Archive for Events
As has become hugely evident, I am temporarily (I trust) slowing down on not making things up.
I discover that it isn’t easy to find new topics that interest me (“new” and “interest” don’t always coincide). Two decades into my life here, a certain amount of repetition in daily or annual events can make it difficult to whip up enthusiasm to address them again.
Also, as I may have hinted not long ago, I am somewhat worn down by the relentless stream of bad, crazy, incomprehensible, infuriating news that steamrolls over the city every day, and if it depresses me to read these stories, it would depress me even more to write about them. I used to find it sort of entertaining, and imagined that examining the entrails of Venetian life could be interesting to people who don’t live here but who care about the city. Examining entrails used to be one way of predicting the future, and the technique still works extremely well — but the future I glimpse is even less appealing than the entrails themselves. (Full disclosure: I happen to like tripe, which is prepared in various ways here. But I’m not sure if tripe qualifies as entrails.) End of metaphor.
There are the infinite variations on the theme of corruption. If I wanted to focus on that, I’d have to change the name of my blog — there’s just too much material. It appears that just about the only person who hasn’t been stealing money from the city, the region, the nation, her employer (which I don’t have, but that’s a detail), or her clients and customers or suppliers, is me. When a general of the Guardia di Finanza AND a platoon of his troops are found with their hands plunged deeply, up to the shoulder, into the municipal pot, it does make you wonder what this world is coming to.
But what now fascinates me is the ever-increasing number of projects that are living demonstrations of a phenomenon we all know too well and for which the Germans have even invented a word: Verschlimmbesserung, a supposed improvement that makes things worse.
These are projects devised by professionals, remember, but perhaps being a professional is becoming a handicap, because so many seem to lose their way in their professional brain-thickets and forget the simplest, common-sense details that are obvious to any user — amateurs! — of their projects.
The two most recent examples, and then I’m finished for today:
The tram. I’ve already mentioned the hideous installation at its terminus at Piazzale Roma. But you don’t have to look at it, so let’s consider that issue settled. What I’m talking about are the almost daily discoveries of inexplicably stupid mistakes. I define a mistake as “inexplicable” if it was performed by a professional.
From the day of fanfare in which the tram made its maiden voyage from the mainland to Venice, there have been technical problems (losing electrical power, often, for assorted reasons; a nexus where the tracks just didn’t switch the way they were supposed to, etc.). But these, theoretically, can be fixed.
But the other day a car broke down on the bridge from the mainland to Venice, thereby blocking all traffic behind it (normal! there’s no breakdown lane!) including the tram (wait — what?). Yes, the tram’s track was installed in the same lane as the wheeled traffic. A normal old bus can just groan, downshift, and inch around a stalled car or truck. The tram can only sit there until it’s all cleared up. The bridge is 4 km/2.5 miles long, and all the passengers had to pile out and walk the rest of the way to Venice, thereby easily making their healthy daily quota of 10,000 steps. And making hash of their morning schedule, doctor appointments, business meetings, Scout jamborees, whatever was on.
Never fear — an excellent experiment will begin in November. For three months (note: containing all the high-traffic holidays), the tram lane will be reserved only for public-service vehicles, which I suppose are considered less prone to breaking down. Did I mention there is no breakdown lane? The bridge has only two lanes in each direction, therefore creating a temporary one by moving into space on the opposite side will crush all the private vehicles into one lane.
If that doesn’t sound especially shudderworthy, consider that about 1,700 vehicles per hour cross the bridge. In 2014 there were 162 cases of stalled vehicles — one every other day, essentially.
So bring on the tram! And bring your hiking boots and Nordic-walking sticks! And just think: You still have to pay for a ticket. The Casino says people aren’t gambling so much anymore, but they’re obviously not thinking of the thousands of people who play Tram Roulette on the bridge every day.
Let’s move on to the Rialto area.
The subject is the platforms to which the vaporetto docks are attached. The past few months have seen a mammoth undertaking to build new ones, bigger ones, more efficient ones.
But now that high water has come calling, it has been discovered that these improvements have un-improved the necessary space to set up the temporary walkways. I have disembarked at Rialto when there was very high water, and without the walkways I’d have had water up to and even past my knees. Walkways at Rialto are not some crazy new idea.
And yet the new platforms haven’t taken the walkways into account, and it was suddenly discovered (cue sound of sloshing water) that the spaces involved don’t work anymore. The temporary walkways can’t reach all the way to the fixed platform, so there will be a gap between the platform and the walkway which will be full of water.
Unhappily, the large brains designing the new docks didn’t think to contact anybody, least of all the steadfast but shot-riddled Paolo Canestrelli, director of the Tide Center, to discuss anything so trivial as height of water, need to calculate for.
To raise the fixed platforms at this point will require another huge undertaking. Just think, everyone had so enjoyed the big inauguration ceremony.
Much of the most beautiful city in the world is beginning to resemble those municipal offices where the employees have to adapt by attaching things with rubber bands, hand-writing signs and labels with Sharpie pens, sticky-notes everywhere. Just make it work somehow.
But now I’m going to make you laugh. It’s only fair. I mean, I laughed, even though on paper (this is paper) it isn’t so funny.
Giancarlo Galan, the former president of the Veneto Region, has been sucked deeply into the MOSE corruption scandal, the details of which will be oozing out even after the trumpet call to the Last Judgment. Among other things, he was convicted of having taken 15,000,000 euros in bribes.
He has done some token jail time (he was sentenced to two years and ten months, of which he spent only 78 days in prison and much of the rest at home in his luxurious villa on the mainland). And the state confiscated this villa, worth some 2 1/2 million euros, to pay off part of his debt. The rules said he had to vacate the premises and leave it in habitable condition.
He did vacate the premises, but the next people to go in discovered that there were no more bathrooms. Workmen, presumably not on their own initiative, had torn out all the radiators, toilets, bidets, and sinks in the place.
So now he has added to his list of misdeeds the formal accusation of having damaged state property. And of not having honored the agreement to leave the villa in useable condition.
His lawyer immediately said that this had been an “error,” and of course everything is going to be put back, right away. How anyone could make such an error baffles and perplexes me.
You see? I don’t have to make anything up. It’s all right there in front of me.
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:
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.
“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.
“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.
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.
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. Dada, in addition to being anti-war, had political affinities with the radical left and was also anti-bourgeois.
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.
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.”
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 Rakshasi? Les 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.
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.