Friday, May 15, 2009

Baccalà laureato

Perhaps some of the readers of this blog are aware of the story about the Venetian ships that were stranded in the Lofoten islands in Norway for a winter and thus discovered the dry cod, also known as stockfish (stoccafisso in Italian) which was imported into Venetian cuisine to become known as baccalà. Many Venice alumni will certainly recall the fabulous bacalà mantecato that Ciana produces at Pampo's when we have our icticultural meals there.
In 1431, in early summer, the Venetian merchant captain, Pietro Querini, set sail from Iraklion (Crete) to Bruges (Flanders) with 3 loaded ships and 68 crewmembers. The fleet sailed into a terrible storm off France and was blown northwest of Ireland and Scotland. Many men had succumbed to starvation and fatigue when, just after the new year, in January 1432, the survivors stranded on an island near Røst, in Lofoten. They were found by local fishermen, after nearly a month, and eventually spent more than three months together with the Røst inhabitants in culo mundi as Querini aptly put it. In the "ass of the world"...
Venetian is such a colorful language. Explicit at times. Obscure too, when needed. Paradoxical and contradictory, yet profound.

Today we congregated for the the "baccalaureate", a celebration that is completely designed, staged and performed by graduating seniors and frankly my favorite part of the graduation exercises every May. I love the pageantry of the caps and gowns and I really enjoy wearing my MIT colors. They are cool looking and fun! And this soiree is short and sweet and entertaining: a lot less pompous than the actual graduation the next day. I love it. So much that I am prompted to issue a Venetian exhortation to all graduating students of this class of 2009:

"Cori camina! Bacalà!"

Which is essentially untranslatable and oxymoronic, and vaguely related to Aldus Manutius' famous motto "festina lente", as well as eponymously onomatopoeic vis à vis the celebration. Bacalà is often interjected as a jovial monicker when referring to a friend. As such, it is used in a manner similar to calling someone "silly" or "fool", or "dummy" in a friendly, non-confrontational, jocking kind of way.
I think I will leave it at that, except to say that if you think I am making this up, you should ask a Venetian to tell you what it means...
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