Archive for October, 2011


Justice will be served

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Pick a street -- any street -- and you'll find plenty of picturesque dilapidation. At least I suppose it's picturesque. If this were a palace, people would love it.

Visitors and even residents who regard the peeling plaster and crumbling brick and other symptoms of age and use as part of Venice’s transcendent charm mostly don’t have to concern themselves with the consequences of the aforesaid peeling and crumbling.

But if you were the plaintiff in a certain court case, you would find little to no charm in the condition of your case.  I mean the physical condition, not your chances of winning it.

Folders eaten by rats, case postponed” reads a headline from a recent Gazzettino.

This did not surprise me, because I have been, more than once, down the hallways and into various offices of the civil court here.  There is scarcely any more space for documents and files in these warrens than there is for the average person in the average dead-end backstreet during Carnival.  And the files, by now, are a thousand times more than many. It’s like something out of Jarndyce and Jarndyce.

Thus many of these slabs of paperwork are left outside the staggering, overloaded file cabinets, and they are simply stacked on the floor in dusty, tattered heaps.  I have seen this with these very eyes.

No worries, though — assuming you don’t need to find a particular file, because it’s not clear they have been stacked according to any particular system.  Other, that is, than the system of numbering houses in Tokyo: In order of age.

Enter the rats.  What they don’t see are mute masses of pain and anger and greed and bureaucratic boredom and the occasional fatal misspelling or lost identification number or whatever.  They see what, I gather, amounts to towering columns of food.  And even a rat knows what to do with food.

“The case?” the article begins.  “It has to be placed on a new schedule because the file has been gnawed by rats and has to be ‘reconstructed.’

“This unusual reason for postponing the audience was pronounced a few weeks ago by the president of one of the penal sections of the Court of Appeals.  But it seems this is not the only such case: For years the judicial offices have been suffering from grave shortages of space and the areas available aren’t always adequate, especially those used for the archiving of the proceedings.” Translation: As stated above, no more space.

The defendent’s lawyer, Giovanni Fabris, wasn’t so amused.  Instead of arming himself with a magnifying glass, flour paste, duct tape, or spray shellac , reassembling the documents and depositing them in the chancellery, he sent a packet to the judge presiding over the court.

It contained a mousetrap.

It also contained a note: ‘Here is my personal contribution to the efficiency of justice.”

The dog ate your homework?  Piffle!

Rats mean cats, or at least they used to, as demonstrated on a capital of the Doge's Palace. I'd like to see the dog du jour attempt this.

Categories : Problems
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Stalking the wild sagra

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They go on all year, all over Italy, but for some reason it’s only in the autumn that I give any thought to the innumerable festivals dedicated to food.  Or food products, or plants or animals, or anything peptic or nutritious.

This sign in the village of Giavera del Montello is announcing the local "Sagra dei Spinei," which are the stoppers of the wine barrels. In case these don't sound especially tasty, the point of the sagra is to drink the newly fermented contents of the barrels, plus the traditional accompanying roasted chestnuts. Why didn't they just say "Sagra del vino"? You'll have to ask them.

The keyword is sagra, which the dictionary defines as “feast,” “festival,” or “religious festival,” because the local product being celebrated is sometimes linked to the local patron saint.  Not required, though.  It’s more the local product that is worshiped and glorified.  Anyway, the public tends to respond more quickly to the phrases “gastronomic stands” and “typical products” than to “religious procession and Mass,” and these events are usually aimed at the paying visitor, not the quaint locals who in days of yore would have been the only participants.

Rummaging through assorted calendars  for something fun and comestible to celebrate this month in the Veneto , I discovered that in October there are sagre devoted to chestnuts, pumpkins, cheese, grapes, jujubes (known in Venetian as zizoe), honey, wine, baccala’, black truffles, ducks, walnuts, apples, eels, and the gnocco (plural gnocchi, since you tend not to eat just one).  This one is tempting, as “gnocco” is also slang for “dullard,” “poltroon,” “dimwit,” which I think is funny, though I assume the organizers are not referring to the people they want to attract.

If they set up stands of fresh-picked chile peppers at the Automotive Dealers' Day, do you think anyone would think it odd?

I see that “Automotive Dealer Day” sneaked its way onto the list for the area around Verona.  Hard to think of what would be good to eat here, though I guess 40W oil might be useful for frying. Maybe this is one event in which food isn’t involved, hard as that may be to imagine.  Unless they are cleverly referring to the automotive dealer as the edible item.

The few sagre I’ve been to tend to follow a simple pattern: Pick a local product you wish to festivize; get lots of it; organize it on stands or in halls, possibly with demonstrations of its cultivation, history, industrial management, recipes, or whatever other features seem important; cook lots of it in various ways to sell at inflated prices; add some extra events, such as demonstrations of historic skills (how to make cheese or spin wool or other things the old-fashioned way is popular); perhaps add some race or competitive event; publicize, provide parking (this one is optional), make money.

Oh — and make sure you hold your event in a picturesque little place that is almost (or better, completely) unreachable by public transport.  Trains?  Buses? Of course they exist, except on Sunday, when often they do not.  Then you get off at the nearest station and try to find a taxi or, as happened last year, you walk.  We did eight miles. Lino has made it clear that we are not going to repeat this exploit.

The pumpkin known as "zucca barucca" is also called the "veal of Chioggia." Gives you some idea of the subsistence level down there. I can imagine mothers telling their children, "Eat it -- it tastes just like veal."

The problem is that any sagra reasonably near home base isn’t very appealing.  You need distance, even a frustrating distance, to create the necessary allure.  Because — let’s be honest — spending the day wandering among pumpkins or grapes doesn’t have a lot more intrinsic appeal than spending the day in the produce department of the supermarket.  Spending the day among gnocchi — why travel?  As soon as you walk out the door here, you’re surrounded by them.  So to speak.

I spent two days trying to organize the logistics to go to Arqua’ Petrarca, which devotes two consecutive Sundays to its local star, the zizoe.  In fact, I had my heart set on it.  This is always a bad move, because disappointment is usually right behind.  I discovered that while a train does go to the nearest town, Monselice, there are two choices for traveling the four miles (six kilometers) to Arqua’ Petrarca.  The first was by taxi — there is one taxi in Monselice — and the driver wanted 20 euros ($27) each way.  You see that it’s not only in Venice where they flay your wallet alive.  Or the bus.  I checked, not without some difficulty, with the bus company, and guess what?  They don’t run on Sunday.

I myself would seriously considering getting a folding bicycle , which would be easy to carry on the train, but Lino didn’t want to hear about it.  He may have sensed I was edging too close to committing an Americanata.

I forgot to mention that for us to arrive at a sagra at a reasonable hour (say, 9:00 AM, when it might be opening), it means getting up at 4:00.  Because to be at the train station by 6:00 or so means there is only one vaporetto running — sorry, I meant crawling.  So if I’m prepared to get up in the middle of the night like some shift worker in a Christmas-ornament factory, the sagroids — or however the organizers are called — ought to make some provision for me.

Sending a limousine would be acceptable.

I think they should have a sagra of the sunset. The best thing is, you don't have to buy anything, not even a ticket on a bus or train that doesn't exist.






Categories : Food
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Remember acqua alta? No?

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Fall is discernible here not only by the drifting leaves and deflating temperatures but by the enlivening of the tides.  Sounds like some folkloristic event, like bringing the cows down from the alpine pastures or going out to slay the tuna.

The enlivening of the tides consists of somewhat higher high tides (sometimes), and wind which at the moment is going every which way, trying to find the path that will give it the most potential for annoying people and also for enlivening the tide.  Yes, I anthropomorphize the wind and sometimes the water and also the fog and clouds and even a few people.

Which is my way of saying that at some point — maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of the winter, if not of your life — there could be high water.  We are approaching the entrance to the season of the infamous acqua alta — Flooding!! — that gets people not from here so wild-eyed and frantic.  Venice is sinking!  Man the lifeboats!  Belay the cabinboy!

Today we have a comfortably high tide. When I see water this high what I really want is not a pair of tall rubber boots but my own boat, because rowing on high water is a wonderful sensation. You feel lighter and somehow more buoyant. Feeling lighter is always a treat.

So with the clear anticipation of wailing articles to accompany the wailing warning sirens, and to somehow reposition everybody’s mind concerning this phenomenon — seeing that whenever it happens, the reports abroad make it sound as if we live our lives to the sound of water lapping at the bookcases — I’d like to share some information.

I have consulted the Tide Center’s data for acqua alta in 2011.  The last one was on February 16. And then, after six hours, it went away.

Therefore we have now lived 251 consecutive days without acqua alta.  Two-thirds of an entire year. I scarcely remember what the siren sounds like.

I just thought I’d mention this, in case anyone might happen to read an article in the next few months — or more likely, many articles — giving the impression that living in Venice means that we spend most of our time yelling “Women and children first!”

Categories : Acqua Alta
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The paving news

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It’s been raining since last night and will continue at least past lunchtime, and a spectacular bora has kept the blinds rattling all day.  Gusts up to 30 mph (50 k/h).  In pipe-replacement-street-tearing-up-crew language this translates as “Day off.”

The silence is eerie.  It’s like the silence of the songbirds.  I can’t say I miss their racket, in the sense that I wish I were hearing it right now, but it is strangely unsettling.

Yesterday the concert was especially intense.  To the usual hammering and clunking and yelling they added sneezing, hawking, spitting, and belching.  One of them occasionally even sang a little.

Lino says they must have been feeling the impending drastic change in the weather, like horses before an earthquake.

As if that weren’t good enough, some kind of supervisor came to review their work — I think that’s what he was doing — which provided a bellowing voice louder than theirs.  He wasn’t happy about something.  I couldn’t understand what, but I gathered that their performance evaluation was being summarized in one particularly ugly phrase which he repeated at least 723 times.

Or maybe he was commenting on the way they had concluded their work on the little street stretching from our front door to the main thoroughfare.  It now lists, like a clumsily loaded boat.  In fact, the first thing Lino said when we walked down it was: “They could at least have made it level.”

You may think I'm the one who's listing to port, but I intentially included the door at the end of the tunnel to give some notion of relative horizonality.

So now when we leave the house, we list to starboard, and coming home, we list to port.  What is unfortunate is that it slopes toward our hovel, meaning the rainwater will slide toward our foundations, if we have any.  There are two drains, which is good, and after all, I realize that rainwater shouldn’t be sliding away from them.  So all I have to do is keep them unclogged.  Since nobody else does.

Does the quality of life in every city come down to drains?

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Categories : Venetian-ness
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