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What was your name again?

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IMG_9546  baiamonte tiepolo

Walking home the other day, I cast my eye, as usual, on the building corner which Lino refers to as “The Wailing Wall.”  Meaning no disrespect to the original place of that name, our little angle is the perfect spot to tape up death notices.  I’ve mentioned on other occasions that the cost to publish such a notice in the Gazzettino is totally fantastical, so these rectangles of plastic are extremely useful in keeping people up to date on for whom the bell is tolling.

But I don’t usually expect to see names I recognize, mainly because the number of people I know who might be likely to demise is very limited.  And although some surnames are a little unusual, there are very few which hurl one back 700 years into one of the most complicated and desperate conspiracies ever formed to attempt the overthrow of the Venetian Republic.

So I was unprepared to see a new notice stuck on the wall, complete with photo of the deceased, announcing the death of Baiamonte Tiepolo.

This name may not connote much to you, but anyone who has skimmed Venetian history knows it as the name of one of the most audacious revolutionaries who ever tried to scuttle somebody’s government.

It was like seeing a notice for some innocuous little person who just happened to be named Benedict Arnold, or Oliver Cromwell, or Ernesto Guevara, or Gregory Rasputin.

As for someone bearing the name of a renowned Venetian noble family, this isn’t quite so startling.  I interviewed a descendant of doge Jacopo Tiepolo some years ago, and I know that there are Grimanis and Zorzis and Da Mosto’s still roaming the city.  I have also met a young woman carrying forward the storied name of Bragadin.

But it’s one thing to bear the last name; if you were a Bragadin, I think it would be cruel to name your son Marcantonio.  The name is certainly worthy of remembrance, but the boy’s life would be hell.  There are only so many witty remarks you can make to someone whose forebear was flayed alive after an epic siege that lasted almost a year, and the lad would have to hear all of them.

On the same note, the Venice phone book lists two men named Marco Polo.  They must have been doomed to a life of a steady drizzle of really funny remarks.  “Hey, Marco — back so soon?”  “Give my regards to the Khan, next time you see him.”  “Did you really invent pasta?”  And so on.

For the late Baiamonte, the drollery would have had to be more erudite, and I won’t risk any here because life is short, and by the time one (that is, me) has related as much as possible of his ancestor’s spectacular, if also scurrilous, story, the potential for humor would have dried up and blown away in the wind.  But I feel safe in saying that, thanks to his namesake and his cohorts, the year 1310 stands out in Venetian history as much as 1492 or 1776 stands out in the American annals.

Here is the drastically condensed version of his story. The plot was foiled, he was exiled for four years, and his palace was torn down.  He spent those years traveling, visiting Venice’s enemies (Padova, Treviso, Rovigo, and some very powerful families therein) doing everything conceivable to convince them to join him in another conspiracy. He just wouldn’t give up.

Not amused, Venice changed the sentence to perpetual exile.  He wandered around Dalmatia seeking new collaborators.  He was imprisoned.  He escaped.  The Venetian government forbade anybody to have anything to do with him.  Finally, in 1329, the Council of Ten decreed that he had to be eliminated, by any means.

The details of Baiamonte’s death are uncertain, which is not surprising when a person has to be eliminated. (The “Caught a cold and stopped breathing” explanation has often been sufficient.)  As for location, at least one historian states that he was in Croatia, staying with relatives, when his last day came and went.

For the Tiepolos of Lower Castello, maybe it was a point of pride to name their son Baiamonte. It couldn’t have been inadvertent.  I can’t imagine somebody saying “Heavenly days, it never crossed my mind that somebody would think of the old subversive of blackened fame.”

I notice, though, that he named his son Andrea.  Maybe he had had enough.

The great conspirator's palace was razed, and a "column of infamy" detailing his crimes was erected in its place.  Eventually the column was broken up, and this abbreviated summary placed on the pavement: "Location of column of Baiamonte Tiepolo 1310."

The great conspirator’s palace at Campo Sant’ Agostin was razed, and a “column of infamy” detailing his crimes was erected in its place. Eventually the column was broken up, and this abbreviated summary placed on the pavement: “Location of column of Baiamonte Tiepolo 1310.”


Categories : Venetian History
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As I’ve often remarked, one of the things I love about being here is the faithful return of certain events — moments — throughout the year.  Of course there are events everywhere upon which one may confidently depend — tax deadline day comes to mind — but I’m talking about here.

One occurrence which is so predictable that I don’t even have read the paper, much less even wake up, to recognize it is the double-edged event known as THE EXODUS.

Trieste is only 7 km/4 miles from the Croatian border. From then on, time and distance take on new meanings.

No, it has no Biblical overtones, unless one is thinking of the famous Plagues. In fact, now that I think about it, this could possibly be a worthy candidate to join the frogs and the flies that afflicted Pharaoh.  But since we’re living in a democracy, this little plague afflicts everybody going on vacation. And everybody goes in August.

So the first weekend of August inevitably sees an outbound migration  of massive proportions clogging the highways — The Exodus.  On the last weekend of August, there is the equally appalling Return Exodus.

This is what Croatia looks like from the Italian side of the border. You can be sitting and looking at this for quite a while. But of course, you're not seeing this, you're seeing what it represents: Fabulous beaches, great food, maybe even no people.

We could call it the Plague of Traffic.  Or, if you’re sitting on the highway in a monster backup, the Plague of Everybody Else on Earth.  And the only thing that changes from one year to the next is the length — from unbearable to inconceivable — of the backups at the Italian borders and Alpine tunnels.  Last Saturday the backup at the border dividing Slovenia from Croatia reached about 40 km/25 miles.  Ah yes, Croatia: Gorgeous! Near! Irresistible! Cheap! Also: Small! Mountainous! Not Many Roads!

This Exodus traffic is funny to people who aren’t there, like me, and to people who are funny wherever they are, like Lino Toffolo.

Lino Toffolo is an actor/standup comic  from Murano who writes a column every Sunday in the Gazzettino.  He’s usually right on top of the main subject of the day, which last Sunday was The Exodus.

Here is what he wrote (translated by me):

Instead of facing the usual five kilometers of tailback [in Italian, merely “tail”] to go to Jesolo, why don’t we go to Croatia or Dalmatia or along down there, where there are bound to be fewer people?

Perfect idea!  Let’s go!  40 kilometers of continuous tailback!  Basically, when the last person gets there he just turns around because his vacation is over.

Every year, right on schedule, other than the drama of the “checking the stomach on the beach I swear I’m never eating again” is the  one — unsolvable — of “where to go” and above all, “when to leave.”

The imagination is unchained!  At night, at dawn, at mealtimes like telephone calls [local people scribbling ads often say “call at mealtimes”].  Every so often somebody has the idea of the “intelligent departure,” which they reveal only to their friends who — as with all true secrets — they pass along to one friend at a time, even on Facebook.

The result: Everybody is stuck in the backup, everybody is complaining.

Grandpa Tony thinks that the laborers working on the highway are tourists who just got bored sitting still and figure this way they can at least be doing something…. Sometimes you can watch plants growing.  

“But — it is obligatory for us to do this?”  “No!  That’s exactly why we’re doing it!  If it were obligatory, we’d all stay home!”  

And the Croatians?  Where do they go?  Italy? Gorgeous!  Near! Irresistible! Expensive!

This is a glimpse of the Croatian coast. Worth the voyage, as the Michelin Guide might put it.


This is the Italian coast in Puglia.




Italy. The only difference I can see that might make it worthwhile to sit in a car for hours to get to one instead of the other would be that Croatia is currently a hot destination, while Puglia has always just been there.







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