In the simplest terms, Situation Normal translates as “deranged.” Sometimes in big ways, sometimes in small, but normalcy here will never resemble normalcy in Normal, Illinois.
I suppose the town we’re most closely related to would be Eek, Alaska.
Starting with the disappearing snail who traversed Lino’s wool sweater, which was spread to dry yesterday on the portable scaffolding which serves as clothesline. I washed the sweater, I put it outside, I brought it inside when the rain started, I left it on the scaffolding in the living room/library/office/parlor/game room/music room/mud room/orangery all night. I took it outside this morning, and saw the gleaming little strands of the snail’s wake festooning the navy-blue surface.
What impelled it to work its way up the metal tube of the frame? (I can imagine what impelled it to work its way down: There was absolutely nothing to do on the laundry after the fun of streaking slime across the clothes had worn off). And where was the scaffolding when the creature began its epic adventure? Which means: Did he come in from the rain along with the underwear and dishtowels? If not, where did he join my textiles? And where did he go when he left? Or is he still here?
What drew him to the dripping garment? (Well, maybe it wasn’t still dripping at that point.) Do I now have to add “snail repellent” to the fatal products aimed at mosquitoes, ants and flies?
I pondered all those things as I washed the sweater again, put it out on a higher level than before, and left it to go through the dripping stage yet again. I’m not so annoyed about the snail himself, but he made me lose 18 hours of precious drying time. This is unpardonable.
Speaking of drying, we are living a period of extreme and widespread humidity. We’ve had fog, rain, and mist, plus indeterminate watery vectors for weeks and weeks. Even when the sun is shining, the air is humid. We have to do hand-to-hand combat with the front door to open and close it, the wood is so swollen with damp. But I refuse to turn on the heat until driven to do so; the gas company sucks out what little blood and lymph are left in our bank account with a voracity even a vampire can’t match. Vampires are thirsty only at night, while the gas company is slurping away night and day, even when all the gas is turned off.
I’m finished with that now.
Let’s talk about other craziness. Today’s newspaper contains an article about the discovery of a barber in the town of Rovigo who has been working for 23 years without a license, and without paying any taxes. No license? No problem! No taxes? Big, multifarious, expensive problems! But it’s just another example of Zwingle’s Eighth Law, which states “Everything is fine until it’s not.” He had a fantastic run, after all. Five days a week times 52 weeks (I’m not giving him a vacation) times 23 years comes to 5,980 tax-free days. He must have been known as the Smiling Barber.
But that’s also a lot of days for no Finance Police-person, or local police-person, or firefighter or exterminator or anyone in any kind of uniform to EVER have asked, even once, to see his books or his diploma. That’s more disturbing than the thought of an unlicensed person wielding razor and shears, even though we know that there are plenty of licensed people who aren’t very handy with sharp objects either.
Unlicensed practitioners, even tax-paying ones, keep turning up. Every so often there’s a story about a gynecologist or dentist or surgeon (not made up) who is discovered to have been working peacefully and lucratively for years thanks to innate genius, sheer luck, or whatever he could pick up via some YouTube video clips.
So far, these stories have concerned only men. I’m not being sexist, I’m just reporting. Women are usually too busy being beaten, abused, and killed by their so-called loved ones to have any time left over to cheat on their taxes.
Speaking of love, a man in Cavarzere, a small town just over there, had been ignoring the restraining order imposed on him for his persistent persecution of his wife; she moved out and even changed towns, but he followed her, and the other night he swerved in front of her car and stopped, but she fled into a bar and called the carabinieri. When they went to his house, they discovered a homemade casket sitting there, all ready for her.
Since today’s cadenza is in the key of Crazy, you’re probably wondering why I haven’t mentioned the vaporettos. The moment has arrived.
We know that there aren’t enough of them and that most of the year has passed to the soundtrack of the suffering groans of infinite numbers of people trying to get from here to there on a vehicle that is approximately 1/2,948th of the space needed.
But the right hook-left uppercut which the ACTV dealt to the traveling public in the past four days has finally inspired enraged calls for Ugo Bergamo, the Assessore (City Council-member) for Mobility, to resign and go far away to somewhere in South Asia and cultivate ylang-ylang. (Made up.) (The rage isn’t made up, though.)
First it was the long holiday weekend (Nov. 1-4) which gave untold thousands the great idea to come to Venice and spend the day looking at bridges and canals. According to what I could hear just listening to the people shuffling past on the Strada Nuova, many were Italians who probably didn’t have far to travel and were going home that night. But there was a honking great lot of them.
Yet even more people weren’t shuffling; they were trying to take the waterbus. When the terrifyingly overloaded vehicles arrived and tied up at certain stops for the exchange of prisoners, hundreds of exasperated people were still trying to get aboard even when there was no space left even for a hiccup.When they were left on the dock, at least at the Rialto stop, they began pushing and yelling and coming to blows.
Mr. Bergamo acknowledged the drama, but said that nobody, including himself, had ever imagined there would be that many people coming to Venice. If I were a judge, I’d make that defense qualify as contempt of court. You’re living in one of the major tourist cities of the globe, but you can’t imagine that untold thousands of people will come on a holiday weekend? Can he imagine water running downhill? Can he imagine beans giving him gas?
Second, on Monday it was the students and commuters who took the hit. On November 3, the transport schedule changes. Except that this year, all the distress about there being too much traffic in the Grand Canal (think: August 17) has led to the cutting of some runs. Good idea, except that cutting to solve one problem has created another.
Because the ACTVmade a major cut in the slice of time with the heaviest traffic. If you wanted to go to school or work last Monday (unlikely that you wanted to go, I know), you were inevitably traveling between 7:00 and 9:00 AM. But the new schedule for that time period suddenly didn’t offer 11 vaporettos. There were five.
Mr. Bergamo says that’s going to be fixed. I guess he suddenly imagined that there weren’t enough vaporettos between 7:00 and 9:00.
I don’t understand fixing problems you could have avoided creating. Zwingle is going to have to formulate a Law that covers that.
When I was a sprite, we observed November 11 as “Armistice Day.” At some point which I am not going to pause to identify — perhaps it was when the last veteran of the First World War passed on — this occasion was recast as “Veterans’ Day.”
Something similar occurred in Italy, at some point I’m not going to identify; November 4, the date on which the Austrian surrender took effect, is now labeled “Armed Forces Day.”
Call it what you will, here the memory of the hideous calamity of “The First War” or “The War of ’15-’18,” as they also name it here, has not faded. On or near every parish church in Venice you will find a plaque listing the names of the local boys who never returned (names of the fallen of the Second War have also been added).
On the base of the flagpole in Campo Santa Margherita the names of two of Lino’s uncles are inscribed, last name first, the way they do it here: GREGOR ANGELO GREGOR FRANCESCO. When Lino and his twin brother arrived in 1938, his mother named them for her deceased brothers. So I suppose I’m also linked in a way to the Great War.
For those whose interest tends more toward the logistical, many organizations have labored to reconstruct or recover whatever remains along the battle front of the Alpine crest — ruined barracks, partially collapsed trenches, snarls of rusty barbed wire, assorted unexploded bombs, and similar bellicose elements left by men who fought because they were ordered to do so and died because that’s what’s likely to happen in a war, not to mention during an entire winter near the screaming tops of naked mountains: Avalanches, frostbite, disease, not to mention falling chunks of mountain dislodged by the mutual detonation of mines.
Speaking of elements which were left behind, sometimes one of the men himself reappears, revealed by a melting glacier or shifting rockslide. Just think, corpses of forgotten Austrian and Italian soldiers still strewn about those picturesque Alps.
Last August we spent a few days in the Valle dei Mocheni, our favorite valley not far from Trento. Before the War, this area belonged to the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, so when the first shots rang out, Austrian troops were sent into the high valleys to repulse the Italians.
We went further up into a side valley called the Valcava, and passed a sparkling morning walking even further up to the “FeldKapelle,” a reconstructed field chapel at 6,049 feet (1,844 meters) in an area which had been an outpost of the Austrian Kaiserjager and Standschutzen, Austrian infantry corps reorganized as mountain troops to combat the Italian Alpini, the oldest active mountain infantry in the world.
What I love about this place — apart from the fact that it ever existed, which I hate — is that it was repaired by the Alpini of the nearby village of Fierozzo, with the collaboration of the neighboring villages of Palu’ del Fersina and Frassilongo. They made it their project, with the help of archaeological advisers and historians, to restore the chapel and some small nearby structures. You might have thought it would have been the Austrians who’d want to remember their comrades, but here it appears that the Italians wanted to remember their enemies.
As for the denouement of four years of slaughter, here is the succinct report from Wikipedia:
By October 1918, Italy finally had enough soldiers to mount an offensive. The attack targeted Vittorio Veneto, across the Piave. The Italian Army broke through a gap near Sacile and poured in reinforcements that crushed the Austrian defensive line. On 3 November, 300,000 Austrian soldiers surrendered.
On October 29, the imperial authorities asked Italy for an armistice, but the Italians continued to advance, reaching Trento, Udine, and Trieste.
On 3 November, Austria-Hungary sent a flag of truce to the Italian Commander to ask again for an armistice and terms of peace. The terms were arranged by telegraph with the Allied Authorities in Paris, communicated to the Austrian Commander, and were accepted.
The Armistice with Austria was signed in the Villa Giusti, near Padua, on 3 November, and took effect on 4 November, at three o’clock in the afternoon.
Peace at last.
Then they all got busy with the paperwork. It wasn’t pretty either. Field-Marshal Earl Wavell said of the Paris Peace Conference: “After the ‘war to end war’, they seem to have been in Paris making the ‘Peace to end Peace.’”
So let’s not look back, let’s face forward. Take tomorrow, November 5: Some notable events that occurred on this day were: The Gunpowder Plot (1605); Italy annexes Tripoli and Cyrenaica (1911); Bulgarian troops in Constantinople blockade drinking water (1912); Britain annexes Cyprus (1914); Britain and France land forces in Egypt (1956). There actually is no end to it all.
So I’m going to go back to thinking about the Mass of commemoration held each year at the FeldKapelle. This year the priests officiating were don Daniele Laghi and don Hans Norbert Slomp. Why can’t it always be like this? I mean, without millions of people having to die first.
I wanted to title this post “My Name is Red,” even though doing so would have meant stealing it from Nobel Prize-winner Orhan Pamuk. I was happy to exploit him because his novel of that name is one of the most extraordinary books I’ve ever read. Anybody who can start a story with “I am nothing but a corpse now, a body at the bottom of a well,” has my vote.
Back to red. For some reason I notice it early and often. I have no theory as to why; maybe it’s that red has been throwing itself in front of my face. It is, after all, one of the more assertive colors in the spectrum.
Venice and red have a long and glorious coexistence, and I do not refer to the torrents of hemoglobin spilled in its incessant wars. (Speaking of bloodshed, did you know that arterial blood is bright red, while venous blood is a dark maroon? If anyone wants to know my source, it isn’t Johns Hopkins Hospital — it’s “13 Ways to Make Fake Blood.”)
No, the marriage of Venice and red takes us back to the Great Days, when Venice’s claim to fame was supported, among other things, by a number of exceptional products: glass, of course, and there was teriaca, a three-weird-sisters preparation believed to cure everything you can name, and many that you can’t even imagine.
And then there was the sumptuous color known as “Venetian red,” first documented in 1753, though I assume it had already been in use for a number of centuries.
“The skilled dyers of Venice, in particular, were known for their ability to create gorgeous red dyes,” writes Amy Butler Greenfield in her book, “A Perfect Red.”
“The deepest and most resplendent reds,” she goes on, “collectively known throughout Europe as ‘Venetian scarlet,’ were the envy of all who saw them. Throughout Europe, dyers tried to imitate these reds without success, perhaps because no one thought to add arsenic, an ingredient used by the Venetians to heighten the brilliancy of their dyes.” Perhaps the arsenic supply was being diverted to other uses.
Like any trade secret upon which fortunes were built, Venetian dyers did everything to conceal their recipe, to the point of inventing macabre tales of specters haunting the dyeworks, to keep the curious at bay. (I would have thought the stench alone would have been enough of a deterrent. But what I call “stench” was clearly the ravishing odor of money.)
Although I did find a recipe for Venetian red dye, I’m not going to share it, partly because it’s pretty complicated and not something you should consider trying in your kitchen, and partly because I’m convinced that whatever result you obtain wouldn’t truly match the refulgence of the original.
Then there were the Venetian painters, who also found a way to make red their own. Even on canvas, ”Venetian Red is a pure iron oxide with real wow factor,” as Matisse Professional Artist Acrylics and Mediums puts it in its catalogue.
“It gets its name because the natural iron oxide deposits inland from Venice were this color which was midway between the deeper violet iron oxides found near Pozzuoli and the common red oxides found elsewhere,” Matisse continues. “The Venetian painters used this color with flair and particularly as a result of Titian’s usage of it, it became a famous color throughout Italy…This same shade of red oxide is found in the stone age cave paintings in France and when discovered they were clearly as vibrant as the day they were painted 16,000 years earlier…”
I would continue this treatise but feel my mind wandering away into foggy byways of minutiae. And anyway, maybe you don’t care about red, even though eight seconds of research reveals that it represents just about everything in human existence: fire and blood; energy and primal life forces; desire, sexual passion, pleasure, domination, aggression, and thirst for action; love, anger, warning or death; confidence, courage, and vitality.
I forgot to add danger, sacrifice, beauty, national socialism, socialism, communism, and in China and many other cultures, happiness.
Also hatred and sin.
If you have any urges left over, you can distribute them among the greys and fawns, or devote them to cornflower, saffron, or Mughal green. I’m taking the high road.
Seeing that by now I have drilled into everyone’s brain the fact that the Regata Storica is an event that has been held over the past several centuries, it’s fair to say that many of its attributes could be regarded as traditions.
Tradition, as I have drilled, etc., is a word intended to connote The Way We’ve Always Done It. But a closer look at many traditions demonstrates clearly, even to those in the back of the room, that they can be changed, eventually to become the new Old Traditions.
Take the pig.
For about the last hundred years, if not more, the traditional prize to the pair of men finishing fourth in the Regata Storica on the gondolinos was a live piglet. I have not yet begun the search for the reason for this, so just accept the fact that along with a blue pennant and some money, the pair got a young Sus scrofa domestica.
And they weren’t merely presented with the little swine at the end of the race. Before the race even formed up, the creature was put into a crate, placed on a boat, and exhibited up and down the Grand Canal.
By 2002 the animal rights organizations finally overcame this tradition, having claimed for years that the practice was cruel and inhumane. I saw the parade of the pig once, and it didn’t look so degrading to me. He was a lot more comfortable than anyone on the #1 vaporetto on a Sunday afternoon, and nobody in the animal rights organizations cares about them.
Returning to the subject of the fourth-place prize: Either people lived closer to the earth back then, 0r there were fewer scruples running around unsupervised, so a live pig seemed like a fine thing. The idea was not to divide it, like the baby brought before Solomon, but to send it to the country somewhere to be fattened and cossetted and tended until it was time for it to achieve its true destiny: Sausage. Soppressa. Pork chops, Pork roast, and so on.
There is a hoary old joke about this undertaking, which can be altered according to whichever town or place you want to insult. The person who told it to me was insulting Pellestrina, and it was made funnier by his imitation of the distinctive local accent. To Venetians, this way of speaking implies something rustic (to put it politely) and uncouth (to be frank). It implies individuals who would not consider pig-fattening to be anything out of the ordinary.
So: Two men from Pellestrina enter the Regata Storica, finish fourth, and get the pig. They are being interviewed by the national reporter, who asks them what they plan to do with it.
“I’m going to take it home,” says one.
“Take it home?” says the reporter. ”Do you have a pigsty?”
“So where will you keep it?”
“Oh, I’ll keep it in the kitchen,” the racer replies.
“The kitchen!” blurts the reporter. ”But what about the smell?”
“Oh,” the racer says, “he’ll get used to it.”
What would be a good substitute for a live pig? I hear you ask.
A pig made of Murano glass. And it doesn’t have to be fed or slaughtered, or shared out in perfectly equal halves, because they make two of them.
Now we come to the real point of the story. A few weeks ago, the very enterprising and high-spirited members of the Settimari rowing club decided to add something else to the prize line-up. They dispensed with the annoyance of raising and killing a pig, and got right to the point of it all, which in Venice translates as Food.
They planned a big dinner in their small clubhouse, invited Martino Vianello and Andrea Bertoldini, who had finished fourth this year, and uncrated two gigantic roasted whole pigs, ordered from somewhere in Umbria where the art of roasting pigs has reached the sublime.
If you’re a vegetarian and still reading (unlikely, I admit), you might want to stop now.
We spent several hours gorging on one, and the other was given to the pair, who didn’t anticipate any trouble at all in dividing and consuming it. Just like the old days, but better.
Because, as Andrea Bertoldini explained it to me, a live pig was really a problem. He’s been racing for at least 20 years, and has finished fourth in other editions of the Regata, so he has had first-hand experience of what being awarded a baby pig really means.
It’s not just taking care of it for months (you generally give it to somebody who’s already got the sties and the feed and the mud and all). It’s that you start to become attached to it, like Fern Arable; you feel sorry for it, and so everything gets derailed in the Natural Order of Things.
So Andrea was perfectly fine with dispensing with the tradition and moving on to something new, and easier to handle.
Better yet, he and Martino were each awarded a plaque which proclaimed them to be a “Principe del Porchetto” (Prince of Roast Pork). This was not only original, and cleverer than the old joke, but a play on the term “Re del Remo” (King of the Oar), which is given to the couple which wins the Regata Storica five years in a row.
Andrea and Martino have finished fourth in various years, but this the second year in a row they did it, and so the title of “prince” implied that if they were to come in fourth for the next three Regatas, they could be called King of Roast Pork.
Maybe you had to be there.
In any case, you’d have loved it. You never had to look into the creature’s soulful eyes, and you got as much as you wanted of the tender, herb-infused meat encased in dark greasy skin that was insanely crunchy. If you were to shut your mind about what you were eating, it wouldn’t have been because the animal inspired pity. It would be because you refused to think about what the food was going to do to your arteries.
If those two really do become Kings of Roast Pork, they’re going to have to spit-roast an entire herd of swine to supply the celebration. I’ve already got my plate and fork and cholesterol medicine ready.