Sep
22

Be still, my heart

By
Wait, it gets better below. But the scene was beautiful even when we weren't moving.

Wait, it gets better (video clips below). But the scene was beautiful even when we weren’t moving.

Sunday evening at 7:25 PM the Piazza San Marco suddenly came alight in the most extraordinary way.  It pulsated, briefly and gloriously, with hundreds (900, if all the people who signed up actually came) of flashlights which, taken together, formed the shape of a heart.

Yes, “Venezia Rivelata” has struck again.

We all remember what fun it was to make a “bocolo” on the feast of San Marco, 2014, and this time the organizers/artists/fantasizers had designed something bigger, more complicated, and also much more spectacular.

The event was the 12th and last in a series created by Alberto Toso Fei and performance artist Elena Tagliapietra.  Not every program was so vivid; some were lectures and — to be frank — weren’t all equally publicized, as far as I could tell.  Not that I’d have attended them all.  I just want to point out that there was in fact a major scheme to all this, the scheme being to focus each time on a particular aspect of Venetian history.  And why do this?  To bring Venetians to a sense of reclaiming their city, in an emotional if not actual way.  (It’s all explained on the press release below.)

Here is the design with the numbered sections. Very useful, like a list of the assigned places at a wedding reception.

The theme on Sunday night was “Venice and Justice,” which is a topic well worth bringing forward, and not because the two terms seem to have become, if we read the newspapers, virtual antonyms.  Wait, that isn’t fair.  There is justice — in Italy at large, no need to concentrate on Venice alone —  but it moves at the pace of a dying diplodocus struggling in a tar pit, and the results are often what might be called debatable.  Slow, in any case.

But in the great trajectory of history, Venice often showed herself to be a dazzling innovator — technical, commercial, conceptual, legal — passing laws most of which probably wouldn’t have seemed like a good idea to anyone but the Venetians.  To take an example at random, Venice was the first nation in the world to abolish the slave trade (960 AD).  Venice invented the copyright, to protect intellectual property (their merchant instincts didn’t stop at the merely tangible).  Venice passed laws to protect the rights of women, and of children.  Not made up.

Speaking of laws, how about this idea: “The law is equal for everyone,” which is inscribed in big letters on the wall behind every judge’s bench in the land.  It can’t be confirmed where this dictum came from, but the Venetians followed it in spirit if not in phrase.  For many centuries they were arguably the only people in Europe (and the world?) who didn’t subscribe to the idea that the bigger and richer you were, the more the law was supposed to work for you.  If you bothered with the law at all.

The fact that Venice regarded the law as sovereign was never so bitterly and clearly shown than in the agonizing story of Jacopo Foscari, the only surviving son of doge Francesco Foscari (doge from 1423 to 1457).  Jacopo was found to be accepting money from a foreign power; he was tried and exiled.  More skulduggery, more trials, more exile — three times, each sentence confirmed by his father.  I submit that the average criminal whose father was the head of state (or, if you like, the average head of state with an incorrigible child) would have used whatever power was necessary to get the laddie off the hook.  Here, no.  The laddie died in exile.

The weather was superb; I think the sign-in people might even have been sweating, while keeping an eye on the boxes of umbrellas. Things like those can easily grow legs.

The weather was superb; I think the sign-in people might even have been sweating, while keeping an eye on the boxes of umbrellas. Things like those can easily grow legs.  Each participant was given one, because at a certain moment we were all to be ordered to open the umbrella and shine our flashlight upward under it.  And we all had to be dressed in as much white as we could muster, including a hat, if possible.  I wore Lino’s “dixie cup” sailor’s cap.

Toso Fei reports that the following inscription (translated by me) was carved, in Latin, over the entry door of the avogaria of the Doge’s Palace; the avogaria was an ancient magistracy composed of three men who upheld the principle of legality, that is, the correct application of the laws.  That such a body even existed was extraordinary — perhaps, in the 12th century, even revolutionary.

PRIMA DI OGNI COSA INDAGATE SEMPRE SCRUPOLOSAMENTE, PER STABILIRE LA VERITÀ CON GIUSTIZIA E CHIAREZZA.  NON CONDANNATE NESSUNO, SE NON DOPO UN GIUDIZIO SINCERO E GIUSTO.  NON GIUDICATE NESSUNO IN BASE A SOSPETTI, MA RICERCATE LE PROVE E, ALLA FINE, PRONUNCIATE UNA SENTENZA PIETOSA.  NON FATE AGLI ALTRI QUEL CHE NON VORRESTE FOSSE FATTO A VOI.

BEFORE ANY OTHER THING, ALWAYS INVESTIGATE SCRUPULOUSLY TO ESTABLISH THE TRUTH WITH JUSTICE AND CLARITY.  DO NOT CONDEMN ANYONE IF NOT ACCORDING TO A SINCERE AND JUST JUDGMENT.  DO NOT JUDGE ANYONE ON THE BASIS OF SUSPICIONS, BUT SEEK THE EVIDENCE AND, AT THE END, PRONOUNCE A COMPASSIONATE SENTENCE.  DO NOT DO TO OTHERS WHAT YOU WOULD NOT HAVE DONE TO YOU.

I think they stole that last idea from somewhere.

So: Beating heart.  What better to represent everything good — not only laws fairly and scrupulously applied — but life, period?  That was our assignment.

The result was beyond dazzling.

Hats off to everybody involved, right down to the policemen who kept the spectators at bay.  And thanks for the umbrella, too.

Facepainters were decorating whoever was willing.

Facepainters were decorating whoever was willing.  All dressed in white, we  looked like a regiment of ice-cream vendors.

Being painted seemed to be something the women were more drawn to, though there might have been a man somewhere who got himself hearted.

Being painted seemed to be something the women were more drawn to, though there might have been a man somewhere who got himself hearted.

Your correspondent.

Your correspondent.

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Untold miles of masking tape had been applied to the Piazza to lay out the positions of the participants, at a width of roughly two people. I was in Number 7.

Untold miles of masking tape had been applied to the Piazza to lay out the positions of the participants, at a width of roughly two people. I was in section 7.

Dry run on holding up our flashlights, all facing toward the campanile of San Marco.

Dry run on holding up our flashlights, all facing toward the campanile of San Marco.

And a few dry runs on opening the umbrellas, and shine our flashlights under them.

And a few dry runs on opening the umbrellas, and shining our flashlights under them.  We on the outside were told to hold the umbrella in the left hand and the flashlight in the right — I still don’t understand the point of that.  The people on the squiggly center lines clearly had other instructions.  Or none.

Dancers were milling around in small bands, all dresses in white except for the two stars who just stood around for a while crunching their feet.

Dancers were milling around in small bands, all dressed in white except for two stars who just stood around for a while crunching their feet.

Another wandering star. I understand that her leotard, etc. may require concealment till show time, but she did look like someone going from one treatment to another at the spa.

Another wandering star. I understand that her leotard, etc. may require concealment till show time, but she did look like someone going from one treatment to another at the spa.

For about 45 minutes before the heart lit up, we were favored by a series of dance performances by five different groups. I didn't shoot most of them because they didn't inspire me (yes, I need inspiration), but I began to realize that it was a very intelligent way to program the event for the participants. We had been asked to show up an hour and a half before H-hour, and that time can really drag no matter how willing you are to shine your flashlight around. This dancer did a lovely routine with a huge fan.

For about 45 minutes before the heart lit up, we were favored by a series of dance performances by five different groups. I didn’t shoot most of them because they didn’t inspire me (yes, I need inspiration), but I began to realize that it was a very intelligent way to program the event for the participants. We had been asked to show up an hour and a half before H-hour, and that time can really drag no matter how willing you are to shine your flashlight around. This dancer did a lovely routine with a huge fan.

Her fan and bodytard (or whatever it's called) were color-coordinated: dark on one side, light on the other, like a turbot or a brill or a sole.

Her fan and bodytard (or whatever it’s called) were color-coordinated: dark on one side, light on the other, like a brill or a sole.

These are brill ("rombo" in the fish market).  As you see, one side light and one dark.  The dark side is up as they swim, the notion being that  the a predator from above will have difficulty seeing it because the dark fish will blend with the darkness below it, looking down.  Similarly, a predator from below would have trouble distinguishing the fish because the light side would be seen against the light filtering down from the surface.  I don't know anything about the purposes of the girl's camouflage, though.

These are brill (“rombo” in the fish market). As you see, one side light and one dark. The dark side is up as they swim, the notion being that the a predator looking down from above will have difficulty seeing it because the dark fish will blend with the darkness below it.  Similarly, a predator from below looking up would have trouble distinguishing the fish because the light side would be seen against the light filtering down from the surface. I don’t know anything about the purposes of the girl’s camouflage, though.

Same for sole.  When you've got a good idea, stick with it.

Same for sole. When you’ve got a good idea, stick with it.

This lovely girl then performed what I think of as Salome's Dance of the One Veil.

The spa-girl then performed what I think of as Salome’s Dance of the One Veil.

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Then followed a routine which seemed less a dance and more a gymnastic exhibition (I realize the line between the two may be vague). The red panel seemed to be the star, though the man was pretty impressive.

Then followed a routine which seemed less a dance and more a gymnastic exhibition (I realize the line between the two may be vague). The red panel seemed to be the star, though the man was pretty impressive.  I kept waiting for him to do the Thomas Flair, but no.

He had to be supporting the panel and a girl instead.

He had to be supporting the panel and a girl instead.  There was another routine after this, but let’s move on because sunset it now at its perfect point and we have to cue the flashlights!

Show time! The lights in the Piazza have just been turned on, and our first command to turn on the flashlights has been given. Have to stop shooting now, got to get busy.

Show time! The lights in the Piazza have just been turned on, and our first command to turn on the flashlights has been given. Have to stop shooting now, got to get busy. But what followed was a series of commands: shine the flashlight straight at the campanile and hold still, then wiggle the flashlight for a while, then shine it under your open umbrella, then run around inside the heart with your shining umbrella as fast as you can.  At street level, extremely strange.  But the result?  Wahoo!

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And so it was twilight in the Piazza. Time to take my umbrella and go home.

 

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Categories : Venetian Events

Comments

  1. Michelle says:

    How beautiful! Lucky you to be a participant.
    The Doge who abolished slavery was Pietro IV Candiano who according to my research on Ancestry.com was my 30th great grandfather.
    Is it any wonder that Venice is the city of my dreams?

    • Erla Zwingle says:

      Good heavens — you’ve got more to live up to in your life than most of us do! Along the lines of “And what have YOU done today?….” Thanks for writing, I’ll have to treat you with more respect.

  2. Hi Erla….thank you for posting this; I loved reading all about it, watching the videos and wishing I had been able to be part of it as well. I’ve been to Venice a couple of times to study on Murano and always felt like a piece of me was home there.

    I shared on Facebook and I have also linked to it on my own blog, I hope you don’t mind….Keep up the great writing!

    Thank you again,
    Beth

  3. Ciao Erla, I’ve just read your post (I’ve been reading your blog for a while!) and realised that we were stood together in sector 7 so thought I’d introduce myself a bit better – I’m Liz, the quiet Brit with the white rain poncho and I’m actually a travel blogger (www.dreamdiscoveritalia.com)!! Its great to see your photos and to get a bit more info on the justice element of the event, thanks so much for sharing! I look forward to your next posts! Cheers, Liz

    • Erla Zwingle says:

      How great to hear from my partner in crime! Thanks for reading my scribbles, and I bet your photos were marvelous — I was noticing your impressive camera.

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