Archive for Treviso


What was your name again?

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IMG_9546  baiamonte tiepolo

Walking home the other day, I cast my eye, as usual, on the building corner which Lino refers to as “The Wailing Wall.”  Meaning no disrespect to the original place of that name, our little angle is the perfect spot to tape up death notices.  I’ve mentioned on other occasions that the cost to publish such a notice in the Gazzettino is totally fantastical, so these rectangles of plastic are extremely useful in keeping people up to date on for whom the bell is tolling.

But I don’t usually expect to see names I recognize, mainly because the number of people I know who might be likely to demise is very limited.  And although some surnames are a little unusual, there are very few which hurl one back 700 years into one of the most complicated and desperate conspiracies ever formed to attempt the overthrow of the Venetian Republic.

So I was unprepared to see a new notice stuck on the wall, complete with photo of the deceased, announcing the death of Baiamonte Tiepolo.

This name may not connote much to you, but anyone who has skimmed Venetian history knows it as the name of one of the most audacious revolutionaries who ever tried to scuttle somebody’s government.

It was like seeing a notice for some innocuous little person who just happened to be named Benedict Arnold, or Oliver Cromwell, or Ernesto Guevara, or Gregory Rasputin.

As for someone bearing the name of a renowned Venetian noble family, this isn’t quite so startling.  I interviewed a descendant of doge Jacopo Tiepolo some years ago, and I know that there are Grimanis and Zorzis and Da Mosto’s still roaming the city.  I have also met a young woman carrying forward the storied name of Bragadin.

But it’s one thing to bear the last name; if you were a Bragadin, I think it would be cruel to name your son Marcantonio.  The name is certainly worthy of remembrance, but the boy’s life would be hell.  There are only so many witty remarks you can make to someone whose forebear was flayed alive after an epic siege that lasted almost a year, and the lad would have to hear all of them.

On the same note, the Venice phone book lists two men named Marco Polo.  They must have been doomed to a life of a steady drizzle of really funny remarks.  “Hey, Marco — back so soon?”  “Give my regards to the Khan, next time you see him.”  “Did you really invent pasta?”  And so on.

For the late Baiamonte, the drollery would have had to be more erudite, and I won’t risk any here because life is short, and by the time one (that is, me) has related as much as possible of his ancestor’s spectacular, if also scurrilous, story, the potential for humor would have dried up and blown away in the wind.  But I feel safe in saying that, thanks to his namesake and his cohorts, the year 1310 stands out in Venetian history as much as 1492 or 1776 stands out in the American annals.

Here is the drastically condensed version of his story. The plot was foiled, he was exiled for four years, and his palace was torn down.  He spent those years traveling, visiting Venice’s enemies (Padova, Treviso, Rovigo, and some very powerful families therein) doing everything conceivable to convince them to join him in another conspiracy. He just wouldn’t give up.

Not amused, Venice changed the sentence to perpetual exile.  He wandered around Dalmatia seeking new collaborators.  He was imprisoned.  He escaped.  The Venetian government forbade anybody to have anything to do with him.  Finally, in 1329, the Council of Ten decreed that he had to be eliminated, by any means.

The details of Baiamonte’s death are uncertain, which is not surprising when a person has to be eliminated. (The “Caught a cold and stopped breathing” explanation has often been sufficient.)  As for location, at least one historian states that he was in Croatia, staying with relatives, when his last day came and went.

For the Tiepolos of Lower Castello, maybe it was a point of pride to name their son Baiamonte. It couldn’t have been inadvertent.  I can’t imagine somebody saying “Heavenly days, it never crossed my mind that somebody would think of the old subversive of blackened fame.”

I notice, though, that he named his son Andrea.  Maybe he had had enough.

The great conspirator's palace was razed, and a "column of infamy" detailing his crimes was erected in its place.  Eventually the column was broken up, and this abbreviated summary placed on the pavement: "Location of column of Baiamonte Tiepolo 1310."

The great conspirator’s palace at Campo Sant’ Agostin was razed, and a “column of infamy” detailing his crimes was erected in its place. Eventually the column was broken up, and this abbreviated summary placed on the pavement: “Location of column of Baiamonte Tiepolo 1310.”


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Afa will make you do anything

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The last two weeks of August here contain some of the most predictable events ever found on earth, right up there on the list next to sunrise and the last Saturday at WalMart before school starts.

Our predictable events in this period are the preparations for the Venice Film Festival (this year August 31 to September 10), which involve what always look like amazingly late and chaotic preparations of the main theatre known as the Palacinema and its environs, plus truckloads of complaints and accusations of waste and inefficiency from everybody except the organizers.  There are also preparations for the Regata Storica, whose five days of eliminations conclude tomorrow, which proceed in a more organized way.  This may be because they are, in fact, better organized, or only because they entail fewer people and matter less to the world at large, by which I mean there’s less money involved.

But these are events which you can ignore if you’re not particularly interested. What nobody can ignore is the afa.

If you can make out any land at all on the horizon, that would be the rest of the world. Or maybe it's a mirage.

The afa currently sucking the life out of the lagoon and its denizens also qualifies as an annual event  and you don’t even have to go to it.  It comes to you.  “The afa came down like a wolf on the fold,” as Lord Byron didn’t say, and its cohorts, if it had any, are definitely not gleaming in purple and gold. They’re not gleaming at all, theyre practically naked and most of them are neck deep in the exhausted tepid water of the Adriatic.

In fact, a morning view of either the sea or the lagoon gives the impression that these bodies of water are not made of water at all, but of glycerine, heavy and smooth, a colorless liquid that barely has the strength to form even the tiniest wave.

I know how it feels.  When the alarm sounds in the shapeless sodden dawn, the term “primordial ooze” comes to mind, by which I don’t mean the world, I mean me. It isn’t a good feeling to be either primordial or oozy and to be both is depressing even if I  know that evolution will eventually bring me the opposable thumb and the sextant and the sonnets of Shakespeare.

Looking toward Venice, the most beautiful city in the world, if you can make it out.

A Saharan front is pressing down on the Veneto region and also much of the rest of the old Belpaese, and it’s the longest and hottest heatwave around here for the last 20 years.  Good for beach tourism, I suppose, though not good for other activities like farming.

One Bosnian truckdriver was completely unimpressed by all this.  He stopped in a supermarket parking lot at Crocetta del Montello near Treviso yesterday, and all that sunshine immediately made him think of catching some of those rays.

This may not have been precisely the form of the truck in question, but it still doesn't say "beach" to me.

So he climbed up onto the roof of his cab, I suppose on some kind of towel to avoid completely crisping, with a supply of drinks at hand.  Voila!  His own little beach!

Then he took off all his clothes and stretched out.  Evidently Bosnian truckers hate those bathing-suit lines as much as anybody.

A cashier in the supermarket saw the naked man tanning himself  up there and called the Carabinieri.  End of tan.

I don’t know if Venice has ever experienced a monsoon, but I can tell you we’re all waiting for one.

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The big water event in the Veneto region in November has had nothing to do with Venice and high water and the temporary walkways and how inconvenient or amusing the tourists find it and how aggravating it is for the merchants to deal with some water on the floor for a few hours.

Part of downtown Vicenza, a part of the world which is not accustomed to seeing water in its streets.

A scene of downtown Vicenza, a city which, unlike Venice, is not accustomed to seeing water in its streets. (Photo:

The real story, which is still unfolding in all its drama and grief, has been the catastrophic flooding in large areas of the region caused  by diluvial rains and overflowing rivers.

I mention this as part of my modest personal crusade to give acqua alta some useful context for people beyond the old Bel Paese who read the endless and fairly repetitive  articles on Venice.  I’d like  to provide some recent perspective on the subject of water in these parts.

On November 1 the sky fell on the Veneto region.  I actually can’t remember whether we got acqua alta in Venice — if we did it couldn’t have been a problem. But what happened out beyond the shoreline showed, at least to me, that anyone living near a river is going to be facing bigger and uglier problems than anybody does  in Venice when the tide comes in.

The town of Caldogno has declared 80,000,000 euros in damage.

The town of Caldogno has declared 80,000,000 euros in damage. (Photo:

Areas in or near Vicenza, Padova, Treviso, the mountains of Belluno and the countryside around Verona have been declared disaster areas.  In a 48-hour period 23 inches of rain fell on Belluno, 21 inches on Vicenza, 15 inches on Verona, 14 inches on Treviso.  Roughly the amount that falls in a normal year.

The total damage to houses, property, municipal infrastructure and agriculture in the Veneto has been estimated (this will undoubtedly increase) at over one billion euros ($1,365,530,000).

Garbage: Many of the Veneto’s 200 km (124 miles) of beaches, usually covered by vacationing Germans and other families, are now covered by seven million tons of garbage deposited by the swollen  rivers emptying into the Adriatic. By “garbage” I don’t just mean bags of coffee grounds and orange peel but plastic of every sort, sheets of metal, uprooted trees.

Experts meeting in Treviso are trying to figure out not only how to remove this amount of material, but how the sam hill to pay for getting rid of it, seeing that this type of trash costs between 170 and 180 euros ($232 – $245) per ton to destroy.  I’ll help you out: That comes to more than one and a half billion dollars just for the garbage.  I’ll send them a contribution but it probably wouldn’t pay for destroying more than a shopping-bag’s worth of detritus.

Mudslides: That amount of rain has drastically undermined the character of the land in many places.  Cleaning up and consolidating the areas of mudslides is another entire problem which will cost an amount of money I’m not going to bother calculating.

Businesses: On their knees.  Loss of merchandise, damage to buildings and interruptions in transport have immobilized many businesses.  Parts of many roads are still under water.

A scene of the countryside outside Vicenza, where traffic has ceased to function.

A scene of the countryside outside Vicenza, where we see that traffic has run out of road.

Agriculture: Fields and crops destroyed.  Some 500 farming operations are now at risk of going out of business. The government has estimated the damage at 25 million euros ($34,138,250).

I realize that you can replant sugar beets and chardonnay grapes but you can’t replant the Doge’s Palace, should water ever inflict comparable damage on this incomparable monument.  But still.

Very recently, but before all this happened, Giorgio Orsoni, the mayor of Venice, took a trip to Rome to make the rounds of government ministers and rattle the tin cup.  He didn’t come back with much, and now the future will inevitably be even more austere.  It’s not hard to picture how urgent it’s going to seem to preserve a couple of palaces and churches  to a government struggling to help an estimated 500,000 people get their lives back.

These are the most recent figures on the damage, which probably need no translation.  The numbers will undoubtedly rise.

These are the most recent figures on the damage, which probably need no translation. The numbers will undoubtedly rise. Among other items is the damage to the Prosecco vineyards, so don't expect an excess of this delicacy next year.

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Categories : Events, Problems, Water
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