As we were wandering around the Rialto area examining Fascist mottoes, we also discovered an astonishing assortment of signs, symbols, inscriptions, and other indications of life from the past that are just sitting out there in the rain and wind deteriorating with nary a squeak from themselves, much less anybody else.

Here are some of the things we found.  (Well — “found” isn’t quite right.  They were hardly lost.  But they do seem to be in the process of becoming lost.)  I’m not saying we’re the only people who have ever noticed these, so no prizes or props to us.  But it seems clear that nobody at the Superintendency of Fine Arts or Beni Culturali or any other government agency tasked with paying attention to the city’s treasures, monuments, or general aesthetic or historical elements has given them any thought whatsoever.  I’m all for restoring paintings by Titian, but I’m also for respecting and even defending these literal voices which have been silenced because they’re not famous.

text of caption here

Trust me, there is indeed an inscription on this column of flaking stone.  I can only decipher a few letters, but can’t manage to construct any likely phrase from them.  You see?  This is what happens when you just leave everything to fend for itself.  I’m no expert on plexiglas, but it occurs to me that a protective covering of some sort, applied at the right time, would have been a good idea.  Certainly better than the Darwinian approach we see around.

The longer I stare at this, the more I feel like I"m taking some diabolical eye examination where they flip the lenses: "Better?" "Worse?"

The longer I stare at this, the more I feel like I”‘m taking some diabolical eye examination as they flip the lenses: “Better?” “Worse?” The letters have made some infernal pact with the cracks in the surface to create more weirdness than those 3-D placemats. I have distinguished a few letters but have given up trying to turn them into words.  This makes me mad.

Ah, much better, though you'll discover that understanding all the words doesn't mean that you will inevitably understand the words' significance.

Ah, much better, though you’ll discover that understanding all the words doesn’t mean that you will inevitably understand their significance.   Those crisp little triangles where punctuation isn’t needed are intriguing design touches.   “L’inchiostri tropo neri/O tropo bianchi/Fa i nomi eterni/E fa le anime vive.”  “The inks that are too black/Or too white/Make eternal names/And make living souls.” This is on the west wall of the small street named “Naranzaria” behind the church of San Giacometto at Rialto.  The wall once enclosed the Fabriche Vecie. It must be some cult thing.

Until a few years ago, the ground-floor storerooms facing Campo San Giacomo and, on the other side, the Erbaria (the open area facing the Grand Canal) were occupied by wholesale fruit and vegetable merchants. Lino remembers rowing there in his boat to buy, say,potatoes, because the price was lower than in his neighborhood..

Until a few years ago, the ground-floor storerooms facing Campo San Giacomo and, on the other side, the Erbaria (the open area facing the Grand Canal) were occupied by wholesale fruit and vegetable merchants.  Now they’ve all been turned into cunning little bars and cafes, but in Lino’s day there were still vendors here selling their produce by the crate (or whatever dimension of container).  He would row there in his boat to buy, say, large amounts of potatoes, because the price was lower than in his neighborhood.  Further back in time, the storerooms would have been be closed by heavy gates or doors; almost all these pillars bear the marks of thick iron hinges (as the holes above testify), and the vendor’s area distinguished by some symbol or emblem.

The proclamation on this column reads as follows (translation below by me):

TARIFFA DELLE VTILITA DEL PESADOR DE FRUTTI FRESCHI STABILITA DAL MAGISTRATO ECC. DEGLI INQUISATORI ALLE TARIFFE APPROVATA DAL CONS. ECC. DI 40 AL CRIMINAL 1726 26 MARZO OLTRE DE QUALI NON POSSANO NE  PRINCIPAL NE LI SOSTITUTI TVOR (prendere) NE MANDAR COSA ALCUNA SOTTO LE PENE DELLE LEGGI PER IL PESO DI CADAUN CESTO CORBA (illegible) CASSA O ALTRO COLLO DE ERVETTA HAVER DEBBA COME SEGVE SINO A LIRE 60 DI PESO SOLDI VNO — 1 SINO AL 200 SOLDI DVE — 2  PER QVALSIVOGLIA MAGGIOR SVMMA IL PESO SOLDI QVATTRO — 4  GIOBATTA LIPPAMANO INQ  FRANCESCO BATTAGGIA INQ SIMON CONTARINI INQ  NICOLO MARCH (?) SEC

THE TARIFF OF THE COMMODITIES OF THE WEIGHMASTER (I invented this word; the pesador was the official weigher) OF FRESH FRUITS ESTABLISHED BY THE MOST EXCELLENT MAGISTRACY OF THE INQUISITORS OF THE TARIFFS APPROVED BY THE MOST EXCELLENT COUNCIL OF 40 OF THE CRIMINAL (the “Quarantia,” or Council of 40, was the supreme government office concerned with financial planning and the Mint; it was divided into three sections, and the “Criminal” was responsible for capital crimes and, as needed, the death penalty) 1726 26 MARCH BEYOND WHICH NEITHER PRINCIPALS OR THEIR SUBSTITUTES MAY TAKE (“tor” or “tuor” is still the common Venetian word for “take”) OR SEND ANY SORT OF THING UNDER PAIN OF THE LAWS FOR THE WEIGHT OF EACH BASKET CORBA (a corba was a long, large basket made of wicker or woven chestnut twigs, usually with handles) CHEST OR OTHER LARGE CONTAINER OF GREEN LEAFY VEGETABLES HAVING TO PAY AS FOLLOWS UP TO 60 LIRE OF WEIGHT ONE SOLDO – UP TO 200 TWO SOLDI – FOR WHATEVER AMOUNT ABOVE THAT FOUR SOLDI GIOBATTA LIPPAMANO INQUISITOR FRANCESCO BATTAGGIA INQUISITOR SIMON CONTARINI INQUISITOR NICOLO MARCH(?) SECRETARY.

I have only translated that bit about money and weight as literally as I can, but you clearly have to be in either the selling or the weighing business to be able to interpret what they mean. Please overlook this for now.

“Erbette,” literally “herbs,” refers to planty foods such as spinach, chicory, chard, etc.  The indefatigable Tassini notes, in “Curiosita’ Veneziane,” that the Erbaria at Rialto was the place where such plants and fruits from the nearby islands and mainland were sold.  I translate: “It existed in the 1300s, and in 1398 was paved with stone, while before it had been paved with wood.  The business (“art”) of the vegetable-sellers was a ‘column’ of the Fruit-sellers guild, and in 1773 had 122 shops, 11 closed places (I am guessing those were the gated and locked storerooms), and 89 “sendings.”  (Consignments?).  He continues, “In 1581 this ‘art’ was allowed to have its altar in the church of SS. Filippo and Giacomo (church torn down by Napoleon) which had belonged first to the Bargemen, and also served for the use of the Linen-workers.”

The symbol of a specific vendor.

The symbol of a specific vendor, as are the following.

SAM_6124.JPG rialto inscriptions

SAM_6126.JPG rialto inscriptions

SAM_6129.JPG rialto inscriptions

No symbols or inscriptions here, just bits of what must have been industrial-strength gates.

 

Categories : History
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Shapeless -- only sort of. But hardly meaningless.

Somewhat shapeless. But hardly meaningless.

IMG_1293.JPG fascist symbol detail

You get so accustomed to the buildings here being in various stages of decrepitude that you become rather lax in looking at them.  You see, but you do not observe.  The particular example that comes to mind concerns a seemingly amorphous glob of concrete or stone or something hard above the door of the building just across the street from us.  I say “seemingly amorphous,” because Lino suddenly recognized its morph the other day.

“Oh look,” he said.  “That was a house where a gerarch lived.”  Unlike the usual formula, this was not a reference to someone from his past.  But it was certainly from the past.  Specifically, from the year beginning October 29, 1926 and ending October 28, 1927, otherwise known as “Anno V,” or Year 5, of the Fascist era.

One of many representations of the fasces and axe. The rods bound together represent strength in unity (easy to break separately, impossible to break when together), and the axe represents the power of life and death which the magistrate, preceded by a "lictor" bearing the fasces, held over the Roman citizens. This, after all, is an item which dates from TKTK and was adopted as part of the Fascist Party's desire to emulate the power and glory of Rome.

One of many representations of the fasces and axe. The birch rods bound together represent strength in unity (easy to break separately, impossible to break when together), and the axe represents the power of capital punishment which the Roman magistrate, preceded by a “lictor” bearing the fasces, held over the Roman citizens. The fasces and lictors date from the first kings of Rome (beginning in 753 BC) and may have been adopted from an Etruscan custom.  In this and many other aspects the Fascist Party showed its desire to recover the power and glory of ancient Rome.

The clump of material, now that I look closer, retains the outlines of the fasces with the axe-blade which was the primary symbol of the National Fascist Party.

As for the gerarchs, there were 12 ranks ranging from the Secretary of the party to a humble “capo nucleo,” or head of a unit.  I haven’t pursued the subject any further than this, though I’m guessing that it was not the Secretary of the party who lived out here on the fringe of civilization.

Over time, I’ve noticed (with Lino’s help, usually) a few other traces of the period between 1921 and 1943.  Pictures follow with what bits of elucidation I can provide.

The faxces and axe as carved on the tomb of Marcus Calpurnius Rufus in Ephesus.

The fasces and axe as carved on the tomb of Marcus Calpurnius Rufus in Ephesus.  He was the son of an important imperial priest during the reign of the emperor Tiberius and a high-ranking senator under the emperor Claudius.

 

The gymnasium of a former school in Dorsoduro; the central door is surmounted by an eagle that doesn't seem to consider itself just any ordinary eagle.

The gymnasium of a former school in Dorsoduro; the central door is surmounted by an eagle that seems to consider itself not just any ordinary eagle.  The eagle was one of the most potent symbols of Rome, hence its importance to Mussolini.

Someone saw fit to remove the fasces which were once clutched in its talons. Lino regrets that. Making no political statements, he says simply that "That's part of our history too."

Someone saw fit to remove the fasces which were once clutched in its talons. Lino regrets that. Making no political statements, he says simply that “That’s part of our history too.”

It would have looked something like this.

It would have looked something like this.

The covered walkway bordering the open space at Rialto called the "Naranzaria" is a trove of stenciled Fascist graffiti. One of the more legible ones reads "W Roma Intangibile" (Evviva, or long live, intangible Rome). This phrase was first used by TK, the first King of Italy in Date TK, and for a long time carried a strong populist significance. The important thing to grasp here are the repeated references to Rome, the Fascist Party's lodestone, pole star, and general fixation.

The covered walkways of the “Fabbriche Vecchie” and “Fabbriche Nuove” at Rialto bordering Campo San Giacomo de Rialto (the open space facing the Grand Canal) is a trove of stenciled and fading Fascist graffiti. One of the more legible ones reads “W Roma Intangibile” (Evviva, or long live, intangible Rome). This phrase was first used by the King of Italy, Umberto I, on Sept. 20, 1886 (more about this after the photographs).  The important thing to grasp here are the repeated references to Rome, the Fascist Party’s lodestone, pole star, and general fixation.  Benito Mussolini saw himself as the founder of a “New Rome.”

I can make out the "W Roma" but am only guessing at "Intangibile" beneath it.

I can make out the “W Roma” but am only guessing at “Intangibile” beneath it.

At the top I can make out the by-now usual "Roma Intangibile," but beneath the white oval there is "Roma ... resteremo"

At the top I can make out the by-now usual “Roma Intangibile,” and beneath the white oval there is “A Roma ci siamo e ci resteremo” (We are in Rome and there we will remain).

Clinging desperately to the plaster is the unconquerable "W Roma Intangibile."

Clinging desperately to the plaster is the unconquerable “W Roma Intangibile.”

I have stared my eyes out on this one and cannot deny or explain that it says "W Nicola Contarini."

I have stared my eyes out on this one and cannot deny or explain that it says “W Nicolo Contarini.” (Long live Nicolo Contarini.)

Nicolo Contarini was the doge of Venice during the hideous plague of 1630. But I don't think that has anything to do with this graffito. According to Wikipedia (translated by me), he was "universally considered a man who was upright and just...distinguished for his capacity to manage the public administration with extreme ability and honesty..During the clashes under his predecessory, even though disapproving the doge (Corner), he .never showed himself to be an extremist, and this made him win the affection even of his adversaries."

Nicolo Contarini was the doge of Venice during the hideous plague of 1630. But I don’t think that has anything to do with this graffito. According to Wikipedia (translated by me), he was “universally considered a man who was upright and just…distinguished for his capacity to manage the public administration with extreme ability and honesty. During the clashes under his predecessor, even though disapproving the doge (Corner), he never showed himself to be an extremist, and this made him win the affection even of his adversaries.”  If for some reason I’ve read this fading inscription incorrectly, I’m still glad to have had an excuse to discover a man who deserves to be remembered.

Here is what I have managed to learn about “Roma intangibile.”  The expression seems to have resulted from a mashup of events and remarks.  We begin with the “Capture of Rome” (“Breccia di Porta Pia“), on September 20, 1870.  It was the final event of the Risorgimento; the Papal States were defeated, and the way was open to the unification of Italy under its first king, Vittorio Emmanuele II.

In 1875, Umberto I (King of Italy from 1878-1900) referred to Rome as the “unbreakable seal of Italian unity.”  In 1886, he used the term “Rome, an intangible conquest.”  (This deserves much explanation and exegesis, which is beyond me.  Just stay with me here.)  It is at that point that the principle of “Intangible Rome” entered history.

The phrase caught on; in fact, it became so popular that in 1895 a certain Carlo Bartezaghi, an enterprising industrialist from Milan, created a bronze medal showing the she-wolf (symbol of Rome) and the motto “Roma Intangibile.” He led people to believe that it was an ancient object and managed to fool a number of numismatic experts for a while, but that’s beside our point.  The term became part of the popular lexicon.

In 1900, Vittorio Emmanuele III, in his first proclamation to the Italian people, recalled “…the unity of the Fatherland that is epitomized in the name of Roma intangibile, symbol of greatness and pledge of integrity for Italy.”

Fading monuments have such a melancholy aspect, not so much because they’re fading but because they used to matter, sometimes a lot, and now they’re fading.

I'm fresh out of pictures of Rome, tangible or otherwise, so I'll have to stay in intangible Venice.

I’m fresh out of pictures of Rome, tangible or otherwise, so I’ll have to stay in intangible Venice.

 

 

 

 

Categories : History
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This is the snap I made which gave the lady to suppose that I was a tourist. But wait -- she then proceeded to complain that there are too many tourists? Was she referring to me? I totally missed that.

This is the snap I made which gave the lady to suppose that I was a tourist. But wait — she then proceeded to complain that there are too many tourists? Was she referring to me? I totally missed that.

Talking about tourism in Venice is like talking about altitude sickness on Kilimanjaro.  I speak from experience, as you know.

Both phenomena can be extreme, disagreeable, and unavoidable.  (Well, altitude sickness is avoidable, theoretically, if you have enough time to acclimate yourself.)  I haven’t discovered a way to acclimate to tourism here, at the point it has reached, except by avoidance.  Which is like solving altitude sickness by not climbing the mountain.  No taking the vaporetto on the Grand Canal on Sunday afternoon, for example.  No Piazza San Marco pretty much ever until winter.

But yesterday morning at the Rialto Market vaporetto stop I had a useful exchange of views with a heftily-middle-aged German lady. (Useful to me; she was untouched by the experience.)

So we’re standing on the dock, as I said.  I snap a photo of some people I know from the rowing section of the Railway Employees’ Afterwork Club, as they rowed their gondola downstream. They were followed by a caorlina from another club.  I didn’t raise my camera.

She speaks: “Don’t you want to take a picture of them?”

I reply: “No, I was just taking a picture of the other people because I know them.”

“Are they training for something?”

“No, they’re just out for a spin in the morning.  It’s something people in the boat clubs like to do.”

“Well, I’ve never seen them and I’ve been to Venice many times.”

“Oh.  That’s odd.”

A pause.

“So you live here?”

“Yes I do.”

“HOW do you STAND IT with all the TOURISTS?”

IMG_1387 blog german woman tourists

Certainly the number of people in town — especially the Piazza San Marco — exceeds the maximum capacity allowed by any fire department you can name. But how do we decide who gets to stay and who gets sent home? Is Venice going to become some demented reality show, like “Survivor”? Now that I think about it, it kind of already is.  What’s missing are qualified judges.

I could tell — as perhaps you can too — that she wasn’t asking because she wanted to know. She wasn’t asking, actually.  She was announcing her opinion on what it would be like to live here, and clearly it would be worse than five forevers in Hades.  But I decided to go with it for a while, just to see where we might end up.

“Well, every place has its positive and negative aspects,” I said.  (Aren’t you proud of me for being so tactful?)  “If there is a perfect place on earth, please tell me where it is, and I’ll go there immediately.”

But she was not to be pried loose from the subject of all the TOURISTS.  Though now that I think of it, I should have asked her which corner of paradise she comes from.

“I’ve always come to Venice in the WINTER when there is NOBODY.  I went to (I can’t remember where) in the winter and there was NOBODY.  It was WONDERFUL.  I don’t LIKE people.”  Something in her voice made me picture a scene of utter desolation in which she, rejoicing, wandered solitarily through deserted streets as the evening shadows thickened over the stiffening corpse of a large rat in the main square.

Perhaps this is the lady's ideal view of Venice, or will be, just as soon as the two annoying people in the distance are eliminated.

Perhaps this is the lady’s ideal view of Venice, or will be, just as soon as those two annoying people in the distance are eliminated.

“So why did you come in April?” (The obvious question.)

“Oh, I’m on a CRUISE.”  As if this made her presence on the dock at the market inevitable.  Do they drive people off the ship with whips?  And I suppose she had examined the itinerary, hence was not taken by surprise to find herself in VENICE.  But I didn’t reach for any of these flapping loose ends.

Our vaporetto was pulling up to the dock.  “I hope you enjoy your cruise,” I said.  She didn’t reply but I had the impression she was already doubting that that would be likely.

As I thought back over this very unsatisfactory conversation, I realized that I had missed my chance to throw her to the mat and painfully pin her, even if she did weigh twice as much as me.

It would have been easy.  All I needed to do was to say, ” If tourists annoy you, what are you doing here? Because you’re just as much a tourist as the rest of them.  Maybe you’re annoying everybody else.  So why don’t you get the ball rolling by going away?”

I know that Lino would have put it more succinctly; he’d have said “So go home already.”  But that lacks the philosophical twist that interested me.

Who gets to decide who should be allowed to be a tourist in Venice?  They’re irritating because they’re here?  You’re here too.

As Stanislaw Lec observed,  “No snowflake in an avalanche feels responsible.”

Foggy thinking doesn't help you understand anything.

Foggy thinking doesn’t help you understand anything.  Though if you’re lucky you might sound poetic, instead of merely incoherent.

 

Categories : Tourism
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Mar
15

Signals of spring

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One of the many wonderful things about spring is that nobody can start it or stop it.  That’s why the earliest signs are always the most eloquent.  Here’s a glimpse of the past few days, in more or less chronological order:

The fish are returning to the lagoon from their winter spent wherever they go, and one of the first to arrive are the seppie, complete with ink. This was clearly not the destination this seppia had been imagining on his way up the Adriatic.

Another day, another victim. The seppie are coming into the lagoon to spawn. Just after the feast of the Redentore (third Sunday in July), which is the way the Venetians date the event, the eggs hatch, and everybody's out along the fondamente fishing for the baby seppie. Around about the Feast of the Dead ("i morti," Nov. 2), the "fraima" commences, which is the annual migration of the fish out of the lagoon and back to sea. However, a few seem to linger, because in late December there comes a day which is the first really cold day of the winter. I've experienced it several times, it seems to favor St. Stephen's Day, Dec. 26. When the cold hits, it's very likely that some seppie (squatting in somebody's summer home?) come to the surface. If you can stand the cold water, you can even catch them with your hands. They're kind of stunned by the cold.

Another day, another victim. More black drops from an indignant seppia.  The seppie are coming into the lagoon to spawn. Just after the feast of the Redentore (third Sunday in July) — feast days are still a standard measure of time here –the eggs hatch, and everybody’s out along the fondamente fishing for the baby seppie. Around about the Feast of the Dead (“i morti,” Nov. 2), the “fraima” commences, which is the annual migration of the fish out of the lagoon and back to sea. However, a few tend to linger, and in late December there comes the first really cold day of the winter. I’ve experienced it several times; the moment seems to favor St. Stephen’s Day, Dec. 26. When the cold hits, it’s very likely that some seppie who’ve stayed behind (squatting in somebody’s summer home?) drift to the surface. I think they’re stunned by the cold, but I don’t know that for a fact.  I do know that if you can stand the cold water, you can even catch them with your hands.  They move pretty slowly.

I grew up in Ithaca, New York, where it snows from October to April (more or less). At a certain imperceptible signal the city is swathed in forsythia, so of course I took it totally for granted. Now I watch this corner every spring for this burst of glory. It's not nostalgia, exactly. I'd love this even if I'd grown up in Rochester (lilacs).

I grew up in Ithaca, New York, where it snows from October to April (more or less). At a certain imperceptible signal the city is swathed in forsythia, and being young I took it totally for granted and didn’t firmly grasp how thrilling it was. Now that I live in a city not known for any particular flower, I watch this corner every spring for this burst of glory. It’s not nostalgia, exactly. I’d love this even if I’d grown up in Rochester (lilacs).

This plum tree -- specifically "baracocoli" -- is a little behind the blooming curve. Its cousin near the Giardini vaporetto stop is already finished with flowering.

This plum tree — specifically “baracocoli” — is a little behind the blooming curve. Its cousin near the Giardini vaporetto stop is already finished with flowering.

There’s an old saying — which probably means that only old people say it now: “Quando la rosa mete spin, xe bon el go’ e el passarin.” When the rose puts forth its thorns, the go’ and the passarin are good. The two lagoon fish — gobies and European flounder (Gobius ophiocephalus Pallas and Platichthys flesus) — are in season, or starting to be. This rosebush is already on  its way to producing amazing  flowers, and the fish are also going to be excellent.

Peach blossoms from Sicily. Not Venetian but I've only ever seen them here so I'm adding them to the local squadron of spring.

Peach blossoms from Sicily. Not Venetian but I’ve only ever seen them here so I’m adding them to the local squadron of spring.

Fish, check. Flowers, check. And of course the tourists also begin to hatch, bloom, whatever the right word might be. Winter was nice, but now they're baaaaaack.

Fish, check. Flowers, check. And of course the tourists also begin to hatch, bloom, reproduce, whatever the right word might be. Do they also come here to spawn?  Are these early visitors the ones responsible for the millions we see in the summer?

I know it's a free country, but I can never understand why they're HERE. There's virtually nothing in this neighborhood to lure a routist with its siren song. I realize that when the Biennale is open, they spill over into the rest of the world. But now? Are they lost?

I know it’s a free country, but I can never understand why they’re HERE. There’s virtually nothing in this neighborhood to lure a tourist with its siren song. When the Biennale is open, they inevitably spill over into the rest of the area. But now? Are they lost?

IMG_0776 blog spring

Easter is imminent, and as predictably as the seppie or the much-sung swallows of Capistrano, the window of Mascari becomes an orgy of chocolate eggs. You see this and you cannot deny that all is right, if not with the world, at least with this window.

 

 

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Categories : Nature
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