Archive for Venetian-ness

Jan
27

The best of “Burielo”

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A corteo is almost always preceded by a police boat which helpfully prevents collisions and hard words in the Grand Canal. This was, after all, a workday morning and plenty of people had other things on their mind than your funeral. (My, that sounded bad.)  In any case, the first intimation of this corteo, just emerging slowly from the bulk of upstream traffic, is the police boat.

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.

We thought about participating, but too many other factors intervened. So we stood at the vaporetto stop at the Ca’ d’Oro to watch the procession.  The deceased had said that he’d like to have a corteo, and by gum, they did it for him.

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.

The ten-oar gondolone, or “big gondola,” of the Francescana rowing club is rowed by some of the biggest names in the racing pantheon, some of whom were also his partners at one time or another. (Bruno “Strigheta” preceded him two years ago to the cosmic finish line.)  In the bow, Gianfranco Vianello “Crea,” and astern is Franco dei Rossi “Strigheta,” his old partner Bruno’s brother, with whom the deceased had won the race of the “galleons” of the Four Ancient Maritime Republics.  There were also Bepi Fongher, Giovanni Seno “Scherolin” and Luciano Tagliapietra “Panna,” three of his former race-mates, Palmiro Fongher, and Rudi Vignotto.  Only Vignotto is still winning races, but they’re all still rowing, which counts as a victory, in my view.

Not everybody rows at the same speed (some rowers always think that being in a boat means it’s a race), so the relatively few boats here began to spread out.  The motorboat to the left of the frame is the usual hearse, which probably brought the casket to the gondolone and will be waiting to carry it onward after the funeral.

Come on, everybody, this is a funeral cortege, not a wander through the park.  Though admittedly an eight-oar crew on a ten-oar boat is going to go faster than these vessels.

And so they passed out of view, turning left before the Rialto Bridge into the rio del Fontego dei Tedeschi, and on to the basilica of SS. Giovanni e Paolo (may I note, yet again, that nobody calls it “Zanipolo,” no matter how exotic it sounds). A vast crowd was waiting at the church, but we were not part of it.

And good night, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye.

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.

In a side canal by Mazzorbo, which is near Burano.

I’m imagining that this is Burielo’s corner of heaven.

And every so often the poles are pulled up and the nets brought to land and strung up to dry for a while. A windy morning in April is an excellent moment for this.

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Jan
16

the ice capades

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This is the point at which the ice and the pavement take opposing views of the situation.

Snow is so simple — it’s what people do with it that makes you wonder about all sorts of things.

The night of the heretofore chronicled snowfall, people walked on the snow; the snow stopped before long, the people went home, and the snow turned to crusty ice where their feet had trod.

While I was debating which was, in fact, more slippery — smooth ice or crimpled-up ice — the merchants of Upper Via Garibaldi had gotten to work on it with shovels and salt.  They opened up a wide bare space in the center, and a narrow bare space stretched along their front doors. Logical, no? There was a stretch of ice, however, that remained between the wide space and the narrow space, which I quickly discovered somewhat obviated the benefit of the bare spots.

I’ll translate that.  You could walk safely along the middle of the street, but if you needed to enter a shop, you had to take your life in your hands and cross a treacherous stretch of ice all the same.

But the best part is this:  The newsstand two-thirds of the way down the street seems to be at a point I never noticed before, what in the lagoon is called a “spartiacque,” or place where the water divides, or rather, where two contrary currents meet.  There is a spartiacque in the Grand Canal, among many other places, a shifting little frontier where the incoming tide from the inlet at Malamocco meets the incoming tide from the inlet at San Nicolo’.  That doesn’t matter to anybody in a motorboat, but if you’re rowing, you notice that you were rowing with the tide, and suddenly you’re rowing against it.

Anyway, the upstream part of via Garibaldi, so to speak, is nothing but shops, so the shopowners obviously made the effort to help their customers to get to them.  The downstream part, as you see, had nobody to care about it.  The few shops there seem to have owners who either have made enough money already this month, so don’t care about business, or decided to take the natural-selection approach to the situation.

I’m attributing all of this activity to the merchants because the trash collectors and salt-sowers have no reason I can imagine to liberate only half of the main street.

But, as I often ask myself, what do I know?

Looking that way, the road is clear.

The other way, it’s just a few steps to the Bering Sea.

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Jan
02

Just a few of those little things

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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, and the sun was shining just right to make these look like a glittering series of little mirrors on the ground.

“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, when I look at the marks without the reflections.

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.

I said, "Oh, you're right. Somebody did just fall in the canal." A canal (check background of first photo) I know too well because I slipped on the slimy green step as I got out of a boat, one nano-second after I, the Big Venice Expert, had told everybody in the boat not to step on the green slime. Only my foot got wet, but I was drenched in feeling stupid. That canal is nursing a grudge against somebody and will just keep attacking people until the right victim finally succumbs.

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 clamp. Venetian houses depend on them in order to stay foursquare on their feet.

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.

The house facing our exemplar is in some trouble, though, as we realized glancing up one day at a curious appendage on the wall.

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.

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?

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?

Hoping for the best for everyone in 2017.

Hoping for the best for everyone in 2017.

 

 

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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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