Back to work

We had some boffo days at the end of August and beginning of September.

We had some boffo days at the end of August and beginning of September.

Hello.  Maybe you remember me, I’m the blogger about Venice who doesn’t make anything up.  I am fully aware that I have set a new record in silence, and I’m sorry about it, but I had lots of good reasons, including having to finish a colossal project (which will be revealed at the appropriate moment, which isn’t now).  I have been living in a parallel universe complete with galaxies that have long numbers instead of names, and have not had enough brain, or whatever energy is actually made of (electrons?  crush-ons? four-hours-of-sleep-a-night-ons?) to do anything else.

But there is possibly a deeper reason for the silence.  I have temporarily run out of interest in Venice.  At least I hope it’s temporary.

Why is this?  Because I have become the glass into which the famous one drop too many has dripped.  Several drops.  Too freaking many drops.

Here is what I mean:

The tram.  Another massive public project, full of problems and costing too much.

Ten years have been devoted to the building of a tram that goes places in Mestre and now, finally, is concluding at Piazzale Roma. Naturally this has been done to the sound of teeth: Those of the highly inconvenienced public (gnashing and grinding) and those of the builders, politicians, and Superintendent(s) of Architecture and Landscape (gleaming with satisfied smiles).

This is merely the latest version of a story that just keeps getting retold, like bodice-ripper novels in which only the names and locations change: Estimates of time and cost blown to flinders, a vehicle which, new as it is, breaks down at odd moments for all sorts of reasons that are explained in the “Don’t Do This” chapter of the textbook on how to build a tram.  Derailments, losses of power, miscalculations of angles of descent which mean the tram would ram itself nose-down into the ground at certain points unless the geometry gets fixed.

Now the bill, so to speak, is coming due.  The budgeted cost: 163.7 million euros.  Real cost to date: 208 million.  Unforeseen delays, extra features added on later, the usual litany of an expensive public project. Wait, I think that’s redundant.  There will be investigations, of course.  The tram people can explain everything.

So much for the tram itself, which frankly, I happen to like.  When it’s working.

This is the “shelter.”  It’s not that it’s ugly that fascinates me, it’s that somebody thought this fulfilled the needs of people in a windy rainstorm, which are not uncommon here.  And what about shade in the pounding heat of summer?  I’m just not seeing it.  Bonus points: It’s only sort of original — one almost exactly like it was built in Alicante, Spain in 2006, and has even won awards, perhaps not voted by anybody who actually uses it. (Photo not by me, but uncredited where I found it.)

But the tram’s new “shelter” in Piazzale Roma (105 feet / 32 meters long) is an entire other subject, the latest in a series of phenomenally ugly constructions which have been approved and executed in the spirit of “Because we’re the city and we can do what we want.”  The purpose of this construction is to protect what appears to be about 50 people from the rain while waiting for the tram, as long as there is totally no wind. The more I look at it, the more I can’t understand how it could be considered functional, whether beautiful or not.

But by the way, it isn’t beautiful.  But no matter.  As so often has happened, the project documents clearly came out of the office of the Superintendent of Architecture and Landscape (who you might have thought was required to protect and defend the fabric of the most beautiful city, etc.) covered with big bright stamps that say “We like this!”  “This is good!”  “Let’s do this ASAP!”  “Can we do more of these?”  This has happened so many times since I’ve been here.  Say what you will about the Calatrava Bridge — for all its problems, and preposterous cost overruns, at least it’s functional.  You can adjudicate beauty on your own time.

As you can see, this shelter (I don’t know what else to call it at the moment, though it doesn’t look very  sheltering) answers to the nickname given by the first Venetians who saw it: the “big black coffin.”  It’s made of three sections of steel which weigh a total of 18 tons.  I cannot understand why something that big that weighs that much has to exist anywhere in Venice; even Tennessee Ernie Ford knew enough to stop at Sixteen Tons.

Traffic in the Grand Canal:  Remember the fatal accident by the Rialto Bridge two years ago?  We’ve jettisoned one mayor, used up a commissario, and now have another mayor.  Nothing has changed.  Everything is just the way it was.  Remember all those new regulations that came out a few months ago that threw a few amateur rowers into a swivet?  Regulations are so wonderful, especially when you have no way to enforce them, like not having one policeman for every boat.  Don’t watch this space for news of the next fatal accident, because I’ve stopped caring about the traffic.  Let everybody do what they want, which is exactly what they are doing.  Rock on.

The awning only hinted at the awesomeness of the store that was:

The awning’s modest list only hinted at the awesomeness of the store that was: Housewares, Detergents, Perfumes, Gardening, Camping, Hardware, Trinkets.  The name itself meant “Big Store.” But monuments crumble all the time, so what’s one more?

The Bottegon is gone.  This strikes way too close to home.  Stores close with alarming frequency here, usually as a result of spikes in the rent that are impossible to pay by selling books or pork chops or kiwi fruit or even sporting goods and gear (Andreatta, in the Strada Nova, had been in business since 1883.  As of March, it is no more).  I’ve seen all kinds of stores close since I’ve been here — hair salons, butcher shops, toy stores — and what follows is usually a bar/cafe, restaurant, or shop selling “Murano glass” made in China, Carnival masks (often made in China), touristic gewgaws and souvenirs (made over there too).  Nothing against China, but it’s not Venice.

I don’t know precisely how long the Bottegon was in business; I knew that it occupied a large space that was once a movie theater — you could see the big empty window above the cash registers where the projection room used to be.

You have to understand, this wasn’t a mere store.  It was a Noah’s Ark of almost everything required for human life, at least a pair of each so they could repopulate the earth with hair conditioner and thumbtacks and toilet paper and moth repellent and floor wax and all kinds of electrical wire.  Except for food and clothing, you couldn’t think of anything that you couldn’t find there.  Paint, hair color, mops, ladders, toothpaste, lightbulbs, potpourri, makeup, doorstops, toothpicks, shelving, salad spinners, detergent.  It was impossible to go in there and not come out with what you needed.  It was crammed so full, up to the top shelves of a very high ceiling, that you sometimes had to ask for help even to locate your item.  Then the choice would baffle you.

Then things began slowly to change.  They moved the cash registers to the front of the store, the area that you used to have to traverse like a jungle explorer, occasionally climbing over things.  They glammed up the shelves, widened the aisles, cut back on a lot of products, and began to add items you’d never have thought of buying there.  Olive oil, potato chips, wine.  It was weird — there are two supermarkets right across the street.  It was like watching Zelda Fitzgerald studying ballet at age 27, imagining she was going to be a star: depressing, and smelling of doom.

People used to stand in line at the registers, eventually there was almost nobody in the store.  In a brutal about-face, they never had what I needed anymore.  Eventually it stopped being a store and became some old friend with a lingering illness that you just couldn’t visit anymore.

So I’m glad it’s out of its misery.  From what my neighborhood source told me, you could have written the cause of death in one word: “Debts.”

A moment of silence.

Happily for me, soulless consumer that I am, I don’t have to worry, because via Garibaldi has two pharmacies, and two supermarkets, and even two bakers.  And there is indeed a sort of Bottegon down by the vegetable boat which has already been taking up the slack.  I have no idea what it’s called, but it’s small and crammed and has almost everything the old store had.  So I’m okay.  But I still don’t understand why they had to let the other one die.

Maybe it’s going to rise from the ashes as a restaurant.  We certainly need more of those.

Complaints about everything: These never stop, and most of them are completely justified.  But I’m tired of reading them and hearing them and even uttering them myself.

So I’ll be looking for something new to share, but it might take a little while.  I’m going to have to find one of those three-day cleanses, but for my brain.

Even three floors up, the pink bows announcing the birth of a girl stand out, and make me smile.

Even three floors up, the pink bows announcing the birth of a girl stand out, and make me smile.

"Welcome Anna." I do!

“Welcome Anna.” I do!

A few streets over, another little girl joins the team.

A few streets over, another little girl joins the team.

Valentina! Wow!

Valentina! Wow!  You can play power forward!

At the end of August we still had heat, but it was leaving gallons of dew on the streets overnight. This was not rain.

At the end of August we still had heat, but it was leaving gallons of dew on the streets overnight. This was not rain.

The difference between the sunny and shady sides of the street is rarely quite so vivid.

The difference between the sunny and shady sides of the street is rarely quite so vivid.

And this was "good morning" two days ago, a greeting we heard via a large ship's horn even before we looked outside. Early autumn fog is so normal that they call it the "brume settembrine," the September mist.

And this was “good morning” two days ago, a greeting we heard via a large ship’s horn even before we looked outside. Early autumn fog is so normal that they call it the “brume settembrine,” the September mists.

And back to clouds again. Or is this a smoke signal, which says "Please come save us before we all lose our minds"?

And back to clouds again. Or is this a smoke signal, which says “Please come save us before our powers of reason abandon us”?


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Categories : Venetian-ness


  1. Mary says:

    I mourn the Venice that should be…a city carved out of raw determination and the possibility of what could be. This post seems to reinforce the impending doom of a city that I love. I hope Venice is able to find a new path for herself, filled once again with more residents than tourists.

  2. Caterina B says:

    Well, I guess I am doing my part for Venice. I will probably never visit her, just get to know her through your blog. I must go back to the beginning and read all your posts. I do sort of think I could find my way around in Venice pretty easily since I have spent so much time studying maps and walking around in Google street view.
    The photos of the pink ribbons and Venice’s way of announcing a birth is an example of what I like to see about Venice. I hope they do the same for baby boys.
    While I am glad to see you’re back, I understand the fatigue that you must feel.
    I used to live in one of Colorado’s major ski areas but moved to a nearby small town 30 years ago where we could afford to buy a house. Now I never go there and don’t even want to visit a restaurant or shop there. As they say, “I am sooooo over it.”
    So….maybe you are contemplating a move although I guess that is not so.
    I will welcome whatever you find to post and thanks! Despite the difficulties Venice must certainly still be endlessly fascinating.

  3. Erla…

    The world needs your superbly articulate observations, sardonic wit, due-diligent disgust, editorial spunk, and phenomenal photography.

    You have educated, well-traveled fellow flaneurs who delight in your every word as it comes from Venice; would that your brilliant brain could be posting astute analysis from every front line all over the world.

    • Erla Zwingle says:

      A thousand thanks for the extravagant complimentation, and thank you also for complimenting my readers — I agree with your opinion of them, and of course include your good self.

  4. Well, Erla, this time you have surpassed yourself. When I read of your having “temporarily run out of interest in Venice” I recognized a most and most frequent feeling of mine – and I was born here! Then your remarks about “the coffin” in piazzale Roma, and your description of Bottegon (I live neareby as well)… Unsurpassable! You must collect your posts, and the photos as well, and make book. Those words can’t disappear in the fogs of virtuality… they must become paper reality!

  5. Andreas Jonsson says:

    Hello Erla,
    Before reading your blog i was just longing to welcome you back to the most beautiful city in the World, but now it seems a bit out of place. I hope you’ll soon find the inspiration to write again.
    During the summer I’ve been reading your blog and just felt myself being transported back to beautiful Venice from a somewhat rainy Stockholm, so I’d like to thank you for all your wonderful posts that has made me dream of the next time I’ll be able to come back to Venice and stroll around the small Calli again. My wife and I really feel at home in Venice and try to visit often. We have serveral times rented a place near yours so I immedialtely recognized the Little calle from your pictures. The area is so friendly and nice. A cheerful Bondì and everyone smiles. Even though I don’t speak Veneziano, or Italian for that matter, I remember meeting this old man, 82 years old he was born and raised in Pan Pietro, and in whatever language we could find in common he told me about the times befor the motorboats. It was wonderful!
    Again, thank you and I’ll be coming back to your blog whenever I need a dose of Venice to get me trough the day. 🙂
    Best Regards
    Andreas Jonsson

    • Erla Zwingle says:

      Welcomes are always (excuse me) welcome. I’ll get my groove back, I just need a little time. I don’t want you to go find somebody else to feed your Venice addiction!

  6. Rob C says:

    Thank you for another post that reminds us why we miss Venice!!

    If it was always plain sailing it would be pretty boring, no?

    I think it’s safe to say Venice is many things, but never boring 🙂

    Chin up, your words DO make a difference.

  7. chris says:

    welcome back!

  8. Debbie says:

    Hi Erla!
    I’ve missed your postings! Get your groove back quick! Might be in Venice in July, so you must keep me up to date 🙂

  9. Elena says:

    Erla, keep on writing please! We are looking forward to your venice stories. Hope u’ll find the inspiration soon again. ‘Cause if there is no more inspiration in such a special place as Venice, then there is no hope left for us living in big cities full of smoke, traffic jams and noise)) Despite all the problems Venice is still one of few unique and worth places left in the world…
    Your blog is great! 😉

  10. Patsy Anderson says:

    Come sit on my porch and watch the leaves slowly turn. It’s the beginning of fall in the North Carolina mountains and so so beautiful. I will be your tour guide, prepare your dinner and let you smooch on my dog… Oh, and do a little deep breathing and yoga… Soon, you will remember the best of your Venice… Rest my friend…