Mar
07

Who was that really?

By
Lino didn't go to school with this lion, but if he had it wouldn't surprise me.

Lino didn’t go to school with this lion, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he had.

By now you know how it goes.  We’re out walking somewhere, or on the vaporetto, or just minding our own business, and somebody Lino knows will cross our trajectory.

Seeing people you know isn’t something remarkable in most towns.  Seeing people you’ve always known is particularly Venetian.  Or particularly Lino, anyway.

We were standing on the dock at “Rialto Mercato” waiting for the vaporetto and Lino glimpsed an average sort of man, rather innocuous, walking on behind us.  “Oh boy,” said Lino.  “There’s Piero.”  Yes?  Lino started doing that mysterious thing we all recognize which says I AM INVISIBLE YOU DO NOT SEE ME I AM NOT HERE.  Very loudly.  The reason being, as Lino muttered, that he would nab you and start talking and you’d never get away. This is a hanging offense in LinoWorld when he still has to finish the Gazzettino.

“We grew up together,” he began to explain, which also isn’t so remarkable.  “Nursery school, kindergarten, elementary school.  He lived on the calle de le Botteghe at San Barnaba.  We went to day camp together.

“Then he went to work at the port.  He was some kind of laborer — I don’t remember what.  Maybe he weighed things, or operated the crane.

“Anyway, at a certain point he reached legal retirement age” (which is based on years you’ve worked, not your birthday-age, and people of Piero and Lino’s vintage started really early, usually around 16).  “So they told him he had to retire.  He didn’t want to, he wanted to keep working.

“So after he left the port he kept going around to anybody who he thought could help him find another job — the parish priest, the Patriarch.  Anybody.  He said he’d work for free.  He didn’t care about getting paid, he just needed something to do.”  But he didn’t find anything, so he has joined the ranks of the many unwillingly-retired men who go out every morning and glom onto whatever friend wanders into glomming range.

“He was muculoso,” Lino recalled.  Mucusy.  Always wiping his nose with his sleeve.  Lino remembers a surprising number of people who answered that description, either individually or categorically (as in: When Lino sees a person he’s known since childhood who has clearly gotten above himself, forgetting or ignoring his/her humble origins, he might pointedly mutter, “He didn’t even have a handkerchief to wipe his nose.”  Or, more vividly: “Quanti mussi al naso!”  He was pretty snotty!).  Ah, these are the real memories.

Piero’s nasal passages have calmed down, but he did come and sit down behind us and start talking to Lino.  Fortunately, Lino’s friendly but short replies got the message through, and he decided to just sit quietly and let Lino read the paper.  It took me several slow, painful years to learn that lesson.  But then again, he’s known Lino longer than I have.

This man was much farther away than he appears here. Lino said, "Oh look, there's Bepi 'Stella.'" It's like jungle lore -- he can tell by the boat, he can recognize the person by the way he's rowing. I never get tired of this, it'slike watching somebody hit the bull's-eye with their back turned or something.

This was one of my favorite moments of this phenomenon.  This man was much farther away than he appears here. Lino said, “Oh look, there’s Bepi ‘Stella.'” It’s like jungle lore — he can tell by the boat, he can recognize the person by the way he’s rowing. I never get tired of this, it’s like watching somebody hit the bull’s-eye shooting over their shoulder or something.

We were pausing in via Garibaldi for some reason one afternoon in early February. I remember the date because there was a big Carnival event impending (the corteo of the Marie), and there were plenty of Vigili Urbani around.  These are like the first-tier policemen, all uniformed up.  Three men in particularly serious garb walk by, one of whom is taller and somewhat more distinguished-looking than the others.

“Oh, there’s Rizzo,” said Lino.  “I remember him.  His father was a gondolier.  Died young.  He was as old as my brother Puccio (editor’s note: who also died young).  I remember his grandmother.”

Having set the scene: “Wow.  Look at him.  He looks like a general.”  (Which was said with only the tiniest inflection of “You ain’t all that.”)

So, we were walking homeward this morning from the vaporetto stop at San Pietro, after a visit to someone in the hospital.  There were a few people walking ahead of us.  “You see that man with his hands behind his back?” asked Lino.  I did.  “He’s a retired gondolier.”  And you know this because……?

Easy answer: “He used to be at the stazio at the Molo.”  In other words, you know him. Interesting answer: “Also, you can tell by the way he walks.”  Yes, I could see that he was limping slightly, favoring his left leg, by which I mean that he let his weight fall more onto his right leg.  Thus, discomfort on left side — hip, knee, etc.  This is an occupational hazard — or virtual certainty — of the full-time gondolier after a very long while at the stern.  The stern rower always has his left leg forward, which means that with each stroke of the oar, his weight is transferred onto that leg.  Do that every day for days/months/decades, and in the end you will pretty much have worn your trochanters away.

I think gondoliers ought to get a special rate for hip replacements.

This is your workaday method of wearing out your hip.

This is your workaday method of wearing out your left hip.

And if you're a gondolier who trains for the official Venetian rowing races (in this case, the regata de la Sensa), you get to put just that much more strain on your hip. It all adds up after a while.

And if you’re a gondolier who trains for the official Venetian rowing races (in this case, the regata de la Sensa), you get to put just that much more strain on your hip, though in this case it’s for glory.  Your hip doesn’t know that, though.

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Categories : Venetian-ness

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