|A remnant of blue ribbon signifying the birth of a baby boy beneath a soldier's head from the Fascist era|
Recently Jen returned from a visit to a certain macelleria on Via Garibaldi to tell me that we lived on an island of Fascists.
Now both of us already knew that, yes, the bulk of what is now Sant' Elena was built up of mud dredged up in the process of creating deep shipping lanes through the lagoon in the early part of the 20th Century and that the construction upon it was the handiwork of the Fascists. Prior to this, except for the island upon which the 12th-century church and monastery of Sant' Elena stood, the rest of what is now the island was merely a barrena, frequently submerged by tides.
But this is not what the butcher meant. No, he said, he'd lived on Sant' Elena for one year but had to leave because it was far too conservative for his taste.
Well, Jen said, it's traditionally been un quartiere popolare (working class neighborhood) and sometimes those can be conservative...
No, not just conservative, he insisted, but quite literally unabashedly Fascist. He claimed that the families who originally moved into the newly-built Fascist neighborhood in the 1920s were party loyalists, and many have remained so.
He said that in the uppermost stories of certain Sant' Elena apartments there were still to be found busts of Mussolini, which were of more than merely historical interest to their owners. He'd seen them himself.
He couldn't wait to escape from Sant' Elena. After one year here he'd fled to the nearby--but not too nearby--island of San Pietro di Castello. Where he has lived happily ever since.
In our year and half here we've yet to encounter any busts of Mussolini. The life-long Sant' Elena resident we know best is actually quite liberal, and having been to the low-ceilinged uppermost floor of his apartment I can tell you that the only portrait to be found there is a lovely oil of his childhood self painted in the late 1940s, with no trace of Fascism in it.
As for contemporary flesh-and-blood Fascists, I've yet to meet any in Sant' Elena. Nor even any supporters of Lega Nord. But I'll keep my eyes open, as these days no matter what part of Venice, or Italy, or the world you live in there are some very dangerous political groups trying to gain traction.
Fascinating. I have just read Alibi by Joseph Kanon about post WWII Venice; an interesting perspective on the city. I'd forgotten that Sant'elena is a new area. Thank you as always for sharing your experiences and life in Venice.ReplyDelete
Thank you very much for your kind remarks and for telling me about the book Alibi--I'll have to have get my hands on it. I hadn't heard of it, but it sounds interesting.Delete
Thank you, my eyes and ears on the world that is Venice, and the sub-world that is Sant' Elena! Those heads are a touch brooding, aren't they!ReplyDelete
Brooding, indeed, Yvonne. I keep trying to figure out if they are meant to suggest an idealized version of Mussolini's own face.Delete
As I was photographing them an older woman passed by walking her dog and when I asked her about the buildings she said not only did she not know about them but she'd never even noticed those heads before! But a young woman who lived in the building happened out at that time and we were both able to find out their history from her.
I plan to book The Best Western Sant'Elena for my week in Venice in December. The neighbourhood looks to me less and less touristy - your post is contributing to my fascination with it, thanks. The last time I stayed in Luna Baglioni but Venice is so intense and the hotel is so relentlesssly Venetian the experience felt a kind of sensory overkillReplyDelete
Sant' Elena is definitely less touristy & you're much more likely to hear Italian being spoken there than English, German, French etc. It's also much more peaceful & a big change from Luna Baglioni, where you were really right in the middle of the crush! But then even a place in Dorsoduro would seem much more peaceful than Luna Baglioni. There's the fine old 15th-C Sant' Elena church--architecturally interesting, but without paintings--but otherwise it's a new (ie less than 100 year-old) neighborhood. I like the peace and the trees, but can understand why some people might say (as the Venetian mother of one of our friends remarked about Sant' Elena) "That's not Venice!"ReplyDelete
I'll spend the days in the parts that are picture book Venetian, cartoline Venetian, but I need some place to recharge or there is a risk of slipping into routine, there is always such risk no matter where one's travelling.ReplyDelete
That sounds like a good plan to me. It's also such an easy and enjoyable trip into the center of the city, either by vaporetto or on foot, that I think it works out well. 20 years ago, living for a time in Dorsoduro, I remember saying I had no interest in trees or greenery of the Giardini Pubblici. Now I can't imagine living without them.Delete