Archive for Venetian Events


Signs of approaching Carnival

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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:

1x1.trans Signs of approaching Carnival

This pastry shop/cafe produces wonderful Carnival sweets (galani and frittelle, in case you’re wondering), even though they are overpriced. But I do like the way the words are composed, as if someone was more accustomed to composing anonymous ransom notes using cutout newspaper letters.

1x1.trans Signs of approaching Carnival

There have been indiscriminate explosions of confetti, increasing in quantity and range, for a few days now. The perpetrators are invisible.

1x1.trans Signs of approaching Carnival

Climbing the stairs to visit a friend two days ago, I discovered this mysterious harbinger of Carnival: The princess costume. Just add princess and throw confetti.



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A truly Historic Regata

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1x1.trans A truly Historic Regata

This is the “Serenissima,” the crowning glory of the boat procession preceding the races — the image of the Regata Storica in everyone’s mind, not to mention on a million postcards.

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.

1x1.trans A truly Historic Regata

A glimpse backstage: The three boats at our club on Sunday morning.

1x1.trans A truly Historic Regata

The final touch is buffing the wax that you applied yesterday. Unfortunately, the wax isn’t necessarily the determining factor of your speed, as the boys on this boat discovered.

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.

1x1.trans A truly Historic Regata

They were like this for almost the entire race.  The screaming of the crowd was deafening.

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.

1x1.trans A truly Historic Regata

The indefatigable Dino Righetto on the stern of our six-oar balotina. The “bissone,” or fancy boats, are coming up behind us to start the procession.

1x1.trans A truly Historic Regata

1x1.trans A truly Historic Regata

These are racing gondolas belonging to the city, which are decorated to evoke the boats and passengers of the original regata in 1489.

1x1.trans A truly Historic Regata

The procession is moving slowly upstream, with the current, toward the “volta de Canal,” or “turn of the canal,” where the finish line has always been for races here.

1x1.trans A truly Historic Regata

On the left is the colossal platform from which the RAI 2 national television company is ready to broadcast live. The “Machina,” or reviewing stand, is just behind it on the left.  Not only does it accommodate notables of every shape and sort, it is where the prizes will be awarded.

1x1.trans A truly Historic Regata

I know nothing about this very curious boat but it certainly was worth a look. The model of the Rialto Bridge isn’t the only odd feature; the stern has been re-made in a strange way; the prow has been altered in an even stranger way, and the forcola isn’t the typical design for use on a gondola; it’s been dragooned from either a pupparino or gondolino.  And although there used to be a tradition of decorating some of the boats with fruits and vegetables, this is the only one I noticed this year. If this assemblage is intended as a tribute to the late Joachim Vogel, it’s unusual to use eggplants and chili peppers along with the wildflowers from the barene. But hey.

1x1.trans A truly Historic Regata

After the boat procession, we get down to the party. We park the boat and pull out the food and drink, and wait for the races to start. Beer foam presents no problem.

1x1.trans A truly Historic Regata

The winning mascareta in the women’a competition; Giorgia Ragazzi (bow) and Luisella Schiavon leave the rest in the dust, so to speak (actually the next boat is about five boat-lengths behind them), and win their fifth consecutive Storica. They are only the second pair of women ever to attain thereby the status of “regina del remo.”

1x1.trans A truly Historic Regata

And here come the Vignottos and d’Este-Tezzat, speeding down the home stretch. Here’s something peculiar: In both the boys’ and men’s races, the first two boats were orange and brown, but the order of finish was inverted. I wonder what it all means.


1x1.trans A truly Historic Regata

And let me not slight Renato and Roberto Busetto, flying toward a fabulous third place — note the absence of other boats nearby. They were definitely in the groove.  However, sharp-eyed readers will notice that there is a gentle swell of waves beneath their boat, left by the passing jury boat.  The wave issue is something that seems impossible to resolve.  Not because nobody knows how, but because of some other reason I can’t come up with.

1x1.trans A truly Historic Regata

As soon as the gondolinos cross the finish line, all the spectators’ boats try to leave at once.  It’s about as convenient as everybody trying to get out of a movie theatre within five minutes after the end of the film. With the added element of lots of choking motor exhaust fumes. Yes, hundreds of rowing fans go home in boats powered by engines.  But then again, so do fans of horse-racing.  So I’m not sure what my point is.  All I can say is that there’s a big clump of traffic for a while.


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1x1.trans Redeeming grace, redeeming the race

The church of the Redentore on the Giudecca, on Sunday evening, when its annual mission has been completed, its vow to the past and future fulfilled.

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.

1x1.trans Redeeming grace, redeeming the race

The votive bridge opened at 7:00 PM on a sweltering Saturday evening — at least this tradition held firm. The procession is led by the usual authorities such as the mayor, the patriarch, various people in uniforms, and a batch of photographers, all marching across the Giudecca Canal to the church.

1x1.trans Redeeming grace, redeeming the race

Followed by a mighty host of the faithful and the curious.

1x1.trans Redeeming grace, redeeming the race

At the foot of the steps to the church, the crush has reached several atmospheres, which is also part of the tradition, I guess.

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.


1x1.trans Redeeming grace, redeeming the race

Saturday afternoon sees what I regard as the gathering of the clans: the big fishing boats from Chioggia and Pellestrina loaded with lagoon people who party hard. Their boats are big, but nobody seems to object to their tying up at the fondamenta.

1x1.trans Redeeming grace, redeeming the race

Although plenty of people complain about boats of the same, or somewhat larger, size, which come from the land of you-can’t-afford-to-even-look-at-me. These boats make it impossible to set up your picnic tables on the edge of the fondamenta to watch the fireworks because all you see is a wall of high-priced boatage.  This didn’t used to be a problem, but now it too has become a tradition.

1x1.trans Redeeming grace, redeeming the race

One solution: Have your party inland, preferably in front of your house. Put up the flags, light the citronella candles, and live it up. You can go watch the fireworks from the bridge — let the boats work it out for themselves.

1x1.trans Redeeming grace, redeeming the race

Plenty of people are perfectly happy on land. As are we — this is the fourth year we haven’t gone out in a boat.

1x1.trans Redeeming grace, redeeming the race

The swimmers from the fishing boats have recently become a tradition for me. If I’d watched them jumping in for five more minutes, I’d have gone in too. It was suffocatingly hot.

1x1.trans Redeeming grace, redeeming the race

The girls, the boys, the girls and boys — they were tireless.

1x1.trans Redeeming grace, redeeming the race

1x1.trans Redeeming grace, redeeming the race

1x1.trans Redeeming grace, redeeming the race

But then the party was over. On Sunday afternoon, the Giudecca Canal is supposed to look like this.

1x1.trans Redeeming grace, redeeming the race

It looked like this.  The barge was there, ready to draw the starting-line cord from the piling to make sure all the boats were lined up just right.  But no boats.

1x1.trans Redeeming grace, redeeming the race

The judges’ dock was in its prescribed position, too, complete with judges.

1x1.trans Redeeming grace, redeeming the race

The starting time for each of the three races came and went, duly noted by the president of the judges on duty. Then a deputation of racers came aboard to unburden themselves, once again, of their distress and indignation. This, however, was not noted. The only thing that was necessary was to indicate that “the race was suspended because no racers presented themselves at the starting line.” Somebody else is responsible for figuring out what to do next.

1x1.trans Redeeming grace, redeeming the race

And a good time was had by nobody.

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The end of art

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1x1.trans The end of art

That was then.

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.

Sic transit.  


1x1.trans The end of art

This is now.


1x1.trans The end of art
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