Archive for Saint Joseph


Christmas spirit

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This splendid relief carving surmounts the main entrance to the church of San Giuseppe (Saint Joseph) in Castello. There are two especially good things here: First, Saint Joseph is, as always, in the background -- even on a church dedicated to him. He must have been a remarkable person. Second, the three shepherds are as accurate as artist Giulio dal Moro (early 1500's) could make them. The first one, kneeling, not only has a small barrel attached to his belt (brandy?), but his upraised right hand is holding sheep-shears.

Venice at Christmas — it sounds as if the entire city ought to be refulgent with gleaming and sparkling, as if every fragment of its shattered splendor should come together and shine in an unearthly and glorious way.

Yes, it does seem that it ought to be that way.

Instead, scattered efforts at decoration all around the city make bright flickers, some bigger, some smaller, that don’t come together in any coherent way. Venice is littered with Nativity scenes, in paintings, in sculpture, not to mention other aspects of the Christmas story — the Annunciation, the Adoration of the Magi, the Flight into Egypt, and even the Massacre of the Innocents –yet the general attitude toward Christmas is not excessively devout.  It remains essentially a domestic holiday and I suppose that ought to translate, if depicted accurately today, into scenes of Mary in the kitchen wrestling with something heavy in the oven while Baby Jesus is busy trying to teach the cat how to swim, or of them looking desperately, not for a room at the inn, but for a place to park at the mall. Meaning no disrespect.

Punctually on December 1, the Christmas mailbox gets installed outside the tobacco/lottery/toy shop.

Little old people, as everywhere, are being wrangled into some extended-family configuration; and the children are, I think, essentially like children everywhere — eyes and spirits fixed, not on the Star, but on the imminent deluge of presents. And not brought by kings or wise men, but laid on by squadrons of adoring relatives, even in times like these.

Perhaps there are gala balls being held in palaces, but my sense is that anybody with a palace is probably already at Cortina.

Still, the framework remains the same, at least in our little hovel: Christmas Eve means risotto of go’ and roasted eel, the ripping open of the presents, midnight mass, the singing of “You Descend from Heaven,”  and slicing the panettone at midnight and popping the prosecco.

Christmas Day means the big mass at San Marco, some fabulous meaty lunch, then either sleeping on the sofa or visiting relatives, then more eating, and more sleeping.

The day after Christmas — the feast of Santo Stefano — is another holiday.  More gorging on food, this time with all of Lino’s family.

One quaint aspect of this holiday is that there are no newspapers for two days because the journalists and editors and printers don’t work  on Christmas Eve and Christmas. This is an antiquated practice that is even more exotic than bearing in the boar’s-head and drinking wassail.  Newspapers in the rest of the world come out as usual, but here, for some reason (and I do not believe it’s because the entire category wants to spend two whole days in church) the newspaper-producers just don’t work on Christmas.

To which I say: Who notices or cares?  The broadcast journalists are working as usual, and the news continues to flow to us in an unbroken stream via the television and the Internet.  But somehow print journalists feel themselves to be special, which, I presume, is fostered and sustained by the unions.  And then they complain that readership is falling.

But this is normal.

This homemade Nativity scene was created by the family on Sant' Erasmo where we go to buy our vegetables. Who says there were no apples and squash in the stable?

What is going to be abnormal this year for the holidays is: Minimal garbage collection.  Of any sort, whether recyclable (there’s a weekly schedule for the different types of material) or otherwise (clam shells, coffee grounds, orange peels, fishbones, half-eaten cupcakes, wine bottles, etc.).  And this will last for two days: Christmas Day, and Santo Stefano.

Two days with no garbage collection — this is a startling innovation in the festal folkways, especially in a city which purports to be world-class, or somewhere near it, and during a period which could be described as garbage-intensive.

The Gazzettino conveys the explanation given by the garbage company, which is nothing more than an arm of the city government with a different name: The garbage collectors are all going to be too busy keeping the streets clean to have time also to collect the bags which are daily left outside the doors of houses and shops.

The very best part is that, given this fact, the garbage company respectfully requests the good citizens to refrain from putting their bags of refuse outside for two days.  So the streets can be neat and tidy. And the interiors of the houses and stores can become kitchen middens.

This is only moderately annoying to us, but for families with children, it’s inconceivable.  I can tell you right now, sitting here with my eyes closed, that the streets are going to be FULL of bags of garbage.  Or maybe there will be a mass reversion to the Old Way, which involves a big splash.

To review: We are requested to not clutter the streets because the trash-teams are going to be busy keeping the streets clean.  But if we’re not putting out trash, why do the streets need to be cleaned? It’s like the definition of chutzpah: First you kill your parents, then you plead for clemency from the court because you’re an orphan.

I tell you, sometimes life in the most beautiful in the world makes my head hurt.

But let us return to the reason for the season, as they say.  Here is a small assortment of glimpses of Venice preparing for Christmas.  But of course, the most beautiful scenes of all are arranged and decorated and illuminated where you’ll never see them: In each person’s heart.  Compared to which glass angels and marzipan cake and all the strings of lights ever plugged in are as nothing.

Out on the eastern edge of Venice, the furthest bit of inhabited land, someone has chosen to put up a lighted little sleigh with one reindeer.

I'm still mystified by whatever is hanging on the fence below the sleigh, but it does seem merry and bright. Could it be an illuminated poinsettia?













The boathouse of the Generali insurance company's rowing club always has a Nativity scene of some sort. This year they made it float on the canal -- beautiful and evocative, though the waves from the endlessly passing motorboats during the day make it toss like a ship in a storm.

An enterprising bakery and pastry shop hollowed out a chocolate panettone and put in little figurines of Mary, Joseph and Jesus made of marzipan.

They also added a small light to represent the star. But if marzipan can be made to resemble real fruit and fish and so on, why did they make the Holy Family look as if it were carved out of soap? Lino says they already did plenty to make it look like this, and I should just zip it.


One of the innumerable variations on the Christmas cake. However they decorate it, the sentiment is always happily the same.

The Nativity scene in a hut in via Garibaldi has all the necessary components, down to the empty manger. In a startling flash of logic, the Baby Jesus isn't installed until Christmas Day.


The glow of Christmas on via Garibaldi, silently and majestically and completely upstaged by the moon. And to all a good night.




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