Archive for Problems

The stage is ready, all we need are the people.

The stage is ready, all we need are the people.

Voila' -- people.

Voila’ — people.  Jammed into the refreshment corner, but they did listen to the speeches first.

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 new group is a fusion of two Facebook groups dedicated to the above-named elements of Venice's corporeal being.  Joining forces seems like a great thing.  Next, I think they should make enough shirts so anybody who joins (me, for example) could get one.  Or at least have the chance to buy one.  So far, these are only for the staff.  So fine: Make me staff!

The new group is a fusion of two Facebook groups dedicated to the above-named elements of Venice’s corporeal being. Joining forces seems like a great thing. Next, I think they should make enough shirts so anybody who joins (me, for example) could get one. Or at least have the chance to buy one. So far, these are only for the staff. So fine: Make me staff!

IMG_8319  nizio

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.

And there are a good number of nizioleti whose primary problem isn't spelling -- it's having letters at all.  There's so much work to do

And there are a good number of nizioleti whose primary problem isn’t spelling — it’s having letters at all.  Gad.


Categories : Problems, Venetian-ness
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That pesky Grand Canal traffic

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I took this picture on Wednesday morning, October 2, at about 10:00 AM, on the "Rialto Mercato" vaporetto dock.  The Rialto bridge is slightly behind me.  I don't suppose all these boats disappeared before reaching it.  Therefore.... there are still more than enough boats on a normal day to sink anybody's Master Plan.

I took this picture on Wednesday morning, October 2, at about 10:00 AM, standing on the “Rialto Mercato” vaporetto dock. The Rialto Bridge, at which point the canal narrows, is slightly behind me. I don’t suppose all these boats disappeared before reaching it. Therefore there are still more than enough boats on a normal day to sink anybody’s Master Plan.

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.


Categories : Problems
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Same old same old

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I don’t know why they call it news — here, at least, certain things happen over and over to the point where they ought to be called olds.

Some random examples of olds would be the periodic blitz of the Guardia di Finanza against the illegal clam fishermen; the periodic blitz of the Carabinieri (or vigili, or Guardia di Finanza) against the illegal handbag sellers, with concomitant confiscation of their unfathomable supply of counterfeit goods; the periodic blitz (hm, we haven’t had one of those for a while) of the aforementioned forces of public order against the perpetrators of motondoso; and the ceaseless moaning of the city, like a raccoon caught in a foothold trap, that “no ghe xe schei,”

Two headlines this week are worth reporting, if only because we haven’t seen them for a while — though that does not mitigate the “here we go again” factor.

Note that the gates are not going to be in the Bacino of San Marco. But it’s a cheerful little vision of how beautifully the system is supposed to work.

Opere infinite Il Mose slitta di due anni” (Infinite works MOSE slips by two years).

MOSE:  Sometimes friends and/or visitors inquire as to the progress of the floodgate project which is going to save Venice from acqua alta, so the builders claim.  Despite incessant statements by interested parties giving the impression that high water is virtually a daily scourge, I should mention that I didn’t put on my boots even once last season (by which I mean acqua-alta-season, running from September to April).  Not once. Yes, there was some water in the Piazza San Marco a few times.  As usual, it went away after a few hours.

This headline carries no surprises but only some new information. First of all,  construction projects everywhere are born behind schedule. So we are not amazed to read that the project isn’t going to be finished in 2014, as claimed a few years ago when 2014 was also a shifted-forward date.  They say it’s going to be finished on December 31, 2016.

Bear in mind that the construction of the Calatrava Bridge took six years to complete (original projection: one and a half years), and it’s a simple span a mere 80 meters (262 feet) long.  So looking at MOSE, if the term “Great Pyramid of Khufu” comes to mind, it’s understandable. (For the record, the pyramid was built in 20 years.  MOSE was begun in 2003, but considering how far construction projects tend to expand into the future and into the budget, we may be seeing a rival for the record in the making.)

The basic reason for the change in date is that the money is running out.  You may have noticed that money is not as plentiful as it once was — say, back in 2003, or even in 2006, when the government, under Prime Minister Romano Prodi, voted colossal quantities of cash for this undertaking.  In my view, this was an investment, not in the future of Venice, but in the future of the investors themselves, seeing that it will require spending money for maintenance for the rest of eternity.

It’s the first time I’ve noticed the geometrical similarity between the two mega-projects, though I suppose engineering feats involving 45-degree angles aren’t all that rare. I wonder if anyone will be around in 4,500 years to notice if the floodgates have lasted as long as the pyramid. Or if anybody will care.

The Berlusconi government was less enthusiastic, but the funding continued.  But now it’s different. The current government, headed by economist Mario Monti, is attempting to keep the entire country from going to the bottom with all hands aboard, so you can understand why paying for MOSE might not be seen as an urgent national priority. Especially since the current estimate on how much it will cost to finish this little adventure is 1,200 million euros ($1,451,890,000). There might be other things that cost more, but those other things might be more important to more people. Anyway, this number will also change.

Vu’ cumpra’ in fuga dai vigili travolgono due turiste (“Illegal handbag-sellers fleeing the police knock over two women tourists,” reported Monday, July 23);  Blitz antiabusivi, agente travolto (“Blitz against the illegal handbag sellers, an agent knocked down,” reported Tuesday, July 24).  

Nothing new here except the quantity of victims.

Translation: “”Vu’ cumpra'” is the African-accent rendition of “Vuoi comprare?” or “Do you want to buy?” It has become the generic nickname for the entire category. “Abusivi” is a general term which could be applied to anyone doing something without a license which requires a license.  (Hence drug dealers or prostitutes, for example, wouldn’t be called “abusivi.”)

In Venetian terms, an abusivo could be a clam fishermen who digs mollusks out of season, in forbidden areas, in excessive quantities.  It can also describe the new self-appointed porters, mostly Eastern European men, who semi-threaten tourists in order to carry their luggage over the Calatrava Bridge for money.

But it most often is used to describe the street-sellers of counterfeit handbags and other objects such as sunglasses and tiny camera tripods.  There are so many of them in critical tourist areas (Riva degli Schiavoni, Calle Larga XX Marzo, Strada Nuova) that the undermanned police forces make only sporadic efforts to punish them.  They arrest whomever they can catch, they take their goods, they might even take them to court, briefly. Next day — sorry, next hour — everything has returned to exactly the way it was.

A typical scene. I would have taken some pictures myself, but I’m afraid of them too. (Published on, perhaps taken by the author, Giovanna D’Arbitrio.)

The only reason the abusivi might deserve a place in the Gazzettino would be either the assault by the police, or an unusually large amount of merchandise taken away, or physical harm to whatever unfortunate human was in their way as they were fleeing at top speed down narrow streets and around corners. In this case, two of the above.

Running into people, I note, is a good thing for the fleeing abusivi because it means that at least some of the pursuing officers have to stop to look after the injured person.

On Monday, July 23, a surprise “attack” on the sellers in the Calle Larga XX Marzo was made around 7:00 PM, when the shops begin to close and the street begins to be lined with bag-sellers.  This action was a result of a petition signed by the merchants who say that potential customers are afraid to pass the vu’ cumpra’ to enter their stores.  These petitions are also perennial.

The agents blocked all the exits, so to speak, and swooped down.  They carried away some 400 items, mostly bags, a trifling amount, as well as 15 sellers, half of whom were clandestine (i.e., here without permission) and some of whom already had long, dense rap sheets on file.  But some of the sellers fought back, particularly the one who violently pushed one agent who fell to the pavement.

Around 11:00 PM last Saturday night, on the bridge by the Danieli Hotel, a similar scene involved a woman bowled over by a man running away loaded with his bulky bag of stuff. No major harm done to her; it appears that the man got away.

Sunday afternoon around 3:00 PM in Campo San Zulian, the same scenario: Running man ricochets off woman.  No major harm here either, but it’s not much more attractive to watch than it is to experience.

You may ask why this situation persists.  Everyone wants to know the answer to this question.  If I ever find out, I will immediately let you know. The answer might even be published in the oldspaper.



Categories : MOSE, Problems
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Justice will be served

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Pick a street -- any street -- and you'll find plenty of picturesque dilapidation. At least I suppose it's picturesque. If this were a palace, people would love it.

Visitors and even residents who regard the peeling plaster and crumbling brick and other symptoms of age and use as part of Venice’s transcendent charm mostly don’t have to concern themselves with the consequences of the aforesaid peeling and crumbling.

But if you were the plaintiff in a certain court case, you would find little to no charm in the condition of your case.  I mean the physical condition, not your chances of winning it.

Folders eaten by rats, case postponed” reads a headline from a recent Gazzettino.

This did not surprise me, because I have been, more than once, down the hallways and into various offices of the civil court here.  There is scarcely any more space for documents and files in these warrens than there is for the average person in the average dead-end backstreet during Carnival.  And the files, by now, are a thousand times more than many. It’s like something out of Jarndyce and Jarndyce.

Thus many of these slabs of paperwork are left outside the staggering, overloaded file cabinets, and they are simply stacked on the floor in dusty, tattered heaps.  I have seen this with these very eyes.

No worries, though — assuming you don’t need to find a particular file, because it’s not clear they have been stacked according to any particular system.  Other, that is, than the system of numbering houses in Tokyo: In order of age.

Enter the rats.  What they don’t see are mute masses of pain and anger and greed and bureaucratic boredom and the occasional fatal misspelling or lost identification number or whatever.  They see what, I gather, amounts to towering columns of food.  And even a rat knows what to do with food.

“The case?” the article begins.  “It has to be placed on a new schedule because the file has been gnawed by rats and has to be ‘reconstructed.’

“This unusual reason for postponing the audience was pronounced a few weeks ago by the president of one of the penal sections of the Court of Appeals.  But it seems this is not the only such case: For years the judicial offices have been suffering from grave shortages of space and the areas available aren’t always adequate, especially those used for the archiving of the proceedings.” Translation: As stated above, no more space.

The defendent’s lawyer, Giovanni Fabris, wasn’t so amused.  Instead of arming himself with a magnifying glass, flour paste, duct tape, or spray shellac , reassembling the documents and depositing them in the chancellery, he sent a packet to the judge presiding over the court.

It contained a mousetrap.

It also contained a note: ‘Here is my personal contribution to the efficiency of justice.”

The dog ate your homework?  Piffle!

Rats mean cats, or at least they used to, as demonstrated on a capital of the Doge's Palace. I'd like to see the dog du jour attempt this.

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Categories : Problems
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