Archive for Francesco Foscari

Sep
22

Be still, my heart

Posted by: | Comments (5)
Wait, it gets better below. But the scene was beautiful even when we weren't moving.

Wait, it gets better (video clips below). But the scene was beautiful even when we weren’t moving.

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.)

Here is the design with the numbered sections. Very useful, like a list of the assigned places at a wedding reception.

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.

The weather was superb; I think the sign-in people might even have been sweating, while keeping an eye on the boxes of umbrellas. Things like those can easily grow legs.

The weather was superb; I think the sign-in people might even have been sweating, while keeping an eye on the boxes of umbrellas. Things like those can easily grow legs.  Each participant was given one, because at a certain moment we were all to be ordered to open the umbrella and shine our flashlight upward under it.  And we all had to be dressed in as much white as we could muster, including a hat, if possible.  I wore Lino’s “dixie cup” sailor’s cap.

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.

Facepainters were decorating whoever was willing.

Facepainters were decorating whoever was willing.  All dressed in white, we  looked like a regiment of ice-cream vendors.

Being painted seemed to be something the women were more drawn to, though there might have been a man somewhere who got himself hearted.

Being painted seemed to be something the women were more drawn to, though there might have been a man somewhere who got himself hearted.

Your correspondent.

Your correspondent.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Untold miles of masking tape had been applied to the Piazza to lay out the positions of the participants, at a width of roughly two people. I was in Number 7.

Untold miles of masking tape had been applied to the Piazza to lay out the positions of the participants, at a width of roughly two people. I was in section 7.

Dry run on holding up our flashlights, all facing toward the campanile of San Marco.

Dry run on holding up our flashlights, all facing toward the campanile of San Marco.

And a few dry runs on opening the umbrellas, and shine our flashlights under them.

And a few dry runs on opening the umbrellas, and shining our flashlights under them.  We on the outside were told to hold the umbrella in the left hand and the flashlight in the right — I still don’t understand the point of that.  The people on the squiggly center lines clearly had other instructions.  Or none.

Dancers were milling around in small bands, all dresses in white except for the two stars who just stood around for a while crunching their feet.

Dancers were milling around in small bands, all dressed in white except for two stars who just stood around for a while crunching their feet.

Another wandering star. I understand that her leotard, etc. may require concealment till show time, but she did look like someone going from one treatment to another at the spa.

Another wandering star. I understand that her leotard, etc. may require concealment till show time, but she did look like someone going from one treatment to another at the spa.

For about 45 minutes before the heart lit up, we were favored by a series of dance performances by five different groups. I didn't shoot most of them because they didn't inspire me (yes, I need inspiration), but I began to realize that it was a very intelligent way to program the event for the participants. We had been asked to show up an hour and a half before H-hour, and that time can really drag no matter how willing you are to shine your flashlight around. This dancer did a lovely routine with a huge fan.

For about 45 minutes before the heart lit up, we were favored by a series of dance performances by five different groups. I didn’t shoot most of them because they didn’t inspire me (yes, I need inspiration), but I began to realize that it was a very intelligent way to program the event for the participants. We had been asked to show up an hour and a half before H-hour, and that time can really drag no matter how willing you are to shine your flashlight around. This dancer did a lovely routine with a huge fan.

Her fan and bodytard (or whatever it's called) were color-coordinated: dark on one side, light on the other, like a turbot or a brill or a sole.

Her fan and bodytard (or whatever it’s called) were color-coordinated: dark on one side, light on the other, like a brill or a sole.

These are brill ("rombo" in the fish market).  As you see, one side light and one dark.  The dark side is up as they swim, the notion being that  the a predator from above will have difficulty seeing it because the dark fish will blend with the darkness below it, looking down.  Similarly, a predator from below would have trouble distinguishing the fish because the light side would be seen against the light filtering down from the surface.  I don't know anything about the purposes of the girl's camouflage, though.

These are brill (“rombo” in the fish market). As you see, one side light and one dark. The dark side is up as they swim, the notion being that the a predator looking down from above will have difficulty seeing it because the dark fish will blend with the darkness below it.  Similarly, a predator from below looking up would have trouble distinguishing the fish because the light side would be seen against the light filtering down from the surface. I don’t know anything about the purposes of the girl’s camouflage, though.

Same for sole.  When you've got a good idea, stick with it.

Same for sole. When you’ve got a good idea, stick with it.

This lovely girl then performed what I think of as Salome's Dance of the One Veil.

The spa-girl then performed what I think of as Salome’s Dance of the One Veil.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Then followed a routine which seemed less a dance and more a gymnastic exhibition (I realize the line between the two may be vague). The red panel seemed to be the star, though the man was pretty impressive.

Then followed a routine which seemed less a dance and more a gymnastic exhibition (I realize the line between the two may be vague). The red panel seemed to be the star, though the man was pretty impressive.  I kept waiting for him to do the Thomas Flair, but no.

He had to be supporting the panel and a girl instead.

He had to be supporting the panel and a girl instead.  There was another routine after this, but let’s move on because sunset it now at its perfect point and we have to cue the flashlights!

Show time! The lights in the Piazza have just been turned on, and our first command to turn on the flashlights has been given. Have to stop shooting now, got to get busy.

Show time! The lights in the Piazza have just been turned on, and our first command to turn on the flashlights has been given. Have to stop shooting now, got to get busy. But what followed was a series of commands: shine the flashlight straight at the campanile and hold still, then wiggle the flashlight for a while, then shine it under your open umbrella, then run around inside the heart with your shining umbrella as fast as you can.  At street level, extremely strange.  But the result?  Wahoo!

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

And so it was twilight in the Piazza. Time to take my umbrella and go home.

 

Categories : Venetian Events
Comments (5)
Aug
15

The more things change….

Posted by: | Comments (2)
The sun is shining but the sky is dark. I know it happens everywhere but here it has a sort of metaphoric vibe.

The sun is shining but the sky is dark. I know it happens everywhere but here it has a sort of metaphoric vibe.

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.

This would be a characteristic glimpse of Venice -- not so much due to the water, but the history of the house on the right. The windows have changed several times -- being opened, being bricked up, being put wherever there's a free spot. Lots of changes, none of which essentially changes anything. Yes, I'm definitely on a symbolism streak today. Bonus: a glimpse of the future, which isn't pretty: The missing block of stone beneath the lowest window, which has left the stone above it just hanging in empty space, waiting to fall down.  You can see it, you can understand it, you can even know what to do about it.  Except that you don't.

This would be a characteristic glimpse of Venice — not so much due to the water, but the history of the house on the right. The windows have changed several times — being opened, being bricked up, being put wherever there’s a free spot. Lots of changes, none of which essentially changes anything. Yes, I’m definitely on a symbolism streak today. Bonus: a glimpse of the future, which isn’t pretty: The missing block of stone beneath the lowest window, which has left the stone above it just hanging in empty space, waiting to fall down. You can see it, you can understand it, you can even know what to do about it. Except that you don’t.

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.”

But wait -- I see repairs going on! A few years ago the bridge over the rio dei Mendicanti was in clear and imminent danger (imminent being the only kind of danger that gets attention) because motondoso was, as you see, breaking the link between the steps and the balustrade. This is not an unusual sight -- you can find similar large fissures between fondamente and the walls of houses as the walkway begins to break off and slide toward the water.  But it is nice to see it being fixed. Until you've been here long enough to realize that without fixing the cause, the same problem is inevitably going to come back again, and again, and again, and again.  Is that enough "again"s to make my point?

But wait — I see repairs going on! A few years ago the bridge over the rio dei Mendicanti was in clear and imminent danger (imminent being the only kind of danger that gets attention) because motondoso was, as you see, breaking the link between the steps and the balustrade. This is not an unusual sight — you can find similar large fissures between fondamente and the walls of houses as the walkway begins to break off and slide toward the water. But it is nice to see it being fixed. Until you’ve been here long enough to realize that without fixing the cause, the same problem is inevitably going to come back again, and again, and again, and again. Is that enough “again”s to make my point?

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.

Which degradation is more disturbing? The kind shown here? (Anyone who considers the condition of this once-beautiful wrought iron to be charming can skip to the next question).......

Which degradation is more disturbing? The kind shown here? (Anyone who considers the condition of this once-beautiful wrought iron to be charming can skip to the next question)…….

IMG_1006 victory

Or this? Mass tourism creates blowing trash and cattle-car transport and other unattractive things which could be considered degradation. But you don’t need a mass of tourists to feel depressed. You can manage with just two, if they’re like this pair, relaxing in front of the church of San Zaccaria.

So I look for things that nobody can spoil. Like the sky.

So I look for things that nobody can spoil. Like the sky.

Or real human contact, of which there is still a heartening amount.

Or real human contact, of which there is still a heartening amount.

 

As you see. People lurking in crannies as the avalanche of uncontrolled tourism and uncontrolled everything surges over the city yet another day.

As you see. People lurking in crannies as the avalanche of uncontrolled tourism and uncontrolled everything surges over the city yet another day.

I didn't get close enough to listen in, but these Venetians are almost certainly talking about something that's either gone wrong, is going wrong, or will be going wrong. If I had ten cents for every time I've heard a Venetian say "Poor Venice," I'd be living in Bora Bora by now. The elderly gentleman, on the other hand, is saving his energy by merely reading about the day's problems in the newspaper.

I didn’t get close enough to listen in, but these Venetians give several signs that they’re talking about something that’s either gone wrong, is going wrong, or will be going wrong. (Perhaps it’s about work, or the mother-in-law, or the car.  But eventually it will almost certainly be about Venice.) If I had ten cents for every time I’ve heard a Venetian say “Poor Venice,” I’d be living in Bora Bora by now. The elderly gentleman, on the other hand, is saving his energy by merely reading about the day’s problems in the newspaper.

This is a view of what I think we need. I don't mean the doge (especially not this one, Francesco Foscari, who had enough calamities of his own).  I mean the lion. I want this lion to come back and take the situation in hand, in tooth, in claw. He looks like all he needs is a signal from somebody.

This is a view of what I think we need. I don’t mean the doge (especially not this one, Francesco Foscari, who had enough calamities of his own). I mean the lion. I want this lion to come back and take the situation in hand, in tooth, in claw. He looks like all he needs is a signal. First thing he’ll do is throw the book at everybody.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Comments (2)