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Jan
02

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:  http://youtu.be/EOt4VDDjuYQ

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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Jan
02

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.

 

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1x1.trans Merry Christmas and Buon Natale to all

Somebody put an amazing amount of time, energy and good will into bedizening their everyday boat for no evident reason other than to make it beautiful and possibly also make people smile. For me, that sums up a large slice of the Christmas Spirit.

I have returned to my duties as lookout, town crier, Samuel Pepys, and portraitist.

But Christmas is no time for teeth-grinding or fist-shaking — I state that as a principle, but it’s still early and reality may yet intervene — and so please consider this post as my heartfelt wish that it may be a beautiful time for everyone. And that 2014 will be the best year ever.

I have to close; Lino has begun to roast the eel for tomorrow night’s dinner and I need to go open all the windows.

 

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Aug
21

Latest on the gondola disaster

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1x1.trans Latest on the gondola disaster

A view from the Rialto Bridge. I took this on a morning in April, 2009 — nowhere near the height of the tourist season, but this gives you a rough picture of the space available and the dimensions of the daily vehicles.  At this instant the commercial traffic was momentarily light (I could have stood there all morning making pictures, but time was short). What’s useful about this image is the number of vaporettos visible in the space between the Rialto stop on the left and San Silvestro on the right, a distance of 409 feet (125 meters) between the two closest docks, and 669 feet (204 meters) between the furthest.  The distance between the starboard side of the vaporetto on the left and the stern of the gondolas on the right is 67 feet (20 meters).  This picture doesn’t show all the additional vaporettos which are out there now:  The #2, the “Vaporetto dell’Arte,” and the Alilaguna airport bus.  There are usually at least two of each arriving or leaving, going up- or downstream.  There can be as few as three minutes between dockings of one vehicle or another, the paper reported.  My personal experience is that there can be a boat ready to tie up to the dock as soon as the previous boat has left enough space.  If anyone is interested, a vaporetto on the average is 69 feet (21 meters) long, and 13 feet (4 meters) wide. I don’t think you have to be Archimedes or Euclid to appreciate the problems of this geometry.

I will correct my earlier post, but as the details begin to come into sharper focus, I want to report that the gondola with the German family did not capsize, so I can’t interpret early reports on the gondoliers diving into the Canal.  Of course they did what they could to help, but the boat remained upright, if damaged.

I know that the gondoliers recovered some small floating objects belonging to the littlest girl, and placed them on the fatal dock with a bouquet of flowers: one small rubber duck, and one very small pink shoe.

The gondoliers have carried their proposals to City Hall: To start with, a ban on any vehicle overtaking any other vehicle.  Vaporettos in line, taxis in line, gondolas in line.  (I don’t know about barges.) As anyone who has seen the Grand Canal knows, this procedure has not been the case so far.  I have no opinion on the feasibility of the idea but presume that men who spend all day in the area know something about how things work.

They are also proposing revisions of the vaporetto schedules, to prevent backups such as the one which contributed to the disaster (three vaporettos were idling in sequence, awaiting their turn to use their respective ACTV docks).  That would seem to be a no-brainer.

Hence another correction to my report: The fatal vaporetto was not moving slowly; it wasn’t moving at all, until it was time to engage the gears to move forward, which involved backing up first, which was the point at which the gondola was struck.

Two other vaporetto drivers have also become involved in the legal situation. I don’t know what the formal accusations are.  I could know, but I am not following every single sentence being written about the case.  The important thing isn’t what’s being said today, but what is done tomorrow.  Or next year.  Or whenever or if anything is actually done.

If something meaningful occurs, I’ll try to let you know.

 

1x1.trans Latest on the gondola disaster
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