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The Carnival spirit

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As I may or may not have ever mentioned, Carnival has lost most of what little appeal it ever had for me.  That is why I have made very few photos of this event this year.  Or last year.  However, my not being interested in Carnival as she is practiced here doesn’t mean I don’t know how madcap it could be for the thousands who come to enjoy madcappery for a few days.  The knell rings at midnight tonight, as you know, so tote those frittelle and haul those masks.

Here are just a few images from the past few days, things that made me smile.  That’s my version of Carnival.

A few mornings ago, I cast an affectionate eye on our little boat across the canal. It has been sprinkled with confetti from time to time, which has made it look cheerful.  I may not dress up, but I’m all for the boat looking giddy. But there was something on the plastic cover…

It’s something all dressed up as a dead rat. How original! And repulsive!

I may be the last person to have discovered this little trove of hats, most of them of the gondolier variety, arranged on a wall at the squero of San Trovaso. Venice, city of a million hats and behind each one a story….

In the center we see the two hats of Janus, in straw: “Dopo” (after) and “Prima” (before).  Perhaps we’re meant to read from right to left.  Or maybe time is running backward.  It sometimes feels like that.

This succinct note, on a closed newsstand in Udine last Sunday: “‘Dear’ petty thieves, on the third time you’ve come here you still haven’t understood that there isn’t any money here to steal.”  It’s not a joke but it still makes me laugh — not at the owner, but at the thieves.

Don’t even imagining laughing here. Her strategic position in Campo Santa Maria Formosa, on the trajectories from San Marco, Rialto, the Fondamente Nuove, Oslo, Cape Town and Zagreb, have stretched her to the limit. I don’t think this is a Carnival joke. Just buy the newspaper and move on.

If I had stayed up all night trying to compose a picture (in my mind, on canvas, with crayons, whatever) that said “Carnival is over,” I couldn’t have come up with this. Sorry it’s so perfect because now you’re all feeling sad.  Never mind, it’ll be Easter soon.  The chocolate eggs are beginning to appear and Lent hasn’t even started yet.  Gad!


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Let me try to explain…

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Being by yourself can be lovely, when the sun is shining and there isn't too much wind.

Being by yourself can be great, if the sun is shining and there isn’t too much wind.

Several readers have written their reactions to my post about Ricky.  And in answering them, I have sifted through my brain and realize that I neglected stressing some important points in my account of the hideous homicide, the main point being why I wrote about it at all.

I let myself get somewhat carried away by the grisly details (like every reporter currently working in Venice, evidently — the newspapers have surrendered entire pages to this epic). That was wrong.

The reason I did this was because (A) like almost everybody, I’m fascinated in a repulsive way by stories like this, but (B) more to the point, I reacted to him as somebody I sort of know.

Venice is a village, as I often point out, and you get caught up in dramatic stories involving people you know, or (more often) to people known by people you know.  Ricky is only ten years younger than Lino, and his family home was a few doors down from where Lino lived. They’d see each other here and there, and while he was obviously somewhat unbalanced even when young, Ricky was just part — obviously a somewhat unusual part — of the neighborhood.

Lino says Ricky had a generous streak (the Mestre neighbors keep repeating how he always tried to do things for people).  Lino remembers one day he was slaving away in his boat, trying to get the outboard motor to start.  Ricky stops and says “Hey, I’ve got a motor inside.  Come get it, you can borrow it.  You can have it.”  Lino didn’t take the motor, but he remembers the offer.

The story continues to unfold, producing more terrifying details, but I’m not going to repeat them because what it is is sad sad sad.  I didn’t make that clear.  He was born crazy, and he has spent his life either struggling against his craziness or sometimes giving in.  This is not an excuse, but everyone quoted in these endless articles talks about what a solitary person he was. He was “tremendously alone,” as one person put it; he didn’t have anybody watching out for him. Whether or not you’re taking your meds, loneliness is a killer.

No more about Ricky from me, unless it’s something we all need to know.  Of course I feel bad for the woman and her family, but I also feel bad for uno dei nostri — one of ours.

IMG_1004.JPG alone



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Ricky again, or still

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I’m sorry to start the year this way, but not nearly as sorry as the people who are involved.

Riccardo Torta — “Ricky” — if you’ll cast your minds back, spent 16 years in prison and a psychiatric hospital after killing an agent of the Finance Police on May 31, 1973.  They had confiscated his boat because of his trafficking in illegal cigarettes, so he was angry.  He spent the next two decades telling people he never meant to do it, he didn’t know why he did it, it was just a joke.

Now it’s 2016.  He’s been living in Mestre for 20 years in an apartment by himself, and by all accounts not keeping up with his meds.

He has become very, very big, tall, heavy, which could make him scary, except that the neighbors know him mainly as a sort of strange person but who’s usually keen to lend a hand — you know, the gentle giant.  He sometimes does the shopping for Nelly Pagnussat, 78 years old, a little old lady on the second floor of his building.  She also lives alone, although she has married children.  She sometimes fixes him something to eat.  Just setting the scene.

Friday evening around 8:00 PM he rings her doorbell.  She lets him in — after all, they’re friends.  He even calls her “aunt.”

He kills her with a hammerblow to the head.  Then he takes a chainsaw and dismembers her body.  He puts the pieces in four big black plastic garbage bags.

Here are some sea otters.

Here are some sea otters, if this helps.

Meanwhile, Nelly’s daughter is concerned because her mother hasn’t answered the phone for two hours, so she and her husband go over.  They, and a neighbor (an 83-year-old lady.  Nice!) enter the apartment and find Ricky standing there, with the bags and the dripping chainsaw.

The daughter’s husband says, “Where is my mother-in-law?”  Ricky replies, “She wasn’t feeling well.”  Then he runs out and barricades himself in his fourth-floor apartment.

Every person in uniform in Mestre descends on the block, which is cordoned off; the tenants of the building are requested to leave, and the gas in the building is turned off, just in case he might have discovered some matches meanwhile. SWAT teams in heavy assault gear climb the stairs and position themselves outside his front door.  A psychiatric specialist begins to negotiate with him,

After three hours of talking through the door, he gives himself up and they take him away. He’s in prison on suicide watch.  The newspapers are like pots boiling over.

Three days ago, Ricky went to the hospital for his therapy (I presume pharmacological). He had been under increased observation during the past year, but recently had seemed no longer to suffer from hallucinations. True, the neighbors knew he was more than a bubble off plumb — he would sometimes wander around his apartment terrace nude, or occasionally throw a bucket of urine off the balcony. Also, really loud music at night.

The hospitals for the criminally insane have been closed by law for several years, the plan being to house mentally ill prisoners in small “communities.”  But the Veneto Region is way behind in opening these facilities; a few weeks ago, Emilia-Romagna, the region next door, registered a complaint because former inmates from the Veneto were being sent to the facilities there.  But in Ricky’s case, what is there to be said?  He’d served his sentence and he was out, like anybody would be.

Forty-two years of good behavior have been noted, but wherever he goes next, I’m assuming he won’t be coming out again.

Good-bye to his for Ricky.

Good-bye to all this for Ricky.  Or whatever morning looks like in Mestre.


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Relentless brilliance

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A sailor awaits the sunset signal to lower the flag on the sail-training ship "Palinuro."

A sailor awaits the sunset signal to lower the flag on the sail-training ship “Palinuro.”  This has no relation to anything that follows, it’s just here to remind us of why we love Venice.

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.

Beauty is the keyword here. Don't forget it.

Beauty is the keyword here. Keep this at the forefront of your brain.

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.

These are the two lanes available for wheeled vehicles to reach the city (or depart from it). The concrete center barrier is moveable, so part of the excellent experiment is going to be shifting it to make a temporary extra lane when needed. Thereby reducing the other side to just one lane.

These are the two lanes available for wheeled vehicles to reach the city (or in this case, depart from it). The concrete center barrier is moveable, so part of the excellent experiment will be to see if shifting the center barrier to create a temporary extra lane when needed will work out, even though even I, sitting at my desk, realize that doing so will thereby reduce the other side to just one lane. Creating a problem by solving another — hasn’t that already been tried?  (Photo: Davide Dalla Mora, Facebook.)

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.

I don’t think an advanced degree in engineering is necessary to help you understand how to keep people’s feet dry getting from the platform to the temporary walkways (neatly stacked in the background). Or maybe it is.  All they needed to do was to ask Mr. Canestrelli before it was too late.

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.

One just keeps on making the best of things.

One just keeps making the best of things.


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