Archive for Piazza San Marco

No tourists will be pictured in this post.

Several thoughtful friends and readers sent me a link to a recent article in the New York Times, just the latest in an endless, repetitive series of articles that bewail the imminent degradation of Venice to the level of Disneyland.  https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/02/world/europe/venice-italy-tourist-invasion.html?action=click&contentCollection=Opinion&module=Trending&version=Full&region=Marginalia&pgtype=article

Me, I have to say that this is a slur on Disneyland, where the behavior and the trash which are inescapable here would never be tolerated in Orlando or Anaheim (or Paris, I guess). I’ve often thought that running Venice like Disneyland might actually be a good thing.  But I realize that the comparison is intended to contrast something “real” (Venice) to something “phony, pretend, not real” (Disneyland).

I thought the New York Times published news, but this is not news!  It must have been a slow news day (remember those?) because they might as well have published a story revealing that water runs downhill.  This subject comes up at least once a year — it’s part of a squad of topics that are as predictable as the tide.  Motondoso is another (one or two blitzes a year, many fines, much outrage, everything goes back to the way it was), as is pickpocketing, and brawls involving assorted illegal vendors, and corrupt city councilors, and matricidal sons with histories of mental illness, and also that the city has no money.

Back to Venice as Disneyland, which is code for “daily pillaging and sacking by barbaric hordes of unspeakable tourists.”  This happens in the summer, of course, which is when tourists go on vacation, and when it’s hot an irresistible desire wells up in your tourist to soak his/her feet in the canals and also to jump off bridges. IT HAPPENS EVERY YEAR, PEOPLE.

I am not excusing it, but I do want to mention a few things which are not the result of outrage fatigue (though there may be some of that).

One is that Venice is not unique, at least in this regard.  The most superficial exploration online reveals that the same imbeciles, or their cretinous relatives, go to Florence and Rome and do stupid things and damage monuments there too. I don’t know if anyone jumps off the Ponte Vecchio, but I wouldn’t be surprised. Maybe this behavior is somehow more objectionable in the Venetian setting than historic cities inland, but that makes no sense.

Clearly these tourists are not visiting irreplaceable cities with incalculable value in the history of the world.  They are on vacation and aren’t at home, their parents are nowhere to be seen and they can drink all they want to.  Even if these tourists were in Ulaanbaatar or Rancho Cucamonga, I would be willing to bet they’d be drinking and doing stupid things.  As for loutish tourists who are adults, I cannot find any excuse for them.  At all. If you don’t know that walking around half-naked and leaving your trash on windowsills is ugly, I can’t help you.

The most obvious solution would be to turn Venice into Singapore-on-the-lagoon.  Let’s place five policemen with truncheons on every corner (hm — how many corners does Venice have? That would be a research project for the next time we’re snowed in). No disrespect meant to Singapore.

But even if all those policemen were to exist, which they don’t, the city is not capable of or interested in dealing with these masses of tourists, regardless of age.  Stories written in high dudgeon come out every single year about the slobs and their antics, but by that time it’s too late.

There have occasionally been neatly dressed squads of multilingual young people — the “decorum” agents —  fanning out around the Piazza San Marco to intervene in cases of nasty and brutish behavior.  But this year they only began their work a few days ago.  We’ve already had two full months of summer and you wait till August to bring them on?  That’s kind of crazy.

There is either a short or a very long story behind the disposition of this wedding festoon, whoever did it.

My second point is that “tourists” is too general a term to be useful. Sure there are plenty of revolting ones, but I see a good number of tourists in via Garibaldi who have undoubtedly come to see the Biennale, and many of them are dressed really well.  Some of them really well.  I like them, so I guess that means they don’t count as “tourists” in the New York Times sense.  And, may I also say, I see plenty of Venetian men and boys (also girls and women, to be fair) in the summer in our zone that look and dress like they’ve just been rescued from the rubble — the same scuzzy tank tops and skeezy shorts and crappy crocs and everything else that makes those terrible tourists so objectionable.  But that’s okay because they’re Us and not Them? Just asking.

What about the tourists who do not mill around in massive droves and provide dramatic photos that make the world shudder, but who stand on the vaporetto dock smack-dab in front of the exit area, making it impossible for all the people on the boat who want to disembark to actually get off? Can we get policemen to deal with them?   Or the suddenly oblivious tourists in the supermarket who leave their just-emptied shopping trolley literally at your feet at the check-out counter?  Do they do that back home in Braunschweig or Rostov-on-Don, or is it just that old Venetian magic that makes them act like they’ve never been out of the house?  Let’s get policemen to deal with them too! My point is that if everybody who comes here wants to behave as if they’d never heard of common sense, much less minimal manners, how many policemen will we need?  And the real question, which will never be answered, is why do they act that way?

On the other hand, let’s look for a minute at the much-maligned day-trippers, who I see at 4:30 PM along the Riva degli Schivoni, huddled, sweating, exhausted, waiting to board the big launch back to wherever they came from, scrunched onto church steps in order to sit for a minute or clustered in nearby calli where they can have at least a shard of shade.  There are plenty of tourists here that I feel really sorry for, because basically the city has given them a jumbo-sized “Just suck it up!”

I act like I’ve read the article, but I just skimmed it with half-closed eyes because these articles are always sprinkled with misstatements and half-truths, and drone on about the same problems which are never resolved, thereby rendering the droning pretty much useless.  One such half- (actually quarter-) truth is found in the caption of the Times’s photo showing the young woman with the police.  It states with refreshing fervor that the feast of the Redentore is “one weekend of the year when Venetians take back their city.”  Well, not really.  Before a journalist starts patting the Venetians on the back for somehow briefly escaping the clutches of all those tourists, he or she should know that about 90 percent of the festivizers are not Venetian.

Nope, sorry.  They might be Italian, and many are from the Veneto, but they’re still tourists; some come up the lagoon from Pellestrina and Chioggia in their big fishing boats, but most of the big motorboats are carrying people from the hinterland who come down the rivers from Padova and Treviso and all around the lagoon but who are definitely not Venetians.

Furthermore, the past few years has seen a terrific increase in enormous party boats which provide the ride, dinner, and deafening disco music to hundreds of passengers.  I don’t know who they are, but I’m pretty sure they’re not Venetians.  Some dauntless Venetians are still willing to risk their lives in their smaller boats, with or without motors, because it’s lovely to float around for the fireworks, but they know that after the grand finale this flotilla of hundreds-of-horsepower motorboats of all sizes will head out at high speed, in the dark, driven by people who have been drinking who pretty much don’t know the area.

Excuse me for going on about this, but that photo caption needed correction. In our neighborhood, and at Sant’ Elena, many Venetians now eat the Redentore dinner at home, or on tables set up outside, then watch the fireworks from the fondamenta.  I don’t think that qualifies as “taking back” their city.  We used to love to go out in our boat, but we can’t anymore because we want to survive the night which has been taken away from us by non-Venetians.  And by the look of it, it’s never coming back. Who am I supposed to blame this time?

So people want to come to Venice? They can’t all be crazy.

 

Categories : Tourism in Venice
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Apr
15

Just something to think about

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This is the snap I made which gave the lady to suppose that I was a tourist. But wait -- she then proceeded to complain that there are too many tourists? Was she referring to me? I totally missed that.

This is the snap I made which gave the lady to suppose that I was a tourist. But wait — she then proceeded to complain that there are too many tourists? Was she referring to me? I totally missed that.

Talking about tourism in Venice is like talking about altitude sickness on Kilimanjaro.  I speak from experience, as you know.

Both phenomena can be extreme, disagreeable, and unavoidable.  (Well, altitude sickness is avoidable, theoretically, if you have enough time to acclimate yourself.)  I haven’t discovered a way to acclimate to tourism here, at the point it has reached, except by avoidance.  Which is like solving altitude sickness by not climbing the mountain.  No taking the vaporetto on the Grand Canal on Sunday afternoon, for example.  No Piazza San Marco pretty much ever until winter.

But yesterday morning at the Rialto Market vaporetto stop I had a useful exchange of views with a heftily-middle-aged German lady. (Useful to me; she was untouched by the experience.)

So we’re standing on the dock, as I said.  I snap a photo of some people I know from the rowing section of the Railway Employees’ Afterwork Club, as they rowed their gondola downstream. They were followed by a caorlina from another club.  I didn’t raise my camera.

She speaks: “Don’t you want to take a picture of them?”

I reply: “No, I was just taking a picture of the other people because I know them.”

“Are they training for something?”

“No, they’re just out for a spin in the morning.  It’s something people in the boat clubs like to do.”

“Well, I’ve never seen them and I’ve been to Venice many times.”

“Oh.  That’s odd.”

A pause.

“So you live here?”

“Yes I do.”

“HOW do you STAND IT with all the TOURISTS?”

IMG_1387 blog german woman tourists

Certainly the number of people in town — especially the Piazza San Marco — exceeds the maximum capacity allowed by any fire department you can name. But how do we decide who gets to stay and who gets sent home? Is Venice going to become some demented reality show, like “Survivor”? Now that I think about it, it kind of already is.  What’s missing are qualified judges.

I could tell — as perhaps you can too — that she wasn’t asking because she wanted to know. She wasn’t asking, actually.  She was announcing her opinion on what it would be like to live here, and clearly it would be worse than five forevers in Hades.  But I decided to go with it for a while, just to see where we might end up.

“Well, every place has its positive and negative aspects,” I said.  (Aren’t you proud of me for being so tactful?)  “If there is a perfect place on earth, please tell me where it is, and I’ll go there immediately.”

But she was not to be pried loose from the subject of all the TOURISTS.  Though now that I think of it, I should have asked her which corner of paradise she comes from.

“I’ve always come to Venice in the WINTER when there is NOBODY.  I went to (I can’t remember where) in the winter and there was NOBODY.  It was WONDERFUL.  I don’t LIKE people.”  Something in her voice made me picture a scene of utter desolation in which she, rejoicing, wandered solitarily through deserted streets as the evening shadows thickened over the stiffening corpse of a large rat in the main square.

Perhaps this is the lady's ideal view of Venice, or will be, just as soon as the two annoying people in the distance are eliminated.

Perhaps this is the lady’s ideal view of Venice, or will be, just as soon as those two annoying people in the distance are eliminated.

“So why did you come in April?” (The obvious question.)

“Oh, I’m on a CRUISE.”  As if this made her presence on the dock at the market inevitable.  Do they drive people off the ship with whips?  And I suppose she had examined the itinerary, hence was not taken by surprise to find herself in VENICE.  But I didn’t reach for any of these flapping loose ends.

Our vaporetto was pulling up to the dock.  “I hope you enjoy your cruise,” I said.  She didn’t reply but I had the impression she was already doubting that that would be likely.

As I thought back over this very unsatisfactory conversation, I realized that I had missed my chance to throw her to the mat and painfully pin her, even if she did weigh twice as much as me.

It would have been easy.  All I needed to do was to say, ” If tourists annoy you, what are you doing here? Because you’re just as much a tourist as the rest of them.  Maybe you’re annoying everybody else.  So why don’t you get the ball rolling by going away?”

I know that Lino would have put it more succinctly; he’d have said “So go home already.”  But that lacks the philosophical twist that interested me.

Who gets to decide who should be allowed to be a tourist in Venice?  They’re irritating because they’re here?  You’re here too.

As Stanislaw Lec observed,  “No snowflake in an avalanche feels responsible.”

Foggy thinking doesn't help you understand anything.

Foggy thinking doesn’t help you understand anything.  Though if you’re lucky you might sound poetic, instead of merely incoherent.

 

Categories : Tourism
Comments (19)
Sep
22

Be still, my heart

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Wait, it gets better below. But the scene was beautiful even when we weren't moving.

Wait, it gets better (video clips below). But the scene was beautiful even when we weren’t moving.

Sunday evening at 7:25 PM the Piazza San Marco suddenly came alight in the most extraordinary way.  It pulsated, briefly and gloriously, with hundreds (900, if all the people who signed up actually came) of flashlights which, taken together, formed the shape of a heart.

Yes, “Venezia Rivelata” has struck again.

We all remember what fun it was to make a “bocolo” on the feast of San Marco, 2014, and this time the organizers/artists/fantasizers had designed something bigger, more complicated, and also much more spectacular.

The event was the 12th and last in a series created by Alberto Toso Fei and performance artist Elena Tagliapietra.  Not every program was so vivid; some were lectures and — to be frank — weren’t all equally publicized, as far as I could tell.  Not that I’d have attended them all.  I just want to point out that there was in fact a major scheme to all this, the scheme being to focus each time on a particular aspect of Venetian history.  And why do this?  To bring Venetians to a sense of reclaiming their city, in an emotional if not actual way.  (It’s all explained on the press release below.)

Here is the design with the numbered sections. Very useful, like a list of the assigned places at a wedding reception.

The theme on Sunday night was “Venice and Justice,” which is a topic well worth bringing forward, and not because the two terms seem to have become, if we read the newspapers, virtual antonyms.  Wait, that isn’t fair.  There is justice — in Italy at large, no need to concentrate on Venice alone —  but it moves at the pace of a dying diplodocus struggling in a tar pit, and the results are often what might be called debatable.  Slow, in any case.

But in the great trajectory of history, Venice often showed herself to be a dazzling innovator — technical, commercial, conceptual, legal — passing laws most of which probably wouldn’t have seemed like a good idea to anyone but the Venetians.  To take an example at random, Venice was the first nation in the world to abolish the slave trade (960 AD).  Venice invented the copyright, to protect intellectual property (their merchant instincts didn’t stop at the merely tangible).  Venice passed laws to protect the rights of women, and of children.  Not made up.

Speaking of laws, how about this idea: “The law is equal for everyone,” which is inscribed in big letters on the wall behind every judge’s bench in the land.  It can’t be confirmed where this dictum came from, but the Venetians followed it in spirit if not in phrase.  For many centuries they were arguably the only people in Europe (and the world?) who didn’t subscribe to the idea that the bigger and richer you were, the more the law was supposed to work for you.  If you bothered with the law at all.

The fact that Venice regarded the law as sovereign was never so bitterly and clearly shown than in the agonizing story of Jacopo Foscari, the only surviving son of doge Francesco Foscari (doge from 1423 to 1457).  Jacopo was found to be accepting money from a foreign power; he was tried and exiled.  More skulduggery, more trials, more exile — three times, each sentence confirmed by his father.  I submit that the average criminal whose father was the head of state (or, if you like, the average head of state with an incorrigible child) would have used whatever power was necessary to get the laddie off the hook.  Here, no.  The laddie died in exile.

The weather was superb; I think the sign-in people might even have been sweating, while keeping an eye on the boxes of umbrellas. Things like those can easily grow legs.

The weather was superb; I think the sign-in people might even have been sweating, while keeping an eye on the boxes of umbrellas. Things like those can easily grow legs.  Each participant was given one, because at a certain moment we were all to be ordered to open the umbrella and shine our flashlight upward under it.  And we all had to be dressed in as much white as we could muster, including a hat, if possible.  I wore Lino’s “dixie cup” sailor’s cap.

Toso Fei reports that the following inscription (translated by me) was carved, in Latin, over the entry door of the avogaria of the Doge’s Palace; the avogaria was an ancient magistracy composed of three men who upheld the principle of legality, that is, the correct application of the laws.  That such a body even existed was extraordinary — perhaps, in the 12th century, even revolutionary.

PRIMA DI OGNI COSA INDAGATE SEMPRE SCRUPOLOSAMENTE, PER STABILIRE LA VERITÀ CON GIUSTIZIA E CHIAREZZA.  NON CONDANNATE NESSUNO, SE NON DOPO UN GIUDIZIO SINCERO E GIUSTO.  NON GIUDICATE NESSUNO IN BASE A SOSPETTI, MA RICERCATE LE PROVE E, ALLA FINE, PRONUNCIATE UNA SENTENZA PIETOSA.  NON FATE AGLI ALTRI QUEL CHE NON VORRESTE FOSSE FATTO A VOI.

BEFORE ANY OTHER THING, ALWAYS INVESTIGATE SCRUPULOUSLY TO ESTABLISH THE TRUTH WITH JUSTICE AND CLARITY.  DO NOT CONDEMN ANYONE IF NOT ACCORDING TO A SINCERE AND JUST JUDGMENT.  DO NOT JUDGE ANYONE ON THE BASIS OF SUSPICIONS, BUT SEEK THE EVIDENCE AND, AT THE END, PRONOUNCE A COMPASSIONATE SENTENCE.  DO NOT DO TO OTHERS WHAT YOU WOULD NOT HAVE DONE TO YOU.

I think they stole that last idea from somewhere.

So: Beating heart.  What better to represent everything good — not only laws fairly and scrupulously applied — but life, period?  That was our assignment.

The result was beyond dazzling.

Hats off to everybody involved, right down to the policemen who kept the spectators at bay.  And thanks for the umbrella, too.

Facepainters were decorating whoever was willing.

Facepainters were decorating whoever was willing.  All dressed in white, we  looked like a regiment of ice-cream vendors.

Being painted seemed to be something the women were more drawn to, though there might have been a man somewhere who got himself hearted.

Being painted seemed to be something the women were more drawn to, though there might have been a man somewhere who got himself hearted.

Your correspondent.

Your correspondent.

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Untold miles of masking tape had been applied to the Piazza to lay out the positions of the participants, at a width of roughly two people. I was in Number 7.

Untold miles of masking tape had been applied to the Piazza to lay out the positions of the participants, at a width of roughly two people. I was in section 7.

Dry run on holding up our flashlights, all facing toward the campanile of San Marco.

Dry run on holding up our flashlights, all facing toward the campanile of San Marco.

And a few dry runs on opening the umbrellas, and shine our flashlights under them.

And a few dry runs on opening the umbrellas, and shining our flashlights under them.  We on the outside were told to hold the umbrella in the left hand and the flashlight in the right — I still don’t understand the point of that.  The people on the squiggly center lines clearly had other instructions.  Or none.

Dancers were milling around in small bands, all dresses in white except for the two stars who just stood around for a while crunching their feet.

Dancers were milling around in small bands, all dressed in white except for two stars who just stood around for a while crunching their feet.

Another wandering star. I understand that her leotard, etc. may require concealment till show time, but she did look like someone going from one treatment to another at the spa.

Another wandering star. I understand that her leotard, etc. may require concealment till show time, but she did look like someone going from one treatment to another at the spa.

For about 45 minutes before the heart lit up, we were favored by a series of dance performances by five different groups. I didn't shoot most of them because they didn't inspire me (yes, I need inspiration), but I began to realize that it was a very intelligent way to program the event for the participants. We had been asked to show up an hour and a half before H-hour, and that time can really drag no matter how willing you are to shine your flashlight around. This dancer did a lovely routine with a huge fan.

For about 45 minutes before the heart lit up, we were favored by a series of dance performances by five different groups. I didn’t shoot most of them because they didn’t inspire me (yes, I need inspiration), but I began to realize that it was a very intelligent way to program the event for the participants. We had been asked to show up an hour and a half before H-hour, and that time can really drag no matter how willing you are to shine your flashlight around. This dancer did a lovely routine with a huge fan.

Her fan and bodytard (or whatever it's called) were color-coordinated: dark on one side, light on the other, like a turbot or a brill or a sole.

Her fan and bodytard (or whatever it’s called) were color-coordinated: dark on one side, light on the other, like a brill or a sole.

These are brill ("rombo" in the fish market).  As you see, one side light and one dark.  The dark side is up as they swim, the notion being that  the a predator from above will have difficulty seeing it because the dark fish will blend with the darkness below it, looking down.  Similarly, a predator from below would have trouble distinguishing the fish because the light side would be seen against the light filtering down from the surface.  I don't know anything about the purposes of the girl's camouflage, though.

These are brill (“rombo” in the fish market). As you see, one side light and one dark. The dark side is up as they swim, the notion being that the a predator looking down from above will have difficulty seeing it because the dark fish will blend with the darkness below it.  Similarly, a predator from below looking up would have trouble distinguishing the fish because the light side would be seen against the light filtering down from the surface. I don’t know anything about the purposes of the girl’s camouflage, though.

Same for sole.  When you've got a good idea, stick with it.

Same for sole. When you’ve got a good idea, stick with it.

This lovely girl then performed what I think of as Salome's Dance of the One Veil.

The spa-girl then performed what I think of as Salome’s Dance of the One Veil.

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Then followed a routine which seemed less a dance and more a gymnastic exhibition (I realize the line between the two may be vague). The red panel seemed to be the star, though the man was pretty impressive.

Then followed a routine which seemed less a dance and more a gymnastic exhibition (I realize the line between the two may be vague). The red panel seemed to be the star, though the man was pretty impressive.  I kept waiting for him to do the Thomas Flair, but no.

He had to be supporting the panel and a girl instead.

He had to be supporting the panel and a girl instead.  There was another routine after this, but let’s move on because sunset it now at its perfect point and we have to cue the flashlights!

Show time! The lights in the Piazza have just been turned on, and our first command to turn on the flashlights has been given. Have to stop shooting now, got to get busy.

Show time! The lights in the Piazza have just been turned on, and our first command to turn on the flashlights has been given. Have to stop shooting now, got to get busy. But what followed was a series of commands: shine the flashlight straight at the campanile and hold still, then wiggle the flashlight for a while, then shine it under your open umbrella, then run around inside the heart with your shining umbrella as fast as you can.  At street level, extremely strange.  But the result?  Wahoo!

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And so it was twilight in the Piazza. Time to take my umbrella and go home.

 

Categories : Venetian Events
Comments (5)
Apr
25

70 years free

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Every year the city places laurel wreaths at the most important patriotic monuments. The most elaborate one, with an aureole of palm, is placed at the tomb of Daniele Manin.

Every year the city places laurel wreaths at the most important patriotic monuments. The most elaborate one, with an aureole of palm, is placed at the tomb of Daniele Manin.

April 25, as I have reported on other occasions, is a double holiday in Venice: The anniversary of the liberation of Italy after World War II (this year marking the 70th milestone), and the feast day of San Marco, the city’s patron saint.

And gentlemen must acquire a long-stemmed red rose (the "bocolo," in Venetian) to bestow on their lady love(s).  Here, gondolier Marco Farnea buys two -- one for his wife, the other for his gondola.  It's an extra-festive occasion, too, considering it's his name-day.

And gentlemen must acquire a long-stemmed red rose (the “bocolo,” in Venetian) to bestow on their lady love(s). Here, gondolier Marco Farnea buys two — one for his wife, the other for his gondola. It’s an extra-festive occasion, too, because it’s his name-day.

Either of those facts deserves reams, and reams are ready and waiting, thanks to phalanxes of historians.

I simply want to keep the world apprised — yes, I modestly claim to keep the WORLD apprised — of a date that deserves remembering.  And here, it’s remembered twice.

First, the roses:

Marco pushes off with the next boatload of clients, the two roses lying at his feet.

A quartet of firemen leaving the ceremony of the flag-raising in the Piazza -- one is already armed with his rose.

A quartet of firemen leaving the ceremony of the flag-raising in the Piazza — one is already armed with his rose.

The Red Cross sells the roses at a booth in the Piazza (as well as sending volunteers around). All for a good cause.

The Red Cross sells the roses at a booth in the Piazza (as well as sending volunteers around).  All for a good cause.

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Independent rose sellers are all over our neighborhood all day. They sell mimosa on International Woman’s Day and umbrellas when it’s raining.

Yes, National Liberation Day is important, but this Venetian store makes it clear that tomorrow it will be closed because it's San Marco's day.

Yes, National Liberation Day is important, but this Venetian store makes it clear that tomorrow it will be closed because it’s San Marco’s day.  Any other reason is just extra.

Someone placed a bocolo on St. Paul's altar in the basilica of San Marco. I'm baffled, but I'm still glad to see it there. And no, you're not supposed to take pictures in the basilica. I'll never do it again.

Someone placed a bocolo on St. Paul’s altar in the basilica of San Marco. I’m baffled, but I’m still glad to see it there. And no, you’re not supposed to take pictures in the basilica. I’ll never do it again.

And second, the liberation itself, as seen in Venice.

The arrival of the American troops in Piazzale Roma on April 29, 1945.  Lino remembers running there with his friends, everyone was saying "The Americans are here."  He asked for chewing gum, like all the other children, and he got it, too.

The arrival of the Allied troops in Piazzale Roma on April 29, 1945. Lino remembers that everyone was saying “The Americans are here!”  He ran with his friends to see them, and they all asked for chewing gum, and they got it, too.

 

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