Happy Birthday, Italy: Part 2By
At 10:00 AM yesterday — as you recall, the 150th anniversary of the Unification of Italy — I went to the Piazza San Marco to watch the ceremony of the alzabandiera, or flag-raising.
Or, I suppose, flags-raising, since there are always three: The gonfalone of San Marco (the historic flag of the Venetian Republic), the Italian flag, and the flag of the European Union. There is a rule now that the national flag can’t be displayed without the EU one by its side. That’s your bit of useless information for the day.
Most of the Piazza was cordoned off, so the spectators were pushed far to the edges. I was around the corner, in front of the campanile entrance, where the procession of veterans representating each of the armed forces was forming up.
There were a few distant speeches from the invisible platform bearing the mayor and other notables. There was lots of music by the band of the Bersaglieri (bear-sahl-YAIR-ee), who as always arrived and departed at a brisk trot. This, along with their extraordinary feathered helmets, is their trademark.
And there were flags of all sizes carried by people of all sizes. Not thousands of either, but a comfortable amount that made it clear that the spectators cared. The band played the national anthem, and some in the crowd also sang it, though there wasn’t exactly a roar of a myriad voices, swearing the oath of the Horatii. Oh well.
Half an hour later, the bersaglieri went trotting out, followed by their confreres in approximate formation. The rest of the uniformed participants — assorted notables of varying grades of notability — wandered away in little clumps. This is typical. I realize that we’re not at a state funeral, or some other occasion that calls for sharp edges and crisp behavior. But the formless wandering always does something to reduce the atmosphere of the event in a small way.
In the afternoon, a large procession formed up at San Marco, dedicated to around the carrying of an improvised longest (perhaps) -tricolore-in-the-world. This creation was borne along the Riva degli Schiavoni, up and down bridges, along the Riva dei Sette Martiri, and ultimately came to rest at the monument to Garibaldi. They strung it around the fence that encloses him, his faithful soldier, and the regal, if wingless, lion at his feet.
That was it for any public activities that I was aware of. There may have been others elsewhere, but I was cold and tired of standing up. I realize that Garibaldi’s indefatigable troops wouldn’t have succumbed to a few drops of frigid rain and a gray, determined breeze, nor did they ever complain about their feet, at least not around him.
I didn’t complain. We just went home.