Archive for Giampaolo d’Este

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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Sep
03

A truly Historic Regata

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This is the "Serenissima," the crowning glory of the boat procession preceding the races -- the icon of the Regata Storica, center stage.

This is the “Serenissima,” the crowning glory of the boat procession preceding the races — the image of the Regata Storica in everyone’s mind, not to mention on a million postcards.

I have no doubt that calendars around the world were marked REGATA STORICA (“historic regatta”) two days ago.  It’s been held on the first Sunday in September for the past 500 years or so (since 1489, to be exact).  Calendars by now ought to be able to mark themselves.

There were several aspects of this year’s edition which made it notable — even “historic,” if you will, though I suppose everything that happens qualifies as historic in one way or another merely by the fact of its having occurred.

Historic Point 1: Our rowing club had three boats in the races, and each came home with a pennant: first, second, and third place.  More on that below.

Historic Point 2, with gold stars applied by me: There were no fights.  No hurled epithets, no banshee curses howled at judges or fellow racers, no demerits for breaking any rules.  I know.  I must have been hallucinating.  But it’s still true.

Let me elaborate on these points:

Our club had two pupparinos in the young men’s race; the pair on the orange boat won the race, coming home with the red pennant.  The pair on the brown boat finished second, earning a white pennant.  We also had the red gondolino, rowed by Roberto Busetto and his brother Renato, who finished third (green pennant).  This is not only wonderful, but exceptional, considering that Roberto hasn’t  finished in the top four in the Grand Canal  for the past eight years.

A glimpse backstage: The three boats at our club on Sunday morning.

A glimpse backstage: The three boats at our club on Sunday morning.

The final touch is buffing the wax that you applied yesterday.  Unfortunately, the wax isn't the only factor that helps you go faster, as the boys on this boat discovered.

The final touch is buffing the wax that you applied yesterday. Unfortunately, the wax isn’t necessarily the determining factor of your speed, as the boys on this boat discovered.

As for the harmony between the two giga-competitors of the past two eternal decades — Giampaolo d’Este and Ivo Redolfi Tezzat, and the Vignotto cousins (the “Vignottini”) — I don’t know what to attribute it to.  But one does recall that after d’Este unburdened himself at the Regata of Murano of every opinion he ever had about the judges, he was penalized by having to sit out the next race.  That might have had a slight sobering effect, not that I think that race was so important to him.

Or maybe the lack of conflict is an early sign of the approaching Millennium.

Or maybe they’re just getting tired.

Or maybe it was the unexpected exchange of views at the eliminations a few weeks ago.  When the qualified nine teams were brought together to draw the color of their boats, d’Este announced, “I’d like to make a proposal.  We eliminate the judges.”

To which one judge replied, “I’d like to make a counter-proposal.  We eliminate you (meaning him and his partner), and the Vignottos.  Because the only time there are ever any problems, fights, and general grief, it’s when you all are in the race.”

No more proposals were entertained and the meeting was adjourned.

But there had to be some sort of flaw in the ointment, as a friend of mine used to say.  Everyone wasn’t humming like happy little tuning forks, as we discovered when the blood blister of rage broke in the mind of Davide Peditto, one of the boys on the brown pupparino.  I say “boy,” but he’s 18 years old; not exactly a child.

He was so angry at not winning — horrors!  finishing second!!  has the world gone mad?? — that he wrapped himself in a cloak of fury so thick and black that no communication could reach him, and very little could come out.  This is evidently an aspect of his personality already known to people who are closer to him than I am.

His only release was to take his white pennant and throw it onto the dock at our club and leave it there.  “Carta da culo,” he snarled bitterly; toilet paper (literally, ass-paper).

This is not only an insult to Venice, to every racer who has preceded him, to every racer who competed with him (12 of whom would have loved to have had that very pennant, ten of whom would have loved to have had ANY pennant), but a real insult to his long-suffering partner, onto whose pleasure in this accomplishment he had just poured gasoline, so to speak, and then thrown a match.

One would like to help this splenetic young man re-think his ideas about winning and losing — or if not his ideas, at least his behavior.  I’d suggest sending him the bits of the newspaper reporting the comments which were made by another racer who came in second on Sunday: Giampaolo d’Este, who had spent virtually the entire race head-t0-head with the Vignottos.  When they crossed the finish line 95/100ths of a second ahead of him, he probably wasn’t any happier with the outcome than the young brat at our club — especially because he has enough red pennants by now to entitle him to think he might deserve another one.

y were like this for almost the entire race

They were like this for almost the entire race.  The screaming of the crowd was deafening.

But he did not compare his white pennant to anything else. Here’s what he said:

“Well, that’s the way it went.  Either we or the Vignottos could have won, and they won.  No recriminations — it was a beautiful race and it’s always beautiful to be its protagonists.”

He might have meant it, which would be excellent.  But he said it anyway, and that’s about 95/100ths even more excellent.  But if it’s too hard, in the glaring heat of the moment, for a youngster to say something that mature, I’d suggest that the next-best option would be silence.

And I don’t mean that thick black silence, either. I mean the silence in which the image, the shape, and the hope for next year’s race would already be forming in his mind, spirit, and gizzard.  As far as I can tell, that’s the only way that true athletes, or humans of any stripe, manage to get those bitter pills down and keep going.

The indefatigable Dino Righetto on the stern of our six-oar balotina.  The "bissone," or fancy boats, are coming up behind us to start the procession.

The indefatigable Dino Righetto on the stern of our six-oar balotina. The “bissone,” or fancy boats, are coming up behind us to start the procession.

IMG_4506 storica

These are racing gondolas belonging to the city, which are decorated to evoke the boats and passengers of the original regata in 1489,

These are racing gondolas belonging to the city, which are decorated to evoke the boats and passengers of the original regata in 1489.

The procession is moving slowly upstream, with the current, toward the "volta de Canal"

The procession is moving slowly upstream, with the current, toward the “volta de Canal,” or “turn of the canal,” where the finish line has always been for races here.

The procession is slowing working its way up the Grand Canal; here we are approaching the nerve center of the event: the "volta de Canal," or turn of the canal, where the finish line has always been for races here.  On the left is the colossal platform on which the RAI 2 national television company is ready to broadcast live.  The "Machina," or reviewing stand, is just behind it on the left.

On the left is the colossal platform from which the RAI 2 national television company is ready to broadcast live. The “Machina,” or reviewing stand, is just behind it on the left.  Not only does it accommodate notables of every shape and sort, it is where the prizes will be awarded.

I know nothing about this very curious boat but it certainly was worth a look. The model of the Rialto Bridge isn't the only odd feature; the stern has been re-made in a strange way; the prow has been altered in an even stranger way, and while there used to be a tradition of decorating some of the boats with fruits and vegetables, this is the only one I noticed this year. If this assemblage is intended as a tribute to the late Joachim Vogel, it's unusual to use eggplants and chili peppers along with the wildflowers from the barene. But hey.

I know nothing about this very curious boat but it certainly was worth a look. The model of the Rialto Bridge isn’t the only odd feature; the stern has been re-made in a strange way; the prow has been altered in an even stranger way, and the forcola isn’t the typical design for use on a gondola; it’s been dragooned from either a pupparino or gondolino.  And although there used to be a tradition of decorating some of the boats with fruits and vegetables, this is the only one I noticed this year. If this assemblage is intended as a tribute to the late Joachim Vogel, it’s unusual to use eggplants and chili peppers along with the wildflowers from the barene. But hey.

After the boat procession, we get down to the party.  We park the boat and pull out the food and drink, and wait for the races to start.  Beer foam presents no problem.

After the boat procession, we get down to the party. We park the boat and pull out the food and drink, and wait for the races to start. Beer foam presents no problem.

The winning mascareta in the women'a competition; Giorgia Ragazzi (bow) and Luisella Schiavon leave the rest in the dust, so to speak, and win their fifth consecutive Storica. They are only the second pair of women ever to attain thereby the status of "regina del remo."

The winning mascareta in the women’a competition; Giorgia Ragazzi (bow) and Luisella Schiavon leave the rest in the dust, so to speak (actually the next boat is about five boat-lengths behind them), and win their fifth consecutive Storica. They are only the second pair of women ever to attain thereby the status of “regina del remo.”

And here come the Vignottos and d'Este-Tezzat, speeding down the home stretch. Here's something peculiar: In both the boys' and men's races, the first two boats were orange and brown, but the order of finish was inverted.  I wonder what it all means.

And here come the Vignottos and d’Este-Tezzat, speeding down the home stretch. Here’s something peculiar: In both the boys’ and men’s races, the first two boats were orange and brown, but the order of finish was inverted. I wonder what it all means.

 

And let me not slight Renato and Roberto Busetto, speeding toward a fabulous third place -- not the absence of other boats nearby.  They were definitely in the groove.

And let me not slight Renato and Roberto Busetto, flying toward a fabulous third place — note the absence of other boats nearby. They were definitely in the groove.  However, sharp-eyed readers will notice that there is a gentle swell of waves beneath their boat, left by the passing jury boat.  The wave issue is something that seems impossible to resolve.  Not because nobody knows how, but because of some other reason I can’t come up with.

As soon as the gondolinos cross the finish line, all the boats start to rev up to leave. It's about as convenient as everybody trying to leave a movie theatre within five minutes after the end of the film. Plus lots of sickening motor exhaust fumes.  Yes, hundreds of rowing fans go home in boats drawn by 40 or 90 horses, or more.

As soon as the gondolinos cross the finish line, all the spectators’ boats try to leave at once.  It’s about as convenient as everybody trying to get out of a movie theatre within five minutes after the end of the film. With the added element of lots of choking motor exhaust fumes. Yes, hundreds of rowing fans go home in boats powered by engines.  But then again, so do fans of horse-racing.  So I’m not sure what my point is.  All I can say is that there’s a big clump of traffic for a while.

 

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The church of the Redentore on the Giudecca, on Sunday evening, when its mission has been completed and its vow to the past and future has been fulfilled.

The church of the Redentore on the Giudecca, on Sunday evening, when its annual mission has been completed, its vow to the past and future fulfilled.

Anyone who has lived longer than 25 minutes has discovered the Law of Unintended Consequences.  It’s not that you are deprived of  the consequence you wanted — though you might well be — but discover that you’re stuck with five that you didn’t want and can’t escape.

Last Sunday (July 21) was the day of the Feast of the Most Holy Redeemer (Santissimo Redentore), about which I have written many times.  And for an event which has been held every year since 1577, hence qualifying as a genuine tradition, this tradition’s components have gone through many, many revisions.  In fact, I never knew that a tradition could be so pliable.

For example: Fireworks over the Bacino of San Marco.  When Lino was a lad, nobody bothered about the Bacino. Everybody (99 percent Venetians) came in their boats (and there were many — no, a hundred times more than many — all propelled by oars) and tied them up in the Giudecca Canal in the area between the votive bridge and the Molino Stucky.  Far from the Bacino. Uptown.  Washington Heights, practically.

And the races on Sunday afternoon.  We’ve always had them, hence, we always will have them.

Or maybe not.

The week preceding the festa saw a fearsome struggle between the racers and the Comune, and after a series of meetings and reports on meetings, which occurred up until race time, the racers enacted a protest and decided not to race. In a word, they went on strike.

Their issues, as reported by the Racers’ Association, are the increasing neglect (“profound abandonment”) of the races by the city over the past few years. I’m not clear on what “neglect” means here, because their press releases were not especially specific, though I know that the prizes have been dwindling and, in some cases, disappearing, which indeed is disturbing.

The votive bridge opened at 7:00 PM on a sweltering Saturday evening -- the procession led by the usual authorities such as mayor, patriarch, various people in uniforms, marching across the Giudecca Canal to the church.

The votive bridge opened at 7:00 PM on a sweltering Saturday evening — at least this tradition held firm. The procession is led by the usual authorities such as the mayor, the patriarch, various people in uniforms, and a batch of photographers, all marching across the Giudecca Canal to the church.

Followed by a mighty host of the faithful and the curious,

Followed by a mighty host of the faithful and the curious.

At the foot of the steps to the church, the crush has reached several atmospheres, which is also part of the tradition, I guess.

At the foot of the steps to the church, the crush has reached several atmospheres, which is also part of the tradition, I guess.

A digression: Unlike the racers in the old days — up to about 50 years ago — I don’t believe that any racers today need the money. While it’s true that they have, as they put it, “spent months of training, sacrificing work and family” (they sacrificed WORK?), none of them races because otherwise the gas company is going to interrupt service for lack of payment. The men have jobs ranging from acceptable to spectacularly lucrative (a fancy way of saying “gondolier”), and most of the women racers are married to them.

But racing for nothing does have a depressing sort of parish-benefit vibe, and last year some of the races began to be put on for free.

Did I mention depressing? I had no idea how dejected one could feel on a so-called feast day when the big event is canceled.  Some hardy souls might maintain that the big solemn mass and the blessing of the city are the most important elements of the weekend, and there are thousands upon thousands who come only for the big fireworks party the night before.  But a Redentore afternoon with no races made me feel as if we were the ones who had been abandoned.

Naturally the racers hope and intend that this dramatic gesture will bear the fruit they desire, which is to wake everybody up, city and citizens, to the imminent demise of one of the last — or last — truly Venetian elements still barely surviving in the most beautiful city in the world.

I hope it all works out for them, but I have some mini-doubts. One is based on the suspicion that if they try this again, somebody in the city government is going to wonder why go through all the tsuris with the big-league racers when there are plenty of bush-league rowers around who could do the same thing, for nothing, without complaining.  Tourists don’t know the difference. I agree that it’s an ugly thought, but I have thought it.

Or what about this idea: If the tsuris continues, the city could start canceling races.  Another possible unintended consequence, almost as unpleasant as racing for free.

Or the city might even make the racers pay to race. Or at least make them pay for the race they didn’t do last Sunday. Because when you sign up to enter the eliminations, you sign a document that says you agree to the terms of the enterprise. I have no idea if the city, which did incur expenses for an event which didn’t take place through no fault of its own, would regard this as breach of contract and consider legal recourse against the racers. If I were a city, I would think so.

Let me conclude with another disagreeable little idea that has come to my mind via other people who have said it out loud.  Why is all this happening now?  Some people think that the Racers’ Association got all het up because two of the biggest rock-star racers (Giampaolo D’Este and Igor Vignotto) were punished for serious offenses committed during the regata at Murano on July 7.  Their punishment was to be forbidden to participate in the next race, i.e. the Redentore.

Apart from the right or wrong of this decision, it is objectionable for two reasons.  One: Their partners, who hadn’t done anything wrong, were also, by extension, also excluded from the race of the Redentore. Two: There is an undercurrent of doubt among some participants that the Racers’ Association would have gotten so all-fired mad if, say, Irving B. Potash and Melvin Bluebonnet or anybody else had been so punished.  Perhaps righteous anger based entirely on principles (deterioration of tradition, say) isn’t quite so righteous after all?  Or does it strike only me as odd that the people who claim to be the last defenders of tradition were the first to break it to bits?

And you thought that parties were supposed to make you forget your troubles?  This one just delivered a whole new batch. Some assembly required.

 

Saturday afternoon sees what I regard as the gathering of the clans: the big fishing boats from Chioggia and Pellestrina loaded with lagoon people who party hard. Their boats are big, but nobody seems to object to their tying up at the fondamenta.

Saturday afternoon sees what I regard as the gathering of the clans: the big fishing boats from Chioggia and Pellestrina loaded with lagoon people who party hard. Their boats are big, but nobody seems to object to their tying up at the fondamenta.

While plenty of people complained about boats of the same, or somewhat larger, size, which come from the land of you-can't-afford-to-even-look-at-me. and which made it impossible to set up the picnic tables on the edge of the lagoon to watch the fireworks because the view is blocked by kilometers of expensive boatage.

Although plenty of people complain about boats of the same, or somewhat larger, size, which come from the land of you-can’t-afford-to-even-look-at-me. These boats make it impossible to set up your picnic tables on the edge of the fondamenta to watch the fireworks because all you see is a wall of high-priced boatage.  This didn’t used to be a problem, but now it too has become a tradition.

One solution: Have your party inland, preferably in front of your house.  Put up the flags, light the citronella candles, and live it up.  You can go watch the fireworks from the bridge -- let the boats work it out for themselves.

One solution: Have your party inland, preferably in front of your house. Put up the flags, light the citronella candles, and live it up. You can go watch the fireworks from the bridge — let the boats work it out for themselves.

Plenty of people are perfectly  happy on land.  As are we -- this is the fourth year we haven't gone out in a boat.

Plenty of people are perfectly happy on land. As are we — this is the fourth year we haven’t gone out in a boat.

The swimmers from the fishing boats have recently become a tradition for me. If I'd watched them jumping in for five more minutes, I'd have done it too. It was suffocatingly hot.

The swimmers from the fishing boats have recently become a tradition for me. If I’d watched them jumping in for five more minutes, I’d have gone in too. It was suffocatingly hot.

The girls, the boys, the girls and boys -- they were tireless.

The girls, the boys, the girls and boys — they were tireless.

IMG_3354 red 2013 use

IMG_3391 red 2013 use

But then the party was over.  On Sunday afternoon, the Giudecca Canal is supposed to look like this.

But then the party was over. On Sunday afternoon, the Giudecca Canal is supposed to look like this.

It looked like this.

It looked like this.  The barge was there, ready to draw the starting-line cord from the piling to make sure all the boats were lined up just right.  But no boats.

The judges' dock was in its prescribed position, too, complete with judges.

The judges’ dock was in its prescribed position, too, complete with judges.

The starting time for each of the three races came and went, duly noted by the president of the judges on duty. Then a deputation of racers came aboard to unburden themselves, once again, of their distress and indignation. This, however, was not noted.  The only thing that mattered was to indicate that "the race was suspended because no racers presented themselves at the starting line."  Somebody else is responsible for figuring out what to do next.

The starting time for each of the three races came and went, duly noted by the president of the judges on duty. Then a deputation of racers came aboard to unburden themselves, once again, of their distress and indignation. This, however, was not noted. The only thing that was necessary was to indicate that “the race was suspended because no racers presented themselves at the starting line.” Somebody else is responsible for figuring out what to do next.

And a good time was had by nobody.

And a good time was had by nobody.

Categories : Venetian Events
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There’s a saying here — perhaps in all of Italy, perhaps in the whole world — that the mother of the ignorant is always pregnant. I’d expand that to include the mentally infirm, the ethically deficient, and a smattering of Venetian rowing racers, the race judges, the spectators, and anybody else who is evidently suffering from hormone overload in any situation more emotional than drinking coffee.

I pause to note that, once again, this post has no photographs due to multiple crises inside my computer, which is being taken to the hospital today for a major operation.  So there will be a lapse in communication while it — and I — recuperate.

Back to racers and judges and spectators.

The Regata Storica of a week ago (September 2, 2012) will be remembered more for the catastrophe which I am about to describe than for the fact that the Vignottini won and their lifelong rivals (D’Este and Tezzat) finished — not second — but THIRD.  You hear the sound of a page being turned in the annals of Venetian rowing, because even if D’Este and company were to win the next five races in a row, the chink in the armor is now too obvious to ignore.  He also looked extremely and uncharacteristically blown apart by the race.

But as I say, that isn’t what everybody is babbling about.  They’re babbling about the way the judge’s motorboat ran into the yellow gondolino, which was third, thereby knocking it out of the race.  Because Fate sometimes shows a dangerously unruly sense of humor, it couldn’t have happened somewhere up in the distant reaches of the Grand Canal where only three cats are around to notice the race, if they’re awake.  Of course not.  This hideous, and, I think, unprecedented, little crash occurred right in front of the reviewing stand at the finish line, where assorted race officials and scores of invited guests and lots of the salt of the earth in their own boats could see it PERFECTLY. Also the national television station whose cameras were broadcasting the event live.

Like most systems, the way the judges’ boats are choreographed is perfect, but only if the plan is executed.  In this case, one judge’s boat follows the peloton up to a certain point in the Grand Canal (the “volta de canal,” at the curve of Ca’ Foscari where the bleachers and judges and finish line are all together). At that point, in order that the judge’s motorboat doesn’t have to cross the canal and thereby potentially get in the way of the boats as they are racing upstream, the first judge’s motorboat stops, and a second one, waiting on the other side of the canal out of harm’s way, picks up the task of following the herd.

But this time the first boat didn’t pull over to the side and stop, to hand off the race to the next boat. It paused, and then, without looking (or thinking, or something), the judge aboard told the driver to do something which clearly involved gunning the motor.  I was in a boat right where this happened, so I am a certified eyewitness.

Whether the judge wanted to follow the race, or reposition the boat in some way, isn’t clear.  But doing anything at that moment, in that location, was not only wrong, it was crazy.  Because the yellow (“canarin”) gondolino, steaming ahead at full speed in an excellent third position, was right behind the propellers when they spun. In two nano-seconds, the left hind hip of the motorboat swerved left, hit the ferro of the prow of the gondolino, threw the very narrow and moving-very-fast boat off balance, and sent it hurtling off-course into the scrum of boats tied up to the pilings.

You might think that the only crazy person in this scenario would be the judge on the boat who told the driver to move instead of standing perfectly still.  And you’d be right.

Except that almost immediately, other crazy people began to wail and vociferate.  Wild ideas began to be thrown around in bars and in the newspaper (and even, I think, among the judges), almost all of which came down to suggesting that the crew on canarin be awarded the third-place pennant in a tie with the pair that actually did finish third.

The Vignottini even offered to pay the prize money to the unfortunate ex-third-place boat.

The issue still doesn’t seem to be settled, but here is how I see it:

First, I don’t understand why anyone thinks it makes sense to give a prize to someone who didn’t win it.  A consolation prize would be nice, of course (a house in the mountains, maybe, or a six-month cruise to Polynesia), but a prize for racing pretty much requires that you race.  If the crash had occurred three yards before the finish line, you might be able to make a case for their deserving some sort of pennant and/or money.  But there was still plenty of race ahead.  Who’s to say that they would have finished third? They might have come in first. Or even last.

Second, a racer with any degree of self-respect (possibly a very small category, true) wouldn’t want either a pennant or money that he hadn’t won himself. Why degrade them with stupid offers that are only moderately able to make the onlookers feel slightly better?  Not to mention make the guilty judge feel slightly less bad.

Third, I’m glad I mentioned the judge.  Because while the rowing world is in the throes of what seems to be a hormonal solar flare, no one so far has turned from the victims to the perpetrator.

Why, I ask myself, and am now asking the world at large, is everyone so fixated on making the victims feel better without pausing to suggest, much less demand, that the judge deserves a serious punishment?  Can you think of a sport in which a referee or a judge who directly and visibly damages an athlete in the midst of the game doesn’t receive even the tiniest murmured reproof?

It gets crazier.  Because last year, at the race at Burano, there was a crash between the first two boats at the buoy where the racecourse turns back, knocking both of them out of commission.  The judge overseeing that crucial part of the race was so rattled that he stopped the race right there.  The prizes were awarded according to the positions of the boats at the buoy, even though there was at least half again as much race still to go.

Yes: That was the same judge.

I began this post with a saying, so in closing I invoke a special Venetian aphorism: “Un’ xe bon, ma do xe coglion.”  (OON zeh bone, ma doh zeh cole-YONE.) The literal translation makes no sense, but here’s what it means: Screw up once, you can be excused; screw up twice, and you’re an asshole.

If anyone but me manages to reach this conclusion, I’ll let you know. But it’s not looking very likely.

 

 

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