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:
By now you know how it goes. We’re out walking somewhere, or on the vaporetto, or just minding our own business, and somebody Lino knows will cross our trajectory.
Seeing people you know isn’t something remarkable in most towns. Seeing people you’ve always known is particularly Venetian. Or particularly Lino, anyway.
We were standing on the dock at “Rialto Mercato” waiting for the vaporetto and Lino glimpsed an average sort of man, rather innocuous, walking on behind us. “Oh boy,” said Lino. “There’s Piero.” Yes? Lino started doing that mysterious thing we all recognize which says I AM INVISIBLE YOU DO NOT SEE ME I AM NOT HERE. Very loudly. The reason being, as Lino muttered, that he would nab you and start talking and you’d never get away. This is a hanging offense in LinoWorld when he still has to finish the Gazzettino.
“We grew up together,” he began to explain, which also isn’t so remarkable. “Nursery school, kindergarten, elementary school. He lived on the calle de le Botteghe at San Barnaba. We went to day camp together.
“Then he went to work at the port. He was some kind of laborer — I don’t remember what. Maybe he weighed things, or operated the crane.
“Anyway, at a certain point he reached legal retirement age” (which is based on years you’ve worked, not your birthday-age, and people of Piero and Lino’s vintage started really early, usually around 16). “So they told him he had to retire. He didn’t want to, he wanted to keep working.
“So after he left the port he kept going around to anybody who he thought could help him find another job — the parish priest, the Patriarch. Anybody. He said he’d work for free. He didn’t care about getting paid, he just needed something to do.” But he didn’t find anything, so he has joined the ranks of the many unwillingly-retired men who go out every morning and glom onto whatever friend wanders into glomming range.
“He was muculoso,” Lino recalled. Mucusy. Always wiping his nose with his sleeve. Lino remembers a surprising number of people who answered that description, either individually or categorically (as in: When Lino sees a person he’s known since childhood who has clearly gotten above himself, forgetting or ignoring his/her humble origins, he might pointedly mutter, “He didn’t even have a handkerchief to wipe his nose.” Or, more vividly: “Quanti mussi al naso!” He was pretty snotty!). Ah, these are the real memories.
Piero’s nasal passages have calmed down, but he did come and sit down behind us and start talking to Lino. Fortunately, Lino’s friendly but short replies got the message through, and he decided to just sit quietly and let Lino read the paper. It took me several slow, painful years to learn that lesson. But then again, he’s known Lino longer than I have.
We were pausing in via Garibaldi for some reason one afternoon in early February. I remember the date because there was a big Carnival event impending (the corteo of the Marie), and there were plenty of Vigili Urbani around. These are like the first-tier policemen, all uniformed up. Three men in particularly serious garb walk by, one of whom is taller and somewhat more distinguished-looking than the others.
“Oh, there’s Rizzo,” said Lino. “I remember him. His father was a gondolier. Died young. He was as old as my brother Puccio (editor’s note: who also died young). I remember his grandmother.”
Having set the scene: “Wow. Look at him. He looks like a general.” (Which was said with only the tiniest inflection of “You ain’t all that.”)
So, we were walking homeward this morning from the vaporetto stop at San Pietro, after a visit to someone in the hospital. There were a few people walking ahead of us. “You see that man with his hands behind his back?” asked Lino. I did. “He’s a retired gondolier.” And you know this because……?
Easy answer: “He used to be at the stazio at the Molo.” In other words, you know him. Interesting answer: “Also, you can tell by the way he walks.” Yes, I could see that he was limping slightly, favoring his left leg, by which I mean that he let his weight fall more onto his right leg. Thus, discomfort on left side — hip, knee, etc. This is an occupational hazard — or virtual certainty — of the full-time gondolier after a very long while at the stern. The stern rower always has his left leg forward, which means that with each stroke of the oar, his weight is transferred onto that leg. Do that every day for days/months/decades, and in the end you will pretty much have worn your trochanters away.
I think gondoliers ought to get a special rate for hip replacements.
The streets of Venice are paved with trachyte, and often are marked with something less durable. Venetians have always loved dogs, and many of their owners do indeed clean up after them. But a rancid few are perfectly fine with their dog’s biological functions. So fine that the popo’ (the polite term that corresponds to “poop”) the dog leaves behind magically becomes invisible to them.
No need to take up space describing the disgust both the product and the barbaric dog-owners inspire in everyone. But one woman struck back.
Anna da Schio (Anna from Schio — no last names on this one!) wrote to the Gazzettino on January 28 describing how she finally dealt with one dog-owner’s nonfeasance (translated by me):
I’m struck by the desperate appeal of Signor Marco Panfilo to the mayor that he should banish the dogs of Venice because their owners are uncivil. It would seem more correct to me to banish the uncivil owners, more animals than their animals.
Anyway, I’d like to note that one can defend oneself against even these.
A few years ago, Signor Sempronio lived near me (“Sempronio” is the equivalent of “John Doe”), the owner of a very beautiful and very big boxer, which, however, left behind him mountains of popo’. I got fed up and I decided to act.
So, they arrive — Sempronio and Fido — just like every morning. Fido leaves his little mountain right in the middle of the sotoportego under my house, where it is super-easy to step in it because the area is dark.
Sempronio looks at the sky, pretends not to notice anything, and moves on toward the Corte Santi. I watch this act (by Sempronio, not by Fido), and I follow them: Corte Santi, Calle del Monastero, Rio Tera’ San Vio, Calle del Sabbion, Fondamenta Zorzi and then Calle de le Mende, and I’m still behind them.
At this point the good Sempronio begins to have some doubts, and walks faster, and I’m still behind. When we reach the Campiello degli Incurabili, he suddenly turns around and asks why I’m following him.
I reply that I’m waiting to see him return to clean under the sotoportego. Sempronio assures me that this is completely his intention, but in the meantime walks briskly toward the Ramo degli Incurabili, and I’m still following.
We come out, a little out of breath, at the Zattere. Fido is thrilled because this walk is a lot longer than usual, but Sempronio is visibly altered, and uncertain what to do: He doesn’t want to let me follow him all the way home, because I’d discover where he lives. He makes a rude but eloquent gesture in my direction, heads down the Zattere almost running, and I’ll spare you the rest of the marathon, but we reach, flying, the sotoportego where, fortunately, the “mountain” is still intact.
Sempronio, who till now has considered it useless to carry the necessary tools for dealing with this, sacrifices a page of his newspaper, cleans it up, and departs with his odorous package.
I’ve often seen Sempronio and Fido, but I’ve never found any more mountains of popo’ near my house.
Venice has been compared to many things, or has suggested or inspired many things, but I have only now discovered that she also makes an excellent base for board games. Two have been created by Italians (I don’t know their provenance) and one American, but they all live, or lived, on the Giudecca.
A new board game called “Venetia,” created by Marco Maggi and Francesco Nepitello, is based on Venetian history. (Disclaimer: I have received absolutely no remuneration or even offers of dinner for the following notices — I just think they’re worth knowing about.)
It appears that the ability to speak Italian (or German?) is going to be important, so this post may have value only in letting you know that such a thing has been invented. Or, it may be a great way to practice your Italian.
It is subtitled “The Rise and Fall of the Serenissima,” and the idea, as outlined on their site, is to “compete with your friends to become the most influential family in the history of the Republic of Venice…The hegemony of Venice is threatened by many enemies. The Republic faces the rise of other powers, from the rival Republic of Genoa to the Kingdom of Aragon to the west, to the Byzantine Empire and Ottoman Turks to the east. Century after century, take part in the struggle that formed the long history of the Republic of Venice. ‘Venetia’ contains historic notes on the Serenissima, her politics and wars, complete with biographies of some of the most important personages in the history of Venice.”
Stand back, though — this isn’t going to be just any little fandango. You get the board and the rule book, of course, but you also get a booklet of historical notes, 7 dice, about 200 wooden pieces (function not specified), almost 200 segnalini (no clue, but they must be important), and “more than” 80 cards. It’s for 2-4 players. The notes say it lasts 90 minutes. That sounds optimistic when you’re dealing with 13 centuries of derring-do, but fire when ready, Gridley, as Doge Leonardo Loredan didn’t say.
Then there is “Inkognito,”a veteran in the game world, created in 1988 by Leo Colovini and the late Alex Randolph, and now out in its third edition. It’s a spy game played on a board displaying the map of Venice. Such non-Venetian characters as Lord Fiddlebottom and Col. Bubble roam the streets of the Queen of the Seas, spying. A more detailed explanation (in English) is given on the site I’ve linked to.
Now somebody could get to work on a board game in which you earn points by finding the one vaporetto with an available seat, getting to Venice on the tram with no more than one breakdown, crossing the Piazza San Marco at noon on a Sunday in July without touching anyone; you lose points by carrying more than one piece of luggage, buying an illegal handbag or a bag of corn to feed the pigeons, or leaving your empty beer can or ice-cream cup on a windowsill.
Actually, that doesn’t sound so much like a game. Forget I mentioned it.