Archive for Murano

Oct
27

The name game

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According to the article, there are TK people in Venice with the last name Vianello.

“The Vianellos beat everybody,” the headline states.  “The foreigners increase.” According to the article, there are 4339 people in the Comune of Venice with the last name Vianello.  I’m sorry to see that the Barbarigos and Mocenigos have gone the way of the great auk, though some once-noble families (Moro, Dona’) are on the list.

Not a game at all, but shards of information I consider interesting, in an ephemeral sort of way.  My favorite kind.

Meeting people here, or even just reading about them in the paper, will fairly quickly give you the sensation that there is only a handful of last names in Venice.  Reading Venetian history has the same effect.  There were 120 doges, and every five minutes it’s a Mocenigo or a Morosini or a Barbarigo or a Contarini (I feel a Gilbert and Sullivan patter song coming on).

In daily life nowadays, it’s Vianello or Zennaro or Busetto or Scarpa, all at some point from Pellestrina, where so many with these surnames dwell — and have dwelled — that the town is divided into four sections, each named for one of those specific tribes.  This situation was created by doge Andrea Contarini, who in 1380 sent the four eponymous families from Chioggia to Pellestrina to reconstruct and inhabit the former town which had been destroyed by the Genoese in the “War of Chioggia” (1378-1381).

The density of these four names in Pellestrina is such that the post office finally gave permission to put nicknames on addresses, to give some hope of distinguishing between the scores of individuals with the same first and last name, some of them even living at the same location.

In the Comune at large, Costantinis and Penzos abound, and every year there is a bumper crop of D’Estes and Dei Rossis.  Each name has its own provenance; some of them are obvious (“Sartori” means “tailors,” “Tagliapietra” means “stonecutter,” with which Venice had to have been infested) and some are more obscure (“Ballarin” meant “sawyer,” and “Bastasi” were the porters, specifically for the Customs or the quarantine islands).

Now comes the tricky part: The list enumerates

As we see, there are more Hossains now than Senos or even than Chens.  But after 500 years they might well be on the list of Venetians, if there’s still a Venice.

I’ve been here long enough — and it doesn’t mean you need to have spent a LONG time — to recognize the provenance of many of these names.  If you hear one of these, you have a good chance of knowing where the person comes (or came) from:

Chioggia:  Penzo, Pesce, Boscolo, Tiozzo, Padoan, Doria

Burano:  Vio, Costantini, Zane, Tagliapietra, Seno

San Pietro in Volta:  Ballarin, Ghezzo

Murano:  Toso, Gallo, Ferro, Schiavon

Cavallino:  Berton 

Venice (Dorsoduro): Pitteri

A few tidbits from the article, which are not evident in the table of numbers but are obvious to anyone living here:

First is that during the past ten years, the number of individuals bearing each surname has diminished.  That’s just part of the well-known shrinkage of Venetians.

Second — also fairly obvious to locals — is the addition of foreign surnames.  Of course, my surname is foreign too (German-Swiss), but I’ve been happy to disappear among many Venetians whose last names also begin with “Z,” and they aren’t German, either:  Zane and Zanella and Zuin and Zuliani.  It’s great down here at the end of the alphabet, I’ve finally got company.

As you easily notice, Muslim and Asian names are becoming more numerous.  (I realize that “Muslim” is not a nationality, nor a geographical area, but while the bearers of these names are most likely from Bangladesh, I decided not to guess).

So where would the “Vianello” clan come from?  According to my dictionary of Italian surnames, it springs from Viani, which isn’t a place, as far as I can determine, but a basic root-name.  Lino hypothesizes that it could derive from “villani” (pronounced vee-AH-nee in Venetian), which means farmers, tillers of the soil — “villein,” in the feudal terminology, a partially-free serf.  You can still hear someone around here vilify another person by calling him a “villano,” and they don’t mean “villain” — they mean clod, churl, oaf.

“Rossi” means “reds.”  It’s the most common surname in Italy, though in the Southern half it is often rendered “Russo” (the second-most common surname in Italy).  It most likely came from a personage with some strikingly red attribute, such as hair, beard, or skin.  Or all three.

“Scarpa” — It means “shoe,” so I’m guessing their forebears were shoe-makers, though then again, it’s possible that it was once somebody’s nickname (in Venice, at least, nicknames are fairly common and the person bears it for life and even sometimes leaves it to his children.)  However, another hypothesis holds that it could be a variation of Karpathos, the Greek island known as “Scarpanto” in Venetian, and which formed part of the Venetian “Sea State” from 1306 to 1538, plenty long to germinate names.  Thousands of Greeks lived in Venice, so the place name may have shifted to a personal name.

There are lots of names that come from places, sometimes Venetianized, such as:

Visentin (vee-zen-TEEN): Vicentino, or from Vicenza

Piasentini (pya-zen-TEE-nee): Piacentino, or from Piacenza

Veronese: from Verona

Trevisan (treh-vee-ZAHN): from Treviso

Furlan (foor-LAHN): from Friuli

Schiavon (skyah-VOHN): from Schiavonia, later Slavonia, which is now the easternmost part of Croatia. The Venetians were known to trade, among other valuable merchandise, in slaves, which often came from Central Asia or the Balkan hinterland. “Schiavo” (SKYA-voh), conveniently shortened, means “slave.”  Slav – Slave.  Not made up.

The names and the centuries may change, but the crime described on a plaque inside the Arsenal remains the same (translated by me):

The names may change, but the activity described on a plaque inside the Arsenal remains the same regardless of time, nation, or blood type (translated by me): “5 June 1743 Gabriel di Ferdinando was the Adjutant of the Admiral of the Arsenal He was banished under threat of hanging for being an unfaithful administrator guilty of enormous extremely grave detriments inflicted in the management of the public capital.”

 

Categories : History
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Oct
07

Farewell Bruno

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The gondola bearing the casket from the church of San Zaccaria to the Lido was rowed by Vittorio Orio -- known for his dedication to the New York firemen -- and Franco Dei Rossi "Strigheta," son of the deceased's lifelong friend "Gigio." The other rowers are undoubtedly important racers, probably d'Este and Tezzat.  The picture would have been better if I hadn't snapped it from a moving vaporetto.  The daily traffic stops for no man.

The gondola bearing the casket from the church of San Zaccaria to the Lido was rowed by retired gondolier Vittorio Orio — known for his dedication to the New York firemen — and Franco Dei Rossi “Strigheta,” son of the deceased’s lifelong friend “Gigio, as well as Giampaolo d’Este and Ivo Redolfi Tezzat. The boat to the right is a 10-oar gondola belonging to the Francescana rowing club.  The picture would have been better if I hadn’t snapped it from a moving vaporetto. The daily traffic stops for no man.

IMG_3316 signoretti detial

I’ve been noticing all sorts of interesting things around the city over the past few days, and while I regret to imply that a funeral qualifies as “interesting,” I will state that often the deceased is extremely interesting and makes me sorry I never knew him or her, and often never even heard of them until the dread news was published.

A case in point is Bruno Fusato Signoretti.

The “interesting thing” was his funeral cortege this morning, which didn’t completely surprise me when I saw it from the #1 vaporetto.  I had only heard of him two days ago, when his obituary in the Gazzettino alerted me to the human behind a name with which I was familiar in exactly one way: Glass.  That is, I knew that the name Signoretti was an important one on Murano, and that this company, or person, had begun (like many commercial ventures here) to sponsor some of the racers of the major Venetian regatas.

But there was much more to say about him, which I have learned now that he’s gone.

I have mashed up a few biographies, one written by Tullio Cardona in the Gazzettino, and the other by Maurizio Crovato  on the website veneziaeventi.com.  Here goes:

Bruno Signoretti (La Nuova Venezia).

Bruno Signoretti (La Nuova Venezia).

Gondoliers and Murano are in mourning.  On October 5, Bruno Fusato “Signoretti” passed away in his house on the Lido.  He was 74 years old, and had been fighting a difficult disease since last March.

Fusato began working as a gondolier, son of a centuries-long tradition; his family was noted among gondoliers since 1600.  In more recent times, his grandfather Vincenzo, nicknamed “Cencio,” was chosen by Prince August Wilhelm of Prussia for his excursions in the lagoon in 1907, and when Cencio got married, the Prince sent him a silver coffee service and 1000 lire.  (The new gondola he was able to order cost 300 lire, to give some idea of the magnitude of this gift.)

Bruno’s father Luigi was the gondolier of Princess Margaret and Queen Elizabeth II.

When young Bruno began his career as a gondolier, he was known for being able to make six “murane” a day (roundtrips in his gondola from San Zaccaria to Murano).  He became the substitute gondolier for Albino Dei Rossi, the legendary Venetian-rowing champion known as “Gigio Strigheta,” filling in while Gigio was training for the races.  “Thanks to this young man,” Strigheta quipped, “when I’m not working, I make twice as much.”

What with his love for the gondola, and for the regatas, and for his city, Bruno began to diversify. He retired from gondoliering and began to organize tourist traffic to Murano.  Then he opened stores in London, and finally, in 1986, he acquired an abandoned glass furnace on Murano and established an important center for glassmakers and designers.

He also lived a kind of parallel career of philanthropy and benefaction.  As Crovato states, he always kept the “old gondolier” in him.  There was not one racer, not one aged gondolier, alone and forgotten, who didn’t receive help from him in moments of need.

In 1991 he dusted off the abandoned tradition of the “disnar” (dinner) of the competitors before the Regata Storica.  He sponsored difficult art restorations, and when La Fenice opera house went up in flames in 1996, he was a founding member of the reconstruction fund-raising initiative, and its first private contributor.

After September 11, 2001, he created the idea of the “Baptism of Venetian-ness” (battesimo di venezianita’).  I can’t tell you how it worked, but it raised funds for the firemen of New York.

His last joy, as they put it, was the victory of Giampaolo d’Este and Ivo Redolfi Tezzat of the Regata Storica 2014, a team which he had sponsored.

In remembering him, Tezzat gave Signoretti the baptism of gold, at least in Venetian terms:

“What he said, he did.”

In a city where words outnumber deeds by an impressive margin, this is a statement whose brevity conceals a universe of meaning.

Racers are now permitted to wear a sponsor's badge, and Signoretti's name was on several champions' backs -- here, Franco "Strigheta" Dei Rossi, at the regata of Redentore 2014.  Notice the addition of the link with the firemen of New York -- "per non dimenticare" -- to not forget.

Racers are now permitted to wear a sponsor’s badge, and Signoretti’s name was on several champions’ backs — here, Ivo Redolfi Tezzat at the regata of Redentore 2014. Notice the addition of the link with the firemen of New York — “per non dimenticare” — to not forget.

Last glimpse of the two gondolas rowing toward the Lido, and his final resting place.  The air didn't look so misty in front of San Zaccaria, but gazing eastward, it's a different atmosphere.

Last glimpse of the two gondolas rowing toward the Lido, and his final resting place.

 

Categories : Venetian-ness
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Oct
29

Seeing red

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This isn't blood, nor is it paint.  It is the color reflected from the red awning at the Rialto fish market.

This isn’t blood, nor is it paint. It is the color reflected from the red awning at the Rialto fish market.

I wanted to title this post “My Name is Red,” even though doing so would have meant stealing it from Nobel Prize-winner Orhan Pamuk.  I was happy to exploit him because his novel of that name is one of the most extraordinary books I’ve ever read.  Anybody who can start a story with “I am nothing but a corpse now, a body at the bottom of a well,” has my vote.

Back to red.  For some reason I notice it early and often. I have no theory as to why; maybe it’s that red has been throwing itself in front of my face.  It is, after all, one of the more assertive colors in the spectrum.

Venice and red have a long and glorious coexistence, and I do not refer to the torrents of hemoglobin spilled in its incessant wars. (Speaking of bloodshed, did you know that arterial blood is bright red, while venous blood is a dark maroon? If anyone wants to know my source, it isn’t Johns Hopkins Hospital — it’s “13 Ways to Make Fake Blood.”)

No, the marriage of Venice and red takes us back to the Great Days, when Venice’s claim to fame was supported, among other things, by a number of exceptional products: glass, of course, and there was teriaca, a three-weird-sisters preparation believed to cure everything you can name, and many that you can’t even imagine.

And then there was the sumptuous color known as “Venetian red,” first documented in 1753, though I assume it had already been in use for a number of centuries.

“The skilled dyers of Venice, in particular, were known for their ability to create gorgeous red dyes,” writes Amy Butler Greenfield in her book, “A Perfect Red.”

“The deepest and most resplendent reds,” she goes on, “collectively known throughout Europe as ‘Venetian scarlet,’ were the envy of all who saw them.  Throughout Europe, dyers tried to imitate these reds without success, perhaps because no one thought to add arsenic, an ingredient used by the Venetians to heighten the brilliancy of their dyes.” Perhaps the arsenic supply was being diverted to other uses.

Like any trade secret upon which fortunes were built, Venetian dyers did everything to conceal their recipe, to the point of inventing macabre tales of specters haunting the dyeworks, to keep the curious at bay.  (I would have thought the stench alone would have been enough of a deterrent.  But what I call “stench” was clearly the ravishing odor of money.)

Although I did find a recipe for Venetian red dye, I’m not going to share it, partly because it’s pretty complicated and not something you should consider trying in your kitchen, and partly because I’m convinced that whatever result you obtain wouldn’t truly match the refulgence of the original.

Then there were the Venetian painters, who also found a way to make red their own.  Even on canvas, “Venetian Red is a pure iron oxide with real wow factor,”  as Matisse Professional Artist Acrylics and Mediums  puts it in its catalogue.

“It gets its name because the natural iron oxide deposits inland from Venice were this color which was midway between the deeper violet iron oxides found near Pozzuoli and the common red oxides found elsewhere,” Matisse continues. “The Venetian painters used this color with flair and particularly as a result of Titian’s usage of it, it became a famous color throughout Italy…This same shade of red oxide is found in the stone age cave paintings in France and when discovered they were clearly as vibrant as the day they were painted 16,000 years earlier…”

I would continue this treatise but feel my mind wandering away into foggy byways of minutiae.  And anyway, maybe you don’t care about red, even though eight seconds of research reveals that it represents just about everything in human existence: fire and blood; energy and primal life forces; desire, sexual passion, pleasure, domination, aggression, and thirst for action;  love, anger, warning or death; confidence, courage, and vitality.

I forgot to add danger, sacrifice, beauty, national socialism, socialism, communism, and in China and many other cultures, happiness.

Also hatred and sin.

If you have any urges left over, you can distribute them among the greys and fawns, or devote them to cornflower, saffron, or Mughal green. I’m taking the high road.

Red paint, red liquids, red pomegranates.  This must be the place.

Red walls, red drinks, red pomegranates. This must be the place.

Whoever lives in that apartment realizes what a tremendously dull corner it is, and clearly is doing everything possible to combat and vanquish it.

Whoever lives in that apartment realizes what a tremendously dull corner it is, and has decided to combat it with National Wash Red Things Day.

As soon as you start to look around, you begin to see red everywhere. Not to be confused with "seeing red." That's what happens when the vaporetto skips a run in the fog.

As soon as you start to look around, you begin to see red everywhere. Not to be confused with “seeing red.” That’s what happens when the vaporetto skips a run in the fog.

Wild grape provides shade in summer and color in the fall.  Unfortunately, it provides wine never.

Wild grape provides shade in summer and color in the fall. Unfortunately, it provides wine never.

It seems that everyone wants to sit, or try to sit, on one of the red marble lions by the basilica of San Marco.  I'm not sure how many bears have succeeded so far; this may be a first.  Erin go Bragh, or whatever the Swiss say.

It seems that everyone wants to sit, or try to sit, on one of the red marble lions by the basilica of San Marco. I’m not sure how many bears have succeeded so far; this may be a first. Erin go Bragh, or whatever the Swiss say.

The red of the Venetian flag, or gonfalone, is so much more impressive than just plain old red.

The red of the Venetian flag, or gonfalone, is so much more impressive than just plain old red.

The patriarch of Venice, mons. Francesco Moraglia, has an exceptionally lovely smile, and his way with people is surpassed only by his garb.

The patriarch of Venice, mons. Francesco Moraglia, has an exceptionally lovely smile, and his way with people is surpassed only by his garb.

Gondolier Said Rusciano pounds the final blows onto his forcola before the regata of SS. Giovanni e Paolo.  Red is the color of the winner's pennant, but in this case, it wasn't the color of the winner's boat.

Gondolier Said Rusciano pounds the final blows onto his forcola before the regata of SS. Giovanni e Paolo. Red is the color of the winner’s pennant, but in this case, it wasn’t the color of the winner’s boat.

I love the rain, it scatters so much of the city around.

I love the rain, it scatters shards of the city all over the streets.

I presume the red boat was staying within the posted speed limit; it would have been hard to have exceeded it.

I presume the red boat was staying within the posted speed limit; it would have been hard to have exceeded it.

I wonder if she has any trouble falling asleep at night.

I wonder if she has any trouble falling asleep at night.

I'm sorry for the crabs, but when boiled they turn out to be a great color.

I’m sorry for the crabs, but when boiled they turn out to have a great color.

The traditional "bocolo," or single long-stemmed red rose, which is bestowed on April 25 to one's beloved, has in this case evidently inspired some pensive

On April 25, St. Mark’s feast day, men are expected to bestow a “bocolo,” or single long-stemmed red rose, on their beloved.  He seems to be unaware that she is looking so pensive.  Pensive and red roses are not a good combination, at least when she’s not looking at you.

And speaking of flowers, here the seller is in red and the bloom is white.

And speaking of flowers, here the seller is in red and the blooms are white.  And the fog is grey, as usual.

What are the odds of getting a red tourist, carpet and broom in the same frame? In the Piazza San Marco, the odds appear to be excellent.

What are the odds of getting a red tourist, carpet and broom in the same frame? In the Piazza San Marco, they appear to be excellent.

 

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One of the squillion Befanas that swarmed the stores. Snaggly teeth: check. Broomstick: check. Stockings crammed with candy: check. She's good to go.

January 6, as all the world knows, is the Feast of the Epiphany in the non-Orthodox Christian calendar.  Here in Venice, as most of the world by now must know (if it’s been following my bulletins), the day is personified by a grizzled old woman with a broomstick. This cheerful hag is known as the Befana.

Her arrival and swift departure bring joy to overstimulated and overfed children, even if the joy is tarnished by the fact that she signals the official end of the holiday period — back to school, the party’s over.

Anyone walking around Venice will have noticed, even with only one eye open (not recommended, unless that eye is dedicated to scanning the pavement ahead where the remnants of canine overfeeding may well be waiting), that her distinguishing characteristic is candy — specifically, a stocking full of it known as the calza caena (KAL-tzah kah-EH-na).

But anyone who has foregone the city for an afternoon ramble in the lagoon during this period will have noticed that her distinguishing characteristic is exceptional low tide.  This phenomenon is known as the “secche de la marantega barola,” or the exposed-sandbanks-of-the-ugly-old-lady.

Our favorite patch of lagoon, between Sant' Erasmo and the Vignole, at a classic late-December/early-January low tide. Here the vegetation is of the non-green variety, but it still reveals plenty of snacks for the birds.

The tide is still going out but the egrets have already started noshing. Among other wonders in this scene are what looks like scattered rocks: they're the half-submerged scallops known as pinna nobilis, or "noble pen shell." They are returning after not having been seen here for years.

A pinna nobile as we normally see them.

High tide, of course, is the star around here, inspiring in transient visitors (fancy term for tourists) a mixture of fear, loathing, terror, pity, catharsis, and whatever other epic emotions a couple of inches of water on the ground can stimulate.  High water also makes for interesting pictures, even if they are all pretty much the same.

But every year I feel much greater emotions inspired instead by the absence of water.  When the tide really, seriously goes out, as it always does in this little window of time, a concealed world emerges, to the joy of the foraging wildfowl and the marveling eyes of your correspondent.  I know it’s not magic — it just feels like it.

The same stretch of water on a summer afternoon. Not only is the water higher, the area is also swarming with trippers from the mainland who come in their motorboats and like to crawl around digging for clams. By the end of the summer they have left nothing behind, except the pinna nobiles. I think these mollusks must have a way of burying themselves, otherwise these savages would be taking them too.

The first time I saw this phenomenon I was taken completely  by surprise. Looking from the Lido across the lagoon toward Venice, I saw, instead of the usual expanse of grayish-greenish-blueish water, a vast swath of brilliant emerald green, dazzling marine vegetation gleaming in the sunshine.  It was like seeing Nebraska with bell-towers.  Of course I knew that the lagoon bottom wasn’t as empty and flat as the high-school swimming pool, but seeing it was astonishing.  I was hooked.

Why does January (or this year, also late December) always favor us with this phenomenon?  Myself, I’d just give the credit to the Befana and move on, but curiosity has nagged me into looking for a real answer.

After more research than I anticipated, most of which only led me dangerously deeper into the astronomical wilds, I will hazard a summary of the situation.

The high atmospheric pressure not only conduces to the lower tide, it also brings weather which is little short of celestial. Yes, it's still chilly, but could anyone want to stay indoors when it's like this out here?

The outgoing tide creates a sort of lagoon within the lagoon, dedicated exclusively to the birds.

It’s all based on the indestructible link between the sun, the moon, the earth’s orbit, gravity, centrifugal force,and probably other things as well.  (There is also a correlation between high pressure and low tide — the higher the first, the lower the second.)  But this only tells us what, not why.

One source explains:  “The gravitational forces of the Moon and the Sun both contribute to the tides. The sun’s gravitational force is greatest when the earth is closest to the sun (perihelion – early January) and least when the sun is furthest from earth (aphelion – early July).”

Basically, the sun’s pull can heighten the moon’s effects or counteract them, depending on where the moon is in relation to the sun.

The Moon follows an elliptical path around the Earth which has a perigee distance of 356,400 kilometers, which is about 92.7 percent of its mean distance. Because tidal forces vary as the third power of distance, this little 8 percent change translates into 25 percent increase in the tide- producing ability of the Moon upon the Earth. If the lunar perigee occurs when the Moon is between the Sun and the Earth, it produces unusually high Spring  (not the season Spring) high tides. When it occurs on the opposite side from the Earth that where the Sun is located (during full moon) it produces unusually low, Neap Tides.

Neap: from the Anglo-Saxon hnep, meaning scanty. I knew you were wondering.

It so happened that the day I took the most dramatic photographs was December 23, when the waning moon was one millimeter from being completely new, which it was on the following day. I maintain that the new moon has the same effect as the full moon, as described above.

To sum up: In January, therefore, I deduce that the relative positions of the sun (low) and moon (high) combine with other factors — such as the aforementioned high pressure — to produce the unusually low tide.

You can have your Bay of Fundy, and I’ll throw in Mont-St. Michel as well.  I wait all year for this moment to see the lagoon revealed in its spectacular variety and richness.

Postscript: Low tide in the city is also diverting, revealing banks of mud lining the canal walls which were churned up by months, even years, of passing motorboats. It also, may I point out, creates at least as many problems as high water — if not more — for normal life here.  If the ambulance or the fireboat doesn’t have enough water to get to your house, it’s arguably worse for the quality of life than whatever happens in acqua alta — for example, having to put on boots for a few hours. This aspect of the secche de la marantega  deserves a chapter of its own, but not today.

Between Sant' Erasmo and Murano, the bottom is revealed to be of yet another sort, mounds of hard mud covered with something green. The boat belongs to an old fisherman who is off in the distance digging clams where nobody ever goes. The brown flat fuzzy tableland behind the boat is all that anyone usually sees here, just inches above the water.

More of the same area, at sunset. The tide is still going out.

 

If the barometer has gone up to this extreme, you don't even have to look outside to know that the water's going to be amazingly low.

People sometimes ask me, "How deep are the canals?" And I have to ask them, "When?" This canal at Sant' Erasmo clearly reveals the mark of the normal water level. And, as you see, we've only got inches to row on.

 

Most people think the lagoon must be at its most beautiful in the summer. I beg to differ.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Categories : Nature, Water
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