Where Am I?

I made sure there are a couple edges to give you clues. Can you figure out which building I am in?


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Festa di Santa Marta

Santa Marta is a church waaaaaay out in the Venetian boonies, at the chin of the fish (if you think of Venice as a fish with a face to the west). I just came from their neighborhood festival, with food booths, yellow and red streamers over the picnic tables, and a couple bands in the campo.


The first band was Rio Tera’, a Venetian band. In fact, the lead singer was wearing a red shirt that read “100% Venexian.” (Not a spelling error–that’s in dialect.) They were lively and fun, kind of a gypsy sound to them. Folks stood around drinking beer or wine and eating spaghetti with tomato sauce off plastic plates. A biggish German shepherd chased around his mini mutt friend, and the kids danced or jumped off the stairs. The long haired guys and dreadlocked people gathered in their tribes.


Then, after some technical difficulties (and the arrival of the scent of pot smoke), the next band, Jammarea, took the stage and started up. For the first song, the lead singer, a lovely young woman in a long hippie skirt, left the stage and danced in front of it, also pacing along the front row to look people in the eye before whipping her hair as she turned around. For the second song, three beautiful bellydancers in coin bedlah entered from the sidelines and danced and spun in front of the stage. The two dogs came back, fighting over a plastic bottle at the feet of the bellydancers. The women exited, and for the third song, everybody else decided it was their turn to dance, wildly, with abandon, running into each other as they spun and twirled.


When I finally left, I could hear the band continuing as I walked and walked. Venice doesn’t absorb sound. But it does keep its culture alive.

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Caption Me #2

Please provide a caption for this sculptured medallion, found near the fish market in Venice:


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Festa di San Giacomo dell’Orio

For over a week now, the folks of the San Giacomo dell’Orio neighborhood in Venice have been rocking and rolling. The parish puts on an annual party in their big campo, with picnic tables under  the trees and food booths. Every night there’s a different band, and night after night the cooks are still so energetic that they stop barbecuing so they can bang their metal spatulas on the stove hood in time to the music. Every night the same dude in blinking blue sunglasses roves the crowd and sells such sunglasses to others. You can get a plastic cup of wine for one euro. It’s the place to be.


I’ve been dropping by many nights after my Italian class ends. One night it was Sauro’s Band, doing some jazz hits and a big variety of stuff, as long as it had many many horns in it. That night the rain went from a being a few kisses to a bit of a nuisance, so I cut out and headed home to make some dinner.

But the next night i returned and arrived before the band started. I got a chance to practice my Italian with the guy next to me as I asked what time the band would start up. And once they did, I stood there thinking that the dreadlocked singer looked awfully familiar. Then he began singing and I turned to my neighbor and said, “But he sounds like the guy from Pittura Freska!” Pittura Freska is this Venetian band from a couple decades ago that reenergized the city with young people singing in Venetian dialect. I’m not sure what the older Venetians thought of the band, but lots of people felt like they brought some new life to an aging city.

My friendly neighbor explained that yes, this was the latest incarnation of the band. They played some of their songs from previous incarnations, plus stuff I wasn’t familiar with. Like the previous night’s band, the horn section stole the show. The rain was kissing us again, but that wasn’t enough to stop me–though finally my hunger got the best of me and I headed home (though not before stopping at the merchandise table to buy a pair of underwear with the band’s logo on it).

Here’s a clip of Furio30 doing Ridicoli: http://youtu.be/LF3rjerBI9A

And here’s Sauro’s Band: http://youtu.be/ZzncCXUhrYQ

The next night was a Beatles cover band, but I just passed through. Tonight, though, was salsa, Venetian style, with the band Batisto Coco.This week we studied the future tense in Italian class, and I realized that the band was singing, “Salsa, salserai,” meaning “Dance, you will dance!” (Did I spell that right, teacher?) I drank my one euro cup of wine and danced along the sidelines, enjoying watching the other couples wiggle their hips and spin each other around. A dog in a flashing red collar came by and sniffed the same tree four times, and a group of 8 year olds kicked a soccer ball against the church wall. The blinky blue sunglass guy sold more blinky blue sunglasses.

Tonight is the last night, with a TOMBOLA that everyone seems to be very excited about. It’s basically the church raffle with things like plastic toy trucks and flower pots. Maybe there’s something more that I didn’t see and don’t know about, or maybe the parish of San Giacomo is just a really cool neighborhood of folks who get excited by simply living.

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Happy Sorpresa

I got a nice surprise a couple days ago when I visited Giovanni DiStefano, my publisher at Supernova Edizioni here in Venice. He runs the bookshop in the tourist information center at Piazza San Marco. (If you’ve ever gone in there and have seen the long line, then decided to ask the gray haired guy at the other counter, and he just told you to get in the long line, that’s him.) When I first met him, I didn’t know what to think of him: he can delve into doing something, like looking up something on his computer, and forget to talk to me at all. Or he writes lots of one word emails. But I’ve developed a definite fondness for him, and I think he had a look of genuine delight when I walked into the shop.

Anyway, the surprise was his new book. When I was here last February, he told me he was working on a small book about how Venice was built, and he asked if I would edit it for him. It was already translated to English, so it was just my job to edit for flow, so it would sound more like a native speaker. We accomplished the work over email, once I was back home, and then I forgot about it.

Well, the book is now out and on the shelves, and Giovanni gave me editing credit for it. What a happy surprise! It’s a lovely little book you can plunk into a pocket and take along anywhere. And at the back is a list of other Supernova publications, including Casanova’s Venice: A Walking Guide. The summer edition of Nexus, Supernova’s journal, is also out, with my Casanova book listed there as well. It has a creepy cover photo that reminds me of one of Dante’s levels of hell, except the heads are sticking out of the pavement at the Piazza San Marco.


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Regatta Report

As part of the Redentore festival here in Venice, they have a round of boat races on Sunday afternoon on the island of Giudecca. The city builds a temporary bridge from Venice (Zattere) to Giudecca, in front of the church of the Redentore. So I walked over to catch the action.

First the juniors raced–teen boys, two rowers per boat, on a pupparin (though you’ll see spelling variations), which is a rather flat boat, technically a type of sandalo. Right at the start, one of the rowers got his oar caught under his neighbor’s boat, and they sort of did an awkward dance as they tried to untangle. What a shame. They raced down to the end of the island, disappearing from view for a while, and then returned to the cheering crowds. The second race was pupparini a due remi–two rowers also in a pupparin, but they are full grown men with more experience and speed. I missed much of this race because I was visiting a friend (forthcoming post on that visit).


But the big action, and the finale to the summer series of races, is the gondola a due remi–two rowers in a gondola. For as long as I’ve been coming to Venice, (18 years) the same guy always wins: Giampaolo D’Este with his partner Ivo Redolfi Tezzat. They call Giampaolo “Super D’Este.” He also works as a gondolier near San Marco (or at least he used to; I haven’t checked recently to see if he’s still there). (Actually, I think D’Este might have come in second at least once. I don’t follow all the finals, I just know that he’s a superstar of almost mythic proportions. Maybe one of my readers can provide the details.)

The race had a false start, with the marrone boat taking off before the gun. But then they shot off across the lagoon with beautiful speed. See the videos of both starts.

False start to the gondola race:  http://youtu.be/mUrXnFQf0uM

The real start: http://youtu.be/sc3vH0mQP5g

While they disappeared from view, I had a drink and listened to the band playing and chatted with some locals about Super D’Este. Just like last week at the regatta di Malamocco, there was a boat decorated with leaves and oranges, with a band playing cover songs like “Hit the Road, Jack” or “No Woman No Cry.” Last week, the Aperol folks (it’s a kind of bitter liquor) had set up a van with a guy in back preparing spritz drinks and handing them out as fast as he could. Well, he was back, but you can’t have a van on Giudecca, so he was in the boat instead. I don’t know how he managed to mix drinks in the crazy rocking boat, but he did it with a smile. His name is Alberto, and he remembered me from last week. (You know, I had to get in line for a free spritz just so I could say hello.)


Then as I stood listening to the music, they broke into this song called “Mama, Looka Booboo” that my brother and I had on an old 45 we got from our parents. (The other side is “Zombie Jamboree.”) I’ve never heard anyone else sing this song, but then here was a band on a boat in Giudecca doing it. Here’s a video of their rendition. (Sorry for a little wonky camera action; the woman next to me spilled her drink on my leg while I was filming.)

The Aperol boat: http://youtu.be/5MK3JPPrOwU

Once the boats come back into sight, it feels like no time at all before they’re passing in front of you, the way they fly. Far ahead of the others came the indomitable Super D’Este. The guy’s a hunky machine. Everyone cheered and clapped and woohooed. The press took many photos of the winners with their red pennants for first, and second with their white pennants.

End of the race:


This is such a very Venetian festival and event. Old and young come out, all discussing strategies or predicting who will win. Everyone’s family is out cheering, and the racers pose with their wives for photos, or their nonnas are hugging them. Winners often display their pennants in their favorite local restaurant. (Watch for these when you’re out in Venice; I passed a place yesterday in Dorsoduro that had three flags displayed on their bar.) I think the next race is in September, as part of the Regata Storica.

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We Celebrate the End of the Plague!

Okay, here’s my Redentore report for 2014.

As many of you might know, Redentore is a big Venetian festival that has been going on for 500 years. It celebrates the end of the Black Plague. (They actually have a couple festivals that celebrate this.) Black plague is bad. Buboes are yucky. The end of the plague is a really good reason to eat good food, drink wine, and watch fireworks with a few thousand other people.

My friends Claudia and Kevin came into town for the festa, and so did their friend Cindy. My classmate (from my Italian class) also joined us–Elena from Moscow. We had a fabulous dinner at Osteria Alla Bifora at Campo Santa Margherita, where they serve really enormous piles of sliced meat or fish:


Then we headed to the Zattere to find a spot, and ended up by another group of Americans. To pass the time before the fireworks, I taught them the Redentore song (that I made up some years ago). Here are the lyrics in English:

“We celebrate the end of the plague, the end of the plague, the end of the plague!

We celebrate the end of the plague, thank you holy Virgin Mary!”

But they had to learn the Italian version too, which, I think, is more fun. (I had to fudge on the lyrics a little to make the rhyme work. It should be “peste,” but “pesta,” rhymes with “festa.”)

“Facciamo una festa per la fine de la pesta!

Facciamo una festa per la fine de la pesta!

Facciamo una festa per la fine de la pesta!

Ringrazia a Santa Maria!”

And here it is, performed by our group. That’s Patrick (new American we met) in the front, and Elena next to him, and me in the middle, with Cindy next to me. Unfortunately, you can’t see Claudia and Kevin. Click the YouTube link to view.


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