We had the radio on very low this afternoon — a makeshift substitute for the soothing sound of an imaginary Alpine brook — when I realized I was hearing an extremely beautiful aria that I hadn’t heard in ages. (For the record: “Mi par d’udir ancora” from Bizet’s “The Pearl Fishers,” though I don’t know who was singing. I’ll gladly settle for Beniamino Gigli, though, just to keep it in mind.) Here is the link: https://youtu.be/8B_Vhth7nis
Lino also hadn’t heard it in ages, but it immediately brought back some happy, and very specific, memories of a hot summer evening when he was a little boy. I want you to be listening to this seductive barcarole — though perhaps it was more lovely at a slightly less funereal tempo — as you imagine this scene:
“I was standing by the Rialto Bridge with my sisters on the evening of Ferragosto (August 15),” he told me.” (If you’ve never been in Venice on August 15, it means “hot.”) “And the galleggiante was coming slowly up the Grand Canal and there were the chorus and musicians from La Fenice playing, and this is what they were singing. And there were hundreds of boats following along behind, rowed by just everybody.”
The galleggiante (literally “floating”) was a platform made of two peatas lashed together, perhaps towed, perhaps rowed, he doesn’t remember. Here is a picture of a peata, which was used for everyday work of massive dimensions till the Fifties, at least.
A gazebo-like dome had been constructed on which little lights were shining — I’ll pause while you adjust your mind to the very idea — and the summer-night music was wafting up along the canal as the boats drifted by.
The mere thought of such an event brings a “knot to my throat,” as they say here. Evening promenades were nothing new in Venice — over the centuries they were often indulged in by Venetians of all ranks and stations seeking a breath of cooler air in the sultry summer nights. There were even boats designed for these nocturnal perambulations, such as the gondola da fresco, the mussin (there is one still to be seen occasionally), and the pupparino. Even today, if someone asks me how I stand the summer heat here, I say “We go out on the water, that’s how.”
If music in the Grand Canal seems like the best idea ever, I would concur. A group of women have organized a somewhat similar event over the past few years, but although I haven’t participated, I have the impression that it wasn’t very much like the evening Lino remembers. For one thing, Venetians (few as they are nowadays) tend to go to the mountains in August. But I can tell you that if I’d been there with him, I’d never have forgotten it either.