Archive for Luca Zaia


Who you calling an alcoholic?

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The images on this post will have nothing to do with Oliviero Toscani, wine, alcoholism, Benetton, or any other thing or person mentioned in the text.  I don't have enough years left to seek images that could connect in any way with the theme here.

The images on this post will have nothing to do with Oliviero Toscani, wine, alcoholism, Benetton, or any other thing or person mentioned in the text. I don’t have enough years left to seek images that could connect in any way with the theme here.

There has been quite an invigorating exchange of views in the Gazzettino the past two weeks or so, when real problems didn’t intervene.

The bickering was set off by a comment made by Oliviero Toscani, the photographer-provocateur best known for his extremely edgy ads for Benetton.  “Shockvertising,” somebody called it. His greatest joy in life, perhaps his entire reason for being, is to enrage and offend people, including the people writing his paychecks.

No, that’s not true.  His GREATEST joy in life is to advertise himself, and with just a few well-chosen canards he got himself a deluge of free publicity.  I acknowledge that by writing this post I am colluding in this regrettable mania of his, which almost convinced me not to write about it.  But here goes.

If it matters, which it doesn’t, he’s not from the Veneto.  He was born in Milan (Lombardia).

The opening shot was made in an interview on February 2 during a broadcast on Radio 24 in a known-for-satirical-jabs program called “La Zanzara” (the mosquito).  The context or question wasn’t given in the report I read, but his zinger was that “The Veneti are a people of drunks and alcoholics.  Poor things, it’s not their fault that they’re born in the Veneto.”

The Veneti (people from the Veneto) gave some thought to this, and concluded that they don’t agree.

The world is so beautiful when everybody gets along.  Or when there's nobody at all.

The world is so beautiful when everybody gets along. Or when there’s nobody at all.

The counter-shots which followed were so many and varied that I have picked, trust me, only a few:

Luca Zaia, governor of the Veneto: “He should apologize,” adding a famous Veneto epithet, “Prima di parlar, tasi” (before you speak, shut up).

Arrigo Cipriani (Venetian restaurateur and icon): “I’ve always considered Oliviero Toscani a provincial, a phony cosmopolite; all of his provocations, even on multiracial themes, aren’t worth anything culturally. He probably had too much to drink before he made that statement.”

Lino Toffolo (Venetian comic): “It’s a little bit my fault.”  He says this is because he made his career on television by caricaturing the Venetian as a drunk.  “In films we were always depicted as servants, carabinieri, and dolts” (in Venetian, mone, which I will explain below).  He continued with the pointed remark, in Venetian: “Se uno xe mona, lo xe tanto in dialeto che in talian” (If somebody’s a dolt, he’s one as much in dialect as in Italian”).  I think he got that backwards, but you see what he’s saying.

“Alcoholic” and “mona” aren’t quite the same thing, but let’s keep moving.

Mona” (MOH-na) is a very useful and versatile Venetian word. (Plural: Mone. MOH-neh.)  Technically, it means a woman’s lady parts, but it is the daily word of choice for describing a person who is not merely a dimwit, but a very particular kind of stupid — an obtuse, mouth-breathing dork.  An intelligent person can occasionally slip and commit a monada (the act perpetrated by a mona), but if the person him/herself is a mona, there’s little hope for him in the larger human sphere.  A person could be a Nobel-prizewinning theoretical physicist, but in the realm of basic social skills could also very well be a mona.

One of the best examples of the usefulness of this word is a saying I’ve often heard Lino repeat, usually after the news of the death of some world-famous yacht racer who dies at sea, or world-famous Alpine guide who dies in an avalanche: “Mona chi se ciama bravo in mar/montagna” (Anybody who calls themselves expert at sea/in the mountains is a mona”).

In this case, our world-famous photographer has been dismissed with one of the most trenchant Venetian terms at hand.  Because you could defend yourself by saying “I’m not an idiot,” but “I’m not a mona” just confirms that you are.

And it could have been left at that, but a few of the five million Veneti had something more to say.

IMG_5804  putt mardi  sharpened

Ulderico Bernardi, a sociologist and native of the Veneto:  “The people at Benetton had to have been really drunk when they hired him. And” — he adds — “he also has gotten wrong the historical analysis.  The stereotype of the drunken Veneto is not, in fact, ancient, seeing that Veneti and Venetians were considered the English of the Mediterranean, and that this people succeeded with a constant and intelligent effort to overturn the dramatic economic situation of a region that was among the poorest in Italy.”

A Veneto businessman named Remo Mosole from Breda Di Piave (Treviso) wrote to Toscani personally.  “In my long working life, from the immediate post-war period to today, I have seen the Veneto rise from the blackest poverty to become one of the primary regions of Italy…Your affirmations have profoundly offended generations of Veneti… who worked humbly and firmly for their economic and social emancipation.  Someone born in the Veneto today is not unfortunate, as you say, destined to the life of an alcoholic, but enjoys a level of well-being and health among the highest in the world.”

Beniamino Boscolo, Chioggia:  “I think that an offense describes the person who makes it, and not the people it’s aimed at.  Cin cin — to your health!”

Lino Narciso Giacomin: “‘Toscani: Veneti, a people of alcoholics.’  It’s as if one said: ‘Photographers, a people of mone.’  No!  Only a few!”

Giovanni Gastaldi, Preganziol:  “Everything has been said.  I will add one pleasing and useful fact: In Italy, the Veneto Region, as of December 31, 2013, counts more than 134,000 active blood donors, with more than 127,000 donations.  The Veneto is the third Region in Italy (behind Lombardia and Emilia-Romagna) for blood donations.  Not so bad, considering the comments by the photographer.  Good wine, good blood!”

Are we waiting to hear a resounding “Egad!  What was I thinking?  A thousand million apologies, it’s all a horrible misunderstanding and I should never have said any of those things!”?

Following is the photoshopped apology more or less extorted from Toscani:

“These can’t be the problems of you Veneti,” he started out.  “I sincerely never thought that something said in an ironic and irreverent place like ‘La Zanzara’ could have this effect.”  Seriously?  He goes on:

“But by now that’s the way it is in Italy,” he said.  “One gives greater weight to silly trifles than to serious things…. I was making a kind of photograph of the dialects of various parts of Italy.  And among the tens of dialects, there was the Veneto.  Listen, it’s not such a big thing to say that the Veneto, in his atavistic DNA, has a drawling way of talking, as in pain, like alcoholics.  It’s that way!'”

That’s enough, you can stop now.  No, he can’t:  “But really, do you want to deny that this connection exists?  Do you want me to pull out the statistics of the early 19th century when the Veneti drank even from early childhood?  And let’s not forget that I said all this in a purely ironic context, on ‘La Zanzara.’  If I’d said that the Veneti are all sober, and don’t touch wine, I have the impression that I’d have made even more people mad. I ask to be excused by those who didn’t understand the ironic intention.  I’ve received messages from many angry people, but also from some who have complimented me because, in the irony, there’s a little truth. And you know what I say?  I’m going to ask to be excused by writing a book with all the insults I’ve received from Veneti, with their first and last names.”

“It wasn’t my intention to denigrate the Veneto.  Perish the thought!  It was irony even if, to say the truth, grappa, Prosecco, Amarone, Valpolicella, they’re all your wines, known in all the world.  So let’s just close the subject with ‘But what the hell is he saying, that mona Toscani,’ and have a good laugh.”

"Don't know whyyyyy there's no sun up in the sky, stormy weather....."

“Don’t know whyyyyy there’s no sun up in the sky, stormy weather…..”

So why does Toscani persist in using an outdated stereotype?  Lorenzo Marini, a colleague of Toscani’s who comes from Padova, suggests this: “The Veneti are the Calvinists of Italy, they’ve always thought about work, neglecting their image which is tied to their past as farmers and domestic servants.  Therefore even when the reality has changed, the image has remained the way it was.”

If anyone would be interested in facts, studies last year revealed that the highest number of deaths related to the abuse of alcohol occurred in the regions of the Valle d’Aosta, Basilicata and Friuli Venezia Giulia, and the area around Bolzano (Trentino Alto Adige).  No Venetians here.

But the thing has taken on a life of its own. On May 1-6, 2015 the Concours Mondial de Bruxelles, a vast international wine show, will be held in Jesolo just across the lagoon, and the mayor decided to make the most of all the hoohah by inviting Toscani to attend so he could taste all those amazing Veneto wines and “hopefully not get drunk.”  Free publicity for Jesolo!

Toscani accepted.  And he made a counter-offer, inviting Veneto Governor Luca Zaia and as many wine-makers of the Veneto as want to come to “Anteprima Vini,” a big wine event in Tuscany, Toscani being a board member of the Associazione Grandi Cru della Costa Toscana (Association of the Grands Crus of the Tuscan Coast), and also being a wine producer himself.  Free publicity for Anteprima Vini!  And his own label, whatever it is!

“My dear governor Zaia,” he wrote, “it’s not for encouraging a dispute between Veneti and Toscani (intentional play on words?  “Toscani” also means Tuscans) but a round table, a modern Camelot of wine, culture, of congeniality and sobriety (but not too much).”

Time for the kisses and manly handshakes?  Not even close.  The Northern League (Lega Nord) has objected in the strongest possible terms to having him at Jesolo.  “One invites Toscani only to publicly apologize to the Veneto,” snarled  politician Daniele Bison. Free publicity for himself and his party!  “I’m asking myself if the mayor was sober when he invited Toscani.”

Next up, the mayor of Musile di Piave, a small town eight miles (13 km) from Jesolo.  He and his town council have approved a declaration that Toscani is “persona non grata” in Musile (pop.11,603). Free publicity for Musile!  As if it needed it.

And in conclusion, a few people (not seeking publicity — maybe) took Toscani to court in Verona, formally accusing him of defamation.  That didn’t get far.

“Toscani’s phrases don’t have penal relevance,” the judge declared.

“The stereotype of ‘drunken Veneti,’ like the great part of commonplaces, cannot reasonably be part of the crime of defamation,” the judge explained, “also because it’s applied to an indeterminate and impossible to determine number of persons.  Therefore Toscani’s idea should be confined within the ignorance typical of commonplaces and doesn’t deserve to rise to the level of penality.”

His remarks may not qualify as penality, but they certainly qualified as a perpetual-motion publicity machine. With just a few little phrases (I liked the one about the “atavistic DNA”), Toscani created enough propaganda for himself  — and so did enough other people, up to and including the judge — to choke all the horses of the Calgary Stampede.

Obnoxious, sure, but in the end he may not be such a mona after all.

Time for a touch of color, not to mention a glimpse of two adversaries smiling at each other. We see it can be done.

Time for a touch of color, not to mention a glimpse of two adversaries smiling at each other. We see it can be done.

Categories : Venetian-ness
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Venice and the floating Alps

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The catastrophe of the Costa Concordia two weeks ago today has been a good thing in at least one (sorry, I mean only one) way: It has given a turbo-boost to the local opposition to allowing big cruise ships to slide past the Piazza San Marco like floating Alps.

By now, images of these behemoths and Venice have become as trite as Venice and acqua alta.

Just one example at random of a typical big ship coming to Venice. The top deck is lined with thousands of people, all making the same photograph of the Piazza San Marco. As far as I can tell, this is the main reason why the big ships insist on entering and leaving Venice by the Bacino of San Marco.

There was murmuring before, but the death of a ship and some of its people has created a good deal of commotion, not only in Venice but also at the national level, concerning the desirability of allowing these ships to come here. Needless to say, the political parties have all hoisted their shields and battle-axes and are ready for combat.  And, as usual, the trumpet sounding the charge tends to drown out any other sound.

I’d like to review the main points, though I have to warn you that this subject, like most other subjects here, has become a mass of insanely knotted statistics and semi-statistics and facts and semi-facts interpreted in 11,552 different ways, according to who is speaking and, ergo. what they want.  Debates of the pros and cons of heavy cruise ship traffic in the world’s most beautiful city and environs are so loaded with emotion that it has become virtually impossible to hear what anybody’s really saying, though the various viewpoints are fairly simple to summarize.

Cruise statistics for 2011 as published by the Gazzettino.

Pro: There is only one item in the “pro” column on the proverbial yellow legal pad, and that’s “Money.”  Venice has done everything possible to attract and keep cruise business.  In 2000, only 200 ships visited Venice, and it is now the Number One cruising homeport in the Mediterranean, and the third in Europe. With the shrinking of the income from the Casino, the starving city budget is being kept alive primarily by this new touristic medium.

Don’t be distracted by the number of companies whose ships come to Venice (43), or how many ships visited last year (654) or the number of transits they made of the Bacino of San Marco (1,308) — I’d have thought there were more — or the number of passengers last year (2,248,453), even though all these numbers are pretty impressive (fancy way of saying “huge and scary”).

The only number that matters to the city, and the only factor which virtually guarantees that cruising will continue to be crucial here, is the money the city earns from it: 300 million euros (US$390,246,000) last year.

If you want to object to cruising in or around Venice, you need to come up with a suggestion for some other activity that will make that kind of money.  Or, preferably, even more.  Feel free to get back to me on this.


A view of the docks at Tronchetto. As you see, seven assorted ships can fit in here at any one time, though these is space for smaller ones (yes, there are smaller ones) at the Zona Marittima nearby -- three are moored there in this picture, just to the right of the big docks. Discussion is underway to expand the dock area.

Con:  The conscientious objectors to cruising offer many urgent reasons why it is deleterious to the city. These reasons are more or less persuasive, depending on how deeply their proponents have managed to bury their ulterior motives.

The two main items in the “con” column concern the environmental damage wrought by the floating Alps.

They are:

Erosion caused by waves (there are no waves) and/or by the suction of the motors.  This suction is real: I can attest that the motors of these ships perform a phenomenal sucking/pushing action, very much like what happens to the mouthwash when you rinse your mouth.  I have seen with these very eyes the waters surging in and then surging out as a ship passes, even if it passes at a distance.  It’s hard to think that this could be unimportant.  As we know from the humbler but more destructive daily motondoso, water going into a fissure in a foundation pulls something with it — soil, mainly — when it comes out.  This eventually creates empty spaces under buildings and sidewalks.

Ships maneuvering to enter or back out of their berths also create massive suction, as the brown sediment churned up here attests.

A study done by Worcester Polytechnic Institute on the hydrodynamic effect of big ships found this:  “As cruise ships pass smaller canals along the St. Mark’s Basin and Giudecca Canal, they displace and accelerate the surrounding body of water, essentially pulling water from the smaller canals.  This caused a noticeable increase in canal speed and a drop in the water levels.  A total of five velocity tests were completed resulting in a 57.4% increase in canal speed, and two canal height tests were completed which showed an average water level drop of 11 c (4.3 inches).  The observations suggest that the root cause for these accelerations can be explained by the Bernoulli Effect: the colossal geometry of cruise ships creates fast currents and low pressure areas around the moving vessels.”

Particulate Matter, the form of air pollution made up of tiny bits of stuff from combustion exhaust.  Nobody made an issue of this when Venice was a real industrial center, and nobody brought it up when the Industrial Zone on the shoreline was going full blast.  Nobody made an issue of it, Lino points out, when everybody — everybody — heated their homes or cooked using wood or coal.  “You didn’t need to smoke anything,” he said — “smoke was everywhere.”  But particulate matter from the ships is intolerable.

The view of the Giudecca Canal as seen by the passengers on a departing ship. I'm on a Minoan Lines ferry to Greece. If a ship were to go rogue here it could endanger city on both sides.

Four days after the Concordia ran aground, Corrado Clini, the new Minister for the Environment, came to Venice for a day.  He was shown a number of things (MoSE was not on the list, which I can understand, because nothing can be done about it now), but the subject on everybody’s mind was the big ships.

He offered the following opinion: “Common sense suggests that if the principle value to care for is our natural patrimony, the fundamental resource for our tourism, we must avoid that it be put at risk.”  You can’t argue with that.

He continued: “The traffic of these ‘floating apartment buildings’ in the Bacino of San Marco, with a notable impact, are without utility for the environment and for tourism.”  If he is seeking utility for tourism, all he has to do is look at the municipal balance sheet.  However, “without utility for the environment” is hard to refute.

Luca Zaia, the President of the Veneto Region, who was on hand, remarked that “The big ships in Venice are dangerous and certainly a problem to resolve.  I have to admit that to see these colossi at San Marco is, to say the least, horrifying.”  I myself have to admit that it’s odd that he only became horrified after the Concordia ran aground; the ships have been passing for years.

Giorgio Orsoni, the mayor of Venice, contributed these observations: “The subject of the big ships is an open one.  With the Port Authority we have begun to reflect on a rapid solution which will satisfy the touristic system as well as the economic one.” Rapid solutions are not easy to come up with, because every player wants his concerns to come first.  Nor would a rapid solution instill much confidence.  If complex, well-reasoned solutions haven’t been found yet, why would a rapid one be any easier to devise, much less implement?

Sandro Trevisanato, president of VTP, which runs the port, stated that the big ships are the least polluting form of tourism, adding that the buses, the big launches, and cars create much more pollution than the big ships.  (For the record, I’d like to say that this is the most intelligent comment so far.)  He points out that emissions are one of the arguments used by those who want to ban the cruise ships from the lagoon, far beyond the aesthetic question.  It’s a question of taste,” says Trevisanato. “In a few seconds the ships have passed and disappear.”  Seconds?  Has he never stood on the embankment on a summer Sunday evening to watch the March of the Pachyderms as they depart? Even one ship, by my estimate, takes at least 45 minutes to pass from Tronchetto to Sant’ Elena.  And there could easily be seven of them, virtually nose to tail.

In any case, everybody directly involved in cruise tourism agrees that  pollution must be kept at “level zero.”  How to do that isn’t explained.

As for the possibility — remote, all agree — that something could go wrong with the motors, or that the ship for some other reason would suddenly become ungovernable, and that the force of inertia would impel it to ram bow-first into the Piazza San Marco or some other bit of Venice, Trevisanato says that the port is one of the most secure in the world, as the ships are protected from the effect of wind and waves, and the ships pass at a reasonable (I put that in) distance from the shores.  Hard to say what is “reasonable” when the Giudecca Canal is only 320 meters (1000 feet) wide, or less.  But you will have noticed that referring to wind and waves prevented him from discussing the consequences of a big ship going adrift in the Bacino of San Marco.

Someone reminded him that in 2004 the ship “Mona Lisa” ran aground in the fog in the Bacino of San Marco.  His reply: “Exactly: and nothing happened.”  This is true; the ship was on its way after a mere hour, undoubtedly thanks to the help of the rising tide.  But the “Mona Lisa” is 201 meters (609 feet) long by 26 meters (85 feet) beam, and a gross tonnage of 28,891; not exactly a floating Alp.

The Concordia was 292 meters (958 feet)  x 35.5 meters (116 feet); gross tonnage 112,000.

In any case, saying “Nothing happened” isn’t very  helpful. It brings to mind the famous exchange in a Ring Lardner story: “‘Daddy, are we lost?’  ‘Shut up,’ he explained.”

The "Mona Lisa." This is what most cruise ships used to look like, before they put them on steroids.

And the mayor’s statement that a “rapid solution” is in the works isn’t very reassuring, even if it were true.  Solutions have been debated for years.

Proposed solutions so far:

Building an “offshore port” in the Adriatic where the floating Alps would tie up, and offload passengers (and luggage) into launches which would bring them to Venice.  Objections: Cost, feasibility, and the obvious pollution, primarily motondoso, which would be caused by thousands of launches trundling to and fro all day.  I can add the element of potential danger to people, if not to Venice, of boarding and traveling in a launch when the bora is blowing.

Make the Bacino and the Giudecca Canal a one-way street.  Tourists get to snap the Piazza San Marco either coming or going, but not both.  This has the advantage of not depriving them totally of this scenic opportunity, while cutting in half the number of transits.  A tour operator told me that it isn’t uncommon for a potential cruise customer to ask if the ship passes in front of the Piazza San Marco.  If the answer is no, it’s an immediate deal-breaker.

Bring the ships into the lagoon via the inlet at Malamocco. Heavy shipping already passes here, heading for the docks at Marghera, so more heavy ships wouldn't make any difference. Theoretically.

But this new system would require deepening a heretofore unimportant natural channel known as the Canal of Sant’ Angelo in order to create a sort of bypass. Enter the lagoon at the inlet at Malamocco, steam up the shoreline via the Petroleum Canal, then turn right in the Canal of Sant’ Angelo, which neatly brings the behemoth to Tronchetto.  The ship would depart via the Giudecca Canal, so the passengers could all snap their photos.

Or, the ship would enter, as it does now, by the inlet at San Nicolo’, steam past San Marco (snap snap snap) to Tronchetto, then depart down the Canal of Sant’ Angelo, Petroleum Canal, and out into the Adriatic at Malamocco.

Sometimes a big ship moors downstream from San Marco at the Riva dei Sette Martiri. It might seem like a bright idea to put them all here, except that the passengers wouldn't get their snaps; also, there isn't enough shoreline for the typical job lot on a summer weekend. And there is also the issue of the vibrations from the generators and the blocking of television reception which are major irritations for the residents. Who would want to spend the summer with these just outside the front door?

What’s extremely wrong with this idea — in my opinion, as well as many environmentalists — is that deepening the Canal of Sant’ Angelo would be a reprise of the digging of the Petroleum Canal, a deed which many have long since recognized as a disaster for the lagoon. A channel as straight as an airport runway and deep enough for cargo ships and tankers behaves like the average water faucet, concentrating and accelerating the force of the water passing through it. Many environmental groups date the beginning of the deterioration of the lagoon ecosystem from the creation of the Petroleum Canal.  Among other things, it is estimated that this canal is responsible for the loss of one million cubic meters of sediment every year. We don’t have to care, but the myriad creatures and plants which depend on the sediment certainly do.

Digging another deep channel will almost certainly cause the same phenomenon, thereby multiplying the damage.  Just what we need, when you add in the same effect caused by the deepening of the three lagoon inlets for the installation of the MoSE floodgates.

So the bypass canal, which looks so good on paper, would be yet another blow to an ecosystem which UNESCO, along with the city of Venice, designated as a World Heritage Site.  Now that I think of it, the only group that hasn’t weighed in yet on this is UNESCO. Maybe they’re thinking.

Last idea: Forget Tronchetto. Move the whole passenger port over to the shoreline at Marghera.  Docks already exist, or could be created, so logistically the idea has a lot in its favor. Except that Marghera is part of the dying Industrial Zone, with all the aesthetic appeal of a dying Industrial Zone.  It’s like selling a cruise from Venice that actually starts in the Port of Newark or Liverpool. Intending no offense.

Speaking of the force of inertia, debates, meetings, commissions, studies (oh good, we can always use more of those) and assorted pronouncements will undoubtedly continue.  I can make that claim because when the “Mona Lisa” ran aground in 2004, the then-mayor, Paolo Costa, ringingly declared that a stop must be put to the  big ships passing in the Bacino of San Marco.

He said (translation by me): “What happened has unfortunately confirmed my worries, and that is that an absolute certainty doesn’t exist on the possibility to guarantee the security in this zone of the city (Bacino San Marco) which is so important and delicate. It was horrifying to see the ship aground a mere 30 meters from a vaporetto stop, and fortunately consequences were avoided that could have been disastrous and unimaginable.  Now we must take rapid measures, more than one, and very detailed, that eliminate the danger of finding, one day, a ship in the Piazza San Marco. Because everything which today is at risk in the Bacino of San Marco isn’t something that can be protected only probably, but certainly, and with safety.”

Eight years have passed, two mayors have succeeded him, Costa is now President of the Port of Venice, and those “rapid measures” are still being fervently invoked.

The Port of Venice may be protected from potentially dangerous winds, but there seems to be no way to protect it from hurricanes of hot air.

A big ship leaving Venice. These proportions once shocked and dismayed me. But you can get used to almost anything.

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Categories : MOSE, Motondoso, Tourism
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