Archive for Regata Storica

Sep
07

The blessing and the launching of the gondolinos

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To recapitulate: These were the gondolinos on August 25. (Photos taken from remieracasteo.blogspot.it.)

To recapitulate: These were the gondolinos on August 19. (Photo taken from remieracasteo.blogspot.it.)

These boats were a thesaurus of synonyms for "gleam." If you can discover where the cut was made and repaired, you're not human. No offense.

The restored boats were a thesaurus of synonyms for “gleam.” If you can discern where the cut was made and repaired, you’re not human. No offense.

I may have mentioned that I was RUDELY interrupted on Sept. 2 by my computer, which cut my post into chunks and then wouldn’t give them back (hence only that brief mention of the Return of the Gondolinos).

Although a few days have passed, I won’t be happy until I’ve finished the job.  So cast your minds back to last Thursday, when part of the “world of the oar,” as it’s called here, gathered for the annual ceremony of the blessing of the gondolinos and, unusual at this late date, the drawing of lots for the assigning of the boats to the racers.  Who gets what color boat is random, and the drawing usually follows shortly after the last elimination has whittled the list of rowers down to nine competing teams plus one reserve team, to be called in at whatever moment before the starting gun it’s clear that one team is not going to be racing.  It happens — not often, but I’ve seen the reserve boat actually win one time.  Considering that being the reserve means that you barely squeaked into the lineup against faster men (or women) than you, this outcome makes it clear that all sorts of factors, apart from sheer speed at the trials, come into play in the race itself.

This may well be true in many other athletic competitions, but I’m sticking to what I know.

There is no significance to the colors; the boats are painted in order to make it easy to distinguish and identify them from medium to far distance.  This ensures that the onlooker (say, a judge….) is identifying the appropriate boat as it crashes into its closest neighbor, or as it crosses the finish line. (Even in good weather, red and orange are almost impossible to tell apart.)  Furthermore, in the non-official races in which people sometimes race on their club boats, there is almost no way to identify the boats because they’re all pretty much the same mash-up of colors. The relatives of the racers know who’s who, but the judges almost certainly don’t.  To avoid any possible problems, the judges following the race in motorboats call out instructions and warnings by color, not by racer’s name.

As an extra security measure, which is very useful when there is rain and/or fog, numbers have been painted on the bow of each boat, as follows:1 white, 2 yellow, 3 purple (lavender, violet, whatever), 4 light blue, 5 red, 6 green, 7 orange, 8 pink, 9 brown, reserve: red and green.

The racers get a sash and a neckerchief to match the color of their boat; it used to be considered helpful.  Now it’s just part of the tradition.  The neckerchief was supposed to deal with the sweat (this was before terrycloth headbands), and the sash was intended to help truss up what sometimes, in the old days, were men who either did, or would soon, need one.

I had never seen an entire fleet of new Venetian boats, nor would I ever have thought I'd see one. that were completely new. It was thrilling, from the perfect gleam to the perfume of still-recent paint.

I had never seen an entire fleet of new Venetian boats, nor would I ever have thought I’d see one, considering how much the things cost.  (The total bill came to 80,000 euros, which means a paltry 8,000 euros each, but these were repairs.  A knowledgeable source told me a new gondolino could cost 30,000 euros.)  It was thrilling, from their perfect shine to their perfume of still-recent paint.  Eau de Regata Storica, with subtle top notes of epoxy.

As the crowd gathered, the Coro Serenissima provided the festive soundtrack with many of the classic Venetian songs.

As the crowd gathered, the Coro Serenissima provided the festive soundtrack with many of the classic Venetian songs. A good number of these ditties involve gondolas, the lagoon, and romance; so far no song has come out that features electric saws and battered boats.  I’d like to hear one about the maestri d’ascia (“masters of the adze”) who rebuilt the gondolini. Something along the lines of “The Ballad of John Henry” could work really well.

(L to R): "Maestri d'ascia," or "masters of the adze": Roberto dei Rossi, Dino Tagliapietra, Gianfranco Vianello "Crea."

(L to R):  Roberto dei Rossi, Dino Tagliapietra, and Gianfranco Vianello, nicknamed “Crea” (KRAY-uh). Not only does Crea carry the title of “Re del Remo” (“king of the oar”) for having  won the Regata Storica five times consecutively, he also built the boats which he now had to repair. Sad as he was to see them butchered, he said he was really happy to discover how well they’d held up over 35 years. And if “king of the oar” sounds silly, it’s as hard as winning the Triple Crown in horse racing. He won his title on the gondolino in 1981, and nobody has done it since.

The ceremony gets underway with photo-worthy hugs by the mayor, Luigi Brugnaro, wearing his official sash. to their right, the white-haired man in the black jacket is Mario Eremita, the artist who designed and painted the "palio," or banner, depicting the Regata Storica. This is new this year and is loaded with symbolism.

The ceremony gets underway with photo-worthy hugs by the mayor, Luigi Brugnaro, wearing his official sash. To their right, the white-haired man in the black jacket is Mario Eremita, the artist who designed and painted the “palio,” or banner, depicting the Regata Storica. This is new this year and is loaded with symbolism.

This is a test

As the artist explained to me, the lion of San Marco at the top depicts an African lion, because St. Mark was buried in Alexandria, Egypt.  Venice is always represented as a woman, of course, here wrapped in a cloak which repeat the colors of the gonfalone, or banner, of San Marco.  In her mid-section (womb, if you like), is the Piazza San Marco, with basilica and belltower, from which are emerging the boats of the Regata Storica and spreading across the water of the Bacino of San Marco. Her right hand holds an olive branch, the emblem of peace, and in her left she holds an ouroboros, the ancient representation of a snake devouring its tail which symbolizes rebirth and renewal; in this case, the repetition of tradition.

While everyone is milling around taking pictures, the racers are examining the boats. Here, Igot and Rudi Vignotto are analyzing where the boat was cut. If they ever found a trace, I'd be impressed.

While everyone is milling around taking pictures, the racers are examining the boats. Here, Igor and Rudi Vignotto are analyzing where the boat was cut. If they ever found a trace, I’d be impressed.

Speechifying ensues. Here, Giovanni Giusto, president of the Coordinating Committee of the Rowing Clubs and city councilor for rowing and traditions, shares his thoughts.

Speechifying ensues. Here, Giovanni Giusto, president of the Coordinating Committee of the Rowing Clubs and city councilor for rowing and traditions, shares his thoughts.  The gonfalone of San Marco adds the right touch, even if the rest of the ribbons can’t be seen.

Due to the delay in having the boats themselves, the gondolinos weren't assigned to the racers after the last elimination was held. So the usual drawing of lots had to wait for today, with just three days before the event.

Due to the delay in having the boats themselves, the gondolinos weren’t assigned to the racers after the last elimination was held. So the usual drawing of lots had to wait for today, with just three days before the event.  Drawing your boat at random limits the possibility of skulduggery, or the appearance thereof, the same reason why each team’s position at the starting line is also drawn by lot.  It’s not unheard-of for racers to consider a color as bringing victory or doom, so let’s just make everybody’s chances equal. As is customary, here the “poppieri,” or men rowing on the “poppa,” or stern, come to draw a small numbered ball — number corresponding to color — from the green bag held by Crea.  He is fulfilling this duty because he is now also the president of the race judges.

Posing with the sashes matching their boat's color.

All the racers posing with their sashes which match the color of their boat.

The men begin pulling out their forcolas and oars, ready for the blessing and, immediately thereafter, the launching of the boats.

The men begin pulling out their forcolas (oarlocks)  and oars, ready for the blessing and, immediately thereafter, the launching of the boats.

The stern forcola, made of the traditional walnut.

The stern forcola, made of the traditional walnut.

Finally we reach the moment of the blessing. The priest, pretty much hidden by the boats and the racers, has said his prayer and is now shaking holy water from his aspergillum across some boats. He was rather perfunctory, by which I mean he did not sprinkle all the boats. I don't know if that made a difference to the race, but it prevented me from getting a better picture.

Finally we reach the moment of the blessing. The priest, pretty much hidden by the boats and the racers, has said his prayer and is now shaking holy water from his aspergillum across some of the gondolinos. He was rather perfunctory, by which I mean he did not sprinkle all the boats. I don’t know if that made a difference to the race, but it prevented me from getting a better picture.

A closer look.

A closer look.

So let's get these boats in the water and out of here. In no particular order, the yellow boat is rolled on a small trolley to the edge of the steps to the canal, where some pieces of red carpet have been placed to ease the slide.

So let’s get these boats in the water already. The white gondolino has just been launched and now it’s the yellow boat’s turn to be rolled out, on a small trolley, to the edge of the fondamenta where some pieces of red carpet have been placed to ease the slide.

SAM_6716.JPG blog reg stor

The boat was tilted off the small trolley and slid along the edge of the fondamenta. At the halfway point, the poppiere climbed aboard and, as it were, took possession of his chariot.

The boat was tilted off the small trolley and slid along the edge of the fondamenta. At the halfway point, the poppiere — in this case, Luca Ballarin — climbed aboard and, as it were, took possession of his chariot.  It’s extremely unusual to have a person aboard when putting a boat in the water this way; it’s evident that you’re risking damaging the boat even if the water is fairly cooperative. I can’t explain why they decided to do it this way, but considering that we have three master boatbuilders on hand, I’m guessing they know what they’re doing.

Ignore the change in boat color -- the next phase was to lift the bow and push the boat free of the fondamenta. This required some strength and skill (I could just imagine the ferro of the bow striking the stone edge and I'm sure everyone else could imagine it too).

Ignore the change in boat color — the next phase was to lift the bow and push the boat free of the fondamenta, dropping it in the water. This required some strength and skill (I could just imagine the ferro of the bow striking the stone edge and I’m sure everyone else could imagine it too).

Flinging the boat into the water made a very satisfying sploosh. Here, Rudi Vignotto is ready get going.

Flinging the boat into the water made a very satisfying sploosh. Here, Rudi Vignotto has been flung. The man with the red trousers is not involved in these maneuvers in any way, but is taking a photo (I think) from a long pole.

No need for me to interpret the beauty of this moment. But the gondolino does provide a jarring contrast to the chaos of taxis, vaporettos and private motor boats that continues to swarm past. Yes, they were going slowly, due in part to a sentinel police boat. But there are far, far, far too many.

No need for me to expound upon the beauty of this moment. But the gondolino is a startling contrast to the chaos of taxis, vaporettos and private motor boats that continues to swarm past. Yes, they were going slowly, due in part to a sentinel police boat. But there are far, far, far too many.  And they and their passengers are living in a parallel universe which never touches ours.

But in the interest of fairness, most rowers -- I'm going to say all rowers -- have motorboats, some of them pretty hefty. The boat, I mean. So there you are.

But in the interest of fairness, I should mention that most rowers — I’m going to say all rowers — have motorboats, some of them pretty hefty. The boat, I mean. It makes sense because it’s useful for towing your boat, or for getting quickly and efficiently to wherever you have to train, which could be fairly far away.  But of course everybody thinks their motorboat makes sense.

Luca Ballarin hanging out with Franco Dei Rossi "Strigheta," one of the greatest racers but who this year has "hung his oar up on the nail," as they say of retired people. He's still working as a gondolier, but no more racing.

Luca Ballarin hanging out with Franco Dei Rossi “Strigheta,” one of the greatest racers but who this year has “hung his oar up on the nail,” as they say of retired people. He’s still working as a gondolier, but no more racing. You might not believe it, but it takes great strength of character to stop trying when your house is full of victory pennants but you’re past 60 and not up to your old speed.  At least one famous racer kept at it for years after he should have quit, on ANY boat and ANY race, even if he finished last. It was like one of those endless farewell tours by superannuated sopranos.  Depressing.  I’m sorry not to see “Strigheta” racing anymore, but I admire his dignity.

Kudos gathered, gondolinos gone, the party's over. All that's left to do now is the race itself. I'll save you any suspense: The first four to finish (which is what counts, because they get a pennant) were: Blue, White, Orange, Brown. If you want more particulars, even if they're in Italian, go to:http://www.veneziatoday.it/cronaca/regata-storica-venezia-2016-classifica-risultati.html

Kudos gathered, gondolinos gone, the party’s over. All that’s left is Roberto dei Rossi and lots of spare sawhorses and shadows.  As for the race, I’ll save you any suspense: The first four to finish (which is what counts, because they get a pennant) were: Blue, White, Orange, Brown. If you want more particulars, even if they’re in Italian, go to: http://www.veneziatoday.it/cronaca/regata-storica-venezia-2016-classifica-risultati.html

 

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Aug
19

Anger management

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This is how a gondolino is supposed to look.

This is how a gondolino is supposed to look.  These men and this boat have no connection to the story below.

Just when I had concluded that there was nothing different or interesting to say about Venice, just when I thought life here was going to continue to grind deeper and deeper into its rut (same old problems, same old remarks, same old endless cycle of birth and rebirth), comes a blast of rage from person or persons yet to be identified.

Whoever they were, they trashed 7 of the gondolinos belonging to the city, discovered just today on the last day of the gondolino eliminations for the Regata Storica.  The “Storica,” as you know, is the ultimate race, and it is conducted aboard the gondolinos.  There is a total of 9, plus the reserve boat.  Three boats, which were in another place and therefore escaped the axe murderer(s), weren’t much to work with for the eliminations today, but the nine two-man crews were divided into three sets of three, and extra time was eaten up with the removing and re-installing of the forcolas of each rower at each change.  The mayor has tweeted that the boats will be repaired in time for the race on Sept. 4.  Five boatyards have thrown themselves into the work.

Photos taken from remieracasteo.blogspot.it.

Photos taken from remieracasteo.blogspot.it.

9.jpg gondolino USE

10.jpg gondolino USE

 

8.jpg gondolino

Who would do such a thing?  Plenty of police are working to find out.  But who would WANT to do it? Who indeed? It might be disaffected office-seekers, or environmentalists protesting deforestation, or people who want Jodie Foster to fall in love with them, or anything.

There has been tension in the rowing world recently, it’s true.  But until all the dust has settled, and been left there as long as I usually leave it anywhere, and then finally Pledged away, I’m not going to start theorizing.

I can mention, however, that a sense of anarchy stretching beyond the world of rowing seems to be threatening what ought to be well-earned somnolence in the city.  Tourists keep trying to swim in the Grand Canal.  A New Zealander, one of the crew of a yacht in port, got drunk a few nights ago, jumped off the Rialto Bridge, and landed right on the windshield of a water taxi passing below. The mariner is in the hospital in very bad condition, and the taxi is also in the shop.

Here is a recent video from Roberta Chiarotto, on her Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/roberta.chiarotto/videos/10209231322756467/

We see some young people in their bathing suits in Campo San Vio, heading for a refreshing dip.  The voice of the Venetian woman reprimanding them, in English and German, basically says “This isn’t Disneyland, it’s a city.  You can’t do this.”  For those (like Lino) who remember swimming in the canals as little tykes — naked, learning to swim tied to their mother’s washboard — may I say that there was less dangerous traffic then, and by the way, they were merely little tykes.  Healthy full-grown hominids who are not in their own back yards should be aware, if only dimly, of the appropriateness of some behavior. If in doubt, I’d suggest “Don’t.”

What amazes me is how tranquilly these visitors receive this unwelcome news, and how unconvinced they look. And they’re not an isolated case; a few weeks ago, five young French tourists took the plunge in the Grand Canal in front of City Hall, no less.  I won’t continue this list, because however many times I might mention it, I still can’t believe it.  And it seems to have no effect.

Once again driven to distraction, some exasperated resident recently snapped, posting a sign near Campo San Martin:

Needs no translation. It was removed not long afterward but a local shopkeeper did say he could understand it. The bridges are often full of people wandering at random, stopping, taking pictures... None of which is a hanging offense, but their obliviousness to anyone but themselves must have some fancy scientific name. The point isn't that they're tourists, it's that they're not aware that they're in somebody else's city. Of course you can argue that Venice belongs to the world, but I invite you to defend that idea at certain points in the city all summer long. And at other times, too.

Needs no translation. It was removed not long afterward, but a local shopkeeper did say he could understand it. The bridges are often full of people wandering at random, stopping, taking pictures… None of which is a hanging offense, but their obliviousness to anyone but themselves must have some fancy scientific name. The point isn’t that they’re tourists, it’s that they’re not aware that they’re in somebody else’s city. Of course you can argue that Venice belongs to the world, but that doesn’t mean the world has to come and stand on your bridge.

On a more serious but equally anarchic note, two nights ago there was a nearly fatal collision in the lagoon (that’s good news, considering that at least once a summer there is a completely fatal collision to report).  A motorboat being driven at high speed — that’s redundant, pretty much all motorboats are driven at high speed in the lagoon — ran right straight into a passing water taxi. The motorboat sank, the ambulance came, the two young men are in the hospital and the girl escaped unharmed. The high-spirited young folks had been zooming along with no lights on their boat, lights which are not only required by law but which common sense reveals would have at least given the taxi driver some hint as to their imminent arrival.

My point is that a great deal of anarchy can be tolerated, for many reasons, as long as nothing happens, which is what everybody is counting on.  And then something happens.  Like ramming a taxi.

Consequences can be so unpleasant.  And they follow deeds with such annoying persistence.

Categories : Venetian-ness
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Pig in glass: good. (Marchio Artistico Murano www.promovetro.com).

Pig in glass: good. (Marchio Artistico Murano www.promovetro.com).

Pig in crate, not so good. (Uncredited photo, Associazione Animali in Citta' ONLUS www.aicve.it)

Pig in crate, not so good. (Uncredited photo, Associazione Animali in Citta’ ONLUS www.aicve.it)

Seeing that by now I have drilled into everyone’s brain the fact that the Regata Storica is an event that has been held over the past several centuries, it’s fair to say that many of its attributes could be regarded as traditions.

Tradition, as I have drilled, etc., is a word intended to connote The Way We’ve Always Done It. But a closer look at many traditions demonstrates clearly, even to those in the back of the room, that they can be changed, eventually to become the new Old Traditions.

Take the pig.

For about the last hundred years, if not more, the traditional prize to the pair of men finishing fourth in the Regata Storica on the gondolinos was a live piglet.  I have not yet begun the search for the reason for this, so just accept the fact that along with a blue pennant and some money, the pair got a young Sus scrofa domestica.

And they weren’t merely presented with the little swine at the end of the race.  Before the race even formed up, the creature was put into a crate, placed on a boat, and exhibited up and down the Grand Canal.

By 2002 the animal rights organizations finally overcame this tradition, having claimed for years that the practice was cruel and inhumane.  I saw the parade of the pig once, and it didn’t look so degrading to me.  He was a lot more comfortable than anyone on the #1 vaporetto on a Sunday afternoon, and nobody in the animal rights organizations cares about them.

Returning to the subject of the fourth-place prize: Either people lived closer to the earth back then, 0r there were fewer scruples running around unsupervised, so a live pig seemed like a fine thing.  The idea was not to divide it, like the baby brought before Solomon, but to send it to the country somewhere to be fattened and cossetted and tended until it was time for it to achieve its true destiny: Sausage.  Soppressa.  Pork chops,  Pork roast, and so on.

There is a hoary old joke about this undertaking, which can be altered according to whichever town or place you want to insult.  The person who told it to me was insulting Pellestrina, and it was made funnier by his imitation of the distinctive local accent.  To Venetians, this way of speaking implies something rustic (to put it politely) and uncouth (to be frank).  It implies individuals who would not consider pig-fattening to be anything out of the ordinary.

So:  Two men from Pellestrina enter the Regata Storica, finish fourth, and get the pig.  They are being interviewed by the national reporter, who asks them what they plan to do with it.

“I’m going to take it home,” says one.

“Take it home?” says the reporter.  “Do you have a pigsty?”

“No.”

“So where will you keep it?”

“Oh, I’ll keep it in the kitchen,” the racer replies.

“The kitchen!” blurts the reporter.  “But what about the smell?”

“Oh,” the racer says, “he’ll get used to it.”

Regata Storica, 2013: Andrea Bertoldini (left) and Martino Vianello pose with their pennants and their pigs. (Uncredited photo, www.regatastoricavenezia.it)

Regata Storica, 2013: Andrea Bertoldini (left) and Martino Vianello pose with their pennants and their pigs. (Uncredited photo, www.regatastoricavenezia.it)

What would be a good substitute for a live pig? I hear you ask.

A pig made of Murano glass.  And it doesn’t have to be fed or slaughtered, or shared out in perfectly equal halves, because they make two of them.

Now we come to the real point of the story.  A few weeks ago, the very enterprising and high-spirited members of the Settimari rowing club decided to add something else to the prize line-up.  They dispensed with the annoyance of raising and killing a pig, and got right to the point of it all, which in Venice translates as Food.

They planned a big dinner in their small clubhouse, invited Martino Vianello and Andrea Bertoldini, who had finished fourth this year, and uncrated two gigantic roasted whole pigs, ordered from somewhere in Umbria where the art of roasting pigs has reached the sublime.

If you’re a vegetarian and still reading (unlikely, I admit), you might want to stop now.

We spent several hours gorging on one, and the other was given to the pair, who didn’t anticipate any trouble at all in dividing and consuming it.  Just like the old days, but better.

Because, as Andrea Bertoldini explained it to me, a live pig was really a problem.  He’s been racing for at least 20 years, and has finished fourth in other editions of the Regata, so he has had first-hand experience of what being awarded a baby pig really means.

It’s not just taking care of it for months (you generally give it to somebody who’s already got the sties and the feed and the mud and all).  It’s that you start to become attached to it, like Fern Arable; you feel sorry for it, and so everything gets derailed in the Natural Order of Things.

So Andrea was perfectly fine with dispensing with the tradition and moving on to something new, and easier to handle.

Better yet, he and Martino were each awarded a plaque which proclaimed them to be a “Principe del Porchetto” (Prince of Roast Pork).  This was not only original, and cleverer than the old joke, but a play on the term “Re del Remo” (King of the Oar), which is given to the couple which wins the Regata Storica five years in a row.

Andrea and Martino have finished fourth in various years, but this the second year in a row they did it, and so the title of “prince” implied that if they were to come in fourth for the next three Regatas, they could be called King of Roast Pork.

Maybe you had to be there.

In any case, you’d have loved it.  You never had to look into the creature’s soulful eyes, and you got as much as you wanted of the tender, herb-infused meat encased in dark greasy skin that was insanely crunchy.  If you were to shut your mind about what you were eating, it wouldn’t have been because the animal inspired pity.  It would be because you refused to think about what the food was going to do to your arteries.

If those two really do become Kings of Roast Pork, they’re going to have to spit-roast an entire herd of swine to supply the celebration.  I’ve already got my plate and fork and cholesterol medicine ready.

Andrea Bertoldini (is he always on the left?) and Martino Vianello being feted at the Settemari porkfest, listening to the proclamations made by the Assessore for Sport, Roberto Panciera, (second from right) and club president, Massimo Rigo (far right).

Andrea Bertoldini (is he always on the left?) and Martino Vianello being feted at the Settemari porkfest, listening to the proclamations made by the Assessore for Sport, Roberto Panciera, (second from right) and club president, Massimo Rigo (far right).

IMG_5907  pork

 

This soft-spoken couple brought the massive quadrupeds from a company named Quartiglia.  I've always  been sorry that the roasting process makes the animal look like it's smiling, but you can get past that if you love the meat.

This soft-spoken couple brought the massive quadrupeds from a company named Quartiglia. I’ve always been sorry that the roasting process makes the animal look like it’s smiling, but you can get past that if you love the meat.

Show this to your arteries, then run.

Show this to your arteries, then run.

Just keep those plates coming.

Just keep those plates coming.

I'd send you the aroma if I could.

I’d send you the aroma if I could.

    Martino is enjoying this, along with everybody else. I didn't ask him if this was better than winning the race because I know the answer. But it's definitely not bad.

Martino is enjoying this, along with everybody else. I didn’t ask him if this was better than winning the race because I know the answer. But it’s definitely not bad.

 

 

Categories : Boatworld
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Sep
14

The wonders worked by gold

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Simple little gold.  I don't know how much this is worth, but I know I could use most of it.

Simple little gold, otherwise known as Au, or 79. I don’t know how much this is worth, but I know I could use most of it.  So could Venice, but I”m not sharing. (Dallas Refining)

Money in Venetian is known as schei (“skay”).  It is also known, by extension, as the thing we need most and have least.  In fact, we have none.  We never have any.  There isn’t any.  We can’t pay for anything because we haven’t got anything to use, not even bricks of salt or boxes of tulips.  We’re broke, and proud of it.

I’m broke because no money comes in.  The city is broke because money comes in but then it goes out again, somewhere, lots of somewheres, all according to accounting systems that bear more resemblance to Advanced Squad Leader than simple little double-entry bookkeeping, which was invented in Venice, by the way.

It’s something astonishing.  Venice can’t pay for the Regata Storica.  It can’t pay for the city hospital.  It can’t pay for repairing (fill in name of favorite monument, church, work of art here).  It can’t pay to build a new cinema for the Film Festival.  It can’t pay to correct the errors which were paid for with money which it didn’t have.  It’s trying to sell the Casino because the once-flourishing cash cow is running out of butterfat.  Somebody wrote to the Gazzettino that the best way to settle the evergreen conflict about whether the Italian Region of Alto Adige is really the Austrian Region of South Tyrol is to sell it to the Austrians. Conflict over, coffers bursting.

The only way to confront snaggly streets and exhausted bridges and anything else that needs fixing is to seek a sponsor.  The word “sponsor” has acquired the lonely, sacred, unattainable significance of “Holy Grail.”  “We have to find a sponsor” is the most annoying, monotonous, “I got nothin'” phrase since “Have a nice day.”  It means “We have to find an oil field,” “We have to find a rhodium mine,” “We have to find something that doesn’t cost us anything and gives us everything.”

But money there is, because it keeps popping up where it isn’t supposed to be — not only in Venice, but all over Italy.  Bribes.  Payoffs.  Fake blind people imbibing state subsidies for disabilities.  (A woman has just been nabbed for having requested — and received — a 300-euro contribution to pay for her children’s schoolbooks.  She claimed to have only 6,000 euros in this world.  But in fact, she turns out to have 480,000 euros in this world.)  One man who has finally been cornered for some malfeasance I haven’t been tracking was discovered to have 238  bank accounts.  Is that a lot?  I have no way of knowing.

If it's hard to earn gold to spend on cars and clothes, think of how hard it is to earn gold in Olympic medal form. This is from the Winter Olympics of Cortina d'Ampezzo, 1956.

If it’s hard to earn gold to spend on cars and clothes, think of how hard it is to earn gold in Olympic medal form. This is from the Winter Olympics of Cortina d’Ampezzo, 1956.

I do know that there were long, convoluted negotiations between the city and Pierre Cardin about the “Palais Lumiere,” the cyclopean ultra-modern glass skyscraper he wanted to build on the edge of the lagoon.  Everybody but the two aforementioned entities thought it was a terrible idea and finally he gave up and took his idea and went away.  Which means that now the city suddenly doesn’t have the 30 million euros (I believe it was) which they had already happily scribbled onto the “Income” side of the ledger.  Which means that now they haven’t got enough to pay for extending the tram across the bridge from Mestre to Piazzale Roma.  Evidently the phrase “You should have thought of that sooner” applies to more situations than to five-year-olds in the back seat of the car who suddenly have to go to the bathroom.

As usual, everyone is wailing about taxes and many are wailing about the cost of government.  (Feel free to wail in your own language.)  But if anybody has the sensation that the taxes are going nowhere, it’s possible to discover at least some of the wheres.  Such as running the government.  We heard on the radio that the cost of government in Germany is 4 euros per person; in Greece it’s 6 euros per person; in Italy, it’s 27.  It’s expensive to keep 630 people in Rome arguing all day about the other parties’ members and mistakes.

Am I going somewhere with all this?  Certainly.

I am reading a very diverting book entitled “A Book of Scoundrels,” by Charles Whibley (1897), which delineates the careers of England’s most notable highwaymen and other sorts of thieves and criminals.  Short version: In spite of their faults and failures as humans, he was basically on their side as long as they had panache, originality, and/or great clothes.

I offer the following segment in honor of all the fiscal frivolity that crowds the newspapers and the courts.  This may be the only period that I’ve ever wished I were a lawyer; I’d be fixed for life.

And there was that little unpleasantness about the Golden Calf. Based, as I recall, more on its calfness than its goldenness. A detail, and not one that would get me out of court.. (The Nuremberg Chronicle, Vanderbilt University).

And there was that little unpleasantness about the Golden Calf. Based, as I recall, more on its calfness than its goldenness. A detail, and not one that would get me out of jail. (The Nuremberg Chronicle, Vanderbilt University).

The characters: James Hind (1616 – 1652) a notorious highwayman of Royalist sympathies who happened to get his clutches on John Bradshaw, the judge who had condemned King Charles I to decapitation. The scene: The luxurious open spaces of Dorset, near Sherborne.

First, Hind took all of the judge’s money, told the bodyguard (who had judiciously decided to suspend his active service) to take off his hat, and then delivered the following discourse on gold:

“This is that incomparable medicament, which the republican physicians call the wonder-working plaster.  It is truly catholic in operation, and somewhat akin to the Jesuit’s powder, but more effectual.

“The virtues of it are strange and various; it makes justice deaf as well as blind, and takes out spots of the deepest treason more cleverly than castle-soap (sic) does common stains; it alters a man’s constitution in two or three days, more than the virtuoso’s transfusion of blood can do in seven years.

“‘Tis a great alexiopharmick, and helps poisonous principles of rebellion, and those that use them.  It miraculously exalts and purifies the eyesight, and makes traitors behold nothing but innocence in the blackest malefactors.

“‘Tis a mighty cordial for a declining cause; it stifles faction or schism, as certainly as the itch is destroyed by butter and brimstone.

” … The very colour of this precious balm is bright and dazzling.  If it be properly applied to the fist, that is in a decent manner, and a competent dose, it infallibly performs all the cures which the evils of humanity crave.”

Thus having spoken, he killed the six horses of Bradshaw’s coach, and went contemptuously on his way.

Take that!  And that!  Hind’s scorn might be wasted on the prime exemplars of modern brigandage here in the cradle of the Renaissance.  Not that they’re unfamiliar with scorn, and some irony manages to make itself heard from time to time, but discourses such as Hind’s would lack flourish in Italian, where utterances often depend more on blunt instruments (words such as “shame”) than the whetted poniards of true rhetoric.

But I feel better now.  Why?  I don’t know.  Maybe because it shows that there’s no point in struggling to be better people. It’s been this way forever.  Here we are, and here we’ll stay.  Evolution is over.

So let's revert to mythology, when life was simpler, if shorter.  Danae met Zeus in the form of a golden shower, the story goes.  James Hind could only dream of this.  (Orazio Gentileschi, date TK, Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg).

So let’s revert to mythology, when life was simpler, if shorter. Danae met Zeus in the form of a golden shower, the story goes. James Hind could only dream of this. The gold, I mean, not the girl. (Orazio Gentileschi, c. 1621, Cleveland Museum of Art).

 

 

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