the Turkish bilges, something like blub-blub-blub….
Back to the mutual aid society. March 5 is San Foca’s feast day, so he was celebrated at a special mass in honor of him as well as the departed members of the sodality. And then, naturally, there was a party. You’ve heard it before: “All the psalms end with the ‘Gloria.'”
Seeing that I am a newly fledged (or whatever the ship-caulking counterpart might be) member of the SMSCC, Lino and I went to join in.
The ceremony was in the church of San Martino, which is right under the haunch of the Arsenal, and which is full of assorted tokens of carpentering and caulking. There was nothing especially noteworthy about the mass, except for the unusually large number of people attending. And the party followed tradition in its simplest and clearest outlines: People! Noise! A small, hot room crammed with loud, hungry humans and vats of Venetian food!
I don’t know if San Foca had a favorite dish, but I’m always going to associate him with tripe soup. An ancient and honorable comestible which deserves a wider audience and which I’d bet money you would like as long as you didn’t know what it was.
And I think next year we should all plan to hold the party in Calafat, Romania. It was founded by caulkers from Genoa, but I suppose we could overlook that for the sake of harmony. I’m going to get to work on the convoy’s banners: “Calafat or Bust.”