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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
“So you live here?”
“Yes I do.”
“HOW do you STAND IT with all the TOURISTS?”
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.
“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.”
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: