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A new risorgimento

Forty-one years after their term in Venice began in September 1968, five stalwarts from the 1966-1969 Warwick BA History course made a return to La Serenissima for a reunion.

Then and now

We gathered on the evening of Thursday 24 September at our base for the reunion – the Hotel Danieli on the Riva degli Schiavoni. Through Tony’s European tourism industry connections we had been able to obtain a very deep discount to stay in the palatial surroundings of the 5-star luxe Hotel Danieli. A far cry from the experiences of those who in 1968 endured the rigours of the sitting-up return journey from London Victoria to Venezia SL by rail.

Peter Beamish, John Lancaster and Tony O’Rourke had arrived in the afternoon, after a ride on a water-taxi from Marco Polo Airport. Flying to Venice, using water-taxis and staying at up-market hotels would have been experiences of almost untouchable luxury during our visit in 1968, and we therefore relished them greatly on this occasion. Peter, John and Tony then spent some time searching calle and campo between Accademia and Ca’ Foscari looking for the Palazzo Brandolini, the Warwick base in 1968. Lacking success they adjourned to a bar in Campo S. Barnaba to seek inspiration. A trek to the familiar stamping grounds along the Strada Nuova then followed, where at the Camp S. Felice end we spotted the bar which served as our social centre four decades earlier. We also found nearby one of the pensione in which a number of us had been housed at one time or another during the term in 1968. After dining in the former bar, which is now Ristorante Pasqualigo, the three of us returned to the Danieli to await the arrival of Stuart Satinet and Tony Williams. Tony’s determination to participate in the Risorgimento was underlined by his willingness to travel by motor bike from SW France. The gathering of the complete group was marked by some rounds of drinks and a late night discussion on plans for following days.

Nostalgia and culture

On the first day we walked from the Rialto to the Ferroviaria (nostalgia tour), visited the Frari (culture) and then took various trips around the Zattere-Gesuiti-Salute areas. A very interesting visit for us, on Friday, was to Palazzo Pesaro Papafava, which is the new Warwick headquarters in Venice. We had the opportunity to meet Professor Vicky Avery (History of Art) and Professor Jonathan Davies (History) who gave us a tour of the palazzo and information about the development of the centre and the current arrangements for students. We were greatly impressed by the facilities available to contemporary Warwick students in Venice and most grateful to Vicky and Jonathan for their time in meeting with us. We certainly felt that the 2009 plans to link Warwick students with local Venetian students and the fact that they begin Italian language courses in first year were really important and valuable additions to the programme.

Initially, all of us appeared to have a form of group amnesia about the academic inputs and outputs from 41 years before. But as the weekend progressed, remembrances of essays written and churches and museums visited began to surface in our senior brains. On Saturday we split up as Peter, John and Tony O went to Vicenza for a Palladian immersion programme whilst Stuart and Tony W stayed in Venice to revisit old haunts and even a few churches and museums.

Beer and topless bathing

On the Sunday individual programmes were also followed for part of the day although we met for the customary and important lunch time consumption of a large beer. The Sunday afternoon provided some interesting experiences and amusing outcomes. These included John and Stuart’s ejection from the Basilica di San Marco whilst attempting to short-circuit the queue of the multitudes by slipping in through the out entrance. It also featured a trip across the lagoon to the Lido by the two Tony’s, followed by a walk to the Adriatic shoreline, which inadvertently brought them into a topless bathing area. Of course their minds were firmly fixed on the building of the tidal barrage in the lagoon, but nonetheless it was an interesting experience.

We also managed to find Palazzo Brandolini – albeit only viewed from a Number 2 vaporetto – but alas failed to fulfil our prior ambitions to track down a “disco volante” pizza, find a bar with pin-ball machines and a juke box playing Caterina Casselli’s “Insieme a te non ci sto più”. Stuart did manage to locate a pin-ball machine, but discovered it was broken.

Food and friendships

The five of us also enjoyed some very pleasant meals together in the evenings. Curiously, but most appropriately, it appeared that the 41 year gap had shrunk significantly during the whole weekend. We all reintegrated quickly and easily, despite the fact that some of us had had no contact with others in the group since 1969. We have all lived full and interesting lives since 1969, but we lapsed almost automatically into discussions about those topics, people and issues which had been prevalent on our minds in 1968. Dining in the sultry September evening in Campo San Polo, the four decades seemed almost irrelevant as we lapsed into the 1968 mode. An important point of discussion was our interest in those ’68 Venice students whose whereabouts were unknown to us. We also swapped stories about our experiences and filled in some gaps – we are not mentioning the content or context of those conversations for fear of legal action! In a sense we felt by placing this information on the Warwick website we would possibly stimulate some reaction from - “le persone scomparse” - the missing ones.

Importantly the whole weekend was enhanced by the perfect weather – sunshine and a fairly constant 24 degrees temperature. Whilst the crowds of tourists along the Riva degli Schiavoni and into Piazza San Marco were a little overwhelming, it was easy to escape to the less crowded side streets. Unfortunately, from time to time, we did get lost as we strayed off the familiar and fixed routes we had followed in 1968.

Our immediate plan is to meet again in Kenilworth next year; John Lancaster (jlanc@blueyonder.co.uk) is the contact point for the organisation of that event. However there has already been some support for a Risorgimento Numero Due in Venice in 2014. Hopefully we will all be fit and able enough to get there.

In the meantime, the 2009 risorgimentists (John, Peter, Stuart and the 2 Tony’s) are keen to hear from any ’66-’69 colleagues who have remained hidden and silent in recent times.

Tony O’Rourke (BA History 1966-69)
E-mail: a.r.orourke@stir.ac.uk
Mobile: +44 (0) 79 15 13 44 27