Archive for Events

Jun
02

Birth of a nation

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This mountain of marble and metal was created by the Roman sculptor Ettore Ferrari, and was inaugurated on May 1, 1887, nine years after the king's demise.

This mountain of marble and metal was created by Roman sculptor Ettore Ferrari in honor of King Vittorio Emanuele II, and was inaugurated on May 1, 1887, nine years after the king’s demise.

As anyone who has ever walked along the Riva degli Schiavoni knows, there is a honking big statue in the middle of the street.

Many (most? all?) countries can boast imposing effigies of men on horseback, usually brandishing a saber, or their hat, or maybe a banner.  Brandishing, anyway.

Considering that, in the case of the mounted man on the Riva, nobody has seen fit to provide even the tiniest clue as to who he is, you’ve probably been satisfied to surmise that somewhere, at some time, this man did something bronzeworthy..

Then you take pictures of the more memorable lions, and move on.

But for anyone who would, in fact, like to know what’s up with all these characters, I am ready to reveal all.  And my excuse is the date, June 2, which is a national holiday known as the Festa della Repubblica, or Republic Day. Although the man relates only inversely to the event (more on that below), I’m exploiting this occasion because there isn’t another one around that fits him any better.

The swordbearing cavalier is King Vittorio Emanuele II (also known as the “Father of the Fatherland”), and he was the first king of the newly created nation of Italy.  Clicking on that link will spare us slowing down for a reprise of most of the details; the “juice” of the subject, as they put it here, is that in 1861 Italy pulled itself together to form one nation out of many assorted mini-nations, duchies, and kingdoms.

The pulling-together process was long, toilsome, and often extremely bloody.  Then the newly-minted Italians, having established the Kingdom of Italy on March 17, 1861, had to find a ruler.  The mantle fell on the aforementioned Vittorio Emanuele, a member of the House of Savoy (one of the oldest ruling families in Europe), who was already King of Sardinia and, more important, had been a major participant in the Unification process.

Some of the main events which led to this moment, with several Venetian codicils, are depicted in nearly insane detail on the monument, as follows:

Our story begins with Venice (represented by a heroic woman as well as the winged lion of San Marco) in chains, prisoner of the Austrians who occupied the city until 1861.

Our story begins with Venice represented as a heroic woman as well as by the winged lion of San Marco.  The scene recalls the condition of the former Serenissima under the oppression of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and its soldiers who occupied the city until 1861.  Her sword is broken, her flagstaff snapped, and the lion is gnawing at his chains.  Her cap recalls the doge’s “corno,” the characteristic hat of the Venetian dukes.

IMG_6022   vitt e

Below her left foot is a shattered shield, with the dates 1848-1849 in the center.  This was the period of the desperate uprising against the Austrians and the attempted establishment of the Kingdom of Venice.  Around the border are incised the names of

At her feet is a shattered shield, with the dates 1848-1849 in the center. This was the period of the doomed uprising against the Austrians led by Daniele Manin, and the short-lived establishment of the Republic of Venice. Still more important is the fact that his uprising was part of a larger series of conflicts against the Austrians in northern Italy in what is generally called the “First War of Independence.” Around the border are incised the names of certain important battles: Monte Berico, Marghera, Goito, Mestre.

On the north side is the shield of the House of Savoy, and above it a tangled scene in low relief which shows the future King in the process of winning the battle of TK.

On the north side is the shield bearing the simple emblem of the House of Savoy, and above it a tangled scene in  relief which shows the future king in the process of defeating the Austrians at the battle of Palestro (May 31, 1859). He personally fought at the head of the Sardinian bersaglieri.

A generic scene of grisly combat, with the King front and center.

A generic scene of grisly combat, with the not-yet-king front and center.

On to the happy ending. Austria defeated, Venice once again proud, with full sword and snarling lion unchained.

On to the happy ending. Austria defeated, Venice once again proud, with full sword and snarling lion unchained.

The lion's right paw tramples not only a few links of the former chain, but a document with the date "1815" inscribed on it --

The lion’s right paw tramples not only a few links of the former chain, but a document with the date “1815” inscribed on it.  That year saw many momentous events, but for our purposes it signifies the Congress of Vienna, which marked the earliest step toward the eventual Unification of Italy.

On (date tK) the Venetians voted on the proposal to join the Kingdom of Italy.  The number of votes are inscribed here:

On October 21 and 22, 1866, Venetians voted on the proposal to join the Kingdom of Italy. The number of votes are inscribed here: Yes 641,758, No 69.

IMG_6011  vitt e

On the hem of the robe of victorious Venice is a single name: MANIN.

On the hem of the robe of victorious Venice is a single name: MANIN.

The larger scene is the king's entrance into Venice in 1866.  Below it, though, is an important afterthought, just to bring the saga to the appropriate close: A square tablet which reads 1 May

On the south side, we see the king’s arrival on his first state visit to Venice.

On DATE TK, King Victor Emanuele II entered Venice and rendered homage to the city in the Piazza San Marco.

On November 7, 1866 King Victor Emanuele II entered Venice and rendered homage to the city in the Piazza San Marco.

A detail of the king pausing before the majestic scene.  Hidden behind his entourage are two illegal pigeon-feed sellers, 5 illegal long-stemmed-rose sellers, and 85 illegal selfie-stick sellers.  Oh wait -- that's today.

A detail of the king pausing before the majestic scene, which lacked the now permanent contingent of illegal sellers of pigeon feed, long-stemmed roses, and selfie-sticks.

text here

And to bring the story to its fitting conclusion, this assortment of details (plaque with the date 1 May 1867, and the shield bearing the she-wolf suckling Romulus and Remus) immortalizes the date on which Rome was voted the capital of the new Italy.

Remarkable, how big this little lion is, compared to all the rest.

I see swords and guns, but don’t discern a pen in this collage.  I’m sure there must have been at least one somewhere in the midst of this whole affair.

Flag of the Kingdom of Italy (1861-1946).

Flag of the Kingdom of Italy (1861-1946).  No need for fussy crowns and mythic beasts in the center — the coat of arms of the House of Savoy does the job.

I mentioned above that I’m writing this on Republic Day, even though the king relates to it only inversely.  I say that because after 85 years of kings, the Italian people went to the polls on June 2, 1946 and voted to replace him with a republic.  That’s one impressive job-performance evaluation.

Furthermore, the king and his entire family were sent into exile, which demonstrates some prudence on the part of the new government, considering that 54 percent (almost all in the North) had voted for a republic but 45 per cent voted to keep the monarchy (almost all in the South).  There are a few characters around Venice who still make a point of putting out the royal flag on certain occasions.  It’s a vain gesture; the Italian Constitution forbids the reinstatement of a monarchy by constitutional amendment.  The only way to bring back a king would be to write a completely new constitution.  This is not on anybody’s to-do list.

In any case, if there were to be a new king, he couldn’t come from the House of Savoy, as the Savoyards formally renounced their claim to the (non-existent) throne in 2002 in return for being permitted to set foot in Italy again, should the mood strike.

But the statue remains, and even if nobody now recognizes who it is on the horse, it served a very important purpose in its time. Statues of Vittorio Emanuele II and his co-divinity, Giuseppe Garibaldi, began to appear in many places after Unification.  The reason, as so aptly and famously put by contemporary statesman Massimo d’Azeglio, was “Now that Italy has been made, we need to make the Italians.”

You wake up one morning and you’re an Italian.  What is that supposed to mean?  Statues of the two major protagonists were one way of focusing public attention on the new reality and the new identity.

The analogous statue to Giuseppe Garibaldi, by Augusto Benvenuti, was inaugurated on July 24, 1887, a few months after the king's memorial.

The analogous statue to Giuseppe Garibaldi, by Augusto Benvenuti, was inaugurated on July 24, 1887, a few months after the king’s memorial.

“To transmit the … sense of a common past and present identity … effectively, urban space became re-defined for the political realities of the late nineteenth century.  Public commemorations became widespread, especially through the erection of monuments and plaques, and the re-naming of streets.  Their inauguration ceremonies encouraged the collective participation in the spectacle of the ‘imagined’ nation.  Personality cults which glorified national figures such as King Vittorio Emanuele II and Giuseppe Garibaldi were perceived as important tools in the nation-building process.”  (Laura Parker, “Identity, memory, and la diarchia di bronzo, Commemorating Vittorio Emanuele II and Giuseppe Garibaldi in post-Risorgimento Venice.”)

I close with some trivia, which as everyone knows, I never consider trivial.

 

This is a place-holder.

The Savoia & Jolanda hotel is just steps away from the kingly statue.  I’m guessing that it was named for then-prince Vittorio Emanuele III (the grandson of the man with the sword) and his daughter Jolanda.  He ruled from 1900 – 1946, and his visit to Venice in 1882 with his mother, Queen Margherita, inspired a number of memorials.

For example, this plaque above the Coop supermarket on via Garibaldi.

Such as the plaque above the Coop supermarket on via Garibaldi.

Which states:

Which states:  “Margherita Queen of Italy and Vittorio Emanuele Hereditary Prince on July 20 1882 Leaning from this balcony admired the festival ordered in their honor The new example of the ancient bond which in days that are happy or sad unites realm and people It was desired that this be remembered June 1902.”

Queen Margherita was reportedly much more popular than her husband.  This statue represents her holding a torch which is alight at night.  Take that, Statue of Liberty. An attractive legend holds that the pizza Margherita was created in her honor, composed of the three colors of the national flag (tomato, basil, mozzarella).

Queen Margherita was reportedly much more popular than either her son or her husband. This statue represents her lifting a torch which is lit at night. (Take that, Statue of Liberty.) An attractive legend holds that the “pizza Margherita” was created in her honor, composed of the three colors of the national flag (tomato, basil, mozzarella).  There is no “pizza Vittorio Emanuele Maria Alberto Eugenio Ferdinando Tommaso, Father of the Fatherland,” meaning no disrespect.  I can’t even begin to think what it would be made of.

 

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May
11

Biennial, schmiennial

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I haven't been able to decode this construction.  There is a bucket inside the wicker sphere, and a batch of ropes, and a piece of fabric.  Make of it what you will.

I haven’t been able to decode this construction. There is a bucket inside the wicker sphere, and a batch of ropes, and a piece of fabric. Make of it what you will.

“Biennial” means “every two years” in, I suppose, every language from Amharic to Tongan. Even in Italian.

But in Venice, “Biennale” has come to mean “The Voltron of international modern art exhibitions put on every single year to draw more people here for longer so they’ll, you know, spend money.”

The original event was inaugurated in April 30, 1895 and was dedicated solely to art.  Back then, that meant painting and sculpture.  But scheduling it to skip a year meant losing momentum, and limiting it to painting and sculpture was dangerously droll.

By now some Venice Biennale opens every spring, so they have worked around the logistical and etymological complications of “bi” by having created an assortment of choices — there is, alternatively, the Biennale of Art, Architecture, Dance, Music, Theatre, and the Venice Film Festival, which has always been once a year, though I suppose if there were a way to have one every four months the city would rejoice.

The opening weekend of the annual Biennale, of whatever sort, as I have chronicled in other years, is a spectacular spasm of art objects and art people in the zone of the Giardini, where the national pavilions are.  You have to pay to see what’s in there, but for these few triumphant days the neighborhood is bestrewn with art of the performance and/or concept variety.  Or something.

Your eyes do not deceive you -- this is a young woman folded into a net several feet above the ground.

Your eyes do not deceive you — this is a young woman folded into a net several feet above the ground.  The day after, the chrysalis was empty, leaving just a big clump of tangled twine strung up there. More art.

I regret to report that I didn't linger for the final performance so I don't know what it entailed.  Perhaps the young woman de-cat's-cradled herself back to earth in some way.  Or maybe disappeared.  Anyway, what she did had a title, which I appreciate.  The wicker sphere didn't bother with giving itself a name.

I regret to report that I didn’t linger for the final performance so I don’t know what it entailed. Perhaps the young woman de-cat’s-cradled herself back to earth in some way. Or maybe disappeared. Anyway, what she did had a title, which I appreciate. The wicker sphere didn’t bother giving itself a name.

On the other side of the Viale Garibaldi was this.  Was it an echo of the girl in the twine?  That's all I can think of.  That, or the Maypole Dance of the Huldufolk.

On the other side of the Viale Garibaldi from the twine-entangled girl was this. Was it a visual echo? That’s all I can think of. That, or this is  the Maypole Dance of the Huldufolk.

It’s hugely entertaining to see this gathering of the art clans in their startling garb, as well as the blithe spirits who come to demonstrate their feats of skill and daring.  They’re here to exhibit something about themselves, about the world, about what’s wrong with the world, about what’s wrong with everything, about I don’t really know what the heck what.

I dimly recall that perplexed unenlightened viewers used to be sneered at because they didn’t understand the work before them — peasants!  But now I have the impression that artists have ceased to concern themselves with being understood.  If these artists were people who had undergone years of therapy, I’d think that this state of mind represented progress.

As it is, I don’t know what it represents.  My grasp of the convoluted symbolism now in vogue is extremely feeble, and certain exotic forms of irony are evidently beyond my mental or emotional capacity to comprehend, much less appreciate.

But I’m cool with all this now.  If they don’t care about being understood, I’m not worried about not understanding.

These women understand it all, especially the lady on the right, who is in touch with her inner Peggy Guggenheim.

These women understand art, especially the lady on the right, who is in touch with her inner Peggy Guggenheim.

And these women two steps away understand a whole lot of other things.

And these women two steps away understand a whole lot of other things.

Two thoughts have taken up permanent residence in my brain.

One: That much of contemporary art has gotten trapped in the Dadaism Room and can’t get out.  (The room has no doors, being Dadaist and all, ha ha).

Here’s the five-second rundown on Dada, helpfully summarized by Wikipedia:

The term anti-art, a precursor to Dada, was coined by Marcel Duchamp around 1913 when he created his first readymades.[2] Dada, in addition to being anti-war, had political affinities with the radical left and was also anti-bourgeois.[3]

The beginnings of Dada correspond to the outbreak of World War I. For many participants, the movement was a protest against the bourgeois nationalist and colonialist interests, which many Dadaists believed were the root cause of the war, and against the cultural and intellectual conformity—in art and more broadly in society—that corresponded to the war.

Dada activities included public gatherings, demonstrations, and publication of art/literary journals; passionate coverage of art, politics, and culture were topics often discussed in a variety of media.

So if it seems that art and politics and social causes have thrown themselves into a hot-tub together and are drying off in the Biennale, there is a long history of this already.  Nothing new going on here, folks, sorry.

The usual procession of extreme luxury yachts came to the Riva degli Schiavoni.  Little me thinks I'm looking at boats that cost too much.  I wonder what a Biennale artist sees?

The usual procession of extreme luxury yachts came to the Riva degli Schiavoni. Little me thinks I’m looking at boats that cost too much. I wonder what a Biennale artist sees?

Two:  That much of the art seen here, and anywhere else these artistoids go, doesn’t refer so much to culture as it does to other art.  It’s the visual equivalent of novels that are really about language.  Conclusion: As it gets broader and covers more conceptual territory, art is becoming shallower and shallower.  Western culture itself may be in the process of shallowization, but art is only making it worse.

Paul Gauguin noticed something of this already happening in the late 1800’s: “The history of modern art is also the history of the progressive loss of art’s audience,” he observed.  “Art has increasingly become the concern of the artist and the bafflement of the public.”

We wandered, baffled and bemused, around and through the throngs over the weekend, and below are some examples of what we saw on Friday and Saturday (Opening Night!).  The Biennale will go on till November 22; this divertissement gets longer each year.  If they continue at this rate, eventually it will just be simply the “Ennale.”

A couple stops to examine (and admire?) the fragments scattered on the ground.  Again: If you have to ask, you've just embarrassed yourself.

A couple stops to examine (and admire?) the fragments scattered on the ground. Again: If you have to ask, you’ve just embarrassed yourself.

They are bits of paper folded in a fiendishly clever, origami-like way.

They are bits of paper folded in a fiendishly clever, origami-like way.  I can tell you nothing more.

I can explain this: It's a young person (man?) dressed entirely in black holding a red balloon in the shape of a heart.  That's my explanation.

I can explain this: It’s a young person (man?) dressed entirely in black holding a red balloon in the shape of a heart. That’s my explanation.

A cactus with two ovoids on each side.  Witty and irreverent and so much fun.  You know who appreciates this piece of art eh most?  The barge driver who got paid to ride it around.

A cactus with two ovoids on each side. Witty and irreverent and so much fun. You know who appreciates this piece of art the most? The barge driver who got paid to carry it around.

A girl is strapped into an old electric chair; of course the headpiece needs to be adjusted by a helpful collaborator.  The hair must be perfect.  If you want to know what this is about, you'll have to subject yourself to the explanation at www.samarcandaproject.org.  Hint: It's ponderously loaded with the most intricate art-babble I've heard in a while.  Bottom line: It's a protest.  Art as social megaphone.

A girl is strapped into an old electric chair; of course the headpiece needs to be adjusted by a helpful collaborator perhaps from the hair and makeup department. The hair must be perfect. If you want to know what this is about, you’ll have to subject yourself to the explanation at www.samarcandaproject.org. Hint: It’s ponderously loaded with the most intricate art-babble I’ve heard in a while. Bottom line: It’s a protest. Art as social megaphone.  But blah-blah-blah doesn’t sound any better either loud or soft.

I've slighted the glamorous people in this piece, but I couldn't resist this woman.  As far as I'm concerned, walking in those shoes qualifies as performance art.

I’ve slighted the glamorous people in this piece, but I couldn’t resist this woman. As far as I’m concerned, walking in those shoes qualifies as performance art.  The unusual color combination plays an important part in the entire presentation.

I was startled -- as was everyone else in the neighborhood -- to come across this extraordinary quintet on our very own little bridge.  You think this is about naked and semi-naked people posing in public?  Peasant!  It's a Protest, of course!

I was startled — as was everyone else in the neighborhood — to come across this extraordinary quintet on our very own little bridge. You think this is about naked and semi-naked people posing in public? Peasant! It’s a Protest, of course!

I had to look it up, but this concoction of leaves and skin is intended to draw angry attention to the cutting of the olive trees in the region of Puglia.

I had to look it up, but this concoction of leaves and skin has a name, and is is intended to draw angry attention to the uprooting of the olive trees in the region of Puglia.

The artist got everybody's attention, but I wasn't aware of any explanation of the deeper significance of the endeavor.  Do white-painted naked girls wearing a rabbit mask  naturally symbolize the deforestation of olive trees?

The artist got everybody’s attention — anybody with a camera was snapping madly away — but I wasn’t aware of any explanation of the deeper significance of the endeavor. Do white-painted naked girls wearing a rabbit mask naturally symbolize the destruction of olive trees?

Apparently yes, it does.

Apparently yes, they do.

The bunny-faced girl took a break later, freeing herself of her frondy friends but still accepting huge numbers of eager snapshots.  She just walked along the street like this: white, nude, and rabbit-headed.  It all sure makes me think of olive trees in Puglia.

The bunny-faced girl took a break later, freeing herself of her frondy friends but still accepting huge numbers of eager snapshots. She just walked along the street like this: white, nude, and rabbit-headed. It all totally makes me think of olive trees in Puglia.  As photographer Ansel Adams once remarked, “There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.”

Or we dispense altogether with the concept and just stick with the sharp image.  These are nightmare pictures, which have left frivolous little Dada behind and plunged into the abysses of Surralism. Luis Bunuel would have been proud.

Or we dispense altogether with the concept and just stick with the sharp image. These are nightmare pictures, which have left frivolous little Dada behind and plunged into the abysses of Surrealism. Luis Bunuel would have been proud. This is on a hideous hoarding on the nearby fondamenta with a number of appalling partners.

Like this, for example.  It will probably be there till the end of November, or till next year's annual bi-annual event.

Like this, for example. It will probably be there till the end of November, or till next year’s annual bi-annual event.

You can send me ten reams of single-spaced explanations, but you will never convince me that this has any meaning whatsoever.  But hey!  They walked out on Brahms, so what do I know?

You can send me ten reams of single-spaced explanations, but you will never convince me that this has any meaning whatsoever. And the girl’s right foot is freaking eerie.  But I do admire the folds of her skirt.  I wonder what they mean?

 

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Apr
03

The constant Casanova

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Here we go again.

Here we go again.

If you think the tides are predictable, consider the movie industry and Venice.

Many and varied have been the films made here, from “The Wings of the Dove” to “Death in Venice” to “The Tourist” and on and on.  And those are just a few titles in English; plenty of other nations have sent their troupes here to act out among the canals.  Has anyone seen Nenu Naa RakshasiLes Enfants du Siecle?

But you can’t go wrong with Giacomo Casanova.  Sure, we’ve seen Effie Gray‘s life detailed — it’s finally coming out this week — and George Sand and Chopin (all so famous in their day), but these are not marquee names.  Casanova, though, is a product with no expiration date; his exploits, real or imagined, have made him film fodder no fewer than eleven times.  Sorry, make that twelve, counting the one they were shooting here a few days ago.

Amazon is getting into the streaming-films game (see: Netflix and Marco Polo), and this version of the madcap entrepreneur’s life will focus, I was told, on Casanova after he went into exile.  It was a movie-worthy life pretty much up to the end.  He was definitely not all show (or as they say here, “Beautiful vineyard but puny grapes”); here is something he wrote about his famous escape from prison which deserves to be read and remembered:

“Thus did God provide me with what I needed for an escape which was to be a wonder if not a miracle. I admit that I am proud of it; but my pride does not come from my having succeeded, for luck had a good deal to do with that; it comes from my having concluded that the thing could be done and having had the courage to undertake it.

Now back to me and our two days with the boats.

Dawn is a great time to be out filming.  Not much traffic, and plenty of atmosphere.

Dawn is a great time to be out filming. Not much traffic, and plenty of atmosphere.

Sunday  morning before dawn, at dawn, after dawn.  The task was for Alvise Rigo, a member of our boating organization, Arzana', to row Casanova's stunt double up and down a small stretch of the Grand Canal.  Happily, there was little wind and few waves and not a whole lot of current.  But it was chilly and damp, and sitting still for an hour or two couldn't have been very pleasant.  But like the man said as he removed the elephant droppings after the circus closed, "What?  And give up show business?"

Sunday morning before dawn, at dawn, after dawn. The task was for Alvise Rigo, a member of our boating organization, Arzana’, to row Casanova’s stunt double up and down a small stretch of the Grand Canal. Happily, there was little wind and few waves and not a whole lot of current. But it was chilly and damp, and sitting still for an hour or two couldn’t have been very pleasant. But like the man said as he removed the elephant droppings after the circus closed, “What? And give up show business?”

Making a movie, from what I have seen, is like writing “Remembrance of Things Past” on an endless series of postage stamps.  Enormous amounts of toil involving equipment, technicians, objects of every sort, humans of every pay grade, and uncounted hours of just loading and unloading things, setting them up and taking them down, are dedicated to putting even the tiniest fragments of story on film.

Last Sunday and Monday the filming was in high gear in Venice; at certain crucial moments Giacomo would need a boat, and Lino and I and several others were there with two vessels: a small mascareta that just sat there and looked boaty, and a gondola, a replica built several years ago of the type used in the 18th century, to aid his escape (or so it appeared).  No costumes or makeup for us this time, we were just the boat wranglers.

Which was fine with me.  Although I thoroughly enjoy getting paid, even just a few euros, for just standing around doing nothing, doing something is better in most ways.  So we had episodes of rowing, and pushing, and pulling, and lifting, and watching mobs of multilingual people doing stuff you are unable to comprehend in any useful way.

Here is something I discovered: When the director yells “Silenzio!!” just before “Action!” you can hear a baby hiccup in the hospital on the mainland.  You cannot believe how many noises there are in normal life until it’s imperative that you hear nothing.  That was the most entertaining thing of all: What is that tiny little humming behind that building at the end of the street?  How can shoes with rubber soles actually make a sound going over the bridge behind you?  The canal is blocked by a watch-boat at both ends to block traffic.  The waiting boats have to turn off their engines.  Total silence falls.

Then the church bells start to ring.

Finally they stop.  “Action!”  (Action.)  “Cut!”  (Lunch.)

Then we rowed the boats back home.  That was it.

Fred Astaire once stated that he only “did it for the dough and the old applause.”  For me, no need to rush on the applause.

Dawn was lovely, but they needed fog. Happily, they'd brought their own, pouring out of canisters and swept around by someone with a big wooden paddle. Being a fog designer must be a very specialized skill.

Dawn was lovely, but they needed fog. Happily, they’d brought their own, pouring out of canisters and swept around by someone with a big wooden paddle. Being a fog designer must be a very specialized skill.

Canisters at the ready, they wait for the next cue.  And by the way, the fake fog (or real smoke, or whatever it is) had a fairly unpleasant odor that made you think of a factory that had avoided inspections for quite a while.

Canisters at the ready, they wait for the next cue. And by the way, the fake fog (or real smoke, or whatever it is) had a fairly unpleasant odor that made you think of a factory that had avoided inspections for quite a while.

IMG_6746  casa

Moody.  Keep it going because the sun is coming up.

Moody. Keep it going because the sun is coming up.

IMG_6722  casa

In the intervals between fog banks, the sun continued to rise; at 7:05 or so, it hit the mosaics on the facade of the Salviati palace.

In the intervals between fog banks, the sun continued to rise, like it does; at 7:05 or so, the light hit the mosaics on the facade of the Palazzo Barbarigo.

Next stop was by Campo San Giacomo dell'Orio, where Alvise waited to be told where he had to meet the fog again.

Next stop was by Campo San Giacomo dell’Orio, where Alvise waited to be told where he had to meet the fog again.

But wait -- the coat's not funky enough.  A pump canister sprayed some unpleasant color on the fabric -- perhaps he needed to look as if he'd slept under a bridge.  His wig certainly gave that impression.

But wait — the coat’s not funky enough. A pump canister sprayed some unpleasant color on the fabric — perhaps he needed to look as if he’d slept under a bridge. His wig certainly gave that impression.

Did I just mention the wig?  Evidently it was too neat, or clean, or something.  Can't have that, so on with another substance.

Did I just mention the wig? Evidently it was too neat, or clean, or something. Can’t have that, so on with another substance.

And more waiting....

And more waiting….

Fog!  That's his cue!

Fog!  That’s his cue!

Lino and I rowed the gondola over to our next location, behind Campo SS. Giovanni e Paolo, where it was our turn to wait.  Just think: Somebody came rowing by that Lino knows. They exchanged variationson the "What are you doing here?" theme and the friend rowed on.

Lino and I rowed the gondola over to our next location, behind Campo SS. Giovanni e Paolo, where it was our turn to wait.  Somebody came rowing by and just think — it was somebody that Lino knows. They exchanged variations on the “Working hard?” “Hardly working” theme  and the friend rowed on.

Monday morning we all met (and this isn't even "all" yet) at S. Francesco de la Vigna.  On such a glorious spring morning, what more could we need but....

Monday morning we all met (and this isn’t even “all” yet) at S. Francesco de la Vigna. On such a glorious spring morning, the only thing missing is….

Fog!  This time we've got heavy-duty blasters that look like dustbusters gone berserk.

Fog! This time we’ve got heavy-duty blasters that look like dustbusters gone berserk.

Yep, we're getting up to speed, koff koff.  Can anybody see the actors?  Are they even here?

Yep, we’re getting up to speed, koff koff. Can anybody see the actors? Are they even here?

Action!  Casanova races ahead of his faithful accomplice toward the waiting gondola.  It took approximately 20 seconds. They did this five times,

Action! Casanova races ahead of his faithful accomplice toward the waiting gondola. It took approximately 20 seconds. They did this five times,

The humble mascareta was being prepared for its big moment.  It was loaded with fishing nets, which the accomplice stopped to wildly rummage among on the way to the gondola.  But this will be the close-up shot of said rummaging, so we need to do as much titivating to the boat as they do to the actors.

The humble mascareta was being prepared for its big moment. It was loaded with fishing nets, which the accomplice stopped to wildly rummage among on the way to the gondola. But this will be the close-up shot of said rummaging, so we need to do as much titivating to the boat as they do to the actors.

There were so many people clustered  around the boat peering at it that I thought maybe it was about to give birth or something.

There were so many people clustered around the boat peering at it that I thought maybe it was about to give birth or something.

Yes, Mr. DeMille, it's ready for its closeup  now.

Yes, Mr. DeMille, it’s ready for its closeup now.

Preparing for the next fragment: Casanova in the boat (to which he has just raced, you recall).  But something is missing, you say?  Tehre is a boat in the distance prepared to correct that...

Preparing for the next fragment: Casanova in the boat (to which he has just raced, you recall). But something is missing, you say?  Ah, but there is a boat in the distance prepared to correct that…

FOG!!  It's going to be bearing down on us any minute.  This point is correct historically, may I mention, so kudos to the researcher.  There was loads of fog, which was a huge help to the fleeing hero.  Koff Koff.

FOG!! It’s going to be bearing down on us any minute. This point is correct historically, may I mention, so kudos to the researcher. There was loads of fog on the fateful day, which was a huge help to the fleeing hero. Koff koff.

And of course, the original Casanova didn't have much spare time to check his e-mail.

And of course, the original Casanova didn’t have much spare time to check his e-mail.

 

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Jan
09

Look me in the eyes

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Muhamed Pozhari (La Nuova Venezia, no credit line given).

Muhamed Pozhari (La Nuova Venezia, no credit line given).

The year has started with a spontaneous act of courage which has heartened many people, especially those whose default opinion of humanity is not lovely at all.

It was December 31 — New Year’s Eve, around 3:00 PM.  Muhamed Pozhari, a 25-year-old illegal immigrant from Kosovo who kept body and soul connected by day work as a mason, was pushing a handtruck loaded with bags of cement from Piazzale Roma to Rialto.

As he began to horse the heavy load over the bridge spanning the rio dei Tolentini, he heard cries.  A man, soon identified as Maurizio Boscolo, 63, had fallen in the canal.  Theories were contradictory but it seems that he slipped while attempting to recover his 20-euro banknote which had somehow wafted into the water. Boscolo was (understandably) flailing around, with few or no results. It didn’t look good.

According to reports, various passersby stopped passing by and stood there, looking. I can understand the stopping; I can’t understand the standing there. (One report says that at least one person began to take photographs, but I have completely shut my mind to that, especially if it’s true.)

“I was crossing the bridge when I saw the man who had slipped and fallen in the water,” Pozhari later recounted.  “He was looking me in the eyes, desperate. Everybody was standing there looking and I felt like I had to do something. I jumped in to save him.

“The water was very low and he was sinking in the mud.  I tried to pull him up but in doing that I was also sinking in the mud.  Then two people came to help.”

Muddy, freezing, soaking wet, the two men were hauled ashore.  Pozhari no longer had his cell phone or his ID or his money, because he hadn’t stopped to take them out of his pockets before plunging in. Boscolo, however, no longer had his 20 euros or, not long afterwards, his life.

The excitement was now divided between the victim and the savior.  Some people offered Pozhari money, which he refused.  Staff at the nearby Hotel Papadopoli asked him to come in and have a hot shower, but he refused because he didn’t want to have to start answering awkward questions about his identity and all. However, an architect whose studio was nearby, Pozhari later related, induced him to come inside, where he accepted a shower and a change of clothes, and some pocket money.

Then Pozhari went home, back to the mainland where he was staying with friends. I suppose he intended to just disappear again into his under-the-radar world, complete with post-trauma insomnia, except that that night he began to feel ill. Freezing temperatures and possible mouthfuls of canal water and, I imagine, also emotional stress, were having their effect.  So he went to the Emergency Room, where he was kept overnight in observation.  He must have been feeling seriously bad, considering how eager he had been hours before to avoid awkward questions, the kind of questions they also ask on hospital intake forms.

When he eventually learned that the man he’d tried to save had died, he began to cry. In any case, he hadn’t been able to sleep “for two nights,” he said. “But if I hadn’t tried to do something, I’d never sleep again.”

Not meaning to trivialize tragedy, but you would be amazed at how many tourists slip on the steps in front of the Palazzo Ducale and get fished out by the gondoliers.  Not made up.  This kid isn't looking  for anything, but the temptation to move closer to the water seems to be irresistible.

Not meaning to trivialize tragedy, but you would be amazed at how many tourists slip on the steps in front of the Palazzo Ducale and get fished out by the gondoliers. Not made up. This kid isn’t looking for anything, but the temptation to move closer to the water seems to be irresistible.  My advice: Just don’t.

Now the story takes a happy turn.  He’s been in Italy for five years; three years ago he applied for an immigrant permit (permesso di soggiorno) as a political refugee.  His request was denied, and he was marked for expulsion, but he decided to stay anyway, which explains his need to remain invisible to people in uniform.

But now, in the space of not even two weeks, his application for a permesso for “humanitarian reasons” has been granted. Furthermore, a friend and fellow Kosovaro has stated he’s ready to give him a full-time job and stand as guarantor for him in any way that might be necessary.

Many studies have been conducted to analyze heroic actions, why one person will jump into the water fully clothed to rescue someone while another stops to take a picture. But one thing strikes me: Pozhari’s comment that the victim was looking him in the eyes.

I once read of a German fighter pilot during World War II who shot down a number of British planes in an aerial battle, and seriously damaged another.  As the German approached to deliver the fatal blow, the two pilots locked eyes.  The German flew away.

An article in Scientific American entitled “How the Illusion of Being Observed Can Make You a Better Person” (by Sander van der Linden, May 3, 2011) explains that “Humans (and other animals) have a dedicated neural architecture for detecting facial features, including the presence of eyes. This built-in system, also known as “gaze detection,” served as an important evolutionary tool …. What’s interesting is that this system largely involves brain areas that are not under voluntary control. Experiments have shown that people are unable to inhibit responses to gaze even when instructed to.

I’m not saying that I think that Pozhari wouldn’t have leaped if Boscolo’s eyes had been closed. After all, it wasn’t the eyes that conveyed the information that he was in danger of drowning — anybody could see that.  But they did convey desperation, and Pozhari couldn’t not respond.

So in a strange way, now that I think about it, Boscolo saved Pozhari.

 

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