"Felliniesque" has come to mean a certain Italian sophistication yet earthiness, a fascination with the bizarre yet a love of simplicity all wrapped in a flamboyant Mediterranean approach to life and art. – Bernard A. Cook
The fog of the Veneto had smothered the entire Venetian Lagoon with a cottony wall of cold vapor. There was nothing to see on this vaporetto ride out to the Lido—nothing outside the windows that is. Inside the cramped boat’s cabin, I stared at the back of a fellow passenger. He, in turn, was staring at the back of the person in front of him. And on it went from back to front of the boat. Like several hundred anchovies in a tin can—the salted kind from Sicily—we were jammed into the steel confines of this listing vessel. It seemed like a one-way trip to Purgatory.
Thus began the year of 2013. We and our fellow anchovies were on our way to see the Ibernisti of Venice. The Ibernisti are one of those groups that insists on ushering in the year with a frigid swim in the new year’s waters. This particular group of polar bears would plunge into the Adriatic Sea in about an hour. The whole idea was made more incredulous by the frigid fog that surrounded us. I could barely get warm with a hundred bodies packed solid around me. I couldn’t imagine plunging into any water of any kind.
The smell of damp wool that was pressing against my nose forced me to look down at my feet and breathe through my mouth. One man decided to force his way from fore to aft. His elbows jammed into my side as he scowled and pushed and growled in Venetian dialect. The vaporetto’s engine complained with the strain of the unhappy passengers. The boat leaned from port to starboard and then back to port. Finally the engines yielded and the faint dock slowly revealed itself. We came to a stop and docked on the Lido.
We anchovies came to life and shuffled off the boat. The gaps among us lengthened but we stayed in formation as we walked along the wide sidewalks of a broad avenue. It’s a stone’s throw from lagoon to sea so we soon found ourselves in the sandy beaches of the Adriatic. Tiny waves, more like sloshes really, told us that we were at the sea.
The destination was an unlikely scene. The fog, thicker than ever, mostly obscured a large crowd of onlookers. A sound system played Viennese waltzes to which everyone seemed moving in time. Felliniesque is an overused descriptive but in this instance I expected the wry grin of Marcello Mastroianni before me at any moment. Women in furs were gliding towards the sea. Pink balloons were bobbing and floating in the white air. Men in business suits accompanied other men in swimsuits. Children were eating pink cotton candy. The waltz played on while I looked up at a white pier that went nowhere, simply stopping abruptly due to lack of funds to finish it. Felliniesque to the extreme.
In the distance I saw the crowd yield to a apparition moving towards me. It was a short man covered in hanging scarves. It seemed an opportune idea to sell scarves on this bone-chilling day, but no one was buying. They simply parted as he moved past. He too seemed to keep time with the waltz which then ended abruptly. Someone had pulled the plug because the swimmers were approaching. In honor of Paparazzo, we all lifted our cameras in unison to greet them.
The swimmers were screaming gleefully, thrilled with the absurdity of the moment. We all laughed and pushed and maneuvered our way towards the action. A large banner was raised in the water. 2013 had officially begun. The music started up again but now consisted of songs from long-forgotten American rock bands of the 1970’s. Marcello Mastroianni might remember those tunes, listen to them and look back at us with tilted fedora. He’d shrug and then fade off into the fog, cigarette dangling from his mouth. It would simply have to be that way on this New Year's Day. Fellini would have it no other way.