Archive for Venetian-ness

Aug
19

Anger management

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This is how a gondolino is supposed to look.

This is how a gondolino is supposed to look.  These men and this boat have no connection to the story below.

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.

Photos taken from remieracasteo.blogspot.it.

Photos taken from remieracasteo.blogspot.it.

9.jpg gondolino USE

10.jpg gondolino USE

 

8.jpg gondolino

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:

Needs no translation. It was removed not long afterward but a local shopkeeper did say he could understand it. The bridges are often full of people wandering at random, stopping, taking pictures... None of which is a hanging offense, but their obliviousness to anyone but themselves must have some fancy scientific name. The point isn't that they're tourists, it's that they're not aware that they're in somebody else's city. Of course you can argue that Venice belongs to the world, but I invite you to defend that idea at certain points in the city all summer long. And at other times, too.

Needs no translation. It was removed not long afterward, but a local shopkeeper did say he could understand it. The bridges are often full of people wandering at random, stopping, taking pictures… None of which is a hanging offense, but their obliviousness to anyone but themselves must have some fancy scientific name. The point isn’t that they’re tourists, it’s that they’re not aware that they’re in somebody else’s city. Of course you can argue that Venice belongs to the world, but that doesn’t mean the world has to come and stand on your bridge.

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.

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Aug
07

Brain flutterings

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There is a brief period in later summer when the wetlands are carpeted with a form of heather commonly called "erica" (Calluna vulgaris). It should not be picked. But if for some reason it were to be picked, it stays beautiful as a dried flower for almost forever. I've been told. This photo was made a week ago, but I know the blooms are gone by now.

There is a brief period in later summer when the wetlands are carpeted with a form of heather known as “sea lavender,” or Limonium vulgare.  (I haven’t yet found a local name for this.) It should not be picked. But if for some reason it were to be picked, it stays beautiful as a dried flower for almost forever. I’ve been told. This photo was made a week ago, but I know the blooms have faded, or fallen, by now.  This picture is here only to set a mood of some sort — it has nothing to do with what follows.

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.

A few small cultivators on the Vignole sell their daily harvest at the Trattoria alla Vignole. Looking at the bins, a question formed in my brain. What's the point of writing "cipolle"? Or "pomodoro"? Or "patate"? If I were illiterate, or literate only in some distant language such as Tamil, this label would serve no purpose at all. All I really need to see is the price per kilo, as noted. I think anybody looking at the object would know what it was, call it what you will.

A few small cultivators on the Vignole sell their daily harvest at the Trattoria alla Vignole.  As I looked at the bins, a question formed in my brain. What’s the point of writing “cipolle”? Or “pomodoro”? Or “patate”? If I were illiterate, or literate only in some distant language such as Tamil, this label would serve no purpose at all. All I really need to see is the price per kilo, as noted. I think anybody looking at the object would know what it was, call it what you will.

It just strikes me as -- perhaps not odd -- but surprisingly superfluous. Unless they were put there for vocabulary drill by some enterprising (and hungry, and thrifty) teacher.

It just strikes me as — perhaps not odd — but surprisingly superfluous. Unless they were put there for vocabulary drill by some enterprising (and hungry, and thrifty) teacher.

And while I'm on the subject of unnecessary and inexplicable things, there is this phenomenon, which is not as rare as it should be (by which I mean: non-existent). A German couple happily deposits themselves in the outside seats on the vaporetto, and help themselves to a seat for their luggage. The most polite question I would have asked, if I'd felt like bracing myself for the reply, would have been: "Did you buy a ticket for those bags? Because there are plenty of people standing behind you who would almost certainly like to be sitting there." I know the space is tiny to non-existent, no one needs to tell me that. I merely ask why that entitles someone to use more for themselves just because they got there first.

And while I’m on the subject of unnecessary and inexplicable things, there is this phenomenon, which is not as rare as it should be (by which I mean: non-existent). A German couple happily deposits themselves in the outside seats on the vaporetto, and help themselves to a seat for their luggage. The most polite question I would have asked, if I’d felt like bracing myself for the reply, would have been: “Did you buy a ticket for those bags? Because there are plenty of people standing behind you who would almost certainly like to be sitting there.” I know that space is tiny to non-existent, no one needs to tell me that. I merely ask why that entitles someone to use more for themselves just because they got there first.

I conclude as I began: This picture is here just because I like it. I do not romantized these ladies -- their not-so-distant forebears (and perhaps they too) were notorious for family-destroying gossip. But I'm going to forget that for the moment.

I conclude as I began: This picture is here just because I like it. I do not romanticize these ladies — their not-so-distant forebears (and perhaps they too) were notorious for family-destroying gossip. But I’m going to forget that for the moment.  There are just too few of them left for me to cavil.

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May
26

What, me normal?

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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.

Benches -- not enough, but still usable -- line the viale Garibaldi, the perfect spot of summer shade where people can sprawl and eat or nap. Lino calls the area respectively the "refectory" or the "dormitory." We sit there too, sometimes, when we can find a bench, of which there should be more. But that's not the real subject. Here, Exhibit A: Deterioration.

Benches — not enough, but still usable — line the viale Garibaldi, the perfect spot of summer shade where people can sprawl and eat and nap. Lino calls the area the “refectory” or the “dormitory,” depending on what we see going on.  We sit there too, sometimes, when we can find a bench, of which there should be more. But that’s not the real subject. Here, Exhibit A: Deterioration.  All the benches are tormented by now, but this is reaching a dangerous extreme. (Note: I do not blame either eaters or nappers for this.  It’s The Elements, of which we have so many.)

But wait! Has the world gone mad?

But wait! Has the world gone mad?

In this case, madness is not at work, but one of a few men detailed to spruce up the place, like you do before company comes. "Company" in this case I surmise is the Biennale of Architecture, which is opening just a few steps away on Saturday,

In this case, madness is not at work, but men detailed to spruce up the place, like you do before company comes. “Company” in this case I surmise is the Biennale of Architecture, which is opening just a few steps away on Saturday, May 28. They’ve also cut the grass in the small areas behind the benches.  Where will it end?

And speaking of observing, did you ever notice the half-moon window over the water entrance of many palaces? That was a window of the gondolier's apartment. If you had a palce you also had a gondola (sometimes more than one), and at least one gondolier. He had to bunk somewhere, so closest to the boat was the perfect spot. Lest you think they all had to be abnormally short....

And speaking of observing, did you ever notice the half-moon window over the water entrance of many palaces?  That was the window of the gondolier’s apartment. If you had a palace you also had a gondola (sometimes more than one), and at least one gondolier. He had to bunk somewhere, so the space closest to the boat was the perfect spot. Lest you think they all had to be abnormally short, the floor of the apartment was sometimes below the level of the window –here you can see that the brown facing indicates how low the floor was.

This is how the apartment looks from the inside -- in this case, a palace which is being used as a nursery school. Most Venetians didn't have plastic castles blocking the entrance to the canal.

Different palace, but here we get a look at  how the apartment would look from the inside.  It happens that this palace is being used as a nursery school. Most Venetians didn’t have plastic castles blocking the entrance to the canal.

But enough being serious. Let's visit the fountain on the Zattere. I remember when it was built, something like 15 years ago. Its astonishing inefficiency was immediately obvious, but what's really astonishing is that it has been left that way ever since. Perhaps you can see the curving jets of water. If not, never mind. You can certainly see the water the jets are distributing far and wide. This is clearly because the flow has not been diminished to fall into the drains at the feet of the pedestal. Or, the drains haven't been moved. In any case, this is what you have: wet (and occasionally algae) in the summer, and sometimes ice in the winter. Bonus points for putting a grille instead of a basin -- occasionally a helpful soul will put a plastic bowl or old ice-cream container beneath the water so that dogs can drink too. Whenever we see anything that is somewhere between inefficient and wacko, we say it must have been designed by "the architect of the fountain at the Zattere." Should be funny, but isn't.

But back to the madness. Let’s visit the fountain on the Zattere. I remember when it was built, something like 15 years ago. Its astonishing inefficiency was immediately obvious, but what’s really astonishing is that it has been left that way ever since. Perhaps you can see the curving jets of water. If not, never mind. You can certainly see the water which the jets are flinging far and wide. Obviously the force of the flow has not been diminished in order to make the jets fall into the drains at the foot of the pedestal. Or, the drains haven’t been moved. In any case, this is what you have: Sloshy ground in the summer, and sometimes ice in the winter.  And waste. Bonus points to the designer for putting a drain instead of a basin — occasionally a helpful soul will put a plastic bowl or old ice-cream tub beneath the falling water so that dogs can drink too. Whenever we see anything that is somewhere between inadequate and wacko, we say it must have been designed by “the architect of the fountain at the Zattere.”  And people worry about acqua alta?

"What -- me worry?"

Oh, sorry — are we in your way?

This is almost impossible to top. Elephants in Venice! (And people worry about tourists?). This photo is in an unidentified window on Barbaria de le Tole. Sorry about the reflection, but some sleuthing reveals that the Circo Togni came to Venice in all its glory at some date in the Fifties.  I’m impressed by all the people who act like this is as normal as the Fourth of July parade in Wahoo, Nebraska. But maybe they’re thinking that Venice is as normal as Wahoo.

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.

 

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Mar
07

Who was that really?

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Lino didn't go to school with this lion, but if he had it wouldn't surprise me.

Lino didn’t go to school with this lion, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he had.

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.

This man was much farther away than he appears here. Lino said, "Oh look, there's Bepi 'Stella.'" It's like jungle lore -- he can tell by the boat, he can recognize the person by the way he's rowing. I never get tired of this, it'slike watching somebody hit the bull's-eye with their back turned or something.

This was one of my favorite moments of this phenomenon.  This man was much farther away than he appears here. Lino said, “Oh look, there’s Bepi ‘Stella.'” It’s like jungle lore — he can tell by the boat, he can recognize the person by the way he’s rowing. I never get tired of this, it’s like watching somebody hit the bull’s-eye shooting over their shoulder or something.

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.

This is your workaday method of wearing out your hip.

This is your workaday method of wearing out your left hip.

And if you're a gondolier who trains for the official Venetian rowing races (in this case, the regata de la Sensa), you get to put just that much more strain on your hip. It all adds up after a while.

And if you’re a gondolier who trains for the official Venetian rowing races (in this case, the regata de la Sensa), you get to put just that much more strain on your hip, though in this case it’s for glory.  Your hip doesn’t know that, though.

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