Is it sad? Or is it just meh?


The last time I saw the sun shine was January 6.  It must have been a special gift from the Befana, one heck of a great stocking stuffer for the whole city. Here is what the morning of Epiphany looked like.  Dwell long and lovingly upon it, because evidently we’re not going to see its like again, if the week that followed is any indication.

"Glorious" is not a word I usually think of applying to via Garibaldi, but in this case the street applied it to itself and I just got to watch.

“Glorious” is not a word I usually think of applying to via Garibaldi, but in this case the street applied it to itself and I just got to watch.

Well, that was wonderful.  It was like falling in love; I wish it could have gone on forever.  But the next morning fog took over and hasn’t left yet –the weather has become as tedious as Sheridan Whiteside, a/k/a “The Man Who Came to Dinner,” but not as amusing.

Because fog, whatever its density, wears out its welcome very fast.  That’s just an expression; nobody welcomes fog.  Water in the form of acqua alta is one thing; it may come, but you know it won’t be long before it goes.  Water in the form of fog, when it’s not too heavy, is like an enormous sheet of grey gauze pulled across the face of the world, and you just have to put up with it until it’s gone, whenever that might be.

The fog was too thick to allow us to go rowing (not that we've never rowed in the fog). But it did provide some beading on the otherwise invisible spiderwebs on the bridge by Sant' Elena.

Jan. 7:  The fog was too thick to allow us to go rowing (not that we’ve never rowed in the fog). But it did string some beads on the otherwise invisible spiderwebs on the bridge by Sant’ Elena.

Fog can be dangerous, of course, but it is more commonly inconvenient — it compels the “GiraCitta'” round-the-city motoscafos to go up the Grand Canal instead of their usual routes.  But where big fog is brawny, the lesser forms of airborne condensation are as monotonous as the droning of the Indian tanpura.

In Italian, there is nebbia and foschia; fog and mist. In Venice people refer to caligo (kah-EE-go), which I’ve only heard used to describe medium- to heavyweight fog. Caligo derives from caligine, which means “haze” (I discover that Caligo is also a genus of butterfly, but let’s stick to the weather).  Technically, caligine is more like smog, which thankfully we don’t have here.

Call it what you will, it’s grey. Dingy grey, drab grey.

Fog lends itself to a particularly useful expression: “filar caligo” (fee-yar kah-EE-go) —  to spin fog. If you are worrying about something, worrying in a particularly elaborate way about something you can’t fix — obsessively, silently, baffled, anxious, and so on — you would say (or some exasperated friend might well say) that you were drio a filar caligo.  It’s the best expression I’ve ever heard for that particularly futile and gnawing kind of worry that drives everybody crazy.  Many people do not reveal that they are in that state of mind precisely because they recognize its futility. But that doesn’t mean they can stop, any more than you can make the fog stop. It just has to go away on its own, usually when the wind changes, or when the thing you dread either comes to pass, or evaporates.

Jan. 9: A morning view of the most beautiful city in the world, etc. etc. It's out there somewhere -- beautiful, undoubtedly.

Jan. 9: A morning view of the most beautiful city in the world, etc. etc. It’s out there somewhere — beautiful, undoubtedly.

Charles Aznavour wrote (with F. Dorin) a song entitled “Que C’est Triste Venise” (Com’e’ Triste Venezia, or “How Sad is Venice”).  That was 1964, and versions in Italian, English, Spanish, German and Catalan have come out since then.  http://youtu.be/aMQ6GyUs-fc

In my opinion, that gave another push to the general idea that Venice is sad.  Maybe it’s where the idea started. But while this song deals only with how sad the city is for the singer because his love is no longer with him, people seem to have concluded that the city itself is sad.  Fog helps, of course.  Cold and dark, even better.

I realize that if you are bereft of the love of your life because the relationship has ended, evidently against your will, and you had happy moments in Venice, of course you’re going to see your own sadness in the city.  It’s natural.  But somehow it seems that the received wisdom about Venice is that it has a particular affinity for melancholy.  It might go just fine with the fog (and cold and dark).  And I suppose Mr. Aznavour could have sung about how sad it is to be in Venice even if he’d been walking down via Garibaldi on Epiphany morning, when the world was coruscating with light, if all he had on his mind was his lapsed love affair.

But why should Venice have to be the world’s favorite sad city?  You could just as credibly sing “How sad is Paducah.”  “How sad is Agbogbloshie.”  “How sad is Sanary-sur-Mer.”  If you’ve lost your love, anywhere is going to feel like Venice in the fog.

There you’d be, wandering aimlessly around downtown Platte City, or wherever, repeating the song’s phrases which admittedly sound much better in French: “How sad is (fill in your town here), in the time of dead loves, how sad is (name here) when one doesn’t love anymore…And how one thinks of irony, in the moonlight, to try to forget what one didn’t say….Farewell, Bridge of Sighs (Susitna River Bridge, Sarah Mildred Long Bridge, Sixth Street Viaduct), Farewell, lost dreams.”

Jan. 12: It wasn't blue, it was grey.

Jan. 12: It wasn’t blue, it was grey.

So I’m going to risk saying something radical: Venice isn’t sad, and it doesn’t make people sad. Venice is just a city, like you and me and everybody who lives here and in Smederevo and Panther Burn and Poggibonsi, trying to figure out how to get from today to tomorrow without leaving too many dents and dings on the surface of life.

I’d like Mr. Aznavour to go find another city in which to remember his lost love. And I’d also like the fog to go somewhere else.  One of my wishes is going to be fulfilled, eventually.

Jan. 13: Wherever you look, you see fuzz.  Sometimes more, sometimes less.  This weather doesn't make me remember my lost love(s), it makes me wish I had a fireplace and a mug of cocoa.

Jan. 13: Wherever you look, you see fuzz. Sometimes more, sometimes less. This weather doesn’t make me remember my lost love(s), it makes me wish I’d been better to my mother.

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Categories : Venetian-ness


  1. Mary Ann DeVlieg says:

    Well, from Sant’Erasmo, it’s not sad – it’s actually pretty fun. (You see, I tried not to say ‘romantic’ cuz it’s probably not at all romantic if you have to pilot your boat to and fro’ and not run into drifting logs, rubbish or other boats.)

    It feels like you are drifting in the fog, as if on a boat yourself. A big island-boat. Lost. In the fog.

    Kinda fun! But yes, say, 4 days at a time would be enough, not consecutive weeks…I mean, laundry has to be put out to dry, yes?

    That said, we just spied the sun here for about 20 seconds. It’s up there, somewhere!

  2. Doug
    Twitter: brooks.dougcomcast.net

    I believe someone left their heart in San Francisco.

    Sad… and painful I suspect.

  3. Ambra Sancin
    Twitter: ambradambra

    Lovely post. Reminds me of being in Venice over 20 years ago just after my father died in Trieste just before Christmas. I went with my mother to get away for a few days and we got fog for a few days. Strangely comforting. And btw, we also use the word ‘caligo’ in the Triestine dialect, to describe a difficult situation, eg “sul lavor iera calìgo ma gavemo rivà finir losteso”
    Ambra Sancin recently posted..Panettone: the fruitcake that keeps on giving

    • Erla says:

      Very interesting to know that fog has so many nuances for people and their emotional state(s). I myself happen to like big fog; it’s the puny fog that’s been going on for days that is so objectionable. Your expression is very nice; I take it to mean “There was fog on our work/as we were working/on our project/on the situation, but we got there just the same.” Thanks for adding this to my endless collection of sayings.

  4. Lina says:

    Ahhh, Erla. Just the other polar-vortexed day I was daydreaming about how balmy and lovely the weather must be in Venice. Thanks for setting me right! 😉

    • Erla says:

      “Sunny” and “Mediterranean” seem to be concepts/words that are joined at the proverbial hip. Of course we have sun here in the winter, sometimes quite dazzling sun, but the temperature would be considered balmy only by someone from Denmark, probably. In any case, Venice is at 45 degrees north latitude, the same as Montreal. Sorry I ruined your daydream.

  5. Erla says:

    A friend has written the following to me:
    “Talking of fog and caligine stirred a similar word from my distant darker recesses. I remembered a word my aunt used to say when I was a grubby faced little boy and asked if I had been playing in it. In Maranese it is written as calisine and in Italian I didn’t recognise the word fuliggine, which I am sure you know, means soot.

    Thanks for activating a dormant grey cell.”

    For the record, his family comes from Marano (hence the Maranese dialect), which is in the province of Udine, in the Regione of Friuli Venezia Giulia. Not all that far from Trieste.