Archive for Arsenal

Jan
28

Perusing Venice

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One of several reasons why there has been a lapse in my postings is that there is an atmosphere of lethargy in the city which translates into “not very much to write about.”

Of course there’s always plenty if one wants either to dig far enough, or continue blotting the spindrift from the waves of unsolved, or unsolvable, problems.  But since the city government collapsed in a heap last June, the many problems which continue to afflict the city are almost always reduced to “Money, lack of.”  And writing about Money, lack of is not only monotonous, but also pointless.  And depressing.

Of course, “no ghe xe schei” has been the convenient phrase inserted into every situation for years, even when there was money; it was an excuse which the city administrators could turn on and off at will, as if it were the radio.  Then we discovered that there really wasn’t any money anymore, because it had been given to most of the participants of the MOSE project. You know that sound when you’re sucking on a straw to get the last drops of your drink?  The silence I’m referring to is the sound of ever-longer pauses between the municipal mouth and the municipal funds.  Not many drops left, but if you stop sucking it means you’ve given up, and we can’t have that.

Apart from what it signified, I’ve enjoyed this somnolent January.  We’ve had beautiful weather, and very few tourists.  But now that Carnival is bearing down upon us (Jan. 31 – Feb. 17), that’s about to change.  Thirty days of tranquillity isn’t enough, but it’s all we get.

The tranquillity induced us to take a few uncharacteristic aimless strolls.  You know, like tourists do, and this confirmed what tourists know, which is how lovely it is to wander and what interesting discoveries you make in the process.

Here, in no particular order, is a small, confetti-like scattering of what I’ve seen recently.

Between a small, unremarkable side street, which leads to essentially nowhere, we came upon this remarkable neighborhood shrine stretching beneath a house....

On a small, unremarkable side street which leads to essentially nowhere, we came upon this very remarkable neighborhood sotoportego which local piety had turned into a shrine.  The inscription over the doorway explains everything…

It says:

It says: “Most holy Virgin Mary of Health, who repeatedly preserved immune from the dominating mortality the inhabitants of this Corte Nuova especially in the years 1630 – 36 – 1849 – 55 (NOTE: FIRST TWO DATES ARE PLAGUE, SECOND TWO DATES ARE CHOLERA) and from the bombs of the enemy airplanes 1917 – 18 Benevolently accept their grateful vows and the vows of all of this parish Deign to extend your protection which we trustingly implore on all your devout followers (word obscured by underbrush is “devoti”  — thanks to reader Albert Hickson who saw it before the bush began to grow).

Two impressive capitelli, or small altars, survive, but several large empty spaces hint that they might once also have supported more. Naturally even here we find the inevitable graffiti, which if it could be deciphered almost certainly would not be of a sacred, or grateful, nature.

Two impressive capitelli, or small altars, survive, but several large empty spaces hint that they might once also have supported more. Even here we find the inevitable graffiti, which if it could be deciphered almost certainly would not be of a sacred, or grateful, nature.

If you have ever walked along the Fondamenta dell'Osmarin between Campo San Provolo and the Ponte dei Greci, you may well have noticed this tablet.  It represents San Lorenzo (St. Lawrence), for whom the nearby fondamenta, former church and current home for the elderly are named. How do I know this (other than having found the information in a book)?  It's because -- according to the custom of depicting a saint with the instrument of his/her/their martyrdom -- here we clearly have a man holding a grate, and we all know that San Lorenzo was grilled to death like a steak on the barbie.

If you have ever walked along the Fondamenta dell’Osmarin between Campo San Provolo and the Ponte dei Greci, you may well have noticed this tablet. It represents San Lorenzo, for whom the nearby fondamenta, former church and current home for the elderly are named. How do I know this (other than having found the information in a book)? It’s because — according to the custom of depicting a saint with the instrument of his/her/their martyrdom — here we clearly have a man holding a grate, and we all know that San Lorenzo was grilled to death like a steak on the barbie.

For anyone curious about the chalice he is holding in his right hand (which looks oddly like a crescent, but it may be just the optical effect), legend maintains that he was able to spirit away the Holy Grail to Spain, and it is now venerated in the cathedral of Valencia.

For anyone curious about the chalice he is holding in his right hand (which looks oddly like a crescent, but it may be just the optical effect), legend maintains that he was able to spirit away the Holy Grail to Spain, and it is now venerated in the cathedral of Valencia.

There is a long brick wall fronting the canal of the Arsenale, which faces the wooden bridge at the Arsenal entrance. The imposing marble sculpture is one thing which you can admire, or not, as you choose.  But the little bronze plaque beside it has been defeated by time and by being placed so high that you can't read it anyway.  But I have persevered, and while it doesn't contain the secret to turning straw into gold, it's worth revealing what seemed so important at the time.

There is a longish brick wall fronting the canal of the Arsenal, which faces the wooden bridge at the Arsenal entrance. This imposing marble sculpture is one thing which you can easily admire, or not, as you choose. But the little bronze plaque to the viewer’s left has been defeated by time and by being placed so high that you can’t read it anyway. But I have persevered, and while it doesn’t contain the secret to turning straw into gold, it’s worth revealing what seemed so important at the time.

This is my translation: "On the VI centenary of the death of Dante Alighieri the Naval Commandant of Venice, Admiral G. Pepe, restored and beautified the entrance facade of the Arsenal.  On that occasion the marble monument of the XVI century, placed here at the side,  which after many transfers found itself incomplete and defaced on the crumbling wall of the old workshop was restored and completed and transferred to the public view.  Venice September 1921.  Of course a noble work like this would be hard to accomplish today, seeing that there is no money.

This is my translation: “On the VI centenary of the death of Dante Alighieri the Naval Commandant of Venice, Admiral G. Pepe, restored and beautified the entrance facade of the Arsenal. On that occasion the marble monument of the XVI century, placed here at the side, which after many transfers found itself incomplete and defaced on the crumbling wall of the old workshop was restored and completed and transferred to the public view. Venice September 1921.” Of course a noble work like this would be hard to accomplish today, seeing that there is no money.

Enough exploration.  Carnival begins on Saturday and my friend, Dino, who is a retired baker, makes the most divine fritole on this mortal earth.  He gave us eight, just out of the vat.  They are smaller and lighter than the bocce balls sold as fritole in the pastry shops.  These are little candied sugared slightly greasy clouds.  I wait all year for these things and they are among the few things that make Carnival worthwhile.  Sorry, they're all gone now.

Enough exploration. Carnival begins on Saturday and my friend, Dino, who is a retired baker, makes the most divine fritole on this mortal earth. He gave us eight, just out of the vat. They are smaller and lighter than the bocce balls sold as fritole in the pastry shops. These are little candied sugared slightly greasy clouds. I wait all year for these works of art and they are among the few things that make Carnival worthwhile. Sorry, they’re all gone now.

 

This is what was floating by the dock at the Giardini: a television.  But that's not the really funny part.  What baffles me isn't that somebody threw it into the water -- we all know how that goes -- but that it has floated here in this exact spot for more than 24 hours.  Have the tides gone on strike?

This is what was floating by the dock at the Giardini: a television. But that’s not the really funny part. What baffles me isn’t that somebody threw it into the water — we all know how that goes — but that it has floated here in this exact spot for more than 24 hours. Have the tides gone on strike?

Categories : History
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Oct
27

The name game

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According to the article, there are TK people in Venice with the last name Vianello.

“The Vianellos beat everybody,” the headline states.  “The foreigners increase.” According to the article, there are 4339 people in the Comune of Venice with the last name Vianello.  I’m sorry to see that the Barbarigos and Mocenigos have gone the way of the great auk, though some once-noble families (Moro, Dona’) are on the list.

Not a game at all, but shards of information I consider interesting, in an ephemeral sort of way.  My favorite kind.

Meeting people here, or even just reading about them in the paper, will fairly quickly give you the sensation that there is only a handful of last names in Venice.  Reading Venetian history has the same effect.  There were 120 doges, and every five minutes it’s a Mocenigo or a Morosini or a Barbarigo or a Contarini (I feel a Gilbert and Sullivan patter song coming on).

In daily life nowadays, it’s Vianello or Zennaro or Busetto or Scarpa, all at some point from Pellestrina, where so many with these surnames dwell — and have dwelled — that the town is divided into four sections, each named for one of those specific tribes.  This situation was created by doge Andrea Contarini, who in 1380 sent the four eponymous families from Chioggia to Pellestrina to reconstruct and inhabit the former town which had been destroyed by the Genoese in the “War of Chioggia” (1378-1381).

The density of these four names in Pellestrina is such that the post office finally gave permission to put nicknames on addresses, to give some hope of distinguishing between the scores of individuals with the same first and last name, some of them even living at the same location.

In the Comune at large, Costantinis and Penzos abound, and every year there is a bumper crop of D’Estes and Dei Rossis.  Each name has its own provenance; some of them are obvious (“Sartori” means “tailors,” “Tagliapietra” means “stonecutter,” with which Venice had to have been infested) and some are more obscure (“Ballarin” meant “sawyer,” and “Bastasi” were the porters, specifically for the Customs or the quarantine islands).

Now comes the tricky part: The list enumerates

As we see, there are more Hossains now than Senos or even than Chens.  But after 500 years they might well be on the list of Venetians, if there’s still a Venice.

I’ve been here long enough — and it doesn’t mean you need to have spent a LONG time — to recognize the provenance of many of these names.  If you hear one of these, you have a good chance of knowing where the person comes (or came) from:

Chioggia:  Penzo, Pesce, Boscolo, Tiozzo, Padoan, Doria

Burano:  Vio, Costantini, Zane, Tagliapietra, Seno

San Pietro in Volta:  Ballarin, Ghezzo

Murano:  Toso, Gallo, Ferro, Schiavon

Cavallino:  Berton 

Venice (Dorsoduro): Pitteri

A few tidbits from the article, which are not evident in the table of numbers but are obvious to anyone living here:

First is that during the past ten years, the number of individuals bearing each surname has diminished.  That’s just part of the well-known shrinkage of Venetians.

Second — also fairly obvious to locals — is the addition of foreign surnames.  Of course, my surname is foreign too (German-Swiss), but I’ve been happy to disappear among many Venetians whose last names also begin with “Z,” and they aren’t German, either:  Zane and Zanella and Zuin and Zuliani.  It’s great down here at the end of the alphabet, I’ve finally got company.

As you easily notice, Muslim and Asian names are becoming more numerous.  (I realize that “Muslim” is not a nationality, nor a geographical area, but while the bearers of these names are most likely from Bangladesh, I decided not to guess).

So where would the “Vianello” clan come from?  According to my dictionary of Italian surnames, it springs from Viani, which isn’t a place, as far as I can determine, but a basic root-name.  Lino hypothesizes that it could derive from “villani” (pronounced vee-AH-nee in Venetian), which means farmers, tillers of the soil — “villein,” in the feudal terminology, a partially-free serf.  You can still hear someone around here vilify another person by calling him a “villano,” and they don’t mean “villain” — they mean clod, churl, oaf.

“Rossi” means “reds.”  It’s the most common surname in Italy, though in the Southern half it is often rendered “Russo” (the second-most common surname in Italy).  It most likely came from a personage with some strikingly red attribute, such as hair, beard, or skin.  Or all three.

“Scarpa” — It means “shoe,” so I’m guessing their forebears were shoe-makers, though then again, it’s possible that it was once somebody’s nickname (in Venice, at least, nicknames are fairly common and the person bears it for life and even sometimes leaves it to his children.)  However, another hypothesis holds that it could be a variation of Karpathos, the Greek island known as “Scarpanto” in Venetian, and which formed part of the Venetian “Sea State” from 1306 to 1538, plenty long to germinate names.  Thousands of Greeks lived in Venice, so the place name may have shifted to a personal name.

There are lots of names that come from places, sometimes Venetianized, such as:

Visentin (vee-zen-TEEN): Vicentino, or from Vicenza

Piasentini (pya-zen-TEE-nee): Piacentino, or from Piacenza

Veronese: from Verona

Trevisan (treh-vee-ZAHN): from Treviso

Furlan (foor-LAHN): from Friuli

Schiavon (skyah-VOHN): from Schiavonia, later Slavonia, which is now the easternmost part of Croatia. The Venetians were known to trade, among other valuable merchandise, in slaves, which often came from Central Asia or the Balkan hinterland. “Schiavo” (SKYA-voh), conveniently shortened, means “slave.”  Slav – Slave.  Not made up.

The names and the centuries may change, but the crime described on a plaque inside the Arsenal remains the same (translated by me):

The names may change, but the activity described on a plaque inside the Arsenal remains the same regardless of time, nation, or blood type (translated by me): “5 June 1743 Gabriel di Ferdinando was the Adjutant of the Admiral of the Arsenal He was banished under threat of hanging for being an unfaithful administrator guilty of enormous extremely grave detriments inflicted in the management of the public capital.”

 

Categories : History
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I was walking along, head down, pondering, when suddenly I saw this just lying on the ground. I promise you I did not touch it, even with my foot. What I'll never know is how or by what agent these pieces came together. The "why" seems obvious, though.

I was walking along, head down, pondering, when suddenly I saw this just lying on the ground. I promise you I did not touch it, even with my foot. What I’ll never know is how or by what agent these pieces came together. The “why” seems obvious, though.

It’s so easy to get dragged down by the undertow (or do undertows drag out? another of the endless questions that fill my brain) — dragged on, let’s say, by the daily, hourly, secondly force of aberrant behavior here that you might wonder why I’m still here if it’s all so, well, aberrant.

Answer: It’s not ALL so aberrant.

Life here can also be really entertaining.  I try to stay alert to the brighter side, even if I don’t always write about it.  Things may calm down soon, and more brightness will be able to leave the Witness Protection Program where I’ve kept it while the summer rampaged on.

Here’s some of what I’ve seen lately that made me smile.

We were sitting with a bunch of friends in an osteria when this trio of lovelies wafted in. The visitation was clearly part of her wedding-eve bachelorette celebration (if that's what it's called anymore). Hence the wedding veil and flowers. The rabbit ears are original, though -- assuming she's not marrying a rabbit. They gave each man a special little gift.....

We were sitting with a bunch of friends in an osteria when this trio of lovelies wafted in. The visitation was clearly part of her wedding-eve bachelorette celebration (if that’s what it’s called anymore). Hence the wedding veil and flowers. The rabbit ears are original, though — assuming she’s not marrying a rabbit.  I’m a little concerned about her less-than-festive expression, but I don’t know how much wine they’d already given her.  I hope that’s the explanation, anyway.  Before wafting away, they offered each man a special little gift…..

It's chocolate.  It needs no explanation.

It’s chocolate. It needs no explanation.

This is the lion that triumphantly tops the entrance to the Arsenal, placed (with Santa Giustina above) in commemoration of the victory of the Battle of Lepanto. I've photographed him many times, but the other morning he was looking exceptionally crisp. Perhaps he'd been starched and ironed.

This is the lion that triumphantly tops the entrance to the Arsenal, placed (with Santa Giustina above) in commemoration of the victory of the Battle of Lepanto. I’ve photographed him many times, but the other morning he was looking exceptionally crisp. Perhaps he’d been starched and ironed.

The gondoliers' station at the Molo, which is almost always a scene resembling Grand Central Terminal at rush hour. Seeing this trusty gondolier ready for work, all by himself, on an early, diabolically hot July morning, was astonishing, and even a little distressing. Of course he had his little postage-stamp of shade. But I had the strange feeling he was waiting for an event for which he was either early or late.

Here we are at the gondoliers’ station at the Molo, which is almost always a scene resembling Grand Central Terminal at rush hour. Seeing this trusty gondolier ready for work, all by himself, on an early, diabolically hot July morning, was astonishing, and even a little distressing. Of course he had his little postage-stamp of shade, but it’s really unusual to see a gondolier all by himself.  I had the strange feeling he had been put there for a big Time Out.

I love reflections, but I never thought a rained-on gondola would take it upon its highly varnished self to continue the reflection of the palace already underway in the canal.  You get my reflection too, no extra charge.

I love reflections, but I never thought a rained-on gondola would take it upon its highly varnished self to continue the reflection of the palace already underway in the canal. You get my reflection too, no extra charge.

Speaking of gondolas and their intractable urge to reflect anything that comes in at the correct angle, I only discovered a slice of the church of San Lazzaro dei Mendicanti after I congratulated myself on taking a picture of the oars.

Speaking of gondolas and their intractable urge to reflect anything that comes in at the correct angle, I discovered a wavy slice of the church of San Lazzaro dei Mendicanti only after I congratulated myself on taking a picture of the oars.

Watching people has been more than usually entertaining this summer.  I'd like to have known if this pair had consulted on the green-white configuration, or if they are so conjoined mentally that they don't have to confer.

Watching people has been more than usually entertaining this summer. I’d like to have known if this pair had consulted on the green-white configuration, or if they are so conjoined mentally that they don’t have to confer.

Same thing here -- or maybe there was a memo that morning that went around the neighborhood. Which I didn't get, by the way.

Same thing here — or maybe there was a memo that morning that went around the neighborhood. Which I didn’t get, by the way.

As I looked at this young woman, I had to admit that despite the divergence in our taste, she had actually spent much more time planning and perfecting her appearance that morning than I had. I have to admire that.

As I looked at this young woman, I had to admit that despite the divergence in our taste, she had actually spent much more time planning and perfecting her appearance that morning than I had. I have to admire that. So please note her left shoulder-strap, which is red.  Sorry I didn’t make more effort to show the entire ensemble but I preferred to stay where I was.

She isn't a door-knocker, that's for sure.  I'm not certain what she's doing on this ironwork arabesque. With wings that small, she probably has to stop every few minutes to rest, like those animals who have to eat every five seconds or they die.

She isn’t a door-knocker, that’s for sure. I’m not certain what she’s doing on this ironwork arabesque. With wings that small, she probably has to stop every few minutes to rest, like those animals who have to eat every five seconds or they die.

 

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Mar
09

The calafati party down

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I’m guessing you haven’t been giving much thought to ship caulking lately. Probably about as much thought as you haven’t given to San Foca — a point you share with most Earth-dwellers.  I can help you with this.

San Foca is the patron saint of caulkers, hence he is also the patron of The Societa’ di Mutuo Soccorso fra Carpentieri e Calafati:  The Society of Mutual Aid between Carpenters and Caulkers.

I can’t say there’s much work for either of these categories here anymore — certainly not as much as there was when the Venetian Republic was in full cry. But these craftsmen were always near the top of the food chain, considering that Venetian power was essentially naval.  A statement to this effect was recorded in the Venetian Senate, for what reason I know not, on July 13, 1487 (translated by me):  “… carpenters and caulkers, have been at all times the most appreciated and accepted on the galleys and other of our ships because in every need of any sort these men are the most adapted and necessary of any other kind of man.”  Considering the wear and tear a Venetian ship was likely to undergo in its life, especially after cannon began to be used, your caulker would have been up there with the navigator and the cook as far as the well-being and probable safe return of the crew were concerned.

Glimpse of a battle under the ramparts of Zara (now Zadar) Croatia, from the facade of the church of Santa Maria del Giglio. Just to give an idea of how useful it was to have a carpenter and/or caulker aboard.

The Society's standard, brought out for the occasion.

If you’re still not convinced that caulking is such a big deal, consider how much, as the song goes, you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.  An example: On the night before a certain battle, which I’m not going to pause to look up just now, the Venetian admiral was pondering the odds for winning the imminent battle with the unpleasantly superior Turkish fleet.  Hope for the best?  Or just send a batch of men at night to swim under the Turkish ships and rip out the caulking sealing the planks of their hulls?  Dawn broke to what must have been a quiet but busy sound from the Turkish bilges, something like blub-blub-blub….

Back to the mutual aid society. March 5 is San Foca’s feast day, so he was celebrated at a special mass in honor of him as well as the departed members of the sodality.  And then, naturally, there was a party. You’ve heard it before: “All the psalms end with the ‘Gloria.'”

The church was full, something you don't see every day.

Seeing that I am a newly fledged (or whatever the ship-caulking counterpart might be) member of the SMSCC, Lino and I went to join in.

The ceremony was in the church of San Martino, which is right under the haunch of the Arsenal, and which is full of assorted tokens of carpentering and caulking.  There was nothing especially noteworthy about the mass, except for the unusually large number of people attending.  And the party followed tradition in its simplest and clearest outlines:  People!  Noise!  A small, hot room crammed with loud, hungry humans and vats of Venetian food!

I don’t know if San Foca had a favorite dish, but I’m always going to associate him with tripe soup. An ancient and honorable comestible which deserves a wider audience and which I’d bet money you would like as long as you didn’t know what it was.

And I think next year we should all plan to hold the party in Calafat, Romania. It was founded by caulkers from Genoa, but I suppose we could overlook that for the sake of harmony.  I’m going to get to work on the convoy’s banners: “Calafat or Bust.”

The priest blesses the gift packets containing a candle, an image of San Foca, and a small bread roll. The painting over the altar depicts the Holy Family with San Marco and San Foca.

 

My gift packet. The image of San Foca is from the basilica of San Marco. I suppose he is depicted hefting a rudder rather than a bag of dumb irons and a couple of mallets because, as patron saint of seafarers in general, it was thought best not to show favoritism to any particular craft.

Symbols of caulkers' tools in the main aisle of the church of San Martino.

We eat! Of COURSE we can all fit into the tiny room of the parish hall. Where's the food?

Keep that tripe soup coming.

 

Just the thing on a cold winter night. Be lavish with the grated parmesan, even if it isn't pasta.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The soup keeps you going till they bring out the bigoli in salsa. Or you can just keep snacking on peanuts, pickles, beans, salame sandwiches...

 

If you go away hungry, it's your own fault.

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