Archive for Francesco Foscari
Sunday evening at 7:25 PM the Piazza San Marco suddenly came alight in the most extraordinary way. It pulsated, briefly and gloriously, with hundreds (900, if all the people who signed up actually came) of flashlights which, taken together, formed the shape of a heart.
Yes, “Venezia Rivelata” has struck again.
We all remember what fun it was to make a “bocolo” on the feast of San Marco, 2014, and this time the organizers/artists/fantasizers had designed something bigger, more complicated, and also much more spectacular.
The event was the 12th and last in a series created by Alberto Toso Fei and performance artist Elena Tagliapietra. Not every program was so vivid; some were lectures and — to be frank — weren’t all equally publicized, as far as I could tell. Not that I’d have attended them all. I just want to point out that there was in fact a major scheme to all this, the scheme being to focus each time on a particular aspect of Venetian history. And why do this? To bring Venetians to a sense of reclaiming their city, in an emotional if not actual way. (It’s all explained on the press release below.)
The theme on Sunday night was “Venice and Justice,” which is a topic well worth bringing forward, and not because the two terms seem to have become, if we read the newspapers, virtual antonyms. Wait, that isn’t fair. There is justice — in Italy at large, no need to concentrate on Venice alone — but it moves at the pace of a dying diplodocus struggling in a tar pit, and the results are often what might be called debatable. Slow, in any case.
But in the great trajectory of history, Venice often showed herself to be a dazzling innovator — technical, commercial, conceptual, legal — passing laws most of which probably wouldn’t have seemed like a good idea to anyone but the Venetians. To take an example at random, Venice was the first nation in the world to abolish the slave trade (960 AD). Venice invented the copyright, to protect intellectual property (their merchant instincts didn’t stop at the merely tangible). Venice passed laws to protect the rights of women, and of children. Not made up.
Speaking of laws, how about this idea: “The law is equal for everyone,” which is inscribed in big letters on the wall behind every judge’s bench in the land. It can’t be confirmed where this dictum came from, but the Venetians followed it in spirit if not in phrase. For many centuries they were arguably the only people in Europe (and the world?) who didn’t subscribe to the idea that the bigger and richer you were, the more the law was supposed to work for you. If you bothered with the law at all.
The fact that Venice regarded the law as sovereign was never so bitterly and clearly shown than in the agonizing story of Jacopo Foscari, the only surviving son of doge Francesco Foscari (doge from 1423 to 1457). Jacopo was found to be accepting money from a foreign power; he was tried and exiled. More skulduggery, more trials, more exile — three times, each sentence confirmed by his father. I submit that the average criminal whose father was the head of state (or, if you like, the average head of state with an incorrigible child) would have used whatever power was necessary to get the laddie off the hook. Here, no. The laddie died in exile.
Toso Fei reports that the following inscription (translated by me) was carved, in Latin, over the entry door of the avogaria of the Doge’s Palace; the avogaria was an ancient magistracy composed of three men who upheld the principle of legality, that is, the correct application of the laws. That such a body even existed was extraordinary — perhaps, in the 12th century, even revolutionary.
PRIMA DI OGNI COSA INDAGATE SEMPRE SCRUPOLOSAMENTE, PER STABILIRE LA VERITÀ CON GIUSTIZIA E CHIAREZZA. NON CONDANNATE NESSUNO, SE NON DOPO UN GIUDIZIO SINCERO E GIUSTO. NON GIUDICATE NESSUNO IN BASE A SOSPETTI, MA RICERCATE LE PROVE E, ALLA FINE, PRONUNCIATE UNA SENTENZA PIETOSA. NON FATE AGLI ALTRI QUEL CHE NON VORRESTE FOSSE FATTO A VOI.
BEFORE ANY OTHER THING, ALWAYS INVESTIGATE SCRUPULOUSLY TO ESTABLISH THE TRUTH WITH JUSTICE AND CLARITY. DO NOT CONDEMN ANYONE IF NOT ACCORDING TO A SINCERE AND JUST JUDGMENT. DO NOT JUDGE ANYONE ON THE BASIS OF SUSPICIONS, BUT SEEK THE EVIDENCE AND, AT THE END, PRONOUNCE A COMPASSIONATE SENTENCE. DO NOT DO TO OTHERS WHAT YOU WOULD NOT HAVE DONE TO YOU.
I think they stole that last idea from somewhere.
So: Beating heart. What better to represent everything good — not only laws fairly and scrupulously applied — but life, period? That was our assignment.
The result was beyond dazzling.
Hats off to everybody involved, right down to the policemen who kept the spectators at bay. And thanks for the umbrella, too.
People sometimes ask me — or ask themselves, standing next to me — why the government of Venice doesn’t do one thing or the other to resolve the city’s problems, which are right out there for everybody to see. It seems impossible that nobody has come up with any ideas for what to do to make it cleaner, safer, more efficient (well, that might be a reach) — or just generally spiffed up and functioning. How can it be that no long-term solution is found for something — anything?
If we were to take the proverbial legal tablet and write the proverbial two comparative lists, one would be titled “Problems” (it would be a very long list), and the other “Solutions” (which would also be long). But there are almost no points at which they recognize each other and embrace, like twins separated at birth.
But guess what I just found out? People were raising red flags, launching the lifeboats, pulling out handfuls of hair in 1970 about the very same problems everyone complains about today. That’s 43 years of standing in one place. If I were a city, I’d be tired by now.
As I have long suspected, it’s not ideas that are missing here. (I mean, constructive, forward-looking, beneficial-to-everybody ideas). It’s execution.
Tides of ideas flow through Venice from all sides, but like the lagoon tide, they go out again. Most of them. To return again. Most of them. Some of them begin to be realized, then they stop. Then they start again. You get the idea. (Sorry.)
Here are some of the most telling bits from a big article in the Gazzettino last Sunday, written by Pier Alvise Zorzi. It might be useful to know that the Zorzi family is documented to have been in Venice since 964 A.D. That doesn’t mean he knows more than anyone else, I’m just saying he’s not the latest person to see the fireworks of the Redentore and decide to stay here forever.
Mr. Zorzi reports that back in April, 1970, veteran journalist Indro Montanelli dedicated virtually the entire month to articles about Venice and its problems — its particularity, its fragility, the housing depression, the political bungling, and so on.
“THE ILLS OF VENICE? THE SAME WERE REPORTED BY INDRO 43 YEARS AGO. From depopulation to the risk of the touristic monoculture, from the sublagunare project to the problems of housing.”
“I have in hand a page from the Corriere della Sera (April 23, 1970) with the headline: ‘The Youth Front for Venice,’ with the subtitle “On the lagoon one breathes the air of the Titanic — the discouragement which by now pervades the Venetians is the main danger to face – to break this passivity a movement of young people has arisen without any political label ready to support at the next elections anybody who defends Venice.”
Under some emblematic photographs are these succinct quotes from 1970, which read like telegraph messages from the front lines. It’s deja vu again, and again, and again.
“Tourism: The city can’t live only on hotels and restaurants.”
“Housing: Too many uninhabited palaces and the cost of rent is through the roof (as they say here, “to the stars”).”
“Dignity: Enough of sterile complaints: each person needs to get involved.”
He continues: “A young person who was interviewed complained of the progressive abandonment of the city…the problem of housing, which is not only decrepit but at much higher rents than on the mainland…And the culminating point, ‘We don’t intend to raise tourism to the level of a monoculture. A city like Venice can’t live only on hotels, trattorias, tips. It will become degraded.'”
And the solutions these young people suggest are also, by now, hoary and draped with cobwebs: More artisans, for example, or linking highly specialized institutions to the world of production and cultural foundations in Europe and America.
The Front eventually fell apart, but the old problems are still here, and have been joined by some new ones: “The ‘hole’ of the Lido (endless construction projects that are badly conceived, worse realized, mercilessly expensive); the ghost of corruption on the MOSE project (more about this in another post), the mega-billboards which continue in spite of new ministerial regulations.”
Zorzi acknowledges a few positive signs lately, small and tentative though they may be. But the essential character of the situation is not only unchanged, but maybe even unchangeable. “The problem,” he says, and so do lots of people here, “is that everyone who is able to make the decisions is so tied up in the webs of common interests, either political or economic (but aren’t they the same?) that they move only with extreme, sticky slowness.
“The risk? That 40 years from now we’ll still be right there, at the same spot. I don’t want my grandchildren still to be reading, for example, about the Calatrava bridge, that economic abyss … or the suspected speculation on the renovation of the Manin barracks. Or the hospital. Or the eternal MOSE. Or all the usual things which the national newspapers don’t bother with anymore because everybody’s fed up with Venice’s constant whining.
“I want Venice to have the dignity to save herself on her own, thanks to the citizens which consider her not as something to exploit, but something to invest in. I want the Venetians to denounce the little local mafias, instead of trying to join them in order to gain something for themselves. I want the multinationals who buy the palaces to invest in the city and not merely in their own image. I want that each person, even in their own little way, should do something to safeguard our special character. If I were to live for a hundred years, I’d like to read something new about Venice.”
You know what’s too bad about this cri de coeur? I’ve heard it before.