I have been brooding on the struggle between the Venetian rowing racers and the Comune, and I think some numbers might be illuminating.
I know I said in my last post that the racers don’t need the money, but the laborer is worthy of his hire, and the payments this year hover somewhere between risible and offensive. If I were a racer, I would indeed be angered by a city office named “Tutela Tradizioni” (protection of traditions) which does so little to keep this tradition going.
This year the city looked under the cushions of the divan and found some loose change, which permits them to offer prizes which would not be enough to pay for a fill-up at a gas station in Correctionville, Iowa.
The winner of the race pictured above — SS. Giovanni e Paolo, young men rowing gondolas solo — took home 221.20 euros ($293.67). The man who won the Regata di Murano, which is arguably the most important race of the year, scored 347.20 euros ($460.95).
The woman who won the Regata di Murano earned 221.20 euros ($293.67). The boy who won the same race took home 66 euros ($87.62). The boy who finished last got 33 euros ($43.81). And there are people in the city government who say they’re worried about the future of the races because so few boys show up to try out.
It gets better. The first four women to cross the finish line of the Regata de la Sensa got a pennant and a gold medal, which I think is nice, though money has a more immediate appeal. The other five women in the nine-boat field got zip. Niente. Zero. Same thing for the Regata di Malamocco.
And so it goes. The city manages to scrape up more for the Regata Storica, usually around 2,000 euros per man for the winning pair on the gondolinos, and downward from there for the other finishers.
This is so stupid that I can’t decide who to yell at first. It’s like inviting somebody to dinner and telling them to bring their own food.
But comes a ray of light glinting from a chest of gold doubloons, so to speak, from a faithful reader and friend (full disclosure).
This friend is American, by the way, which may explain why he sees ways to make money that the tired Old-World city government hasn’t yet considered. Evidently, what’s doable out in the big old vulgar tradition-free world beyond the bridge doesn’t seem so simple in our little tin-cup-rattling economy.
Let me say that I’m all in favor of the races being pure — whatever we think that means. But I don’t like them being poor. And I especially don’t like them not being, period. In case there was any doubt about that.
So here are some possible solutions:
“It seems to me that an infusion of crass commercialism could get things back on track. E.g.:
1. All boats will bear corporate logos like Nike, Taco Bell, Trojans, Depend Diapers, whatever … and thus a ton of ad revenue will get directed into the “Rowers’ Pot.”
2. All rowers will be adorned with shirts and caps similarly garnished and bearing internet addresses of the race sponsors = more ad revenue for the RP.
3. TV rights will be sold for live distribution around the world on the Nat Geo channel, thus tapping Rupert Murdoch for the RP.
4. Buxom cheerleaders for the various teams, scantily clad, no doubt, will cheer and bounce around in unison on the waterfront.
5. Observers will be barraged with logo items for sale by shoreside vendors who’ll remit 20% to the RP.
6. There will be time-outs between races to run commercials for said products – so more RP dough.
7. Travel agents throughout Europe will be tithed on airline ticket sales to Venice during June each year to create yet more moolah for the RP.
8. Racers will be paid the same amount in cash by divvying up the RP (estimated at about 4.5 million euros per rower annually); trophies made of various precious metals and gems will signify winners, losers, etc. (Here I balk: The four pennants — red, white, blue and green — have to be maintained. IT’S TRADITION.)
9. Racers will get lifetime supplies of all products advertised during the regata.
10. UNESCO will declare the race a World Heritage Event, thus assuring it United Nations funding in perpetuity.”
I cannot think of one reason why not to do any or all of the above. The one thing everybody agrees on, racers and city, is that they all want more money. So if the city can’t seem to discover any way to get more money for the races (though they were pretty clever at getting 5 billion euros and counting for MOSE), then we should just face it and play the game the way it’s supposed to be played.