Sunday, July 30, 2017

A Little Night Music, With Oars

The scene at last night's live musical event Serata a Remi: Musica dal Palazzo Papafava, hosted by Row Venice and Viva Voga Veneta.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Disneyland on the Adriatic

Disneyland on parade, yesterday

Okay, I might as well admit it up front: in my opinion there's nothing more unsightly to be seen floating on the small canals (or rii) of the historic center of Venice than some moron on a standup paddle board.

I'm sure that on some beautiful Hawaiian beach at the right time of day a paddle board can appear picturesque, that in some upscale Caribbean resort they're absolutely adorable as a vehicle for family frolics on pricey private waters, and that they're just the thing for drunken sunburned Spring Break celebrants in Fort Lauderdale or Lake Havasu. 

But in Venice they strike me as just plain ugly. An impression not helped by the fact that any adult atop them is almost invariably dressed as if he's a young child outfitted by his mother for an afternoon at some water park just off the interstate in Orlando, Florida. Not that there's anything wrong with such water parks, but Venice--as a fairly surprising number of visitors seem hardly to notice--ain't merely a water park.

Moreover, if the paddle boarder in Venice is unprepossessing at rest, he or she becomes even more so in action. At his or her most adept a paddling paddle boarder appears to be sweeping out a kitchen. But more typically the best that many of them can do is to hack at the water as they struggle to keep their footing--a series of short, clumsy, seemingly random strokes, like an ungainly gardener taxed with hoeing an impossibly overgrown plot.

Even on a Sunday there's no shortage of water traffic on the Grand Canal, its usual path narrowed by the paddlers

In a city whose lissome rowing style has been quite literally admired for centuries, paddle boarders appear especially out of place. It's not just that the paddle board itself is foreign to the culture of the lagoon, even the movement needed to propel it appears distinctly alien in this context.

Aside from how it looks, though, the paddle board is ill-suited to what are still the working--as opposed to leisure or theme park--canals of Venice.

Paddlers drop to their knees to deal with the wake of a slowly passing taxi
Unwieldy, unresponsive, and slow moving, it's far more likely to create dangerous situations both for its paddler and others than it is able to avoid or elude them. In contrast to the long stroke of a skilled Venetian rower which shoots his or her boat out of harm's way, or to such a rower's ability to pivot his or her boat almost in place, the paddle boarder can only hack and splash.

Even the growing numbers of inept, vacationing kayakers in Venice's waterways can do more than that.

So, given all of the above, what do the venerable leaders of Venice do? Why, they sanction the private event you see pictured above. As I've no interest in publicizing this event, I won't name it, but I can tell you that yesterday's mass outing was, according to its organizer's Facebook page, it's 7th edition, in which 100 lucky registrants were able--for the price of 50 euro (60 for later entrants)--to participate in "a unique experience, a huge media happening, [and] the most popular SUP [standup paddle board] event ever."

I suppose it's the second phrase within that last quotation that bothers me. Should the city be encouraging more standup paddle boarders to come and flounder in its canals?

But who can object to a local club putting on a big event? you might ask.

Smile and say "Marketing!"

The aim of this event, however, is not local. Its goal is to draw more paddle boarders to Venice, to publicize paddle boarding here to a world-wide audience, so that you needn't do much searching on the web to find devoted standup paddle boarders from all over already enthusing about what a great personal experience it will be (or already has been) to paddle in Venice--where, invariably, they haven't the least knowledge of the rules governing water traffic.

But, like the kayakers before them, why should standup paddle boarders worry about that?

The commonly-held opinion--rarely undercut by the actions of the city's venerable leaders--is that Venice is not a real city, so its canals aren't real functioning arteries of commerce and transportation. It's a theme park, a setting for one's own personal "peak experiences", a great backdrop for selfies, and a stellar addition to one's personal "bucket list" (ie, shopping list of experiences to be consumed).

And it's the job of a theme park's personnel--in this case, the residents of Venice--to watch out for the well-being of its customers (though the city's venerable policy-makers rarely seem to do this themselves: witness the wretched overcrowding of vaporetti). If a standup paddle boarder doesn't know the rules of the waterways, work boat drivers, vaporetto drivers, taxi drivers, all the people who depend on the waterways for their living will simply adapt to them.

What could go possibly go wrong?

But of course it's always the newcomers to a place that are most protective of its "traditions" or "traditional culture." And by Venetian standards, even after 6 1/2 years here, I'm well aware that I'm still very much a newcomer. After all, it took at least 10 years of residence to be eligible for citizenship in the old Republic, and I think it's safe to say that to be considered a Venetian by the dwindling number of native Venetians today takes far longer than that (if ever). 

I'm also aware that with my whole "get off my lawn" stick-in-the-mud attitude I may, as they say, be missing the boat.

Which is why, after careful consideration, I've decided to start my own new water-going venture in Venice. Like kayaks and standup paddle boards my enterprise will devote itself to a
"green" environmentally-friendly mode of getting around, which uses no fossil fuels and creates no pollution, nor any damaging moto ondoso.
I'm still working out the details, but I think I've already found my supplier for my fleet of craft, one of which you can see in the image below:

With these inflatable human hamster wheels Venice's ancient tradition of rowing will be updated for the ultimate 21st-century tourist experience of this magical city! No skill or knowledge required!

Just imagine scores of these on the Grand Canal!

What a unique and beautiful experience that will be!

Monday, July 17, 2017

Navigating the Festa del Redentore 2017

When the unregulated crowds of the city become all too much there's still some relief to be found on the water. Even, or especially, during the Festa del Redentore.

We didn't eat dinner on our boat, as many people do for the Festa, but puttered up and down the Grand Canal and a rii or two, taking in the sights, our son blasting (in a very small way) his favorite dance tunes from a little battery-powered wi-fi speaker, smaller than a soda can. It wasn't the booming stereophonic splash he fantasizes about making in his teen years--no more than our boat was the fast, stylish, red cofano he imagines piloting during that glorious period of life--but it was the closest he'd ever yet come to realizing such things and he was thrilled. We idled all around the mass of larger boats--pretty much every boat is larger than ours--anchored in the basin of San Marco. As I was driving our boat I took no photos.

To get the best vantage point in the bacino for the fireworks we should have settled ourselves into a spot there at least an hour before the 11:30 pm start time. But after heading back down the Grand Canal for a while we returned at 11 to find a lot of other boats jostling in the dark to find places within the designated zone delimited by police boats, their blue lights flashing, their officers filling the air with referee's whistles and shouts, directing traffic.

You'd have been excused for expecting chaos at this point, this being Italy, but it all went surprisingly smoothly. Next year I'll know to motor into the first open spot we see and ask to tie ourselves up to a boat already anchored there--or, as the case may be, itself tethered side-by-side to a series of boats roped together in place. But I dillied, then I dallied, and by the time I worked up the nerve to venture indecisively into a smallish open space it had become smaller still and I found myself on the verge of nosing or backing into any number of already anchored boats--each of whose occupants, fortunately, responded to the imminent prospect of my broadsiding their own craft with quick hands and good-natured forbearance.

I retreated back into the mouth of the Grand Canal in the screech-filled darkness. We saw a broad opening in the water alongside three boats tied together neat the Punta della Dogana. We approached--they said they were waiting for another friend's boat to arrive. We retreated.

Well, why even bother to tie ourselves to another boat, when we could simply drop anchor where we were?

This we did. Then we set about taking down the tall poles and festoons with which we'd decorated our boat, as they'd block our view of the fireworks. Then we settled in to wait excitedly for the first explosion of light.

But, wait a minute, were we moving? The wind was blowing hard out of the east, the current was strong, but maybe it was just an illusion created by the movement of another boat nearby motoring to a new spot.

No, we were definitely moving.

We were no longer near the tip of the Punta della Dogana as we had been. Those anchored boats that had once been our near neighbors were growing distant as memories. Our anchor, not exactly massive, must have been dragging, if not skipping, over the bottom of the Grand Canal. At this rate we'd end up foundered on the dock of Ca' Barbaro by the time the 45-minute firework extravaganza was done.

I tugged our engine to life again and we motored alongside a boat solidly in place near the spot from which we'd just drifted. We asked its occupants to tie up to them, they kindly agreed.

We settled ourselves in again inside our boat, finally secure in our spot amid a little flotilla. Another boat arrived and asked to tie itself to ours, to which we of course agreed. A short stone's throw away, from the fondamenta of the Punta della Dogana, a couple of guys shouted out the offer of a jug of sangria to anyone who'd motor over and take them on board for the pyrotechnics, but it was too late for that, and no one really had room anyway (or if they did it was "solo per le donne," as one boatload of young men replied), and in a minute the fireworks began.

Our view was partially obscured by the Punta della Dogana, but it didn't matter. At that point there was no place else we'd rather have been.


For an account of what it's like to watch the fireworks explode directly above your head from a friend's boat in the center of the bacino di San Marco see this post: Festa del Redentore 2014: Seeing, Feeling, Breathing Fireworks. 

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Spectacle Piled On Spectacle: Festa del Redentore, Early This Morning

My son watches fireworks explode above the Punta della Dogana and a sculpture by Damien Hirst in the first minutes of today.

More on the festivities tomorrow.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

A Boat's-Eye Peek at Tonight's Festa del Redentore

Foreground, our festooned boat; background, the Giudecca, festooned with lights
For the first time we've taken our own small, decorated-for-the-occasion boat out and about before tonight's fireworks. More images tomorrow--unless I'm too busy driving to take them.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Sunday, July 9, 2017

A Summer Sunday in Piazza San Marco, 4 Views



During the Venetian Republic the arcade pictured above running along the Piazzatta side of the Palazzo Ducale was known as the Broglio, "where", according to Robert C. Davis and Garry R. Marvin's book Venice: The Tourist Maze, "the Republic's patriciate gathered to promenade, make legislative deals, and sell their votes to the highest bidder." By the 1950s and 1960s, the same authors note, it had become a primary setting for the traditional Venetian evening stroll (called the listòn in Venetian, the passegiatta in Italian). For the last half century, though, it, like the rest of the Piazza San Marco area, has belonged to tourists, offering some all-too-rare public seating for the footsore, weary, or heat-stricken.  

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

A Contemporary Song About Living in Venice

As the crowd of more than 2,000 of Venetian residents was departing from the Arsenale last Sunday (as recounted in my last post) this group of performers was seeing them off. I'm afraid that I missed the opening of the performance, and though I've been meaning to find out more information about the performers and their song, I'm in the Dolomites right now and happy to have a short break from Venice and its challenges. If anyone would like to provide such information (and maybe the lyrics to the song) in the comments section below, I'll incorporate them into this post. 

The song is about the frustrations of living in Venice, and is a lively and darkly comic account of the heartbreak felt by Venetians as they watch their city destroyed by the short-sighted and cynical pursuit of--as is repeated at one point--"schei, schei, schei!"  Or "money", in Venetian.

I think it's a marvelous performance, and more than just a litany of complaints, it, too, like last Sunday's march, embodies a determination to make themselves heard and seen, even by a city administration which is stubbornly and self-interestedly deaf and blind.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Venetians Take to the Streets to Declare "Voglio Vivere a Venezia"

Marchers set off from their meeting place in front of the Arsenale

Today, on the same day that UNESCO holds its annual meeting in Krakow, and on the second anniversary of Luigi Brugnaro's taking power as mayor of Venice, thousands of Venetian residents gathered in front of the Arsenale and marched up the Riva degli Schiavoni to remind the former organization that the city from which it recently delayed (for another two years) its threat to place it on its List of Endangered World Heritage sites is still under siege from uncontrolled tourism and reckless development, and to remind the latter politician merely that they continue to exist.

That thousands of Venetian residents periodically feel compelled to take to the streets in order to remind what is called the city's "first citizen" of their existence gives you a fairly good idea of how little attention they feel the mayor pays to the city's inhabitants.

After a previous such march the mayor declared that he himself would be "at the head of the next one," thereby overlooking the rather significant point that he'd have no place in a march of the city's residents as he is not, in fact, a resident of the city, nor even the province.

In any case, in spite of his prior vow, he was nowhere to be seen at today's manifestazione, entitled "Voglio vivere a Venezia". The city's actual residents seem to hold very little interest for him; it's the commercial possibilities of the city's "brand" (a word he's fond of using) that he focuses on and, contrary to what he sometimes suggests, the latter rarely seem to benefit the latter. 

A succinct overview of the concerns that motivated the march is provided in today's edition of La Stampa.     

What struck me most about the march was how odd it is to see residents outnumbering tourists in the streets.

And those tourists lucky enough to be in town today truly had a rare experience here--the kind of rare Venetian experience so many tourists hope for, and are promised by various travel agencies or guides or publicity materials.

In a small zone of city, for a short time, these tourists weren't just surrounded exclusively by other tourists. There was local life, loud and boisterous, right before their eyes, filling the riva! This kind of ratio of residents to tourists in the streets is almost never encountered in most places in the city.

But based upon the remarks I overheard, most of these visiting fortunate few were nonplussed, at best.

"Oh, no, no, that's not possible," one young man said to his his two companions, as they walked up beside me and he saw the crowd spread across the riva and filling the bridge (and beyond) ahead of him. He put his hand to his head, as if a headache was coming on, and said, "Great! Now where do we go?"

This is the kind of question, and sight, and headache, that every resident of Venice knows all too well.

Except in the case of residents, the path ahead of us is always blocked by a truly astonishing number of tourists, marching (or, more often, trudging) behind their own upraised standard (usually a small flag or umbrella held by a tour guide).

How pleasant it was, just for a short hour or so, to witness the situation reversed.

But of course it couldn't last. As the marchers got nearer to Piazza San Marco, the crowds of tourists disgorged onto the riva by the large launches that ferry them from various places around the lagoon to the historic center began to rival the number of residents.

And had the march continued into Piazza San Marco itself, residents might very well have found themselves surrounded by an occupying force of equal or greater number.

But the march stopped a couple of bridges short of the Piazza--which hasn't been a place for residents for about half a century.  

A mass of tourists waiting on the riva to board their launch considers the mass of residents filling a nearby bridge

It's not unusual for the Riva degli Schiavonni to be crowded like this at noon on any given day; but it's usually crowded with tourists, not residents

These two lucky tourists have the rarest of Venetian experiences: finding their planned route through the city thwarted by a mass of residents (they soon resorted to GPS to try to figure out another)

This crowd is not part of the march; just the usual army of tourists walking down Riva degli Schiavoni toward Piazza San Marco