Archive for cholera

Jan
28

Perusing Venice

Posted by: | Comments (3)

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
Comments (3)
Sep
23

Castello’s patron saint

Posted by: | Comments (3)

I have a new hero.

He emerged from oblivion a few days ago wrapped in the shadows of a bygone regata which is being resuscitated this weekend, and I think he deserves more space than the regata and I want you to know about him not only for his own sake, but to demonstrate that Erla’s Venice does not consist exclusively of moldy leftovers and mismatched socks and intelligent people who believe crazy things and not-so-intelligent people who believe those things are brilliant.

His name was Luigi Graziottin (GRA-tsee-aw-TEEN): Born in Castello in 1852, died in Castello in 1926, and forgotten in Castello ever since.

Via Garibaldi, the spinal cord, nervous system and lymph nodes of Castello, where Graziottin was known by everybody, especially the storekeepers he asked for donations.

The regata he was involved in organizing and promoting was inspired by the city-wide desire to celebrate September 20, a crucial date in the amalgamation process of the newly united Italy.  The festivities in Castello were a huge neighborhood event.

The race was first known as the Regata di Castello, then the Regata of XX September.  It was held ten times between 1887 and 1913, skipping some years for various, ever-more-political reasons, with assorted modifications.  Then people stopped commemorating the date and the race had no reason to exist.

I know all this thanks to an excellent book, “La Regata di Castello o del XX settembre,” by Giorgio Crovato.  Too bad it’s only in Italian, it’s crammed with fascinating stuff.

Back to Graziottin.  He was a carpenter by trade, who worked in the Arsenal, and was also an ex-NCO of the Italian Navy.  He furthermore devised a cure for cholera which saved a couple of hundred lives in the national epidemic of 1886, no small feat when you consider how many cholera epidemics decimated Venice and/or Italy in the nineteenth century (1835-36, 1849, 1854, 1886).  He told a Roman reporter that he was known in Venice as the “king of cholera” — sounds funny unless you’ve been through a cholera epidemic, which I haven’t, thank God.

Campo Ruga, where I hope Graziottin would still feel at home, though in his day few people here looked this good.

Most important — and this is where the heroic element comes in — he was Castello’s guiding light, a one-man social services agency who, without any particular qualifications, became the paladin of the poor, of which Venice at the turn of the century had an enormous supply.  More than once, the regata’s festivities, apart from fireworks and the regata, included the distribution, organized by Graziottin, of “bread, yellow flour (polenta), and…wine to the poor of Castello.”  Which means he had first managed to inspire donations from local merchants, which also impresses me.

Crovato describes him this way (translation by me):

“He is short and swarthy, with an unkempt beard, long hair….without much income and often in need himself, who runs where he sees the need of some social or civic intervention, without any direct political authority, but as defender of the weakest….”

He wrote so many letters to the Gazzettino to publicize his abundant concerns that the paper summed him up as “…a sort of local Garibaldi, who runs wherever there is need, engaged on diverse fronts, especially in the social realm.  Honest and ingenuous, and loyal to his country, as a Venetian and an Italian.”

It's wonderful to realize there are people like this; anyone who would hang out the laundry with this degree of attention to detail is far beyond my level.

A man, in short, to whom the phrase “What’s in it for me?” would be incomprehensible, even if spoken in his native language.

In 1888 he wrote a letter to the mayor requesting new clothes for a poor shoemaker who had saved the life of a little girl who had fallen into the canal of Sant’Anna (as it happens, the canal that comes ashore at high tide just outside our door).

On the same day, he alerted the city that the shipyard workers at Sant’ Elena were in imminent danger of losing their jobs.

He got a meeting with the mayor to discuss the dire situation of 70 out-of-work boatmen, suggesting that the schedule for excavating the canals be modified in order to start, say, immediately.

He took four women to Padova to ask the wife of an important politician to intervene on behalf of the women’s husbands, imprisoned for their supposed participation in a sort of rebellion of the porters at the bridge of the Veneta Marina.

The next day he wrote a letter to the newspaper to solicit donations to help a 38-year-old woman with four children whose husband was in jail for homicide.  I notice that he didn’t take on the husband’s case, focusing instead on the plight of his destitute family.

He also personally saved more than a hundred people from one life-threatening incident or another.

And on, and on, and on.

Eccentric as he may have been, with his proto-hippie persona buttressed by a blue-collar pragmatism — I picture him as looking something like a cross between Frank Zappa and Rasputin —  Graziottin must have gleamed with sincerity and confidence, because people at every level responded.  His personal motto, if he’d had time to bother with one, must have been “Get it done.”

The reason I have made room for him in my personal pantheon of heroes (in fact, he made room for himself) is not primarily his energy, or even his successes.  It’s his altruism.  I can’t express how startling and radiant that is in a city which seems unable to recognize any motive other than “ulterior.”  I don’t doubt that the people to whom he appealed may have had many of their own reasons for responding, but I don’t perceive that he had any ambition other than to help people who had nowhere to turn.

I also can’t imagine him answering the numberless cries for help with the by-now ritual responses to problems of any sort or size: “I’ll think about it,” “We don’t have any  money,” “I don’t know,” “Probably not,” “I wish I could,”  “Maybe next year,” or merely “No.”

If you're out on the street, you know people will be looking at you.

Now we have unions and Facebook and special-interest groups and talk shows and all sorts of ways to make our voices heard, even if they are ignored.  But there seems to have been something in Graziottin’s voice that was more effective than your average riot, march, or hunger strike. And compassion fatigue seems never to have set in.

Not to idolize the man, I’m just observing the chasm that separates his view of the world and the orientation of large numbers of people here. Of course there are many who labor to help the needy. I even know some of them. But in general, those who have the power to improve things, even little things, don’t. And those who don’t have the power, they also don’t.  There’s always time to complain, though.

Graziottin! Thou should’st be living at this hour:/Venice hath need of thee: she is a fen of stagnant/Waters…..

But there the similarity between Wordsworth’s Milton and our own little Luigi ends.  Because while Poet A apotheosizes Poet B on the basis of B’s innate grandeur and magnificence, I would skip the sonnet and send a crate of compliments to Graziottin for his simplicity, integrity, and tenacity.

He could probably also have used a gift certificate to a day spa, which I’d happily include, but I doubt he’d waste his time getting his nails buffed and his beard trimmed.  He’d probably give it to somebody who really needed it.

Dawn is one of the few times you can actually see the street.

 

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Categories : Venetian History
Comments (3)