Archive for September, 2009

Sep
10

September 11 (Venice) 1970

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This, as everyone knows,  is a very heavy date in the periodic table of tragedy.   The year 2001 will be scarred forever by the events of  that day.

In Venice, September 11, 1970 was also a day of cataclysm, but it was a tornado, rather than any manmade phenomenon, which dealt the blow.

Tornadoes are not uncommon in Italy, which stands sixth in the European ranking with an average of 12-18 a year.   And that evening, a grade F4 tornado  rose up in the countryside beyond Padova.

A grade F4 tornado, according to the Fujita-Pearson Tornado Intensity Scale, will bring winds between 207-260 miles per hour (333-418 km/h).    The standard description of the effect at that level is “Devastating damage.   Well-constructed houses leveled; structures with weak foundations blown away some distance; cars thrown and large missiles generated.”

In a country not unacquainted with natural disasters — the eruption of Vesuvius, the Messina earthquake, etc. — this stands out as one of the worst tornadoes ever to strike Italy, surpassed only by the F5 “tromba del Montello” of 1930.

A map of the Veneto region.  The tornado formed in the "Colli Euganei" just west of Padova.

A map of the Veneto region. The tornado formed in the “Colli Euganei” just west of Padova.

According to the Gazzettino, it went like this:

At 8:45 PM  a tromba d’aria, or tornado,  forms in the Euganean Hills between Teolo and Revolon, about 39 miles (63 km) from Venice.   It zigzags eastward, sowing destruction which I won’t list here but which leaves 300 houses damaged or destroyed  and  many people injured.   Night has fallen.

At 9:32 PM the tornado reaches the lagoon.   It rips tiles off the hospital roof on the island of La Grazia, then heads toward the Bacino of San Marco.

 

 

sant-elena-small1

 

At 9:35 it  strikes the 400-ton lagoon passenger ferry “Aquileia,”    twisting and contorting the superstructure and hurling all the passengers to the floor.   “A powerful depression took our breath away,” one passenger told the Gazzettino, “the captain of the motonave blew the horn three times as a signal of danger, and then all at once…all the doors and windows of the cabins at the bow and the stern were blown to bits.”   One person is injured.

At 9:36, the tornado turns toward the island of Sant’ Elena, the furthest eastern lobe of the city of Venice.   And there it finds a 20-ton vaporetto, motoscafo “130,” carrying about 50 passengers  toward the Lido.  The waves are tremendous and the wind even more so; the motoscafo, which has slowed down to stop and tie up at the dock at Sant’ Elena, rolls once to starboard, once to port,  then  keeps going over,  taking on water and sinking in seconds.   Twenty-one people are trapped inside and drown.   Later it is discovered that the vaporetto, capable of carrying 143 passengers, had only five lifejackets.   From survivor accounts, though, it’s not clear to me how much the lifejackets would have helped.

The doomed vaporetto "130" was similar to this one today, passing the dock at Sant' Elena where the disaster occurred.

The doomed vaporetto “130” was similar to this one today, passing the dock at Sant’ Elena where the disaster occurred.

“It was a matter of just a few seconds,” the captain said; “the motoscafo lifted itself and then capsized, something incredible.   When I found myself in the water I tried to help the people nearest to me, but it was dark and I saw very few.”

A woman recalls, “The boat rocked once or twice, then all the lights went out and I was thrown from one side to another; I heard a noise of glass breaking and water came flooding in…a current pulled me along and I felt with my fingers an open window and I was able to slip through it.   When I reached the surface, there were people screaming and lifeless bodies.  I managed to reach the dock and somebody pulled me out.”

“A powerful wind took my breath away,” another  survivor said, “and I was thrown into the water, losing my glasses.   Terrified, I managed to grab a piece of floating wood and swimming with one arm I was able to reach the Morosini Naval College, where the cadets helped me.   I heard many screams around me but I couldn’t see anything.”

At 9:37, one minute after striking the vaporetto, the tornado crosses Sant’ Elena itself.   Poplars and pines are uprooted, roofs torn off houses, part of the vaporetto dock is ripped away and thrown  650 feet (200 meters).   The soccer stadium partially collapses, pieces flying everywhere.

It keeps moving toward the littoral near the inlet to the lagoon at San Nicolo, wreaking havoc on the peninsula of farms and beach villages around Punta Sabbioni, Ca’ Savio, and Cavallino.   And then it is gone.

At 10:00 the rescue divers arrive, and work until midnight in 9 feet (3 meters) of water to recover the bodies from the sunken vessel.

The tornado lasted 58 minutes, traveled 43 miles (70 km) at an average speed of 44 mph (72 km/h), with winds at least of 136 mph (220 km/h).   It  left 36 victims and some 3.7 million dollars (2.5 million euros)  in damage.

Houses, trees, people, dogs -- it all looks so pleasant now.  In the foreground is one of the long hillocks formed by the suction of the wind.

Houses, trees, people, dogs — it all looks so pleasant now.

The Gazzettino reported the scene it left behind at Sant’ Elena:

“The neighborhood is unrecognizable; streets are covered with bricks, windows blown out, and boats thrown around.

“The ticket booth (for the vaporetto) was thrown 50 meters (164 feet) away, crumpled against a house.

“What had been a pine grove was a mass of broken tree trunks, a tangle of branches, panels, and electric wires.

“Many roofs are torn apart, leaving only the beams, the rooftiles are strewn in heaps on the ground, along with the wreckage of chimneys, beams and doors which you can’t understand where they came from.

“Near the stadium a garden wall has been destroyed but the debris has disappeared, sucked away by the tornado; the earth has been lifted in banks, it seems as if you’re walking in a plowed field.”

Lino was out fishing that afternoon and everything was normal.   He went home and  was having dinner with his wife and six-year-old son, Marco, when they started to hear thunder.

“It was strange thunder,” he told me, “one after another, and it just kept going.”    The three of them went out to the nearby Fondamenta degli Incurabili and looked west toward the  mainland.

“The sky was unbelievable,” he said.   “It was more spectacular than the fireworks at Redentore, lightning and thunder that never stopped.   Then one or two drops of rain fell and I said,’Let’s go home.'”

The next morning he was shaving when his downstairs neighbor called.   “Did you hear  the news on the radio?” he asked.   Lino hadn’t.   Nor had he even heard the passage of this wind from hell, which evidently cleaves its path with more precision than a diamond-cutter.

“There’s been a tremendous disaster at Sant’ Elena —  a motoscafo has capsized and there’s all kinds of victims.”

Stunned but naturally curious, Lino took Marco and off they went to see what happened.   They had barely arrived when Lino saw them pulling a drowned woman out of the water.   He covered Marco’s eyes and said, “Let’s go.”   But Marco still remembers it anyway.

Not much later, Lino heard that the son of his foreman at the airport, where he worked as a mechanic, had been killed.   The family lived at Sant’ Elena and the young man had gone outside, for some reason, and was crushed by a falling tree.

"To the victims of the tornado."  As is usual here, the date is written with the day first, month second.

“To the victims of the tornado.” As is usual here, the date is written with the day first, month second.

I haven’t applied myself to learning the  story behind the monument to this catastrophe.   A monument there certainly ought to be; this one is extremely unimpressive  to the uninformed eye, but I can imagine that it might even be a piece of wreckage, so I won’t make any aesthetic judgments.

There it squats, in its little garden.   The people who lived through this catastrophe remember perfectly well without it,  and the people who didn’t quite possibly don’t even notice it.

Monuments are such curious creations.   We need them, but then we get used to them and then eventually forget (or never know) their reason for being.   I think they may be another form of burial rite, something like cairns or menhirs.   In this case, it may be that this chunk of cement carries more meaning than anyone could even express.

(Photographs of the damage may be seen at http://www.musicain.it/VENEZIA/TORNADO.HTM.   Portions of the eyewitness accounts have also  been drawn from this document.)

Categories : History
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Sep
08

Regata Storica: The end of an era

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On the first Sunday of September, one of the biggest events in the Venetian entertainment calendar (and absolutely the biggest one in the Venetian rowing calendar) takes place:  A series of races in the Grand Canal known collectively as the Regata Storica, or Historic Regata.

The big ceremonial boats make the Grand Canal look even more splendid than usual, but they're just the parsley on the plate for everybody who's interested in the main dish.  Bring on the gondolini!

The big ceremonial boats make the Grand Canal look even more splendid than usual, but they're just the parsley on the plate for everybody who's interested in the main dish. Bring on the gondolini!

It’s hard to explain why this might be important to anyone without providing a great deal of background, stretching back one, two, five, 20, and eventually 700 years.   I would love to provide all that, and at some point I probably will, but for now I merely want to  say that if you happened to hear an unexpected explosion yesterday, wherever you are (I’m imagining something similar to the sound of Mount Pelee’ erupting), that would have been the hopes, ambitions, sacrifices, passions, and dreams of two mighty men  being blasted to eternity,  despite the fact that it wasn’t fire, but water, that was the obliterating agent.

The immediate aftermath — continuing in the aural mode — was the sad, persistent wheeze of the air seeping out of the hopes, ambitions, etc. of two other men who were the immediate beneficiaries of the disaster, but who were men who also had spent a year preparing for  a battle to the death and who realized as soon as they saw their adversaries swimming that none of the four them was ever going to be able to say which of the two pairs of competitors really was the best of them all.  

This sad wheezing sound was  amplified by the disappointment of all the spectators who had been thoroughly worked up about the event because they (including me) had spent years watching these two pairs of men turn each race into something gladiatorial.   Over the years there has been rage.   There has been bitterness.   There has been euphoria.   And now there has been a win with no victory, a loss with no excuse.     “No contest” may sound great in a court of law,  but it’s a calamity for athletes and spectators alike.  

Venetians have been racing boats forever.   At first there were hundreds of men aboard galleys racing across the lagoon, a practice organized and encouraged by the Venetian government in order to ensure that there would be enough seriously trained rowers ready at all times for whatever naval battles might be coming up.   This would be roughly from the year 900 to 1300 AD.  

Smaller races began to proliferate as the fruit (wealth and power) of the said naval battles  began to give Venice many reasons and occasions to show its most important visitors how very rich and strong it was.   The most spectacular of these races were performed on one of the world’s most spectacular stages, what Venetians call “Canalazzo,” or the Grand Canal.

I will tell you more some other time about the history of racing, boats and champions, the way  the races have changed in the past generation or two, and much more which I find irresistibly fascinating.   But for now, let’s get to the men in the water.

Martino Vianello and Andrea Bertoldini, training on their gondolino three months before the big race.  Clearly a boat that doesn't play games.

Martino Vianello and Andrea Bertoldini training on their gondolino three months before the big race. Clearly a boat that doesn't play games.

The most important race of all races is the last one of the day, which pits pairs of men on the racing gondola, or gondolino, against each other.   This is the only race in which this boat is used, and it is only raced by men.   Generations of boys have slaved at working their way up through the racing ranks  to reach the  pinnacle which is this  event, something so important that even to have failed in the eliminations is a strange source of pride.  

Why is it so important?   Yes, there is a money prize, but each official race awards money to the competitors.   Yes, there is a pennant — red, white, green, and blue —  to the respective racers finishing first, second, third, and fourth.   (The following five boats get the swag but nothing more.)   As with many competitions, the ones who win also get all the adulation, envy, and awe that they could ever want, spiked with the dangerous drug which is the insatiable desire/need to win again.   And again.   And again.

The most powerful lure of the Regata Storica is that whoever wins this race five times in a row is glorified with the Venetian equivalent of the laurel  wreath, the bull’s ears, the green jacket, and the America’s Cup, which is the title “Re del remo,” or king of the oar. It sounds fruity in English, but it is so fiendishly hard to win five times in a row that I have to say that anybody who can do it deserves whatever he wants.   The last pair to accomplish this feat was Palmiro Fongher and Gianfranco Vianello in 1981.    And yesterday was  Year 5, the day of glory,  for Team A.

Tezzat and D'Este nearing the finish line in 2008, winning again.

Tezzat and D'Este nearing the finish line in 2008, winning again.

Team A: Ivo Redolfi Tezzat and  Giampaolo D’Este, who is commonly referred to as “Super D’Este” or “the Giant” because of his physical size and athletic prowess.   They have won this race each year since 2005.  

Team B:   Rudi and Igor Vignotto, cousins who are known as the  “Vignottini,” or  “little Vignottos,” as they hail from the island of Sant’ Erasmo where theirs is one of the most common last names and this nickname helps distinguish them from the rest of their assorted rowing relatives stretching over generations.  

The Vignottini had been within reach of this prize once (having won each year from 1995 to 1998, only to be defeated in the crucial  fifth year by the same D’Este with a different partner). They  started the count again in 2000 and got as far as 2003, when D’Este again stuck his oar in their spokes, so to speak.   It just went on like this between them, back and forth, till nobody could stand it anymore, especially them, I’m guessing.  

But D’Este and Tezzat were on a roll, having won each year from 2005-2008, and yesterday the moment of glory for which they had been striving seemed finally to be within their grasp.     And everyone knew that not only did the Vignottini want to win,  they wanted it with a fanatic determination I can hardly imagine in order also to savor the revenge of having ripped from  their rival’s hands the very honor  which those rivals had ripped from theirs.    

It was going to be big.

A view of Venice in 1824.  The gondolini start just before that little peninsula dropping down on the right, then race all the way across the Bacino of San Marco, up the entire Grand Canal to the train station just before that other little peninsula of land dropping down to the left, then back down the Grand Canal to the curve on the left, the "volta de canal."

A view of Venice in 1824. The gondolini start just before that little peninsula dropping down on the right, then race all the way across the Bacino of San Marco, up the entire Grand Canal to the train station just before that other little peninsula of land dropping down to the left, then back down the Grand Canal to the curve on the left, the "volta de canal."

We were all sitting in the gondolone, tied to a piling in the Grand Canal along with a slew of other boats, waiting for this.   The race began at 6:00 PM, and usually takes about 35 minutes  to run  its entire breakneck course from the Giardini across the Bacino of San Marco, up the Grand Canal to the railway station, around a temporary piling and back down the Canal to the “volta de canal,” the traditional finish line in the curve of the canal at Ca’ Foscari.

Being as we were parked near the finish line  we didn’t see the disaster, which occurred far away toward the entrance to the Canal, but we heard the incredulous voice of the announcer suddenly saying, “The blue boat has capsized!”  

Here is the only bit of video which I’ve been able to find of this epochal instant (evidently everybody was looking somewhere else at the moment).   You see, from left to right, the brown boat (Vignottini), blue (D’Este-Tezzat) and green.    Look carefully at the right edge of the screen and at second 18 you can see the splash (helpfully  highlighted by the sun) of Tezzat’s plunge from the stern;   you see D’Este struggle to keep the boat stable, then at second 48 he falls and the blue hull capsizes.  

watch?v=P62kXdfaiD8

Impossible to conceive that something like this could happen to these two paladins  (water?   isn’t that what they walk on?), instantly followed by the inconceivable idea that they were actually out of the race.   Not because they’d been disqualified, but merely because by the time they’d have gotten the boat floating and raceable again, it would have been time to go home anyway.  

Rumors immediately began to buzz.   Clearly the Vignottini weren’t guilty of anything tricky, because they had almost immediately taken the lead and were several boat-lengths ahead when this happened.   But had it been the green boat, which had been coming up on the left?   Was it deliberate?   Was it an accident?   If it was an accident, how the hell could such a thing happen?

As questions crashed around in everybody’s overheated brains,  the Vignottini rowed the entire course pretty much on cruise control, far enough ahead of the rest of the herd that there wasn’t much need to think about much else than where they were going to have the party.   Because by then they knew that the entire island of Sant’ Erasmo was going to be dancing in the streets (I think there are two), not only because of their obvious victory but because the victors of the women’s race and the boys’ race were also from Sant’ Erasmo.   In fact a friend of mine told me that as soon as it was dark, fireworks began to flare over the island.

We spectators, though,  were sitting there feeling like somebody had just shut off the lights and left the building.   An emotion which I have no doubt the Vignottini were also feeling, at least a little.   And D’Este and Tezzat as well, as they were pulled into motorboats and taken away, shortly thereafter to be photographed in dry clothes but wet with tears.

Here is what happened, according to some authoritative sources (not the victims, of course, who immediately began to cry “foul” even though there was no sign of any such thing).  

First, the starting line-up.   D’Este and Tezzat knew they were going to have a bear of a race on their hands because of their position at the start.   The Vignottini had a great position, D’Este not so much.   When you’re racing in the lagoon, you’re dealing with factors even more challenging than your boat and your adversary, you’re dealing with the tide.   Unlike swimming pools or crew basins, the lagoon is always moving, and not uniformly, either.  

The positions are drawn by lot precisely because of this reality, to avoid any possibility of favoritism.   Seeing that the tide was going out at 6:00 PM yesterday (and very powerfully, because the moon was just past full), everyone was starting out against the tide, but those closer to the shore were more handicapped by the outflow than those at the end of the lineup, out in the middle of the Bacino of San Marco.   This is because the water moving out from the Grand Canal and the Giudecca Canal hits against the shoreline at the Giardini (because the shore is curved) and then does a sort of turn back upstream, thereby creating some forward-moving current for the people who are further out.   Like the Vignottini.

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The entrance to the Grand Canal, seen from the Bacino of San Marco. Not a lot of space for nine boats, all of which want to enter first.

I know this from personal experience, as I participated in a race years back in the Canale delle Navi which has a pretty strong flow with the incoming tide.   Except that I was second from the shore, so I was facing the same turnaround phenomenon mentioned above.   Thus the rowers out in the middle of the canal were flying away, and I, as the saying here goes, am still rowing.    As Lino says, the “number in the water” can really punish you.

To prevent total anarchy, each boat is required to  stay in its lane for  164 feet (50 meters), at which point the leaders and followers are supposed to be  sufficiently far apart to allow for maneuvering without  dangerous craziness.    The  dynamic is very much like a  horse race, supposing that the horses had to stay in their lanes for the first ten seconds.

Second: Tension and human error.   Tezzat (rowing astern and also steering the course) was obviously feeling the pressure.   I can say that because who wouldn’t?   The Vignottini were ahead but Tezzat hoped to overtake them, except that he couldn’t do it on their right because the entrance to the Grand Canal is relatively narrow and he would have found himself bottled against the pilings on the right and then running straight into a vaporetto dock.   So he and D’Este slowed down for an instant to drop behind the squeezing boat and pass it on its left.

So far, so fine.   But as soon as Tezzat did that, he discovered the next boat over on his left, the green gondolino, was moving rightward and on a potential collision course with him.   So he instantly made a counter-stroke to turn his boat slightly to the right, out of the path of danger.     He was already rowing pretty hard, because he was working against the tide, as I mentioned.  

It was a matter of nano-seconds.   The force of his counter-stroke was just  a little too hard and his oar popped out of the water, throwing him off balance — just enough so that on a moving boat he couldn’t get it back.   He fell overboard but the boat, obviously, kept going.    This sudden unbalanced trajectory meant that D’Este, in the bow, lost his balance, because he wasn’t prepared for his boat to suddenly shift under him.   He tried instinctively to correct the forces of gravity, inertia, momentum, whatever all that stuff is, but the boat had already taken on some water from its first swerve over onto its side and over he went, taking the boat over with him.  

The word “over” is probably one which will never be uttered in the D’Este and Tezzat households again, for any reason.   Because at that point everything was over.   The Vignottini had debuted in “Canalazzo” in 1991, after years of rowing at the more junior levels. D’Este’s debut in “Canalazzo” was in 1992; Tezzat’s in 1994.   They had all been facing off five times a season, on different boats, in different parts of the lagoon, for nearly 20 years.   That’s roughly a hundred races, if I’m not wrong.   And now that the five-year count has begun again for D’Este and Tezzat, it’s physically unlikely that  they will be at peak form, as they were yesterday, the next time they could hope to  have  another chance at the title.

It’s over for the Vignottini, too, but in a happy way, even though this isn’t the  happiness they’d dreamed of.    They finally did it, but their joy is deeply dented by the fact that they won’t ever be able to vaunt the deepest meaning of “re del remo” because they didn’t truly defeat their adversaries.  

So they are all unhappy, to one degree or another, including the men on the green boat (remember the green boat?) who did nothing wrong but who appeared to be the proximate cause of all this.   Andrea Bertoldini, the stern rower of the pair, was near tears at the finish line.   “Everyone is always going to think we’re to blame,” he said, th0ugh I suppose when people start to calm down they’ll see that he’s right.

So I was  mulling all this over today, and feeling very bad as well for the wives of these guys, women who’ve also sacrificed years of family time for their husbands’ endless training sessions, not to mention sharing the tension and so on of every race.   Frankly, I think being the wife of one of the two drowned rats must be as bad as being the rats, because there’s little that’s worse than seeing somebody you love in real pain and not being able to do anything to fix it.

On the other hand, these guys are as tough as Grape Nuts, and have competed in plenty of races over the years in which they’ve been penalized, demerited, suspended, etc. for all sorts of infractions and trickiness.   Curses and insults fly.   At least one — no names — has a bad reputation for spitting at his adversaries when they get too close.   Or at least he used to.     This is a game in which haloes don’t help you at all.   In fact, they’re a serious handicap.  

Third point: They tempted fate.   Sorry, but you just can’t do this.   Lino says, “Never underestimate your adversary,” and of course that’s true, but   it only  helps you if you haven’t reached the point where your mania to win overrides every other thought and instinct.

What I found out today was that the D’Este-Tezzat axis had long since booked the restaurant for the victory celebration party.   They had it all planned out.   And I’m thinking, That’s just crazy.   Even I would know not to do that.    The Venetians have a  saying for it:  “Don’t  calculate the bill without consulting the barkeep.”

This extraordinary feat of confidence — and I admire confidence even when it’s not justified — is  from a category of people (Venetian racers, male) who are known to be so superstitious that  some of them won’t remove — or wash —  certain articles of clothing which they are convinced bring them good luck.   Why would they have thought they could flimflam the fates?

Luck — whatever that may be — is not a toy.   Small children aren’t supposed to play with plastic bags, and grown men shouldn’t play with what they think the future is going to be.   I thought we knew that.   Now we know it again.

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A palace balcony makes an excellent vantage point, especially if it's overlooking the finish line.

Categories : Boatworld, Events, History, Water
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Sep
02

Summerthoughts

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img_9846-weather-compSummer ended last Saturday night.   It’s always like this: One minute you’re sweltering in the hellish heat of summer, the air over the city pressing down on you like a hot sponge full of  mildew, sweat trickling down your spine, then suddenly, overnight, it’s fall.

We had  the long- and desperately-awaited break in the weather toward midnight on Saturday, announced by a long period of rumbling and groaning from the sky.   When we get the storms which always hit toward the end of June, Venetians say that the thunder is the sound of St. Peter cleaning the barrels (St. Peter’s feast day is June 29, as you know.)

I  can’t say what this noise might have been.   St. Peter moving great-grandfather’s mahogany tallboy?

Whatever was going on, we got some drops of rain, then the wind shifted, and there went summer.   The next morning a strapping bora was blowing, raising some whitecaps out in the lagoon, and a light jacket felt very good.

Of course the days are still hot.   This will continue till October, probably.   But the heat lacks conviction.   It seems to be fading from underneath.   The light becomes paler, as if the sun were worn out from nearly four months of blazing and hasn’t got the strength to make it all the way to the ground.   I  love cuspy moments like this.  

Curiously, the thunder wasn’t associated with any lightning that I could see from my prone position through barely open eyes.   All summer long the lightning (“lampe“) tells you all you need to know about the upcoming weather, at least for the next six hours until the tide turns.   Here’s the lore:  

Lampe da ponente, no lampe par gnente” (Lightning in the west, it’s not happening for nothing — that is, there will be rain).  

Lampe da tramontana, tuta caldana” (Lightning in the mountains, it’s all just heat.   The tramontana is also the north wind which comes from those mountains).  

Lampe da levante, dorme, dorme tartagnante” (Lightning in the east, sleep peacefully, tartagnante — nothing’s going to happen).   The tartagnante (tar-tan-YAN-tey) was a person who fished aboard a boat called a tartana.   The boat is extinct, therefore so too is  its  fisherman.   He would have rowed his boat, or even sailed it, slowly along the deeper lagoon channels keeping to the edge — called the “gingiva,” or “gum” (as in  what anchors your teeth) —  of the canal, dragging his net (also called a tartana) behind him.   When he was finished, he would have  one of those wonderful lagoon hauls, a bit of everything.

I  see in my Venetian dictionary  that in days of yore, “tartana” was also an expression for “love handles” (a comparison to the net floating out behind the boat, I’m guessing).   It gives a nice image of extra fullness, though I can imagine it being used with a slightly less than complimentary tone of voice or expression.   Nobody uses the term anymore; I don’t know that anybody would even understand what it meant.  

Back to the lightning: I notice that there isn’t any apothegm to describe the significance of lightning in the south.   Maybe it never happens.

Speaking of cusps, the market at the Rialto is currently a little sonata to the change of seasons.   There are still peaches and melons (though they too are becoming insincere, being either dry and flavorless or mushy and flavorless); the apricots have long since disappeared, though some deranged vendors are still offering small quantities of cherries at prices which would mean that if you bought a few you’d obviously  be planning to cover them with gold leaf.  

img_2423-grapes-compWhat’s been coming in are the purple things: eggplant and plums and grapes, fruit shading from purple-blue to purple-black.    And lots and lots of mushrooms —chiodini and finferli and porcini.    

 

 

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There are also pomegranates, which if I had won the lottery last week as I had intended I would buy by the metric ton and squeeze into juice.   As it is, I just admire them and move on.

I see that the first apples and pears are showing up,  which is heathen.   It may well be true that the harvest is on in the sub-Alpine plantations of the Val di Non and Val Venosta, but we’re going to be restricted to apples and pears for the entire winter, six eternal months of pears and apples.   I don’t start on them till there’s absolutely  no alternative.

Categories : Food, Nature
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Sep
01

Crybabies?

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It seems like Venice is always under some kind of cloud, even if only figuratively speaking.

It seems like Venice is always under some kind of cloud, even if only figuratively speaking.

The daily cri di coeur (that would make a great newspaper name) comes via the Gazzettino from Paolo Lanapoppi, a Venetian and former president of an association called Pax in Aqua, about which much more some other time.

Lanapoppi felt compelled to write to the Gazzettino, even  as the wind whistled through the windmills toward which he was spurring his horse, so to speak, to take issue with the latest jab which mayor Massimo Cacciari  had made to the few remaining morons who insist on living in his city and dare to criticize its administration.    

A day or so earlier, Mr. Cacciari had brushed aside a discouraging word from some constituent with the brusque observation that Venetians are “piangnoni” (crybabies, kvetchers, whiners) and Mr. Lanapoppi sees it quite differently.   I’m translating his missive here not because I want to spoil your day, as I know you have problems of your own to think about, but because it  summarizes very eloquently  some basic points which deserve to be criticized here, and why.

Venetians are crybabies?   Who has governed the city since 1993?   We need a new governing class   (August 27, 2009)

It seems incredible.   As the number of residents continues to fall and the city is clogging up with vacation rooms for rent, trash in the shop windows, tourist launches, day-trippers, the mayor is declaring that the city needs to free itself from the monoculture of tourism.   He even goes so far as to say  that Venetians have to stop being crybabies.

But who governed the city from 1993 to 2000?   Cacciari.   And from 2000 to 2005?   Paolo  Costa, elected with the support of Cacciari.   And from 2005 till today?   Cacciari again, naturally.

It isn't always like this.   But there's nothing stopping it, either.

It isn't always like this. But there's nothing stopping it, either.

So who is supposed to be battling the monoculture of tourism?   The opposition?   Or the elderly in their nursing homes?   Or we members of a thousand organizations which  fight every day to have a little space in the newspapers to denounce an unsustainable situation, and that find ourselves at thousands of conferences and  round tables being snubbed by the administrators?

So to the damage they’re now adding mockery: we’re being accused of being snivelers.   Instead, there’s Cacciari fighting the tourism monoculture, inaugurating new museums as if they were for the 60,000 residents, who inaugurates new piers as if they were nursery schools for the Venetians, who sets up a brand-new dock for the tourist launches in the Riva dei Sette Martiri, who ignores and lets languish an area of tremendous potential like the waterfront in Marghera, who has not succeeded in many years to create even one great center for research or for work, who goes to the Biennale and the Film Festival to do “culture,” who sells the facades of the palaces under restoration for publicity.

One sees the desire to get out of the tourism monoculture, one sees it clearly.   All you have to do is look at what the Cacciari government is doing.

Then, on the same day, the vice-mayor, Michele Vianello, comes out with an incredible quip: To put an end to the motondoso in the Bacino of San Marco, what we need is a single authority.   That he would have the courage to say so after five years of the commissioner (N.B.: against motondoso, as well as mayor) Costa would be  amazing if it weren’t offensive to the intelligence of his listeners.   Because there’s something else that is needed: What’s needed are people in power who have the capacity and the will to make changes.   Venice — and notable people such as Riccardo Calimani, Francesco Giavazzi, Gherardo Ortalli, have said it unanimously and in public — has not been capable of producing a class of governors worthy of its history and its potential.

It has been, at the most, a springboard for launching people  who are seeking national notoriety; meanwhile, the city is crumbling under the suction of the propellors (another reference to motondoso) and is being transformed by the pressure of 20 million voracious grasshoppers (tourists) a year.   As for the future, one hears predictions of 40 million in another 20 years.   We’re already preparing the hotels of the future Tessera City (the village near the airport) and the under-lagoon subway to facilitate  their arrival.    

Nice way to get out of the monoculture of tourism.

img_5218-clouds-6-comp

But you can still see why people want to come here.

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