Archive for funeral
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:
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.
“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 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.
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.
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.
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.