Archive for Venetian-ness

Jun
11

The Venetian menagerie

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Ever since tourists have taken over Venice, nobody thinks much about other life forms (except maybe fish), but there have been many more creatures here than dogs and cats and the occasional canary.

And lions, of course. But most of them don’t require feeding or shots.

Last night we were sitting on a full vaporetto trundling its way from the train station toward the Lido.  We were facing forward, but some people a few rows ahead were facing backward.  I had seen them, but until Lino spoke up, I had not observed (as Sherlock Holmes would put it).

Lino:  “Did you see ‘Little Snail’?”  (I refrain from translating his nickname in Venetian; this is a small town, as I may have mentioned).

Me:  “No.”  (Short answer meaning “Mainly because I have no idea who he is.”)

Lino indicates a now completely obvious person, a man whose chronological engine seems to have stalled just after middle age, kind of like Piers Morgan.  The man is wearing a whitish baseball cap with some inscription, and a red windbreaker.  He’s alone, looking nowhere in particular.

“He used to live near me,” Lino went on.  “For a while, he had a pet mallard.  He’d put a leash on it and he’d walk around the neighborhood with it.”

If you might think this is eccentric, there used to be a man who lived near Santa Marta who kept monkeys.  His name was Ricco — “Richetto,” as a diminutive.  His house was full of smallish monkeys, macaques, whatever they were.

Sometimes he’d go out for a stroll with one of them on his shoulder.

A bonnet macaque, just to set the mood. Cute, but mainly from afar. (Photo: Shantanu Kuveskar)

“The neighbors couldn’t wait till he died.”

You can understand it — living next to the Primates Enclosure in Venice wouldn’t be a very great thing, but certainly that was back in the Dark Ages, before consumers and the environment and the health department had been invented.

“No no,” Lino said, “this went on up till the Sixties, even the Seventies.” But hey — Lino’s godmother Eugenia, who lived in the same courtyard where his family lived, kept a couple of geese in the storage room. He doesn’t know why they were there, but he does remember her force-feeding them.  This was two steps from Campo San Barnaba, not down in the Po Delta.

There may have been only two in godmother Eugenia’s storage area, but they probably looked like this to Lino.

But that’s nothing!  His cousin Carla (“who lived in the calle de l’Avogaria, you know, where the fountain is that doesn’t run anymore”) lived on the ground floor, and she had a pet rat.  Not that she kept it, it just came to visit.  “There was a hole in the wall of the bedroom, and sometimes the rat would come out, and she’d pick it up and caress it, call it nicknames…”

And speaking of rats, there was Lino’s friend who lived on the Fondamenta Bragadin, next door to the Spanish Ambassador.  The friend kept some chickens in his little courtyard, but sometimes he (the friend, not Lino or the ambassador) would come out in the morning and discover one of the chickens had been killed and sort of half-disemboweled by the rats, who wanted to get at the liver.  I used to like chicken livers too, until I heard this story about five minutes ago.

Back to the “Snail.”  Something about the name brought back a prehistoric memory of something Lino once told me.

“Isn’t he the one who used to howl like a wolf?”

“Yep.  He’d come home really drunk some nights, like at 2:00 AM, howling just like a wolf.” (Whisper: “Ah-WOOOOoooooooooooo….”)

If you might wonder what kind of work a person with that skill might do, he was a gondolier. Not a job that usually calls for howling, though I have to say it would have been cool if he’d taken his duck with him.  You know, “Take your duck to work” Day.

Lino: “But he only worked for a couple of years, then sold his license and just lived on the money ever since.  He had seven or eight brothers, he was the littlest.”

“In size, or in birth order?” (I need to understand what I’m being told.)

“Birth order.  He’s the last one left.  He’s got a nice house and everything.”

Any children?

“Nope.  Never married.”

I guess I could see that.  The wife would never know whether “Honey, I’m home” was going to be carnivorous keening or a couple of heartrending quacks.

 

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Mar
28

Floating music

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We had the radio on very low this afternoon — a makeshift substitute for the soothing sound of an imaginary Alpine brook — when I realized I was hearing an extremely beautiful aria that I hadn’t heard in ages.  (For the record: “Mi par d’udir ancora” from Bizet’s “The Pearl Fishers,” though I don’t know who was singing.  I’ll gladly settle for Beniamino Gigli, though, just to keep it in mind.)  Here is the link:  https://youtu.be/8B_Vhth7nis

Lino also hadn’t heard it in ages, but it immediately brought back some happy, and very specific, memories of a hot summer evening when he was a little boy.  I want you to be listening to this seductive barcarole — though perhaps it was more lovely at a slightly less funereal tempo — as you imagine this scene:

“I was standing by the Rialto Bridge with my sisters on the evening of Ferragosto (August 15),” he told me.”  (If you’ve never been in Venice on August 15, it means “hot.”)  “And the galleggiante was coming slowly up the Grand Canal and there were the chorus and musicians from La Fenice playing, and this is what they were singing.  And there were hundreds of boats following along behind, rowed by just everybody.”

The galleggiante (literally “floating”) was a platform made of two peatas lashed together, perhaps towed, perhaps rowed, he doesn’t remember.  Here is a picture of a peata, which was used for everyday work of massive dimensions till the Fifties, at least.  

A gazebo-like dome had been constructed on which little lights were shining — I’ll pause while you adjust your mind to the very idea — and the summer-night music was wafting up along the canal as the boats drifted by.

An image of the rotunda “galleggiante” designed by architect Vincenzo Scamozzi for the ceremonial boat procession celebrating the coronation of the dogaressa Morosina Morosini Grimani in 1595. The boats following this extraordinary construction were mostly more expensive and glamorous than the ones that were being rowed behind Bizet on that summer evening in the late Forties.  But those people weren’t trying to show off.

The mere thought of such an event brings a “knot to my throat,” as they say here.  Evening promenades were nothing new in Venice — over the centuries they were often indulged in by Venetians of all ranks and stations seeking a breath of cooler air in the sultry summer nights. There were even boats designed for these nocturnal perambulations, such as the gondola da fresco, the mussin (there is one still to be seen occasionally), and the pupparino.  Even today, if someone asks me how I stand the summer heat here, I say “We go out on the water, that’s how.”

If music in the Grand Canal seems like the best idea ever, I would concur.  A group of women have organized a somewhat similar event over the past few years, but although I haven’t participated, I have the impression that it wasn’t very much like the evening Lino remembers.  For one thing, Venetians (few as they are nowadays) tend to go to the mountains in August.  But I can tell you that if I’d been there with him, I’d never have forgotten it either.

Categories : History, Venetian-ness
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Mar
05

Another little link…

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This is a typical view of LinoWorld, otherwise known as Venice.

…in the chain, if you will, connecting Venetians to each other.  Or to Lino, anyway.

In my post about going to the movies in the old days here, I mentioned Lino’s recollection of the man who stood at the entrance to the cinema Santa Margherita making and selling taffy.

In today’s episode, we were on the 5.1 vaporetto this morning traveling from the “Guglie” to the “Giardini.”  Boarding behind us, and sitting in front of us, was a tall, unkempt man in that unmappable region between 70 years old and expiration.  He was talking continually to the elderly lady with him in that peculiarly annoying voice that can’t be called LOUD but which everybody on the boat can hear.  Or rather, cannot avoid hearing.

After a few stops, they get off.  Lino says, “You know who that was?” I don’t bother replying, but wait.

“That was the son of the man who sold the taffy in front of the cinema Santa Margherita.”

The story never ends, it just keeps adding chapters.

 

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Feb
03

recycling the cinema, part 3

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So, we’re all back from coffee and bathroom breaks?  Let us continue this peregrination along the path of the cinemas Lino remembers from earliest childhood, or from however old he was when his mother would give herself some time off and take him to the movies at Campo Santa Margherita. Or when he and his friends would head for the parish halls, or patronati, on Sunday afternoons.

Let’s start here:

This long building behind the wall, which now belongs to the Hotel Belle Arti behind the Accademia galleries, was part of the monastery associated with the Istituto Cavanis, a school which still occupies the palace across the street.  Like some other religious institutions, “the Cavanis” would show movies, just one of the assorted entertainments that were organized for the parish families.  Lino headed here with his friends every Sunday afternoon.

The former entrance to the cinema has been plastered- and pictured-over.

Going around a few corners, we pass the still-lamented (by me) former Cinema Accademia.  I went to some American film here during my first year in Venice and remember absolutely nothing about it because I spent the entire time translating the amazingly banal dialogue for Lino, who eventually went to sleep (dark, soothing atmosphere….).  We didn’t go the movies for a long time after that.

Whole generations of people have passed this place since it closed, and I don’t know how many remember what was here before it became just another community notice board.  By now, Venice is wallpapered with shutters of all sorts, thoroughly spray-painted or otherwise enhanced.

“Cinema” still barely discernible…

Followed by something else written above the doors. It’s like trying to read an eye chart drawn in Mayan hieroglyphics.

An eye chart gracefully surmounted by these forgotten pieces of wrought iron. Did lamps once hang from them?

Neatly folded behind this important corner at Campo Santa Margherita was the Cinema Moderno.

The entrance to the supermarket facing the Rio Tera’ dei Pugni would hint at its having been the entrance to the Cinema Moderno. But no! (Zwingle’s Fifth Law: Never Assume. Zwingle’s Corollary: Abandon logic, it’s useless baggage.)

This was the entrance, fairly far down the campo’s long side.  Over time, local artists have dedicated their talents to embellishing the doors.

I’m sorry its mosaic elegance doesn’t come through as I’d have wished. If I’d had a ladder to climb, things would have been different.

The truncated belltower of the former church of Santa Margherita is known to anyone who has crossed the eponymous campo. I can tell you nothing about its truncation, but I can tell you that the attached church just behind it was, in Lino’s day, the “Cinema Vecio” (old cinema). And the door we see was the cinema entrance.  Lino jokes that they’d go to see films like “La Fuga del Cavallo Morto” (the escape of the dead horse).

The ticket booth was just inside to the left, and outside stood a man making and selling “franfranica,” which according to Lino’s description resembled (or was) taffy.  It was a large mass stuck on a nail that gravity drew into a long thick strip which the man pulled out and up and let it stretch down again.  He sold candy apples and caramelized pears and other sorts of sweets.  Until the “talkies” appeared, Lino’s father (who was an engineer and drove a steam-powered train from Venice to Trento), would make extra money  by reading the title cards aloud during the show.  Almost everyone had finished elementary school, but Lino’s father had finished middle school.

The porticoed doorway is now the main entrance to what originally (14th century) was a Catholic church. It was closed in 1810 and used for various “profane” purposes which I haven’t yet identified. In 1882 it became the Evangelical Lutheran church (a congregation which now meets in the former Scuola dell’Angelo Custode at the Santi Apostoli).  At some point it became a cinema, and ultimately was renovated as an auditorium for the University of Venice/Ca’ Foscari.

The battle of the fading inscriptions continues.

On this side of the church/cinema a little old lady set up a small stand on movie days and sold candy organized in little compartments.  During the intermission, someone else would stroll the aisles with a tray held on a strap around his neck, selling more candy — “caramelle” in Italian and Venetian and calling out “KAH-ra-MEEEEEEEH.”  He also sold toasted pumpkin seeds, whose husks were destined to fall to the floor.  “You can imagine what it was like for the sweepers,” Lino said.

About halfway up the building’s wall is this row of extraordinary heads. Were they sculpted as a sort of apotropaic rampart? Brought here from elsewhere? Just left over from… what?

Whatever they are, they’re great.

The cinema at the Frari bore many similarities to the one at the Cavanis. As you see, there is a wall and a longish building; these are found at the far end of the spacious compound which houses the basilica of the Frari, two cloisters, some buildings and some garden.  Here we are the “some buildings and garden” end, on the Calle Drio l’Archivio, the street behind the Archives.  The friars organized things, but anybody could buy a ticket and watch to their heart’s content.

The Cinema Quirinetta was in a place which I doubt you’ve ever noticed because I doubt you’ve ever walked by here. It’s pretty remote from the usual tourist territory, but of course your usual locals knew all about it.

The tour ends here.  I’m sure there are other places which Lino doesn’t remember, or never went to.  Maybe some of my Venetian readers will offer some other information, which would be great.

Before I ring the curtain down on this triple-feature, I discover that I left out a cinema that belonged on yesterday’s list.  It’s on the Strada Nova a few steps from the Santa Sofia traghetto dock/Ca’ d’Oro vaporetto stop:

It says so proudly: Cinema Teatro Progresso.  Now you can buy shampoo and lipstick and toilet- bowl cleaner there instead.  Certainly more useful, though perhaps not quite as enjoyable as a night at the flicks.

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Categories : Venetian-ness
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