Archive for ” Bruno “Strigheta

Oct
20

Racing’s wrong turn

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I’m willing to believe that not everyone may be as mesmerized by the problems swamping the world of Venetian rowing racing as I seem to be. So, barring some sensational or truly revolutionary turn of events in the aftermath of the recent unpleasantness in the last two races, this might be my last post on the matter for a while.  I said “might.”

But before I leave this theme in my wake as I sail on to other strange (or not strange) yet wonderful aspects of life here, I’d like to add one more element to the “1812 Overture” which the subject here has become.  And that is the provocative analysis of the Big Picture recently given by veteran Venetian journalist Silvio Testa.

An exciting finish to the young men's race at Sant' Erasmo. One hopes that if they can be acclimated to the reality of rules early enough, later extreme behavior can be avoided. This is more likely to be where they start practicing being furbo.

An exciting finish to the young men's race at Sant' Erasmo. One hopes that if they can be accustomed to the reality of rules early enough, later extreme behavior might be avoided. This is more likely to be where they start practicing being furbo. The same is true for the women, by the way.

Testa’s viewpoint on racing could be summarized as “May the best man win.” Or perhaps, “Every man for himself.”  In any case, this radical philosophy of racing does not, for once, involve judges, panels, appeals, fines, and all the other juridical paraphernalia which has wrapped itself around the neck of this activity and is threatening to drag it to the bottom.  Au contraire.

In his opinion, in the process of imposing (and imperfectly enforcing) more and more rules, the more acrimonious, bitter, and vicious the races have become — almost as if the rules had fostered the very situations they were meant to prevent.  In fact, he thinks that the whole effort to turn Venetian racing into a sport has taken it far down the wrong path. Therefore, as Giuseppe Verdi once remarked, “Let us return to the old way; it would be progress.”

Testa puts it this way:

“In 1981 I was reporting on the race at Murano.  Bruno ‘Strigheta’ was in the lead, closely followed by Franco ‘Crea,” so closely that the prow of Crea’s gondola was almost running over Strigheta’s oar. Finally Crea passed him and pulled ahead, and Strigheta finished second.

“‘Now’ — I thought — ‘there’s going to be a huge quarrel.’  But Bruno didn’t even open his mouth.  When I asked him why, his answer couldn’t have been clearer: ‘He was more furbo than I was.'” (“FOOR-bo” is a mix of sneaky, clever, slick, and cagey.)

“When I asked Crea about it, he replied, ‘I did what my uncle Italo taught me: Don’t ever take the lead at Murano; instead, hang onto a tight second place until you’ve worn him out.” (Literally, “cut his legs out from under him.”)

“The race was beautiful, the spectators applauded, and at the end the rowers all shook each other’s hands.”

If this had happened in the past few years (and memory reveals that it or something like it has), the anger pervading the world of racers and their fans would probably have forced Bruno and/or Franco to change his name and enter the Witness Protection Program.
The poppieri (men who row astern) gather round to draw lots for their position at the starting line. This could be one of the few moments overseen by judges which has never been criticized. Ten numbered billiard balls in a bag -- it's pretty hard to see how a judge could mess that up.

The poppieri (men who row astern) gather round to draw lots for their position at the starting line. This could be one of the few moments overseen by judges which has never been criticized. Ten numbered billiard balls in a bag -- it's pretty hard to see how a judge could mess that up.

Testa continues: “All this [recent conflict] is the fruit of a 30-year effort on the part of the city to turn the races into a ‘sport,’ which it isn’t. Venetian racing has its roots in the Middle Ages, and [all these rules] are similar to what it would be like if the Palio of Siena, where the jockeys are all whipping each other, were to be conducted according to the rules of Ascot.

“For centuries the races have been carried forward only by their participants; today there are 45 articles in the regulations.  But Venetian racing isn’t like crew, or English-style racing, where the boats are kept in lanes. Here it’s an open ‘field’ and contact is — or could be — part of the game.

“If the racers expected that, they’d be watching out and would be prepared to defend themselves, without appealing to judges who are apt to make mistakes because the line between cunning and error is so slight that it practically doesn’t exist.

“The great racers of the past were like this and the winner wasn’t only the strongest, but the more astute, the more heartless, the best.  There were no recriminations, except maybe to yourself.

“The future commissioner the racers have requested to calm the world of racing would do well to keep that in mind.”

I certainly hope that the future commissioner, if such a person should materialize, will be able to do something useful.  Meanwhile, winter is coming on, the season is over, the racers have reclaimed for personal enjoyment at least a few of the endless hours they spend training, and I am anticipating that, as so often happens after an exhilarating crisis of any sort here, oblivion will tiptoe into the room and pull the covers gently up under the collective chin and tiptoe out again, leaving only the soft sound of communal snoring broken by the occasional muttered oath.

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