Friday, November 17, 2017
Every two years the city of Venice is supposed to hold a lottery for its resident boat owners to assign any new mooring places (ormeggi) around the city that have opened up since the prior lottery (something I've written about both here: "Adrift in Venice" and here: "Moorings Found and Lost"). The latest statistics show no less than 180 ormeggi are now free. However, it's been a full five years since the last lottery and the calls of local politicians, such as Monica Sambo, and resident activists for another lottery have fallen on deaf ears.
Embroiled in the corruption charges that would ultimately lead to his removal from office, perhaps it's understandable that ormeggi were the last thing on the mind of the city's previous mayor, Giorgio Orsoni. But what about the current one, the one who likes to present himself as Mayor Can-Do?
Some harbored the suspicion that as Mayor Brugnaro was born and raised on the mainland, and continues to live on the mainland, near Treviso, he was unfamiliar with the boat culture of Venice, and the importance of ormeggi to residents. These people tried to alert him to the fact that this was not just a matter of leisure boats--as a terraferma-dweller (the less-polite term would be campagnolo) such as himself might imagine--but that having access to one's own boat, for work and for other everyday needs, was a defining feature of Venetian life.
Once again, this fell on deaf ears. It seems difficult to get the attention of Venice's "First Citizen" when it comes to issues affecting the lives of those residents who might very well be his neighbors if he deigned to actually live in Venice. Brugnaro's focus is almost invariably on developments (in all senses of that term) related to tourism: whether he's very publicly insulting four British tourists who wrote to him with their concerns that they'd been ripped off by a Venice restaurant or supporting the continued sell-off of public properties to be turned into hotels.
Which means that more than a few Venice residents, my family among them, find themselves renting space to keep their boat in one of the private marinas at the edges of the city or in a cantiere (or boat workshop and warehouse) of the sort you see pictured in this post--and of which most visitors are completely unaware, concealed as they are behind walls and stretching through neighborhoods that appear simply residential.
Monday, November 13, 2017
During our first couple of years living here, to pick up our son from school was to be reminded how in car-free Venice pre-schoolers and kindergartners are the kings and queens of the calli, frolicking through them with complete (and sometimes operatic) abandon, as I recounted in this post: http://veneziablog.blogspot.it/2012/03/wild-in-streets-or-calli.html.
This begins to change as they move toward the end of first grade, and by the time they hit their fourth year of elementary school, as our son has, they've mostly abdicated what was once their realm, bowing, on the one hand, to a creeping sense of what it means to be "cool" and, on the other, to the unmistakable fact that in many parts of the historic center the streets really belong to the tourist masses, who greatly outnumber them.
But sometimes, as in the instance pictured above, as a chain of boys make their way to an after-school birthday party, they reassert their old dominion and for a short time there's some life--rather than just foot traffic--in the city again.
Friday, November 10, 2017
Tuesday, November 7, 2017
Monday, November 6, 2017
Tuesday, October 31, 2017
Though not native to the city, Jack O'Lantern (above), and the festivities with which he's associated, have become rather popular in Venice.
Though some few people (and institutions) are no happier about this than they were when I wrote the following post 6 years ago: http://veneziablog.blogspot.it/2011/10/dolcetto-o-scherzetto.html
Saturday, October 28, 2017
It's the glimpse of the water entrance at one end of the Sotoportego del Filatoio that stops you as you pass by it along the Fondamenta de le Grue. You venture into the sotoportego's depths, drawn by the canal view bracketed by twin columns, then turn and find that the view in the other direction is just as appealing.
Tuesday, October 24, 2017
|The beings falling earthward around Venice these days bear little resemblance to this fellow high up on the facade of the church of Santa Maria della Salute|
The other day, on one of the less-frequented calli leading from the Rialto Bridge area toward Campo San Cassiano, my son and I were stopped in our tracks by the sight of a large young man standing on the parapet of a small stone bridge and giving every indication he was about to jump.
It was a bridge we had to cross to get home and as he looked about to jump into the center of the bridge, rather than into the canal below, we had no choice but to stop. The young man's girlfriend was poised with a smart phone on the crown of the bridge, waiting.
After checking that she was ready, the young man leapt with a yowl, landed heavily, then bounced up to see if his girlfriend had captured his heroic leap in all its glory, demanding "Did you get it?" As this digital-age American Narcissus gazed at the little screen, Sandro and I seized on our chance to pass, before they could set up to do another take.
It's not easy being a tourist these days.
In the old pre-internet days you might have anticipated showing the images you took on a trip to friends (and/or victims) when you returned home, envisioning their favorable response.
Now, you can make yourself subject to those responses immediately, by posting images online as soon as you capture them and receiving instant real-time feedback on how well they're going over.
This, in my shamefully outmoded way of thinking about things, seems awful. For it has the potential to make all of us obsessed with our "ratings." Not so long ago, this would have been considered a terrible thing. In movies from the 1970s such as Network, or even from the 1980s, such as Broadcast News, an obsession with ratings was presented as the defining (and corrosive) feature of a soulless, intellectually vacant corporate culture, and depicted as being antithetical to creativity, freedom, justice, and truth.
In the 1960s such quantifiable responses were the sole concern of advertising firms on Madison Avenue.
But I suppose we are all Mad Men now.
We accept such an obsession as a matter of course, as unavoidable, and replicate it even in our own personal lives. The basic human need for social acceptance has been quantified, and turned into a mother lode of information to be mined by the likes of Google, Facebook, et al.
How it actually profits us, as human beings (rather than brands), is open to debate.
What makes all of this worse, though, is that the same social media that quantifies responses to what we post, also makes us continually aware of the infinite competition we have for anyone's (even our closest family members') attention.
To some of us this may not matter. It's enough to know that Uncle Anselm or Aunt Latifa, no matter how far way they may be from where we are, has seen our travel image.
For others, however, it means that only an image of yourself flying through the air--rather than merely standing--before a picturesque Venetian backdrop will do. Or climbing up the facade of the Palazzo Ducale. Or shimmying up an old lamp post in Campo San Pantalon. Or any of the many other simian (or aquatic) tourist feats you're likely to encounter when you live in Venice.
In other words, you can't live in an international destination like Venice and not be reminded of how technology and social media have profoundly altered how we view and experience the world--and what we value.*
And even when the ostensible aim of our travel is to "get away from it all," or at least from our regular workaday life, we carry the cultural ideals of the workplace with us: self-advancement, competition, and the inclination to judge our efforts by how we profit from them. Thanks to smart phones and social media, even our "free time" seems like work, as we (consciously or unconsciously) construct and disseminate the brand of ourselves.
The most venerable and fragile of historical, cultural and/or religious sites become merely location shoots, or sound stages, for the show that is our self.
And what won't some people do for ratings? As television series are said to "jump the shark" to increase their audience share, so tourists jump all kinds of other things. Sometimes even each other.
As John Berendt recounts in his 2005 book on Venice, the heavenly host of statuary adorning the facade of the church of Santa Maria della Salute was in such bad repair in the 1970s that a sign beneath it warned "Beware of falling angels."
These days in Venice, as Sandro and I were recently reminded, the beings likely to crash down upon you from out of the sky are of a purely terrestrial sort.
For an interesting article on "museums" specifically oriented toward being the perfect backdrop for social media selfies see: https://www.wired.com/story/selfie-factories-instagram-museum/ But this trend is evident in traditional museums and art galleries as well.
Saturday, October 21, 2017
I've never felt the least inclination to form any kind of aesthetic opinion on this sculpture of Dante and Virgil situated in the lagoon between Fondamenta Nove and the cemetery island of San Michele, but I can tell you that its creator was a Russian sculptor named Georgi Frangulyan, that it was placed in its present spot in 2007, and that, considering it weighs 2 tons, any decision to remove it won't be undertaken lightly.
It's inspired by the two poets' crossing of the river Styx in Canto 8 of L'Inferno toward the flaming city of Dis.
Monday, October 16, 2017
Friday, October 13, 2017
It's not just that Venice looks different in the fog, it's that the fog, by blunting the city's visual assault upon a spectator, diminishing its usually staggering array of details, allows the viewer to look differently at Venice. You see more in less.
Tuesday, October 10, 2017
Friday, October 6, 2017
As a Venetian friend told me soon after we moved here, "There are two Venices, one you see on foot, and the other you know only from a boat."
In Venice: The Tourist Maze, Robert C. Davis and Garry R. Marvin put it this way:
Enclosed and walled in rather than scooped out, canals have primacy in Venice, even when they have been whittled down to the narrowness of alleys by competing palace builders: the waterscape of the city is, paradoxically, its bedrock. Even with a good many of them now filled in [a favorite activity of the Austrians in the 19th century], they still represent the most direct way to reach most parts of Venice; unlike the contorted maze of calli, campi, and bridges just above them, they generally make sense, at least to those who have a boat handy to take advantage of them. Which is... to say that they make sense to Venetians, and indeed the canals of the city, or more precisely, getting around on those canals, could reasonably be called the last backstage left in Venice, the final spatial possession of the Venetians.It should probably be noted, though, that this book was published in 2004, and since that time even this "final spatial possession of the Venetians" has become less exclusively their own. One spends years learning about the city's waterways and observing others in their boats before making one's own timid first ventures into the narrow rii, and you shout out the traditional warning as you approach a tight blind right-angle, receive no reply, idle into the turn and--encounter a pod of kayakers in town for the day. My hope is that the number of kayak tours and kayakers won't--like every other tourist venture in Venice--be allowed to get completely out of control.
Tuesday, October 3, 2017
Saturday, September 30, 2017
Wednesday, September 27, 2017
Saturday, September 23, 2017
|Titian's Ca' Pesaro Madonna newly re-installed in the church of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari|
|Here's looking at you, kid.|
After five years of intensive analysis and restoration funded by the American non-profit Save Venice organization, Titian's great Madonna di Ca' Pesaro is now back in its familiar spot in the church of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari.
For a very interesting account of the particular challenges that the painting presented to restorers, and of the methods used to discover the factors (both recent and long past) that contributed to its deterioration, as well as the strategies to address and prevent future degradation, visit Save Venice's page on the work: https://savevenice.org/our-restorations/titian-c-1485-1576-madonna-of-ca-pesaro-1519-1526-oil-on-canvas-church-of-santa-maria-gloriosa-dei-frari/.
And then visit the work itself as soon as you have the chance.
Monday, September 18, 2017
Friday, September 15, 2017
Sunday, September 10, 2017
Wednesday, September 6, 2017
Tuesday, September 5, 2017
|It's the colorful pageantry of the corteo or boat parade before the races that draws most of the tourists, who then tend to disperse....|
|...and miss the excitement of races like the 6-man caorline (above), whose first 3 boats were tightly packed from start to finish.|
|On their way to their tenth Regata Storica victory, however, Anna Mao and Romina Ardit dominated from the get-go, leaving the rest of the field to compete for second place|
Sunday, September 3, 2017
Friday, September 1, 2017
Tuesday, August 29, 2017
Though the days of the Dog Star, Sirius, actually stretch only from July 3 to August 11, the star's influence on certain people seems to extend beyond this period, judging from the two pictured above.
Sunday, August 27, 2017
Preparations for next weekend's Regata Storica kicked off last night with Disnar per la storica, a wide-ranging event consisting of free community dinners (what are called "pot lucks" in America) in fourteen different locations around Venice, including Lido, Sant'Erasmo, and the mainland. (Disnar is a Venetian word for "to eat").
The dinner for our neighborhood was held in the Rialto Pescheria and it was pleasant to see so many residents gathered to enjoy an extended meal, with live entertainment and a film of Venetian rowing, in a place so often over-run by mordi e fuggi (bite and run) tourism.
|Any song about living in Venice, as the one being sung above, can't help but include among its frustrations (as you can see in the projected lyrics) the waves, litter, human waste and diving that spoil the canals and the dog crap in the calli.|
Friday, August 25, 2017
Saturday, August 19, 2017
Tuesday, August 15, 2017
Saturday, August 12, 2017
|A large floating buoy attached to one of the Emergency Lagoon Drainage Plugs in the basin of San Marco|
The most visible element of the 45-year-old Emergency Lagoon Drainage System floats for all to see in the middle of the Bacino di San Marco, its primary function unknown to and even unsuspected by tourists and most Venetians alike.
If anyone, besides my son Sandro and me, gives it much thought at all, they do so only when it's being utilized in its secondary function as a mooring place for a large, important ship, such as the Italian destroyer the Luigi Durand de la Penne.
But the primary purpose of this large floating buoy (at least as far as Sandro and I are concerned), and the others like it in the waters around the city,* has to do with an elaborate anti-flood system designed and implemented in the first years after the catastrophic deluge that struck Venice in 1966. It was this "perfect storm" that called international attention to Venice's susceptibility to being abruptly submerged by the sea--rather than merely subsiding into it--and which led 10 years later to the plan for a system of flood gates situated at the three mouths of the lagoons.
As noted by Salvatore Settis in his book If Venice Dies, in 1986 then-Prime Minister Bettino Craxi announced that these submerged flood gates (known by the acronym MOSE) "will definitely be operational by 1995." Instead, 22 years after this promised date, MOSE shows no signs of being operational any time soon--if ever--and has functioned only to transfer over 6.2 billion euros of public funding into the hands of private construction companies and corrupt politicians. Of course, in Italy, as in America, this is considered a laudable achievement in itself.
But for all its fame and infamy, MOSE was the second engineering solution devised to protect the city against catastrophic flooding. The first was the now-forgotten, though still partly visible, Emergency Lagoon Drainage System.
In contrast to the no-bid contract that was gifted to the Consorzio Venezia Nuova to construct MOSE, in the immediate aftermath of the great flood of 1966 an international engineering competition was held. The winner of that competition was, to hardly anyone's surprise, considering the country's long history of hydraulic engineering, a Dutch firm.
This firm's solution to catastrophic flooding was both simpler and far more radical than the later MOSE proposal. It called for a vast drainage system to be installed beneath the lagoon, with a series of "plugs" located at the periphery of the city. The plugs themselves, situated snugly in massive drainage ports at the bottom of the lagoon, are invisible; we see only the large buoys attached to each of them and floating above them.
Each buoy, as you can see in the image at top, has a large steel ring in the center of its circular platform. In the event of extreme flooding, a fleet of massive helicopters known as "sky cranes" (with which Sandro was familiar from his then-favorite educational video series Mighty Machines), and currently stationed nearby on the mainland, would lower a hook into these rings, then haul them and their attached plugs into the sky.
|A floating drainage buoy used for its secondary function by the Italian Navy|
By 1972 this Emergency Drainage System had been completed and was, according to computer analysis and a series of tests (extensive in number but necessarily limited in scope), fully functional.
Venice was saved.
Or was it?
For even as the system was being installed a multitude of scientific studies were arguing that just one use of the system would cause massive and irreversible damage to the lagoon itself. The rapid and violent emptying of water from the lagoon would result not only in a staggering loss of animal, plant, and probably even human life, but widespread destruction of the lagoon's ecosystem.
The shallow, rough, irregular terrain of the lagoon bed itself, with all its sedimentation, sub-acquatic plant life and mudflats (barene), would be sucked down with the swirling mass of water rushing into the drains installed in the lagoon.
To save the built structures of the city, in other words, the lagoon itself would be sacrificed.
Indeed, a heated debate over the ethics of what critics described as the sacrifice of Nature for the sake of Culture appeared across a number of issues of the obscure but influential International Journal of Hydraulics in the first years of the 1970s, reaching such a pitched state of contention that a fear that the hitherto scholarly debate might break out into the broader public consciousness caused it to be purchased by an unknown buyer and promptly shut down.
Some have identified the Italian government itself as the buyer; others, the Dutch engineering firm responsible for the drainage system. Whoever it was, they did an admirable job of suppressing the content of the debate and purging all traces of the journal from libraries. To this day, single issues from this contentious period have fetched bids in the low six figures, and a multi-copy set said to contain the complete series of exchanges garnered a million dollar bid from the famous Ransom Rare Book Collection at the University of Texas Austin. But in every case the proffered publications have turned out to be fraudulent.
Equally troubling, though, was the fact that a single use of the system would, by scouring the lagoon clean of its wave-buffering natural features, leave the city significantly more susceptible to disastrous flooding than ever before. A single use of the system was likely to turn what had long been a lagoon into what was effectively a shallow bay, through which water from the Adriatic would rush in with unimpeded force.
According to some it was this realization that ultimately led to the decision in 1976 to go ahead with the mobile flood gates.
While others more simply, and cynically, say that the decision to go forward with the MOSE project was less about impeding the flow of dangerous tides than about diverting a massive flow of public money into the "right" (ie, well-connected) private bank accounts.
Whatever the reason, Venice now has one almost 50-year-old system of flood prevention that is theoretically still functional but that it dare not use, and one "new" one (originating just 10 years after the former) which it's supposedly clamoring to use but seems unlikely to ever be functional.
And, alas, because some municipalities, like some people, never seem to learn from their mistakes, the use of the MOSE system--if ever it does function--raises as many questions about its own disastrous effects on the lagoon as the old Emergency Lagoon Drainage System.
In truth, considering the long ineffectual history and deleterious consequences of each system side-by-side, the real MOSE one (with all its corruption and incompetence) and the one imagined by Sandro and me, I can't quite ultimately decide which of them stretches credulity more.
*There are a few such floating buoys and Sandro and I were inspired to look into the mystery of them after repeatedly passing a particular one of them that lay--like the subject of Part 2 of this series of posts--on the vaporetto path between his pre-school and our home (specifically, between the San Pietro di Castello stop and that of Bacini).
Wednesday, August 9, 2017
|The aggressively unassuming Regional Weather Control Center|
As is the case for any number of our society's most venerated Truths, the origins of the Regional Weather Control Center in Venice, or RWCC, are shrouded in mystery, and are admittedly rather dubious.
Located in the waters just a short distance off Fondamenta Nove, the discovery of the top-secret site by my son Sandro and I was spurred by a long unbroken string of oppressively gray days during the second winter we lived in here.
We usually have no problem with sunless days during the winter; we expect them. But this particular stretch had gone on for far too long, without even a brief tease of sunlight, and with no hint of ever ending. So long, in fact, that Sandro and I couldn't help but start to wonder if something had jammed up the gears that usually kept our weather systems moving through at a slower or swifter pace, and if the person responsible for minding them had fallen asleep at--or even vacated--his or her post.
For elsewhere, as we could see on national news reports, meteorological conditions varied at least a little from day to day as usual. Only here in the lagoon had everything seemed to stall.
We pondered the question of why.
But we didn't hit upon any kind of satisfying answer until we stumbled into thinking about it in terms of where. Where did weather patterns originate?
Well, as it turned out, from a shabby little structure we passed nearly every day on the number 4.1 or 4.2 vaporetto line, while going to or coming from Sandro's kindergarten.
Indeed, one might take it as concrete evidence of the sheer brilliance of the RWCC creator (or creators) that it is essentially hidden in plain sight.
Like the earliest dwellings in the lagoon, as described in a letter to Theodoric the Ostrogoth by his prefect Cassiodorus in the year 523, the RWCC is stilted just above the surface of the water. Though it, in contrast to those sea bird-like homes of the earliest inhabitants, is constructed not of "osier and wattle" but bricks and cement. While the earliest lagoon structures must have been quite susceptible to drafts, the windowless RWCC appears impervious even to light.
No image of the interior has ever been disseminated, but according to those who have studied, or at least speculated on the matter (my then 5-year-old son and myself), the RWCC is manned by a solitary occupant who tracks national and regional weather conditions on a bank of computer monitors--many of them displaying a live feed from a far-flung battery of surveillance cameras--that nearly fills the small space.*
Based upon these regionally-oriented screens, along with a constant stream of information on broader weather conditions (both in Italy and internationally), the indefatigable controller adjusts meteorological conditions in the lagoon (temperature, cloud cover, precipitation, wind, etc) with an extensive array of levers--rather like those used backstage to raise the curtain or dim the lights for live theatrical performances. For finer adjustments there is also a selection of precisely-calibrated dials.
The fact that the RWCC bears a very general resemblance to the larger, windowed, wooden tidal monitoring (or hydrographic) station you can see near the Punta della Dogana has led to speculation that it was built around the same time. But there is no other evidence to support such a conjecture and, indeed, such a notion raises more questions than it resolves. Chief among them: Where was the RWCC previously located?
Moreover, the differences between the two structures are far more striking than any vague similarity. Unlike the tidal monitoring post, the RWCC is aggressively plain, even downright forbidding: it is both inscrutable and impregnable.
Which, of course, makes perfect sense. For while nobody ever complains about the tides, everyone--as the old saying goes--complains about the weather, though no ever does anything about it.
The appearance of the RWCC--at once inconspicuous and off-putting--seems specifically designed to forestall the possibility that anyone might even be tempted to try.
Not that Sandro and I haven't once or twice over the last few years been driven by a particularly nasty stretch of weather to talk about taking our little boat to the RWCC and pounding on its door to complain. But the consequences of such a rash and unprecedented action are unknown, and, moreover, the power of certain mysterious truths depends upon them never being put to the test.
*Though interior space is limited, it is not so cramped as a purely external perusal of the structure would suggest: the shape, proportions, and materials of the structure's exterior being cleverly designed to appear substantially diminished in the particular lighting conditions of the lagoon.
Tuesday, August 8, 2017
|The Cannaregio Gondola Factory (aka the Associazione Remiere di Punta di San Giobbe)|
There are countless "insider's" guides to Venice available, with new ones appearing regularly, but sometimes the perspectives on the city I find most interesting come from those who appear to have little if any familiarity with it.
In fact, seemingly unencumbered by any knowledge of Venice whatsoever, the minds of the best of what might be called Outsider Guides to the City are free to drift up to dizzying altitudes, where oxygen is scarce and falsehoods abundant.
I suppose there's an invigorating sense of freedom to be found in not knowing the first thing about the subject on which you're pontificating. And if stated with enough force--or vulgarity, or shamelessness, in the case of major politicians in the US and UK--these utterly false assertions can end up being more compelling to a surprising number of people than statements of easily verified or even readily observable fact.
The other day, while riding in an Alilaguna water bus from the airport into Venice, I heard a particularly inspired one of these Outsider Guides announce the following to his wife and teen-aged daughter: "Hey, hey, look there," he said, pointing out the window to a building on the western end of Fondamenta Nove, "there's a factory where they make gondolas! Wow, look at 'em! They've made a bunch of green ones that they've got stacked up in the yard."
Now, you don't have to be a native Venetian to know that gondolas aren't green, or that their shape bears little resemblance to the shape of the much smaller boats to which he pointed. And, more simply, there was even a large sign posted in the center of the facade stating (in Italian) exactly what the building was.
But his wife and daughter nodded and looked suitably edified and I--as this particular lie was not uttered in the service of more tax cuts for the rich and poverty, gratuitous hardship, and early death for everyone else--was thoroughly entertained, even charmed.
I would have thought that the fact that what this Outsider Guide was pointing to was actually a traditional Venetian-style rowing club association (remiere) would have been exotic enough to satisfy most visitors from afar. But I admired the leap his imagination had made, and I wished I could tag along with him for the rest of the morning to see what other misbegotten nonsense the sights of the city in combination with his ignorance might inspire him to spout.
But we were on the Alilaguna boat from the airport with family arriving from out of town and, instead, I turned my attention elsewhere.
It occurs to me now that there might be some value--if only of the entertainment sort--in compiling an Outsiders' Guide to Venice, and I wish I remembered more of the falsehoods I've overheard in my 6 1/2 years of living here: such as the three tourists on a vaporetto one time who speculated that the church of San Giorgio Maggiore was a hotel (and not even in the French sense of hôtel, or city hall).
After all, one way to make a famous city so heavily visited (and over-visited), and so much remarked upon as Venice, into one's "very own" is simply to get as many things wrong about it as you possibly can.
For the old Mary McCarthy and Henry James observation that "nothing original can be said about Venice" doesn't quite apply to those whose remarks upon Palladio's famous church across the Bacino di San Marco are based upon their mistaken belief that it's a hotel--or that, say, the Palazzo Ducale is a basketball arena.*
In this spirit, in parts 2 and 3 of this post I'll finally share a couple of (alternative) facts about the city that you won't read in even the most authoritative guidebook or hear from the most knowledgeable personal tour guide. "Facts" that my son and I happened upon while still getting acquainted with the city and which I hope will merit a place in any Outsiders' Guide to Venice: secrets of this famous city that are so secret I think it's safe to say that we two are the only ones who know anything about them.
* As, incredibly enough, the Scuola Grande della Misericordia actually was for a time: http://video.gazzetta.it/venezia-leggenda-misericordia-chiesa-palasport/0d649bfe-d3ca-11e5-979f-8bca2ccabd66