Jan
28

Perusing Venice

By

One of several reasons why there has been a lapse in my postings is that there is an atmosphere of lethargy in the city which translates into “not very much to write about.”

Of course there’s always plenty if one wants either to dig far enough, or continue blotting the spindrift from the waves of unsolved, or unsolvable, problems.  But since the city government collapsed in a heap last June, the many problems which continue to afflict the city are almost always reduced to “Money, lack of.”  And writing about Money, lack of is not only monotonous, but also pointless.  And depressing.

Of course, “no ghe xe schei” has been the convenient phrase inserted into every situation for years, even when there was money; it was an excuse which the city administrators could turn on and off at will, as if it were the radio.  Then we discovered that there really wasn’t any money anymore, because it had been given to most of the participants of the MOSE project. You know that sound when you’re sucking on a straw to get the last drops of your drink?  The silence I’m referring to is the sound of ever-longer pauses between the municipal mouth and the municipal funds.  Not many drops left, but if you stop sucking it means you’ve given up, and we can’t have that.

Apart from what it signified, I’ve enjoyed this somnolent January.  We’ve had beautiful weather, and very few tourists.  But now that Carnival is bearing down upon us (Jan. 31 – Feb. 17), that’s about to change.  Thirty days of tranquillity isn’t enough, but it’s all we get.

The tranquillity induced us to take a few uncharacteristic aimless strolls.  You know, like tourists do, and this confirmed what tourists know, which is how lovely it is to wander and what interesting discoveries you make in the process.

Here, in no particular order, is a small, confetti-like scattering of what I’ve seen recently.

Between a small, unremarkable side street, which leads to essentially nowhere, we came upon this remarkable neighborhood shrine stretching beneath a house....

On a small, unremarkable side street which leads to essentially nowhere, we came upon this very remarkable neighborhood sotoportego which local piety had turned into a shrine.  The inscription over the doorway explains everything…

It says:

It says: “Most holy Virgin Mary of Health, who repeatedly preserved immune from the dominating mortality the inhabitants of this Corte Nuova especially in the years 1630 – 36 – 1849 – 55 (NOTE: FIRST TWO DATES ARE PLAGUE, SECOND TWO DATES ARE CHOLERA) and from the bombs of the enemy airplanes 1917 – 18 Benevolently accept their grateful vows and the vows of all of this parish Deign to extend your protection which we trustingly implore on all your devout followers (word obscured by underbrush is “devoti”  — thanks to reader Albert Hickson who saw it before the bush began to grow).

Two impressive capitelli, or small altars, survive, but several large empty spaces hint that they might once also have supported more. Naturally even here we find the inevitable graffiti, which if it could be deciphered almost certainly would not be of a sacred, or grateful, nature.

Two impressive capitelli, or small altars, survive, but several large empty spaces hint that they might once also have supported more. Even here we find the inevitable graffiti, which if it could be deciphered almost certainly would not be of a sacred, or grateful, nature.

If you have ever walked along the Fondamenta dell'Osmarin between Campo San Provolo and the Ponte dei Greci, you may well have noticed this tablet.  It represents San Lorenzo (St. Lawrence), for whom the nearby fondamenta, former church and current home for the elderly are named. How do I know this (other than having found the information in a book)?  It's because -- according to the custom of depicting a saint with the instrument of his/her/their martyrdom -- here we clearly have a man holding a grate, and we all know that San Lorenzo was grilled to death like a steak on the barbie.

If you have ever walked along the Fondamenta dell’Osmarin between Campo San Provolo and the Ponte dei Greci, you may well have noticed this tablet. It represents San Lorenzo, for whom the nearby fondamenta, former church and current home for the elderly are named. How do I know this (other than having found the information in a book)? It’s because — according to the custom of depicting a saint with the instrument of his/her/their martyrdom — here we clearly have a man holding a grate, and we all know that San Lorenzo was grilled to death like a steak on the barbie.

For anyone curious about the chalice he is holding in his right hand (which looks oddly like a crescent, but it may be just the optical effect), legend maintains that he was able to spirit away the Holy Grail to Spain, and it is now venerated in the cathedral of Valencia.

For anyone curious about the chalice he is holding in his right hand (which looks oddly like a crescent, but it may be just the optical effect), legend maintains that he was able to spirit away the Holy Grail to Spain, and it is now venerated in the cathedral of Valencia.

There is a long brick wall fronting the canal of the Arsenale, which faces the wooden bridge at the Arsenal entrance. The imposing marble sculpture is one thing which you can admire, or not, as you choose.  But the little bronze plaque beside it has been defeated by time and by being placed so high that you can't read it anyway.  But I have persevered, and while it doesn't contain the secret to turning straw into gold, it's worth revealing what seemed so important at the time.

There is a longish brick wall fronting the canal of the Arsenal, which faces the wooden bridge at the Arsenal entrance. This imposing marble sculpture is one thing which you can easily admire, or not, as you choose. But the little bronze plaque to the viewer’s left has been defeated by time and by being placed so high that you can’t read it anyway. But I have persevered, and while it doesn’t contain the secret to turning straw into gold, it’s worth revealing what seemed so important at the time.

This is my translation: "On the VI centenary of the death of Dante Alighieri the Naval Commandant of Venice, Admiral G. Pepe, restored and beautified the entrance facade of the Arsenal.  On that occasion the marble monument of the XVI century, placed here at the side,  which after many transfers found itself incomplete and defaced on the crumbling wall of the old workshop was restored and completed and transferred to the public view.  Venice September 1921.  Of course a noble work like this would be hard to accomplish today, seeing that there is no money.

This is my translation: “On the VI centenary of the death of Dante Alighieri the Naval Commandant of Venice, Admiral G. Pepe, restored and beautified the entrance facade of the Arsenal. On that occasion the marble monument of the XVI century, placed here at the side, which after many transfers found itself incomplete and defaced on the crumbling wall of the old workshop was restored and completed and transferred to the public view. Venice September 1921.” Of course a noble work like this would be hard to accomplish today, seeing that there is no money.

Enough exploration.  Carnival begins on Saturday and my friend, Dino, who is a retired baker, makes the most divine fritole on this mortal earth.  He gave us eight, just out of the vat.  They are smaller and lighter than the bocce balls sold as fritole in the pastry shops.  These are little candied sugared slightly greasy clouds.  I wait all year for these things and they are among the few things that make Carnival worthwhile.  Sorry, they're all gone now.

Enough exploration. Carnival begins on Saturday and my friend, Dino, who is a retired baker, makes the most divine fritole on this mortal earth. He gave us eight, just out of the vat. They are smaller and lighter than the bocce balls sold as fritole in the pastry shops. These are little candied sugared slightly greasy clouds. I wait all year for these works of art and they are among the few things that make Carnival worthwhile. Sorry, they’re all gone now.

 

This is what was floating by the dock at the Giardini: a television.  But that's not the really funny part.  What baffles me isn't that somebody threw it into the water -- we all know how that goes -- but that it has floated here in this exact spot for more than 24 hours.  Have the tides gone on strike?

This is what was floating by the dock at the Giardini: a television. But that’s not the really funny part. What baffles me isn’t that somebody threw it into the water — we all know how that goes — but that it has floated here in this exact spot for more than 24 hours. Have the tides gone on strike?

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Categories : History

Comments

  1. Yvonne says:

    What lovely photos to look at, and the usual good Erla words to read. Thank you.

    Does Lino know he was stepping on “the red stone” in the sotoportego, which is either good or bad luck, depending on who you speak to? I plump for the good luck theory.

    • Erla Zwingle says:

      He knows he’s standing on a red stone and he surmises that it’s there for a reason, but we haven’t found it out yet so I didn’t mention it. I suppose I could have said “There’s a red stone but I don’t know what it signifies,” but decided to skip it. By now several readers have offered theories, mostly revolving around the “good luck” idea, but while Venetians may be devout and may also tend toward “You never know, let’s not take a chance,” I consider it extremely unlikely that they would place a stone there to invoke luck. Therefore I surmise that the stone was already there for some other reason, which has been forgotten, and the “luck” idea — which is a sort of place-holder, one-size-fits-all sort of idea — got called in, as usual, to “explain” the stone’s presence. If it were truly capable of invoking good luck, we would ALL know it by now, and there would be a line of people stretching to Helsinki waiting to step on it. Naturally there’s no way to determine whether bad luck has been prevented, so I’ll just leave the subject there until or if I find out what really went on with that stone.

  2. Zina says:

    Thank you, Erla, for the story of the marble monument and the plaque, and for the English translation. When I was visiting Venice for a 7-day stay in 2012, I was at the Arsenal entrance at night and did admire the lion and all other things that I could make out in the dark – so much more dramatic and awesome in the magic light of the night, but I never really noticed the plaque and would never know the story if not for your post. As always, every piece you post gives another fascinating insight into Venetian history and calls for action to preserve it. I think that this article, as many others of yours, should be placed on the desks of decision makers in Venice every morning as a must-read. What a shame to read that the precious priceless beauty of Venice is neglected! Please continue your ‘quiet fight’.