Archive for June, 2013
Maybe all of you out there are sick of hearing about the Grandi Navi (Big Ships) kerfuffle, but it’s just about daily news here. It provides a needed (though I wouldn’t say “welcome”) break from the other endless topics, such as everything else that’s screwy around here.
But something happened two days ago which in my opinion changes the entire scheme of the bureaucratic/political/economic volleyball game between the Comune, the small but obnoxious band of protesters, and the Port Authority.
As you know, there has been and continues to be an exhausting back and forth between these factions about What to Do About the Big Ships. All these heated remarks and assertions, which keep fizzing and flaming like sodium dropped in a glass of water, are based on the conviction that a big ship is a clear and present and inevitable and catastrophic danger to Venice. Every remark on the subject, like acqua alta, starts from the unstated assumption that it is inherently hazardous.
As you also know, I am not convinced. Not being convinced doesn’t mean that I find the behemoths attractive, but there is a difference between something being ugly and something being bad. The protesters don’t want them in the city for reasons which have nothing to do either with the ships or the city, and so have created an issue where one didn’t exist before, and doesn’t have to exist now, either.
The subject has been twisted around in a way that brings to mind the observation of Seneca the Younger regarding the difference between the Roman and Etruscan outlook on the cosmos:
“Whereas we believe lightning to be released as a result of the collision of clouds, they believe that the clouds collide so as to release lightning: for … they are led to believe not that things have a meaning insofar as they occur, but rather that they occur because they must have a meaning.”
Because the big ships could be dangerous, we have to assume that they will be dangerous.
Don’t misunderstand. I think it would be a terrible thing if a big ship suddenly lost control and ran into the Piazza San Marco killing countless people and cleaving the Doge’s Palace in twain. I also think it would be a terrible thing if an eagle dropped a turtle on my head. So many terrible things hurt and/or kill people every day — abusive husbands, cigarettes, car crashes, malaria-bearing mosquitoes — that fixating on the big ships seems excessive.
But there’s good news!
Two days ago a sort of fire-drill occurred. It wasn’t planned, and it wasn’t fun, but in my opinion it demonstrated that the people who would have to deal with the much-dreaded emergency in the Bacino of San Marco are very much up to the task.
A Big Ship named “Zenith” (soon, I guess, to be rechristened “Nadir”) carrying 1,828 (or 1,672) passengers and 620 (or 603) crew members caught fire. That is, a fire broke out in the engine room. The ship was not far from Chioggia, in the first night of its cruise heading toward Venice. The fire was quickly brought under control, but the ship lost all power and was anchored ten miles offshore (seasick pills anybody?), in the dark, etc. Scenarios that are too familiar from recent Carnival line carnivals.
At 4:20 AM, after having spent ten hours trying to get the engines started, the captain called the Capitaneria di Porto for help and a flotilla of assistance was immediately thrown into action. Three large motor patrol vessels of the C di P began heading south, along with a large fireboat with firemen, two big tugboats (“Marina C” and “Hippos”), soon followed by another two (“Angelina C” and “Ivonne C”). Aboard the tugboats were more firemen and seamen from the Coast Guard. Also divers.
The tugboats managed to attach their towlines to the ship — not easy in a heavy sea — and tow her into the lagoon at Malamocco at about 4 knots/7 kilometers per hour. All this took most of the day. At 11:00 PM the ship was finally moored at the industrial zone at Marghera. Total elapsed time: 20 hours.
Why is this good news? First of all, the passengers lived through it and the experience didn’t last for days and days, as has been the case in some other similar events.
Second, and most important, the Venetian maritime system showed itself highly capable of resolving this emergency in admirable form.
So if they were able to accomplish all this in a long and complicated situation, why would they not be able to intervene immediately in the Bacino of San Marco if a Big Ship lost power, when two tugboats are already attached, and there are rarely waves or wind to match those of the open sea?
Maybe Seneca the Younger has the answer to that. My answer is that it appears they’d be able to do just fine.
The luxurious abandon of life here, the liberation from civilization’s leg-irons that makes some tourists claim that “Italians really know how to live” (I’ve heard them say this), can be seen in almost every corner of life in this city. Especially our special little niche. Dogs. Vaporettos. I’ve ranted about them many times and will most likely continue. The Phrygian Cabirian Mysteries must be easier to understand than certain behavior around here.
But I haven’t said a whole lot about garbage, except for occasional mentions of the people who put their bags out when acqua alta is predicted, so the bags float around the streets and out to sea; or those who put them out at night, or on Saturday afternoon to wait for Monday morning’s collection, thus giving the gulls plenty of time to rip them apart and throw their contents everywhere.
Where garbage is concerned, I’m going to curtail my own little diatribe and cast it in the vox of the populi, as noticed recently here and there. I am not the only one voxing objections, so this is a positive sign of something, I guess. But however many voices may be either muttering or yelling, there is a collective passivity which meets them with the density of the air in a vacuum. Shout all you wish; indulge in the intermittent scream; try your hand at a banshee howl or the ungodly screeching of fisher cats (Martes pennanti); your only response will be a sublime indifference approaching Nirvana.
Nirvana: “A place or state characterized by freedom from or oblivion to pain, worry and the external world.” The external world means everywhere that isn’t inside my four walls. In a word, Venice!!
Here is the text, for the record, Your Honor, of Article 9 D.P.R. 915/82, translated by me:
Prohibition of abandoning garbage: It is forbidden the uncontrolled abandoning, dumping or depositing of garbage in public areas or private areas that are liable to public use. In the case of a breach, the mayor, when sanitary, health or environmental reasons subsist , shall decree an ordinance, with a deadline, for the cleaning-up of the area(s) at the expense of the responsible parties. By the terms contained in Law 10 of May 10, 1976, N. 319, and successive modifications, it is forbidden to dispose of any trash of any sort in either public or private waters.”
So is the old computer sitting on the fondamenta because you’re forbidden to throw it into the canal? Certainly not. Apparently the punitive “sanctions of the law” in this case means that the guilty party has to pay to have it removed. Which they could have arranged for free by calling the garbage collection hotline and making an appointment. But that takes time and thought. Time — don’t have it. Thought — don’t need it.
So let’s review: According to the exasperated residents of Calle Vechia, the bags of garbage not theirs have to be taken to the bins. But according to the bins, the garbage isn’t allowed into them.
This leaves one alternative: Do what the city says and put your bag of garbage on your own personal doorstep of the structure where you live before 8:00 AM, and the collector will come by and pick it up and throw it into his big rolling metal box and take it away. I can’t understand why so many people seem to find this system so obnoxious. You’d think they’d been told to make bricks without straw.
So who are these bag-bestrewing malefactors? They can’t be the much-reviled tourists, because they don’t have bags of garbage. They have beer bottles and little plastic ice-cream cups and spoons and Coke cans and things that would fit easily into the bins. (Ignore the fact that these objects often don’t get that far, but are left on the nearest windowsill, because the bins are few and inconveniently placed.)
A tourist didn’t lug that computer to the water’s edge. And tourists don’t sneak out with bags of garbage and leave them in dark alleys.
You see where I’m going. By process of elimination, the principal offenders are Venetians. Why? We’re back to First Principles: It’s because being told that something is forbidden excites a primal urge to do that very thing and nothing else. And lest we suppose the Old Venetians in the Great Old Days were any more virtuous, the hoary stone tablet over the door to what was a convent garden near the church of Sant’ Andrea de la Zirada tells the same old story. Don’t do this, don’t do that — the excellent administrators of the city were refreshingly precise, and they made the punishments very clear. They even carved it in stone, as it were.
And yet I’d be willing to bet that the Old Venetians, who hadn’t thought of anything that day more urgent than whether to fry or grill the sardines, would immediately have felt an overwhelming impulse to run out and start to blaspheme, play cards, throw dice, or at least to tumultuar and strepitar, which basically means create an unholy racket.
People are just made that way.
In honor of the brief but glorious interlude of the blossoming of the lime trees (or linden, or tilia, or whatever you call them) — no visible blossoms, and in fact, no visible trees, but only soft, luxurious waves of their delicate perfume from somewhere nearby — I offer a view of the recent spring, as told by flowers. Summer will be here in two days, and many of the flowers are already moving on. But each one of them was part of a spring which was chilly, late, and cranky, and often very lovely.
There has been so much madness-by-the-metric-ton here lately that it might have been easy to miss a small but perfectly formed fragment of recent craziness.
The stories in the Gazzettino kept the city apprised, moment by moment (translated by me):
STOP THE CHILDREN’S BIRTHDAY PARTIES AT THE PARCO GROGGIA THEY DISTURB THE DOGS
Not made up, I’m sorry to say.
There is a large, luxuriously verdant park in the farther reaches of Cannaregio known as the Parco of the Villa Groggia. It is understandably a favorite place for families, children, and the occasional canine to frolic and gambol. You might have thought that this would be the Venetian version of the Peaceable Kingdom, missing only a chorus of singing begonias, but you would have thought wrong.
I have expounded elsewhere on the passion of Venetians for their dogs. But there is a subtle line that divides passion from obsession and some people have clearly crossed it.
Many dog owners — which is not a correct term, because it’s obvious that many dogs own the people — firmly believe that their pets were born with certain inalienable rights, including running around off the leash and often doing more tangible and disagreeable things. But apart from the repulsive and unhealthy reminders of this fabulous freedom, there is also the potential for an uncontrolled dog to harm a child. This may seem obvious to you and me, but not to a dog’s bipedal slave. The kind of person who refers to herself as the dog’s “mamma.” I heard it just this morning. I don’t know how men of this mentality — and there must be some — characterize themselves. Maybe they call themselves “Uncle” or “Cousin.”
This conflict at the Parco Groggia started a while back, when a balloon, pursued by a tyke, popped, thereby “terrorizing” a certain lady’s little dog. “From that moment,” said Tiffi, a mother of three who has a dog, too, “everything the kids do is under attack.”
The dog slaves — or at least this one belligerent lady — have made many complaints about the children to Franca Caltarossa, the director of the local playroom called the “Grasshopper and the Ant.” They want the children to play inside, preferably (I’m imagining this) in the dark, in the cold, with the windows shut and sealed by duct tape.
NOW THERE IS A PETITION FOR THE VILLA GROGGIA
Citizens and mothers, to the number of 120, signed a petition protesting the requested ban on alfresco birthday parties. It’s not easy to find nice green open public space here, for one thing. For another, Franca Caltarossa revealed that this is only the latest in a series of disagreements with certain neighbors. “This isn’t the first time that we’ve had problems with the dog owners. We’ve had to call the police more than once because they let their dogs run free, endangering the children.”
While the dog-slaves are fixated on how disturbing children can be, they evince no awareness of how phenomenally disturbing their dogs can be to most of the rest of us, even if we love dogs, on the whole. They bark, they shriek, they scuffle, while their human lackeys either ignore or abet them by smiling. It would take Nanny McPhee with a blunderbuss to re-educate them to the notion of living civilly with other people.
Speaking of armaments and their usefulness in re-educating the neighbors, just the other day an unidentified man living at Stra, up the Brenta River toward Padova, decided to handle things his own way.
The headline yesterday was: “Stabs to death the dog that attacked his.” Two mutts leaped on his Springer spaniel and he couldn’t get them to stop, so he pulled out a knife and stabbed both of the dogs, killing one. The carabinieri arrived before he could play an encore on the enraged owner of the two dogs. He has been cited for illegally carrying a dangerous weapon and for killing an animal, while the owner of the victims was charged with not controlling his dogs.
But of course, things would never reach that point in the Parco Groggia, especially if we were to herd the little kiddies into a cellar and push a big stone on top of the door.
Is there a special circle in hell for the Grinch, Ebenezer Scrooge, Silas Marner, Captain Ahab, Edward Murdstone, and their ilk? There must be plenty of room left for the dog-owners of Cannaregio. Or rather, “owner.” A statement from the Comune referred to “complaints from a user of the park.” It doesn’t take many to get the wild rumpus started and evidently this person is already well-known for his or her grievances.
The first official voice of reason was heard from Erminio Viero, president of the municipality. “The park of Villa Groggia is for everybody,” he said. “The park is under our responsibility and there is no preclusion of children. Dogs can circulate only on the walkways and on the leash.” This must be the first time many of the dog-people have ever heard of these rules and I’m sure they think it’s a fable.
“THE ALARM” WITHDRAWN FOR THE PARTIES AT THE VILLA GROGGIA
The city’s statement on all this is: “There has never been a prohibition (against children in the park). Children’s parties will continue to be organized by “The Grasshopper and the Ant” utilizing the park of Villa Groggia, just as it has been established by the City Council deliberation of October 2, 2003 which is still in effect, which permits and regulates the parties, even for birthdays, of the city’s playrooms (“ludoteca“).
That’s pretty clear, but Mr. Viero couldn’t resist chiming in, with all the ardor of a Russian provincial functionary in a story by Chekhov: He denied “in the most absolute manner that there is any provision whatever put out by the municipality with the purpose of prohibiting or limiting the children’s parties at Villa Groggia, parties which the municipality is more than happy to host in its territory. Common sense and the most elementary civic manners suggest to the owners of dogs to always keep them on a leash.” (For those dog owners who may lack common sense and the most elementary civic manners, there is also a city ordinance — see above.)
The last word goes to Tiziana Agostini, city councilor for education: “If there is a happy place for children , it’s Venice, and in Venice, it’s the Parco Groggia.”