Archive for Marco Polo

Apr
03

The constant Casanova

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Here we go again.

Here we go again.

If you think the tides are predictable, consider the movie industry and Venice.

Many and varied have been the films made here, from “The Wings of the Dove” to “Death in Venice” to “The Tourist” and on and on.  And those are just a few titles in English; plenty of other nations have sent their troupes here to act out among the canals.  Has anyone seen Nenu Naa RakshasiLes Enfants du Siecle?

But you can’t go wrong with Giacomo Casanova.  Sure, we’ve seen Effie Gray‘s life detailed — it’s finally coming out this week — and George Sand and Chopin (all so famous in their day), but these are not marquee names.  Casanova, though, is a product with no expiration date; his exploits, real or imagined, have made him film fodder no fewer than eleven times.  Sorry, make that twelve, counting the one they were shooting here a few days ago.

Amazon is getting into the streaming-films game (see: Netflix and Marco Polo), and this version of the madcap entrepreneur’s life will focus, I was told, on Casanova after he went into exile.  It was a movie-worthy life pretty much up to the end.  He was definitely not all show (or as they say here, “Beautiful vineyard but puny grapes”); here is something he wrote about his famous escape from prison which deserves to be read and remembered:

“Thus did God provide me with what I needed for an escape which was to be a wonder if not a miracle. I admit that I am proud of it; but my pride does not come from my having succeeded, for luck had a good deal to do with that; it comes from my having concluded that the thing could be done and having had the courage to undertake it.

Now back to me and our two days with the boats.

Dawn is a great time to be out filming.  Not much traffic, and plenty of atmosphere.

Dawn is a great time to be out filming. Not much traffic, and plenty of atmosphere.

Sunday  morning before dawn, at dawn, after dawn.  The task was for Alvise Rigo, a member of our boating organization, Arzana', to row Casanova's stunt double up and down a small stretch of the Grand Canal.  Happily, there was little wind and few waves and not a whole lot of current.  But it was chilly and damp, and sitting still for an hour or two couldn't have been very pleasant.  But like the man said as he removed the elephant droppings after the circus closed, "What?  And give up show business?"

Sunday morning before dawn, at dawn, after dawn. The task was for Alvise Rigo, a member of our boating organization, Arzana’, to row Casanova’s stunt double up and down a small stretch of the Grand Canal. Happily, there was little wind and few waves and not a whole lot of current. But it was chilly and damp, and sitting still for an hour or two couldn’t have been very pleasant. But like the man said as he removed the elephant droppings after the circus closed, “What? And give up show business?”

Making a movie, from what I have seen, is like writing “Remembrance of Things Past” on an endless series of postage stamps.  Enormous amounts of toil involving equipment, technicians, objects of every sort, humans of every pay grade, and uncounted hours of just loading and unloading things, setting them up and taking them down, are dedicated to putting even the tiniest fragments of story on film.

Last Sunday and Monday the filming was in high gear in Venice; at certain crucial moments Giacomo would need a boat, and Lino and I and several others were there with two vessels: a small mascareta that just sat there and looked boaty, and a gondola, a replica built several years ago of the type used in the 18th century, to aid his escape (or so it appeared).  No costumes or makeup for us this time, we were just the boat wranglers.

Which was fine with me.  Although I thoroughly enjoy getting paid, even just a few euros, for just standing around doing nothing, doing something is better in most ways.  So we had episodes of rowing, and pushing, and pulling, and lifting, and watching mobs of multilingual people doing stuff you are unable to comprehend in any useful way.

Here is something I discovered: When the director yells “Silenzio!!” just before “Action!” you can hear a baby hiccup in the hospital on the mainland.  You cannot believe how many noises there are in normal life until it’s imperative that you hear nothing.  That was the most entertaining thing of all: What is that tiny little humming behind that building at the end of the street?  How can shoes with rubber soles actually make a sound going over the bridge behind you?  The canal is blocked by a watch-boat at both ends to block traffic.  The waiting boats have to turn off their engines.  Total silence falls.

Then the church bells start to ring.

Finally they stop.  “Action!”  (Action.)  “Cut!”  (Lunch.)

Then we rowed the boats back home.  That was it.

Fred Astaire once stated that he only “did it for the dough and the old applause.”  For me, no need to rush on the applause.

Dawn was lovely, but they needed fog. Happily, they'd brought their own, pouring out of canisters and swept around by someone with a big wooden paddle. Being a fog designer must be a very specialized skill.

Dawn was lovely, but they needed fog. Happily, they’d brought their own, pouring out of canisters and swept around by someone with a big wooden paddle. Being a fog designer must be a very specialized skill.

Canisters at the ready, they wait for the next cue.  And by the way, the fake fog (or real smoke, or whatever it is) had a fairly unpleasant odor that made you think of a factory that had avoided inspections for quite a while.

Canisters at the ready, they wait for the next cue. And by the way, the fake fog (or real smoke, or whatever it is) had a fairly unpleasant odor that made you think of a factory that had avoided inspections for quite a while.

IMG_6746  casa

Moody.  Keep it going because the sun is coming up.

Moody. Keep it going because the sun is coming up.

IMG_6722  casa

In the intervals between fog banks, the sun continued to rise; at 7:05 or so, it hit the mosaics on the facade of the Salviati palace.

In the intervals between fog banks, the sun continued to rise, like it does; at 7:05 or so, the light hit the mosaics on the facade of the Palazzo Barbarigo.

Next stop was by Campo San Giacomo dell'Orio, where Alvise waited to be told where he had to meet the fog again.

Next stop was by Campo San Giacomo dell’Orio, where Alvise waited to be told where he had to meet the fog again.

But wait -- the coat's not funky enough.  A pump canister sprayed some unpleasant color on the fabric -- perhaps he needed to look as if he'd slept under a bridge.  His wig certainly gave that impression.

But wait — the coat’s not funky enough. A pump canister sprayed some unpleasant color on the fabric — perhaps he needed to look as if he’d slept under a bridge. His wig certainly gave that impression.

Did I just mention the wig?  Evidently it was too neat, or clean, or something.  Can't have that, so on with another substance.

Did I just mention the wig? Evidently it was too neat, or clean, or something. Can’t have that, so on with another substance.

And more waiting....

And more waiting….

Fog!  That's his cue!

Fog!  That’s his cue!

Lino and I rowed the gondola over to our next location, behind Campo SS. Giovanni e Paolo, where it was our turn to wait.  Just think: Somebody came rowing by that Lino knows. They exchanged variationson the "What are you doing here?" theme and the friend rowed on.

Lino and I rowed the gondola over to our next location, behind Campo SS. Giovanni e Paolo, where it was our turn to wait.  Somebody came rowing by and just think — it was somebody that Lino knows. They exchanged variations on the “Working hard?” “Hardly working” theme  and the friend rowed on.

Monday morning we all met (and this isn't even "all" yet) at S. Francesco de la Vigna.  On such a glorious spring morning, what more could we need but....

Monday morning we all met (and this isn’t even “all” yet) at S. Francesco de la Vigna. On such a glorious spring morning, the only thing missing is….

Fog!  This time we've got heavy-duty blasters that look like dustbusters gone berserk.

Fog! This time we’ve got heavy-duty blasters that look like dustbusters gone berserk.

Yep, we're getting up to speed, koff koff.  Can anybody see the actors?  Are they even here?

Yep, we’re getting up to speed, koff koff. Can anybody see the actors? Are they even here?

Action!  Casanova races ahead of his faithful accomplice toward the waiting gondola.  It took approximately 20 seconds. They did this five times,

Action! Casanova races ahead of his faithful accomplice toward the waiting gondola. It took approximately 20 seconds. They did this five times,

The humble mascareta was being prepared for its big moment.  It was loaded with fishing nets, which the accomplice stopped to wildly rummage among on the way to the gondola.  But this will be the close-up shot of said rummaging, so we need to do as much titivating to the boat as they do to the actors.

The humble mascareta was being prepared for its big moment. It was loaded with fishing nets, which the accomplice stopped to wildly rummage among on the way to the gondola. But this will be the close-up shot of said rummaging, so we need to do as much titivating to the boat as they do to the actors.

There were so many people clustered  around the boat peering at it that I thought maybe it was about to give birth or something.

There were so many people clustered around the boat peering at it that I thought maybe it was about to give birth or something.

Yes, Mr. DeMille, it's ready for its closeup  now.

Yes, Mr. DeMille, it’s ready for its closeup now.

Preparing for the next fragment: Casanova in the boat (to which he has just raced, you recall).  But something is missing, you say?  Tehre is a boat in the distance prepared to correct that...

Preparing for the next fragment: Casanova in the boat (to which he has just raced, you recall). But something is missing, you say?  Ah, but there is a boat in the distance prepared to correct that…

FOG!!  It's going to be bearing down on us any minute.  This point is correct historically, may I mention, so kudos to the researcher.  There was loads of fog, which was a huge help to the fleeing hero.  Koff Koff.

FOG!! It’s going to be bearing down on us any minute. This point is correct historically, may I mention, so kudos to the researcher. There was loads of fog on the fateful day, which was a huge help to the fleeing hero. Koff koff.

And of course, the original Casanova didn't have much spare time to check his e-mail.

And of course, the original Casanova didn’t have much spare time to check his e-mail.

 

Categories : Events
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Apr
16

Helping Marco Polo

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The courtyard of the decommissioned hospital/orphanage near San Marco where we were dressed, made up, and retained until time to go to the set.  I have no idea how many pictures the other extras took while hanging around.  There wasn't much else to do.

The courtyard of the decommissioned hospital/orphanage near San Marco where we were dressed, made up, and retained until time to go to the set. I have no idea how many pictures the other extras took while hanging around. There wasn’t much else to do.

Helpful signs were everywhere, and scrupulously obeyed, as you can see by how firmly the door is closed, as instructed.

Helpful signs were everywhere, and scrupulously obeyed, as you can see.  The center sign says “For security reasons, this door must always be closed.”

Perhaps you missed this recent bulletin from “Entertainment Weekly”:

The previously announced, highly anticipated drama from The Weinstein Company about the adventures of Marco Polo has begun production for Netflix.

The show, which will have a 10-episode first season and premiere on Netflix in late 2014, will follow the famed explorer’s journey as it takes him to the center of a brutal war in 13th century China, “a world replete with exotic martial arts, political skullduggery, spectacular battles and sexual intrigue,” according to the press release.

What it didn’t mention, but which was relatively reliably reported by a cast member, is that the production will cost 120 million dollars, the most expensive TV series in the history of Marcos, Polos, and any number of fabulous khans. When you hear somebody say, “After Venice, we’re going to spend five months in Malaysia,” you begin to get an idea of where some of the money is going. Ditto when you hear that the cast and a batch of the crew are staying at a multi-star hotel whose cheapest room is called “Deluxe” and costs $750 per night.  Perhaps they were bunking 18 people per room, like sweatshop immigrants.

But I like our no-star hovel. I could get room service there, too, if I really wanted it.

The world to be depicted will also be replete with scenes staged in Venice two weeks ago, which were made even more replete by Lino and me as extras.  As was the case two years ago with the still-MIA film “Effie Gray,” we were engaged  to row some old boats and give some credible watery backdrop to whatever was happening on center stage, or street or square.

First, they dressed us.  Then they put makeup on our faces or hands.  Then they put makeup on the costumes. She had a bag full of dust which she tapped on various spots, when she wasn't streaking dirt-like colors or otherwise distressing our garb.  I know it's supposed to look worn, but I am skeptical that people, even in that soap-challenged era, would have liked walking around dusty and streaked.  But it might have been a class thing.  We were near the bottom of the social scale.

First, they dressed us. (Note: This is not Pippo — see below).  Then they put makeup on our faces or hands. Then they put makeup on the costumes. She had a bag full of dust which she tapped on various spots, when she wasn’t streaking dirt-like colors or otherwise distressing our garb. I know the fabric is  supposed to look worn, but I am skeptical that people, even in that soap-challenged era, would have liked walking around dusty and streaked. But it might have been a class thing. We were near the bottom of the social scale, where everybody knows we don’t care about being clean, or healthy, or knowing that the earth isn’t the center of the solar system.

To be an extra essentially means either moving (walking, running, rowing) or standing still.  You might be called on to fake conversations or other normal activities (conversations, I mean — I don’t mean faking them is normal) for a few seconds at a time.  I wouldn’t call it acting, but the real actors with lines to speak were faking just as much as we were, when you think about it.

Lino got in a few extra days of work before filming began because somebody needed to teach young Marco Polo (played by a certain Lorenzo Richelmy) how to row in the Venetian way.  He says Lorenzo was not only a good sport but not a bad beginner.  This is high praise, considering that a ferocious bora (northeast wind) was blowing all week.  Not the best weather for learning how to do anything except hold onto your hat.

Here’s what’s fun: The costumes make you look like something from the Permian-Triassic Extinction Event that’s been dug up from under a dead tree.  Ditto the make-up.  And it’s extreme fun to get up at 3:30 AM to be ready for makeup at 5:00.  After which you do nothing for hours.

It was 6:00 AM.  I don't think I need to say anything more.

It was 6:00 AM. I don’t think I need to say anything more.

The put no makeup on my face at all, but the makeup people had fun making my hands look like I'd been trying to excavate

They put no makeup on my face at all, but the makeup people put their hearts into making my hands look like I’d been trying to excavate Tulamba.

It’s also fun to try to climb around in a big heavy boat, and even row it, when you’re swaddled in three layers of fabric, plus a long piece of cloth on your head which falls everywhere, especially in front of your face, when you’re trying to do real work.  I still have green-gray and dark-brown bruises all over my legs from encounters with wood, stone, wickerwork, and other things that got in my way when I had to get from here to there while also fighting with my personal drapery.  I felt as if I’d been wrapped in Miss Ellen’s portieres, before they were made into dresses.

It was less dramatic, but also less interesting, to spend an hour or two out of the boat, joining a small group required to walk over a small bridge, then walk back over it, then walk back over it, then walk back over it, then walk back over it….

But I’m happy. At times in my life I’ve been paid very little to work really hard.  To be paid (also very little) to do scarcely anything, and even to do nothing, seems like an excellent way to spend some of my time.  In my normal life, I don’t get to stand still and do nothing for any reason, and I certainly don’t get paid for it.

So thank you, Marco Polo, Harvey Weinstein, and all the ships at sea.  I can’t wait for the next chance to play dress-up and do nothing.  At 3:30 AM.

Apparently every period film requires a market scene.  As far as I could tell, the market served only as a funky setting through which young Marco had to run at top speed.  That's all I saw.  No horses or cars in pursuit, which usually are required to decimate the market. So we pretended to buy things and he ran.  That was the sum of what appeared to be a phenomenal amount of setting-up.

Apparently every period film requires a market scene. As far as I could tell, the market served only as a funky setting through which young Marco had to run at top speed. That’s all I saw. No horses or cars in pursuit, which usually are required to decimate the market. So we pretended to buy things and he ran. All that setting-up was just for that.  If you ever see this opus, please tell me we were TOTALLY CREDIBLE.

While all the marketing and running was going on in the campo, Lino was awaiting his assorted cues in the canal.  That is not his hair, by the way, but a wig.

While all the marketing and running was going on in the campo, Lino was awaiting his assorted cues in the canal. That is not his hair, by the way, but a wig.

There was plenty of downtime to go around.  Happily, the sun was shining.

There was plenty of downtime to go around. We occasionally stopped to let boats or people pass, but the sun was shining, so I don’t think anybody cared very  much.

What's really interesting about this scene isn't the boat -- though of course it's excellent -- but the wooden wall stretching above it.  That was installed in order to conceal the modern wrought-iron railing.  They covered drainpipes, windows, boats, lamps.  You wouldn't think Venice was so modern until you try to make it look like it was 700 years ago.

What’s really interesting about this scene isn’t the boat — though of course it’s excellent — but the wooden wall stretching above it. That was installed in order to conceal the modern wrought-iron railing. They covered drainpipes, windows, boats, lamps. You don’t think Venice is so modern until you try to make it look like it was 700 years ago.

Another day, another market  -- this time, piled up on a small dock near the Punta della Dogana.  The activity was hectic, to give every impression of the port of Venice in full swing  (at the time, the number one port in Europe). The white-bearded man isn't just any old extra.  His name is Benito "Pippo" Garbisa, and not only is he the oldest lifeguard in Italy, still showing at the beach on the Lido every summer -- he has saved more people that anyone could keep track of (though I suppose he knows exactly how many). He started his work in 1949 at the beachside operation belonging to his family, and which everyone still calls "Garbisa" even though it's got a different owner and name now.  For his exceptional achievements, he has been awarded both a silver and a bronze national medal for "civic valor." He has two medals from the Carnegie Foundation, and Is an official Cavalier of the Republic of Italy.  He also has two gold crosses from Avis (the national blood donation organization) for his more than 150 donations.  To sum up, one heck of an extra to have in the mob.

Another day, another market — this time, masses of cargo piled up on a small dock near the Punta della Dogana. The activity was hectic, to create the atmosphere of the port of Venice (at the time, the number one port in Europe) in full swing. The white-bearded man isn’t just any old walk-on. His name is Benito “Pippo” Garbisa, and he is the oldest lifeguard in Italy, still showing up at the beach on the Lido every summer. He has saved more people than anyone could count (though I suppose he knows exactly how many he’s pulled from the drink). He started his work in 1949 at the beachside operation belonging to his family, and which everyone still calls “Garbisa” even though it’s got a different owner and name now. For his exceptional achievements, he has been awarded both a silver and a bronze national medal for “civic valor.” He has two medals from the Carnegie Foundation, and is an official Cavalier of the Republic of Italy. To sum up, one heck of an extra to have in the mob.  Or, now that I think about it, I wonder if he was a costumed security agent.

Lino, Antonella Mainardi, and I rowed this ponderous hulk of a caorlina to the port for our moment of glory: being the centerpiece of loading/unloading action, plus actually rowing away as the cameras turned, and we exchanged loud comments with some extras on the dock.  Happiily, we only had to do that scene once; the boat must weigh 157 tons, even being so lightly loaded.  By the time they were finished with the scene, the boat was full.  Full, that is, of things to damage my legs.

Lino, Antonella Mainardi, and I rowed this ponderous hulk of a caorlina to the “port” for our moment of glory: being the centerpiece of loading/unloading action, plus actually rowing away as the cameras turned, while exchanging loud comments with some extras on the dock. Happily, we only had to do that scene once; the boat must weigh 157 tons, even being so lightly loaded. By the time they were finished with the scene, the boat was full. Full, that is, of things designed to damage my legs.

"Il Nuovo Trionfo," the only trabacolo still floating, was the perfect vessel for giving that ocean-going vibe.  That and its sails, which were crucially important for blocking out the 21st century just beyond.

“Il Nuovo Trionfo,” the only trabacolo still floating, was the perfect vessel for giving that ocean-going vibe. That and its sails, which were crucially important for blocking out the 21st century just beyond.

This is what "backstage" looked like, in the meantime.  This is only part of the panoply of technicians and equipment of every sort. Just think, even boring movies represent much of the same level of labor.  Gad.

This is what “backstage” looked like, in the meantime. This is only part of the panoply of technicians and equipment of every sort. Just think, even boring movies require much of the same level of labor. Gad.

Two days later, we were on the night shift, rowing a slightly smaller boat which we rigged with two masts and sails to conceal the reality lurking even in the smallest canals.  If anyone might wonder why a boat would be moored in a canal with its sails up, I will have to arrest them on a charge of "unwilling suspension of disbelief."

Two days later, we were on the night shift, rowing a slightly smaller boat which we rigged with two masts and sails to conceal the reality lurking even in the smallest canals. If anyone might wonder why a boat would be moored in a canal with its sails up, I will have to arrest them on a charge of “unwilling suspension of disbelief.”

For some reason, we looked relatively more human later in the day.

For some reason, we looked relatively more human later in the day.

Not to brag or anything, but I think I look like a genuine mammal here. It was impressive progress from Day One.

Not to brag or anything, but I think I look like a genuine mammal here. It was impressive progress from Day One.

The boats and their people clocked out at about 10:00 PM and made it into the canteen just in time to eat some hot food.  Out in the campo, the lighting was already blazing for the next scenes, which we were told would continue till 4:00 AM.  Seeing this light surrounded by darkness gave me a very strange sensation, but part of it was admiration for whoever invented this apparatus to simulate daylight.  If I'd stayed under it, I might even have started to grow.

The boats and their people (us) clocked out at about 10:00 PM and made it into the canteen just in time to eat some hot food. Out in the campo, the lighting was already blazing for the next scenes, which we were told would continue till 4:00 AM. Seeing light this bright surrounded by darkness gave me a strange sensation, but part of it was admiration for whoever invented this apparatus to simulate daylight. If I’d stayed under it, I might even have started to grow.

Categories : History
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Dec
30

The last rant of 2012, I promise

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A touch of Christmas spirit, hung out to dry.  Festive photographs are added to this post to mitigate the rantage.

I can’t resist — well, I don’t know if I can’t, because I haven’t tried — recounting the latest arabesques from the ACTV.  And lest you think I am obsessed with the public transport system here, let me defend my little manias by saying that it’s not so much the ACTV that I’m obsessed with so much as I am with absurdities and preposterosities.  They have a fatal fascination for me.  My father was the same way.  And the ACTV is the Venetian equivalent of Old Faithful, gushing an unfailing flood of reckless absurdity over the the lives of innocent, unoffending travelers who have paid their money to go somewhere and have found themselves instead on the road to the looney bin.

Christmas Day.  I thought everybody knew that the entire world has important plans which involve some sort of travel.  But if you were to have been so ill-starred as to need to go between the Lido and Tronchetto (d/b/a/ the mainland) on the morning of our Saviour’s birth, you’d have spent all morning praying in your car.  A car almost certainly loaded with children, gifts for relatives, and perhaps foodstuffs not packed for long-term transport.

Poinsettias (known here as “stella di Natale,” or “Christmas star”) are always a good theme for a tablecloth. They’re so pretty.  And they don’t have to be watered.

According to the report in the Gazzettino, the reserved spaces for cars on the ferryboats for Christmas Day had been sold out almost a week earlier.  Which meant that — not to put too fine a point on it — the ACTV had time to prepare reinforcements, because it is obvious to anyone who has ever been alive on Christmas Day that masses of people who needed to travel but hadn’t managed to book a space would just show up.  And so it was: On the morning of one of the busiest travel days in the year, hundreds of cars were lined up, at the Lido and also at Tronchetto, just waiting.

This was Olympics-level waiting, waiting on the grand scale.  Because the ACTV had put only two (2) ferryboats into service that morning.  One (1) going each way.

The two “flagships” (“Lido di Venezia” and “San Nicolo'”) were out of service for scheduled maintenance work.  Not emergency maintenance, which would be moderately excusable, but work that had been scheduled by some large intellect for the holiday period.  Not only does this border on madness from the public-service point of view, it’s also insane because who would be working over Christmas?  Except, I mean, in an emergency capacity.

The enraged would-be passengers began a surge of protest on Facebook and (I suppose) Twitter.  The ACTV, roused by this from its torpor, launched extra boats — the two smallest ferries, “Marco Polo” at 12:05 and “Ammiana” (no heating, but who cares at this point) at 12:20.  For someone who might have had a two-hour trip ahead of them, this wouldn’t translate as “Way to go, ACTV, you’ve saved the day,” but “Thanks, ACTV, you’ve dismembered my Christmas.”

Note: Due to the “excellent work” of Mauro Minio, may his tribe increase and all go to work for the ACTV, the “Lido di Venezia” was sufficiently repaired in order to begin service that afternoon at 4:00 PM.

All this needs no comment from me, but why should that stop me?  The ACTV isn’t expected to stop the war in Syria.  It isn’t expected to eradicate malaria.  It isn’t expected to adopt Ukrainian orphans.  It isn’t expected to anything but provide the means, for payment, by which the public may go from here to there. But that seems to be too much to expect. Pay, yes.  Transport you to where you’re going? In the immortal words of Jack Benny, they’re thinking about it, they’re thinking about it.

Must keep foremost in mind the reason for all this wild activity. My vote goes to this scene; I’ve never seen a fuzzy pipe-cleaner palm tree before, but next year I want an entire oasis made of them.

Breaking news: The ACTV has announced a severe crackdown on scofflaws who ride for free.  Naturally there are people who skip the ticket-buying process. The company makes cheating irresistible, what with gouging the passengers with the price of tickets and then not bothering to maintain any system of checking them (I cannot remember, even if you promised me a house in Aspen, the last time a ticket-checker appeared).

Furthermore, ever since the new, computerized system of electronic tickets replaced the old paper version, you’re required to “beep” your ticket on a little machine before climbing aboard.  Even if you have a month’s pass, you’re required to “beep.”  Anyone caught with an un-beeped ticket is counted as someone who didn’t pay.

No one has ever understood why a person with a once-beeped monthly pass has to keep beeping it or be punished. The ACTV says it’s to get accurate statistics on ridership.

For a while, the ACTV put posters up in the vaporettos and buses complimenting themselves that the percentage of freeloaders had dropped from 8.20 percent to 1.16 percent under their intense vigilance.  But the numbers conceal an unpleasant fact, which is that the directors’ bonuses are directly linked to the percentage of deadbeats they catch. In the real world, that would make sense.  Prizes are supposed to be given for performance. But wait.

Davide Scalzotto wrote about this in the Gazzettino a month ago, headined (I translate): “The mystery of onboard evasion, and the mystery of the company’s bonuses.”  It was inspired by the press conference held to announce the new program to install turnstiles on the docks (there already are some in operation) and buses, turnstiles which are going to stop freeloaders forever.  But the company didn’t give specific numbers to delineate the dimensions of the problem, making it impossible to know how efficient they actually have been and, more to the point, how necessary these expensive turnstiles really are.

The only reason to go anywhere by any means of transport is to eat and drink. And wash up.

As Scalzotto points out, the ACTV is stuck.  If they admit that evasion is high, they don’t have any basis for awarding bonuses.  But on the other hand, if they say evasion is low (“We did it!”), they don’t have any basis for justifying the new turnstiles.

The data provided by the ACTV shows that in 2009 (one year after the electronic, or IMOB, system was instituted), the rate of evasion on the vaporettos was 0.49 percent, and on the buses was 1.72 percent.  In 2011 the rate was 0.64 percent on water and 2.12 on land.

The limit below which bonuses are automatically awarded is fixed at 0.70 and 2.0 percent. This is extraordinary: The numbers given for diminished evasion are just a squeak under the limit which permits the bonuses. I’m not sure how they got around the 2.0 ceiling, but bonuses to the ACTV are like rain in Cherrapunjee, India: Inevitable.

Now a city councilor, Sebastiano Costalonga, has opened an inquiry which will seek to obtain the certifiable passenger/evasion numbers from 2010 to today, and discover the parameters which are used to determine the bonuses.

But keep this in mind.  The ACTV has declared that they’re 8 million euros in the red.  The turnstiles will cost around 5 million euros.  Apart from the fact that these turnstiles will create a sack of problems, as we say here, for the passengers, how can the ACTV keep raising ticket prices because they’re broke, if at the same time they’re so ready to spend money they don’t have?

For something which — if their own numbers are to be believed — isn’t necessary in the first place.  Because if they really have driven down the percentage of cheapskates with hardly any turnstiles, what’s the point of adding more turnstiles?

I promise to change the subject in 2013.  Not for the entire year, but at least for a little while.

Happy New Year.

Wishing everyone a year full to the brim with everything wonderful.

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