Archive for August, 2017

These ladies evidently don’t just “run into” each other — they look like these canal-side confabs are just the latest episodes in an endless series. “Game of Mops and Grandchildren,” perhaps?  They could well have been in adjoining bassinets in the hospital — it wouldn’t surprise me. People here are linked for life.

This morning we were walking home under the trees lining viale Garibaldi and, as more or less usual, we ran into someone Lino knows; a small, trim, grey-haired man with a pleasant smile and the most benevolent eyes.  We have encountered him at various moments over the years here and there, and he never changes, except I think he’s lost a little weight.

“Ciao, Federico,” Lino said, giving him several warm pats on the cheek, as if he were a little boy.  These pats are valid for anybody, at any age, and it’s almost unheard-of for someone to consider them strange, much less objectionable.  Children grow up being patted and I, for one, am glad to see there’s no expiration date. In this case Lino has a lifetime pass, because they’ve known each other forever.  In fact, they used to work together.

So, they exchange a few random comments about nothing, the sort of conversation that has no calories, sugar, sodium, trans-fats, and only the tiniest amount of carbohydrates, just to keep it going.

Lino made some remark about the atrocious condition of the world, and this was Federico’s opening: “Why do we not do what God tells us to do?” he asked, which is an excellent question.  “You could read your Bible sometime,” he continued amiably.  “It’s free.”

This suggestion didn’t surprise Lino or me — in fact, I was waiting for it, and so was Lino. Lino likes to needle him because Federico is a Jehovah’s Witness, and this morning he was even accompanied by a tall young man who just listened.

“Is this your apprentice?”, or “assistant,” or “disciple,” or “trainee,” or whatever Lino asked, even though it was obvious.  They were both wearing neckties, an object which is so rarely seen in this neighborhood as to be almost an archaeological artifact, but is an admirable part of the uniform.  I think they’d go without shoes before they’d leave off the necktie.

After a few more brief sallies — how old are you now (72) and where do you live (Giudecca), we all resumed our paths, we toward home, Federico toward whatever fields cried out for cultivation.  So to speak.

“Ah, Federico,” Lino said affectionately.  “He and his mother used to live in Cannaregio, but in the acqua alta of 1966 they lost everything.  The Jehovah’s Witnesses helped them out, and so here he is, this is what he does.”  I make a mental note that he would have been 21 at the time, an age when a major good deed coupled with some urgent explanations can have an effect. Not judging, just saying.

“So he keeps at it,” Lino continued, who is always a bit bemused by the man’s constancy and imperturbability, though if you’re not constant and imperturbable you’ll never make it as a proselytizer.  Just ask Saint Paul.

Anyway, “He’ll be out ringing doorbells, any time — Christmas Day, New Year’s morning at 9:00 AM.”  Lino stops to mimic a sleep-addled man going to a window and shouting down, “What?  Who?”  A pause to indicate Federico’s inaudible salutation.

“Just wait a minute,” the sleep-addled man says, then Lino mimics upending a full container out the window.

“He got everything — people would pour buckets of water on him.  Even chamberpots full of piss.”

Excuse me?

“Ha!  Just ask him about Murano that time.”  Which I won’t.  But I note that while Saint Paul was beaten and stoned, the record doesn’t show that that little joke was ever played on him, though it probably totally was.

“How do you know him?”

“We worked together at the Aeronavali.  Me, Conte, the other guys, we’d all rag him all the time.”  And what work did he do?

“He was the uomo di fatica,” the man of toil and exhaustion, the menial drudge which every company has, the guy whose job is the heavy lifting, shlepping, the hewer of wood and drawer of water.

Which means that Federico long ago made his peace with his modest place in the world, in and out of Kingdom Hall, and as we walked off I found myself dwelling more than usual on his embarrassingly simple question.  Why don’t we do what God says?  (That’s a rhetorical question, so hold off on the comments.  I know the answer.)

They probably grew up with the bear, as well.

While we’re on the subject of ex-colleagues from the Aeronavali, a while back we were hanging around the Arsenale vaporetto stop (I can’t remember why).  It was early evening and the light and the air were calming down.  A very nicely dressed older couple got off and were walking towards us.  They appeared to be going to some sort of party, or special gathering.  “Ciao, Marco” (not his real name). “Ciao, Lino.”

And that was…..? “That was Marco.  He started as an apprentice at the Aeronavali the same day I did,” Lino recalled. By the number of colleagues he keeps running into, it would seem there had been thousands.

“We were working on T-6 Harvard planes” — of course Lino would remember that; I throw it in for any aviation fans who might be reading.  He likes to set the scene and I respect that.

After a few years of this, Marco began to go to night school.  “He was studying to become a surveyor.  We all knew this, and we knew he would sometimes go off somewhere to study during working hours.  Maybe everybody knew it, anyway, somebody might come looking for him and we’d be all ‘Gosh, I don’t know, he was here a minute ago, any of you guys seen Marco?’…..”

Eventually he went to take his final exams, but cleverly went to an institute somewhere in Italy’s Deep South, where the grading was known to be much — make that MUCH — easier.  He passed.  But that wasn’t the end of the story.

Sebastiano Venier and the lion of the Republic he defended so brilliantly. I’ve seen two humans in line at the supermarket strike almost these exact poses and expressions, even though they may be the best friends ever.  And not have wings and swords.

He registered at the University of Venice to take courses leading to a degree in business administration.  Armed with that diploma, he returned to the Aeronavali as the amministratore delegato, or chief executive. Eventually he married a woman who owned some factory, Lino says, and he became director of the factory.  I’m supposing that was the lady who accompanied him.

“I remember the day I gave my notice,” Lino recalled.  “Marco said to me, ‘Come up to my office a minute.’  And we talked about my reasons for leaving, and then he opened his desk drawer and took out a small pin shaped like a swallow.  That was the emblem of the Aeronavali, and it was made of gold.  One day I lost it, somewhere out on the street.  You have no idea how sorry I am not to have it anymore.”

I must have five or six single earrings, their mates lost forever, which annoys the hoo out of me.  But that doesn’t make me anywhere near as sorry as he is.

Tomorrow, no telling what unforeseen encounter awaits.

Friends come in all shapes and sizes, as we know. Too bad they aren’t as easy to adjust as this tailor’s mannequin.



Categories : Venetian-ness
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Hey! Where’d everybody go?

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While some people have been working themselves up about the mobs of tourists in Venice (tourists in Venice?  I’m shocked!  Shocked!) our little lobe of the city has quietly tiptoed away, its denizens going to the mountains, Hammerfest, Saskatoon, the Tuvan Grasslands, anywhere but here where they can enjoy a little peace and quiet and — I hope — not to have become tourists in turn, if you take my meaning.

Between Ferragosto (August 15, as you know) and the onslaught of the Film Festival is this small sliver of time which is like a deep, peaceful breath. Even though the heat continues to enervate us, night and day —

If, for some reason, you lost your mind and decided to come to Venice in August, your main survival tool is liquids.  Lots of them, as you see.

— there is an atmosphere of restfulness along via Garibaldi which is almost like vacation in itself.  And that is because many of the shops are closed. Temporary inconvenience to the few remaining inhabitants is more than mitigated by the tranquillity, and besides, it’s not as if ALL the fruit-and-vegetable sellers are gone, and yes, there is one butcher left who can slice you some pork chops.  In any case, we now have the mastodontic Coop supermarket to take up the slack (open every day from 8:00 AM to 10:00 PM, if you can believe it), manned by staff which does not always look happy to be helping, which I can understand even though they do have air-conditioning.

Let me take you on a brief perambulation of via Garibaldi, rejoicing in the “closed for vacation” (ferie) signs on the windows and doors.  It’s as if the supposedly avaricious and insatiable merchants had all suddenly said, “Nah, we don’t care.  We should stay here sweltering just on the chance that SOMEBODY might wander in, even by mistake?”  Because most of their regular customers are also far away.  I’m only here because I have to be, but I get to enjoy this moment and they don’t.

You’ll have to go somewhere else until August 21 to buy laundry detergent, lipstick, rubber kitchen gloves, or a bucket and mop — the everything-store is shut. You should have thought about needing that shampoo or scouring powder sooner.

Now is not the moment to be caught without underwear or dish towels or handkerchiefs. The dry-goods ladies aren’t coming back till the 28th.

No shoes, even on sale (“saldi”) until the 21st.

Anything in the optical line, from high-class sunglasses to replacing a screw to a bottle of contact-lens wetting solution is unobtainable until the 21st.  Still, he’s only taking a week.  That seems very, very short to me.  I could wait for the lens-wiping cloth a little longer.

Just as soon as you got used to the fact that this hair salon was open only in from 8:30 – 12:30 in July and August, they go and close altogether.  Still, they only took four days off, which I think is extremely strange and unreasonably short, and I, personally, would not have advised it.

But we are evidently expected to walk around with our heads wrapped in scarves because, as you see, the OTHER salon (yes, there are two) has also elected to go relax everything up to and including their hair, somewhere else.

The toys-and-school-supplies-and-paper-goods store is giving itself three weeks off. Once school starts again they’ll have more than plenty to do.  If you need an eraser or some lead for your mechanical pencil, too bad.

The butcher has put the prosciutto away, and if you’re pining to make fegato alla veneziana you’ll just have to wait. Eat some clams or some scrambled eggs meanwhile, or trek down the street to Alberto the butcher, who is hanging tough.  Better yet, have some gelato.  That’s one type of shop that couldn’t possibly close in the summer.

Well, that settles that. You absolutely cannot have any problem either with your computer or your cell phone until Gianni gets back. There is no Plan B. The mere sight of this sign makes me cower.

Want to play the lottery or buy some smokes? You’ll have to go back up the street to the other two places that will provide you with these vital services because the mother and her eccentric son in this emporium are somewhere else.  They have helpfully given two alternate shops, but I can’t understand why they didn’t list the one two minutes down from the top of via Garibaldi.  Perhaps they’re involved in a feud.  It happens.

The indefatigable Fabio at the Trattoria alla Rampa is off Work A (feeding people) but only in order to exhaust himself doing Work B, otherwise known as “maintenance.” He knows what it’s going to be like when the Film Festival starts and he’s going to be ready — to be precise, on September 4.

Some shops don’t need signs. Everybody knows this is a pastry shop, and everybody knows that pastry shops pretty much close for some time in August. The reason: Cream just doesn’t have the same appeal at room temperature as it does frozen and sitting in a cone. Everything is hard to work with in the heat, from chocolate to your business partner.

The faithful and doomed-to-be-photographed-forever fruit and vegetable boat. Massimo and Luca used to clear away all the boxes and crates when they went on vacation, and the sight of the bare deck was a strange and memorable moment in the waning summer days. But as you see, they just said the heck with it. Yes, there are two other produce sellers on the street, but I can tell you that they are nowhere near the same quality. So we soldier on…

…but not particularly encouraged by the ominous note at the bottom: “To reopen on 25 August. Maybe.”

Giorgio’s boat might as well have a sign on it because when he’s in Venice he goes out fishing virtually every single day, barring typhoons of either the meteorological or domestic type. To see the boat tied up in broad daylight is to know that the world has stopped.






Categories : Venetian-ness
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No tourists will be pictured in this post.

Several thoughtful friends and readers sent me a link to a recent article in the New York Times, just the latest in an endless, repetitive series of articles that bewail the imminent degradation of Venice to the level of Disneyland.

Me, I have to say that this is a slur on Disneyland, where the behavior and the trash which are inescapable here would never be tolerated in Orlando or Anaheim (or Paris, I guess). I’ve often thought that running Venice like Disneyland might actually be a good thing.  But I realize that the comparison is intended to contrast something “real” (Venice) to something “phony, pretend, not real” (Disneyland).

I thought the New York Times published news, but this is not news!  It must have been a slow news day (remember those?) because they might as well have published a story revealing that water runs downhill.  This subject comes up at least once a year — it’s part of a squad of topics that are as predictable as the tide.  Motondoso is another (one or two blitzes a year, many fines, much outrage, everything goes back to the way it was), as is pickpocketing, and brawls involving assorted illegal vendors, and corrupt city councilors, and matricidal sons with histories of mental illness, and also that the city has no money.

Back to Venice as Disneyland, which is code for “daily pillaging and sacking by barbaric hordes of unspeakable tourists.”  This happens in the summer, of course, which is when tourists go on vacation, and when it’s hot an irresistible desire wells up in your tourist to soak his/her feet in the canals and also to jump off bridges. IT HAPPENS EVERY YEAR, PEOPLE.

I am not excusing it, but I do want to mention a few things which are not the result of outrage fatigue (though there may be some of that).

One is that Venice is not unique, at least in this regard.  The most superficial exploration online reveals that the same imbeciles, or their cretinous relatives, go to Florence and Rome and do stupid things and damage monuments there too. I don’t know if anyone jumps off the Ponte Vecchio, but I wouldn’t be surprised. Maybe this behavior is somehow more objectionable in the Venetian setting than historic cities inland, but that makes no sense.

Clearly these tourists are not visiting irreplaceable cities with incalculable value in the history of the world.  They are on vacation and aren’t at home, their parents are nowhere to be seen and they can drink all they want to.  Even if these tourists were in Ulaanbaatar or Rancho Cucamonga, I would be willing to bet they’d be drinking and doing stupid things.  As for loutish tourists who are adults, I cannot find any excuse for them.  At all. If you don’t know that walking around half-naked and leaving your trash on windowsills is ugly, I can’t help you.

The most obvious solution would be to turn Venice into Singapore-on-the-lagoon.  Let’s place five policemen with truncheons on every corner (hm — how many corners does Venice have? That would be a research project for the next time we’re snowed in). No disrespect meant to Singapore.

But even if all those policemen were to exist, which they don’t, the city is not capable of or interested in dealing with these masses of tourists, regardless of age.  Stories written in high dudgeon come out every single year about the slobs and their antics, but by that time it’s too late.

There have occasionally been neatly dressed squads of multilingual young people — the “decorum” agents —  fanning out around the Piazza San Marco to intervene in cases of nasty and brutish behavior.  But this year they only began their work a few days ago.  We’ve already had two full months of summer and you wait till August to bring them on?  That’s kind of crazy.

There is either a short or a very long story behind the disposition of this wedding festoon, whoever did it.

My second point is that “tourists” is too general a term to be useful. Sure there are plenty of revolting ones, but I see a good number of tourists in via Garibaldi who have undoubtedly come to see the Biennale, and many of them are dressed really well.  Some of them really well.  I like them, so I guess that means they don’t count as “tourists” in the New York Times sense.  And, may I also say, I see plenty of Venetian men and boys (also girls and women, to be fair) in the summer in our zone that look and dress like they’ve just been rescued from the rubble — the same scuzzy tank tops and skeezy shorts and crappy crocs and everything else that makes those terrible tourists so objectionable.  But that’s okay because they’re Us and not Them? Just asking.

What about the tourists who do not mill around in massive droves and provide dramatic photos that make the world shudder, but who stand on the vaporetto dock smack-dab in front of the exit area, making it impossible for all the people on the boat who want to disembark to actually get off? Can we get policemen to deal with them?   Or the suddenly oblivious tourists in the supermarket who leave their just-emptied shopping trolley literally at your feet at the check-out counter?  Do they do that back home in Braunschweig or Rostov-on-Don, or is it just that old Venetian magic that makes them act like they’ve never been out of the house?  Let’s get policemen to deal with them too! My point is that if everybody who comes here wants to behave as if they’d never heard of common sense, much less minimal manners, how many policemen will we need?  And the real question, which will never be answered, is why do they act that way?

On the other hand, let’s look for a minute at the much-maligned day-trippers, who I see at 4:30 PM along the Riva degli Schivoni, huddled, sweating, exhausted, waiting to board the big launch back to wherever they came from, scrunched onto church steps in order to sit for a minute or clustered in nearby calli where they can have at least a shard of shade.  There are plenty of tourists here that I feel really sorry for, because basically the city has given them a jumbo-sized “Just suck it up!”

I act like I’ve read the article, but I just skimmed it with half-closed eyes because these articles are always sprinkled with misstatements and half-truths, and drone on about the same problems which are never resolved, thereby rendering the droning pretty much useless.  One such half- (actually quarter-) truth is found in the caption of the Times’s photo showing the young woman with the police.  It states with refreshing fervor that the feast of the Redentore is “one weekend of the year when Venetians take back their city.”  Well, not really.  Before a journalist starts patting the Venetians on the back for somehow briefly escaping the clutches of all those tourists, he or she should know that about 90 percent of the festivizers are not Venetian.

Nope, sorry.  They might be Italian, and many are from the Veneto, but they’re still tourists; some come up the lagoon from Pellestrina and Chioggia in their big fishing boats, but most of the big motorboats are carrying people from the hinterland who come down the rivers from Padova and Treviso and all around the lagoon but who are definitely not Venetians.

Furthermore, the past few years has seen a terrific increase in enormous party boats which provide the ride, dinner, and deafening disco music to hundreds of passengers.  I don’t know who they are, but I’m pretty sure they’re not Venetians.  Some dauntless Venetians are still willing to risk their lives in their smaller boats, with or without motors, because it’s lovely to float around for the fireworks, but they know that after the grand finale this flotilla of hundreds-of-horsepower motorboats of all sizes will head out at high speed, in the dark, driven by people who have been drinking who pretty much don’t know the area.

Excuse me for going on about this, but that photo caption needed correction. In our neighborhood, and at Sant’ Elena, many Venetians now eat the Redentore dinner at home, or on tables set up outside, then watch the fireworks from the fondamenta.  I don’t think that qualifies as “taking back” their city.  We used to love to go out in our boat, but we can’t anymore because we want to survive the night which has been taken away from us by non-Venetians.  And by the look of it, it’s never coming back. Who am I supposed to blame this time?

So people want to come to Venice? They can’t all be crazy.


Categories : Tourism in Venice
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spending money much?

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It’s probably just me, always thinking of how much everything costs and wondering about how people deal with the price of Venice.  Someone will remind me that Venice is priceless, but that’s only until the bill comes.

I used to think that to be a young person traveling around Europe in the summer meant sleeping on the beach and buying one banana (unit: each) for lunch and so forth.  And as I look at the young people swarming the streets and clogging the vaporettos, it appears that the classic plan is still pretty much in operation.

But this morning I found myself wedged into the #1 going up the Grand Canal (does everyone really swell in the heat?  And their luggage too?), next to two, or maybe it was three, young American girls.  They had their big Patagonia duffel bags cinched onto their backs, which implied “backpacker with five euros to last till school starts.”  But when I suggested to one of them to uncinch her bag and put it on the floor (so she wouldn’t be taking up space that two other people might occupy, which I didn’t say), we had an unexpected conversation.

Me: “So, are you enjoying Venice?”

She: “Oh yes, even though we just got in yesterday and we’re leaving this afternoon. We’re going to Porec (Croatia).”

“That’s nice, you’ll like it.”

“Last night we had dinner at the Marriott Hotel on that island, and today we’re having lunch at the Gritti Palace.”

Evidently their brief time in the world’s most beautiful city, etc. etc., was to be marked by comestibles and not by masterpieces by Titian.  And they weren’t using half measures, either.

Here’s the dinner menu at the “Sagra” restaurant at the J.W. Marriott on the “Isola delle Rose.”  This island is still referred to as Sacca Sessola by Venetians, and the buildings now boasting five-star everything were once occupied by people with tuberculosis and other respiratory diseases.  “Island of the Roses” sounds so much nicer, and so much less Venetian.

But maybe they didn’t feed the inner backpacker at “Sagra.”  Maybe they went to “Dopolavoro,” the hotel’s Michelin-starred restaurant.

I didn’t ask where they had slept.  I’m assuming it wasn’t on the beach.  With bananas.

Down along the Riva dei Sette Martiri, another vision from the rich-o-sphere briefly appeared.  I’d like to say I’m hard to impress, having seen Barry Diller’s and Paul Allen’s yachts here, not to mention some of those Russian oligarchs who come here to oligarch.  But this is certainly worth at least a second look.

“Venus” is 255.91 feet/78 meters long, but, as we possibly agree, size isn’t everything.

This much we know: It was designed by Philip Starck and launched in 2012.  The man who ordered (and paid for it) died in 2011, so he never saw it, much less lolled on it.  I’ll give you a hint: He always wore black turtlenecks.

The website of Yacht Charter Fleet published this picture, even though the yacht is “not believed to be available for charter.”  So we can’t even dream about this yacht?  Is that why you’re showing it to us?

What some charter agencies seem unwilling to state is the identity of the rich person who commissioned it, though one agency says that it “is widely regarded to be Steve Jobs’ yacht.” I’m a stranger to these realms, but why would it be difficult to know this?  The current owner is Laurene Powell, Steve Jobs’ widow, though that doesn’t prove anything.  In any case, it’s too hot these days (up in the high 90’s) to begin to formulate a sermon, not even a small but perfectly formed preachment, but I will note that (A) it cost 100,000,000 euros ($118,145,000) and (B) Jobs died before it was completed.  I don’t suppose anyone ever wondered where all that iMoney they spent on iThings ever went, but now you know that at least some of it is floating around out here.

Boat: check. Friends: check. Having good time: checkity check. The only thing the people on the big yachts have got that we don’t is air conditioning. (Note: I am not this lovely sylph.  I am taking the picture.)



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Categories : Boatworld
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