Archive for November, 2012


Matrimonial musing

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A couple this happy doesn’t need a romantic backdrop. Our friend Andrea Patalano,an officer of the Capitaneria di Porto, wed his ladylove on May 10, 2008.

The following has nothing to do with Venice, but a friend has urged (commanded) me to write this, so here goes.

Last month I was in Washington D.C. for two weddings, both involving people extremely dear to me and, as it happens, at two distant points on the matrimonial timeline.

Similarities: Both ceremonies were conducted according to the Episcopal ritual. Both were deeply moving. Both couples are unfathomably in love.

Differences:  One was in a historic private house, the other in a small neighborhood church. One was attended by mostly friends; the other by mostly relatives.  One was evening, one was morning.

What made the deepest impression on me was not simply the solemnity of the vows, which always affects me, but hearing the same promises spoken across the chasm of time and experience which separates the two happy couples.

Event One was the wedding of my only niece, Re’ Leps, now Teague; both she and her husband, Erik Teague, are on or near 30 years old, joyfully undertaking the first (one hopes the only) marriage of their lives. I regret the lack of a suitable photo here; one will be added as soon as I can get one. But I can introduce them via their websites:  Re’ has two ( and and Erik has two which I am unable to make behave as links, but here goes: and haberdashery.

Event Two, a week later, was the wedding of my widowed ex-sister-in-law who had fallen in love with an amazing (widower) man.  Both on or near 70 years old, and joyfully undertaking the second marriage of their lives.

On October 20, 2012, Rita Trefz and Bruce Allan tied the proverbial knot, adored by their assembled sisters, brothers, children, and grandchildren.

I don’t know which couple was more adorable, the shiny just-minted little newbies or the softly gleaming veterans, bearing the patina of pain and perseverance, who had a very different feeling when pronouncing the very same words.

Certainly they all felt same conviction and sincerity.  But it’s one thing to promise fidelity for better/for worse, for richer/for poorer, “in sickness and in health” when you’re young and iridescent with vitality — it’s like promising never to lie or to save ten dollars every month.  How hard could this be?

It’s another thing, though, to vow fidelity to someone “in sickness and health” when each of you has nursed your spouse through terminal cancer.

One meditates (“one”would be me) on the beauty of a couple’s determination to do something which they have never yet confronted, and hence has no idea whether or how they will manage to maintain the promise, or what toll it will take when they do.

One also meditates on the beauty of a couple’s promise to do a thing of which they clearly know the meaning, the depth, the breadth, the board feet, the gross tonnage, of what they’re saying.

In any case, all four spouses meant it with all their hearts.

They were good days for Kleenex.

I have no idea who she is, but I’m very happy I went out to do the shopping at the right moment on December 2, 2006.

Cristiana Rigotti gets ready to board our rowing club’s 8-oar gondola to be rowed in state, with her father, across the lagoon to the church of the Redentore at 3:30 PM on July 2, 2006. She’s smiling now, but it’s as hot as a skillet on a summer afternoon on the water, and the trip took at least 45 minutes.  I give her credit for grit.

I realize everyone was praying for it not to rain, but a prayer for a few more clouds wouldn’t have been a bad idea. Picture-perfect sun translates into the heat of Hades in July.

I was walking home on June 30, 2012, when I encountered this bride heading toward her reception (I think) at the nearby Greenhouse near the Giardini. The T-shirted man is not her groom, but one of several passersby who asked to have their picture taken with her. (She had just posed with the three women on the bench.) I never saw her groom, but she had fabulous red shoes, so I hope that wherever he was, he’s going to be able to keep up with her.

And then come kids, presumably — or in this case, tiny gnomes with pieces of bread.

And in the fullness of time, grandkids…..

…interspersed with the eternal, everlasting laundry….I think they ought to add “For cleaner, for dirtier” in the vows.

Then time passes and you keep getting older, and you have to sit down more often, but at least you’re still together.

And eventually one of you dies, and your friends or relatives or colleagues send big expensive wreaths to your funeral.

If you keep a shop, you shut it for a day or two and put up the notice of the demise of your spouse which includes the funeral details, so everybody can attend.

In this case, Giancarlo Cimitan passed away on Feb. 7, 2009, and the neighbors have put up their own notice too: It says “The friends and colleagues and everyone who loved Giancarlo  are close to Daniela.” I include this episode not to remind us that we all are doomed, but to remind us that Venice is not composed entirely of tourists.

So don’t be stingy with the kisses, people. They’re one of the few truly sustainable resources on this earth.

Categories : Venetian-ness
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San Martino footnote

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Twenty-three euros and 70 cents comes to $30. I leave it to you to decide if any saint on earth would consider that reasonable. However, the cookie has a long and honorable history, and you can’t put a price on that. At least nobody has tried, so far.

I don’t want Saint Martin’s day 2012 to be associated only with acqua alta and with the words which are being thrown about like fistfuls of gravel: “Disaster,” “Tempest,” “Catastrophe,” and so on.

There is no meteorological event which can get the upper hand of the cookie — the wonderful creation showing Saint Martin astride his horse, sometimes also with his sword upraised ready to cut his cloak in half, translated into dough, colored icing, sprinkles, and chunks of candy that cling to him and his trusty steed.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, these cookies come in all sizes, and all calibers of candy, and all are spectacularly overpriced.  St. Martin would be ashamed of everybody if he could express himself.

But what’s interesting this year is the bit of history of these confections which I have learned from a leaflet attached to the overpriced cookie Lino gave me.  There’s no stopping him: It’s tradition, and if we have to spend the egg-and-butter money for a crumbly San Martino, so be it.

I had assumed that this pastry was some newfangled confection invented by modern bakers looking for a new product for which to charge too much.  But no.

Here is what the leaflet said (translated by me):

The custom of giving a San Martino made of shortcrust pastry was introduced and spread, most probably, by the pastrymakers who came from the Canton of Graubunden (Switzerland), who were present in massive numbers in Venice since the 15th century.

They had their own statutes in the scuola (guildhall) adjacent to the church of San Marcuola and near the ancient church of Santa Croce, in the homonymous sestiere, which was subsequently demolished in 1806. (Note: This would have been part of the massacre of Venetian churches, palaces, and guildhalls inflicted by Napoleon after the fall of the Venetian Republic in 1797.)

The archives reveal that more than 80 percent of the pastryshops were run by people from Graubunden, in whose favor the Venetian Senate issued special laws.

With the end of the Republic, due to the adverse political situation, the people of Graubunden were compelled, against their wishes, to leave the city, taking with them and diffusing in the major European cities the traditional Venetian pastry. (I’m all for local pride, but it’s interesting to note that according to this writer, the cookie came to Venice from Switzerland, but left Venice as Venetian.  If I were Swiss, I’d object to that.)

The celebration of San Martino coincided with the end of the agricultural labor of the year.  To celebrate this important moment, the Venetian patricians organized sumptuous banquets in their magnificent country villas, in which all their workers participated, and it was traditional to conclude the feast with a shortcrust pastry in the form of San Martino.

A contemporary illustration of the Swiss pastrymakers selling their wares. The caption reads (in Venetian): “The privilege granted to the Nation of the people of Graubunden to sell bussolai, and to have shops in any corner of the city whatsoever.” The historic sources for this information are scrupulously  noted: The Library of Samedan and San Murezzan (Upper Engadine), the Library and Archive of Chur, and the Marciana Library of Venice.



Categories : Food
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San Martino blows through

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It amuses me to see boats floating up so high. In a really serious acqua alta, they can go high enough to slip off the top of their pilings, though this enterprising/lazy/cheap person has opted to skip buying pilings and tied his destroyer to the barrier instead. This is risky, considering that the force of the tide (either rising or falling) can pull the boat down on one side. Then the boat fills with water.  I have seen this with my own eyes; they say the boat has “hanged” itself, just like a person.  By the way, I notice that this owner is unnaturally concerned with the potential contact between the hull and the fondamenta.  Five fenders?  Are we waiting for a tsunami?

Saint Martin’s day yesterday was a lot more emphatic than it usually is with the banging of pots and pans by kids on a quest for candy.  In addition to the kids, and the traditional cookies, we got acqua alta — the second visitation of the season, and it was noticeable.  The news tonight reported that it had reached 149 cm (4.8 feet)  above sea level, the sixth highest since 1872.  (The highest on record remains November 4, 1966, which was 190 cm/6.2 feet).

Water didn’t enter our hovel, but it didn’t miss by much.

We heard the sirens sound, as expected, two hours before the peak predicted for 8:20 AM.  There were three extra tones, which indicated an anticipated maximum of 120 cm (3.9 feet).  Not long after that, we heard the sirens again, this time with four tones (140 cm/4.5 feet).  At that point we sat up and began to pay attention.

What made this event more interesting than usual wasn’t simply the height of the water, it was the speed of the wind — I mean, the force of the scirocco, which is always a major factor in keeping the lagoon in when it wants to go out.  The wind was blowing around 40 km/hr (24 mph), with gusts of 55 km/hr (34 mph).

All this was part of a major weather system that hit large areas of Italy leaving real drama and destruction in its wake — mudslides, blocked roads, fallen trees, and more mayhem than we could ever manage here, thank God.

Naturally we went out to buy the newspaper and look around the neighborhood.  I don’t usually take pictures of acqua alta anymore, as they have long since become repetitive.  But this was toward the unusual side of the daily scale of nuisances.

Of course I’m glad the water didn’t exceed our top step, but if it had, I’d still be alive.  This is the first of my annual pleas to the world to  ignore the wailing and gnashing and published or broadcast claims that the city has been driven to its knees.  I do not consider the fact that a tourist has had wade across the Piazza San Marco carrying her suitcase on her head an indication of anything larger than a temporary annoyance — it certainly does not make  even the tiniest wail begin to form anywhere in my thorax. Anyone who has been dealing with Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath — not to mention people in stricken areas of Tuscany and Umbria — would find the suggestion that a large but temporary inconvenience could be compared to life-threatening catastrophe not only ridiculous, but offensive.  By noon the water was all gone and the streets were drying off.

We hadn’t even reached the end of the fondamenta before we got inconfutable evidence that in spite of the blasting wind and rain and water up to our thighs that the tide had turned: Under the boats, the  anguele (Atherina boyeri)  were all facing upstream, against the tide.

As usual, somebody had left a bag of garbage out on the street. You can’t pick them all up as they float around and away, but this was the first one we came across and Lino decided he had to do something about it. Nobody would have noticed, or cared, but I was impressed and I know he felt better.

The owner of our favorite cafe didn’t even try to keep the water out, though she did take all the boxes of panettone out of the window display and stacked them up on the counter along the wall. As she told us later, there’s no point in putting a barrier across the door — the water just comes in some other way. In the case of the cafe across the street, jets of water were coming in through fissures in the wall even as he was pumping the water out. Meanwhile, this lady is here every day, reading. Why let a little water ruin a perfectly fine routine?

Many of the shops along via Garibaldi were being pumped out — it was like walking around the gardens of the Villa d’Este with all the fountains.

I was struck by yet another illustration of the fact that Venice is not perfectly flat. We were sloshing along in our hipwaders, while just beyond the gate there was high ground. When the acqua isn’t alta, you’d think it was all level.

As you see, not everybody got the memo that the city was afflicted with a desperate situation. This is Venice with acqua alta: People waist-deep in the Piazza San Marco carrying their suitcases on their heads, people sitting in cafes as the water laps at their chairs, and some people (they were French, for the record) who think it’s all more fun than watching elephants ride a roller-coaster. So take your pick. Tragedy? Comedy? Farce?

As we got closer to the Riva dei Sette Martiri facing the lagoon, the reality of the tide going out began to really mean something. The combined power of the water channeling out of the Grand Canal and the Giudecca Canal toward the sea hit the embankment approximately at the end of via Garibaldi. Lino said he’d never seen anything like this, and he’s seen every acqua alta in the past 70 years. Walking against this was like walking against an Alpine torrent. (Apologies for the blur — the wind and rain were also picking up force here.)

Someone pauses to assess the situation as we near the edge of the Riva. As you can tell, there’s relatively little to assess. If you’re still standing up, you’re okay.

The only yacht moored near the Arsenal was in a fairly unpleasant situation. Perhaps the waves wouldn’t have lifted it up onto the pavement, but it was making progress to having its expensive hull  well and truly bashed and dented. The only two people on board were working like madmen to push the fenders between the stone and the metal. But it was a doomed endeavor. Why? Because the wind and water were pushing against them, and for some incomprehensible reason they had not slackened one of the lines attaching the boat to the fondamenta. Even if these two were Samson and Hercules, they couldn’t have pushed the boat out further than the rope would let them. And yet they kept trying. I wanted to go say “Untie the line!” but Lino said “Don’t even think of getting yourself involved, for the sake of the souls of all my dead relatives.”

I have the utmost respect for the fact that they were giving it all they had to protect the boat (though then again, why it took them so long to remember the fenders is a mystery. The high-water siren sounded at 6:00 AM and it’s now 9:30.) Instinct clearly has taken over, because two people with a combined weight of perhaps 300 pounds couldn’t possibly shift an object weighing at least a ton being pushed by the combined strength of Poseidon and Aeolus. I hope they’re okay today. I hope they didn’t get fined, or fired, when the boss called in to check on his boat.

Despite the surging water and lashing waves and all, here is undeniable proof that the tide is falling: Detritus left behind on the steps of the bridges. I don’t usually find trash appealing, but this was a beautiful thing to see.




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Categories : Acqua Alta, Water
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