Search Results for "Wailing Wall"


What was your name again?

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IMG_9546  baiamonte tiepolo

Walking home the other day, I cast my eye, as usual, on the building corner which Lino refers to as “The Wailing Wall.”  Meaning no disrespect to the original place of that name, our little angle is the perfect spot to tape up death notices.  I’ve mentioned on other occasions that the cost to publish such a notice in the Gazzettino is totally fantastical, so these rectangles of plastic are extremely useful in keeping people up to date on for whom the bell is tolling.

But I don’t usually expect to see names I recognize, mainly because the number of people I know who might be likely to demise is very limited.  And although some surnames are a little unusual, there are very few which hurl one back 700 years into one of the most complicated and desperate conspiracies ever formed to attempt the overthrow of the Venetian Republic.

So I was unprepared to see a new notice stuck on the wall, complete with photo of the deceased, announcing the death of Baiamonte Tiepolo.

This name may not connote much to you, but anyone who has skimmed Venetian history knows it as the name of one of the most audacious revolutionaries who ever tried to scuttle somebody’s government.

It was like seeing a notice for some innocuous little person who just happened to be named Benedict Arnold, or Oliver Cromwell, or Ernesto Guevara, or Gregory Rasputin.

As for someone bearing the name of a renowned Venetian noble family, this isn’t quite so startling.  I interviewed a descendant of doge Jacopo Tiepolo some years ago, and I know that there are Grimanis and Zorzis and Da Mosto’s still roaming the city.  I have also met a young woman carrying forward the storied name of Bragadin.

But it’s one thing to bear the last name; if you were a Bragadin, I think it would be cruel to name your son Marcantonio.  The name is certainly worthy of remembrance, but the boy’s life would be hell.  There are only so many witty remarks you can make to someone whose forebear was flayed alive after an epic siege that lasted almost a year, and the lad would have to hear all of them.

On the same note, the Venice phone book lists two men named Marco Polo.  They must have been doomed to a life of a steady drizzle of really funny remarks.  “Hey, Marco — back so soon?”  “Give my regards to the Khan, next time you see him.”  “Did you really invent pasta?”  And so on.

For the late Baiamonte, the drollery would have had to be more erudite, and I won’t risk any here because life is short, and by the time one (that is, me) has related as much as possible of his ancestor’s spectacular, if also scurrilous, story, the potential for humor would have dried up and blown away in the wind.  But I feel safe in saying that, thanks to his namesake and his cohorts, the year 1310 stands out in Venetian history as much as 1492 or 1776 stands out in the American annals.

Here is the drastically condensed version of his story. The plot was foiled, he was exiled for four years, and his palace was torn down.  He spent those years traveling, visiting Venice’s enemies (Padova, Treviso, Rovigo, and some very powerful families therein) doing everything conceivable to convince them to join him in another conspiracy. He just wouldn’t give up.

Not amused, Venice changed the sentence to perpetual exile.  He wandered around Dalmatia seeking new collaborators.  He was imprisoned.  He escaped.  The Venetian government forbade anybody to have anything to do with him.  Finally, in 1329, the Council of Ten decreed that he had to be eliminated, by any means.

The details of Baiamonte’s death are uncertain, which is not surprising when a person has to be eliminated. (The “Caught a cold and stopped breathing” explanation has often been sufficient.)  As for location, at least one historian states that he was in Croatia, staying with relatives, when his last day came and went.

For the Tiepolos of Lower Castello, maybe it was a point of pride to name their son Baiamonte. It couldn’t have been inadvertent.  I can’t imagine somebody saying “Heavenly days, it never crossed my mind that somebody would think of the old subversive of blackened fame.”

I notice, though, that he named his son Andrea.  Maybe he had had enough.

The great conspirator's palace was razed, and a "column of infamy" detailing his crimes was erected in its place.  Eventually the column was broken up, and this abbreviated summary placed on the pavement: "Location of column of Baiamonte Tiepolo 1310."

The great conspirator’s palace at Campo Sant’ Agostin was razed, and a “column of infamy” detailing his crimes was erected in its place. Eventually the column was broken up, and this abbreviated summary placed on the pavement: “Location of column of Baiamonte Tiepolo 1310.”


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Details on deceasing

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A reader has written to ask for some elucidation on my phrase “death notices taped up around the city” in my post “RIP don Ferruccio.”

There are several ways to announce the decession (it ought to be a word, so now it is) of your loved one.   You have your choice of any or all of them, depending on how much money you feel like spending.  

  • What I called a “death notice”  is a plasticated rectangle the size of an 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of paper with a photograph and some salient details concerning the deceased: Name, age, names of surviving relatives, the name of the funeral home, funeral details, and usually some additional phraseology to express grief, hope, and/or faith.  
    This is a typical design for the notices that are taped up; in this case, don Ferruccio's was tacked to the church door.

    This is a typical design for the notices that are taped up; in this case, don Ferruccio's was tacked to the church door.

    One of the most common ones translates as “No one dies as long as they live in the hearts of those who love them.”   I think that’s painful.   Anyone who has lost someone dear to them knows perfectly well that the person is dead, no matter how much love they may feel.    Makes it sound as if loving the person is practically the same thing as having them there in the flesh.   End of unsolicited opinion.

These notices are taped up around the neighborhood on convenient corners.   There’s  a corner near us which seems to be a common favorite; sometimes there are two or three stuck there.   Lino calls it the “Wailing Wall.”   But it is a very useful way to let people know what’s happened, and often little clumps of people will stop to read it and discuss the person and express feelings or opinions.   Sometimes, to save money, the family will photocopy the notice and tape that up.   I think that’s painful too.

There is hardly a day when at least one notice isn't taped up to the "Wailing Wall."  Perhaps the day-spa whose corner this is doesn't feel very happy about this, or maybe they don't care.  Nothing they can do about it either way.

There is hardly a day when at least one notice isn't taped up to the "Wailing Wall." Perhaps the day-spa whose corner this is doesn't feel very happy about this, or maybe they don't care. Nothing they can do about it either way.

The  cost of these plastic announcements is usually included somewhere in the total cost of the funeral, though the job of sticking them up  on walls  is completely up to one of the family members, or whoever feels like doing it.   I think it’s inexpressibly sad to see, say, the widower taping up the melancholy announcement about his wife on whatever corner seems right to him.   But then again, maybe doing it helps somehow.     What’s really sad is to see someone taking it down after the funeral.

However, you can also order them separately from a funeral home, even if you haven’t engaged them.   In that case, they cost about 5 euros ($7.42) apiece.

  • Your other option is a notice in the Gazzettino.   These are not really obituaries as they don’t say much beyond the barest basics of the situation.   However, the cause of death is never mentioned.   In some cases you can deduce it if the family has included a special thank-you to the doctors, staff and clinic/hospital.   Hard to mistake if the gratitude goes out to the oncology department.


A typical page in the "Gazzettino."

A typical page in the "Gazzettino."

Whether to put the news in the paper might be a very easy decision  to make when you   hear the price, which is  generally calculated by the line rather than the word.     In any case, the minimum is 300 euros plus 20 percent tax (360 euros or $534).   If you want to add a photograph, it starts at 150 euros plus tax (180 euros or $266).    

  • If you are not directly involved in the bereaved family, you have economy option: You can  add your name to the published notice to notify the world that you share the family’s sorrow.   For five names (“Laura and Federico with Annamaria”)    is 50 euros plus tax (60 euros or $89).   If you add more names, you spend  more money.

If the person who has gone to glory is sufficiently notable, a small article  will be published.   Presumably this doesn’t cost anyone anything, but I can’t promise that.   You   just never know in this world.

"San Pantalon: The parish priest don Ferruccio Gavagnin has died."  And so on.  Here as elsewhere, the photograph is almost always one taken at least 30 years earlier, or so it seems.

"San Pantalon: The parish priest don Ferruccio Gavagnin has died." And so on. Here as elsewhere, the photograph is almost always one taken at least 30 years earlier, or so it seems.

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Where have I gone?

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This is the one thing in my trip that I really wanted to see:  “The Hole” at Gorgazzo. So far, the deepest any cave diver has reached is 695 feet (212 meters).  Below that, there may be the Hall of the Mountain King. Nobody knows.

For the chronically curious, here is a rendering of the path of the abyss as far divers have gone. I’m guessing that there may be so many similar subterranean chasms everywhere on Earth that the planet is probably one big wiffle ball.

The silence from my end has been too long and also not explained.  I can’t do anything about the length (except to break the silence now and stop the clock), but I can explain.

I’ve been in a car — how un-Venetian — with some friends for a week, stravaging around northern Italy from Milan to Pordenone and down to Venice.  They were here from Virginia to watch their son play some soccer matches against their Italian counterparts.

This trip gave me a chance to visit, if only briefly, plenty of places I’d never been, several I’d never even heard of, only one of which I’d ever really wanted to see (see photo above), and also the chance to stand interminably in the rain on the muddy sidelines of even muddier soccer fields.

The Veneto has just been through the rainiest March in 20 years — three times more water fell everywhere than is usual.  The vintners can’t prune their vineyards, the artichokes are a month behind, and the boys who ran and slid around drenched by the frigid deluge can tell you that they discovered a degree of wetness which nobody, not even skindivers, has ever experienced.

As for our itinerary, “We past through some of the damdes plases ever saw by mortel eyes,” as a Confederate soldier put it in a letter home.  At the top of the list is the Hotel Antares in Villafranca di Verona.  If you’ve ever wondered where the occupants of UFO’s go when their intergalactic aircraft run out of fuel, I can give you the address.

Now that I’m back and most of the laundry has been done, I confess that I feel very little urge to write anything about Venice at the moment.  Catching up with the news here over the past few days has subjected me to a downpour, so to speak, of non-news even more monotonous than the record rain (see above).

What’s been happening in the most-beautiful-city-in-the-world is what has always happened, and what, apparently, ever will happen. By now it appears that there’s hardly any point in mentioning current events, because the same stories will keep turning up every week till Jesus comes back.

The procession of news by now is so repetitive, and so demoralizing, that the 1.20 euros we spend for the daily Gazzettino have become a sort of charity contribution to keep it in business.  The national chronicle is stuck in an endless loop of the same names and the same chicanery, and the local reports form one interminable droning chorus about as interesting as singing “Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall.”

Classic themes: The constant deterioration of the city — palaces, churches, and bridges are falling to pieces, sometimes near or even on the heads of passersby, and the snaggly paving stones are so untrustworthy in some places that they trip as many people as they can each day and then snicker because they know they’re not going to be punished. There is the phenomenal inefficiency of the public health service.  The occasional little old person found dead in his/her home after days/weeks/months. The closing of generations-old stores that can’t pay the insane rent increase, which has typically been raised in order to install yet another glass/mask/pizza-by-the-slice business.  These shops sell glass and masks as being made in Venice, which in a sense they are;  not by Venetians, though, but by swelling numbers of Chinese immigrants who toil in sweatshops and live in little mainland hellholes.

If you tire of those stories, you can always read about the spectacular mismanagement, in myriad and ever-more-imaginative forms, of the public transport system. It’s amazing how many ways the ACTV finds to throw away money it insists it doesn’t have. And tomorrow there will be yet another transit strike: no buses, no vaporettos, a 24-hour dislocation of life which will produce no results. So there will have to be another one.

Speaking of money, it continues to gush, like water from a busted pipe, out of the Venice Casino, which once was one of the top three contributors to the entire city budget. Then there are the pitiful protests, as tiring and pointless as the wailing of a baby with colic, against the big cruise ships — “pitiful” not because I agree or don’t, but because cruise ships are now such a crucial part of the municipal economy that driving them away would kick the last leg out from under the tottering financial stool of the city’s economy. And “pitiful” because all the schemes which have been proposed to solve this so-called problem will create real, tangible, measurable problems for all eternity.

To sum up, the news from here is a ceaseless litany of the same issues, the same excuses, the same inertia, the same blithe, extravagant, “who, me?” waste of everything including now even my patience and my curiosity.

Oh: And the “Boy with the Frog,” claimed to be scheduled for removal on March 18? It’s still standing there. I let myself get excited by what sounded like a real decision, and now I’m embarrassed. I evidently had more hope than good sense, even after all this time.

If I were a reporter for the Gazzettino, I’d write my stories sitting at home in my underwear listening to old Janis Joplin tracks. I’m not saying anybody actually does that.  But they could.

The only interesting thing I’ve heard in a week was about the ten-year-old boy who snuck out of his house in the middle of the night in his pajamas to go smash the window of a toy store with a brick in order to get his hands on the thing he wanted that his parents had refused to buy for him.  That was different!  But it wasn’t in Venice — it was in Vicenza.

This face isn’t from Venice, but it could be. In fact, it should be.

On a side street in Polcenigo, there is someone better than Geppetto: It’s Franco, who not only can repair all sorts of things, but makes enough money from it to be able to afford this nice little shop.  People probably come from all over the EU.

Here’s something even more astonishing: The city of Pordenone had a mayor who was also a saint: Blessed Daniele D’Ungrispach. That was back in 1384 and 1404, but still — it was possible for at least one person in human history to pull it off.

One elegant pastry shop in Pordenone had some remarkable Easter cakes. I like the chick and the broken eggshell, but it’s the basketweave icing that really fascinates me. It’s not that somebody COULD do it, it’s that they had the PATIENCE to do it. But then again, I didn’t check the price.  It was probably worth the effort.

The rain, the cold, and all the flimflammery in the world are powerless to slow, stop, detour, or otherwise ruin the astonishing beauty of spring.  This is a great thing and I need to remember it.


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Water and fire to start the year

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Early late-afternoon is a magical moment in the winter, especially on Sant’ Erasmo. When we got there some people had already started their bonfires — smoke was going up all over the island.

Last Saturday night, while you were doing whatever you do, we were on Sant’ Erasmo participating in a wild pagan ritual. It’s known as panevin (pahn-eh-VEEN)or, more simply, brusar la vecia (broo-zahr ya VEH-cha — burn the old woman).

I’ve experienced it many times from a downwind distance, inhaling the smoke of many faraway bonfires, but three days ago was the first time I ever participated.  The Finotello family, whose market garden Sapori di Sant’ Erasmo has long since become our favorite produce store, told us they were going to be burning the old lady and sure, we could come too.

We always row over in a mascareta, partly because it’s a great motivation to go rowing, and also, not incidentally, the boat makes it easy to bring back our kilos of cauliflower or cabbage or tomatoes or eggplant or whatever’s good that day.

So around 4:00 we wandered across the span of lagoon between Castello and Sant’ Erasmo, threading our usual path along the flank of the Certosa and Vignole islands. The sun was going down, and it felt a little like we were sneaking out of the dorm after curfew, to be going out at the time we’re usually heading home.

I’ve written at other times about the history of this prehistoric practice, which is especially at home in the Northeast of Italy, so I’ll limit the scholarly details.  It’s enough to remember that the effigy represents the old (year, primarily) and therefore must be extinguished as a propitious start to the new (year, of course); that it’s an excellent way to dispose of the year’s prunings, which would have to have been burned eventually anyway; and that it’s a great excuse to end the holiday season with a party that also can keep you warm.

Needless to say, people in Mestre complained about the smoke (I say “needless,” because nothing happens here without some wail of protest from somebody, including me).  It wasn’t the fumes from Sant’ Erasmo that bothered them, but from various places close to the city.  Unbreathable air!  We had to stay shut in our houses with all the windows and doors sealed!  Call the fire department, something’s burning!

I give a little slack to people with genuine pulmonary issues, or anyone who might have encountered smoke caused by burning rubber or plastic.

Otherwise, here’s my message to the good burghers of Mestre: Get over it.

Walking up the lane, we could admire the magnificence of the Finotellos’ pyramid of plant matter. Either they have more land, or they had more hands to work, but it was twice as big as any of the others in sight.

The pyre is ready, a year’s-worth of clippings and rippings. No plastic! No tires to make more smoke, everybody knows it’s poison. Just honest old bits of botanical rubbish. The pieces of newspaper are going to be wrapped around a few long poles and moistened with diesel fuel, lit, and then stuck into the pile to get the blaze going. This is no job for a simple kitchen match.

Luca, the youngest Finotello, is all set to brandish his torch. I wasn’t watching but I doubt very much that he was allowed to go anywhere with this stick on fire.  Somebody’s bonfire is already ablaze in the distance.

The old woman was looking pretty sprightly, at least from below. Is that a Miracle Bra she’s wearing? I hope not, because there’s no miracle in sight for her.

The combustibles are ready, the people are ready, let’s just do it.

Claudio and his son Luca are ready to party.

It’s definitely getting to be time to light the fire.

The people just a few steps along the road had already set their fire. Maybe they were just burning up the old branches and twigs and not bothering to make a party. Crazy, I know.

Voila’! Let the bonfire begin.  The boys imagined incinerating their most-hated soccer team.  “Let’s burn Juventus” yelled a fan of Milan.  Naturally the response was “Let’s burn Milan!”  That went on for a while.

It was at least a flagration, if not something more.

The ancient lore relies on the direction in which the sparks blow as a prediction of the coming year’s prosperity, agriculturally speaking. If they fly west toward the mountains, “take your sack and go for chestnuts” (hard times); if they fly east toward the sea, “take your sack and go for wheat” (good times). Lino says that there isn’t really much magic about this. He explains that the wind follows the sun throughout the day; at dawn it blows from the east (here, the sea), and in the evening it blows from the west (the mountains). Any wind which contradicts the natural order of the correct direction would be a strange wind, an anomalous wind, one which (one might assume) would blow no good. But that’s true all year, Lino stated, not just at Epiphany. Sorry to spoil a good story. The interpretation of these sparks: Unclear. No definite sign from the old lady or anything.  The Finotellos don’t depend on sparks anyway — they take an appropriately fatalistic attitude toward their world and the weather.  After all, last year they got the tornado.  Predicting that was definitely above the old lady’s pay grade.

Let ‘er rip and let the sparks be damned.

All this fire is a fabulous sight, as long as it’s the old year going up in flames and not your house.

And there were the fundamental refreshments: “Pinza” (two different recipes), which is a sort of pound cake that wants to be a fruitcake, the hot spiced red wine known even here as vin brule’, and hot chocolate. Fire, food and wine — the only thing missing is the old lady, who by now is pretty much reduced to ash.

A view of the fire as we walked back to the boat. Looking around, we counted nine other fires scattered across the dark landscape. The view from a helicopter must have looked like the Fourth of July in the middle of the lagoon.

But the blaze wasn’t the only beautiful experience that evening.  We got a massive bonus with the row home in the dark.  I suspected we would, because we often used to row at night. But years have passed since our last “notturna.”

The lagoon isn’t ever ugly, but it’s like Gloria Swanson — at some moments it’s more beautiful than at others.  At noon on a summer Sunday you will not see it at its best.

At night, though, and especially in the winter, it is a place of deep, luminous glamour.  The silence, the stillness of the water, the sense of space, the stars, the cold — all the components join to make something much greater than the whole.

I didn’t even try to make any photographs because I knew they would never show what was really there.  The barely perceptible movement of the water’s silky surface responding to the oars, which I could sense in my hands and then, from the bottom of the boat, through my feet; the small sound of the oars themselves, slipping through the water and occasionally squeaking against the humid wood of the forcola; the frigid damp of the oar chilling my bare fingers.  The coldness of the air that I could breathe all the way down to the bottom of my lungs. The bright white dot of Venus reflected in the water, which floated next to us all the way home on our port side, bobbing back up after every stroke.  The misty beam of the lighthouse on Murano shining straight out to sea through the inlet at San Nicolo (4 flashes, 2 seconds pause) and the unexpected way that it appeared closer to us at one point, then five minutes later seemed to be miles away, even though the physical distance had barely changed.

A mere two miles (3.6 km) from the bonfire to our house felt like some pilgrimage suspended in time. In the dark, the lagoon seemed untethered from everything that wasn’t it.  No longer was it the plodding, workaday lagoon, the watery equivalent of an enormous Wal-Mart parking lot forced to marry an interstate interchange, but something whole, completely itself, majestic, complex, lacking nothing, needing nothing.

We crossed the Canale delle Navi by the Arsenal and rowed down the rio di San Pietro. Boats, walls, houses, windows, but no people.  It was only 7:00 PM and there wasn’t even the sound of a person.  We turned into the rio di Sant’ Ana — deserted.  Nobody on the fondamenta.  Nobody on the bridge.  Silence.  It was eerie. Beautiful, I guess, but it was as if the lagoon had just let itself go and obliterated everybody but us.

But of course, it hadn’t.  At the end of the canal we could hear the Saturday-evening-going-home cacophony.  Men shouting, dogs barking, kids wailing.

We now return you to your regular dimension.

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Categories : Venetian Events
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