Archive for Settemari

Jan
09

“Ciao Umberto”

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Umberto Da Preda (image from an album cover via YouTube, uncredited).

Umberto Da Preda (image from an album cover via YouTube, uncredited).

“Journalism,” said G.K. Chesterton, “is telling the public that Lord X is dead when the public didn’t know that Lord X had ever been alive.”

The case of the recently departed Umberto Da Preda might be a case in point.

Those who knew him, or at least had heard of him, were saddened to read on December 27 that he had died the day before, after a month-long illness in the hospital. The first article announcing this event was fairly long, partly in tribute and partly to refresh the memories or succor the ignorance of the day’s readers. Because while many people in his native sestiere of Cannaregio were genuinely grieved– though not taken entirely by surprise — Lino is convinced that there are plenty of Venetians who learned of his existence for the first time in the obituary.

Da Preda was “The ‘voice’ of the Venetian song,” as the Gazzettino termed it. Another report headlined: “Death of Da Preda, the most beautiful voice of the Venice which is no more.”

If such standards as “La biondina in gondoleta” or “El gondolier” are now widely known, it’s thanks to his innumerable performances and abundant recordings.  The two respective links are:  http://youtu.be/A0I0m6IPHtU and http://youtu.be/THinSRIRek0

The Gazzettino continues:  “Umberto Da Preda leaves … a vast musical repertoire, 90 per cent of  which is made up of traditional themes which even now represent the classics of the gondoliers during the serenades, and to which he gave a completely personal imprint.” (Note: Gondoliers almost never sing; the warbling comes from a singer hired to entertain his clients.)

Da Preda’s mainstays, some of which began to be composed in the 18th century, are generically termed “canzoni da batelo,” boat-songs, intended to be sung to the passengers out on the water enjoying a nocturnal summer fresco, (literally, “cool”).  Many are anonymous pieces, passed along between generations. Like many of his vintage, Lino learned most of the approximately 8,319 songs he knows from his father, or from other Venetians.  But Da Preda delved into deep cultural troves to bring forward an extraordinary assortment of songs, some of which were created by noteworthy poets and composers.  They’re not all little ditties about wanting to take Ninetta out in the lagoon when the sun goes down.

Da Preda was on the way to an international career; he performed, with his guitar, in the Bahamas, in Russia, in Israel, in the US, and in England, where he sang for Queen Elizabeth II. But he loved Venice and preferred staying here, close to home, singing at the Danieli and Cipriani hotels, or in private palaces at what seems to have been a steady stream of fetes, entertainments, and soirees.

“What did he die of?” we asked a friend of his the next day.

He shrugged.  “The sand in the hourglass ran out,” he said.  “And he drank a Mississippi in his life.” Evidently Da Preda kept a bottle of whiskey close at hand on the many evenings he performed in assorted boites and restaurants.  Singing is thirsty work, and I think in those days the sparkling-water-with-lemon-slice hadn’t been discovered.  Not that he would have wanted it.  I drink it and I don’t want it.

In any case, the friend continued, Da Preda didn’t take seriously any warnings about hard living he might have gotten from his nearest and dearest. “He said once, ‘I’ve eaten, I’ve drunk, I’ve done what I wanted in my life,'” the friend told us.  “‘When it’s time for me to go, I’ll just head on out'” (vado in zo, which is the most casual leave-taking phrase there is in Venetian).

I went to his funeral on January 2 — a week ago today — a dreary, raw day.  I admit I was curious to see what sort of farewell would be given.  Naturally I can’t judge what emotions the 150 or so mourners were feeling, which may have been deep and intense, but if so they kept them well under control.  It was a subdued ceremony, distinguished mainly by two things.

The first was the playing, as the casket was being taken out of the church, of Da Preda singing one of his best-known songs, “Ciao Venezia.”  The second was the alzaremi, or oar-raising in salute, by rowers from the Settemari and Querini rowing clubs.  The presence of any Venetian boats is always a beautiful thing, and although he wasn’t particularly prominent in the boating world, he was 100 percent Venetian, and this calls for some special acknowledgment, in my opinion.

He lived his life just the way he wanted to and if he had any regrets, he kept them to himself. That’s what I’m going to remember.  Here’s the link:  http://youtu.be/D8zmgatPh-w

The basilica of SS. Giovanni e Paolo is so big that even a large crowd is manageable.

The basilica of SS. Giovanni e Paolo is so big that even a large crowd seems modest.

The priest pauses to pronounce the last phrases, more or less audible beneath the strains of "Ciao Venezia."

The priest pauses to pronounce the last phrases, more or less audible beneath the strains of “Ciao Venezia.”

Accompanying the casket to the riva where the funeral motorboat is waiting.

Accompanying the casket to the riva where the funeral motorboat is waiting.

The gondolier bringing his clients back to shore removed his hat.

The gondolier bringing his clients back to shore removed his hat.

As the casket is placed onto the fancy platform, the rowers from the Settemari club execute an "alzaremi."  In 1979 Da Preda was voted "Venetian of the Year," an annual recognition bestowed by the club.  The commemorative plaque was placed on the casket during the service.

As the casket is placed onto the fancy “we-don’t-have-to-sweat-anymore” platform, the rowers from the Settemari club execute an “alzaremi.” In 1979 Da Preda was voted “Venetian of the Year,” an annual recognition bestowed by the club. The commemorative plaque was placed on the casket during the service.

The funeral boat, carrying the departed and his family, heads for the cemetery, followed by the "diesona" of the Settemari, and a gondola from the Querini.

The funeral boat, carrying the departed and his family, heads for the cemetery, followed by the “diesona” of the Settemari, and a gondola from the Querini.  The people ashore applaud as their last farewell.

It's not far to the cemetery island of San Michele; the two boats are going to arrive only a few minutes after the motorboat, visible in the canal ahead of them (and just ahead of the vaporetto).

It’s not far to the cemetery island of San Michele; the two boats are going to arrive only a few minutes after the motorboat, visible in the canal ahead of them (and just ahead of the vaporetto).

 

Categories : Venetian-ness
Comments (3)
Pig in glass: good. (Marchio Artistico Murano www.promovetro.com).

Pig in glass: good. (Marchio Artistico Murano www.promovetro.com).

Pig in crate, not so good. (Uncredited photo, Associazione Animali in Citta' ONLUS www.aicve.it)

Pig in crate, not so good. (Uncredited photo, Associazione Animali in Citta’ ONLUS www.aicve.it)

Seeing that by now I have drilled into everyone’s brain the fact that the Regata Storica is an event that has been held over the past several centuries, it’s fair to say that many of its attributes could be regarded as traditions.

Tradition, as I have drilled, etc., is a word intended to connote The Way We’ve Always Done It. But a closer look at many traditions demonstrates clearly, even to those in the back of the room, that they can be changed, eventually to become the new Old Traditions.

Take the pig.

For about the last hundred years, if not more, the traditional prize to the pair of men finishing fourth in the Regata Storica on the gondolinos was a live piglet.  I have not yet begun the search for the reason for this, so just accept the fact that along with a blue pennant and some money, the pair got a young Sus scrofa domestica.

And they weren’t merely presented with the little swine at the end of the race.  Before the race even formed up, the creature was put into a crate, placed on a boat, and exhibited up and down the Grand Canal.

By 2002 the animal rights organizations finally overcame this tradition, having claimed for years that the practice was cruel and inhumane.  I saw the parade of the pig once, and it didn’t look so degrading to me.  He was a lot more comfortable than anyone on the #1 vaporetto on a Sunday afternoon, and nobody in the animal rights organizations cares about them.

Returning to the subject of the fourth-place prize: Either people lived closer to the earth back then, 0r there were fewer scruples running around unsupervised, so a live pig seemed like a fine thing.  The idea was not to divide it, like the baby brought before Solomon, but to send it to the country somewhere to be fattened and cossetted and tended until it was time for it to achieve its true destiny: Sausage.  Soppressa.  Pork chops,  Pork roast, and so on.

There is a hoary old joke about this undertaking, which can be altered according to whichever town or place you want to insult.  The person who told it to me was insulting Pellestrina, and it was made funnier by his imitation of the distinctive local accent.  To Venetians, this way of speaking implies something rustic (to put it politely) and uncouth (to be frank).  It implies individuals who would not consider pig-fattening to be anything out of the ordinary.

So:  Two men from Pellestrina enter the Regata Storica, finish fourth, and get the pig.  They are being interviewed by the national reporter, who asks them what they plan to do with it.

“I’m going to take it home,” says one.

“Take it home?” says the reporter.  “Do you have a pigsty?”

“No.”

“So where will you keep it?”

“Oh, I’ll keep it in the kitchen,” the racer replies.

“The kitchen!” blurts the reporter.  “But what about the smell?”

“Oh,” the racer says, “he’ll get used to it.”

Regata Storica, 2013: Andrea Bertoldini (left) and Martino Vianello pose with their pennants and their pigs. (Uncredited photo, www.regatastoricavenezia.it)

Regata Storica, 2013: Andrea Bertoldini (left) and Martino Vianello pose with their pennants and their pigs. (Uncredited photo, www.regatastoricavenezia.it)

What would be a good substitute for a live pig? I hear you ask.

A pig made of Murano glass.  And it doesn’t have to be fed or slaughtered, or shared out in perfectly equal halves, because they make two of them.

Now we come to the real point of the story.  A few weeks ago, the very enterprising and high-spirited members of the Settimari rowing club decided to add something else to the prize line-up.  They dispensed with the annoyance of raising and killing a pig, and got right to the point of it all, which in Venice translates as Food.

They planned a big dinner in their small clubhouse, invited Martino Vianello and Andrea Bertoldini, who had finished fourth this year, and uncrated two gigantic roasted whole pigs, ordered from somewhere in Umbria where the art of roasting pigs has reached the sublime.

If you’re a vegetarian and still reading (unlikely, I admit), you might want to stop now.

We spent several hours gorging on one, and the other was given to the pair, who didn’t anticipate any trouble at all in dividing and consuming it.  Just like the old days, but better.

Because, as Andrea Bertoldini explained it to me, a live pig was really a problem.  He’s been racing for at least 20 years, and has finished fourth in other editions of the Regata, so he has had first-hand experience of what being awarded a baby pig really means.

It’s not just taking care of it for months (you generally give it to somebody who’s already got the sties and the feed and the mud and all).  It’s that you start to become attached to it, like Fern Arable; you feel sorry for it, and so everything gets derailed in the Natural Order of Things.

So Andrea was perfectly fine with dispensing with the tradition and moving on to something new, and easier to handle.

Better yet, he and Martino were each awarded a plaque which proclaimed them to be a “Principe del Porchetto” (Prince of Roast Pork).  This was not only original, and cleverer than the old joke, but a play on the term “Re del Remo” (King of the Oar), which is given to the couple which wins the Regata Storica five years in a row.

Andrea and Martino have finished fourth in various years, but this the second year in a row they did it, and so the title of “prince” implied that if they were to come in fourth for the next three Regatas, they could be called King of Roast Pork.

Maybe you had to be there.

In any case, you’d have loved it.  You never had to look into the creature’s soulful eyes, and you got as much as you wanted of the tender, herb-infused meat encased in dark greasy skin that was insanely crunchy.  If you were to shut your mind about what you were eating, it wouldn’t have been because the animal inspired pity.  It would be because you refused to think about what the food was going to do to your arteries.

If those two really do become Kings of Roast Pork, they’re going to have to spit-roast an entire herd of swine to supply the celebration.  I’ve already got my plate and fork and cholesterol medicine ready.

Andrea Bertoldini (is he always on the left?) and Martino Vianello being feted at the Settemari porkfest, listening to the proclamations made by the Assessore for Sport, Roberto Panciera, (second from right) and club president, Massimo Rigo (far right).

Andrea Bertoldini (is he always on the left?) and Martino Vianello being feted at the Settemari porkfest, listening to the proclamations made by the Assessore for Sport, Roberto Panciera, (second from right) and club president, Massimo Rigo (far right).

IMG_5907  pork

 

This soft-spoken couple brought the massive quadrupeds from a company named Quartiglia.  I've always  been sorry that the roasting process makes the animal look like it's smiling, but you can get past that if you love the meat.

This soft-spoken couple brought the massive quadrupeds from a company named Quartiglia. I’ve always been sorry that the roasting process makes the animal look like it’s smiling, but you can get past that if you love the meat.

Show this to your arteries, then run.

Show this to your arteries, then run.

Just keep those plates coming.

Just keep those plates coming.

I'd send you the aroma if I could.

I’d send you the aroma if I could.

    Martino is enjoying this, along with everybody else. I didn't ask him if this was better than winning the race because I know the answer. But it's definitely not bad.

Martino is enjoying this, along with everybody else. I didn’t ask him if this was better than winning the race because I know the answer. But it’s definitely not bad.

 

 

Categories : Boatworld
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Oct
06

Shipping boats

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This is a view of the typical vehicle (in England known as an articulated lorry, if that helps; in the US, it has various names, such as tractor-trailer).

This is a view of the typical vehicle (in England known as an articulated lorry, if that helps; in the US, it has various names, such as tractor-trailer). The situation here is another trip and boat, but I wanted to set the scene: water, crane, truck. Olindo is somewhere nearby, just outside the frame.

A few readers have asked how the Venetian boats travel to and from these foreign locations I keep jaunting off to.

In three words:  Trucks, cranes, and Olindo.

In my first expedition with a traveling gondola, however, which we had taken to the lake of Bolsena for a big festival, we had the truck and Olindo, but no crane.  I don’t remember how we got the boat into the water, but a whole bunch of us had to turn to in order to get the gondola back up into the truck by hand.  When I saw what we were about to do (it was early in my shipping life), I thought it was impossible.  When I think back on it, it still seems impossible.  And yet, we did it.

I should mention that there were about ten of us per side.  Maybe more.  And at least two people — Olindo and Lino — understood the geometry and physics of the operation, so we weren’t relying solely on brute strength.

Obviously, picking boats up and pushing them around by hand is not ideal — for the boat, I mean, the heck with us.  There are always plenty of XY-chromosome people hovering nearby, eager to show how strong they are.  But we had no choice.

So the plan is simple.  You row or tow your boat to Punta San Giuliano, on the edge of the lagoon where the bridge touches land.

Because there are three boat clubs there, there are also three cranes, of which I have only ever used the biggest.  And the trucks will arrive, often driven by foreign nationals, often from somewhere in the Balkans.  These drivers communicate by means of international truck-language, which is based on an assortment of gestures and shouts.

And there will be Olindo.  He is the magus of boat transport, the scion of Chiarentin Trasporti, founded by his father in 1922 when boats still FAR outnumbered motorized vehicles.  And because his father’s blood was condensed and consumed by hauling boats up the Brenta river by means of his own arms (until he could afford a horse), Olindo has inherited a mystic capacity of knowing exactly how to handle any sort of boat — positioned, braced, lashed, counterpoised, and otherwise settled for a long truck ride in such a way as to come out looking better than when it left.  Or certainly not worse.

Some people understand animals, some people even claim to understand women.  Olindo understands boats.  The boat has yet to be born so big, delicate, or valuable that can ruffle him in any way.  Usually it’s the amateurs who are trying to HELP that drive him over his recommended personal rpm’s.

So sending the boats to Orleans was pretty routine.  The only thing that was different from other trips was the size of the crane brought in by the city to pluck many of the boats from the Loire and send them home.  Its hydraulic arm could have been measured in football-field-lengths, and it could lift a maximum of 25 tons. I thought the Diesona was big; the crane thought it was a  splinter.

The only living thing I know that could match that crane for strength, inch for pound for atmospheres, would be Olindo, actually.  If they ever made him hydraulic, we wouldn’t need Archimedes’ proverbial fulcrum and level — he could move the world by himself.

Too bad there wouldn’t be a truck big enough to hold it.  Though the shouts and gestures would probably be the same.

 

Here an eight-oar gondola is hoisted, ready to be placed on the truck which is about to back up for loading.  The boat isn't lifted over the side of the truck, but slid into it from the rear.  This phase is accomplished very slowly, aided by shouts and gestures which essentially mean "go slowly" and "stop immediately."

Here an eight-oar gondola is hoisted, ready to be placed on the truck which is about to back up for loading. The boat isn’t lifted over the side of the momentarily topless  truck, but slid into it from the rear. This phase is accomplished very slowly, aided by shouts and gestures which essentially mean “go slowly” and “stop immediately.”  Olindo is ready to grab the boat, arm already outstretched.

So far, so good.

So far, so good.

The spare tires are strategically placed to brace the boat against jouncing.

The spare tires are strategically placed to brace the boat against jouncing.

You can see why it's important to calculate the boat length correctly.  In this case, it was enough to unscrew and remove the heavy metal "ferro" on the bow of the boat.

You can see why it’s important to calculate the boat length correctly. In this case, it was enough to unscrew and remove the heavy metal “ferro” on the bow of the boat.  We were prepared for that.

One small detail of the many strappings and lashings involved, none of which are at random, or accomplished with anything resembling "Well, let's hope for the best," or "It looks like that ought to do it."

One small detail of the many strappings and lashings involved, none of which is at random, or accomplished with anything resembling “Well, let’s hope for the best,” or “It looks like that ought to do it.”  More geometry, more decades of experience at work.

IN another trip, we had to use the famous metal sawhorses in order to carry two gondolas at once.  More straps, more lashings.

On another trip, we had to use the famous metal sawhorses in order to carry two gondolas at once. More straps, more lashings.

A rare glimpse of Olindo's face (left); he's usually moving too briskly and looking elsewhere to allow useful portraits.

A rare glimpse of Olindo’s face (left); he’s usually moving too briskly and looking elsewhere to allow useful portraits.

Last phase: Closing the truck's top and sides.

Last phase: Closing the truck’s top and sides.

In Orleans, we weren't there for the unloading, but we all stood by for the loading for the trip home.  The mythic crane is in position, halfway between the river and the street, where a line of trucks was waiting for their cargo.

In Orleans, we weren’t there for the unloading, but we all stood by for the loading for the trip home. The mythic crane is in position, halfway between the river and the street, where a line of trucks was waiting for their cargo.

IMG_5765 peter load

These men weren't Olindo, but they got the job done with no wasted time or motion.

These men weren’t Olindo, but they got the job done with no wasted time or motion.

The "Diesona" has been disassembled, and is ready to be lifted onto the truck.  From here on, the process followed its immemorial phases.

The “Diesona” has been disassembled, and is ready to be lifted onto the truck. From here on, the process followed its immemorial phases.

 

 

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Categories : Boatworld
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