Monday, October 24, 2016
A New Doge Was Elected Saturday: Venetian Fantasy & Venetian Reality
The flags of San Marco were out on Saturday afternoon on the Riva degli Schiavoni: some being waved, some being worn as capes or kerchiefs; some with the familiar red ground, others with the largely forgotten and little-seen blue; some with bookish lions, others with belligerent sword-bearing beasts. It made for a colorful photo op, for myself and any number of tourists crowding the waterfront, though I don't think any of us knew what actually was going on.
The attention of the flag-wavers and flag-wearers was on the equestrian monument to Vittorio Emanuele II, commemorating the unification of Venice with Italy in 1866. I paused beside a young flag-caped man explaining in English to two curious tourists that he "feels Venetian, not Italian...." A minute later, a different man climbed over the wrought iron railing around the monument and covered the head of the large allegorical female figure of Italy at its western end with a flag of San Marco (see image below). Ah, yes, Venetian separatists, who pop up periodically to agitate for the rebirth of an independent Venetian Republic. I went on my way.
Little did I know that at just about the same time, according to local newspaper reports, seven separatists were busy electing a new doge in the Grand Council Chamber of the Palazzo Ducale. They'd bought tickets--a bit odd, as residents are admitted free (but perhaps they aren't residents?)--and though far fewer in number than the electors of old, and having apparently eschewed the famously byzantine electoral procedures of the old Republic, they managed to elect the new doge before being confront by local authorities, who asked to see their IDs.
At which point, according to Il Gazzettino, one of the self-styled electors presented an ID of the Venetian Republic he'd made himself...
And so, even as I type this, Venice--or at least, a Venice that exists in the minds of a few dozen separatists--is ruled over by its 121st doge, and the shackles of bondage to which Venice ostensibly submitted 150 years ago last Saturday have been broken.
Meanwhile, just as Salvatore Settis laments in his important book If Venice Dies, the cultural heritage of the Italian citizenry is put up for sale. In fact, the auctioning off of Lido's beautiful little Giovanni Nicelli Airport takes place today--with a starting bid of just 26,000 euro.
Nostalgic fantasy, in other words, even in Venice, can only take one so far; no make-believe doge is going to be of any help in the real issues confronting Venice.
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