Archive for Alberto Toso Fei

Sep
22

Be still, my heart

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Wait, it gets better below. But the scene was beautiful even when we weren't moving.

Wait, it gets better (video clips below). But the scene was beautiful even when we weren’t moving.

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.)

Here is the design with the numbered sections. Very useful, like a list of the assigned places at a wedding reception.

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.

The weather was superb; I think the sign-in people might even have been sweating, while keeping an eye on the boxes of umbrellas. Things like those can easily grow legs.

The weather was superb; I think the sign-in people might even have been sweating, while keeping an eye on the boxes of umbrellas. Things like those can easily grow legs.  Each participant was given one, because at a certain moment we were all to be ordered to open the umbrella and shine our flashlight upward under it.  And we all had to be dressed in as much white as we could muster, including a hat, if possible.  I wore Lino’s “dixie cup” sailor’s cap.

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.

Facepainters were decorating whoever was willing.

Facepainters were decorating whoever was willing.  All dressed in white, we  looked like a regiment of ice-cream vendors.

Being painted seemed to be something the women were more drawn to, though there might have been a man somewhere who got himself hearted.

Being painted seemed to be something the women were more drawn to, though there might have been a man somewhere who got himself hearted.

Your correspondent.

Your correspondent.

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Untold miles of masking tape had been applied to the Piazza to lay out the positions of the participants, at a width of roughly two people. I was in Number 7.

Untold miles of masking tape had been applied to the Piazza to lay out the positions of the participants, at a width of roughly two people. I was in section 7.

Dry run on holding up our flashlights, all facing toward the campanile of San Marco.

Dry run on holding up our flashlights, all facing toward the campanile of San Marco.

And a few dry runs on opening the umbrellas, and shine our flashlights under them.

And a few dry runs on opening the umbrellas, and shining our flashlights under them.  We on the outside were told to hold the umbrella in the left hand and the flashlight in the right — I still don’t understand the point of that.  The people on the squiggly center lines clearly had other instructions.  Or none.

Dancers were milling around in small bands, all dresses in white except for the two stars who just stood around for a while crunching their feet.

Dancers were milling around in small bands, all dressed in white except for two stars who just stood around for a while crunching their feet.

Another wandering star. I understand that her leotard, etc. may require concealment till show time, but she did look like someone going from one treatment to another at the spa.

Another wandering star. I understand that her leotard, etc. may require concealment till show time, but she did look like someone going from one treatment to another at the spa.

For about 45 minutes before the heart lit up, we were favored by a series of dance performances by five different groups. I didn't shoot most of them because they didn't inspire me (yes, I need inspiration), but I began to realize that it was a very intelligent way to program the event for the participants. We had been asked to show up an hour and a half before H-hour, and that time can really drag no matter how willing you are to shine your flashlight around. This dancer did a lovely routine with a huge fan.

For about 45 minutes before the heart lit up, we were favored by a series of dance performances by five different groups. I didn’t shoot most of them because they didn’t inspire me (yes, I need inspiration), but I began to realize that it was a very intelligent way to program the event for the participants. We had been asked to show up an hour and a half before H-hour, and that time can really drag no matter how willing you are to shine your flashlight around. This dancer did a lovely routine with a huge fan.

Her fan and bodytard (or whatever it's called) were color-coordinated: dark on one side, light on the other, like a turbot or a brill or a sole.

Her fan and bodytard (or whatever it’s called) were color-coordinated: dark on one side, light on the other, like a brill or a sole.

These are brill ("rombo" in the fish market).  As you see, one side light and one dark.  The dark side is up as they swim, the notion being that  the a predator from above will have difficulty seeing it because the dark fish will blend with the darkness below it, looking down.  Similarly, a predator from below would have trouble distinguishing the fish because the light side would be seen against the light filtering down from the surface.  I don't know anything about the purposes of the girl's camouflage, though.

These are brill (“rombo” in the fish market). As you see, one side light and one dark. The dark side is up as they swim, the notion being that the a predator looking down from above will have difficulty seeing it because the dark fish will blend with the darkness below it.  Similarly, a predator from below looking up would have trouble distinguishing the fish because the light side would be seen against the light filtering down from the surface. I don’t know anything about the purposes of the girl’s camouflage, though.

Same for sole.  When you've got a good idea, stick with it.

Same for sole. When you’ve got a good idea, stick with it.

This lovely girl then performed what I think of as Salome's Dance of the One Veil.

The spa-girl then performed what I think of as Salome’s Dance of the One Veil.

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Then followed a routine which seemed less a dance and more a gymnastic exhibition (I realize the line between the two may be vague). The red panel seemed to be the star, though the man was pretty impressive.

Then followed a routine which seemed less a dance and more a gymnastic exhibition (I realize the line between the two may be vague). The red panel seemed to be the star, though the man was pretty impressive.  I kept waiting for him to do the Thomas Flair, but no.

He had to be supporting the panel and a girl instead.

He had to be supporting the panel and a girl instead.  There was another routine after this, but let’s move on because sunset it now at its perfect point and we have to cue the flashlights!

Show time! The lights in the Piazza have just been turned on, and our first command to turn on the flashlights has been given. Have to stop shooting now, got to get busy.

Show time! The lights in the Piazza have just been turned on, and our first command to turn on the flashlights has been given. Have to stop shooting now, got to get busy. But what followed was a series of commands: shine the flashlight straight at the campanile and hold still, then wiggle the flashlight for a while, then shine it under your open umbrella, then run around inside the heart with your shining umbrella as fast as you can.  At street level, extremely strange.  But the result?  Wahoo!

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And so it was twilight in the Piazza. Time to take my umbrella and go home.

 

Categories : Venetian Events
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Apr
28

Just being rosy

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Find the long-stemmed rose in this picture -- I mean, piazza. (Foto: The Organizing Committee).

Find the long-stemmed rose in this picture — I mean, piazza. (Foto: The Organizing Committee).

And this is how it was intended to look when it was full of appropriately colored participants.  (Foto: The Organizing Committee.)

And this is how it was intended to look when it was full of appropriately colored participants. (Foto: The Organizing Committee.)

April 25, as all the world knows, is a double holiday here.  Not only is the day a national holiday (National Liberation Day), but it is the feast day of Marco, one of the four evangelists and the city’s (once republic’s) patron saint.

There are several ways to observe either or both of these memorable events, but this year another element was added: The Living Rose, or The Human Rose, or The Rose by Any Other Name, or however one wants to put it.

Alberto Toso Fei, a Venetian writer, and Elena Tagliapietra, an artist, came up with a new way to celebrate the traditional “bocolo,” or long-stemmed red rose, which is the customary Venetian homage from a gentleman to his ladylove, or wife, or girlfriend (perhaps both?), sister, aunt, or other deserving feminine personage in his life or family.  But why give a rose when you can be one?

Some time earlier, the Gazzettino offered its readers the possibility of applying to participate as one of some 1,000 people who would form the design of the bocolo in the Piazza San Marco on April 25.  This would be a sort of flash mob/performance art creation, to last only long enough to be photographed and filmed from the campanile of San Marco.

So we applied.  And we were accepted, notified via e-mail, and asked to appear between 1:30 and 2:00 dressed in as much red garb as we could muster.  We would embody part of Petal #12.

The day was hot and sunny, but there was a breeze, and although normally I wouldn’t have gone near the Piazza San Marco on a national holiday, the chaos was tolerable and the other rose-components all contributed to a surprisingly sprightly atmosphere.

Almost the best part of the entire event, which went off without so much as a drooping leaf, was to glimpse the by-now famous Tiziana Agostini, she of the mangled-nizioleti fame.  She came to join in, dressed in red, which I think is somewhere beyond amazing, considering that the event had the additional purpose of raising funds to pay for the repair of the nizioleti in the area of the piazza.  A lesser person might have avoided the piazza, saying “Nizioleti?  What nizioleti?”  But she was there, and I give her a fistful of gold stars.

I read that there were a number of other meanings, purposes, significances, and so on which had been layered onto the event.  One headline referred to it as a “cry to the world from Venice,” to show that Venice is still a living city and not just a touristic snakepit.  I merely pass that along.

Down at Piazza-level, though, the only thing that seemed to matter was enjoying a few minutes of doing something unusual that made you smile.  Not that I’m against Deep Meaning, but for me, the smiling was reason enough to do it.  Here’s the YouTube link: http://youtu.be/ZRL4Xh8VDkE

Dimensions: The Gazzettino says that the bloom covered some 850 square meters (9,149 square feet), and the stem and leaves some 150 meters (1,614 square feet).  I cannot understand, sitting here, how that might be.  It sounds like the size of an average Adirondack Great Camp, the kind that were built by the robber barons of the late 19th-century. But let that go.  It didn’t last long enough for its size to really matter.

It was fun.  Indubitably there are things that are more important, but God knows there’s a dangerous shortage of frivolity around here, so I’d be happy to leave it at that.

If we saved Venice in the meantime, that’s nice too.

Section 12 looked like this, in the early stages of reporting for duty.  It was the upper outer right-hand petal, as you look down at the bocolo from the campanile.

Section 12 looked like this, in the early stages of reporting for duty. It was the upper outer right-hand petal, as you look down at the bocolo from the campanile.

Each section was easily identified by the number on official backs (and on balloons). Here we checked in with the individual managing the list of names.  We signed a release form, and moved on to the face-painting stage.

Each section was easily identified by the number on official backs (and on balloons). Here participants checked in with the individual managing the list of names, signed a release form, and moved on to the face-painting stage.

The face-painter also painted on arms and foreheads, but many went with the simple stencil-on-cheek.

The face-painter also painted on arms and foreheads, but many went with the simple stencil-on-cheek.

Lino, post-painting.  He is still holding the container of gummy watercolor-based red ink.

Lino, post-painting. He is still holding the container of gummy watercolor-based red ink.  Yes, that’s a toothpick in his mouth.  It wouldn’t be him without his toothpick.

Your correspondent.  I could have had roses all over me, but I like the subtle approach.

Your correspondent. I could have had roses all over me, but I like the subtle approach.

Red people were everywhere, but that's only because I didn't think to roam all the way down to the green section.

Red people were everywhere, but that’s only because I didn’t think to roam all the way down to the green section.

Many ladies were already armed with their bocolo.

Many ladies were already armed with their bocolo.

IMG_9222   rose

The definition of "red" ran a generous gamut.

The definition of “red” ran a generous gamut.

One dauntless lad brought out his red terrycloth bathrobe.

One dauntless lad brought out his red terrycloth bathrobe.

This gentleman wasn't part of the rose -- these two bocolos (bocoli?) were clearly destined for important ladies, but I missed my chance to see them arrive.  He was extremely patient, so I hope all went as planned.

This gentleman wasn’t part of the event — he had bigger things on his mind.  The two bocolos (bocoli?) in his hand were clearly destined for important ladies, who seemed to be running slightly late. I missed my chance to see them arrive. He was extremely patient, so I hope all went as planned.

The Piazza is usually besieged with illegal rose-sellers, but on April 25 the only visible vendors were from the Red Cross.

The Piazza is usually besieged with illegal rose-sellers, but on April 25 the only visible vendors were for the Red Cross.

Lino's son, Marco, is the only gondolier I noticed who installed a bocolo in the place of honor on his gondola.

Lino’s son, Marco, is the only gondolier I noticed who installed a bocolo in the place of honor on his gondola.

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Categories : Venetian Events
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