Archive for ACTV

A few times each year, the subject of motondoso leaps into the headlines.  I wrote about some of this phenomenon a good while ago.  While I wait for more pressing news to emerge, I will add this post to the general fund of knowledge.  Don’t be looking for a happy ending.

The rio (canal) of San Trovaso, a major shortcut to the Grand Canal. In canals this size (which is average, if not even a little wider than average), the waves have nowhere to run so they just keep banging into walls and each other till they finally disappear.

The rio (canal) of San Trovaso, a major shortcut to the Grand Canal. In canals this size (which is average, if not even a little wider than average), the waves have no room to disperse so they just keep slamming into walls and each other till they finally disappear.

  • Studies by the Venice Project Center have shown several facts in crisp detail.
    1. The height of the waves increases exponentially as speed increases. A small barge traveling at 5 km/h would produce a wake about 2 cm high. The same boat going at 10 km/h produces a wake of nearly 15 cm. (Multiply the speed by 2, multiply the wake by 7.)
    2. Virtually all boats exceed the speed limit. The average speed on all boats in all canals was 12 km/h, which is more than 7 km/h over the maximum speed limit.
    3. Therefore, reducing the speed of the boats would drastically decrease the size of their wakes.

    The area available for waves to dissipate. This is a crucial factor because all these hydrodynamic formulas wouldn’t have to matter except for those pesky canals, whose walls trap the waves.

    The waves travel till they hit a wall, then bounce back, then hit the other wall, and this continues till they wear themselves out and disappear. Depending on how much traffic passes in the canal in question, they might disappear sometime around midnight. Typically, enough boats a day(and it doesn’t have to be thousands) pass through so many canals making so many waves that they don’t have time to dissipate, so they just keep going, banging back and forth into each other and into each side of the canal. each time giving just another little hammer-blow to whatever building they reach. That probably didn’t need to be explained. The depth of the water also influences the waves in certain ways, but of course the depth varies according to the tide, so let’s move on.

Who suffers?

Building foundations. This is obvious. Some Venetians have told me that they believe nothing will be done to resolve this situation till an entire building collapses. Stay tuned.

The barene are one of several elements crucial to the lagoon ecosystem, but they are being sliced apart and washed away by waves. The World Wildlife Fund estimates that at the current rate of erosion, by 2050 there will be none left.

The barene are one of several elements crucial to the lagoon ecosystem, but they are being sliced apart and washed away by waves. The World Wildlife Fund estimates that at the current rate of erosion, by 2050 there will be none left. The Consorzio Venezia Nuova is laboring mightily (and undoubtedly at great cost) to rebuild a number of barene, but the prospects for their survival is not encouraging as motor traffic continues to increase. But wait — they will surround them with barriers. Several different types have been tried with little success, but if they keep trying they’ll come up with something.

  • The lagoon, more specifically the barene and everything that depends on them. I will say more on this on my page about the lagoon, but briefly, the barene (bah-RAY-neh) are the marshy, squidgy islets strewn about the lagoon.
    They form 20 percent of the lagoon area, and their benefit is to the entire lagoon ecosystem: microorganisms, plants, animals, birds, fish. For millennia they also slowed down the speed and force of the tide, but as the waves continue to obliterate them (50 percent of the barene have been lopped away by waves in 60 years), their benefits are denied to everyone. So it’s not only the foundations of buildings which are under attack, so are the foundations of the lagoon.

People. Waves are a hazard to ordinary people in several ways. The most obvious is the risk of capsizing.  Even on land, you can’t be sure you’re safe. The insidious subterranean erosion caused by the waves continually sucking soil out from under pavements means that sometimes a person suddenly falls into a hole. It happened to a woman walking along near the Giardini one day — she put her foot on a stone, it collapsed, she fell into a hole higher than she was. Nobody in the neighborhood was surprised; they’d been sending complaints to the city to no avail. Then there was the child playing on a stretch of greensward at Sacca Fisola facing the Giudecca Canal who suddenly fell into an unsuspected weak spot in the ground. If a man with quick reflexes hadn’t grabbed him, the child would have long since gone out to sea.

A glimpse of a summer day out in the lagoon. Where are they going at this speed? Who cares?

A glimpse of a summer day out in the lagoon. Where are they going at this speed? Who cares?

The Venetians have a saying: “Water has no bones.” This means that water can go anywhere it wants to. They should know — Venice has a long history of brilliant hydraulic engineering, up to and including cutting the river Po to re-route it southward, thus preventing the eventual silting-up of the lagoon. If they hadn’t done this in 1604, Venice would have long since been surrounded by cornfields. Or more probably by the world’s biggest parking lot. This knowledge and sense of self-preservation now exists only in a vastly sub-divided and disconnected form which only serves one tiny, specific purpose, usually unrelated to any larger context.

The waves are just as destructive to the wetlands as they are to stone embankments, but the wetlands can't even put up a fight.

The waves are just as destructive to the wetlands as they are to stone embankments, but the wetlands can’t even put up a fight.

Who’s responsible?

Division of jurisdiction. The term “battle against motondoso” is now a cliche. But exactly who is conducting this battle? By now there is “an exuberance,” as the Italians might put it, of agencies and organizations involved in some way in managing the lagoon. The Magistrato alle Acque was established in 1501 to resolve administrative conflicts and simplify redundancies. Now it’s just one more in the herd. The lagoon is divided into areas overseen by agencies representing a large array of sometimes incompatible interests, charged with enforcing laws which sometimes contradict each other. The waters lapping at Venice’s feet are subdivided according to their primary use: shipping channels, small internal canals, approaches, which are variously overseen by the Capitaneria di Porto, the Magistrato alle Acque, the city of Venice and/or the province of Venice. Parts of the lagoon have been designated as Special Protection Areas (SPA) under the European Habitats Directive, but they exclude the central part of the lagoon, the major shipping lanes, and the shoreline Industrial Area — just the places where motondoso is most likely to be found.

There was a well-intentioned, and probably expensive, but very short-lived attempt to protect the barene with barriers of wooden pilings. You can see how successfully these barriers resisted the waves

There was a well-intentioned, and probably expensive, but very short-lived attempt to protect the barene with barriers of wooden pilings. You can see how well these barriers have resisted the waves.

Everybody with a boat. Over time, the voices blaming everyone else blend like an entire city singing “Three Blind Mice.” (I would say “Row, row, row your boat,” but that would be silly.) The vaporetto drivers say it’s the barges. The barge drivers say it’s the taxis. The taxi drivers say it’s the private boats. The private boats say it’s everybody but them. And so it goes. I’m not sure what the legal value is of a defense strategy formed around “I did it, but he did it worse.” But whoever is in a motorboat for work reasons considers himself to have a free pass. And whoever is in a motorboat for fun automatically counts himself out because he’s not there every day, so how could he count as a culprit?

Studies by the Venice Project Center have revealed that the highest wakes are produced by the small barges (“topo-motore“). Next were the taxis. Vaporettos produced the least, but that doesn’t let them off the hook entirely, for two reasons. One, “least” doesn’t mean they produce no wake, so I don’t regard “least” as any kind of gold star. Second, instead of bigger waves they produce something which none of the other motorboats do, which is a powerful whirlpool.

A vivid illustration of what a large motor does to the water when the boat is tied up. Here is the ferryboat that travels between the Lido and Tronchetto, and having rowed near this whirlpool I can confirm that it's extremely powerful and takes quite a while to subside. Vaporettos make a smaller version of the same suction, but there are more of them, often crammed together in smaller spaces. In any case, however many boats are or aren't applying this pressure at any given moment, any wall within reach is going to feel it.

A vivid illustration of what a large motor does to the water when the boat is tied up. Here is the ferryboat that travels between the Lido and Tronchetto, and having rowed near this whirlpool I can confirm that it’s extremely powerful and takes quite a while to subside. Vaporettos make a smaller version of the same phenomenon, but there are more of them, often crammed together in smaller spaces. In any case, however many boats are or aren’t applying this pressure at any given moment, any wall within reach is going to feel it.

Every time a vaporetto ties up to the dock to let passengers on and off, the motor stays in full-steam-ahead mode. The reason given is that it makes the boat more secure for the passengers in transit. I won’t contest that here, but will say that the vortex creates a kind of suction effect (think of rinsing out your mouth) which is also damaging to the nearby foundations.

What to do? Stricter enforcement of speed limits. It’s the most obvious solution, even to Venetians. Generally speaking, the limit in the small inner canals is 5 km/h, in the Grand Canal and some larger canals it’s 7 km/h, and in some others (such as the Canale di Tessera leading to the airport) it’s 11 km/h. But, as noted earlier, these are just numbers on a page. Many and varied have been the proposals, most of which have some merit but which frequently suffer from the fatal flaw of being unenforceable. Shortage of personnel, inter-bureau jealousies, and lack of consistency and simple lack of will on the part of everyone has shown this solution to be impossible. I don’t mean literally impossible, I just mean impossible here. Require hulls and horsepower to be changed to the minimum-wave-producing conformation. Nobody wants to pay to get a new boat with a less wave-inducing hull, though it occurs to me that now would be a brilliant moment to launch a “Cash for Clunkers” program for commercial boats. If cost is the only thing holding people back (it isn’t) this would be an intelligent place to start. If it’s not cost, what is it? Civic pride isn’t even mentioned as an incentive.

It’s Sloth. “We’ve always done it this way.” “It’s too much trouble.” “Why me?” How to overcome that? You can’t. It’s as difficult to convince workers-with-boats as it is poachers that they are gradually killing their source of livelihood. You can only create a new situation and then enforce it till it becomes habit. I have several solutions in mind, each of which would have an appreciable, even dramatic, effect on motondoso. The costs involved are all to be considered as investments in the future not only of the person using the boat, but of the city itself.

    • Redesign the vaporettos. Actually, this was on the way to being done, then the project slowly sank from sight and history into the swamp that is the political biosphere here. You should have a look at the Mangia Onda (wave-eater) hull design, and the prototype airport launch. The prototype had the advantage of being paid for by its inventor, which got it very far down the road. That was in 2001. The documents must be in a drawer somewhere. Or as one site sums up: “Don’t even ask what happened.”
    • While that is going on, reconfigure the timetables to impose slower — much, much slower — speed limits on everybody. I don’t know why this seems to be such a difficult idea; evidently the mania for speed has blinded everyone to the fact that these changes would only involve five or fifteen — let’s say twenty, hey — minutes more for each run. Passengers, be they residents or tourists, can’t plan for an extra twenty minutes in transit? Why? They do it on an unplanned basis on the mainland all the time — all it takes is an accident somewhere and traffic backs up forever. Why do water-buses have to go faster? To carry more people?
Vaporettos in the Grand Canal. Not quite the romantic image of the postcards, and in the summer, extra lines have to be added to get everybody to the beach and back.

Vaporettos in the Grand Canal. Not quite the romantic image of the postcards, and in the summer, extra lines have to be added to get everybody to the beach and back.

  • There are already so many vaporettos in operation that, especially in the Grand Canal, they have to just float there in neutral, waiting their turn to tie up at the dock while the previous boat finishes and casts off. If we were to see buses on the mainland pulling over to wait until their stop became available on a regular basis, we’d think it was kind of nutty. Same for boats. It’s a sign of unintelligent management.
  • Install permanent cofferdams to protect anything a wave can reach. This would be most of the city and its canals. Not pretty, perhaps, for tourists who like to think the city is still living in the 15th century, but then again, the same tourists use vaporettos, taxis, launches, and other motorized boats and don’t seem to find it aesthetically jarring. This approach has always been used in the short-term to make it possible to repair ravaged structures; 50 years ago, squads of men beat a row of tightly connected wooden pilings into the sediment, and blocked it with dense lagoon mud to keep out the canal’s water. Today, there are always places in the city where you can see iron cofferdams serving the same purpose. I’d say if you’ve got them, just leave them there. And add them to the rest of the city’s edges.
  • Change human nature. (I’ll get right on that.) Or how about changing the political landscape? Not much easier. But the city government has a view of its purpose in life whose range is far, far too short. Grandiose goals, certainly, but they’re sliced and diced, doled out here and there, or left to rot. The political philosophy here appears to qualify as what Herbert Marcuse called “repressive tolerance.” A good example is when your father says, “Yes, you can have it, but not today.” You don’t say no, but it never happens anyway. The city government has become expert at this maneuver.

If I were in charge, I would add the following to all of the above:

  • Require completely new hull forms for each category of boat (for instance, returning the taxi to its primordial motorized shape, with the motor in the center of the boat rather than the stern, which creates much more wake).
  • Most, if not all, of these hulls would be of the “wave-eating” form, a heretofore experimental design invented in 1998 by Americans Bill Burns and Charles Robinson . Its few demonstration runs have shown it to be effective but nobody has studied the effect of large numbers of them. Still, it’s a dramatic start. There is a saga behind all this, too, because in 2001 the company announced that one of these boats would be in service by the end of that year. As another web-site devoted to this project put it, “As for what happened, don’t even ask.”

I would also stipulate a limit on the horsepower of each category, including pleasure boats. Since people can’t retain the concept of slowing down on their own, I suggest requiring their equipment do it for them. As for those who might protest, I would have a one-size-fits-all response: Do it or seek employment elsewhere. The world must be full of people who would be happy to work for even one quarter of what your average taxi driver (I refer to the legal ones, not the fleet of illegal ones) makes in a year. Or even what they make in a month. If this notion for some reason is deemed unfeasible (I can’t see why), I would suggest immediately hiring a large quantity of extra police solely to enforce speed limits, imposing fines so steep that a quick calculation on the back of an envelope would show that it made more sense to buy a new, non-wave-making boat right now than pay two fines. The vital element here is that a person has to be at least 99 percent convinced that he will be caught and fined, a certainty which can’t exist today when the forces of public order have been reduced to skeleton crews who mainly race around solving emergencies.

The councilor for Tourism and Decorum, Augusto Salvadori, made a proposal some while back (I think he even may have made it twice): Engage squads of volunteers from the ranks of the rowing clubs, whose job would be to row around and blow whistles at whatever transgressors they encounter. This might possibly work (I’m being generous here) if there were enough people, if there were immediate and drastic follow-up, and if the transgressors weren’t inclined to run you over. My sense is that none of these conditions apply. Well, there’s prayer. They’ve tried that too. A few years ago there was a big initiative to amass members of all of the rowing clubs at the church of the Madonna della Salute (Our Lady of Health) on November 21, her feast-day. Considering that she saved Venice in 1630 from the catastrophic plague which was destroying the city, there was some poetic power in the notion of everyone going to her church and offering a candle in supplication for salvation from this latest plague. Grand symbolic gestures are so much fun; they make everybody feel so good. Reminds you of why Italian opera is so impressive. Then it’s over, and everybody goes home. And tomorrow begins just like it did yesterday, and nothing has changed.

Busy busy: Just another day in the most beautiful city in the world, where everybody has to work, no matter what it takes. A glimpse of moderate traffic near the Maritime Zone, looking toward the mainland.

Busy busy: Just another day in the most beautiful city in the world, where everybody has to work, no matter what it takes. A glimpse of moderate traffic near the Maritime Zone, looking toward the mainland.

This is a short story in one picture. The barena originally abutted the pilings which marked the channel to the right. The waves began to cut it back. An attempt was made to protect it by installing a barrier of smaller pilings. Now we can see not only how far the wetland has been cut back from the channel, but its retreat from its erstwhile protective barrier, itself a casualty of the battle.

This is a short story in one picture. The barena originally abutted the pilings which marked the channel to the right. The waves began to cut it back. An attempt was made to protect it by installing a barrier of smaller pilings. Now we can see not only how far the wetland has been cut back from the channel, but its retreat from its erstwhile protective barrier, itself a casualty of the battle.

Aug
07

Brain flutterings

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There is a brief period in later summer when the wetlands are carpeted with a form of heather commonly called "erica" (Calluna vulgaris). It should not be picked. But if for some reason it were to be picked, it stays beautiful as a dried flower for almost forever. I've been told. This photo was made a week ago, but I know the blooms are gone by now.

There is a brief period in later summer when the wetlands are carpeted with a form of heather known as “sea lavender,” or Limonium vulgare.  (I haven’t yet found a local name for this.) It should not be picked. But if for some reason it were to be picked, it stays beautiful as a dried flower for almost forever. I’ve been told. This photo was made a week ago, but I know the blooms have faded, or fallen, by now.  This picture is here only to set a mood of some sort — it has nothing to do with what follows.

Some of you might have watched the opening ceremony of the Olympics in Rio last Friday.  I liked it a lot, for many reasons, but that’s not the point.  If you didn’t like it, we can still be friends.

But I think we can agree that it had more than five moving parts, which is the maximum (I’ve just decided) that I can keep track of, much less control.  So may I give a huge shout-out to the director and executive producer, Marco Balich?  I’d have done it anyway, but guess what? He’s Venetian.

I suppose I shouldn’t be all that impressed; I discover that he directed the opening and closing of the Winter Olympics in Torino (2006) and the closing of the London Olympics (2012).  Also aspects of the Olympics in Beijing and Sochi.  He spent, all told, three years working on this five-hour extravaganza — two years designing, and one year living in Rio. But he was also, I now dimly recall, the director of Carnival in 2008.

And here’s what he had to say: “Designing the opening of the Games was simpler than the Carnival of Venice.”  He said he was joking.

“An event like the Olympics requires a complex preparatory phase, of negotiations, bureaucracy, long stretches of time and also the unforeseeable.  But I have to say that in Rio we found better conditions than anyone could imagine.”

The journalist interviewing him mentioned the “completely Brazilian placid resignation that perhaps greatly resembles the Venetian.”  I don’t remember having noticed any particularly PLACID resignation.  Though if we had the samba maybe nobody would care.

From a man accustomed to working with millions — I refer to money, as well as humans — that’s a very nice thing to hear.  So if he wants to joke about how hard it is to organize in Venice, never mind, because everyone knows that working on your home turf is not only hard, but usually an Olympic-level exercise in ingratitude.

And speaking of money, the Gazzettino of today reports that in one year, the Guardia di Finanza at the airport has recovered 15 million euros in cash which were outward bound, by means of a thousand assorted passengers.  The article says the cash was hidden in “the most unusual places — the heels of shoes, and in bras.”  Not ever having had more than the allowed 10,000 euros in cash to carry from point A to B, I’m probably not an expert on the subject. But I still would have considered shoes and bras to be the very first place to look, even if I didn’t have a beagle backing me up.  I guess I must be smarter than the people who got caught.

A few small cultivators on the Vignole sell their daily harvest at the Trattoria alla Vignole. Looking at the bins, a question formed in my brain. What's the point of writing "cipolle"? Or "pomodoro"? Or "patate"? If I were illiterate, or literate only in some distant language such as Tamil, this label would serve no purpose at all. All I really need to see is the price per kilo, as noted. I think anybody looking at the object would know what it was, call it what you will.

A few small cultivators on the Vignole sell their daily harvest at the Trattoria alla Vignole.  As I looked at the bins, a question formed in my brain. What’s the point of writing “cipolle”? Or “pomodoro”? Or “patate”? If I were illiterate, or literate only in some distant language such as Tamil, this label would serve no purpose at all. All I really need to see is the price per kilo, as noted. I think anybody looking at the object would know what it was, call it what you will.

It just strikes me as -- perhaps not odd -- but surprisingly superfluous. Unless they were put there for vocabulary drill by some enterprising (and hungry, and thrifty) teacher.

It just strikes me as — perhaps not odd — but surprisingly superfluous. Unless they were put there for vocabulary drill by some enterprising (and hungry, and thrifty) teacher.

And while I'm on the subject of unnecessary and inexplicable things, there is this phenomenon, which is not as rare as it should be (by which I mean: non-existent). A German couple happily deposits themselves in the outside seats on the vaporetto, and help themselves to a seat for their luggage. The most polite question I would have asked, if I'd felt like bracing myself for the reply, would have been: "Did you buy a ticket for those bags? Because there are plenty of people standing behind you who would almost certainly like to be sitting there." I know the space is tiny to non-existent, no one needs to tell me that. I merely ask why that entitles someone to use more for themselves just because they got there first.

And while I’m on the subject of unnecessary and inexplicable things, there is this phenomenon, which is not as rare as it should be (by which I mean: non-existent). A German couple happily deposits themselves in the outside seats on the vaporetto, and help themselves to a seat for their luggage. The most polite question I would have asked, if I’d felt like bracing myself for the reply, would have been: “Did you buy a ticket for those bags? Because there are plenty of people standing behind you who would almost certainly like to be sitting there.” I know that space is tiny to non-existent, no one needs to tell me that. I merely ask why that entitles someone to use more for themselves just because they got there first.

I conclude as I began: This picture is here just because I like it. I do not romantized these ladies -- their not-so-distant forebears (and perhaps they too) were notorious for family-destroying gossip. But I'm going to forget that for the moment.

I conclude as I began: This picture is here just because I like it. I do not romanticize these ladies — their not-so-distant forebears (and perhaps they too) were notorious for family-destroying gossip. But I’m going to forget that for the moment.  There are just too few of them left for me to cavil.

Categories : Venetian-ness
Comments (9)
This is not a cretinata tree, it's one of the most amazing wisteria trees in a neighborhood billowing with wisteria.  I wait for it all year.

This is not a cretinata tree, it’s one of the most amazing wisterias in a neighborhood billowing with wisteria. I wait for it all year.

Cretinate” (kreh-tee-NAH-teh) are actions or statements perpetrated by one or more cretins — a far too useful term in these parts, and one I’m sorry doesn’t exist in English.

But maybe it’s not that there are so many cretins here.  Maybe there are lots of highly intelligent, profoundly sensitive, extremely kind and rich people who just happen to say cretinous things.  If so, there are still too many of them.

A few days ago we heard the latest of an infinite string of fantasies stated as facts by Paolo Costa, the president of the Venice Port Authority.  He gives every sign of being a born believer in the inherent importance and value of Mastodontic Projects, as they put it here, because he has spent the last few years pushing ferociously for approval for the excavation of the Contorta Canal to bring the big cruise ships to the Maritime Zone by way of the lagoon, and not by the Giudecca Canal.

Apart from whether or not this would be a smart move for Venice and its economy (read: keep the port working at full speed), the canal itself has been recognized by an array of environmentalists and even politicians as being enormously damaging to the lagoon ecosystem.  (May I note, once again, that the lagoon is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a fact which apparently is difficult to remember, seeing how casually everybody goes rampaging around doing whatever they want, though if harm were done to the city to the degree that it’s done to the lagoon, the world outcry would resemble several sonic booms).

Let us revel in the double-cherry trees, especially this one which was flowering its heart out in a completely meaningless fragment of Mestre.

Let us revel in the double-cherry trees, especially this one which was flowering its heart out in a completely meaningless fragment of Mestre.

I’m coming to the cretinata, uttered by Mr. Costa.  He has uttered many since the subject of banning the big ships has been current.  The reason he utters them is because it appears to be his heart’s desire to be involved in a Mastodontic Project, seeing as he missed out on the riches lavished on everyone involved in the last one, which is MOSE.

Actually, I don’t know that he missed out.  Perhaps he got his share that time around, and is determined to have a reprise.

Whatever the case may be, no Crusader ever made a vow that could match the vow he seems to have made to himself to get that @#*$%! canal dug.

So where’s the cretinata?  Here it is:

The Contorta Canal is the only intervention which can save the lagoon and the jobs of the cruise business.”

First, it can’t be the “only”  intervention” that could be effective.  There are a number of alternatives which are struggling to be considered, pushing frantically against the inert bulk of the Contorta proposal.  To be accurate, it is the only intervention which has the active interest and support of Mr. Costa, and he is applying pressure for its approval by every means known to humans.  After all, sheer dogged perseverance finally got the MOSE project approved, although it took 30 years.  So it ought to work just as well for this project.  That seems to be the approach he’s taking.

In my opinion, saying that something or someone is the “only” one of its kind, when that just happens to be the thing the speaker wants, is a statement more often made by young, distraught children than mature, responsible adults.  It sounds fishy to me.

Second, I have never heard anyone except Mr. Costa hazard the statement that the excavation of the new canal would “save the lagoon” (though he doesn’t say from what).  I totally understand his desire to keep the port humming, but his opportunistic addition of saying the canal will “save the lagoon” is like telling a woman “By the way, you’re beautiful” when you’ve just asked her to lend you $500.

Many Venetians have long been aware that the lagoon needs saving (from the voracious motondoso, from devastating illegal clam digging, and from the incessant erosion exacerbated by the Petroleum Canal — another Mastodontic Project!).  I didn’t realize that digging a new canal would be a positive step in any direction except more erosion and more environmental degradation.

Since Mr. Costa has never made anything resembling an environmentalist statement, I have to assume that “saving the lagoon” is Costaspeak for “doing what I want.”

Here endeth the first cretinata.

No lilac trees at all in Venice, as far as I can tell, but I'll take what I can get at the Rialto for the few days the lilacs are on sale.

I’ve never discovered lilac trees in Venice, which makes me all the more grateful to see these at the Rialto for the few days they’re on sale.

Interlude: I used to know a little boy who, at the age of about 2 1/2, had already grasped that saying that he wanted something didn’t inspire the desired response from his mother.  So he cleverly switched to saying “I need it.”  That little boy did not grow up to become the President of the Port Authority; perhaps he was a cousin.

These were the pioneer blooms, now gone for another 12 months.

These were the pioneer blooms, now gone for another 12 months.

On to the next cretinata, which comes from the Princess Bianca di Savoia Aosta, quoted in “An Insider’s Guide to Venice” in the Wall Street Journal a few days ago.

I admit that statements from people whose names start with Princess (or Defender of the Faith, or Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, or Knight Commander of the Order of St. Gregory the Great) get attention.

Having a fancy title doesn’t necessarily mean that you know things, but it does mean that your statements will probably be taken as true.  Such as the Princess’s following remark:

VENETIAN MOPED // Brussa IS Boat. Rent a “topa,” a zippy four-meter boat, at Brussa, to go for a relaxing and fun spin through the canals before heading out into the lagoon. It’s not as intimidating as it sounds—locals use the topas like mopeds.”

Words such as “zippy” and “spin” give the impression that the canals, like the city itself, are here mainly for entertainment and diversion, just one big amusement park with peeling palaces.  They don’t give any hint of the reality — that the canals are narrow, crowded, and full of boats doing real work which take up space and aren’t especially accommodating to high-spirited gilded youths out for a little run about town before drinks at the Cipriani, or wherever.

Second, “locals” do not use the topas like mopeds.  “Locals” have their own boats, usually, or have friends with boats.  Topas are for special jobs or projects — most often like work — which usually do not involve either zipping or spinning.

Third, apart from being awkward and difficult to perform, zipping and spinning would be a challenge to do without breaking the speed limits, which are now being more strenuously enforced since the new traffic regulations went into effect.  The only boats I can think of whose zipping or spinning is overlooked are the fireboats and the ambulances.

“Like mopeds” implies speed, agility, and quantity, like the swarms in Rome and Florence.  There is no craft here which could be compared in any way to a moped. Not one.

Which leads me to conclude that the princess either doesn’t know what a topa is, or what a moped is.  It would be like me saying “Lapps use reindeer-sleds like mopeds,” or “Somalis use camels like mopeds” or “New Zealanders use dolphins like mopeds.”

For a tiny sliver of time each year, ordinary leaves are as beautiful as flowers.

For a tiny sliver of time each year, ordinary leaves are as beautiful as flowers.

But I’m being too serious, it’s one of my major defects.  So let me offer a more effervescent cretinata, perpetrated by two incredibly clever employees of the ACTV who went fishing on company time.

Connoisseurs of lagoony creatures know that this is seppia (cuttlefish) season.  Even if you don’t happen to be a connoisseur, all you have to do to realize the season is on is either go to the Rialto to see what’s on sale, or wander along your fondamenta-of-choice in the morning or evening (or night) to peruse the men who are standing there with their fishing rods and nets and ink-stained buckets.  The Zattere, the Riva degli Schiavoni, the Fondamente Nove, and even scabrous old Tronchetto are all excellent places to snag some seppie.

Unless you’re supposed to be doing something else, like work.

I realize that seppie exert an irresistible fascination, but it's better to indulge it off the clock.

I realize that seppie exert an irresistible fascination, but it’s better to give in to it off the clock.

On the evening between Tuesday and Wednesday, two employees of the ACTV were on duty at Tronchetto in the area dedicated to the ferryboat from the Lido, and one of their tasks was to keep an eye on things in general and to make sure that nobody was doing anything near the landing-stage that could create problems for the ferry.

It would appear that these two zealots decided that seppia-fishing on the nearby fondamenta was likely to create problems for the ferry (actually, for their own fishing plans), so they wasted no time in banishing the fishermen from the fondamenta.

Shortly thereafter, the banished fishermen, watching from a nearby fondamenta, noticed the two zealots pulling out their own tackle and beginning their own great seppia-hunt from the now-liberated good spot.

This was unwise.

The banished and extremely annoyed fishermen proceeded to phone the Provincial Police, who are responsible, among other things, for checking fishing licenses.  Before long a patrol-boat appeared, and the officers showed as much zeal in the execution of their duty as the two ACTV bullies had done in theirs.

The officers took away their traps, their fishing lines, and their seppie.  The officers also searched their cars, and fined them for fishing without a license.

The officers then reported the incident to their employers, who were probably less concerned about the fines than they were about the fact that their two trusty agents had been amusing themselves in an off-duty sort of way when they were, technically speaking, very much on duty.

Moral: Don’t antagonize seppia-fishermen?  That’s a good one.  Another good one would be: Don’t behave like a cretin.

It rained the other day and I happened to be at the Villa Foscarini Rossi in Stra.  Not exactly next door, but well worth the voyage.

It rained the other day and I happened to be at the Villa Foscarini Rossi in Stra. Not exactly next door, but well worth the voyage.

In spite of all this tomfoolery, spring is proceeding in its appointed course, and I am loving every aspect of it.

The trees are fully-leaved, as of about ten minutes ago, and the greenery still looks as fresh as salad.  Trees are blooming according to plan: the white-flowered plums have come and gone, followed by forsythia and cherry and double-cherry, and now the wisteria is slowly being transformed from purple blossoms into green fronds. Random flufflets of cream-colored spores float away from the poplars, and the redbud (called “Judas-tree” here) is making up in color what it lacks in size.

A few days ago I smelled cut grass for the first time this year.  It’s a moment that’s almost as enchanting as hearing the blackbirds at dawn.  And today I got a bonus: Someone had cut a stretch of herbage which contained chives (here called “sultan’s beard,” or “friar’s beard), and the fragile oniony scent was wafting faintly away.  It will be gone by now.

This is one of those perfectly poised moments, when the air is still cool but you can feel the sun’s warmth (if the wind isn’t blowing).  At any time of the day the streets are full of people dressed for every possible temperature: There are couples in T-shirts and even tank tops and shorts, and at the same time there are people in trim down jackets or woolen coats.  Those with bare arms don’t seem to be cold, and those wrapped in feathers don’t seem to be hot.  It’s extraordinary.

Which means that we are approaching one of the tiniest hinges of the season: The moment when everyone ceases to move from the shady to the sunny side of the street, and begins to move from the sunny to the shady side.

When that happens, I declare summer officially open for business.

Down jackets and sunscreen.  We've got weather that everybody can love.

Down jackets and sunscreen. We’ve got weather that everybody can love.

Fred here, or whatever his name is, has found the perfect spot for the perfect dreams.  He's probably dreaming about chasing artichokes.

Spring can be so exhausting.  He’s probably dreaming about chasing artichokes.

 

Categories : Nature
Comments (7)
Feb
05

Just looking

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I walk out the front door and sooner rather than later I notice things that make me ponder.  Sometimes I ponder deeply and fruitlessly, and sometimes I do Ponder Lite and just absorb the beauty.

Here are some recent places and things that made me look twice:

It was 6:01 AM on the 5.2 motoscafo from the Giardini toward Piazzale Ro,a.  I was surprised to see so many people already in transit, but gobsmacked to see how the man in the aisle had organized himself for the voyage.  In all these years I have never seen this solution to standing-room-only.  While it's true that I have seen other people and their luggage take up the same amount of space, and it's true that he is not blocking the aisle (though I cannot grasp why this human bear wouldn't remove his backpack.  does it make him feel safe?  Smaller?).  There is nothing WRONG with what he's doing, it's just

It was 6:01 AM on the 5.2 motoscafo from the Giardini toward Piazzale Roma. I was surprised to see so many people already in transit, but gobsmacked to see how the man in the aisle had organized himself for the voyage. In all these years I have never seen this solution to standing-room-only. It’s true that I have seen other people and their luggage take up the same amount of space, and it’s true that he is not blocking the aisle (though I cannot grasp why this human bear wouldn’t remove his backpack. Does it make him feel safe? Smaller?). There is nothing WRONG with what he’s doing, it’s just outlandish.  My trying to imagine what the ride would be like if everybody decided to bring their own chairs doesn’t help me feel any better about this.  And yet I still can’t say why.

A few weeks ago there was quite a flurry of activity at one of the entrances to the Giardini.  A few men in full gear labored all day, and part of the next day, to install a brace on this tree worthy of the Leaning Tower of Suurhusen.  The amount of effort and money dedicated to bracing this plant is entirely praiseworthy, but I withhold my praise because while I agree that plants have as much of a right to live as komodo dragons and Hungerford's crawling water beetle, it also seems that they could just as well have cut the tree down and planted a young one.  This isn't the Treaty Oak or the Endicott Pear Tree.

A few weeks ago there was quite a flurry of activity at one of the entrances to the Giardini. A few men in full gear labored all day, and part of the next day, to install a brace on this tree that could perhaps have been more useful on the Leaning Tower of Suurhusen. The amount of effort and money dedicated to supporting this plant is entirely praiseworthy, but I withhold my praise because while I agree that plants have as much of a right to live as Komodo dragons and Hungerford’s crawling water beetle, it also seems that they could just as well have cut the tree down and planted a young one. This isn’t the Treaty Oak or the Endicott Pear Tree, though perhaps someone somewhere thinks that if it can be kept upright, eventually this tree will achieve some status worthy of the Guinness Book.

Your average feral rock pigeon is kind of loathsome, but this bird seems to have been created by a Persian calligrapher.

Your average feral rock pigeon is kind of loathsome, but this bird seems to have been created by a Persian calligrapher.

And speaking of birds, in addition to the usual egrets I discovered that there was a swan stretching its wings. Wild swans are among the many species of bird that depends on the lagoon more than any of us do, and I remember one winter morning when we were out rowing when three of them flew over us, very low, and I could see their necks undulating slightly and hearing a curious low sound which I thought came from their throats, but which I now learn was the air passing around their large, majestic wings.

And speaking of birds, in addition to the usual egrets I discovered that there was a swan stretching its wings. Wild swans are among the many species of bird that depend on the lagoon more than any of us do, and I remember one winter morning when we were out rowing when three of them flew over us, very low, and I could see their necks undulating slightly and hearing a curious low sound which I thought came from their throats, but which I now learn was the air passing around their large, majestic wings.

The game is on, Watson -- here, the traces of hopscotch, known in Italy as "campana"or "mondo" ("bell" or "world").  Nice to know there's something other than soccer going on here.

The game is on, Watson — here, the traces of hopscotch, known in Venice as “campanon” (“big bell”). Lino says boys play it too.  Nice to know there’s something other than soccer going on here.

At certain vantage points, the rising sun makes some excellent reflections.

At certain vantage points, the rising sun makes some excellent reflections.

Reflections are almost better than the thing being reflected. Some philosopher can probably explain that.

Reflections are almost better than the thing being reflected. Some philosopher can probably explain that.

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Categories : Venetian-ness
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