Archive for June, 2012


Navy Day

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The poster above the entrance to the Naval Museum was almost the only publicity for the big day, but you could still tell that something was up. The enormous grandstand in the Piazza San Marco was one clue, and so was the majestic presence of the naval training ship "Amerigo Vespucci."

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.

The invitation with tickets came from the Department of the Navy, which might explain Lino's name turning up as "Lucio." But they weren't cross-checking ID's, so it was okay. The main thing was that we had seats in the red section, which were bleachers with seats. People in the green and white sections had to stand.

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.

The sail training ship "Amerigo Vespucci" was launched in 1931 and is still looking exceptionally fine.

We could also sense a big event was on the way by the quantity of naval officers roaming the area. Here, a batch of them boards the vaporetto toward San Marco.

On the same vaporetto was a member of the Marinai in Congedo, or discharged sailors' association, bearing the case containing their standard. The yellow ribbon, worn by many member of the Navy (and graduates of the Morosini school) demonstrates their solidarity with the two "maro'," or Marines, imprisoned in India in February for having shot two fishermen whom they took to be pirates heading for the tanker ship.

In Italian they call them "Sir," just like the men. I think it works, myself, though these are definitely superior-looking Sirs.

Part of the preparation involved the Gunga Din brigade, positioning bottled water at various points.

The Navy flag can never be too large.

Some of the horde of Morosini alumni ready to take the stage.

The flag of the President of the Republic flying beneath the national flag alerts everyone to the imminent appearance of himself.

The three classes of the Morosini Naval School face the reviewing stand.

Their uniform looks great, but the strap connected to their small swords is positioned at a length perfect for trousers. If you're wearing a skirt, though, it becomes just another senseless maddening thing to deal with. 'It would drive me crazy to have that catching at my hem,' I told Lino. 'It drives them crazy too,' he replied. Just another reminder of why I'd never have made it in the military.

One component of the ceremony was this group of officers bearing the flags of each of the Navy's ships. They called each ship by name, too.

If you love flags, you've definitely come to the right piazza. These belong to many and various ex-enlisted-men groups.

This, however, is not just another banner. It's the standard bearing all the medals which the Navy has earned in combat.

The third-year class, whose flag bears the name and motto of "Hermes," marches in review.

The second-year class, "Oceanus." In the foreground are the distinctive caps of the cadets of the Military Academy of Modena, the oldest in the world (founded in 1678).

The first-year class, "Prometheus," has just sworn its allegiance to the flag and the Italian Republic, the high point of the entire event.

The banners of the 49 preceding classes are carried in review.

One of three groups of alumni marches past the reviewing stand.

The President, Giorgio Napolitano, watches with perfect equipoise.

And this group of children was watching him, waving their little flags like crazy. From a distance, it was like a beehive with flags.

There was so much saluting going on, I had time to observe various styles. The man on the left remains inexplicable. I don't mean that he salutes like a fan, which obviously I don't understand, but that he has evidently been permitted to do so.

She was in every way superior to all of the women I saw. If she'd had pulled on a Spanx Slim Incognito Shaping Mid-Thigh Bodysuit, she'd have been perfect.

And when it was over, a superior chaos ensued, composed of many different vehicles assembled to remove the most important participants. As you see, there were plenty.

But not everybody rated special transport. The men with the banners of the ships had to take the vaporetto, like a million other people.

As did a variety of other officials. I was already on the vaporetto, so I didn't hear the comments from the civilians who were obviously going to have to board after them.

Speaking of getting off, the peasants on the vaporetto had to wait while a Navy launch put some officers ashore on the dock — strictly forbidden, according to a sign from the Capitaneria di Porto. But you know how those signs work. In any case, it gave us time to savor our memories of the day.

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Disaster strikes

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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:

Categories : Boatworld, Nature
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How not to get gondoliered

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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.

You can see the required card impaled by the small flag on the prow. Seeing does not mean reading.

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.

But no.

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.

This card measures 5 1/2 inches square.

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.


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Rowing Mary home

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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.

On the evening of May 24, the statue was borne from the church of San Francesco di Paola to the church of San Pietro di Castello. The entire parish followed along, everyone reciting the prayers. A stroll after dinner is always a good thing, especially one like this.

Around 9:00 PM on May 31, the statue was brought out of the church, followed by her retinue of assorted parishioners and acolytes.

The corteo begins, backed by a stretch of Arsenal wall.

One of the few boats forming the procession carried several generations of the family. Always good to have a youngster at the bow, on the lookout for -- I don't know -- police boats. Seppie. Anything.

They look more pensive than absolutely necessary. I wonder if they were sorry they came aboard.

The cortege makes its first turn.

Moving the Madonna under the bridges was slightly challenging.

Turning past the Arsenal.


By the time we reach the end, it's almost night. This is just one of the evening's many beautiful elements.


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Categories : Boatworld, Events
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