Archive for Venetian-ness
You know what they are — they are those moments when family trees, or shrubs of some personal connection (usually with Lino), spring out of some random event.
A small example: We were walking across Campo San Barnaba the other day and Lino paused to look at one of the everlasting sequence of death notices taped to a convenient column. Because this is his natal neighborhood, of course he wanted to see who it was.
I don’t remember the person’s name — it was a man — but it took Lino only about four seconds to place him. “My older sister Giulia was married to Emilio,” he began. This much I knew — I knew her, though Emilio had gone to glory before I entered the scene. “Emilio had a sister, and this man was one of her sons.”
That would have made him… a cousin-in-law?
But that’s a mere dustmote compared to the story that came up yesterday, when Lino looked at the last page of the paper. That’s where the obituaries are, and sure enough, there was someone he knew. Knew very well, in fact.
It was another Emilio, but don’t let that distract you. He passed away at the age of 91, which means he was 14 years older than Lino. Pointless information, perhaps, but he was Lino’s “master,” for lack of a better word, at the Aeronavali, the company for whom Lino (age 16) went to work at the Nicelli airport on the Lido. (His older brother and twin brother also worked there.) I calculate quickly that at the time Emilio would have been 30 — vastly older, and of course vastly more experienced. Big. Important.
Emilio was given a few apprentices to train, and Lino was one of them. “None of us liked him,” Lino said. “He treated his apprentices like servants.”
Eight years went by, and Lino was 24 years old, and things were going very well for him. Emilio was now 38, and even more experienced and important, of course. Word began to circulate that a squad was going to be organized and sent under contract for four months to Mogadishu, Somalia, to work in the airport and train the Somali mechanics. (Note: In case one wonders “Why Somalia?”, Somalia had lived through three colonial experiences, and one of those periods was Italian.)
As I say, word was wafting around that a big expedition was being formed, and naturally the older workers — Emilio, for one — assumed they would be asked to go. A few of them — Emilio, for one — had even begun preparing and collecting the necessary tools. They were only waiting for the starter’s gun.
But one day Lino was called to the head office. “What have you done this time?” was the general question from his co-workers as they watched him go. “No idea,” was the reply.
When he came out of the office, several lurkers pounced. What was going on?
“He asked if I wanted to go to Somalia,” said Lino.
“What did you say?” said the thunderstrucks.
“I said yes, of course.”
Consternation everywhere, especially among the older group which had assumed they would be The Chosen. Emilio was not chosen. He had to stay behind and watch his still-young ex-apprentice go off in what he had assumed would have been his place, lugging the tools that he (Emilio) had so carefully assembled.
So much for Emilio, may he rest in peace.
There was also “Barba Keki,” the nickname of the head of the group, which roughly translates from the Venetian as “Uncle Frankie.”
“Did you talk this over at home first?” he asked, knowing perfectly well what the answer was. (Lino at the time was a young husband with a several-months’-old son.)
B.K. was concerned, but not because he was jealous. No, it was because B.K. (stay with me here) was the husband of the cousin of Lino’s father-in-law, and if Lino’s wife had protested, B.K. would have found himself in the eye of the cyclone.
Lino merely replied, “They asked if I wanted to go, and I said yes.” Happily, no cyclone touched land.
Today, the flowering of the personal connection shrubbery put out some new blooms.
We had to go the bank to deal with some paperwork, and we went upstairs to see one of the officers, Roberto G.
Lino has known him ever since he (Roberto) was born. This doesn’t surprise me anymore. But he knew Roberto because he had known Roberto’s father, who worked at the Aeronavali when Lino also was working there. He was a carpenter, and his nickname was Pianaura (pee-ah-nah-OO-rah) — “pianaura” in Venetian means “planing.” For you linguists, the Italian word is piallatura. A better rendering would be “wood shaving.”
It’s not over. Lino also knew Roberto’s grandfather, Lello, because he too was working at the Aeronavali. Lello was one of the men who did the heavy lifting, the scut work. One of his tasks was to keep the big tank of drinking water filled, a plain but effective precursor of the water cooler. Lello would pump water into the tank from another tank, then put in a chunk of ice (this was summer, clearly), and then a few drops of anise liqueur, such as Sambuca. There are those who swear that water and Cynar is the best thirst-quencher, but the mechanics at the Aeronavali drank water and anise.
So we went to the bank — I signed some papers and got a family tree. I like it.
Yesterday, Sept. 16, was the first day of school. Nobody was happy, of course, even though the Veneto, along with Puglia, was the region that started school the latest (Alto Adige began on Sept. 7, but they have German DNA).
I’ve never investigated the reasons why the whole country doesn’t start school on the same day, and starting on a Wednesday seems odd, or at least asymmetrical, to me. Then again, some of the post offices in Venice open at 8:15, and some open at 8:25. Anyone for 8:00? Certainly not. To each his own symmetry, I guess.
This year, as in the past few, the neighborhood old people’s group (literal translation of “gruppo anziani“) organized a wonderful send-off to the littlest scholars to launch them into their first real day of school ever (they will already have had nursery school, but this time it’s serious). We didn’t stay to watch because we had to be somewhere else, but I have no doubt that, as before, each child was given a bag of presents — school supplies could qualify, as long as they’ve got that new-car smell — and given a heartfelt exhortation, and a warm round of applause.
But what was new this year was the sign they put up on the backdrop, the wall of the church of San Francesco di Paola. We discovered it toward evening, and this morning it was gone. I’d like to think that the wall will retain the warmth of the poster for quite a while yet.
Hello. Maybe you remember me, I’m the blogger about Venice who doesn’t make anything up. I am fully aware that I have set a new record in silence, and I’m sorry about it, but I had lots of good reasons, including having to finish a colossal project (which will be revealed at the appropriate moment, which isn’t now). I have been living in a parallel universe complete with galaxies that have long numbers instead of names, and have not had enough brain, or whatever energy is actually made of (electrons? crush-ons? four-hours-of-sleep-a-night-ons?) to do anything else.
But there is possibly a deeper reason for the silence. I have temporarily run out of interest in Venice. At least I hope it’s temporary.
Why is this? Because I have become the glass into which the famous one drop too many has dripped. Several drops. Too freaking many drops.
Here is what I mean:
The tram. Another massive public project, full of problems and costing too much.
Ten years have been devoted to the building of a tram that goes places in Mestre and now, finally, is concluding at Piazzale Roma. Naturally this has been done to the sound of teeth: Those of the highly inconvenienced public (gnashing and grinding) and those of the builders, politicians, and Superintendent(s) of Architecture and Landscape (gleaming with satisfied smiles).
This is merely the latest version of a story that just keeps getting retold, like bodice-ripper novels in which only the names and locations change: Estimates of time and cost blown to flinders, a vehicle which, new as it is, breaks down at odd moments for all sorts of reasons that are explained in the “Don’t Do This” chapter of the textbook on how to build a tram. Derailments, losses of power, miscalculations of angles of descent which mean the tram would ram itself nose-down into the ground at certain points unless the geometry gets fixed.
Now the bill, so to speak, is coming due. The budgeted cost: 163.7 million euros. Real cost to date: 208 million. Unforeseen delays, extra features added on later, the usual litany of an expensive public project. Wait, I think that’s redundant. There will be investigations, of course. The tram people can explain everything.
So much for the tram itself, which frankly, I happen to like. When it’s working.
But the tram’s new “shelter” in Piazzale Roma (105 feet / 32 meters long) is an entire other subject, the latest in a series of phenomenally ugly constructions which have been approved and executed in the spirit of “Because we’re the city and we can do what we want.” The purpose of this construction is to protect what appears to be about 50 people from the rain while waiting for the tram, as long as there is totally no wind. The more I look at it, the more I can’t understand how it could be considered functional, whether beautiful or not.
But by the way, it isn’t beautiful. But no matter. As so often has happened, the project documents clearly came out of the office of the Superintendent of Architecture and Landscape (who you might have thought was required to protect and defend the fabric of the most beautiful city, etc.) covered with big bright stamps that say “We like this!” “This is good!” “Let’s do this ASAP!” “Can we do more of these?” This has happened so many times since I’ve been here. Say what you will about the Calatrava Bridge — for all its problems, and preposterous cost overruns, at least it’s functional. You can adjudicate beauty on your own time.
As you can see, this shelter (I don’t know what else to call it at the moment, though it doesn’t look very sheltering) answers to the nickname given by the first Venetians who saw it: the “big black coffin.” It’s made of three sections of steel which weigh a total of 18 tons. I cannot understand why something that big that weighs that much has to exist anywhere in Venice; even Tennessee Ernie Ford knew enough to stop at Sixteen Tons.
Traffic in the Grand Canal: Remember the fatal accident by the Rialto Bridge two years ago? We’ve jettisoned one mayor, used up a commissario, and now have another mayor. Nothing has changed. Everything is just the way it was. Remember all those new regulations that came out a few months ago that threw a few amateur rowers into a swivet? Regulations are so wonderful, especially when you have no way to enforce them, like not having one policeman for every boat. Don’t watch this space for news of the next fatal accident, because I’ve stopped caring about the traffic. Let everybody do what they want, which is exactly what they are doing. Rock on.
The Bottegon is gone. This strikes way too close to home. Stores close with alarming frequency here, usually as a result of spikes in the rent that are impossible to pay by selling books or pork chops or kiwi fruit or even sporting goods and gear (Andreatta, in the Strada Nova, had been in business since 1883. As of March, it is no more). I’ve seen all kinds of stores close since I’ve been here — hair salons, butcher shops, toy stores — and what follows is usually a bar/cafe, restaurant, or shop selling “Murano glass” made in China, Carnival masks (often made in China), touristic gewgaws and souvenirs (made over there too). Nothing against China, but it’s not Venice.
I don’t know precisely how long the Bottegon was in business; I knew that it occupied a large space that was once a movie theater — you could see the big empty window above the cash registers where the projection room used to be.
You have to understand, this wasn’t a mere store. It was a Noah’s Ark of almost everything required for human life, at least a pair of each so they could repopulate the earth with hair conditioner and thumbtacks and toilet paper and moth repellent and floor wax and all kinds of electrical wire. Except for food and clothing, you couldn’t think of anything that you couldn’t find there. Paint, hair color, mops, ladders, toothpaste, lightbulbs, potpourri, makeup, doorstops, toothpicks, shelving, salad spinners, detergent. It was impossible to go in there and not come out with what you needed. It was crammed so full, up to the top shelves of a very high ceiling, that you sometimes had to ask for help even to locate your item. Then the choice would baffle you.
Then things began slowly to change. They moved the cash registers to the front of the store, the area that you used to have to traverse like a jungle explorer, occasionally climbing over things. They glammed up the shelves, widened the aisles, cut back on a lot of products, and began to add items you’d never have thought of buying there. Olive oil, potato chips, wine. It was weird — there are two supermarkets right across the street. It was like watching Zelda Fitzgerald studying ballet at age 27, imagining she was going to be a star: depressing, and smelling of doom.
People used to stand in line at the registers, eventually there was almost nobody in the store. In a brutal about-face, they never had what I needed anymore. Eventually it stopped being a store and became some old friend with a lingering illness that you just couldn’t visit anymore.
So I’m glad it’s out of its misery. From what my neighborhood source told me, you could have written the cause of death in one word: “Debts.”
A moment of silence.
Happily for me, soulless consumer that I am, I don’t have to worry, because via Garibaldi has two pharmacies, and two supermarkets, and even two bakers. And there is indeed a sort of Bottegon down by the vegetable boat which has already been taking up the slack. I have no idea what it’s called, but it’s small and crammed and has almost everything the old store had. So I’m okay. But I still don’t understand why they had to let the other one die.
Maybe it’s going to rise from the ashes as a restaurant. We certainly need more of those.
Complaints about everything: These never stop, and most of them are completely justified. But I’m tired of reading them and hearing them and even uttering them myself.
So I’ll be looking for something new to share, but it might take a little while. I’m going to have to find one of those three-day cleanses, but for my brain.
It’s not as if I have nothing to say — I’m sure I have, somewhere — but the summer heat has hit (upper 90’s, F) with humidity to match, and my brain is otherwise occupied in keeping my vital functions going.
There remains one vital function I can manage on my own, and that is the devouring of ice cream. Happily, the newspaper publishes several articles each summer which not only state that ice cream is one of the best possible foods to consume in this heat, but that doctors confirm that it is NECESSARY to eat it, that it’s GOOD FOR YOU, that it’s PRACTICALLY A HEALTH FOOD. I don’t write these articles, but I could if asked to.
So here, having decided to avoid any brain-intensive topics, I am just going to give some of those glimpses of the sights (I spare you sounds) to be noticed when walking around the neighborhood. Just think, you’re also spared the temperature, which is just about the same inside as outside, except when inside is even hotter.
I’m going on vacation tomorrow, so will not be not making anything up for about six weeks. I intend to return totally bursting with wonders to relate, or at least bursting with the intention of doing so.