Archive for Venetian Events
I am now re-establishing radio contact with the rest of the world. The recent crackling silence was completely predictable, at least to me. May is a great month if you’re a plant, but if you’re me, it’s an Olympic biathlon involving two of the city’s three biggest boating events: the corteo for the Festa de la Sensa, on Ascension Day (May 12 this year), and the Vogalonga (May 19).
Once again, I dedicated two weeks to working in the registration office for the Vogalonga. Sound simple? The first week, yes. The second week, right up to 6:00 PM the day before the event, was a crescendo of desperation — not on my part, but those who came, as one hollow-eyed supplicant put it, “A thousand kilometers over the Alps with our boats,” thinking they could sign up at the last minute and discovering that all the 1,700 bibs, one per boat, had already been booked.
I heard stories about people needing a number for their dying best friend. I didn’t hear any pleas based on expiring grandmothers or promises to small children, but the accumulated emotional tension began to take a toll on me. It wasn’t just the exclamations of doomed desire that were so tiring (“But why?” “But why?” “I have the money right here” “Can’t you find just one number for me?” “But I didn’t know” “I didn’t read the website” “I don’t have internet” “We’ve come all this way” “”Noooooooooooo, it can’t be truuuuuuuue”), it was my irritation at situations which could easily have been prevented if even one of their group had had a functioning medulla oblongata. Or whatever part of the brain governs logic and rationality. If there is such a part.
While everybody who already had their numbers were working themselves into a froth over the unpleasant weather forecast, I and my colleagues were struggling to resolve many silly and time-consuming and avoidable problems. Reservations made but not paid for; payments that didn’t correspond to the booking; adding people to boats; subtracting people from boats (fortunately nobody requested long division); and my all-time favorite, the single reservation for 20 rowers who were assumed by us to all occupy the same boat, but which it turned out were each rowing by themselves, hence requiring 19 more numbers. That was fun. “You need 19 numbers? Sure, I’ll just make them right here for you, like Subway sandwiches. You want pickles?”
Compared to all that, rowing the event is almost always easier, and more enjoyable, and more, well, rational.
You might have heard that it rained; you might have heard that the rain was something epic! That some boats capsized! Frankly, it was all much better than I’d feared. The rain came down in hurled handfuls of big hard round drops, then shifted, like a shower-head, to fine, thin and steady, then heavy and steady, then lots of little drizzly drops, then another downpour, then a pause, then another downpour. After Mazzorbo, the sun came out and we all dried off. As for overturned boats, if you ride a horse, what can happen to you? You fall off. If you’re in a boat, what can happen? You fall in. Lino’s fallen in countless times. I’ve fallen in, in January, no less. Get a grip, people.
There was the by-now traditional logjam in the Canale di Cannaregio, caused by the by-now traditionally inept, vision-impaired, brain-dead coxswains on the long rowing shells who seem not to understand that their boat needs to keep going straight forward and that their job is to see that it gets done. Big long boats slewing around slaunchwise and getting stuck are like big expensive beaver dams forcing all the arriving boats to jam up. It’s not just that they create problems — they don’t know what to do to fix them. As we see in the video by a certain Bas Schols; here’s the link for those who don’t see the clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qRyEnCKno3o .
A close second for the prize for Best Way to Create Problems goes to the people who just stop rowing and sit there in their boat, usually in narrowish spaces or at blind corners. You can hardly ever discover a reason for this. Of course they’re tired; we’re all tired. But when they’re driving in the center lane of the highway back home, do they just stop when they feel like it and sit there? I feel doubtful.
The Sunday before all this, May 12, was the Festa de la Sensa, and we participated in the commemoration of the “Wedding of the Sea.” We row out toward the Lido, following the big fancy ceremonial boat called the “Serenissima,” past the Morosini Naval School where the cadets are lined up along the embankment, as sharp as creases in starched organdy, shouting “Urrah!” when commanded to do so by the bosun’s whistle. That is absolutely the coolest thing about the entire event, though of course tossing the wreath into the water to commemorate the dead sailors is important too. And a ring-like object with ribbons tied onto it also gets blessed and tossed. Another chance to be crushed together in a boat-scrum, but at least here we all know each other and actually know how to move our boats around. That’s it for boats.
The rest of the month is a rapid unraveling of assorted appointments and events. For example, I sat most of the afternoon waiting for the long-expected boiler repairman to come replace the replacement washer from a few weeks ago. He was supposed to come in the morning, but only by calling up did we learn that he’d been moved to the afternoon. Dazzling efficiency! We could be in Sweden! Wait — it’s gets better. He phoned at 3:30 to say he couldn’t come because they hadn’t given him the part he needed to install. They thought they had, police said. (I am adhering to the practice recommended by the old city editor to the cub reporter, my former boss, who told him, “You can write anything you want to, as long as you add ‘comma police said.””)
At 6:00 it was off to the Generali Insurance Company’s boathouse for the presentation of the restored 8-oar gondolone. We needed to swell the ranks, it seemed, so we were there. We try to be good sports on land as well as sea. I was hoping they’d have cookies, but they got in a caterer and had hors d’oeuvres and asparagus risotto. I like being wrong like that.
Tomorrow afternoon Lino will be at Malamocco for hours, as one of the judges overseeing the eliminations for the next official rowing race (Sant’ Erasmo, June 2). That evening, dinner at the Non-Commissioned Naval Officers Club, a cholesterol-laden thank-you from a group of young French students because not only did we pick up the dropped/lost wallet of one of their members (containing 70 euros and also an address) but thanks to Skype and the fact that little Pauline’s father was home when I called, we managed to return it to her the next day. And a big shout-out to Mrs. Rideout and Mrs. Gordon, whose draconian French courses in high school are still paying off, if only in fractured form.
Friday evening, the annual corteo to transport the statue of Our Lady of Succor (“Maria Ausiliatrice”) from the church of San Pietro di Castello to the church of San Giuseppe. This year we’re going to be carrying as many people as we can, hoping to transfer into Venetian boats many of those who usually follow us on foot along the fondamente.
Saturday, a batch of us are off to Burano to collect four of our tornado-devastated boats from the boatyard where they have been repaired. We’re either towing or rowing them back; it doesn’t seem clear yet which one. I’m for rowing, myself, not that anyone consults me. The forecast isn’t too pretty.
Sunday, we’re going with a big group in a bus to Trieste to the annual reunion of the veterans of the Automobile Corps. Lino did his compulsory 18-month military service in Rome with this arm of the armed forces, repairing and maintaining Jeeps, trucks, and assorted ministerial vehicles. He recently joined the nearest chapter of the motorized veterans, and the big outing sounds like it’s going to be fun, except for the promised thunderstorms and drenching rain.
We’ll get to march around the Piazza dell’Unita’ d’Italia for a while, then go off to some countryside establishment to gorge on Friulian specialties (think San Daniele prosciutto and frico, or fried cheese) — possibly the true purpose of the expedition. Then to visit some famous nearby monastery blanketed by rose gardens. We’ll have to get up before 5:00 to get the train to Treviso, the starting point, but I’d walk to Treviso for a shot at a plate of frico.
Next week’s calendar is ominously empty. I say “ominous,” because you know how Nature feels about a vacuum.
…is a good offense. As we know. Not social offensiveness, but what is also called by the disphoneous term “pro-active.”
I just made up that word, because the inventors of language have overlooked creating an opposite to “euphoneous.” They offer “cacophony,” which is completely wrong here.
Why am I even talking about offense/defense?
Because of a little event in Lino’s life which is an excellent illustration of how this works. He’s very good at these gambits.
I don’t remember what we were talking about, but it brought back to his mind a small but perfectly formed encounter years and years ago.
It was a Friday, and on Sunday the annual corteo on the Brenta known as the Riveria Fiorita was coming up. The club’s gondolone, or 8-oar gondola, was on the list to participate and the rowers were all signed up.
But the boat had to be at Tronchetto at 8:00 the next (Saturday) morning, which — considering that the club was on the Lido — would have meant going to the Lido in the middle of the night to have enough time to put the boat in the water and traverse the lagoon. This didn’t seem like the most entertaining thing to do.
So he and his son went to the club on Friday and rowed the gondolone to Venice, to the canal that went by their home. Then they looked for a place to tie up.
They found a spot on an empty stretch of his canal, just under the fence marking off a bit of garden. The space was ample, and it was available to the public. He wasn’t encroaching on any boat-owner’s parking place. He wasn’t encroaching on anything.
But a man came out of a domicile facing the garden, and it was clear that he felt extremely encroached upon.
“You can’t tie the boat there,” he stated.
“Why is that?” Lino asked.
“Because”(some vague reason here — maybe narrowing the space for other boats, or something. Anyway, he didn’t want the boat there.)
“If you leave this boat here,” he finished in high dudgeon, “I’m going to come and sink it.”
“Be my guest,” was Lino’s immediate reply. ”Because if anything happens to this boat between now and tomorrow morning, I’ll know exactly who did it, and then we can go to the Carabinieri together.”
Silence. Not the silence of a quibble that was squashed, but the profound silence of deep space. The man went back inside and was never seen or heard from again.
But Lino was now more than tranquil. Because, as he explained it, “He probably came out to check on the boat every 30 minutes all night long.
“I got my own night watchman, for free.”
I haven’t communicated in a bit because I was waiting for Carnival to end (midnight last night, as everyone knows) so I could sort through the rubble and look for something to report.
Judging by the mass of photographs clogging my computer, I evidently found plenty to chronicle, but mainly within the confines of our little lobe of Venice. We didn’t go the Piazza San Marco even once; the revelers aboard the vaporettos were enough for me.
Every year, the organizers of this event form it around a particular theme, something they hope will be irresistible. This year’s title was “Live in Color,” but I can tell you that it ought to have been called “Drenched in Color,” or “Freezing in Color.” Or “Sloshing in Color.” The colors mainly being the blue of your bloodless fingers and the gray of your bloodless lips.
This year’s carnival was all about weather. In the space of the festivities (Jan. 26-Feb. 12), we got rain, wind, snow, and acqua alta. Sometimes together, sometimes separately. Several keystone events had to be reshuffled (one good reason to extend Carnival — this year, it was 18 days) not only because there wouldn’t have been any spectators, but because in some cases it would have been dangerous for the performers.
It didn’t matter to me because I hadn’t spent thousands of dollars making or renting a fabulous costume whose purpose in life was for me to wear it where people could see it and admire it and envy me. There are many people — primarily French — who spend months planning and preparing their appearance (not to the extent of the samba schools of Rio, but still). I hope they’ve taken home some beautiful memory.
The open salvo didn’t exactly make you want to dance: A headline at the start of Carnival announced that the President of the Province of Venice (bigger than the municipal area) had declared that she was banning confetti/coriandoli that would naturally be strewn festively by and among partyers in the main piazza of a town called San Dona’ di Piave. Why? Because “It makes a mess.” That’s the point! If there were any time in the year when it would be laudable to focus on civic hygiene, I’d say that Carnival isn’t it. But maybe this is her way of saying “We only have ten garbage collectors this month, please don’t give them more work to do.” Or, based on my experience in this neighborhood, don’t give them any work to do.
Here is a look at Carnival in ErlaWorld:
I have nothing positive to say about Carnival, except that it lasts a relatively short time. “Relative” is relative, though, because this year will hold the longest Carnival ever: January 26-February 12, or eighteen days, or almost three weeks. Zounds.
Of course, compared to the Old Days, it is short. Back then, Carnival could last six months. So? Lino says that if the city could make it last from January to January, they’d do it.
Actually, there is one thing which I love about it, and that thing is kids. The neighborhood tykes with their painted-on whiskers and frilly tulle princess costumes and especially their fistfuls of confetti (here called coriandoli).
Erudition alert: Why do we call them confetti and the Italians say coriandoli? Here, confetti refers to the almonds covered with a carapace of sugar, given to guests on festive occasions and colored accordingly (weddings, anniversaries, baptisms, First Communions, etc.).
In the most ancient celebratory days, it was coriander seeds which were used in sweets called confetti, presumably because they had been confected. Documents attest that at weddings or Carnival during the Renaissance, sweets (confetti) containing coriander seeds were often tossed festively at fellow revelers.
In 1875, Enrico Mangili, an enterprising engineer from Crescenzago, near Milan, decided to sell, as a substitute for real coriander-containing sweets, the tiny disks of paper left over from the perforated paper used by the silk industry. Voila’! Symbolic coriander/confetti which were cheap and, as we might say now, rigorously recycled. I can imagine with what enthusiasm the city’s pastry-makers greeted this innovation. If they were inclined to throw anything, it probably wasn’t sugared.
In any case, as you see, the two terms underwent mitosis.
So far, I haven’t seen costumes or makeup, but the Carnival spirit has already begun to simmer along via Garibaldi. Fritole and galani are already on sale, and I’ve heard the distant cries of tiny swarming humans. And they’ve left their gladsome spoor along calli and campi. There is no day so dull that it could not be brightened by these bits of colored paper.
I’ve decided that these snippets are the mystic spores from which Carnival germinates and eventually fruits, producing great harvests of masks and fritole and galani.
To which I say, throw more.