Diamond Jubilees are a Girl’s Best Friend
The Jubilee was very British : very long, very wet, and not much fun. But by God they stayed the course. A flotilla of Royals on a gala barge grimly faced the driving rain which seemed determined to kill the celebrants. Wellington would be proud. Contemplating the Queen stoically standing on her barge for three and a half hours in the freezing rain (Prince Philip was taken to hospital next day) reminds me of the stern stuff from which she is made.
“Couldn’t they give her a chair? ” Tania asked in her sensible American fashion, but that’s not the point. Being British is about the pursuit of unhappiness. That and getting shit faced on Public holidays.
Harrison Ford once told me he was going to donate some money to teach the Brits how to enjoy themselves. But anyone can enjoy themselves. To make a public holiday an example of stoical duty, now that’s British.
I sensibly watched from the comfort of a friends armchair in Henley, being dragged from sleep occasionally by the increasing desperation of the BBC commentators to make any sense at all. A reference to “Nelson at Waterloo” I particularly enjoyed. The thrilling idea that a ten years dead Admiral should have been present at a famous land battle was perhaps the most interesting speculation of the entire programme. Was he on his ship? But the attempt by the commentary team to make the most mundane things seem interesting became increasingly desperate, very British, very funny, and very Monty Python. It was all there: cake making by the Women’s institute, large ladies in large hats in the rain, watercolorists desperately holding up water colors seeping off the page, the spirit of “carrying on” – ah you have to love we Brits. But with summers like this no wonder we love California.
Italy fortunately was sunny, although Venice, whence we fled in the knowledge that all the water was meant to be there, was completely flooded by tourists. Five enormous Cruise Ships were berthed in the port, which meant that it was impossible to cross St. Mark’s square at all. Thousands of people of all nations followed hundreds of muttering tour guides, and on the Rialto you risked being pitched into the Grand Canal as they jostled and fought for their photo op.
St. Mark’s itself was surrounded by a three hour line of cattle, sorry cruisers, so we nipped into the Doge’s Palace, which is a better tour anyway, and allows you to glimpse something of the tremendous power of the Venetian Empire at its height: a cross between Washington, Wal-Mart and the Papacy.
Of course the best thing to do in Venice is to get lost. Once you head away from the crowds you soon find yourself in deserted squares, and tiny alleys and subterranean passageways, hidden away from the Pizza hunting masses. I chose to hide from the poor and struggling masses by watching footie with my friend Jeff at the Cipriani.
“Is this in Hi Def?” I asked.
“No, half Def,” he replied.
Don’t you hate it when your friends are funnier than you…
But it was inevitably the weather that gave us the biggest surprise. On our penultimate morning the sky darkened, thunder rattled around and a huge, menacing, black cloud headed for the Church of the Salute directly in front of our Byronic casement windows.
“Honey, have a look at this” I said to the wife.
“No really you must come and have a look at this right now.”
“Holy shit. Is it……?”
“Yes a tornado!”
In Venice. Heading towards our hotel.
Mercifully as it hit the Guidecca island it slid to our left along the lagoon, running between us and the Lido, becoming a waterspout before our amazed eyes, touching down on the water and sucking up huge masses of material. Up on the roof terrace we watched it tear into the Botanical Gardens where Tania took pictures and video footage.
Fortunately no one was killed, though many boats and houses were hammered. Tornadoes are rare but not unknown in Venice. One in the seventies lifted up a Vapo (one of the huge water boats that are like buses there) and slammed it back down into the lagoon, killing seventy six, or so my pal Dario gleefully informed me.
See him at work in his book binding atelier http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vgJfg156pr0&noredirect=1
Alas, none of the Cruise ships were destroyed, though to watch them leaving on the evening tide, gigantic, monstrous things, as long and as high as a city block, is to experience both the feeling of awe at what mankind can create and despair at the uses to which it puts such skill.
Hopefully they didn’t have an Italian Captain….
Image © 2012 Tania Kosevich