Archive for Venetian Events
July 29, as all the world knows, is the feast day of Santa Marta. Or in any case, now the world knows.
She is essentially forgotten here; her church has been deconsecrated, swallowed and partially digested by the Maritime Zone, and her celebration — once one of the greatest of the many great festivals here — is gone forever. Only a painting by Canaletto brings us the tiniest (and darkest) glimpse of what was once a very big night in Venice. Her name today is used mainly to refer to the adjacent neighborhood.
The reason I didn’t get this post finished by July 29 is because I got lost reading assorted accounts, some of them first-hand, about this uber-fest. It didn’t take me long to conclude that the fabled feast of the Redentore, which has remained a very big deal, was really nothing so remarkable compared to Santa Marta’s. The Redentore had fireworks, it’s true, but Marta had fresh sole.
Fish was an excuse for a colossal boating party? Why not? The Venetian civil and religious calendar was bursting with events of every type and voltage. A very short list would note the festivals of Santa Maria della Carita’, Palm Sunday, S. Stefano, “Fat Thursday,” May 1, or the Doge’s Visit to the Monastery of the Virgins, S. Isidoro, the taking of Constantinople (1204), the regaining of Candia (1204), S. John the Baptist “Beheaded,” Sunday after Ascension Day, the victory over Padua (1214), the defense of Scutari (1479), the victory of Lepanto (1571), S. Rocco, Corpus Domini, the victory of the Dardanelles (1656), and the conquest of the Morea (1687). These are just a few of the major events; the Venetians also commemorated defeats. There was something going on almost every day.
But there was always room for more, and although Santa Marta couldn’t claim to have sponsored any particular victory, discovery, or other noteworthy occurrence, her feast day conveniently fell in the period when the weather was suffocatingly hot, and the sole were in season. Plus, her church was located on a little lobe of land facing lots of water, and there was a beach. All this says “Put on your red dress, baby, ’cause we goin’ out tonight” to me.
The basic components were: Everybody in Venice, either on land or on the water, regardless of social station or disposable income; every boat in Venice — so many boats you could hardly see the water, festooned with illuminated balloons and carrying improvised little arbors formed by frondy branches; music, song and dance, and lots and lots of fresh sole.
July is the season for sfogi zentili, or Solea vulgaris, and while the Venetians could bring their own vittles, plenty of them also bought the fish which had just been saute’d, either on the beach or on the street by enterprising entrepreneurs. If you were really in luck, there would be moonlight, too.
The best and most famous chronicler of this party was Giustina Renier Michiel, who was born in 1755 and belonged to several patrician Venetian families. She spent 20 years researching her six-volume work, Origine delle Feste Veneziane (1830), but the fact that she had personal memories of many of these events makes her books exceptional.
I started to translate what she wrote about the feast of Santa Marta, but she went on so long, and her style sounded so curious in English, that I became tired and discontented. So I’m going to give some bits and summarize the rest. Anyway, it’s clear that the event was so phenomenal that even people who saw it finally gave up trying to describe it adequately or coherently.
Here is her version of how the festa was born:
“In the old days many groups went out in certain boats to fish for sole, the best fish that one eats in July. (Lino concurs with date and description.)
“And in the evening they would go back to the beach by the church of Santa Marta and feast on the fish, enjoying the cool air that restored their depleted strength after the labor of fishing, as well as the heat of the season.
“Later on, as the population became richer, and softness set in, the work of fishing was left to the poor people, who had to do it in order to live, and what used to be a fatiguing labor changed into a singular entertainment.”
My version: It didn’t take long for everybody else in Venice to say “A cookout on the beach? We’re on our way.” Everybody started making Santa Marta’s Eve a great reason to head for her neighborhood and eat fish, garnished and enlivened by the classic saor sauce of sweet-sour onions. It was like a gigantic clambake, a barbecue, a luau, for thousands and thousands of people.
Obviously the beach was too small for everybody, so the boats made themselves at home on the Giudecca Canal, “whose waters could only be seen in flashes, and almost seemed to be strips of fire, agitated by the oars of so many boats that covered the water and which doubled the effect of the lights which were on the boats.”
The patricians came out on their fabulously ornate peote, and often carrying musicians who sang and played wind instruments. There were scores of the classic fishing boat called a tartana, draped with variously-colored balloons and loaded with laughing families and friends. There were artisans in their battellos, and hundreds of light little gondolas, and plenty of gondolas da fresco, and there were even the burchielle, the heavy cargo boats that carried sand and lumber. If it could float, it joined the vast confusion of boats being rowed languidly in every direction, or tied up along the Zattere where there was just as much happy turmoil ashore.
The Gazzetta Urbana of 1787: “Along this riva, called the Zattere, the cafe’s and bars are crammed to overflowing with people. There are tables set up outside their doors, and everything is so lit up that it seems to be daytime.
“The passage (of people) in all the streets leading to Santa Marta was dense and continuous, and the splendid gathering at the Caffe of San Basegio, at the head of the Zattere, formed a separate spectacle, in which our Adriatic beauties, wearing modern shimmering caps in the Greek style, ornamented with plumes, inflamed with their glances the hearts of the young men who, like butterflies, always flutter around the flare of a woman’s beauty.”
Also amid the throng were little ambulatory kitchens — a man with a basket of sole would put two stones on the ground, then lay two bunches of sticks crosswise on them, light a little charcoal under them, pour some oil in a pan, and stand there bawling for business. He kept a container of saor ready to put on the fish.
Renier Michiel: “The entire length of this district was full of a grand concourse of people, moving toward the piazza of Santa Marta which was the best vantage point to enjoy the spectacle. On the piazza there were more food vendors, some of them selling roast chicken. There is a racket of cups, plates, the yells of the vendors, the music from the boats on the water. Every house is transformed into a sort of tavern where people eat and drink, and there was perfect joy and harmony.”
“Perfect joy and harmony”? How can this be (apart from the fact that she was looking back on it, years later, when the festival was gone forever)?
I think it’s because Santa Marta was secretly taking care of people. She is the patroness of cooks, butlers, laundry-workers, servants, housewives, and waiters. Though I suppose you could just say “housewives” and leave it at that.
Because as Santa Marta, and 99 percent of women on earth, can attest, while some people at a party are laughing and scarfing the canapes and playing with the dog and singing comic songs and reveling in industrial-size helpings of joy and harmony, there’s at least one person somewhere in the background doing everything to make it seem as if there is absolutely nothing that needs to be done.
And I have no doubt that when the boats went home at dawn on July 29, there was somebody who had to put the boat away and swab the bilge and pick up every single fishbone, as well as deal with the dishes and the wine- and saor-stained clothes. Behind every great saint is somebody with a bucket and mop, I say.
April 25, as all the world knows, is a double holiday here. Not only is the day a national holiday (National Liberation Day), but it is the feast day of Marco, one of the four evangelists and the city’s (once republic’s) patron saint.
There are several ways to observe either or both of these memorable events, but this year another element was added: The Living Rose, or The Human Rose, or The Rose by Any Other Name, or however one wants to put it.
Alberto Toso Fei, a Venetian writer, and Elena Tagliapietra, an artist, came up with a new way to celebrate the traditional “bocolo,” or long-stemmed red rose, which is the customary Venetian homage from a gentleman to his ladylove, or wife, or girlfriend (perhaps both?), sister, aunt, or other deserving feminine personage in his life or family. But why give a rose when you can be one?
Some time earlier, the Gazzettino offered its readers the possibility of applying to participate as one of some 1,000 people who would form the design of the bocolo in the Piazza San Marco on April 25. This would be a sort of flash mob/performance art creation, to last only long enough to be photographed and filmed from the campanile of San Marco.
So we applied. And we were accepted, notified via e-mail, and asked to appear between 1:30 and 2:00 dressed in as much red garb as we could muster. We would embody part of Petal #12.
The day was hot and sunny, but there was a breeze, and although normally I wouldn’t have gone near the Piazza San Marco on a national holiday, the chaos was tolerable and the other rose-components all contributed to a surprisingly sprightly atmosphere.
Almost the best part of the entire event, which went off without so much as a drooping leaf, was to glimpse the by-now famous Tiziana Agostini, she of the mangled-nizioleti fame. She came to join in, dressed in red, which I think is somewhere beyond amazing, considering that the event had the additional purpose of raising funds to pay for the repair of the nizioleti in the area of the piazza. A lesser person might have avoided the piazza, saying “Nizioleti? What nizioleti?” But she was there, and I give her a fistful of gold stars.
I read that there were a number of other meanings, purposes, significances, and so on which had been layered onto the event. One headline referred to it as a “cry to the world from Venice,” to show that Venice is still a living city and not just a touristic snakepit. I merely pass that along.
Down at Piazza-level, though, the only thing that seemed to matter was enjoying a few minutes of doing something unusual that made you smile. Not that I’m against Deep Meaning, but for me, the smiling was reason enough to do it. Here’s the YouTube link: http://youtu.be/ZRL4Xh8VDkE
Dimensions: The Gazzettino says that the bloom covered some 850 square meters (9,149 square feet), and the stem and leaves some 150 meters (1,614 square feet). I cannot understand, sitting here, how that might be. It sounds like the size of an average Adirondack Great Camp, the kind that were built by the robber barons of the late 19th-century. But let that go. It didn’t last long enough for its size to really matter.
It was fun. Indubitably there are things that are more important, but God knows there’s a dangerous shortage of frivolity around here, so I’d be happy to leave it at that.
If we saved Venice in the meantime, that’s nice too.
Carnival has become one of my least favorite things about Venice, because each year its negative aspects increasingly outweigh the positive.
I am referring to the Mega-Commercial-Highly-Promoted Carnival whose vortex is the Piazza San Marco. But Carnival in its small, neighborhood version continues to charm me, mainly because it almost exclusively involves children (the smaller, the better) and their doting relatives. Random frolicking. Dressing up for no reason (by which I mean, not the reason of being photographed to, for, by, or with anyone, particularly tourists). Throwing fistfuls of confetti anywhere.
I don’t need to look at the calendar to know that Carnival has, as of today, officially begun. For the past few days the signs have been unmistakable.
Here are a few:
I have no doubt that calendars around the world were marked REGATA STORICA (“historic regatta”) two days ago. It’s been held on the first Sunday in September for the past 500 years or so (since 1489, to be exact). Calendars by now ought to be able to mark themselves.
There were several aspects of this year’s edition which made it notable — even “historic,” if you will, though I suppose everything that happens qualifies as historic in one way or another merely by the fact of its having occurred.
Historic Point 1: Our rowing club had three boats in the races, and each came home with a pennant: first, second, and third place. More on that below.
Historic Point 2, with gold stars applied by me: There were no fights. No hurled epithets, no banshee curses howled at judges or fellow racers, no demerits for breaking any rules. I know. I must have been hallucinating. But it’s still true.
Let me elaborate on these points:
Our club had two pupparinos in the young men’s race; the pair on the orange boat won the race, coming home with the red pennant. The pair on the brown boat finished second, earning a white pennant. We also had the red gondolino, rowed by Roberto Busetto and his brother Renato, who finished third (green pennant). This is not only wonderful, but exceptional, considering that Roberto hasn’t finished in the top four in the Grand Canal for the past eight years.
As for the harmony between the two giga-competitors of the past two eternal decades — Giampaolo d’Este and Ivo Redolfi Tezzat, and the Vignotto cousins (the “Vignottini”) — I don’t know what to attribute it to. But one does recall that after d’Este unburdened himself at the Regata of Murano of every opinion he ever had about the judges, he was penalized by having to sit out the next race. That might have had a slight sobering effect, not that I think that race was so important to him.
Or maybe the lack of conflict is an early sign of the approaching Millennium.
Or maybe they’re just getting tired.
Or maybe it was the unexpected exchange of views at the eliminations a few weeks ago. When the qualified nine teams were brought together to draw the color of their boats, d’Este announced, “I’d like to make a proposal. We eliminate the judges.”
To which one judge replied, “I’d like to make a counter-proposal. We eliminate you (meaning him and his partner), and the Vignottos. Because the only time there are ever any problems, fights, and general grief, it’s when you all are in the race.”
No more proposals were entertained and the meeting was adjourned.
But there had to be some sort of flaw in the ointment, as a friend of mine used to say. Everyone wasn’t humming like happy little tuning forks, as we discovered when the blood blister of rage broke in the mind of Davide Peditto, one of the boys on the brown pupparino. I say “boy,” but he’s 18 years old; not exactly a child.
He was so angry at not winning — horrors! finishing second!! has the world gone mad?? — that he wrapped himself in a cloak of fury so thick and black that no communication could reach him, and very little could come out. This is evidently an aspect of his personality already known to people who are closer to him than I am.
His only release was to take his white pennant and throw it onto the dock at our club and leave it there. “Carta da culo,” he snarled bitterly; toilet paper (literally, ass-paper).
This is not only an insult to Venice, to every racer who has preceded him, to every racer who competed with him (12 of whom would have loved to have had that very pennant, ten of whom would have loved to have had ANY pennant), but a real insult to his long-suffering partner, onto whose pleasure in this accomplishment he had just poured gasoline, so to speak, and then thrown a match.
One would like to help this splenetic young man re-think his ideas about winning and losing — or if not his ideas, at least his behavior. I’d suggest sending him the bits of the newspaper reporting the comments which were made by another racer who came in second on Sunday: Giampaolo d’Este, who had spent virtually the entire race head-t0-head with the Vignottos. When they crossed the finish line 95/100ths of a second ahead of him, he probably wasn’t any happier with the outcome than the young brat at our club — especially because he has enough red pennants by now to entitle him to think he might deserve another one.
But he did not compare his white pennant to anything else. Here’s what he said:
“Well, that’s the way it went. Either we or the Vignottos could have won, and they won. No recriminations — it was a beautiful race and it’s always beautiful to be its protagonists.”
He might have meant it, which would be excellent. But he said it anyway, and that’s about 95/100ths even more excellent. But if it’s too hard, in the glaring heat of the moment, for a youngster to say something that mature, I’d suggest that the next-best option would be silence.
And I don’t mean that thick black silence, either. I mean the silence in which the image, the shape, and the hope for next year’s race would already be forming in his mind, spirit, and gizzard. As far as I can tell, that’s the only way that true athletes, or humans of any stripe, manage to get those bitter pills down and keep going.