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Giro d’Italia takes Lido hostage, part two

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I regret that this report  was held up by technical traffic backed up over my computer.   But I promised a report on the effect of stage one of the Giro d’Italia on the Lido, so here it is.   Note to self: Don’t be so quick to make promises.

So far, the report from assorted Lido People I know is that they overcame the  trauma of being without transport like real troupers.   I’m very glad about this, otherwise my sunny Sunday morning trip to the erstwhile “Golden Isle” would have been spoiled by what I anticipated would resemble the final scene of The Trojan Women.  

I think the impact of this event was mitigated, not by a resurgence of civic pride —    the wildness that bursts forth when, say, Italy wins the World Cup — but by the wealth of stuff that was on sale.   Violent pink being the official color of the winner’s jersey (as crocus yellow is for the Tour de France), the  crowds were speckled with pink baseball caps, T-shirts, rubber bracelets, and other paraphernalia.

We took the special  boat from Venice to the Lido and got off at San Camillo, the rehabilitation hospital, to visit Lino’s oldest sister who’s been there for a month for problems I don’t understand (polite way of saying “Didn’t ask, didn’t listen”), related generally to her being past 90.     We took her outside and sat by the edge of the road with a batch of other inmates and watched the squads shoot past.   We managed to identify a Spanish and a French team, but I never did locate the Italians.   In any case, it was an Englishman, Mark Cavendish,  who won today’s effort.   You probably already know that.

No more than five minutes after the last team whizzed by, the army of Giro workers passed, tearing down their signs and  collecting the plastic cones in the street and all the temporary  metal barriers.   That was much more impressive than the race itself, perhaps because it was so dazzlingly efficient.

 We were favored with  a rare sighting of the Mayor of Venice, Massimo Cacciari, who passed by with his bike and his  characteristic nonchalance, an attitude of pretending the rest of the world, primarily its humans, doesn’t exist.   (“It’s him,” “It’s him,” the people on our side of the road were murmuring excitedly, as if they’d managed to glimpse the last great auk.)   Being a professor of philosophy, whose Ph.D thesis was  on Immanuel Kant’s “Critique of Judgment,” he might have been giving us a demonstration of Kant’s approach toward the problem of the other six billion people on earth: Walk away.  

I realize it was his day off, even though I wouldn’t have thought that politicians gave themselves time off when they go out to move among the voters.   But scorn is his default position; I have been in a small room with him during a press conference, and this is pretty much his approach to everyone, even people who are two feet away.      His personal philosophy appears to be to ignore people as long as possible, but when  forced to interact with them,  as in a meeting with  the city councilors,  to shout them down.   He is a passionate fan of cycling and told a reporter that he’d once dreamed of becoming a sports journalist.   I’m not sure how good he would have been; sooner or later, you do have to talk to people, unpleasant and inconvenient as they may be.   And sometimes even listen.  

Years ago I interviewed him for 30 minutes — everyone was so impressed that he gave me  a whole  30 minutes! — and he didn’t let me ask one question.   I realize now that instead of taking the usual mayoral approach to interviews (I’ve done four by now, anyway), which is to give non-answers, he cut out the whole answer category entirely.    What I got was a monologue about the history of Venice, which I already knew and if I hadn’t, could (and should) have read in a book.   Interviewing mayors is a bigger waste of time than popping bubblewrap.   And less amusing.

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Giro d’Italia takes Lido hostage, part one

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I don’t follow bicycle racing that much (polite way of saying “at all”) but I do know that there is a hugely important annual Italian event which corresponds roughly to the Tour de France: The Giro d’Italia.   It has to start somewhere, and this year, its centennial, it will start on the Lido of Venice.

 The oddness of that fact may not strike you immediately, but I have no doubt that it was a major PR coup for Venice, even though I’m not clear on exactly what the benefits might be.   But never mind.   Perhaps the TV stations covering it are paying for the privilege.  

(The view from Venice: The long dark strip  on the horizon is  the  Lido.)

 Why is it odd?   Because you can’t get anywhere from the Lido.   Your choices are to go forward till you hit water, then turn around and go forward till you hit water.   However, it does have the advantage of being very flat.   Also, to be fair, one could hardly be expected to race around Venice itself, and Mestre would be just as weird.   And Venice, as the Most Beautiful Stage Set in the World, inevitably lends itself to big events which want to benefit in some way from the backdrop.  

So how is this supposed to work?   The racers will be divided into squads, and they  will do a team time trial  by the chronometer.   Then they’ll eat and drink and get their vitamin injections and take the ferry and leave the Lido and pick up the race the next day on the mainland, where the terrain has some verticality and they can really get their teeth into each other.

(The Lido is the long narrow island on the right.   Detail from the EuroCart map LAGUNA VENETA, Studio F.M.B. Bologna.)

The city has been working dangerously hard to get the island spruced up and ready for the onslaught.   The positive side:   Banks of flowers have been installed (usually when plants are put out to beautify a public event, such as the film festival, people begin to  liberate them.   We’ll see how long these last).   Even better,  every bump, pothole, crack, fissure, bubble, or other anomaly in the road pavement for the 20.8 km (12.7 miles) course has been filled, smoothed, buffed.   The residents are thrilled about that.

 The downside: The Lido is being taken hostage by this event.   Residents have long since been notified that they are forbidden to use their cars tomorrow.   Period.   (This would be obvious, but it needs to be stated because there aren’t so many roads on  the Lido which would offer other options to residents wanting to drive half a mile to do something.)   Not being able to drive anywhere means that life will have completely stopped.   Forced to take the bus?    There will be no bus service.   No taxis.   No vehicles.   This is officially from 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM, with some inconvenience tacked on at each end.   For the Lido People it will suddenly be like they’re living in Brigadoon, for the 99 years and 364 days it’s invisible.

Anyone who needs to go somewhere on the Lido (Lino and me, say, if we were to want to go rowing that afternoon) tomorrow will have the option of once-hourly boat service which will make several stops along the lagoon shoreline.   At which point you debark  and walk inland — presuming they let you cross the road.

Well, it won’t kill me not to go to the Lido one day.   Au contraire.   But it’s the drama of the logistics that has overwhelmed the world- and life-view of the Lido People.    Whereas citizens of other towns experiencing world-class events (Monaco comes to mind) might feel a kind of excitement and even pride, people on the Lido are thinking only of how hard life is going to be tomorrow.   They are among the most provincial, isolated people I’ve ever known, and about the only thing that has any reality for them is their own little island life.   (I exclude shopkeepers, who I imagine are hoping for some kind of windfall from the tornado passing through.)  

I would love to have the chance to announce that Jesus is coming back tomorrow and He’s starting on the Lido, just to hear what the Lido People would say.   It would either be “Will Billa [the supermarket]  still stay open till 8:00?” or “So, does that mean that the vaporetto will follow the Sunday timetable?”  

I’ll let you know how it goes.

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