Archive for Venetian-ness
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.
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.
…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.
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:
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.
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:
A few days ago (last Monday, if anyone cares) there was a funeral. In this city that hardly counts as news. But it was the funeral of a young man — I consider 61 to be young — who had had a solid if untrumpeted career as a racer. Umberto Costantini, nicknamed “Burielo,” was at the top of his game in his twenties, during the Eighties and early Nineties, and the newspaper was full of the glorious Venetian-rowing names, some of them much, much older than he, who came to do him homage.
The homage, according to what I read, was some of the best you could ever hope for, especially from this squabbling band. “A great athlete and a good man,” stated several re del remo, the greatest champions, some of whom had rowed with him. “In this world, full of controversy, he never argued with anybody,” said one of the greatest arguers of them all.
A few days before his passing, the paper reports, a group of the all-time great rowers went to visit him in the hospital. “Ostrega,” he said, using the preferred Venetian expression for wow, good grief, heavens to Betsy, “I must really be in bad shape if you’re all here….”
He wanted a corteo, or boat procession, for his funeral, like the one he participated in when Bruno “Strigheta,” his friend and fellow Burano native, died two years ago. And so it was.
Unhappily, it was on a workday morning, which cut into the number of participants somewhat. Not having been a rock-star name, that also may have left him somewhat unknown and unappreciated in the general rowing world. Even more unhappily, there were people who knew him who just went to work as usual — we passed two gondoliers who were also Burano natives, and racers, as we wandered around town, who were clearly planning to be in their boats soon, but boats full of tourists. That seemed harsh.
As it happens, I have my own small memory of “Burielo” — small to me, but an event that was big for him. I hadn’t even heard of him till then. It was 1997, and I was watching the Regata Storica sitting in a boat not far from the finish line. Here the gondolinos came, thundering, so to speak, toward the finish line. It’s definitely the peak moment of a peak experience, the entire world was screaming and yelling and shrieking and so on.
Burielo was in the bow, and Bruno dei Rossi (“Strigheta”) was astern. They were in third place and rowing like mad to stay there, side by side, nose to nose, with the Busetto brothers, battling it out. The finish line was only, I’m guessing, 30 seconds away. Four men turbo-rowing — it was wild. But one man ran out of gas first: Burielo.
All at once, with that beautiful green pennant hopefully clutched in his (mental) hands, he stopped rowing, then collapsed. I remember seeing him crumple down in the boat. Just like that. Two boats passed as the gondolino slid forward on its own momentum — I can’t do justice to his state of mind, not to mention his partner’s — and they came in fifth. No pennant, and definitely no glory. The ambulance zoomed up and he was headed — in another sort of turbo-manner — to the hospital, where he was checked in for a serious tachycardia.
That was the last time he rowed a gondolino, that’s for sure, and evidently the last time he raced, period. You can understand that it would have been difficult to qualify for the required medical certificate. Maybe he didn’t even try.
The human part of me is very sad this happened. The secret mad-dog competitor part of me is sad that it happened before they could rip that green pennant from the (mental) hands of the Busettos.
I forgot to mention that he had a life beyond racing. He was a molecante, a type of fisherman who catches crabs and cultivates them in submerged wooden cages called vieri till they reach the stage where they shed their shells and become moeche (soft-shelled crabs) and can be sold at the market for a freaking king’s ransom.
The general procedure is this: A fisherman (which used to be most, and now some still, men on Burano) goes out into the lagoon and strings his nets along poles he drives into the mud. He goes out and checks what has run into the net. He divests the net of whatever is in it — all sorts of fish, and lots and lots of crabs. (You can see these little crabs running around the shallows any time you are out in a boat. Lino says that if you walk around in the semi-soft mud and then retrace your steps, each footprint will contain a crab. He doesn’t know why. I confirm that I have seen this.)
The fisherman separates the various critters and sells them, except for the crabs. He’ll sort out the good ones, and put them in the vieri. Every day or so he’ll pass to check on them, and takes out whichever are ready for market, tables, and unnumbered Swiss bank accounts. They are currently selling at the Rialto for 60 euros per kilo, or $30 per pound, more or less. I don’t know how much the molecante makes from that. My experience of life leads me to assume that it would be dramatically less than that, but that’s not the point of this little cadenza. The cadenza is that Burielo used to do this, and now (I hope) he’s doing it in heaven, because he loved it.