Apr
03

The constant Casanova

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Here we go again.

Here we go again.

If you think the tides are predictable, consider the movie industry and Venice.

Many and varied have been the films made here, from “The Wings of the Dove” to “Death in Venice” to “The Tourist” and on and on.  And those are just a few titles in English; plenty of other nations have sent their troupes here to act out among the canals.  Has anyone seen Nenu Naa RakshasiLes Enfants du Siecle?

But you can’t go wrong with Giacomo Casanova.  Sure, we’ve seen Effie Gray‘s life detailed — it’s finally coming out this week — and George Sand and Chopin (all so famous in their day), but these are not marquee names.  Casanova, though, is a product with no expiration date; his exploits, real or imagined, have made him film fodder no fewer than eleven times.  Sorry, make that twelve, counting the one they were shooting here a few days ago.

Amazon is getting into the streaming-films game (see: Netflix and Marco Polo), and this version of the madcap entrepreneur’s life will focus, I was told, on Casanova after he went into exile.  It was a movie-worthy life pretty much up to the end.  He was definitely not all show (or as they say here, “Beautiful vineyard but puny grapes”); here is something he wrote about his famous escape from prison which deserves to be read and remembered:

“Thus did God provide me with what I needed for an escape which was to be a wonder if not a miracle. I admit that I am proud of it; but my pride does not come from my having succeeded, for luck had a good deal to do with that; it comes from my having concluded that the thing could be done and having had the courage to undertake it.

Now back to me and our two days with the boats.

Dawn is a great time to be out filming.  Not much traffic, and plenty of atmosphere.

Dawn is a great time to be out filming. Not much traffic, and plenty of atmosphere.

Sunday  morning before dawn, at dawn, after dawn.  The task was for Alvise Rigo, a member of our boating organization, Arzana', to row Casanova's stunt double up and down a small stretch of the Grand Canal.  Happily, there was little wind and few waves and not a whole lot of current.  But it was chilly and damp, and sitting still for an hour or two couldn't have been very pleasant.  But like the man said as he removed the elephant droppings after the circus closed, "What?  And give up show business?"

Sunday morning before dawn, at dawn, after dawn. The task was for Alvise Rigo, a member of our boating organization, Arzana’, to row Casanova’s stunt double up and down a small stretch of the Grand Canal. Happily, there was little wind and few waves and not a whole lot of current. But it was chilly and damp, and sitting still for an hour or two couldn’t have been very pleasant. But like the man said as he removed the elephant droppings after the circus closed, “What? And give up show business?”

Making a movie, from what I have seen, is like writing “Remembrance of Things Past” on an endless series of postage stamps.  Enormous amounts of toil involving equipment, technicians, objects of every sort, humans of every pay grade, and uncounted hours of just loading and unloading things, setting them up and taking them down, are dedicated to putting even the tiniest fragments of story on film.

Last Sunday and Monday the filming was in high gear in Venice; at certain crucial moments Giacomo would need a boat, and Lino and I and several others were there with two vessels: a small mascareta that just sat there and looked boaty, and a gondola, a replica built several years ago of the type used in the 18th century, to aid his escape (or so it appeared).  No costumes or makeup for us this time, we were just the boat wranglers.

Which was fine with me.  Although I thoroughly enjoy getting paid, even just a few euros, for just standing around doing nothing, doing something is better in most ways.  So we had episodes of rowing, and pushing, and pulling, and lifting, and watching mobs of multilingual people doing stuff you are unable to comprehend in any useful way.

Here is something I discovered: When the director yells “Silenzio!!” just before “Action!” you can hear a baby hiccup in the hospital on the mainland.  You cannot believe how many noises there are in normal life until it’s imperative that you hear nothing.  That was the most entertaining thing of all: What is that tiny little humming behind that building at the end of the street?  How can shoes with rubber soles actually make a sound going over the bridge behind you?  The canal is blocked by a watch-boat at both ends to block traffic.  The waiting boats have to turn off their engines.  Total silence falls.

Then the church bells start to ring.

Finally they stop.  “Action!”  (Action.)  “Cut!”  (Lunch.)

Then we rowed the boats back home.  That was it.

Fred Astaire once stated that he only “did it for the dough and the old applause.”  For me, no need to rush on the applause.

Dawn was lovely, but they needed fog. Happily, they'd brought their own, pouring out of canisters and swept around by someone with a big wooden paddle. Being a fog designer must be a very specialized skill.

Dawn was lovely, but they needed fog. Happily, they’d brought their own, pouring out of canisters and swept around by someone with a big wooden paddle. Being a fog designer must be a very specialized skill.

Canisters at the ready, they wait for the next cue.  And by the way, the fake fog (or real smoke, or whatever it is) had a fairly unpleasant odor that made you think of a factory that had avoided inspections for quite a while.

Canisters at the ready, they wait for the next cue. And by the way, the fake fog (or real smoke, or whatever it is) had a fairly unpleasant odor that made you think of a factory that had avoided inspections for quite a while.

IMG_6746  casa

Moody.  Keep it going because the sun is coming up.

Moody. Keep it going because the sun is coming up.

IMG_6722  casa

In the intervals between fog banks, the sun continued to rise; at 7:05 or so, it hit the mosaics on the facade of the Salviati palace.

In the intervals between fog banks, the sun continued to rise, like it does; at 7:05 or so, the light hit the mosaics on the facade of the Palazzo Barbarigo.

Next stop was by Campo San Giacomo dell'Orio, where Alvise waited to be told where he had to meet the fog again.

Next stop was by Campo San Giacomo dell’Orio, where Alvise waited to be told where he had to meet the fog again.

But wait -- the coat's not funky enough.  A pump canister sprayed some unpleasant color on the fabric -- perhaps he needed to look as if he'd slept under a bridge.  His wig certainly gave that impression.

But wait — the coat’s not funky enough. A pump canister sprayed some unpleasant color on the fabric — perhaps he needed to look as if he’d slept under a bridge. His wig certainly gave that impression.

Did I just mention the wig?  Evidently it was too neat, or clean, or something.  Can't have that, so on with another substance.

Did I just mention the wig? Evidently it was too neat, or clean, or something. Can’t have that, so on with another substance.

And more waiting....

And more waiting….

Fog!  That's his cue!

Fog!  That’s his cue!

Lino and I rowed the gondola over to our next location, behind Campo SS. Giovanni e Paolo, where it was our turn to wait.  Just think: Somebody came rowing by that Lino knows. They exchanged variationson the "What are you doing here?" theme and the friend rowed on.

Lino and I rowed the gondola over to our next location, behind Campo SS. Giovanni e Paolo, where it was our turn to wait.  Somebody came rowing by and just think — it was somebody that Lino knows. They exchanged variations on the “Working hard?” “Hardly working” theme  and the friend rowed on.

Monday morning we all met (and this isn't even "all" yet) at S. Francesco de la Vigna.  On such a glorious spring morning, what more could we need but....

Monday morning we all met (and this isn’t even “all” yet) at S. Francesco de la Vigna. On such a glorious spring morning, the only thing missing is….

Fog!  This time we've got heavy-duty blasters that look like dustbusters gone berserk.

Fog! This time we’ve got heavy-duty blasters that look like dustbusters gone berserk.

Yep, we're getting up to speed, koff koff.  Can anybody see the actors?  Are they even here?

Yep, we’re getting up to speed, koff koff. Can anybody see the actors? Are they even here?

Action!  Casanova races ahead of his faithful accomplice toward the waiting gondola.  It took approximately 20 seconds. They did this five times,

Action! Casanova races ahead of his faithful accomplice toward the waiting gondola. It took approximately 20 seconds. They did this five times,

The humble mascareta was being prepared for its big moment.  It was loaded with fishing nets, which the accomplice stopped to wildly rummage among on the way to the gondola.  But this will be the close-up shot of said rummaging, so we need to do as much titivating to the boat as they do to the actors.

The humble mascareta was being prepared for its big moment. It was loaded with fishing nets, which the accomplice stopped to wildly rummage among on the way to the gondola. But this will be the close-up shot of said rummaging, so we need to do as much titivating to the boat as they do to the actors.

There were so many people clustered  around the boat peering at it that I thought maybe it was about to give birth or something.

There were so many people clustered around the boat peering at it that I thought maybe it was about to give birth or something.

Yes, Mr. DeMille, it's ready for its closeup  now.

Yes, Mr. DeMille, it’s ready for its closeup now.

Preparing for the next fragment: Casanova in the boat (to which he has just raced, you recall).  But something is missing, you say?  Tehre is a boat in the distance prepared to correct that...

Preparing for the next fragment: Casanova in the boat (to which he has just raced, you recall). But something is missing, you say?  Ah, but there is a boat in the distance prepared to correct that…

FOG!!  It's going to be bearing down on us any minute.  This point is correct historically, may I mention, so kudos to the researcher.  There was loads of fog, which was a huge help to the fleeing hero.  Koff Koff.

FOG!! It’s going to be bearing down on us any minute. This point is correct historically, may I mention, so kudos to the researcher. There was loads of fog on the fateful day, which was a huge help to the fleeing hero. Koff koff.

And of course, the original Casanova didn't have much spare time to check his e-mail.

And of course, the original Casanova didn’t have much spare time to check his e-mail.

 

Categories : Events
Comments (9)
The Wide Street of March 22nd

The Wide Street of March 22nd.  Just another cryptic date by now.

After the doges were let go in 1797 by the new management team of Napoleon and Satan, there was a very unhappy lull in Venetian history.  It was an unhappy lull even while it was happening, before it became history.

And it wasn’t what I’d really call a lull, either, unless you call being put to bed with dengue fever a lull.

This interval of tyranny and anguish was abruptly cut short on March 22, 1848, when the Venetians revolted against Austria, which had acquired Venice from France in a diplomatic trade-off immortalized in the Treaty of Campo Formio (October 18, 1797).  Cleverly, Napoleon effected this trade only after he had disemboweled the former Queen of the Seas, carrying off wagonloads of treasure and razing palaces, churches, convents and scuole (thereby making more treasure available for his waiting wagons).

IMG_6612  maninThe man who led the uprising and the brief establishment of the Republic of San Marco was a Venetian lawyer  named Daniele Manin.  I’ve outlined the story in another post, so I won’t go over it again.  I would just appreciate your pausing for a moment to consider the magnificence of this doomed attempt and the people who put everything into it.

And just think: Only twelve years later, the Austrians were gone.  I’m not capable of determining to what extent 1848 led to 1861, but I still want to give my own puny recognition of a huge event which everyone by now just takes for granted, I guess.

This plaque is on a wall of the Arsenal: "

This plaque is on a wall of the Arsenal: “By the unanimous virtue of the people the foreign dominion fell XXII March 1848 To eternal memory the municipality places this.”

The tomb of Daniele Manin, against the wall of the basilica of San Marco by the Piazzetta dei Leoncini.

The tomb of Daniele Manin, against the wall of the basilica of San Marco by the Piazzetta dei Leoncini.

 

IMG_6195  manin

The figure of Venice on the monument to Vittorio Emanuele II on the Riva degli Schiavoni bears a reverent inscription on the hem of her garment.

The figure of Venice on the monument to Vittorio Emanuele II on the Riva degli Schiavoni bears a reverent inscription on the hem of her garment.

IMG_6106  manin

Near Campo San Bartolomio masses pass every day without noticing the street sign:

Near Campo San Bartolomio hordes pass every day without noticing the street sign: “Little Street of Dry Goods 2 April.”  On April 2, 1849, the governing assembly of the Republic of San Marco voted to resist Austria at all costs.  “All costs” was not a problem for the Austrians, and on August 22, 1849, Venice signed its surrender.

Bust of Daniele Manin by Emilio Marsili (1898).  (Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti).  After the death of the infant republic, Manin was sent into exile, and spent the rest of his life in Paris giving Italian lessons.  He died on September 22, 1857.  What was up with the 22nd of all these months?

Bust of Daniele Manin by Emilio Marsili (1898). (Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti). After the death of the infant republic, Manin was sent into exile, and spent the rest of his life in Paris giving Italian lessons. He died on September 22, 1857. What was up with the 22nd of all these months?

Flag of the Republic of San Marco.

Flag of the Republic of San Marco.

Categories : Venetian History
Comments (5)
A neighborhood character who occasionally puts up dire notices of mal- and misfeasance taped this up the other day.  It says:

A neighborhood character who occasionally puts up dire notices of mal- and misfeasance taped this up the other day. It says:  “From the Gazzettino and the Nuova Venezia 3-3-2015 The Crisis of Ca’ Farsetti.  A chasm between income and expenses.  The budget is falling apart.  No money from the state.  At the Toniolo (theatre, in Mestre) dramatic exposition by Zappalorto of the Comune’s accounts.  A “hole” of 56 million euros in 2015 that there’s no way to close.  A hole of 56 million.  The exponents of PD don’t bat an eye.  Brugnaro shilly-shallies, and Scano (Movimento 5 Stelle) attacks.  But this is only the tip of the iceberg!  From the Nuova Venezia April 2, 2012, In Total the Comune has debts of 398 million in installments of 40 each year!  And from the participating societies (business groups) obligations crop up for half a billion.  Direct debt in millions 398  Indirect debt in millions 187  Participating societies in millions 470 Total debt in millions 1,055  Per person that comes to 4,120!! Of debt!  A people which elects corrupt people, impostors, thieves and traitors is not a victim.  It’s an accomplice!”  Sounds stirring, but there’s one problem: I don’t know anyone who goes to the polls saying, “I’m going to vote for corrupt people, impostors, thieves and traitors, I hope there are lots of them.”  People vote from whomever is on the ballot.  How do those malefactors get there?  So ease up on accusations of the people who vote.  If all you’ve got is mine tailings and radioactive waste on the ballot, then those are the people who end up in office.

It’s been a while since I grappled with any serious aspect of Venice today.  (History is so much more amusing.)  But I feel a strange sense of obligation to update the situation for people who are interested, and who may have the impression from assorted news reports that the city’s biggest problems are tourists or big cruise ships or acqua alta.

Part of my silence is because Venice is in an exceptionally confusing, depressing, and frustrating situation and I am becoming allergic to confusion and frustration.  And by reading the daily bulletins, it can be difficult to grasp the big picture.  So I’m here to provide it for you.

In my opinion, Venice is living (enduring, suffering) one of those critical moments which occur in every life, whether personal or municipal or national or whatever.  I have no doubt that people are already writing books about it, and will continue to do so till the next critical moment strikes, and may it be far, far in the future.

This little update seems appropriate just now because yesterday there was a “primary election” to decide who will be the mayoral candidate from the political party known as PD, or Partito Democratico (Communists). Three men were vying for this nomination from their party, and this is already strange because normally the officers/directors/stringpullers of the party decide who their candidate is going to be.  It’s rare for there to be such conflict within a party that the public has to intervene to decide who to run.

The election is scheduled for May 31, and many cities are going to the polls that day.  Here in Venice, some politicians have already commented that the state of the city is so catastrophic that it might be better not to waste money on elections, but to just stick with the emergency governor, commissario Vittorio Zappalorto (or someone like him, appointed by the prime minister).  I realize that this approach probably shouldn’t be a long-term plan, but if the electorate here were to take seriously the suggestion by one candidate that nobody from the previous city government should be permitted to run, that would leave slim pickings indeed.

My own feeling is that anyone who would want to be mayor of Venice would be someone who would want to scale Everest, walking backwards, and naked.  There can’t be much difference between the two adventures — painful for him, and close to futile.  Sorry, I meant fatal.

Just like the political and business fandanglers, the egrets are always on the lookout for some tasty bit.

Just like the political and business fandanglers, the egrets are always on the lookout for some tasty bit.

Before I relate any specifics, I share this observation by Professor Guido Vittorio Zucconi which I found on the homepage of the Ateneo Veneto, one of the city’s major cultural institutions which offers lectures and other presentations on a variety of Venetian themes.

He said that the programming of events will undergo some innovations (I translate): “To give more weight to topics tied to the ‘city that is being transformed,’ rather than those of the ‘death of Venice': the city is not dying, but it is changing radically, showing itself too fragile for the tasks and for the impact which it must sustain every day.

I’m clear on the fragility and the impact, but it’s the economy that has become the new instrument of daily torture.  Basically, Venice doesn’t have an economy anymore.

First, the global economic crisis that began in 2008 dismembered the Italian economy.  In an effort to get the country back on a steadier fiscal footing, the parliament — urged on by the heat-seeking missile which is the Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi — passed a “Pact of Stability,” intended to establish budgetary limits all over the country and get everybody back on the black side of the ledger.  If not?  Budget cuts and penalties, and penalties and cuts, all outlined in the Pact.

Second, Venice, which for years has lived on the fat of government money via the “Special Law” for Venice, suddenly found itself not only required to prepare a budget according to the new limits, but one that would be based on real income, and not on subsidies.  (Another “subsidy” of sorts, the income from taxes from the Casino, went into a death spiral about the same time.)

The city government tried all sorts of things: selling the Casino (failed), selling palaces (mostly failed), and a few mastodontic projects which instead of creating income, created only debt and grief.  And money from the Special Law which had been intended for many uses had been funneled into the pockets and personal bank accounts of the Consorzio Venezia Nuova, otherwise known as “MOSE,” leaving everybody else with that “It’s only the sixth of the month and I’ve already spent my entire paycheck” feeling.

Even the baker in Campo Santa Margherita has to deal with economic complaints, in this case from his customers.  But they're not nagging about the cost of bread, but the fact that he's charging 10 cents per plastic bag if they want one to take the food home in.  Written in Venetian, it says: "

Down at street level, the cost of everything is also a major subject.  The baker in Campo Santa Margherita has had enough of his customers complaining that the plastic shopping bags cost too much.  (They used to be free, and now most merchants charge 10 or 15 eurocents each.) Written in Venetian, here’s how he sees it: “Notice to clients.  The bags are freaking expensive and don’t hold a dried fig.” (He is evidently summarizing the complaints in this way).  “Therefore if you bring with you a bag that can last a lifetime, 10 cents here, 15 cents there, at the end of the month you’ll really save some money.  THANKS.”

In 2005 (before the crisis) the national government passed a special decree called the “Mille Proroghe,” and repeated it each year till 2014 (it skipped 2012).  A “thousand deferments” is a rough translation, and was meant to resolve or — better yet — offer extensions to facilitate the resolution of certain urgent financial problems.

But by 2008 Italy was leaping on ice floes across the raging financial river, like Eliza fleeing to Canada, except that unlike Eliza, it fell in.  And cities that couldn’t make their budgets balance were on their own, even big cities such as Torino and even Rome.

Eliza fleeing across the frozen river, from "Uncle Tom's Cabin" (photo: usslave.blogspot.it)

Eliza fleeing across the frozen river, from “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” (photo: usslave.blogspot.it)

On June 4, 2014 the city government imploded, and on July 2, 2014, Venice was placed under the administration of a temporary governor, Vittorio Zappalorto, whose assignment was to do whatever it took to force the budget even somewhat close to reality. In one of his first interviews, he said “I’m worried, but I’ll straighten out the accounts.”

That was then.  After months of pitiless toil, cuts and slashes everywhere, Zappalorto finally concluded that there was nothing more that could be done to save the ship; he was even quoted as saying that if Rome didn’t step in with funds, all the sacrifices people had been forced to make would have been useless.

But Rome wasn’t feeling Venice’s pain; in fact, there were enough other cities in the same desperate straits that it seemed impossible, if not absurd, to favor one town ahead of the others.  Why Venice and not Aquila? (Not a completely rhetorical question.)

Commissario Vittorio Zappalorto at one of the last meetings to save the budget. It speaks for itself. (La Nuova Venezia, photographer not identified).

Commissario Vittorio Zappalorto at one of the last meetings to save the city from default. It speaks for itself. (La Nuova Venezia, photographer not identified).

Desperate meetings finally produced a way to save Venice from default.  At 4:03 AM on February 16, 2015, the “Salva Venezia” (save Venice) amendment was inserted into the Mille Proroghe bill 2015 to be voted on.

This was only slightly good news, because there appeared to be a great reluctance on the part of the Prime Minister to give any special consideration to Venice, and hundreds of parliamentarians from all over Italy weren’t necessarily clear on the reasons why Venice deserves more help than their own region or city.

Of course, cutting spending (good) also means cutting jobs (very bad), and social services, and other non-frivolous aspects of city management.  An example of what “cuts” mean: Only one and a half million euros of what ought to be nine million euros were allocated in the budget for 2015 for the 3,000 city employees.

Last year it was the then-mayor, Giorgio Orsoni, who went to Rome pleading for mercy. But now it was Zappalorto, the very man sent specifically by the Prime Minister to shape up the city, who had to step forward to ask for clemency.

On February 22, virtually at the last minute, the “Save Venice” amendment was passed, on the condition that the city’s budget be subject to monthly reviews for the next year.  It’s sort of the equivalent of being grounded for the next twelve months.

The problem is how to fill in a hole in the budget that amounts to 56 million euros.  I won’t start listing categories and amounts of cuts, or the various exceptions, but it’s worth noting that the city government isn’t going to have money to buy anything for its own daily operation except “paper, office supplies, and toner.”  Not made up.

One of my favorite trees is this baracocolo (a type of plum) which blooms for about three days and that's it.  We need to turn our thoughts to beautiful things from now on, and I didn't have a picture of a puppy.

One of my favorite trees is this baracocolo (a type of plum) which blooms for about three days and that’s it for the year. We need to turn our thoughts to beautiful things as much as we can, and I didn’t have a picture of a puppy.

Before leaving this excruciating topic — and before anyone feels too tempted to weep — I have to say that although the city is broke, it has to a certain extent brought this on itself.  Essentially, the city maxed-out its credit cards several years ago, and many things it has spent money on have not proved to be useful, and some are sitting half-finished, or not even started, growing weeds.

Somewhere there is a comprehensive list, but I’ll just give a few examples of the money that has been thrown out the windows with wild abandon on the Lido, summarized by the Gazzettino on March 6 under the headline “Projects and public works A flop of 100 million” (euros, rounded down).  You may not care about the Lido, nor do I, but the following will demonstrate some part of the mentality which has driven the Good Ship Venice onto the pecuniary reef.

About ten years ago, more or less, a number of huge “improvement” projects were confected which would “re-launch” the island, which had lost its luster and also most of its tourist income.

The star project would be the new Palacinema for the Venice Film Festival, which was designed as a sort of multiplex with numerous theaters; another would be a vast yacht marina at San Nicolo’, a space which would be as big as the Giudecca; and another was the conversion of various buildings which comprise the once quite marvelous (and useful) Ospedale al Mare, or Hospital at the Sea, to private uses such as apartments.

The new Palacinema was approved in 2004; time was spent in the search for additional funding, work began around 2008 with the ripping out of a shady pine grove near the old building, and some excavating began.  And then almost immediately stopped, because in 2009 the diggers began to pull up loads of asbestos trash, thrown away by God knows who over the years and then covered up by other occult hands. Nobody thought of taking soil samples before bringing in the backhoes.

And there the Palacinema sits — or rather, the hole sits — frozen in time, and 38,613,000 euros have been spent on a site which remains devastated and on which not one brick has yet been laid.  Some wag has put up a street sign with the fictitious but too-true name, “Piazza Quaranta Milioni” (Forty Million Square).  It’s a lot to pay for a hole that’s 9 feet (3 meters) deep.

Palacinema, Part 2: Seeing that the costs were rising, the city removed the project managers and installed a commissario, or temporary overseer, which cost an additional 1,500,000 euros.  (I can’t explain this, I merely report it.)  The financial magistrates stated that this whole affair was a “handbook example” of waste of public money.

Violets are running riot all over the neighborhood.  I've never seen so many.  It must be a good sign of something.

Violets are running riot all over the neighborhood. I’ve never seen so many. It must be a sign of something good.

Ospedale al Mare: Cleaning up and preparing the areas for the new uses, which have yet to even begin being realized, has cost 1,600,000 euros.

The glorious yacht marina at San Nicolo': 8,000,000 euros spent, with nothing done so far except court cases with lots of accusations.  If I had time (and cared), I’d do more research on what could have cost that much for no results.

New traffic layout on the seafront: 2,000,000 euros spent, with no results so far.

Hotel Des Bains: This legendary landmark Belle Epoque hotel, famous for its starring role in “Death in Venice” (book and film), not to mention its 100 years of fabulous guests, remains closed since the project of turning it into a luxury-apartment complex failed.  30,000,000 euros spent so far, and its extraordinary decorations (fabrics, curtains, furniture) were put up for sale, even on the internet.

The mythical Hotel Des Bains, waiting for someone to bring it back to life, if not to beauty.  This was one of the great hotels of Europe, if not the world.  Oh well.

The mythical Hotel Des Bains, waiting for someone to bring it back to life, if not to beauty. This was one of the great hotels of Europe, if not the world.  Oh well. (“Hotel Des Bains 01″ by Florian Fuchs con licenza CC, 2009).

So yes, we should feel bad that Venice is broke, but we should also feel bad that it got this way because nobody cared about much of anything but themselves.

Prosperity depends on a simple choice: Make more, or spend less.  They just got it backward.

The sun rises on another day.  Let's hope for the best.

The sun rises on another day. Let’s hope for the best.

 

Comments (4)
The eye of God, the eye of the patriarch, nothing seemed to faze the good sisters.

The eye of God, the eye of the patriarch, nothing seemed to faze the good sisters.

Life under the Serenissima wasn’t all state occasions and visiting potentates.  It was a whole lot of craziness, and often some of the main players were priests and nuns (separately and together).

I already knew that a good number of convents were forced-labor camps for generations of patrician Venetian women who, for whatever reason, didn’t win the marriage lottery.  There were some cloisters which were notorious for having inmates who adhered closely to the “carpe diem” doctrine of the Church of Life.  San Zaccaria, Ognissanti, Santa Maria Maggiore were only a few of the more notorious locations, and where this led is evident by what is sometimes found by men digging to lay new pipes or lines where convents used to be, viz.: a tiny skeleton.  Not made up.

San Zaccaria, the Benedictine sisters thereof, built up quite a reputation over the centuries.  The Venetian historian Sanudo records that on July 1, 1514, it having been decided (not by the nuns) to “close the parlor of San Zacharia for more honesty, the vicar of the lord patriarch Zuan di Anzolo di Santo Severino…went to accomplish this task with a few captains and officials; seeing that the nuns threw stones at them and forced them to flee…the patriarch himself went in person to accomplish this task.  Then, by order of the Council of Ten, someone was sent to make windows.”  Need to let some light in, and make it easier for others to see what’s going on.  Theoretically.

But that was a temporary inconvenience.  In the 17th and 18th centuries things were back to the way they’d been, if not more so.  Persons of both sexes came to socialize, to conduct “brilliant conversations”; the nuns organized parties and masked festivities, and sometimes brought in puppet shows to amuse the children who tagged along with the brilliant conversers.

"Il Parlatorio" (the parlor), by Pietro Longhi, DATE TK.  Not exactly the atmosphere one associates with cloisters.

“Il Parlatorio” (the parlor), by Pietro Longhi (late 18th century). The convent isn’t identified, but I don’t sense the atmosphere one usually associates with cloisters.

"Parlatorio delle monache di S. Zaccaria" (parlor of the nuns of S. Zaccaria), Francesco Guardi, 1746.  (Ca' Rezzonico, Venezia).  The central figure is not a nun, as far as I can make out.  There is a puppet show in progress, which is nice.

“Parlatorio delle monache di S. Zaccaria” (parlor of the nuns of S. Zaccaria), Francesco Guardi, 1746. (Ca’ Rezzonico, Venezia). The central figure is not a nun, as far as I can make out. There is a puppet show in progress, which is nice.

The nearby church of San Lorenzo, like many churches, also had a convent attached to it.  The convent is gone and the church is shut, which is too bad if only for the fact that it contains (or contained) the tomb of Marco Polo, who was buried there in 1324.

But the convent is what I want to talk about.  Why not?  Probably everybody in Venice talked about it.  I translate the quaint but pointed style of Giuseppe Tassini, in “Curiosita’ Veneziane“:

“We hinted in various places at the almost general corruption that reigned in the old days among our nuns.  But one can say that those of San Lorenzo just about took the prize in that competition.

“On June 16 1360 we find condemned to a year in prison and a fine of 100 lire Marco Boccaso, Zanin Baseggio, and Giuseppe di Marcadello for having fornicated, the first with a Ruzzini, the second with Beriola Contarini, and the third with Orsola Acotanto, professed nuns of that convent.

“A short while later, that is, on July 22, 1360, Margarita revendigola (a renter of sumptuous garb), Bertuccia, the widow of Paolo d’Ancona, Maddalena da Bologna, Margarita da Padova, and Lucia (a slave) were publicly whipped for having carried, as go-betweens, amorous letters and embassies to those nuns.

“As time went on, by the sentence of March 25, 1385, Master Nicolo’ Giustinian, physician, was condemned to two years and three months of prison and a fine of 300 lire, because he was making love to Sister Fiordelise Gradenigo, entering several times with false keys in the convent of San Lorenzo to join his beloved, with whom he had a son.

“Lastly, on June 21, 1385, Marco Gritti had to undergo three years in prison, for having entered the same convent for dishonest ends.

“And in the 17th century the dress of the nuns of San Lorenzo breathes worldly vanity.  The proof is in Viaggio per l’alta Italia del Sereniss. Principe di Toscana, poi Granduca Cosimo III, descritto da Filippo Pizzichi.  He, speaking of the convent of S. Lorenzo, which he visited with the prince in 1664, expressed himself thus:

“‘This is the richest convent of Venice, and there are more than 100 nuns, all gentlewomen.  They dress themselves most elegantly, with white habits in the French manner, the bodice of fine linen with tiny pleats, and the professed wear black lace three fingers wide on the seams; a small veil encircles their forehead, below which their curly hair falls, beautifully arranged; their bosom is half-uncovered, and taken altogether their habit has more of the nymph than the nun.’

When the nuns looked in their mirrors -- I'm sure they had them -- I'm equally sure this is what they saw.  (Detail of the Three Graces from "La Primavera" by Sandro Botticelli, 1482.)  Even if they'd never seen the painting.

When the nuns looked in their mirrors — I’m sure they had them — I’m equally sure this is what they saw. (Detail of the Three Graces from “La Primavera” by Sandro Botticelli, 1482.) Even if they’d never seen the painting.

But before you start shaking your fist at the nuns, you should hear something about the priests.

I return to Tassini:

“We read that in 1391 Giacomo Tanto, the pievano (parish priest) of San Maurizio, who had agreed with Tommaso Corner to kill a priest named Giovanni … brought him to a house situated at S. Aponal in the Carampane, under the pretext of giving him ‘a fourth of Malvasia wine for the Mass’ and there, aided by a companion, he slew him.

“Both men returned to the Canonica, where the deceased lived, and stole all of his goods.  When the crime was discovered, Tommaso Corner, who was absent, was sentenced on September 28, 1392 to perpetual banishment, and the pievano was condemned to end his life in the cage suspended from the campanile of San Marco on bread and water.”  He was the first man recorded to have suffered this castigation.

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This is the only representation of the cheba hanging from the campanile of San Marco.  It is taken from the collection of abbot Jacopo Morelli (1745 – 1819) (drawn from “Giustizia Veneta,” by Edoardo Rubini, 2004).

The “cage” was the cheba (KEH-bah), which is occasionally referred to on admonitory plaques around the city as a possible punishment for breaking whatever rules are set forth on the plaque.  It was reserved for ecclesiastics, or for anyone committing crimes in a sacred place.  One source says that these crimes were usually “homicide, sodomy, blasphemy, and false witness.”

This cage was either permanently attached to the side of the campanile (examples remain in Mantova and Piacenza), or suspended from a beam inserted, as needed, into the bell tower’s wall.  The condemned was put inside it and that was that.  Night, day, rain, snow, hail, passing pigeons — he got it all.  And a daily ration of bread and water, which is not nourishment; it is only a cheap way to prolong starvation.

But Giacomo Tanto’s stepmother felt sorry for him languishing there, and so she found a way (fancy way of saying “bribed”) to induce an official of the Signori della Notte (the Lords of the Night, or the Almost-Everything Police) AND the chief of the guards of the Piazza, to slip her disgraced stepson other victuals. Not steak, unfortunately, or polenta with seppie, or anything else of a remotely nutritious nature (eat more fruit), but frittelle, and sweet focaccia with walnuts and almonds, and powdered sugar, and other confections which undoubtedly kept his spirits up as he was expiring.  She got caught, and the official of the Signori della Notte lost his job and was sent to prison for a year, and Giacomo went back to his daily bread until he died.

But his was no isolated case.  In the “Incorrigible Priest” division of the league of renegade religious, we have a very strong team:

Don Francesco of San Polo (1518) was accused of sodomy and consigned to the cheba.  Documents report that some kind soul gave him a gaban (gah-BAHN) to wear, to protect him from the elements, even though it was April.  The gaban was a long loose robe with sleeves, made of thick rough fabric.

Don Francesco, having plenty of time to spare, devoted himself to pulling the gaban slowly apart, till he had a collection of strips which he tied together, and you know where this is going.  On the night of July 1 he somehow managed to get out of the cage, and clinging to the long improvised rope he began to lower himself toward the pavement, and freedom.

But the rope ran out “a good distance” above the ground — enough of a distance to have rendered a fall more conclusive than the cheba.

So he just dangled there, hanging on, and yelling for help.  The night guardians came running, retrieved him (I don’t know how — with a net, like the firemen?) and carried him off to prison where the walls would be less accommodating than the cage.

But speaking of being accommodating, we last hear that he was succoured in his new incarceration by the nuns of San Zaccaria who, if you’ll remember, were not exactly “flour for making Communion wafers,” as they say here.  So their succouring almost certainly made everything better.

A cartoon satirizing the engineers considered responsible for the collapse of the campanile of San Marco, locked into the cheba.

A satirical cartoon skewering the engineers considered responsible for the collapse of the campanile of San Marco, showing them locked into the cheba (1902).

I’m skipping over a few others, such as don Francesco at San Stae (1502), and another don Francesco at Ognissanti (1505), who begot their heirs among the abbesses and their flock, to arrive at the star player: don Agostino of Santa Fosca.

Agostino’s collar did nothing to stem his love for life, among which were girls and gambling.  He didn’t interfere with the nuns, amusing himself instead with the commercially available ladies, but that wasn’t his crime.  He  was tried and sentenced for having blasphemed while playing cards.  It can happen, but it’s unpleasant to hear a priest give way to that extent.

He was the last person sent to the cheba.  On August 7, 1542, he was taken, hands tied, to the stocks placed between the columns of Marco and Todaro, and left there for six hours.  A sign on his chest described his crime and the punishment.

A sort of crown was put on his head, on which were depicted the devils to whom the priest had listened: “…they made me an emperor without an empire….I was crowned without being given a sceptre, wanting to punish me for my iniquity…”.  Perhaps you had to have been there.

Then he was taken up and installed in the cheba, where he remained for two months, after which he was taken to prison for another ten months.

Leaving prison, he was banished for life, which meant leaving the entire Venetian territory, which would have cut out a large part of Northeast Italy, the eastern Adriatic coast, and chunks of Greece, including Crete.  Still, that left plenty of other places where they must have known how to play cards and lose money.

Don’t imagine this is an exhaustive list.  It’s just all I know so far.  But looking around, I notice that the mortal sins have continued to flourish, so I leave you with don Agostino’s penitential warning: “Flee from gambling, do not blaspheme the saints, even less the Lord God…abandon playing cards, blasphemy and prostitutes…”.

I admiringly acknowledge the exceptional research of a personage named Giandri, whose website is marvelous reading (in Italian, alas for many).

Wrath of God?  Not yet.

Wrath of God? Or is this just testing, testing, one two three?

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