Archive for November, 2010
I started scribbling this yesterday to the sound just outside the window of a lot of people going by in a hurry. Sometimes a large hurry. I could hear the thudding of feet, the puffing of lungs, and incoherent voices of various ages and genders that sounded either baffled or urgent, or both.
This went on Saturday and Sunday. “This” was the 31st edition of the Venice Orienteering Meeting. Each year, on the second Sunday of November, our neighborhood is besieged by people who’ve come from all over Europe (though I’m sure you’d be welcome no matter where you live. Pitcairn Island? Cool!). They are competing in a timed race armed only with a map and a compass, and a list of checkpoints to cover in the correct order in the shortest time possible. That’s my homespun definition of orienteering, an undertaking which has now reached the level of a sport. It even has a federation.
When an activity passes from being a game to a sport, things get serious. (A shout-out to Ernest Hemingway, who said “There are only three sports, bullfighting, motor racing and mountaineering; all the rest are merely games.”) Frankly, some of the orientators didn’t look so serious to me.
In a way, much more than boating or swimming, orienteering is the city’s natural sport. In fact, I’d say it was Venice’s destiny to present itself, not merely as the repository of historical and artistic magnificence, but as a serious challenge to the brains and legs of people who are looking at it as terrain.
What, after all, are mere forests and torrents and ravines compared to the seductive complexity of dark, narrow streets, canals, dead ends, and bridges to everywhere? Any newbie who has ever set out for a specific destination armed only with the primitive map the hotel gave out can tell you that there may be moments here when negotiating forests and ravines would be simpler.
Two things about the course: First, it was designed by a German man. I don’t comment, I merely note it. Make of it what you will.
Second, there were many different courses, divided according to the gender and skill of the orientizers. These courses varied in length and in “dislivello,” a complicated topographic term which I can only manage to remember as being the distance in the difference of the heights of any two points. (Perhaps a humorous idea in Venice, but deeply meaningful in the mountains. If you’re running in the mountains, it probably interests you much more to know how far up and down you’re going to have to go than the kilometers to cover. If you live in the Lincolnshire fens or downtown Houston, it is a totally foreign concept.)
The longest course was, logically, for the serious athletes in the Elite Category. For the men, it covered 10,500 meters and 80 meters of dislivello (six and a half miles and 262 feet). Winner: Alessio Tenani of Italy, who finished in 1 hour 9 minutes and 51 seconds. The last in this category came in at twice the time: 2:20:23.
For the women, the Elite course covered 8,700 meters and 73 meters of dislivello (five and a half miles and 239 feet). Winner: Sarka Svobodna of the Czech Republic, who made it in 1:08:27. Last to come in here clocked 2:00:41.
Behind all these paladins were large squadrons of students of assorted ages, and a richly variegated quantity of people — couples with small children, some of whom could race like the wind, or quartets of young adults, or pairs of roundish older people taking the whole thing at a pace that could have been calculated in phases of the moon.
But while we’re talking about walking, you should know that there is another annual event that might be more appealing, or at least less competitive. It’s called “Su e Zo per i Ponti“ (Up and Down the Bridges), and groups turn out in hordes. Here too there is a laid-out course to follow, but no need at all to use your brain. I’ve seen pods of people as they go by and most of them seem more interested in laughing and talking than in getting home before dark.
Next year’s “Su e Zo” will be on April 10 (2011) and if you’re going to be here it could be a very diverting and different thing to do. After all, if you’re going to be tramping around from hither to yon anyway, why not join the masses of people who are so cheerfully blocking the streets? You’re going to have to mingle with a lot of them anyway, and if you register you get refreshments and a medal, which you can’t say every day in Venice.
If there are tickets left you can register the morning of the event, at the departure point in the Piazza San Marco. It costs six euros, less than a vaporetto ticket. I think you should do it.
I myself have never thought of participating, mainly because walking around Venice takes up so much of my daily existence that it would seem bizarre to do what I do every day with a batch of people who regard it as entertainment. I’m not saying I don’t love walking around Venice, it’s just that I usually do it in second or third gear. I need to get places.
If I had any free time on a Sunday, I’d be taking a nap.
As I may have said before, one of the many things I love about being here is the way life crosses the stream of the year by stepping on a series of metaphorical stones, which are the assorted holidays and feast days of some saints I hardly knew (that means “never knew”) existed. Now I know more about them than could ever be regarded as useful or even, dare I say it, interesting.
I used to think it was so exotic the way that people in the Middle Ages, according to assorted novels, would always be talking about events according to their nearest feast day: “We’ll plant the corn after St. Swithin’s Day,” “The marriage took place before Candlemas,” and so on. Now I’m doing it too.
For example, everybody knows that you don’t broach the new wine until St. Martin’s Day, which is today, November 11. The seppie begin to head out to sea after the Feast of the Redentore (third Sunday in July). I could go on, but St. Martin is getting restless.
The festivities almost always take place on the eve of the official date of whatever the event may be. Therefore, yesterday via Garibaldi was strewn with small children in their “San Martin” garb — clever crowns, sometimes capes, often a bag for the candy they strongly urge people to give them — and carrying whatever bits of kitchenware such as pots and pans (or their covers) to bang and clang as they sing the vaguely threatening San Martino song. The gist of this ditty is that if you don’t give them candy, they will invoke a variety of unpleasant reprisals. Pimples on your butt is one of the favorites.
I like to think about all these people who stroll across the Venetian calendar. The Befana (Jan. 6), Santa Lucia (Dec. 13), the Madonna della Salute (Nov. 21), San Marco (April 25) and now San Martino (Nov. 11). Of course there are many more, when you add in every parish’s patron saint. Just imagine them all getting together at their annual convention: “International Marching and Chowder Society of Saints of the Venetian Year, this year meeting in Mobile, Alabama. Before registering, make sure you’ve paid your dues.” It’s just an expression. Saints, by definition, have long since paid them.
Where was I? Via Garibaldi. So yesterday afternoon hot chocolate and the crucial cookie called a “Samartin” (Sa-mar-TEEN) were distributed to the children by the good men of the Mutual Aid Society of the Caulkers and Carpenters. When they ran out of children they gave cookies to everyone else, mainly grandmothers and aged aunts who had been circling like buzzards.
Today, the late morning was clanked and clattered by groups of schoolchildren, manic little locusts in impromptu costumes swarming the shops and vendors. They were banging on their cookware and singing the San Martino song, or at least some of it.
They had also prepared a series of posters depicting San Martino at his greatest moment, the encounter with the freezing beggar by the road and the division of his cloak with his sword.
I believe he did a few other things in his life which had deeper and longer-lasting importance, but they don’t make anywhere near as good a story. Or poster.
Considering the ludicrous prices of the cookies on sale around town — a rough estimate tells me that regardless of size they cost 250% more than last year, when the prices were already too high — I think San Martino ought to cut the cookies in half.
Reader Tim Reinard in California asked to see a wider shot of Lino’s medals surrounding our barometer. Glad to oblige. These are only a few of the medals he has won or been awarded over the years as a Venetian rowing racer, or race judge, or participant in a number of major foreign boating events.
Watching the various weather signs yesterday morning as closely as a jungle tracker (or desert tracker, or suburban mother looking for a parking place at the mall), I realized fairly early that the Warnings which I was following were turning out to have been perhaps slightly excessive.
Caution is a superb thing and we should all have more of it, except for when we shouldn’t, I mean. But I have the sensation — and so does Lino — that a certain amount of exaggeration has crept into the whole business of predicting acqua alta. Why?
One reason, and I’m just hypothesizing here, could be that the people in the Tide Center (particularly its battle-hardened director, Paolo Canestrelli, who would feel perfectly at home with Field Marshal Montgomery) are up to here with the shrieking imprecations from people inconvenienced by a change in the situation from the earlier prediction to the reality suddenly underfoot.
As I have already noted, the weather picture can change. Get over it.
Another reason — here, let me move that firing-range target to the side and stand there in its place — could be the relentless need for the many forces involved in the MOSE project to instill public dread of water on the ground. Even brief articles in the Gazzettino which mention a (not “the,” but “a”) possibility of high water the following day don’t bear down too hard on the word “possibility.” They like the effect the words “acqua alta” have on people, if put in a way that makes it sound as if you need to head for the storm cellar.
In any case, just remember that any article that you may read that implies, or even says, that “Venice was flooded” is a bit excessive. We didn’t get any water on our ground and we’re in Venice. Is San Marco’s high water better than ours? Prettier? Wetter?
If you have any interest in the damage water can seriously do to people, places and things, don’t get fixated on Venice, but look at other areas of the Veneto such as Vicenza and Verona, and even in Tuscany, over the past few days. Torrential rains, bursting riverbanks, highways and roads blocked and even broken by racing water, mudslides obliterating houses and the helpless people within them (like the mother and her two-year-old son whose bodies were dug out of their mud-filled house, still clinging to each other) — these are events involving water which deserve more publicity than they get.
Actually, “mudslide” is too innocuous a word for what happened in Tuscany after days of rain. Essentially a huge chunk of melting mountain just broke off and fell on this family’s house. Just like that. No warning sirens, no time to do anything except die. There are many families who have lost everything. Some people have drowned.
Parts of the Veneto have now been declared disaster areas. Venice was not on the list.