Archive for August, 2013

Aug
15

The more things change….

Posted by: | Comments (2)
The sun is shining but the sky is dark. I know it happens everywhere but here it has a sort of metaphoric vibe.

The sun is shining but the sky is dark. I know it happens everywhere but here it has a sort of metaphoric vibe.

People sometimes ask me — or ask themselves, standing next to me — why the government of Venice doesn’t do one thing or the other to resolve the city’s problems, which are right out there for everybody to see.  It seems impossible that nobody has come up with any ideas for what to do to make it cleaner, safer, more efficient (well, that might be a reach) — or just generally spiffed up and functioning.  How can it be that no long-term solution is found for something — anything?

If we were to take the proverbial legal tablet and write the proverbial two comparative lists, one would be titled “Problems” (it would be a very long list), and the other “Solutions” (which would also be long).  But there are almost no points at which they recognize each other and embrace, like twins separated at birth.

But guess what I just found out?  People were raising red flags, launching the lifeboats, pulling out handfuls of hair in 1970 about the very same problems everyone complains about today.  That’s 43 years of standing in one place.  If I were a city, I’d be tired by now.

This would be a characteristic glimpse of Venice -- not so much due to the water, but the history of the house on the right. The windows have changed several times -- being opened, being bricked up, being put wherever there's a free spot. Lots of changes, none of which essentially changes anything. Yes, I'm definitely on a symbolism streak today. Bonus: a glimpse of the future, which isn't pretty: The missing block of stone beneath the lowest window, which has left the stone above it just hanging in empty space, waiting to fall down.  You can see it, you can understand it, you can even know what to do about it.  Except that you don't.

This would be a characteristic glimpse of Venice — not so much due to the water, but the history of the house on the right. The windows have changed several times — being opened, being bricked up, being put wherever there’s a free spot. Lots of changes, none of which essentially changes anything. Yes, I’m definitely on a symbolism streak today. Bonus: a glimpse of the future, which isn’t pretty: The missing block of stone beneath the lowest window, which has left the stone above it just hanging in empty space, waiting to fall down. You can see it, you can understand it, you can even know what to do about it. Except that you don’t.

As I have long suspected, it’s not ideas that are missing here.  (I mean, constructive, forward-looking, beneficial-to-everybody ideas).  It’s execution.

Tides of ideas flow through Venice from all sides, but like the lagoon tide, they go out again.  Most of them.  To return again.  Most of them.  Some of them begin to be realized, then they stop.  Then they start again. You get the idea. (Sorry.)

Here are some of the most telling bits from a big article in the Gazzettino last Sunday, written by Pier Alvise Zorzi. It might be useful to know that the Zorzi family is documented to have been in Venice since 964 A.D.  That doesn’t mean he knows more than anyone else, I’m just saying he’s not the latest person to see the fireworks of the Redentore and decide to stay here forever.

Mr. Zorzi reports that back in April, 1970, veteran journalist Indro Montanelli dedicated virtually the entire month to articles about Venice and its problems — its particularity, its fragility, the housing depression, the political bungling, and so on.

“THE ILLS OF VENICE? THE SAME WERE REPORTED BY INDRO 43 YEARS AGO.  From depopulation to the risk of the touristic monoculture, from the sublagunare project to the problems of housing.”

“I have in hand a page from the Corriere della Sera (April 23, 1970) with the headline: ‘The Youth Front for Venice,’ with the subtitle “On the lagoon one breathes the air of the Titanic — the discouragement which by now pervades the Venetians is the main danger to face – to break this passivity a movement of young people has arisen without any political label ready to support at the next elections anybody who defends Venice.”

Under some emblematic photographs are these succinct quotes from 1970, which read like telegraph messages from the front lines.  It’s deja vu again, and again, and again.

“Tourism: The city can’t live only on hotels and restaurants.”

“Housing:  Too many uninhabited palaces and the cost of rent is through the roof (as they say here, “to the stars”).”

“Dignity: Enough of sterile complaints: each person needs to get involved.”

He continues:  “A young person who was interviewed complained of the progressive abandonment of the city…the problem of housing, which is not only decrepit but at much higher rents than on the mainland…And the culminating point, ‘We don’t intend to raise tourism to the level of a monoculture. A city like Venice can’t live only on hotels, trattorias, tips.  It will become degraded.'”

And the solutions these young people suggest are also, by now, hoary and draped with cobwebs: More artisans, for example, or linking highly specialized institutions to the world of production and cultural foundations in Europe and America.

The Front eventually fell apart, but the old problems are still here, and have been joined by some new ones: “The ‘hole’ of the Lido (endless construction projects that are badly conceived, worse realized, mercilessly expensive); the ghost of corruption on the MOSE project (more about this in another post), the mega-billboards which continue in spite of new ministerial regulations.”

But wait -- I see repairs going on! A few years ago the bridge over the rio dei Mendicanti was in clear and imminent danger (imminent being the only kind of danger that gets attention) because motondoso was, as you see, breaking the link between the steps and the balustrade. This is not an unusual sight -- you can find similar large fissures between fondamente and the walls of houses as the walkway begins to break off and slide toward the water.  But it is nice to see it being fixed. Until you've been here long enough to realize that without fixing the cause, the same problem is inevitably going to come back again, and again, and again, and again.  Is that enough "again"s to make my point?

But wait — I see repairs going on! A few years ago the bridge over the rio dei Mendicanti was in clear and imminent danger (imminent being the only kind of danger that gets attention) because motondoso was, as you see, breaking the link between the steps and the balustrade. This is not an unusual sight — you can find similar large fissures between fondamente and the walls of houses as the walkway begins to break off and slide toward the water. But it is nice to see it being fixed. Until you’ve been here long enough to realize that without fixing the cause, the same problem is inevitably going to come back again, and again, and again, and again. Is that enough “again”s to make my point?

Zorzi acknowledges a few positive signs lately, small and tentative though they may be.  But the essential character of the situation is not only unchanged, but maybe even unchangeable. “The problem,” he says, and so do lots of people here, “is that everyone who is able to make the decisions is so tied up in the webs of common interests, either political or economic (but aren’t they the same?) that they move only with extreme, sticky slowness.

“The risk? That 40 years from now we’ll still be right there, at the same spot. I don’t want my grandchildren still to be reading, for example, about the Calatrava bridge, that economic abyss … or the suspected speculation on the renovation of the Manin barracks.  Or the hospital. Or the eternal MOSE. Or all the usual things which the national newspapers don’t bother with anymore because everybody’s fed up with Venice’s constant whining.

“I want Venice to have the dignity to save herself on her own, thanks to the citizens which consider her not as something to exploit, but something to invest in.  I want the Venetians to denounce the little local mafias, instead of trying to join them in order to gain something for themselves.  I want the multinationals who buy the palaces to invest in the city and not merely in their own image.  I want that each person, even in their own little way, should do something to safeguard our special character. If I were to live for a hundred years, I’d like to read something new about Venice.”

You know what’s too bad about this cri de coeur?  I’ve heard it before.

Which degradation is more disturbing? The kind shown here? (Anyone who considers the condition of this once-beautiful wrought iron to be charming can skip to the next question).......

Which degradation is more disturbing? The kind shown here? (Anyone who considers the condition of this once-beautiful wrought iron to be charming can skip to the next question)…….

IMG_1006 victory

Or this? Mass tourism creates blowing trash and cattle-car transport and other unattractive things which could be considered degradation. But you don’t need a mass of tourists to feel depressed. You can manage with just two, if they’re like this pair, relaxing in front of the church of San Zaccaria.

So I look for things that nobody can spoil. Like the sky.

So I look for things that nobody can spoil. Like the sky.

Or real human contact, of which there is still a heartening amount.

Or real human contact, of which there is still a heartening amount.

 

As you see. People lurking in crannies as the avalanche of uncontrolled tourism and uncontrolled everything surges over the city yet another day.

As you see. People lurking in crannies as the avalanche of uncontrolled tourism and uncontrolled everything surges over the city yet another day.

I didn't get close enough to listen in, but these Venetians are almost certainly talking about something that's either gone wrong, is going wrong, or will be going wrong. If I had ten cents for every time I've heard a Venetian say "Poor Venice," I'd be living in Bora Bora by now. The elderly gentleman, on the other hand, is saving his energy by merely reading about the day's problems in the newspaper.

I didn’t get close enough to listen in, but these Venetians give several signs that they’re talking about something that’s either gone wrong, is going wrong, or will be going wrong. (Perhaps it’s about work, or the mother-in-law, or the car.  But eventually it will almost certainly be about Venice.) If I had ten cents for every time I’ve heard a Venetian say “Poor Venice,” I’d be living in Bora Bora by now. The elderly gentleman, on the other hand, is saving his energy by merely reading about the day’s problems in the newspaper.

This is a view of what I think we need. I don't mean the doge (especially not this one, Francesco Foscari, who had enough calamities of his own).  I mean the lion. I want this lion to come back and take the situation in hand, in tooth, in claw. He looks like all he needs is a signal from somebody.

This is a view of what I think we need. I don’t mean the doge (especially not this one, Francesco Foscari, who had enough calamities of his own). I mean the lion. I want this lion to come back and take the situation in hand, in tooth, in claw. He looks like all he needs is a signal. First thing he’ll do is throw the book at everybody.

Comments (2)
I appreciate that Venice (well, San Giorgio, in this case) is seductive and irresistible and beautiful and everything. But it wouldn't have been less beautiful the next day. It's been here for 1,500 years -- presumably it can wait for a family to have dinner and sleep.

I appreciate that Venice (well, San Giorgio, in this case) is seductive and irresistible and beautiful and everything. But it wouldn’t have been less beautiful the next day. The city has been here for 1,500 years — presumably it can wait for a family to have dinner and sleep.

After I began to think about it more clearly (that is to say, after I thought about it in the mountains, where we just went for four days, breathing air that was cool and dry enough to resuscitate my mental processes), I realized that I made a small miscalculation in the payday for the police.

I’m referring to the extra paydays they gave themselves by forging permits and whatever else they were doing to help eager immigrants make it through the bureaucracy.

Yes, each of the accused maintainers of public order did indeed receive 300 euros for finagling the permit, which seemed to my super-saturated brain to be pitifully small.

But now I realize what sharp readers have long since understood: It was 300 euros multiplied by God knows how many times they orbited the cash register each day.  Each week.  Each month.

Before long, it won’t be only God who knows what the total came to.  I presume a phalanx of lawyers and judges is already pounding its calculators.

Not me.  I don’t care anymore.  I’m on to other things.   I’m more interested now in the German couple who drove their camper  1,026 km/637 miles from Dresden to Cavallino-Treporti the other day.  Even though the trip probably took them ten hours, and most likely more, when they got there the first thing they wanted to do was to get on the motonave and go to Venice.  How romantic, how beautiful.  And how inconvenient that their ten-year-old daughter dug in her heels at yet another trek before the day could finally be over.

Nothing daunted, her parents locked her inside the camper.  Then they went off on their own, feeling fine about her being fine, except she wasn’t.

She got out of the camper, couldn’t get back in, became distraught, and was collected by a sympathetic passerby who took her to everyone’s favorite caretakers, the Carabinieri.  Who were waiting for her parents at midnight when they got off the boat from Venice.  To present them with the formal accusation of abandonment of a minor.

Mann kann nicht alles unter einen Hut bringen, as they say in the Vaterland.  You can’t put everything under one hat.  Neither can you have everything you want, including a child-free jaunt to Venice whenever you feel like it, no matter where you might be inclined to put it.

Comments (4)
Aug
07

Summer glimpses

Posted by: | Comments (3)
I don't know why he's looking so lugubrious. At least they get to lie on ice.

I don’t know why he has to look so hangdog. At least he gets to lie on ice.

Laboring under the phenomenal force of the combined heat and humidity which have been oppressing us (Italy as a whole, but I take all this personally), I have slowed my blogging efforts, as has probably already become evident.  We have had two successive heat waves — ours come from Algeria, if that tells you anything — and the names are indicative: “Charon” and “Styx.”  You know those animals that only move once every few months when they have to eat something?  That would be us.

Having now pled the “Smothering Heat Wave” defense, I will proceed.

On a normal day, I would now be catching you up on a lot of stuff that’s been going on in and around the old most-beautiful-city-in-the-world.  None of which resembles much of what you could call beautiful.  Anybody who hasn’t managed to get to the beach or the mountains appears to be taking it out on the rest of the world.

Anyway, since my energy has to be dedicated to maintaining my life-sustaining physical functions — nothing left over for such frivolity as scorn and umbrage — I will give only a smattering of headlines from today’s Gazzettino.  I will then try to cool us all off with some views that show that there are still plenty of glimpses around here that make me smile.

National news:

Kashetu "Cecile" Kyenge is not only Minister for Integration, but also a doctor.  I think everybody in the Northern League should be forced to go to her for their myopia.  And possibly cataract operations.

Kashetu “Cecile” Kyenge is not only Minister for Integration, but also a doctor specializing in ophthalmology. I think everybody in the Northern League should be forced to go to her for their myopia. And possibly cataract operations. Too bad she’s not a brain surgeon. (Photo: Provincia di Modena)

Cecile Kyenge, a Congolese-born doctor and only months-long Minister for Integration, and Italy’s first African-Italian minister, has been working out on a sort of political and human Parkour course composed of a seemingly endless series of racist insults from assorted members of the extreme right-wing Northern League.

The process goes like this: The politician says something repulsive (such as comparing her to an orangutan), other politicians indignantly reprimand him, he offers a sort of non-apology along the lines of “I regret if I said anything that might have been construed as offensive” (or “misunderstood,” or “taken out of context,” or “a private communication that was somehow made public,” etc.).  At least five Leaguers at various levels have contributed to the stringing of this uncharm-bracelet of abuse regarding her color or her religion.  Some have been expelled from the party, but more just keep coming up.  It’s like some Whack-a-Mole from Hades.

“Drug dealer dies in the barracks; “Violent asphyxia.” (Riva Ligure) A Tunisian suspect was being held since June 6 in a barracks, awaiting his turn in the legal process.  That’s no longer necessary, due to a “powerful pressure exerted on his thorax,” as the coroner put it.  The three Carabinieri who arrested him and had him in custody have now been arrested.

 “She tried to kill him, he applauds her.” (Castiglione delle Stiviere) That’s not quite what it sounds like, but it is somewhat thought-provoking.  Claudio del Monaco (son of the famous tenor Mario del Monaco) is married to Daniela Werner, a German former nursery-school teacher and aspiring soprano.  In December 2011 things went wrong and she tried to stab him to death.  She went to the psychiatric penitentiary and by applying herself to her singing, was able to perform a concert in public last July 2.  “I love my wife more than before and I want to forget the past,” said her husband.  Now she goes back to serve another three years. Maybe it’s neurotic, but in a strange way I find this admirable.  I suppose it’s because the “for better for worse” isn’t usually taken to this extreme, or illuminated by this bright a light.

“Few mosquitoes; layoffs at the insecticide company.”  (Trento)  Last spring was unusually cold and wet, and it went on far too long.  You’d think the resulting lack of mosquitoes would be a good thing, and for most of us, it is.  But not for the employees of the Zobele company, 70 of whom are going to be at home from September to November because sales are so slow.  It is, indeed, always something.

Venice news:

“Train Hell, few, late, and boiling.”  Riders on the national network in the Veneto — not just tourists, but loads of commuters — are once again taking the hit of the management’s inability to provide even minimal rail service.  To the many trains which have been canceled, and the super-many which are late, has been added the increasing percentage of trains in which passengers travel in torrid conditions because the air conditioning doesn’t work.  This story comes out every summer.  I mean, every summer.  Do the managers not have calendars? Or is nine months not long enough to make a plan and carry it out?  Women do it all the time.  Sorry, that just slipped out.

“Money for permits; Three policemen in handcuffs.”  Just over the lagoon in Jesolo, they discovered three of the Polizia di Stato’s finest taking cash for various special services, such as expediting applications for “permessi di soggiorno,” permits to stay in Italy for a specified length of time. What makes it worse — as if it had to be worse — is that a number of the immigrants they passed weren’t eligible for permits.  The charges: Conspiracy, corruption, counterfeiting documents, and illegal access to computer systems. What inspires the urge to smack one’s forehead isn’t that they took money, but that they took 1000 euros.  That is, about 300 euros per policeman.  I know.  If you’re going to risk blowing your career to smithereens, wouldn’t you make it just a little bit more?

I could go on, but my brain is too tired.  There will be more of these antics tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow, and on and on till we all disappear over the horizon.  Where they will continue, wherever we are.

A man setting out in the morning with a bag and a bouquet of hydrangeas.  It's going to be an excellent day for someone somewhere.

A man setting out in the morning with a bag and a bouquet of hydrangeas.  It looks good.

I was tempted to remove the empty detergent bottle, left out to await tomorrow recycling pickup, but realized that it's futile to try to engineer perfection. The fact that it says "Sole" (sun) gives it a special pass.

I was tempted to remove the empty detergent bottle, left out to await tomorrow’s recycling pickup, but I kind of like the fact that it says “Sole” (sun).

And while I'm on the subject of flowers, a woman waiting for the vaporetto was bearing this astonishing armload of peonies. I challenge anyone to tell me that there is anything more beautiful than this.

And while I’m on the subject of flowers, a woman waiting for the vaporetto was bearing this astonishing armload of peonies. I invite anyone to tell me that there is anything more beautiful than this.

This cat wouldn't deign to acknowledge a heat wave, but did graciously recognize the presence of a lower-order mammal nearby.

This cat wouldn’t deign to acknowledge a heat wave, but did graciously recognize the presence of a lower-order mammal nearby.

One of my all-time favorite repair jobs. What? There's something wrong with this?

One of my all-time favorite repair jobs. What? There’s something wrong with this?

Perhaps you were unaware that Venice was bombed 42 times by Austria in the First World War.  These plaques will help you remember.

Perhaps you were unaware that Venice was bombed 42 times by Austria in the First World War. These plaques will help you remember.

translation here

“Destroyed by an Austrian bomb February 27, 1918.  Reconstructed 1920.”

Sometimes our favorite late-afternoon cafe is overrun by women who are smoking, but sometimes it seems magically to turn into a sort of little kinder-haven.  Manuela, the owner, loves them all.

Sometimes our favorite late-afternoon cafe is overrun by women who smoke and babble, but sometimes it seems magically to turn into a sort of little kinder-haven. Manuela, the owner (seated), loves them all.

If there is even the tiniest supposition of a waft of air, a little swirl of breeze will always form right exactly there.

If there is any breeze at all in Venice, a little swirl of air will always form right exactly there and make a scuffed-up patch of water.  It makes me smile.

 

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Comments (3)