Archive for Roberto Busetto

Sep
03

A truly Historic Regata

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This is the "Serenissima," the crowning glory of the boat procession preceding the races -- the icon of the Regata Storica, center stage.

This is the “Serenissima,” the crowning glory of the boat procession preceding the races — the image of the Regata Storica in everyone’s mind, not to mention on a million postcards.

I have no doubt that calendars around the world were marked REGATA STORICA (“historic regatta”) two days ago.  It’s been held on the first Sunday in September for the past 500 years or so (since 1489, to be exact).  Calendars by now ought to be able to mark themselves.

There were several aspects of this year’s edition which made it notable — even “historic,” if you will, though I suppose everything that happens qualifies as historic in one way or another merely by the fact of its having occurred.

Historic Point 1: Our rowing club had three boats in the races, and each came home with a pennant: first, second, and third place.  More on that below.

Historic Point 2, with gold stars applied by me: There were no fights.  No hurled epithets, no banshee curses howled at judges or fellow racers, no demerits for breaking any rules.  I know.  I must have been hallucinating.  But it’s still true.

Let me elaborate on these points:

Our club had two pupparinos in the young men’s race; the pair on the orange boat won the race, coming home with the red pennant.  The pair on the brown boat finished second, earning a white pennant.  We also had the red gondolino, rowed by Roberto Busetto and his brother Renato, who finished third (green pennant).  This is not only wonderful, but exceptional, considering that Roberto hasn’t  finished in the top four in the Grand Canal  for the past eight years.

A glimpse backstage: The three boats at our club on Sunday morning.

A glimpse backstage: The three boats at our club on Sunday morning.

The final touch is buffing the wax that you applied yesterday.  Unfortunately, the wax isn't the only factor that helps you go faster, as the boys on this boat discovered.

The final touch is buffing the wax that you applied yesterday. Unfortunately, the wax isn’t necessarily the determining factor of your speed, as the boys on this boat discovered.

As for the harmony between the two giga-competitors of the past two eternal decades — Giampaolo d’Este and Ivo Redolfi Tezzat, and the Vignotto cousins (the “Vignottini”) — I don’t know what to attribute it to.  But one does recall that after d’Este unburdened himself at the Regata of Murano of every opinion he ever had about the judges, he was penalized by having to sit out the next race.  That might have had a slight sobering effect, not that I think that race was so important to him.

Or maybe the lack of conflict is an early sign of the approaching Millennium.

Or maybe they’re just getting tired.

Or maybe it was the unexpected exchange of views at the eliminations a few weeks ago.  When the qualified nine teams were brought together to draw the color of their boats, d’Este announced, “I’d like to make a proposal.  We eliminate the judges.”

To which one judge replied, “I’d like to make a counter-proposal.  We eliminate you (meaning him and his partner), and the Vignottos.  Because the only time there are ever any problems, fights, and general grief, it’s when you all are in the race.”

No more proposals were entertained and the meeting was adjourned.

But there had to be some sort of flaw in the ointment, as a friend of mine used to say.  Everyone wasn’t humming like happy little tuning forks, as we discovered when the blood blister of rage broke in the mind of Davide Peditto, one of the boys on the brown pupparino.  I say “boy,” but he’s 18 years old; not exactly a child.

He was so angry at not winning — horrors!  finishing second!!  has the world gone mad?? — that he wrapped himself in a cloak of fury so thick and black that no communication could reach him, and very little could come out.  This is evidently an aspect of his personality already known to people who are closer to him than I am.

His only release was to take his white pennant and throw it onto the dock at our club and leave it there.  “Carta da culo,” he snarled bitterly; toilet paper (literally, ass-paper).

This is not only an insult to Venice, to every racer who has preceded him, to every racer who competed with him (12 of whom would have loved to have had that very pennant, ten of whom would have loved to have had ANY pennant), but a real insult to his long-suffering partner, onto whose pleasure in this accomplishment he had just poured gasoline, so to speak, and then thrown a match.

One would like to help this splenetic young man re-think his ideas about winning and losing — or if not his ideas, at least his behavior.  I’d suggest sending him the bits of the newspaper reporting the comments which were made by another racer who came in second on Sunday: Giampaolo d’Este, who had spent virtually the entire race head-t0-head with the Vignottos.  When they crossed the finish line 95/100ths of a second ahead of him, he probably wasn’t any happier with the outcome than the young brat at our club — especially because he has enough red pennants by now to entitle him to think he might deserve another one.

y were like this for almost the entire race

They were like this for almost the entire race.  The screaming of the crowd was deafening.

But he did not compare his white pennant to anything else. Here’s what he said:

“Well, that’s the way it went.  Either we or the Vignottos could have won, and they won.  No recriminations — it was a beautiful race and it’s always beautiful to be its protagonists.”

He might have meant it, which would be excellent.  But he said it anyway, and that’s about 95/100ths even more excellent.  But if it’s too hard, in the glaring heat of the moment, for a youngster to say something that mature, I’d suggest that the next-best option would be silence.

And I don’t mean that thick black silence, either. I mean the silence in which the image, the shape, and the hope for next year’s race would already be forming in his mind, spirit, and gizzard.  As far as I can tell, that’s the only way that true athletes, or humans of any stripe, manage to get those bitter pills down and keep going.

The indefatigable Dino Righetto on the stern of our six-oar balotina.  The "bissone," or fancy boats, are coming up behind us to start the procession.

The indefatigable Dino Righetto on the stern of our six-oar balotina. The “bissone,” or fancy boats, are coming up behind us to start the procession.

IMG_4506 storica

These are racing gondolas belonging to the city, which are decorated to evoke the boats and passengers of the original regata in 1489,

These are racing gondolas belonging to the city, which are decorated to evoke the boats and passengers of the original regata in 1489.

The procession is moving slowly upstream, with the current, toward the "volta de Canal"

The procession is moving slowly upstream, with the current, toward the “volta de Canal,” or “turn of the canal,” where the finish line has always been for races here.

The procession is slowing working its way up the Grand Canal; here we are approaching the nerve center of the event: the "volta de Canal," or turn of the canal, where the finish line has always been for races here.  On the left is the colossal platform on which the RAI 2 national television company is ready to broadcast live.  The "Machina," or reviewing stand, is just behind it on the left.

On the left is the colossal platform from which the RAI 2 national television company is ready to broadcast live. The “Machina,” or reviewing stand, is just behind it on the left.  Not only does it accommodate notables of every shape and sort, it is where the prizes will be awarded.

I know nothing about this very curious boat but it certainly was worth a look. The model of the Rialto Bridge isn't the only odd feature; the stern has been re-made in a strange way; the prow has been altered in an even stranger way, and while there used to be a tradition of decorating some of the boats with fruits and vegetables, this is the only one I noticed this year. If this assemblage is intended as a tribute to the late Joachim Vogel, it's unusual to use eggplants and chili peppers along with the wildflowers from the barene. But hey.

I know nothing about this very curious boat but it certainly was worth a look. The model of the Rialto Bridge isn’t the only odd feature; the stern has been re-made in a strange way; the prow has been altered in an even stranger way, and the forcola isn’t the typical design for use on a gondola; it’s been dragooned from either a pupparino or gondolino.  And although there used to be a tradition of decorating some of the boats with fruits and vegetables, this is the only one I noticed this year. If this assemblage is intended as a tribute to the late Joachim Vogel, it’s unusual to use eggplants and chili peppers along with the wildflowers from the barene. But hey.

After the boat procession, we get down to the party.  We park the boat and pull out the food and drink, and wait for the races to start.  Beer foam presents no problem.

After the boat procession, we get down to the party. We park the boat and pull out the food and drink, and wait for the races to start. Beer foam presents no problem.

The winning mascareta in the women'a competition; Giorgia Ragazzi (bow) and Luisella Schiavon leave the rest in the dust, so to speak, and win their fifth consecutive Storica. They are only the second pair of women ever to attain thereby the status of "regina del remo."

The winning mascareta in the women’a competition; Giorgia Ragazzi (bow) and Luisella Schiavon leave the rest in the dust, so to speak (actually the next boat is about five boat-lengths behind them), and win their fifth consecutive Storica. They are only the second pair of women ever to attain thereby the status of “regina del remo.”

And here come the Vignottos and d'Este-Tezzat, speeding down the home stretch. Here's something peculiar: In both the boys' and men's races, the first two boats were orange and brown, but the order of finish was inverted.  I wonder what it all means.

And here come the Vignottos and d’Este-Tezzat, speeding down the home stretch. Here’s something peculiar: In both the boys’ and men’s races, the first two boats were orange and brown, but the order of finish was inverted. I wonder what it all means.

 

And let me not slight Renato and Roberto Busetto, speeding toward a fabulous third place -- not the absence of other boats nearby.  They were definitely in the groove.

And let me not slight Renato and Roberto Busetto, flying toward a fabulous third place — note the absence of other boats nearby. They were definitely in the groove.  However, sharp-eyed readers will notice that there is a gentle swell of waves beneath their boat, left by the passing jury boat.  The wave issue is something that seems impossible to resolve.  Not because nobody knows how, but because of some other reason I can’t come up with.

As soon as the gondolinos cross the finish line, all the boats start to rev up to leave. It's about as convenient as everybody trying to leave a movie theatre within five minutes after the end of the film. Plus lots of sickening motor exhaust fumes.  Yes, hundreds of rowing fans go home in boats drawn by 40 or 90 horses, or more.

As soon as the gondolinos cross the finish line, all the spectators’ boats try to leave at once.  It’s about as convenient as everybody trying to get out of a movie theatre within five minutes after the end of the film. With the added element of lots of choking motor exhaust fumes. Yes, hundreds of rowing fans go home in boats powered by engines.  But then again, so do fans of horse-racing.  So I’m not sure what my point is.  All I can say is that there’s a big clump of traffic for a while.

 

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Dec
13

Light and shadow

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Costalonga’s funeral was completely according to custom, beginning with the earlycomers standing around, on the lookout to see who else is coming, and the floral wreath by the door.  Both of these elements make it clear that the imminent event does not involve something cheerful, like a bride or a baby.

Day before yesterday, like yesterday, began in superb form: One of those dazzling winter mornings — gleaming air, scintillating sunshine, cold (but not too cold), no wind. Perfect. Just the kind of morning that makes you take deep happy breaths and think of going to a funeral.

Of course that’s a stupid thing to say.  Nobody wanted to go, least of all the suddenly departed.  And whether it’s winter or summer, sunshiney funerals make me feel worse than rain and gloom.

I don’t make a hobby of attending funerals, though by now I’ve been to a considerable number of them.  They almost always involve either someone in the rowing world, or a former colleague of Lino’s.  He only goes to them because not going would be worse, but there are plenty of people who seem to find them morbidly enjoyable.

Members of the Canottieri Cannaregio rowed his casket to the church in a caorlina, accompanied by quite a contingent of club boats. Many who didn’t row came in the club uniform anyway.

Maneuvering a coffin from a caorlina onto the funeral-company’s gurney isn’t so easy, but they managed it well. Then they put the “casket-cover” flowers back in place and into the church they went.

One of the most impressive funerals I ever attended was for legendary Venetian-rowing champion Albino “Strigheta” Dei Rossi in 2004.  The ceremony was in the basilica of San Giovanni and Paolo, and the casket was borne to its final resting place in the center of the “Disdotona” (the 18-oar gondola of the Querini rowing club), rowed by 18 of the cream of the current champions.  Thrilling, but it struck me as being more toward the spectacular and less toward the personally-moving end of the scale of mourning.  I don’t recall any damp eyes or expressions of sadness.

But day before yesterday was different, and even more so was a funeral last August, maybe because they were ceremonies for people who would never be legendary but who would be deeply missed.

The most recent occasion involved Luciano Costalonga, a former president of the Canottieri Cannaregio rowing club.  I knew him, though not well.  By now I more or less know a substantial number of people in the rowing world, and many of them have (unlike me) been getting older.  I wouldn’t have classified him as old –he was only 71.  But he had recently undergone an operation (I don’t know for what), and a few days ago just dropped dead.

It was slow going to follow the bier into the church, and not everybody went inside anyway. A good number of people always seem to prefer staying out, where they can exchange the usual platitudes, such as how young/old he was, really, and how much better to go suddenly like that than to pass (insert preferred length of time here) suffering in the hospital.

Something of the same thing, though worse, happened last August to a gondolier named Michele Bozzato (whom I didn’t know).  Lino knew him, but naturally Lino knows — or in this case, has known — almost everybody.

Bozzato’s real love was singing, the obituary said; he had even sold his gondolier license (he kept working as a substitute), so he could devote himself to music full-time, forming a trio called “The Gondoliers,” with whom he cut a disk of Venetian songs.

He was tall, he was strong, he never smoked, he barely drank.

On August 8, he started to have trouble breathing.  They discovered a tumor on his lung. They operated on him. Two weeks later he was gone.  He was 49.

Bozzato’s farewell was amazing; it was more like what happens when a fireman or policeman dies. He had been involved in so many different activities, from soccer to basketball to rowing, and it appears that everybody loved him. The Gazzettino said there were a thousand people there, which I believe — I’m no good at counting crowds, but the church of San Marcuola was so crammed it was like a Turkish bath.

We stayed outside because there was no point forcing ourselves into a large sweaty room pumped full of carbon dioxide.  Women were weeping.  Men were weeping.  I don’t mean wailing and keening, but there were many wet red eyes and the sound of many noses being blown. And the silences between people standing around together weren’t the comfortable “At least it wasn’t me” sort, but more of a stricken “Of anybody at all, it shouldn’t have been him.”

What the two funerals had in common, though, was the general sense of a family loss.  I’m not sure if I mean the Venetian family, which is shrinking inexorably, or the rowing-world family, or the gondoliering family. I do know that everyone seemed to belong to each other, and for the few intense hours of the ceremony it was not only easy to see, but to feel.

On the whole, there seems to be some difference of opinion on who to feel sorrier for: The person who’s gone, or those who are left.  Oddly (in my view), Venetian sadness is directed at the departed.  They have a little rhyme: El pezo xe per chi ch’el mondo lassa, chi che vive se la spassa.  (It’s worse for the person who leaves the world; those who are alive can keep having a good time.)

By the look of things at the churches on these two occasions, though, I’m going to have to say that the people who were alive weren’t enjoying it at all.

Michele Bozzato arrived in the funeral-company’s launch, as per normal, but behind it was a traghetto gondola (technically called a “barchetta”), rowed by four gondoliers, prepared to take him to the cemetery after the funeral.

The very old flagstaff carried in the barchetta belongs to the gondoliers’ association (NOT to be confused with the ENTE Gondola).

The traghetto barchetta is broader than the normal gondola, and has a simpler stern and bow. The white thwarts are there to support the casket; the flowers are there because it’s just absolutely the right thing to do.

Another custom on especially solemn occasions is to tie black ribbon to your boat — in this case, the gondolinos of two pairs of rowers preparing for the Regata Storica a few days later. The blue boat was assigned to Igor and Rudi Vignotto (both gondoliers, as it happens), while the green boat was taken by the Busetto brothers, Roberto and Renato.

Plenty of people were standing around outside the church of San Marcuola, on the side facing the Grand Canal as well as here, by the back door. Obviously the mourners have clustered in the shade, while the sun blazed down on more floral tributes than I have ever seen anywhere.

The ribbon across each arrangement is inscribed with the name(s) of the donors, and the range of names gave some indication of how full his life had been. From left, and I translate: “The Association ‘Note Veneziane’,” “From the Guys at the Ae Oche Pizzeria,” “The Reyer” (local basketball team), “Traghetto S. Sofia (gondolier station), “The Friends from the Bar La Tappa,” “The Checchini Dona’ and Fiorentin Families,””The Friends from Laguna Soccer,”  “The Virtus rowing club,” “The gondoliers of the Traghetto Dogana,” “The gondoliers from the Bacino Orseolo,” “The gondoliers from the Ferrovia,” The gondoliers from the Traghetto Molo,” “Gondoliers Association Venice.”  (The gurney is parked by the back door because no steps clutter the path between here and the Grand Canal.)

Considering the size of these arrangements (regardless of shape or exoticism of the flowers themselves), it’s unlikely that any cost less than 300 euros ($400), and the larger ones were at least 500 euros ($650) each.

All the same, it still is a fine summer morning; some people brought their kids, but you couldn’t expect them to stand around doing nothing.

There was a certain amount of down-time for the photographer from the Gazzettino, too.

When they start to take the flowers back to the launch, you know it’s almost over.

The throng follows — in this case, quite a throng. When the casket was placed on the barchetta, the gondoliers raised their oars in the traditional “alzaremi” salute, and everyone’s instinct was to applaud, so they did.

The barchetta departs for the cemetery, escorted by the two gondolinos.

The gondolino cortege departs. While I recognize that it was a scorchingly hot morning, and that the rowers were more interested in training than in funerals, I merely note that the Vignottini, in the blue boat, changed from their sweat-garb into the classic racing and otherwise ceremonially appropriate white pants and striped T-shirt. The Busettos had a somewhat different sense of the occasion.

 

Categories : Venetian-ness
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Perhaps your local gazette hasn’t mentioned it yet, but Pope Benedict XVI is planning a big trip soon. He’ll be touring Northeast Italy, and will be in or around Venice on May 7 and 8.

"King Henri III of France visiting Venice in 1574, escorted by Doge Alvise Mocenigo and met by the Patriarch Giovanni Trevisan," by Andrea Micheli "Vicentino." This is the kind of welcome everyone had come to expect.

Venice has a long and prodigious history of state visits — King Henry III of France and Poland, in 1574, was one of the more famous guests, just one of a seemingly infinite procession of princes, ambassadors, potentates, emperors and, of course, popes coming to see the sights, visit the doge, and usually ask for some favor, like money or soldiers. Reading the list of deluxe visitors over the centuries gives the impression that the main business of Venice was hosting foreign notables, while other activities such as running an empire filled the random empty moments, kind of like a hobby.

Yet His Imminence has aroused not only joy and excitement among the faithful, but tension and recrimination and a series of increasingly regrettable remarks among the city’s gondoliers concerning who is going to get to row him the approximately five minutes it takes to row from San Marco to the church of the Salute, and in what boat. By a mystic coincidence, gondoliers are also known as pope (POH-peh), because they row on the stern (poppa) of the gondola. I have no idea what this might portend.

"The reception of Cardinal Cesar d'Estrees 1726," by Luca Carlevaris. Just all part of a normal day.

Don’t suppose that the battle to transport the pontiff is any particular evidence that gondoliers are so pious. A pious gondolier would be a distant cousin to a pious illegal-clam fisherman, or a pious doctor of a cycling champion.  I’m not saying it’s impossible, just kind of unusual. But they do like to be the center of attention and, in fact, they’re used to being regarded as some sort of star.  At least to the damsels they may be so fortunate as to row around the canals.

Popes aren’t supposed to cause dissension, they’re supposed to resolve it. But Benedict has unwittingly set off a sort of collective seizure.

Pope John Paul II being rowed in the city's balotina by four "re del remo" in 1985; high astern is the legendary Gigio "Strigheta."

First: Luciano Pelliccioli, vice-president of the gondola station heads (and a gondolier) offered to join Aldo Reato, president of the gondola station heads (and a gondolier) to row His Sanctity in Luciano’s extremely elaborate and glamorous gondola.

No!! The cry went up.  Why should those two men profit by their position and crowd out equally (I mean, more) deserving gondoliers?  Why, indeed?

Furthermore!! Champion racer Roberto Busetto, never at a loss for an opinion (he isn’t a gondolier, but that’s a detail), objected on the grounds that if Luciano should ever think of selling his gondola, he could easily make a huge profit by marketing it as the gondola that had carried the pope.  Busetto gets five bonus points for crassness, though that doesn’t mean he’s wrong.

Anyway, Luciano withdrew his offer of his gondola and himself.  Reato also withdrew, but the incessant calls have continued. There are 425 gondoliers and by now probably each of the remaining 423 has called him at least once.  Some of them have fantastic reasons to be chosen: “Padre Pio came to me in a dream and said you should pick me,” said one.  Another person suggested Giorgia Boscolo, the first woman gondolier.  That idea burnt up on reentry into reality.

Then somebody suggested the “Strigheta” brothers, Franco and Bruno, sons and heirs (and gondoliers) of one of the greatest racers/gondoliers of all time, Albino “Gigio” Dei Rossi, known as “Strigheta.” (He rowed not only one, but four popes in his day.) They’re loaded with credentials and nobody hates them, which helps.

Then somebody suggested a four-rower gondola, rowed by the current racing champions, the Vignottini and D’Este and Tezzat. I think the idea was that rowing the pope could somehow magically bring peace to these two savagely feuding pairs, though somebody else opined that it wasn’t appropriate to expect the Holy Father to resolve every little neighborhood squabble. In any case, the four men have declared their willingness to row the Pontifex Maximus together, which is already a big step forward.

Then somebody asked: Why should it be a gondola?  Excellent question, considering that the city of Venice owns a more capacious gondola-type boat called a balotina, on which Pope John Paul II was borne along the Grand Canal in 1985.

Then some daring person suggested using the “disdotona,” or 18-oar gondola, which belongs to the Querini rowing club, and which in my opinion is not only the most spectacular boat in the city, by far, but would provide 18 men the chance to Row for Holiness.

Naturally, this idea got nowhere, because nobody thought one club should be given preference over another.  We’ve all got great boats, the thinking goes — why them and not us?

Even when it's not doing anything, the "disdotona" is impressive. I think the pope would look splendid seated in the bow, what with the velvet drapery trailing in the water and all.

I’m surprised nobody has yet suggested using the “Serenissima,” the huge decorated bissona with a raised stern, making the pope easy to see plus providing space for his entourage and some trumpeters, if that seemed appropriate.  But so far no mention of this little coracle.

Which brought up the next question: Why should the rowers be gondoliers? Another useful point.  In the olden days, a visiting potentate — such as John Paul II — would be rowed by the necessary number of “re del remo,” men who had won the Regata Storica five years in succession.  There aren’t many of them, because it’s fiendishly hard to do.  That would instantly reduce the number of candidates to something manageable.

And by now there has been at least one practical joke.  Someone purporting to be Aldo Reato (president of the gondola station heads) called the Gazzettino and said the matter had been settled: Luciano’s fancy gondola was going to be used after all, rowed by Franco Girardello, a retired gondolier who goes by the nickname “Magna e dormi” (eat and sleep). This fantasy was quickly dispelled by all concerned except the anonymous prankster.

The "Serenissima" was born for this kind of event. Odd that so far nobody has suggested it.

The most recent bulletin is that the matter will be put to a secret vote among the gondoliers.  The mind rather reels.  Busetto thinks the papal gondola is going to cost the moon at resale?  How much is a gondolier’s vote going to be worth, at this point?  No checks, no credit cards.

Comments from bemused readers of the Gazzettino run from “The pope doesn’t care who rows him” to “What a farce” to”Actually, Padre Pio came to ME in a dream and said I should do it.”

A certain Riccardo made the following suggestion:

“Requirements for candidacy:

Never to have blasphemed; Never to have used foul language; Never to have spoken in a coarse tone of voice.  In the case of more than one valid candidate (doubtful), preference will be given to the one who has a good knowledge of the principles of Catholicism, and/or who has read at least one of the 16 chapters of the Gospel of St. Mark, patron saint of our city.”

This pastoral visit has been in the planning stages for at least three months — probably more — and yet here we are, at the last minute, dealing with the frenzied bleating of the flock.

Meaning no disrespect, I think it would have been better for everybody if they had given a crash course in rowing to a Rastafarian and a dervish. I can’t think of a gondolier who could possibly be cooler than that.

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