Archive for April, 2013

This is a view of as much of the mass of fishermen as I could fit into my camera frame, as I look toward the Lido. It's like the Milan Central train station out there, but floating. People said that there were even more today.

This is a view of as much of the mass of fishermen as I could fit into my camera frame, as I look toward the Lido. It’s like the Milan Central train station out there, but floating. People said that there were even more today.

The diluvian spring seems to finally have wrung itself out and today we had sun.  We’ve had intermittent sun recently but it didn’t give the impression that it was sincere.

But suddenly, the sun was out.  Therefore the laundry was out — I mean, out rejoicing, not out wailing and repenting, and begging to be let back in, as it has been for quite a while. Small but delectable milestone today: Bringing in the laundry and smelling that sun-and-fresh-air aroma in its folds for the first time in 2013.  (Someone will tell me it’s nothing more than the detergent I’m inhaling, but they would be wrong.)

And more to the truly cosmic point, the seppie are out.  “Out” in the way that a solar flare could be called “out.”  A few years ago there were only one or two forlorn little seppie in the entire lagoon, and there were scarcely any to be had in the market, not even for ready money. It was a veritable drought of seppie.  Now we’re making up for lost time.

The past few days have seen what must be an underwater stampede of the little nimnods, swarming in from the Adriatic to spawn, because  out on the water that stretches from San Nicolo’ on the Lido up the wide canal that goes to Murano there has been a daily conglomeration of boats the like of which I’ve never seen, boats full of men fishing for seppie.  I have it on several good authorities that virtually every boat has been going home with something like ten kilos (20 pounds) of cuttlefish.

Then there are the insatiable seagulls, who are out there with the rest of the city, looking for chow.  You’ll see the gulls pulling their prey to some nearby surface in order to pierce the seppia’s body sufficiently with their beak to allow the extraction of the very hard-to-chew inner bone.  These pale-white ovals of various sizes can frequently be seen floating in the canals, and out in the lagoon, the marine version of the ox-bones flung aside by Viking gorgers.

Looking toward the sunset isn't the best moment to reveal the ranks of fishermen lining the Riva dei Sette Martiri, but perhaps this will give you a small idea.

Looking toward the sunset isn’t the best moment to reveal the ranks of fishermen lining the Riva dei Sette Martiri, but perhaps this will give you a small idea.

For the many boatless anglers, there’s plenty of room along the fondamente to strew murder and mayhem in the depths. It’s a virtual chorus line of men and children with fishing rods and buckets, and the stones are wildly bespattered with black stains, the parting shots from the truculent creatures unwilling to admit defeat, but whose sac of ink is impotent against the hooks and nets.  Of course, they themselves make no effort to resist the lure of whatever’s on the end of the hook, so no use crying afterward.  Lino once attracted scores of seppie merely by snagging a piece of white plastic onto his hook and pulling it through the water.  They thought it was a seppia, and they were coming to eat it too.  Little cannibals.

So spring doesn’t just mean peach blossoms and the dawn trilling of the blackbirds. This year, at least, it means hecatombs of eight-armed mollusks (technically, that’s what they are).  I’ll be kind of glad when it’s over.  It’s like the tulip craze or something, and only God knows who’s going to eat them all.  Nobody can consume everything that’s being hauled out of the water these days, and eventually all the freezers are going to be full.

Just one more thing to worry about.

First time I've ever seen a girl fishing, but she's doing all right too. I don't assume the ink-stains on the stones are all from her victims, but they show she's picked what's probably a good spot.

First time I’ve ever seen a girl fishing, but she’s doing all right too. I don’t assume the ink-stains on the stones are all from her victims, but they show she’s picked what’s probably a good spot.

And of course there are always plenty of old guys, like this one totally prepared with rod, bucket (some people just use plastic bags), and a very black and experienced volega, or net on a long pole. No wonder he's smiling.

And of course there are always plenty of old guys, like this one totally prepared with rod, bucket (some people just use plastic bags), and a very black and experienced volega, or net on a long pole. No wonder he’s smiling.

I managed to get two shots of this pair of boys before the smaller one very firmly told me "No photos." "Why?" I asked. "Because it makes bad luck," he said. "That's just a story he invented," the older one said, shrugging. But I left anyway. No point risking being thrown into the bucket with the seppie.

I managed to get two shots of this pair of boys before the smaller one very firmly told me “No photos.” “Why?” I asked. “Because it makes bad luck,” he said. “That’s just a story he invented,” the older one said, shrugging. But I left anyway. No point risking being thrown into the bucket with the seppie.

One Asian man couldn't be bothered to stop to put them in his bag; he just unhooked each one and threw it on the pavement, where they lay there slowly expiring, spewing and sputtering, till he got ready to collect them and take them home. Or wherever they were destined to end up.

One Asian man couldn’t be bothered to stop to put them in his bag; he just unhooked each one and threw it on the pavement, where they lay there slowly expiring, spewing and sputtering, till he got ready to collect them and take them home. Or wherever they were destined to end up.

IMG_0179_1 seppie

This was the first time I ever saw the iridescent dots on the tentacles. This is part of their extremely efficient system of camouflage, going very well with the iridescent stripes of blue-green which I know well from the fresh seppie in the fish market. But I was dazzled by the dots. I’m just sorry they turned out to be so futile.

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Apr
11

Miss Wally

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Bessie Wallis Warfield Spencer Simpson, 1936, a year before she became the Duchess of Windsor.

This is too good to keep to myself.

A reader in New York occasionally sends me some reminiscences, observations, and corrections, when necessary.  We’ve long since abandoned limiting ourselves to the subject of Venice; his life, by now in its eighth decade, is far too interesting to be crammed into the “V” cubbyhole alone.

He recently wrote me this, apropos of nothing whatever:

A letter came from a grand niece of my uncle (by marriage) Morris and was followed by a long call from CA in which I learned that he had won a couple of years at the Ecole des Beaux Arts after leaving the U of PA. He had never mentioned it. He was an architect for the chief of engineers and built hospitals all over the world during WWII, member of the Cosmos Club, the equivalent of the Century in NY and one of the founders of the Arts Club of Washington. My other architect uncle went to E des BA too and wore the little red ribbon (I presume he’s referring to the Legion of Honor) for having instituted a memorial for one of his teachers. The first was a real gentleman. The other once used the first’s name to use the Cosmos and had great airs. I call him my “let them eat cake” uncle.

My uncle came from Lutherville MD and one time was talking to an old colored family retainer who asked, “Mr. Morris, is it true that Miss Wally is going to marry the King of England?”

“It looks that way.”

“Is it true that he has to give up the throne to do it?”

“Yes, Jim, that seems to be so.”

There was a long pause, and Jim said, “I wouldn’t.”

He knew Miss Wally.

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Apr
07

Where have I gone?

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This is the one thing in my trip that I really wanted to see:  “The Hole” at Gorgazzo. So far, the deepest any cave diver has reached is 695 feet (212 meters).  Below that, there may be the Hall of the Mountain King. Nobody knows.

For the chronically curious, here is a rendering of the path of the abyss as far divers have gone. I’m guessing that there may be so many similar subterranean chasms everywhere on Earth that the planet is probably one big wiffle ball.

The silence from my end has been too long and also not explained.  I can’t do anything about the length (except to break the silence now and stop the clock), but I can explain.

I’ve been in a car — how un-Venetian — with some friends for a week, stravaging around northern Italy from Milan to Pordenone and down to Venice.  They were here from Virginia to watch their son play some soccer matches against their Italian counterparts.

This trip gave me a chance to visit, if only briefly, plenty of places I’d never been, several I’d never even heard of, only one of which I’d ever really wanted to see (see photo above), and also the chance to stand interminably in the rain on the muddy sidelines of even muddier soccer fields.

The Veneto has just been through the rainiest March in 20 years — three times more water fell everywhere than is usual.  The vintners can’t prune their vineyards, the artichokes are a month behind, and the boys who ran and slid around drenched by the frigid deluge can tell you that they discovered a degree of wetness which nobody, not even skindivers, has ever experienced.

As for our itinerary, “We past through some of the damdes plases ever saw by mortel eyes,” as a Confederate soldier put it in a letter home.  At the top of the list is the Hotel Antares in Villafranca di Verona.  If you’ve ever wondered where the occupants of UFO’s go when their intergalactic aircraft run out of fuel, I can give you the address.

Now that I’m back and most of the laundry has been done, I confess that I feel very little urge to write anything about Venice at the moment.  Catching up with the news here over the past few days has subjected me to a downpour, so to speak, of non-news even more monotonous than the record rain (see above).

What’s been happening in the most-beautiful-city-in-the-world is what has always happened, and what, apparently, ever will happen. By now it appears that there’s hardly any point in mentioning current events, because the same stories will keep turning up every week till Jesus comes back.

The procession of news by now is so repetitive, and so demoralizing, that the 1.20 euros we spend for the daily Gazzettino have become a sort of charity contribution to keep it in business.  The national chronicle is stuck in an endless loop of the same names and the same chicanery, and the local reports form one interminable droning chorus about as interesting as singing “Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall.”

Classic themes: The constant deterioration of the city — palaces, churches, and bridges are falling to pieces, sometimes near or even on the heads of passersby, and the snaggly paving stones are so untrustworthy in some places that they trip as many people as they can each day and then snicker because they know they’re not going to be punished. There is the phenomenal inefficiency of the public health service.  The occasional little old person found dead in his/her home after days/weeks/months. The closing of generations-old stores that can’t pay the insane rent increase, which has typically been raised in order to install yet another glass/mask/pizza-by-the-slice business.  These shops sell glass and masks as being made in Venice, which in a sense they are;  not by Venetians, though, but by swelling numbers of Chinese immigrants who toil in sweatshops and live in little mainland hellholes.

If you tire of those stories, you can always read about the spectacular mismanagement, in myriad and ever-more-imaginative forms, of the public transport system. It’s amazing how many ways the ACTV finds to throw away money it insists it doesn’t have. And tomorrow there will be yet another transit strike: no buses, no vaporettos, a 24-hour dislocation of life which will produce no results. So there will have to be another one.

Speaking of money, it continues to gush, like water from a busted pipe, out of the Venice Casino, which once was one of the top three contributors to the entire city budget. Then there are the pitiful protests, as tiring and pointless as the wailing of a baby with colic, against the big cruise ships — “pitiful” not because I agree or don’t, but because cruise ships are now such a crucial part of the municipal economy that driving them away would kick the last leg out from under the tottering financial stool of the city’s economy. And “pitiful” because all the schemes which have been proposed to solve this so-called problem will create real, tangible, measurable problems for all eternity.

To sum up, the news from here is a ceaseless litany of the same issues, the same excuses, the same inertia, the same blithe, extravagant, “who, me?” waste of everything including now even my patience and my curiosity.

Oh: And the “Boy with the Frog,” claimed to be scheduled for removal on March 18? It’s still standing there. I let myself get excited by what sounded like a real decision, and now I’m embarrassed. I evidently had more hope than good sense, even after all this time.

If I were a reporter for the Gazzettino, I’d write my stories sitting at home in my underwear listening to old Janis Joplin tracks. I’m not saying anybody actually does that.  But they could.

The only interesting thing I’ve heard in a week was about the ten-year-old boy who snuck out of his house in the middle of the night in his pajamas to go smash the window of a toy store with a brick in order to get his hands on the thing he wanted that his parents had refused to buy for him.  That was different!  But it wasn’t in Venice — it was in Vicenza.

This face isn’t from Venice, but it could be. In fact, it should be.

On a side street in Polcenigo, there is someone better than Geppetto: It’s Franco, who not only can repair all sorts of things, but makes enough money from it to be able to afford this nice little shop.  People probably come from all over the EU.

Here’s something even more astonishing: The city of Pordenone had a mayor who was also a saint: Blessed Daniele D’Ungrispach. That was back in 1384 and 1404, but still — it was possible for at least one person in human history to pull it off.

One elegant pastry shop in Pordenone had some remarkable Easter cakes. I like the chick and the broken eggshell, but it’s the basketweave icing that really fascinates me. It’s not that somebody COULD do it, it’s that they had the PATIENCE to do it. But then again, I didn’t check the price.  It was probably worth the effort.

The rain, the cold, and all the flimflammery in the world are powerless to slow, stop, detour, or otherwise ruin the astonishing beauty of spring.  This is a great thing and I need to remember it.

 

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