Archive for Sant’ Elena


Disaster strikes

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A tornado crossed part of the lagoon yesterday morning, and part of Sant’ Elena was in its way,  And all of our boat club.

The office is gone, the two buildings and sheds where our boats were kept are gone.  And the boats are pretty much gone, too.  I don’t mean “gone” as in lifted to heaven in the rapture, I mean it in the sense of smashed to various bits.  Because we were in a phase of demolishing the old clubhouse in anticipation of a new facility and all our 34 boats were outside.

The man who operates the winch to put the boats in and out of the water was in the metal container that served as his temporary shelter at the water’s edge.  The tornado rolled it over a couple of times with him in it, and two men managed to get him out.  He was rushed to the emergency room with a gash in his head and two broken ribs, but at least the container wasn’t tornado’d into the water with him in it.

Trees snapped and uprooted, but no further victims, as far as I know, unlike the previous tornado in 1970.

When the tornado struck, we were at the Rialto market where our attention was mostly dedicated to the price of cherries.  It rained, but we had not even the slightest hint that devastation was being wrought just over the way. We had a blast of rain, but there wasn’t anything about it that made you think of anything worse than your wet feet.

We got the news from a friend who was at San Marco, and who had seen it.  Then the phone calls began to spread the word.  At that point I was on Murano  with a friend, so I wasn’t able to go help with the first load of work, But Lino was there all afternoon, along with almost every club member who was available.

I’m still trying to get a grip on all this.  Because this morning has dawned cool, clear, and dazzling with cloudless sunshine.  Translation: The perfect day to go out in a boat.

The website of the Remiera Casteo has photographs and film of what the tornado left behind.

YouTube has a number of clips of this event but here is one of the best. If the video isn’t shown, here is the link:

Categories : Boatworld, Nature
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Considering how well my personal Vogalonga went this year (along with my six boatmates), it’s taken me this much time to find anything to say about it other than that.

Also, I have no photographs whatsoever of us, for one reason which explains both these little paragraphs. We didn’t start in the Bacino of San Marco.

A glimpse of the Bacino of San Marco on or about the start this year, which we didn't see. This image is even more beautiful for that very reason. (Thanks to the unnamed photographer who took this picture, which I found on the web.)

The tradition in any boat I’ve been in that includes Lino (all but one — the first year — of the 16 editions I’ve joined) is that we start in the Bacino of San Marco when the cannon fires and all the bells ring.  It’s thrilling and I love this moment, which is all too brief because we then commence rowing, along with a mass of boats surrounding us like migrating krill.

This means that while we have the chance to savor the richness of the moment — boats, cannon, bells — the krill create many well-known problems along the way. Such as at what I think of as the “death corner,” the first turn at the point of Sant’ Elena, where any number of non-Venetian rowers suddenly discover some problem which they hadn’t planned on facing — such as a tricky current, or some boats around them also having problems, or, I don’t know, existential lack of nerve, like cragfast climbers.  You can expect to see at least one capsized vessel here, and a batch of confusion from the mass of boats trying to avoid it.

Then there are the snaky curves along the flank of Sant’ Erasmo, also excellent territory for making miscalculations of available space, relative speeds, and wind direction and force.

Then, of course, there is the every-year-more-difficult (I meant to say “ghastly” but changed my mind) passage into and through the Cannaregio Canal, where inexperience, fatigue, and lack of common sense create packs of boats like Arctic ice.

This year we didn’t have any of that — I mean, ANY of that — for one surprising reason.  We forgot our boat’s number, without which the boat can’t be checked at various points along the way and hence acknowledged as officially doing the course.

So when the cannon/bells/confusion began at 9:00 AM, we were back at the boat club behind Sant’ Elena digging the numbered bib out of Lino’s locker.

Which meant that we joined the scrum after the “death corner,” and — this was unexpected — in some way near the head of the herd.  Please note that this does not mean we started early, as some unsporting people tend to do.  We slipped into the traffic stream at 9:10, roughly the same time it would have been for us at that point even if we’d started in the usual place.

The result of all this being that not only did we cover the entire course in record time without even breaking a sweat (three hours — unheard of), we were able to do it in unearthly tranquillity.  Yes, there were other boats, but noticeably fewer at that stage.  We slithered along Sant’ Erasmo as if there wasn’t anybody else around, and we entered the Cannaregio Canal (over which I always see an invisible sign saying “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here”) as if it were a normal day, only better: The reasonable number of boats ahead of us were proceeding in a reasonable way at a reasonable speed and behaving, well, reasonably.  I had never imagined I could see such a thing.

The only flaw in the ointment, as a friend of mine used to say, was that we were also ahead of the photographers.  We missed the departure, which is always good for spectacular pictures, and we missed the mass return, ditto.

So unless some unknown photographer makes him- or herself known, I’m just going to have to keep my memories dusted and polished, because there isn’t anything else I have to show for this event.

It was so wonderful that I’m already trying to think of ways to convince the crew to leave before 9:00 next year.  If all goes well, I’ll be able soon to report that we finished the course before the others had even started it.

Crazy?  Unsporting?  Simply wrong? Yes indeed.  But now the rot has set in.

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Pitt stop

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You may have heard — or maybe you’re hearing it now — that several Venetian  spring months were sparkled-up by the presence of Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie, here filming “The Tourist.”   (Stuntman Vladimir Tevlovski was also here.   Just thought I’ve give him a shout-out.)

But naturally the excitement was generally focused on The Jolie and also Brad Pitt, who seems to have come along to drink and eat things and get photographed around town with the kids.   And perhaps to keep an eye on her and Johnny Depp, if some unkind comments are to be believed.

I’ve lived most of my life in cities where there are more celebrities than plumbers.   And usually Venetians aren’t too easy to impress, even with the annual Film Festival and other big events that so excite reporters and editors.   This “Hey buddy, you’re blocking the entrance” attitude is just another of the many similarities between Venice and New York, and just another reason why I love it here.  

Hoping to illustrate the reason for Venetians’ general indifference to stars (“So who is that?” “It’s Al Pacino!”   “It’s Heath Ledger!”   “It’s Daniel Craig!” “Oh……”) I thought I’d add here the number of films which have been shot in Venice over the 100-some years that cinema has existed.   But a complete list evidently has never been made.   Listers tend to name only their favorites, which is a little annoying.   Anyway, it’s a lot.     Since I’ve been here I’ve seen at least six in progress, which isn’t all that many.

But in a bar/cafe/pizzeria behind the trees in the generally nondescript area known as Sant’ Elena, at least one barista  hasn’t made any effort to be blase’.  

The other morning I noticed that somebody had set up a little shrine to a moment of  elation which will probably endure till the last person who knows who Brad Pitt was has been cremated and forgotten.

The note says: "Brad Pitt drank from this cup."  The date is April 24, 2010.  I'm sure it has never been, and never will be, washed.

The note says: "Brad Pitt drank from this cup." The date is April 24, 2010. I'm sure it has never been, and never will be, washed.

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Categories : Events, Venetian-ness
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