You know what they are — they are those moments when family trees, or shrubs of some personal connection (usually with Lino), spring out of some random event.
A small example: We were walking across Campo San Barnaba the other day and Lino paused to look at one of the everlasting sequence of death notices taped to a convenient column. Because this is his natal neighborhood, of course he wanted to see who it was.
I don’t remember the person’s name — it was a man — but it took Lino only about four seconds to place him. “My older sister Giulia was married to Emilio,” he began. This much I knew — I knew her, though Emilio had gone to glory before I entered the scene. “Emilio had a sister, and this man was one of her sons.”
That would have made him… a cousin-in-law?
But that’s a mere dustmote compared to the story that came up yesterday, when Lino looked at the last page of the paper. That’s where the obituaries are, and sure enough, there was someone he knew. Knew very well, in fact.
It was another Emilio, but don’t let that distract you. He passed away at the age of 91, which means he was 14 years older than Lino. Pointless information, perhaps, but he was Lino’s “master,” for lack of a better word, at the Aeronavali, the company for whom Lino (age 16) went to work at the Nicelli airport on the Lido. (His older brother and twin brother also worked there.) I calculate quickly that at the time Emilio would have been 30 — vastly older, and of course vastly more experienced. Big. Important.
Emilio was given a few apprentices to train, and Lino was one of them. “None of us liked him,” Lino said. “He treated his apprentices like servants.”
Eight years went by, and Lino was 24 years old, and things were going very well for him. Emilio was now 38, and even more experienced and important, of course. Word began to circulate that a squad was going to be organized and sent under contract for four months to Mogadishu, Somalia, to work in the airport and train the Somali mechanics. (Note: In case one wonders “Why Somalia?”, Somalia had lived through three colonial experiences, and one of those periods was Italian.)
As I say, word was wafting around that a big expedition was being formed, and naturally the older workers — Emilio, for one — assumed they would be asked to go. A few of them — Emilio, for one — had even begun preparing and collecting the necessary tools. They were only waiting for the starter’s gun.
But one day Lino was called to the head office. “What have you done this time?” was the general question from his co-workers as they watched him go. “No idea,” was the reply.
When he came out of the office, several lurkers pounced. What was going on?
“He asked if I wanted to go to Somalia,” said Lino.
“What did you say?” said the thunderstrucks.
“I said yes, of course.”
Consternation everywhere, especially among the older group which had assumed they would be The Chosen. Emilio was not chosen. He had to stay behind and watch his still-young ex-apprentice go off in what he had assumed would have been his place, lugging the tools that he (Emilio) had so carefully assembled.
So much for Emilio, may he rest in peace.
There was also “Barba Keki,” the nickname of the head of the group, which roughly translates from the Venetian as “Uncle Frankie.”
“Did you talk this over at home first?” he asked, knowing perfectly well what the answer was. (Lino at the time was a young husband with a several-months’-old son.)
B.K. was concerned, but not because he was jealous. No, it was because B.K. (stay with me here) was the husband of the cousin of Lino’s father-in-law, and if Lino’s wife had protested, B.K. would have found himself in the eye of the cyclone.
Lino merely replied, “They asked if I wanted to go, and I said yes.” Happily, no cyclone touched land.
Today, the flowering of the personal connection shrubbery put out some new blooms.
We had to go the bank to deal with some paperwork, and we went upstairs to see one of the officers, Roberto G.
Lino has known him ever since he (Roberto) was born. This doesn’t surprise me anymore. But he knew Roberto because he had known Roberto’s father, who worked at the Aeronavali when Lino also was working there. He was a carpenter, and his nickname was Pianaura (pee-ah-nah-OO-rah) — “pianaura” in Venetian means “planing.” For you linguists, the Italian word is piallatura. A better rendering would be “wood shaving.”
It’s not over. Lino also knew Roberto’s grandfather, Lello, because he too was working at the Aeronavali. Lello was one of the men who did the heavy lifting, the scut work. One of his tasks was to keep the big tank of drinking water filled, a plain but effective precursor of the water cooler. Lello would pump water into the tank from another tank, then put in a chunk of ice (this was summer, clearly), and then a few drops of anise liqueur, such as Sambuca. There are those who swear that water and Cynar is the best thirst-quencher, but the mechanics at the Aeronavali drank water and anise.
So we went to the bank — I signed some papers and got a family tree. I like it.
Several readers were kind enough to inquire as to what could possibly be so big and impressive (or time-consuming, or distracting, or whatever) to keep me off my blog for so long.
Now it can be revealed that I was writing a rather big article about Daniela Ghezzo, a Venetian custom shoemaker, for an excellent new online magazine called “Craftsmanship.” And if I have not yet bombarded you with the news via the social networks, let me bombard you here.
The point of mentioning it isn’t so much to display my amazing creative abilities, but to bring forward a person with even more amazing creative abilities, not to mention skill, not to mention manual dexterity and fabulous imagination. Why do I know how hard it is to do what she does? Because she makes it look so easy. Zwingle’s Third Law: The harder something is to do, the more the ignorant onlooker thinks “Hey! I could do that!” Fred Astaire always looked as if he didn’t even have sweat glands.
I hope if any of you finds yourself in her street that you will pause to imbibe the beauty, but that you will manage not to let your pause interfere too much with whatever she’s doing. Being open to the public is a great thing for her business, of course, but can be a drawback to her work, and if it turns out you’re the tenth person to stop to ask her what she’s doing– which of course, you won’t know — it means she will probably have donated more than an hour of her day to friendly questions, and when you’re working it’s not so easy to start and stop and start again. Some shoemakers work only by appointment for that reason, and some beleaguered artisans in Venice now charge money for stopping long enough to talk to people. Just saying.
Of course, if you intend to ask her to make a pair of shoes for you, your encounter obviously will not qualify as time wasted.
Sunday evening at 7:25 PM the Piazza San Marco suddenly came alight in the most extraordinary way. It pulsated, briefly and gloriously, with hundreds (900, if all the people who signed up actually came) of flashlights which, taken together, formed the shape of a heart.
Yes, “Venezia Rivelata” has struck again.
We all remember what fun it was to make a “bocolo” on the feast of San Marco, 2014, and this time the organizers/artists/fantasizers had designed something bigger, more complicated, and also much more spectacular.
The event was the 12th and last in a series created by Alberto Toso Fei and performance artist Elena Tagliapietra. Not every program was so vivid; some were lectures and — to be frank — weren’t all equally publicized, as far as I could tell. Not that I’d have attended them all. I just want to point out that there was in fact a major scheme to all this, the scheme being to focus each time on a particular aspect of Venetian history. And why do this? To bring Venetians to a sense of reclaiming their city, in an emotional if not actual way. (It’s all explained on the press release below.)
The theme on Sunday night was “Venice and Justice,” which is a topic well worth bringing forward, and not because the two terms seem to have become, if we read the newspapers, virtual antonyms. Wait, that isn’t fair. There is justice — in Italy at large, no need to concentrate on Venice alone — but it moves at the pace of a dying diplodocus struggling in a tar pit, and the results are often what might be called debatable. Slow, in any case.
But in the great trajectory of history, Venice often showed herself to be a dazzling innovator — technical, commercial, conceptual, legal — passing laws most of which probably wouldn’t have seemed like a good idea to anyone but the Venetians. To take an example at random, Venice was the first nation in the world to abolish the slave trade (960 AD). Venice invented the copyright, to protect intellectual property (their merchant instincts didn’t stop at the merely tangible). Venice passed laws to protect the rights of women, and of children. Not made up.
Speaking of laws, how about this idea: “The law is equal for everyone,” which is inscribed in big letters on the wall behind every judge’s bench in the land. It can’t be confirmed where this dictum came from, but the Venetians followed it in spirit if not in phrase. For many centuries they were arguably the only people in Europe (and the world?) who didn’t subscribe to the idea that the bigger and richer you were, the more the law was supposed to work for you. If you bothered with the law at all.
The fact that Venice regarded the law as sovereign was never so bitterly and clearly shown than in the agonizing story of Jacopo Foscari, the only surviving son of doge Francesco Foscari (doge from 1423 to 1457). Jacopo was found to be accepting money from a foreign power; he was tried and exiled. More skulduggery, more trials, more exile — three times, each sentence confirmed by his father. I submit that the average criminal whose father was the head of state (or, if you like, the average head of state with an incorrigible child) would have used whatever power was necessary to get the laddie off the hook. Here, no. The laddie died in exile.
Toso Fei reports that the following inscription (translated by me) was carved, in Latin, over the entry door of the avogaria of the Doge’s Palace; the avogaria was an ancient magistracy composed of three men who upheld the principle of legality, that is, the correct application of the laws. That such a body even existed was extraordinary — perhaps, in the 12th century, even revolutionary.
PRIMA DI OGNI COSA INDAGATE SEMPRE SCRUPOLOSAMENTE, PER STABILIRE LA VERITÀ CON GIUSTIZIA E CHIAREZZA. NON CONDANNATE NESSUNO, SE NON DOPO UN GIUDIZIO SINCERO E GIUSTO. NON GIUDICATE NESSUNO IN BASE A SOSPETTI, MA RICERCATE LE PROVE E, ALLA FINE, PRONUNCIATE UNA SENTENZA PIETOSA. NON FATE AGLI ALTRI QUEL CHE NON VORRESTE FOSSE FATTO A VOI.
BEFORE ANY OTHER THING, ALWAYS INVESTIGATE SCRUPULOUSLY TO ESTABLISH THE TRUTH WITH JUSTICE AND CLARITY. DO NOT CONDEMN ANYONE IF NOT ACCORDING TO A SINCERE AND JUST JUDGMENT. DO NOT JUDGE ANYONE ON THE BASIS OF SUSPICIONS, BUT SEEK THE EVIDENCE AND, AT THE END, PRONOUNCE A COMPASSIONATE SENTENCE. DO NOT DO TO OTHERS WHAT YOU WOULD NOT HAVE DONE TO YOU.
I think they stole that last idea from somewhere.
So: Beating heart. What better to represent everything good — not only laws fairly and scrupulously applied — but life, period? That was our assignment.
The result was beyond dazzling.
Hats off to everybody involved, right down to the policemen who kept the spectators at bay. And thanks for the umbrella, too.
Yesterday, Sept. 16, was the first day of school. Nobody was happy, of course, even though the Veneto, along with Puglia, was the region that started school the latest (Alto Adige began on Sept. 7, but they have German DNA).
I’ve never investigated the reasons why the whole country doesn’t start school on the same day, and starting on a Wednesday seems odd, or at least asymmetrical, to me. Then again, some of the post offices in Venice open at 8:15, and some open at 8:25. Anyone for 8:00? Certainly not. To each his own symmetry, I guess.
This year, as in the past few, the neighborhood old people’s group (literal translation of “gruppo anziani“) organized a wonderful send-off to the littlest scholars to launch them into their first real day of school ever (they will already have had nursery school, but this time it’s serious). We didn’t stay to watch because we had to be somewhere else, but I have no doubt that, as before, each child was given a bag of presents — school supplies could qualify, as long as they’ve got that new-car smell — and given a heartfelt exhortation, and a warm round of applause.
But what was new this year was the sign they put up on the backdrop, the wall of the church of San Francesco di Paola. We discovered it toward evening, and this morning it was gone. I’d like to think that the wall will retain the warmth of the poster for quite a while yet.