Archive for Scuola Navale Militare Francesco Morosini

This year the students at the Francesco Morosini Naval School, aided and abetted by the chaplain, Don Gianni, put together a lagoon Nativity scene. It’s very cool that the Three Kings are arriving aboard a classic boat, a “sampierota.” They wisely left their camels behind, perhaps to leave space to bring everybody back to the mainland from this little sandbank after Epiphany.

Christmas this year (so far) has been the most subdued I’ve ever seen.  It’s not the spirit that is lacking, but the fundage.  I don’t need to remind you that yes, we have no money.

Christmas lights no longer festoon via Garibaldi, though a few indomitable individuals have put up some illumination.  I salute them. They obviously have nothing to fear from the energy companies.

And speaking of indomitable, I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but the neighborhood pastry-wizard has outdone himself in widening the space between size and price in his festive offerings.  An ingenious little creation (note the use of the word “little”) of chocolate shavings and lumps of torrone, representing an Alpine village — the sort of thing which usually adorns a liquor-and-mascarpone-sodden cake — is now being offered without the cake.  For the same inflated price.  If I were to want to spend 30 euros ($40) for a plate of chocolate fragments, I would…. No, I wouldn’t, actually. If I had 30 euros to spend on a present, I’d give somebody a batch of bees via the Heifer Project.  At least that way the gift would propagate.  No propagation powers yet discovered in the world of ostentatious confections. End of sermon.

An example of the minimalist approach to the Christmas cake. He has made a version which costs “only” 30 euros, but you see the style. It’s on a cardboard base about the size of a luncheon plate, if anybody uses those anymore. Not small, but not big, either. Not 30-euros big, in any case.

This is what a normal, standard-issue Christmas cake looks like. True, you can’t eat much of it, and what you do eat sort of haunts you for hours. But at least you’re getting something in return for your cash.

Day before yesterday, feeling the onset of the big day, we had a party at our rowing club.  It was great.  Because the tornado last June destroyed our clubhouse, we now cling to the edge of the lagoon with our boats parked under two big tents, with a container serving as locker room, kitchen, and bathroom. The kind of container they give to earthquake survivors.  It works, but it’s not a long-term plan.

A table, panettone and wine, and people: It’s a party! The fog invited itself.

Just to give an idea of the atmosphere. We’ve had more fog than high water so far this year by a factor of at least ten, and fog is arguably more dangerous than acqua alta to most activities (I’m thinking of fatal collisions, and also getting lost). But fog just doesn’t seem to excite reporters in the same way.

It was a modest, Bob-Cratchity sort of celebration but the most important elements were there:  Fizzy wine (not the usual prosecco, but somebody’s home-bottled lambrusco), panettone and pandoro (my favorite, as is anything involving extra sugar), and smiling people. The frigid foggy wind was thrown in at no extra cost.

Another bonus was having time to hang around with some of the old guys and hear them geeze about the old days.  I pick up unexpected bits of lore this way.  This time I learned why gondoliers hate the nickname “pasta e oca” (pasta and goose).

Lino (whose grandfather was a gondolier, as is his son) says that they ate pasta and goose because they’ve always been “grandoni” — that is, tending toward the grandiose.  Someone added, however, that in his opinion they hated being called this nickname because the dish (which I’ve never tried) is a sort of viscid, mucilaginous preparation which is so revolting it makes you want to barf.  As it was told to me.

In any case, the preferred rejoinder to “Hey, pasta e oca!'” is “And yo’ mama gets the neck!”

Christmas spirit comes in all shapes and sizes, and I liked our standing-around-outside-in-the-freezing-soggy-air version.  There weren’t very many of us, but it didn’t matter.  This would be the only point on which I might agree with the pastry-shark.  When it comes to a festa, it’s not about quantity.

So auguri (ow-GOOR-ee), as we say here.  Technically, “good auguries.”  We no longer practice divination by studying the liver of sacrificial animals, or the flight of birds, so I’ll translate this as “Good wishes!”

Our irrepressible neighbors along the canal have thrown caution somewhere — to the wind, or into the water– and favored us with all these sparkles.  In these purlieus, the Christmas star leads , not to the Baby Jesus, but to the laundry on the line.

Heading out to do some errands this morning, I came across a festive garbage collector. He turned the corner about ten seconds ahead of me, and when I turned it he was nowhere to be seen. Nowhere. I’m thinking Santa has turned his sleigh in and is working with the ecological operator’s wagon.

Near San Giovanni Crisostomo, I came across a kiosk selling a vast assortment of figurines for your own Nativity set at home. In addition to the Holy Family, shepherds, angel, ox, ass, and Three Kings, you could have a woodcutter, with wood.

Here is a couple eating pizza, something I’ve always felt that Nativity scenes lacked. And a butcher with large sections of just-cut-up animals.

The sign says this woman is a “battipanni,” or rug-beater, though technically the battipanni referred to the woven wood paddle she’d use to pound the dust out of the carpets. Just so you know. Still, an excellent person to have in your Christmas creche, what with all the swaddling cloths and probably saddle cloths too, for the donkey.

A tailor would be an excellent person to have on the team; here she’s busy making shirts.

Someone to re-upholster your sofa or ottoman. You could get everything in your house fixed up by Epiphany, at this rate.


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Navy Day

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The poster above the entrance to the Naval Museum was almost the only publicity for the big day, but you could still tell that something was up. The enormous grandstand in the Piazza San Marco was one clue, and so was the majestic presence of the naval training ship "Amerigo Vespucci."

This might shock you, but there was a huge festa here on June 8 that was not attached to any saint, living or dead, as far as I could tell.

I intended to report on this sooner, but what with tornados and all, it’s taken me this long to return to happy thoughts.

It was the Festa della Marina Militare, or Festival of the Navy, and it also happened to be the 50th anniversary of the founding — or re-founding — of the Francesco Morosini Naval School where Lino teaches Venetian rowing. One of the highlights of this event was the swearing-fealty-to-the-flag by the first-year class, which makes them officially members of the Navy with the low but respectable rank of second-class seamen.  No joke, they get the same pay as their swabby confreres who aren’t studying chemistry and bird skeletons.

The invitation with tickets came from the Department of the Navy, which might explain Lino's name turning up as "Lucio." But they weren't cross-checking ID's, so it was okay. The main thing was that we had seats in the red section, which were bleachers with seats. People in the green and white sections had to stand.

So a vast parade was organized in the Piazza San Marco involving not only the three classes of the school, but virtually every other branch of the armed forces and a regiment of alumni, many of whom showed up in their work clothes, by which I mean uniforms of admirals, generals of the Carabinieri, Guardia di Finanza, Mountain Artillery, Army, Air Force, etc., as well as the dark suits of Senators and Ministers.  The Secretary of Defense was here, the Secretary of the Navy was here, and even the President of the Republic was here. It was all far beyond cool.  The only person who could have made it any cooler would have been Jean Dujardin. Maybe they sent the invitation to Joan of Arc by mistake.

The weather cooperated (no scorching sun and only a few drops of rain), no cadets dropped to the pavement, and the speeches were only moderately silly and only moderately too long.  As usual, the Navy Band played the national anthem about 15 times, not always completely (it seems to act as a sort of aural page-turning cue, like the beep that used to tell your teacher it was time to change the slide).  Hearing the national anthem so many times noticeably diminishes its emotional impact.  If you’d like to know my opinion. Or even if you wouldn’t.

It was a great event and I’m glad I was there.  I doubt I’ll be able to make it interesting to my grandchildren, but I’ll enjoy looking back on it.

The sail training ship "Amerigo Vespucci" was launched in 1931 and is still looking exceptionally fine.

We could also sense a big event was on the way by the quantity of naval officers roaming the area. Here, a batch of them boards the vaporetto toward San Marco.

On the same vaporetto was a member of the Marinai in Congedo, or discharged sailors' association, bearing the case containing their standard. The yellow ribbon, worn by many member of the Navy (and graduates of the Morosini school) demonstrates their solidarity with the two "maro'," or Marines, imprisoned in India in February for having shot two fishermen whom they took to be pirates heading for the tanker ship.

In Italian they call them "Sir," just like the men. I think it works, myself, though these are definitely superior-looking Sirs.

Part of the preparation involved the Gunga Din brigade, positioning bottled water at various points.

The Navy flag can never be too large.

Some of the horde of Morosini alumni ready to take the stage.

The flag of the President of the Republic flying beneath the national flag alerts everyone to the imminent appearance of himself.

The three classes of the Morosini Naval School face the reviewing stand.

Their uniform looks great, but the strap connected to their small swords is positioned at a length perfect for trousers. If you're wearing a skirt, though, it becomes just another senseless maddening thing to deal with. 'It would drive me crazy to have that catching at my hem,' I told Lino. 'It drives them crazy too,' he replied. Just another reminder of why I'd never have made it in the military.

One component of the ceremony was this group of officers bearing the flags of each of the Navy's ships. They called each ship by name, too.

If you love flags, you've definitely come to the right piazza. These belong to many and various ex-enlisted-men groups.

This, however, is not just another banner. It's the standard bearing all the medals which the Navy has earned in combat.

The third-year class, whose flag bears the name and motto of "Hermes," marches in review.

The second-year class, "Oceanus." In the foreground are the distinctive caps of the cadets of the Military Academy of Modena, the oldest in the world (founded in 1678).

The first-year class, "Prometheus," has just sworn its allegiance to the flag and the Italian Republic, the high point of the entire event.

The banners of the 49 preceding classes are carried in review.

One of three groups of alumni marches past the reviewing stand.

The President, Giorgio Napolitano, watches with perfect equipoise.

And this group of children was watching him, waving their little flags like crazy. From a distance, it was like a beehive with flags.

There was so much saluting going on, I had time to observe various styles. The man on the left remains inexplicable. I don't mean that he salutes like a fan, which obviously I don't understand, but that he has evidently been permitted to do so.

She was in every way superior to all of the women I saw. If she'd had pulled on a Spanx Slim Incognito Shaping Mid-Thigh Bodysuit, she'd have been perfect.

And when it was over, a superior chaos ensued, composed of many different vehicles assembled to remove the most important participants. As you see, there were plenty.

But not everybody rated special transport. The men with the banners of the ships had to take the vaporetto, like a million other people.

As did a variety of other officials. I was already on the vaporetto, so I didn't hear the comments from the civilians who were obviously going to have to board after them.

Speaking of getting off, the peasants on the vaporetto had to wait while a Navy launch put some officers ashore on the dock — strictly forbidden, according to a sign from the Capitaneria di Porto. But you know how those signs work. In any case, it gave us time to savor our memories of the day.

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