Archive for October, 2009
On October 2 at 6:53 PM, the news broke upon an unsuspecting city — and even some unsuspecting city councilors — that the local headmen had cooked up a new scheme: Officially proposing Venice as the site of the 2020 Summer Olympics.
I’ll pause while you adjust your screens.
Technically speaking, “Venice Olympics” wouldn’t necessarily connote the same thing as “Venetian Olympics.”
The “Venetian Olympics” would consist of any typical activity of any typical day in almost any typical week. Medals would be awarded for such events as:
- the 2000-meter walk home over five bridges carrying 20 pounds of shopping in plastic bags and a six-pack of mineral water bottles during Carnival (an event which could be adjusted for difficulty according to the distance, bag weight, number and height of bridges, density of crowds, and whether you have up to three small children with you);
- the vaporetto-boarding-at-6:15 PM in the rain with two runs having been skipped, leading to a phenomenal accumulation of enraged, wet, tired mammals (starting line: Piazzale Roma, finish line at Rialto, San Toma’, or San Zaccaria);
- choice of one of several activities at the train station (buying a ticket at 5:45 AM; finding a bathroom at 9:30 PM; locating your departure track in the absence of any information on any notice boards, five minutes before departure), to be judged not only on speed but style;
- getting from San Marco to the Lido in the fog during a transport strike;
- obtaining a package from abroad via SDA, a delivery company which does everything but give correct information in a timely fashion, or deliver.
Actually, I think the “Venetian Olympics” could be a spectacular event, for those in the right frame of mind, and best of all, they could be held any day of the year, practically.
But I am only slightly jesting. The headmen, on the other hand, are completely serious. That’s because they are: Massimo Cacciari, the mayor; Giancarlo Galan, governor of the Veneto Region; Franco Manzato, regional vice-president AND councilor for Tourism; and Andrea Tomat, president of Confindustria Veneto, the regional business association. Politicians and businessmen — it’s the winning team in most Olympic efforts, I have no doubt. And as soon as Madrid lost its bid to Rio, thereby re-opening the field to a European candidate for the next go-round, Venice pounced.
But “Venice Olympics” is a loss leader. What they mean by “Venice Olympics” translates into “Olympics scattered around the Veneto region.” Everybody wants to get into the act.
The only foreseeable competitor in Italy would be Rome, which hosted the Games in 1960 (perhaps a handicap, though capital cities seem to do well). I”m not sure what card Rome will be playing in an attempt to become the national candidate, but it’s true that they wouldn’t have to face the quips that almost certainly will soon be lobbed at Venice. I can imagine the helpful suggestions for organizing the pole vault over the campanile of San Marco; synchronized swimming in the Grand Canal; the hammer throw and shot-put aimed at the taxis churning along the Giudecca Canal. Field hockey in the Piazza San Marco.
Let me not blemish the euphoria by mentioning crass numbers; clearly the visions of new everything being built all across the region has got lots of people all worked up. I merely mention, at random, that the candidacy of Madrid, which made it all the way to the finals, cost the equivalent of $55 million.
And that’s just the cost of candidacy. Once you nab the Games, the real bills start to mount up. Brazil has budgeted $14 billion to host the Games in Rio. Venice has a few handicaps, in my opinion, in that regard: It’s already the most expensive city in Italy (this ought to really lure spectators), and it has made a career of rattling its tin cup, wailing that it has no money. But… but… If there is no money for schools, monument restoration, policemen, hospitals, firemen, and so on, how can they suddenly find millions — gosh, it was right here behind the Encyclopedia Britannica all the time — and be prepared to expend billions, if they get the nod? (That was a rhetorical question.)
The notables who have spoken have been refreshingly direct about why they want the Olympics. Skipping entirely any mention, however brief, of desiring to add to the glory of Italy, or the honor of the city, or the splendor of our athletes (somebody did refer to that, I think, but I can’t see how that matters), they’ve gone right to the point.
“Promoting and organizing the Games of 2020 would permit the city and the entire metropolitan area represented by the triangle of Venice, Padua and Treviso (italics mine) to accelerate the numerous improvement and renewal projects which for years have filled the agendas of the institutions of the territory,” said Mayor Cacciari.
“Venezia 2020 represents a strategic project for the development of the infrastructure of the entire Region,” said Dr. Galan. For the record, the entire Region covers about 7,000 square miles.
“Our businesses realize that having the Olympic Games in Venice in 2020 could act as a catalyst for a series of ‘virtuous’ processes in the economic field and help the consumer regain confidence,” said President Tomat.
But don’t break out the Prosecco just yet. First of all, Rome isn’t going to shrink from the fight — au contraire. This was the home of the gladiators, after all; also, the mayor of Rome belongs to the right wing of the political spectrum, while the mayor of Venice is from the left. They’re used to fighting. So, like every war, this brewing conflict has a long history and many undetected combatants.
And a few cautious voices — important voices — have sounded their notes of warning amid the chorus of praise for this audacious notion.
“Extremely important economic guarantees are going to be needed,” commented the head of the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI), the group which will adjudicate which city carries Italy’s banner into the final selection. Not a very heartening public statement, though unusually honest. They were polite enough not to refer to the recently (finally) completed Ponte della Costituzione (“the Calatrava Bridge”), which required 11 years, many lawsuits and an impressive cost overrun (final cost: $18 million compared to the $10 million quoted in the winning bid), to span 265 feet of the Grand Canal. But an Olympic Stadium ought to be a lot simpler.
“It would undoubtedly be a great opportunity for the entire Veneto [there we go again] to furnish itself with facilities adequate to such an event which would then remain at the disposition of local groups….It would require an enormous investment with the complete participation of the government as well as the industial sector,” remarked Renzo Di Antonio, president of the Olympic Committee’s Veneto division.
“As a Venetian I couldn’t be anything other than happy at this proposal,” said Andrea Cipressa, fencing gold medalist and vice-president of the national fencing association. “Naturally, on the real feasibility of the project I feel some understandable doubts….There are many, many things to take into consideration and the first impact of the proposal is mainly emotional, romantic. But then you have to start taking reality into account as well as the many problems which are always connected with Venice.”
But perhaps he has failed to grasp the magnitude of the marvels which the Olympics would bestow on the Region (excuse me: ENTIRE Region], especially right around Venice, innovations which have already been discussed for quite a while in the government:
“I believe that Tessera” (the village near the airport) “has all the necessary potential,” said Laura Fincato, councilor for Urban Planning. “We are discussing an area which would have a multilateral potential — an area of recreation including a new building for the Casino, a stadium, a concert hall and an structure for all sorts of sports. In this area there is also the airport and the [future] passage of the high-speed railway [the TAV Corridor 5 which will connect Kiev to Lisbon, passing through northern Italy]. If we then add a forest of 105 hectares [260 acres], it seems to me that we have all the right conditions.” A forest?? Now that’s something that’s really been missing from the urban fabric. We don’t have enough firemen — we don’t even have a breakdown lane on the Liberty Bridge. But a forest by the airport? Why didn’t anybody think of that before?
The mayor of the nearby beach resort of Jesolo is already jumping up and down and waving his hand: “We could hold the windsurf and beach volley competitions,” is his contribution to the discussion.
Paradoxically, though, the rowing competitions would be impossible to hold in the lagoon, due to the tidal currents. Sailing in the Adriatic ought to work, but rowing would have to be somewhere else. That’s going to be a little tricky for the public relations work. Maybe they could dig the rowing basin in the forest by the airport.
One commentator, Tiziano Graziottin, sees the big picture this way: “However you look at it, there are many obstacles on the horizon to overcome; the ‘tripartisan’ group put into play by Cacciari, Galan and Manzato… looks at Venice as the figurehead of an entire Veneto system, using the icon of the most beautiful city in the world to fascinate world public opinion while aiming at developing the potential of an entire macro-region… Venice is the star that drives photographers crazy but the Olympic ‘film’ succeeds only if all the actors play their part under the highest-quality direction…. The good thing about this idea is the concept behind it, and it’s a key concept for ‘internal use’: To make clear to a public opinion frequently divided into provincial (in every sense) rivalries that Venice and the Veneto can and must march together.” For those numbed by the endless bickering between Dr. Cacciari (center-left) and Dr. Galan (center-right), this is a revolution. “Bipartisan” isn’t a word you hear used very much; in Italian, it’s a knobby little word (bipartitico) which doesn’t really have a home in anyone’s vocabulary. I think it must sleep in the political garage.
A closing note — more like a shot across the bow — from the ever-contrarian lawyer, Francesco Mario D’Elia, who has organized four (4) referendums with the aim of separating Venice from Mestre, all of which failed, but not by so much. He has now organized a committee called “No to the Venice 2020 Olympics.”
“To propose Venice for the Olympics,” he stated, “is merely an operation involving the image, in order to exploit the fame of the city without giving anything in return…. Therefore we say ‘Enough’ to those who exploit the name of Venice, a city which has no need of the Olympics.”
So he has wasted no time in writing to the governor of the Region of Sicily saying that there’s a small group in Venice ready to support their candidacy for the Olympics, presumably at Palermo. “The Palermo Olympics.” That sounds even stranger than The Venice Olympics.
In all, a fairly audacious gamble, which will require betting millions of somebody’s money to play a hand which may not turn out to be as strong as its holder might imagine. Venice isn’t in the habit of competing, really — people come here anyway, whether you invite them or not. As a historic, artistic and even touristic city, who would it compete against? So having to think as a global competitor for anything is going to be a short sharp shock to a few people here. Especially when they come up against other potential candidates such as Cape Town and Mumbai and St. Petersburg.
But that’s the point of gambling — you’re ready to take a chance. Perhaps it will turn out that this whole Venice Olympics business is going to be less like a game of poker or mah-jongg and more like a long and unfathomably expensive session of “Risk.”
I know we all — or most of us — are all tangled up in the world’s problems, but while you’re thinking about everything that’s going wrong on either side of your front door, spare a thought for Italy.
Tomorrow, October 23, there is going to be a national strike. By which I don’t mean that the nation itself is going to strike — however one would manage that — but the nation will be dramatically affected by a very big general strike organized and imposed by three large unions for a batch of different reasons. The strike was announced on August 4, so if you haven’t come up with an alternate plan for the day, it’s not their fault.
Their stated grievance is that the government has not dealt with their requests on a number of issues. They are against workers being fired (not a theoretical concern, in the current economic situation) — in fact, they want the government to block firings — and they are also against reducing the penalties for those who cause fatal accidents, or severe injury or illness, in the workplace. They’re in favor of reducing the work-week, increasing raises and pensions, establishing a minimum wage, attaching cost-of-living increases to pay scales, and making workplaces, schools, and transport safer. Could anyone disagree with any of this? It would be like quibbling over the Ten Commandments, or the Boy Scout Oath.
The categories which will be affected by the strike are:
- Public administration (no problem there, as only five people seem to ever be working in the country at any given time, and then mostly unintentionally); the whole day. Convenient, it being a Friday.
- Schools and universities. Professors and students jubilant, parents not so much.
Public health (nurses, orderlies, ambulance drivers, perhaps even doctors); so far, no guarantee of minimum services has been given. Something will be cobbled together at the last minute, it always is.
- Firemen. Those actively scheduled to be on call at airports and elsewhere will strike only from 10 – 2 PM. Not bad, unless your fire starts during those four hours. Office people: Out all day.
- Airlines: No planes flying between 12 and 4 PM. Sorry about that connection.
- Ports: from 8 AM Friday – 8 AM Saturday. Office people: Out all day. Absolutely no ferries connecting small islands to the mainland or to each other for 24 hours. Deal with it. Read a book. Call your mom.
- Trains: There is conflicting information here. One report says that personnel assigned to actively working with the trains will strike from 11 – 3 PM (office people: out, naturally). On the other hand, the railway company says that normal service will be maintained, but considering what “normal” tends to mean in an ordinary week, it’s hard to say if the effect of a strike will even be noticed. Or if service will appear to have improved during the strike.
- And above all, PUBLIC TRANSPORT. Venice is one place where lack of buses makes a major dent in your day. Here’s what life will look like here from midnight Thursday to midnight Friday:
Transport will be cut to the very bone, which means that there will be hardly any vaporettos except during the morning and evening rush hours. Which means that if you have to get to the train station (except between 11-3) with your luggage, you’ll be walking or taking a dazzlingly expensive taxi. Need to get to the airport? Dazzlingly expensive taxi, but remember, don’t bother going between 12 – 4.
For those of us staying on home territory, anyone wanting to go to or from the Lido from anywhere will be waiting a lo-o-o-o-o-ong time for a vaporetto to appear (or taking a dazzlingly expensive taxi). On the mainland, the fact of buses going on strike can be somewhat mitigated by car-pooling. In Venice, you don’t see anyone in their personal motorboat carrying friends or stranded people around.
In Rome, though, to help deal with the masses of protesters, the trains and subways will strike only between 8 PM and midnight. Am I the only person who finds this odd?
The forecast for tomorrow is also for fog. Fun. Though I suppose if there aren’t any vaporettos or ferries, it doesn’t make much difference.
It’s true that in Venice you can reach almost anywhere fairly conveniently (if you’re not in a huge rush) on foot. Unless you’re a shaky little old person on two canes, say, trying to get to the hospital for your knee X-ray which you scheduled six months ago, or a tourist with lots of bags. No vaporettos is not amusing.
Naturally I’m totally in favor of everything the unions want, and don’t want, and so on. But there isn’t any union that I know of which would muster its troops to demand changes that would make life any easier for me.
So I’m going to protest on my own. After all, in the middle of everyone else, who’ll notice? I’ll just stand next to some disaffected welder and let fly.
So here’s what I’m against: Unscrupulous people deliberately doing cruel and ignorant things to other people; anything that costs more than $1.50; dog-owners who let their dogs poop wherever they want and don’t clean up; kids who scream, and their parents who either make them scream or don’t make them stop; chocolate-chip cookies with more than 20 calories. The people upstairs who throw their cigarette butts on the street in front of our door, and the unstable person who leaves his/her bag of garbage at the corner of our apartment.
Also: I’m against unprofessional, obtuse, malicious, devious behavior of any sort by anyone at any time; cheating and lying. Incompetence. Hypocrisy. My list could go on but I’ll stop here.
Here’s what I’m for: Kids that laugh, dogs that don’t poop, lots of money paid for hard work done well, and music of almost any type except that car-crash-torture-dungeon-hand-grenade music, whatever it’s called. A pat on the head/back/cheek for any and no reason — the person receiving it will know what it’s for.
I’m off to prepare my placard now. Will report back from the barricades or whenever it gets dark and I have to come home.
By which I don’t mean the financial market, and “today” is generally intended to mean more-or-less now. I’m referring to what new edibles are on sale in the market these days.
As I may have mentioned elsewhere, one of the many ways in which I notice the seasons changing is by what arrives and departs from the fruit and vegetable stands. (Fish also. Meat pretty much stays the same.)
I should note that in the past few years the rot of nonlocal-feedlot-hothouse-raised-out-of-season comestibles has begun to set in. I used to love the fact that you really could stick with the seasonal offerings here — in fact, you hardly had a choice.
Now there are strawberries in January and cherries in September and artichokes virtually all the time. It’s grotesque, and not only because of the prices. That there is a market for them is what’s distressing. Happily, a few items such as fresh peas and cardoons and loquats and parsnips have eluded the commercial drift-net so far, that mechanism that sweeps products indiscriminately off the calendar and dumps them all onto the shelves and into the bins together.
So what makes my heart leap up when I see plants take their cues and slip onto the autumnal culinary stage here? Walnuts — Italian, as well as from California.
Chestnuts from various parts of northern Italy, the most prized being from Piedmont, around the town of Cuneo. “Zucca barucca,” a pumpkin which if you didn’t know it was so good you’d think was a sort of mutated Hobbit. Cachi (KA-kee), or persimmons. The leafless branches of trees in gardens here are festooned with these golden spheres far into the fall, little grace-notes of sun in a season which becomes progressively grayer. If I were a canning-and-preserving person, I’d be working around the clock.
Best of all, the giuggiole (JOO-joe-leh). It’s better in Venetian: zizoe (ZEE-zo-eh). In English: jujubes. You may think of jujubes only as that gummy candy you’d buy at the movies when you went for the Saturday-morning double feature. But they are a real fruit, perhaps a bit handicapped by the fact that they look like olives wishing they could be dates.
They have no juice — their main appeal is the crunch, and their unassuming flavor. And engaging as their Venetian name is (I buy some every year just so I can say “zizoe”) their scientific name is even better: Ziziphus zizyphus. Name of a man with a heavy head cold doomed to push a boulder uphill forever.
Modest though they may be, they have their own place in Italian culture. For example, there is an expression — “andare in brodo di giuggiole” (literally, “I went into jujube broth”) — which you would say when you wanted to convey extreme happiness or satisfaction. The “broth” is a sort of infusion/decoction which evidently is more delectable than you can imagine. Only now have I discovered a recipe for this beverage, or I’d have tried to make it before the zizoe disappeared and given a full report.
Around here the zizoe come mainly from the area of the Euganean Hills, beyond Padova, especially the environs of the hamlet of Arqua’ Petrarca, where Petrarch settled to live out his last days. The Arquites (or whatever the inhabitants are called — Arquatensi, actually) dedicate not one, but two Sundays in October to celebrating their yummy little drupe.
The Romans brought them from Syria; Herodotus noted that the wine you could make from jujubes would get you drunk in no time. (I’m freely translating.) There are recipes from the Egyptians and even Phoenicians.
Apart from its alcoholic potential, and the fact that it has more Vitamin C than the orange, it was especially valued by our forebears as being one of a group of so-called “chesty” fruits (such as figs, dates and grapes) which produced a liquid which, when condensed, could combat chest colds and respiratory inflammation, of which there is no shortage in this climate.
Here’s a recipe, which I’m already poised to try. All I have to do is wait till the end of next September.
BRODO DI GIUGGIOLE
- 1 kilo (2.2 pounds) jujubes
- 1 kilo sugar
- two bunches of Zibibbo or Muscat grapes
- 2 glasses (no size specified…) of white wine
- 2 quinces
- grated lemon peel
- sufficient water
- Wash the jujubes and put them in a pot. Cover with water.
- Add the grapes and the sugar.
- Simmer over low flame for 1 hour, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon.
- Peel and thinly slice the quinces.
- Add sliced quinces and wine to the pot.
- Raise the flame to more rapidly evaporate the alcohol. Turn off heat. Cool.
- When it is cooler, stir in the grated lemon peel.
- Pass the mixture through a sieve, pour the liquid into jars and completely cool.
- Leave in a cool place for at least a month before using.
I’ll see you next year with this one. It will be the Great Zizoe Broth-off.
This just in from Milan — and it’s too good to keep to myself even if it didn’t happen in Venice.
A 32-year-old Somali man is in Italy illegally. This isn’t news. He is arrested and found guilty of the crime of “clandestinity” (being illegal) and slapped with an expulsion order. Normal so far. A large number of illegal immigrants who are arrested and sentenced to return immediately to their country of origin just put the document in their scrapbook and keep on with whatever they were doing.
So he doesn’t leave Italy. But he does need to do something. So one night he makes his way into somebody’s apartment to steal stuff. For reasons difficult to determine from where I am, instead of nabbing some valuables and getting the hoo out of there, he is overcome with somnolence and sits/lies down on the sofa and falls asleep.
I grant that it’s easy enough to fall asleep on the sofa at night, especially in the dark (which I presume the room was) even if you’re not watching Formula One racing (oh wait — people think that’s exciting) or a bridge tournament or a Japanese political debate.
But in any case, Morpheus sneaks up on him like a thief in the night and out he goes.
Meanwhile, the homeowner has heard something suspicious (snoring?), discovers the interloper and calls the police, who appear in a trice.
The patrol-people’s first question is not “What the hoo are you doing here?” It’s “May we see some ID please.”
So he reaches into his pocket or scrapbook and gives them a piece of paper. Sure enough, it’s got his name on it. It’s an expulsion order. I have no idea how long he’d had it, but it’s not a document you’d normally consider flashing to somebody in a uniform, given that if you do have one you’re not supposed to be lollygagging around the country that doesn’t want you, you’re at least supposed to be at the airport pretending to look for a flight to somewhere else.
In any case, you’re not supposed to be busy committing yet another crime.
And then I ask myself, “How exactly do you manage to fall asleep when you’re in somebody else’s house committing a crime?” I mean, it’s not as if he turned on the TV and started watching a bridge tournament.
So now I presume he has another expulsion order, possibly one that categorizes his status a bit more forcefully. To go in his scrapbook.