Archive for Gazzettino
We wandered up to the Rialto market this morning, a first-class walk if you start early. The nearly empty streets and the general air of starting over fresh is always a great thing.
As often happens, we saw some people and some things that brought forth a small spate of reminiscences, inspired first by the extremely ancient man seated in our favorite cafe, alone, silently munching a small sandwich. Whenever I see old people (especially men) alone, it makes me sad, and if they’re eating, I feel even sadder.
But Lino soon straightened me out.
“He was a gondolier,” Lino started, as soon as we were out the door. “Irritating! (Fastidioso!).” In pronouncing certain words, the tone of voice adds the necessary intensity. In this case, the word came out at an octave above middle C and apart from the note and the delivery of this significant word was the way he drew it out ever so slightly. This gives the idea that the irritatingness was a long-term, probably inborn trait, not traceable to any specific event.
“He was always arguing, always quarreling,” Lino went on. “There was a protest organized by some gondoliers year ago in City Hall, and things got a little heated, and he pulled down a chandelier. That got him some jail time.”
But for him, the jail wasn’t “the cooler.” When he got out, he went right back to infuriating everybody. One day he took it upon himself to protest something else — Lino doesn’t remember what — and he affixed an outboard motor to his gondola. That got him another stint inside.
Please don’t ask me what laws he had broken. I can imagine that “destroying government property” would apply to the first case, but have no idea about the second. Disturbing the past?
“One day I was at home, and I suddenly heard a noise” (sort of a booming thud, it seemed to be). “I went downstairs to look around, and there was his gondola with a huge hole in the hull, slowly sinking.
“Somebody had taken a big crowbar and smashed through the bottom of the gondola.” There are crowbars which can weigh 15 pounds. I’m thinking one of those would have done the job.
“Also, the person didn’t drive the crowbar into the center of the space between two ribs. He rammed it through the hull right next to one of the ribs, which is the weakest point.”
Who would have had means, motive and opportunity? Well, lots of people, I suppose, but one sort of person was qualified to know exactly where to strike, like a particularly adroit matador, and that would be another gondolier.
So our man got his gondola repaired and went on with his life, which entailed carrying tourists around in his gondola and annoying everybody.
“His son also became a gondolier,” Lino concluded. “He was a good kid, much calmer. Nothing like his father.”
And so the man retired, and now can be seen sitting at our cafe, at least once in a while, eating his snack all by himself. Perhaps reminiscing, as old men do, but his reminiscences must be like constantly rising vapor, the sort you see coming from fumaroles on a temporarily dormant volcano.
We headed back home, and were strolling along the Calle de le Acque. We paused in front of an imposing building which now houses a branch of the post office (make note, if you ever need one between the Rialto and the Piazza San Marco).
“That’s where the bomb blew up,” Lino said. Excuse me?
“It was back in the Seventies; the headquarters of the Gazzettino were in this building,” he said. “It was printed here, too — the building’s right next to the canal, where the boats could load up the newspapers.”
The late Sixties to early Eighties, a period now known as the “Anni di Piombo” (Years of Lead, as in bullets), saw many terrorist attacks by domestic extremist groups, and I won’t begin a list here; I only mention it to clarify that this bomb was not an isolated incident.
“One morning (Feb. 21, 1978 — 37 years ago today!) there was a big explosion here, and a security guard was killed.”
His name was Franco Battagliarin, he was 49 years old and came from Cavallino Treporti on the edge of the lagoon. He was passing early that morning, and noticed an object placed in front of the main door. It was later found to have been a pressure cooker, which in those years was a favorite container for homemade bombs because it gave a sort of turbo-charge to the detonation.
Battagliarin went closer, decided to pick it up to move it, and was killed instantly by the blast.
The extreme right-wing group that called itself “Ordine Nuovo” (New Order) telephoned the Padova office of the newspaper a few hours later, claiming to have placed the bomb as “revenge for dead comrades.” The paper had offended by publishing articles critical of the right wing. Battagliarin was just an unforeseen by-victim.
Venice declared a day of mourning and flew the gonfalone of San Marco at half-staff for several days; his name is remembered each year on “Memory Day,” which is dedicated to all the victims of terrorism.
Back to Lino, who was at work that day at the airport, as usual.
“That day, the union steward came to us, furious, saying we would strike for a day to protest this attack directed at a ‘democratic newspaper.’
“And I was asking myself, ‘But wait — up until yesterday, you were always telling us that the Gazzettino was the newspaper of the bosses'” — in simpler words, the oppressor class. “And today suddenly it’s a democratic paper?
“Anyway, at the meeting I said, ‘Instead of going on strike, we should all give our pay for one day to the family.'”
Sound good? Only to him. A chorus of “Are you insane?” followed. So they went on strike one day, and he just kept on working. Later a long line of co-workers came slinking up to him, each of them muttering “I’d have kept working too, but I didn’t have the courage,” to which Lino replied, “Numbskull.”
I think that’s enough stories for today. I need to rest.
The votes are in, but they’re still being counted. So far, though, the number of ballots on the spelling of the nizioleti has exceeded 1,500. And they are unanimous in favor of bringing back the old spelling, the old words, the old way, period.
This information was imparted by Tiziano Graziottin, from the Gazzettino, to a happy gathering last Sunday on a cold, rainy morning in the Fish Market at the Rialto. I was interested to see maybe 50-70 people show up — perhaps more might have come if the weather had cooperated — and I was even more interested to see that only two people from the boating world (besides Lino and me) were there.
Why is this interesting? First, because I hardly ever see people in groups who are not of the boating ilk. Second, because for the past several years, the president of the Coordinating Committee of the Rowing Clubs, a certain Giovanni Giusto, has made it his own highly emotional, high-volume mantra that Venetian rowing is one of the last holdouts –perhaps the last holdout — of true venezianita‘, or Venetian-ness.
If that’s the case, I would have assumed (Zwingle’s Fifth Law: Never Assume) that boating people would have showed up in a solid, even if small, block of solidarity. But no. Let’s say that the weather prevented coming by oar — which it did — people who cared could have come by foot, just like us.
But the boating world was not to be seen. That particular piece of Venetian culture and heritage is apparently floating around sealed inside its own bubble, and the other piece of V.C. and H., i.e., the nizioleti, is doing likewise. In a city this small, it seems bizarre that there should be no contact between these two tracks carrying the same train.
As I looked around, I tried to guess from which quadrant these people emerged. The universities? The art world? The music world? The world of linguistics? The world of free snacks? I could only be sure about the last.
The general sentiment of the occasion — of the project, mission, crusade — was expressed in Venetian on the sign shown above. Translation by me:
How many centuries of history are in this nizioleto,
Names of streets, written in dialect,
Squares, little squares, parishes and streets,
From the Bridge of the Beret-Makers to the Bridge of the Breasts,
But these names weren’t given by chance,
But according to strict criteria.
Each street we walk along reminds us of some fact (deed),
And, why not, even an ugly crime,
The Riva of Biasio, the Rio Tera’ of the Assassins,
As reported by the great Tassini …
To say nothing of the ancient trades,
Like the milk-seller or the barrel-maker,
Walk around the city with your head held high,
Every nizioleto is a truth.
And beware anybody who touches them
Or writes them in Italian,
Because we’ll bite their hand.
Poor nizioleti, old and worn,
And to fix them, there’s never any money.
The purpose of the festa wasn’t only to report on the voting, but also to promote (in a very soft way), the new organization known as “Masegni e Nizioleti.” (The masegni are the old trachyte paving stones, which have been endangered for the past several years by replacement by blocks of some other substance. I think it’s a kind of stone, but once it’s on the ground, it looks to the street the same way Italianized words look on the nizioleti: Strange, out of place, and uninvited). The sheets and the stones groups decided to join forces and it appears, at least in the honeymoon stage, to be a happy marriage.
I pulled out 10 euros and signed on as a member of Masegni and Nizioleti. I have no idea how far the group is going to get, but I do know that on May 25, squads will be organized to clean graffiti off the walls. I will take a break from whinging, put on my rubber gloves, pick up my bucket and brush, or sponge, or broom, and get to work, EVEN THOUGH I know that a week later graffiti will reappear.
More about the masegni themselves in my next; they are a story in themselves (as are we all). But this is enough for one day. Steady the Buffs! Tote that bedsheet! All hands to the pumps, and see you on the barricades. Bring refreshments.