Archive for Venetian Events
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.
Anyone who has lived longer than 25 minutes has discovered the Law of Unintended Consequences. It’s not that you are deprived of the consequence you wanted — though you might well be — but discover that you’re stuck with five that you didn’t want and can’t escape.
Last Sunday (July 21) was the day of the Feast of the Most Holy Redeemer (Santissimo Redentore), about which I have written many times. And for an event which has been held every year since 1577, hence qualifying as a genuine tradition, this tradition’s components have gone through many, many revisions. In fact, I never knew that a tradition could be so pliable.
For example: Fireworks over the Bacino of San Marco. When Lino was a lad, nobody bothered about the Bacino. Everybody (99 percent Venetians) came in their boats (and there were many — no, a hundred times more than many — all propelled by oars) and tied them up in the Giudecca Canal in the area between the votive bridge and the Molino Stucky. Far from the Bacino. Uptown. Washington Heights, practically.
And the races on Sunday afternoon. We’ve always had them, hence, we always will have them.
Or maybe not.
The week preceding the festa saw a fearsome struggle between the racers and the Comune, and after a series of meetings and reports on meetings, which occurred up until race time, the racers enacted a protest and decided not to race. In a word, they went on strike.
Their issues, as reported by the Racers’ Association, are the increasing neglect (“profound abandonment”) of the races by the city over the past few years. I’m not clear on what “neglect” means here, because their press releases were not especially specific, though I know that the prizes have been dwindling and, in some cases, disappearing, which indeed is disturbing.
A digression: Unlike the racers in the old days — up to about 50 years ago — I don’t believe that any racers today need the money. While it’s true that they have, as they put it, “spent months of training, sacrificing work and family” (they sacrificed WORK?), none of them races because otherwise the gas company is going to interrupt service for lack of payment. The men have jobs ranging from acceptable to spectacularly lucrative (a fancy way of saying “gondolier”), and most of the women racers are married to them.
But racing for nothing does have a depressing sort of parish-benefit vibe, and last year some of the races began to be put on for free.
Did I mention depressing? I had no idea how dejected one could feel on a so-called feast day when the big event is canceled. Some hardy souls might maintain that the big solemn mass and the blessing of the city are the most important elements of the weekend, and there are thousands upon thousands who come only for the big fireworks party the night before. But a Redentore afternoon with no races made me feel as if we were the ones who had been abandoned.
Naturally the racers hope and intend that this dramatic gesture will bear the fruit they desire, which is to wake everybody up, city and citizens, to the imminent demise of one of the last — or last — truly Venetian elements still barely surviving in the most beautiful city in the world.
I hope it all works out for them, but I have some mini-doubts. One is based on the suspicion that if they try this again, somebody in the city government is going to wonder why go through all the tsuris with the big-league racers when there are plenty of bush-league rowers around who could do the same thing, for nothing, without complaining. Tourists don’t know the difference. I agree that it’s an ugly thought, but I have thought it.
Or what about this idea: If the tsuris continues, the city could start canceling races. Another possible unintended consequence, almost as unpleasant as racing for free.
Or the city might even make the racers pay to race. Or at least make them pay for the race they didn’t do last Sunday. Because when you sign up to enter the eliminations, you sign a document that says you agree to the terms of the enterprise. I have no idea if the city, which did incur expenses for an event which didn’t take place through no fault of its own, would regard this as breach of contract and consider legal recourse against the racers. If I were a city, I would think so.
Let me conclude with another disagreeable little idea that has come to my mind via other people who have said it out loud. Why is all this happening now? Some people think that the Racers’ Association got all het up because two of the biggest rock-star racers (Giampaolo D’Este and Igor Vignotto) were punished for serious offenses committed during the regata at Murano on July 7. Their punishment was to be forbidden to participate in the next race, i.e. the Redentore.
Apart from the right or wrong of this decision, it is objectionable for two reasons. One: Their partners, who hadn’t done anything wrong, were also, by extension, also excluded from the race of the Redentore. Two: There is an undercurrent of doubt among some participants that the Racers’ Association would have gotten so all-fired mad if, say, Irving B. Potash and Melvin Bluebonnet or anybody else had been so punished. Perhaps righteous anger based entirely on principles (deterioration of tradition, say) isn’t quite so righteous after all? Or does it strike only me as odd that the people who claim to be the last defenders of tradition were the first to break it to bits?
And you thought that parties were supposed to make you forget your troubles? This one just delivered a whole new batch. Some assembly required.
Does everyone remember the gondola loaded with cut-up gondolas that was parked in our canal in the opening fervor of the Biennale?
The opening of the Biennale is, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned, more like starling-swarming or the wildebeest migration than anything else. Dramatic for a short sharp moment, then it’s over and people forget about it.
By now the process is complete. The swarms began to depart the evening of June 2, and although fluttering shreds of tourists remain, the sort who seem to have come actually to look at the art and not each other (shocking, I know), life on the whole is back to its incomprehensible normality.
As everyone knows, the gondola assemblage was art. A week has passed, and this creation has been demoted to Private First Class, downgraded to Economy, put back a grade, however you want to put it.
Having fulfilled its purpose — whatever it was — the object has been removed from its watery pedestal, and taken far away. Not so far in geographic terms, but extremely far in terms of appreciation. You may have heard of “value added”? This is an example of “value subtracted.”
It is now resting quietly in the devastated territory of our rowing club. Evidently the squero here nearby that confected it didn’t want it back soon (or ever); anyway, I was told that in exchange for painting one of our boats, we agreed to let them stash it here.
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; doing long division of people from boats: 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.
That said, however, falling in isn’t equal for everyone. We heard later from a friend who had been rowing in a big Venetian boat that at Mazzorbo a rower in a single kayak decided to cross their bow at the last moment, got dinged, and over he went. But he couldn’t manage to come up because he had lashed all sorts of accoutrements, luggage, supplies, and even himself, to his kayak, which meant he couldn’t manage to right it and he couldn’t get out of it either. Think about it. Think medulla oblongata. Happily, the Venetian rowers managed to haul him back over and up into the air, but it was a very close call.
They also saw another boat capsize (the reasons for this aren’t clear — we weren’t in a hurricane) — it was a kayak again, this time for two rowers which, as our friend explained, also contained two very small children, one of whom was about three months old. The only glimmer of intelligence in that scenario was that the presumed parents had fitted their kids with lifejackets. People like this shouldn’t be allowed out of the house, much less into a boat.
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.