Thursday, January 31, 2013

Some Tails of the Venice Fire Department

The life of a Venetian firefighter, according to a friend of ours who is one, is not usually very exciting, and for those of us who live in the city, or who love the city, this is good news. One of the more recent instances of what might qualify as high excitement for Venetian emergency workers was the tornado that touched down in Sant' Elena in June, which did quite a lot of damage and seriously injured one man. (

Then, of course, there was that little conflagration at La Fenice some years back... Our friend spent all night fighting that fire and, exciting though it must have been, no one wants a repeat of anything like that.

I understand there was a BBC program, Venice 24/7, about emergency personnel in Venice, but I've yet to watch it. I was reminded of the vigili del fuoco this past Saturday when five of them came to the Sant' Elena area to lasso a sunken boat that had strayed into the heavily-traveled canal just to the south of the island. They towed the boat to a concrete ramp not far from the mouth of the Canale di San Pietro, chopped some holes in it to drain the water inside, then hauled it higher up the ramp by hand (as you can see above). The boats still sits where they left it. I keep waiting for Sandro to suggest we go claim it as our own, but having seen up close its poor condition, he seems to have no interest.

It was rather a lot of fireman for the job on Saturday, but, then, as our friend says, they generally have time on their hands. Our friend uses it to lift weights and stay in shape. He's an ideal fire-fighter, actually: fit, smart, extremely conscientious, and kind. That being said, it's my hope that none of you will ever have serious cause to meet him in his professional capacity.

Sandro & friends behind the wheel of a fire boat, June 2011
In any case, much of what the firefighters actually do turns out to be animal rescue. Stranded cats, for example. But occasionally there will be more exotic creatures to deal with: a sea turtle, for example, or a dolphin, who's followed a ship into the lagoon.

Unfortunately, such cases aren't quite as dramatic as one might imagine. For if the firefighters receive a call about them, the animals are inevitably dead. The large sea creatures who roam into the lagoon and manage to get back out again generally do so without ever attracting attention.

According to our friend's wife, the most exciting wildlife-related call i pompieri have received in recent years involved a giant rat. A family in il centro storico had enclosed it in its kitchen, sealing off the door to that room with heavy plastic sheeting, just to be safe, before calling the fire department in utter panic.

Five or six firefighters arrived to find the family cowering in a corner of their living room and the rat in retreat behind the refrigerator where, after some initial attempts by them to move the appliance, it gave every indication with its thrashing and thumping of being quite large. So large, in fact, that some of the firefighters were inspired to leap quite suddenly onto kitchen chairs.

No doubt to better survey the scene, for strategic reasons, from a slight elevation.

Actually, the way our friend's wife reports it, there were repeated firefighter surveys made from the heights of those kitchen chairs. And not a little discussion about which of them would continue to strategically survey the situation from above, who would have to move the fridge, and who would blast the beast with a freezing burst from their CO2 extinguisher.

Which is how the monster eventually met its end.

I wonder if anything like this was captured by the cameras of Venice 24/7?

A much more eagerly-anticipated call involves, according to our friend's wife, a woman who, in a state of near undress, locks herself out of her apartment. She says this is a favorite topic of Venetian firefighters, but, considering how few single women there are in Venice under the age of 82, it sounds to me more like fantasy, or urban legend, than anything likely to break up the monotony of a long night at the fire station.

I'm afraid the reality is actually much tamer. Like that boat drifting hazardously in the canal off Sant' Elena. Or a call our friend's wife said she received from him a couple of months back one afternoon while she was at work. Her husband was in the Campo Ghetto Nuovo with five of his colleagues and they were wondering if she had any ideas about the best way to get an iguana down out of a tree.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Those Marvelous Vaporetto Marinai

After two years of living here I still marvel at the infinite patience regularly exhibited by the crews on the vaporetti. I don't know how they manage it, but I've yet to see one of them lose his or her patience with even the most clueless of tourists or the most temperamental of locals.

They say that the sea shore is rich in positive ions--whatever those are--which make one feel good just to be near it. Is the surface of the lagoon also rich in positive ions, and are these what give i marinai their poise?

Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that they are called marinai--or sailors--which lends their job a certain romance usually lacking in other employment involving a fixed route.

Sandro has idealized them ever since we arrived here, and still renders our living room entirely unpassable as he ropes one dining room chair to another, the handle of a cabinet to a distant door knob, the leg of our couch to an arm chair, in imitation of the marinai tying up their vaporetto at each stop. 

Perhaps I'm so struck by their manners because I moved here from New York City, where people who work in the public transportation sector, in the subways and buses, are generally the least helpful people you'll meet in the city. In fact, contrary to an old cliché, most New Yorkers are only too happy to respond to a stranger's request for directions. Unless you happen to be asking a New York City bus driver about his own route, in which case your chances of getting too far greatly decrease.

But the other day, i marinai exceeded even their own remarkable standards of helpfulness. I was running for a vaporetto in Sant' Elena and had gotten no closer than perhaps 100 yards from the pontile or dock when the boat began to pull away. It was the 4.1 line, and it was departing from the right of the two pontili that make up the Sant' Elena stop, heading in the direction of Lido. I stopped running and resigned myself to catching the next one, when I noticed that the departing vaporetto suddenly slowed and started to drift toward the pontile just ahead of it, the pontile from which one catches a vaporetto to Piazza San Marco.

Perhaps something's gone wrong with the engine, I thought, as a vaporetto running the 4.1 route would never pull into that particular pontile. I began to walk faster just to see what was going on with the vaporetto, then arrived at the pontile to find that, in fact, the driver had pulled the vaporetto up, the crewman had slid open the door, and they were waiting for--me. Only for me. I looked around. I was the only one there.

I didn't even think they'd seen me running, as I wasn't running along the waterside, but straight toward the stop, out of the depths of the park.    

So, as carnevale now begins and the tourists--after oh-so-short a hiatus following New Year's Eve--return in vast bovine masses, packing the vaporetti with long-term camping rucksacks on their backs and huge bags left lying heavily everywhere they aren't supposed to be, it seems a good time to salute those folks who help make Venice's public transportation system the most pleasant I've ever depended upon.

Friday, January 25, 2013

This Morning in San Zaccaria

The above photo may show a vast church full of art, but when I'm there in person I can see only the Giovanni Bellini at center--everything else is the visual equivalent of static on an old car radio.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Pitched Down and Hauled Up: G.B. Tiepolo at Gesuati

It's Up, up and away! in most ceiling paintings in Venice. It's as if the sunroof of whichever church or palace or scuola you find yourself in has opened to reveal high above us, not only the most fantastical of architectural settings (sometimes unrelated to the architecture of the real church or palace or scuola), but a realm of being as distinct from our own as that represented in Byzantine mosaics by an uninterrupted field of gold.

We're inevitably presented with a grand vista that recedes onward and upward away from us to a celestial fadeout far above, while we stand with a stiff neck below, our feet firmly on the ground, trying to take it all in.  

But the other day while visiting the church of Santa Maria del Rosario--aka, I Gesuati--on the Zattere, I noticed that things are a little different in Giovanni Battista Tiepolo's ceiling paintings of the life of San Domenico.

It's not just that, as you can see in the photo above, there's a figure in the largest of the three ceiling paintings who looks to be falling downward in our direction. No, he actually appears to have broken out of the picture, beyond and just below the edge of the sunroof, and entered our earthly plane of Being.

I don't recall noticing this effect in any other ceiling painting in Venice and it's actually quite striking.

Some bad boy has been given the heave-ho and here he comes, tossed head-over-heels down into our earthly realm like so much unwanted trash. The message is quite clear: there's the realm of the devout up above--all blue skies and gold clouds and pink light and the most glorious shades of colored robes--and then there's us down here. And, alas, we know what we're like.

I know it's supposed to make you aspire to that upper realm of beauty, truth, and piety, but couldn't it just as well simply give some of us down here a complex? And isn't there someplace else they can chuck the bad eggs--how about hell, for example? We have enough trouble down here as it is.

Or are we supposed to assume that where we are is about as bad as it gets?

But the message of broken picture planes, it turns out, isn't simply oriented in one direction. It's not only the bad and their pet snakes who appear to share our space, but, miraculously enough, angels.

Or at least the ends of their robes.

Look at the smaller (though still large) painting of San Domenico catching a ride to heaven with a troupe of angels below. Look at the red and green robes of the one angel in the bottom right corner, the one uninvolved, rather distant, actually, from any of the heavy lifting with which the other angels have their hands full.

Those robes are not simply a trompe l'oeil effect, but are quite literally two different three-dimensional pieces of actual cloth, or at least painted and shaped canvas.

Suddenly it seems as if the heavenly beings up there aren't so entirely, impossibly distant from us down here as we might expect.

The gulf between Their realm of being and ours is bridged not simply by a falling sinner, but by the garments of a hovering angel. And an angel with his hands free!

Is it too much to hope--or pray--that he might give us a lift?

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Herr Wagner, Meet Sior Antonio Rioba

Something important is missing from this photo taken this morning: at least, from Richard Wagner's point of view
They say that the famous metal nose of the stone figure embedded into the corner of one of the buildings on Campo dei Mori in Cannaregio--the figure known as "Sior Antonio Rioba"--was first attached in the 19th Century, so it's entirely possible that Richard Wagner might have seen it during one of his sojourns in the city. Considering the recent act of vandalism in Castello's giardini pubblici that has deprived Wagner's statue of its own nose, I hope the famous composer never made too merry at the expense of Rioba's unfortunate appendage, as his own statue is now in need of one itself.

Wagner, left, attempts to brazen it out without a nose; Rioba, right, long ago succumbed to a brass one
When I first noticed that Wagner's nose was missing, I wondered if someone might have been trying to make a statement about the composer's anti-Semitism and reactionary politics. But, in fact, as I later noticed, the nose of Giuseppe Verdi was also partly hacked off by the same vandal or group of vandals.

Sandro, whose regular observation of the insane way underage Venetians tear around the lagoon in their boats--as well as the way they break playground equipment meant for young kids--has led him to a general disapproval of their age group, immediately attributed the act to "teenagers" (scornful emphasis his). Perhaps he's right.

In any case, given the budget shortages the city already faces--there are public schools here in which parents are responsible for supplying the school's toilet paper--who knows how long the statues will be noseless? Though their visible location in a park, near a major tourist draw (The Biennale), will likely speed up their repair.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Museum of Really Dead Things

You won't see a trophy room like this in NYC's American Museum of Natural History

Venice's Museo di Storia Naturale is not your typical museum of natural history.

For one thing, there's the long eventful history of the building in which it's located. It's one of the few remaining examples of a Veneto-Byzantine palazzo, and was originally built for the Pesaro family in the 13th century. In 1439, while in the hands of the Marquis of Ferrara, it still retained such eminence among the palazzi on the Grand Canal that it served as lodgings for John VIII Palaeologus, Emperor of Byzantium, and his retinue. This was the first visit ever paid by a Byzantine Emperor to Venice and, according to John Julius Norwich, no expense was spared, no ceremonial flourish overlooked--though by this time poor John's "empire" consisted of little more than Contantinople itself.

In 1621 it became the headquarters and warehouse for Turkish traders in Venice (and ever since has been known as the Fondaco dei Turchi), and in the 19th-century fell into such disrepair that Ruskin feared for its survival. He was right to, though its ultimate demise came not in the form of a collapse but of a rebuilding. The aggressive Austrian renovation of it in the 1850s--which involved, according to Deborah Howard, completely refacing the facade and extensively rebuilding the interior--destroyed much of what it had formerly been.

But its collections, too, are, well, to use an Italian word that seems particularly appropriate to them: particolare. That is, both unique and strange, or odd.

Mesmerized by the documentary on the Ouranosaurus behind them
Like the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan, the museum of this sort I'm most familiar with, it all starts with dinosaurs. And both the Ouranosaurus nigeriensis skeleton and its presentation are both excellent. There's also a looping documentary (in Italian) about its discovery in 1973 that's so well done that Sandro sits fascinated throughout its entire 10 or 15 minutes every time we visit.

Parts of a huge prehistoric crocodile share the stage with the Ouranosaurus, then, in subsequent rooms, there are skulls of pre-humans and a saber-tooth tiger, nests of dinosaur eggs, fossilized tracks, fish, and giant bones, all well-presented and arranged at the perfect height for kids.

But after that, an education in natural history gives way to one in cultural history--and like so much of the detritus of cultural history (especially colonial history), it ain't pretty.

Or to put it another way, fossils give way to taxidermy, and specimens to inspire further study give way to specimens to inspire future nightmares.

Like an office inspired by Conrad's The Heart of Darkness
The first, largest and brightest of these rooms is filled with souvenirs of colonial Africa: the usual assortment of shields, spears, headwear, and a couple of snarling stuffed animal heads splattered with artificial blood. But also, in a large table-like glass case in the center of the room, the mummified remains of an African (bracketed by a pair of mummified alligators) lies in state with none of the wrappings of an ancient Egytian mummy. His wizened ebony form and grimacing face hold a certain terrifying fascination for Sandro. He stares at it silently, intently, as if grappling with the unpleasant implications contained in the fact that this figure really is (or once was) a human being like us. 

But it's the next, darker room (pictured at top), whose low dramatic lights, red walls and collection of big game trophies really spook him. He trots through it, trying his best to see as little as possible. And if my own pace through it isn't fast enough for him, as it once was not, if I try to actually look at something, he makes me pick him up and, once in my arms, averts his eyes till I carry him to safety.

I believe the first of these rooms contains the collection of 19th-century explorer Giovanni Miani, and the second of Giuseppe de Reali (1877-1937), but as I've never had time to read any of the information in the rooms I can't be sure.

More generally, I think of these rooms as providing a record of how natural curiosity can give way to--or take the form of--a kind of gleeful cruelty.

It's nice to think that the rationality of science and its systematic study of phenomenon is the path out of such cruelty and such excesses, and this is essentially the narrative presented by the museum's website in order to fit these two collections--and other collections of oddities--within the framework of the museum's larger educational aims.

But, in fact, the succession of rooms and exhibits and display cabinets in the museum suggest another more troubling narrative as well, reminding you in the most graphic manner of the excesses and cruelty that rationality alone and the scientific method can also lead to.

That is, just as the story of science and rationality is not a simple straightforward progression from barbarism to humane enlightenment, without switchbacks or ugly detours or backsliding, nor is one's progress through the museum's collections.

A bogus wonder of nature composed of different creatures
On the contrary, just when you think you've left all the gruesomeness behind--as contained in "The Cabinets of Wonder," for example, with their shrunken head and freaks of nature (both real and bogus, as at left)--and with no small sense of relief can devote yourself to twiddling the knobs of a microscope to bring slides of minute and benign plant life into focus, you walk into a room further along and encounter what I've taken to calling a livid Salute to Dissection within tall glass cases.

And once again the pursuit of scientific knowledge appears as little more than than a pornography of domination over the natural world. Though skinned and split and splayed and preserved (sometimes by secret methods, the museum tells us, reintroducing the air of magic into it all), some of the specimens on display appear as nothing less than the embodiment of suffering beyond one's worst imaginings--and a frozen eternal suffering at that. 

2 images of anguish: the lesser, at right, by Francis Bacon
In the case of one small monkey-like mammal, which quite literally wears its heart on its chest like a primate-version of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and whose mouth appears forever ripped open in a mute scream of anguish far more awful to behold than that of Francis Bacon's paintings of Pope Innocent X, it's hard to imagine the level of rational scientific detachment (or sublimation or denial) required to regard this creature with equanimity.

So that a visit to the museum can easily become, in a certain mood, a walking meditation on the way that science and rationality can show us the way out of naive, primitive barbarism--but only to lead us sometimes into another form of barbarism that seems even worse, precisely because of the knowingness and detachment and inhumanity with which it's pursued.

This is the horror the museum holds in store for adults who know, unlike their children, exactly the forms such scientific barbarity have in fact taken in real life. And, as the father of a young child, it makes me sadly anticipate the awful knowledge that every growing child must come into at some point--the luckiest of them through education, not immediate experience--that the cruelty of real life can sometimes actually far exceed the very worst nightmares dreamt in his or her nursery.

But for now at least, Sandro can simply avert his eyes from all this. Together we take in the other exhibits, in which the deadness of the objects is not foremost, and then end up in the bright natural light of the Cetaceans Gallery, with its long glass wall looking out on a beautiful Byzantine wellhead left over from the building's earliest incarnation, and the nearly complete skeleton of a finback whale above our heads, which washed up, already dead, on a shore near Naples in 1928.

Then, happily, and perhaps with a certain relief, we head out into the cold damp open air of Venice and back to life as we know it--and sometimes thankfully don't know it--but live it.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

La Barca Più Bassa, Not Acqua Alta, in Cannaregio

You've probably seen the recent pics of the highest tides in years, here's a pic of the lowest boat
A couple of months ago I posted a photo of a boat moored along the side of a canal in Dorsoduro that was half-sunk ( It was not a pretty sight.

Yesterday morning, after dropping Sandro off at school, I happened upon a boat in much worse shape.

But though I had a small camera with me, you pretty much have to take my word for it--as it's not so easy to get a photograph of a boat sunk beneath 4 or 5 feet of cloudy canal water.

In the photo above you see can that the boat's cover--attached to a post on the fondamenta--has not gone entirely under with the boat itself. And you can see what appears to be a broomstick that someone has inserted into some part of the boat and adorned with an empty plastic bottle to mark the boat's location--lest some other boat owner become so thrilled at the extremely rare sight of an open mooring spot that he or she tear up the bottom of their own boat, or at least the prop of their motor, on the sunken boat below.

In the photo at right you can just make out, through the reflections of palazzo and sky on the water, the white side of the boat, the chrome bar that typically extends above the driver toward the back of certain types of boats, and one of those large white floats used to protect the sides of boats from scratches when they are pulling up to a dock or have been moored.  

Back in November a bystander assured me that the half-sunken boat in Dorsoduro had not been abandoned, merely neglected during days of heavy rainfall. But we've had very little rain of late, not nearly enough to sink a boat like this, even if the owner had forgotten to bail his bark.

What we have had, instead, are extremely extremely low tides. The lowest tides I've seen in the 2 1/4 years we've lived here. I've seen patches of land exposed in the lagoon that I've never seen before, both along the north side of the city, off Fondamente Nove, and the south, in the area between the the Canale San Marco (that runs along the Riva) and the Canale Orfanello (that runs from San Giorgio Maggiore to San Servolo).

Flat-bottomed Venetian boats such as the mascareta are of course designed for such shallow water, but I abandoned my plans to go out for a row in my usual place not far from the cemetery island one afternoon last week when it looked as if I'd be lucky to have 6 inches of water beneath me--and all of it clotted with seaweed.

In the case of the sunken boat of Canareggio I wonder if there was a problem with the way the boat was tied to its bricola (or canal post). Did the boat's knotted rope slip down the bricola as usual as the tide went down and the boat went down with it, only to somehow get snagged at the tide's lowest point and prevent the boat from rising on the incoming tide?

I've recently been warned myself about lashing a boat so tightly to a bricola as to prevent it from freely sinking or rising in its mooring as the tides sink or rise. As John Keahey notes in his excellent book Venice Against the Sea, the tidal range of the Adriatic is the highest of the entire Mediterranean: the difference between the high tide and the low tide averages 3 feet. Elsewhere in the Mediterranean, he writes, the range is less than a foot.  

After seeing--or kind of seeing--the sunken boat yesterday morning, I have a new appreciation of such facts.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Venetian Sayings: "gransi in scarsea"

As I've been reminded more than once since moving to Italy, people from Genova (or Genoa) are infamous throughout the country for being tight-fisted, even miserly. I need only identify myself as half-Genovese to, say, a shopkeeper with whom I've been having a friendly talk and the odds instantly become about 1 in 4 that he'll remark upon this widespread reputation or, at the very least, with a knowing smile on his face, turn both hands upward, close them, and draw them in tight to his solar plexus in the standard gesture for stinginess.

I'm used to this reaction by now, and find it far less troubling than the response Jen reported that she received from a group of retired Venetians last summer at the beach on Lido when, in the course of a pleasant conversation, she told them her husband was half-Sicilian.

"Ah," one of them replied in Italian, half-seriously, "he's a mulatto."

Of course the Venetians themselves have their own reputation around Italy, and aren't entirely free from the taint of avarice themselves, nor even of tight-fistedness. A Venetian friend recently told me that when referring to such a person, Venetians say that he has a "gransi in scarsea", or "a crab in his pocket."

I assume in Italian the phrase would be "granchio in tascha," but my 20-something friend had heard it only in Venetian.  

In fact, I've met no Venetian to whom I could apply this phrase, nor, for that matter, any family or friends from Genova. It does perfectly describe certain of my immediate relatives in California, but that's another topic altogether, and much better avoided.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Two Lagoons, This Afternoon

I went out rowing a mascareta this afternoon by myself with a single oar, in the open expanse of shallow water north of the Celestia vaporetto stop, between the cemetery island of San Michele and the large barena which, if you're on one of the giro città vaporetto lines, lies closest to you around the Bacini stop. Some days, when the tide is high, this barena--as barene are, by definition, prone to do--disappears almost completely beneath the water. Other days, like today, when it seems like an island all its own, one wonders why the ancient Venetians never chose to build it up and inhabit it.

On the last afternoon of 2012, when I was rowing in the same area, the water was so shallow as to force me to alter both my grip on the remo, or oar, and my rowing motion. It was less than a foot deep, and as I rowed I kept expecting it to deepen at some point, but it didn't. There was not another person visible on the lagoon--no work boats, no motor boats--just the vaporetti running along the north side of the city in the distance, and at one point I wondered how I'd get back to my remiera, or rowing club, if I made the mistake of leaning too heavily and too deeply into a stroke and snapped my oar off on the shallow bottom. I had no cell phone, and perhaps I was far enough out in the middle of the lagoon that no one on a passing vaporetto would notice me stranded out there, no matter how I waved my arms.

As I'm sometimes prone to anxiety, this is the kind of thing I like to worry myself with.

Of course, the simple fact was that, shallow as the water was, I could probably just have walked--or slogged--back to the remiera. At least until I reached the deep water of the Canale delle Fondamente Nove that runs right past it.

But perhaps it was somehow perversely more fun to imagine a greater danger. It elevated my heart rate, which is what a workout is supposed to do, right?

In any case, this afternoon, on my first row of this new year, I noticed something I was struck by on that last row of 2012: how one's row out in the direction of Burano almost seems to be done on an entirely different lagoon than one's row back in. The whole world, as you can see in the photo at top, is a symphony of blue as you make your way north at about 4:00 in the afternoon on a day like today.

But when you turn your boat around, back toward the city, it's not just that your view changes, but the whole color scheme as well. The peaceful blue haze and sheen of the trip outwards is replaced not just by the drama of the setting sun, but by a lagoon of oranges and blacks. So that standing in your boat, drifting in the same spot, you can easily imagine yourself in two different lagoons, so different is the vista when you look to the north from when you look to the south.

At the moment I'm afraid I can think of no conclusion to draw from this experience--and it's gotten too late in the evening for me to have any hope of finding one tonight--except, perhaps, that out in the lagoon, shallow though it may be, domesticated though it may be, the world seems almost magically to multiply.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Looking Ahead & Looking Back on a Wet Via Garibaldi, This Evening

Each member of the couple at center tends to his or her own texting while the patrons of the bar at right socialize the old-fashioned way
Felice anno nuovo a tutti!

One of the best times of the year now arrives in Venice: that blessed lull between the immediate past, when tourist hordes invaded the town for New Years Eve, and the all-too-near future when tourist hordes will invade it for Carnevale.

After the excitement of the holidays has passed, January can loom--at least in northern climes--as a great cold gloomy blank. But not for this inhabitant of Venice. Any inclination of my own to slip into a winter funk vanished today when I realized that the city is entering the closest thing it has to an "off-season".

It's hard to believe now that 50 years ago, when Jan Morris was writing her famous book on Venice, the tourist season lasted just four months.

Morris writes that gondolieri put away their oars for the long winter and worked other jobs.

Now, of course, gondolieri ply the canals year-round. Except for the month--either in January before Carnevale, or February, right after it--that many of them close up their houses and escape to Thailand for an extended holiday. Phuket is typically their destination. Though the wife of one gondoliere complained to me last year, after returning from four weeks there, that the place was now on the verge of being ruined. The inexpensive exotic paradise she and her husband once knew has become as pricey, she said, as any other run-of-the-mill resort area, and the sound of Italian is as common on the beach there as on Via Garibaldi. Or, well, almost...

But that's a worry for the gondolieri and their families right now, not me, who's thrilled at the prospect of hearing Italian, and only Italian--rather than English or German or French or Russian--filling the air of Via Garibaldi.