Wait, it gets better (video clips below). But the scene was beautiful even when we weren’t moving.
Sunday evening at 7:25 PM the Piazza San Marco suddenly came alight in the most extraordinary way. It pulsated, briefly and gloriously, with hundreds (900, if all the people who signed up actually came) of flashlights which, taken together, formed the shape of a heart.
Yes, “Venezia Rivelata” has struck again.
We all remember what fun it was to make a “bocolo” on the feast of San Marco, 2014, and this time the organizers/artists/fantasizers had designed something bigger, more complicated, and also much more spectacular.
The event was the 12th and last in a series created by Alberto Toso Fei and performance artist Elena Tagliapietra. Not every program was so vivid; some were lectures and — to be frank — weren’t all equally publicized, as far as I could tell. Not that I’d have attended them all. I just want to point out that there was in fact a major scheme to all this, the scheme being to focus each time on a particular aspect of Venetian history. And why do this? To bring Venetians to a sense of reclaiming their city, in an emotional if not actual way. (It’s all explained on the press release below.)
Here is the design with the numbered sections. Very useful, like a list of the assigned places at a wedding reception.
The theme on Sunday night was “Venice and Justice,” which is a topic well worth bringing forward, and not because the two terms seem to have become, if we read the newspapers, virtual antonyms. Wait, that isn’t fair. There is justice — in Italy at large, no need to concentrate on Venice alone — but it moves at the pace of a dying diplodocus struggling in a tar pit, and the results are often what might be called debatable. Slow, in any case.
But in the great trajectory of history, Venice often showed herself to be a dazzling innovator — technical, commercial, conceptual, legal — passing laws most of which probably wouldn’t have seemed like a good idea to anyone but the Venetians. To take an example at random, Venice was the first nation in the world to abolish the slave trade (960 AD). Venice invented the copyright, to protect intellectual property (their merchant instincts didn’t stop at the merely tangible). Venice passed laws to protect the rights of women, and of children. Not made up.
Speaking of laws, how about this idea: “The law is equal for everyone,” which is inscribed in big letters on the wall behind every judge’s bench in the land. It can’t be confirmed where this dictum came from, but the Venetians followed it in spirit if not in phrase. For many centuries they were arguably the only people in Europe (and the world?) who didn’t subscribe to the idea that the bigger and richer you were, the more the law was supposed to work for you. If you bothered with the law at all.
The fact that Venice regarded the law as sovereign was never so bitterly and clearly shown than in the agonizing story of Jacopo Foscari, the only surviving son of doge Francesco Foscari (doge from 1423 to 1457). Jacopo was found to be accepting money from a foreign power; he was tried and exiled. More skulduggery, more trials, more exile — three times, each sentence confirmed by his father. I submit that the average criminal whose father was the head of state (or, if you like, the average head of state with an incorrigible child) would have used whatever power was necessary to get the laddie off the hook. Here, no. The laddie died in exile.
The weather was superb; I think the sign-in people might even have been sweating, while keeping an eye on the boxes of umbrellas. Things like those can easily grow legs. Each participant was given one, because at a certain moment we were all to be ordered to open the umbrella and shine our flashlight upward under it. And we all had to be dressed in as much white as we could muster, including a hat, if possible. I wore Lino’s “dixie cup” sailor’s cap.
Toso Fei reports that the following inscription (translated by me) was carved, in Latin, over the entry door of the avogaria of the Doge’s Palace; the avogaria was an ancient magistracy composed of three men who upheld the principle of legality, that is, the correct application of the laws. That such a body even existed was extraordinary — perhaps, in the 12th century, even revolutionary.
PRIMA DI OGNI COSA INDAGATE SEMPRE SCRUPOLOSAMENTE, PER STABILIRE LA VERITÀ CON GIUSTIZIA E CHIAREZZA. NON CONDANNATE NESSUNO, SE NON DOPO UN GIUDIZIO SINCERO E GIUSTO. NON GIUDICATE NESSUNO IN BASE A SOSPETTI, MA RICERCATE LE PROVE E, ALLA FINE, PRONUNCIATE UNA SENTENZA PIETOSA. NON FATE AGLI ALTRI QUEL CHE NON VORRESTE FOSSE FATTO A VOI.
BEFORE ANY OTHER THING, ALWAYS INVESTIGATE SCRUPULOUSLY TO ESTABLISH THE TRUTH WITH JUSTICE AND CLARITY. DO NOT CONDEMN ANYONE IF NOT ACCORDING TO A SINCERE AND JUST JUDGMENT. DO NOT JUDGE ANYONE ON THE BASIS OF SUSPICIONS, BUT SEEK THE EVIDENCE AND, AT THE END, PRONOUNCE A COMPASSIONATE SENTENCE. DO NOT DO TO OTHERS WHAT YOU WOULD NOT HAVE DONE TO YOU.
I think they stole that last idea from somewhere.
So: Beating heart. What better to represent everything good — not only laws fairly and scrupulously applied — but life, period? That was our assignment.
Hats off to everybody involved, right down to the policemen who kept the spectators at bay. And thanks for the umbrella, too.
Facepainters were decorating whoever was willing. All dressed in white, we looked like a regiment of ice-cream vendors.
Being painted seemed to be something the women were more drawn to, though there might have been a man somewhere who got himself hearted.
Untold miles of masking tape had been applied to the Piazza to lay out the positions of the participants, at a width of roughly two people. I was in section 7.
Dry run on holding up our flashlights, all facing toward the campanile of San Marco.
And a few dry runs on opening the umbrellas, and shining our flashlights under them. We on the outside were told to hold the umbrella in the left hand and the flashlight in the right — I still don’t understand the point of that. The people on the squiggly center lines clearly had other instructions. Or none.
Dancers were milling around in small bands, all dressed in white except for two stars who just stood around for a while crunching their feet.
Another wandering star. I understand that her leotard, etc. may require concealment till show time, but she did look like someone going from one treatment to another at the spa.
For about 45 minutes before the heart lit up, we were favored by a series of dance performances by five different groups. I didn’t shoot most of them because they didn’t inspire me (yes, I need inspiration), but I began to realize that it was a very intelligent way to program the event for the participants. We had been asked to show up an hour and a half before H-hour, and that time can really drag no matter how willing you are to shine your flashlight around. This dancer did a lovely routine with a huge fan.
Her fan and bodytard (or whatever it’s called) were color-coordinated: dark on one side, light on the other, like a brill or a sole.
These are brill (“rombo” in the fish market). As you see, one side light and one dark. The dark side is up as they swim, the notion being that the a predator looking down from above will have difficulty seeing it because the dark fish will blend with the darkness below it. Similarly, a predator from below looking up would have trouble distinguishing the fish because the light side would be seen against the light filtering down from the surface. I don’t know anything about the purposes of the girl’s camouflage, though.
Same for sole. When you’ve got a good idea, stick with it.
The spa-girl then performed what I think of as Salome’s Dance of the One Veil.
Then followed a routine which seemed less a dance and more a gymnastic exhibition (I realize the line between the two may be vague). The red panel seemed to be the star, though the man was pretty impressive. I kept waiting for him to do the Thomas Flair, but no.
He had to be supporting the panel and a girl instead. There was another routine after this, but let’s move on because sunset it now at its perfect point and we have to cue the flashlights!
Show time! The lights in the Piazza have just been turned on, and our first command to turn on the flashlights has been given. Have to stop shooting now, got to get busy. But what followed was a series of commands: shine the flashlight straight at the campanile and hold still, then wiggle the flashlight for a while, then shine it under your open umbrella, then run around inside the heart with your shining umbrella as fast as you can. At street level, extremely strange. But the result? Wahoo!
And so it was twilight in the Piazza. Time to take my umbrella and go home.
Every year the city places laurel wreaths at the most important patriotic monuments. The most elaborate one, with an aureole of palm, is placed at the tomb of Daniele Manin.
April 25, as I have reported on other occasions, is a double holiday in Venice: The anniversary of the liberation of Italy after World War II (this year marking the 70th milestone), and the feast day of San Marco, the city’s patron saint.
And gentlemen must acquire a long-stemmed red rose (the “bocolo,” in Venetian) to bestow on their lady love(s). Here, gondolier Marco Farnea buys two — one for his wife, the other for his gondola. It’s an extra-festive occasion, too, because it’s his name-day.
Either of those facts deserves reams, and reams are ready and waiting, thanks to phalanxes of historians.
I simply want to keep the world apprised — yes, I modestly claim to keep the WORLD apprised — of a date that deserves remembering. And here, it’s remembered twice.
First, the roses:
Marco pushes off with the next boatload of clients, the two roses lying at his feet.
A quartet of firemen leaving the ceremony of the flag-raising in the Piazza — one is already armed with his rose.
The Red Cross sells the roses at a booth in the Piazza (as well as sending volunteers around). All for a good cause.
Independent rose sellers are all over our neighborhood all day. They sell mimosa on International Woman’s Day and umbrellas when it’s raining.
Yes, National Liberation Day is important, but this Venetian store makes it clear that tomorrow it will be closed because it’s San Marco’s day. Any other reason is just extra.
Someone placed a bocolo on St. Paul’s altar in the basilica of San Marco. I’m baffled, but I’m still glad to see it there. And no, you’re not supposed to take pictures in the basilica. I’ll never do it again.
And second, the liberation itself, as seen in Venice.
The arrival of the Allied troops in Piazzale Roma on April 29, 1945. Lino remembers that everyone was saying “The Americans are here!” He ran with his friends to see them, and they all asked for chewing gum, and they got it, too.
I had no intention of going to the Piazza San Marco during Carnival, much less on Martedi’ Grasso, otherwise known (not here) as Mardi Gras, the last day of the fracas.
But the sun was shining, the wind was blowing, and we figured, why not? So we went.
It was less chaotic than I had imagined, which was nice. In fact, it verged on the placid.
And best of all, MY “Maria” won the pageant, and was crowned the Maria of 2015. I was as shocked to discover my wish being fulfilled as I was the one night in my life that my bag was first onto the carousel at baggage claim at I can’t remember what airport. And just as happy, too.
Here are some glances at the closing hours of revelry, not including the fireworks which we heard later on. It seemed as if they were exploding from various points in the city and gave a satisfying concluding note to it all.
The contestants vying for the prize for best costume had very fine outfits, though not many were as original as what we saw outside the show ring. This doge and his attendant (I’d have to study up on who his servant represented. One of the Council of Ten? Doubtful.) came from Palermo because they love Venice. I myself think it would have been much cooler for him to have dressed up as Roger II of Sicily, or some other non-Venetian notable. Dressing as a doge in Venice is like dressing up as Wyatt Earp in Dodge City.
This extraordinary personage came into the special area (entrance ticket: 30 euros) a little late, and after a brief while departed.
I imagine that eventually she needed a place to sit down and rest her stilts.
I’m always glad to see some costume that isn’t an 18th-century-powdered-wig-tricorn-hat-walking-stick-beauty-spot conglomeration. No matter how elaborate that sort of outfit may be (and the gowns almost always look as if they’re made of upholstery fabric), it’s a look that isn’t very imaginative, and becomes very monotonous. So this turbaned wonder gets points from me.
On the other end of the spectrum was this homegrown marvel, whose costume basically means nothing and whose sign (in Venetian) translates as: “I’ve got a lion between my legs, grr grr meow meow.” Still, people were happy to be photographed with him, even if they didn’t know what it said.
This astonishing family seems to have been born and bred in a pastry shop. At first I thought the cakes were fake, but now I’m not so sure. If the hats are real, I want to be there when they bet against eating them.
Food as accessory. I like it. You don’t have to keep it clean or find somewhere to store it.
I like a lady who takes her rat out for a promenade.
And I especially like that she gave the little rodent a Carnival mask.
Yes, those are security people. I believe they were armed; there was some publicity about extra surveillance of the piazza this year.
And here is Irene Rizzi, the Maria of 2015, bigger than life on the jumbotron behind the stage. She’s all decked out in some Chinese headdress for reasons that were unclear, though the presenters were babbling something about Marco Polo and the spice trade.
The supreme moment of the afternoon was the closing event: Drawing a version of the Venetian flag up the same cable that the “Angel” had slid down, all the way to the top of the campanile of San Marco. A small group of men sang the “Hymn of San Marco” in an oddly drifty, lounge-y way. I’d have brought in trumpets, myself.
And up it went. The wind was very cooperative in adding verve to the procedure.
A man was waiting at the summit to wrangle the banner inboard.
I think it’s so wonderful that these three ladies came out that I do not know what else to say. I love them.
Sunset is totally the best time to be in the piazza.
I don’t know what the rest of this partyer looked like — I was too busy admiring her hands and mask. I love her woolly handwarmer. It’s like a hunting mitten for stalking Smurfs. Don’t let the word get out that you don’t have to encumber your entire body with pounds of upholstery fabric, and a long ton of accessories, to be all dressed up for Carnival. There would be civil unrest.
For whatever reason, Carnival does not attract me anymore.
Headlines such as the one yesterday reporting on Sunday’s attendance: “100,000 yesterday for the opening of Carnival” could have something to do with my lack of enthusiasm. Headlines such as one today: “The purse-cutters have arrived,” referring to the young pregnant Bosnian women who now, to expedite the lifting of your wallet, have taken to slashing your handbag, could also be relevant. Crowds, however amusingly dressed, make life awkward, at best, for most people except other dressed-up persons and, of course, the purse-cutters.
But let’s do a fast rewind on the festivities so far. Last Saturday — the day which opens the 11-day clambake — we saw the first major organized entertainment: The Procession of the Marias.
The main reason we saw it is because it takes place mere steps from our front door. Also, the weather was beautiful and it was great to be outside. Also, the participants outnumbered the spectators (or almost).
The program is simple. Everyone lines up in Campo San Pietro and wends their way slowly, and with great clamor, across the wooden bridge and along the fondamenta to the foot of via Garibaldi. Here the space opens comfortably and everyone has a chance to see the many costumed processioners, and the Marias themselves, close up.
“Everyone” includes the Marias (obviously), the phalanx of young men assigned to carry the Marias, and abundant and varied troupes of trumpeters, drummers, knights, commoners, banner-twirlers, and the doge and his wife and some Venetian senators and councilors, all in vaguely Renaissance garb.
The girls are loaded onto their respective wooden platforms, hoisted on the shoulders of their bearers, and carried at the head of the procession all the way to the Piazza San Marco, where they mount the stage and are generally admired and photographed. On February 16, the penultimate day of Carnival, the Maria of 2015 will be chosen and crowned.
In case this doesn’t sound like much of a big deal, the Maria of today will become the “Angel” of next year, sliding down a wire from the top of the campanile of San Marco to the pavement on the opening day of Carnival.
Here are some things I enjoyed seeing this year. Yes, there were things I enjoyed. Briefly.
Not really marching, more like strolling. The important thing is not to stop suddenly. Or at all.
I’m guessing that the three life-size paperdolls (which ought to be of wood), recall the eventual fate of the Marias and their festival. Conflict and strife arose between the participating families (when your daughter’s in a beauty contest with really rich prizes, you tend to get tetchy), so the Serenissima substituted Marias made of wood, and when nobody was happy with those, stopped the festival altogether. That was in 1379, so I guess they made their point.
I like the lookers at least as much as the looked-upon.
This little guy was my favorite. But why is he trapped behind the window? Everybody else has got their windows open and their mufflers on.
Case in point.
The Marias had lovely costumes but I couldn’t stop looking at their hair. They must have spent the morning in hairdo hell, the tonsorial equivalent of Scarlett O’Hara getting laced into her corset. When you consider the labor involved in arranging all this hair, and applying 146 layers of hairspray, not to mention the pain, they might as well have gone one step further and just worn wigs.
I’ve already picked my favorite, if anybody cares. No idea what her name is, but if she doesn’t win, I’m going to have to take action.
Let the procession proceed, immortalized by the everlasting selfie.
He may be asking the Carnival equivalent of “How’s the weather up there?”
And the caravan moves on, up via Garibaldi toward the Riva degli Schiavoni. Better keep moving while the sun’s still shining because as soon as it starts to set, the cold will make your hair break off.
These are major trumpeters, evidently saving their fanfares for the Piazza San Marco.
Bringing up the rear is a quartet of “sbandieratori,” or banner-throwers-and-twirlers.
Moving on to the next banner-throwing stop.
Speaking of banners, I have no idea what regiment, nation, creed or sport this might belong to, but it looked great in the wind.
And the Maria-cade moves on toward the distant Piazza San Marco. Better them than us.
No pressure, but if you know one of the judges, remind him or her that this is the winner.