One of the great truths is that it’s the small things in life that count, and Venice is one of the biggest places made of small things I’ve ever seen.
“Oh look,” I thought, “what interesting reflections.” Reflections are my favorite thing, and the sun was shining just right to make these look like a glittering series of little mirrors on the ground. So pretty. But wait…..It hasn’t rained in weeks, nor has there been any acqua alta.
I had just notified Lino that I was far behind following him down the street because of these wonderful reflections. To which he said… well, it’s obvious what he said, as I realized when I looked again at the marks that weren’t reflecting.
Yep — somebody had just fallen into the canal, and the walk home was long and thankfully solitary. I’m already well acquainted with the canal that attacked him (check background of first photo) because one memorable day I slipped on the slimy green step as I got out of a boat just at the moment when I, the Big Venice Expert, was telling everybody in the boat not to step on the green slime. In that case only one foot got wet, but my butt was now slimy and I was drenched in feeling stupid. In this case, however, we’re looking at full immersion. That canal is nursing a grudge against somebody and will just keep attacking people until its chosen victim finally succumbs.
And while we’re on the subject of “Water, Avoidance Of,” spare a glance at this tie-rod. Many Venetian houses depend on them in order to stay foursquare on their feet.
But the tying-together hasn’t been working out too well for the house facing our exemplar, as we realized glancing up one day at a curious appendage on the wall.
The hapless homeowner not only has had to repair the tie-rod (rather, the cement around it), but insecurity about the long-term stability of either the rod, or the plaster, or both, has made this intervention necessary. I hope it makes him or her feel better, because I can offer no certainty that the results desired will be obtained. But I can’t offer certainty about many things.
A gondola and its -lier made of Lego pieces. I wonder if it floats? Or sings? Or shouts “Oy!” when it gets to the corner of the table?
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.
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 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.
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. 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.
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 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.
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 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?
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 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.
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 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?
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.