The votes are in, but they’re still being counted. So far, though, the number of ballots on the spelling of the nizioleti has exceeded 1,500. And they are unanimous in favor of bringing back the old spelling, the old words, the old way, period.
This information was imparted by Tiziano Graziottin, from the Gazzettino, to a happy gathering last Sunday on a cold, rainy morning in the Fish Market at the Rialto. I was interested to see maybe 50-70 people show up — perhaps more might have come if the weather had cooperated — and I was even more interested to see that only two people from the boating world (besides Lino and me) were there.
Why is this interesting? First, because I hardly ever see people in groups who are not of the boating ilk. Second, because for the past several years, the president of the Coordinating Committee of the Rowing Clubs, a certain Giovanni Giusto, has made it his own highly emotional, high-volume mantra that Venetian rowing is one of the last holdouts –perhaps the last holdout — of true venezianita‘, or Venetian-ness.
If that’s the case, I would have assumed (Zwingle’s Fifth Law: Never Assume) that boating people would have showed up in a solid, even if small, block of solidarity. But no. Let’s say that the weather prevented coming by oar — which it did — people who cared could have come by foot, just like us.
But the boating world was not to be seen. That particular piece of Venetian culture and heritage is apparently floating around sealed inside its own bubble, and the other piece of V.C. and H., i.e., the nizioleti, is doing likewise. In a city this small, it seems bizarre that there should be no contact between these two tracks carrying the same train.
As I looked around, I tried to guess from which quadrant these people emerged. The universities? The art world? The music world? The world of linguistics? The world of free snacks? I could only be sure about the last.
The general sentiment of the occasion — of the project, mission, crusade — was expressed in Venetian on the sign shown above. Translation by me:
How many centuries of history are in this nizioleto,
Names of streets, written in dialect,
Squares, little squares, parishes and streets,
From the Bridge of the Beret-Makers to the Bridge of the Breasts,
But these names weren’t given by chance,
But according to strict criteria.
Each street we walk along reminds us of some fact (deed),
And, why not, even an ugly crime,
The Riva of Biasio, the Rio Tera’ of the Assassins,
As reported by the great Tassini …
To say nothing of the ancient trades,
Like the milk-seller or the barrel-maker,
Walk around the city with your head held high,
Every nizioleto is a truth.
And beware anybody who touches them
Or writes them in Italian,
Because we’ll bite their hand.
Poor nizioleti, old and worn,
And to fix them, there’s never any money.
The purpose of the festa wasn’t only to report on the voting, but also to promote (in a very soft way), the new organization known as “Masegni e Nizioleti.” (The masegni are the old trachyte paving stones, which have been endangered for the past several years by replacement by blocks of some other substance. I think it’s a kind of stone, but once it’s on the ground, it looks to the street the same way Italianized words look on the nizioleti: Strange, out of place, and uninvited). The sheets and the stones groups decided to join forces and it appears, at least in the honeymoon stage, to be a happy marriage.
I pulled out 10 euros and signed on as a member of Masegni and Nizioleti. I have no idea how far the group is going to get, but I do know that on May 25, squads will be organized to clean graffiti off the walls. I will take a break from whinging, put on my rubber gloves, pick up my bucket and brush, or sponge, or broom, and get to work, EVEN THOUGH I know that a week later graffiti will reappear.
More about the masegni themselves in my next; they are a story in themselves (as are we all). But this is enough for one day. Steady the Buffs! Tote that bedsheet! All hands to the pumps, and see you on the barricades. Bring refreshments.
Although we certainly can’t complain about the winter we haven’t had — all the cold and snow were re-routed to other parts of the world — spring is still exerting the old rousing-the-bear-from-hibernation force around the neighborhood.
So I festivate the equinox with a string of springy pictures, in no particular order, because I have the sensation that everything is happening pretty much in unison, like the Rockettes. This wonderful, too-brief phase comes down to essentially two things: Fish and flowers.
The bedsheets, as you recall, are known as nizioleti here, and are the characteristic street signs with their often-exotic names in the Venetian language.
But hidden within them was a problem which nobody had ever noticed — nobody except Tiziana Agostini, the Assessore (person officially responsible) for Place Names.
The nizioleti are in Venetian, but she thought they should be in Italian. Time to move on, leave that quaint little old past behind, step up the game. Was she ever surprised last December when she discovered that the Venetians were massively opposed to this cultural non-improvement. A citizens’ group quickly formed to stop the madness and promote the repairing and repainting of the good old names that were already in place and doing just fine as they were, thanks so much.
Citizens’ groups here can’t count on accomplishing much beyond letting their dudgeon be known, but in this case the response came from everywhere, it seemed, and it was unanimous: We want the old names back. Don’t fix the names. Leave the names the hell alone.
And the outcry seems to have worked.
Ms. Agostini came out from under her desk when the bombardment stopped, and has been meeting with the core citizens’ group with the intention of reviewing and correcting the situation. Fancy way of saying “Put the words back where they belong.”
Meanwhile, the Gazzettino has undertaken a poll of its readers. Every day for about a week (the last day will be March 16), the same list of names is published in the paper, and the reader can indicate his/her preference by ticking the appropriate box. Then one merely has to cut out the little survey form, and take it to one of the drop-off stations. Happily, one of them is right here in via Garibaldi, though I would have gone all the way to the train station if that were my only option.
Naturally I’ve been ticking all the boxes on the right every day, and will keep on doing so till the end.
Then we’ll see if it ever made any difference.
Yet again, my blog as it arrives via e-mail omitted the YouTube clip of the obstacle course which I worked so hard to find.
At some point I will inquire as to how to avoid this glitch.
Meanwhile, here is the link:
Apologies to all.