Archive for Vignottini

Sep
07

The blessing and the launching of the gondolinos

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To recapitulate: These were the gondolinos on August 25. (Photos taken from remieracasteo.blogspot.it.)

To recapitulate: These were the gondolinos on August 19. (Photo taken from remieracasteo.blogspot.it.)

These boats were a thesaurus of synonyms for "gleam." If you can discover where the cut was made and repaired, you're not human. No offense.

The restored boats were a thesaurus of synonyms for “gleam.” If you can discern where the cut was made and repaired, you’re not human. No offense.

I may have mentioned that I was RUDELY interrupted on Sept. 2 by my computer, which cut my post into chunks and then wouldn’t give them back (hence only that brief mention of the Return of the Gondolinos).

Although a few days have passed, I won’t be happy until I’ve finished the job.  So cast your minds back to last Thursday, when part of the “world of the oar,” as it’s called here, gathered for the annual ceremony of the blessing of the gondolinos and, unusual at this late date, the drawing of lots for the assigning of the boats to the racers.  Who gets what color boat is random, and the drawing usually follows shortly after the last elimination has whittled the list of rowers down to nine competing teams plus one reserve team, to be called in at whatever moment before the starting gun it’s clear that one team is not going to be racing.  It happens — not often, but I’ve seen the reserve boat actually win one time.  Considering that being the reserve means that you barely squeaked into the lineup against faster men (or women) than you, this outcome makes it clear that all sorts of factors, apart from sheer speed at the trials, come into play in the race itself.

This may well be true in many other athletic competitions, but I’m sticking to what I know.

There is no significance to the colors; the boats are painted in order to make it easy to distinguish and identify them from medium to far distance.  This ensures that the onlooker (say, a judge….) is identifying the appropriate boat as it crashes into its closest neighbor, or as it crosses the finish line. (Even in good weather, red and orange are almost impossible to tell apart.)  Furthermore, in the non-official races in which people sometimes race on their club boats, there is almost no way to identify the boats because they’re all pretty much the same mash-up of colors. The relatives of the racers know who’s who, but the judges almost certainly don’t.  To avoid any possible problems, the judges following the race in motorboats call out instructions and warnings by color, not by racer’s name.

As an extra security measure, which is very useful when there is rain and/or fog, numbers have been painted on the bow of each boat, as follows:1 white, 2 yellow, 3 purple (lavender, violet, whatever), 4 light blue, 5 red, 6 green, 7 orange, 8 pink, 9 brown, reserve: red and green.

The racers get a sash and a neckerchief to match the color of their boat; it used to be considered helpful.  Now it’s just part of the tradition.  The neckerchief was supposed to deal with the sweat (this was before terrycloth headbands), and the sash was intended to help truss up what sometimes, in the old days, were men who either did, or would soon, need one.

I had never seen an entire fleet of new Venetian boats, nor would I ever have thought I'd see one. that were completely new. It was thrilling, from the perfect gleam to the perfume of still-recent paint.

I had never seen an entire fleet of new Venetian boats, nor would I ever have thought I’d see one, considering how much the things cost.  (The total bill came to 80,000 euros, which means a paltry 8,000 euros each, but these were repairs.  A knowledgeable source told me a new gondolino could cost 30,000 euros.)  It was thrilling, from their perfect shine to their perfume of still-recent paint.  Eau de Regata Storica, with subtle top notes of epoxy.

As the crowd gathered, the Coro Serenissima provided the festive soundtrack with many of the classic Venetian songs.

As the crowd gathered, the Coro Serenissima provided the festive soundtrack with many of the classic Venetian songs. A good number of these ditties involve gondolas, the lagoon, and romance; so far no song has come out that features electric saws and battered boats.  I’d like to hear one about the maestri d’ascia (“masters of the adze”) who rebuilt the gondolini. Something along the lines of “The Ballad of John Henry” could work really well.

(L to R): "Maestri d'ascia," or "masters of the adze": Roberto dei Rossi, Dino Tagliapietra, Gianfranco Vianello "Crea."

(L to R):  Roberto dei Rossi, Dino Tagliapietra, and Gianfranco Vianello, nicknamed “Crea” (KRAY-uh). Not only does Crea carry the title of “Re del Remo” (“king of the oar”) for having  won the Regata Storica five times consecutively, he also built the boats which he now had to repair. Sad as he was to see them butchered, he said he was really happy to discover how well they’d held up over 35 years. And if “king of the oar” sounds silly, it’s as hard as winning the Triple Crown in horse racing. He won his title on the gondolino in 1981, and nobody has done it since.

The ceremony gets underway with photo-worthy hugs by the mayor, Luigi Brugnaro, wearing his official sash. to their right, the white-haired man in the black jacket is Mario Eremita, the artist who designed and painted the "palio," or banner, depicting the Regata Storica. This is new this year and is loaded with symbolism.

The ceremony gets underway with photo-worthy hugs by the mayor, Luigi Brugnaro, wearing his official sash. To their right, the white-haired man in the black jacket is Mario Eremita, the artist who designed and painted the “palio,” or banner, depicting the Regata Storica. This is new this year and is loaded with symbolism.

This is a test

As the artist explained to me, the lion of San Marco at the top depicts an African lion, because St. Mark was buried in Alexandria, Egypt.  Venice is always represented as a woman, of course, here wrapped in a cloak which repeat the colors of the gonfalone, or banner, of San Marco.  In her mid-section (womb, if you like), is the Piazza San Marco, with basilica and belltower, from which are emerging the boats of the Regata Storica and spreading across the water of the Bacino of San Marco. Her right hand holds an olive branch, the emblem of peace, and in her left she holds an ouroboros, the ancient representation of a snake devouring its tail which symbolizes rebirth and renewal; in this case, the repetition of tradition.

While everyone is milling around taking pictures, the racers are examining the boats. Here, Igot and Rudi Vignotto are analyzing where the boat was cut. If they ever found a trace, I'd be impressed.

While everyone is milling around taking pictures, the racers are examining the boats. Here, Igor and Rudi Vignotto are analyzing where the boat was cut. If they ever found a trace, I’d be impressed.

Speechifying ensues. Here, Giovanni Giusto, president of the Coordinating Committee of the Rowing Clubs and city councilor for rowing and traditions, shares his thoughts.

Speechifying ensues. Here, Giovanni Giusto, president of the Coordinating Committee of the Rowing Clubs and city councilor for rowing and traditions, shares his thoughts.  The gonfalone of San Marco adds the right touch, even if the rest of the ribbons can’t be seen.

Due to the delay in having the boats themselves, the gondolinos weren't assigned to the racers after the last elimination was held. So the usual drawing of lots had to wait for today, with just three days before the event.

Due to the delay in having the boats themselves, the gondolinos weren’t assigned to the racers after the last elimination was held. So the usual drawing of lots had to wait for today, with just three days before the event.  Drawing your boat at random limits the possibility of skulduggery, or the appearance thereof, the same reason why each team’s position at the starting line is also drawn by lot.  It’s not unheard-of for racers to consider a color as bringing victory or doom, so let’s just make everybody’s chances equal. As is customary, here the “poppieri,” or men rowing on the “poppa,” or stern, come to draw a small numbered ball — number corresponding to color — from the green bag held by Crea.  He is fulfilling this duty because he is now also the president of the race judges.

Posing with the sashes matching their boat's color.

All the racers posing with their sashes which match the color of their boat.

The men begin pulling out their forcolas and oars, ready for the blessing and, immediately thereafter, the launching of the boats.

The men begin pulling out their forcolas (oarlocks)  and oars, ready for the blessing and, immediately thereafter, the launching of the boats.

The stern forcola, made of the traditional walnut.

The stern forcola, made of the traditional walnut.

Finally we reach the moment of the blessing. The priest, pretty much hidden by the boats and the racers, has said his prayer and is now shaking holy water from his aspergillum across some boats. He was rather perfunctory, by which I mean he did not sprinkle all the boats. I don't know if that made a difference to the race, but it prevented me from getting a better picture.

Finally we reach the moment of the blessing. The priest, pretty much hidden by the boats and the racers, has said his prayer and is now shaking holy water from his aspergillum across some of the gondolinos. He was rather perfunctory, by which I mean he did not sprinkle all the boats. I don’t know if that made a difference to the race, but it prevented me from getting a better picture.

A closer look.

A closer look.

So let's get these boats in the water and out of here. In no particular order, the yellow boat is rolled on a small trolley to the edge of the steps to the canal, where some pieces of red carpet have been placed to ease the slide.

So let’s get these boats in the water already. The white gondolino has just been launched and now it’s the yellow boat’s turn to be rolled out, on a small trolley, to the edge of the fondamenta where some pieces of red carpet have been placed to ease the slide.

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The boat was tilted off the small trolley and slid along the edge of the fondamenta. At the halfway point, the poppiere climbed aboard and, as it were, took possession of his chariot.

The boat was tilted off the small trolley and slid along the edge of the fondamenta. At the halfway point, the poppiere — in this case, Luca Ballarin — climbed aboard and, as it were, took possession of his chariot.  It’s extremely unusual to have a person aboard when putting a boat in the water this way; it’s evident that you’re risking damaging the boat even if the water is fairly cooperative. I can’t explain why they decided to do it this way, but considering that we have three master boatbuilders on hand, I’m guessing they know what they’re doing.

Ignore the change in boat color -- the next phase was to lift the bow and push the boat free of the fondamenta. This required some strength and skill (I could just imagine the ferro of the bow striking the stone edge and I'm sure everyone else could imagine it too).

Ignore the change in boat color — the next phase was to lift the bow and push the boat free of the fondamenta, dropping it in the water. This required some strength and skill (I could just imagine the ferro of the bow striking the stone edge and I’m sure everyone else could imagine it too).

Flinging the boat into the water made a very satisfying sploosh. Here, Rudi Vignotto is ready get going.

Flinging the boat into the water made a very satisfying sploosh. Here, Rudi Vignotto has been flung. The man with the red trousers is not involved in these maneuvers in any way, but is taking a photo (I think) from a long pole.

No need for me to interpret the beauty of this moment. But the gondolino does provide a jarring contrast to the chaos of taxis, vaporettos and private motor boats that continues to swarm past. Yes, they were going slowly, due in part to a sentinel police boat. But there are far, far, far too many.

No need for me to expound upon the beauty of this moment. But the gondolino is a startling contrast to the chaos of taxis, vaporettos and private motor boats that continues to swarm past. Yes, they were going slowly, due in part to a sentinel police boat. But there are far, far, far too many.  And they and their passengers are living in a parallel universe which never touches ours.

But in the interest of fairness, most rowers -- I'm going to say all rowers -- have motorboats, some of them pretty hefty. The boat, I mean. So there you are.

But in the interest of fairness, I should mention that most rowers — I’m going to say all rowers — have motorboats, some of them pretty hefty. The boat, I mean. It makes sense because it’s useful for towing your boat, or for getting quickly and efficiently to wherever you have to train, which could be fairly far away.  But of course everybody thinks their motorboat makes sense.

Luca Ballarin hanging out with Franco Dei Rossi "Strigheta," one of the greatest racers but who this year has "hung his oar up on the nail," as they say of retired people. He's still working as a gondolier, but no more racing.

Luca Ballarin hanging out with Franco Dei Rossi “Strigheta,” one of the greatest racers but who this year has “hung his oar up on the nail,” as they say of retired people. He’s still working as a gondolier, but no more racing. You might not believe it, but it takes great strength of character to stop trying when your house is full of victory pennants but you’re past 60 and not up to your old speed.  At least one famous racer kept at it for years after he should have quit, on ANY boat and ANY race, even if he finished last. It was like one of those endless farewell tours by superannuated sopranos.  Depressing.  I’m sorry not to see “Strigheta” racing anymore, but I admire his dignity.

Kudos gathered, gondolinos gone, the party's over. All that's left to do now is the race itself. I'll save you any suspense: The first four to finish (which is what counts, because they get a pennant) were: Blue, White, Orange, Brown. If you want more particulars, even if they're in Italian, go to:http://www.veneziatoday.it/cronaca/regata-storica-venezia-2016-classifica-risultati.html

Kudos gathered, gondolinos gone, the party’s over. All that’s left is Roberto dei Rossi and lots of spare sawhorses and shadows.  As for the race, I’ll save you any suspense: The first four to finish (which is what counts, because they get a pennant) were: Blue, White, Orange, Brown. If you want more particulars, even if they’re in Italian, go to: http://www.veneziatoday.it/cronaca/regata-storica-venezia-2016-classifica-risultati.html

 

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Sep
03

A truly Historic Regata

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This is the "Serenissima," the crowning glory of the boat procession preceding the races -- the icon of the Regata Storica, center stage.

This is the “Serenissima,” the crowning glory of the boat procession preceding the races — the image of the Regata Storica in everyone’s mind, not to mention on a million postcards.

I have no doubt that calendars around the world were marked REGATA STORICA (“historic regatta”) two days ago.  It’s been held on the first Sunday in September for the past 500 years or so (since 1489, to be exact).  Calendars by now ought to be able to mark themselves.

There were several aspects of this year’s edition which made it notable — even “historic,” if you will, though I suppose everything that happens qualifies as historic in one way or another merely by the fact of its having occurred.

Historic Point 1: Our rowing club had three boats in the races, and each came home with a pennant: first, second, and third place.  More on that below.

Historic Point 2, with gold stars applied by me: There were no fights.  No hurled epithets, no banshee curses howled at judges or fellow racers, no demerits for breaking any rules.  I know.  I must have been hallucinating.  But it’s still true.

Let me elaborate on these points:

Our club had two pupparinos in the young men’s race; the pair on the orange boat won the race, coming home with the red pennant.  The pair on the brown boat finished second, earning a white pennant.  We also had the red gondolino, rowed by Roberto Busetto and his brother Renato, who finished third (green pennant).  This is not only wonderful, but exceptional, considering that Roberto hasn’t  finished in the top four in the Grand Canal  for the past eight years.

A glimpse backstage: The three boats at our club on Sunday morning.

A glimpse backstage: The three boats at our club on Sunday morning.

The final touch is buffing the wax that you applied yesterday.  Unfortunately, the wax isn't the only factor that helps you go faster, as the boys on this boat discovered.

The final touch is buffing the wax that you applied yesterday. Unfortunately, the wax isn’t necessarily the determining factor of your speed, as the boys on this boat discovered.

As for the harmony between the two giga-competitors of the past two eternal decades — Giampaolo d’Este and Ivo Redolfi Tezzat, and the Vignotto cousins (the “Vignottini”) — I don’t know what to attribute it to.  But one does recall that after d’Este unburdened himself at the Regata of Murano of every opinion he ever had about the judges, he was penalized by having to sit out the next race.  That might have had a slight sobering effect, not that I think that race was so important to him.

Or maybe the lack of conflict is an early sign of the approaching Millennium.

Or maybe they’re just getting tired.

Or maybe it was the unexpected exchange of views at the eliminations a few weeks ago.  When the qualified nine teams were brought together to draw the color of their boats, d’Este announced, “I’d like to make a proposal.  We eliminate the judges.”

To which one judge replied, “I’d like to make a counter-proposal.  We eliminate you (meaning him and his partner), and the Vignottos.  Because the only time there are ever any problems, fights, and general grief, it’s when you all are in the race.”

No more proposals were entertained and the meeting was adjourned.

But there had to be some sort of flaw in the ointment, as a friend of mine used to say.  Everyone wasn’t humming like happy little tuning forks, as we discovered when the blood blister of rage broke in the mind of Davide Peditto, one of the boys on the brown pupparino.  I say “boy,” but he’s 18 years old; not exactly a child.

He was so angry at not winning — horrors!  finishing second!!  has the world gone mad?? — that he wrapped himself in a cloak of fury so thick and black that no communication could reach him, and very little could come out.  This is evidently an aspect of his personality already known to people who are closer to him than I am.

His only release was to take his white pennant and throw it onto the dock at our club and leave it there.  “Carta da culo,” he snarled bitterly; toilet paper (literally, ass-paper).

This is not only an insult to Venice, to every racer who has preceded him, to every racer who competed with him (12 of whom would have loved to have had that very pennant, ten of whom would have loved to have had ANY pennant), but a real insult to his long-suffering partner, onto whose pleasure in this accomplishment he had just poured gasoline, so to speak, and then thrown a match.

One would like to help this splenetic young man re-think his ideas about winning and losing — or if not his ideas, at least his behavior.  I’d suggest sending him the bits of the newspaper reporting the comments which were made by another racer who came in second on Sunday: Giampaolo d’Este, who had spent virtually the entire race head-t0-head with the Vignottos.  When they crossed the finish line 95/100ths of a second ahead of him, he probably wasn’t any happier with the outcome than the young brat at our club — especially because he has enough red pennants by now to entitle him to think he might deserve another one.

y were like this for almost the entire race

They were like this for almost the entire race.  The screaming of the crowd was deafening.

But he did not compare his white pennant to anything else. Here’s what he said:

“Well, that’s the way it went.  Either we or the Vignottos could have won, and they won.  No recriminations — it was a beautiful race and it’s always beautiful to be its protagonists.”

He might have meant it, which would be excellent.  But he said it anyway, and that’s about 95/100ths even more excellent.  But if it’s too hard, in the glaring heat of the moment, for a youngster to say something that mature, I’d suggest that the next-best option would be silence.

And I don’t mean that thick black silence, either. I mean the silence in which the image, the shape, and the hope for next year’s race would already be forming in his mind, spirit, and gizzard.  As far as I can tell, that’s the only way that true athletes, or humans of any stripe, manage to get those bitter pills down and keep going.

The indefatigable Dino Righetto on the stern of our six-oar balotina.  The "bissone," or fancy boats, are coming up behind us to start the procession.

The indefatigable Dino Righetto on the stern of our six-oar balotina. The “bissone,” or fancy boats, are coming up behind us to start the procession.

IMG_4506 storica

These are racing gondolas belonging to the city, which are decorated to evoke the boats and passengers of the original regata in 1489,

These are racing gondolas belonging to the city, which are decorated to evoke the boats and passengers of the original regata in 1489.

The procession is moving slowly upstream, with the current, toward the "volta de Canal"

The procession is moving slowly upstream, with the current, toward the “volta de Canal,” or “turn of the canal,” where the finish line has always been for races here.

The procession is slowing working its way up the Grand Canal; here we are approaching the nerve center of the event: the "volta de Canal," or turn of the canal, where the finish line has always been for races here.  On the left is the colossal platform on which the RAI 2 national television company is ready to broadcast live.  The "Machina," or reviewing stand, is just behind it on the left.

On the left is the colossal platform from which the RAI 2 national television company is ready to broadcast live. The “Machina,” or reviewing stand, is just behind it on the left.  Not only does it accommodate notables of every shape and sort, it is where the prizes will be awarded.

I know nothing about this very curious boat but it certainly was worth a look. The model of the Rialto Bridge isn't the only odd feature; the stern has been re-made in a strange way; the prow has been altered in an even stranger way, and while there used to be a tradition of decorating some of the boats with fruits and vegetables, this is the only one I noticed this year. If this assemblage is intended as a tribute to the late Joachim Vogel, it's unusual to use eggplants and chili peppers along with the wildflowers from the barene. But hey.

I know nothing about this very curious boat but it certainly was worth a look. The model of the Rialto Bridge isn’t the only odd feature; the stern has been re-made in a strange way; the prow has been altered in an even stranger way, and the forcola isn’t the typical design for use on a gondola; it’s been dragooned from either a pupparino or gondolino.  And although there used to be a tradition of decorating some of the boats with fruits and vegetables, this is the only one I noticed this year. If this assemblage is intended as a tribute to the late Joachim Vogel, it’s unusual to use eggplants and chili peppers along with the wildflowers from the barene. But hey.

After the boat procession, we get down to the party.  We park the boat and pull out the food and drink, and wait for the races to start.  Beer foam presents no problem.

After the boat procession, we get down to the party. We park the boat and pull out the food and drink, and wait for the races to start. Beer foam presents no problem.

The winning mascareta in the women'a competition; Giorgia Ragazzi (bow) and Luisella Schiavon leave the rest in the dust, so to speak, and win their fifth consecutive Storica. They are only the second pair of women ever to attain thereby the status of "regina del remo."

The winning mascareta in the women’a competition; Giorgia Ragazzi (bow) and Luisella Schiavon leave the rest in the dust, so to speak (actually the next boat is about five boat-lengths behind them), and win their fifth consecutive Storica. They are only the second pair of women ever to attain thereby the status of “regina del remo.”

And here come the Vignottos and d'Este-Tezzat, speeding down the home stretch. Here's something peculiar: In both the boys' and men's races, the first two boats were orange and brown, but the order of finish was inverted.  I wonder what it all means.

And here come the Vignottos and d’Este-Tezzat, speeding down the home stretch. Here’s something peculiar: In both the boys’ and men’s races, the first two boats were orange and brown, but the order of finish was inverted. I wonder what it all means.

 

And let me not slight Renato and Roberto Busetto, speeding toward a fabulous third place -- not the absence of other boats nearby.  They were definitely in the groove.

And let me not slight Renato and Roberto Busetto, flying toward a fabulous third place — note the absence of other boats nearby. They were definitely in the groove.  However, sharp-eyed readers will notice that there is a gentle swell of waves beneath their boat, left by the passing jury boat.  The wave issue is something that seems impossible to resolve.  Not because nobody knows how, but because of some other reason I can’t come up with.

As soon as the gondolinos cross the finish line, all the boats start to rev up to leave. It's about as convenient as everybody trying to leave a movie theatre within five minutes after the end of the film. Plus lots of sickening motor exhaust fumes.  Yes, hundreds of rowing fans go home in boats drawn by 40 or 90 horses, or more.

As soon as the gondolinos cross the finish line, all the spectators’ boats try to leave at once.  It’s about as convenient as everybody trying to get out of a movie theatre within five minutes after the end of the film. With the added element of lots of choking motor exhaust fumes. Yes, hundreds of rowing fans go home in boats powered by engines.  But then again, so do fans of horse-racing.  So I’m not sure what my point is.  All I can say is that there’s a big clump of traffic for a while.

 

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Dec
13

Light and shadow

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Costalonga’s funeral was completely according to custom, beginning with the earlycomers standing around, on the lookout to see who else is coming, and the floral wreath by the door.  Both of these elements make it clear that the imminent event does not involve something cheerful, like a bride or a baby.

Day before yesterday, like yesterday, began in superb form: One of those dazzling winter mornings — gleaming air, scintillating sunshine, cold (but not too cold), no wind. Perfect. Just the kind of morning that makes you take deep happy breaths and think of going to a funeral.

Of course that’s a stupid thing to say.  Nobody wanted to go, least of all the suddenly departed.  And whether it’s winter or summer, sunshiney funerals make me feel worse than rain and gloom.

I don’t make a hobby of attending funerals, though by now I’ve been to a considerable number of them.  They almost always involve either someone in the rowing world, or a former colleague of Lino’s.  He only goes to them because not going would be worse, but there are plenty of people who seem to find them morbidly enjoyable.

Members of the Canottieri Cannaregio rowed his casket to the church in a caorlina, accompanied by quite a contingent of club boats. Many who didn’t row came in the club uniform anyway.

Maneuvering a coffin from a caorlina onto the funeral-company’s gurney isn’t so easy, but they managed it well. Then they put the “casket-cover” flowers back in place and into the church they went.

One of the most impressive funerals I ever attended was for legendary Venetian-rowing champion Albino “Strigheta” Dei Rossi in 2004.  The ceremony was in the basilica of San Giovanni and Paolo, and the casket was borne to its final resting place in the center of the “Disdotona” (the 18-oar gondola of the Querini rowing club), rowed by 18 of the cream of the current champions.  Thrilling, but it struck me as being more toward the spectacular and less toward the personally-moving end of the scale of mourning.  I don’t recall any damp eyes or expressions of sadness.

But day before yesterday was different, and even more so was a funeral last August, maybe because they were ceremonies for people who would never be legendary but who would be deeply missed.

The most recent occasion involved Luciano Costalonga, a former president of the Canottieri Cannaregio rowing club.  I knew him, though not well.  By now I more or less know a substantial number of people in the rowing world, and many of them have (unlike me) been getting older.  I wouldn’t have classified him as old –he was only 71.  But he had recently undergone an operation (I don’t know for what), and a few days ago just dropped dead.

It was slow going to follow the bier into the church, and not everybody went inside anyway. A good number of people always seem to prefer staying out, where they can exchange the usual platitudes, such as how young/old he was, really, and how much better to go suddenly like that than to pass (insert preferred length of time here) suffering in the hospital.

Something of the same thing, though worse, happened last August to a gondolier named Michele Bozzato (whom I didn’t know).  Lino knew him, but naturally Lino knows — or in this case, has known — almost everybody.

Bozzato’s real love was singing, the obituary said; he had even sold his gondolier license (he kept working as a substitute), so he could devote himself to music full-time, forming a trio called “The Gondoliers,” with whom he cut a disk of Venetian songs.

He was tall, he was strong, he never smoked, he barely drank.

On August 8, he started to have trouble breathing.  They discovered a tumor on his lung. They operated on him. Two weeks later he was gone.  He was 49.

Bozzato’s farewell was amazing; it was more like what happens when a fireman or policeman dies. He had been involved in so many different activities, from soccer to basketball to rowing, and it appears that everybody loved him. The Gazzettino said there were a thousand people there, which I believe — I’m no good at counting crowds, but the church of San Marcuola was so crammed it was like a Turkish bath.

We stayed outside because there was no point forcing ourselves into a large sweaty room pumped full of carbon dioxide.  Women were weeping.  Men were weeping.  I don’t mean wailing and keening, but there were many wet red eyes and the sound of many noses being blown. And the silences between people standing around together weren’t the comfortable “At least it wasn’t me” sort, but more of a stricken “Of anybody at all, it shouldn’t have been him.”

What the two funerals had in common, though, was the general sense of a family loss.  I’m not sure if I mean the Venetian family, which is shrinking inexorably, or the rowing-world family, or the gondoliering family. I do know that everyone seemed to belong to each other, and for the few intense hours of the ceremony it was not only easy to see, but to feel.

On the whole, there seems to be some difference of opinion on who to feel sorrier for: The person who’s gone, or those who are left.  Oddly (in my view), Venetian sadness is directed at the departed.  They have a little rhyme: El pezo xe per chi ch’el mondo lassa, chi che vive se la spassa.  (It’s worse for the person who leaves the world; those who are alive can keep having a good time.)

By the look of things at the churches on these two occasions, though, I’m going to have to say that the people who were alive weren’t enjoying it at all.

Michele Bozzato arrived in the funeral-company’s launch, as per normal, but behind it was a traghetto gondola (technically called a “barchetta”), rowed by four gondoliers, prepared to take him to the cemetery after the funeral.

The very old flagstaff carried in the barchetta belongs to the gondoliers’ association (NOT to be confused with the ENTE Gondola).

The traghetto barchetta is broader than the normal gondola, and has a simpler stern and bow. The white thwarts are there to support the casket; the flowers are there because it’s just absolutely the right thing to do.

Another custom on especially solemn occasions is to tie black ribbon to your boat — in this case, the gondolinos of two pairs of rowers preparing for the Regata Storica a few days later. The blue boat was assigned to Igor and Rudi Vignotto (both gondoliers, as it happens), while the green boat was taken by the Busetto brothers, Roberto and Renato.

Plenty of people were standing around outside the church of San Marcuola, on the side facing the Grand Canal as well as here, by the back door. Obviously the mourners have clustered in the shade, while the sun blazed down on more floral tributes than I have ever seen anywhere.

The ribbon across each arrangement is inscribed with the name(s) of the donors, and the range of names gave some indication of how full his life had been. From left, and I translate: “The Association ‘Note Veneziane’,” “From the Guys at the Ae Oche Pizzeria,” “The Reyer” (local basketball team), “Traghetto S. Sofia (gondolier station), “The Friends from the Bar La Tappa,” “The Checchini Dona’ and Fiorentin Families,””The Friends from Laguna Soccer,”  “The Virtus rowing club,” “The gondoliers of the Traghetto Dogana,” “The gondoliers from the Bacino Orseolo,” “The gondoliers from the Ferrovia,” The gondoliers from the Traghetto Molo,” “Gondoliers Association Venice.”  (The gurney is parked by the back door because no steps clutter the path between here and the Grand Canal.)

Considering the size of these arrangements (regardless of shape or exoticism of the flowers themselves), it’s unlikely that any cost less than 300 euros ($400), and the larger ones were at least 500 euros ($650) each.

All the same, it still is a fine summer morning; some people brought their kids, but you couldn’t expect them to stand around doing nothing.

There was a certain amount of down-time for the photographer from the Gazzettino, too.

When they start to take the flowers back to the launch, you know it’s almost over.

The throng follows — in this case, quite a throng. When the casket was placed on the barchetta, the gondoliers raised their oars in the traditional “alzaremi” salute, and everyone’s instinct was to applaud, so they did.

The barchetta departs for the cemetery, escorted by the two gondolinos.

The gondolino cortege departs. While I recognize that it was a scorchingly hot morning, and that the rowers were more interested in training than in funerals, I merely note that the Vignottini, in the blue boat, changed from their sweat-garb into the classic racing and otherwise ceremonially appropriate white pants and striped T-shirt. The Busettos had a somewhat different sense of the occasion.

 

Categories : Venetian-ness
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There’s a saying here — perhaps in all of Italy, perhaps in the whole world — that the mother of the ignorant is always pregnant. I’d expand that to include the mentally infirm, the ethically deficient, and a smattering of Venetian rowing racers, the race judges, the spectators, and anybody else who is evidently suffering from hormone overload in any situation more emotional than drinking coffee.

I pause to note that, once again, this post has no photographs due to multiple crises inside my computer, which is being taken to the hospital today for a major operation.  So there will be a lapse in communication while it — and I — recuperate.

Back to racers and judges and spectators.

The Regata Storica of a week ago (September 2, 2012) will be remembered more for the catastrophe which I am about to describe than for the fact that the Vignottini won and their lifelong rivals (D’Este and Tezzat) finished — not second — but THIRD.  You hear the sound of a page being turned in the annals of Venetian rowing, because even if D’Este and company were to win the next five races in a row, the chink in the armor is now too obvious to ignore.  He also looked extremely and uncharacteristically blown apart by the race.

But as I say, that isn’t what everybody is babbling about.  They’re babbling about the way the judge’s motorboat ran into the yellow gondolino, which was third, thereby knocking it out of the race.  Because Fate sometimes shows a dangerously unruly sense of humor, it couldn’t have happened somewhere up in the distant reaches of the Grand Canal where only three cats are around to notice the race, if they’re awake.  Of course not.  This hideous, and, I think, unprecedented, little crash occurred right in front of the reviewing stand at the finish line, where assorted race officials and scores of invited guests and lots of the salt of the earth in their own boats could see it PERFECTLY. Also the national television station whose cameras were broadcasting the event live.

Like most systems, the way the judges’ boats are choreographed is perfect, but only if the plan is executed.  In this case, one judge’s boat follows the peloton up to a certain point in the Grand Canal (the “volta de canal,” at the curve of Ca’ Foscari where the bleachers and judges and finish line are all together). At that point, in order that the judge’s motorboat doesn’t have to cross the canal and thereby potentially get in the way of the boats as they are racing upstream, the first judge’s motorboat stops, and a second one, waiting on the other side of the canal out of harm’s way, picks up the task of following the herd.

But this time the first boat didn’t pull over to the side and stop, to hand off the race to the next boat. It paused, and then, without looking (or thinking, or something), the judge aboard told the driver to do something which clearly involved gunning the motor.  I was in a boat right where this happened, so I am a certified eyewitness.

Whether the judge wanted to follow the race, or reposition the boat in some way, isn’t clear.  But doing anything at that moment, in that location, was not only wrong, it was crazy.  Because the yellow (“canarin”) gondolino, steaming ahead at full speed in an excellent third position, was right behind the propellers when they spun. In two nano-seconds, the left hind hip of the motorboat swerved left, hit the ferro of the prow of the gondolino, threw the very narrow and moving-very-fast boat off balance, and sent it hurtling off-course into the scrum of boats tied up to the pilings.

You might think that the only crazy person in this scenario would be the judge on the boat who told the driver to move instead of standing perfectly still.  And you’d be right.

Except that almost immediately, other crazy people began to wail and vociferate.  Wild ideas began to be thrown around in bars and in the newspaper (and even, I think, among the judges), almost all of which came down to suggesting that the crew on canarin be awarded the third-place pennant in a tie with the pair that actually did finish third.

The Vignottini even offered to pay the prize money to the unfortunate ex-third-place boat.

The issue still doesn’t seem to be settled, but here is how I see it:

First, I don’t understand why anyone thinks it makes sense to give a prize to someone who didn’t win it.  A consolation prize would be nice, of course (a house in the mountains, maybe, or a six-month cruise to Polynesia), but a prize for racing pretty much requires that you race.  If the crash had occurred three yards before the finish line, you might be able to make a case for their deserving some sort of pennant and/or money.  But there was still plenty of race ahead.  Who’s to say that they would have finished third? They might have come in first. Or even last.

Second, a racer with any degree of self-respect (possibly a very small category, true) wouldn’t want either a pennant or money that he hadn’t won himself. Why degrade them with stupid offers that are only moderately able to make the onlookers feel slightly better?  Not to mention make the guilty judge feel slightly less bad.

Third, I’m glad I mentioned the judge.  Because while the rowing world is in the throes of what seems to be a hormonal solar flare, no one so far has turned from the victims to the perpetrator.

Why, I ask myself, and am now asking the world at large, is everyone so fixated on making the victims feel better without pausing to suggest, much less demand, that the judge deserves a serious punishment?  Can you think of a sport in which a referee or a judge who directly and visibly damages an athlete in the midst of the game doesn’t receive even the tiniest murmured reproof?

It gets crazier.  Because last year, at the race at Burano, there was a crash between the first two boats at the buoy where the racecourse turns back, knocking both of them out of commission.  The judge overseeing that crucial part of the race was so rattled that he stopped the race right there.  The prizes were awarded according to the positions of the boats at the buoy, even though there was at least half again as much race still to go.

Yes: That was the same judge.

I began this post with a saying, so in closing I invoke a special Venetian aphorism: “Un’ xe bon, ma do xe coglion.”  (OON zeh bone, ma doh zeh cole-YONE.) The literal translation makes no sense, but here’s what it means: Screw up once, you can be excused; screw up twice, and you’re an asshole.

If anyone but me manages to reach this conclusion, I’ll let you know. But it’s not looking very likely.

 

 

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