Archive for Problems
I want everyone to stop for a moment and think of Audrey Hepburn. Yes, one of the most divine women ever to set foot on earth. Just writing her name is like inhaling a waft of moonflowers and heliotrope from the Isles of the Blest.
Now I want you to imagine her — just for a second, because this hurts — becoming old, neglected, and feeble. Not demented, just left to deteriorate at random. You know: The soup stain on the blouse, the dirty hair, the shuffly slippers instead of shoes, the drooping slip, the general all-purpose “Just don’t care anymore, can’t be bothered, nothing matters anyway. What pile of unopened bills on the kitchen floor? What half-eaten cans of tuna in the laundry basket? A mouse in the refrigerator? Is it alive?”
Now I want you to stop for a moment and think of Venice.
Now put the two pictures together. Not good. Not good at all.
I hinted in my last post at a certain laissez-faire atmosphere which has taken over what I still am determined to consider the Audrey Hepburn of cities. Over the years, signs of distressing degradation have been noticed, and even reported to the authorities — each sign existing in its own little capsule in the municipal consciousness, just as each sign of personal neglect can be passed over by benevolent or apathetic eyes. Each, of course, explained or excused because no ghe xe schei.
Then suddenly the total of them all reveals itself as appalling.
This revelation seems to have hit a lot of people lately, if the Gazzettino is anything to go by. And yes, great lamentations continue to rise from the Venetians concerning the tourists. But if tourists are the perpetrators, the municipal non-authorities are the enablers.
First, the tourists. When I use the word, I’m not referring to their quantity, which is distressing though not difficult to understand, but their quality, which utterly bewilders me.
Yes, of course there are millions of wonderful tourists here all the time. And I don’t want to get into an arm-wrestling match over percentages, or what constitutes “quality tourism,” or the God-given universal human right to come to Venice whenever you want.
But I have to say that I do not perceive a human right to come to Venice to DO whatever you want.
Every few days some novel behavior appears which the star of the story inexplicably considers just fine, behavior which in their own city is probably regarded as offensive and possibly also illegal. Here the same behavior is also regarded as offensive, and is often illegal, and yet Venice, especially in the summer, and especially this summer, seems to attract a type of tourist who thinks that former Queen of the Seas is more fun than the locally-much-reviled Disneyland, although the comparison isn’t very useful considering that the Magic Kingdom is more strictly run than your average penitentiary. I mean that as a compliment.
Graffiti-sprayers and sun-bathers in the Piazza San Marco are no longer any special big deal, repulsive as they are. But this year has kicked it all up a notch. There was the Indian family which hunkered down in the Piazza San Marco to cook lunch on a camp stove. The man who decided to beat the heat by stripping down to his underwear, blithely wandering the streets in his Jockey shorts, or the European equivalent thereof.
A young couple, all tuckered out, who spread their towels on the street in a nice patch of shade and lay down to sleep. A man who decided to scale the Doge’s Palace, demonstrating a free-climbing skill that would have been admirable if he hadn’t been clinging to pieces of marble and statues hundreds of years old.
A tightrope walker who strung his cord between two lampposts along the Zattere. Carnal knowledge on the Scalzi bridge.
Do these people think that it’s Carnival here all year? Did they come all the way to Venice just to do this, or are they merely responding to some sudden impulse? Or do they intuit, by some imperceptible herd sensitivity, that Venice has become something like homeroom with no teacher, all the time?
Now comes the latest: Two male visitors in the Piazza San Marco whose bursting bladders brooked no delay. So they relieved themselves into a garbage can. As in many of the above-noted cases, it was broad daylight.
Much of this revolting behavior is something you’d expect — or not be surprised — to see on the Bowery, Skid Row, the Tenderloin, or whatever is the current term for the devastated section of your city.
But this is not them. Nor is it — despite the sun and water and boats — Panama City Beach on Spring Break.
This is a three-square-mile World Heritage Site. It’s more like the Louvre, with sun and water and boats.
So if whatever you’re about to do would be disgusting or ridiculous or rude in the Louvre — or even in Horse Hoof, Kansas, or especially in the much-maligned Disneyland — it would be likewise here.
So much for the tourists.
Yet, as the always perceptive Davide Scalzotto noted in a brief essay in the Gazzettino, if the city has begun to look like a slum (I paraphrase), people will act as if it’s a slum. I believe there are important studies which support this statement. I won’t start a list here of the dreadful deterioration to be seen just about anywhere because it’s too depressing and also because it would make anybody want to scream.
Hardly any money has been spent over the past decade or more on maintenance, let alone improvement, and now we know why. It’s because the city fathers were pulling out the money for MOSE through virtual pneumatic tubes for their own purposes. And the state funds that come via the Special Law for Venice, which was instituted in 1973 specifically to finance measures to protect the city and its environment, are always too little, and too late.
Are there police? Of course, but not nearly enough. Are there laws? Of course, but probably too many. Considering that it’s impossible to enforce them all, they get enforced on an as-needed basis. No wonder the once Most Serene Republic has come to resemble Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump.
But let’s say somebody gets arrested — it does happen, though it isn’t always, or even usually, a tourist. Not long ago, we read about a crippled beggar well-known around the crowded streets of Venice and the beaches of Jesolo, just across the lagoon. Hold your sympathy. The story had to do with the fact that at quittin’ time the homeless, 47-year-old Romanian straightened up, brushed himself off, and briskly walked toward wherever he was going that night. When an angry citizen’s photograph was published — the lame walk? The blind see? Is it, in fact, a miracle? — the beggar was hauled in and charged with…. what? Offending public decency? Exploiting the public’s natural compassion? Faking it? What crime, exactly, had he committed?
None. The judge ruled that it is not against the law to beg, even if in the process you callously counterfeit a pitiful condition to earn lucrative sympathy. The mendicant paid an administrative fine, and the judge gave him his cane back.
So: There is no law that forbids a person to present himself as something he is not. I guess I already knew that. We had a mayor who presented himself as honest, but he was not. He was sentenced to four months of house arrest, but his crime wasn’t having pretended to be honest, but for having taken bribes. Ergo, why should somebody be punished for pretending to be a cripple, staggering along, doubled over, supported only by his trembling cane?
So we could all start faking it and still be fine. I know people who pretend to be intelligent, or caring, or lots of things they’re not. I could walk around pretending I was Elaine Stritch and I’d never be arrested, at least not until I started belting out “I’m Still Here” on the street.
Here is the YouTube link: http://youtu.be/CFzmVYNItjU
I started with Audrey and I’ve ended up with Elaine. My God: It’s the story of Venice in two names. Maybe “I’m Still Here” ought to be the new national anthem of Venice.
Except that it shouldn’t have to.
My next post, barring some unforeseen calamity, will take us back to happier topics. I’ve had more than I can take of all this tsuris.
I’ve been having a little trouble lately finding diverting things to write about, which accounts, in part, for the work slowdown in my posting.
The fact is, so many things are going wrong around the most beautiful city in the world that humor is hard to find — even that bitter, crackly humor that used to be easier to pick up than manna in the morning.
The vaporettos have reached Third-World levels of crowding, especially the #2 from Tronchetto. The human body is 60 percent water, but these bodies are packed onto these vehicles with a force which evidently removes all liquids (in the form of sweat, or tears — I stop there) and leaves only the hide and gristle of thousands of tourists per day compressed in really harsh ways.
That might not matter except that the vaporettos of various lines have acquired the habit recently of breaking down in mid-run. Motors that stop, or rudders that cease to respond, which sometimes happens near other boats, such as gondolas. There have been several cases in a very short stretch of time.
Did I mention gondolas? There have been other collisions recently between motorized boats (vaporetto, taxi) and the floating symbol of Venice. August 17 is the first anniversary of the death of Professor Joachim Vogel in his gondola, and although the legal process has reached some conclusions (gondolier exonerated, three vaporetto drivers convicted of various breaches), the traffic situation has not changed at all.
The agonized city-wide soul-searching caused by this totally predictable tragedy led to the creation of a list of 26 proposed changes in the traffic patterns and the assorted uses of the aquatic spaces by specific types of boat. In other words, a plan to ease the jams and minimize, if not eliminate, the problems of too many boats in too small a space. See above: Nothing has changed.
Well fine, you say. Avoid taking a vaporetto (or gondola), and you’ll be okay. And that’s true, except that there is also the increasing chaos created by the ever-more-aggressive itinerant illegal vendors proliferating in the Piazza San Marco and environs. They sell corn to feed to the pigeons, counterfeit handbags and sunglasses, long-stemmed red roses, and toys of various sorts.
Well fine, you say. Avoid the Piazza San Marco. That would be one solution.
But what is happening here is that although enforcement of the laws was a bit random in the past, ever since the government was decapitated (June 4), the town has become a sort of Dodge City for every kind of independent (translation: illegal) operator.
I did discover something funny, though. There are laws — that’s not the funny part — which behave sort of like blank bullets.
For example: A 28-year-old homeless man from Kosovo named Imer Tosca was drunk at 3:00 AM the other morning. None of that carries a huge humor load. But wait.
He didn’t want to waste time standing around waiting for the rare vaporetto at that hour which would take him to the Lido.
So he untied one of the vaporettos which is moored at night in front of the Arsenal, turned on the ignition, and drove it away. A patrolling ACTV security boat almost immediately noticed this — hard to miss, considering that the three vaporettos that had been tied to his were now floating around, going adrift — and gave chase. So did the police. But neither of those facts made much difference to him. When the police tried to stop him, he tried to ram their boat. Actually he did that twice.
He was finally overcome, and taken to jail. He was released the next day BECAUSE…. a new law which was passed to ease the pressure in the prisons (disastrously overcrowded, too, even worse than the vaporettos), states that any person committing a crime or misdemeanor which rates a sentence of fewer than three years in prison is not to be sent to prison, but placed on house arrest.
Did I mention the perp was homeless? Having no domicile, he couldn’t be placed on house arrest, so he was let go.
Next day….. he and some friends got drunk and proceeded to brawl in the cloister of the basilica of Sant’ Antonio in Padova. He was hauled in again. And let go again. Why?
Because with the rap sheet they discovered he had built up since he was 12, he should now be expelled from Italy.
Except that he is officially designated as a stateless person. He has no country. I don’t know how those documents get worked out, but it means that there was no country to expel him to. So here he stays.
He may be drunk and homeless, for which I’m very sorry, but until he kills somebody, I feel a very unpleasant sort of admiration for him.
On a more modest, but no less perplexing note, there was Olga, the Slovakian girl with the horse. Her being Slovakian doesn’t really matter to the story, I just thought I’d throw it in.
A few days ago some distress calls began to come into the highway police from drivers on the Ponte della Liberta’. They were being forced to slow down and change lanes (creating stress for themselves and other drivers who weren’t so alert) to avoid hitting a girl who was walking along, leading a horse. The horse was saddled to the hilt with all sorts of Western gear, so I’m not really sure why she was walking rather than riding. Maybe the horse was tired.
Never mind. She was creating a hazardous situation, so the police sent out an escort which would alert the drivers behind her (kind of like a “wide load” sign on a truck). They accompanied her safely to the end of the bridge — Piazzale Roma — where she turned around and crossed the bridge again, with escort, and went on her mysterious way.
The next day, it was made known that she had been cited for various infractions. None of them specifically mentioned unlawful use of a quadropedic vehicle, but they did mention her endangering the safety of the drivers (41 euros), and also for allowing the horse to leave the bridge dirtier than she had found it (25 euros).
She had been walking from Austria to Bussolengo (near Verona) for the past two months — again, why she was walking with a perfectly good horse, rather than riding, I have no idea — and said she wanted to come to Venice to take a picture, and was planning to turn around and leave anyway. That is, there were no further plans, such as swimming him to the Piazza San Marco, or riding him up the campanile, or whatever other effervescent ideas come fizzing into people’s minds in the summer here.
Also, she said there were no signs indicating that it was forbidden to take a horse across the bridge. Very true. Everyone admitted that. No one observed that there were no signs forbidding bringing aardvarks over the bridge on skateboards, either, or prohibiting the passage of Laotian rock rats clinging to low-flying birthday balloons.
Come to think of it, there aren’t any signs that forbid the untying and taking of a vaporetto in the middle of the night.
We need to make a whole lot of new rules around here. “Don’t act silly” doesn’t go far enough.
The votes are in, but they’re still being counted. So far, though, the number of ballots on the spelling of the nizioleti has exceeded 1,500. And they are unanimous in favor of bringing back the old spelling, the old words, the old way, period.
This information was imparted by Tiziano Graziottin, from the Gazzettino, to a happy gathering last Sunday on a cold, rainy morning in the Fish Market at the Rialto. I was interested to see maybe 50-70 people show up — perhaps more might have come if the weather had cooperated — and I was even more interested to see that only two people from the boating world (besides Lino and me) were there.
Why is this interesting? First, because I hardly ever see people in groups who are not of the boating ilk. Second, because for the past several years, the president of the Coordinating Committee of the Rowing Clubs, a certain Giovanni Giusto, has made it his own highly emotional, high-volume mantra that Venetian rowing is one of the last holdouts –perhaps the last holdout — of true venezianita‘, or Venetian-ness.
If that’s the case, I would have assumed (Zwingle’s Fifth Law: Never Assume) that boating people would have showed up in a solid, even if small, block of solidarity. But no. Let’s say that the weather prevented coming by oar — which it did — people who cared could have come by foot, just like us.
But the boating world was not to be seen. That particular piece of Venetian culture and heritage is apparently floating around sealed inside its own bubble, and the other piece of V.C. and H., i.e., the nizioleti, is doing likewise. In a city this small, it seems bizarre that there should be no contact between these two tracks carrying the same train.
As I looked around, I tried to guess from which quadrant these people emerged. The universities? The art world? The music world? The world of linguistics? The world of free snacks? I could only be sure about the last.
The general sentiment of the occasion — of the project, mission, crusade — was expressed in Venetian on the sign shown above. Translation by me:
How many centuries of history are in this nizioleto,
Names of streets, written in dialect,
Squares, little squares, parishes and streets,
From the Bridge of the Beret-Makers to the Bridge of the Breasts,
But these names weren’t given by chance,
But according to strict criteria.
Each street we walk along reminds us of some fact (deed),
And, why not, even an ugly crime,
The Riva of Biasio, the Rio Tera’ of the Assassins,
As reported by the great Tassini …
To say nothing of the ancient trades,
Like the milk-seller or the barrel-maker,
Walk around the city with your head held high,
Every nizioleto is a truth.
And beware anybody who touches them
Or writes them in Italian,
Because we’ll bite their hand.
Poor nizioleti, old and worn,
And to fix them, there’s never any money.
The purpose of the festa wasn’t only to report on the voting, but also to promote (in a very soft way), the new organization known as “Masegni e Nizioleti.” (The masegni are the old trachyte paving stones, which have been endangered for the past several years by replacement by blocks of some other substance. I think it’s a kind of stone, but once it’s on the ground, it looks to the street the same way Italianized words look on the nizioleti: Strange, out of place, and uninvited). The sheets and the stones groups decided to join forces and it appears, at least in the honeymoon stage, to be a happy marriage.
I pulled out 10 euros and signed on as a member of Masegni and Nizioleti. I have no idea how far the group is going to get, but I do know that on May 25, squads will be organized to clean graffiti off the walls. I will take a break from whinging, put on my rubber gloves, pick up my bucket and brush, or sponge, or broom, and get to work, EVEN THOUGH I know that a week later graffiti will reappear.
More about the masegni themselves in my next; they are a story in themselves (as are we all). But this is enough for one day. Steady the Buffs! Tote that bedsheet! All hands to the pumps, and see you on the barricades. Bring refreshments.
Following the death of German tourist Dr. Joachim Reinhard Vogel, the city went into a more-than-usually-intense spasm of introspection and finger-pointing, which I suppose could be called “extrospection.”
The urgent need to release the bottleneck at the Rialto Bridge is agreed upon by everyone.
The urgent need for everyone other than whoever is speaking to change is also universally agreed-upon.
So far, the mayor is re-examining the many and varied boat-parking permissions granted over time, the boats concerned having hardened up the narrowest part of the Grand Canal like plaque on arteries. And we all know what plaque does, and how very good it is for you and your general well-being, otherwise known as survival. It’s the same with the narrowing of the already narrow space at the bridge.
I admit that I have not been tracking every little blip on this issue. I know that the Vaporetto dell’Arte is slated for removal (in November — no rush). And the garbage-collection company, Veritas, has submitted a radical plan for removing its barges from the area. I don’t know many there were; perhaps it means they’ve removed three. In any case, the right spirit is at work.
Except it’s not working hard enough. I hope it will not be thought churlish of me to note that a few days ago, a vaporetto backing up (same spot as the tragic accident) ran into a taxi which was standing still, at the same spot where the fatal gondola had also paused, for the same reason: To wait for the traffic to abate in order to avoid an accident. There were no injuries except to the taxi.
A recent article in the Gazzettino reported this (translated by me):
“The latest confirmation of how, a month after the tragedy, nothing has changed comes from a video made by Manuel Vecchina and put on YouTube and the site of the Gazzettino.
A good 3,062 photographs, shot Monday, Sept. 2 near the Rialto Bridge between 8:47 and 18:44, and then put into a film of 4 minutes and 24 seconds, synthesize these ten hours of hellish traffic, with 1,615 boats in various movements, among which are 700 taxis, 219 vaporettos, 216 transport barges, 209 gondolas, 168 private boats, 39 airport launches, 18 “Vaporetto dell’Arte,” 13 ambulances, 17 police boats, and 2 of the firemen.”
I think we can agree that 2 fire-department boats and 13 ambulances can get a pass.
Otherwise, full steam ahead.