Archive for Venetian-ness
Just when I had concluded that there was nothing different or interesting to say about Venice, just when I thought life here was going to continue to grind deeper and deeper into its rut (same old problems, same old remarks, same old endless cycle of birth and rebirth), comes a blast of rage from person or persons yet to be identified.
Whoever they were, they trashed 7 of the gondolinos belonging to the city, discovered just today on the last day of the gondolino eliminations for the Regata Storica. The “Storica,” as you know, is the ultimate race, and it is conducted aboard the gondolinos. There is a total of 9, plus the reserve boat. Three boats, which were in another place and therefore escaped the axe murderer(s), weren’t much to work with for the eliminations today, but the nine two-man crews were divided into three sets of three, and extra time was eaten up with the removing and re-installing of the forcolas of each rower at each change. The mayor has tweeted that the boats will be repaired in time for the race on Sept. 4. Five boatyards have thrown themselves into the work.
Who would do such a thing? Plenty of police are working to find out. But who would WANT to do it? Who indeed? It might be disaffected office-seekers, or environmentalists protesting deforestation, or people who want Jodie Foster to fall in love with them, or anything.
There has been tension in the rowing world recently, it’s true. But until all the dust has settled, and been left there as long as I usually leave it anywhere, and then finally Pledged away, I’m not going to start theorizing.
I can mention, however, that a sense of anarchy stretching beyond the world of rowing seems to be threatening what ought to be well-earned somnolence in the city. Tourists keep trying to swim in the Grand Canal. A New Zealander, one of the crew of a yacht in port, got drunk a few nights ago, jumped off the Rialto Bridge, and landed right on the windshield of a water taxi passing below. The mariner is in the hospital in very bad condition, and the taxi is also in the shop.
Here is a recent video from Roberta Chiarotto, on her Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/roberta.chiarotto/videos/10209231322756467/
We see some young people in their bathing suits in Campo San Vio, heading for a refreshing dip. The voice of the Venetian woman reprimanding them, in English and German, basically says “This isn’t Disneyland, it’s a city. You can’t do this.” For those (like Lino) who remember swimming in the canals as little tykes — naked, learning to swim tied to their mother’s washboard — may I say that there was less dangerous traffic then, and by the way, they were merely little tykes. Healthy full-grown hominids who are not in their own back yards should be aware, if only dimly, of the appropriateness of some behavior. If in doubt, I’d suggest “Don’t.”
What amazes me is how tranquilly these visitors receive this unwelcome news, and how unconvinced they look. And they’re not an isolated case; a few weeks ago, five young French tourists took the plunge in the Grand Canal in front of City Hall, no less. I won’t continue this list, because however many times I might mention it, I still can’t believe it. And it seems to have no effect.
Once again driven to distraction, some exasperated resident recently snapped, posting a sign near Campo San Martin:
On a more serious but equally anarchic note, two nights ago there was a nearly fatal collision in the lagoon (that’s good news, considering that at least once a summer there is a completely fatal collision to report). A motorboat being driven at high speed — that’s redundant, pretty much all motorboats are driven at high speed in the lagoon — ran right straight into a passing water taxi. The motorboat sank, the ambulance came, the two young men are in the hospital and the girl escaped unharmed. The high-spirited young folks had been zooming along with no lights on their boat, lights which are not only required by law but which common sense reveals would have at least given the taxi driver some hint as to their imminent arrival.
My point is that a great deal of anarchy can be tolerated, for many reasons, as long as nothing happens, which is what everybody is counting on. And then something happens. Like ramming a taxi.
Consequences can be so unpleasant. And they follow deeds with such annoying persistence.
Some of you might have watched the opening ceremony of the Olympics in Rio last Friday. I liked it a lot, for many reasons, but that’s not the point. If you didn’t like it, we can still be friends.
But I think we can agree that it had more than five moving parts, which is the maximum (I’ve just decided) that I can keep track of, much less control. So may I give a huge shout-out to the director and executive producer, Marco Balich? I’d have done it anyway, but guess what? He’s Venetian.
I suppose I shouldn’t be all that impressed; I discover that he directed the opening and closing of the Winter Olympics in Torino (2006) and the closing of the London Olympics (2012). Also aspects of the Olympics in Beijing and Sochi. He spent, all told, three years working on this five-hour extravaganza — two years designing, and one year living in Rio. But he was also, I now dimly recall, the director of Carnival in 2008.
And here’s what he had to say: “Designing the opening of the Games was simpler than the Carnival of Venice.” He said he was joking.
“An event like the Olympics requires a complex preparatory phase, of negotiations, bureaucracy, long stretches of time and also the unforeseeable. But I have to say that in Rio we found better conditions than anyone could imagine.”
The journalist interviewing him mentioned the “completely Brazilian placid resignation that perhaps greatly resembles the Venetian.” I don’t remember having noticed any particularly PLACID resignation. Though if we had the samba maybe nobody would care.
From a man accustomed to working with millions — I refer to money, as well as humans — that’s a very nice thing to hear. So if he wants to joke about how hard it is to organize in Venice, never mind, because everyone knows that working on your home turf is not only hard, but usually an Olympic-level exercise in ingratitude.
And speaking of money, the Gazzettino of today reports that in one year, the Guardia di Finanza at the airport has recovered 15 million euros in cash which were outward bound, by means of a thousand assorted passengers. The article says the cash was hidden in “the most unusual places — the heels of shoes, and in bras.” Not ever having had more than the allowed 10,000 euros in cash to carry from point A to B, I’m probably not an expert on the subject. But I still would have considered shoes and bras to be the very first place to look, even if I didn’t have a beagle backing me up. I guess I must be smarter than the people who got caught.
I’m giving my brain a small holiday — what the British traveling public knows so charmingly as an “away day” — and not trying to string thoughts together. Or even to have very many thoughts, frankly. Once I start, I usually discover that my brakes are unreliable.
But looking around is always a treat, to one degree or another, and Lord knows we don’t lack for material here.
Here’s the link, in case the clip hasn’t come through: https://youtu.be/6MEwe6XL_ck
My “away day” is over now, leaving room for “back-here day,” which will be tomorrow.
By now you know how it goes. We’re out walking somewhere, or on the vaporetto, or just minding our own business, and somebody Lino knows will cross our trajectory.
Seeing people you know isn’t something remarkable in most towns. Seeing people you’ve always known is particularly Venetian. Or particularly Lino, anyway.
We were standing on the dock at “Rialto Mercato” waiting for the vaporetto and Lino glimpsed an average sort of man, rather innocuous, walking on behind us. “Oh boy,” said Lino. “There’s Piero.” Yes? Lino started doing that mysterious thing we all recognize which says I AM INVISIBLE YOU DO NOT SEE ME I AM NOT HERE. Very loudly. The reason being, as Lino muttered, that he would nab you and start talking and you’d never get away. This is a hanging offense in LinoWorld when he still has to finish the Gazzettino.
“We grew up together,” he began to explain, which also isn’t so remarkable. “Nursery school, kindergarten, elementary school. He lived on the calle de le Botteghe at San Barnaba. We went to day camp together.
“Then he went to work at the port. He was some kind of laborer — I don’t remember what. Maybe he weighed things, or operated the crane.
“Anyway, at a certain point he reached legal retirement age” (which is based on years you’ve worked, not your birthday-age, and people of Piero and Lino’s vintage started really early, usually around 16). “So they told him he had to retire. He didn’t want to, he wanted to keep working.
“So after he left the port he kept going around to anybody who he thought could help him find another job — the parish priest, the Patriarch. Anybody. He said he’d work for free. He didn’t care about getting paid, he just needed something to do.” But he didn’t find anything, so he has joined the ranks of the many unwillingly-retired men who go out every morning and glom onto whatever friend wanders into glomming range.
“He was muculoso,” Lino recalled. Mucusy. Always wiping his nose with his sleeve. Lino remembers a surprising number of people who answered that description, either individually or categorically (as in: When Lino sees a person he’s known since childhood who has clearly gotten above himself, forgetting or ignoring his/her humble origins, he might pointedly mutter, “He didn’t even have a handkerchief to wipe his nose.” Or, more vividly: “Quanti mussi al naso!” He was pretty snotty!). Ah, these are the real memories.
Piero’s nasal passages have calmed down, but he did come and sit down behind us and start talking to Lino. Fortunately, Lino’s friendly but short replies got the message through, and he decided to just sit quietly and let Lino read the paper. It took me several slow, painful years to learn that lesson. But then again, he’s known Lino longer than I have.
We were pausing in via Garibaldi for some reason one afternoon in early February. I remember the date because there was a big Carnival event impending (the corteo of the Marie), and there were plenty of Vigili Urbani around. These are like the first-tier policemen, all uniformed up. Three men in particularly serious garb walk by, one of whom is taller and somewhat more distinguished-looking than the others.
“Oh, there’s Rizzo,” said Lino. “I remember him. His father was a gondolier. Died young. He was as old as my brother Puccio (editor’s note: who also died young). I remember his grandmother.”
Having set the scene: “Wow. Look at him. He looks like a general.” (Which was said with only the tiniest inflection of “You ain’t all that.”)
So, we were walking homeward this morning from the vaporetto stop at San Pietro, after a visit to someone in the hospital. There were a few people walking ahead of us. “You see that man with his hands behind his back?” asked Lino. I did. “He’s a retired gondolier.” And you know this because……?
Easy answer: “He used to be at the stazio at the Molo.” In other words, you know him. Interesting answer: “Also, you can tell by the way he walks.” Yes, I could see that he was limping slightly, favoring his left leg, by which I mean that he let his weight fall more onto his right leg. Thus, discomfort on left side — hip, knee, etc. This is an occupational hazard — or virtual certainty — of the full-time gondolier after a very long while at the stern. The stern rower always has his left leg forward, which means that with each stroke of the oar, his weight is transferred onto that leg. Do that every day for days/months/decades, and in the end you will pretty much have worn your trochanters away.
I think gondoliers ought to get a special rate for hip replacements.