Archive for February, 2013


Kwaheri for now

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That means “goodbye” in Swahili.  It’s the second word I’ve learned, right after “hello.”  I’m taking this in easy stages.

There is a fascinating website called Omniglot which has gone so far as to provide a translation of  “My hovercraft is full of eels” into Swahili, but I don’t think I’ll need to know that. I don’t think I’m going to be seeing many eels.

But I am going to try to climb up onto the Roof of Africa to see if anything needs to be repaired.

Back in two weeks.

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Ricky: Names and dates

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Sharp-eyed reader Janys Hyde, who has lived in Venice twice as long as I have, read my report on Ricky and his mania for dropping things off the Accademia Bridge. She sent me a copy of the story as it was recounted in an article in 2011, which ran in the Nuova Venezia.  I wanted to add these particulars to the sketch (it was all I knew at the time) I wrote a few days ago.

Here it is, translated by me:

May 31, 1973

Two finance officers and the folly in the Grand Canal 

It’s May 31 of 1973, toward 2:50 AM, when the boat that was in service, with the Commandant of the Operative Naval Section of the Guardia di Finanza, Lieutenant Carmine Scarano, and two finanzieri, Alberto Calascione and Vincenzo Di Stefano, is traveling along the Grand Canal on their way to an intervention, passing under the Accademia Bridge.

A few individuals launch from the bridge a slab of travertine which strikes the boat and the two finanzieri dead center.  They were moments of terror; the only one to remain unhurt is the Commandant who immediately realizes that the boat, without anyone steering, is heading for the embankment.

With a rapid movement he gains control of the boat and stops it, perceiving at this point the lifeless body of finanziere Calascione and hearing the cries and groans from finanziere Di Stefano who is wounded on the arm.

The Commandant manages to give the alarm and call for help, but unfortunately there is nothing that could be done for Alberto Calascione who, because of the grave injuries to his head, dies shortly after his arrival at the hospital.

Finanziere Di Stefano is kept in the hospital, his physical condition improves, but the memory of what has happened will never fade.

Alberto Calascione and Vincenzo Di Stefano were recognized as Victims of Duty (“wounded in the line of duty”) and of organized crime.

In various editions of Memory Day that have followed (I am still on the track of this commemoration; the paper uses the English phrase which is hard to back-translate into holidays I recognize), Vincenzo Di Stefano has never missed the occasion to commemorate, at the place of the attack, his colleague Alberto. 

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The best defense…

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…is a good offense.  As we know.  Not social offensiveness, but what is also called by the disphoneous term “pro-active.”

I just made up that word, because the inventors of language have overlooked creating an opposite to “euphoneous.”  They offer “cacophony,” which is completely wrong here.

Why am I even talking about offense/defense?

Because of a little event in Lino’s life which is an excellent illustration of how this works. He’s very good at these gambits.

I don’t remember what we were talking about, but it brought back to his mind a small but perfectly formed encounter years and years ago.

It was a Friday, and on Sunday the annual corteo on the Brenta known as the Riveria Fiorita was coming up.  The club’s gondolone, or 8-oar gondola, was on the list to participate and the rowers were all signed up.

But the boat had to be at Tronchetto at 8:00 the next (Saturday) morning, which — considering that the club was on the Lido — would have meant going to the Lido in the middle of the night to have enough time to put the boat in the water and traverse the lagoon.  This didn’t seem like the most entertaining thing to do.

So he and his son went to the club on Friday and rowed the gondolone to Venice, to the canal that went by their home. Then they looked for a place to tie up.

They found a spot on an empty stretch of his canal, just under the fence marking off a bit of garden. The space was ample, and it was available to the public.  He wasn’t encroaching on any boat-owner’s parking place.  He wasn’t encroaching on anything.

But a man came out of a domicile facing the garden, and it was clear that he felt extremely encroached upon.

“You can’t tie the boat there,” he stated.

“Why is that?” Lino asked.

“Because”(some vague reason here — maybe narrowing the space for other boats, or something.  Anyway, he didn’t want the boat there.)

“If you leave this boat here,” he finished in high dudgeon, “I’m going to come and sink it.”

“Be my guest,” was Lino’s immediate reply.  “Because if anything happens to this boat between now and tomorrow morning, I’ll know exactly who did it, and then we can go to the Carabinieri together.”

Silence. Not the silence of a quibble that was squashed, but the profound silence of deep space.  The man went back inside and was never seen or heard from again.

But Lino was now more than tranquil.  Because, as he explained it, “He probably came out to check on the boat every 30 minutes all night long.

“I got my own night watchman, for free.”

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The Accademia Bridge, looking toward the Accademia.Galleries.  It may not look so high from this angle, but it was high enough. (Photo: Honeydew)

As I have said (many times), riding the vaporetto, while frequently annoying, or crowded or cold or suffocatingly hot or drenching — being crushed into a mass of people riding outside in the rain is so invigorating — it is also prime territory to see people we know.

I like this.  I’m so used to it, either seeing someone I know, or at least someone I can identify, that I wasn’t even aware of it until one day when I got home from a large circuit doing errands more or less around the city.  As I walked over our bridge, it suddenly struck me.  “Weird!”  I thought.  “I didn’t see even one person that I know.”  That it occurred, and that I noticed it, were both clear signs that I had passed through another airlock into the depths of Venice.

Usually, though, we run into, or past, people Lino knows.  Which means “has known.” Forever.

Last night we were trundling home on the faithful #1 vaporetto.  Now that Carnival’s over, the ratio of locals to tourists has increased again, briefly, in favor of the former.  So it didn’t start out as surprising when Lino recognized someone.

Then the saga began to unfold.

It went like this:

A matronly, moderately zaftig woman was the last to come inside.  As she sailed majestically along the aisle, she left the doors behind her wide open.  It’s fairly cold these days, so it always astonishes me that someone doesn’t connect the concepts of “warmth” and “closed doors.”

So even though we were several rows back, I got up to close them, and sat down again next to Lino making the little huffy sound that escapes me when I fulfill this task for someone too (fill in appropriate word here) to close them.

“And she’s a Venetian,” he remarked.  This sometimes happens, which makes it even harder for me to understand.  But that’s not the point here.

“You know her?” I offered the usual rhetorical question.

“Sure,” he said.  “She lived in my old neighborhood” (near campo San Vio).  “Her brother was a really close friend of Ricky.”

And Ricky was…..?

“He’s the one who killed the finanzier (member of the Guardia di Finanza) by dropping a stone from the Accademia Bridge.”

I stared at him.

“He was a very sketchy character,” Lino went on.  “He was all involved in drugs and smuggling and I don’t know what.  So he really had it in for the Finanza.

“So one night he called the headquarters of the Finanza on the Giudecca, all worked up, saying ‘Somebody’s set fire to a boat in the canal!  You’ve got to come quick!'”

So two agents on duty leaped into one of their fast launches and zoomed across the Giudecca Canal and up the Grand Canal.

“Meanwhile, Ricky had taken a loose piece of marble” (one of the rectangular slabs of Istrian stone which delineate each step on a stone bridge here).  “He carried it up to the top of the Accademia Bridge and waited for them to pass.  At just the moment they started under the bridge, he let the stone fall.  It killed one of the agents right there.”

Naturally he was found, tried, and put away.  “Sixteen years in the criminal insane asylum,” Lino said.

And then……

“I saw him around the neighborhood after he’d gotten out.  He was walking along with a beer bottle in his hand.  He started to cross the Accademia Bridge, and as he went up, he put his hand out over the rail and casually let the bottle drop.

“Sixteen years, and they hadn’t cured him of anything.

“Still, he had had an extenuating circumstance.  Because once a long time before, he had jumped out his first-floor apartment window into the canal and saved somebody who was drowning.

“If he hadn’t have done that, they’d have given him life.”

You probably never noticed these rectangles of gray-white stone (unless you slipped on one in the snow or ice), in which case you’d never have thought about their potential as the murder weapon. This is good.



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Categories : Venetian-ness
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