Archive for Rialto

Oct
28

Relentless brilliance

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A sailor awaits the sunset signal to lower the flag on the sail-training ship "Palinuro."

A sailor awaits the sunset signal to lower the flag on the sail-training ship “Palinuro.”  This has no relation to anything that follows, it’s just here to remind us of why we love Venice.

As has become hugely evident, I am temporarily (I trust) slowing down on not making things up.

I discover that it isn’t easy to find new topics that interest me (“new” and “interest” don’t always coincide).  Two decades into my life here, a certain amount of repetition in daily or annual events can make it difficult to whip up enthusiasm to address them again.

Also, as I may have hinted not long ago, I am somewhat worn down by the relentless stream of bad, crazy, incomprehensible, infuriating news that steamrolls over the city every day, and if it depresses me to read these stories, it would depress me even more to write about them.  I used to find it sort of entertaining, and imagined that examining the entrails of Venetian life could be interesting to people who don’t live here but who care about the city.  Examining entrails used to be one way of predicting the future, and the technique still works extremely well — but the future I glimpse is even less appealing than the entrails themselves.  (Full disclosure: I happen to like tripe, which is prepared in various ways here.  But I’m not sure if tripe qualifies as entrails.)  End of metaphor.

There are the infinite variations on the theme of corruption.  If I wanted to focus on that, I’d have to change the name of my blog — there’s just too much material.  It appears that just about the only person who hasn’t been stealing money from the city, the region, the nation, her employer (which I don’t have, but that’s a detail), or her clients and customers or suppliers, is me.  When a general of the Guardia di Finanza AND a platoon of his troops are found with their hands plunged deeply, up to the shoulder, into the municipal pot, it does make you wonder what this world is coming to.

But what now fascinates me is the ever-increasing number of projects that are living demonstrations of a phenomenon we all know too well and for which the Germans have even invented a word: Verschlimmbesserung, a supposed improvement that makes things worse.

Beauty is the keyword here. Don't forget it.

Beauty is the keyword here. Keep this at the forefront of your brain.

These are projects devised by professionals, remember, but perhaps being a professional is becoming a handicap, because so many seem to lose their way in their professional brain-thickets and forget the simplest, common-sense details that are obvious to any user — amateurs! — of their projects.

The two most recent examples, and then I’m finished for today:

The tram.  I’ve already mentioned the hideous installation at its terminus at Piazzale Roma.  But you don’t have to look at it, so let’s consider that issue settled.  What I’m talking about are the almost daily discoveries of inexplicably stupid mistakes.   I define a mistake as “inexplicable” if it was performed by a professional.

From the day of fanfare in which the tram made its maiden voyage from the mainland to Venice, there have been technical problems (losing electrical power, often, for assorted reasons; a nexus where the tracks just didn’t switch the way they were supposed to, etc.).  But these, theoretically, can be fixed.

But the other day a car broke down on the bridge from the mainland to Venice, thereby blocking all traffic behind it (normal! there’s no breakdown lane!) including the tram (wait — what?).  Yes, the tram’s track was installed in the same lane as the wheeled traffic.  A normal old bus can just groan, downshift, and inch around a stalled car or truck.  The tram can only sit there until it’s all cleared up.  The bridge is 4 km/2.5 miles long, and all the passengers had to pile out and walk the rest of the way to Venice, thereby easily making their healthy daily quota of 10,000 steps.  And making hash of their morning schedule, doctor appointments, business meetings, Scout jamborees, whatever was on.

These are the two lanes available for wheeled vehicles to reach the city (or depart from it). The concrete center barrier is moveable, so part of the excellent experiment is going to be shifting it to make a temporary extra lane when needed. Thereby reducing the other side to just one lane.

These are the two lanes available for wheeled vehicles to reach the city (or in this case, depart from it). The concrete center barrier is moveable, so part of the excellent experiment will be to see if shifting the center barrier to create a temporary extra lane when needed will work out, even though even I, sitting at my desk, realize that doing so will thereby reduce the other side to just one lane. Creating a problem by solving another — hasn’t that already been tried?  (Photo: Davide Dalla Mora, Facebook.)

Never fear — an excellent experiment will begin in November.  For three months (note: containing all the high-traffic holidays), the tram lane will be reserved only for public-service vehicles, which I suppose are considered less prone to breaking down.  Did I mention there is no breakdown lane?  The bridge has only two lanes in each direction, therefore creating a temporary one by moving into space on the opposite side will crush all the private vehicles into one lane.

If that doesn’t sound especially shudderworthy, consider that about 1,700 vehicles per hour cross the bridge.  In 2014 there were 162 cases of stalled vehicles — one every other day, essentially.

So bring on the tram!  And bring your hiking boots and Nordic-walking sticks!  And just think: You still have to pay for a ticket.  The Casino says people aren’t gambling so much anymore, but they’re obviously not thinking of the thousands of people who play Tram Roulette on the bridge every day.

I don’t think an advanced degree in engineering is necessary to help you understand how to keep people’s feet dry getting from the platform to the temporary walkways (neatly stacked in the background). Or maybe it is.  All they needed to do was to ask Mr. Canestrelli before it was too late.

Let’s move on to the Rialto area.

The subject is the platforms to which the vaporetto docks are attached.  The past few months have seen a mammoth undertaking to build new ones, bigger ones, more efficient ones.

But now that high water has come calling, it has been discovered that these improvements have un-improved the necessary space to set up the temporary walkways.  I have disembarked at Rialto when there was very high water, and without the walkways I’d have had water up to and even past my knees.  Walkways at Rialto are not some crazy new idea.

And yet the new platforms haven’t taken the walkways into account, and it was suddenly discovered (cue sound of sloshing water) that the spaces involved don’t work anymore.  The temporary walkways can’t reach all the way to the fixed platform, so there will be a gap between the platform and the walkway which will be full of water.

Unhappily, the large brains designing the new docks didn’t think to contact anybody, least of all the steadfast but shot-riddled Paolo Canestrelli, director of the Tide Center, to discuss anything so trivial as height of water, need to calculate for.

To raise the fixed platforms at this point will require another huge undertaking.  Just think, everyone had so enjoyed the big inauguration ceremony.

Much of the most beautiful city in the world is beginning to resemble those municipal offices where the employees have to adapt by attaching things with rubber bands, hand-writing signs and labels with Sharpie pens, sticky-notes everywhere.  Just make it work somehow.

But now I’m going to make you laugh.  It’s only fair.  I mean, I laughed, even though on paper (this is paper) it isn’t so funny.

Giancarlo Galan, the former president of the Veneto Region, has been sucked deeply into the MOSE corruption scandal, the details of which will be oozing out even after the trumpet call to the Last Judgment.  Among other things, he was convicted of having taken 15,000,000 euros in bribes.

He has done some token jail time (he was sentenced to two years and ten months, of which he spent only 78 days in prison and much of the rest at home in his luxurious villa on the mainland).  And the state confiscated this villa, worth some 2 1/2 million euros, to pay off part of his debt.  The rules said he had to vacate the premises and leave it in habitable condition.

He did vacate the premises, but the next people to go in discovered that there were no more bathrooms.  Workmen, presumably not on their own initiative, had torn out all the radiators, toilets, bidets, and sinks in the place.

So now he has added to his list of misdeeds the formal accusation of having damaged state property.  And of not having honored the agreement to leave the villa in useable condition.

His lawyer immediately said that this had been an “error,” and of course everything is going to be put back, right away.  How anyone could make such an error baffles and perplexes me.

You see?  I don’t have to make anything up.  It’s all right there in front of me.

One just keeps on making the best of things.

One just keeps making the best of things.

 

Categories : Events
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Dec
26

Bring on the Santas

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Yes, Virginia, those are  Vikings masquerading as Santa Claus.  Hide the chickens and the cow.

Yes, Virginia, those are Vikings masquerading as Santa Claus. Hide the chickens and the cow.

Before we leave the subject and the scales and bones and gift-wrapping of Christmas behind, one last glimpse of holiday merriment. I wasn’t there, I’m sorry to say — I was sorry to say it the day it occurred, too, which was December 21.

The event: A “corteo,” or boat procession, in the Grand Canal, composed of anyone who wanted to row as long as he or she was dressed as Santa Claus (or “Babbo Natale,” as he’s known here).

The reason: First, because it seemed like a fun thing to do.  Second, because it seemed like an amusing occasion for the Coordinamento delle Remiere (the association of rowing clubs) to give a prize and a big round of applause to the dwindling group of hardy souls who have rowed in all 40 Vogalongas.  I say “dwindling” because in May there were 24 such persons, and on Santa Sunday there were 22.

The special bonus: Fog.  Fog and just enough wind to make the air feel even sharper.  But would this deter anyone willing to pull out the boat and pull on the red-and-white outfit?  Obviously not.

Because I was busy elsewhere, Lino armed a modest sandolo and headed for the lineup joined (happily for Lino and I think also happily for the others) by Gabriele De Mattia, a former rowing student of his and ex-cadet of the Francesco Morosini Naval School, and his girlfriend, Francesca Rosso.  She had never rowed before, but Lino soon took care of that.

So the three of them spent the morning rowing, and Lino was awarded a red pennant, such as those given to the winners of races here, with his name on it, and everybody was happy. Especially when the sun finally came out.

So a big shout-out to Francesca, who when she wasn’t rowing, was taking pictures.  If she hadn’t been there, you all would just have had to imagine it.  As would I.  This is better.

Floating around while waiting for the official start ("official" being whenever somebody said "We're ready, let's go"), this batch of Saint Nicks had time to make sure their reindeer was comfortable at the bow.

Floating around while waiting for the official start (“official” being whenever somebody said “We’re ready, let’s go”), this batch of Saint Nicks had time to make sure their team of  reindeer was comfortable at the bow.  It appears that one of them is either trying to get in, or attempting to disembark.

No reindeer, caribou, or moose were harmed in the making of this boat.  But I would like to see the paperwork on those beards.

No reindeer, caribou, or moose were harmed in the making of this boat. But I would like to see the paperwork on those beards.

How very "Be Prepared" -- they brought their own tree, in case somebody needed a place to put their presents.

How very “Be Prepared” — they brought their own tree, in case somebody needed a place to put their presents.

DSCN6794  babbo crop

Here is Gabriele, rowing away.  It wasn't snowing, but evidently there were interludes of unusually aggressive fog-flakes, or drops, or crystals, or something.

Here is Gabriele, who clearly had forgotten nothing despite a year into university life. It wasn’t snowing, but evidently there were interludes of unusually aggressive fog-flakes, or drops, or crystals, or something.

It's the invasion of the Kris Kringle-Snatchers, heading upstream to the Rialto Market where something hot to drink must be waiting.

It’s the invasion of the Kris Kringle-Snatchers, heading upstream to the Rialto Market where something hot to drink must be waiting.

Not strictly Venetian, but any boat bearing a Saint Nicholas is welcome at the party.  If this boat were to capsize, they'd all be bobbing around like Yuletide buoys.

Not strictly Venetian, but any boat bearing a Saint Nicholas is welcome at the party. If this boat were to capsize, they’d all be bobbing around like Yuletide beach balls.

And speaking of the party, here was the entire regiment waiting for the prizes and refreshments. Did you know that in the Germanic tradition, it ws Odin, king of the gods, who left presents in the boots left by children by the chimney?

And speaking of the party, here was the entire regiment waiting for the prizes and refreshments. Did you know that in the Germanic tradition, it was Odin, king of the gods, who left presents in the boots that children left by the chimney? Not that I’m trying to rank Saint Nicholas, just trying to add to the holiday atmosphere.

 

Categories : Boatworld
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The gondola version of the black armband.

The gondola version of the black armband.

I’ve waited a few days before reporting on the latest news in the hope that some rational element would emerge from the wreckage of an appalling event. The event’s ugliness is only compounded by the context of chaos which everyone has come to take for granted, but which now is revealed as indefensible, idiotic, criminal.

As I mentioned recently, “imminent” is the only danger that gets attention.  Last Saturday, the danger flashed from “imminent” to “actual” for Joachim Reinhardt Vogel, a professor from Munich on vacation with his family.

Perhaps you have already heard: The family’s gondola ride ended in his death.

It's just supposed to be a job, not an extreme sport. (This is not the gondolier in question.)

It’s just supposed to be a job, not an extreme sport. (This is not the gondolier in question. At least, I don’t think it is.)

The general outline is still somewhat blurred by missing or conflicting details of the dynamics of the catastrophe.  Here is what I can tell you:

At about 11:30 AM on Saturday, August 17, Professor Vogel was in a gondola with his wife and three small children. They were approaching the Rialto Bridge on the downstream side, an area which is not only the narrowest part of the Grand Canal, but by now is fearfully crowded with vaporettos, taxis, barges, and assorted other boats, all of which clog the limited space in a manner worthy of downtown Naples.

The gondola was behind a vaporetto which was not very manageable because it was going very slowly.  The driver made a brusque maneuver and rammed (going backwards, blindly) the gondola.

The professor, according to his wife, had just finished saying, “With this many boats and at their speed, I wouldn’t dream of driving a boat here.”  Then the impact. One report referred to the gondola as having been “harpooned.”

The professor threw himself between the vaporetto and the gondola to shield his three-year-old daughter, and his chest was essentially crushed.

The force of the collision pitched the young gondolier onto the nearby dock of the Magistrato alle Acque, his oar broken.  Gondoliers on the fondamenta rushed to help; bystanders were yelling at the vaporetto driver to stop as he continued upstream, oblivious, dragging the splintered gondola behind him.

The little girl was rushed to the hospital with a deep wound on her face which may require reconstruction.  The father was taken to the morgue.

That afternoon the gondoliers all stopped work for the rest of the day as a sign of respect.  The next day many of them put a strip of black tape on their gondola’s ferro, symbol of mourning, and organized a simple ceremony of commemoration.  The gondoliers’ association will pay for the funeral and the costs of repatriation.

But now that I think about it, why was it them and not the ACTV to show so much sorrow and solidarity, not to mention offer to defray expenses?  Oh wait — the ACTV ordered the little flags on the stern of each boat to fly at half mast.  That’s touching.

The young gondolier is in shock — not clinical, but certainly emotional.  The driver of the vaporetto has been charged with manslaughter.

Gondolas occasionally capsize — not often — for various reasons, but the last fatality was an American woman, in 1992. In that case, a vaporetto was also involved.

Everybody looks at the bridge, but what goes on beneath it doesn't always comes into focus.

Everybody looks at the bridge, but what goes on beneath it doesn’t always come into focus.

The context which makes this so terrible — as if it needed context to be terrible — is that traffic has been rapidly increasing for years.  More vaporettos?  Got to have them.  More taxis?  Sure, let’s add them too (25 more licenses have just been approved by the city).  Let’s add more of everything!  The municipal police has estimated that as many as 4,000 boats per day pass in the Grand Canal.  We’re surprised that something happened?

Now there are meetings of the gondoliers, of the city government, of everyone except you and me.  What to do?  How to do it?

The motto of the city, at least until now, could well have been “Everything’s fine until it isn’t.”  Certainly there has been the traditional outpouring of mutual blame from every political corner, everyone singing some version of “I told you so” and “We knew this would happen” and “I’ve been warning about this for years but nobody listens.”

As the head of the gondoliers’ association stated, all the regulations necessary for orderly traffic already exist.  What we need is for them to be enforced.  I could have said that myself.  So could everybody, including the people involved.

But if everybody knows that the regulations exist, and that lack of enforcement renders the waterways dangerous, the logical conclusion would be either to insist on enforcement (a moment of humorous fancy: Taxi drivers and barge drivers and vaporetto drivers massed in front of City Hall, with pitchforks and torches, bellowing “We demand that you make us obey the laws! We refuse to work until you compel us to obey the laws!”  Humorous moment over.) or for each person to regulate himself, otherwise known as obeying the law, thereby obviating the need for enforcement.

So simple, so easy, so cheap.  That must be why it doesn’t work.

I love Venice so much.  I don't know why it can't be worthy of itself.

I love Venice so much. I don’t know why it can’t be worthy of itself.

 

Categories : Events
Comments (10)
Mar
06

Close harmony

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This ad was prominently displayed last fall to publicize Vodafone, the European telephone behemoth.  Here they are helpfully informing us that they are sponsoring at least some of the restoration of the church of San Bartolomeo, just underfoot near the Rialto Bridge.

Their main message, though, is to promote their new package of special rates for calls to the people who  matter the most to you — in their shop just underfoot, etc.

Whatever you may think of them or their packages, their advertising agency is above average.

The line says:  “The most beautiful things are done in pairs (literally, ‘in two’.”

This shred of philosophy made me smile, though probably it doesn’t stand up to heavy pondering.

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