Archive for Giudecca Canal

Jul
06

Bibs and bobs

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Most things have to get from A to B by boat here, at least for part of the trip.  Here somebody's garden is being taken down the Grand Canal.  A garden, or one heck of a lot of windowboxes.  Or centerpieces.  Or corsages.

Most things have to get from A to B by boat here, at least for part of the trip. Here somebody’s garden is being taken down the Grand Canal. A garden, or one heck of a lot of windowboxes. Or centerpieces. Or corsages.

It’s not as if I have nothing to say — I’m sure I have, somewhere — but the summer heat has hit (upper 90’s, F) with humidity to match, and my brain is otherwise occupied in keeping my vital functions going.

There remains one vital function I can manage on my own, and that is the devouring of ice cream.  Happily, the newspaper publishes several articles each summer which not only state that ice cream is one of the best possible foods to consume in this heat, but that doctors confirm that it is NECESSARY to eat it, that it’s GOOD FOR YOU, that it’s PRACTICALLY A HEALTH FOOD.  I don’t write these articles, but I could if asked to.

Just think, he could have been eating puree'd banana peel and dried goji berries, but he instinctively knew that ice cream was better for him.  Kids are amazing.

Just think, he could have been eating kohlrabi with kelp flakes, but he instinctively knew that ice cream was better for him. He’s obviously destined for a life of  Ironman triathlons.

So here, having decided to avoid any brain-intensive topics, I am just going to give some of those glimpses of the sights (I spare you sounds) to be noticed when walking around the neighborhood.  Just think, you’re also spared the temperature, which is just about the same inside as outside, except when inside is even hotter.

I’m going on vacation tomorrow, so will not be not making anything up for about six weeks.  I intend to return totally bursting with wonders to relate, or at least bursting with the intention of doing so.

We all know that big cruise ships enter and leave Venice and that this bothers some people.  But that's not why I'm showing this picture.  What interested me was to see the tugboat astern, which initially was directly behind the ship as it entered the lagoon.  As the ship (moving at the speed of a tired two-year-old, otherwise known as 6 knots per hour maximum speed, though this is a delicate calculation if the ships is going with the tide).  That's 6.9 mph/ 11 kmh.

We all know that big cruise ships enter and leave Venice and that this bothers some people. But that’s not why I’m showing this picture. What interested me was the tugboat astern, which was directly behind the ship as it entered the lagoon. The ship is moving at the speed of a tired two-year-old, otherwise known as 6 knots maximum (6.9 mph/ 11 kmh, though this is a delicate calculation if the ship is going with the tide).  In any case, at this point the ship needs to make a moderately sharp left turn to proceed up the Giudecca Canal, therefore the tug moves starboard and simply pulls the stern of the ship, turning it just enough to position the ship correctly for the home stretch.

Perhaps you can see the taut line connecting the two vessels.

Perhaps you can see the taut line connecting the two vessels.  I wonder if knowing that there is a tug at the bow and another astern might influence the general public’s notion of how far out of control such a ship might conceivably go?

This maneuver is made in the wide space where www.veniceonline.it is printed.  Just to give an idea of the geometry.

This maneuver is made in the wide space where www.veniceonline.it is printed. Just to give an idea of the geometry.

In the rio de Sant'Ana, there are stretches of cement  slabs, slightly tilted down toward the center of the canal.  This was a simple means of reinforcing the wall at whatever point the city realized that reinforcement was needed.  No problem there, so far, except that the cement makes it impossible to drive a piling vertically into the mud next to the wall to which you might wish to tie your boat.  So therefore.....

In the rio di Sant’Anna, there are stretches of cement slabs underwater, slightly tilted down toward the center of the canal. This was a simple means of reinforcing the wall at whatever time the city realized that reinforcement was needed. No problem there, so far, except that the cement makes it impossible to drive a piling into the mud next to the wall, a piling to which you might wish to tie your boat. So therefore…..

...the aforementioned pilings are driven in at a slant.  Not a monumentally big deal, except that it means that the canal has now been narrowed because the boats are floating more toward the center of the canal and less right along the wall. When the tide is low (which it is, twice a day) and sometimes very low (at certain periods in the year), the boats inch even further toward the center.

…the aforementioned pilings are driven in at a slant. Not a monumentally big deal, except that it means that the boats are floating more toward the center of the canal and less right along the wall. When the tide is low (which it is, twice a day) and sometimes very low (at certain periods in the year), the boats inch even further toward the center, which narrows the canal’s available space for traffic.

And speaking of fondamentas -- which we sort of were -- you may have seen low rectangular panels of some material (here it's plastic) attached to the metal fence.  And you may have wondered what they were for.  They're to prevent anybody sweeping the street nearby (the trashman?  just maybe? or some really efficient domestic worker) from sweeping the undesired dust and whatever into the canal or -- oops -- actually, into your boat.  It has happened often enough that individual boat owners have Taken Precautions.

And speaking of fondamentas — which we sort of were — you may have seen low rectangular panels of some material (here it’s plastic) attached to the metal fence by a canal. And you may have wondered what they were for. They’re to prevent anybody who may be sweeping the street nearby (the trashman? just maybe? or some really efficient domestic worker) from sweeping the dust and detritus into the canal or — oops —  into your boat. It has happened often enough that individual boat owners have Taken Precautions.

Here is another version, slightly further on.  A couple of leftover laths work just as well.

Here is another version, slightly further on. A couple of leftover laths work just as well.  No more sweepage!

I discovered yet another wonder about the very same few feet of fondamenta: the Istrian stone paving its edge.  Not only is it beautiful (obvious, in the case of Istrian stone), but why was it laid in this extraordinary manner?  Did the city run out of perfectly rectangular blocks?  (Answer: Sure, I guess.)  What I really love is how they made the masegni paving the street fit in.  This has instantly become one of my favorite things in my immediate surroundings.

Toward sunset I discovered yet another wonder about the very same few feet of fondamenta: the Istrian stone paving its edge. Not only is it beautiful (it’s Istrian stone, after all), but why was it laid in this extraordinary manner? Did the city run out of perfectly rectangular blocks? (Answer: Sure, I guess.)  This has instantly become one of my favorite things in the neighborhood.

The garbage collection organization will come pick up heavy, awkward objects if you phone and make an appointment.  This usually means seeing things like refrigerators, old air conditioners, dead washing machines, outside the owner's door with a sign attached saying when it's forecast to be removed.  Today I see that it's collect-old-TVs-and-computers day just outside our door.

The garbage collection organization will come and remove heavy, awkward objects if you phone and make an appointment. This usually means seeing things like refrigerators, old air conditioners, dead washing machines, outside the owner’s door with a sign attached saying when it’s forecast to be removed. Today I see that it’s collect-old-TVs-and-computers day just outside our door.  That…that IS a computer, that little boxie-thingie in the middle?

 

Categories : Venetian-ness
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Jul
31

Santa Marta: party on!

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"La Vigilia di Santa Marta" (The Eve of Santa Marta) by Canaletto. c. 1760.  (wikigallery).  The view is looking toward the mainland, with a glimpse of the island of S. Giorgio in Alga.  That myriad of illuminated boats is either late, or all in the Giudecca Canal.

“La Vigilia di Santa Marta” (The Eve of Santa Marta) by Canaletto. c. 1760. (Wikigallery.org). This view shows the Zattere, with the church of Santa Marta the last building in the distance.  I realize that they did not have stadium lighting back then, but I’d have hoped to see more of the famous illuminated boats.  I think he was paying too much attention to the geometry of the painting and not enough attention to what was really going on.  Or maybe that’s just my way of saying “I wish I’d been there.”

July 29, as all the world knows, is the feast day of Santa Marta.  Or in any case, now the world knows.

She is essentially forgotten here; her church has been deconsecrated, swallowed and partially digested by the Maritime Zone, and her celebration — once one of the greatest of the many great festivals here — is gone forever.  Only a painting by Canaletto brings us the tiniest (and darkest) glimpse of what was once a very big night in Venice.  Her name today is used mainly to refer to the adjacent neighborhood.

The reason I didn’t get this post finished by July 29 is because I got lost reading assorted accounts, some of them first-hand, about this uber-fest. It didn’t take me long to conclude that the fabled feast of the Redentore, which has remained a very big deal, was really nothing so remarkable compared to Santa Marta’s.  The Redentore had fireworks, it’s true, but Marta had fresh sole.

Fish was an excuse for a colossal boating party?  Why not?  The Venetian civil and religious calendar was bursting with events of every type and voltage. A very short list would note the festivals of Santa Maria della Carita’, Palm Sunday, S. Stefano, “Fat Thursday,” May 1, or the Doge’s Visit to the Monastery of the Virgins, S. Isidoro, the taking of Constantinople (1204), the regaining of Candia (1204), S. John the Baptist “Beheaded,” Sunday after Ascension Day, the victory over Padua (1214), the defense of Scutari (1479), the victory of Lepanto (1571), S. Rocco, Corpus Domini, the victory of the Dardanelles (1656), and the conquest of the Morea (1687).  These are just a few of the major events; the Venetians also commemorated defeats. There was something going on almost every day.

But there was always room for more, and although Santa Marta couldn’t claim to have sponsored any particular victory, discovery, or other noteworthy occurrence, her feast day conveniently fell in the period when the weather was suffocatingly hot, and the sole were in season.  Plus, her church was located on a little lobe of land facing lots of water, and there was a beach.  All this says “Put on your red dress, baby, ’cause we goin’ out tonight” to me.

Joan Blaue's map of the late 1600's shows the peninsula crowned by the church of Santa Marta, but I don't see a beach.  On the other hand, I do see rows of rafts formed of logs -- "zattere" -- in front of their eponymous stretch of waterfront.  Nice.

Joan Blaue’s map of the late 1600’s shows the peninsula crowned by the church of Santa Marta, but I don’t see a beach. On the other hand, I do see rows of rafts formed of logs — “zattere” — in front of their eponymous stretch of waterfront. Nice.

On Ludovico Ughi's 1729 map, "Pictorial Representation of the Illustrious City of Venice Dedicated to the Reign of the Most Serene Dominion of Venice," we see something like beach surrounding Santa Marta's headland.  To each cartographer his own.

On Ludovico Ughi’s 1729 map, “Pictorial Representation of the Illustrious City of Venice Dedicated to the Reign of the Most Serene Dominion of Venice,” we see something like beach surrounding Santa Marta’s headland. To each cartographer his own.

And how that little lobe of land looks today.  The big docks at Tronchetto were built in two stages in the 20th century, and Santa Marta (lower right corner of land) has become an afterthought.

And this is how how that little lobe of land looks today. The big docks at Tronchetto were built in two stages in the 20th century, and Santa Marta (lower right corner of land) has become an afterthought. (www.panoramio.com)

The basic components were: Everybody in Venice, either on land or on the water, regardless of social station or disposable income; every boat in Venice — so many boats you could hardly see the water, festooned with illuminated balloons and carrying improvised little arbors formed by frondy branches; music, song and dance, and lots and lots of fresh sole.

A "genteel" sole, who was more the star of the evening than Santa Marta herself.

A “genteel” sole, who was more the star of the evening than Santa Marta herself.

July is the season for sfogi zentili, or Solea vulgaris, and while the Venetians could bring their own vittles, plenty of them also bought the fish which had just been saute’d, either on the beach or on the street by enterprising entrepreneurs.  If you were really in luck, there would be moonlight, too.

The best and most famous chronicler of this party was Giustina Renier Michiel, who was born in 1755 and belonged to several  patrician Venetian families.  She spent 20 years researching her six-volume work, Origine delle Feste Veneziane (1830), but the fact that she had personal memories of many of these events makes her books exceptional.

I started to translate what she wrote about the feast of Santa Marta, but she went on so long, and her style sounded so curious in English, that I became tired and discontented.  So I’m going to give some bits and summarize the rest.  Anyway, it’s clear that the event was so phenomenal that even people who saw it finally gave up trying to describe it adequately or coherently.

Here is her version of how the festa was born:

In the old days many groups went out in certain boats to fish for sole, the best fish that one eats in July.  (Lino concurs with date and description.)

And in the evening they would go back to the beach by the church of Santa Marta and feast on the fish, enjoying the cool air that restored their depleted strength after the labor of fishing, as well as the heat of the season.

Later on, as the population became richer, and softness set in, the work of fishing was left to the poor people, who had to do it in order to live, and what used to be a fatiguing labor changed into a singular entertainment.”

My version: It didn’t take long for everybody else in Venice to say “A cookout on the beach?  We’re on our way.”  Everybody started making Santa Marta’s Eve a great reason to head for her neighborhood and eat fish, garnished and enlivened by the classic saor sauce of sweet-sour onions.  It was like a gigantic clambake, a barbecue, a luau, for thousands and thousands of people.

Obviously the beach was too small for everybody, so the boats made themselves at home on the Giudecca Canal, “whose waters could only be seen in flashes, and almost seemed to be strips of fire, agitated by the oars of so many boats that covered the water and which doubled the effect of the lights which were on the boats.”

A peota c. 1730. Every noble family had one and they were just the thing for big events.

The “Bucintoro dei Savoia,”also called the “Bucintoro del Po,” is the only surviving example of a Venetian peota of the 18th century.  It was built in 1730 by a squero on Burano for Carlo Emmanuele III di Savoia and is now the property of the Civic Museums of Torino.  Most noble families had one, and they were just the thing for big events such as the Regata Storica, processions honoring doges and kings, and alfresco picnics featuring a big fish fry.

The patricians came out on their fabulously ornate peote, and often carrying musicians who sang and played wind instruments.  There were scores of the classic fishing boat called a tartana, draped with variously-colored balloons and loaded with laughing families and friends.  There were artisans in their battellos, and hundreds of light little gondolas, and plenty of gondolas da fresco, and there were even the burchielle, the heavy cargo boats that carried sand and lumber.  If it could float, it joined the vast confusion of boats being rowed languidly in every direction, or tied up along the Zattere where there was just as much happy turmoil ashore.

Or, if you were a fisherman, you might come out in an equaly impressive (in its way) boat -- a caorlina da seragia.  Only a few still exist, and this very old craft has retained its original pitch waterproofing.  You could fit several families, aristocratic or otherwise, into this monster.

Or, if you were a fisherman, you might come out in an equally impressive (in its way) boat — a caorlina da seragia. Only a few still exist, and this very old craft has retained its original pitch waterproofing. You could fit several families, aristocratic or otherwise, into this monster.

Or if all you had was a little s'ciopon, you'd have bedecked it too, and come out with the food and family.

Or if all you had was a little s’ciopon, you’d have bedecked it too, and come out with the food and family.

The Gazzetta Urbana of 1787:  “Along this riva, called the Zattere, the cafe’s and bars are crammed to overflowing with people.  There are tables set up outside their doors, and everything is so lit up that it seems to be daytime.

“The passage (of people) in all the streets leading to Santa Marta was dense and continuous, and the splendid gathering at the Caffe of San Basegio, at the head of the Zattere, formed a separate spectacle, in which our Adriatic beauties, wearing modern shimmering caps in the Greek style, ornamented with plumes, inflamed with their glances the hearts of the young men who, like butterflies, always flutter around the flare of a woman’s beauty.”

Also amid the throng were little ambulatory kitchens — a man with a basket of sole would put two stones on the ground, then lay two bunches of sticks crosswise on them, light a little charcoal under them, pour some oil in a pan, and stand there bawling for business.  He kept a container of saor ready to put on the fish.

Renier Michiel:  “The entire length of this district was full of a grand concourse of people, moving toward the piazza of Santa Marta which was the best vantage point to enjoy the spectacle.  On the piazza there were more food vendors, some of them selling roast chicken.  There is a racket of cups, plates, the yells of the vendors, the music from the boats on the water. Every house is transformed into a sort of tavern where people eat and drink, and there was perfect joy and harmony.”

“Perfect joy and harmony”?  How can this be (apart from the fact that she was looking back on it, years later, when the festival was gone forever)?

I think it’s because Santa Marta was secretly taking care of people. She is the patroness of cooks, butlers, laundry-workers, servants,  housewives, and waiters. Though I suppose you could just say “housewives” and leave it at that.

Because as Santa Marta, and 99 percent of women on earth, can attest, while some people at a party are laughing and scarfing the canapes and playing with the dog and singing comic songs and reveling in industrial-size helpings of joy and harmony, there’s at least one person somewhere in the background doing everything to make it seem as if there is absolutely nothing that needs to be done.

And I have no doubt that when the boats went home at dawn on July 29, there was somebody who had to put the boat away and swab the bilge and pick up every single fishbone, as well as deal with the dishes and the wine- and saor-stained clothes.  Behind every great saint is somebody with a bucket and mop, I say.

You can barely make out the once-fabled "Punta Santa Marta" from the roof of the Molino Stucky Hilton.

You can barely make out the “Punta di Santa Marta” from the roof of the Molino Stucky Hilton.

The church of Santa Marta in 1934 was already feeling the encroachments of the railway.  Trains came down onto the waterfront to deliver or collect cargo to the ships in the maritime zone.  No more beach.

The church of Santa Marta in 1934 was only slightly in the way of progress.  Trains came down onto the waterfront to deliver or collect cargo to the ships in the maritime zone.  No more beach.

There's still a church in there somewhere behind the parking lot.

There’s still a church in there somewhere behind the parking lot.  Ex-church, that is, restored and now used as an exhibition space. Nice that it’s not falling to ruin, but any possible trace of character or history has been thoroughly expunged.

I realize that it wasn't ever the most heavily decorated church in Venice, but we seem to have gone to a real extreme here.

I realize that it wasn’t ever the most heavily decorated building in Venice, but they seem to have gone to the opposite extreme here.  Seen from this angle, it could be a Potemkin church.

To review in closing: This entire area of water was completely covered with illuminated boats full of people singing and eating and laughing and being happy. Especially if July 28 was a Saturday and they didn't have to work the next day.

To review in closing: This entire area of water was completely covered with illuminated boats full of people singing and eating and laughing and being happy. And I think it’s safe to say that most of them were not tourists. That’s something else to recall occasionally — that Venice had an amazing life that had nothing to do with tourism.  Seem strange?  They’d think we’re even stranger.

 

 

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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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The Accademia Bridge, looking toward the Accademia.Galleries.  It may not look so high from this angle, but it was high enough. (Photo: Honeydew)

As I have said (many times), riding the vaporetto, while frequently annoying, or crowded or cold or suffocatingly hot or drenching — being crushed into a mass of people riding outside in the rain is so invigorating — it is also prime territory to see people we know.

I like this.  I’m so used to it, either seeing someone I know, or at least someone I can identify, that I wasn’t even aware of it until one day when I got home from a large circuit doing errands more or less around the city.  As I walked over our bridge, it suddenly struck me.  “Weird!”  I thought.  “I didn’t see even one person that I know.”  That it occurred, and that I noticed it, were both clear signs that I had passed through another airlock into the depths of Venice.

Usually, though, we run into, or past, people Lino knows.  Which means “has known.” Forever.

Last night we were trundling home on the faithful #1 vaporetto.  Now that Carnival’s over, the ratio of locals to tourists has increased again, briefly, in favor of the former.  So it didn’t start out as surprising when Lino recognized someone.

Then the saga began to unfold.

It went like this:

A matronly, moderately zaftig woman was the last to come inside.  As she sailed majestically along the aisle, she left the doors behind her wide open.  It’s fairly cold these days, so it always astonishes me that someone doesn’t connect the concepts of “warmth” and “closed doors.”

So even though we were several rows back, I got up to close them, and sat down again next to Lino making the little huffy sound that escapes me when I fulfill this task for someone too (fill in appropriate word here) to close them.

“And she’s a Venetian,” he remarked.  This sometimes happens, which makes it even harder for me to understand.  But that’s not the point here.

“You know her?” I offered the usual rhetorical question.

“Sure,” he said.  “She lived in my old neighborhood” (near campo San Vio).  “Her brother was a really close friend of Ricky.”

And Ricky was…..?

“He’s the one who killed the finanzier (member of the Guardia di Finanza) by dropping a stone from the Accademia Bridge.”

I stared at him.

“He was a very sketchy character,” Lino went on.  “He was all involved in drugs and smuggling and I don’t know what.  So he really had it in for the Finanza.

“So one night he called the headquarters of the Finanza on the Giudecca, all worked up, saying ‘Somebody’s set fire to a boat in the canal!  You’ve got to come quick!'”

So two agents on duty leaped into one of their fast launches and zoomed across the Giudecca Canal and up the Grand Canal.

“Meanwhile, Ricky had taken a loose piece of marble” (one of the rectangular slabs of Istrian stone which delineate each step on a stone bridge here).  “He carried it up to the top of the Accademia Bridge and waited for them to pass.  At just the moment they started under the bridge, he let the stone fall.  It killed one of the agents right there.”

Naturally he was found, tried, and put away.  “Sixteen years in the criminal insane asylum,” Lino said.

And then……

“I saw him around the neighborhood after he’d gotten out.  He was walking along with a beer bottle in his hand.  He started to cross the Accademia Bridge, and as he went up, he put his hand out over the rail and casually let the bottle drop.

“Sixteen years, and they hadn’t cured him of anything.

“Still, he had had an extenuating circumstance.  Because once a long time before, he had jumped out his first-floor apartment window into the canal and saved somebody who was drowning.

“If he hadn’t have done that, they’d have given him life.”

You probably never noticed these rectangles of gray-white stone (unless you slipped on one in the snow or ice), in which case you’d never have thought about their potential as the murder weapon. This is good.

 

 

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