Archive for plague

Jan
28

Perusing Venice

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One of several reasons why there has been a lapse in my postings is that there is an atmosphere of lethargy in the city which translates into “not very much to write about.”

Of course there’s always plenty if one wants either to dig far enough, or continue blotting the spindrift from the waves of unsolved, or unsolvable, problems.  But since the city government collapsed in a heap last June, the many problems which continue to afflict the city are almost always reduced to “Money, lack of.”  And writing about Money, lack of is not only monotonous, but also pointless.  And depressing.

Of course, “no ghe xe schei” has been the convenient phrase inserted into every situation for years, even when there was money; it was an excuse which the city administrators could turn on and off at will, as if it were the radio.  Then we discovered that there really wasn’t any money anymore, because it had been given to most of the participants of the MOSE project. You know that sound when you’re sucking on a straw to get the last drops of your drink?  The silence I’m referring to is the sound of ever-longer pauses between the municipal mouth and the municipal funds.  Not many drops left, but if you stop sucking it means you’ve given up, and we can’t have that.

Apart from what it signified, I’ve enjoyed this somnolent January.  We’ve had beautiful weather, and very few tourists.  But now that Carnival is bearing down upon us (Jan. 31 – Feb. 17), that’s about to change.  Thirty days of tranquillity isn’t enough, but it’s all we get.

The tranquillity induced us to take a few uncharacteristic aimless strolls.  You know, like tourists do, and this confirmed what tourists know, which is how lovely it is to wander and what interesting discoveries you make in the process.

Here, in no particular order, is a small, confetti-like scattering of what I’ve seen recently.

Between a small, unremarkable side street, which leads to essentially nowhere, we came upon this remarkable neighborhood shrine stretching beneath a house....

On a small, unremarkable side street which leads to essentially nowhere, we came upon this very remarkable neighborhood sotoportego which local piety had turned into a shrine.  The inscription over the doorway explains everything…

It says:

It says: “Most holy Virgin Mary of Health, who repeatedly preserved immune from the dominating mortality the inhabitants of this Corte Nuova especially in the years 1630 – 36 – 1849 – 55 (NOTE: FIRST TWO DATES ARE PLAGUE, SECOND TWO DATES ARE CHOLERA) and from the bombs of the enemy airplanes 1917 – 18 Benevolently accept their grateful vows and the vows of all of this parish Deign to extend your protection which we trustingly implore on all your devout followers (word obscured by underbrush is “devoti”  — thanks to reader Albert Hickson who saw it before the bush began to grow).

Two impressive capitelli, or small altars, survive, but several large empty spaces hint that they might once also have supported more. Naturally even here we find the inevitable graffiti, which if it could be deciphered almost certainly would not be of a sacred, or grateful, nature.

Two impressive capitelli, or small altars, survive, but several large empty spaces hint that they might once also have supported more. Even here we find the inevitable graffiti, which if it could be deciphered almost certainly would not be of a sacred, or grateful, nature.

If you have ever walked along the Fondamenta dell'Osmarin between Campo San Provolo and the Ponte dei Greci, you may well have noticed this tablet.  It represents San Lorenzo (St. Lawrence), for whom the nearby fondamenta, former church and current home for the elderly are named. How do I know this (other than having found the information in a book)?  It's because -- according to the custom of depicting a saint with the instrument of his/her/their martyrdom -- here we clearly have a man holding a grate, and we all know that San Lorenzo was grilled to death like a steak on the barbie.

If you have ever walked along the Fondamenta dell’Osmarin between Campo San Provolo and the Ponte dei Greci, you may well have noticed this tablet. It represents San Lorenzo, for whom the nearby fondamenta, former church and current home for the elderly are named. How do I know this (other than having found the information in a book)? It’s because — according to the custom of depicting a saint with the instrument of his/her/their martyrdom — here we clearly have a man holding a grate, and we all know that San Lorenzo was grilled to death like a steak on the barbie.

For anyone curious about the chalice he is holding in his right hand (which looks oddly like a crescent, but it may be just the optical effect), legend maintains that he was able to spirit away the Holy Grail to Spain, and it is now venerated in the cathedral of Valencia.

For anyone curious about the chalice he is holding in his right hand (which looks oddly like a crescent, but it may be just the optical effect), legend maintains that he was able to spirit away the Holy Grail to Spain, and it is now venerated in the cathedral of Valencia.

There is a long brick wall fronting the canal of the Arsenale, which faces the wooden bridge at the Arsenal entrance. The imposing marble sculpture is one thing which you can admire, or not, as you choose.  But the little bronze plaque beside it has been defeated by time and by being placed so high that you can't read it anyway.  But I have persevered, and while it doesn't contain the secret to turning straw into gold, it's worth revealing what seemed so important at the time.

There is a longish brick wall fronting the canal of the Arsenal, which faces the wooden bridge at the Arsenal entrance. This imposing marble sculpture is one thing which you can easily admire, or not, as you choose. But the little bronze plaque to the viewer’s left has been defeated by time and by being placed so high that you can’t read it anyway. But I have persevered, and while it doesn’t contain the secret to turning straw into gold, it’s worth revealing what seemed so important at the time.

This is my translation: "On the VI centenary of the death of Dante Alighieri the Naval Commandant of Venice, Admiral G. Pepe, restored and beautified the entrance facade of the Arsenal.  On that occasion the marble monument of the XVI century, placed here at the side,  which after many transfers found itself incomplete and defaced on the crumbling wall of the old workshop was restored and completed and transferred to the public view.  Venice September 1921.  Of course a noble work like this would be hard to accomplish today, seeing that there is no money.

This is my translation: “On the VI centenary of the death of Dante Alighieri the Naval Commandant of Venice, Admiral G. Pepe, restored and beautified the entrance facade of the Arsenal. On that occasion the marble monument of the XVI century, placed here at the side, which after many transfers found itself incomplete and defaced on the crumbling wall of the old workshop was restored and completed and transferred to the public view. Venice September 1921.” Of course a noble work like this would be hard to accomplish today, seeing that there is no money.

Enough exploration.  Carnival begins on Saturday and my friend, Dino, who is a retired baker, makes the most divine fritole on this mortal earth.  He gave us eight, just out of the vat.  They are smaller and lighter than the bocce balls sold as fritole in the pastry shops.  These are little candied sugared slightly greasy clouds.  I wait all year for these things and they are among the few things that make Carnival worthwhile.  Sorry, they're all gone now.

Enough exploration. Carnival begins on Saturday and my friend, Dino, who is a retired baker, makes the most divine fritole on this mortal earth. He gave us eight, just out of the vat. They are smaller and lighter than the bocce balls sold as fritole in the pastry shops. These are little candied sugared slightly greasy clouds. I wait all year for these works of art and they are among the few things that make Carnival worthwhile. Sorry, they’re all gone now.

 

This is what was floating by the dock at the Giardini: a television.  But that's not the really funny part.  What baffles me isn't that somebody threw it into the water -- we all know how that goes -- but that it has floated here in this exact spot for more than 24 hours.  Have the tides gone on strike?

This is what was floating by the dock at the Giardini: a television. But that’s not the really funny part. What baffles me isn’t that somebody threw it into the water — we all know how that goes — but that it has floated here in this exact spot for more than 24 hours. Have the tides gone on strike?

Categories : History
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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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Jan
31

Expressing yourself

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If you look carefully, you'll see that almost every color in this scene is some shade of grey.  That's nuance.

Nuances — I love them, whether they’re in colors or in words. If you look carefully, you’ll see that almost every color in this scene is some shade of grey.

Being a word person, and having a daily need to understand what’s being said around, or to, me, and also having a need occasionally to communicate some fact or feeling of my own, it’s to be expected that I’d be listening pretty much all the time to the wonders of the Venetian language.  Which, as you know by now, is what I mostly hear spoken around the neighborhood (as opposed to Italian), and which is a wizard’s trove of phrases and terms that are utterly Venetian.

I’m not saying that similar expressions might not be heard (with different accents and spelling) elsewhere in Italy — certainly the concepts are universal. But there are so many Venetian ways of putting things which are perfect for the thing described that I sometimes struggle to recall what might correspond to them in English.  Or even in the language of the divine Dante, which is something the let’s-rewrite-the-nizioleti squad quickly discovered. Certain things only work in Venetian.

These phrases express myriad nuances of  human behavior, in terms which are often intricately bound to what was, at one time, the ordinary stuff of everyday life here.

Here are a few of the more common ones, which I, or somebody, is almost certain to use in the course of a normal day, or couple of days:

The death of Ganelon.  Little did he dream that his fame would live on in Venice for a millennium and more.

The death of Ganelon. Little did he dream that his infamy would live on in Venice for a millennium and more. (The Roland Tapestry, projet-roland.d-t-x.com/pages/pagesGB/01prefaceA.html)

Magansese (mah-gan-SEH-zeh): This is my latest discovery and it’s a beaut.  It means “two-faced,” “treacherous,” “dangerously, unscrupulously untrustworthy.”  There is a lighter expression which you might use more commonly, which is to call someone “una bandiera di ogni vento” — a flag of every wind — a person who goes whichever way the wind, public opinion, fashion, happens to be blowing.

But to call someone magansese is bigger and darker, and it comes from a certain malefactor of the Middle Ages, no less, known in Italian as Gano de Maganza, or Gano from Mainz.  In English, he’s known as Ganelon.  He betrayed Charlemagne to the Muslims in 778, which is taking etymology, not to mention vituperation, back a breathtaking distance. (The whole story is recounted in the Chanson de Roland, which I know you remember because of all those Chanson de Roland bubblegum cards you collected when you were a kid.)

A traitor, in a word.  A fatal, scheming, hideous traitor.  One that died more than a thousand years ago. Just think — a person so bad that even when everybody’s forgotten who he was, the stench of his villainy lives on, perpetuated by everyday folks needing the perfect word to vilify their so-called friends.

If there’s more than one — they sometimes travel in packs — the plural is magansesi.

"Tarring the Boat," by Edouard Manet (1873).  (The Barnes Foundation).  If you've gotten yourself impegola'd in some situation, this is what you feel like -- one hopes without the fire.

“Tarring the Boat,” by Edouard Manet (1873). (The Barnes Foundation). If you’ve gotten yourself impegola’d in some situation, this is what you feel like — one hopes without the fire.

Impegola‘ (im-peg-oh-AH): It’s a verb form taken from pegola, or pitch. To say that you find yourself “pitched” doesn’t mean you’ve been blackened, nor that you’re in danger of having feathers stuck all over you and then be run out of town.

You would say that you’re impegola’ (or impegolada, if a woman) when you realize that you’ve gotten yourself involved in something that’s awkward or unpleasant in some unanticipated way, but that you would find awkward or unpleasant to get out of.  Stuck, in a word, just as pitch was mixed with tar to waterproof all those thousands of wooden ships that kept the Serenissima in the game.  Stuck in a particularly tenacious way which makes you discontented.  “I offered to give her little boy a few English lessons for a week and now I’m impegola’ with his whole class every day for a month.”

You could also say that somebody else has impegola’d you.  In any case, you’re stuck and you’ll have to find a way out on your own.

Cascar in covolo (cas-CAR in co-VOH-yo).  Fall into a trap.  Not a huge, menacing trap, probably, but if you’ve experienced this you’ve been tricked, shnookered, a little bit hoodwinked.  You can do it to somebody else, too — make them fall into a covolo.

You can arrange your nets in a number of ingenious ways, but the endgame is always the same.: being funneled into the covolo. ("La Pesca nell Laguna di Venezia, " 1981).

You can arrange your nets in a number of ingenious ways, but the endgame is always the same: being funneled into the covolo. (“La Pesca nella Laguna di Venezia, ” 1981).

The “covolo” is a neat tubular construction for accumulating the fish which have let themselves be induced to swim along a stretch of net which you have tied to poles, only to discover that they have obliviously swum into a container you attached to the last pole, from which there is no way out.

This covolo has certainly carried many fish to their destiny, but here it's been decorated more cheerfully for Christmas.  Maybe these are the spirits of the fish. In any case, you can see how the entrance makes it impossible to exit.

This covolo has certainly carried many fish to their destiny, but here it’s been decorated more cheerfully for Christmas. Maybe these are the spirits of the fish. In any case, you can see how the entrance (on the bottom) makes it impossible to exit.

If you have fallen into somebody’s covolo, they’ve tricked you in some way.  It could be a practical joke, or a neat way of getting you to agree to do something before you realize what’s going on. You in turn could induce somebody to fall into a covolo.  It doesn’t have to be serious or life-threatening.  But once the falling-into-it has occurred, it can take some doing to get out. If you agree to the phone company’s too-good-to-be-true sales pitch without reading the fine print, you may well discover you’ve fallen into their covolo, along with a batch of other fish.

Far gagiolo (far ga-JYOH-yo).  To “do” or “be” or “behave as” gagiolo. This is what someone does who is trying to pull a fast one.  (Not to be confused with making you fall into the covolo. Just go with it.)

Somebody of whatever age who attempts some nifty little gag which ought to succeed because of its unexpectedness, or its audacity, or just plain luck, is trying to do a gagiolo. When it works, people may smile. When it fails, people may still smile, but sardonically.  When the jig is up on some piece of reckless chutzpah, someone might say “Wow, you really thought you could do a gagiolo.”

A clunky example might be the person who gets his buddy to punch his time card so that he (person A) can quit work early.

Or better yet, the kid who says the dog ate his homework, and even brings his dog to class hoping to convince the teacher that its evident gastrointestinal distress is the result of ingesting five pages of algebra. Doing a gagiolo doesn’t depend on whether it succeeds; it’s enough to have tried. But you don’t get extra points if you succeed, either.  The tinge of shiftiness will discolor any triumph you might be inclined to enjoy.

But wait, I hear you cry.  What, or who, is a gagiolo?  I can answer that.  I have discovered that it was the name of the pirate who swooped down (along with his men) in the year 973 and stole the girls from the church of San Pietro di Castello in mid-ceremony.  This is a swashbuckling tale with a happy ending for the Venetians, whose rapid pursuit succeeded in retrieving the girls, along with their jewelry, and their virtue (I think).  And it was the beginning of the “Festa de le Marie,” which was celebrated on February 2 every year thereafter until 1379.

Seeing that Venice had so brilliantly out-swashbuckled Gagiolo and his henchpirates, it’s only natural that he would have become a byword, one intended to be pronounced with the tiniest bit of a sneer. Venetians are still dissing him 13 centuries later.

These are some musettos ("musetti") in the butchershop window.  Alberto has written that they are petaisso, intending it as an irresistible appeal.  Better musettos than people, I always say.

These are four perfect musettos (“musetti”) in the butchershop window. Alberto has written that they are “lean and petaissi,” intending it to sound like the two things on earth that you can’t resist. Better musettos should be petaissi than people, I always say.

Petaizzo (pet-ah-EE-so). Sticky, in a gummy sort of way.  If you make meatloaf and mix the meat and egg and other ingredients with your hands, the material has become petaizzo.  So have your hands.

What use could this word have? Well, the butcher on the fondamenta has a sign in his window that advertises his musetto, whose quality is evidently superior because they’re said to be “petaissi.”  Kind of gluey, due to the pork skin mixed into it, which is claimed to be part of its appeal.

Other things can be described as petaizzo — maybe the viscid pavement after the acqua alta recedes, for example. But its ideal use is to describe a certain sort of person, or behavior. It’s basically when you overdo being nice, or complimentary, or helpful — to the extent that you either make the other person uncomfortable or you embarrass yourself.  Writing a thank-you note that is just a little bit too grateful or appreciative could be a small example of being petaizzo; or writing a note that’s just fine, but then following it up with a present.  And then following it up with a phone call.

Petaizzo behavior is at its worst when it is seeking, or disseminating, gossip.  A person can be petaizzo when she just has to find out that last little bit about why you came back early from vacation, and when she has to share this information with all sorts of other people.  It’s not merely that she’s a gossip — a petaizzo is a sticky sort of gossip that you can’t get off your hands, just like the raw meatloaf.

I suppose men could sometimes be petaizzo, but they have a smaller repertoire.  I don’t think they care about clothes, children, or boyfriends, but you could find yourself stuck with a man who wants to tell you every intimate detail about his last blood test and his prostate.  Some men of a certain age seem to be convinced that this is important information which is desperately sought by their victim. And they become just as petaizzo as a musetto about it.

Impesta’ (im-peh-STA).  In Italian, the plague is la peste.  As you know, it was a catastrophically fatal and contagious disease that devastated much of Europe in various periods, and Venice was no exception.  To call someone “impesta'” is an ugly thing indeed; it not only means that in your opinion the person is already afflicted (ghastly) with the plague but is probably spreading it (even worse).  You wouldn’t say it to someone’s face but you might be driven to say it about them.  “This impesta’ never answers my phone call when he sees its my number, he’s been avoiding me for a week because he owes me money.”  You should be really angry or exasperated to say it, and it’s never used in a humorous or affectionate backhanded way, like some other denigratory words.

You might also hear someone say that someone is “Brutto/a come la peste” — as ugly as the plague.  No laughing matter, around here. I recommend that you avoid trying these words out, they could really backfire.

In some people's mouths, these never stop clacking.

In some people’s mouths, these never stop clacking.

Sbatola (z-BAH-toe-a).  I truly love this one.  I can’t decline it for you, but “sbattere” is a verb which means “beat” or “bang”, the go-to word for the racket made by unsecured shutters in the wind, or a desperate person at your front door at midnight as the posse is closing in.  Now imagine that sound being created by somebody’s jaws as they talk, and talk, and talk. To say that somebody’s “ga ‘na sbatola” means that when that person starts — and he or she is always in “start” mode — he or she will not stop, probably not even when you just walk away.

This is not ranting, this isn’t free-associating, this is sheer abundance of  one-sided conversation which must, at all costs, be expended on friends, acquaintances, friends of acquaintances, acquaintances of friends.  All it takes is to ask this indefatigable person how he is or how things are going or what he’s having for lunch or where he went to school, and you discover that you might as well have asked “What’s the plot of “War and Peace”?

This picture has no significance -- I just put it in because I like it.

This picture has no significance — I just put it in because I like it.

Categories : Venetian-ness
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Jul
14

How to blight a festa

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The procession of the feast of the Redentore, depicted by Canaletto. Let us not forget, in all the turmoil about the party, that this is essentially a religious occasion. Or at least it was supposed to be.

As I’ve related probably all too well, summer is loaded with more festas than the average barge with paying festa-goers.  I have a reason for making that comparison, because once again we are now on the verge of the festa del Redentore, the “Notte Famossissima,” inspiration of song and story, one of the great parties of the world (though  in terms of sheer tonnage I wouldn’t compare it to, say, the Kumbh Mela, which technically isn’t a party.  But still).  In a word, it’s tonight.

What is inspiring lively conversation this year, however, is the drastic decision announced a mere two days ago by the Capitaneria di Porto, the branch of the navy which is responsible for certain tracts of the lagoon. The commanders have made it clear that this year they’re throwing the book at the festivizers, and are ready to fine and possibly confiscate the large barges known as “topomotori” which usually show up carrying ten times as many people as they’re allowed. Without any safety equipment of any kind.

The classic Venetian topomotore, in the rio di San Trovaso. If it can carry refrigerators or bricks, why not beer and sarde in saor? And, of course, the hordes to consume them?

Yes, illegally overloaded barges have become part of the tradition, because they are a wonderful size for carrying large tables groaning with food and drink surrounded by the aforementioned people, a few of them also groaning.  These working boats are typically certified to carry “cose” (things) but not “persone” (people).  I suppose a clever lawyer could try to make a case for the people qualifying as things, but I’ll stop here.

Technical note: Of course you’ve seen these barges plying the Venetian waters every day loaded with merchandise with people aboard to heft the cargo, but the legal limit is six.

These restrictions also apply to the big fishing boats that trundle up from Chioggia and Pellestrina — they hold more people (good!) but they are impossible to present as anything other than what they are.  (“Certainly, sir, all these women and children are professional fishermen too…..”).

What is really upsetting people isn’t primarily that that oppressed minority known as Venetian families is going to be prevented from enjoying a Venetian (debatable, by now) event.  The truly distressed people are the barge owners who are now accustomed to making money by renting their vessels for the evening.  The intake (in small, unmarked bills) to the party’s organizer could be 100 euros per person, with a payload of up to 40 people.  The barge owner could expect 300-400 euros just for letting his boat leave the dock.

A typical fishing boat from the area of Pellestrina and Chioggia, proudly vaunting its illegal clam-sifting attachment. These boats can hold astonishing numbers of people.

Some nervous organizers have already canceled their parties. Others are saying, “We’re going to chance it.  Out of thousands of boats, why should they pick me?” I like the way estimating odds works: Your chance of winning the lottery (in your own eyes) is from reasonable to even very high; your chance of being fined for carrying a clan, a tribe, an entire linguistic group, is almost nil. Such is the power of human desire.

What’s modestly upsetting me is that this drama was avoidable because, as the Capitaneria has pointed out,  the owners of these barges could have avoided all this unpleasantness by coming to the office in time to apply for official permission to “occasionally” carry more people than usual.  I didn’t know such an option existed because it doesn’t affect me, but it would seem that a person with a barge, especially one who was looking forward to a couple of hundred free euros, might have exerted himself to acquire a more extensive knowledge of the rules of the road.  And that forestalling this awkwardness in a timely manner could have been done without even breaking a sweat. But I forgot. Drama is so much more entertaining than just doing things the easy way.

As an interesting additional factor in the evening’s excitement (and in this case, totally unavoidable by anybody) is the weather.  They’re predicting wind, and also rain.  Perhaps even thunder and lightning.  Looking at the forecast, maybe people would have canceled anyway.  Or maybe the organizers and owners would have calculated the odds in their favor, as per usual.

I can hear it now: “With all these thousands of boats, why should it rain on me?”

We weren’t planning on being in a boat anyway, but on watching from the shoreline, like two years ago.  The only thing that could spoil my evening would be for the gelateria to run out of ice cream.

 

 

 

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