Friday, January 23, 2009

Peril in Venice; a battle at night

Image of a sign on a window, behind protective, pointy metal grating, warning of dangerous cat inside...Sign for a guard cat in Venice.Dear Gentle Reader,

We knew from our journeys around and through Venice that this was a dangerous city.

Battles and wars had often raged and ranged between other city states, other states, and even other Empires.

The Republic of Venice had lasted over a millennium and had had to put down enemies from within, not just outside its walls.

Around the city we saw boxes like this...

Image of nasty face, carved in marble in bas-relief, with a slot for a mouth.
If I pan back, you can see what was written on it...

Image of a nasty person, carved in marble in bas-relief, whose mouth was a slot to put denunciatory letters in, in Venice.
This was a mailbox of a special variety. 

This was denunciatory box, set into a wall. 

Walk silently and covertly to it and slip in your denunciation.

You could anonymously denounce your neighbours to the state; you could act as the private ears and eyes of the state. 

This was quite effective at keeping the population nervous and in line, and it helped the State avoid unpleasant surprises. 

This system even brought down a Doge once, Doge Marino Falier who was Venice's fifty-fifth head of state, briefly, from 1354-1355. In 1355 he was beheaded on the steps of his palace after it was found that he wanted to turn the Republic into an autocracy.

His punishment was not only death and mutilation of his corpse; he also suffered Damnatio memoriae. 

Damnatio memoriae meant that his memory was to be erased from the institutional memory of Venice. Even Doge Marino Falier's portrait, painted high in the left corner of the great Sala del Maggior Consiglio was covered over. 

(If you are visiting the Doge's Palace, it is in the upper left of the back wall if you face away from the grand "Paradisio" painted by Jacopo Tintoretto Sala del Maggior Consiglio, the Grand Hall of the Counselors, where all Venetian noblemen of 18 years and more could meet to debate proposals.) 

By covered over I mean that a black veil was painted over Doge Falier's image and name. The Damnatio memoriae was meant to be permanent.

Obviously, though, the denunciatory box system was not wholly successfully. 


On our last night in Venice, well, really on the penultimate morning, there was a fireship attack in the Grand Canal. 

We (your Heroine, I, the two German museum directors and the Genevois gourmet) presume the citizens, through those boxes, did not warn of this:

Image of a burning explosion above a ship in the Grand Canal, Venice
Apparently none of the denunciation boxes had warned of this attack. 

The initial salvo was followed by a hail of incendiary devices...

Image of incendiary particles showering down upon a ship in the Grand Canal, Venice.
Fortunately the attack, or the insurrection, was soon put down.

Now, there may be some doubters out there.

Some of you may say, humble scribe, you were in Venice for New Years. These were simply New Year celebrations.

I must dissent from that opinion.

I have done research.

New Years starts on midnight, 0:00 hours on the 24 hour clock, of January 1st in Western nations, and this attack was launched 37 minutes after the New Year had commenced. I scarcely need note the strategic value of this... hit the Venetians when they are unprepared, in the midst of their revelry...

I did further research for the doubters out there....

The New Years started on January 14 for Eastern Orthodox (Christian) nations. 

The Chinese New Year starts on 26 January 2009 and goes until 28 January.

The Zorastrians (and Parsees) celebrate their New Year's, Nowruz, on March 20 in 2009.

The Islamic New Year starts on 1 Muharram (it happened twice last year, January 10, 2008 and December 29, 2008! The next one will be on December 18, 2009...).

The Anglican (and Roman Catholic) new liturgical year started on November 29, 2008.

Many Hindu New Year festivals commence at, or just after, Diwali, a five day festival that began on October 28, 2008.

The Jewish New Year started with Rosh Hoshanah on October 1, 2008.

The Coptic Orthodox liturgical new year started September 20, 2008.


I think you get the point...

Nothing started at 12:37 am on January 1st... ...except an attempted attack or insurrection in Venice...

It must have been an early morning attack. (Well, it was. Your scribe was there.)

Even more damning... there was no talk of it in the news the next day.  

In a climate of fear most people follow silent counsel... Obviously those denunciatory boxes are still doing their job, even if they did not warn of this attack...

Chris (tapping on the keys very quietly, Regina (rolling her eyes, but silently), and Pommes (swishing his tail and keeping his eyes out for enemies...silently also)


Candace said...

All right, then. If Pommes can't protect you lot, then who really needs it? He doesn't strike me as the type cat who messes about needlessly.
And, Chris, tag, you're it. No pressure to play but I am sure you can come up with something fun ...
come to my blog when can for today's date and a different type truth serum.
(Pommes is quite the photographer, too.)

Sepiru Chris said...


Have popped over, will accept the tag. This meme is really making the rounds.

I will respond next week to the tag, Thursday looks good.

Same bat time, same bat channel.


RuneE said...

Thanks for the interesting information - with/without an attack. And Happy New Year!

Sepiru Chris said...

Wil Reader,

Thanks. (With, definitely with...)

And you are so dead on... three days from now and Chinese New Year hits Hong Kong, the start of the Spring Festival.

I imagine I will have my work cut out for me on Monday.


Barbara Martin said...

Peril in Venice is not good Chris, nor a good memory of your visit.

Sepiru Chris said...


Err, OK.

What precisely do you not like about the post? I am quite willing to take feedback, especially when I know the source.


Lauren said...

Those little boxes are so interesting. I would say "what a great way for the government to keep a constant eye on it's population", but I don't think that great is the right, perhaps.

Venice has always intrigued me as a very neat city, and your post has piqued my interest even more. I will have to do more research on it--might fuel some novel ideas...bad pun...

Thanks for sharing this information!

Raph G. Neckmann said...

This was actually a meteor shower of the type which affects only those of the feline species, endowing them with super-powers. (Hence the image on photo 1).

It was such a meteor shower which gave Pommes his first wonder-cat abilities: taking photographs and reading by osmosis.

You would be advised to check which power he may have acquired from this latest meteor shower. Place a can of spinach at one end of the room and watch. If he lifts one digit of his right front paw and opens the can from across the room, I recommend a quick exit ... unless you love eating spinach.

Heidelweiss said...

Laughing again! I do SO hate early morning surprise attacks. We have an equestrian park just east of our home and they seem to have a serious penchant for late night attacks. We get bombed ALL the time. I had no idea our city had so many reasons for late night bombings. Those horses must be rotten. The fighting lasts for 20 minutes minimum. Do you know how much those things cost?!

Cloudia said...

Cool post and great ultimate paragraph. "swishing his tail silently..."
C'mon over!
BTW, tommorrows post would make a good MTM. I'm just sayin'
The Word verification below is "SINNER." Me or you? ;->

Sepiru Chris said...


Though anonymous denunciation has led to erroneous denunciations too, think of most fascist regimes. Think, especially of the Reign of Terror immediately after the French Revolution, and the eventual auto-cannibilisation of the leadership.

But it is inexpensive, although the Venetian political system had a fascinating allegation-checking system using both torture and political checks.


Could be Raph, could be.... A floating miniature guard cat, constrained only by pointy wrought iron gratings is a fearsome idea...

Spinach, however, is not so fearsome to me (nor to the Heroine who is (ish) a vegetarian whilst the Hero is a voracious omnivore. Pommes (the gourmand) begs (with claws in legs) equally for fish and flesh (with no differentiation between animal or vegetable flesh)).

But, the concept of Pommes, who can hear a can from 50 meters away, opening a can from 50 meters away sends such a jolt of fear through my body that I pray you will not mention it again... the carpets, kilims, and rugs... the paintings and prints... the photographs and sculptures... nothing would be safe... *shudder*


I have been visiting everyday, but I am unsure what to write.
There is, reasonably enough, a big feeling of relief within the Democratic community of the USA.

...and yet, I fear hagiography, especially before the events, as much as I fear demonisation.

So I am visiting, I just am not sure what to say as I do not want to spoil the mood.

Never fear, Cloudia, you are always on my visitation list... Cloudia nein? No, that would not be cloud nine for me.


I hate to say this sort of thing, Heidelweiss, especially as you are such a sensitive soul... and I know that those dreaded eye-gouging needles are always lurking nearby...

But, if your equestrian park is under continual attack, you need to find out if there are bunkers for the horses. Why? Horses are not known for extreme when perspicacity under attack, especially under aerial bombardment, which is foreign to horse culture and history.

What I am inching towards is that some of those dear horses might have succumbed to the nightly attacks.

(If they are as frequent as you suggest, sadly this becomes more likely, even if they have safe bunkers to retreat to..)

And, if no one is tending to the remains, those horses could indeed be rotten... If you say they must be rotten, it could be true... (yikes, and sorry).


Barrie said...

How scary...

Merisi said...

Could it be that the revellers had been stuck at Harry's bar? ;-)

I will be in Venice for a week in a month's time. I can't wait to return!

Love your profile letter box: smile! :-)

Sepiru Chris said...


Cloudia, I am not suggesting that you are mythologizing President Obama, though others certainly are.

I just, generally, want to be careful of what I say, and I want to see more actions before I allow my spirits to rise. Which is why I say that I don't know what to say when visiting blogs talking about the inauguration, this week.

I, at times, am cynical regarding the practice of politics.

I have been deeply involved in federal campaigns and am a long-time volunteer in politics, involved in operational and executive capacities both during and between campaigns (though the new one should start when the last ends), and, whilst I believe in the promise, I also want to see results first.

PS: Both of us, I expect (re the "Sinner" verification... besides, it is sometimes fun to verify your sin...)


Sheer terror. Fortunately, we survived...


Have you been before? There are a couple of historical posts on Venice under the category rubric of "Venice"...

...And your photography is fantastic. Thanks for coming by.


Junosmom said...

Hi Chris, Venice has some very scary characters. But the fireworks are beautiful.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Venice is the most magical place despite the scary "Don't Look Back" by DuMaurier. I didn't even notice those boxes.
I will have a MTM post.

Barrie said...

IF you happen to be posting links to MTM, mine is up. It's very unusual for me to be so early!