Grab yourself a glass of Pimm’s and pull up a chair; there’s a regatta going on. Ah, yes, a nice regatta, with white sails all rigged (tt) moving at a regal pace across the harbour. Well, it looks regal at this distance. In the Olympic coverage of sailing regattas, they don’t have the nail-biting, body-part-crunching second-by-second coverage that characterizes some sports; rather, they have relaxing piano or guitar music and a summary of who accomplished what. Rowing, of course, is entirely another thing, but even doing the sailing at boat level is not so serene – watch those guys hanging off the side, knees at 90 degrees and bodies half upright: how long would your quads and abs last doing that? It’s competitive. It’s a race! It’s almost as vindictive as a vendetta.
But still, when you think of a regatta, what do you think of? Quite likely the view I had out my bedroom window this afternoon: a cotillion of white sails decorating the water and moving more slowly in the visual field than a mobile. Perhaps you’re watching it from a waterside bar calling itself Regatta.
This word actually is a bit on the pizzicato side for something that has that kind of white-pants-white-jacket yacht-club air. (Apologies to my fellow native Calgarians and other dry-land people, who may not be all that up on yacht clubs; there are several in Toronto and environs, ranging from the upper-crust to the merely rather expensive but accessible, and they are well known, especially the top tier.) But think of it as something one may attend after a light lunch of frittata. And focus as much on the reg, which is not the reg of register nor even the reg of regular; it’s the reg of regal and regale that sets the atta-tude.
Ah, yes, white-glove service, egg white frittata, white pants and white jacket, a few little whitecaps, white sails… Truly a regatta de blanc. But, oh, don’t call the Police: their album, Reggatta de Blanc, has two g‘s, and the title is a pseudo-French translation of “white reggae” (French for reggae is actually reggae; the tapping of the atta, like an opening riff from Stewart Copeland’s drums, shows up again with their next album, Zenyattà Mondatta). But then the album opens with “Message in a Bottle,” and how could you not think nautically? And the almost relaxed, almost spacey slow groove with tipping and tapping in “Walking on the Moon” – it takes me nearly back to the music for the television coverage of regattas.
Not that regattas were always quite so genteel; the original regatta was a race held on the Grand Canal in Venice and undoubtedly at least a little rougher, given that it was 17th-century Venice we’re talking about, the very chronotope of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice and a town known for naval aggression and pride. The word, in the regional Italian dialect, meant “competition” and appears to have stemmed from the same Latin root that gave English capture. But then some 18th-century toffs decided to have one on the Thames, and, well, here we are. Do have some more Pimm’s.