Archive for via Garibaldi


Happy ending, happy beginning 2018

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My new blue-ribbon lion. Evidently some Byzantine sculptor decided he needed glasses. And the tongue?  Did he just swallow aspirin without water?

It doesn’t matter that New Year’s is my most unfavorite event in the year — it occurs every 365 days anyway.  But I couldn’t let the year get packed away in the back of the closet along with everything else without showing I’m still very much alive, and looking forward to unpredictable wonders in 2018.

Anchored out in the lagoon between the Giudecca and the mainland is the Fireworks Barge (or platform, or pontoon, whatever the technical term might be). The day will have been spent arraying all the explosives on this surface for the big show at midnight.

The New Improved Plan for tonight is to shift the thousands who will be in Venice to accept delivery of 2018 from the Piazza San Marco to a larger, less constricted space. Translation: The Riva degli Schiavoni down to the bridge of the Veneta Marina (church of San Biagio). Temporary fencing has been positioned to help prevent the celebratory drunken mob from falling in the water.  It does not appear to be unbreachable, but one can hope.

This system of helpful signs was inaugurated last year and evidently it worked well. Placing huge EXIT signs at the entrance to every tiny street and alley egressing from the zone of maximum crowdmass is obviously an intelligent security measure, considering that 98 percent of the partyers will not be Venetians and will not know where they are or how to get to somewhere else if some stressful urgency should arise.

Your last chance to flee before via Garibaldi, around the Naval Museum.

And in conclusion, Lino and I wish everyone a resounding “Saldi in pope!” A very profound and Venetian wish which means to stay firmly planted on the stern of your boat regardless of motondoso, gusts of wind, other boats cutting across your bow without warning in the dark, and whatever else may befall the hardy navigator.  I could go on, but I think you have grasped my point.

A slightly shipwrecked poinsettia did not follow my instructions.


Categories : Venetian-ness
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No tourists will be pictured in this post.

Several thoughtful friends and readers sent me a link to a recent article in the New York Times, just the latest in an endless, repetitive series of articles that bewail the imminent degradation of Venice to the level of Disneyland.

Me, I have to say that this is a slur on Disneyland, where the behavior and the trash which are inescapable here would never be tolerated in Orlando or Anaheim (or Paris, I guess). I’ve often thought that running Venice like Disneyland might actually be a good thing.  But I realize that the comparison is intended to contrast something “real” (Venice) to something “phony, pretend, not real” (Disneyland).

I thought the New York Times published news, but this is not news!  It must have been a slow news day (remember those?) because they might as well have published a story revealing that water runs downhill.  This subject comes up at least once a year — it’s part of a squad of topics that are as predictable as the tide.  Motondoso is another (one or two blitzes a year, many fines, much outrage, everything goes back to the way it was), as is pickpocketing, and brawls involving assorted illegal vendors, and corrupt city councilors, and matricidal sons with histories of mental illness, and also that the city has no money.

Back to Venice as Disneyland, which is code for “daily pillaging and sacking by barbaric hordes of unspeakable tourists.”  This happens in the summer, of course, which is when tourists go on vacation, and when it’s hot an irresistible desire wells up in your tourist to soak his/her feet in the canals and also to jump off bridges. IT HAPPENS EVERY YEAR, PEOPLE.

I am not excusing it, but I do want to mention a few things which are not the result of outrage fatigue (though there may be some of that).

One is that Venice is not unique, at least in this regard.  The most superficial exploration online reveals that the same imbeciles, or their cretinous relatives, go to Florence and Rome and do stupid things and damage monuments there too. I don’t know if anyone jumps off the Ponte Vecchio, but I wouldn’t be surprised. Maybe this behavior is somehow more objectionable in the Venetian setting than historic cities inland, but that makes no sense.

Clearly these tourists are not visiting irreplaceable cities with incalculable value in the history of the world.  They are on vacation and aren’t at home, their parents are nowhere to be seen and they can drink all they want to.  Even if these tourists were in Ulaanbaatar or Rancho Cucamonga, I would be willing to bet they’d be drinking and doing stupid things.  As for loutish tourists who are adults, I cannot find any excuse for them.  At all. If you don’t know that walking around half-naked and leaving your trash on windowsills is ugly, I can’t help you.

The most obvious solution would be to turn Venice into Singapore-on-the-lagoon.  Let’s place five policemen with truncheons on every corner (hm — how many corners does Venice have? That would be a research project for the next time we’re snowed in). No disrespect meant to Singapore.

But even if all those policemen were to exist, which they don’t, the city is not capable of or interested in dealing with these masses of tourists, regardless of age.  Stories written in high dudgeon come out every single year about the slobs and their antics, but by that time it’s too late.

There have occasionally been neatly dressed squads of multilingual young people — the “decorum” agents —  fanning out around the Piazza San Marco to intervene in cases of nasty and brutish behavior.  But this year they only began their work a few days ago.  We’ve already had two full months of summer and you wait till August to bring them on?  That’s kind of crazy.

There is either a short or a very long story behind the disposition of this wedding festoon, whoever did it.

My second point is that “tourists” is too general a term to be useful. Sure there are plenty of revolting ones, but I see a good number of tourists in via Garibaldi who have undoubtedly come to see the Biennale, and many of them are dressed really well.  Some of them really well.  I like them, so I guess that means they don’t count as “tourists” in the New York Times sense.  And, may I also say, I see plenty of Venetian men and boys (also girls and women, to be fair) in the summer in our zone that look and dress like they’ve just been rescued from the rubble — the same scuzzy tank tops and skeezy shorts and crappy crocs and everything else that makes those terrible tourists so objectionable.  But that’s okay because they’re Us and not Them? Just asking.

What about the tourists who do not mill around in massive droves and provide dramatic photos that make the world shudder, but who stand on the vaporetto dock smack-dab in front of the exit area, making it impossible for all the people on the boat who want to disembark to actually get off? Can we get policemen to deal with them?   Or the suddenly oblivious tourists in the supermarket who leave their just-emptied shopping trolley literally at your feet at the check-out counter?  Do they do that back home in Braunschweig or Rostov-on-Don, or is it just that old Venetian magic that makes them act like they’ve never been out of the house?  Let’s get policemen to deal with them too! My point is that if everybody who comes here wants to behave as if they’d never heard of common sense, much less minimal manners, how many policemen will we need?  And the real question, which will never be answered, is why do they act that way?

On the other hand, let’s look for a minute at the much-maligned day-trippers, who I see at 4:30 PM along the Riva degli Schivoni, huddled, sweating, exhausted, waiting to board the big launch back to wherever they came from, scrunched onto church steps in order to sit for a minute or clustered in nearby calli where they can have at least a shard of shade.  There are plenty of tourists here that I feel really sorry for, because basically the city has given them a jumbo-sized “Just suck it up!”

I act like I’ve read the article, but I just skimmed it with half-closed eyes because these articles are always sprinkled with misstatements and half-truths, and drone on about the same problems which are never resolved, thereby rendering the droning pretty much useless.  One such half- (actually quarter-) truth is found in the caption of the Times’s photo showing the young woman with the police.  It states with refreshing fervor that the feast of the Redentore is “one weekend of the year when Venetians take back their city.”  Well, not really.  Before a journalist starts patting the Venetians on the back for somehow briefly escaping the clutches of all those tourists, he or she should know that about 90 percent of the festivizers are not Venetian.

Nope, sorry.  They might be Italian, and many are from the Veneto, but they’re still tourists; some come up the lagoon from Pellestrina and Chioggia in their big fishing boats, but most of the big motorboats are carrying people from the hinterland who come down the rivers from Padova and Treviso and all around the lagoon but who are definitely not Venetians.

Furthermore, the past few years has seen a terrific increase in enormous party boats which provide the ride, dinner, and deafening disco music to hundreds of passengers.  I don’t know who they are, but I’m pretty sure they’re not Venetians.  Some dauntless Venetians are still willing to risk their lives in their smaller boats, with or without motors, because it’s lovely to float around for the fireworks, but they know that after the grand finale this flotilla of hundreds-of-horsepower motorboats of all sizes will head out at high speed, in the dark, driven by people who have been drinking who pretty much don’t know the area.

Excuse me for going on about this, but that photo caption needed correction. In our neighborhood, and at Sant’ Elena, many Venetians now eat the Redentore dinner at home, or on tables set up outside, then watch the fireworks from the fondamenta.  I don’t think that qualifies as “taking back” their city.  We used to love to go out in our boat, but we can’t anymore because we want to survive the night which has been taken away from us by non-Venetians.  And by the look of it, it’s never coming back. Who am I supposed to blame this time?

So people want to come to Venice? They can’t all be crazy.


Categories : Tourism in Venice
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the ice capades

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This is the point at which the ice and the pavement take opposing views of the situation.

Snow is so simple — it’s what people do with it that makes you wonder about all sorts of things.

The night of the heretofore chronicled snowfall, people walked on the snow; the snow stopped before long, the people went home, and the snow turned to crusty ice where their feet had trod.

While I was debating which was, in fact, more slippery — smooth ice or crimpled-up ice — the merchants of Upper Via Garibaldi had gotten to work on it with shovels and salt.  They opened up a wide bare space in the center, and a narrow bare space stretched along their front doors. Logical, no? There was a stretch of ice, however, that remained between the wide space and the narrow space, which I quickly discovered somewhat obviated the benefit of the bare spots.

I’ll translate that.  You could walk safely along the middle of the street, but if you needed to enter a shop, you had to take your life in your hands and cross a treacherous stretch of ice all the same.

But the best part is this:  The newsstand two-thirds of the way down the street seems to be at a point I never noticed before, what in the lagoon is called a “spartiacque,” or place where the water divides, or rather, where two contrary currents meet.  There is a spartiacque in the Grand Canal, among many other places, a shifting little frontier where the incoming tide from the inlet at Malamocco meets the incoming tide from the inlet at San Nicolo’.  That doesn’t matter to anybody in a motorboat, but if you’re rowing, you notice that you were rowing with the tide, and suddenly you’re rowing against it.

Anyway, the upstream part of via Garibaldi, so to speak, is nothing but shops, so the shopowners obviously made the effort to help their customers to get to them.  The downstream part, as you see, had nobody to care about it.  The few shops there seem to have owners who either have made enough money already this month, so don’t care about business, or decided to take the natural-selection approach to the situation.

I’m attributing all of this activity to the merchants because the trash collectors and salt-sowers have no reason I can imagine to liberate only half of the main street.

But, as I often ask myself, what do I know?

Looking that way, the road is clear.

The other way, it’s just a few steps to the Bering Sea.

Categories : Venetian-ness
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Back to work

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We had some boffo days at the end of August and beginning of September.

We had some boffo days at the end of August and beginning of September.

Hello.  Maybe you remember me, I’m the blogger about Venice who doesn’t make anything up.  I am fully aware that I have set a new record in silence, and I’m sorry about it, but I had lots of good reasons, including having to finish a colossal project (which will be revealed at the appropriate moment, which isn’t now).  I have been living in a parallel universe complete with galaxies that have long numbers instead of names, and have not had enough brain, or whatever energy is actually made of (electrons?  crush-ons? four-hours-of-sleep-a-night-ons?) to do anything else.

But there is possibly a deeper reason for the silence.  I have temporarily run out of interest in Venice.  At least I hope it’s temporary.

Why is this?  Because I have become the glass into which the famous one drop too many has dripped.  Several drops.  Too freaking many drops.

Here is what I mean:

The tram.  Another massive public project, full of problems and costing too much.

Ten years have been devoted to the building of a tram that goes places in Mestre and now, finally, is concluding at Piazzale Roma. Naturally this has been done to the sound of teeth: Those of the highly inconvenienced public (gnashing and grinding) and those of the builders, politicians, and Superintendent(s) of Architecture and Landscape (gleaming with satisfied smiles).

This is merely the latest version of a story that just keeps getting retold, like bodice-ripper novels in which only the names and locations change: Estimates of time and cost blown to flinders, a vehicle which, new as it is, breaks down at odd moments for all sorts of reasons that are explained in the “Don’t Do This” chapter of the textbook on how to build a tram.  Derailments, losses of power, miscalculations of angles of descent which mean the tram would ram itself nose-down into the ground at certain points unless the geometry gets fixed.

Now the bill, so to speak, is coming due.  The budgeted cost: 163.7 million euros.  Real cost to date: 208 million.  Unforeseen delays, extra features added on later, the usual litany of an expensive public project. Wait, I think that’s redundant.  There will be investigations, of course.  The tram people can explain everything.

So much for the tram itself, which frankly, I happen to like.  When it’s working.

This is the “shelter.”  It’s not that it’s ugly that fascinates me, it’s that somebody thought this fulfilled the needs of people in a windy rainstorm, which are not uncommon here.  And what about shade in the pounding heat of summer?  I’m just not seeing it.  Bonus points: It’s only sort of original — one almost exactly like it was built in Alicante, Spain in 2006, and has even won awards, perhaps not voted by anybody who actually uses it. (Photo not by me, but uncredited where I found it.)

But the tram’s new “shelter” in Piazzale Roma (105 feet / 32 meters long) is an entire other subject, the latest in a series of phenomenally ugly constructions which have been approved and executed in the spirit of “Because we’re the city and we can do what we want.”  The purpose of this construction is to protect what appears to be about 50 people from the rain while waiting for the tram, as long as there is totally no wind. The more I look at it, the more I can’t understand how it could be considered functional, whether beautiful or not.

But by the way, it isn’t beautiful.  But no matter.  As so often has happened, the project documents clearly came out of the office of the Superintendent of Architecture and Landscape (who you might have thought was required to protect and defend the fabric of the most beautiful city, etc.) covered with big bright stamps that say “We like this!”  “This is good!”  “Let’s do this ASAP!”  “Can we do more of these?”  This has happened so many times since I’ve been here.  Say what you will about the Calatrava Bridge — for all its problems, and preposterous cost overruns, at least it’s functional.  You can adjudicate beauty on your own time.

As you can see, this shelter (I don’t know what else to call it at the moment, though it doesn’t look very  sheltering) answers to the nickname given by the first Venetians who saw it: the “big black coffin.”  It’s made of three sections of steel which weigh a total of 18 tons.  I cannot understand why something that big that weighs that much has to exist anywhere in Venice; even Tennessee Ernie Ford knew enough to stop at Sixteen Tons.

Traffic in the Grand Canal:  Remember the fatal accident by the Rialto Bridge two years ago?  We’ve jettisoned one mayor, used up a commissario, and now have another mayor.  Nothing has changed.  Everything is just the way it was.  Remember all those new regulations that came out a few months ago that threw a few amateur rowers into a swivet?  Regulations are so wonderful, especially when you have no way to enforce them, like not having one policeman for every boat.  Don’t watch this space for news of the next fatal accident, because I’ve stopped caring about the traffic.  Let everybody do what they want, which is exactly what they are doing.  Rock on.

The awning only hinted at the awesomeness of the store that was:

The awning’s modest list only hinted at the awesomeness of the store that was: Housewares, Detergents, Perfumes, Gardening, Camping, Hardware, Trinkets.  The name itself meant “Big Store.” But monuments crumble all the time, so what’s one more?

The Bottegon is gone.  This strikes way too close to home.  Stores close with alarming frequency here, usually as a result of spikes in the rent that are impossible to pay by selling books or pork chops or kiwi fruit or even sporting goods and gear (Andreatta, in the Strada Nova, had been in business since 1883.  As of March, it is no more).  I’ve seen all kinds of stores close since I’ve been here — hair salons, butcher shops, toy stores — and what follows is usually a bar/cafe, restaurant, or shop selling “Murano glass” made in China, Carnival masks (often made in China), touristic gewgaws and souvenirs (made over there too).  Nothing against China, but it’s not Venice.

I don’t know precisely how long the Bottegon was in business; I knew that it occupied a large space that was once a movie theater — you could see the big empty window above the cash registers where the projection room used to be.

You have to understand, this wasn’t a mere store.  It was a Noah’s Ark of almost everything required for human life, at least a pair of each so they could repopulate the earth with hair conditioner and thumbtacks and toilet paper and moth repellent and floor wax and all kinds of electrical wire.  Except for food and clothing, you couldn’t think of anything that you couldn’t find there.  Paint, hair color, mops, ladders, toothpaste, lightbulbs, potpourri, makeup, doorstops, toothpicks, shelving, salad spinners, detergent.  It was impossible to go in there and not come out with what you needed.  It was crammed so full, up to the top shelves of a very high ceiling, that you sometimes had to ask for help even to locate your item.  Then the choice would baffle you.

Then things began slowly to change.  They moved the cash registers to the front of the store, the area that you used to have to traverse like a jungle explorer, occasionally climbing over things.  They glammed up the shelves, widened the aisles, cut back on a lot of products, and began to add items you’d never have thought of buying there.  Olive oil, potato chips, wine.  It was weird — there are two supermarkets right across the street.  It was like watching Zelda Fitzgerald studying ballet at age 27, imagining she was going to be a star: depressing, and smelling of doom.

People used to stand in line at the registers, eventually there was almost nobody in the store.  In a brutal about-face, they never had what I needed anymore.  Eventually it stopped being a store and became some old friend with a lingering illness that you just couldn’t visit anymore.

So I’m glad it’s out of its misery.  From what my neighborhood source told me, you could have written the cause of death in one word: “Debts.”

A moment of silence.

Happily for me, soulless consumer that I am, I don’t have to worry, because via Garibaldi has two pharmacies, and two supermarkets, and even two bakers.  And there is indeed a sort of Bottegon down by the vegetable boat which has already been taking up the slack.  I have no idea what it’s called, but it’s small and crammed and has almost everything the old store had.  So I’m okay.  But I still don’t understand why they had to let the other one die.

Maybe it’s going to rise from the ashes as a restaurant.  We certainly need more of those.

Complaints about everything: These never stop, and most of them are completely justified.  But I’m tired of reading them and hearing them and even uttering them myself.

So I’ll be looking for something new to share, but it might take a little while.  I’m going to have to find one of those three-day cleanses, but for my brain.

Even three floors up, the pink bows announcing the birth of a girl stand out, and make me smile.

Even three floors up, the pink bows announcing the birth of a girl stand out, and make me smile.

"Welcome Anna." I do!

“Welcome Anna.” I do!

A few streets over, another little girl joins the team.

A few streets over, another little girl joins the team.

Valentina! Wow!

Valentina! Wow!  You can play power forward!

At the end of August we still had heat, but it was leaving gallons of dew on the streets overnight. This was not rain.

At the end of August we still had heat, but it was leaving gallons of dew on the streets overnight. This was not rain.

The difference between the sunny and shady sides of the street is rarely quite so vivid.

The difference between the sunny and shady sides of the street is rarely quite so vivid.

And this was "good morning" two days ago, a greeting we heard via a large ship's horn even before we looked outside. Early autumn fog is so normal that they call it the "brume settembrine," the September mist.

And this was “good morning” two days ago, a greeting we heard via a large ship’s horn even before we looked outside. Early autumn fog is so normal that they call it the “brume settembrine,” the September mists.

And back to clouds again. Or is this a smoke signal, which says "Please come save us before we all lose our minds"?

And back to clouds again. Or is this a smoke signal, which says “Please come save us before our powers of reason abandon us”?


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Categories : Venetian-ness
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