life in italy

The Venice Experiment

The Venice Experiment -- a year of trial and error living abroad
Barry Frangipane & Ben Robbins
256 pages

An amusing series of brief anecdotes recounting the author's personal experiences during his experimental year in Venice. Having lived in Venice for some 40 years myself, I recognise many of the situations he describes and can feel his bewilderment when faced with some of the typical Venetian behavioural oddities. On a few occasions, I did feel that perhaps he himself had fallen victim to some of them when he made sweeping generalisations about the 'status quo'.Just one example which struck me in particular was the affirmation that Venetians don't own ovens! The truth is that Venetians who rent out apartments to foreign visitors, rarely include an oven as an essential electrical appliance because of the added expense, both as furnishing and as an included utilities cost. My Venetian husband was adamant -- 'how do you think we all cook our lasagne?'

On the whole I would recommend the book to aficionados of Venice who are interested in learning more about what it means to live the life of a 'Venetian' from a non-Venetian point of view. An easy read covering a wide variety of Venetian traditions, events and daily routines, especially useful to those who are able to carry out their own 'Venice Experiment' enjoying an extended stay in the city.

Venice hosts the 4 Maritime Republics’ Regatta

venice-wins2015There is no substitute for being in a boat for these events. I’m sorry — but that’s just the way it is. Maybe you have seen or heard about the Palio in Siena — the famous horse race run in a square in the town centre every year. There is a tremendous build up of tension and suspense before the race proper begins. More often than not they have false start after false start until at long last, the horses are teased to breaking point and the tension in the crowded square is almost tangible. It’s exactly the same with this boat race, but only if you are right up there at the starting line with them.

But let’s leave the horses, (but hang on to the tension) and get back in the boat and on track to today’s special event. I don’t intend to give you a lecture in history — suffice to say that since 1955 each year in a four year cycle, a regatta takes place to decide the modern-day supremacy between the four ancient maritime republics (that were) of Pisa, Genoa, Amalfi and Venice.

Each of the four ‘republics’ takes it in turn to host the event, and this year it was the turn of Venice. The location has changed since the last time I saw it here — and luckily the weather was glorious this year as opposed to the torrential rain for the race last time, four years ago. This year the whole caboodle was moved from the Giudecca Canal over to St.Mark’s Basin and the very wide canal leading over to the Venice Lido in front of the island of Sant’Elena. Not popular with everyone, but the new route allowed for small boats to follow the race at close quarters — so certainly a popular move with hard core ‘water borne’ fans of the event.

Thanks to a good dose of confusion, and a smidgen of misinformation, we reached the starting buoys far too early . We were told to move on by the Carabinieri, the local police and the Coast Guard, who all kept up the same gesticulating, whistling, shouting performance with every boat (and there were lots of them) that came within yelling distance. A boat isn’t like a car — you can’t slam on the brakes, and the water doesn’t help. It was churning and making it nigh on impossible to stay put — and so the Carabinieri, the local police and the Coast Guard started all over again, and we all got a cyclical earful.

Meanwhile, the four eight-oared galleons, Venice with its green livery — Pisa in red — Genoa white and Amalfi in blue — sneaked out from somewhere and began to warm up in front of Sant’Elena in the midst of the protective forces who continued their arm flailing and shouting whilst the tension built up amongst the players, all champing at the bit to get the race under way. We spectators in our light boats kept going around in circles in an effort to maintain our position, ready for the starting gun and the ensuing rush to keep pace with the galleons as they launched themselves into battle.

And at last it happened — they were off and a roar of support went up from all quarters — the police continued to shout their curt orders at all the ‘floating’ supporters until the regatta had pushed ahead of our position and we were free to race behind them ourselves. Together we created a ‘tidal’ wave of gigantic proportions and risked life and limb riding the lip of the wave in order to keep abreast of our green heroes. They heaved and pushed and pulled their oars, their galleon skimming the water in a surge towards the finishing line in front of St.Mark’s Square. And their efforts paid off — our green Venetian men won!

I can’t begin to describe the euphoric reception they were given — immediately surrounded by all the police forces — and by an ambulance to take care of one of our team who had collapsed at the end of the race (from the heat and probably too much tension and emotion) — and by some one hundred small boats which rushed in to voice their congratulations (well, their pilots did), waving the distinctive Venetian flag of San Marco (bright red and yellow) in sign of approval.

I assume there was some kind of prize giving once the team set foot on dry land, but for me, all the best had happened there on the water amidst the affection and enthusiasm of the locals. It was time to go home and leave the rest of the party to the ‘landlubbers’


The weatherman tells us that the weather is going to be truly rotten from this evening for 24 hours or so. He tells us that we should expect torrential rain and hail, bad storms and even the occasional ‘tromba d’aria’ here and there. And if you are uncertain about those, they are tornadoes. So we decided that today, before all this happens — would be as good a time as any to go out on the bike for a few hours. We didn’t actually go that far from home as we had some things to pick up in the hypermarkets out on the mainland, but if nothing else it meant that we were able to turn the bike engine over after 10 days of its inactivity sitting in the garage.

I experimented with my little digital recorder — I wanted to pick up some local noises and the bike was on my list. A bit disappointing since the wind almost smothered the engine noise, but I also managed to get the local boat transport noises, and a few inside the supermarket including the ‘beeping’ cash register. Hubby managed to set off the alarm in the men’s loos after pulling the alarm cord instead of pushing the thingie on top of the cistern!

We also picked up a couple of toys for daughter’s doggie, Tria, and I am now waiting for her to drop by so we can see the puppy’s reaction! Daughter is pretty peeved as her boyfriend has had to go off for some five days for work. He is a sailing instructor and occasionaly gets sent off to the French Riviera — or other places, to look at/arm/repair yachts. This time he was sent to Sardinia and should be back tomorrow. I think he is also supposed to be messing about with the America’s Cup next week. I only hope they have some decent weather, but the weatherman hasn’t given a terribly pormising forecast that’s for sure.

p.s. for anyone who might have gone to the trouble of reading the previous post regarding our bike, you may have noticed that the photos show two different bikes. Well spotted! That one was a Honda and this one is a Moto Guzzi — decided to buy local produce and move up to a bigger engine which will theoretically be better for all those long journeys we keep planning to do — and which up until now we have not really done. But don’t lose faith and come back often to see if we eventually manage to cross the Alps!

Off the shelf

cantiereContrary to popular opinion, it is not true that every Venetian owns a boat, much as many of them would like to.

Just use your imagination a bit and think how many two and three storey buildings you will probably have seen around Venice. Then calculate that every storey probably has at least one, but more often two, three or four apartments per floor… and then think of the nearest water to the building. Is there a canal near by? And how much horizontal space is there in that canal, relative to the building you had in mind?
You needn’t pull out the calculator to do the sums really. It just doesn’t all add up to one mooring per Venetian household does it?

When we moved into our current home, we were delighted to find that there was a canal outside the window, and even taking into consideration that those on the ground floor of our building had their own boat space assured, it still looked — by our calculations — as if there was a little space to cram our small boat into. I say ‘our small boat’, but we didn’t even have one, but having made application to the local authorities sending them a photo of a boat, and our details etc., we rushed out and bought a little second hand ‘patanella’, a typical lagoon boat, and began to enjoy the great pleasure of having the boat close to hand. You may have noticed that I said that we sent them a photo of ‘a’ boat, and not of ‘our’ boat — mainly because, however irrational, we are supposed to have a boat to take a picture of even before we have anywhere to keep the darn thing!

The next four years saw us going to do our shopping — going out to far-flung pizzerias for an evening out and all those usual things that most people would do with a car.

So perhaps you can imagine our stunned horror when finally the reply came back after four long years, that our request for the mooring had been refused!!! Our pockets and lounge just aren’t big enough to keep a 5 meter boat inside!

But to cut a very long story short, all I really wanted to do with this post was to give you an idea of the kind of alternatives which are available, at great cost — to those who, like us, are unable to get a canal mooring. As you can see in the picture, we have a couple of places where the very fortunate, when all else fails, manage to get a shelf space in this great big boat ‘warehouse’ or depository. These spaces are only for smallish pleasure boats up to about 5 or 6 meters in length. They are raised up by a kind of fork-lift truck thing which moves around on rails. For the larger boats there are some spaces out on the yard or in the waters of the marina. If my memory serves me well, this size boat would pay about €1650 per annum and that cost includes one lift in and out of water per day, but there are limits on the times of day the owners can use this service. That changes slightly with the various periods of the year.

Anyone interested in taking a look, this yard can be found on the island of Giudecca. I do not know of any others quite like this around town, though I could be wrong. This area makes quite an interesting visit even for non-boaters as there are a number of boat builders and boat related traders in the Consortium, including a gondola builder who will occasionally let you get a peek in through his doors.

Cantiere Navale
Consorzio Cantieristica Minore
212/C Giudecca
Venice, Italy

ps – The Consortium is on the lagoon side of the island of Giudecca, situated half way between the Palanca and Redentore public transport boat stops. Almost at the level of the ‘Ponte Longo’ coming from Redentore, you will see a large open gateway leading towards the lagoon. Walk through until you come to the open area on the lagoon side of all the warehouses. Just check with one of the ‘keepers’ or artisans before going inside any of the buildings though as there are certain risks involved such as paint spray or falling boats!

Ignoring huffers & puffers

handcraftsWoke to a brilliant morning and just hope that it will be like this on the Venetian hinterland as well as today I am off to Vicenza with hubby, daughter and her boyfriend. The boys are going to be bored to tears, but no one twisted their arm to accompany us. They had just better keep quiet and not complain.

Why? Daughter and I will be traipsing very slowly around a hobby fair which is absolutely enormous. Looking at buttons and threads and patchwork and jewellery making etc. We will take our time and totally ignore any huffing and puffing and bored expressions. We will carefully pick through every stand in each of the four enormous pavilions, and will sit or stand to watch every workshop we can get into.

Just got back from the Coop where I bought all the necessary for sandwiches which we will probably eat on the train so as not to waste time looking for food whilst we are at the fair. The boys will be so pleased that we saved some money — on the food at least. Can’t guarantee any savings on the merchandise at the fair I’m afraid.

Cambio di stagione

And this morning’s rant is all about these very small Italian homes which require that between seasons we have to do the so-called ‘cambio di stagione’… change of season. All the summer stuff gets put away in boxes or unreachable areas in/under/over the very tall wardrobes, to be substituted with the winter clothing or vice versa. Which in theory doesn’t sound like a problem but which in practice is a real pain in the proverbial. We never seem to all finish with all our summer clothing at exactly the same moment, which means there is this fastidious half way moment when there are summer and winter clothes on the go between the wearing of them, the washing of them, and if I am foolish enough, the ironing of them. A moment when the wardrobe, chest of drawers and all available surfaces around the home seem to be jam packed with both seasons waiting to be moved in one direction or the other. And today was the day I tried to put some order in the chaos and make the summer clothes (and those who wear them) understand that they could no longer foul up the system and had to come to some decisions about where they wanted what to be. Took some doing, but I am beginning to see the way ahead … and better still, the table and the settee. I might even be able to plan a little writing time now and again if all goes well …

Anaerobic reading

homecomingI just cannot imagine quite where the day has gone to…

But I digress … the image I have posted is a rather whimsical edit I did some time back of a photograph I took of a local fisherman who silently glides out of the little harbour area behind the new residential area of ex-Junghans here on the island of Giudecca. He is away in the wee small hours, and silently glides back when the hours are still pretty small and pretty wee, occasionally bringing with him a small catch of whatever local fish happens to be in season.

If nothing else, the internet headaches of the last few days have meant that I have had a bit more time away from the keyboard than usual, which has forced me to seek ‘amusement’ elsewhere and allowed me to wallow in the luxury of a book — a real book that actually uses real words instead of a load of gobbledygook such as HTML, CSS and similar. And what better book to read and stay on theme than Terry Darlington’s ‘Narrow Dog to Carcassonne’ I might ask?

Comments? I think the best way I can describe it — in a word — is — anaerobic! Neither he nor I ever seemed to come up for air, and he well achieved his mission — I dropped other things to keep on reading. A right giggle from beginning to end. Anyone else read it?

But anyway, must rush as I have dived straight into ‘Narrow Dog to Indian River’ since I still had my diving equipment on, it seemed a good idea to keep going. Hang on whilst I take a deep breath and go under…