(Venice, Italy) The unmistakable roar of fighter jets split the silence of Venice last Thursday morning as I was jogging toward the back of the lagoon. "Oh, no. Something's going on in Libya," I thought. "NATO is up to something." Nine gleaming jets appeared directly in the sky above me, in Venice's airspace, which was a shock. An American pilot once told me that even commercial planes were instructed to avoid the airspace over Venice (which allows us to have our little illusion that we do not live in the present, but about 500 centuries ago). The only time I can remember the rule being broken was when NATO bombed Yugoslavia back in 1999, and, more recently, in the spring and summer of 2009.
The nine aircraft circled several times overhead, impossibly close together, until suddenly, green, white and red smoke trails burst from the planes, erasing my fear. I laughed out loud. "They're Italian!" I later found out that I had just witnessed the Frecce Tricolori, or the Tricolored Arrows in action.
The Frecce Tricolori (Italian, literally Tricolour Arrows), officially known as the 313° Gruppo Addestramento Acrobatico, is the aerobatic demonstration team of the Italian Aeronautica Militare, based at Rivolto Air Force Base, in the north-eastern Italian region of Friuli Venezia Giulia, province of Udine. They were formed in 1961 as an Air Force team, replacing unofficial teams that had been sponsored by various commands by the end of the 1920s.
The team flies the Aermacchi MB-339-A/PAN, a two-seat fighter-trainer craft capable of 898 km/h at sea level, with nine aircraft and a solo (the highest number of aircraft of any aerobatic team in the world).
The team's official name is:
313. Gruppo Addestramento Acrobatico;
Pattuglia Acrobatica Nazionale (PAN) Frecce Tricolori.
I discovered that the high-flying three-colored daredevils were actually putting on an air show on Sunday afternoon at Sottomarina in Chioggia. I was determined to go. I love airplanes, especially if they do stunts. When I was a little kid, maybe about seven or eight, my uncle let me fly his plane from the co-pilot's seat on the way down to North Carolina while my younger sisters sobbed and wailed in the backseat. One of my earliest fantasies was that I would be the one to find Amelia Earheart. Then, years ago, I went up in a bi-plane near San Francisco, and looped, rolled and hammerheaded across the sky. It was like being on an enormous roller-coaster ride with no tracks tying you to the ground.
It was also poignant that the aerodynamic show would be in Chioggia. Chioggia has the second largest fishing fleet in Italy. The fishermen of Chioggia are the ones who told the world that NATO was dropping bombs into the Adriatic Sea during the Yugoslavian War and ruining all the fishing. NATO denied it, and said they were old bombs left over from WWII. The Chioggia fishermen fished up bombs and nearly blew themselves up. They went on television. They went on strike. Chioggia fishermen are very tough and should not be underestimated. Needless to say, NATO finally admitted they were dropping bombs in the Adriatic Sea.
From the Washington Post article dated May 21, 1999 Italian Fishermen Net NATO Bombs by Sarah Delaney:
|Photo at Travellious|
Last week, the captain and two sailors on the Profeta, a fishing vessel from the port of Chioggia, were seriously injured when a canister pulled up in a pile of flapping fish exploded and sent shrapnel flying across the deck.
These gifts from the sea, courtesy of NATO, are the unused bombs that pilots returning to Italian bases from air raids over Yugoslavia sometimes have to dump before landing. Since the air campaign began on March 24, more than 100 of them have been picked out of the nets of fishing boats working in the uppermost part of the Adriatic, near Venice.
NATO has designated six areas in international waters between Italy and the coasts of Croatia, Montenegro, Albania and Greece for the disposal of unexploded bombs. Some have been in place since 1995, when the alliance conducted bombing missions over Bosnia.
The problem was, however, that NATO did not inform the Italian government or authorities at the ports that are home to the fishermen who trawl the sea for a living.
Click HERE to read the entire Washington Post article. So, you see, fighter jets overhead have an entirely different significance to people who live in Venice than in other parts of the world where there are no military bases and no wars next door.
The airshow was amazing. I had a front row seat, or rather, front row blanket on the beach. Someone has done an excellent job of recording the Frecce Tricolori on YouTube, which captures the experience much better than my words. If you watch until the end, you'll hear Luciano Pavarotti belt out "Vincerò!" as the green, white and red colors of Italy flood the sky -- the Frecce Tricolori had honored Pavarotti at his funeral with a flypast, leaving a green-white-red plume of smoke in their wake.
Ciao from Venice,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog