Archive for summer

Jul
10

A medley of today

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I’m about to shimmer away for a few days in Frankfurt for a big boating event on the river Main, so I won’t be posting till next week.

Here are a few of the things I saw today, just to keep you in the mood.

The morning started with the news that the Ponte della Liberta', the only bridge connecting Venice to the rest of the world, was blocked yesterday due to an acci

The morning started with this not-unusual news: (Left) CAR TURNS OVER ON THE PONTE DELLA LIBERTA’ (the only bridge connecting Venice to the rest of the world) TRAFFIC STOPPED FOR TWO HOURS.  This is repeated by its neighbor newspaper on the right: PONTE DELLA LIBERTA’ TRAFFIC PARALYZED.  May I note that whenever this happens, I wonder why the city doesn’t concentrate more on making an improvement which would help everybody all the time — unlike a certain acqua-alta project I could mention — by constructing a breakdown lane on the freaking bridge already.  When the bridge is blocked, everything stops — sometimes trains, too.  As a bonus, we see on the left: TRAIN STATION: A PICKPOCKET LIFTS 35,000 EUROS FROM A JAPANESE WOMAN. And she was carrying that much cash because………?? All I can say is, the person who stole that much money must be an instant legend among his friends and family.  All Lino can say is, “It was probably a put-up job.”

This little sylph was already so beguiling in her summer garb with a bow in her hair that the ice cream seems almost de trop.  But not to her.  She has evidently discovered some flaw that requires closer analysis, and perhaps immediate correction via her nearby father.

This little sylph was already so beguiling in her summer garb, up to the color-coordinated hairband with bow,that the ice cream seems almost de trop. But not to her. She has evidently discovered some flaw that requires closer analysis, and perhaps immediate correction via her nearby father.

I suppose if the world is divided between cat and dog people, it must also be divided between sunrise and sunset people.  I personally go for both.  This is the latter, but it looks just as good at dawn.

I suppose if the world is divided between cat and dog people, it must also be divided between sunrise and sunset people. I personally go for both. This is the latter, but it looks just as good at dawn.

But I have to say that I do sleep better knowing that the great Bartolomeo Colleoni is always on watch.

But I have to say that I do sleep better knowing that the great Bartolomeo Colleoni is always on watch.

 

Categories : Venetian-ness
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Aug
21

What he did on his summer vacation

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The reason for the unusually long time since my last post is the inverse correlation between the current heatwave (still increasing) and my capacity to think and/or act upon my thoughts (still decreasing).

Of course it’s summer so of course it’s hot.  What does everyone expect?  The Siberian front that usually moves through here in January? Everybody complains about that too.

And I recognize that longer and more intense heatwaves have been tormenting people in many other parts of the world.  But I don’t use my brain there and I haven’t been using what’s left of it here lately either.

For about a week now the daytime temperature has gone near, and now will be going past, 96 degrees F/36 C.  With searing sun which not even the most foolhardy cloud has dared to veil.  The “perceived heat” will be over 100.  It’s like living in Pascagoula with palazzos.

But heat doesn’t seem to prevent people from doing all sorts of unusual things, so I thought I’d share one of the more eccentric or anyway less horrifying recent summer events (by “less horrifying” I mean episodes not involving drug overdoses, marital homicide/suicides, fatal hit-and-run accidents, and so forth). Many of those have a highly ironic nature which might lead you to consider them humorous, but I’m going to avoid them.

The best of the batch is being accomplished by a certain Ivano De Marchi, 65 years old, who lives in Marcon (just 14 miles/22 km from Venice).  He has been driving around the Veneto in his convertible BMW with a coffin jammed into the passenger seat.

Here is a video of a sighting on the A4 highway near the Vicenza Ovest exit.

For those who don’t see the video, here’s the link:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hAmfGxkOxbI

I’ll simplify his explanation: It’s a pilgrimage.  Not any ordinary one, but a “protest pilgrimage” to punish the mayor.

Back in 1988, De Marchi paid a lot of his own money and time and energy to create a motocross track, presumably near his hometown and presumably something he intended for his own enjoyment.  I don’t know how much money or time you need to construct a motocross track but I know it’s not something you just throw away, like the 20 million dollars Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt spent for that chateau in France.

Anyway, he spent the money, then the mayor razed the track and cut it up into parcels, presumably for houses (there was no mention of a miniature golf course or firing range).

So now, 23 years later, revenge.  According to De Marchi, the Virgin Mary came to him in a dream and told him to undertake 1000 pilgrimages with a coffin to 1000 churches, after which time presumably the ex-mayor will be ready for his box.  That’s the assumption De Marchi is going on.

Of course the police have stopped him (no word on whether the bishop has sent out his own squad).  They gave him the breath-test and the drug test and he was just fine.  “Then they made me open the coffin, which obviously was empty” — actually, not so obvious to even a moderately alert policeman.  “After that they told me to be careful, and they let me go,” he concludes.

“Of course I”m careful: The coffin has got its seatbelt fastened.”

If we are given any updates on the fulfillment of his vow, especially the expected outcome, I’ll certainly let you know.  As it is, while the rest of us are being steamed like asparagus out here, he is out there breezing along with his coffin and his retaliation to keep him company.  I have no idea if he has a time frame for this quest — even if he were able to visit ten churches a day, he’d be at this for at least three months.  It’s not going to be quite so much fun when the winter rains move in.

But for now, he’s happy.  At the least, he’s not stuck in miles of traffic coming home from vacation, like all those really dumb people.

 

 

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As I’ve often remarked, one of the things I love about being here is the faithful return of certain events — moments — throughout the year.  Of course there are events everywhere upon which one may confidently depend — tax deadline day comes to mind — but I’m talking about here.

One occurrence which is so predictable that I don’t even have read the paper, much less even wake up, to recognize it is the double-edged event known as THE EXODUS.

Trieste is only 7 km/4 miles from the Croatian border. From then on, time and distance take on new meanings.

No, it has no Biblical overtones, unless one is thinking of the famous Plagues. In fact, now that I think about it, this could possibly be a worthy candidate to join the frogs and the flies that afflicted Pharaoh.  But since we’re living in a democracy, this little plague afflicts everybody going on vacation. And everybody goes in August.

So the first weekend of August inevitably sees an outbound migration  of massive proportions clogging the highways — The Exodus.  On the last weekend of August, there is the equally appalling Return Exodus.

This is what Croatia looks like from the Italian side of the border. You can be sitting and looking at this for quite a while. But of course, you're not seeing this, you're seeing what it represents: Fabulous beaches, great food, maybe even no people.

We could call it the Plague of Traffic.  Or, if you’re sitting on the highway in a monster backup, the Plague of Everybody Else on Earth.  And the only thing that changes from one year to the next is the length — from unbearable to inconceivable — of the backups at the Italian borders and Alpine tunnels.  Last Saturday the backup at the border dividing Slovenia from Croatia reached about 40 km/25 miles.  Ah yes, Croatia: Gorgeous! Near! Irresistible! Cheap! Also: Small! Mountainous! Not Many Roads!

This Exodus traffic is funny to people who aren’t there, like me, and to people who are funny wherever they are, like Lino Toffolo.

Lino Toffolo is an actor/standup comic  from Murano who writes a column every Sunday in the Gazzettino.  He’s usually right on top of the main subject of the day, which last Sunday was The Exodus.

Here is what he wrote (translated by me):

Instead of facing the usual five kilometers of tailback [in Italian, merely “tail”] to go to Jesolo, why don’t we go to Croatia or Dalmatia or along down there, where there are bound to be fewer people?

Perfect idea!  Let’s go!  40 kilometers of continuous tailback!  Basically, when the last person gets there he just turns around because his vacation is over.

Every year, right on schedule, other than the drama of the “checking the stomach on the beach I swear I’m never eating again” is the  one — unsolvable — of “where to go” and above all, “when to leave.”

The imagination is unchained!  At night, at dawn, at mealtimes like telephone calls [local people scribbling ads often say “call at mealtimes”].  Every so often somebody has the idea of the “intelligent departure,” which they reveal only to their friends who — as with all true secrets — they pass along to one friend at a time, even on Facebook.

The result: Everybody is stuck in the backup, everybody is complaining.

Grandpa Tony thinks that the laborers working on the highway are tourists who just got bored sitting still and figure this way they can at least be doing something…. Sometimes you can watch plants growing.  

“But — it is obligatory for us to do this?”  “No!  That’s exactly why we’re doing it!  If it were obligatory, we’d all stay home!”  

And the Croatians?  Where do they go?  Italy? Gorgeous!  Near! Irresistible! Expensive!

This is a glimpse of the Croatian coast. Worth the voyage, as the Michelin Guide might put it.

 

This is the Italian coast in Puglia.

 

Croatia.

 

Italy. The only difference I can see that might make it worthwhile to sit in a car for hours to get to one instead of the other would be that Croatia is currently a hot destination, while Puglia has always just been there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Aug
13

August: May I have this trance?

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August in Venice is remarkably similar to August in many other cities — European ones, anyway. The urb seems to go into a sort of trance.  There aren’t any major festivals, though modest local events continue to be scattered around, the kind that you can mostly take or leave alone.  It’s a desultory sort of month just lollygagging along the line, if there is one, between languor and lethargy.

Mid-afternoon in the lagoon.  It feels as if it's going to be 3:00 forever.

Mid-afternoon in the lagoon. It feels as if it's going to be 3:00 forever.

Yes, there is still heat, sometimes too much of it, but the heat doesn’t quite match that hellish torridity of July.  For us city-dwellers (as opposed to farmers, or families on beach vacations), the occasional thunder- or hailstorm serves mainly as entertainment, a little break in the estival monotony.  I love watching the hail crashing into the canal outside, cosmic handfuls of ice hurled earthward making the water jump and bounce and froth.  I wish it would happen more often.  And then, after the storm passes, the limitless space of sky over the lagoon can be covered with enormous, dense clouds that look as if they must have been squeezed out of some colossal can of Cloud-Whip.

Fine — I hear you thinking — but what about All Those Tourists?  No need to ask; tourists, like the poor, shall never cease from the earth.  Of course there are tourists.  And while there are always more visitors than residents, most Venetians, few as there may be anymore, are even fewer now. They’re on vacation, and that means they’ve mostly gone to the mountains.  If you want to see some Venetians, you’re going to have to head for Baselga di Pine’ or San Martino di Castrozza.

But what’s different in August is that the tourists seem to fade, in a curious way, and crowded onto the vaporettos, many of them look as if they’ve been thwacked by a two by four.  In fact, the whole city seems as if it has faded.  Shops shut.  Restaurants close.  Pharmacies are reduced to a skeleton supply, thoughtfully displaying a sign on their barred doors with the name and address of the nearest open drugstore, which will not be near. The market at Rialto retains only a few, seemingly symbolic, vendors.  The sea may be teeming with fish, but the fishmongers don’t care. Pastry-makers go hiking in the Alps, I guess, because they’re not interested in making delicacies containing cream and butter in this heat, nor are there any customers interested in buying them.  The only dairy product anybody cares about is ice cream.

Even this houseboat seems slightly stupefied.

Even this houseboat seems slightly stupefied.

So a sensation of scarcity and torpor suffuses the city.  If you need some object or service (the lab report on your biopsy, a replacement door to your front-loading washing machine) you can just make up your mind to wait, because factories or warehouses will close.  Delivery people will disappear, and that includes letter-carriers.  (Not made up.)  The post office hardly even hires substitutes.  Everything just gets left where you dropped it until September.

I was wrong -- something seems to be moving.  A little girl, looking at or for or because of something. She'll never last till sundown at this rate.

I was wrong -- something seems to be moving. A little girl, looking at or for or because of something. She'll never last till sundown if she doesn't slow down.

Tourists will continue to find what they need. Ice-cream shops (I did mention ice cream, didn’t I?), souvenir vendors, and museums will all be lolling in the shade, waiting for you. But many places that you would assume would be panting for floods of customers just pull the grate across the door and a tape hand-lettered sign to it. There.

There are only two events that make the smallest indentation in the rich layer of silence that has been smoothed over the city.  The first is August 15, or Ferragosto.  It dates from antiquity to mark, among other things, the end of the harvest, and was recognized officially by the emperor Augustus in the year 18 A.D.  Many Catholic countries, since Pope Pius XII’s edict of November 1, 1950, observe it as a religious festival as well as a picnic-at-the-beach festival.  (It’s especially beloved in the years when it falls outside a weekend, thereby requiring you to extend your vacation.)

Even after all this time, Ferragosto still doesn’t make much of an impression on me.  It’s kind of like observing your second cousin’s mother-in-law’s wedding anniversary.  But once you’ve experienced the desolation of most big cities on this day, you can really get how funny the moment is in a little movie whose name escapes me, in which the only son’s elderly mother, living in the center of Rome, begs him to get her fresh fish for lunch on Ferragosto. It would be like asking someone to go out and bring you a fresh piece of moon rock on New Year’s Day.

The tide seems not to have found the strength to come in. It's doing what it can, but don't be in a hurry about it.

The tide seems not to have found the strength to come in. It's doing what it can, but don't rush it.

The only other noticeable August event — for me, at least — are the time trials to winnow out the racers for the Regata Storica (Historic Regatta), which is always held on the first Sunday in September. Not that anybody notices or cares about the eliminations except for the 126 aspiring racers, who have to stay here to continue training up to and, if they pass, after.  And of course the judges, such as Lino, care, because they have to organize their hanging-out time around eliminatorie duty, spending endless hours out on the lagoon by Malamocco watching the boats go by at two-minute intervals for what feels like five forevers.

You wouldn’t think anybody had the energy to be strange, but still I’ve noticed little slivers of slightly puzzling behavior.  Such as the man sitting on the bench at Malamocco one meaningless afternoon, looking out at the water.  Well, the bench itself is odd enough, even without the man, because someone decided to place a lamppost right in front of it, so close that it seems to be a direct challenge to you to decide which is really more important, rest or light.  But this man had decided he wanted rest and shade, of all things, and even though there were ample dark patches under the trees where he could have been slightly cooler, he had sat down in the center of the bench in such a way as to benefit from the one narrow strip of shadow it cast.  He was sprawled there, straddling the shadow, sun baking him on each side, with a strip of shade going straight up his middle.

Or there was another man (sorry, so far I’ve only noticed the XY chromosome category) who was sitting on the vaporetto in front of us one morning, heading toward the Lido.  He looked like a local, well into retirement age, with a hefty little paunch.  It was a rare cool morning with little spits of rain and breeze.  I was wearing a sweater.

He, on the other hand, was wearing beach flipflops, denim shorts, and a tank top — three-quarters of him was skin.  But the rain hadn’t caught him by surprise, because he was wearing a rain hat, a neat little classic made of some form of plastic, and it looked very new.  Almost as if he had just bought it.

I sat there looking at him, trying to grasp what instinct could have prompted him to protect his head when the rest of him was destined to be drenched. Let’s assume he was taken by surprise by the sudden turn of meteorological events.  Wouldn’t a cheap umbrella have made slightly more sense?

I can’t explain how I find the strength to dwell on these things.  Me, I’ve been trying for four days now to decide if I want to polish my toenails and I still can’t make up my mind.  It’s just too much to think about.

Not only does this little guy have enough energy to play peekaboo with his grandmother, the Band-Aids on his legs tell you the rest about his approach to life.e beach with his grand

Not only does this little guy have enough energy to play peekaboo with his grandmother, the Band-Aids on his legs tell you the rest about his approach to life.

IMG_9973 trance comp

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