Be still, my heartBy
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.)
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.
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.