Archive for Events
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.
I’ve waited a few days before reporting on the latest news in the hope that some rational element would emerge from the wreckage of an appalling event. The event’s ugliness is only compounded by the context of chaos which everyone has come to take for granted, but which now is revealed as indefensible, idiotic, criminal.
As I mentioned recently, “imminent” is the only danger that gets attention. Last Saturday, the danger flashed from “imminent” to “actual” for Joachim Reinhardt Vogel, a professor from Munich on vacation with his family.
Perhaps you have already heard: The family’s gondola ride ended in his death.
The general outline is still somewhat blurred by missing or conflicting details of the dynamics of the catastrophe. Here is what I can tell you:
At about 11:30 AM on Saturday, August 17, Professor Vogel was in a gondola with his wife and three small children. They were approaching the Rialto Bridge on the downstream side, an area which is not only the narrowest part of the Grand Canal, but by now is fearfully crowded with vaporettos, taxis, barges, and assorted other boats, all of which clog the limited space in a manner worthy of downtown Naples.
The gondola was behind a vaporetto which was not very manageable because it was going very slowly. The driver made a brusque maneuver and rammed (going backwards, blindly) the gondola.
The professor, according to his wife, had just finished saying, “With this many boats and at their speed, I wouldn’t dream of driving a boat here.” Then the impact. One report referred to the gondola as having been “harpooned.”
The professor threw himself between the vaporetto and the gondola to shield his three-year-old daughter, and his chest was essentially crushed.
The force of the collision pitched the young gondolier onto the nearby dock of the Magistrato alle Acque, his oar broken. Gondoliers on the fondamenta rushed to help; bystanders were yelling at the vaporetto driver to stop as he continued upstream, oblivious, dragging the splintered gondola behind him.
The little girl was rushed to the hospital with a deep wound on her face which may require reconstruction. The father was taken to the morgue.
That afternoon the gondoliers all stopped work for the rest of the day as a sign of respect. The next day many of them put a strip of black tape on their gondola’s ferro, symbol of mourning, and organized a simple ceremony of commemoration. The gondoliers’ association will pay for the funeral and the costs of repatriation.
But now that I think about it, why was it them and not the ACTV to show so much sorrow and solidarity, not to mention offer to defray expenses? Oh wait — the ACTV ordered the little flags on the stern of each boat to fly at half mast. That’s touching.
The young gondolier is in shock — not clinical, but certainly emotional. The driver of the vaporetto has been charged with manslaughter.
Gondolas occasionally capsize — not often — for various reasons, but the last fatality was an American woman, in 1992. In that case, a vaporetto was also involved.
The context which makes this so terrible — as if it needed context to be terrible — is that traffic has been rapidly increasing for years. More vaporettos? Got to have them. More taxis? Sure, let’s add them too (25 more licenses have just been approved by the city). Let’s add more of everything! The municipal police has estimated that as many as 4,000 boats per day pass in the Grand Canal. We’re surprised that something happened?
Now there are meetings of the gondoliers, of the city government, of everyone except you and me. What to do? How to do it?
The motto of the city, at least until now, could well have been “Everything’s fine until it isn’t.” Certainly there has been the traditional outpouring of mutual blame from every political corner, everyone singing some version of “I told you so” and “We knew this would happen” and “I’ve been warning about this for years but nobody listens.”
As the head of the gondoliers’ association stated, all the regulations necessary for orderly traffic already exist. What we need is for them to be enforced. I could have said that myself. So could everybody, including the people involved.
But if everybody knows that the regulations exist, and that lack of enforcement renders the waterways dangerous, the logical conclusion would be either to insist on enforcement (a moment of humorous fancy: Taxi drivers and barge drivers and vaporetto drivers massed in front of City Hall, with pitchforks and torches, bellowing “We demand that you make us obey the laws! We refuse to work until you compel us to obey the laws!” Humorous moment over.) or for each person to regulate himself, otherwise known as obeying the law, thereby obviating the need for enforcement.
So simple, so easy, so cheap. That must be why it doesn’t work.
Exactly one week ago today we had what, for me (and for its starring participant, not to mention said participant’s parents) was one of the more extraordinary experiences of my eventful life.
The scene: The University of Padua, founded 1222.
Protagonist: Matteo Paganini, once a student at the Morosini Naval College where Lino taught him Venetian rowing, and till June 24 an aspiring M.D.
Occasion: Defending his thesis and being awarded (he hoped) his degree, diploma, laurel wreath, and future.
University students here don’t graduate en masse, as they do in the U.S.; they are hatched one by one, though in some periods, such as now, they seem to come out on an assembly line.
I’d seen plenty of these festivities in Venice, particularly around Dorsoduro, the sestiere where the two Venetian universities are located. Bunches of roaming students accompany the newly-minted graduate to some spot where they can celebrate by throwing eggs, flour, and other substances on him or her, and occasionally break into a doggerel ditty which I’m not going to translate, not because it’s blue, but because it’s stupid. Its purpose is to take the graduate down a peg. Many pegs.
In fact, having only seen the partying all these years caused me to lose sight of the fundamental reason for the carrying-on. Our day in Padua changed that, because before the fun there had to come the cross-examination. And when the person who has spent six (6) years studying in order to reach this moment of running across the intellectual bed of incandescent burning coals, the academic version of running the gantlet, it’s a pretty intense experience not only for him, but for everyone who cares about him.
It didn’t appear to be so intense for the board of examiners, partly because they’ve done it 157,000 times; partly because they have no stake in the outcome (at last they’re not supposed to!); partly because it was possibly the 20th such session they’d held that morning; and partly (how many parts am I up to?) because it was hotter than the hinges of hell and they were all caparisoned in heavy academic robes.
To my surprise, I was awash in pride and joy, and if little me could feel so much, I can’t even imagine how proud he must have been, to say nothing of his long-suffering and -paying parents, who didn’t give any sign that they were experiencing what had to have been Olympic-level kvelling.
The images below depict the outlines of this enterprise. But I’ll give away the ending: He was awarded his degree as Doctor of Medicine summa cum laude. When he finished his presentation, he was told he had earned 110 e lode, which corresponds to magna cum laude, but then he was given a stunning bonus: a “menzione di eccellenza,” literally “mention of excellence,” which put him at the summit of Everest, the absolute peak of academic achievement.
And all this from a university whose alumni include Nicolaus Copernicus, Torquato Tasso, St. Francis de Sales, Galileo Galilei, and William Harvey. Not to forget Elena Lucrezia Piscopia Corner, the first woman in the world to be awarded a university diploma (1678). And Federico Faggin, designer of the first commercial microprocessor. Age has done nothing to dim this academy’s luster.
Keep it shiny, Matteo.
No, this reference isn’t to me or to my (or anybody else’s) oarage, or steerage, or careenage. I am referring to a modest work of Biennale art that I happen to LOVE – just in case anyone thought that I was against everything that had the slightest connection with this event. This little creation makes me smile.