Archive for Querini

Jan
09

“Ciao Umberto”

Posted by: | Comments (3)
Umberto Da Preda (image from an album cover via YouTube, uncredited).

Umberto Da Preda (image from an album cover via YouTube, uncredited).

“Journalism,” said G.K. Chesterton, “is telling the public that Lord X is dead when the public didn’t know that Lord X had ever been alive.”

The case of the recently departed Umberto Da Preda might be a case in point.

Those who knew him, or at least had heard of him, were saddened to read on December 27 that he had died the day before, after a month-long illness in the hospital. The first article announcing this event was fairly long, partly in tribute and partly to refresh the memories or succor the ignorance of the day’s readers. Because while many people in his native sestiere of Cannaregio were genuinely grieved– though not taken entirely by surprise — Lino is convinced that there are plenty of Venetians who learned of his existence for the first time in the obituary.

Da Preda was “The ‘voice’ of the Venetian song,” as the Gazzettino termed it. Another report headlined: “Death of Da Preda, the most beautiful voice of the Venice which is no more.”

If such standards as “La biondina in gondoleta” or “El gondolier” are now widely known, it’s thanks to his innumerable performances and abundant recordings.  The two respective links are:  http://youtu.be/A0I0m6IPHtU and http://youtu.be/THinSRIRek0

The Gazzettino continues:  “Umberto Da Preda leaves … a vast musical repertoire, 90 per cent of  which is made up of traditional themes which even now represent the classics of the gondoliers during the serenades, and to which he gave a completely personal imprint.” (Note: Gondoliers almost never sing; the warbling comes from a singer hired to entertain his clients.)

Da Preda’s mainstays, some of which began to be composed in the 18th century, are generically termed “canzoni da batelo,” boat-songs, intended to be sung to the passengers out on the water enjoying a nocturnal summer fresco, (literally, “cool”).  Many are anonymous pieces, passed along between generations. Like many of his vintage, Lino learned most of the approximately 8,319 songs he knows from his father, or from other Venetians.  But Da Preda delved into deep cultural troves to bring forward an extraordinary assortment of songs, some of which were created by noteworthy poets and composers.  They’re not all little ditties about wanting to take Ninetta out in the lagoon when the sun goes down.

Da Preda was on the way to an international career; he performed, with his guitar, in the Bahamas, in Russia, in Israel, in the US, and in England, where he sang for Queen Elizabeth II. But he loved Venice and preferred staying here, close to home, singing at the Danieli and Cipriani hotels, or in private palaces at what seems to have been a steady stream of fetes, entertainments, and soirees.

“What did he die of?” we asked a friend of his the next day.

He shrugged.  “The sand in the hourglass ran out,” he said.  “And he drank a Mississippi in his life.” Evidently Da Preda kept a bottle of whiskey close at hand on the many evenings he performed in assorted boites and restaurants.  Singing is thirsty work, and I think in those days the sparkling-water-with-lemon-slice hadn’t been discovered.  Not that he would have wanted it.  I drink it and I don’t want it.

In any case, the friend continued, Da Preda didn’t take seriously any warnings about hard living he might have gotten from his nearest and dearest. “He said once, ‘I’ve eaten, I’ve drunk, I’ve done what I wanted in my life,'” the friend told us.  “‘When it’s time for me to go, I’ll just head on out'” (vado in zo, which is the most casual leave-taking phrase there is in Venetian).

I went to his funeral on January 2 — a week ago today — a dreary, raw day.  I admit I was curious to see what sort of farewell would be given.  Naturally I can’t judge what emotions the 150 or so mourners were feeling, which may have been deep and intense, but if so they kept them well under control.  It was a subdued ceremony, distinguished mainly by two things.

The first was the playing, as the casket was being taken out of the church, of Da Preda singing one of his best-known songs, “Ciao Venezia.”  The second was the alzaremi, or oar-raising in salute, by rowers from the Settemari and Querini rowing clubs.  The presence of any Venetian boats is always a beautiful thing, and although he wasn’t particularly prominent in the boating world, he was 100 percent Venetian, and this calls for some special acknowledgment, in my opinion.

He lived his life just the way he wanted to and if he had any regrets, he kept them to himself. That’s what I’m going to remember.  Here’s the link:  http://youtu.be/D8zmgatPh-w

The basilica of SS. Giovanni e Paolo is so big that even a large crowd is manageable.

The basilica of SS. Giovanni e Paolo is so big that even a large crowd seems modest.

The priest pauses to pronounce the last phrases, more or less audible beneath the strains of "Ciao Venezia."

The priest pauses to pronounce the last phrases, more or less audible beneath the strains of “Ciao Venezia.”

Accompanying the casket to the riva where the funeral motorboat is waiting.

Accompanying the casket to the riva where the funeral motorboat is waiting.

The gondolier bringing his clients back to shore removed his hat.

The gondolier bringing his clients back to shore removed his hat.

As the casket is placed onto the fancy platform, the rowers from the Settemari club execute an "alzaremi."  In 1979 Da Preda was voted "Venetian of the Year," an annual recognition bestowed by the club.  The commemorative plaque was placed on the casket during the service.

As the casket is placed onto the fancy “we-don’t-have-to-sweat-anymore” platform, the rowers from the Settemari club execute an “alzaremi.” In 1979 Da Preda was voted “Venetian of the Year,” an annual recognition bestowed by the club. The commemorative plaque was placed on the casket during the service.

The funeral boat, carrying the departed and his family, heads for the cemetery, followed by the "diesona" of the Settemari, and a gondola from the Querini.

The funeral boat, carrying the departed and his family, heads for the cemetery, followed by the “diesona” of the Settemari, and a gondola from the Querini.  The people ashore applaud as their last farewell.

It's not far to the cemetery island of San Michele; the two boats are going to arrive only a few minutes after the motorboat, visible in the canal ahead of them (and just ahead of the vaporetto).

It’s not far to the cemetery island of San Michele; the two boats are going to arrive only a few minutes after the motorboat, visible in the canal ahead of them (and just ahead of the vaporetto).

 

Categories : Venetian-ness
Comments (3)
Mar
27

The Patriarch clocks in

Posted by: | Comments (10)

Venice doesn’t have a bishop — you may be fascinated to know — it has a patriarch. And as of last Sunday, it has a new one: Francesco Moraglia, who has now been launched to a higher sphere from modest but reverendable monsignor to patriarch and, very soon, to cardinal.  Next stop?  We don’t speak its name, but we know it’s there.

Three patriarchs of Venice in the 20th century were elected pope (Pius X, John XXIII, and John Paul I).  Which means that one reason — perhaps the main reason — why it took six months to decide on the new occupant of the patriarch’s palace could be that the man needed to be considered papabile, as they say: “pope-able.”

As you can imagine, his welcome ceremony was a many-splendored thing, but the centerpiece — and the  piece feasible only in Venice — was a corteo, or procession, of boats in the Grand Canal.

Corteos, if you do them right (as in: have lots of participants), are impressive when seen from the shore/bridge/parapet/balcony or wherever the viewer may be positioned.  Certainly they’re impressive as seen from the vessel carrying the person being corteo’d.

The corteo finally begins. Some rowers, like the ones on the green boat, evidently have a different idea about what "dressing up for company" means.

Corteos, as seen from the boats involved, have a much different character. They are composed of friends — or  people who know each other, anyway — and what may look like a stately progress is actually a continual jockeying for position in a limited space complicated by vaporettos, gusts of wind, and tidal forces. All of these factors conduce to moments of  vivacious confusion which most of the rowers astern, responsible for steering, know how to navigate.  I can promise you, however, that there will be at least one boat whose poppiere has a very uncertain grasp of the connection between the action of the oar and the reaction of the boat. Fancy way of saying: helplessly wandering hither and yon like a rudderless boat on the high seas.  This person, whoever it may be, is always happiest right in front of us.

Don Marcello, the parish priest of San Giobbe, showed up to row in his cassock, just as he did for the previous patriarch, he told the Gazzettino, as well as Popes Benedict XVI and Paul VI.

The Gazzettino reported that there were some 200 boats in the procession, and I can believe it. I think most of them, though, were there for the event in its Venetian, rather than spiritual, aspect. I’m not saying rowers are godless, I’m just saying that the mass of participants seemed to be divided into two groups: Bunches of people along the fondamentas with welcome banners who were singing hymns , and us in the boats who were living another sort of moment.

The routine usually goes like this: The boats gather in the Grand Canal at Piazzale Roma.  We go to the command-post boat if we’re due any bonuses (T-shirts, bandannas, small bags of rations usually containing a sandwich, bottle of water or carton of fruit juice, a small pastry or piece of fruit.) You lounge around and keep track of your friends.  At this point in my evolution here, there’s quite a list.

We must have waited half an hour in front of the train station for Mons. Moraglia to conclude his prayers ashore. Half an hour is a long time when you're doing nothing.

But hanging around did give me time to admire this young woman, seemingly no more than 15 years old, who was the master and commander of an 8-oar gondola from the Canottieri Mestre rowed entirely by people her age.

Small organizational point: Unlike most processions, which are in the morning, we were summoned to appear at 1:45 PM.  This seemingly innocuous moment effectively wipes Sunday off your calendar, when you calculate the time needed to get to your boat, row it to Piazzale Roma, do the corteo, and row home.  The fact that the timing effectively wiped your lunch hour off your calendar was also noticed.  That’s why they gave us sandwiches.  Not much to keep you going till dinnertime, but if you came, you’d already accepted this fact.

We get the signal to start, and we proceed down the canal to the bacino of San Marco, dodging taxis and vaporettos and gondoliers and each other’s oars.  The principles of defensive driving all come into immediate play for the half-hour or so it usually takes to run this 3.7 km/2.3 mile route.

I’d never seen so many boats in a procession, not even when we put on the same event in 2002 for the recently-departed predecessor.  The sun was shining, the breeze was generally docile,  and we were going mostly with the tide.

The only drawback was the long wait for the patriarch to finish his invisible ceremonies ashore, board his boat, and get going.  When the tide is pulling you along and large public conveyances keep jostling for space, you don’t really feel like hanging around, even for an Eminence.  Rowers began to murmur and to comment.

But finally we were on our way.  We managed to put on a burst of speed to get past the small boat slewing around in front of us.  We waved to Lino’s sisters on the fondamenta. And when we passed under the Rialto Bridge and saw the straight stretch of Grand Canal covered with boats spread out before us, Lino actually got a little choked up.  I can’t remember what he said, but I looked up and his eyes were wet.  Just in case you think we get all blase and jaded about everything.

As the patriarch debarked at San Marco, the gathered boats gave the customary alzaremi, or raised-oar salute.  It’s spectacular when done right, or even just sort of right.  The annoying part for the executors of this feat  isn’t the weight of the oar as you haul it upright (I discovered a trick) — it’s the way the water runs down the shaft and onto your hands.  I have no picture of it because I was busy with my oar.

Then we row back to the club, across the bacino of San Marco, which will always be full of big heavy clashing waves.  You may well also have the wind and tide against you, so by the time you get the boat ashore you’ve forgotten how much fun you had.

The prow of a mega-gondola is a magnificent place from which to view the corteo. But I still can't figure out how the man is sitting. There's exactly the same area available on the right as you see on the left of the little flag. Where are his legs? Are his feet trailing in the water?

But enough about me.  I can tell you that the new patriarch has already remarked that he believes one of our main priorities needs to be to make children happy.  He put that in his short list of things we need to take more seriously, like create more jobs and be more just and fair in our dealings.

My inner Protestant (I.P.) finds this an amazingly dim recommendation. If making children happy is a goal, I can turn over and go back to sleep, because that must be the easiest thing on earth to do. Unload a dump truck full of sugar and fat and iEverything and then leave them alone. My I.P. — who is as devoted to children and their well-being as anyone, even him — would have preferred to hear something a little less fluffy. If  happy children are what we want, I think our mission should be to make sure they’re educated, healthy, disciplined, kind, at least bilingual and don’t smoke. I suspect that happiness would be within their own grasp at that point, and wouldn’t have to be provided by a squad of round-the-clock muffinbrains.

Feel free to pass this observation along to him.

 

More hanging around waiting, this time in front of the basilica of the Madonna della Salute, while the patriarch went inside to pay his respects to her. The golden curly thing is the stern of the "Dogaressa," the ceremonial boat that carried the pope last May. A good sign?

 

Some of us managed to find a parking place in front of the church, so we could relax during the interval.

 

Lack of food? Overcome by emotion? Meditating? Or just saving his strength for the next leg of the journey?

 

The "disdotona," or 18-oar gondola, belonging to the Querini rowing club, is easily the most spectacular boat in Venice and is always the sign of a Truly Important Event. The only drawback is finding a parking place.

 

The patriarch comes out of the basilica to wild acclaim. Wild, anyway, to everyone except the woman seated with her dog on the steps, reading the paper.

She’s probably reading the big article about the patriarch's arrival and wondering when he's supposed to show up.

I love this woman! She is totally impossible to impress! She's looking at her DOG.

 

"Just be patient -- he'll be along sooner or later."

Setting off on the last leg of the trip, across the Grand Canal to the Piazza San Marco. The police escort is an impressive touch -- we never see these zippy little craft except on big occasions. The firemen have them too. The men probably draw lots because everybody must want to drive them.

 

He looks happy and that makes me feel good. And he gets ten bonus points for standing up in the boat, a position he maintained, according to the Gazzettino, for the entire corteo. I have to say, that's cool.

 

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Categories : Venetian Events
Comments (10)