We've moved from Baltimore, Maryland USA to Venice, Italy in pursuit of living our dream!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

28th Venice Marathon October 27, 2013

Quite a bit of fog greeted us Sunday morning, and I knew right away it might be a blessing in disguise for the 28th running of the Venice Marathon. Last October on race day we had Aqua Alta. Not so good for the participants. This day seemed a bit more optimistic, weather-wise. I'd been excited for race day for a couple of weeks already, ever since I watched construction teams erecting the temporary bridges over the 13 bridges along the course in the city of Venice.

People who wander around Venice this time of year have the notion that the ramps are for the assistance of handicapped people, and comment how nice this is to have. What a great help in toting luggage up and down the bridges. I am quick to remind them this is not permanent, and is only intended for the Marathon runners to make the up and down of bridges easier. None-the-less, the arrival of the ramps starts to get me in the mood.

In previous years, I've taken up a position at the San Basilio vaporetto stop, in Dorsoduro, which is one of the first good vantage point to catch the racers coming into Venice. After watching the first set of very fast runners, I'd wander down to Nico's, grab a table and a cup of tea and spend a few hours cheering on the rest of the runners as they made their way down the Zattere.

This year, I chose something a little different. Since I now live so close to Giardini, where the finish line is, I thought it might be very interesting to see the race from a new perspective. Also, my hairdresser, Simone, had been training to run the Marathon for the first time ever this year, and he had suggested I catch him at the finish line. So, that was my plan.  Unfortunately, poor Simone suffered an injury to his left knee 2 weeks ago during a training run that was going to sideline him this year.

I calculated, based on previous race times, that it should take the fastest runners about 2 hours to reach Giardini. I set off a little before 11 am, taking the #1 vaporetto to Giardini.  I knew that the finish line was going to be right after Via Garibaldi, so my plan was to exit the vaporetto and walk up the street to that spot.  The #1 was making regular stops, except for the San Marco Vallresso stop which was closed all day to allow the runners to come over the temporary bridge and run into St. Mark's square.

My great plan was stymied before I got very far!  Once I disembarked from the boat, the entire street to my left leading from Viale Garibaldi up the waterfront was blocked off- for the race, of course. I had to walk up Viale Garibaldi and then up Via Garibaldi to reach the waterfront. I figured by the time I got there any good spots along the racecourse would be occupied already. Not to be daunted, I made my way to the Riva.

Someone up there was looking down on me because there was a small opening along the barricade at the bottom of the last bridge the runners would run over, just yards from the official finish line.
I grabbed my position.  I was in a great spot, and also close to the race announcer who was doing a play-by-play commentary, sort of.  He was announcing what the official race time at each kilometer break , for example at 35 kilometers, at 37.5 kilometers, at 40 kilometers.  From him, I knew exactly when the "elite" men's group, comprised of the first 5 runners, had crossed over the Ponte di Liberta into Venice.  He announced the positions of these first 5, so I knew the Kenyans were in front, and an Italian runner was in 4th place coming over the bridge.  His running commentary made the short wait a bit more entertaining, especially as the men were running over the Grand Canal and into St. Mark's square.  This announcer was issuing his commentary in Italian, German and English, but his comments in English kept a grin on my face. He'd say things like " Lalli, the Italian runner, is in 4th position. Would we like him to move up?? Yes, People!"

Right after the men exited St. Mark's and were making their way down the Riva degli Schiavoni, the announcer reported that one of the racers from Kenya had developed some sort of problem and was now walking. He'd lost his early lead, sadly. The announcer got the crowd going, yelling, "Masai, Masai, come on!, We're with you. Come on , Masai!" , as well as encouraging everyone to cheer for Andrea Lalli, the Italian runner in this elite men's group.

The first two men off the last bridge in front of me were Kenyans, with Machichim in first place. Third place went to Andrea Lalli. Fourth was Masai, doing a slow run/limp, with another Kenyan runner in fifth.  Unfortunately, between the last bridge where I was, and the official finish line, Masai lost his 4th place finish to the man behind him who loped past him. Two hours and 9 minutes to run 26 miles!  I have no idea how they do it.  One of the reasons I love watching this marathon so much is the fact that I will never be running anything like this. I'm lucky if I can do a slow run down the street anymore, what with my arthritic knees!
    First place finisher, Machichim from Kenya

Third place to Andrea Lalli of Italy

Forza *in Italian means force, strength, power, or  spirit)  is often yelled at soccer matches and other events to encourage the participants. Just as we were waiting for the runners to hit this last bridge, the ship FORZA passed my vantage point. Certainly apropo. 

After the first wave of elite men completed the race, there is a bit of a lull waiting until the remaining several thousands of runners make their way towards the finish line.  I met Mike for a bite of lunch on Via Garibaldi, then headed up for Rialto by vaporetto. The boat went under the temporary bridge, I caught sight of several runners on their way over the Grand Canal. Many of them were stopping to take photos! I can imagine this is quite an unusual race course, and a unique opportunity to run over one of the most famous canals in the world.

Runners crossing the temporary bridge between Dogana Point and San Marco

My next year plan is already in swirling in my head.... thinking about volunteering to be along the race course, hopefully on the Zattere.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

It's Acqua Alta time, it's Acqua Alta time.....

Just last week I noticed that the walkways (passerelle) had been brought out of storage and placed strategically around the city, in anticipation of the first Acqua Alta (high water) of the season.

I just checked the weather forecast for tomorrow and guess what!!  Tonight around 12:30 am and again tomorrow around 12:30 pm we're going to get to use those platforms.  Although the forecast is only predicting 105 cm in Venice which means it will only be in the lower areas of the city, it will certainly be in St. Mark's square and Rialto.  Get the boots out everyone!  Happy Acqua Alta season to all!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Yesterdays mission ---accomplished.

(This photo has nothing to do with the topic of this blog, other than the fact that I snapped it on the way to my mission yesterday, and it made me happy)

Procrastination is my middle name. I think I've admitted to it somewhere in my blog before. I ought to join a 12-step program for it- Procrastinators, Anonymous. Is there such a program at Betty Ford?? Yesterday, procrastination came and bit me on the rear end yet again. You think I would have learned by now, but no....

The thing I procrastinate about most here in Venice is dealing with the Italian government. If I have to do anything... ANYTHING..where I have to brush elbows, shoulders, fingertips even, with the Italian government in any way, I am going to put it off until there is absolutely no putting it off any longer. Well, guess what, yesterday was that day. There was no way around it, I had to go deal with them. It takes all the will power in the world for me to gear up for it. I can predict it will end in no good. My stomach starts to churn, my nerves kick in, I'm just a royal mess. And this is quite unlike me. Normally, I don't take crap from anyone. On this side of the Atlantic I have been conditioned to be a bit less assertive. Maybe that's a bit more cooperative. Docile even. Whatever it will take to get through with the least amount of agony.

I spent the entire first year of our lives here in Italy dealing with the Italian governement. Days and days and days of horrendously painful experiences going head to head with some clerk at some sportello   (counter - you know the ones like at the Department of Motor Vehicles in the US?) at some agency in some city somewhere in Italy. Venice, Bologna, south of Bologna, the whole region of Liguria- I was there. None of them were very happy experiences. And as a result- my dealings with any Italian agency become an occassion for me to put my middle name into practice. I procrastinate.

Yesterday I had to pay a visit to the Anagrafe office near Rialto. The Anagrafe is the Italian version of the Department of Vital Records in most states in the US.  I had the forms I needed all filled out, I thought I was ready, and set off nice and early for what I predicted would be a long morning. Happily, the office was almost empty when I arrived. Me, another girl, and an elderly couple already in place at Sportello numero 7.  I took my number and took a seat. With it being so empty, I thought this wouldn't require much waiting. Wrong. The little old couple were still at Sportello numero 7 over 35 minutes after I took my seat. I also needed Sportello 7, and so did the other girl a few seats over. Patience, Karen. Just find some patience. Too bad I never learned to whistle!

I kept myself busy scanning the internet (yes, thanks be to God, there was internet reception inside the building).  Finally, it was my turn.  I take my spot in front of the glass divider at Sportello numero 7, hand over my forms, and make sure I tell the guy on the other side right off the bat that I don't speak Italian fluently, but if he speaks slowly, I will understand him. Right, that didn't click because he started rattling off at warp speed as he proceeded to review all the fields I had filled in on the form. Blah, blah, blah, yes, hmm, ok... and what are the other names of the people who live in the apartment with you?  I pointed out that I had that information already filled in. Two of us.  Yes, but who else?  No one else. More people- who are they?  After several rounds back and forth, I finally got him to understand that it was only just us two- my husband and I. Ok. Fine. He asks me to hand over the identification documents for my husband, which I don't have on me. Bingo!  I knew this would happen!!!

This is the same rouse they use every time. They make sure they withhold some detail - something you need to do or have with you. When you get up to that Sportello thinking everything it's going to be smooth sailing, that you have everything possible--WHAM! They tell you something you didn't do, which requires you to go home and return another day.  Not this time. I make sure I clearly understand the documents he is asking for, get on the phone to Mike, tell him to make copies and hop on the next boat to Rialto.  I turn to the guy behind the glass divider, smile, and tell him my husband will arrive Subito (right away). I won't need to return another day.  He says Good. When he comes, you don't need to take another number. Just come to the window.

I knew it would take Mike about 30 minutes to get from Sant'Elena to the Anagrafe office, so I took the opportunity to go have myself a cup of tea at a nearby caffe in Campo San Luca.  While I sat in the caffe I had time to reflect on my adventure so far, and compared it to those of 5 years ago. Five years ago I would have turned tail and slunk out of that office so fast you wouldn't have seen me go if you blinked your eye for a nanosecond. Five years ago I would have been stammering, pointing, showing the guy a piece of paper with my Google translated questions and answers on it. Not today. I was speaking Italian, I didn't slink anywhere. I know the score at this point was still City Hall -1, Karen 0, but the day wasn't over yet and I was ready to go for Round 2.

While waiting, I also had a conversation with a lovely couple from Norway who were seated next to me. Had I ever been to Norway, they asked. No, but we have friends there. We have friends there! Listen to me!  Yes, I can say we have friends in Norway now. Venice has done this for me. I can tell you with 100% certainty that had I still been living in Baltimore I would never have made friends who live in Norway. I now have friends around the globe, in fact.  I spent the rest of my time waiting for Mike to show up reflecting on the many ways my life has changed since getting on a plane to Venice in 2008 and not looking back.

Mike arrived with the necessary copies in hand. Yes. Round 2. We go back into the office and stand near Sportello numero 7.  The guy behind the glass divider has been replaced by a woman, but she nods in our direction and mouths that we should wait a little bit. She handles one more customer quickly then motions us over.  She takes the copies of Mike's identification, then looks up and says I need copies of your Codice Fiscale and Karen's Carta d'Identita (like a tax id number and my Italian identification card). Well, we have the originals with us. No, she needs a photocopy of all of them. Why didn't Guy #1 tell us this the first time?  I bit my tougue and kept that question to myself.  She gave directions to a place in Campo San Luca where copies could be obtained quickly, sent Mike on the errand and motioned me to take a seat to wait.  No new number needed.

Ten minutes later, Mike returns with the photocopies. Two minutes after that we were back at the Sportello. One more minute and we had a printed out receipt and were out of there!

We headed over to Campo Santa Margherita to run a few errands and grab a quick lunch.  I sent Mike to our local fish monger Paolo to buy shrimp and mussels while I headed into Punto, the local grocery store for the few items I needed, with plans to meet up at the caffe to eat.  Shopping completed, I walked across the campo towards our meeting spot. Rosella, Paolo the fishmongers mother who also works at the stall, gives me a wave, and yells to me "I have your shrimp all cleaned for you!".   I did a detour over to Rosella, paid her, retrieved my package and went to meet my husband for lunch. I am loving life. Does it get any better than this???

Over lunch, Mike and I replayed the morning, noting how different it went compared to what we would have done several years ago. This mornings transaction would have turned into a 3 trip event before we had a receipt in our hands. It might have even required hauling a friend along to do some talking for us. Not this time. We stuck it out, managed it all in one swoop and kept our cool.

We even shared a laugh about the guy asking for all the rest of the names of the people who lived with us in the apartment, not believing it was only us two.  I suggested to Mike that I probably should have listed 27 Bangladeshi who throw those annoying blue lights up into the sky in St. Mark's square.  If you have been to Venice recently, you know those guys too. It would have been fun to see the expression on that Anagrafe guy's face!

We did it!!! Rowing like a Venetian- finalemente!!

I've been saying for over a year now that I wanted to learn how to row in Venetian style. Every time I see a small boat of rowers in the canal, something in me says I should try it. Every time I attend a Venetian festival where people are all in boats in the canals, I find myself wishing I were IN a boat instead of on the sideline watching the boats.  A few weeks ago, I finally did it.

My friend Sally, a British expat with similar desires to give rowing a try, and I got the guts up to schedule a rowing lesson with Jane, also an expat, from Australia, who after 20 some years of rowing in Venice started teaching others and formed an organization, Row Venice.  Bright and early on September 17, I got myself dressed warmly and on the vaporetto headed over to our meeting location in Cannaregio. Halfway there my phone rang- it was Jane telling me the weather conditions were not good for a beginning rower that morning- winds were too strong. Disappointed, I headed back home.  By the end of the day all three of us had put our schedules together and arrived on a suitable reschedule date, September 25.

September 25 dawned with gorgeous skies and fairly nice temperatures. Hmmm.. the gods had been good to me by forcing a delay it seemed. Again I donned something appropriate for rowing and set off for Cannaregio. Excited. Nervous. A little bit scared even, but ready.

Jane came down the canal rowing a traditional Venetian boat, the batela coda di gambero (or, Shrimps-tail). She tied off the boat, jumped onto the fondamenta and began giving us some basic instruction on rowing technique. Next thing I know, we were in the boat, Jane, Sally and I, rowing down the canal.  Sally and I took turns in the front of the boat rowing prua  with Jane on the back, rowing the poppa.  Before we knew it were out in the open lagoon, where Sally and I had our own experiences on the back of the boat.

Sally was a natural. Me, on the other hand, had a bit of a learning curve. Nonetheless, I loved every minute of it. Being in a small boat rowing down the back canals of Venice filled me with emotions I don't have words for yet today, more than a week after the experience. There is something uniquely magical about Venetian canals. And to be out in the lagoon.... oh my god, I cannot wait to be out there again.

Sally and I compared notes the following morning. We both agreed we felt aches in our shoulders and arms we didn't quite expect. But that didn't put off our resolve to do more rowing. Next up- membership in a rowing club and continuing lessons.

I've often wondered if perhaps I was a Venetian in another life. After being on the water with an oar in my hand, I wondered it even more. Could it be possible?

Note: Grazie to Jane of Row Venice (http://rowvenice.org/), and to my intrepid partner, Sally.

Lovers Locks in Venice - Bye, Bye

Last night I had the priviledge to join a group of local Venetians as they cut locks off the famous Rialto bridge, and about 10 other nearby smaller bridges. A European tradition of couples putting a lock on a bridge and throwing the key into the bridge to signify an everlasting love has become much more popular in Venice over the last year or so- aided by some entrepreneurial immigrants who have taken to selling locks on the Accademia bridge! They even carry a permanent marker with them to make it so easy for you to write your names and the date on the lock before you clamp it onto a historic monument.

While in theory this sounds very cute, in practice this is not good for the bridges and monuments the locks are being attached to. They rust, causing more rust and damage to the structures they are appended to. Venice is a city protected by Unesco, therefore everything, yes, everything, is a historic monument.  Therefore, putting locks on monuments is actually an act of vandalism, not to mention a real lack of respect for a city like Venice.

In effort to clean up Venice, several groups of citizens have formed Facebook pages as a method to organize activities to clean graffitti-ed walls and remove locks.  A few months ago when the bunch had a painting day in Campo San Barnaba, I was not able to participate. When this lock cutting blitz was announced, I made sure I was present and accounted for. I'm an Italian citizen and a registered resident of Venice. This is my city too. It's important to me to not only show support by my words, but also by my actions.

Here's an video of last night's activities on Rialto... have a look.

Those bolt cutters required quite a bit of muscle. While I wished I could have wielded one myself, and was quite tempted to go buy one that afternoon, I settled for holding a bag to hold the cut off locks and encouraging the brave lock cutters!  Stay tuned for the next blitz!