Archive for January, 2018


Just glimpsing

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One could do very well here not reading or listening to the news — though eventually one would miss something good — but there would be no point in living in Venice if you couldn’t wander around just looking at things.  And things there always are, needing no introduction and often no comprehension.  If you require that the world make sense, don’t come here.  Go somewhere logical, like Naples, or Lagos.  I speak from experience.

But back to Venice:

This building has clearly led several useful lives.  You don’t need that archway anymore? Brick it up and punch out a window. But the arch presented problems for later revisions; the owners had to slice a corner off the panel on the wall near its arch ring to accommodate it.  And what to do with that fireplace hovering above it?  That fireplace has become  a small obsession of mine. Its floor should be parallel to the street, one would think, but the arch has left it to fend for itself.

Speaking of trying to fit things into a squeezy space there is this barge, which needed to park here. No room? No problem! Just let the part that doesn’t fit stretch out into the street. It wouldn’t surprise me to see a truck parked like this in some city on the mainland, so why should it make me blink here by the canal?

This is a very happy scene. A few whiles back, somebody smashed the plaque and offering box to bits.  In a cit y where everything is tending to fall to pieces that might not merit much attention.  But the inscription has always intrigued me: “Acknowledging Archpriest Giovanni Cotin 1915 1918 the inhabitants of Quintavalle.  Offerings.”  Quintavalle is a little lobe of land behind the church of San Pietro di Castello, and it is truly the back of beyond.  What Giovanni Cotin did to merit the love and gratitude of its residents is something I AM going to find out.  But meanwhile, by some miraculous hand(s), the damage has been repaired.  The story could end here, but I am fascinated by the fact that they installed an awning to protect the relief image of the Madonna and Child from the blazing sun. The image is of bronze, for heaven’s sake. Does bronze need protection? I wouldn’t have thought so, but perhaps they think it’s the mother and her baby, and not the art work itself, that need some shade, which is enchanting, and somehow shows as much reverence and affection as the plaque.  Quintavalle, I underestimated you.

Let’s move indoors.  There is an art to managing the superstitions involving the number 13.  We were invited to a festive lunch in a popular and crowded place where they tape a piece of paper by your table to indicate the time and number of people to be seated. (Also the name of the person who made the reservation, which I have removed.) It is known to be desperately bad luck to write that there are 13 people in a group — as I understand it, which I mostly don’t — so they have cleverly written the number of diners as 12 + 1. It doesn’t seem that there BEING 13 people is a problem, you just can’t write it.  But the time is 1300 hours, or 1:00 PM. Obviously “13” gets all kinds of waivers in the luck department.

More messages, and chalk is just as good as carved stone if the sentiment has that lapidary character. On the bar at a cafe by the Rialto market: “The client is always right … is a concept invented by a client…The person who is right is one who is polite, courteous and understanding of whoever is working.” If you don’t agree, by all means feel free to get out and go elsewhere.  That’s written in invisible chalk.

On the door to the restroom of a bar/cafe. Speaks for itself.

I’m on this staircase in the Doge’s Palace only once a year — it’s closed to the public — so I have to make the most of it. Late afternoon makes so many things look good.


Categories : Venetian-ness
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MOSE: It’s just money

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By this point, the mechanics and components of MOSE could only be interesting to engineers, and maybe not even to them.  So here are some pictures of the lagoon which do not show it at as the monstrous adversary against which Venice must be defended at all costs (“all costs” will be broken down below).

It’s not that I want to talk about MOSE any more than I want to gnaw off a hangnail, but it’s not my fault if wondrous developments continue to pop up in the endless saga of this undertaking.  And even if you are not a connoisseur of wondrousness (wondrosity?) in bloated public works, there may be a few people left who still are interested in how this thing is getting along.  By which I mean those people who used to ask me about it with such eagerness and curiosity and goodwill and hopefulness, seeing that until just a few years ago the Destiny of Venice was trumpeted by the press to be hand- and leg-cuffed to the success or failure of this … thing.

One recalls that the most recent date projected for finishing its construction (and beginning the TWO-YEAR TESTING) was the end of 2018.  But brace yourselves: It’s going to be later.  They say that the conclusion will be January 1, 2019. Or when the cassowaries return to Capistrano.  Or when Jesus comes back.  Everything depends on everything else, which is a fancy way of saying “money.”

“Creation of the animals,” by Tintoretto (c. 1550). It could be my imagination, but I detect a resemblance to the teeming Venetian lagoon here, which I suspect was not accidental.

Here is a rundown of the situation as outlined by Roberto Linetti (Interregional Superintendent of Public Works) to the city councilors a few days ago:

The job needs more money.  (I can’t comment on that anymore; it’s like saying the sun needs to come up tomorrow.) It needs 221 million euros — as do we all — to finance the completion of 60 remaining aspects of the project, 40 of which must be finished this year.  Only 40 million euros have been released from the total allotment so far, and the rapport between work done and payments made is not encouraging.

“The construction sites are not going well,” Mr. Linetti admitted.  Everything is slowing down because the private companies have slowed down, which they’ve done because of the financial and legal Gordianosities of the Consorzio Venezia Nuova, the former governing consortium, and its collapse under the weight of its financial skulduggery.  The companies have slowed down on working because payments due them are arriving even more slowly.  “If the private companies aren’t motivated to go ahead,” said Linetti, “it’s hard to make them go ahead, even by kicking them.”

But every day that the construction is stalled, the underwater parts are deteriorating, which will only require more expenditure down the line.  It’s a situation that brings to mind the notion that “We can’t stop fighting because otherwise our boys would have died for nothing.”

The MOSE annual budget also earmarks 15 million euros for caring for the lagoon (in unspecified ways).  Considering how much damage to the lagoon the whole project is causing, that seems fair.  Sort of.  Nice they remember there is a lagoon.

You know — this lagoon.

Projected cost of administration and maintenance.  This is a big one, which few people paid much attention to in the giddy days of selling contracts and all.

“We think that the administration of MOSE will cost about 80 million euros a year,” Linetti told the city councilors.  “And that’s not much for a work of this importance and complexity in an area like Venice, considering that between 20-30 million are solely the cost of the utilities for the system’s functioning.  Between 15-20 million euros a year will be for personnel, at least 100 of them.  Then there are 30-40 million for the maintenance itself,” including the undefined work in the lagoon.  Let me repeat that: The maintenance work itself will cost 30-40 million euros a year. “The State surely won’t fail to maintain its support.”

The maintenance work will be undertaken in the Arsenal, where the gates will periodically be brought to be cleaned, stripped and revarnished.  Naturally a new hangar will have to be constructed for this work, which will cost 18 million.  There are more zero’s swarming around the MOSE accounts than there are mosquitoes on Sant’ Erasmo at sunset in July.

Let the swans go live somewhere else, we’re busy operating big machinery and big bookkeeping programs.

And the use of the gates?   The news is now that to protect Venice from exceptional high tide, it will probably be necessary to raise only the gates at the inlet at San Nicolo on the Lido, leaving the gates at Malamocco and Chioggia peacefully reposing underwater.

“The experts have verified,” said Linetti, “that closing only the inlet at the Lido will result in a significant lowering of the level of the tide in the historic center, without the necessity of closing the entire system.”  So all that work and expense to build gates at all three inlets was…….pointless?

In fact, knowing that the Lido gates would be used the most frequently was the reason, according to Linetti, why more “materials” were dedicated to the construction there.  And therefore, he says, “There will be a saving on the costs of maintenance.”

He has now totally lost me. Where do these savings on maintenance come from? On the gates that will be used more often (theoretically), or those which therefore will be used less?  I could take high-powered binoculars and I still don’t see savings anywhere. At this point I’m not even sure what savings look like.

He’s looking for clams, not savings.

(I am indebted to the excellent reporting of Enrico Tantucci in La Nuova Venezia of 10 January 2018.)

Categories : MOSE
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Lugash on the lagoon

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The exhibition poster: “Treasures of the Mughals and the Maharajahs.”  This piece alone gives a glimpse of the insane gorgeousness of the collection belonging to Sheik Hamad bin Abdullah Al Thani of the royal family of  Qatar.

Imagine a large room in a world-famous palace/museum, in which a lavish assortment of five centuries of dazzling Indian jewelry has been on display for months.  This palace is in a famous, small, cramped, waterbound tourist city, a place not especially conducive to rapid escape.  Imagine also that on the last day of the exhibition two men stroll in at 10:00 AM, deftly open a case, and mere seconds later just wander off, out of sight, with a pair of earrings and a brooch valued at 3 million dollars.

You can stop imagining.  It happened on January 3 in the Doge’s Palace, and the jewels were not called the Pink Panther, but they might as well have been.  The thieves are two men, caught on surveillance video, who didn’t even use a picklock, crowbar, bobby pin, small explosive; it appears that the case had already been slightly opened to facilitate the theft.  It also appears that they had an electronic device that delayed the sounding of the alarm.  Certainly it went off.  Just too late to do any good; by then, the two thieves were lost in the crowd and gone.

The Sala dello Scrutinio doesn’t need any help in looking fabulous, but the dressing of this set, if we want to call it that, was worthy of the 270 pieces dating from the 16th to the 20th centuries displayed for the first time in Italy. It was as if Faberge’ had gone to India and came back to Venice.  (Photo: Mattinopadova)

The city is agog, as you might suppose, and none more so than the parties directly involved in ensuring that this kind of thing doesn’t happen.  Did the thieves have inside help?  And how clever they were to plan this exploit for the last day, when the atmosphere was certainly that of the party being over.

There have already been pages and pages written in the press about this most unpleasant start to the New Year.  Sparing you every speculation so far, may I merely note that the display cases were made by the Al Thani Foundation, as was the security system used.  That certainly complicates the directions in which fingers might be pointing.

The items now at large. Most articles have pointed out that they were not among the most valuable, either historically or monetarily, of the items in the collection.  If that makes anybody feel any better.  (Photo: Corriere del Veneto).


Categories : Events
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Full steam ahead?

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Venice in the fog: my favorite! Unless I have to go somewhere on the vaporetto, and then there is inconvenience.  A few mornings ago, walking was more efficient than public transport; vaporettos were running, but they were (as is customary in these cases) all going up the Grand Canal.  Those that were running, that is, which is to say not all of them.

The year evidently began with a crunch for some unlucky person, as we discovered as our peregrination continued.

The fog could not conceal this boneyard on the Riva degli Schiavoni.  The riva appears to have been dramatically riven.

The helpful stanchions indicate that somebody else had also noticed. Somebody official.

Holy God! I’m used to seeing the fondamentas gradually deteriorating, but this is like discovering the extinction of the dinosaurs.

We deduce that the destroying angel was one of the “foranei” vaporettos that roam the lagoon where there are no bridges to be concerned with. However, one is certainly to be concerned about stopping the boat when it comes back to the dock. (The vessel shown was certainly the companion to the one that ought to have been moored to the other side of the dock in front of the catastrophized riva.) And I’m sure the captain was concerned, right up to the moment when the boat’s bow clove the stone in twain. Curiously, no mention of this was to be found in the newspaper. The editors must have considered it to be just another one of “those things” that could happen anywhere.  Besides, one needs to give space to more pressing concerns, such as the residents protesting dog poop on the streets.

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Categories : Transport
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