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Something about George

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1x1.trans Something about George

This is not a scene from George Clooney’s wedding; nothing against him, but here the flotilla and ship of state were appropriate for a city marrying a sea. (“Departure of the Bucentaur Toward the Venice Lido on Ascension Day, 1770,” by Francesco Guardi).

Venice has had its share of noteworthy visitors over the past millennium or so — popes, kings, emperors, and so forth.  The usual cast of characters in your usual empire.

This weekend we had George Clooney and his bride, Amal Alamuddin, whose four-day wedding festival was quite the talk of the town. Not all happy talk, but that’s normal for here.

By now my trusty readers must be able to imagine the range of comments.

On the positive side:  She’s gorgeous, she’s brilliant, her clothes are amazing.  And may I add my own personal drama, my inability to decide which I would rather have, given the choice: Her 7-carat diamond ring, or her hair.  I don’t think it’s fair that she gets to have both.

On the negative side: The lavish partying will not have much effect on the local economy (read: Expensive outsiders hired); blocking areas off for security (from whom?) such as the Rialto and even a stretch edging the Grand Canal, will create inconvenience for the indigenous people; all the glamour will not specially improve the image of Venice in the eyes of the world, considering the depressing degradation that continues unabated.  The roiling maelstrom of waves caused by the journalist-bearing taxis and assorted motorboats accompanying the espoused pair and their A-list guests created more than the usual madness in the Grand Canal, inspiring yells of anger from gondoliers.

Several people interviewed by the Gazzettino have essentially said “Who cares?”  More specifically, one woman opined, “He’s got a big villa on Lake Como.  Why couldn’t he go there?”

Many of these remarks go to show, once again, that Venetians are phenomenally hard to impress.  But what would be the opposite extreme (assuming that an event of this magnitude could go to an opposite extreme)?

1x1.trans Something about George

This is what the “other extreme” might have looked like. (“A View of a Wedding at a Church in the Venetian Lagoon,” by Giuseppe Bernardino Bison.)

Let’s imagine for a moment that they had decided to get married in Eek, Alaska or Bland, Missouri.  In such a case, I think the whole town would have been totally agog, what with housewives bringing homemade coconut cakes to their hotel and draping big streamers and banners over the main street, like on Homecoming Weekend: “WELCOME GEORGE AND AMAL,” and there would be a parade like on the Fourth of July, with baton-twirlers and the big fire truck.  And fireworks.  And the local paper — say, the Bat Cave, North Carolina “Bat Biz” — would publish a long article, as they used to do in the old days, describing every dish eaten and every frock worn and every wedding present bestowed.  We’ll have to wait for People magazine to do that for us.

A few details have sneaked out (despite all the vaunted vows of complete silence).

For example:  They (he, she, their wedding planner, whoever) didn’t like the furniture in their five-room nuptial chamber at the Aman Canal Grande hotel.  Too modern.  So they had it changed.  Out with what was there, which was put into a temporary storage tent, and in with a batch of antiques.  I have NO DOUBT that their taste is better than the decorators’.  I’m just saying.  They didn’t complain about the Tiepolo fresco on the ceiling, fortunately.  Maybe they didn’t notice it.

Also:  The palace on the street behind the hotel was finally undergoing repairs, hence was covered with scaffolding.  Ugly!  So they paid to have it removed and, I presume, put back when the party was over.

1x1.trans Something about George

I suppose the party at the Aman Canal Grande was something along these lines, without the dogs and dwarves  (“Wedding Feast at Cana,” by Bartolomeo Litterini).

But on the whole, for Venice this is just one more in an infinite procession of fancy guests and inconceivably lavish entertainments. In the Venetian Republic, when high-class people came for long visits, staying for weeks like relatives in the antebellum South, the city literally spared no expense.

When Henry III, King of France and Poland, visited Venice for a week in 1574, some noteworthy events included his attendance at the chanting of the Te Deum on the Lido (I presume at the church of S. Nicolo’, which is the only thing that was there), passing under a triumphal arch designed by Palladio and decorated by Tintoretto and Veronese.  Then there was the state banquet, held in the Doge’s Palace in the monster Great Council Room; not only were all the ladies garbed in white and draped with spectacular jewels — the tablecloth, flatware, plates, and bread were all fashioned entirely of sugar.  The table was decorated with elaborate sculptures of two lions, a queen on horseback between two tigers, David and San Marco, surrounded by kings, popes, animals, plants and fruits, also made completely of sugar.

Speaking of guests, Venice hosted, among others, Carlo Gonzaga in 1609, the Grand Duke of Tuscany in 1628,  Maximilian of Bavaria in 1684, the Duke of Brunswick in 1685, Frederick IV of Denmark in 1708, Prince Frederick Christian of Saxony in 1740, the Duke of York in 1767, the Emperor Joseph II in 1769 and 1775. Pope Pius VI arrived in 1782 and Gustav III of Sweden in 1784.  To read the schedule of festivities and what was built from the ground up to entertain Prince Paul Petrovich, the son of Catherine the Great and his wife in January, 1782, is to stagger belief.

You’d have to replace a lot of furniture to come up to the level Venice used to consider normal on these occasions.

So while I invoke for the happy couple “good wishes and male children” (auguri e figli maschi), as the saying goes, I appreciate a general grudging resistance here to make too much of the just-concluded joining in holy — actually, civil — matrimony.

Because, as Ernest Hemingway summed it up in 1950:

“She used to be Queen of the Seas, and the people are very tough and they give less of a good God-damn about things than almost anybody you’ll ever meet.  It’s a tougher town than Cheyenne when you really know it, and everybody is very polite.”

1x1.trans Something about George

These are not George and Amal. I don’t know who they are, but I saw them on Sunday morning with no entourage and only one photographer, and I have absolutely no doubt that they were just as happy as the famous couple in the palace hotel just behind them.

1x1.trans Something about George

And the two crazy kids who got married the week before on Burano were also just as happy as our world-class stars. The sign over the door says it all: “Oggi Sposi” — today newlyweds.


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September 11 again

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I have nothing new to add to what I’ve already written, but I want to say that the indefatigable Vittorio Orio rowed his gondola today (with a partner), to keep alive the memory of the victims of the attack on the World Trade Center towers.

Someday I’ll have a long talk with him to discover why he feels such an attachment to New York — specifically, to the firemen of New York — and more about this always moving gesture which he has made every year since 2002.

He focuses on the firemen for his own reasons, but is fully aware of everyone else who was there.  Meanwhile, it’s enough to know that he remembers.

1x1.trans September 11 again

Vittorio Orio on the stern of his gondola, rowing with a partner across the Bacino of San Marco.  Note fireman’s helmet atop the coffin.

1x1.trans September 11 again

We all know that life, in some way, must go on. This glimpse of the morning’s activity in the Bacino of San Marco is just one of countless possible illustrations. But Vittorio Orio is totally undeterred by this, which I think must be one really impressive illustration of what “remember” means.


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Updating the Uncrating

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1x1.trans Updating the Uncrating

By now the hard candies made of glass have surpassed cliche’. But now a whimsical glassmaker has begun to produce chocolates. I want them all…

First, apologies to those who subscribe; the link to a YouTube clip did not come through in the e-mail version.  (I keep forgetting about that, because it makes no sense….).

Here it is.  Background music for the New Year:

News from the Western Front, where all was not quiet on the night of Saint Sylvester (Dec. 31).  The Gazzettino this morning gave some details.

At 10:30 PM the Liberty Bridge to the mainland was closed because there was no more room to park (38 buses and 1,500 cars were stashed at Tronchetto, 750 in the Comunale garage and 450 in the San Marco garage, both at Piazzale Roma).

Police estimated there were 80,000 people partying in and around the Piazza San Marco. Despite regulations requiring plastic bottles for your chosen beverage, there was plenty of broken glass around, which wounded 39 people.  One person fell in the water, but not from the Piazza San Marco.

Astonishing, but the vaporettos and buses were sufficient and efficient.  (As my old choir leader used to say when we did what he wanted, “Now you’re in trouble — now I know you can do it.”)

So much for the turn of the year.  I’m facing forward now.


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Uncrating 2014

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1x1.trans Uncrating 2014

The essential components of New Year’s Eve: A bottle of spumante, some expendable element of a firecracker, and tourists. On New Year’s Morning the bottle is empty, the firecracker spent, and the tourists are heading for the exits. I was surprised to see how many tourists were already homeward bound at 9:00 AM. I realize they have trains and planes to catch, and a strong desire not to pay for another night in a hotel, and that they probably also have to get back to work the next day. But after all the excitement of the night before, these little clusters of departing people dragging their luggage seemed so unfriendly, like leaving a party without even telling the hostess what a nice time they had.

Oh look — there’s a big box containing a whole new year sitting out there on our doorstep. Batteries not included — we have to provide our own. Some assembly required — all the tools are around here somewhere.  User’s manual — the same as every year. The instructions are few but really easy to understand: Don’t do bad things.  Think about somebody else at least once a day, not just about your own blessed self all the blessed time.  Work more.  Work less. Smile.  Be thankful.

And in whatever time is left over, get the attic/garage/basement under control. And of course, start the famous diet.  If I never see another panettone in my life, it will be too soon.

I happen to hate New Year’s Eve, and always have.  It fills me with foreboding.  Celebrating the old year doesn’t usually strike me as appropriate, and celebrating a year about which we know nothing seems like just asking for trouble.  But as soon as midnight strikes, all the shiny possibilities of the new year, latest model, dazzle me, and I feel good.

The diet will be easy to start (all diets are), because at this point the holiday glut has transformed me, my brain, my world, into a shapeless mass of inert material.  So at least the next few weeks will be devoted to erting up as much of  the material as I can.

But let’s go back to New Year’s Eve for a moment.  The day before it, we celebrated our third or fourth New Year’s Plumbing Crisis.  The water system in our little hovel seems to want to be part of the festivities, like lentils and cotechino. We had been battling a blockage in the kitchen sink drain, using progressively heavier chemical artillery, till said artillery conquered the pipe leading into the wall, allowing the accumulated substances, including sulfuric acid, to spill onto the floor. We’re fine, the floor is sort of fine, but the blockage was found to be further inside the wall and was removed by Lino somehow and a new pipe installed.  Fun.

Most people who come to Venice for New Year’s Eve (about 70,000, if the reports are to be believed), have a simpler idea of entertainment than that: They think that celebrating it here is the most fun thing imaginable.  Piazza San Marco.  Fireworks.  Bottles of spumante.

We don’t go to the Piazza, as you might imagine, though we do open a bottle of prosecco at home when the clock strikes twelve.  And we do usually walk down do the edge of the Bacino of San Marco to watch the fireworks.  While it’s true that any firework is better than none, especially over a reflecting expanse of water where it can illuminate the facades of the most beautiful city in the world, etc., this year’s display was unusually dull.  I had the impression that the city had looked over the fireworks offered and picked what amounted to the classic tourist menu.  It was the visual equivalent of spaghetti with tomato sauce, breaded veal cutlet, French fries, and a half-liter bottle of water. The pleasure you derive from it isn’t in the eating, but in the having eaten. Main value: It didn’t cost us much.  Not very festive.

However, two essential elements of New Year’s Eve in Venice, and I daresay in Italy, don’t show up anywhere on the tourist’s program of the evening’s entertainment.

The first is mass at 6:30 PM in many parish churches, the end-of-year acknowledgement to the Almighty.  The liturgy is basically the same as every other day, but at the conclusion the “Te Deum” is recited, chanted, or sung. We don’t go to the basilica of San Marco anymore because the notion of going to that part of the city on New Year’s Eve, even at dusk, is unthinkable. They sing the Te Deum in Latin, which makes it even more solemn, but whatever the language, pausing to basically say “I’m still here, and You’re still God, so thank You” is one of the best things you can do.

The second is the President’s Address to the country at 8:30 PM, byTV, radio, or computer.  In England this takes the form of the Queen’s Christmas Message, and in the US we have the State of the Union address (on a wandering date unattached to any events significant to the world at large).  As you can imagine, ever since the world economy vaporized in 2008, this speech has not been especially cheerful, and has tended to be rivetted together with words such as “hope,” “trust,” “courage,” and “sacrifice.”

On New Year’s Day itself there is the annual concert from La Fenice, broadcast live on TV at 11:00 AM or so; it’s now also viewable via streaming on the RAI, the national TV company, website. You can also watch its big brother, the New Year’s concert from Vienna, in the afternoon.  Those should be sufficiently soothing, and give you the impression that you’re doing something when you’re actually not.  Unless you’re already out there, dragging your suitcase, heading home.

Wherever you are, I hope 2014 is your very best year ever.  I mean, why not?

1x1.trans Uncrating 2014

It was a glorious, gleaming morning, but as you see, all it took was one boat passing somewhere nearby to disturb the water’s celestial calm. But while perfectly still water causes perfect reflections, I actually prefer the squiggly shapes, at least until they’re so squiggly you can’t tell what they are. It’s kind of a metaphor.


1x1.trans Uncrating 2014
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