Demosthenes Agrafiotis

fiamma di candela/candle flame
Venezia/Venice, 04/2022

Casa Delle Parole
[One more Venetian innovation.]

                     To the memory of Marie Brandolini d’ Adda (1963-2013)

First off, we list the numbers and the statistics about the population of the Serenissima:
      14th century: 100,000 residents
      1358, 1630: years of the plague, when 1/3 of the population was lost
      1570: 170,000 residents (including 12,000 officially recognized prostitutes)
      1951: 174.808 residents
      2015: 56,072 residents
      2015: 34 mil. tourists (in cruise ships)
      8 mil. overnight stays in city hotels
      75% of tourists stay in the city for less than 24 hrs.
      One out of four houses is rented to visitors
      2,400 hotels.

Furthermore, the city is sinking 1mm per year and the threat from climate change creates a bleak prospect. So, a simple question hangs in the air: what is the future of Venice? Surely, in the fragile landscape of Venice, there are powerful institutions of art and culture, which through their activity contribute some relief from this dark fate, such as the Biennale of Visual Arts and Architecture, the Festival of Cinema (Mostra), the Institute Querini-Stampalia, the Cini Institute, the Biblioteca Marciana, the Gallerie d’ Academia, the institute Fondatione Bevilaqua La Masa, the Opera Fenice… Still, the exodus of 2/3 of the population (double of loss during the plague,) as well as aging constitute strong omens for the painful forecast.

Is there a reaction, resistance and response to that turn of events? Undoubtedly, the residents have a clear picture of the challenges and have proceeded with analyses and actions about the future of their city. Two examples: The first, comes from history and the second from the very recent past and the present.

In the 1,500 years of its existence, Venice has encountered a multitude of dangers and challenges, and every time, its residents have devised a solution (often very original) to overcome the problems at hand. For example, they were able to found a city, to build it with stone on unstable ground, by ramming into it rows of wood posts, pilings. Important innovations were first devised in Venice, like ship mass-production, (one galley per day, thanks to an almost industrial organization for the production of ship-building parts in the Arsenal,) the organization of financial/logistical overseeing of economic and other enterprises, thanks to a new double-entry system in logistics. The creation of communication systems and the production of the first newspapers, because of the strong demand of information regarding commodity markets, but also because of the military/political realignments in the Mediterranean and in Europe. That tradition of innovative solutions guarantees the next “smart” move by the Venetians.

The historical argument just expressed requires action one more time, so that it can be proved in practice. So, the second answer comes from the area of poetry and literature: the creation and development of the Casa Delle Parole (“C.D.P.)—"House of Words.” Ten years ago, a group of Venetians decided to go ahead in the realization of an idea in the area of literature and poetry. The founders—“fathers/mothers”: Ricardo Held, (poet,) Enrico Baladri, (writer, literature professor) and Donata Grimari, (cultural entrepreneur.) The first had some experience with poetry events for a wide audience, the second, as a professor in London and Venice, had taken part in similar initiatives in England, and the third was experienced in organizing events that had to do with the traditions of Venetian life, and, also, she comes from an old family which has given two Doges to the city.

So then, what is the purpose of the C.D.P.? (i) The reading of important texts in their original language and in an authorized translation to Italian. (ii) The public readings aim to the greatest differentiation of languages. (iii) The initial proposal comes from the network of members or from others who would wish to contribute, and the final selection is decided in a meeting that takes place in the home of one of the members, in a manner of collective consensus. (iv) For the reading of foreign texts, individuals who reside in Venice and speak the language in question as a first language are called forth, or professors and researchers are called from the University Cá Foscari, where 40 foreign languages are taught. (v) The readings take place on the second Tuesday of every month, on a program organized ahead of time for the entire year. (vi) The subject matter for each year is decided during the summer of the year before. (vii) The different dialects of the Italian peninsula are included in the target languages. (viii) The translations are done by a network of experienced and specialized translators, or existing translations are used from already published books and magazines. (ix) Beside the readings, the network has organized events in schools, the presentation of books or authors and a special event in the vaporetti (the characteristic boats of transportation,) with the display of poems in poster form. (x) The presentation/reading takes place in a continuous form and focuses on the text, without introduction and analysis.

The readings take place in different spaces: “Casa de Goldoni,” “Campiani Cultural Center” (at Mestre,) at Cá Rezzonico” (a palace on Grand Canal,) at the University Cá Foscari, at its Library in Zattere (with wide participation of students in the readings, as audience and as readers,) and finally at the “Palazzo Grassi – Pinault Collection,” specifically at the new theater: Teatrino Di Palazzo Grassi (architect, the Japanese Tadao Ando, who fashioned an exquisite and austere (amphi)theater, as well as the Punta Della Dogana- Francois Pinault Foundation.)

Two examples of the readings/events: On 03/08/2016, the theme was “Flight/La fuga.” Caterina Carpinato, professor at Cá Foscari, Modern Greek, read her translation of the George Seferis poem “Flight,” which I read in the original Greek. 16 readings in 12 languages took place on the same day. On 04/12/2016, on a theme of “Authors about authors” (“Scrittori sugli Scrittori,”) I read my poem, dedicated to Aldo Pio Manuzio, “Homage to Aldus Pius Manutius” (“Omaggio a Pio Aldo Manuzio,”) which is included in my book “e – Manuzio,” (Vacchikon, 2016.) The translation was attended to by Michele Valley and Caterina Carpinato, and it was read by Enrico Palandri. The reading coincided with the 500 years from Aldo Manuzio’s death and with the excellent exhibition “Aldo Manuzio” at the Gallerie Dell’ Accademia, Venezia. On the same day took place 18 readings in 15 languages. One of those was the poem “Disgruntled Spectator” by C.P. Kavafy, (the hidden poems,) who is very popular in the Venetian circle.

The current difficult phase for Venice became an opportunity for the emergence of a network, a process, almost an institution, which are doubtlessly innovative, but at the same time, a part of Serenissima tradition. More to the point, Venice has always been open to other cultural models: Marco Polo was a Venetian and the Venetian merchants were organized in special communities in many spots of the Mediterranean and other geographical areas. Also, the children of the merchants were taught many languages, among which were Turkish and Persian. Finally, Lord Byron, as a foreign resident in Venice, assisted the Armenians to grammatically and syntactically organize their language in its written form. We shouldn’t overlook the fact, that Venice had a serious policy for the reception and special induction to the city of different ethnic groups, such as the Dalmatians, the Greeks and the Jews (“ghetto” is a Venetian word, from gettaria, an area of foundries, where Jews in the 16th century were allowed to live.) Actually, the form of the C.D.P. reminds one of the Salons Littéraires, but the multilingualism and the free access makes it very different from the traditional French and Italian literary salons; besides, Venice has a tradition in the formation of brotherhoods (scuole piccoli or grandi) and of guilds. The C.D.P. confirms for one more time that Venice remains an open city, cosmopolitan, multilingual and creative, in spite of its politico-ecological misfortunes.

Translated by Angelos Sakkis

Demosthenes Agrafiotis (b. 1946) is the author of dozens of books in over 5 languages including Bêtises (Fidel Anthelme X, 2011), +-graphies (Veer Books, 2011), Maribor (The Post-Apollo Press, 2009: 2011 NCBA Northern California Book Award, Poetry translation), monogatari, ii (EL, EN, JPN, 2017), The broken equilibrium. On crisiology (Bibliotheque, Athens, 2018: essays, in Greek), Sauver Venise (L’ Harmattan, Paris, 2019: photos and text, in FR and GR), Antikleia (L'Harmattan, Paris, 2021), and N,ão (Confraria do Vento, Brazil, 2022).
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