Archive for June, 2012
This might shock you, but there was a huge festa here on June 8 that was not attached to any saint, living or dead, as far as I could tell.
I intended to report on this sooner, but what with tornados and all, it’s taken me this long to return to happy thoughts.
It was the Festa della Marina Militare, or Festival of the Navy, and it also happened to be the 50th anniversary of the founding — or re-founding — of the Francesco Morosini Naval School where Lino teaches Venetian rowing. One of the highlights of this event was the swearing-fealty-to-the-flag by the first-year class, which makes them officially members of the Navy with the low but respectable rank of second-class seamen. No joke, they get the same pay as their swabby confreres who aren’t studying chemistry and bird skeletons.
So a vast parade was organized in the Piazza San Marco involving not only the three classes of the school, but virtually every other branch of the armed forces and a regiment of alumni, many of whom showed up in their work clothes, by which I mean uniforms of admirals, generals of the Carabinieri, Guardia di Finanza, Mountain Artillery, Army, Air Force, etc., as well as the dark suits of Senators and Ministers. The Secretary of Defense was here, the Secretary of the Navy was here, and even the President of the Republic was here. It was all far beyond cool. The only person who could have made it any cooler would have been Jean Dujardin. Maybe they sent the invitation to Joan of Arc by mistake.
The weather cooperated (no scorching sun and only a few drops of rain), no cadets dropped to the pavement, and the speeches were only moderately silly and only moderately too long. As usual, the Navy Band played the national anthem about 15 times, not always completely (it seems to act as a sort of aural page-turning cue, like the beep that used to tell your teacher it was time to change the slide). Hearing the national anthem so many times noticeably diminishes its emotional impact. If you’d like to know my opinion. Or even if you wouldn’t.
It was a great event and I’m glad I was there. I doubt I’ll be able to make it interesting to my grandchildren, but I’ll enjoy looking back on it.
A tornado crossed part of the lagoon yesterday morning, and part of Sant’ Elena was in its way, And all of our boat club.
The office is gone, the two buildings and sheds where our boats were kept are gone. And the boats are pretty much gone, too. I don’t mean “gone” as in lifted to heaven in the rapture, I mean it in the sense of smashed to various bits. Because we were in a phase of demolishing the old clubhouse in anticipation of a new facility and all our 34 boats were outside.
The man who operates the winch to put the boats in and out of the water was in the metal container that served as his temporary shelter at the water’s edge. The tornado rolled it over a couple of times with him in it, and two men managed to get him out. He was rushed to the emergency room with a gash in his head and two broken ribs, but at least the container wasn’t tornado’d into the water with him in it.
Trees snapped and uprooted, but no further victims, as far as I know, unlike the previous tornado in 1970.
When the tornado struck, we were at the Rialto market where our attention was mostly dedicated to the price of cherries. It rained, but we had not even the slightest hint that devastation was being wrought just over the way. We had a blast of rain, but there wasn’t anything about it that made you think of anything worse than your wet feet.
We got the news from a friend who was at San Marco, and who had seen it. Then the phone calls began to spread the word. At that point I was on Murano with a friend, so I wasn’t able to go help with the first load of work, But Lino was there all afternoon, along with almost every club member who was available.
I’m still trying to get a grip on all this. Because this morning has dawned cool, clear, and dazzling with cloudless sunshine. Translation: The perfect day to go out in a boat.
The website of the Remiera Casteo has photographs and film of what the tornado left behind.
YouTube has a number of clips of this event but here is one of the best. If the video isn’t shown, here is the link: http://youtu.be/KFCaI_L_K4s
It pains me to write this, but I hope that doing so will serve some useful purpose.
Gondoliers are arguably the symbol of Venice, and as such could be expected to evince a sense of the importance of same. That’s just my opinion.
What is not opinion, but fact, is that they are independent, masters of their own boats, lords of their lives, and — yes — of their money. I mean, of your money.
I know a good number of gondoliers and can attest that many are fine, professional people and first-rate ambassadors for their amazing city. Among other things, they’re often the first to fish tourists out of the canals when the said tourists have misjudged the slipperiness of the algae on that stone step, or to have miscalculated other maneuvers.
Then there are the others. There are some that easily inspire apprehension, who resemble inmates out on a work-release program, with boats to match. But don’t be distracted by the externals, because how a gondolier behaves depends on many and easily shifting factors apart from his housekeeping and personal care, and you don’t want to find yourself in the middle when the shifting is going on.
I wouldn’t bring it up at all, but there has been a recent situation here, amply reported in the Gazzettino, in which a gondolier charged a Russian couple 400 euros ($496) for a spin in his gondola that took less than an hour. You could probably justify that price if you included a bottle of the Shipwrecked 1907 Heidsieck champagne poured into Baccarat flutes while the gondolier rowed you to Trieste singing the “Improvviso” from Andrea Chenier.
Then again, he could skip all that and just ask for the dough. Which he did.
As you see by the rates standardized by the Ente Gondola, the gondoliers’ sort-of governing body, he should have asked 80 euros, or 100 euros, depending on the time of day.
People tend to be intimidated by gondoliers. People need to get past that. The Ente Gondola has tried to help, by insisting that the gondoliers exhibit the price scale. Most gondoliers have done so, by attaching a piece of plastificated paper 5 1/2 inches square to the prow of their boat — a place a potential passenger isn’t likely to approach, even if armed with the necessary magnifying glass to read the type.
And it’s printed on both sides, so you’d have to turn it over to get the complete information.
Let’s move on to the happy ending: The Russian couple registered a complaint and got their money back, with a promise from the Ente Gondola of a free ride next time. To which I’m pretty sure they replied “There’s not going to be a next time.” It doesn’t sound better in Russian.
So here’s the simplest solution. Let’s say that you and a gondolier have begun to converse. Whether you approached him or vice versa, you’re talking about money.
He mentions a figure that doesn’t sound like what is printed on the Ente Gondola’s site. So you say, “Would you please show me the rates printed on the card on your gondola?”
If he doesn’t have the card on his gondola, you move on. If he has it but can’t explain why the rate he quoted you doesn’t match what’s printed, you move on. No need for complicated discussions or heated words. It’s a big world, and there will always be another gondolier.
Once again, May has come to an end (you needed me to tell you that) and we closed the 31st in the usual way, by joining the annual procession which accompanies the statue of the Madonna and Jesus from the church of San Pietro di Castello to her home base in the church of San Francesco di Paola. Even though, technically speaking, the feast of Maria Ausiliatrice is May 24, here it’s on May 31.
One small improvement in the modest lineup of boats that usually forms her escort was that Lino suggested we row a caorlina, which is noticeably bigger than the modest little mascareta we usually use. In this way, we could set up folding chairs in the boat and carry people who might have wanted to participate by floating rather than by walking.
Weather good. Crowd large and earnest. Not as many people watching from the windows as there have been in some years, but perhaps there were more on the ground.
The loudspeaker wasn’t too capricious (a plus), but for some reason the priest chose a couple of everyday hymns as part of the event, completely ignoring the hymn associated specifically with this festival (a very large minus). This is one tradition which has absolutely no need of being re-fangled.
I’m going to have to complain to the management. Just as soon as she’s back on her pedestal.