Archive for funeral

Oct
07

Farewell Bruno

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The gondola bearing the casket from the church of San Zaccaria to the Lido was rowed by Vittorio Orio -- known for his dedication to the New York firemen -- and Franco Dei Rossi "Strigheta," son of the deceased's lifelong friend "Gigio." The other rowers are undoubtedly important racers, probably d'Este and Tezzat.  The picture would have been better if I hadn't snapped it from a moving vaporetto.  The daily traffic stops for no man.

The gondola bearing the casket from the church of San Zaccaria to the Lido was rowed by retired gondolier Vittorio Orio — known for his dedication to the New York firemen — and Franco Dei Rossi “Strigheta,” son of the deceased’s lifelong friend “Gigio, as well as Giampaolo d’Este and Ivo Redolfi Tezzat. The boat to the right is a 10-oar gondola belonging to the Francescana rowing club.  The picture would have been better if I hadn’t snapped it from a moving vaporetto. The daily traffic stops for no man.

IMG_3316 signoretti detial

I’ve been noticing all sorts of interesting things around the city over the past few days, and while I regret to imply that a funeral qualifies as “interesting,” I will state that often the deceased is extremely interesting and makes me sorry I never knew him or her, and often never even heard of them until the dread news was published.

A case in point is Bruno Fusato Signoretti.

The “interesting thing” was his funeral cortege this morning, which didn’t completely surprise me when I saw it from the #1 vaporetto.  I had only heard of him two days ago, when his obituary in the Gazzettino alerted me to the human behind a name with which I was familiar in exactly one way: Glass.  That is, I knew that the name Signoretti was an important one on Murano, and that this company, or person, had begun (like many commercial ventures here) to sponsor some of the racers of the major Venetian regatas.

But there was much more to say about him, which I have learned now that he’s gone.

I have mashed up a few biographies, one written by Tullio Cardona in the Gazzettino, and the other by Maurizio Crovato  on the website veneziaeventi.com.  Here goes:

Bruno Signoretti (La Nuova Venezia).

Bruno Signoretti (La Nuova Venezia).

Gondoliers and Murano are in mourning.  On October 5, Bruno Fusato “Signoretti” passed away in his house on the Lido.  He was 74 years old, and had been fighting a difficult disease since last March.

Fusato began working as a gondolier, son of a centuries-long tradition; his family was noted among gondoliers since 1600.  In more recent times, his grandfather Vincenzo, nicknamed “Cencio,” was chosen by Prince August Wilhelm of Prussia for his excursions in the lagoon in 1907, and when Cencio got married, the Prince sent him a silver coffee service and 1000 lire.  (The new gondola he was able to order cost 300 lire, to give some idea of the magnitude of this gift.)

Bruno’s father Luigi was the gondolier of Princess Margaret and Queen Elizabeth II.

When young Bruno began his career as a gondolier, he was known for being able to make six “murane” a day (roundtrips in his gondola from San Zaccaria to Murano).  He became the substitute gondolier for Albino Dei Rossi, the legendary Venetian-rowing champion known as “Gigio Strigheta,” filling in while Gigio was training for the races.  “Thanks to this young man,” Strigheta quipped, “when I’m not working, I make twice as much.”

What with his love for the gondola, and for the regatas, and for his city, Bruno began to diversify. He retired from gondoliering and began to organize tourist traffic to Murano.  Then he opened stores in London, and finally, in 1986, he acquired an abandoned glass furnace on Murano and established an important center for glassmakers and designers.

He also lived a kind of parallel career of philanthropy and benefaction.  As Crovato states, he always kept the “old gondolier” in him.  There was not one racer, not one aged gondolier, alone and forgotten, who didn’t receive help from him in moments of need.

In 1991 he dusted off the abandoned tradition of the “disnar” (dinner) of the competitors before the Regata Storica.  He sponsored difficult art restorations, and when La Fenice opera house went up in flames in 1996, he was a founding member of the reconstruction fund-raising initiative, and its first private contributor.

After September 11, 2001, he created the idea of the “Baptism of Venetian-ness” (battesimo di venezianita’).  I can’t tell you how it worked, but it raised funds for the firemen of New York.

His last joy, as they put it, was the victory of Giampaolo d’Este and Ivo Redolfi Tezzat of the Regata Storica 2014, a team which he had sponsored.

In remembering him, Tezzat gave Signoretti the baptism of gold, at least in Venetian terms:

“What he said, he did.”

In a city where words outnumber deeds by an impressive margin, this is a statement whose brevity conceals a universe of meaning.

Racers are now permitted to wear a sponsor's badge, and Signoretti's name was on several champions' backs -- here, Franco "Strigheta" Dei Rossi, at the regata of Redentore 2014.  Notice the addition of the link with the firemen of New York -- "per non dimenticare" -- to not forget.

Racers are now permitted to wear a sponsor’s badge, and Signoretti’s name was on several champions’ backs — here, Ivo Redolfi Tezzat at the regata of Redentore 2014. Notice the addition of the link with the firemen of New York — “per non dimenticare” — to not forget.

Last glimpse of the two gondolas rowing toward the Lido, and his final resting place.  The air didn't look so misty in front of San Zaccaria, but gazing eastward, it's a different atmosphere.

Last glimpse of the two gondolas rowing toward the Lido, and his final resting place.

 

Categories : Venetian-ness
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Aug
02

You want me to go where??

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A view of the island of San Michele, with the sculpture placed just right.  Going my way?  (photo: georgy-frangulyan.ru)

A view of the island of San Michele, with the sculpture placed just right. Going my way? (photo: georgy-frangulyan.ru)

One day in 2007 a bronze sculpture suddenly appeared in the water between the Fondamente Nove and the island of San Michele.

It represents two men standing in a boat, one of them pointing somewhere important.

If there had been an announcement about this innovation, I missed it, because I was compelled to try to figure out what it was all by myself.

I failed; in fact, I didn’t even come close.  My main theory was that it was Saint Francis with one of his disciples.  Logic!  Because it is said — or even known — that in 1220 the “Poverello,” returning from the Fifth Crusade, stopped in the Lagoon and founded a hermitage on the little island now known as San Francesco del Deserto.

I was slightly troubled by the consideration that if the armless man in bronze were St. Francis, why wasn’t his companion pointing to the island he adopted — or toward Venice, at least?  The statue is pointing more toward Murano, but that makes no sense, even if it is something from the Biennale, whose components are not supposed to make sense.

Then I thought it might be some representation of Tennyson’s “The Lotos-Eaters”:  “Courage!” he said, and pointed toward the land, / “This mounting wave will roll us shoreward soon.” / In the afternoon they came unto a land / In which it seemed always afternoon.”  Mounting wave: check.  Plenty of those.  It’s a start.

But now I know the truth, and it’s more troubling than ignorance.  Perhaps you’ve noticed that truth can be that way.

This pair of metallic men floating in what appears to be a pistachio shell is a creation of a Russian artist, Georgy Frangulyan, and it is known as “Dante’s Barque.”

Excuse me?

In the early 1300’s, a Florentine pharmacist and poet named Dante Alighieri took a trip to Hell — not the Piazza San Marco at noon on a summer Sunday, but the other Hell — in the company of the ghost of Virgil, the famous Roman poet, who acted as guide and fixer. They also went to Purgatory and Paradise, and he wrote the trip up in “The Divine Comedy.”

I knew all that a long time ago, but I never imagined that the creation installed in the Venetian lagoon depicted an interlude in the allegorical travels of the Supreme Poet and the author of the Aeneid — specifically, their preparation to be rowed across the Acheron, a boiling river of damned souls.  Many congratulations to all.

Now that I think of it, they could also just be two tourists crossing the Grand Canal on the gondola traghetto.  The one that goes to Hell.

Now that I think of it, they could also just be two tourists crossing the Grand Canal on the gondola traghetto. That’s pretty much a boiling river by now. (Flickr)

There’s just one thing.  Who came up with the idea that it would be cool to position a big statue showing two men heading for Hell pointing at the cemetery?

It was bad enough when the city’s funeral launches, which carry the coffins to the graveyard, had a big sticker on the stern bearing the name of the city’s garbage collection service.  Thank God they finally stopped that.

But this isn’t much better.  It isn’t any better.  I realize we live in an era which has been deformed by irony and mockery, but that’s no excuse.

If I had to accompany my mother’s body to the cemetery, I would never want to know that those two characters are Dante and Virgil.  You could tell me they’re George and Gracie; you could tell me they’re Crick and Watson; you could tell me they’re two of the Flying Karamazov Brothers.

But I’d appreciate your just leaving Dante out of it.

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Jan
09

“Ciao Umberto”

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Umberto Da Preda (image from an album cover via YouTube, uncredited).

Umberto Da Preda (image from an album cover via YouTube, uncredited).

“Journalism,” said G.K. Chesterton, “is telling the public that Lord X is dead when the public didn’t know that Lord X had ever been alive.”

The case of the recently departed Umberto Da Preda might be a case in point.

Those who knew him, or at least had heard of him, were saddened to read on December 27 that he had died the day before, after a month-long illness in the hospital. The first article announcing this event was fairly long, partly in tribute and partly to refresh the memories or succor the ignorance of the day’s readers. Because while many people in his native sestiere of Cannaregio were genuinely grieved– though not taken entirely by surprise — Lino is convinced that there are plenty of Venetians who learned of his existence for the first time in the obituary.

Da Preda was “The ‘voice’ of the Venetian song,” as the Gazzettino termed it. Another report headlined: “Death of Da Preda, the most beautiful voice of the Venice which is no more.”

If such standards as “La biondina in gondoleta” or “El gondolier” are now widely known, it’s thanks to his innumerable performances and abundant recordings.  The two respective links are:  http://youtu.be/A0I0m6IPHtU and http://youtu.be/THinSRIRek0

The Gazzettino continues:  “Umberto Da Preda leaves … a vast musical repertoire, 90 per cent of  which is made up of traditional themes which even now represent the classics of the gondoliers during the serenades, and to which he gave a completely personal imprint.” (Note: Gondoliers almost never sing; the warbling comes from a singer hired to entertain his clients.)

Da Preda’s mainstays, some of which began to be composed in the 18th century, are generically termed “canzoni da batelo,” boat-songs, intended to be sung to the passengers out on the water enjoying a nocturnal summer fresco, (literally, “cool”).  Many are anonymous pieces, passed along between generations. Like many of his vintage, Lino learned most of the approximately 8,319 songs he knows from his father, or from other Venetians.  But Da Preda delved into deep cultural troves to bring forward an extraordinary assortment of songs, some of which were created by noteworthy poets and composers.  They’re not all little ditties about wanting to take Ninetta out in the lagoon when the sun goes down.

Da Preda was on the way to an international career; he performed, with his guitar, in the Bahamas, in Russia, in Israel, in the US, and in England, where he sang for Queen Elizabeth II. But he loved Venice and preferred staying here, close to home, singing at the Danieli and Cipriani hotels, or in private palaces at what seems to have been a steady stream of fetes, entertainments, and soirees.

“What did he die of?” we asked a friend of his the next day.

He shrugged.  “The sand in the hourglass ran out,” he said.  “And he drank a Mississippi in his life.” Evidently Da Preda kept a bottle of whiskey close at hand on the many evenings he performed in assorted boites and restaurants.  Singing is thirsty work, and I think in those days the sparkling-water-with-lemon-slice hadn’t been discovered.  Not that he would have wanted it.  I drink it and I don’t want it.

In any case, the friend continued, Da Preda didn’t take seriously any warnings about hard living he might have gotten from his nearest and dearest. “He said once, ‘I’ve eaten, I’ve drunk, I’ve done what I wanted in my life,'” the friend told us.  “‘When it’s time for me to go, I’ll just head on out'” (vado in zo, which is the most casual leave-taking phrase there is in Venetian).

I went to his funeral on January 2 — a week ago today — a dreary, raw day.  I admit I was curious to see what sort of farewell would be given.  Naturally I can’t judge what emotions the 150 or so mourners were feeling, which may have been deep and intense, but if so they kept them well under control.  It was a subdued ceremony, distinguished mainly by two things.

The first was the playing, as the casket was being taken out of the church, of Da Preda singing one of his best-known songs, “Ciao Venezia.”  The second was the alzaremi, or oar-raising in salute, by rowers from the Settemari and Querini rowing clubs.  The presence of any Venetian boats is always a beautiful thing, and although he wasn’t particularly prominent in the boating world, he was 100 percent Venetian, and this calls for some special acknowledgment, in my opinion.

He lived his life just the way he wanted to and if he had any regrets, he kept them to himself. That’s what I’m going to remember.  Here’s the link:  http://youtu.be/D8zmgatPh-w

The basilica of SS. Giovanni e Paolo is so big that even a large crowd is manageable.

The basilica of SS. Giovanni e Paolo is so big that even a large crowd seems modest.

The priest pauses to pronounce the last phrases, more or less audible beneath the strains of "Ciao Venezia."

The priest pauses to pronounce the last phrases, more or less audible beneath the strains of “Ciao Venezia.”

Accompanying the casket to the riva where the funeral motorboat is waiting.

Accompanying the casket to the riva where the funeral motorboat is waiting.

The gondolier bringing his clients back to shore removed his hat.

The gondolier bringing his clients back to shore removed his hat.

As the casket is placed onto the fancy platform, the rowers from the Settemari club execute an "alzaremi."  In 1979 Da Preda was voted "Venetian of the Year," an annual recognition bestowed by the club.  The commemorative plaque was placed on the casket during the service.

As the casket is placed onto the fancy “we-don’t-have-to-sweat-anymore” platform, the rowers from the Settemari club execute an “alzaremi.” In 1979 Da Preda was voted “Venetian of the Year,” an annual recognition bestowed by the club. The commemorative plaque was placed on the casket during the service.

The funeral boat, carrying the departed and his family, heads for the cemetery, followed by the "diesona" of the Settemari, and a gondola from the Querini.

The funeral boat, carrying the departed and his family, heads for the cemetery, followed by the “diesona” of the Settemari, and a gondola from the Querini.  The people ashore applaud as their last farewell.

It's not far to the cemetery island of San Michele; the two boats are going to arrive only a few minutes after the motorboat, visible in the canal ahead of them (and just ahead of the vaporetto).

It’s not far to the cemetery island of San Michele; the two boats are going to arrive only a few minutes after the motorboat, visible in the canal ahead of them (and just ahead of the vaporetto).

 

Categories : Venetian-ness
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Jun
28

Ciao Capitano

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The other afternoon, as I was lolling on the embankment of our rowing club lightly toasting my skin and reflecting on how monotonous the sound of the surf was, surf caused by the incessant passing of every conceivable type of motorized boat, I noticed something unusual.

All I had was my cell phone, so the quality of this picture is regrettable. The wreath is evidently gifted with total protective coloration (they ordered a wreath the color of bricks and busted-up pilings?). It is sitting on the edge of the water at the point closest to the viewer, just to the left of the big chunk of concrete. What a place to run aground.

Just a few yards away is a mass of  rocks, sand, bricks and other detritus which over time have created a small sort of beach, and on it there was something alive. Well, it had been alive, in the sense that its flowers were only slowly fading.  But while it’s not all that strange to find a vaporetto route sign (the kind they hang on the side of the boat to list the stops) floating in the lagoon, I’d never seen a funeral wreath before.

Naturally, the vision of a floating funeral wreath inspired a backwash of mournful thoughts, loaded with other bits of detritus from all those somber poems and short stories they make you read in school. But then I became curious.

Why would a wreath be floating in the lagoon? It should have been removed from the casket and left at the cemetery.  Did it fly off the hearse (naturally, a motorboat) on its way to eternity?  Did a person or persons deliberately cast it upon the waves, in an uncharacteristically romantic gesture to the recently departed?  These wreaths cost real money.  Who would have spent all that for a wreath that was going to have a shorter life than the funeral leftovers?

I went to discuss all this with Lino, and when he came over to investigate, we saw that the waves had pulled the wreath away from its temporary resting-place and had drawn it seaward, right into the center of the straps attached to the crane which puts our boats into the water.

Seeing it there inspired a small, ancillary rush of half-baked melancholy thoughts. But curiosity won out.

We took the boathook and pulled the dedicatory ribbon around to where we could read it.  It said: “CIAO CAPITANO.”  Goodbye, Captain.

I’ll spare you my next batch of thoughts (gone down with the ship? Lost at sea?).  Lino had a better theory.

Just a few days ago, a man named Anacleto Marella died. His funeral was held on June 20 (Saturday) at the church of San Francesco della Vigna, roughly just around the corner from our club. So this must have been borne by the tide from there.

Marella had been employed for years as one of the many “captains” of the ACTV, the public transport company — a vaporetto driver, in other words.

But don’t imagine that they all get wreaths, floating or otherwise.

Some investigation has revealed that Capt. Marella was hugely famous, an extraordinary person who had been deeply involved for decades in the struggle to help the handicapped. Specfically, those suffering from muscular dystrophy. And he was one of the driving forces, along with Dr. Diego Fontanari and Mrs. Luciana Sullam, in the founding of the local chapter of the UILDM, the Unione Italiana lotta alla Distrofia Muscolare (Italian Union in the fight against Muscular Dystrophy).

According to the story published in the newsletter of the association, back in 1966 or so, Marella noticed that every day at a certain time, a young man with muscular dystrophy boarded, with tremendous effort, his vaporetto.  Struck by the man’s tenacity and courage, he began to urge the bus company (as I think of it) to improve its accessibility to the handicapped, particularly by creating specific spaces designed for wheelchairs. This was revolutionary work, especially when you consider the cost of retrofitting all those vehicles.  Did I mention that the transport company is public?  That means it was born to say “We can’t afford it.”  But Marella seems to have been born, as his grandson once remarked, with “Duracell batteries.”

He didn’t stop with the vaporettos.  He organized a medical conference on neuromuscular diseases.  He raised funds by participating in telethons.  He accompanied groups of tourists with MS in tours around the city, not to mention on trips out in the lagoon.

He even convinced the 66 other vaporetto drivers to donate part of every paycheck to the UILDM.  In fact, they still do. I want you to stop and think about that for a minute.  Yes, it is unbelievable.  But there it is.

I think roses are absolutely beautiful for a wreath, and not all that common, either. At least not for a man.

Small digression: When I first came here, and for years, the vaporettos all displayed several discreet but noticeable square stickers with a design of a person in a wheelchair, with a small note encouraging the public to remember the UILDM and its mission. I used to wonder, “Why MS? If the public transport company is publicizing one disease, why not all of them?” Now I know the answer.  Because Anacleto Marella asked them to, and it was nobody could say no to him.

“My father’s enthusiasm and tenacity overwhelmed everybody,” his son, Giovanni, remembered.  “He involved entire families in his initiatives. Nobody could stop him.”

Yes, he was left fatherless as a boy, and had to start working early to support his family.  Yes, he was a wounded veteran of World War II. But these experiences don’t inevitably make pioneers, much less heroes, nor do they guarantee any skill in navigating the immense sea of bureaucracy and lethargy. As far as I can tell, he had no relatives with any physical disabilities.  What he clearly had was a large heart, a clear mind, and a spectacularly hard head.

He would have been 94 on July 1.  Ciao, Capitano.  If you had ever wanted to round Cape Horn with your vaporetto, I’ll bet you could have gotten everybody to sign up.

 

 

 

 

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