Archive for February, 2013


Light and shadow

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There is no earthly reason to show these photos, except that they are glimpses of what I’ve been seeing lately on the old via Garibaldi. Winter is a very, very good time for slicing bits of beauty out of the city.  Don’t worry, they grow right back.

I have lots more (and many show the eastward view, too — it’s not always sunset in ErlaWorld). But no time to start looking for them at the moment. 

Shadows are probably one of the most un-mysterious things around, but I still think they’re full of magic.

Sunset at this time of the year aims the sun’s rays with a precision and intensity that are highly gratifying. As a bonus, this is the angle at which the church of the Salute looks as if it’s sitting right at the end of the street; a few steps further, and it suddenly falls back into its correct distant position. I can amuse myself indefinitely with this optical illusion.

Categories : Venetian-ness
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The road to Kilimanjaro

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These Maasai women are almost certainly not thinking about Kilimanjaro, or what it would feel like on the summit at 18,000 feet. I’d hazard that their daily routine is enough of a challenge, as it is for most women (sorry — I meant “people”). (No, I meant “women.”) (Photo: Jerzy Strzelecki)

Starts at my house, among other places.  I’m going to climb the mountain with a group of women for charity, departing next Sunday.  I’ll be gone two weeks and hope to have some interesting — though non-Venice-related, obviously — things to relate when I return.

But that’s not why I started this post.  I want to share what has inspired this adventure and my participation.  Yes, this is an appeal, and no, I have no way of checking to see what you do.  But I’ve put my heart and gizzard into preparing for this effort, and have already started working on editing the book.  So I hope you’ll join in, even at a distance, where you certainly are warmer, more comfortable, and not enjoying any symptoms of altitude sickness, about which I have already read far more than is probably good for me.

Here goes: 

You have an extraordinary opportunity to contribute and help a brave woman from the Maasai tribe called Theresia.
She has decided to trek with US to the peak of Kilimanjaro. This is part of the “Dreamers&Doers” book project, the publication of which is supported also by Ladies Trekking Club and it aims at pointing out the need for education in general.
All those pre-ordering the “Dreamers&Doers” book contribute personally to the project and also to Theresia. Your name and support will go along with the Maasai woman and will help her to reach the Roof of Africa. Your name and contribution will also be mentioned on the websites of the Impatiens Kilimanjari Foundation. You only need to pre-order your copy of the book here:
The most significant story in the book is the story of Theresia, a Maasai woman. We do not know the story and its result yet but we can support it together. As we know, all over the world the girls belonging to native tribes have major difficulties with obtaining education. Theresia has worked all her life just to provide school education to her daughter –the education she was not able to obtain herself. She will go on a trip to Kilimanjaro with other women of different nationalities. She wants to tell the world that all of us have the right for education.
How her journey goes, how far she goes and how big of a challenge it would be for her – all that can be read in the book. For the first time in her life she will put on clothes that we are used to wearing on our trekking trips. For the first time in her life she will wear boots. She believes that her story will tell to many of us how difficult it is for girls to obtain education. She hopes that it will change and the situation will improve. If we do not speak up and stand for our values then who else will?
The names of all those pre-ordering the book will reach this brave Maasai woman. This would be your message and support to Theresia! We gather the names of all our supporters and Theresia will take them along to her journey. We show that we have faith in her and we believe that she will reach the Roof of Africa.
In addition, the book will include stories of women of more than twenty nationalities. All those women are connected by their travel to the Roof of Africa. These stories are not about trekking but about those things inspiring us in life.
The stories are written by Tess Burrows – UK; Brigitte Muir – Australia; Helga Hengge – Germany; Randi Skaug – Norway; Mandy Ramsten- South Africa; Karla S. Whelock – Mexico; Samantha Larson- USA and many-many others.
School textbooks for pupils and a book for you! Let us contribute together!
In the northern part of Tanzania there are two schools – Gombero and Elerai basic schools. These schools have no water or electricity. The schools teach more than 1200 pupils and each teacher takes care of 3-5 classes at one time. Each class has around 40 students. For some subjects, the school has just a couple of textbooks for the entire class. Almost half of the students live more than 10 km away from the school and there is no public transport. Helping hands have difficulties with reaching this place.
We have decided to offer some quick help. At minimum they would require 4500 textbooks, that would cost EUR 45,000.
All the pre-ordered “Dreamers and Doers” books are linked to the project for providing textbooks for these two schools. We would like to help them as quickly as possible.
The price is 50 euros $67), including postage and handling.
Photos in the book: Karen Kasmauski (USA) Nadia Marquard Otzen (Denmark/UK)
Editor: Erla Frank Zwingle (USA /Italy)
Hardcover books are only available for pre-order. The dimensions of the book are 21 x19 cm and it contains ca 200-250 pages. It is an excellent photo and gift book full of inspiring stories about us. The book is in English language.
The more books are pre-ordered, the quicker will our help reach the children. 
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Carnival for everybody else

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Monday night looked sort of like this, except that the water was much higher and there was more snow, which was lifted up in large undulating slabs like polar icepack. But this is just our little corner of the universe. Multiply all this by quadrillions and you can imagine the Piazza San Marco. Still, the real problems weren’t where there was water, but where there was snow. And ice. And so forth.

You know the old saying: “Expect nothing and you won’t be disappointed.”  (Is that an old saying, or did I just make it up?)

Following that bit of wisdom gave me a Carnival which was modest to the point of self-abnegation.  With lots of fritole.  The only unpleasantness was the acqua alta, but it did not reach the predicted epic proportions. (In fact, let the record show that one positive aspect of the imminent threat of water in the house is that, when all the stuff was piled on our two pieces of furniture, I cleaned and washed and dusted objects and places which hadn’t seen the hand of man since we moved in.) We had no plans or projects or desires or dreams or anything which could have been frustrated or ruined. And we didn’t lose power.

Reading the rundown in yesterday’s Gazzettino, though, I get a picture of a Carnival which for lots of other people — most of whom had needs far surpassing ours, primarily to travel in some way or to some degree in the culminating days –should have been called, not “Live in Color,” but “Going to Hell in Color.”

If you wanted to come to Venice on Monday night, with or without an expensive costume — or more to the point, if you really wanted to leave Venice on Monday night — you’d have found yourself involved in a sort of Ironman Triathlon: Riding the Train/Bus, Crossing the Square, and Finding Your Way Home in the Dark.

I could write a long post full of details, and I’ll keep the paper for a few days in case anybody asks me for more information.

But the headlines howling from a few pages of the paper tell enough. The thing to keep in mind is that island Venice covers some three square miles; mainland Venice covers some 21 square miles (Mestre is 8 square miles, Marghera is 13 square miles). It’s not Mexico City.  It’s not even Hampton, Connecticut.

Translation: How hard could it be to clear away some snow and keep the buses and trains running?

Answer: Hard.  Very hard.  Harder than building the Eupalinian aqueduct. Especially since it appears that nobody believed this storm was really going to hit.

There is a rundown in the paper of how many squads were working, and how many snowplows and salt trucks.  Unfortunately, they must have been phantoms; hardly anyone seems to have seen either them or evidence of their passage. In fairness, I note that there were people out working to deal with it all. Not enough, but some.

The second thing to keep in mind is that this large and violent storm, with snow and high water thrown in at no extra cost, was forecast for at least three days.  And it had already hit the west coast of Italy, and much of the south.  In other words, it wasn’t some bizarre anomaly which struck without warning.

In the order in which they appear, starting on page one of the local section (translated by me):

Under the snow, the inefficiency of the Veneto.  The prefect calls in the chiefs of public transport.  Consumers resort to the Procura (that is, the court. The prefect is the local representative of the President of the Republic, and pretty much outranks everybody.)

The precipitation caught just about everybody unprepared, from the Comune of Venice to the trains and at the airport. There were photos of people deplaning and struggling across the slippery slush covering the tarmac to get to the terminal. The baggage handling system went haywire. And so on.

There were blackouts all over the place, including the train stations in Venice and in Mestre. Not only tourists, but lots of commuters were either stranded or left to wait indefinitely for trains that were late, late, and late.

SNOW PLAN, everything has to be redone. If you read the whole article, you’ll ask yourself what they think “plan” might mean, when you consider how it worked out. The plan is ten years old, for what that’s worth.  And why, you ask, does the municipality keep a plan that has to be dusted every year because it’s never used until it’s useless?

Acqua alta, a night of terror.  The wind saves Venice and Chioggia. As previously noted by me, but without the “terror” part, at least in our little hovel.

Bad weather freezes the arrivals; Fat Tuesday for 60,000. This would only concern people with something to sell, because it’s less than half of the numbers which were expected.  Having fewer people around was the only good news I can see for emergency crews or any other group which had to contend with the breakdown of the plan.  I mean “plan.”

Transport chaos: the prefect isn’t having it. Ca’ Corner (headquarters of the prefect) retorts to the accusations of the transport people and wants to shed light on the reasons for the inconveniences (meaning no excuses).

“Crushed in the few buses which left Piazzale Roma.”  Needs no explanation except why there were so few buses, something the prefect also will be wanting to know. But remember that the buses to the mainland are operated by the ACTV, which has shown such impressive skill in managing transport by vaporetto.

Burano: Blackout on an island which finished under water — volunteers at work the entire night. High water doesn’t affect only Venice, when you stop to think about it.  The people on the islands have to get out the mops too.  In this case, they had to do it in the dark.  Fun.

Between water and blocks of ice; the fear finishes at midnight.  Bridges and streets slippery, people walking with tall boots alarmed (the people, not the boots) by the prediction of 160 cm.  Merchants on alert.  Nobody could help that there were blocks of ice floating around, which actually were more like heavy slushy shards; the street outside our door looked like the polar sea in spring, and so did the Piazza San Marco. Unlike the last acqua alta, there were no bare-chested tourists frolicking blithely in the gelid waist-deep water.

On the Giudecca, fondamente in the dark because the electricity was out.

Chemical toilets (port-a-potties) adrift in campo San Polo. Wow….

A storm of protests; the snow plan has to change.  The Comune demonstrates the efforts made to deal with Monday’s weather emergency, but even City Hall admits that in the future it will be necessary to do much more. Brains on fire! Smoke coming out of their ears!

No buses at the hospital (in Mestre); the employees forced to sleep in the hospital. 

And so on, and on, and on.

There are 220,000 Scouts in Italy; surely somebody in the Comune must have been a Scout at some time.  But “Be Prepared” seems to have been replaced by “Let’s just hope for the best.” 

Categories : Venetian Problems
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The Carnival of the Weather

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At certain moments even the sky began to dress itself up. This little costume was delivered by a ferocious northeast wind.

The same moment as the picture above, but looking sunset-ward. To give you an idea of how strong the wind was,  you should know that those mountains silhouetted in the center of the scene are the Euganean Hills, 30 miles away.

I haven’t communicated in a bit because I was waiting for Carnival to end (midnight last night, as everyone knows) so I could sort through the rubble and look for something to report.

Judging by the mass of photographs clogging my computer, I evidently found plenty to chronicle, but mainly within the confines of our little lobe of Venice. We didn’t go the Piazza San Marco even once; the revelers aboard the vaporettos were enough for me.

Every year, the organizers of this event form it around a particular theme, something they hope will be irresistible.  This year’s title was “Live in Color,” but I can tell you that it ought to have been called “Drenched in Color,” or “Freezing in Color.” Or “Sloshing in Color.”  The colors mainly being the blue of your bloodless fingers and the gray of your bloodless lips.

This year’s carnival was all about weather. In the space of the festivities (Jan. 26-Feb. 12), we got rain, wind, snow, and acqua alta.  Sometimes together, sometimes separately. Several keystone events had to be reshuffled (one good reason to extend Carnival — this year, it was 18 days) not only because there wouldn’t have been any spectators, but because in some cases it would have been dangerous for the performers.

It didn’t matter to me because I hadn’t spent thousands of dollars making or renting a fabulous costume whose purpose in life was for me to wear it where people could see it and admire it and envy me.  There are many people — primarily French — who spend months planning and preparing their appearance (not to the extent of the samba schools of Rio, but still).  I hope they’ve taken home some beautiful memory.

The open salvo didn’t exactly make you want to dance: A headline at the start of Carnival announced that the President of the Province of Venice (bigger than the municipal area) had declared that she was banning confetti/coriandoli that would naturally be strewn festively by and among partyers in the main piazza of a town called San Dona’ di Piave. Why? Because “It makes a mess.” That’s the point! If there were any time in the year when it would be laudable to focus on civic hygiene, I’d say that Carnival isn’t it. But maybe this is her way of saying “We only have ten garbage collectors this month, please don’t give them more work to do.”  Or, based on my experience in this neighborhood, don’t give them any work to do.

Here is a look at Carnival in ErlaWorld: 

Our first clue that something out of the ordinary was on the way was the work that went on one morning to fill in the depressions in the long gravelly walkway toward the lagoon known as the “Viale Garibaldi.” Being as heavily traveled as Grand Central Terminal by people going to and from the Giardini vaporetto stop means that it has long since been worn down into assorted shallows. These weren’t so apparent in dry weather, but when it rained, we called this stretch of Venice “Bacan’,” after our favorite lagoon mudbank. You could see the same rises and depressions in the ground, interspersed with pools of water. This particular patch became a lake. Great work! Whatever came over them? Did somebody suddenly find thousands of euros that had fallen between the cushions of the sofa?

Then the kids, the dogs, and the confetti began to come out into the sunshine. (Yes, the sun did shine occasionally. Just enough to make you miss it when the next wave of weather passed over us.)

A little executioner out for a stroll with his grandfather, looking for someone to dispatch.

Kids get started early in the dressing-up game — not that they need any help or encouragement.

We had noticed a stage and small soccer area being set up over the course of two days, and a crowd gathered to see the first match of a new Carnival diversion called the “Palio dei Sestieri,” roughly the Trophy of the Sestieri, which are the six districts of Venice. The teams were made up of boys organized in teams of increasing age over a few days, and they played “calcetto.” It’s regular soccer, but with only five players, not eleven, per team. For the record, at the end of the series our very own sestiere, Castello, took home the victors’ cup. Coincidence? I really hope so.

Excellent block by the goalkeeper of the Dorsoduro team. I can tell you that hurling himself to the ground to intercept the ball wasn’t any fun on the granite paving stones. But all the goalkeepers did it. Bruises. Contusions. Fun.

And of course there was a half-time show, to music.

At the next break, another show, this time with smaller dancers and big pompoms. Go Big Red!

One morning around 9:30 I got on the #1 vaporetto heading uptown. At the Arsenale stop, several exceptional Beings boarded, going (I thought) to San Marco to display themselves. All normal so far, except that one Being was wearing wings with plumes, which stretched out as far as her/his arm on each side. (There is a person in there, between the wings.) Needless to say, this occupied an amazing amount of space which nobody else could use. I’m accustomed to luggage taking up square yards of space, but it’s not often a costume is so big that it probably ought to pay for an extra ticket. Every time he/she turned around, people stood back.

This very impressive quartet got off at the train station. Maybe they had to catch a train back to Brigadoon. They are a good example of the people who give Carnival everything they’ve got, though I didn’t hear what language they were speaking. Maybe when you’re dressed like this, speaking is superfluous.

Last Sunday morning saw the traditional (by now) regata in costume organized by the Settemari club. These were the two front-runners, as they sped past us approaching the Rialto Bridge.

My friend, Antonella Mainardi, rowing like mad as Her Britannic Majesty, led by her faithful corgi, steered by her faithful prince. The backwash from a passing vaporetto created a brief challenge to her nearest competitors, a pair from the Giudecca rowing club decked out as a pair from the Giudecca rowing club. No points for creativity there.

And on they sped, providing a highly wrought spectacle for the gondola hordes. And the gondoliers, too.

Monday, the next-to-last day of Carnival, we got mega-weather. But it wasn’t yet up to speed in the mid-afternoon, when these  intrepid revelers headed out to find some frivolity somewhere. Snow means nothing when you’ve only got 48 hours left to party.

It snowed all day, gradually intensifying, with a northeast wind that blew up to 30 mph (50 km/h). That’s why all the snow is sticking to the east parapet of this bridge; the other side was completely clear.

The slick packed slush on our bridge was inviting anyone who crossed to slip and fall and break something.

Via Garibaldi looked like the Great White Way. Amazing how hard it is to walk on deepening wet snow, even if you do have the wind at your back. The return was even more amusing.

Garibaldi on his pedestal, unimpressed, unimpressible.  Perhaps nobody had yet advised him that the Tide Center was predicting an exceptional acqua alta tonight: 160 cm.  Of course, why would he care?  He lives on the third floor.

We, sad to say, do not. We live on the ground floor, and while we are high enough to stay dry with a tide that reaches 150 cm, after that, it’s all hands to man the pumps. Or to be more precise, put all our belonging up on something. Here, the contents of a few bookshelves and God knows what else are up on the sofa, and sofa is up on two plastic storage boxes, and if the storage boxes get wet, they’re on their own.

And everything at high-tide-level in the bedroom was up on the bed, including whatever was on the closet floor, and the lowest drawers of the three bureaus. High water: Romantic? Dangerous? I’m going with “damned nuisance.”

But we had no worries about the appliances, having learned several years ago that when the water comes in, it makes itself comfortable everywhere. So we had exerted ourselves a year ago to take  measures to protect them from dampage.

But we were reprieved! The next morning the world was smiling again. The wind had changed direction when the tide turned (signaled by a single thunderclap), and the water only came up to 143 cm. However, we had to stay up till 12:15 to know this. These high-water vigils only seem to take place in the dead of night. Waiting for the water to turn around and go out is like sitting by somebody’s bedside listening to them breathe.

I’m glad somebody had a good time last night. I discovered these relics not long before the slowly warming morning returned them to their primal element.

And toward the shank of the afternoon on Fat Tuesday, we headed out — like a few hundred other savvy neighborhood people — to feast on the free fritole and galani offered by the Calafati.

Here they are, in all their glory: The feeders of the five thousand. Full disclosure — I am a member of this august society, but I do not presume to man the deep-fat fryers. It seems to make them happy enough for me to come and make a fool of myself eating.

Lino Penzo, who is also president of the Remiera Casteo, has no scruples about feeding my addiction. “Here — knock yourself out,” he didn’t bother saying. I took them, and I did. They were great.

The man in the red jacket, front and center, is Dino Righetto, the creator of all these fritole. He made 700 of these little suckers, and they’re so light and fragrant you couldn’t believe that what they sell in the shops would have the courage to call themselves fritole.

I wasn’t the only one scarfing up the fat and sugar.

There was plenty to do between snacks — like pour confetti over your friends.

Or play hide-and-seek with your friends, who seem at the moment to have hidden themselves so completely she’ll never find them.

Carnival doesn’t always have to be about masks and garb. Why not just grab a soft plastic hammer that squeaks on impact, and go around bopping people with it?

This little sprite has one of the best costumes ever, showing (yet again) that you don’t need square miles of tulle and sequins and paint to show that you are a fantasy creature. She’s like a sketch by Picasso: A couple of quick lines and there you are: Carnival!

Then again, why waste precious time getting dressed up when the fritole are still warm?

While we were all scarfing and laughing, the hardy trinket-sellers were packing up the Carnival masks for another year. I never saw anything that said “The party’s over” quite the way the sight of the boxes of masks did.

And stealthily the afternoon departed — the light drifted upward, the dew began to fall, everybody was pretty much played out. That was Mardi Gras on via Garibaldi. It’s totally good enough for me.

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Categories : Venetian Events
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