Archive for Sant’ Erasmo

May
18

Vogalonga views

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I hadn’t thought of writing about the Vogalonga (my 20th, undertaken on Sunday, May 15); after all, the pictures tell the story just as well, or even better — what? — than I could.

For the record, there were almost 2,000 boats registered and something around 8,000 rowers.  What was unusual this year was the acute increase in single (or double, but mainly single) kayaks.  Not judging, just saying.  If this continues, before long we will be the eccentric guests at the Kayaklonga.

Our trusty crew awaits the 9:00 AM start aboard our equally trusty six-oar caorlina. Except that there are nine of us, which means the rowers were rowing an extra 400 pounds or so around the lagoon. Yikes.

Our trusty crew awaits the 9:00 AM start aboard our equally trusty six-oar caorlina. Except that there are nine of us, which means the rowers were transporting an extra 400 pounds or so around the lagoon. They’re smiling here because they don’t realize that yet.  From the front, our little floating United Nations is composed of Marianna Ciarlante (from Abruzzo), Axel and Sandra (Braunschweig), Pietro and Chiara (Rome), Camilla De Maulo and Marta Compagnini (Milan).  Invisible me from the USA on the bow, and seated astern, the ineffable Lino (good grief! a genuine Venetian!!)

Looking at the boats assembling is always entertaining, and the "disdotona," or 18-oar gondola of the Querini rowing club is always spectacular.

Looking at the boats assembling is always entertaining, and the “disdotona,” or 18-oar gondola, of the Querini rowing club is always spectacular.

There is the most wonderful energy and enthusiasm at the start. The cannon fires, all the bells start to ring, all the boats get going -- there is the sound of water rushing rushing past a world of boats.

There is the most wonderful energy and enthusiasm to the start. The cannon fires, all the bells start to ring, all the boats get going, and there is the amazing sound of water rushing past a world of boats.

We had our extra people, but this Sicilian tartana carried a piano and player. Reports were that she played during the whole event, but even though we were pretty close, I never heard a note. Was the playing "As Time Goes By"? "Nearer, My God, to Thee"?

So we were carrying our extra people, but this Sicilian tartana carried a piano and player. Reports were that he played during the whole event, but even though we were pretty close, I never heard a note. Was he playing “As Time Goes By”? “Nearer, My God, to Thee”?

IMG_1888.JPG vogalonga 2016 piano

IMG_1897.JPG Vogalonga 2016

Not long after the endless serpent of boats began to coast along the island of Sant' Erasmo, there seems to have been a mass decision -- lemmings with oars? -- to strike out in a straight line across the shallows instead of staying in the channel that curves its way along the edge of the island.

Not long after the endless serpent of boats began to coast along the island of Sant’ Erasmo, there seems to have been a mass decision — lemmings with oars? — to strike out in a straight line across the shallows instead of staying in the channel that curves its way along the edge of the island. Perhaps you can make them out, on the line separating water from sky.  We stayed in the channel, all by our peaceful, unhassled little selves.  First of all, our boat would have probably  been too heavy to make it across the shallows without ridiculous effort.  Second of all, at the farthest point of Sant’Erasmo. the boats came back into the channel almost exactly in the position they held when they broke free.  We certainly welcomed back a number of boats which had been beside us 35 minutes earlier.

The few pilings marking the channel at the northeast end of Sant'Erasmo are crowned by duck decoys. Evidently they mark a rest stop.

The few pilings marking the channel at the northeast end of Sant’Erasmo are crowned by duck decoys. Evidently they mark a rest stop.

Still rowing, still happy, almost at Burano.

Still rowing, still happy, almost at Burano, the halfway point.

Friends of ours from Cremona.

Friends of ours from Pavia.

A crew of hardy Dutch ladies who I thought, ignorantly, had escaped from the Daughteres of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul. But closer reflection makes it obvious that they have ingeniously modified their traditional headgear to be boatworthy.

A crew of hardy Dutch ladies who I thought, ignorantly, had escaped from the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul. But closer study makes it obvious that they have ingeniously modified their traditional headgear to be boatworthy.

"Burano" is Vogalongaspeak for "bananas and bottles of water or tea or other rehydrating agents thrown deftly from a barge into your boat." I think slightly more than a ton of bananas sacrifice themselves to keep us rowing. Not all in our boat, of course. I'll put a picture of the Great Banana Throw next year -- I was too busy catching them to photograph them.

“Burano” is Vogalongaspeak for “bananas and bottles of water or tea or other rehydrating agents thrown deftly from a barge into your boat.” I think slightly more than a ton of bananas sacrifice themselves to keep us rowing. Not all in our boat, of course. I’ll try to take a picture of the Great Banana Throw next year — I was too busy catching them to photograph them.

At Burano we finally got a glimpse of the amazing Mike O'Toole (astern) and Gary TK of "Gondola Getaway" in Long Beach, California. Not that they rowed from California, though I have no doubt that they could have/

At Burano we finally got a glimpse of the amazing Mike O’Toole (astern) and Gary Serbeniuk of “Gondola Getaway” in Long Beach, California. Not that they rowed from California, though I have no doubt that they could have.

Down the Grand Canal., and the end is in sight. After five hours of rowing, that's a phrase you could sing to "Country rooooooad, take me hooooooome..."...

Down the Grand Canal., and the end is in sight. After five hours of rowing, that’s a phrase you could sing to “Take me hooooooome, country rooooooad…”.

We made it through the usually-clogjammed Canale di Cannaregio with no problem and now it's down the Grand Canal to the finish line. Earlier boats are now heading upstream toward us, back to wherever "home base" might be.

We made it through the usually-clogjammed Canale di Cannaregio with no problem and now it’s on to the finish line.

The two best moments of the Vogalonga -- if one had to choose -- are the beginning and the end. Mike and Gary have made it back to the club, conquering heroes. If that sounds like an exaggeration, you must notice that the blue skies of the morning have turned grey and (you can't see it) very windy and cold. They're smiling also because they know that pasta with mussels awaits them. Well, many they didn't actually KNOW that, but they knew there was going to be wine!

The two best moments of the Vogalonga — if one had to choose — are the beginning and the end. Mike and Gary, conquering heroes, have made it back to the club, and they look like everybody feels when they’ve finally done it.  If that sounds like an exaggeration, you may notice that the blue skies of the morning have turned grey and (you can’t see it) very windy and cold. They’re smiling also because they know that pasta with mussels awaits them. Well, maybe they didn’t actually KNOW that, but they knew there was wine somewhere very nearby.  Because, you know, Italy.

 

Categories : Boatworld
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Jun
08

Springing and summering along

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For the past few days there have been extremely low tides, June being the second period in the year (after January) in which this phenomenon occurs.  As normal as it may be, I always feel strangely happy to see the underpinnings of the lagoon as such close quarters.

For the past few days there have been extremely low tides, June being the second period in the year (after January) in which this phenomenon occurs. All this area would normally be covered with water, to some depth, however modest. While it doesn’t surprise me anymore, I still feel strangely happy to see the underpinnings of the lagoon as such close quarters.

The next morning we rowed along the edge of this exposed prairie.  I noticed a yellow motorboat sitting definitively on the ground; its owner, somewhere nearby, was obviously counting on having lots of time to dig clams before the tide came to float his boat away.

We rowed along the edge of this exposed prairie. I noticed a yellow motorboat sitting definitively on the ground; its owner, somewhere nearby, was obviously counting on having plenty of time to dig clams before the tide came to float his boat away.

The next morning we rowed along the edge of the huge prairie, in the middle of which a yellow motorboat was definitively sitting.  Its owner was obviously counting on having plenty of time to dig clams before the tide rose enough to float him away.

As you see.

Next Sunday Venetians will go to the polls to vote in a runoff election for the new mayor.  Yes, a year has passed since the Good Ship Venice ran aground and was put under a temporary administrator who managed to get her off the rocks and pump the bilge, but who had no power to plot the new course.

Whichever of the two candidates wins will then proceed to dive — a graceful swan? armstand back 3 somersault 2 1/2 twist tuck? — into a mar di lacrime, or “sea of tears,” as they put it here.  To continue the liquidy metaphor, our brains have been soaked in campaign promises, which, now that I think of it, would be a good way to learn some basic Italian.  The phrases are so simple, and so repetitive.

Washing one’s brain has one good thing about it — it might remove the mental stains splattered by the politicians in the course of what they consider a typical day.  An example: Giancarlo Galan, former governor of the Veneto Region, has spent much of the past year on house arrest for taking bribes and other forms of corruption, jail time served in his luxurious villa on the mainland.  Does he feel remorse? Certainly he would feel it if he thought he’d done anything wrong.  But as he doesn’t, he’s ready to return to Parliament as soon as his stint is finished.  Yes: Convicted felons get to go back to work for the government.

My only defense is to run away.  I flee to the lagoon and I make no apology.  Technically, the season is still spring, but the sun wants to get going on summer right away and has made an excellent start.  Temperatures in the low nineties (F) or low thirties (C).  Hot, by any scale.  Breeze.  No clouds.  Dream weather for going to the beach or — my personal favorite, as everyone knows — drying laundry.

It’s also ideal weather for fleeing.  Here are some things I’ve noticed over the past week or so.

Low tide makes hunting for canestrelli, or scallops, somewhat easier, even though they are extremely well camouflaged by a shell color which totally mimics the sandy bottom.  Lino managed a tidy little haul, which he proceeded to bread and fry the same evening.  Delectable.

Low tide makes hunting for canestrelli, or scallops (Aequipecten opercularis) relatively easy, even though they are extremely well camouflaged by a shell color which totally mimics the sandy  bottom. Lino managed a tidy little haul, which he proceeded to bread and fry the same evening. Delectable.

An inch of water is enough to keep the eelgrass moving in one direction with the falling tide, like tresses of some wort.  And a few denizens appear on the surface, like this tiny crab.  Crabs are a good sign; where there are crabs, there will also be plenty of other fish who nosh on them.  When you pull in a net, it's normal to see some half-gnawed little crabs.  and if you go fishing for eels, soft-shell crabs ("moeche") are the perfect bait.

An inch of water is enough to keep the eelgrass moving in one direction with the tide, like tresses. And a few denizens appear on the surface, like this tiny crab. Crabs are a good sign; where there are crabs, there will also be plenty of fish who nosh on them. When you pull in a net, it’s normal to see some half-gnawed crabs. and if you go fishing for eels, soft-shell crabs (“moeche”) are the perfect bait.

Unhappily, this female moeca is now defunct, awaiting either some adventurous nosher, or mere disintegration.

Unhappily, this female moeca is now defunct, awaiting either some adventurous nosher or mere disintegration.

We pulled our boat onto the dryish grassland to investigate what appear to be megaliths (or miniliths) from the Evora complex, but which we knew were exposed fan mussels (Pinna nobilis).

A good example; they burrow in the sediment and open their shells slightly to consume whatever food might have come by.

A good example; they burrow in the sediment and open their shells slightly to consume whatever food might drift by.

What really intrigued me, though, were the few mounds of spongy material here and there.  Lino knew immediately that they were the eggs of sea snails ("garusoli," or "noni").  And this mound was far from dormant.  Most of the creatures were showing some signs of life, and one was atop the mound, evidently laying more.

What really intrigued me, though, were the several mounds of spongy material here and there. Lino knew immediately that they were the eggs of sea snails (“garusoli,” or “noni”). And this mound was far from dormant. Most of the creatures were showing some signs of life, and one was atop the mound, evidently laying more.

As you may perhaps see here.

As you may perhaps see here.

There's even a fan mussel nearby.  I don't see that it can be much use, but maybe it's waiting to eat something.  Nature, red in tooth and shell.

There’s even a fan mussel nearby. I don’t see that it can be much use, but maybe it’s waiting to eat something. Nature, red in tooth and shell.

The rising tide approaches, beginning to submerge all these wonders.

The rising tide approaches, beginning to submerge all these wonders.

And has begun to lift our boat.  Time to continue on our trip to Sant' Erasmo to buy vegetables.

And has begun to lift our boat. Time to continue on our trip to Sant’ Erasmo to buy vegetables and check the progress of the season ashore.

For one brief interlude, the tamarisks, artichokes and poppies were all in bloom.

For one brief interlude, the tamarisks, artichokes and poppies were all in bloom.

Although tamarisks produce what may be the least interesting flowers yet, they do have their own strange appeal.  Especially when they begin to dry up and blow away, covering the nearby water with pale beige mats of old blossom.

Although tamarisks produce what may be among the least interesting flowers, they do have their own strange appeal. Especially when they begin to dry up and blow away, covering the nearby water with pale beige mats of old blossom.

This is a small tree producing the even smaller plum known locally as “suchete.” For reasons I can’t explain, the Venetian word for zucchine is also “suchete.” Be careful when you’re looking up recipes.

A chickens and her chicks.  What could be more springlike than this?

A chicken and her chicks. What could be more springlike than this?

Unless it's the duckling next door.

Unless it’s the duckling next door.

Here's to blossoming everything.

Here’s to blossoming everything.

 

Categories : Nature
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May
22

Merry,the month of May? Sure.

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Our favorite bar at Sant'Elena went all out in festive decorations for the Vogalonga.  The boat, the poster, the flags of many nations.  Nice.

Our favorite bar at Sant’Elena went all out in festive decorations for the Vogalonga. The boat, the poster, the flags of many nations. Nice.

I am now re-establishing radio contact with the rest of the world.  The recent crackling silence was completely predictable, at least to me.  May is a great month if you’re a plant, but if you’re me, it’s an Olympic biathlon involving two of the city’s three biggest boating events: the corteo for the Festa de la Sensa, on Ascension Day (May 12 this year), and the Vogalonga (May 19).

Once again, I dedicated two weeks to working in the registration office for the Vogalonga. Sound simple?  The first week, yes.  The second week, right up to 6:00 PM the day before the event, was a crescendo of desperation — not on my part, but those who came, as one hollow-eyed supplicant put it, “A thousand kilometers over the Alps with our boats,” thinking they could sign up at the last minute and discovering that all the 1,700 bibs, one per boat, had already been booked.

I heard stories about people needing a number for their dying best friend.  I didn’t hear any pleas based on expiring grandmothers or promises to small children, but the accumulated emotional tension began to take a toll on me.  It wasn’t just the exclamations of doomed desire that were so tiring (“But why?” “But why?” “I have the money right here” “Can’t you find just one number for me?” “But I didn’t know” “I didn’t read the website” “I don’t have internet” “We’ve come all this way” “”Noooooooooooo, it can’t be truuuuuuuue”), it was my irritation at situations which could easily have been prevented if even one of their group had had a functioning medulla oblongata.  Or whatever part of the brain governs logic and rationality. If there is such a part.

While everybody who already  had their numbers were working themselves into a froth over the unpleasant weather forecast, I and my colleagues were struggling to resolve many silly and time-consuming and avoidable problems. Reservations made but not paid for; payments that didn’t correspond to the booking; adding people to boats; subtracting people from boats; doing long division of people from boats: the single reservation for 20 rowers who were assumed by us to all occupy the same boat, but which it turned out were each rowing by themselves, hence requiring 19 more numbers. That was fun. “You need 19 numbers? Sure, I’ll just make them right here for you, like Subway sandwiches. You want pickles?”

Compared to all that, rowing the event is almost always easier, and more enjoyable, and more, well, rational.

You might have heard that it rained; you might have heard that the rain was something epic! That some boats capsized! Frankly, it was all much better than I’d feared. The rain came down in hurled handfuls of big hard round drops, then shifted, like a shower-head, to fine, thin and steady, then heavy and steady, then lots of little drizzly drops, then another downpour, then a pause, then another downpour.  After Mazzorbo, the sun came out and we all dried off. As for overturned boats, if you ride a horse, what can happen to you? You fall off.  If you’re in a boat, what can happen?  You fall in.  Lino’s fallen in countless times. I’ve fallen in, in January, no less.  Get a grip, people.

That said, however, falling in isn’t equal for everyone.  We heard later from a friend who had been rowing in a big Venetian boat that at Mazzorbo a rower in a single kayak decided to cross their bow at the last moment, got dinged, and over he went.  But he couldn’t manage to come up because he had lashed all sorts of accoutrements, luggage, supplies, and even himself, to his kayak, which meant he couldn’t manage to right it and he couldn’t get out of it either. Think about it. Think medulla oblongata. Happily, the Venetian rowers managed to haul him back over and up into the air, but it was a very close call.

They also saw another boat capsize (the reasons for this aren’t clear — we weren’t in a hurricane) — it was a kayak again, this time for two rowers which, as our friend explained, also contained two very small children, one of whom was about three months old. The only glimmer of intelligence in that scenario was that the presumed parents had fitted their kids with lifejackets. People like this shouldn’t be allowed out of the house, much less into a boat.

There was the by-now traditional logjam in the Canale di Cannaregio, caused by the by-now traditionally inept, vision-impaired, brain-dead coxswains on the long rowing shells who seem not to understand that their boat needs to keep going straight forward and that their job is to see that it gets done.  Big long boats slewing around slaunchwise and getting stuck are like big expensive beaver dams forcing all the arriving boats to jam up.  It’s not just that they create problems — they don’t know what to do to fix them. As we see in the video by a certain Bas Schols; here’s the link for those who don’t see the clip:   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qRyEnCKno3o .

A close second for the prize for Best Way to Create Problems goes to the people who just stop rowing and sit there in their boat, usually in narrowish spaces or at blind corners.  You can hardly ever discover a reason for this.  Of course they’re tired; we’re all tired.  But when they’re driving in the center lane of the highway back home, do they just stop when they feel like it and sit there?  I feel doubtful.

After the Vogalonga (and the rain), it was time for lunch at the club.  The long table laden with food is concealed by Roberto Busetto, who isn't really trying to strangle Ivo Bratovich. After all, Ivo's smiling.

After the Vogalonga (and the rain), it was time for lunch at the club. The long table laden with food is concealed by Roberto Busetto, who isn’t really trying to strangle Ivo Bratovich. After all, Ivo’s smiling.

The Sunday before all this, May 12, was the Festa de la Sensa, and we participated in the commemoration of the “Wedding of the Sea.”  We row out toward the Lido, following the big fancy ceremonial boat called the “Serenissima,” past the Morosini Naval School where the cadets are lined up along the embankment, as sharp as creases in starched organdy, shouting “Urrah!” when commanded to do so by the bosun’s whistle. That is absolutely the coolest thing about the entire event, though of course tossing the wreath into the water to commemorate the dead sailors is important too. And a ring-like object with ribbons tied onto it also gets blessed and tossed.  Another chance to be crushed together in a boat-scrum, but at least here we all know each other and actually know how to move our boats around. That’s it for boats.

The rest of the month is a rapid unraveling of assorted appointments and events.  For example, I sat most of the afternoon waiting for the long-expected boiler repairman to come replace the replacement washer from a few weeks ago.  He was supposed to come in the morning, but only by calling up did we learn that he’d been moved to the afternoon.  Dazzling efficiency! We could be in Sweden!  Wait — it’s gets better.  He phoned at 3:30 to say he couldn’t come because they hadn’t given him the part he needed to install. They thought they had, police said. (I am adhering to the practice recommended by the old city editor to the cub reporter, my former boss, who told him, “You can write anything you want to, as long as you add ‘comma police said.””)

At 6:00 it was off to the Generali Insurance Company’s boathouse for the presentation of the restored 8-oar gondolone. We needed to swell the ranks, it seemed, so we were there.  We try to be good sports on land as well as sea. I was hoping they’d have cookies, but they got in a caterer and had hors d’oeuvres and asparagus risotto. I like being wrong like that.

Tomorrow afternoon Lino will be at Malamocco for hours, as one of the judges overseeing the eliminations for the next official rowing race (Sant’ Erasmo, June 2). That evening, dinner at the Non-Commissioned Naval Officers Club, a cholesterol-laden thank-you from a group of young French students because not only did we pick up the dropped/lost wallet of one of their members (containing 70 euros and also an address) but thanks to Skype and the fact that little Pauline’s father was home when I called, we managed to return it to her the next day.  And a big shout-out to Mrs. Rideout and Mrs. Gordon, whose draconian French courses in high school are still paying off, if only in fractured form.

Friday evening, the annual corteo to transport the statue of Our Lady of Succor (“Maria Ausiliatrice”) from the church of San Pietro di Castello to the church of San Giuseppe. This year we’re going to be carrying as many people as we can, hoping to transfer into Venetian boats many of those who usually follow us on foot along the fondamente.

Saturday, a batch of us are off to Burano to collect four of our tornado-devastated boats from the boatyard where they have been repaired.  We’re either towing or rowing them back; it doesn’t seem clear yet which one.  I’m for rowing, myself, not that anyone consults me. The forecast isn’t too pretty.

Some shards of frico, which I discovered in Gemona, deep in the heart of Friuli. I know cheese contains protein, but this can't possibly be good for you.

Some shards of frico, which I discovered in Gemona, deep in the heart of Friuli. I know cheese contains protein, but this can’t possibly be good for you.

Sunday, we’re going with a big group in a bus to Trieste to the annual reunion of the veterans of the Automobile Corps.  Lino did his compulsory 18-month military service in Rome with this arm of the armed forces, repairing and maintaining Jeeps, trucks, and assorted ministerial vehicles.  He recently joined the nearest chapter of the motorized veterans, and the big outing sounds like it’s going to be fun, except for the promised thunderstorms and drenching rain.

We’ll get to march around the Piazza dell’Unita’ d’Italia for a while, then go off to some countryside establishment to gorge on Friulian specialties (think San Daniele prosciutto and frico, or fried cheese) — possibly the true purpose of the expedition.  Then to visit some famous nearby monastery blanketed by rose gardens. We’ll have to get up before 5:00 to get the train to Treviso, the starting point, but I’d walk to Treviso for a shot at a plate of frico.

Next week’s calendar is ominously empty.  I say “ominous,” because you know how Nature feels about a vacuum.

One great thing about going to work every morning is that  I got to see the city waking up.

One great thing about going to work every morning is that I got to see the city waking up.

IMG_0610 blog may

At 7:45 the schoolbus pulls up at the Arsenale vaporetto stop.  The bus is the #1 and all the kids are just as happy to be going to class as they are anywhere in the world.

At 7:45 the schoolbus pulls up at the Arsenale vaporetto stop. The bus is the #1 and all the kids are just as happy to be going to class as they are anywhere in the world.

Sunrise makes some of the best shadows -- in this case, from the roof of the Doge's palace.

Sunrise makes some of the best shadows — in this case, from the roof of the Doge’s palace.

A historic moment.  On the morning of May 8, the boy with his froggie were still there.........

A historic moment. On the morning of May 8, the boy with his froggie were still there………

...and that evening, they were gone.  I never thought I'd live to see it.  Or not see it, whichever.

…and that evening, they were gone. I never thought I’d live to see it. Or not see it, whichever.

I was surprised to see the commemorative wreath lying peacefully in the entryway of Ca' Farsetti, the city hall, on the evening before it was to be offered to the waves in memory of fallen sailors at the "Sposalizio del Mare."

I was surprised to see the commemorative wreath lying peacefully in the entryway of Ca’ Farsetti, the city hall, on the evening before it was to be offered to the waves in memory of fallen sailors at the “Sposalizio del Mare.” It’s not that I expected candles to be burning beside it, but it did seem so sort of ordinary there. “Yes, we always put a monster laurel wreath in front of the cash machine.  Why do you ask?”

A four-oar sandolo from the Morosini Naval School, rowed by four cadets taught by Lino, who are unfortunately, as you see, facing eastward.  As we all were.  That's just one humble detail in this excellent ceremony -- we're all staring into the sun.

A four-oar sandolo from the Morosini Naval School, rowed by four cadets taught by Lino, who are unfortunately, as you see, facing eastward. As we all were. That’s just one humble detail in this excellent ceremony — we’re all staring into the sun.

Another boat with Morosini cadets -- a six-oar caorlina rowed by five girls, steered by Gabriele De Mattia and overseen by Lino, seated astern, surveying everything.

Another boat with Morosini cadets — a six-oar caorlina rowed by five girls, steered by Gabriele De Mattia and overseen by Lino, seated astern, surveying everything.

Aboard the "Serenissima," the priest is reading the blessing of the wreath, as the admiral awaits his cue.

Aboard the “Serenissima,” the priest is reading the blessing of the wreath, as the admiral awaits his cue.

The priest is evidently not a seaman; he is steadying himself atop the waves with superb delicacy.

The priest is evidently not a seaman; as he intones, he is steadying himself atop the waves with superb delicacy.

The wreath is ready for its big moment.

The wreath is ready for its big moment.

The wreath afloat, with the fireboats jetting celebratory water into the sky.  You don't want to be near them if there's a breeze, I can tell you.

The wreath afloat, with the fireboats jetting celebratory water into the sky. You don’t want to be near them if there’s a breeze, I can tell you.

Everyone stood at what amounted to attention as the music of the "Hymn of San Marco" was played.

Everyone stood at what amounted to attention as the music of the “Hymn of San Marco” was played.  I wish I could tell you the sacrality of the moment was respected by everyone, but I can’t.  I saw two men on a little mascareta rowing away with the wreath on the stern of their boat.

And just think: At tonight's party, we saw the commemorative wreath ever-so-attractively hung on the boathouse whose name I will not pronounce. But it's pretty obvious.

And just think: At tonight’s party, we saw the commemorative wreath ever-so-attractively hung on the boathouse whose name I will not pronounce. But it’s pretty obvious. I’m sorry, I just can’t think of it as a decor accessory. But they do.

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Feb
03

And speaking of animals

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I suddenly realized that when I was proposing the going-away party for the boy — clothes, but possibly also food, because he must be really hungry by now — I didn’t mention the frog.

That was an oversight. So here’s the plan.

First, the frog would be freed.

Second, he would be given a large pile of small- and medium-sized rocks to throw at the boy.

Third, he would be given a hundred things his heart might desire, from the unlisted phone numbers of Charles Ray (sculptor) and Francois Pinault (collector), to his own private estate with tennis court and helipad in the Great Moss Swamp, to a date with every winner of the Miss Humanity of the Netherlands pageant.  And a huge party at the Waldorf-Astoria for freed dolphins, liberated dancing bears, wounded hedgehogs, rehabilitated slow lorises, and birds whose owners accidentally left their cages open.  He’ll also have his own smorgasbord with all the beetles, grasshoppers, spiders, and Purina Frog Chow he’ll ever want.  And a trampoline.  And a pony.

Lino spotted this gull because of his little identification anklet. Maybe he’s in the bird atlas by now, with a number if not a name.

While we’re on the subject of animals, here’s something you might find interesting.  More than 240 species of birds spend at least some, if not all, of their time in the Venetian lagoon and immediate vicinity.

An article in the Gazzettino announced this fact along with the notice of the publication of a new atlas of birds, the result of five years of data-gathering. For the record, the title is “Uccelli di laguna e di citta’ – L’atlante ornitologico del comune di Venezia 2006-2011,” written by Mauro Bon and Emanuele Stival, ornithologists of the Museum of Natural History, published by Marsilio.

Of these birds, 142 species come only for the winter, 115 come to nest, and about 60 are migrating. If you stop and read that over again, I think you’ll be respectfully amazed.  In fact, the lagoon is at a crucial point on a major north-south flyway, and is one of the largest lagoons left in Europe. It’s far from being just scenery.

Even though I’ve never seen them, I now have learned that there is a Hungarian royal seagull which arrives in the fall, and spends the winter in the Giardini Reali between the Piazza San Marco and the lagoon. And there is an extremely rare black-legged kittiwake that comes from England.

The Little Egret, which is abundant in the lagoon, doesn’t mind looking for a bite wherever the chances seem good, though they seem to be happier pecking through the shallows when the tide is low. There is a tree near the Vignole which at twilight in the summer is almost completely white with the egrets who’ve come to perch there for the night.

I was already interested in birds because rowing around the lagoon at all hours and in all seasons means that you see plenty of them.  For one thing, they’re everywhere.  For another, they’re generally easier to see than fish.

Some of the birds I’ve come to recognize are as much as part of Venice as canals and tourists. The svasso (grebe) and tuffetto (little grebe), only appear in the winter. The cormorants, mallards, seagulls, egrets and herons are here all year. I’ve already gone on too long about my passion for blackbirds (a few months per year), and I’ve never bothered to mention pigeons because there’s nothing worth saying about them.  They are the roaches of the avian world; they’ll be here pecking around and crooning after the last nuclear device explodes. I am prepared for hostile letters from pigeon-feeders.

There is one kingfisher who I watch for as we row behind the Vignole; all you can see is a flash of iridescent blue-green flitting through the trees and over the water. I wish he’d hold still somewhere just for a minute, but he’s not interested in being admired.

In the plush summer nights we almost always hear a solitary owl called a soleta (civetta in Italian), somewhere high in the trees in the Public Gardens.  He or she makes a soft one-tone hoot, repeated pensively at perfectly regular intervals.  It’s like a metronome, far away. It goes on for hours.  It’s very comforting.

A young Little Gull, photographed in Northumberland. Maybe he’s thinking about his Venetian vacation.

For two days not long ago we were startled to see a fluffy young gull we’d never seen before, standing on the fondamenta gazing out at the lagoon. Determined research revealed that it is a Little Gull. We haven’t seen it since.

And one magical winter day a trio of swans flew over us.  You hardly ever see the wild swans, but here were three, flying so low that I could see their long necks undulating slightly and hear a curious murmur from their throats.

Many of these birds depend on organisms and elements in the lagoon wetlands which exist because of, or are replenished by, acqua alta.  If so many people who never leave the city didn’t get so worked up about having to put on boots, the water could continue to provide for lots of creatures who like being here too.  Maybe your tourist or trinket-seller doesn’t care about the birds, but the birds probably don’t care about the Doge’s Palace and Harry’s Bar. Just saying.

A luscious look at acqua alta in the lagoon. A soaking marshy islet looks even better to a bird than it does to me.

This is the single grey heron I’ve seen here, always fishing between Sant’ Andrea and Sant’ Erasmo.

And of course the indefatigable seagulls. They look more attractive out here than plodding along the fondamentas ripping open plastic bags and strewing the garbage all around. Lino says nobody ever saw gulls in the canals, much less on the streets, when he was a boy. The same with cormorants, who we sometimes see fishing in our canal.

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