Another Venetian glimpseBy
What I love are the glimpses of life I get when I’m walking around the city with Lino. Lino’s life, mostly, which by this point extends and entwines itself with what seems like virtually everyone and -thing we encounter. I’m convinced that I could point at anybody (or thing) at random, anywhere in the city, and it would bring some reminiscence to the fore.
Sometimes the reminiscences arrive under their own steam.
The other morning we were walking from San Giovanni e Paolo (please note: No matter what the guidebooks insist on claiming, primarily because most of them repeat what they’ve read in other guidebooks — fancy way of saying “copy” — NOBODY says “Zanipolo.” I have seen it written as the name of a transport company, but as for saying it? Never. They might have done so 50 or 100 years ago, but even if the Venetian language is still thriving, it too is metamorphosing, and certain words and phrases are as remote as “Forsooth.” People here go to the Maldives and Thailand on vacation and have all the satellite TV in the world. And it’s hard to maintain quaint old-fashioned modes of speech, no matter how much certain foreigners wish you would, when your kids watch “The Simpsons” and MTV). Anybody who wants Venetians to be saying “Zanipolo” almost certainly wants Americans to say “Goldarn it” and Mexicans to say “Caramba.” Except that specimens of the latter two might possibly still be found in a grotto somewhere. If you find a Venetian who has just said “Zanipolo,” I want you to bring him or her to our house and I’ll fix him or her dinner and take pictures of him or her and send them to the Gazzettino.
So as I say, we were walking from there toward the Strada Nova, wending through the mid-morning traffic. A man overtook us.
“Ciao Lino,” he said as he passed, without stopping.
And he was gone.
“That man used to be a national rowing champion,” Lino said. By “rowing” he was referring to canottaggio, or what is also called here “English-style rowing.” This is a sport with a glorious history of Venetian athletes but which now barely survives, due to the inexorable increase of motondoso, by eating tree bark and licking dew-dripping leaves. So to speak. So a national champion from Venice is not to be taken lightly.
“His son also rowed,” Lino continued.
“One day they (the Italian Olympic committee) contacted his son and invited him to join the national Olympic team. No tests, no trials, no eliminations. Just like that. He was that good.
“And his son said, ‘Nah. Not interested.’ Nobody could make him care. So he didn’t go.”
“His father must have lost his mind.”
“You can imagine.”