Archive for Venetian-ness

1x1.trans If those were bedsheets, what are these?  Quilting squares?

The color: Easy to discern without being objectionable. The size: Adequate. The clarity: As glass. The provenance: Mother Unknown. Father, too.

Everyone has been so busy recently dealing with the nizioleti and washing and bleaching and ironing them, so to speak, that there hasn’t been much time to worry about anything else.

But now that we’re looking at the walls, we can see that something is going on that’s almost as disconcerting as the rewriting of the bedsheets.

It has to do with the yellow signs attached to assorted walls around the city whose arrows indicate the right direction to take in order to reach the major points of interest: San Marco, Rialto, Accademia, and a few other points near and far. There aren’t enough of these signs, and they’re not always positioned at the really necessary spot, though admittedly the intentions are good. But that isn’t the problem.

Unlike the nizioleti, which were in danger of being un-Venetianized, their yellow cousins represent a bureaucratic convolution which is much knottier than whether to use double or single consonants.  And these yellow cousins don’t even have a cute nickname, unless you want to call them “mystery” (giallo, in Italian — the same word as yellow).

The problem is that they too need therapy — to be repaired, cleaned up, made uniform throughout the city, and generally titivated.  But they have no parents, no guardian, no adult supervision.  Nobody is responsible for them.  Nobody even knows who put them up, or when.

1x1.trans If those were bedsheets, what are these?  Quilting squares?

When you think of it, there are millions of intersections in the world where a choice would be useful, and even desirable. Here it mainly looks funny. (Photo: Bill Marsano)

This more than usual strangeness came to light when a merchant wrote to the city to complain about another merchant who had made a little personal project of blacking out the words on certain normal signs, and installing a new yellow sign — example: “Per Rialto” — with an arrow pointing in the direction of his shop. This had been going on for six years, which I think demonstrates an amazing forbearance on the part of his competitors.

There’s a saying which describes this kind of behavior: “The devil makes the pots, but he doesn’t make their lids.”  Which is to say that something skulduggerous might very well succeed up to a certain point, but it cannot remain concealed forever.  You may be cooking along at a great rate on some sketchy project, but it will boil over, dry up and burn, catch fire, develop botulinum toxin, or otherwise eventually be discovered.

However, when the annoyed merchant wrote to ask the city to intervene to correct this delinquency, the city did not reply with the traditional comment no ghe xe schei.

Instead, the particular department (Urban Maintenance) informed him that “The Department of Public Works doesn’t install the yellow signs, and they don’t conform to the current regulations.  In all of the Historic Center a signage indicating the most usual touristic routes are the object of continuous variations and tampering. It is impossible to determine the pre-existence, provenance, or eventual proprietors of these signs.

“Whatever intervention,” the reply continued, “requested by citizens or commercial operators for maintenance, cleaning up, renovation, or new installation, can only be made after a decision shared by the assessori (councilors) of Public Works, Commerce, Tourism, and Productive Activity” (the same thing as commerce, but different).

To sum up:  We don’t know whose they are, but they’re not legal. We don’t know who put them there, but you can’t touch them. These are deep waters, Watson.

1x1.trans If those were bedsheets, what are these?  Quilting squares?

Sometimes there are so many they essentially cancel each other out in the typical tourist’s overloaded brain. Here we have four, one being also in Hebrew. (Photo: Bill Marsano).

But Alessandro Maggioni, the assessore of Public Works, wanted to clarify the situation. ”All of the public signage belongs to the administration, that’s a certainty,” he said, showing admirable pluck.  “If there is damage, the Public Works substitutes the individual signs, but it’s true that to touch their indications we have to have the approval of the relevant department, that is, Tourism, and I know that for a while now they’ve been proceeding with a project of reorganization of the old signage of the city.”

After the epic adventure with the nizioleti, I am waiting with my follicles tingling to see what this might turn out to mean.

Meanwhile, follow the arrows with more than your usual caution.  That, or just don’t buy anything along the way.

That’ll show everybody you’re not to be trifled with.

1x1.trans If those were bedsheets, what are these?  Quilting squares?

And then there are the locals — presumably shopkeepers — who rebel against being treated as information centers, and put up their own signs.  (I noticed this as I sat waiting in the hair salon.) These are extremely helpful, but after a few big rains begin to lose their luster, or fall off. I have also seen names and arrows applied to walls with spray paint, which is more durable, but the words can be hard to make out amid the other graffiti. And so it goes. Citizens try to resolve problems on their own but the fact that they have been driven to do so makes the city look — what’s the word I’m looking for? — silly.


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1x1.trans The little bedsheet party, and a new crusade

The stage is ready, all we need are the people.

1x1.trans The little bedsheet party, and a new crusade

Voila’ — people.  Jammed into the refreshment corner, but they did listen to the speeches first.

The votes are in, but they’re still being counted.  So far, though, the number of ballots on the spelling of the nizioleti has exceeded 1,500.  And they are unanimous in favor of bringing back the old spelling, the old words, the old way, period.

This information was imparted by Tiziano Graziottin, from the Gazzettino, to a happy gathering last Sunday on a cold, rainy morning in the Fish Market at the Rialto.  I was interested to see maybe 50-70 people show up — perhaps more might have come if the weather had cooperated — and I was even more interested to see that only two people from the boating world (besides Lino and me) were there.

Why is this interesting?  First, because I hardly ever see people in groups who are not of the boating ilk. Second, because for the past several years, the president of the Coordinating Committee of the Rowing Clubs, a certain Giovanni Giusto, has made it his own highly emotional, high-volume mantra that Venetian rowing is one of the last holdouts –perhaps the last holdout — of true venezianita‘, or Venetian-ness.

If that’s the case, I would have assumed (Zwingle’s Fifth Law: Never Assume) that boating people would have showed up in a solid, even if small, block of solidarity.  But no.  Let’s say that the weather prevented coming by oar — which it did — people who cared could have come by foot, just like us.

But the boating world was not to be seen.  That particular piece of Venetian culture and heritage is apparently floating around sealed inside its own bubble, and the other piece of V.C. and H., i.e., the nizioleti, is doing likewise.  In a city this small, it seems bizarre that there should be no contact between these two tracks carrying the same train.

As I looked around, I tried to guess from which quadrant these people emerged.  The universities?  The art world?  The music world? The world of linguistics?  The world of free snacks? I could only be sure about the last.

1x1.trans The little bedsheet party, and a new crusade

The new group is a fusion of two Facebook groups dedicated to the above-named elements of Venice’s corporeal being. Joining forces seems like a great thing. Next, I think they should make enough shirts so anybody who joins (me, for example) could get one. Or at least have the chance to buy one. So far, these are only for the staff. So fine: Make me staff!

1x1.trans The little bedsheet party, and a new crusade

The general sentiment of the occasion — of the project, mission, crusade — was expressed in Venetian on the sign shown above.  Translation by me:

How many centuries of history are in this nizioleto,

Names of streets, written in dialect,

Squares, little squares, parishes and streets,

From the Bridge of the Beret-Makers to the Bridge of the Breasts,

But these names weren’t given by chance,

But according to strict criteria.

Each street we walk along reminds us of some fact (deed),

And, why not, even an ugly crime,

The Riva of Biasio, the Rio Tera’ of the Assassins,

As reported by the great Tassini …

To say nothing of the ancient trades,

Like the milk-seller or the barrel-maker,

Walk around the city with your head held high,

Every nizioleto is a truth.

And beware anybody who touches them

Or writes them in Italian,

Because we’ll bite their hand.

Poor nizioleti, old and worn,

And to fix them, there’s never any money.

The purpose of the festa wasn’t only to report on the voting, but also to promote (in a very soft way), the new organization known as “Masegni e Nizioleti.”  (The masegni are the old trachyte paving stones, which have been endangered for the past several years by replacement by blocks of some other substance.  I think it’s a kind of stone, but once it’s on the ground, it looks to the street the same way Italianized words look on the nizioleti: Strange, out of place, and uninvited). The sheets and the stones groups decided to join forces and it appears, at least in the honeymoon stage, to be a happy marriage.

I pulled out 10 euros and signed on as a member of Masegni and Nizioleti. I have no idea how far the group is going to get, but I do know that on May 25, squads will be organized to clean graffiti off the walls.  I will take a break from whinging, put on my rubber gloves, pick up my bucket and brush, or sponge, or broom, and get to work, EVEN THOUGH I know that a week later graffiti will reappear.

More about the masegni themselves in my next; they are a story in themselves (as are we all).  But this is enough for one day.  Steady the Buffs!  Tote that bedsheet! All hands to the pumps, and see you on the barricades.  Bring refreshments.

1x1.trans The little bedsheet party, and a new crusade

And there are a good number of nizioleti whose primary problem isn’t spelling — it’s having letters at all.  Gad.


Categories : Problems, Venetian-ness
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Rewriting the bedsheets

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1x1.trans Rewriting the bedsheets

A case in point. “Ole” in Venetian are (or were) terracotta containers for cooking food. I think “terracotta containers for cooking food” would sound just as awkward in Italian as it does in English. And “tajine,” “chatti,” “shaguo,” “donabe,” “palayok,” or “Romertopf” wouldn’t be much of a step in the right direction, either. This would definitely be one nizioleto to leave alone.

The bedsheets, as you recall, are known as nizioleti here, and are the characteristic street signs with their often-exotic names in the Venetian language.

But hidden within them was a problem which nobody had ever noticed — nobody except Tiziana Agostini, the Assessore (person officially responsible) for Place Names.

The nizioleti are in Venetian, but she thought they should be in Italian. Time to move on, leave that quaint little old past behind, step up the game. Was she ever surprised last December when she discovered that the Venetians were massively opposed to this cultural non-improvement. A citizens’ group quickly formed to stop the madness and promote the repairing and repainting of the good old names that were already in place and doing just fine as they were, thanks so much.

Citizens’ groups here can’t count on accomplishing much beyond letting their dudgeon be known, but in this case the response came from everywhere, it seemed, and it was unanimous: We want the old names back.  Don’t fix the names.  Leave the names the hell alone.

And the outcry seems to have worked.

Ms. Agostini came out from under her desk when the bombardment stopped, and has been meeting with the core citizens’ group with the intention of reviewing and correcting the situation. Fancy way of saying “Put the words back where they belong.”

Meanwhile, the Gazzettino has undertaken a poll of its readers. Every day for about a week (the last day will be March 16), the same list of names is published in the paper, and the reader can indicate his/her preference by ticking the appropriate box.  Then one merely has to cut out the little survey form, and take it to one of the drop-off stations.  Happily, one of them is right here in via Garibaldi, though I would have gone all the way to the train station if that were my only option.

Naturally I’ve been ticking all the boxes on the right every day, and will keep on doing so till the end.

Then we’ll see if it ever made any difference.

1x1.trans Rewriting the bedsheets

This is the survey form, correctly filled out.  The left column lists the words in Italian — on the right, their Venetian equivalents. I’m not, in fact, in favor of their adopting “San Zanipolo,” as everyone knows, but I voted for it on principle.

1x1.trans Rewriting the bedsheets

Brief, to the point, and in perfect Venetian. Note the lack of double consonants, which is your first clue. You could make “salizada” (paved) more Italianesque by writing “salizzata,” I suppose, but the correct Italian term would have to be “selciato,” which isn’t progress. “Streta” means “narrow” (in Italian, stretta).  Anyway, it’s fine like it is already.

1x1.trans Rewriting the bedsheets

The Street of the Little Fig Tree. In Italian, it would be “del piccolo fico.” Fine, but this is so much more appealing. The tree itself seems somehow smaller in Venetian.




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Another run around the Venetian obstacle course

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Every so often, someone will say/ask/opine: “You live in Venice?  I really envy you!  It must be so wonderful!  What’s it like?”

Because dreams are fragile and precious, and we all need more of them, not fewer, I usually answer in a generic way, while still lingering somewhere in the vicinity of the truth.  Yes, it’s beautiful; yes, it’s amazing; yes, it’s unique, etc. etc.  But I usually limit myself to one word: “Arduous.”  Not all day, not every day, and the rewards outweigh the drawbacks. Also, “arduous” is simpler than “obstacle course.”

No cars — how great!  No elevators — how somewhat less great! And so on. With all due respect to every person who has ever lived, in every military in every country, here is a glimpse of what a particularly demanding day here feels like.

There are at least two ways to say “obstacle course” in Italian.

The simpler and less emotionally-loaded term is “corso ad ostacoli.”  You can figure that out even if you don’t speak the language.

The other, which reflects more clearly the reality as she is lived, is “percorso di guerra.”  If you know that “guerra” means “war,” you don’t need to examine the subtleties of “percorso.”  However, my dictionary renders this as  “assault course.”

You can already see how “arduous” is better.  I’ll give you a little example of what that can mean in ErlaWorld.

A few weeks ago I got a new desk.  I ordered it online, and it was delivered to our door in a box (assembly required). Just like in the real world.

But then I needed a new bookcase to accompany it.  Space here being measured in micrometers, I had to be cunning and clever regarding materials and dimensions and cost.  So I spent days researching “bookcases.”

Nothing on Amazon, nothing from IKEA.  Nothing from my other two or three dependable vendors, such as Staples. This was annoying.

Hacking my way through the online underbrush, I managed after several hours to locate a company — Leroy Merlin, for the record — which sells the steel-chrome wire elements I wanted, in dimensions that would work.  But this company did not enable online orders.  I had to go to the store.  The store is in Marghera.

We do not have a car, so the bus is our only option, short of asking for a ride from somebody, which is always more trouble than it’s worth.  So the bus, in itself, is no novelty to me, and on the whole it’s not a hugely inconvenient way to get from here to there.  But this expedition was going to be into uncharted territory.

I checked maps, I checked the ACTV website.  Then I called the store to ask which bus would bring me from Venice to them.  “Take any bus going along the Brenta, or to Padova,” I was told.  And get off where?  “The stop called ‘Industria.’”

The ACTV website listed one bus that made sense, but did not identify a stop called “Industria.” (Much later, which is typical in these sagas, I found a stop called “Incro. via Colombara,” or intersection with via Colombara, which would have solved my dilemma. But I was still working on the assumption that the man knew what he was talking about.)

At this point I began to notice the familiar sensation of moving forward, but on terrain which felt progressively less stable, so to speak.  It’s the point at which a project goes from “time-consuming but logical” to “perplexing,” and  onward to “You’ll just have to figure it out for yourself.”

1x1.trans Another run around the Venetian obstacle course

The Industrial Zone of Marghera, which doesn’t look especially good even when seen 7 km (4 miles) across the lagoon from the Lido.  The town behind it looks pretty much as you would expect a town would look that was built in the Thirties to house thousands of workers.

Lino and I left the house at 1:30.  We got to Piazzale Roma in time to miss the bus that left at 2:10, so we took the one that left at 2:25.

We asked the driver to let us off at “Industria.”  He looked blank.  “Do you know where the “Industria” stop is?” He shrugged.

A look at this map will give a general overview of the terrain to be explored. Our destination was just above the traffic circle in the center, where “SS 11″ can be seen.

I had consulted several maps, so I had a general idea of the territory, but not the bus stops.  So we got off two stops early, as we quickly discovered.  We walked back to a bar where we could get some details.  Retraced steps and proceeded on foot, as per plan, to the store.  It only took about 15 minutes, but as usual in unfamiliar situations, it felt like more. So we were at the store by 3:00.

The map on the ACTV website is only relatively clear (blue line).  We should have descended at stop #13, but instead got off at #11.  Bonus: Each bus stop has a sign with a number, but the number does not correspond to the numbers on the ACTV map. So far, so normal.

If you ever need to know, there are six stops on via Fratelli Bandiera, listed as “1/6,” “2/6″ and so forth. Then the road changes its name to SS 11 (State Road 11), or “via Padana,” which is also not marked on the map.  And the numbering begins again: “1/6,” “2/6,” etc.  As for “Intersection with via Colombara,” the street name is not written on any surface within a radius of 40,000 miles.  It might be written on the side of a yurt on the Golodnaya Steppe.

1x1.trans Another run around the Venetian obstacle course

This is what I was looking for, more or less. I wanted something taller and broader, but still, it didn’t seem that I was asking for the Holy Grail. Which was not on their website anyway.

Finally inside the store, we went through the identifying-the-components phase and were well underway with the salesperson till I asked about getting a “controventatura.”  He looked blank.  (Maybe I should have asked him where the “Industria” stop was.  Oh wait — he already knew.  He walks to work from the bus every day.) This wasn’t encouraging — not only is it his language, it’s his job.

I had to explain that it’s a brace.

He said they didn’t have them.

I mentioned that they were listed for sale on their website.  But this meant nothing because the website evidently is created in France, the company’s home base, and the goods are distributed according to some system.  The “bookcases in Italy don’t need braces” system.

Complete order: Four metal stanchions 180 cm (70 inches) high.  Four metal shelves 121 cm (47 inches) long and 20 cm (8 inches) deep.

A package of four small round wheels.

Total cost 141 euros, which is not important.  What is important is what we were told when we asked the charge for having it delivered to our little hovel in the historic center of the most beautiful city in the world.

“120 euros,” was the reply.

Rico, give me options!

The store could deliver our modest amount of merchandise to Tronchetto, and we could pick it up there; cost, a paltry 60 euros.

We could have rented a car for about half that, to drive to the store and bring our stuff to Tronchetto.  But that would have added way too many more moving parts to the already self-complicating project.

So we paid the 60 euros, and were told it would be delivered to Tronchetto next Tuesday (a week to wait for this minuscule amount of merchandise?  They must have been waiting for somebody to order a new set of doors and windows, or 90 bidets, or something else that would make the trip worthwhile.)

We walked back to the bus stop, where the bus was just pulling away.  We waited for about half an hour, standing on the shoulder of the road in one of the more dreary parts of the Venetian hinterland as traffic hurried past us.  A scattering of small, monotonous houses ahead of us, interspersed with abandoned land.  Behind us, the deteriorating grey hulks of cast-off factories, part of the now mostly derelict Industrial Zone which once provided work to thousands.  Up the road, more houses, some bar/cafes, intermittent small hotels, and the church of GesuLavoratore, or Jesus the Worker.

As the sun dropped, the girls began to appear, strolling along the roadsides to lure commuters, truckers, taxi-drivers, or anyone else who had the time and the space to pull over. Now I understand the hotels.

1x1.trans Another run around the Venetian obstacle course

The view from the bus stop looking up via Fratelli Bandiera. I was impressed that there could be a trash can here, out in the middle of I’ll-never-see-home-again-Land, while there is only one in the middle of via Garibaldi. As for the view, of course there is a difference between “ugly” and “inconvenient.” This part of the municipality of Venice manages to be both.

Finally the bus came.  In 20 minutes or so we were at Piazzale Roma.  We walked to the vaporetto stop.  We waited with about 180 other people to get on the next vaporetto.  We managed it.  It took 25 minutes to reach the Giardini stop.  Then we walked to our house.

We walked in at about 5:30.  We’d been on our feet for almost the entire four hours of this little Venetian pilgrimage.  Part of that time was spent discussing what sort of boat we were going to be able to wrangle in order to get to Tronchetto and pick up our stuff and get it home.

If you don’t own a motorboat, which we don’t, the options are to borrow one, with or without driver (raising the question of remuneration), or… row.  I think we’re probably going to row all the way over and back.

Yes? A question in the back? Why didn’t we carry our purchase back to Venice on the bus and vaporetto?  Because of the 180-cm stanchions.  Lino was convinced that they would be a big problem on the vaporetto, not to mention the bus.

However, we saw someone on the bus hauling a pair of skis and a big IKEA bag with two pairs of ski boots; I pointed him out to Lino saying, “Well, nobody minds him carrying his skis on the bus, and they’re no longer than the stanchions.”

Lino retorted that the bus wasn’t crowded, which wasn’t going to be true of the vaporetto; in any case, logic is a frail reed — you can’t lean heavy arguments against it. Besides, we both know that it’s the marinaio (the person who ties up the boat at each stop) who gets to decide what to allow on board.

A plumber once told us that he was about to get on the vaporetto one morning with his cart loaded with his tools, and the marinaio told him he couldn’t get on.

“The vaporetto was half-empty,” the plumber said.  “So I asked him why?’

“He told me, ‘Because I said so.’”

I didn’t especially want to have to wait on the dock with my stanchions, which in fact are no higher than plenty of people, till a marinaio arrived who wouldn’t consider my cargo excessive.  I would have risked it, but Lino drew the line.

Now I have to start thinking about how I can construct a brace, seeing that there are none to be had, not even for ready money.

1x1.trans Another run around the Venetian obstacle course

Then again, it’s not hard to find reminders of why it’s worth putting up with all the inconvenience.

1x1.trans Another run around the Venetian obstacle course

1x1.trans Another run around the Venetian obstacle course

I must remember that one reason it still works so well for the egrets is because they have very few needs. Least of all for a bookcase.

1x1.trans Another run around the Venetian obstacle course

And speaking of logistics, I withdraw my objections to everything, Your Honor, and yield to the honorable new mother of twins. Zounds!


1x1.trans Another run around the Venetian obstacle course
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