The latest meanderings have — as always — revealed some curious and beautiful things.
Yesterday the first violets. Trust me. They have to be here because this is the warmest, most sheltered spot for violets I know.
And I do not lie.
A week ago we had a few afternoons of very low tide. VERY low, as you see. In fact, you can certainly see more than you’d care to.
When via Garibaldi was created in 1807 (as the Strada Nuova dei Giardini, and sometimes also called the via Eugenia) by filling in a broad canal, they very intelligently left space beneath the pavement to allow the natural flow of water from the Bacino of San Marco to continue. Usually you can’t see into the tunnel like this nor whatever has fallen overboard forever. Funny, I’d have thought there’d be more rubble.
Just a reminder that low tide can be just as inconvenient as high tide here. First, because some important vehicles, such as ambulances and police boats, may not have enough H2O beneath them to be able to get where they’re going. And because getting into (not really SO bad) and getting out (ouch!!) of your boat is a project in itself. Unless you’re a pirate and carry grappling hooks.
Sunday morning I noticed this man on the Arsenal bridge. He’s one of a rare breed which doesn’t record Venice views with a snappy camera, but with his hand and a pencil. All sorts of beautiful and surprising things are out there which look different to people who aren’t using batteries.
Why did he do a sort of bull’s-eye-mirror design? “It’s because otherwise I couldn’t fit it all in the notebook.” Did I mention you need a brain as well as fingers to do this?
If you can focus on anything beyond the Gaudi’-inspired reflection, you may notice a cluster of small ivory-colored ovals in the water. They seemed to be seppie “bones,” but they were the tiniest I’d ever seen. The fact that they were all the same size also seemed strange. Floating so close together gave me the impression that someone had just dumped out his ashtray. All very curious.
It seems too many for even a frenzied seagull to have eaten, but not really enough for more than two people to have eaten. Lino says they came from a seppia-like creature he called “sepina,” which is not a lagoon creature. He said he would show them to me next time he notices them in the fish market. Will send updates.
And while we’re floating around at sea level, this is not a picture of reflected laundry. It’s a picture of an amazing cat’s-cradle of clotheslines in the water. Forget hanging your clothes on these, they’d never get dry.
The lion has recently been restored, and if I gaze at his splendor, I think less about people. Sometimes this is a good thing.
We wandered up to the Rialto market this morning, a first-class walk if you start early. The nearly empty streets and the general air of starting over fresh is always a great thing.
As often happens, we saw some people and some things that brought forth a small spate of reminiscences, inspired first by the extremely ancient man seated in our favorite cafe, alone, silently munching a small sandwich. Whenever I see old people (especially men) alone, it makes me sad, and if they’re eating, I feel even sadder.
But Lino soon straightened me out.
“He was a gondolier,” Lino started, as soon as we were out the door. “Irritating! (Fastidioso!).” In pronouncing certain words, the tone of voice adds the necessary intensity. In this case, the word came out at an octave above middle C and apart from the note and the delivery of this significant word was the way he drew it out ever so slightly. This gives the idea that the irritatingness was a long-term, probably inborn trait, not traceable to any specific event.
“He was always arguing, always quarreling,” Lino went on. “There was a protest organized by some gondoliers year ago in City Hall, and things got a little heated, and he pulled down a chandelier. That got him some jail time.”
But for him, the jail wasn’t “the cooler.” When he got out, he went right back to infuriating everybody. One day he took it upon himself to protest something else — Lino doesn’t remember what — and he affixed an outboard motor to his gondola. That got him another stint inside.
Please don’t ask me what laws he had broken. I can imagine that “destroying government property” would apply to the first case, but have no idea about the second. Disturbing the past?
“One day I was at home, and I suddenly heard a noise” (sort of a booming thud, it seemed to be). “I went downstairs to look around, and there was his gondola with a huge hole in the hull, slowly sinking.
“Somebody had taken a big crowbar and smashed through the bottom of the gondola.” There are crowbars which can weigh 15 pounds. I’m thinking one of those would have done the job.
As you see, there are many vulnerable areas in the gondola’s hull, and if you know the trick, you can slay the whole boat. (www.followgondola.eu)
“Also, the person didn’t drive the crowbar into the center of the space between two ribs. He rammed it through the hull right next to one of the ribs, which is the weakest point.”
Who would have had means, motive and opportunity? Well, lots of people, I suppose, but one sort of person was qualified to know exactly where to strike, like a particularly adroit matador, and that would be another gondolier.
So our man got his gondola repaired and went on with his life, which entailed carrying tourists around in his gondola and annoying everybody.
“His son also became a gondolier,” Lino concluded. “He was a good kid, much calmer. Nothing like his father.”
And so the man retired, and now can be seen sitting at our cafe, at least once in a while, eating his snack all by himself. Perhaps reminiscing, as old men do, but his reminiscences must be like constantly rising vapor, the sort you see coming from fumaroles on a temporarily dormant volcano.
These gondoliers could be friends, I suppose. Or at least not enemies.
We headed back home, and were strolling along the Calle de le Acque. We paused in front of an imposing building which now houses a branch of the post office (make note, if you ever need one between the Rialto and the Piazza San Marco).
“That’s where the bomb blew up,” Lino said. Excuse me?
“It was back in the Seventies; the headquarters of the Gazzettino were in this building,” he said. “It was printed here, too — the building’s right next to the canal, where the boats could load up the newspapers.”
The late Sixties to early Eighties, a period now known as the “Anni di Piombo” (Years of Lead, as in bullets), saw many terrorist attacks by domestic extremist groups, and I won’t begin a list here; I only mention it to clarify that this bomb was not an isolated incident.
“One morning (Feb. 21, 1978 — 37 years ago today!) there was a big explosion here, and a security guard was killed.”
His name was Franco Battagliarin, he was 49 years old and came from Cavallino Treporti on the edge of the lagoon. He was passing early that morning, and noticed an object placed in front of the main door. It was later found to have been a pressure cooker, which in those years was a favorite container for homemade bombs because it gave a sort of turbo-charge to the detonation.
Battagliarin went closer, decided to pick it up to move it, and was killed instantly by the blast.
The extreme right-wing group that called itself “Ordine Nuovo” (New Order) telephoned the Padova office of the newspaper a few hours later, claiming to have placed the bomb as “revenge for dead comrades.” The paper had offended by publishing articles critical of the right wing. Battagliarin was just an unforeseen by-victim.
Venice declared a day of mourning and flew the gonfalone of San Marco at half-staff for several days; his name is remembered each year on “Memory Day,” which is dedicated to all the victims of terrorism.
Back to Lino, who was at work that day at the airport, as usual.
“That day, the union steward came to us, furious, saying we would strike for a day to protest this attack directed at a ‘democratic newspaper.’
“And I was asking myself, ‘But wait — up until yesterday, you were always telling us that the Gazzettino was the newspaper of the bosses'” — in simpler words, the oppressor class. “And today suddenly it’s a democratic paper?
“Anyway, at the meeting I said, ‘Instead of going on strike, we should all give our pay for one day to the family.'”
Sound good? Only to him. A chorus of “Are you insane?” followed. So they went on strike one day, and he just kept on working. Later a long line of co-workers came slinking up to him, each of them muttering “I’d have kept working too, but I didn’t have the courage,” to which Lino replied, “Numbskull.”
I think that’s enough stories for today. I need to rest.
The former headquarters of the Gazzettino looks like just one more old building in Venice. And who would ever look at the steps?
A squarish stone and non-skid strip cover this catastrophic spot very nicely. I’d like to go in and buy stamps to any country that doesn’t have crazy people.
While I’m working on a post with slightly more substance, I thought I’d send out a few recent diverting glimpses:
A week ago I saw the first peach blossoms of spring, accompanied by a few pussy willows. Some people look for daffodils or primroses, but the peaches do it for me. Seeing them now in this form means I won’t be seeing them later in edible form, but this is definitely a good sign.
For anyone who might have wondered what this sign could have been promoting, it is mostly written in Venetian. (I say “mostly” because the Venetian for “oggi” is “ancuo.”) The Italian equivalent would be: “Cosa bolle oggi in pentola. Zuppa di trippa, pasta e fagioli, musetto caldo.” “What’s boiling in the pot today? Tripe soup, pasta and beans, hot musetto.” Musetto is a thick sausage-like object about 6 inches long which is made of ground pork, specifically the muso, or face, or snout, of the pig. It’s hugely good but only in the winter, when foods involving hot fat exert their fatal appeal.
Who says Carnival is only for walking around in the Piazza San Marco? The cashier at our local supermarket is totally into the spirit.
I spied this pair of unknown birds at low tide (admiring how cleverly their colors blended with the mud). Lino thought they were jackdaws, a species of crow known here as “tacoe” (TAH-kow-eh), or Coloeus monedula. However, a sharp-eyed reader has confirmed them to be hooded crows (cornacchia grigia, in Italian), Corvus cornix. Never seen them before. If I’d been in a motorboat I wouldn’t have seen them this time, either, they’d long since have flown away. Another fine reason to row.
On a small side street there is still someone using the old-fashioned doorbell, as in door + bell, a real bell, which rings upstairs when you pull on the handle so conveniently placed outside. I’m showing the entire door to draw attention also to how high the handle is. No funny games by bored little hands, for sure.
This is a sturdy, businesslike handle that seems to discourage frivolous ringings. The proprietor’s name is incised on the small bronze rectangle, and the floor he or she or they live on. When Lino was a lad, most people had doorbells like this one, but his family didn’t add a name tag.
The wire reaches all the way up to the designated domicile and disappears into the wall (obviously).
A few steps down the street, there is another house with the old doorbell handle, but this one doesn’t completely convince me. There may well be three tenants, but the two modern doorbells make me wonder. I must go check sometime.
This is the bell that rang in Lino’s childhood home, salvaged from an extremely damp (as you see) storage area more or less at canal level. An object something like a nail (he doesn’t remember exactly) was passed through the tightly-wound roll of metal on the right, which held the bell upright against the wall. The wire to be pulled from below was attached just above the bell.
And it makes a spectacular clang. Bronze on bronze makes it impossible to say “Oh, was that you? I didn’t hear anything.”
I walk out the front door and sooner rather than later I notice things that make me ponder. Sometimes I ponder deeply and fruitlessly, and sometimes I do Ponder Lite and just absorb the beauty.
Here are some recent places and things that made me look twice:
It was 6:01 AM on the 5.2 motoscafo from the Giardini toward Piazzale Roma. I was surprised to see so many people already in transit, but gobsmacked to see how the man in the aisle had organized himself for the voyage. In all these years I have never seen this solution to standing-room-only. It’s true that I have seen other people and their luggage take up the same amount of space, and it’s true that he is not blocking the aisle (though I cannot grasp why this human bear wouldn’t remove his backpack. Does it make him feel safe? Smaller?). There is nothing WRONG with what he’s doing, it’s just outlandish. My trying to imagine what the ride would be like if everybody decided to bring their own chairs doesn’t help me feel any better about this. And yet I still can’t say why.
A few weeks ago there was quite a flurry of activity at one of the entrances to the Giardini. A few men in full gear labored all day, and part of the next day, to install a brace on this tree that could perhaps have been more useful on the Leaning Tower of Suurhusen. The amount of effort and money dedicated to supporting this plant is entirely praiseworthy, but I withhold my praise because while I agree that plants have as much of a right to live as Komodo dragons and Hungerford’s crawling water beetle, it also seems that they could just as well have cut the tree down and planted a young one. This isn’t the Treaty Oak or the Endicott Pear Tree, though perhaps someone somewhere thinks that if it can be kept upright, eventually this tree will achieve some status worthy of the Guinness Book.
Your average feral rock pigeon is kind of loathsome, but this bird seems to have been created by a Persian calligrapher.
And speaking of birds, in addition to the usual egrets I discovered that there was a swan stretching its wings. Wild swans are among the many species of bird that depend on the lagoon more than any of us do, and I remember one winter morning when we were out rowing when three of them flew over us, very low, and I could see their necks undulating slightly and hearing a curious low sound which I thought came from their throats, but which I now learn was the air passing around their large, majestic wings.
The game is on, Watson — here, the traces of hopscotch, known in Venice as “campanon” (“big bell”). Lino says boys play it too. Nice to know there’s something other than soccer going on here.
At certain vantage points, the rising sun makes some excellent reflections.
Reflections are almost better than the thing being reflected. Some philosopher can probably explain that.