Archive for September, 2012


Back to School

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The national flag above the entrance to the middle school evinces about the same degree of enthusiasm as the students passing beneath it. Except that this flag has been this way for years, and it always looks like this, except when it’s not tangled up in itself when it looks even worse. This is an abomination and it beggars belief that nobody either in or out of the school notices, or cares.

Now that my computer is back to work, I can give a late but heartfelt salute to the First Day of School.  Officially it was September 12, but for the zeitgeist it’s been the entire month.

The elementary and middle school classes got a rousing sendoff by the Seniors Club (“Gruppo Anziani”), which organized a ceremony that probably softened the shock of re-entry (or in the case of the smaller children, first entry).  The children not only got applause from the assembled relatives and onlookers, but a gift, which is always a Good Thing, even if it was a Useful Present of school supplies.  Free swag distracts, even if only temporarily, from the realization that your life is no longer your own.

Some of the organizers put up a big poster announcing the Big Send-Off. It reads (translated by me): The Seniors Club and Odeon Club are giving school supplies to the students of the First and Second classes and augur that it may be the start of a long and profitable course of study.” (Smaller posters with the date and time were taped up around the neighborhood.) All this would need in order to sound any better would be a 21-gun salute, but I’m not going to be the one to suggest it.

And children go to school here on Saturday morning, too.  If that sounds painful, just remember how many vacations are strewn throughout the year.  I haven’t counted them, but I have the impression there is some kind of break almost every month.  Christmas!  Epiphany!  Winter holiday (“settimana bianca“) when school groups to go the mountains to ski.  Easter!  National Liberation Day!  And so on.

So the offspring are back under state control for half of each day, and the days are imperceptibly shortening, and the temperature is trying to drop, even if slowly and unwillingly. In a word: Autumn.

Some of the girls are looking pretty effervescent, even if they do have to sherpa backpacks that are bigger and heavier than they are. And that they have to wear the anonymous smock, which is required. Cheaper than a uniform, and nobody seems to mind wearing it down the street in public.

This little boy, though, was not with the program at all. I don’t know what set it off — perhaps the sudden realization that his life was no longer his own.

The troops are lined up and ready for cheers, blessings, applause, and free stuff.


Each bag had a name tag and each child was called by name. The smocks may be anonymous, but the old folks remembered that these were individual people. Probably most of them had known these sprouts since they were born.

And lest the old rumpsprung adults should feel left out, September brings a truckload of learn-this programs and activities. The useless dead vaporetto ticket booth is one of the local billboards, which at the moment are advertising classes in: Indian “Bollywood” dancing; belly-dancing; karate; cutting and sewing; languages (English, Spanish, French, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, American English, American Slang); Zumba; Latin ballroom dances; yoga for children; theatre for children, and so on. It’s the educational version of your New Year’s Resolutions all thrown into a pot and set on fire.

Categories : Venetian-ness
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There’s a saying here — perhaps in all of Italy, perhaps in the whole world — that the mother of the ignorant is always pregnant. I’d expand that to include the mentally infirm, the ethically deficient, and a smattering of Venetian rowing racers, the race judges, the spectators, and anybody else who is evidently suffering from hormone overload in any situation more emotional than drinking coffee.

I pause to note that, once again, this post has no photographs due to multiple crises inside my computer, which is being taken to the hospital today for a major operation.  So there will be a lapse in communication while it — and I — recuperate.

Back to racers and judges and spectators.

The Regata Storica of a week ago (September 2, 2012) will be remembered more for the catastrophe which I am about to describe than for the fact that the Vignottini won and their lifelong rivals (D’Este and Tezzat) finished — not second — but THIRD.  You hear the sound of a page being turned in the annals of Venetian rowing, because even if D’Este and company were to win the next five races in a row, the chink in the armor is now too obvious to ignore.  He also looked extremely and uncharacteristically blown apart by the race.

But as I say, that isn’t what everybody is babbling about.  They’re babbling about the way the judge’s motorboat ran into the yellow gondolino, which was third, thereby knocking it out of the race.  Because Fate sometimes shows a dangerously unruly sense of humor, it couldn’t have happened somewhere up in the distant reaches of the Grand Canal where only three cats are around to notice the race, if they’re awake.  Of course not.  This hideous, and, I think, unprecedented, little crash occurred right in front of the reviewing stand at the finish line, where assorted race officials and scores of invited guests and lots of the salt of the earth in their own boats could see it PERFECTLY. Also the national television station whose cameras were broadcasting the event live.

Like most systems, the way the judges’ boats are choreographed is perfect, but only if the plan is executed.  In this case, one judge’s boat follows the peloton up to a certain point in the Grand Canal (the “volta de canal,” at the curve of Ca’ Foscari where the bleachers and judges and finish line are all together). At that point, in order that the judge’s motorboat doesn’t have to cross the canal and thereby potentially get in the way of the boats as they are racing upstream, the first judge’s motorboat stops, and a second one, waiting on the other side of the canal out of harm’s way, picks up the task of following the herd.

But this time the first boat didn’t pull over to the side and stop, to hand off the race to the next boat. It paused, and then, without looking (or thinking, or something), the judge aboard told the driver to do something which clearly involved gunning the motor.  I was in a boat right where this happened, so I am a certified eyewitness.

Whether the judge wanted to follow the race, or reposition the boat in some way, isn’t clear.  But doing anything at that moment, in that location, was not only wrong, it was crazy.  Because the yellow (“canarin”) gondolino, steaming ahead at full speed in an excellent third position, was right behind the propellers when they spun. In two nano-seconds, the left hind hip of the motorboat swerved left, hit the ferro of the prow of the gondolino, threw the very narrow and moving-very-fast boat off balance, and sent it hurtling off-course into the scrum of boats tied up to the pilings.

You might think that the only crazy person in this scenario would be the judge on the boat who told the driver to move instead of standing perfectly still.  And you’d be right.

Except that almost immediately, other crazy people began to wail and vociferate.  Wild ideas began to be thrown around in bars and in the newspaper (and even, I think, among the judges), almost all of which came down to suggesting that the crew on canarin be awarded the third-place pennant in a tie with the pair that actually did finish third.

The Vignottini even offered to pay the prize money to the unfortunate ex-third-place boat.

The issue still doesn’t seem to be settled, but here is how I see it:

First, I don’t understand why anyone thinks it makes sense to give a prize to someone who didn’t win it.  A consolation prize would be nice, of course (a house in the mountains, maybe, or a six-month cruise to Polynesia), but a prize for racing pretty much requires that you race.  If the crash had occurred three yards before the finish line, you might be able to make a case for their deserving some sort of pennant and/or money.  But there was still plenty of race ahead.  Who’s to say that they would have finished third? They might have come in first. Or even last.

Second, a racer with any degree of self-respect (possibly a very small category, true) wouldn’t want either a pennant or money that he hadn’t won himself. Why degrade them with stupid offers that are only moderately able to make the onlookers feel slightly better?  Not to mention make the guilty judge feel slightly less bad.

Third, I’m glad I mentioned the judge.  Because while the rowing world is in the throes of what seems to be a hormonal solar flare, no one so far has turned from the victims to the perpetrator.

Why, I ask myself, and am now asking the world at large, is everyone so fixated on making the victims feel better without pausing to suggest, much less demand, that the judge deserves a serious punishment?  Can you think of a sport in which a referee or a judge who directly and visibly damages an athlete in the midst of the game doesn’t receive even the tiniest murmured reproof?

It gets crazier.  Because last year, at the race at Burano, there was a crash between the first two boats at the buoy where the racecourse turns back, knocking both of them out of commission.  The judge overseeing that crucial part of the race was so rattled that he stopped the race right there.  The prizes were awarded according to the positions of the boats at the buoy, even though there was at least half again as much race still to go.

Yes: That was the same judge.

I began this post with a saying, so in closing I invoke a special Venetian aphorism: “Un’ xe bon, ma do xe coglion.”  (OON zeh bone, ma doh zeh cole-YONE.) The literal translation makes no sense, but here’s what it means: Screw up once, you can be excused; screw up twice, and you’re an asshole.

If anyone but me manages to reach this conclusion, I’ll let you know. But it’s not looking very likely.



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Back to everything

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I regret the lapse in communication.  The fundamental problem has been a dysfunctional computer which is still awaiting treatment.  That’s supposed to happen tomorrow. So there will be no pictures on this post.  I’m sorry.

But the morning is too beautiful to pass without recognition.  I don’t mean “beautiful” as in meteorologically, though there is that, too.  Light clouds, cooler air, gentler sunshine.

What’s beautiful right now is the entire atmosphere.  If it were possible for a hapless seagull to pass through an airplane’s turbine and come out in one piece, that would be me.  Apart from having guests coming and going, we have also been deeply involved in the Regata Storica and, yesterday, the Riveria Fiorita.  (We still have to put the boat away.)

But there has been more, even if we weren’t directly involved: The Biennale of Architecture (August 29-November 25), and the Venice Film Festival (August 28-September 8) — two world-class events opening on essentially the same day — have created their own special wildness. Our neighborhood — that is, the world — is a major center of activity at least for the former event, what with exhibitions strewn all over the lot.  The film festival is on the Lido, but that doesn’t mean we don’t get the collateral damage of troop-transport vaporettos and other issues resulting from attempting to fit 1X of people into 1Y of space.

To change metaphors, the sensation I had this morning, walking outside, was of having spent a month in a large pot of water which had been brought to a rolling boil, and which now had been put on the windowsill to cool down.

People have just gone away.  Even the kids are nowhere to be seen, because they’re all getting ready for school to start on Wednesday (if children can ever be said to be ready).  There is a pale, hushed, tranquil air enlivened only by soft voices saying indistinguishable, agreeable things.  This is quite a change from the shouting and crying and assorted other high-volume communications that have been shredding the air at all hours and far into the night.

The procession of French tourists who rent the apartment up one floor across the street has ended. No more listening to their open-window 3:00 PM multi-course lunches, or dodging the dripping from their laundry stretched on the line from their wall to ours.  No more (or hardly any more) heavy grumbling from the wheels of overloaded suitcases being dragged to, or from, hidden lodgings somewhere beyond us in the middle of the night (one group arrived at 1:00 AM, another headed to the airport at 3:30 AM.  I know because I checked the clock).  It’s not just the suitcases, it’s the discussions, though you might think they’d have settled the details before locking the door.

Now it’s just us here.

I don’t want to give the impression that I desire the silence of a Carthusian monastery to reign in Castello.  I’m only saying that one savors this particular silence with particular appreciation inspired by having experienced its opposite for a just a little too long.

I’m sorry you can’t all be here to savor this delicate loveliness, disregarding the fact that having you all here would mean it wouldn’t be so delicate anymore, no offense.  But in any case, nothing, as you know, lasts forever.  And school, as I mentioned, will be starting in 48 hours.  Tourists make noise?  I challenge them to overcome the clamor of squadrons of children meeting their friends on the street at 7:30 in the morning. The winners will be decided by the Olympic taekwondo judges.


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