Archive for November, 2017

Nov
26

bring on the laurels

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Let’s see…1,124 graduates were allowed at least two people (let’s say their parents) — that means 3,372 people in the Guests enclosure. There was still room outside the barriers for plenty of unofficially invited friends, relatives, and the curious to mill around, which was pleasant until the sun began to go down. Then a chilly breeze began to make the event feel more like waiting for an overdue bus in Buffalo.

Two wonderful young women who have rowed with us over the past three years (when their studies would permit) graduated from Ca’ Foscari, the University of Venice, last Friday: The middle of the Piazza San Marco was awash in diplomas, theirs along with 1,122 other exuberant “doctors” of whatever their subject was.

This was the 20th year that a mass graduation ceremony has been held here for students from Venice and Treviso.  The typical procedure, as we have seen in the case of some other friends, is that the candidate confronts a panel of professors and is interrogated on the subject of their thesis, nerve-wracking for the candidate and just wracking for the friends and family sitting behind him/her because there are no microphones.  It’s like watching a closed-circuit television with the sound off, except you’re right there.

But for whatever administrative reason there may be, the November group was rounded up and given the graduation ceremony all’ americana, complete with mortarboards crowning their heads (though some received their more traditional laurel wreath afterwards).  Clearly one reason why it was held in the piazza was because there isn’t anywhere else, except maybe the soccer stadium, that would hold three thousand people.

Anyone getting their degree is said to have received their laurea (LAOW-rey-ah).  Or, as Toto’, the immortal Neapolitan comic, earnestly termed it in a film, their laura (LOW-ra), which cracks me up because that’s just Laura.

Apart from the amazing setting, the experience was Classic Graduation: There was confusion, emotion, and the boilerplate commencement address(es) focusing on their future and the need to continue to nurture their dreams and not to ever let the world beat them down.  “Yours is not a point of arrival, but of departure,” said Paola Mar, councilor for Tourism representing the city administration.  “Be passionately curious and ask yourselves every day the ‘why’ of things.  Curiosity can guide you into new paths.”  There was praise for their perseverance and their talents and collective hopes for whatever comes next in their lives.  I have no idea how a graduation can be considered official without the majestic soundtrack of “Pomp and Circumstance,” or at least the Triumphal March from Aida, but graduate they did.

I have no pictures of our friends together because I never saw them, being on the outside of the sacred enclosure where parents and close relatives were huddled, shivering as the sun slid behind the Ala Napoleonica.  Everyone was listening to the names as they were called — the list was so long that the university divided it into half at the letter “M,” and called out the names in pairs.  Happily for me, Marta and Camilla’s last names begin with “C” and “D,” so I went home (by now I was shivering too) as soon as I heard them called.  I missed seeing the jubilant thousand fling their mortarboards into the air, so no photo of the peak moment.  I’m happy enough just to be warm and imagine it.

The entrance for guests was on the east side of the Piazza, facing the basilica of San Marco.  The sun and anticipation made everybody happy.

Security was definitely checking tickets at the entrance. No “I’m with the band” dodges here.

Speaking of security, there was a certain amount around.

Family festivizing at the Caffe Lavena.

And there was plenty of this, of course.

The crush and confusion was even greater on the “Entrance Students” side, because each graduate seemed to come with an entourage of friends and admirers.

But why so many in black? Isn’t this supposed to be a happy occasion?

Though black was clearly not always to be taken seriously. I think.

Not black at all! Who is this free spirit who has burst his way into the spectrum?

And this personage in a suit and tie. This ensemble is shocking in its perfection, not to mention originality. I hope he wasn’t being ironic.

Bouquets were everywhere.

I’d consider going back to school if this guy would bring me a bouquet.

I could have dedicated this entire post to bouquets, now that I think of it.

One family said it with balloons. As each name was announced there would be scattered bursts of cheers from the reaches of the piazza, like little fireworks of happiness.

As the names dragged on, and the air got cooler and people got more tired, the edges of the piazza began to take on a “Just get it over with” atmosphere.

Still, if you were to need two official witnesses, who better than the Venetian Republic represented as Justice, and the archangel Gabriel covered with gold leaf?  They’ve got your back, graduates, at least for today.

 

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Nov
18

pitching in

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“Tarring the Boat,” 1873, by Edouard Manet (Barnes Foundation, Lower Merion, PA).  Lino was born in time to see this seemingly simple procedure before it went the way of the dodo.  One man gripped a large handful of blazing reeds, and the second man spread the scalding tar by means of a stick which was tightly wrapped at the end with pieces of sheepskin.  The burning reeds kept the pitch at a higher and therefore more spreadable temperature as Man 2 laboriously applied it to the boat’s hull.  I have seen a gondola-builder use these burning reeds, passing them slowly across the hull to gradually remove the varnish; he told me that the lagoon reeds emitted a flame that was more humid than that of many other potential tools, and was thus less traumatic to the boat.  You see?  People don’t use a technique just because there isn’t any other — there is almost always a reason.

Here is a new warp (or weft) to the fabric of life in LinoLand, otherwise known as the place where he has known just about everybody still left in Venice.  Or in this case, not still left.

The case in point: A death notice we came across for a certain Gastone Nardo.  Strangely, this is someone I also knew (a little, and very late. Like, I met him twice.)  He was the gondola-maker at the Squero San Trovaso when I came to Venice, and I was invited to a boat-launching there one freezing February day.  That’s the most I can say about him on my own account.  But of course Lino knows more.

“Well,” Lino said, “he wasn’t always a squerariol (boatbuilder) He came from a family of pegoloti.”  “Pegola” is Venetian for “pitch,” not as in baseballs but as in scorching hot tar, which was the immemorial way to water- and shipworm-proof boats until the middle of the last century.  Knowing how to handle, and apply, boiling pitch to the hull of a boat is probably not something you’d learn as a weekend hobby; it was certainly an important craft.  But you can understand that a pegoloto was several hundred rungs below squerariol, so I admire him intensely for having undertaken to learn how to build gondolas.  Working your way up from chopping lettuce at Quiznos to chef at the Restaurant Le Meurice is one thing, but it isn’t much easier working up from a searing cauldron of pine-derived hydrocarbons to constructing one of the great boats of the world. But he did it.

A friend walks past a recent harvest of reeds by the lagoon of Caorle. They were also useful, not to say ideal, for many uses other than boat-scorching, often woven together in various ways by fishermen and sailors to form latticework known as “grisiole” in Venetian.

But just because nobody uses pitch anymore doesn’t mean it has left Venice altogether — it lives on in a very common daily phrase which is almost as useful as the stuff itself.  It’s a verb, actually: “impegolar” (im-pegh-o-YAR), to metaphorically cover with pitch, to cleverly entrap somebody in a way that a tiptoeing saber-toothed tiger at La Brea would perfectly understand.

I’ve never heard it used by someone admitting to having committed this act on someone else — it’s always been the person who has been deviously empitched who will say it.  Life in Venice, and anywhere else, still offers far too many opportunities to use this expression. Generous, well-meaning, let-there-be-peace-and-let-it-begin-with-me people are fated to walk right into somebody’s loaded tarbrush.

A perfect example of this phenomenon happened to Lino years ago at the hands of his late brother-in-law, Sergio; they were two guys who have rarely, if ever, been known to block out a cry for help.  Sergio, especially, was famed across campi and campielli as one of the best-natured men ever to walk the earth, so of course he was exploited.  But he didn’t go alone.

One day he agreed to help some neighbor carry “a table and four chairs” downstairs and transport them to an apartment on what was virtually the street next door.  Keep “four chairs” and “street next door” firmly in mind.

A boat was needed.  Lino had a small boat.  Would Lino help him fulfill this modest and glowing-with-goodness little project?  Of course Lino would.

And of course Lino and Sergio found themselves “impegolai” in a gigantic moving project that lasted two whole days, schlepping chairs, tables, huge plants in massive clay pots, a divan, credenza, and all the kitchen furnishings including the stove down four, or maybe it was five, flights of stairs. Moving Day! Meanwhile, the beneficiary of this effort, the man of the house, lay peacefully sleeping in bed, and they were even cautioned to work quietly so as not to disturb him.  Naturally this apartment was on the top floor of the building.

And all of this cargo had to carried into the new apartment, naturally, including the bed which was available after the man of the house had awakened (not because of any random noise by the trio of movers), and gone out to do something else, thoughtfully getting out of their way.

From Point A to Point B in Lino’s little boat. The inconvenience of the water route is matched only by the inconvenience there would have been by land. In this case, Lino and Sergio had some help from Bruno, but Bruno was about the size of Willie Shoemaker, so I’m not sure how much he could carry per trip. Still, help is never to be sneered at.

Do not think that finding yourself impegola‘ once means it will never happen again, because  the trick is that these projects always start small (“four chairs”).  So one time the parish asked Sergio if he’d carry away “a few packages” of old newspapers to be recycled.  Yes, even in those long-ago days paper was usefully disposed of at a macero (a pulping mill) in Campo San Silvestro where a trendy little bar-cafe is now lounging around.  Boat needed, with Lino, though only for half of the project.

In this case the cargo — mountains of newspapers — was merely to be unloaded at Lino’s family’s waterside storeroom. Sergio figured out how to get them to the pulping place on his own. Maybe Lino told him that his boat couldn’t take it anymore.

By now I don’t have to say that the “few packages” turned out to be towers of stacked newspapers requiring many roundtrips.  But these things never happen on a boring Saturday afternoon when you literally have nothing to do.  In this case, it was the Saturday of the Redentore, which sort of a summertime version of Christmas Eve, if you want some comparison between the importance of what you’re doing and what the family expects you to be doing.

So instead of preparing his boat for the evening’s festivities (eating, drinking, hanging out with other boat-borne friends, watching fireworks), Lino was rowing his boat around half of Venice again and again to help out Sergio because Sergio said he’d help out the parish.  Why that particular day and not the following Monday?  Because otherwise it would have been convenient, and if you find yourself impegola‘ it’s precisely  because the activity involved cannot be postponed and it must be at the least convenient moment and because only you can accomplish it.

To be fair, Sergio’s Redentore was also twisted out of shape, because that’s the world that people with hearts of gold inhabit.  Beautiful, true, but  completely tacky with pitch.

A few steps from the Arsenal is the “First Sidestreet of the Pitch.” Must have smelled amazing. Everybody with headaches all day and insomnia by night.  Perhaps not much different from the people living next to the pulping mill.

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