Everybody knows, the only true way to enjoy the Festa della Redentore is in barca, in a boat. Expertly provisioned to the brim, boats of every size and shape head out at the first weakening of the sun’s heat, to vie with the VIP yatchs for that perfect spot in the lagoon to view the fireworks at 11p: the Dogana, the Salt Warehouse, up and down the Giudecca Canal; every Venetian has his preference. Lashed together improvisamente creating instant party barges, the boats are decked out with stringed lights, candles, and all the trimmings; and as the light fades the lagoon waters darken, and begin to bubble with bustling, bobbing buoys of energetic conversion and the allegria fueled by the flow of cool summer wine. Forget the fireworks…just enjoy watching the spectators.
I had several gracious and tempting invitations by generous Venetian friends to join them for the lagoon celebration…but I couldn’t commit. Qual’era il problema? What was my problem?
You’re not going to believe this…but I didn’t move to Venice for the festivals. The Festa della Sensa, the Biennale, Regatta Storica, the Maratona, the Film Festival, Carnevale… They happen every year, you know; and my friends, being of a far more robust party nature than I, and not understanding un fico secco how I live the way I live, will understand my non-commitment, and hopefully invite me again next year.
I had been working non-stop the entire week (heck, the entire year), and the heat had just returned. As usual, I have five more projects in ballo than I can possibly, possibly manage — come il mio solito, as is my norm. I got so crabby that I ordered a travel client to STOP PLANNING as if she was coming to a U.S. destination, for heaven’s sake, or I was going to have to fire her (fortunately, she didn’t fire me). And due to a failure of my own planning and the disappearance of time toward the end of the week, I had to go out on Saturday to run some errands. What a mistake.
I have never, outside of Carnevale, ever seen so many people in Venice as on the day of the Redentore. Allucinante. Masses, throngs, hoards of people, clogging any calle that might possibly lead to Piazza San Marco, suffering the stagnant air of the water bus fermate and loading the vaporetti to capsize capacity (SOLO Rialto, say the attendants, only Rialto). I’m not going to be held hostage in any damn boat ’til 4 in the morning, I thought, and that’s that.
In fact, I ended up making an outdoor cafe date with a friend (and incredible glass designer, by the way). He said he was stanco di festiggiare, tired of partying, I said, well, I was just tired, and if he he was up for not doing anything, so was I. We met that evening and plopped ourselves in front of a favorite bar on the Strada Nova, and ordered a prosecco profondo (a prosecco made from wine the bottom of the vat, buoooooono), and began to marvel at the nonstop flusso, the flow of people that continued to pour down from the train station to…where else? San Marco.
My friend and I discussed business (2 minutes), ordered antipasto, moved on to a succession of subjects including art vs. design and the lack of concept, commercialism and having to tippy-toe around the truth all the time [here ordering more to eat, grilled rare veal, a wild rice salad, fresh baby green beans with olio e balsamico, and rognone, a prized Venetian concoction of chicken innards], contrasting modes of living in the U.S. and Italy and all the underlying cultural motives for each, the same for Europe and all points east, [more prosecco] how difficult relationships are to hold together these days, musicians of today and yesterday and which of whom were still indeed artists, Murano (where he’s from) and the Venice of days past.
He recounted how it was when he was 12 or so, before 1970, and the Redentore was still a Venetian holiday. Ti immagini te, “Can you imagine,” he said, as throngs continued their incessant shuffle into the city, “that once, we all just set up tables on the Riva degli Schiavoni, (the long wharf beyond San Marco), with food, drink, decorations…just to enjoy themselves, socialize, and watch the fireworks. There were no tourists: only Venetians.” The same for Carnevale. Voga Longa. and so on.
Tonight, the Riva degli Schiavoni is SRO: standing room only, as is every other slab of stone within eyeshot of the fireworks at 11p.
Tonight, the Venetians, bless ’em, have found some refuge in their boats…a commodity that tourism hasn’t quite yet found a way to consume; the same tourism that weighs so heavily on this incomparable city, and the very thing it relies on to sustain it. Allucinante.
We went into to bar to finish our after dinner coffee. “If not,” the owner said, “it will look like we’re open and all those people will stop in on their way home.” We obliged.
There is far more to this discussion, certainly; I am over simplifying the arguments, and hope to get back to it should I happen upon more clarity. I do think about it a great deal, as I promote a visitor’s Venice, and at the same time live my own, in between one-too-many projects and not quite enough prosecco profundo.
[allucinante: literally translates as hallucinogen; but used more as “illuminating,” or, “stupifying,” or “makes an impression.”
p.s. Here’s Norbi’s stuff. Prepare to have your breath taken away (and yes, he does commission work, and no, he doesn’t speak any English):