Hard times for humor

Just something that struck me as innocently goofy the other day.  No big message attached.

Just something that struck me as innocently goofy the other day.  No big message attached.

I’ve been having a little trouble lately finding diverting things to write about, which accounts, in part, for the work slowdown in my posting.

The fact is, so many things are going wrong around the most beautiful city in the world that humor is hard to find — even that bitter, crackly humor that used to be easier to pick up than manna in the morning.

The vaporettos have reached Third-World levels of crowding, especially the #2 from Tronchetto.  The human body is 60 percent water, but these bodies are packed onto these vehicles with a force which evidently removes all liquids (in the form of sweat, or tears — I stop there) and leaves only the hide and gristle of thousands of tourists per day compressed in really harsh ways.

That might not matter except that the vaporettos of various lines have acquired the habit recently of breaking down in mid-run.  Motors that stop, or rudders that cease to respond, which sometimes happens near other boats, such as gondolas.  There have been several cases in a very short stretch of time.

Did I mention gondolas?  There have been other collisions recently between motorized boats (vaporetto, taxi) and the floating symbol of Venice.  August 17 is the first anniversary of the death of Professor Joachim Vogel in his gondola, and although the legal process has reached some conclusions (gondolier exonerated, three vaporetto drivers convicted of various breaches), the traffic situation has not changed at all.

The agonized city-wide soul-searching caused by this totally predictable tragedy led to the creation of a list of 26 proposed changes in the traffic patterns and the assorted uses of the aquatic spaces by specific types of boat. In other words, a plan to ease the jams and minimize, if not eliminate, the problems of too many boats in too small a space.  See above: Nothing has changed.

Well fine, you say.  Avoid taking a vaporetto (or gondola), and you’ll be okay.  And that’s true, except that there is also the increasing chaos created by the ever-more-aggressive itinerant illegal vendors proliferating in the Piazza San Marco and environs.  They sell corn to feed to the pigeons, counterfeit handbags and sunglasses, long-stemmed red roses, and toys of various sorts.

Well fine, you say.  Avoid the Piazza San Marco.  That would be one solution.

But what is happening here is that although enforcement of the laws was a bit random in the past, ever since the government was decapitated (June 4), the town has become a sort of Dodge City for every kind of independent (translation: illegal) operator.

I did discover something funny, though. There are laws — that’s not the funny part — which behave sort of like blank bullets.

Let's load our barge with geraniums.  I think that's the best suggestion I've heard all day.

Let’s decorate our barge with geraniums.  There can’t be any law against that.

For example:  A 28-year-old homeless man from Kosovo named Imer Tosca was drunk at 3:00 AM the other morning.  None of that carries a huge humor load.  But wait.

He didn’t want to waste time standing around waiting for the rare vaporetto at that hour which would take him to the Lido.

So he untied one of the vaporettos which is moored at night in front of the Arsenal, turned on the ignition, and drove it away.  A patrolling ACTV security boat almost immediately noticed this — hard to miss, considering that the three vaporettos that had been tied to his were now floating around, going adrift — and gave chase.  So did the police. But neither of those facts made much difference to him.  When the police tried to stop him, he tried to ram their boat.  Actually he did that twice.

He was finally overcome, and taken to jail.  He was released the next day BECAUSE…. a new law which was passed to ease the pressure in the prisons (disastrously overcrowded, too, even worse than the vaporettos), states that any person committing a crime or misdemeanor which rates a sentence of fewer than three years in prison is not to be sent to prison, but placed on house arrest.

Did I mention the perp was homeless?  Having no domicile, he couldn’t be placed on house arrest, so he was let go.

Next day….. he and some friends got drunk and proceeded to brawl in the cloister of the basilica of Sant’ Antonio in Padova.  He was hauled in again.  And let go again.  Why?

Because with the rap sheet they discovered he had built up since he was 12, he should now be expelled from Italy.

Except that he is officially designated as a stateless person.  He has no country.  I don’t know how those documents get worked out, but it means that there was no country to expel him to.  So here he stays.

He may be drunk and homeless, for which I’m very sorry, but until he kills somebody, I feel a very unpleasant sort of admiration for him.

Here he is, pulling his shadow along behind him.  There are no signs saying that this is against the law.

Here he is, pulling his shadow along behind him. There are no signs saying that this is against the law.

On a more modest, but no less perplexing note, there was Olga, the Slovakian girl with the horse.  Her being Slovakian doesn’t really matter to the story, I just thought I’d throw it in.

A few days ago some distress calls began to come into the highway police from drivers on the Ponte della Liberta’.  They were being forced to slow down and change lanes (creating stress for themselves and other drivers who weren’t so alert) to avoid hitting a girl who was walking along, leading a horse.  The horse was saddled to the hilt with all sorts of Western gear, so I’m not really sure why she was walking rather than riding.  Maybe the horse was tired.

Never mind.  She was creating a hazardous situation, so the police sent out an escort which would alert the drivers behind her (kind of like a “wide load” sign on a truck).  They accompanied her safely to the end of the bridge — Piazzale Roma — where she turned around and crossed the bridge again, with escort, and went on her mysterious way.

The next day, it was made known that she had been cited for various infractions.  None of them specifically mentioned unlawful use of a quadropedic vehicle, but they did mention her endangering the safety of the drivers (41 euros), and also for allowing the horse to leave the bridge dirtier than she had found it (25 euros).

She had been walking from Austria to Bussolengo (near Verona) for the past two months — again, why she was walking with a perfectly good horse, rather than riding, I have no idea — and said she wanted to come to Venice to take a picture, and was planning to turn around and leave anyway.  That is, there were no further plans, such as swimming him to the Piazza San Marco, or riding him up the campanile, or whatever other effervescent ideas come fizzing into people’s minds in the summer here.

Also, she said there were no signs indicating that it was forbidden to take a horse across the bridge.  Very true.  Everyone admitted that.  No one observed that there were no signs forbidding bringing aardvarks over the bridge on skateboards, either, or prohibiting the passage of Laotian rock rats clinging to low-flying birthday balloons.

Come to think of it, there aren’t any signs that forbid the untying and taking of a vaporetto in the middle of the night.

We need to make a whole lot of new rules around here.  “Don’t act silly” doesn’t go far enough.

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Categories : Problems


  1. Dear Dear Erla…….BRAVA!!! Another amazing article!!

    I can’t imagine your pain…disgust…sorrow.
    It is so sad watching the mayhem from afar….
    I think the only consolation may be in the fact that all the summer tourists visiting Venice will find it so distasteful that they never return.

    I think it’s only fair that since so many people treat Venice as Disneyland…they be charged the same admission…..$90 a day.

  2. Steve Rauworth says:

    There is no question that humanity, as a whole, is close, if not entirely there yet, to being utterly insane, and the totality of that, especially in the news (which is to a degree its own world apart from reality, or at least a different reality than everyday life) waxes and wanes, but is inevitably becoming more intense all the time. It seems to be waxing this summer, and is why individual aberrant behavior like what you describe increases. Some of us have seen the pattern for a long time now, some never will, but with the first signs of realization usually comes an alarmist cry out, which while understandable, just tends to add to the madness, unless in our apparent powerlessness we can figure out a way, however small, to leverage any sort of correction.

    As you indicate, the ugliness is impossible to avoid, and shouldn’t be entirely, but the answer, I believe, is to make one’s personal life as sane and healthy apart from the madness as possible, and to treat oneself and the ones we know personally with love and respect. It is important to resist the power junkies and greed heads, for increasingly concentrated wealth in the hands of a few and increased poverty and desperation for the rest of us, though many of us are unaware and cooperate in our own enslavement, is the root of all other issues.

    Stay calm, do the right thing even and especially when it hurts, warn others constructively, resist, resist, resist, organize your community, fight back where possible – always the best ways to behave – but particularly now, when the chips are down.

  3. joan lombardi says:

    Don’t want to minimize what you see going on in our beloved Venezia, but i I were to write a blog about my hometown here in the USA, almost every story would have the words “gun” in it~ be it domestic violence, robberies, car jackings etc. That, is what Dodge City looks like.
    I love la serenissima.

    • Erla Zwingle says:

      I love la serenissima too, obviously. But because I attempt to vary the menu, I don’t give all the stories involving domestic violence, robberies, carjackings, the settling of accounts among rival clans or organized criminal groups, drug smuggling, and murder-suicides, many of which exploits involve the liberal use of firearms (hunter’s rifles, ex-military revolvers, and so on), most of them legally registered. I try not to make things up, as you know, including the use of certain terms.