Archive for Venice Film Festival


Hey! Where’d everybody go?

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While some people have been working themselves up about the mobs of tourists in Venice (tourists in Venice?  I’m shocked!  Shocked!) our little lobe of the city has quietly tiptoed away, its denizens going to the mountains, Hammerfest, Saskatoon, the Tuvan Grasslands, anywhere but here where they can enjoy a little peace and quiet and — I hope — not to have become tourists in turn, if you take my meaning.

Between Ferragosto (August 15, as you know) and the onslaught of the Film Festival is this small sliver of time which is like a deep, peaceful breath. Even though the heat continues to enervate us, night and day —

If, for some reason, you lost your mind and decided to come to Venice in August, your main survival tool is liquids.  Lots of them, as you see.

— there is an atmosphere of restfulness along via Garibaldi which is almost like vacation in itself.  And that is because many of the shops are closed. Temporary inconvenience to the few remaining inhabitants is more than mitigated by the tranquillity, and besides, it’s not as if ALL the fruit-and-vegetable sellers are gone, and yes, there is one butcher left who can slice you some pork chops.  In any case, we now have the mastodontic Coop supermarket to take up the slack (open every day from 8:00 AM to 10:00 PM, if you can believe it), manned by staff which does not always look happy to be helping, which I can understand even though they do have air-conditioning.

Let me take you on a brief perambulation of via Garibaldi, rejoicing in the “closed for vacation” (ferie) signs on the windows and doors.  It’s as if the supposedly avaricious and insatiable merchants had all suddenly said, “Nah, we don’t care.  We should stay here sweltering just on the chance that SOMEBODY might wander in, even by mistake?”  Because most of their regular customers are also far away.  I’m only here because I have to be, but I get to enjoy this moment and they don’t.

You’ll have to go somewhere else until August 21 to buy laundry detergent, lipstick, rubber kitchen gloves, or a bucket and mop — the everything-store is shut. You should have thought about needing that shampoo or scouring powder sooner.

Now is not the moment to be caught without underwear or dish towels or handkerchiefs. The dry-goods ladies aren’t coming back till the 28th.

No shoes, even on sale (“saldi”) until the 21st.

Anything in the optical line, from high-class sunglasses to replacing a screw to a bottle of contact-lens wetting solution is unobtainable until the 21st.  Still, he’s only taking a week.  That seems very, very short to me.  I could wait for the lens-wiping cloth a little longer.

Just as soon as you got used to the fact that this hair salon was open only in from 8:30 – 12:30 in July and August, they go and close altogether.  Still, they only took four days off, which I think is extremely strange and unreasonably short, and I, personally, would not have advised it.

But we are evidently expected to walk around with our heads wrapped in scarves because, as you see, the OTHER salon (yes, there are two) has also elected to go relax everything up to and including their hair, somewhere else.

The toys-and-school-supplies-and-paper-goods store is giving itself three weeks off. Once school starts again they’ll have more than plenty to do.  If you need an eraser or some lead for your mechanical pencil, too bad.

The butcher has put the prosciutto away, and if you’re pining to make fegato alla veneziana you’ll just have to wait. Eat some clams or some scrambled eggs meanwhile, or trek down the street to Alberto the butcher, who is hanging tough.  Better yet, have some gelato.  That’s one type of shop that couldn’t possibly close in the summer.

Well, that settles that. You absolutely cannot have any problem either with your computer or your cell phone until Gianni gets back. There is no Plan B. The mere sight of this sign makes me cower.

Want to play the lottery or buy some smokes? You’ll have to go back up the street to the other two places that will provide you with these vital services because the mother and her eccentric son in this emporium are somewhere else.  They have helpfully given two alternate shops, but I can’t understand why they didn’t list the one two minutes down from the top of via Garibaldi.  Perhaps they’re involved in a feud.  It happens.

The indefatigable Fabio at the Trattoria alla Rampa is off Work A (feeding people) but only in order to exhaust himself doing Work B, otherwise known as “maintenance.” He knows what it’s going to be like when the Film Festival starts and he’s going to be ready — to be precise, on September 4.

Some shops don’t need signs. Everybody knows this is a pastry shop, and everybody knows that pastry shops pretty much close for some time in August. The reason: Cream just doesn’t have the same appeal at room temperature as it does frozen and sitting in a cone. Everything is hard to work with in the heat, from chocolate to your business partner.

The faithful and doomed-to-be-photographed-forever fruit and vegetable boat. Massimo and Luca used to clear away all the boxes and crates when they went on vacation, and the sight of the bare deck was a strange and memorable moment in the waning summer days. But as you see, they just said the heck with it. Yes, there are two other produce sellers on the street, but I can tell you that they are nowhere near the same quality. So we soldier on…

…but not particularly encouraged by the ominous note at the bottom: “To reopen on 25 August. Maybe.”

Giorgio’s boat might as well have a sign on it because when he’s in Venice he goes out fishing virtually every single day, barring typhoons of either the meteorological or domestic type. To see the boat tied up in broad daylight is to know that the world has stopped.






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Back to everything

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I regret the lapse in communication.  The fundamental problem has been a dysfunctional computer which is still awaiting treatment.  That’s supposed to happen tomorrow. So there will be no pictures on this post.  I’m sorry.

But the morning is too beautiful to pass without recognition.  I don’t mean “beautiful” as in meteorologically, though there is that, too.  Light clouds, cooler air, gentler sunshine.

What’s beautiful right now is the entire atmosphere.  If it were possible for a hapless seagull to pass through an airplane’s turbine and come out in one piece, that would be me.  Apart from having guests coming and going, we have also been deeply involved in the Regata Storica and, yesterday, the Riveria Fiorita.  (We still have to put the boat away.)

But there has been more, even if we weren’t directly involved: The Biennale of Architecture (August 29-November 25), and the Venice Film Festival (August 28-September 8) — two world-class events opening on essentially the same day — have created their own special wildness. Our neighborhood — that is, the world — is a major center of activity at least for the former event, what with exhibitions strewn all over the lot.  The film festival is on the Lido, but that doesn’t mean we don’t get the collateral damage of troop-transport vaporettos and other issues resulting from attempting to fit 1X of people into 1Y of space.

To change metaphors, the sensation I had this morning, walking outside, was of having spent a month in a large pot of water which had been brought to a rolling boil, and which now had been put on the windowsill to cool down.

People have just gone away.  Even the kids are nowhere to be seen, because they’re all getting ready for school to start on Wednesday (if children can ever be said to be ready).  There is a pale, hushed, tranquil air enlivened only by soft voices saying indistinguishable, agreeable things.  This is quite a change from the shouting and crying and assorted other high-volume communications that have been shredding the air at all hours and far into the night.

The procession of French tourists who rent the apartment up one floor across the street has ended. No more listening to their open-window 3:00 PM multi-course lunches, or dodging the dripping from their laundry stretched on the line from their wall to ours.  No more (or hardly any more) heavy grumbling from the wheels of overloaded suitcases being dragged to, or from, hidden lodgings somewhere beyond us in the middle of the night (one group arrived at 1:00 AM, another headed to the airport at 3:30 AM.  I know because I checked the clock).  It’s not just the suitcases, it’s the discussions, though you might think they’d have settled the details before locking the door.

Now it’s just us here.

I don’t want to give the impression that I desire the silence of a Carthusian monastery to reign in Castello.  I’m only saying that one savors this particular silence with particular appreciation inspired by having experienced its opposite for a just a little too long.

I’m sorry you can’t all be here to savor this delicate loveliness, disregarding the fact that having you all here would mean it wouldn’t be so delicate anymore, no offense.  But in any case, nothing, as you know, lasts forever.  And school, as I mentioned, will be starting in 48 hours.  Tourists make noise?  I challenge them to overcome the clamor of squadrons of children meeting their friends on the street at 7:30 in the morning. The winners will be decided by the Olympic taekwondo judges.


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One of scores of winged lions stationed around the Lido; this one is at the vaporetto stop, on meet-and-greet duty.

It would appear that there is always a film festival going on somewhere in the world — 308 at last count, but no doubt the list is growing. That’s practically one a day.

And each one awards a (usually) golden trophy, The most famous give out lions, bears, and palm fronds but let us not disparage the Golden Crow Pheasant, Golden Pyramid, Golden Conch, Golden Frogs, Golden Space Needle, and even (I am not making this up), the Golden Calf, from the Netherlands.  Did they do that on purpose?

Special buses start in the morning to take people from the vaporetto to the movies. As part of the multi-purpose art extravaganza known as the Biennale, the film festival is correctly known as the 'Exhibition of Cinema," as if the movies were hung on a wall.

Until September 10, here we’re focusing on the lion, naturally.  For a thousand years the winged lion of San Marco stood for power, wealth, and glory, and struck fear, admiration and envy in the hearts of countless thousands.  For ten days in Venice, it stands for movie tickets, daily updates on assorted stars and tiny asteroids, a constant drip of complaints and criticism of what there is and what there isn’t, and parties where countless thousands stand around and talk about how they’re going to make some more money, which essentially brings us back to the aforementioned power, wealth, and glory.  Or maybe they don’t care about the glory.

The Venice Film Festival — 68 years old and still going strong, I guess — was the first of its kind in the world.

Back in 1932, the Lido must have seemed the perfect place to hold this innovative little event, seeing that in those days the Lido (well, Venice, but let’s be kind) indeed evoked some form of glamour.  It’s a little hard to imagine now, because there was basically just an airport, a church, a few luxury hotels, and miles of artichoke fields.  The people who came were mostly rich and did rich-people things, like spend a lot of money to drink, eat, and look at each other.

Reporters going to work, checking the paper for news on what they did yesterday, or what they have to do today. These are staying in Venice because there's no more room on the Lido. The symbolic winged animal on their bags looks like a GummiLion.

Now the masses on the Lido have almost no (actually, no) glamour, the artichoke fields are gone, and at least one of the luxury hotels is closed for semi-permanent restoration (Hotel Des Bains).

But the winged lions are posted all around the main streets, the phalanxes of photographers are in maneuvers, and, as usual, the vaporettos and busses are so full they’re practically shrink-wrapped.

Opening Day was George Clooney Day; his new film, “The Ides of March,” launched the ten-day marathon, and received a standing ovation.

Yesterday it was Madonna’s turn, here to promote her new film “W.E.”  As I understand it, her goal is to “rehabilitate” the image of Wallis Simpson, and best of British luck with that. The Guardian’s report observes: “It takes a twisted creative genius to produce a compellingly bad film….and that is why Madonna, try as she might, will never make one of the worst films ever made.  She just hasn’t got the talent. ”

The lions stand on pedestals which are four-sided billboards for beer, restaurants, and assorted Lido businesses. Wouldn't it have made more sense for some producer to have bought a batch to advertise the name of his/her movie? As in: Lion plus My Movie = Award me the top prize. But what do I know.

She reserved rooms in five hotels, to throw reporters off the track.  This is something I wish somebody would explain to me. You come here because you want to be seen and talked about, then you put on this pantomime of craving solitude?  Isn’t that why they invented Bhutan?  Anyway, she ended up staying in Venice, not even on the Lido.  Take that, Hotel Excelsior.

Now she’s probably gone, and so, day by day, the reporters too will shimmer away, leaving only the few hard-core journalists who actually write about movies, as opposed to people and what they’re wearing.  By the time the Golden Lion spreads his wings, he almost seems to be an afterthought.

Then the film world will turn its attention to whatever golden creatures are next being shoved into the starting gate.  Or at least who’s there and what they’re wearing.



Yachts are excellent places to give parties, and every year a batch of them tie up along the Riva Sette Martiri for exactly that purpose. Expensive but sort of generic, not unlike the people who rent them.

The launch belonging to one of those yachts. Lino says it reminds him of a funeral boat. It doesn't cry "Party! Party!" to me, either.



But where there are films (or yachts), there are likely to be girls. These were seriously waiting for something, or somebody.

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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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