Archive for Venetian Events

Feb
17

Arrivederci Carnival

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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.

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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.

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This extraordinary personage came into the special area (entrance ticket: 30 euros) a little late, and after a brief while departed.

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I imagine that eventually she needed a place to sit down and rest her stilts.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Food as accessory. I like it. You don’t have to keep it clean or find somewhere to store it.

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I like a lady who takes her rat out for a promenade.

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And I especially like that she gave the little rodent a Carnival mask.

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Yes, those are security people. I believe they were armed; there was some publicity about extra surveillance of the piazza this year.

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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.

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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.

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And up it went. The wind was very cooperative in adding verve to the procedure.

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A man was waiting at the summit to wrangle the banner inboard.

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I think it’s so wonderful that these three ladies came out that I do not know what else to say. I love them.

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Sunset is totally the best time to be in the piazza.

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See you next year.

Categories : Venetian Events
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Feb
10

Ready, aim, Carnival

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1x1.trans Ready, aim, Carnival

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.

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Not really marching, more like strolling. The important thing is not to stop suddenly. Or at all.

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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.

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I like the lookers at least as much as the looked-upon.

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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.

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Case in point.

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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.

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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.

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Let the procession proceed, immortalized by the everlasting selfie.

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He may be asking the Carnival equivalent of “How’s the weather up there?”

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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.

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These are major trumpeters, evidently saving their fanfares for the Piazza San Marco.

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Bringing up the rear is a quartet of “sbandieratori,” or banner-throwers-and-twirlers.

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Moving on to the next banner-throwing stop.

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Speaking of banners, I have no idea what regiment, nation, creed or sport this might belong to, but it looked great in the wind.

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And the Maria-cade moves on toward the distant Piazza San Marco. Better them than us.

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No pressure, but if you know one of the judges, remind him or her that this is the winner.

Categories : Venetian Events
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Jul
31

Santa Marta: party on!

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1x1.trans Santa Marta: party on!

“La Vigilia di Santa Marta” (The Eve of Santa Marta) by Canaletto. c. 1760. (Wikigallery.org). This view shows the Zattere, with the church of Santa Marta the last building in the distance.  I realize that they did not have stadium lighting back then, but I’d have hoped to see more of the famous illuminated boats.  I think he was paying too much attention to the geometry of the painting and not enough attention to what was really going on.  Or maybe that’s just my way of saying “I wish I’d been there.”

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.

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Joan Blaue’s map of the late 1600’s shows the peninsula crowned by the church of Santa Marta, but I don’t see a beach. On the other hand, I do see rows of rafts formed of logs — “zattere” — in front of their eponymous stretch of waterfront. Nice.

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On Ludovico Ughi’s 1729 map, “Pictorial Representation of the Illustrious City of Venice Dedicated to the Reign of the Most Serene Dominion of Venice,” we see something like beach surrounding Santa Marta’s headland. To each cartographer his own.

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And this is how how that little lobe of land looks today. The big docks at Tronchetto were built in two stages in the 20th century, and Santa Marta (lower right corner of land) has become an afterthought. (www.panoramio.com)

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.

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A “genteel” sole, who was more the star of the evening than Santa Marta herself.

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.”

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The “Bucintoro dei Savoia,”also called the “Bucintoro del Po,” is the only surviving example of a Venetian peota of the 18th century.  It was built in 1730 by a squero on Burano for Carlo Emmanuele III di Savoia and is now the property of the Civic Museums of Torino.  Most noble families had one, and they were just the thing for big events such as the Regata Storica, processions honoring doges and kings, and alfresco picnics featuring a big fish fry.

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.

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Or, if you were a fisherman, you might come out in an equally impressive (in its way) boat — a caorlina da seragia. Only a few still exist, and this very old craft has retained its original pitch waterproofing. You could fit several families, aristocratic or otherwise, into this monster.

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Or if all you had was a little s’ciopon, you’d have bedecked it too, and come out with the food and family.

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.

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You can barely make out the “Punta di Santa Marta” from the roof of the Molino Stucky Hilton.

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The church of Santa Marta in 1934 was only slightly in the way of progress.  Trains came down onto the waterfront to deliver or collect cargo to the ships in the maritime zone.  No more beach.

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There’s still a church in there somewhere behind the parking lot.  Ex-church, that is, restored and now used as an exhibition space. Nice that it’s not falling to ruin, but any possible trace of character or history has been thoroughly expunged.

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I realize that it wasn’t ever the most heavily decorated building in Venice, but they seem to have gone to the opposite extreme here.  Seen from this angle, it could be a Potemkin church.

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To review in closing: This entire area of water was completely covered with illuminated boats full of people singing and eating and laughing and being happy. And I think it’s safe to say that most of them were not tourists. That’s something else to recall occasionally — that Venice had an amazing life that had nothing to do with tourism.  Seem strange?  They’d think we’re even stranger.

 

 

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Apr
28

Just being rosy

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Find the long-stemmed rose in this picture — I mean, piazza. (Foto: The Organizing Committee).

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And this is how it was intended to look when it was full of appropriately colored participants. (Foto: The Organizing Committee.)

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.

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Section 12 looked like this, in the early stages of reporting for duty. It was the upper outer right-hand petal, as you look down at the bocolo from the campanile.

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Each section was easily identified by the number on official backs (and on balloons). Here participants checked in with the individual managing the list of names, signed a release form, and moved on to the face-painting stage.

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The face-painter also painted on arms and foreheads, but many went with the simple stencil-on-cheek.

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Lino, post-painting. He is still holding the container of gummy watercolor-based red ink.  Yes, that’s a toothpick in his mouth.  It wouldn’t be him without his toothpick.

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Your correspondent. I could have had roses all over me, but I like the subtle approach.

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Red people were everywhere, but that’s only because I didn’t think to roam all the way down to the green section.

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Many ladies were already armed with their bocolo.

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The definition of “red” ran a generous gamut.

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One dauntless lad brought out his red terrycloth bathrobe.

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This gentleman wasn’t part of the event — he had bigger things on his mind.  The two bocolos (bocoli?) in his hand were clearly destined for important ladies, who seemed to be running slightly late. I missed my chance to see them arrive. He was extremely patient, so I hope all went as planned.

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The Piazza is usually besieged with illegal rose-sellers, but on April 25 the only visible vendors were for the Red Cross.

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Lino’s son, Marco, is the only gondolier I noticed who installed a bocolo in the place of honor on his gondola.

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Categories : Venetian Events
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