What on Earth was going on in Venice?
April 20, 2011 5:52 AM   Subscribe

I was in Venice for a few days at the end of March, and several times saw young people in the street participating in a weird ritual: they would read out a passage from a hand-made poster, the crowd would laugh, and someone would attack them with a foodstuff -- I saw a lot of flour, once a meat tray, and an unfortunate soul having canned whipped cream injected down his pants. What?

They were all unusually dressed. I don't remember if the almost-naked guy in the rain was wearing anything amusing, but I do remember a girl dressed as a ladybug. And of course there was the fellow in football jersey and lime green swimming cap in the photo linked above.

I saw the ladybug shed her carapace and gambol off down the street, followed by a crowd chanting/singing something like "cok-ory, cok-ory, ba badi ba badi ba~umpapa umpapa". (Sorry I can't be more specific: that's just what I wrote down at the time, an aid to memory that evidently hasn't worked.) I'd been hearing the same sound on and off for days, so I assume the weirdness was quite widespread.

It occurred to me later that I had been staying right next door to the main buildings of the Università Ca' Foscari, and might have been hearing "Ca 'cari, ca 'cari...".

I figure it was some sort of student thing but am very curious about the details. Hazing? Performance? Ritual revenge for student government promises unkept? The locals I asked didn't know. Do you have any idea?
posted by ffrinch to Society & Culture (13 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
They graduated! Hang on, lemmo go find some stuff...
posted by likeso at 6:01 AM on April 20, 2011

Best answer: Here's one part of what's done to them. (back in a bit)
posted by likeso at 6:03 AM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's probably students from Ca' Foscari celebrating their diplomas. In Italy it's pretty common to prank students once they have presented their tesi, their dissertation, and have gotten their laurea. Some are rowdier than others, obviously.
posted by lydhre at 6:04 AM on April 20, 2011

Their friends prank them, of course, not random people on the streets. Though random people on the streets will likely recognize the ritual for what it is, gentle humiliation to celebrate the accomplishment of graduating from university, and participate by cheering or laughing at the appropriate moments.
posted by lydhre at 6:06 AM on April 20, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks! likeso, that PDF is perfect:
On the day of graduation, friends and family attend the graduate’s thesis defense in the halls of the university. ... Graduates are then stripped to either a bathing suit or underwear and put in various costumes such as cross-gender clothing, garbage bags, and animal suits. ... Climbing onto one of the square’s benches, the graduate is then presented with the papiro. ... The reading of the scroll becomes an interactive game between the graduate and other participants: errors in pronunciation and any verbal falterings are joyfully penalized by friends and family. ... When graduates falter or pause during the course of their reading, they are forcefully requested to take a slug of wine. Alternatively, friends might discipline the reader with the generous application of sticky and/or edible substances on their bodies.

Upon completion of the reading, graduates receive a few ritualized kicks in the bottom and are sent under a tunnel of participants’ spread arms, whereupon they will be gleefully swatted on the bottom. The friends and family of the graduate parade the graduate around the town, using the newly acquired title “doctor” for the first time in the following lyric: “Dottore, dottore, dottore nel buso del cul, vaffancul, vaffancul” (Doctor, doctor, doctor in your asshole, up your ass, up your ass).
People take graduation so seriously around these parts that the thought never even crossed my mind. And wow did I get those lyrics wrong.
posted by ffrinch at 6:22 AM on April 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Heh, I know. Just amazing ribbing. Here's a blog entry about the ritual in Venice itself, with footage. :)
posted by likeso at 6:28 AM on April 20, 2011

I hope it's ok if I ask a related question. I saw this too once in Padua in October. How does the Italian academic calendar work? Are there several times a year you can graduate or do you just get your diploma whenever you happen to finish your thesis?
posted by interplanetjanet at 6:31 AM on April 20, 2011

Well, there are two main waves: in March and in October. Don't know about rest of year for special cases or anything...
posted by likeso at 6:34 AM on April 20, 2011

Thanks, we guessed it must be graduation because later that evening we saw some of the same people dressed up and carrying flowers, having dinner at a restaurant with friends and family. In the US October would be a strange time to graduate so I thought they must have a totally different academic year and I was curious about it.
posted by interplanetjanet at 6:39 AM on April 20, 2011

Vaffancul! Vaffancul!
Hey, thanks for this! Now I know what my Dad was saying all the time! He was American but lived in Italy for several years in the 60s. He used to say this on occasion instead of swear words, or so I thought.
posted by planetkyoto at 7:52 AM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

I saw this too once in Padua in October
Thesis defense happens year around, so no particular day or month. The scroll is a universal tradition at all the Universities in Italy. It is always accompanied by a very vulgar song that starts with "Dottore" and goes on to mention various body parts to remind the new PhD that he has not instantly been transformed into a superior human being.
posted by francesca too at 8:55 AM on April 20, 2011

Yeah, the blog post above mentions "throughout the year."
posted by rhizome at 11:09 AM on April 20, 2011

In northern Italy, you see a lot of processions of freshly minted dottori mainly in March and October... it can get quite raucous! Not so many gangs at one time in other months - that I've seen, anyway. But then I avoid Italy in the summer and winter. ;)
posted by likeso at 12:05 PM on April 20, 2011

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