Archive for Venetian Curiosities

1x1.trans Situation Normal, you know what that means (Part 1)

This is a glimpse of what passes for normal here, as banal and predictable as anything. Yet even here, folly is germinating, flowering, and being harvested every day.

In the simplest terms, Situation Normal translates as “deranged.” Sometimes in big ways, sometimes in small, but normalcy here will never resemble normalcy in Normal, Illinois.

I suppose the town we’re most closely related to would be Eek, Alaska.

Starting with the disappearing snail who traversed Lino’s wool sweater, which was spread to dry yesterday on the portable scaffolding which serves as clothesline.  I washed the sweater, I put it outside, I brought it inside when the rain started, I left it on the scaffolding in the living room/library/office/parlor/game room/music room/mud room/orangery all night.  I took it outside this morning, and saw the gleaming little strands of the snail’s wake festooning the navy-blue surface.

What impelled it to work its way up the metal tube of the frame?  (I can imagine what impelled it to work its way down: There was absolutely nothing to do on the laundry after the fun of streaking slime across the clothes had worn off).  And where was the scaffolding when the creature began its epic adventure?  Which means: Did he come in from the rain along with the underwear and dishtowels?  If not, where did he join my textiles?  And where did he go when he left?  Or is he still here?

What drew him to the dripping garment?  (Well, maybe it wasn’t still dripping at that point.) Do I now have to add “snail repellent” to the fatal products aimed at mosquitoes, ants and flies?

I pondered all those things as I washed the sweater again, put it out on a higher level than before, and left it to go through the dripping stage yet again.  I’m not so annoyed about the snail himself, but he made me lose 18 hours of precious drying time. This is unpardonable.

Speaking of drying, we are living a period of extreme and widespread humidity.  We’ve had fog, rain, and mist, plus indeterminate watery vectors for weeks and weeks.  Even when the sun is shining, the air is humid.  We have to do hand-to-hand combat with the front door to open and close it, the wood is so swollen with damp. But I refuse to turn on the heat until driven to do so; the gas company sucks out what little blood and lymph are left in our bank account with a voracity even a vampire can’t match.  Vampires are thirsty only at night, while the gas company is slurping away night and day, even when all the gas is turned off.

I’m finished with that now.

1x1.trans Situation Normal, you know what that means (Part 1)

This curious creature looks just as home here as all the rest of the other odd bipeds. I like the two dragontails, and the oak leaves are a nice touch, but I’m concerned about his feet. Somebody couldn’t decide if he should have claws or the dactyls of a hippopotamus.

Let’s talk about other craziness.  Today’s newspaper contains an article about the discovery of a barber in the town of Rovigo who has been working for 23 years without a license, and without paying any taxes.  No license?  No problem!  No taxes?  Big, multifarious, expensive problems!  But it’s just another example of Zwingle’s Eighth Law, which states “Everything is fine until it’s not.”  He had a fantastic run, after all.  Five days a week times 52 weeks (I’m not giving him a vacation) times 23 years comes to 5,980 tax-free days.  He must have been known as the Smiling Barber.

But that’s also a lot of days for no Finance Police-person, or local police-person, or firefighter or exterminator or anyone in any kind of uniform to EVER have asked, even once, to see his books or his diploma.  That’s more disturbing than the thought of an unlicensed person wielding razor and shears, even though we know that there are plenty of licensed people who aren’t very handy with sharp objects either.

Unlicensed practitioners, even tax-paying ones, keep turning up.  Every so often there’s a story about a gynecologist or dentist or surgeon (not made up) who is discovered to have been working peacefully and lucratively for years thanks to innate genius, sheer luck, or whatever he could pick up via some YouTube video clips.

So far, these stories have concerned only men.  I’m not being sexist, I’m just reporting. Women are usually too busy being beaten, abused, and killed by their so-called loved ones to have any time left over to cheat on their taxes.

Speaking of love, a man in Cavarzere, a small town just over there, had been ignoring the restraining order imposed on him for his persistent persecution of his wife; she moved out and even changed towns, but he followed her, and the other night he swerved in front of her car and stopped, but she fled into a bar and called the carabinieri.  When they went to his house, they discovered a homemade casket sitting there, all ready for her.

1x1.trans Situation Normal, you know what that means (Part 1)

No point feeling sorry for the little mullet when he’s already cooked. But I do. He’s the ichthyological version of “The Scream.”

Since today’s cadenza is in the key of Crazy, you’re probably wondering why I haven’t mentioned the vaporettos. The moment has arrived.

We know that there aren’t enough of them and that most of the year has passed to the soundtrack of the suffering groans of infinite numbers of people trying to get from here to there on a vehicle that is approximately 1/2,948th of the space needed.

But the right hook-left uppercut which the ACTV dealt to the traveling public in the past four days has finally inspired enraged calls for Ugo Bergamo, the Assessore (City Council-member) for Mobility, to resign and go far away to somewhere in South Asia and cultivate ylang-ylang.  (Made up.)  (The rage isn’t made up, though.)

First it was the long holiday weekend (Nov. 1-4) which gave untold thousands the great idea to come to Venice and spend the day looking at bridges and canals. According to what I could hear just listening to the people shuffling past on the Strada Nuova, many were Italians who probably didn’t have far to travel and were going home that night. But there was a honking great lot of them.

Yet even more people weren’t shuffling; they were trying to take the waterbus. When the terrifyingly overloaded vehicles arrived and tied up at certain stops for the exchange of prisoners, hundreds of exasperated people were still trying to get aboard even when there was no space left even for a hiccup.When they were left on the dock, at least at the Rialto stop, they began pushing and yelling and coming to blows.

Mr. Bergamo acknowledged the drama, but said that nobody, including himself, had ever imagined there would be that many people coming to Venice. If I were a judge, I’d make that defense qualify as contempt of court. You’re living in one of the major tourist cities of the globe, but you can’t imagine that untold thousands of people will come on a holiday weekend? Can he imagine water running downhill?  Can he imagine beans giving him gas?

Second, on Monday it was the students and commuters who took the hit. On November 3, the transport schedule changes. Except that this year, all the distress about there being too much traffic in the Grand Canal (think: August 17) has led to the cutting of some runs.  Good idea, except that cutting to solve one problem has created another.

Because the ACTVmade a major cut in the slice of time with the heaviest traffic.  If you wanted to go to school or work last Monday (unlikely that you wanted to go, I know), you were inevitably traveling between 7:00 and 9:00 AM. But the new schedule for that time period suddenly didn’t offer 11 vaporettos.  There were five.

Mr. Bergamo says that’s going to be fixed. I guess he suddenly imagined that there weren’t enough vaporettos between 7:00 and 9:00.

I don’t understand fixing problems you could have avoided creating.  Zwingle is going to have to formulate a Law that covers that.

1x1.trans Situation Normal, you know what that means (Part 1)

This is what I think normal ought to look like.


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Seeing red

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1x1.trans Seeing red

This isn’t blood, nor is it paint. It is the color reflected from the red awning at the Rialto fish market.

I wanted to title this post “My Name is Red,” even though doing so would have meant stealing it from Nobel Prize-winner Orhan Pamuk.  I was happy to exploit him because his novel of that name is one of the most extraordinary books I’ve ever read.  Anybody who can start a story with “I am nothing but a corpse now, a body at the bottom of a well,” has my vote.

Back to red.  For some reason I notice it early and often. I have no theory as to why; maybe it’s that red has been throwing itself in front of my face.  It is, after all, one of the more assertive colors in the spectrum.

Venice and red have a long and glorious coexistence, and I do not refer to the torrents of hemoglobin spilled in its incessant wars. (Speaking of bloodshed, did you know that arterial blood is bright red, while venous blood is a dark maroon? If anyone wants to know my source, it isn’t Johns Hopkins Hospital — it’s “13 Ways to Make Fake Blood.”)

No, the marriage of Venice and red takes us back to the Great Days, when Venice’s claim to fame was supported, among other things, by a number of exceptional products: glass, of course, and there was teriaca, a three-weird-sisters preparation believed to cure everything you can name, and many that you can’t even imagine.

And then there was the sumptuous color known as “Venetian red,” first documented in 1753, though I assume it had already been in use for a number of centuries.

“The skilled dyers of Venice, in particular, were known for their ability to create gorgeous red dyes,” writes Amy Butler Greenfield in her book, “A Perfect Red.”

“The deepest and most resplendent reds,” she goes on, “collectively known throughout Europe as ‘Venetian scarlet,’ were the envy of all who saw them.  Throughout Europe, dyers tried to imitate these reds without success, perhaps because no one thought to add arsenic, an ingredient used by the Venetians to heighten the brilliancy of their dyes.” Perhaps the arsenic supply was being diverted to other uses.

Like any trade secret upon which fortunes were built, Venetian dyers did everything to conceal their recipe, to the point of inventing macabre tales of specters haunting the dyeworks, to keep the curious at bay.  (I would have thought the stench alone would have been enough of a deterrent.  But what I call “stench” was clearly the ravishing odor of money.)

Although I did find a recipe for Venetian red dye, I’m not going to share it, partly because it’s pretty complicated and not something you should consider trying in your kitchen, and partly because I’m convinced that whatever result you obtain wouldn’t truly match the refulgence of the original.

Then there were the Venetian painters, who also found a way to make red their own.  Even on canvas, “Venetian Red is a pure iron oxide with real wow factor,”  as Matisse Professional Artist Acrylics and Mediums  puts it in its catalogue.

“It gets its name because the natural iron oxide deposits inland from Venice were this color which was midway between the deeper violet iron oxides found near Pozzuoli and the common red oxides found elsewhere,” Matisse continues. “The Venetian painters used this color with flair and particularly as a result of Titian’s usage of it, it became a famous color throughout Italy…This same shade of red oxide is found in the stone age cave paintings in France and when discovered they were clearly as vibrant as the day they were painted 16,000 years earlier…”

I would continue this treatise but feel my mind wandering away into foggy byways of minutiae.  And anyway, maybe you don’t care about red, even though eight seconds of research reveals that it represents just about everything in human existence: fire and blood; energy and primal life forces; desire, sexual passion, pleasure, domination, aggression, and thirst for action;  love, anger, warning or death; confidence, courage, and vitality.

I forgot to add danger, sacrifice, beauty, national socialism, socialism, communism, and in China and many other cultures, happiness.

Also hatred and sin.

If you have any urges left over, you can distribute them among the greys and fawns, or devote them to cornflower, saffron, or Mughal green. I’m taking the high road.

1x1.trans Seeing red

Red walls, red drinks, red pomegranates. This must be the place.

1x1.trans Seeing red

Whoever lives in that apartment realizes what a tremendously dull corner it is, and has decided to combat it with National Wash Red Things Day.

1x1.trans Seeing red

As soon as you start to look around, you begin to see red everywhere. Not to be confused with “seeing red.” That’s what happens when the vaporetto skips a run in the fog.

1x1.trans Seeing red

Wild grape provides shade in summer and color in the fall. Unfortunately, it provides wine never.

1x1.trans Seeing red

It seems that everyone wants to sit, or try to sit, on one of the red marble lions by the basilica of San Marco. I’m not sure how many bears have succeeded so far; this may be a first. Erin go Bragh, or whatever the Swiss say.

1x1.trans Seeing red

The red of the Venetian flag, or gonfalone, is so much more impressive than just plain old red.

1x1.trans Seeing red

The patriarch of Venice, mons. Francesco Moraglia, has an exceptionally lovely smile, and his way with people is surpassed only by his garb.

1x1.trans Seeing red

Gondolier Said Rusciano pounds the final blows onto his forcola before the regata of SS. Giovanni e Paolo. Red is the color of the winner’s pennant, but in this case, it wasn’t the color of the winner’s boat.

1x1.trans Seeing red

I love the rain, it scatters shards of the city all over the streets.

1x1.trans Seeing red

I presume the red boat was staying within the posted speed limit; it would have been hard to have exceeded it.

1x1.trans Seeing red

I wonder if she has any trouble falling asleep at night.

1x1.trans Seeing red

I’m sorry for the crabs, but when boiled they turn out to have a great color.

1x1.trans Seeing red

On April 25, St. Mark’s feast day, men are expected to bestow a “bocolo,” or single long-stemmed red rose, on their beloved.  He seems to be unaware that she is looking so pensive.  Pensive and red roses are not a good combination, at least when she’s not looking at you.

1x1.trans Seeing red

And speaking of flowers, here the seller is in red and the blooms are white.  And the fog is grey, as usual.

1x1.trans Seeing red

What are the odds of getting a red tourist, carpet and broom in the same frame? In the Piazza San Marco, they appear to be excellent.


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The Bermuda Triangle of garbage

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1x1.trans The Bermuda Triangle of garbage

The rain was a nice touch. So was the careful positioning. Only a clod would just put it down on the ground — it takes an artist to see the potential of balancing it on the corner of a step. Did I say artist? Of course! It must be something from the Biennale!

I’ve freely indulged myself in remarking on garbage which is left where it happened to fall.  Or drift.  Or be blown.  Or put.

The computer terminal was just one item.  Bags and bags of rubble and assorted refuse of every sort are others.

The other morning, a TV joined the throng.

Same place as the terminal.

Same stupid time (I saw it Sunday morning — but maybe it came to rest on Saturday night.)  But what difference does it make? It’s out of somebody’s house now, and that’s all that matters.

Did you know there’s a number you can call, and the trash-collectors will come pick up any item measuring up to 3 cubic feet for free?

But I admit that calling a number is much more burdensome than hauling it outside under cover of darkness and leaving it there.  It’s certainly less entertaining.

There must be something about this corner that literally drags people and their garbage to it and compels them to leave it there, even against their will.  Flee from this baneful point!  Mark it on your maps and nautical charts:  45 degrees 25 minutes 57.306 seconds latitude, 12 degrees 21 minutes 23.457 seconds longitude!

Does my Mystic Force theory sound crazy?  So does somebody deciding to do this, and going home feeling fine.

I’m watching for what appliance could be next.  A hydraulic olive-oil press?  An incubator?  A cyclotron?

Heigh-ho, as they don’t say in Venetian.

1x1.trans The Bermuda Triangle of garbage

Later that same day, I passed the same spot, and saw that another occult hand had corrected the unlovely or inappropriate or offensive angle at which the television had been placed. Probably the same person who helpfully folds down the tag on the neckline of strangers’ clothes.

Bonus:  The orphan battery, the Flying Dutchman of batteries, rejected, abandoned, and doomed to sit on the street for all eternity.  (That’s longer than just some eternity.)  Everybody must know it’s there by now, and everybody ignores it, even the garbage collectors, for obvious reasons.

The only recognition it receives is to be shifted from time to time, by the all-powerful occult hand, which belongs to nobody.  It goes farther down the side street, then it’s put out on the main street by the corner, where everybody can see it.  Then it goes back down the side street.

Before long, I’m going to make it my mascot.  Give it a little sweater and hat in my team colors.  And pompoms.  Then I’ll give it a name, but I haven’t decided what yet.  I’m not even sure if it’s a girl or a boy.

1x1.trans The Bermuda Triangle of garbage

Looking down the street — which is clearly inhabited, so it’s not exactly hidden — you can just make out its little black body, pushed into a niche on the left.  I think the empty bottle felt sorry for it and stopped to talk for a while.  They might have been discussing who had a better future — the bottle, which eventually will end up in that massive plastic island floating in the ocean, or the battery, which will see generations be born and die without being able to participate, like Scrooge before his transformation.

1x1.trans The Bermuda Triangle of garbage

It’s not that the battery will live in total isolation. There’s always somebody who, seeing one object thrown away, considers that space thereby to have been sanctioned as a general throw-your-trash-here location. I’ll be watching to see if the garbage collector removes all the detritus but leaves the battery behind.


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1x1.trans Smiling allowed.  Just dont overdo it

I was walking along, head down, pondering, when suddenly I saw this just lying on the ground. I promise you I did not touch it, even with my foot. What I’ll never know is how or by what agent these pieces came together. The “why” seems obvious, though.

It’s so easy to get dragged down by the undertow (or do undertows drag out? another of the endless questions that fill my brain) — dragged on, let’s say, by the daily, hourly, secondly force of aberrant behavior here that you might wonder why I’m still here if it’s all so, well, aberrant.

Answer: It’s not ALL so aberrant.

Life here can also be really entertaining.  I try to stay alert to the brighter side, even if I don’t always write about it.  Things may calm down soon, and more brightness will be able to leave the Witness Protection Program where I’ve kept it while the summer rampaged on.

Here’s some of what I’ve seen lately that made me smile.

1x1.trans Smiling allowed.  Just dont overdo it

We were sitting with a bunch of friends in an osteria when this trio of lovelies wafted in. The visitation was clearly part of her wedding-eve bachelorette celebration (if that’s what it’s called anymore). Hence the wedding veil and flowers. The rabbit ears are original, though — assuming she’s not marrying a rabbit.  I’m a little concerned about her less-than-festive expression, but I don’t know how much wine they’d already given her.  I hope that’s the explanation, anyway.  Before wafting away, they offered each man a special little gift…..

1x1.trans Smiling allowed.  Just dont overdo it

It’s chocolate. It needs no explanation.

1x1.trans Smiling allowed.  Just dont overdo it

This is the lion that triumphantly tops the entrance to the Arsenal, placed (with Santa Giustina above) in commemoration of the victory of the Battle of Lepanto. I’ve photographed him many times, but the other morning he was looking exceptionally crisp. Perhaps he’d been starched and ironed.

1x1.trans Smiling allowed.  Just dont overdo it

Here we are at the gondoliers’ station at the Molo, which is almost always a scene resembling Grand Central Terminal at rush hour. Seeing this trusty gondolier ready for work, all by himself, on an early, diabolically hot July morning, was astonishing, and even a little distressing. Of course he had his little postage-stamp of shade, but it’s really unusual to see a gondolier all by himself.  I had the strange feeling he had been put there for a big Time Out.

1x1.trans Smiling allowed.  Just dont overdo it

I love reflections, but I never thought a rained-on gondola would take it upon its highly varnished self to continue the reflection of the palace already underway in the canal. You get my reflection too, no extra charge.

1x1.trans Smiling allowed.  Just dont overdo it

Speaking of gondolas and their intractable urge to reflect anything that comes in at the correct angle, I discovered a wavy slice of the church of San Lazzaro dei Mendicanti only after I congratulated myself on taking a picture of the oars.

1x1.trans Smiling allowed.  Just dont overdo it

Watching people has been more than usually entertaining this summer. I’d like to have known if this pair had consulted on the green-white configuration, or if they are so conjoined mentally that they don’t have to confer.

1x1.trans Smiling allowed.  Just dont overdo it

Same thing here — or maybe there was a memo that morning that went around the neighborhood. Which I didn’t get, by the way.

1x1.trans Smiling allowed.  Just dont overdo it

As I looked at this young woman, I had to admit that despite the divergence in our taste, she had actually spent much more time planning and perfecting her appearance that morning than I had. I have to admire that. So please note her left shoulder-strap, which is red.  Sorry I didn’t make more effort to show the entire ensemble but I preferred to stay where I was.

1x1.trans Smiling allowed.  Just dont overdo it

She isn’t a door-knocker, that’s for sure. I’m not certain what she’s doing on this ironwork arabesque. With wings that small, she probably has to stop every few minutes to rest, like those animals who have to eat every five seconds or they die.


1x1.trans Smiling allowed.  Just dont overdo it
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