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I’m not in Venice. I haven’t been in Venice. I will not be in Venice. I’m on sabbatical.
Which will last a month — my own definition of “sabbatical.” And I’m not acquiring new skills or training, either, which is usually expected in these cases.
I don’t have so much as a photograph of the most beautiful city in the world to throw onto these hallowed pages.
I’m not even in Italy.
That’s all I’m going to say at the moment, except to say that I have, in fact, the full intention of writing something while I’m here and even brought my homework.
But no photos, as mentioned.
I have written this tiny post because some of my sainted readers have contacted me to say they had noticed, and not with approval, my silence. So my conscience smote me.
Passo e chiudo, as we say in the old Belpaese: Over and out.
The interval of silence that has passed between my last post and this was not caused by my retreat to a Carthusian convent, though the thought has often appealed to me.
No, we skipped out to Orleans — the old, not the new — for the Festival de Loire, a five-day traditional-boat festival on the cobblystoned banks of the river.
Every two years, the City of Orleans puts on this fiesta, with stands and food and games for the children and demonstrations of crafts and lots of stuff for sale (like cases of the local wine, to pick an example at random). It is a massive undertaking, and what with logistics and cost I can see why they need a year to recover.
Here is what I can tell you about Orleans, from what I remember:
It’s the first city that Joan of Arc liberated from the English stranglehold, after a hideous siege, in 14something; it was the capital of France for a long time, before (fill in King Name here) decided he liked Paris better; the historic center is beautiful and extremely clean; the cathedral is really high, and I can say that because I stopped counting the stone steps on the way to the pinnacle after about 852; the local dish is andouillette (an-doo-ee-YET), an alarming sausage-like creation composed of the internal organs of either pig or calf.
If I’d ever gotten downwind of chitlings I might have been prepared for this, and I have to admit I’ve never tried haggis, which conceivably could be even more alarming. But as for andouillette, the odor alone is enough, as it approaches your face, for you to think again about biting into it. (Actually, you don’t have to think about it at all. The mouth shuts without any prompting.) It’s something like the aroma of a slaughterhouse in summer which has never been inspected or cleaned. Apologies to people who love andouillette or haggis.
I did in fact read up briefly on this extraordinary invention, just to see if I was being needlessly finicky. After all, I love tripe, and I have consumed brains and kidneys and pig’s feet, so how bad could this be? “It has a strong distinctive odor related to its intestinal origins and components” — my source tactfully puts it — “and is stronger in scent when the colon is used.” I rest my case.
On other hand, I discovered real smoked herring (not the salty little pieces of herring-jerky known as kippered herrings in England), which is now my new favorite thing and which I don’t imagine ever eating again, short of a trip to the Netherlands or some Viking country. Lino says it used to be very common in Venice; small gobbets went very well with polenta.
We went to Orleans to represent Venice, the guest of honor for the 2013 edition of this mega-fest, bringing four Venetian boats and 20+ Venetian rowers from the Settemari club and Arzana‘, a smaller organization dedicated to the conservation of old boats. We are members of the latter, though there are several people who belong to both.
Our duties consisted of rowing the boats up and down the stretch of river fronting the one-kilometer (half-mile) stretch of festival stands and hordes. We did this for a while in the morning, and another while in the afternoon. We were there to look beautiful and fascinating, and so that’s what we did. Between eating and drinking, that is. And climbing the cathedral.
Now we’re all back to the most beautiful city in the world, where our absence wasn’t noticed, and neither is our presence, usually. Still, if I had to choose between Venice and Orleans, my choice is clear. It’s true that Orleans has a phenomenally efficient and clean tram system. But we have the vaporettos, which are administered by highly-paid people who obey the instructions transmitted by alien beings through the fillings in their teeth.
So I’m sticking with Venice. What’s mere efficiency compared to that?
Here are two clips Voce036 Voce035recorded on my cell phone; remember we were all floating down the river, so this is not studio quality. It was sort of superlative-moment-in-ordinary-life quality.
As all the world knows, Venice used to be one of the most important cities in Europe for printing — books, music, heretical works banned by the Catholic church. Even in the last century there were still 20 printing presses in Venice.
If one were to want to know more, it’s pretty much enough just to read the story of Aldus Manutius (Aldo Manuzio, in Italian), who singlehandedly midwifed the Renaissance by printing (and translating) many of the Greek classics which survived antiquity, few as they are. Do I exaggerate? It’s thanks to him we non-Greek-speaking people can read Aristotle, Thucydides, Sophocles, Herodotus, Xenophon, Euripides, Demosthenes….
He also invented the pocket-sized book, and italic letters. You see how many things we take for granted?
But this is not a post about Aldus. It’s about Antonio Gardano and Johannes Buglhat and their big battle of the woodcuts.
They were part of the brigades of other excellent printers hard at work in the 15th and 16th centuries, and these printers were not all drinking buddies. Being merchants, they had to keep a sharp eye on their competitors. Sometimes very sharp eyes.
A friend has sent me an article by David Plylar, from the Library of Congress blog, which deals with the woodcut slanging between the aforementioned publishers.
Rather than reprint it here, the author has suggested that I only give the link. I myself think it’s pretty funny. But you decide.
I came across this this morning.
I’ll never know what happened, but my first reaction was to feel sad for whoever dismembered the rose and scattered its bits to the wind, to the gravel, to the pigeons. To feel sad for the reason why it happened. To feel sad for how they’re feeling now. To feel sad for the rose, too, while I’m at it.
But because I really, really hate feeling sad, especially that early in the morning, when the sun is shining, etc., I let my brain wander around seeking other possible scenarios to account for what had happened that might make me feel better.
Maybe this is an original way for two people to pledge undying, eternal, infinite love. Buy a rose and decapitate it.
Maybe she said, “If I have to choose between having a rose and having you, this is how much I need the rose,” and destroyed it and flung it away. Avaunt!
Or maybe he pulled off the petals one by one and let each float down on her head, saying “I love you” in a different language as each one touched her hair.
Or maybe she hit him with the rose till it fell apart. Maybe they laughed. Maybe they didn’t.
Maybe he said, “If you ever die, I will rip away every remnant of your beauty and sacrifice it to the sun.” (He’d have to have been moderately drunk if he got that far.) (However, I am not.)
I’ll tell you what: I’m going to stop all this, and I’m going to stop imagining writing a poem, or a short story, or a one-act play, or anything else.
I’ll leave the subject — and the carcass of the hapless scion of the family Rosaceae — with two thoughts, either one of which makes me feel strangely better.
One — maybe it’s just some work of art from the Biennale, a fragment of improvised performance art.
Two — this observation from an unidentified person:
People say hate is a strong word; well so is love, but people throw it around like it’s nothing.