25 April 2008

San Marco, April 25

Every day is some saint’s day here in Italy, but today is the feast day of San Marco Evangelista, patron saint of Venice, not to mention the “festival of the blooming rose” or il bocolo (commemorating the rose bed that supposedly grows in San Marco’s tomb) AND the national holiday of Italy’s liberation to boot!

I watched the city’s florists very late last night, stripping the thorns from endless piles of long stem red roses, then wrapping the de-barbed blooms in cellophane. This is the traditional Festa di San Marco gift from a Venetian gentleman to the lady of his choice. (Oddly enough, to his mother too, in some quarters.)

Except for the crowds, the day was largely indistinguishable from any other. No major festivities in the Piazza – just the usual pigeon-feeding frenzy and overpriced prosecco at Florian and Quadri. (A friend of mine once told me that sometimes in spring Florian serves new champagnes and made-this-minute potato chips in their back room to those in the know. I had high hopes today, but no dice.)

If one got up early enough, there was a dead serious and very swift regatta between the members of all the traghetto stations. (Could these gondoliers-in-training be any cuter? I doubt it!) Next time I want to see this race from a boat at the finish line and avoid the rabble. I have no clue which station won!

There was also another grueling 22-kilometer regatta around the perimeter of the city and then up the Grand Canal, open to anyone who wished to make a political point on this important day. Billed as Vogo, e ti difendo (I row and I defend you), it was intended to draw attention to the increasingly indiscriminate use of the Grand Canal, the Bacino, and Giudecca Canal by mechanical watercraft – everything from motoscafi to monster cruise ships – that damages the delicate lagoon environment and disrupts the more traditional means of water travel. I missed this one. What a pity! I would have enjoyed seeing the women’s teams all dressed in white, as tradition demands, and the canottieri of the disdottona – the 18 oarsmen of the take-apart craft, of which my calzolaio (cobbler) is so rightfully proud.

I really had my heart set on seeing some young Venetian fidanzato (fiancĂ©) get down on all fours and claw the air and roar like a lion at the wellhead in Campo San Zaccaria. There’s a very sweet old legend about a young man who rescued his beloved from the hands of the Devil in this very spot, just by his quick-thinking mimicry of that fierce feline who personifies San Marco. Sometimes a romantic fellow with a bit of flair re-enacts that melodrama on April 25th. I dropped by a few times and waited patiently. None showed up, though. Is romance dead in Venice?

I think not. I myself did not receive a red rose from anybody, but I did enjoy a terribly romantic, matinee idol-style, deep-dip embrace from one of the hottest guys in town. Way better than a rose… It certainly made my (San Marco) day!