Sunday evening at 7:25 PM the Piazza San Marco suddenly came alight in the most extraordinary way. It pulsated, briefly and gloriously, with hundreds (900, if all the people who signed up actually came) of flashlights which, taken together, formed the shape of a heart.
Yes, “Venezia Rivelata” has struck again.
We all remember what fun it was to make a “bocolo” on the feast of San Marco, 2014, and this time the organizers/artists/fantasizers had designed something bigger, more complicated, and also much more spectacular.
The event was the 12th and last in a series created by Alberto Toso Fei and performance artist Elena Tagliapietra. Not every program was so vivid; some were lectures and — to be frank — weren’t all equally publicized, as far as I could tell. Not that I’d have attended them all. I just want to point out that there was in fact a major scheme to all this, the scheme being to focus each time on a particular aspect of Venetian history. And why do this? To bring Venetians to a sense of reclaiming their city, in an emotional if not actual way. (It’s all explained on the press release below.)
The theme on Sunday night was “Venice and Justice,” which is a topic well worth bringing forward, and not because the two terms seem to have become, if we read the newspapers, virtual antonyms. Wait, that isn’t fair. There is justice — in Italy at large, no need to concentrate on Venice alone — but it moves at the pace of a dying diplodocus struggling in a tar pit, and the results are often what might be called debatable. Slow, in any case.
But in the great trajectory of history, Venice often showed herself to be a dazzling innovator — technical, commercial, conceptual, legal — passing laws most of which probably wouldn’t have seemed like a good idea to anyone but the Venetians. To take an example at random, Venice was the first nation in the world to abolish the slave trade (960 AD). Venice invented the copyright, to protect intellectual property (their merchant instincts didn’t stop at the merely tangible). Venice passed laws to protect the rights of women, and of children. Not made up.
Speaking of laws, how about this idea: “The law is equal for everyone,” which is inscribed in big letters on the wall behind every judge’s bench in the land. It can’t be confirmed where this dictum came from, but the Venetians followed it in spirit if not in phrase. For many centuries they were arguably the only people in Europe (and the world?) who didn’t subscribe to the idea that the bigger and richer you were, the more the law was supposed to work for you. If you bothered with the law at all.
The fact that Venice regarded the law as sovereign was never so bitterly and clearly shown than in the agonizing story of Jacopo Foscari, the only surviving son of doge Francesco Foscari (doge from 1423 to 1457). Jacopo was found to be accepting money from a foreign power; he was tried and exiled. More skulduggery, more trials, more exile — three times, each sentence confirmed by his father. I submit that the average criminal whose father was the head of state (or, if you like, the average head of state with an incorrigible child) would have used whatever power was necessary to get the laddie off the hook. Here, no. The laddie died in exile.
Toso Fei reports that the following inscription (translated by me) was carved, in Latin, over the entry door of the avogaria of the Doge’s Palace; the avogaria was an ancient magistracy composed of three men who upheld the principle of legality, that is, the correct application of the laws. That such a body even existed was extraordinary — perhaps, in the 12th century, even revolutionary.
PRIMA DI OGNI COSA INDAGATE SEMPRE SCRUPOLOSAMENTE, PER STABILIRE LA VERITÀ CON GIUSTIZIA E CHIAREZZA. NON CONDANNATE NESSUNO, SE NON DOPO UN GIUDIZIO SINCERO E GIUSTO. NON GIUDICATE NESSUNO IN BASE A SOSPETTI, MA RICERCATE LE PROVE E, ALLA FINE, PRONUNCIATE UNA SENTENZA PIETOSA. NON FATE AGLI ALTRI QUEL CHE NON VORRESTE FOSSE FATTO A VOI.
BEFORE ANY OTHER THING, ALWAYS INVESTIGATE SCRUPULOUSLY TO ESTABLISH THE TRUTH WITH JUSTICE AND CLARITY. DO NOT CONDEMN ANYONE IF NOT ACCORDING TO A SINCERE AND JUST JUDGMENT. DO NOT JUDGE ANYONE ON THE BASIS OF SUSPICIONS, BUT SEEK THE EVIDENCE AND, AT THE END, PRONOUNCE A COMPASSIONATE SENTENCE. DO NOT DO TO OTHERS WHAT YOU WOULD NOT HAVE DONE TO YOU.
I think they stole that last idea from somewhere.
So: Beating heart. What better to represent everything good — not only laws fairly and scrupulously applied — but life, period? That was our assignment.
The result was beyond dazzling.
Hats off to everybody involved, right down to the policemen who kept the spectators at bay. And thanks for the umbrella, too.
Yesterday, Sept. 16, was the first day of school. Nobody was happy, of course, even though the Veneto, along with Puglia, was the region that started school the latest (Alto Adige began on Sept. 7, but they have German DNA).
I’ve never investigated the reasons why the whole country doesn’t start school on the same day, and starting on a Wednesday seems odd, or at least asymmetrical, to me. Then again, some of the post offices in Venice open at 8:15, and some open at 8:25. Anyone for 8:00? Certainly not. To each his own symmetry, I guess.
This year, as in the past few, the neighborhood old people’s group (literal translation of “gruppo anziani“) organized a wonderful send-off to the littlest scholars to launch them into their first real day of school ever (they will already have had nursery school, but this time it’s serious). We didn’t stay to watch because we had to be somewhere else, but I have no doubt that, as before, each child was given a bag of presents — school supplies could qualify, as long as they’ve got that new-car smell — and given a heartfelt exhortation, and a warm round of applause.
But what was new this year was the sign they put up on the backdrop, the wall of the church of San Francesco di Paola. We discovered it toward evening, and this morning it was gone. I’d like to think that the wall will retain the warmth of the poster for quite a while yet.
Hello. Maybe you remember me, I’m the blogger about Venice who doesn’t make anything up. I am fully aware that I have set a new record in silence, and I’m sorry about it, but I had lots of good reasons, including having to finish a colossal project (which will be revealed at the appropriate moment, which isn’t now). I have been living in a parallel universe complete with galaxies that have long numbers instead of names, and have not had enough brain, or whatever energy is actually made of (electrons? crush-ons? four-hours-of-sleep-a-night-ons?) to do anything else.
But there is possibly a deeper reason for the silence. I have temporarily run out of interest in Venice. At least I hope it’s temporary.
Why is this? Because I have become the glass into which the famous one drop too many has dripped. Several drops. Too freaking many drops.
Here is what I mean:
The tram. Another massive public project, full of problems and costing too much.
Ten years have been devoted to the building of a tram that goes places in Mestre and now, finally, is concluding at Piazzale Roma. Naturally this has been done to the sound of teeth: Those of the highly inconvenienced public (gnashing and grinding) and those of the builders, politicians, and Superintendent(s) of Architecture and Landscape (gleaming with satisfied smiles).
This is merely the latest version of a story that just keeps getting retold, like bodice-ripper novels in which only the names and locations change: Estimates of time and cost blown to flinders, a vehicle which, new as it is, breaks down at odd moments for all sorts of reasons that are explained in the “Don’t Do This” chapter of the textbook on how to build a tram. Derailments, losses of power, miscalculations of angles of descent which mean the tram would ram itself nose-down into the ground at certain points unless the geometry gets fixed.
Now the bill, so to speak, is coming due. The budgeted cost: 163.7 million euros. Real cost to date: 208 million. Unforeseen delays, extra features added on later, the usual litany of an expensive public project. Wait, I think that’s redundant. There will be investigations, of course. The tram people can explain everything.
So much for the tram itself, which frankly, I happen to like. When it’s working.
But the tram’s new “shelter” in Piazzale Roma (105 feet / 32 meters long) is an entire other subject, the latest in a series of phenomenally ugly constructions which have been approved and executed in the spirit of “Because we’re the city and we can do what we want.” The purpose of this construction is to protect what appears to be about 50 people from the rain while waiting for the tram, as long as there is totally no wind. The more I look at it, the more I can’t understand how it could be considered functional, whether beautiful or not.
But by the way, it isn’t beautiful. But no matter. As so often has happened, the project documents clearly came out of the office of the Superintendent of Architecture and Landscape (who you might have thought was required to protect and defend the fabric of the most beautiful city, etc.) covered with big bright stamps that say “We like this!” “This is good!” “Let’s do this ASAP!” “Can we do more of these?” This has happened so many times since I’ve been here. Say what you will about the Calatrava Bridge — for all its problems, and preposterous cost overruns, at least it’s functional. You can adjudicate beauty on your own time.
As you can see, this shelter (I don’t know what else to call it at the moment, though it doesn’t look very sheltering) answers to the nickname given by the first Venetians who saw it: the “big black coffin.” It’s made of three sections of steel which weigh a total of 18 tons. I cannot understand why something that big that weighs that much has to exist anywhere in Venice; even Tennessee Ernie Ford knew enough to stop at Sixteen Tons.
Traffic in the Grand Canal: Remember the fatal accident by the Rialto Bridge two years ago? We’ve jettisoned one mayor, used up a commissario, and now have another mayor. Nothing has changed. Everything is just the way it was. Remember all those new regulations that came out a few months ago that threw a few amateur rowers into a swivet? Regulations are so wonderful, especially when you have no way to enforce them, like not having one policeman for every boat. Don’t watch this space for news of the next fatal accident, because I’ve stopped caring about the traffic. Let everybody do what they want, which is exactly what they are doing. Rock on.
The Bottegon is gone. This strikes way too close to home. Stores close with alarming frequency here, usually as a result of spikes in the rent that are impossible to pay by selling books or pork chops or kiwi fruit or even sporting goods and gear (Andreatta, in the Strada Nova, had been in business since 1883. As of March, it is no more). I’ve seen all kinds of stores close since I’ve been here — hair salons, butcher shops, toy stores — and what follows is usually a bar/cafe, restaurant, or shop selling “Murano glass” made in China, Carnival masks (often made in China), touristic gewgaws and souvenirs (made over there too). Nothing against China, but it’s not Venice.
I don’t know precisely how long the Bottegon was in business; I knew that it occupied a large space that was once a movie theater — you could see the big empty window above the cash registers where the projection room used to be.
You have to understand, this wasn’t a mere store. It was a Noah’s Ark of almost everything required for human life, at least a pair of each so they could repopulate the earth with hair conditioner and thumbtacks and toilet paper and moth repellent and floor wax and all kinds of electrical wire. Except for food and clothing, you couldn’t think of anything that you couldn’t find there. Paint, hair color, mops, ladders, toothpaste, lightbulbs, potpourri, makeup, doorstops, toothpicks, shelving, salad spinners, detergent. It was impossible to go in there and not come out with what you needed. It was crammed so full, up to the top shelves of a very high ceiling, that you sometimes had to ask for help even to locate your item. Then the choice would baffle you.
Then things began slowly to change. They moved the cash registers to the front of the store, the area that you used to have to traverse like a jungle explorer, occasionally climbing over things. They glammed up the shelves, widened the aisles, cut back on a lot of products, and began to add items you’d never have thought of buying there. Olive oil, potato chips, wine. It was weird — there are two supermarkets right across the street. It was like watching Zelda Fitzgerald studying ballet at age 27, imagining she was going to be a star: depressing, and smelling of doom.
People used to stand in line at the registers, eventually there was almost nobody in the store. In a brutal about-face, they never had what I needed anymore. Eventually it stopped being a store and became some old friend with a lingering illness that you just couldn’t visit anymore.
So I’m glad it’s out of its misery. From what my neighborhood source told me, you could have written the cause of death in one word: “Debts.”
A moment of silence.
Happily for me, soulless consumer that I am, I don’t have to worry, because via Garibaldi has two pharmacies, and two supermarkets, and even two bakers. And there is indeed a sort of Bottegon down by the vegetable boat which has already been taking up the slack. I have no idea what it’s called, but it’s small and crammed and has almost everything the old store had. So I’m okay. But I still don’t understand why they had to let the other one die.
Maybe it’s going to rise from the ashes as a restaurant. We certainly need more of those.
Complaints about everything: These never stop, and most of them are completely justified. But I’m tired of reading them and hearing them and even uttering them myself.
So I’ll be looking for something new to share, but it might take a little while. I’m going to have to find one of those three-day cleanses, but for my brain.
It’s not as if I have nothing to say — I’m sure I have, somewhere — but the summer heat has hit (upper 90’s, F) with humidity to match, and my brain is otherwise occupied in keeping my vital functions going.
There remains one vital function I can manage on my own, and that is the devouring of ice cream. Happily, the newspaper publishes several articles each summer which not only state that ice cream is one of the best possible foods to consume in this heat, but that doctors confirm that it is NECESSARY to eat it, that it’s GOOD FOR YOU, that it’s PRACTICALLY A HEALTH FOOD. I don’t write these articles, but I could if asked to.
So here, having decided to avoid any brain-intensive topics, I am just going to give some of those glimpses of the sights (I spare you sounds) to be noticed when walking around the neighborhood. Just think, you’re also spared the temperature, which is just about the same inside as outside, except when inside is even hotter.
I’m going on vacation tomorrow, so will not be not making anything up for about six weeks. I intend to return totally bursting with wonders to relate, or at least bursting with the intention of doing so.