Archive for Busetto

Jan
27

The best of “Burielo”

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A corteo is almost always preceded by a police boat which helpfully prevents collisions and hard words in the Grand Canal. This was, after all, a workday morning and plenty of people had other things on their mind than your funeral. (My, that sounded bad.)  In any case, the first intimation of this corteo, just emerging slowly from the bulk of upstream traffic, is the police boat.

A few days ago (last Monday, if anyone cares) there was a funeral.  In this city that hardly counts as news.  But it was the funeral of a young man — I consider 61 to be young — who had had a solid if untrumpeted career as a racer.  Umberto Costantini, nicknamed “Burielo,” was at the top of his game in his twenties, during the Eighties and early Nineties, and the newspaper was full of the glorious Venetian-rowing names, some of them much, much older than he, who came to do him homage.

The homage, according to what I read, was some of the best you could ever hope for, especially from this squabbling band.  “A great athlete and a good man,” stated several re del remo, the greatest champions, some of whom had rowed with him.  “In this world, full of controversy, he never argued with anybody,” said one of the greatest arguers of them all.

A few days before his passing, the paper reports, a group of the all-time great rowers went to visit him in the hospital.  “Ostrega,” he said, using the preferred Venetian expression for wow, good grief, heavens to Betsy, “I must really be in bad shape if you’re all here….”

He wanted a corteo, or boat procession, for his funeral, like the one he participated in when Bruno “Strigheta,” his friend and fellow Burano native, died two years ago.  And so it was.

Unhappily, it was on a workday morning, which cut into the number of participants somewhat. Not having been a rock-star name, that also may have left him somewhat unknown and unappreciated in the general rowing world.  Even more unhappily, there were people who knew him who just went to work as usual — we passed two gondoliers who were also Burano natives, and racers, as we wandered around town, who were clearly planning to be in their boats soon, but boats full of tourists.  That seemed harsh.

We thought about participating, but too many other factors intervened. So we stood at the vaporetto stop at the Ca’ d’Oro to watch the procession.  The deceased had said that he’d like to have a corteo, and by gum, they did it for him.

As it happens, I have my own small memory of “Burielo” — small to me, but an event that was big for him. I hadn’t even heard of him till then. It was 1997, and I was watching the Regata Storica sitting in a boat not far from the finish line.  Here the gondolinos came, thundering, so to speak, toward the finish line.  It’s definitely the peak moment of a peak experience, the entire world was screaming and yelling and shrieking and so on.

Burielo was in the bow, and Bruno dei Rossi (“Strigheta”) was astern.  They were in third place and rowing like mad to stay there, side by side, nose to nose, with the Busetto brothers, battling it out. The finish line was only, I’m guessing, 30 seconds away.  Four men turbo-rowing — it was wild.  But one man ran out of gas first: Burielo.

All at once, with that beautiful green pennant hopefully clutched in his (mental) hands, he stopped rowing, then collapsed.  I remember seeing him crumple down in the boat.  Just like that.  Two boats passed as the gondolino slid forward on its own momentum — I can’t do justice to his state of mind, not to mention his partner’s — and they came in fifth. No pennant, and definitely no glory. The ambulance zoomed up and he was headed — in another sort of turbo-manner — to the hospital, where he was checked in for a serious tachycardia.

That was the last time he rowed a gondolino, that’s for sure, and evidently the last time he raced, period.  You can understand that it would have been difficult to qualify for the required medical certificate.  Maybe he didn’t even try.

The human part of me is very sad this happened.  The secret mad-dog competitor part of me is sad that it happened before they could rip that green pennant from the (mental) hands of the Busettos.

The ten-oar gondolone, or “big gondola,” of the Francescana rowing club is rowed by some of the biggest names in the racing pantheon, some of whom were also his partners at one time or another. (Bruno “Strigheta” preceded him two years ago to the cosmic finish line.)  In the bow, Gianfranco Vianello “Crea,” and astern is Franco dei Rossi “Strigheta,” his old partner Bruno’s brother, with whom the deceased had won the race of the “galleons” of the Four Ancient Maritime Republics.  There were also Bepi Fongher, Giovanni Seno “Scherolin” and Luciano Tagliapietra “Panna,” three of his former race-mates, Palmiro Fongher, and Rudi Vignotto.  Only Vignotto is still winning races, but they’re all still rowing, which counts as a victory, in my view.

Not everybody rows at the same speed (some rowers always think that being in a boat means it’s a race), so the relatively few boats here began to spread out.  The motorboat to the left of the frame is the usual hearse, which probably brought the casket to the gondolone and will be waiting to carry it onward after the funeral.

Come on, everybody, this is a funeral cortege, not a wander through the park.  Though admittedly an eight-oar crew on a ten-oar boat is going to go faster than these vessels.

And so they passed out of view, turning left before the Rialto Bridge into the rio del Fontego dei Tedeschi, and on to the basilica of SS. Giovanni e Paolo (may I note, yet again, that nobody calls it “Zanipolo,” no matter how exotic it sounds). A vast crowd was waiting at the church, but we were not part of it.

And good night, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye.

I forgot to mention that he had a life beyond racing.  He was a molecante, a type of fisherman who catches crabs and cultivates them in submerged wooden cages called vieri till they reach the stage where they shed their shells and become moeche (soft-shelled crabs) and can be sold at the market for a freaking king’s ransom.

The general procedure is this:  A fisherman (which used to be most, and now some still, men on Burano) goes out into the lagoon and strings his nets along poles he drives into the mud. He goes out and checks what has run into the net.  He divests the net of whatever is in it — all sorts of fish, and lots and lots of crabs.  (You can see these little crabs running around the shallows any time you are out in a boat.  Lino says that if you walk around in the semi-soft mud and then retrace your steps, each footprint will contain a crab.  He doesn’t know why.  I confirm that I have seen this.)

The fisherman separates the various critters and sells them, except for the crabs.  He’ll sort out the good ones, and put them in the vieri.  Every day or so he’ll pass to check on them, and takes out whichever are ready for market, tables, and unnumbered Swiss bank accounts.  They are currently selling at the Rialto for 60 euros per kilo, or $30 per pound, more or less.  I don’t know how much the molecante makes from that.  My experience of life leads me to assume that it would be dramatically less than that, but that’s not the point of this little cadenza.  The cadenza is that Burielo used to do this, and now (I hope) he’s doing it in heaven, because he loved it.

In a side canal by Mazzorbo, which is near Burano.

I’m imagining that this is Burielo’s corner of heaven.

And every so often the poles are pulled up and the nets brought to land and strung up to dry for a while. A windy morning in April is an excellent moment for this.

Categories : Venetian-ness
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Jul
08

Racing through Murano

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Murano is just ten minutes from Venice, but it's a whole other world.  And not just because of all the glass, either.

Murano is just ten minutes from Venice, but it's a whole other world. And not just because of all the glass, either.

If you’ve ever  been to  Murano, one of the world’s great glass-making centers, you will know that it’s impossible to race through it.   You will be exhausted, but not because you’ve been going so fast; au contraire, you will have been plodding along at the pace of those debilitated galley slaves in Ben-Hur, going in and out of  so many shops  you’ll think they’ve been breeding in dark corners when you’re not looking.    The five islands that make up Murano, of which you will probably only visit two, cover  barely one square mile, and the Yellow Pages list 61 shops.   I think there must be more.

Anyway, you will not have been racing.   Unless it’s the first Sunday in July, in which you can come to Murano to watch other people race, and believe me, they’re going to be more tired in less time than you and your whole family after an entire day.

A glimpse of the leaders last year, heading from out in the lagoon into the Grand Canal of Murano and the home stretch.

A glimpse of the leaders last year, heading from out in the lagoon into the Grand Canal of Murano and the home stretch.

The regata of Murano is really three regatas, each involving solo rowers, which calls not only for stamina but  for skill.   The races are for  young men on pupparinos, women on pupparinos, and grown men on gondolas.   It’s always hot, and there is always wind, and sometimes, like a few years ago, there can be sudden thunderstorms with pouring rain.   But the race must go on.

Only about ten more minutes to go, and unless something extraordinary happens, at this point the positions aren't likely to change much.  But they don't slack off, all the same.

Only about ten more minutes to go, and unless something extraordinary happens, at this point the positions aren't likely to change much. But they don't slack off, all the same.

The city of Venice organizes nine regatas a year, plus the Regata Storica.   Each race is designed for a particular type of boat and number of rowers, and each is held in a different part of the lagoon, which means that the conditions and course  present their own particular quirks.   These changing venues also means that some are easier to watch from the shore than others, and the one at Murano is especially exciting not only because you can see both the start and the finish, but because there are good vantage-points along the fondamentas, and even a big cast-iron bridge from which to get a spectacular view of the finish.

The women on pupparinos are about 60 seconds from the finish line and it looks like the pink boat may still have a chance to overtake the white (2009).

The women on pupparinos are about 60 seconds from the finish line and it looks like the pink boat may still have a chance to overtake the white (2009).

Regatas (a Venetian word, by the way), have been an important feature of Venetian festivities since the Venetians crawled out of the primordial ooze;  sometimes they were part of a religious celebration, or part of the myriad spectacles staged for the amusement of visiting potentates, but they were one-time events.

Luisella Schiavon -- from Murano, as it happens -- has a clear shot at first place at this point.  She won last year, and this year, too.  Being tall, as well as talented, makes a difference.

Luisella Schiavon -- from Murano, as it happens -- has a clear shot at first place at this point. She won last year, and this year, too. Being tall, as well as talented, makes a difference.

But  in 1869, the regata at Murano was established as a  regular annual event and not for any prince or pope but to entertain — yes — tourists.   And whether or not tourists can look up for a few minutes from the heaps of glass necklaces and picture frames and flower vases, this race is arguably the most important occasion for a Venetian racer to show what he, or she, has really got.   I can tell you that the man who wins the gondola race is universally regarded as having won something akin to Wimbledon, or maybe the  Ironman Triathlon, or the Tour de France.   Maybe all of them.

Here’s what it takes to win: Strength, stamina, skill, luck, and extreme and ruthless cunning.   It also helps if you’re tall.   It’s a physics thing; short rowers have a hard time keeping up with taller ones, though sometimes a short person has pulled it off, especially if he or she (I’m thinking of a she) is lavishly gifted with the aforementioned luck and cunning.   Or just cunning.

My two most vivid memories of this race are from one of the earliest ones I ever attended, and the one from last Sunday.   Both, oddly, involve a certain racer named Roberto Busetto.

Roberto Busetto last Sunday, crossing the finish line in third place just ahead of the yellow gondola.  Victory is sweet, at least until you black out.

Roberto Busetto last Sunday, crossing the finish line in third place just ahead of the yellow gondola. Victory is sweet, at least until you black out.

Mr. Busetto is strong — he looks like Mr. Clean, and he has biceps that make you think of whole prosciuttos.   He is also  experienced, and very determined (I’m not sure that he’s made it up to “ruthless”), but if anything ever upsets him during the race — even if it may not have prevented him from finishing really well — he can be counted on to show up for his prize yelling about it.   In fact, there will always be something that’s wrong, and he goes all Raging Bull at the judges, at some fellow racer, at some onlooker, at anyone or anything that might have created even the tinest problem for him.   Or who looks like they don’t care.   It’s never easy to understand, in the midst of his tirade, what actually went wrong.   But you know he’s mad.

Okay, Mr. Clean, let's just check those vital signs again.

Okay, Mr. Clean, let's just check those vital signs again.

The first time I saw Busetto at full throttle, he had barely crossed the finish line when he started ranting.   It had something to do with what he claimed was some sneaky, illegal  thing that another racer, Franco Dei Rossi, had inflicted on him, thereby preventing him from finishing better.

The confusion of boats immediately following the race doesn't usually include the ambulance.  Last year it was just the usual suspects.

The confusion of boats immediately following the race doesn't usually include the ambulance. Last year it was just the usual suspects.

But it wasn’t his tantrum that stunned me, though I didn’t know at that point that tantrums are  his normal means of expression, the way some people can’t help starting every sentence with “Well” or “You know.”   It was the fact that under this deluge of outrage, Dei Rossi was sobbing as he mounted the judges’ stand to be awarded his prize.   A grown man, one of the greatest (in my view) racers of his generation, son of one of the greatest racers in history, was standing there weeping uncontrollably.   It was so astonishing and distressing that I know I didn’t imagine it, and I’m not exaggerating, either.   I’m glad I didn’t have a camera with me, I wouldn’t be able to bear looking at the pictures.   It really left a mark on me.

So we come to last Sunday.   It’s Busetto again.   He  has been racing for at least 20 years, maybe more, but he had only a very brief peak, and that was quite some while ago.   In fact, I’d have to stop and do some research to determine when was the last time he won a pennant.   I think the Beatles may still have been together.   (Just kidding;   it was in 2000.)

But this year, he finished third.   Which means he won the green pennant, which means that after a ten-year drought he had managed to pull himself back into the ranks of the demi-gods.  Pennants are awarded to the first four finishers, and they really matter to the racers, almost as much as the cash prize.

This is what normal collapsing looks like -- here, Sebastiano Della Toffola has just finished his first race with the big guys.  Franco Dei Rossi, a certified, gold-plated Big Guy, looks on with something that looks like comprehension.

This is what normal collapsing looks like -- here, Sebastiano Della Toffola has just finished his first race with the big guys. Franco Dei Rossi, a certified, gold-plated Big Guy, looks on with something that looks like comprehension.

Finishing third is pretty great, but about two seconds after crossing the finish line, he collapsed.   First he sort of let himself fall down backwards on the stern of the boat, which isn’t so strange except that  it’s usually the younger men who want to show how completely wrung out they are.   It’s like  when they throw their oar in the water (rage, joy, some other intense emotion — looks very dramatic, till you realize how dumb it is).

An excellent example of what incredible-victory collapsing looks like.  Last year, like this year, first place went to Igor Vignotto.  On the orange gondola both years.  You may laugh, but this is how superstitions are born.

An excellent example of what incredible-victory collapsing looks like. Last year, like this year, first place went to Igor Vignotto. On the orange gondola both times. You may laugh, but this is how superstitions are born.

But then my friend Anzhelika said, “He’s too white.”   Then I noticed that his boat had drifted slaunchwise across the canal, blocking the arrival of the last gondolas.   Then there was some commotion, then the sound of the water ambulance arriving at full speed.

Much pouring of cool water on his head, much checking of his blood pressure.   He tore himself away long enough to come pick up his pennant, annoyed (of course), though not yelling, because everybody was fussing over him.   He likes attention, but nobody with arms like prosciuttos wants it to be because he fell apart.

But some things in life are bigger than prosciuttos, and rowing under the searing sun for 40 minutes at full blast if you’re not in astronaut-type physical condition is asking for it.   “It” being an ambulance and a blood-pressure cuff, and lots of people suddenly looking at you like you’re some kind of invalid.

You know it’s serious when Roberto Busetto isn’t yelling.

Franco Dei Rossi in a more typical post-race moment: Smiling because he's won another pennant.  In this case, a blue one for fourth place.  Not at all bad in a field of nine, for a man who's drifting up on 50 years old.

Franco Dei Rossi (2009) in a more typical post-race moment: Smiling because he's won another pennant. In this case, a blue one for fourth place. Not at all bad in a field of nine, for a man who's drifting up on 60 years old.

This year's first and second-place finishers.  Igor Vignotto on the left (red pennant) and Rudi Vignotto (white pennant).  They were adversaries, but only sort of; not only are they cousins, but they have rowed together for years.

This year's first and second-place finishers. Igor Vignotto on the left (red pennant) and Rudi Vignotto (white pennant). They were adversaries, but only sort of; not only are they cousins, but they have rowed together their entire lives.

The fourth-place pennant, clutched by a sweat-soaked Ivo Redolfi Tezzat.  This is an especially nice design, with the rooster, the emblem of Murano, in the upper corner.  If you've won this, though, you really don't care whether it's a rooster or an Andean condor.

The fourth-place pennant, clutched by a sweat-soaked Ivo Redolfi Tezzat. This is an especially nice design, with the rooster, the emblem of Murano, in the upper corner. If you've won this, though, you really don't care if it's a rooster or a wall-eyed vireo.

Then we all followed the scent of the scorching sausage and ribs to the local festa.  This little girl out with her grandmother has the most astonishing pre-Raphaelite face.  I just can't stand the thought of her walking around with a cell phone and tattoos.  Must be getting old.

Then we all followed the scent of the scorching sausage and ribs to the local festa. This little girl out with her grandmother has the most astonishing pre-Raphaelite face. I just can't stand the thought of her growing up and walking around with a cell phone and tattoos and mutilated hair. Must be getting old.

Interested in the races?  The ribs?  The music?  The thunderstorm about to break the sky into a billion sharp wet pieces?  Not really.  That's what these parties are really all about.  The food and music are just ruses.

Interested in the races? The ribs? The music? The thunderstorm about to shatter the sky into a billion sharp wet pieces? Not really. Here is an excellent demonstration of what these parties are for. The food and music are just ruses.

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