Archive for February, 2015

Feb
10

Ready, aim, Carnival

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I don't know what the rest of this partyer looked like -- I was too busy admiring her hands and mask.  I love her mitten -- it's like a hunting glove for stalking smurfs. Don't let the word get out that you don't have to encumber your entire body with pounds of upholstery fabric, and a long ton of accessories, to be all dressed up for Carnival.

I don’t know what the rest of this partyer looked like — I was too busy admiring her hands and mask. I love her woolly handwarmer.  It’s like a hunting mitten for stalking Smurfs. Don’t let the word get out that you don’t have to encumber your entire body with pounds of upholstery fabric, and a long ton of accessories, to be all dressed up for Carnival.  There would be civil unrest.

For whatever reason, Carnival does not attract me anymore.

Headlines such as the one yesterday reporting on Sunday’s attendance:  “100,000 yesterday for the opening of Carnival” could have something to do with my lack of enthusiasm.  Headlines such as one today: “The purse-cutters have arrived,” referring to the young pregnant Bosnian women who now, to expedite the lifting of your wallet, have taken to slashing your handbag, could also be relevant.  Crowds, however amusingly dressed, make life awkward, at best, for most people except other dressed-up persons and, of course, the purse-cutters.

But let’s do a fast rewind on the festivities so far.  Last Saturday — the day which opens the 11-day clambake — we saw the first major organized entertainment: The Procession of the Marias.

The main reason we saw it is because it takes place mere steps from our front door.  Also, the weather was beautiful and it was great to be outside.  Also, the participants outnumbered the spectators (or almost).

The program is simple.  Everyone lines up in Campo San Pietro and wends their way slowly, and with great clamor, across the wooden bridge and along the fondamenta to the foot of via Garibaldi.  Here the space opens comfortably and everyone has a chance to see the many costumed processioners, and the Marias themselves, close up.

“Everyone” includes the Marias (obviously), the phalanx of young men assigned to carry the Marias, and abundant and varied troupes of trumpeters, drummers, knights, commoners, banner-twirlers, and the doge and his wife and some Venetian senators and councilors, all in vaguely Renaissance garb.

The girls are loaded onto their respective wooden platforms, hoisted on the shoulders of their bearers, and carried at the head of the procession all the way to the Piazza San Marco, where they mount the stage and are generally admired and photographed.  On February 16, the penultimate day of Carnival, the Maria of 2015 will be chosen and crowned.

In case this doesn’t sound like much of a big deal, the Maria of today will become the “Angel” of next year, sliding down a wire from the top of the campanile of San Marco to the pavement on the opening day of Carnival.

Here are some things I enjoyed seeing this year.  Yes, there were things I enjoyed.  Briefly.

Not really marching, more like strolling.  The important thing is not to stop suddenly.  Or at all.

Not really marching, more like strolling. The important thing is not to stop suddenly. Or at all.

I’m guessing that the three life-size paperdolls (which ought to be of wood), recall the eventual fate of the Marias and their festival. Conflict and strife arose between the participating families (when your daughter’s in a beauty contest with really rich prizes, you tend to get tetchy), so the Serenissima substituted Marias made of wood, and when nobody was happy with those, stopped the festival altogether. That was in 1379, so I guess they made their point.

    I like the lookers at least as much as the looked-upon.

I like the lookers at least as much as the looked-upon.

This little guy was my favorite. But why is he trapped behind the window? Everybody else has got their windows open and their mufflers on.

This little guy was my favorite. But why is he trapped behind the window? Everybody else has got their windows open and their mufflers on.

The grandmothers are hardier than anybody.

Case in point.

The Marias had lovely costumes but I was appalled to see that they had spent the morning in hairdo hell.  When you consider the labor involved in arranging all this hair, and applying 146 layers of hairspray, not to mention the pain, they might as well have gone one step further and just worn wigs.

The Marias had lovely costumes but I couldn’t stop looking at their hair.  They must have spent the morning in hairdo hell, the tonsorial equivalent of Scarlett O’Hara getting laced into her corset. When you consider the labor involved in arranging all this hair, and applying 146 layers of hairspray, not to mention the pain, they might as well have gone one step further and just worn wigs.

I've already picked my favorite, if anybody cares.  No idea what her name is, but if she doesn't win, I'm going to have to take action.

I’ve already picked my favorite, if anybody cares. No idea what her name is, but if she doesn’t win, I’m going to have to take action.

Let the procession proceed, immortalized by the everlasting selfie.

Let the procession proceed, immortalized by the everlasting selfie.

He may be asking the Carnival equivalent of "What's the weather up there?"

He may be asking the Carnival equivalent of “How’s the weather up there?”

And the caravan moves on, up via Garibaldi toward the Riva degli Schiavoni.  Better keep moving while the sun's still shining because as soon as it starts to set, the cold will make your hair break off.

And the caravan moves on, up via Garibaldi toward the Riva degli Schiavoni. Better keep moving while the sun’s still shining because as soon as it starts to set, the cold will make your hair break off.

These are major trumpeters, evidently saving their fanfares for the Piazza San Marco.

These are major trumpeters, evidently saving their fanfares for the Piazza San Marco.

Bringing up the rear is a quartet of "sbandieratori," or banner-throwers-and-twirlers.

Bringing up the rear is a quartet of “sbandieratori,” or banner-throwers-and-twirlers.

Moving on to the next banner-throwing stop.

Moving on to the next banner-throwing stop.

Speaking of banners, I have no idea what regiment, nation, creed or sport this might belong to, but it looked great in the wind.

Speaking of banners, I have no idea what regiment, nation, creed or sport this might belong to, but it looked great in the wind.

And the Maria-cade moves on toward the distant Piazza San Marco.  Better them than us.

And the Maria-cade moves on toward the distant Piazza San Marco. Better them than us.

No pressure, but if you know one of the judges, remind him or her that this is the winner.

No pressure, but if you know one of the judges, remind him or her that this is the winner.

Categories : Venetian Events
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Feb
05

Just looking

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I walk out the front door and sooner rather than later I notice things that make me ponder.  Sometimes I ponder deeply and fruitlessly, and sometimes I do Ponder Lite and just absorb the beauty.

Here are some recent places and things that made me look twice:

It was 6:01 AM on the 5.2 motoscafo from the Giardini toward Piazzale Ro,a.  I was surprised to see so many people already in transit, but gobsmacked to see how the man in the aisle had organized himself for the voyage.  In all these years I have never seen this solution to standing-room-only.  While it's true that I have seen other people and their luggage take up the same amount of space, and it's true that he is not blocking the aisle (though I cannot grasp why this human bear wouldn't remove his backpack.  does it make him feel safe?  Smaller?).  There is nothing WRONG with what he's doing, it's just

It was 6:01 AM on the 5.2 motoscafo from the Giardini toward Piazzale Roma. I was surprised to see so many people already in transit, but gobsmacked to see how the man in the aisle had organized himself for the voyage. In all these years I have never seen this solution to standing-room-only. It’s true that I have seen other people and their luggage take up the same amount of space, and it’s true that he is not blocking the aisle (though I cannot grasp why this human bear wouldn’t remove his backpack. Does it make him feel safe? Smaller?). There is nothing WRONG with what he’s doing, it’s just outlandish.  My trying to imagine what the ride would be like if everybody decided to bring their own chairs doesn’t help me feel any better about this.  And yet I still can’t say why.

A few weeks ago there was quite a flurry of activity at one of the entrances to the Giardini.  A few men in full gear labored all day, and part of the next day, to install a brace on this tree worthy of the Leaning Tower of Suurhusen.  The amount of effort and money dedicated to bracing this plant is entirely praiseworthy, but I withhold my praise because while I agree that plants have as much of a right to live as komodo dragons and Hungerford's crawling water beetle, it also seems that they could just as well have cut the tree down and planted a young one.  This isn't the Treaty Oak or the Endicott Pear Tree.

A few weeks ago there was quite a flurry of activity at one of the entrances to the Giardini. A few men in full gear labored all day, and part of the next day, to install a brace on this tree that could perhaps have been more useful on the Leaning Tower of Suurhusen. The amount of effort and money dedicated to supporting this plant is entirely praiseworthy, but I withhold my praise because while I agree that plants have as much of a right to live as Komodo dragons and Hungerford’s crawling water beetle, it also seems that they could just as well have cut the tree down and planted a young one. This isn’t the Treaty Oak or the Endicott Pear Tree, though perhaps someone somewhere thinks that if it can be kept upright, eventually this tree will achieve some status worthy of the Guinness Book.

Your average feral rock pigeon is kind of loathsome, but this bird seems to have been created by a Persian calligrapher.

Your average feral rock pigeon is kind of loathsome, but this bird seems to have been created by a Persian calligrapher.

And speaking of birds, in addition to the usual egrets I discovered that there was a swan stretching its wings. Wild swans are among the many species of bird that depends on the lagoon more than any of us do, and I remember one winter morning when we were out rowing when three of them flew over us, very low, and I could see their necks undulating slightly and hearing a curious low sound which I thought came from their throats, but which I now learn was the air passing around their large, majestic wings.

And speaking of birds, in addition to the usual egrets I discovered that there was a swan stretching its wings. Wild swans are among the many species of bird that depend on the lagoon more than any of us do, and I remember one winter morning when we were out rowing when three of them flew over us, very low, and I could see their necks undulating slightly and hearing a curious low sound which I thought came from their throats, but which I now learn was the air passing around their large, majestic wings.

The game is on, Watson -- here, the traces of hopscotch, known in Italy as "campana"or "mondo" ("bell" or "world").  Nice to know there's something other than soccer going on here.

The game is on, Watson — here, the traces of hopscotch, known in Venice as “campanon” (“big bell”). Lino says boys play it too.  Nice to know there’s something other than soccer going on here.

At certain vantage points, the rising sun makes some excellent reflections.

At certain vantage points, the rising sun makes some excellent reflections.

Reflections are almost better than the thing being reflected. Some philosopher can probably explain that.

Reflections are almost better than the thing being reflected. Some philosopher can probably explain that.

Categories : Venetian-ness
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Feb
01

Free pass? Well, yes, sort of

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This picture has no relevance to this post. I haven't got the strength to make pictures that would demonstrate all the salient points, and they'd be depressing anyway. So we'll just look at lovely things to remember how wonderful it is to be here.

This picture has no relevance to this post. I haven’t got the strength to make pictures that would demonstrate all the salient points, and they’d be depressing anyway. So we’ll just look at lovely things to remember how wonderful it is to be here.

The statement has long since become a cliche’: “Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.”

But the saying doesn’t hint at the means by which the insanity is inflicted.  I can enlighten you.

It’s bureaucracy.  Which makes sense, considering the apparent skills of the many people (I am pointing no fingers, nor naming names — they know who they are), the individuals, groups, political parties, sewing circles, volleyball teams, whoever it may be that creates ever more complicated regulations for achieving the simplest ends.

Naturally I have a personal case study to submit as evidence.  And it will not surprise anyone to hear that it involves the ACTV.  The public transport — I hesitate to call it a system, much less a service — organization is like an enormous special-needs class (no disrespect meant to the real thing).

We have known for years that the ACTV issues a free monthly pass to Venetians who are 75 years old or more (note: there will be a catch to this, because it is too simple).  I knew it when Lino reached that landmark, and when he passed the subsequent landmark.  I became obsessed with the fact that we were paying for something each month that he could get for free.

So what was holding me, him, us back?  The application process.  Because while the ACTV may say that they want you to have this benefit (something they have never said, but let’s pretend), they struggle painfully against providing it.

Other Venetians who have the free pass, including some of our close relatives, have pounded on us several times a year with the hammerblows of “It’s really easy to get.”  I knew that couldn’t be true.

But guess what?  I found out this morning that it was, in fact, easy to get — up until Dec. 31, 2014.  But we started the application process on January 28, just after a mass of new regulations went into effect, and discovered ourselves at the foot of the bureaucratic equivalent of the North Face of the Eiger.  Yet another example of the “You should’ve been here yesterday” that haunts my life.

But we didn’t know that detail when we turned for succor to one extremely tired but meticulous and conscientious man in an office dedicated to helping citizens with various forms of paperwork — an office run, not by the city, may I note, but by one of the many labor unions.  Say what you will about unions, this is one spot on the globe where generations of sacrifice and effort have borne some kind of fruit.

I may have mentioned that the applicant has to be 75 or over.  Now comes the catch.  It’s not enough to be old — you also have to be poor (a maximum annual income of 16,631.71 euros, or $18,757.60).  Happily, I guess, we are in that category.  But don’t take our word for it.  They want proof.

IMG_5202  putt

Here is what Lino had to bring to the sainted man embroiled in completing our application process for the ACTV free pass:

His ID card (to confirm date of birth, also residency, also citizenship, I guess).

His codice fiscale (like a Social Security number).

A statement from the bank summarizing our average monthly balance.

A document from the bank detailing our mortgage, our monthly payments, and when it will be paid off.

A many-page document from our accountant which itemizes his income and outgo for 2014, as sent to the Income Tax people.

The document registered with the “catasto,” a city agency for which I cannot find an intelligible translation.  This details the precise dimensions of our domicile and assigns an official assessment of its value.  Just to make sure that we’re not buying an apartment the size of a Welcome mat for  800,000 euros (not the price) on an income that’s below the poverty line.  You know how sneaky those rich people are, pretending to be poor, which in fact is not a joke.  I give the ACTV slight credit for attempting to ensure that we’re not in that category of person, although that category of person often manages to find a way to — as the saying goes here — have their wife drunk and the cask of wine still full.  If you get my drift.  I say, Make the rule Age or Destitution, but not both.  But no.

My ID card.

My codice fiscale.

Acquiring these documents entailed two trips to the bank, one trip to the accountant, and two trips to the union office, where we had to wait for most of one morning for our turn, like sitting in a hospital emergency room without a serious emergency.

NOW we have to wait 15 days, then call the sainted man to find out if he’s got the approval, so we can take the ACTV application form to the ACTV office and get the pass.  Lino says the two-week wait is because all our information will be sent to some federal office where our data will be compared with their data, just in case Lino turns out to be one of those devious rich people who tries to pull a fast one.

I might be inclined to applaud the organization’s efforts to avoid being exploited, but there are so many loopholes through which the rich easily pass that it seems ludicrous to devastate everybody’s gonads just to show that you can.

But I may not be seeing this the right — I mean the ACTV — way.

Just give him the pass already.

January is an excellent month in the lagoon -- the typical extreme low tides bring all sorts of birds to the exposed mudflats. There is always one grey heron to be seen here, though rarely this close.  He was born with his own transportation, lucky him.

January is an excellent month in the lagoon — the typical extreme low tides bring all sorts of birds to the exposed mudflats. There is always one grey heron to be seen here, though rarely this close. He was born with his own transportation, lucky him.

 

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Categories : Venetian-ness
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