Here’s some news on sick leave in Italy: There’s a lot of it, especially on Monday.
Today is Monday, as it happens, which is why I bring this up.
A recent statistical analysis reveals that more than 30 percent of workers in the public sector have availed themselves of a doctor who will certify that they aren’t able to come to work that day, the day being Monday, as I mentioned, or what they might prefer to call Sunday 2.0.
In Calabria, the numbers collected for 2012 showed an average number of 34.6 sick days; “average,” of course, means that some people took even more. This number doesn’t specifically say that that month was made up exclusively of Mondays, but we can suppose that at least ten of them were.
Whether this indicates that the environment at the toe of the Italian “boot” is extremely unhealthy, or that there are so many wonderful things to do there that a mere weekend isn’t enough to enjoy even a few of them, I am not qualified to say.
I do have some theories, but will leave you to your own conjectures.
Walking along my favorite leafy arbor — otherwise known as viale Garibaldi — one recent afternoon, I glanced at one of the benches.
Something was sitting on it, and it wasn’t a human, though a human had evidently passed that way only recently.
It was a stately cone crowned with chocolate gelato, chastely wrapped in a white paper napkin, and stuck between the slats like a creamy little moa from Easter Island, but much more fragile. While it’s true that the seething elements of time and tide will eventually reduce everything to nothing, this delicacy had a head start on almost all of us.
As I gazed at it, still musing, I heard the softest little thnk.
There had been no heroic struggle. When the meltage reached the perfect point of intersection with gravity, divided by its own weight and volume and the distribution of same (I’m losing track of my geometry here), the brave, if brief, little monument succumbed. And I continued on my way.
Ten minutes later, I returned. The bench was still occupied, but not by the cone and its liquefying burden.
The cone was gone. A man was sitting on the bench, talking to a woman standing in front of him. He didn’t seem concerned about sticky drying ice cream, because there was no sign of it. Apparently only I knew it had ever been there.
Let me review: A gelato-topped cone is placed on a bench by an unseen person, for unfathomable reasons (unfathomable because there are two garbage cans within a few steps of the bench). The cone collapses. A man sits on the bench by the now unseen cone.
Which was real, the unseen man or the unseen cone? And while I’m thinking about it, is ice cream essentially more transitory than the man?
Let me think.
The frozen milk awaits
Heat and heft combine a kiss
Life essence disperses.
More on the meaning of life around here when I find the time.
Venice has had its share of noteworthy visitors over the past millennium or so — popes, kings, emperors, and so forth. The usual cast of characters in your usual empire.
This weekend we had George Clooney and his bride, Amal Alamuddin, whose four-day wedding festival was quite the talk of the town. Not all happy talk, but that’s normal for here.
By now my trusty readers must be able to imagine the range of comments.
On the positive side: She’s gorgeous, she’s brilliant, her clothes are amazing. And may I add my own personal drama, my inability to decide which I would rather have, given the choice: Her 7-carat diamond ring, or her hair. I don’t think it’s fair that she gets to have both.
On the negative side: The lavish partying will not have much effect on the local economy (read: Expensive outsiders hired); blocking areas off for security (from whom?) such as the Rialto and even a stretch edging the Grand Canal, will create inconvenience for the indigenous people; all the glamour will not specially improve the image of Venice in the eyes of the world, considering the depressing degradation that continues unabated. The roiling maelstrom of waves caused by the journalist-bearing taxis and assorted motorboats accompanying the espoused pair and their A-list guests created more than the usual madness in the Grand Canal, inspiring yells of anger from gondoliers.
Several people interviewed by the Gazzettino have essentially said “Who cares?” More specifically, one woman opined, “He’s got a big villa on Lake Como. Why couldn’t he go there?”
Many of these remarks go to show, once again, that Venetians are phenomenally hard to impress. But what would be the opposite extreme (assuming that an event of this magnitude could go to an opposite extreme)?
Let’s imagine for a moment that they had decided to get married in Eek, Alaska or Bland, Missouri. In such a case, I think the whole town would have been totally agog, what with housewives bringing homemade coconut cakes to their hotel and draping big streamers and banners over the main street, like on Homecoming Weekend: “WELCOME GEORGE AND AMAL,” and there would be a parade like on the Fourth of July, with baton-twirlers and the big fire truck. And fireworks. And the local paper — say, the Bat Cave, North Carolina “Bat Biz” — would publish a long article, as they used to do in the old days, describing every dish eaten and every frock worn and every wedding present bestowed. We’ll have to wait for People magazine to do that for us.
A few details have sneaked out (despite all the vaunted vows of complete silence).
For example: They (he, she, their wedding planner, whoever) didn’t like the furniture in their five-room nuptial chamber at the Aman Canal Grande hotel. Too modern. So they had it changed. Out with what was there, which was put into a temporary storage tent, and in with a batch of antiques. I have NO DOUBT that their taste is better than the decorators’. I’m just saying. They didn’t complain about the Tiepolo fresco on the ceiling, fortunately. Maybe they didn’t notice it.
Also: The palace on the street behind the hotel was finally undergoing repairs, hence was covered with scaffolding. Ugly! So they paid to have it removed and, I presume, put back when the party was over.
But on the whole, for Venice this is just one more in an infinite procession of fancy guests and inconceivably lavish entertainments. In the Venetian Republic, when high-class people came for long visits, staying for weeks like relatives in the antebellum South, the city literally spared no expense.
When Henry III, King of France and Poland, visited Venice for a week in 1574, some noteworthy events included his attendance at the chanting of the Te Deum on the Lido (I presume at the church of S. Nicolo’, which is the only thing that was there), passing under a triumphal arch designed by Palladio and decorated by Tintoretto and Veronese. Then there was the state banquet, held in the Doge’s Palace in the monster Great Council Room; not only were all the ladies garbed in white and draped with spectacular jewels — the tablecloth, flatware, plates, and bread were all fashioned entirely of sugar. The table was decorated with elaborate sculptures of two lions, a queen on horseback between two tigers, David and San Marco, surrounded by kings, popes, animals, plants and fruits, also made completely of sugar.
Speaking of guests, Venice hosted, among others, Carlo Gonzaga in 1609, the Grand Duke of Tuscany in 1628, Maximilian of Bavaria in 1684, the Duke of Brunswick in 1685, Frederick IV of Denmark in 1708, Prince Frederick Christian of Saxony in 1740, the Duke of York in 1767, the Emperor Joseph II in 1769 and 1775. Pope Pius VI arrived in 1782 and Gustav III of Sweden in 1784. To read the schedule of festivities and what was built from the ground up to entertain Prince Paul Petrovich, the son of Catherine the Great and his wife in January, 1782, is to stagger belief.
You’d have to replace a lot of furniture to come up to the level Venice used to consider normal on these occasions.
So while I invoke for the happy couple “good wishes and male children” (auguri e figli maschi), as the saying goes, I appreciate a general grudging resistance here to make too much of the just-concluded joining in holy — actually, civil — matrimony.
Because, as Ernest Hemingway summed it up in 1950:
“She used to be Queen of the Seas, and the people are very tough and they give less of a good God-damn about things than almost anybody you’ll ever meet. It’s a tougher town than Cheyenne when you really know it, and everybody is very polite.”
I have nothing new to add to what I’ve already written, but I want to say that the indefatigable Vittorio Orio rowed his gondola today (with a partner), to keep alive the memory of the victims of the attack on the World Trade Center towers.
Someday I’ll have a long talk with him to discover why he feels such an attachment to New York — specifically, to the firemen of New York — and more about this always moving gesture which he has made every year since 2002.
He focuses on the firemen for his own reasons, but is fully aware of everyone else who was there. Meanwhile, it’s enough to know that he remembers.