Archive for regata di Burano

There’s a saying here — perhaps in all of Italy, perhaps in the whole world — that the mother of the ignorant is always pregnant. I’d expand that to include the mentally infirm, the ethically deficient, and a smattering of Venetian rowing racers, the race judges, the spectators, and anybody else who is evidently suffering from hormone overload in any situation more emotional than drinking coffee.

I pause to note that, once again, this post has no photographs due to multiple crises inside my computer, which is being taken to the hospital today for a major operation.  So there will be a lapse in communication while it — and I — recuperate.

Back to racers and judges and spectators.

The Regata Storica of a week ago (September 2, 2012) will be remembered more for the catastrophe which I am about to describe than for the fact that the Vignottini won and their lifelong rivals (D’Este and Tezzat) finished — not second — but THIRD.  You hear the sound of a page being turned in the annals of Venetian rowing, because even if D’Este and company were to win the next five races in a row, the chink in the armor is now too obvious to ignore.  He also looked extremely and uncharacteristically blown apart by the race.

But as I say, that isn’t what everybody is babbling about.  They’re babbling about the way the judge’s motorboat ran into the yellow gondolino, which was third, thereby knocking it out of the race.  Because Fate sometimes shows a dangerously unruly sense of humor, it couldn’t have happened somewhere up in the distant reaches of the Grand Canal where only three cats are around to notice the race, if they’re awake.  Of course not.  This hideous, and, I think, unprecedented, little crash occurred right in front of the reviewing stand at the finish line, where assorted race officials and scores of invited guests and lots of the salt of the earth in their own boats could see it PERFECTLY. Also the national television station whose cameras were broadcasting the event live.

Like most systems, the way the judges’ boats are choreographed is perfect, but only if the plan is executed.  In this case, one judge’s boat follows the peloton up to a certain point in the Grand Canal (the “volta de canal,” at the curve of Ca’ Foscari where the bleachers and judges and finish line are all together). At that point, in order that the judge’s motorboat doesn’t have to cross the canal and thereby potentially get in the way of the boats as they are racing upstream, the first judge’s motorboat stops, and a second one, waiting on the other side of the canal out of harm’s way, picks up the task of following the herd.

But this time the first boat didn’t pull over to the side and stop, to hand off the race to the next boat. It paused, and then, without looking (or thinking, or something), the judge aboard told the driver to do something which clearly involved gunning the motor.  I was in a boat right where this happened, so I am a certified eyewitness.

Whether the judge wanted to follow the race, or reposition the boat in some way, isn’t clear.  But doing anything at that moment, in that location, was not only wrong, it was crazy.  Because the yellow (“canarin”) gondolino, steaming ahead at full speed in an excellent third position, was right behind the propellers when they spun. In two nano-seconds, the left hind hip of the motorboat swerved left, hit the ferro of the prow of the gondolino, threw the very narrow and moving-very-fast boat off balance, and sent it hurtling off-course into the scrum of boats tied up to the pilings.

You might think that the only crazy person in this scenario would be the judge on the boat who told the driver to move instead of standing perfectly still.  And you’d be right.

Except that almost immediately, other crazy people began to wail and vociferate.  Wild ideas began to be thrown around in bars and in the newspaper (and even, I think, among the judges), almost all of which came down to suggesting that the crew on canarin be awarded the third-place pennant in a tie with the pair that actually did finish third.

The Vignottini even offered to pay the prize money to the unfortunate ex-third-place boat.

The issue still doesn’t seem to be settled, but here is how I see it:

First, I don’t understand why anyone thinks it makes sense to give a prize to someone who didn’t win it.  A consolation prize would be nice, of course (a house in the mountains, maybe, or a six-month cruise to Polynesia), but a prize for racing pretty much requires that you race.  If the crash had occurred three yards before the finish line, you might be able to make a case for their deserving some sort of pennant and/or money.  But there was still plenty of race ahead.  Who’s to say that they would have finished third? They might have come in first. Or even last.

Second, a racer with any degree of self-respect (possibly a very small category, true) wouldn’t want either a pennant or money that he hadn’t won himself. Why degrade them with stupid offers that are only moderately able to make the onlookers feel slightly better?  Not to mention make the guilty judge feel slightly less bad.

Third, I’m glad I mentioned the judge.  Because while the rowing world is in the throes of what seems to be a hormonal solar flare, no one so far has turned from the victims to the perpetrator.

Why, I ask myself, and am now asking the world at large, is everyone so fixated on making the victims feel better without pausing to suggest, much less demand, that the judge deserves a serious punishment?  Can you think of a sport in which a referee or a judge who directly and visibly damages an athlete in the midst of the game doesn’t receive even the tiniest murmured reproof?

It gets crazier.  Because last year, at the race at Burano, there was a crash between the first two boats at the buoy where the racecourse turns back, knocking both of them out of commission.  The judge overseeing that crucial part of the race was so rattled that he stopped the race right there.  The prizes were awarded according to the positions of the boats at the buoy, even though there was at least half again as much race still to go.

Yes: That was the same judge.

I began this post with a saying, so in closing I invoke a special Venetian aphorism: “Un’ xe bon, ma do xe coglion.”  (OON zeh bone, ma doh zeh cole-YONE.) The literal translation makes no sense, but here’s what it means: Screw up once, you can be excused; screw up twice, and you’re an asshole.

If anyone but me manages to reach this conclusion, I’ll let you know. But it’s not looking very likely.



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The never-ending Storica

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The past few days in the world of the oar have been pretty agitated here.

The Commission of Discipline (no remarks please) has listened to the rowers and the judges involved in the dramatic events of the Regata Storica and has rendered its decision.  An assortment of decisions, really, which amounted to throwing a couple of spare barrels of oil on the waves of accumulated anger.

Angry rowers are nothing new, and a fan that isn’t enraged and offended by something isn’t worthy of the name.  But this time the judges — angry too, which also is no novelty — made the unusual step of revealing their antagonism to the public. This is an alarming sign of how far order in the world of Venetian racing has deteriorated.

And I sense that it’s not over yet, not least because when you throw oil on turbulent waters, you often  get covered in oily spray.  But usually the situation at that point is so perilous that the benefits outweigh the oil.

To review: Ivo Redolfi-Tezzat and Giampaolo D’Este (celeste gondolino) were disqualified in the  throes of the Regata Storica on September 5, the most important and hugely most remunerative race of the year, because they did something(s) to prevent their lifelong rivals, Rudi and Igor Vignotto (canarin gondolino), from accomplishing some maneuver that might have been to their advantage.  In fencing terms, this could be called the celeste parrying the thrust (or probable and/or imminent thrust) of canarin.  Celeste was disqualified, canarin won.

The three leading gondolinos before things went south, an image which illustrates why tempers were incandescent.

The three leading gondolinos before things went south, an image which illustrates why tempers were incandescent. (Photo: Nereo Zane)

The Verdict:  The appeal of Tezzat/D’Este was rejected.  The new regulations stipulate that the judge’s verdict is unassailable, which in some ways ought to make the judges more punctilious.  But that would be true only in an ideal world, and the Grand Canal is beautiful, but not ideal.

First point: Under the new rules, the order of finish is carved in titanium, hence celeste had no hope of being judged the winners in the cool light of the morning after. But that didn’t stop  Tezzat/D’Este  from registering a formal protest, hoping for a severe punishment to be inflicted on canarin.  Hoping is fine, seeing as hope costs nothing.  But their status as disqualifees remains unchanged.

Second point: The Vignottini did not escape completely unscathed, however. They received an official admonition  (“diffida,” or warning) for “unsportsmanlike conduct” during the race.  This is a black mark on their record, but does not comport any material damage.

Observation: I am not the only person who has noticed a certain incongruity between a decision which says that (A) celeste sinned and deserved its punishment but that (B) canarin also sinned but only needs a rap on the knuckles.

Judges at work during the race of the young men on pupparinos.  Nothing went wrong here.  Sheer luck?

Judges at work during the Regata Storica, here the race of the young men on pupparinos. Nothing went wrong. Sheer luck?

Third point: The judges.  The two judges in the first boat, Gianni Tonini and Sandro Fort, were reprimanded for a series of errors which did not help, and perhaps aggravated, the situation during the race.  In the simplest terms, their function (true for most judges) is to anticipate and prevent problems by timely warnings during the race.  A judge, as one of them commented to me, doesn’t show how brilliant he is by the number of punishments he inflicts, but by the number of imminent problems he manages to resolve before punishment becomes inevitable.  That didn’t happen here.

Tonini got an official “richiamo” from the Commission, and Fort got a richiamo because he let the race start even when the starting gun misfired. (As in: didn’t fire at all.  The rules say the judge has to fire again and return all the racers to the starting line.)  There were also a few commands issued to the rowers during the race by both men which are hard to justify even if you don’t care who won. But the important point is that this is the first time a judge has been publicly reprimanded.

Extra surprise: Startling but true, Ernesto Ortis, the coordinating judge, formally and publicly disassociated himself from the actions of Tonini and Fort.  I believe this is a first here; like many groups, the judges have always prefered to present a united front even while they bicker inanely among themselves.  It is no secret that bile has been bubbling for quite a while against the perceived hubris of Fort.

Outcome: The reaction to all these decisions (all of them wrong, of course, in the eyes of everybody except the commission) was to be seen at the regata at Burano last Sunday.


You may recall that the infuriated Tezzat first claimed they weren’t even going to try out for this, the last regata of the official season. But they did. Rowers make all kinds of affirmations that they never act on, usually some variation on “Take a good look at my oar, because it’s the last time you’re ever going to see it.” Next day, there they are.

So Tezzat and D’Este did the eliminations (What?  Aren’t you supposed to be in Queen Maud Land?) and qualified for the race.

The Vignottini warming up.  Red, my favorite color.  Just like blood.

The Vignottini warming up. Red, my favorite color. Just like blood.

They showed up at Burano on Sunday on the green gondola.  It was time for the race.  All the gondolas were at the starting line, each poppiere (person rowing astern) clinging to the rope and struggling to keep his boat straight in the face of an annoying headwind and contrary tide.

But where’s green?

At the last minute, Tezzat and D’Este rowed, not to the starting line, but to the judge’s stand (all you racers just wait there till we’re done….).  There they handed a piece of paper to the race announcer, who read it over the loudspeaker to the officials grouped on the dock, and to the suspenseful, murmuring hordes crushed along the water’s edge.

Tezzat (astern) and D'Este approaching the judges' stand to deliver their screed.  Notice all the other races lined up back there, waiting to do the race.  Isn't that why we're here?

Tezzat (astern) and D'Este approaching the judges' stand to deliver their screed. Notice all the other racers lined up back there, waiting to do the race. Isn't that why we're here?

This document announced to the world, in the loftiest terms and the purest tones of innocent, persecuted victims, that Tezzat and D’Este would not only skip the race that was waiting to start, but won’t be racing again until All This gets cleared up once and for all.  It was a sort of “J’accuse” aimed at the judges, collectively and individually (corrupt, incompetent, superannuated, cretinous) and at the Comune, represented by its execrable functionaries.

Their declaration did not use the exact terms employed by Emile Zola in his immortal denunciation (“…a great blow to all truth, all justice…”…”It is a crime to poison the small and the humble…”…all the revulsion of an honest man…”…”And these people sleep at night, and they have women and children whom they love!”).  But I think they would have used those terms if they’d thought of it.

D'Este hands over the document.

D'Este hands over the document.

They then consigned a pair of symbolic oars to the new Counciler for Tourism, Roberto Panciera, and rowed back to the boathouse.  I was on the dock and didn’t see anything oar-like changing hands, but maybe they were coffee spoons modified to look like oars.

This pantomime was not followed by stunned silence, it was followed by every shape and size of bellowed protest of passionate partisanship.  There was one woman who yelled rolling phrases of excoriation in a voice of doom that could carry to the mainland and possibly farther. She was amazing.  Just think, she could have summarized everything in the simple phrase “String ’em up,” but she clearly had quite a lot on her mind which had been pent up too long.  If you’ve ever wondered what the vox populi might sound like, she was it.

While Tezzat assumes his "Here I stand, I can do no other" pose.

While Tezzat assumes his "Here I stand, I can do no other" pose.

Then the race proceeded and the Vignottini won.  No surprise there, naturally.  God, how it rankled the public!  I’ve never heard so many people so rankled.  This was one situation where the daily habit of everybody talking at once turned out to be useful, because except for the Voice of Doom, you couldn’t understand anything anybody was saying.  I thought about cheering for the Vignottini just to see what would happen, but the fans were like a mob of maenads, and I didn’t feel like being dismembered and devoured raw. Maybe some other time.

What next? I have no idea.  There is already a sub-theme being promoted which demands the immediate dismissal of all the judges (why not — let’s just kill them all) and the installation of an entirely new cadre of judges, a new Commission of Discipline, a new everybody.

And then they row away.  Feel free to cheer.

And then they row away. Feel free to cheer.

Only problem is, every time the Comune invites people to apply to become judges, nobody responds.  Nobody wants to spend summer Sundays in all kinds of weather dealing with the racers, their relatives, and their fans who are howling that the judge’s dead relatives are dogs.  Judges are likely to lose all their friends, too, who would suddenly regard them as unspeakable traitors.  I know judges whose friends look the other way when they walk past on the street. I know: So they’re not real friends.  But still.  All this for 40 euros ($52) a race, and now there’s the chance to be publicly chastised as well? How could anybody turn that down?

The only option left to Tezzat for reclaiming his symbolic oar is to appeal to the mayor.  The Vignottini resorted to this a few years ago, back before Igor threw his pennant into the canal in front of the mayor and their relationship turned to stone.  But now there’s a different mayor, and let us not forget: Tezzat and D’Este are innocent.

I’ll see you on the barricades.

The race got off to a predictably exciting start, though the Vignottini on red are already pulling away.  The basilica and campanile on Torcello look on impassively; after a thousand years, summer and winter, it's hard to get excited about any of this.

The race got off to a predictably exciting start, though the Vignottini on red are already pulling away. The basilica and campanile on Torcello look on impassively; after a thousand years, summer and winter, it's hard to get excited about any of this.

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