Sunday, 22 November 2009

The Death of Venice is Dead – Michelle Lovric


Don’t Look Now. Yes, it’s another Venetian post, and suitably sinister.

You’ve probably read about it, heard the grim pronouncements on the radio or seen a clip on television: last Saturday, November 14th, Venice staged her own funeral.

At least that’s the version that appeared in the international press, which likes nothing better than to bury Venice.

But I was there, and I want to explain that it wasn’t quite like that.

For some time, the people behind the passionately pro-Venice website Venessia.com have promised that they would do something to show their pain if the city’s population dropped below 60,000. The exodus of real Venetians is recorded weekly in an illuminated display – the Venetian-counter – in the window of the Morelli pharmacy at Rialto. This month, for the first time, we are down to 59, 984. The streets of Venice each day now hold fewer Venetians than tourists.

Venessia.com maintains that Venice has not died a natural death but been assassinated by mismanagement, greed and stupidity. It comes down to housing. If the city does not provide houses for young couples, how can young couples provide new Venetians for the city?

In response to the sinking numbers, Venessia.com decided to do what Venice has always done in extremis: throw a masked party, in which the macabre would mix with the ironic, the burlesque with the profound. A furious discussion breaks out in the city. People start sending ‘telegrams of condolence’ for the dead city to Venessia.com.

November 14th dawns moody grey and morbidly humid. Grim-faced locals and stupefied tourists swarm at Rialto. The deceased city, represented by a hot-pink coffin draped with the Venetian flag, is floated up the canal on a balotina, in which stands the black-cloaked actor Cesare Colonnese, his face made up in a deathly pallor. Even so, it cannot express quite enough tragedy: he carries another mask of pain mounted on a stick. The balotina follows a barge in which a grand piano is played by Paolo Zanarella, his black cloak flowing behind him.

At 11.55 the riot police arrive and arrange themselves under the portico of the town hall. (City officials, who have scoffed at idea of the funeral, are nowhere to be seen). At 11.55 the international press disembarks from crowded taxis, for Venessia.com has caught not just the city’s but the world’s imagination with its gesture. At 12.00 the funeral procession arrives at Rialto, escorted by police boats. As they pass under the bridge, the rowers raise their oars in solemn salute to the crowd. The coffin is lifted on the shoulders of the chief mourners and carried along the passarelle into the portico, accompanied by a funeral bouquet in the Venetian colours of yellow and maroon. There’s another huge bouquet made of slivers of paper – the telegrams of condolence. Gilberto Gasparini reads out a long poem of lament and betrayal. Cesare Colonnese pronounces the funeral oration in Venetian.

And then the surprise. From two yards away, I hear the tone of Colonnese’s voice change. He asks, ‘Who says Venice is dead? It’s time to stop lamenting. Rise up! Rise up! Do something! Yes, you too! … And stop saying that Venice is dead!’

The caped organisers jump on the coffin and joyfully smash it to bits. From the splinters, they pull out a painting of a golden phoenix rising from the ashes. ‘Long live Venice!’ they cry.

This is not a funeral. It is an exorcism.

The death of Venice is pronounced dead. Venice is reborn. Everyone in the crowd cries, including me. The organisers shake the prosecco bottles and spray the press liberally with foam. Perhaps they already know what kind of wordbites will betray their intentions to the world. Who among these reporters will faithfully transmit the fact that this funeral has actually been staged by Venetians who refuse to let the city die?

After the ceremony, pure-blooded Venetians – whose grandparents are also Venetian - are invited to donate cheek swabs so that the DNA of this endangered species can be analysed. But one little irony is that the funeral has wreaked havoc with a wedding due to take place at the next-door Palazzo Cavalli. The bride and groom, no doubt planning to personally repopulate Venice in the near future, have to jostle through the crowds to get to the register office on time.
While waiting for the ceremony to start, I’d begun chatting with Venetians around me. As usual, within moments we discover mutual friends and circles of interest. A pretty woman introduces herself: ‘Mariliva Mattiolo.’ She’s wearing crystal pendant earrings, which, she explains, are ‘teardrops for Venice.’

I suddenly recognize Mariliva’s name. She’s one of the dozens of people who sent the impassioned ‘telegrams of condolence’ to Venessia.com. I’d been reading them that morning. Her piece had been poetic and moving. Now it was one of the petals of the paper bouquet that accompanied the funeral procession.


For my fellow writers, I’m including translations of a tiny selection those telegrams, warm as blood from the hearts of real people. For me, this was the beauty of the day. Who can fail to be inspired by a city that can voice and write its own death and legend? That mixes Commedia dell’arte with serious social commentary, pathos with provocation? And which turns a funeral into a rebirth?


The morning I saw the Venetian-counter light up the number 59,984, I, an atheist, was surprised into making the sign of the cross. As when a corpse passes. The residents ... from that moment, were fewer than the mountain gorillas of Uganda, a species declared to be at the highest risk of extinction by the WWF.Pierluigi Tamburrini


Poor Venice, like a prostitute, you were used and loved by many, and now your charms are washed up, your pimps have abandoned you ...
Martina Lasioli

Venice killed, but not dead
Killed by the arrogance of the politicians, by the self-interest of the powerful, by the indifference of the Venetians …
Killed by her own children, those Venetians who thoughtlessly exploited her, violated her …
Massimo Andreoli

Even the plague couldn’t empty Venice the way commercialization has ... My condolences, Serenissima. R.I.P. Amen.
Principe Maurice Agosti

As a captain sinks with his ship, I will sink with you!
Natale Vianello

Among your streets, I have wept, I have laughed for joy, I have given passionate kisses. The poetry of your squares and your bridges is for those who know how to inhabit them in silence and with discretion, without stealing your sou …I don’t have any other words and no desire except to weep … because they are killing a part of me.
Mariliva Mattiolo

Disappeared civilizations: The Mayans, the Etruscans, the Sumerians, the Babylonians, the Incas ... the Venetians.
Renato Pedrocco

There are more Venetians at San Michele [the cemetery island] than in the historic centre. But this city is too beautiful for us to be pessimists here.
Gianantonio De Vincenzo


Here lies Venezia, whose name was writ on water
Or
Here lies Venezia, a defeated city that has never surrendered
Or
Venezia? The best is yet to come
.
Lorenzo Marangoni

As long as there will be water, Venessia will not die.
Mauro Dardi

She who has no earth cannot be buried.
Alberto Toso Fei

The re-awakening will be with a kiss, like all the loveliest things.
Cecilia Foresi




Michelle Lovric's website

Venessia.com's website

5 comments:

Katherine Langrish said...

Wow! A strong, moving, and imaginative gesture. Surely Venice will never die while her citizens can show such passion for her.

Charlie Butler said...

"She who has no earth cannot be buried."

Beautiful. Thanks for sharing this experience.

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Thanks for sharing this Michelle... very moving.

adele said...

Lovely post. Viva Venezia!

Stroppy Author said...

Thankyou for writing this up, Michelle - would have loved to come but, as you know,not possible at the moment...