Search Results for "tornado"

May
30

Another year, another Biennale

Posted by: | Comments (15)
Vaporettos make wonderful billboards; I don't know if they auction off the space on their vehicles to the highest bidder, but it wouldn't surprise me. I mean, why Azerbaijan on the #1, and not Kenya?

Vaporettos make wonderful billboards; I don’t know if they auction off the space on their vehicles to the highest bidder, but it wouldn’t surprise me. I mean, why Azerbaijan on the #1, and not Tuvalu?

Despite the fact that “Biennale” literally means bi-annual (that is, every two years), this extravaganza of art has been broken up into so many different pieces — architecture, dance, music, etc. — that it has become, in some form or other, an annual event.  Which means that at the beginning of June every year we live a week or so of intense spectatorhood at the swarming of the international art-scenesters.

For the brief period leading up to the inauguration (June 1 this year), we are entertained by an extraordinary spectacle of  garb and behavior — I don’t mean this as a compliment — and the neighborhood businesses, especially bars and restaurants, get to earn some real money.  If the visitors were the proverbial hay, the Biennale would be the proverbial sun, and the local merchants would be scything around the clock.

Short as this interlude may be, it causes all sorts of disorderly thoughts to rush into my brain — thoughts about art, thoughts about what it’s for and how it works, why or whether it matters, and thoughts about people (those are usually nasty, brutish and short — the thoughts, I mean, not the people).

I spent most of yesterday attempting to write them down and organize them so I could share their brilliance with you.  But I gave up.  Based on the art we see outside here, and the people who pursue it, art has become something so silly that to treat it as something serious has become an art form in itself.

The neighborhood is pulsating with journalists, art-watchers, art-commenters, and art-participaters.  And I suppose also some lower-voltage art-perpetrators too, but I doubt that they are wandering around via Garibaldi, or blocking the streets drinking their spritzes where the space is narrowest (“You need to get through here? How quaint”), or leaning against things talking into their phones, drawing attention to themselves. My experience is that real artists rarely look all that  important.  Irving Penn looked like a vinyl-siding salesman.

Right on time, the gigantic luxury yachts have moved in for the big parties over the weekend. All 19 berths have been taken.

Right on time, the gigantic luxury yachts have moved in for the big parties over the weekend. All 19 berths have been taken.

These yachts are here for the big parties.  They'll be gone soon.  They'll be back for the Film Festival and more parties.

These yachts redefine the term “party boat.”  They’ll be gone soon. They’ll be back for the Film Festival and more parties.

I love to look at them in the morning when nobody's around.  They're like Gloria Swanson.

I love to look at them in the morning when nobody’s around. They’re like Gloria Swanson just getting out of bed.

Every year there is one major work of art that takes center stage, or tries to.  They are always put out along the fondamente, obviously, where they can’t not be seen.

The first year I was here, it was a monstrous concrete hand, half-emerging from the pavement, fingers reaching upward in what might have been a metaphoric expression of yearning — or pleading, or grasping — for freedom. Another year it was a five-story-high sort of stele, glowing night and day with a violently-blue neon sort of waterfall.  That blighted the landscape for quite a while. Then there was the decrepit traditional wooden sailing boat from the Comoro Islands, encumbered with two ponderous dumpsters, that floated for months tied to some pilings as it slowly came apart.  Oh — and there was the tree, planted on a specially-constructed platform, in front of the Giardini where there are masses of trees.

The tree started out green in June, 2008, but by October it looked like this. That undoubtedly was part of the entire artistic concept. If I'd ever thought dead plants could make me famous, I'd have saved all those doomed geraniums.

The tree started out green in June, 2008, but by October it looked like this. That might have been the entire artistic concept. If I’d ever thought dead plants were art, I’d have saved all those doomed geraniums.

This year it is a gigantic figure on the island of San Giorgio sometimes known as “Alison Lapper Pregnant,” but at the moment called “Respiro” (“breath”). It is a portrait of English artist Alison Lapper, who was born as shown here (except obviously not 11 meters/33 feet high, purple, and inflatable). Don’t try to understand this by yourself; only Marc Quinn, the artist, and his assorted interpreters can tell you what it really means.

IMG_1242 blog statue

It’s actually very simple. I translate from a photo caption in Panorama.it: This handiwork “proposes a new model of feminine heroism in which love, maternity and vitality reach an unpredictable form and an unexpected peak.” It also is part of a “voyage from the origins of life” and “celebrates fear and wonder in the face of the world in which we live.”  Other resonant phrases such as “the beauty and mystery of creation and life” defeat my capacity to link language to thought.

In case you might suppose that this artifact were some self-indulgent creation meant only to stupefy the Biennalists, or that the Palladian monument of the church of San Giorgio might be an inappropriate location for showing it (Peasant!), you should know that it has been exhibited at all sorts of places.  It’s been in London since 2005 and was understandably given pride of place at the Special Olympics in London in 2012; other sites range from places associated with some sort of violence, such as a military training field in Tripoli, Libya; in Paris (protests against gay marriage); in Srinagar (protests in Kashmir); in Moore, Oklahoma (tornado tragedy), to more frivolous events which needed to draw more than usual attention to themselves, such as the competition in Berlin of  “German models of the future,” to the beach at Long Branch, New Jersey, to Indianapolis, Indiana. She’s traveled more than I have.

With the deepest respect to the subject of this creation (I can’t call it a statue, but I can’t call it a balloon, either), the thoughts it inspires are not related to life, beauty, mystery, fear or wonder. Because I already know what it is. Like everything else on earth, it is a business.  Or rather, part of a business. Mining mercury, molding ocarinas, feeding orphans, shoeing horses — all businesses.

Business is one of the fundamental building blocks of life, right in there with carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, hydrogen, phosphorus and sulfur. And here at the Biennale we see the business of art, which — say what you will — has very little to do with life, beauty, mystery, or wonder, though maybe fear could be seen as playing a part.

Back to Alison Lapper as depicted by her plastic portraitist. I’m all for symbolism, but I am repelled by fabricated symbolism that is tacked onto an invention which is essentially  intended to promote the inventor. Artists promote themselves because they want to sell you their stuff. Although Ms. Lapper collaborated in this work for her own reasons, she is merely the vehicle by which Marc Quinn intends to make you notice him. If all he wanted to do was show the beauty and wonder of life, he wouldn’t have put his name on it.

I’m not going to say any more, because this is the point at which my thoughts diverge from my ability to express them.

IMG_1256 blog statue

According to the Gazzettino, the director of the diocesan office of culture, don Gianmatteo Caputo, is not happy. For one thing, the Cini Foundation didn’t specify that the object wouldn’t be the original statue of marble, but this inflatable version (I guess that matters); for another, he denied the Foundation permission to place it in front of the church (I pause to let the idea settle that such permission was requested), so it was put BESIDE the church. That makes everything all right.

 

Then I discovered she was inflated.  I don't know what this operation was intended to accomplish, but they got her blown up again.

IMG_1271 blog statue

I felt disturbed when I thought she was made of stone. It was worse when I saw her like this. But she was evidently undergoing some repairs, because she was back up in almost no time.

Large boulders (not genuine granite) have appeared around the neighborhood. The owner of this newsstand said such objects lined the entrance to the United States pavilion.

Large boulders (not genuine granite) have appeared around the neighborhood. The owner of this newsstand said such objects line the entrance to the United States pavilion. Maybe they had extras.  Anyway, if you have to ask, I’d say that this little divertimento isn’t very effective as publicity. But wait!  If you have to ask, you’ve just demonstrated that you don’t know anything about art! Peasant!

The newsstand at the Giardini was similarly bouldered.

The newsstand at the Giardini was similarly bouldered.  Art is in the air…..

As was Massimo and Luca's vegetable boat.  Perhaps there's a good crop of boulders coming in this year.

As was Massimo and Luca’s vegetable boat. Perhaps there’s a good crop of boulders coming in this year.

Yesterday evening we saw this unusual creation being rowed somewhat tentatively toward via Garibaldi.  The hesitation wasn't only  because the man rowing wasn't too good at it, but because the bridge he was about to pass under was too low.

Yesterday evening we saw this unusual creation being rowed somewhat tentatively toward via Garibaldi. The hesitation wasn’t only because the man rowing wasn’t too good at it, but because the bridge he was about to pass under was too low.

this is a test

The problem is the ferro of the gondola sticking up in the middle of the boat: It’s too high to pass under the bridge.

The problem is the ferro of the gondola sticking up in the middle of the boat. Suggestion: wait till the tide goes out a little more (the Venetian equivalent of letting some air out of the tires). A better suggestion: Dragoon a real gondolier just walking by to come row it the right way: All the weight over on the right side, making the boat tilt just enough to pass under with no problem.  As long as nobody breathes.

Hold everything. One suggestion: Wait till the tide goes out a little more (the Venetian equivalent of letting some air out of the tires).

 

A better suggestion: Dragoon a real gondolier who's just walking by to row it the right way: All the weight over on the right side, making the boat tilt just enough to pass under with no problem. As long as nobody breathes.

A better suggestion: Dragoon a real gondolier who’s just walking by to row it the right way.  Welcome aboard, sir.

All the weight over on the right side, making the boat tilt just enough to pass under with no problem. As long as nobody breathes.

All the weight over on the right side, making the boat tilt just enough to slip beneath the bridge with no problem without capsizing.  Pretty simple, as long as nobody breathes.

IMG_1328 blog biennale

Gondoliers do this all the time when the water’s a little high. The only reason you see the stern of a gondola sliced off is because the gondolier’s lazy. Or not very good.

There was great applause from all the people who had stopped to watch. In my opinion, the gondolier was more of an artist than the person who put all the cut-up boat parts into the gondola.

There was great applause from all the people who had stopped to watch. In my opinion, the gondolier was more of an artist than the person who put all the cut-up boat parts into the gondola.

The boat was tied up just beyond the second bridge, under the banner announcing whatever exhibition it was part of "Gondola."  I'm guessing the boat is the work of art, but in that case I'd have to give credit to the people in the squero who did the cutting and pasting, not the dude who thought it up. But what do I know about art.

The boat didn’t have far to go; it was tied up just beyond the second bridge, under the banner announcing “Gondola.” I’m guessing the boat is the work of art, but in that case I’d have to give credit to the people in the squero who did the cutting and pasting, not the dude who thought it up. But what do I know about art.

IMG_1396 blog biennale

I will help you understand what this boat full of what looks like mussel-shells actually means: Study the explanation given here, take two aspirin, or a large grappa, or stick your finger in a live socket, and call me in the morning.  It’s all art.  All of it.  Everything.  Even your dirty-laundry basket and your old broken bike.  You’re wasting your time doing whatever you do — you could be here in Venice, making people admire you.

Speaking of which, there is a wonderful scene in an extremely wonderful movie called “Le Vacanze Intelligenti” (The Intelligent Vacation) with Alberto Sordi.  He and his wife are a late-middle-aged couple, fruit-and-vegetable sellers in Rome, whose highly educated children organize their summer holiday for them. No going to the beach this year — the parents are going to learn something! So the itinerary sends them to tour Etruscan tombs, and go to avant-garde concerts in Florence, and they finally end up in Venice, at the Biennale.

It’s summer, it’s sweltering, they’re exhausted, and while he goes off in search of a cold drink for her, she slumps, comatose, eyes shut, into the only available chair, under a tree. And people stop to admire her, and talk about what the artist had in mind, and how skillful he was, and how much she might cost if somebody wanted to buy her.  The moment she comes to and realizes she’s been seriously mistaken for art is something sublime.

 

Categories : Events
Comments (15)
May
22

Merry,the month of May? Sure.

Posted by: | Comments (3)
Our favorite bar at Sant'Elena went all out in festive decorations for the Vogalonga.  The boat, the poster, the flags of many nations.  Nice.

Our favorite bar at Sant’Elena went all out in festive decorations for the Vogalonga. The boat, the poster, the flags of many nations. Nice.

I am now re-establishing radio contact with the rest of the world.  The recent crackling silence was completely predictable, at least to me.  May is a great month if you’re a plant, but if you’re me, it’s an Olympic biathlon involving two of the city’s three biggest boating events: the corteo for the Festa de la Sensa, on Ascension Day (May 12 this year), and the Vogalonga (May 19).

Once again, I dedicated two weeks to working in the registration office for the Vogalonga. Sound simple?  The first week, yes.  The second week, right up to 6:00 PM the day before the event, was a crescendo of desperation — not on my part, but those who came, as one hollow-eyed supplicant put it, “A thousand kilometers over the Alps with our boats,” thinking they could sign up at the last minute and discovering that all the 1,700 bibs, one per boat, had already been booked.

I heard stories about people needing a number for their dying best friend.  I didn’t hear any pleas based on expiring grandmothers or promises to small children, but the accumulated emotional tension began to take a toll on me.  It wasn’t just the exclamations of doomed desire that were so tiring (“But why?” “But why?” “I have the money right here” “Can’t you find just one number for me?” “But I didn’t know” “I didn’t read the website” “I don’t have internet” “We’ve come all this way” “”Noooooooooooo, it can’t be truuuuuuuue”), it was my irritation at situations which could easily have been prevented if even one of their group had had a functioning medulla oblongata.  Or whatever part of the brain governs logic and rationality. If there is such a part.

While everybody who already  had their numbers were working themselves into a froth over the unpleasant weather forecast, I and my colleagues were struggling to resolve many silly and time-consuming and avoidable problems. Reservations made but not paid for; payments that didn’t correspond to the booking; adding people to boats; subtracting people from boats; doing long division of people from boats: the single reservation for 20 rowers who were assumed by us to all occupy the same boat, but which it turned out were each rowing by themselves, hence requiring 19 more numbers. That was fun. “You need 19 numbers? Sure, I’ll just make them right here for you, like Subway sandwiches. You want pickles?”

Compared to all that, rowing the event is almost always easier, and more enjoyable, and more, well, rational.

You might have heard that it rained; you might have heard that the rain was something epic! That some boats capsized! Frankly, it was all much better than I’d feared. The rain came down in hurled handfuls of big hard round drops, then shifted, like a shower-head, to fine, thin and steady, then heavy and steady, then lots of little drizzly drops, then another downpour, then a pause, then another downpour.  After Mazzorbo, the sun came out and we all dried off. As for overturned boats, if you ride a horse, what can happen to you? You fall off.  If you’re in a boat, what can happen?  You fall in.  Lino’s fallen in countless times. I’ve fallen in, in January, no less.  Get a grip, people.

That said, however, falling in isn’t equal for everyone.  We heard later from a friend who had been rowing in a big Venetian boat that at Mazzorbo a rower in a single kayak decided to cross their bow at the last moment, got dinged, and over he went.  But he couldn’t manage to come up because he had lashed all sorts of accoutrements, luggage, supplies, and even himself, to his kayak, which meant he couldn’t manage to right it and he couldn’t get out of it either. Think about it. Think medulla oblongata. Happily, the Venetian rowers managed to haul him back over and up into the air, but it was a very close call.

They also saw another boat capsize (the reasons for this aren’t clear — we weren’t in a hurricane) — it was a kayak again, this time for two rowers which, as our friend explained, also contained two very small children, one of whom was about three months old. The only glimmer of intelligence in that scenario was that the presumed parents had fitted their kids with lifejackets. People like this shouldn’t be allowed out of the house, much less into a boat.

There was the by-now traditional logjam in the Canale di Cannaregio, caused by the by-now traditionally inept, vision-impaired, brain-dead coxswains on the long rowing shells who seem not to understand that their boat needs to keep going straight forward and that their job is to see that it gets done.  Big long boats slewing around slaunchwise and getting stuck are like big expensive beaver dams forcing all the arriving boats to jam up.  It’s not just that they create problems — they don’t know what to do to fix them. As we see in the video by a certain Bas Schols; here’s the link for those who don’t see the clip:   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qRyEnCKno3o .

A close second for the prize for Best Way to Create Problems goes to the people who just stop rowing and sit there in their boat, usually in narrowish spaces or at blind corners.  You can hardly ever discover a reason for this.  Of course they’re tired; we’re all tired.  But when they’re driving in the center lane of the highway back home, do they just stop when they feel like it and sit there?  I feel doubtful.

After the Vogalonga (and the rain), it was time for lunch at the club.  The long table laden with food is concealed by Roberto Busetto, who isn't really trying to strangle Ivo Bratovich. After all, Ivo's smiling.

After the Vogalonga (and the rain), it was time for lunch at the club. The long table laden with food is concealed by Roberto Busetto, who isn’t really trying to strangle Ivo Bratovich. After all, Ivo’s smiling.

The Sunday before all this, May 12, was the Festa de la Sensa, and we participated in the commemoration of the “Wedding of the Sea.”  We row out toward the Lido, following the big fancy ceremonial boat called the “Serenissima,” past the Morosini Naval School where the cadets are lined up along the embankment, as sharp as creases in starched organdy, shouting “Urrah!” when commanded to do so by the bosun’s whistle. That is absolutely the coolest thing about the entire event, though of course tossing the wreath into the water to commemorate the dead sailors is important too. And a ring-like object with ribbons tied onto it also gets blessed and tossed.  Another chance to be crushed together in a boat-scrum, but at least here we all know each other and actually know how to move our boats around. That’s it for boats.

The rest of the month is a rapid unraveling of assorted appointments and events.  For example, I sat most of the afternoon waiting for the long-expected boiler repairman to come replace the replacement washer from a few weeks ago.  He was supposed to come in the morning, but only by calling up did we learn that he’d been moved to the afternoon.  Dazzling efficiency! We could be in Sweden!  Wait — it’s gets better.  He phoned at 3:30 to say he couldn’t come because they hadn’t given him the part he needed to install. They thought they had, police said. (I am adhering to the practice recommended by the old city editor to the cub reporter, my former boss, who told him, “You can write anything you want to, as long as you add ‘comma police said.””)

At 6:00 it was off to the Generali Insurance Company’s boathouse for the presentation of the restored 8-oar gondolone. We needed to swell the ranks, it seemed, so we were there.  We try to be good sports on land as well as sea. I was hoping they’d have cookies, but they got in a caterer and had hors d’oeuvres and asparagus risotto. I like being wrong like that.

Tomorrow afternoon Lino will be at Malamocco for hours, as one of the judges overseeing the eliminations for the next official rowing race (Sant’ Erasmo, June 2). That evening, dinner at the Non-Commissioned Naval Officers Club, a cholesterol-laden thank-you from a group of young French students because not only did we pick up the dropped/lost wallet of one of their members (containing 70 euros and also an address) but thanks to Skype and the fact that little Pauline’s father was home when I called, we managed to return it to her the next day.  And a big shout-out to Mrs. Rideout and Mrs. Gordon, whose draconian French courses in high school are still paying off, if only in fractured form.

Friday evening, the annual corteo to transport the statue of Our Lady of Succor (“Maria Ausiliatrice”) from the church of San Pietro di Castello to the church of San Giuseppe. This year we’re going to be carrying as many people as we can, hoping to transfer into Venetian boats many of those who usually follow us on foot along the fondamente.

Saturday, a batch of us are off to Burano to collect four of our tornado-devastated boats from the boatyard where they have been repaired.  We’re either towing or rowing them back; it doesn’t seem clear yet which one.  I’m for rowing, myself, not that anyone consults me. The forecast isn’t too pretty.

Some shards of frico, which I discovered in Gemona, deep in the heart of Friuli. I know cheese contains protein, but this can't possibly be good for you.

Some shards of frico, which I discovered in Gemona, deep in the heart of Friuli. I know cheese contains protein, but this can’t possibly be good for you.

Sunday, we’re going with a big group in a bus to Trieste to the annual reunion of the veterans of the Automobile Corps.  Lino did his compulsory 18-month military service in Rome with this arm of the armed forces, repairing and maintaining Jeeps, trucks, and assorted ministerial vehicles.  He recently joined the nearest chapter of the motorized veterans, and the big outing sounds like it’s going to be fun, except for the promised thunderstorms and drenching rain.

We’ll get to march around the Piazza dell’Unita’ d’Italia for a while, then go off to some countryside establishment to gorge on Friulian specialties (think San Daniele prosciutto and frico, or fried cheese) — possibly the true purpose of the expedition.  Then to visit some famous nearby monastery blanketed by rose gardens. We’ll have to get up before 5:00 to get the train to Treviso, the starting point, but I’d walk to Treviso for a shot at a plate of frico.

Next week’s calendar is ominously empty.  I say “ominous,” because you know how Nature feels about a vacuum.

One great thing about going to work every morning is that  I got to see the city waking up.

One great thing about going to work every morning is that I got to see the city waking up.

IMG_0610 blog may

At 7:45 the schoolbus pulls up at the Arsenale vaporetto stop.  The bus is the #1 and all the kids are just as happy to be going to class as they are anywhere in the world.

At 7:45 the schoolbus pulls up at the Arsenale vaporetto stop. The bus is the #1 and all the kids are just as happy to be going to class as they are anywhere in the world.

Sunrise makes some of the best shadows -- in this case, from the roof of the Doge's palace.

Sunrise makes some of the best shadows — in this case, from the roof of the Doge’s palace.

A historic moment.  On the morning of May 8, the boy with his froggie were still there.........

A historic moment. On the morning of May 8, the boy with his froggie were still there………

...and that evening, they were gone.  I never thought I'd live to see it.  Or not see it, whichever.

…and that evening, they were gone. I never thought I’d live to see it. Or not see it, whichever.

I was surprised to see the commemorative wreath lying peacefully in the entryway of Ca' Farsetti, the city hall, on the evening before it was to be offered to the waves in memory of fallen sailors at the "Sposalizio del Mare."

I was surprised to see the commemorative wreath lying peacefully in the entryway of Ca’ Farsetti, the city hall, on the evening before it was to be offered to the waves in memory of fallen sailors at the “Sposalizio del Mare.” It’s not that I expected candles to be burning beside it, but it did seem so sort of ordinary there. “Yes, we always put a monster laurel wreath in front of the cash machine.  Why do you ask?”

A four-oar sandolo from the Morosini Naval School, rowed by four cadets taught by Lino, who are unfortunately, as you see, facing eastward.  As we all were.  That's just one humble detail in this excellent ceremony -- we're all staring into the sun.

A four-oar sandolo from the Morosini Naval School, rowed by four cadets taught by Lino, who are unfortunately, as you see, facing eastward. As we all were. That’s just one humble detail in this excellent ceremony — we’re all staring into the sun.

Another boat with Morosini cadets -- a six-oar caorlina rowed by five girls, steered by Gabriele De Mattia and overseen by Lino, seated astern, surveying everything.

Another boat with Morosini cadets — a six-oar caorlina rowed by five girls, steered by Gabriele De Mattia and overseen by Lino, seated astern, surveying everything.

Aboard the "Serenissima," the priest is reading the blessing of the wreath, as the admiral awaits his cue.

Aboard the “Serenissima,” the priest is reading the blessing of the wreath, as the admiral awaits his cue.

The priest is evidently not a seaman; he is steadying himself atop the waves with superb delicacy.

The priest is evidently not a seaman; as he intones, he is steadying himself atop the waves with superb delicacy.

The wreath is ready for its big moment.

The wreath is ready for its big moment.

The wreath afloat, with the fireboats jetting celebratory water into the sky.  You don't want to be near them if there's a breeze, I can tell you.

The wreath afloat, with the fireboats jetting celebratory water into the sky. You don’t want to be near them if there’s a breeze, I can tell you.

Everyone stood at what amounted to attention as the music of the "Hymn of San Marco" was played.

Everyone stood at what amounted to attention as the music of the “Hymn of San Marco” was played.  I wish I could tell you the sacrality of the moment was respected by everyone, but I can’t.  I saw two men on a little mascareta rowing away with the wreath on the stern of their boat.

And just think: At tonight's party, we saw the commemorative wreath ever-so-attractively hung on the boathouse whose name I will not pronounce. But it's pretty obvious.

And just think: At tonight’s party, we saw the commemorative wreath ever-so-attractively hung on the boathouse whose name I will not pronounce. But it’s pretty obvious. I’m sorry, I just can’t think of it as a decor accessory. But they do.

Comments (3)
Jan
08

Water and fire to start the year

Posted by: | Comments (9)

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.

Categories : Venetian Events
Comments (9)

This year the students at the Francesco Morosini Naval School, aided and abetted by the chaplain, Don Gianni, put together a lagoon Nativity scene. It’s very cool that the Three Kings are arriving aboard a classic boat, a “sampierota.” They wisely left their camels behind, perhaps to leave space to bring everybody back to the mainland from this little sandbank after Epiphany.

Christmas this year (so far) has been the most subdued I’ve ever seen.  It’s not the spirit that is lacking, but the fundage.  I don’t need to remind you that yes, we have no money.

Christmas lights no longer festoon via Garibaldi, though a few indomitable individuals have put up some illumination.  I salute them. They obviously have nothing to fear from the energy companies.

And speaking of indomitable, I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but the neighborhood pastry-wizard has outdone himself in widening the space between size and price in his festive offerings.  An ingenious little creation (note the use of the word “little”) of chocolate shavings and lumps of torrone, representing an Alpine village — the sort of thing which usually adorns a liquor-and-mascarpone-sodden cake — is now being offered without the cake.  For the same inflated price.  If I were to want to spend 30 euros ($40) for a plate of chocolate fragments, I would…. No, I wouldn’t, actually. If I had 30 euros to spend on a present, I’d give somebody a batch of bees via the Heifer Project.  At least that way the gift would propagate.  No propagation powers yet discovered in the world of ostentatious confections. End of sermon.

An example of the minimalist approach to the Christmas cake. He has made a version which costs “only” 30 euros, but you see the style. It’s on a cardboard base about the size of a luncheon plate, if anybody uses those anymore. Not small, but not big, either. Not 30-euros big, in any case.

This is what a normal, standard-issue Christmas cake looks like. True, you can’t eat much of it, and what you do eat sort of haunts you for hours. But at least you’re getting something in return for your cash.

Day before yesterday, feeling the onset of the big day, we had a party at our rowing club.  It was great.  Because the tornado last June destroyed our clubhouse, we now cling to the edge of the lagoon with our boats parked under two big tents, with a container serving as locker room, kitchen, and bathroom. The kind of container they give to earthquake survivors.  It works, but it’s not a long-term plan.

A table, panettone and wine, and people: It’s a party! The fog invited itself.

Just to give an idea of the atmosphere. We’ve had more fog than high water so far this year by a factor of at least ten, and fog is arguably more dangerous than acqua alta to most activities (I’m thinking of fatal collisions, and also getting lost). But fog just doesn’t seem to excite reporters in the same way.

It was a modest, Bob-Cratchity sort of celebration but the most important elements were there:  Fizzy wine (not the usual prosecco, but somebody’s home-bottled lambrusco), panettone and pandoro (my favorite, as is anything involving extra sugar), and smiling people. The frigid foggy wind was thrown in at no extra cost.

Another bonus was having time to hang around with some of the old guys and hear them geeze about the old days.  I pick up unexpected bits of lore this way.  This time I learned why gondoliers hate the nickname “pasta e oca” (pasta and goose).

Lino (whose grandfather was a gondolier, as is his son) says that they ate pasta and goose because they’ve always been “grandoni” — that is, tending toward the grandiose.  Someone added, however, that in his opinion they hated being called this nickname because the dish (which I’ve never tried) is a sort of viscid, mucilaginous preparation which is so revolting it makes you want to barf.  As it was told to me.

In any case, the preferred rejoinder to “Hey, pasta e oca!'” is “And yo’ mama gets the neck!”

Christmas spirit comes in all shapes and sizes, and I liked our standing-around-outside-in-the-freezing-soggy-air version.  There weren’t very many of us, but it didn’t matter.  This would be the only point on which I might agree with the pastry-shark.  When it comes to a festa, it’s not about quantity.

So auguri (ow-GOOR-ee), as we say here.  Technically, “good auguries.”  We no longer practice divination by studying the liver of sacrificial animals, or the flight of birds, so I’ll translate this as “Good wishes!”

Our irrepressible neighbors along the canal have thrown caution somewhere — to the wind, or into the water– and favored us with all these sparkles.  In these purlieus, the Christmas star leads , not to the Baby Jesus, but to the laundry on the line.

Heading out to do some errands this morning, I came across a festive garbage collector. He turned the corner about ten seconds ahead of me, and when I turned it he was nowhere to be seen. Nowhere. I’m thinking Santa has turned his sleigh in and is working with the ecological operator’s wagon.

Near San Giovanni Crisostomo, I came across a kiosk selling a vast assortment of figurines for your own Nativity set at home. In addition to the Holy Family, shepherds, angel, ox, ass, and Three Kings, you could have a woodcutter, with wood.

Here is a couple eating pizza, something I’ve always felt that Nativity scenes lacked. And a butcher with large sections of just-cut-up animals.

The sign says this woman is a “battipanni,” or rug-beater, though technically the battipanni referred to the woven wood paddle she’d use to pound the dust out of the carpets. Just so you know. Still, an excellent person to have in your Christmas creche, what with all the swaddling cloths and probably saddle cloths too, for the donkey.

A tailor would be an excellent person to have on the team; here she’s busy making shirts.

Someone to re-upholster your sofa or ottoman. You could get everything in your house fixed up by Epiphany, at this rate.

 

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Categories : Venetian-ness
Comments (9)