Archive for Venetian-ness
I like to call them “Venetian moments” — those instants of recognition, typically when you run into somebody you only met yesterday, in some unexpected place.
Today we experienced a tiny but less blithesome Venetian moment. Its Venetianness was based on money.
Experience, and occasional articles in the newspaper, have shown that there are sometimes two price scales here: one for tourists (high) and one for Venetians (low. Or less high, anyway).
We haven’t had much experience with this, except for one strange moment on the Lido some years back. I wasn’t there, but I can picture it. Lino was with someone he has now forgotten, and they stopped in a slightly fancy bar/cafe on the main street to have a spritz. After they’d drained their glasses, Lino, on a sprightly impulse, said to the barista in English, “How much?”
The little cash-register receipt was produced and Lino glanced at the total. ”What’s all this?” he asked the barista. “You charged me double the price for a spritz? I’m Venetian!”
To which the hapless young man responded, “Well, you could have told me you were Venetian.”
But an even stranger moment occurred today.
We were walking toward the Piazza San Marco around 9:30 this morning. Lino was thirsty, so we stopped in a bar/cafe on a corner. For the record, it’s called Snack Bar da Piero. (Sounds like a TripAdvisor warning.)
There was no one in the bar except for the dark-haired young woman behind the counter. Lino said, “May I have a glass of water with bubbles?” Sounds better in Italian: frizzante.
She pulled out one of those little half-liter bottles of water, opened it, and poured half of it into a glass. “That’ll be one euro,” she said.
Lino and I stared at each other, and at her.
“One euro, for that glass of water?” Lino asked? (Note: I would have expected 50 euro-cents.)
“What? We’re not Americans!” Translation: Do you think we’re rich and dumb?
“No,” she replied. “I give the Americans the whole bottle.”
Lino said, “Excuse me? You charge the Americans one euro for the whole bottle, but you’re charging me one euro for half a bottle?”
She just looked at him.
“You can keep the water,” he said, and turned to leave.
“Suit yourself,” was her answer, or some equivalent thereof.
So we walked out, leaving her with an open bottle and full glass which — one can hope — she won’t be able to sell to anyone else.
Lino was a mixture of stunned, offended, and just plain mad. I could hear another nail being driven into the proverbial Venetian coffin, the coffin which contains the few precious fragments of genuine Venetian-ness blown there by the winds of avarice across the vast Kalahari desert which is touristic Venice.
We walked over the next bridge into the Piazza San Marco. At the corner was a small gelateria, and an older gentleman — clearly the owner — was standing just outside it. Lino said to him, “Could I have a glass of tap water? I need to take a pill.”
The man said, “Sure thing.”
I asked Lino, “Was he Venetian?”
“And the girl?”
I can’t explain it, I can only describe it. But by the way, a euro for a half-liter bottle is still too much, no matter who’s paying. I can get six of them in the supermarket for 1.20.
By which I do not mean palaces and churches.
I mean the white-haired lady facing me on the vaporetto Sunday evening.
We were sitting on the two seats facing backward. A pair of older ladies occupied the two seats facing forward. Our knees were not touching because we’re all too polite for that.
These ladies might have been somewhere in their seventies, though the one directly before me seemed slightly younger. They were both dressed as any reasonably well-to-do Venetian women dress — clothes of normal value and subdued colors.
I sometimes let myself glance at the lady in front of me because she had a lovely silk scarf draping her neck. It was a soft white with an even softer pink border, with some sort of little figures scattered across it (butterflies? flowers?). I reflected on how flattering pink can be, if it’s just the right shade.
The ladies clearly knew each other, though they exchanged only a few words occasionally; otherwise they looked tranquilly at nowhere as we rumbled along across the dark water.
At the Zattere stop, both women stood up and got off together.
Lino said: ”Did you notice the woman in front of you?”
“She used to live in my neighborhood — her son was in class with Marco (Lino’s son).” This would have been about 40 years ago.
So far, so not very remarkable. Lino is always seeing people he used to know, and sometimes still does.
“Her son had one leg shorter than the other,” Lino continued. ”But really shorter” — he indicated a distance of six inches, which I hope was an exaggeration. “He had to wear a big heavy shoe.
“One day her son went on a camping trip with some other boys; he was around ten or 12 years old then. One of the bigger boys tried to sodomize him (“spaccare il culo“). He fought back, and so the boy killed him.”
“How?” I asked.
“Stabbed him to death.”
“She took such good care of him,” Lino said. ”When he was really little, she’d carry him to school.”
“Did she recognize you?” I asked.
“Of course,” Lino replied. “The woman with her is her sister-in-law.”
The conversation ended there, and so does this post. There is nothing I can say that deserves to be written here, so I won’t.
I’m about to shimmer away for a few days in Frankfurt for a big boating event on the river Main, so I won’t be posting till next week.
Here are a few of the things I saw today, just to keep you in the mood.
The luxurious abandon of life here, the liberation from civilization’s leg-irons that makes some tourists claim that “Italians really know how to live” (I’ve heard them say this), can be seen in almost every corner of life in this city. Especially our special little niche. Dogs. Vaporettos. I’ve ranted about them many times and will most likely continue. The Phrygian Cabirian Mysteries must be easier to understand than certain behavior around here.
But I haven’t said a whole lot about garbage, except for occasional mentions of the people who put their bags out when acqua alta is predicted, so the bags float around the streets and out to sea; or those who put them out at night, or on Saturday afternoon to wait for Monday morning’s collection, thus giving the gulls plenty of time to rip them apart and throw their contents everywhere.
Where garbage is concerned, I’m going to curtail my own little diatribe and cast it in the vox of the populi, as noticed recently here and there. I am not the only one voxing objections, so this is a positive sign of something, I guess. But however many voices may be either muttering or yelling, there is a collective passivity which meets them with the density of the air in a vacuum. Shout all you wish; indulge in the intermittent scream; try your hand at a banshee howl or the ungodly screeching of fisher cats (Martes pennanti); your only response will be a sublime indifference approaching Nirvana.
Nirvana: “A place or state characterized by freedom from or oblivion to pain, worry and the external world.” The external world means everywhere that isn’t inside my four walls. In a word, Venice!!
Here is the text, for the record, Your Honor, of Article 9 D.P.R. 915/82, translated by me:
Prohibition of abandoning garbage: It is forbidden the uncontrolled abandoning, dumping or depositing of garbage in public areas or private areas that are liable to public use. In the case of a breach, the mayor, when sanitary, health or environmental reasons subsist , shall decree an ordinance, with a deadline, for the cleaning-up of the area(s) at the expense of the responsible parties. By the terms contained in Law 10 of May 10, 1976, N. 319, and successive modifications, it is forbidden to dispose of any trash of any sort in either public or private waters.”
So is the old computer sitting on the fondamenta because you’re forbidden to throw it into the canal? Certainly not. Apparently the punitive “sanctions of the law” in this case means that the guilty party has to pay to have it removed. Which they could have arranged for free by calling the garbage collection hotline and making an appointment. But that takes time and thought. Time — don’t have it. Thought — don’t need it.
So let’s review: According to the exasperated residents of Calle Vechia, the bags of garbage not theirs have to be taken to the bins. But according to the bins, the garbage isn’t allowed into them.
This leaves one alternative: Do what the city says and put your bag of garbage on your own personal doorstep of the structure where you live before 8:00 AM, and the collector will come by and pick it up and throw it into his big rolling metal box and take it away. I can’t understand why so many people seem to find this system so obnoxious. You’d think they’d been told to make bricks without straw.
So who are these bag-bestrewing malefactors? They can’t be the much-reviled tourists, because they don’t have bags of garbage. They have beer bottles and little plastic ice-cream cups and spoons and Coke cans and things that would fit easily into the bins. (Ignore the fact that these objects often don’t get that far, but are left on the nearest windowsill, because the bins are few and inconveniently placed.)
A tourist didn’t lug that computer to the water’s edge. And tourists don’t sneak out with bags of garbage and leave them in dark alleys.
You see where I’m going. By process of elimination, the principal offenders are Venetians. Why? We’re back to First Principles: It’s because being told that something is forbidden excites a primal urge to do that very thing and nothing else. And lest we suppose the Old Venetians in the Great Old Days were any more virtuous, the hoary stone tablet over the door to what was a convent garden near the church of Sant’ Andrea de la Zirada tells the same old story. Don’t do this, don’t do that — the excellent administrators of the city were refreshingly precise, and they made the punishments very clear. They even carved it in stone, as it were.
And yet I’d be willing to bet that the Old Venetians, who hadn’t thought of anything that day more urgent than whether to fry or grill the sardines, would immediately have felt an overwhelming impulse to run out and start to blaspheme, play cards, throw dice, or at least to tumultuar and strepitar, which basically means create an unholy racket.
People are just made that way.