Archive for San Martin

May
15

Diabolic pot-making

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Perhaps the reason all those pots have no lids is because the kids took them to "batter San Martin" and forgot to bring them back.  Or maybe not.

Perhaps the reason all those pots have no lids is because the kids took them to “batter San Martin” and forgot to bring them back. Or maybe not.

As I have noted in various other circumstances, the following is one of my most favorite expressions, and I’m sorry to say that nearly every day something happens to illustrate its profound truth.

El diavolo fa e tece ma no i coverci (el dee-AH-volo fa eh TEH-cheh ma no ee co-VER-chee).  The Devil makes the pots, but he doesn’t make the lids.  Sooner or later, the flaws in whatever fantastic and usually highly sketchy project or idea you’re involved in are going to be discovered.  The jig will be up.

Small-, medium- and big-time criminals are astonishingly prone to cook their schemes in lidless pots.  Perhaps nobody has explained the importance of keeping them thoroughly sealed, like a pressure-cooker.  Perhaps they don’t believe the Devil would ever play a dirty trick on them, seeing that they’re so busy at it themselves. Here are some recent illustrations of how this works.

The bicycle-racing champion.  With apologies to Sir Walter Scott, I have to ask: Breathes there a man (or woman) with soul so dead, who never to himself hath said, “I’m going to call in sick today and go get my hair highlighted”?  If such there be, he is not Marshal Roberto Ambrosi of the Air Force, because instead of asking for sick leave and then going to the salon, or the Casino, or some other place of amusement, he decided to enter the World Championship of Mountain Biking.

So far, so possibly anonymous.  Except that he won the race and the gold medal, and the published image of him crossing the finish line with arms upraised all combine to make one heck of a kitchen utensil to leave uncovered, because he had requested eight days of sick leave which he spent training, and not lying on the sofa consuming hot liquids and taking his temperature.

Sick leave is usually linked to some ailment, as I understand it, so the bike training is awkward.  The court in Verona, which has jurisdiction, maintains that either an ailment didn’t exist, or wasn’t sufficiently severe to warrant sick leave. If he indeed was ailing, and if it netted him a gold medal in a fairly strenuous sport, we’d all like to know how to catch whatever it is.

His defense maintains that he never claimed to have an ailment.  Seeing that this ought to be a point which would be phenomenally simple to determine — look at the request form, which somebody must have signed? — there must be something more going on here.  His lawyer attempts to gain ground by also pointing out that the race was held on a Sunday (time off, by definition), though I myself see no link between eight misidentified days of leave and whatever the accused did on Sunday. It all makes nit for the legal experts to pick.

I should mention that the race was held last year, so I’d give Marshal Ambrosi five extra points for succeeding in not being discovered for a fairly long time.  Points which I am compelled to withdraw for the fact that any of this ever happened in the first place.

The get-in-line thieves:  Three men go out to rob a bar in Martellago, just up the road (this is not the beginning of a joke.  Or maybe it is).  It’s 4:00 AM, which as we all know is the perfect time for robbing bars.  This trio had demonstrated this fact on a number of other occasions. So it was understandable that they were a little peevish when, just as two of them were cutting open the security shutters on the door, some other guys showed up.

Maybe pots without lids seem more efficient somehow.  There's less to wash, that's true.

Maybe pots without lids seem more efficient somehow. There’s less to wash, that’s true.

The third thief, who had been stationed as a lookout for the police, was quick to cut them short. “Hey,” he snapped — “We got here first.”  Beat it, in other words, leave us in peace and go rob some other bar.

Except that the “other guys” were Carabinieri in plainclothes.  The three bandits figured this out as the handcuffs snapped around their wrists.  Good going, lookout!  We need to take you with us again!

This would be a too-perfect example of another of my favorite sayings: No xe da portarte a rubar (no zeh dah por-TAR-teh ah roo-BAR). Roughly: “You’re not someone I’d take with me to steal something.”  This phrase is useful for any moment in which a person spontaneously does or says something which ruins whatever project you had going in another direction. For example: Your boss calls you at home and your wife answers and says, “Oh, he’s not home right now.  He’s out all day training on his mountain bike for the world championship.”  The husband would be justified in telling her that she’s just the perfect person to take along for the heist.

Or how about this, a true story from Lino’s past as an airplane mechanic at Marco Polo airport.  He was working aboard a plane with a group of guys and they decided to kick back and take a break.  So they picked one man and told him to stand at the doorway of the plane and tell them if the boss was coming.  The boss does indeed come; he walks up the steps and asks the lookout, “What are you doing?”  And the lookout says, “I’m standing here watching to see if you’re coming so I can tell the guys inside.”  Not made up.

To return to our trio: The fact that the investigators then went to the culprits’ homes and recovered all sorts of stolen stuff from other jobs is just the proverbial cherry on the cake, as they say here.

What will live in history is the blinding flash of brilliance of the indignant lookout invoking “honor among thieves” —  First come, first served.  Don’t jump the line.  Take a number. —  to the Carabinieri.

The jealous, potentially flammable, ex-husband.  This anecdote will not inspire mirth (I hope), though it certainly made me move my lips in a smile-like way as I paused to dwell on the inscrutable workings of Providence.

One evening not long ago, here in the most beautiful city in the world, a Romanian man was out stalking his wife.  She had endured far too much abuse, from physical attacks to the loss of all their money due to his gambling addiction, and in 2011 they separated, then reconciled. They left the children with the grandparents in Romania and came to Italy to start over.  Before long, the only operative word for them was “over.”

She left him, and moved from Padova to an undisclosed address in Venice.  She got a job as a waitress at a bar-disco called Il Piccolo Teatro in Campo San Lorenzo.

It might be a good idea to keep an extra lid with you at all times.  You never know.

It might be a good idea to keep an extra lid with you at all times. You never know.

But none of this spelled “Forget her, she never wants to breathe the same air as you” to the rejected husband. He began to cultivate the conviction that she was having an affair with her boss, and also that her boss was making her work as a prostitute.  Having not had much success with the stalker’s usual barrage of phone calls, messages, and threats, he found out where she worked (I never understand how stalkers discover these details), and decided to settle the matter in person.

He filled a bottle with gasoline, took the train from Padova to Venice, and waited near the entrance to the bar for her to show up for work.  Which she did, shortly before opening time at 10:30 PM, along with her boss and another employee.

The ex-husband then splattered gasoline over her, her boss, and himself, cried “You’re going to burn with me,” and took out a lighter. Screams and confused phrases ensued, during which time he would flick the lighter on, then close it.

Now we get to the good part.  It just so happened that at that very moment the chief of police, Vincenzo Roca, was walking home, close enough to the scene to smell the gasoline and hear the hysterical screams of the woman.  He instantly intervened, managed to convince the man to give him the lighter, then called the mobile squad to come take him away.

The police chief lives in the palatial police headquarters which are literally just across the canal from Campo San Lorenzo ((cue Inscrutable Providence!).  What are the odds of all this?  Set aside the amazing fact that it was the chief himself who witnessed the scene in time to avoid horror — what sort of deranged ex-husband decides to try to kill his wife directly in front of the police station?

During the two hours of interrogation which followed, he maintained that he never intended to kill anyone, that his wild scenario was merely to get his wife’s attention and, having accomplished that, to convince her to quit working and come back to him.  If I were soaked with gasoline, the only thing a lighter-wielding man could convince me of would be that he is criminally insane.  But that’s just me.

He is now in prison, accused of attempted homicide, and for stalking.  The judge for the preliminary hearing wasn’t convinced that he needed to be kept locked up for the first count (you don’t think he would try again?  Really?), but did leave him in the clink for the stalking.  Whatever works.

Gold stars to police chief Roca!  And kudos also to Inscrutable Providence, whose message to the man by now must be extremely scrutable: (A) Do not attack anyone in front of the police station, (B) Do not attack anyone, period, and (C) Go somewhere far away and start your life over.  Ideally in a magical realm where all the pots have lids.

Though this model is undoubtedly the best investment you can make, when you get to simmering your future.  Not just a lid -- the Ur-lid.

This model is undoubtedly the best investment you can make, when you get to simmering your future. Not just a lid — the Ur-lid.

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Nov
13

San Martino footnote

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Twenty-three euros and 70 cents comes to $30. I leave it to you to decide if any saint on earth would consider that reasonable. However, the cookie has a long and honorable history, and you can’t put a price on that. At least nobody has tried, so far.

I don’t want Saint Martin’s day 2012 to be associated only with acqua alta and with the words which are being thrown about like fistfuls of gravel: “Disaster,” “Tempest,” “Catastrophe,” and so on.

There is no meteorological event which can get the upper hand of the cookie — the wonderful creation showing Saint Martin astride his horse, sometimes also with his sword upraised ready to cut his cloak in half, translated into dough, colored icing, sprinkles, and chunks of candy that cling to him and his trusty steed.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, these cookies come in all sizes, and all calibers of candy, and all are spectacularly overpriced.  St. Martin would be ashamed of everybody if he could express himself.

But what’s interesting this year is the bit of history of these confections which I have learned from a leaflet attached to the overpriced cookie Lino gave me.  There’s no stopping him: It’s tradition, and if we have to spend the egg-and-butter money for a crumbly San Martino, so be it.

I had assumed that this pastry was some newfangled confection invented by modern bakers looking for a new product for which to charge too much.  But no.

Here is what the leaflet said (translated by me):

The custom of giving a San Martino made of shortcrust pastry was introduced and spread, most probably, by the pastrymakers who came from the Canton of Graubunden (Switzerland), who were present in massive numbers in Venice since the 15th century.

They had their own statutes in the scuola (guildhall) adjacent to the church of San Marcuola and near the ancient church of Santa Croce, in the homonymous sestiere, which was subsequently demolished in 1806. (Note: This would have been part of the massacre of Venetian churches, palaces, and guildhalls inflicted by Napoleon after the fall of the Venetian Republic in 1797.)

The archives reveal that more than 80 percent of the pastryshops were run by people from Graubunden, in whose favor the Venetian Senate issued special laws.

With the end of the Republic, due to the adverse political situation, the people of Graubunden were compelled, against their wishes, to leave the city, taking with them and diffusing in the major European cities the traditional Venetian pastry. (I’m all for local pride, but it’s interesting to note that according to this writer, the cookie came to Venice from Switzerland, but left Venice as Venetian.  If I were Swiss, I’d object to that.)

The celebration of San Martino coincided with the end of the agricultural labor of the year.  To celebrate this important moment, the Venetian patricians organized sumptuous banquets in their magnificent country villas, in which all their workers participated, and it was traditional to conclude the feast with a shortcrust pastry in the form of San Martino.

A contemporary illustration of the Swiss pastrymakers selling their wares. The caption reads (in Venetian): “The privilege granted to the Nation of the people of Graubunden to sell bussolai, and to have shops in any corner of the city whatsoever.” The historic sources for this information are scrupulously  noted: The Library of Samedan and San Murezzan (Upper Engadine), the Library and Archive of Chur, and the Marciana Library of Venice.

 

 

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Nov
12

San Martino blows through

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It amuses me to see boats floating up so high. In a really serious acqua alta, they can go high enough to slip off the top of their pilings, though this enterprising/lazy/cheap person has opted to skip buying pilings and tied his destroyer to the barrier instead. This is risky, considering that the force of the tide (either rising or falling) can pull the boat down on one side. Then the boat fills with water.  I have seen this with my own eyes; they say the boat has “hanged” itself, just like a person.  By the way, I notice that this owner is unnaturally concerned with the potential contact between the hull and the fondamenta.  Five fenders?  Are we waiting for a tsunami?

Saint Martin’s day yesterday was a lot more emphatic than it usually is with the banging of pots and pans by kids on a quest for candy.  In addition to the kids, and the traditional cookies, we got acqua alta — the second visitation of the season, and it was noticeable.  The news tonight reported that it had reached 149 cm (4.8 feet)  above sea level, the sixth highest since 1872.  (The highest on record remains November 4, 1966, which was 190 cm/6.2 feet).

Water didn’t enter our hovel, but it didn’t miss by much.

We heard the sirens sound, as expected, two hours before the peak predicted for 8:20 AM.  There were three extra tones, which indicated an anticipated maximum of 120 cm (3.9 feet).  Not long after that, we heard the sirens again, this time with four tones (140 cm/4.5 feet).  At that point we sat up and began to pay attention.

What made this event more interesting than usual wasn’t simply the height of the water, it was the speed of the wind — I mean, the force of the scirocco, which is always a major factor in keeping the lagoon in when it wants to go out.  The wind was blowing around 40 km/hr (24 mph), with gusts of 55 km/hr (34 mph).

All this was part of a major weather system that hit large areas of Italy leaving real drama and destruction in its wake — mudslides, blocked roads, fallen trees, and more mayhem than we could ever manage here, thank God.

Naturally we went out to buy the newspaper and look around the neighborhood.  I don’t usually take pictures of acqua alta anymore, as they have long since become repetitive.  But this was toward the unusual side of the daily scale of nuisances.

Of course I’m glad the water didn’t exceed our top step, but if it had, I’d still be alive.  This is the first of my annual pleas to the world to  ignore the wailing and gnashing and published or broadcast claims that the city has been driven to its knees.  I do not consider the fact that a tourist has had wade across the Piazza San Marco carrying her suitcase on her head an indication of anything larger than a temporary annoyance — it certainly does not make  even the tiniest wail begin to form anywhere in my thorax. Anyone who has been dealing with Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath — not to mention people in stricken areas of Tuscany and Umbria — would find the suggestion that a large but temporary inconvenience could be compared to life-threatening catastrophe not only ridiculous, but offensive.  By noon the water was all gone and the streets were drying off.

We hadn’t even reached the end of the fondamenta before we got inconfutable evidence that in spite of the blasting wind and rain and water up to our thighs that the tide had turned: Under the boats, the  anguele (Atherina boyeri)  were all facing upstream, against the tide.

As usual, somebody had left a bag of garbage out on the street. You can’t pick them all up as they float around and away, but this was the first one we came across and Lino decided he had to do something about it. Nobody would have noticed, or cared, but I was impressed and I know he felt better.

The owner of our favorite cafe didn’t even try to keep the water out, though she did take all the boxes of panettone out of the window display and stacked them up on the counter along the wall. As she told us later, there’s no point in putting a barrier across the door — the water just comes in some other way. In the case of the cafe across the street, jets of water were coming in through fissures in the wall even as he was pumping the water out. Meanwhile, this lady is here every day, reading. Why let a little water ruin a perfectly fine routine?

Many of the shops along via Garibaldi were being pumped out — it was like walking around the gardens of the Villa d’Este with all the fountains.

I was struck by yet another illustration of the fact that Venice is not perfectly flat. We were sloshing along in our hipwaders, while just beyond the gate there was high ground. When the acqua isn’t alta, you’d think it was all level.

As you see, not everybody got the memo that the city was afflicted with a desperate situation. This is Venice with acqua alta: People waist-deep in the Piazza San Marco carrying their suitcases on their heads, people sitting in cafes as the water laps at their chairs, and some people (they were French, for the record) who think it’s all more fun than watching elephants ride a roller-coaster. So take your pick. Tragedy? Comedy? Farce?

As we got closer to the Riva dei Sette Martiri facing the lagoon, the reality of the tide going out began to really mean something. The combined power of the water channeling out of the Grand Canal and the Giudecca Canal toward the sea hit the embankment approximately at the end of via Garibaldi. Lino said he’d never seen anything like this, and he’s seen every acqua alta in the past 70 years. Walking against this was like walking against an Alpine torrent. (Apologies for the blur — the wind and rain were also picking up force here.)

Someone pauses to assess the situation as we near the edge of the Riva. As you can tell, there’s relatively little to assess. If you’re still standing up, you’re okay.

The only yacht moored near the Arsenal was in a fairly unpleasant situation. Perhaps the waves wouldn’t have lifted it up onto the pavement, but it was making progress to having its expensive hull  well and truly bashed and dented. The only two people on board were working like madmen to push the fenders between the stone and the metal. But it was a doomed endeavor. Why? Because the wind and water were pushing against them, and for some incomprehensible reason they had not slackened one of the lines attaching the boat to the fondamenta. Even if these two were Samson and Hercules, they couldn’t have pushed the boat out further than the rope would let them. And yet they kept trying. I wanted to go say “Untie the line!” but Lino said “Don’t even think of getting yourself involved, for the sake of the souls of all my dead relatives.”

I have the utmost respect for the fact that they were giving it all they had to protect the boat (though then again, why it took them so long to remember the fenders is a mystery. The high-water siren sounded at 6:00 AM and it’s now 9:30.) Instinct clearly has taken over, because two people with a combined weight of perhaps 300 pounds couldn’t possibly shift an object weighing at least a ton being pushed by the combined strength of Poseidon and Aeolus. I hope they’re okay today. I hope they didn’t get fined, or fired, when the boss called in to check on his boat.

Despite the surging water and lashing waves and all, here is undeniable proof that the tide is falling: Detritus left behind on the steps of the bridges. I don’t usually find trash appealing, but this was a beautiful thing to see.

 

 

 

Categories : Acqua Alta, Water
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Classic weather for the feast of San Martino, probably designed to send you indoors to eat the classic roasted chestnuts.

Classic weather for the feast of San Martino, probably designed to send you indoors to eat the classic roasted chestnuts.

As I may have said before, one of the many things I love about being here is the way life crosses the stream of the year by stepping on a series of metaphorical stones, which are the assorted holidays and feast days of some saints I hardly knew (that means “never knew”) existed.  Now I know more about them than could ever be regarded as useful or even, dare I say it, interesting.

I used to think it was so exotic the way that people in the Middle Ages, according to assorted novels, would always be talking about events according to their nearest feast day: “We’ll plant the corn after St. Swithin’s Day,” “The marriage took place before Candlemas,” and so on.  Now I’m doing it too.

For example, everybody knows that you don’t broach the new wine until St. Martin’s Day, which is today, November 11. The seppie begin to head out to sea after the Feast of the Redentore (third Sunday in July). I could go on, but St. Martin is getting restless.

The essential costume must include headgear, usually a crown. This item deftly connects all the symbols, which is San Martino with a sword on his horse.

The essential costume must include headgear, usually a crown. This item deftly connects the essential elements, which are San Martino, a sword, and a horse.

The festivities almost always take place on the eve of the official date of whatever the event may be. Therefore, yesterday via Garibaldi was strewn with small children in their “San Martin” garb — clever crowns, sometimes capes, often a bag for the candy they strongly urge people to give them — and carrying whatever bits of kitchenware such as pots and pans (or their covers) to bang and clang as they sing the vaguely threatening San Martino song.  The gist of this ditty is that if you don’t give them candy, they will invoke a variety of unpleasant reprisals. Pimples on your butt is one of the favorites.

The essential elements for the traditional cookie are pastry dough and candies stuck on with icing.  This is the minimalist version, reduced, simplified, symbolic.  And small.

The essential elements for the traditional cookie are pastry dough and candies stuck on with icing. This is the minimalist version, reduced, simplified, symbolic. And small.

I like to think about all these people who stroll across the Venetian calendar. The Befana (Jan. 6), Santa Lucia (Dec. 13), the Madonna della Salute (Nov. 21), San Marco (April 25) and now San Martino (Nov. 11). Of course there are many more, when you add in every parish’s patron saint. Just imagine them all  getting together at their annual convention: “International Marching and Chowder Society of Saints of the Venetian Year, this year meeting in Mobile, Alabama.  Before registering, make sure you’ve paid your dues.” It’s just an expression. Saints, by definition, have long since paid them.

Where was I?  Via Garibaldi.  So yesterday afternoon hot chocolate and the crucial cookie called a “Samartin” (Sa-mar-TEEN) were distributed to the children by the good men of the Mutual Aid Society of the Caulkers and Carpenters. When they ran out of children they gave cookies to everyone else, mainly grandmothers and aged aunts who had been circling like buzzards.

Today, the late morning  was clanked and clattered by groups of schoolchildren,  manic little locusts  in impromptu costumes swarming the shops and vendors.  They were banging on their cookware and singing the San Martino song, or at least some of it.

The onslaught begins as the older children head for the next shop --which in this case will be a fruit and vegetable vendor.

The onslaught begins as the older children head for the next shop --which in this case will be a fruit and vegetable vendor.

It's nice to see the horse getting some recognition.  All he did in the original story was stand there.

It's nice to see the horse getting some recognition. All he did in the original story was stand there.

They  had also prepared a series of posters depicting San Martino at his greatest moment, the encounter with the freezing beggar by the road and the division of his cloak with his sword.

A little tourist girl meets San Martino -- or more precisely, the beggar on the ground.

A little tourist girl meets San Martino -- or more precisely, the beggar at his feet.

I believe he did a few other things in his life which had deeper and longer-lasting importance, but they don’t make anywhere near as good a story.  Or poster.

Considering the ludicrous prices of the cookies on sale around town — a rough estimate tells me that regardless of size they cost 250% more than last year, when the prices were already too high — I think San Martino ought to cut the cookies in half.

Funny how in these pictures it's never winter. That sort of mitigates the whole freezing-to-death part of the story. But this is obviously prettier.

Funny how in these pictures it's never winter. That sort of mitigates the whole freezing-to-death part of the story. But this is obviously prettier.

41 euros is $56. The size of this supposedly mega-cookie (#5) can easily be understood if you know the size of a Perugina "bacio" chocolate. (Hint: It contains one hazelnut.) I realize that 14 chocolates are not cheap. But if you're going to spend $50 on something, I wouldn't be thinking of chocolate but something more in the precious-metals line. Gad.

41 euros is $56. The size of this supposedly mega-cookie (#5) can easily be understood if you know the size of a Perugina "bacio" chocolate. (Hint: It contains one hazelnut.) I realize that 14 chocolates are not cheap. But if you're going to spend $56 on something, I wouldn't be thinking of chocolate but something more in the precious-metals line. Gad.

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