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Jan
03

Venice: Let the New Year begin

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As I may have intimated, we didn’t plan on being in the Piazza San Marco at the stroke of midnight, and we in fact stayed home until midnight when we walked out to the waterfront to watch the fireworks over the Bacino of San Marco.

In the nabes they were still sweeping up on Monday morning.  Here, a little petardo carcass.

In the nabes they were still sweeping up on Monday morning. Here, a little petardo carcass.

This isn’t to say that our neighborhood was empty — au contraire.  There were plenty of kids out, and assorted adults, and the kids, at least, were intent on making things explode.  Here these variations on the firecracker are generically called  petardi (a petardo here is not something you would be want to be hoist with, even if it was your own) and they make a seriously loud bang and leave black smears on the street.

The first things to be called “petard,” I discover, were not used for entertainment.  They were small bombs used to breach walls and blow in doors.  The term derives from Middle French and/or Latin, from the word invented long before gunpowder to mean “fart.”

Cleaning the Piazza on January 1, 2009 was complicated by snow.  But the job eventually got done.

Cleaning the Piazza on January 1, 2009 was complicated by snow. But the job eventually got done.

But turning to more serious detonations, you probably know that Thomas Carlyle famously said that “The three great elements of modern civilization are gunpowder, printing, and the Protestant religion.”  My calculation is that there is an inverse relationship between the quantity of gunpowder in a place or time and the quantity of civilization represented thereby.  I understand that fireworks to mark the birth of a new calendar are common in many places and cultures and are loaded with symbolic meaning.  I only wanted to remark that I myself don’t regard pain and mutilation as being especially civilized, no matter what else your culture may have discovered or invented.

Here is the New Year’s morning  balance sheet from the merrymaking that involved things that go boom in Italy:

Many of the high-water walkways were stacked out of the way, to leave room for the throngs. On the third morning after New Year struck, these two bottles and their glasses are still here. I love the fact that the celebrators decided to put them inside the fencing. This required a high level of good citizenship.

Many of the high-water walkways were stacked out of the way, to leave room for the throngs. On the third morning after New Year struck, these two bottles and their glasses are still here. I love the fact that the celebrators decided to put them inside the fencing. This required a high level of good citizenship.

500 people wounded (four of them seriously, and 68 under the age of 12), and one person killed, almost exclusively by fireworks of the homemade variety, some of which could create explosions rivaling those we read about occurring in foreign marketplaces.  It’s too bad that my first reaction when I read that was “Great!  Only one person died!” It’s nothing to be pleased about, especially when I learned that    he was killed by a stray bullet when he went out in the courtyard with his friends to watch the fireworks. Guns are becoming a new way here to make noise and threaten life to welcome the next 12 months.

And various people have lost eyes and hands.  It’s the same every year.

At San Marco, at least, there were no damaging cannonades.  The mass celebration there seems to have gone without any particular hitch (or lost dogs).  The reports describe its dimensions:

60,000 people went to the Piazza to drink Prosecco (or whatever they brought), watch the fireworks, and share a kiss at midnight.  I’m not going to try to calculate how tightly these people were packed together; the Piazza is big,  but not unusually big, and I can imagine that once they locked lips it took some time for there to be enough space to unlock them again.  Concerning the  clip below, unless you’re a total crowd-and-fireworks maniac, skip to the last two or three minutes.  Just a suggestion.

As for trash (here the Countryside Code doesn’t apply — people don’t mind leaving their footprints and garbage behind), there was plenty.  To festivize properly seems to require discarding material, kind of like the solid rocket boosters falling away from the Space Shuttle at T plus two minutes.

One of the wagons is about to drop its contents into the barge.

One of the wagons is about to drop its contents into the barge.

At 2:30 AM the trash collectors took over — 120 of them, filling  140 garbage “wagons”  (or 104, the accounts aren’t consistent, but anyway, 40 wagons were loaded in the Piazza alone), the contents of all of which were dumped into 40 garbage barges.  By 5:00 AM the Piazza was clean again and I give everybody loads (two bargefuls) of compliments.

What was left behind in our little hovel was not smashed bottles or busted firecrackers, but there are still large amounts of great food sitting around, including homemade cake and cookies, which are going to make that New Year’s Resolution — you know the one I mean — that much harder to fulfill.

But I’m feeling hopeful about virtually everything at the moment, which is an inexplicable but very welcome byproduct of starting a new year, not to mention a new decade, and I’m going to try to make it last as long as I can.  The feeling, I mean.  Not the year.

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Jan
02

Venetian New Year’s Eve

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Fireworks anywhere look great, even if they're not over Venice.

Fireworks anywhere look great, even if they're not over Venice.

If you had been here, you could have done any or all of the following to celebrate the Night of Saint Silvester, as it is also known here.

You could have ingested a festive dinner at Harry’s Bar for a trifling 500 euros ($662) per person. It was marked down at the last minute from 1,200 euros ($1,590) because times are hard. I’m not sure how much profit they made at that price considering that the menu covered champagne, caviar, truffle ravioli, tournedos and so forth.  Maybe they downgraded from Beluga to Sevruga. That’s what we’ve certainly done.

And yet, the transcendent Arrigo Cipriani, owner, scion, and namesake of this legendary establishment, has not only made it sound as if he has slashed prices more drastically than a tire/mattress/car salesman, he also made it known that in spite of the hard times, almost all the tables were already taken, so you had to book fast. I guess I understand that.  Make it sound like a sale and people automatically think they’re saving money.

firework-d2asAfter you had reveled in your Lucullan repast, you could have gone around the corner to the Piazza San Marco not only to watch the fireworks but create your own (metaphorically speaking) by throwing in your osculatory lot with all the other couples thronging the piazza who have been primed by weeks of publicity to come here to kiss each other at midnight.

It’s the third year that this experience has been offered and it was an immediate success; it is now referred to as a tradition. Four thousand lips beating as one.

Two years ago a family from Milan lost their golden retriever in the crush and the city was plastered with their appeals for months, complete with photo (was her name Molly?  Lucy?). Eventually she was found, which kind of surprised me, but not how long it took. Considering how many dogs there are here, she must have been having the best time of her life.

Then there will be the homemade explosives set off around town. Usually here they aren’t big or dangerous enough to blow away arms and put out eyes and all the rest of what happens in Naples and other places addicted to New Year’s ordnance.

Speaking of things going crash and boom, Lino remembers when people here still marked midnight by throwing out the window everything they wanted to get rid of. “Everything!” he repeated when I asked for examples. Dishes.  Glasses.  Chairs.  Toilets.  (I did not make that up.)  He says that people  in Rome and Naples still do it.  I’m making a note of it on my “Not To-Do” list.  Right next to my note that says “Wear black fishnet stockings, hard hat.”

Otherwise, though, he says that, until the Seventies, New Year’s Eve wasn’t regarded as an event to celebrate in any particular way here. “At midnight, all the ships in the port blew their horns.  Otherwise, people just went to bed like any other night.” Making their own pyrotechnics.

Wherever you were, I hope your celebrations were just what you wanted, no less, and certainly no more.

Happy New Year!

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