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Venice Spring 2013


10+ Posts
Mercoledi 1 Maggio 2013 Time to Say Goodbye

May Day brings bitter sweet memories of being rousted out of bed by my sister at first light to wash my face in the dew on English grass. I am up at daybreak and symbolically splash cold water on my face before tottering back to bed to sleep until 9:00.

We leave for our last breakfast at Ciak. Technically we could stop on the way to the vaporetto tomorrow morning, but judging from past experience, we probably won't. Martin will want to get the slog to Marco Polo over and done with before indulging, and I hate good-byes and "lasts" in general. When I reach the end of our calle, Martin is standing and talking to a handsome white haired gentleman. It is only when I get closer that I realize it is, Gianni, who for years owned the macelleria on the Calle dei Saoneri.

Ever since our first trip as renters over 13 years ago we regularly bought our meat from him, but four years ago he decided to close his shop and retire. It is not an easy job to be on his feet all day, breaking down large sides of meat and even whole animals and then cutting them into even more refined pieces for home consumption. Gianni looks wonderful, very well rested, and relaxed and also very happy. He still lives above the shop which now sells jewelry and other accessories.

We tell him we miss coming to his shop and watching him slice and trim meat from the larger pieces, and trying his suggestions for unfamiliar cuts such as beef and veal cheeks, which had not yet become popular in the US, but we are happy he has time now to relax and enjoy life. We wish him a Buona festa and move on to Ciak's.

We have a quick coffee at Ciak's, standing at the bar and devouring what will be our last keifers for a long time. At least at home Martin's home roasted coffee beans make as good or better a cup of espresso than any we get in Italy even in Venice.

Then we walk back to our favorite shops to say goodbye to Dimitri, Rita and Maria Teresa. I buy a new address book at Dilmitri's shop, Karisma, which is filled with beautiful goods made from and/or covered with gorgeous paper. I have always bought the Florentine style that looks like peacock feathers. Over 10 or 12 years I have gone through pink, turquoise, red, deep purple, sienna and lavender, but this time I choose one that is black and white with musical notes and symbols. I also buy several beautiful note cards that are reproductions of drawings or details of drawings by artists ranging from da Vinci to Raffaello to Reubens. They make lovely small gifts or to use for special notes or in lieu of birthday cards.

Dimitri always has new and unusual items as well as more traditional choices such as plumed calligraphy pens, blank paged note books for handwritten journals and sketch pads, and sheets of the same beautiful paper that can been used to cover items of your own choosing if you are gifted with crafty hands.

He asks why I have not stopped by to visit, and I explain whenever I did, he was not there, "Ah "he says ," You have come in the afternoon." I tell him were are molto indolente, and our mornings are most people's afternoon. I ask if the young man in the shop in the afternoon is his son, and he says he is. There is a strong resemblance although Dimitri does not look old enough to have a grown son. He is, in fact, younger than several of our children. With a big hug and a double Italian kiss we say goodbye.

Then we move on to the Botttega dei Mascheria to say goodbye to Rita. She pulls off her heavy work gloves to come to say a proper goodbye. I am wearing a small owl medallion on a chain, and Rita, who loves Greece, spots it immediately as a symbol of Athena. We discuss our mutual fascination and love of owls, Athena and Greece and then move on to politics. The discussion of politics is a brief one because it is too depressing for both of us.

I tell her we still have the weeping American Flag mask Massimo made after 9/11 hanging in our front hall and on many levels it is sadly still appropriate. La Bottega has so many wonderful masks and over the years I have been fortunate to be able to buy several. They range from the adorable cat mask to the beautiful lace trimmed lady to the lovely autumn leaf and the dramatic and impressive Vincent Van Gogh. They have several of the Commedia dell'Arte masks in small sizes that make a wonderful collection as a group or excellent individual gifts. We leave with hugs and a small mask of the plague doctor which we hope will keep all plagues from our door.

Martin walks home, but I stop off to say good bye and doing some shopping at Sabbie e Nebbie, the shop of our friend, Maria Teresa. Fortunately for her, but not for me she is very busy. I wait for a while and chat with a friend of hers who seems very familiar. We know that we have not formally met, but perhaps I have seen her in the shop or passed her in the calles; she feels the same way about me. In many ways Venice is a small town. Her English is excellent, and I can fill in with Italian if she is in unfamiliar territory so we can have a real conversation. She has been looking at bells; each hanging bell is a single bell, but all have different tones. After listening to several she buys a bell which produces an especially lovely sound. The bells are hanging tantalizingly near that gray silk pleated shoulder bag, and my eyes keep straying to it.

Suddenly it is late, well past the hour Maria Teresa closes for lunch so I tell her I will return in the afternoon. I walk down our long calle, and after reading for a while I set out our leftovers of fruit, cheese and bread for lunch. Then it is time to tackle the dreaded unmentionable task of packing - the act that means our trip is truly at an end.

I want to take our final vaporetto ride around Venice, but I know I will enjoy it more if the packing is completed first. I put in everything except what I need for the night and the fresh clothes that I will wear to dinner and on the plane. Finally the dreaded unmentionable task is completed, but it has gone gray and is mizzling. As we debate whether to go even if I cannot take pictures, the mizzle turns to drizzle and then real rain.

Frustrated we settle for canal watching from our windows. I had expected a lot of activity since it is a holiday, but once again the canal is quiet. The holiday has reduced the number of work boats, and the weather has probably discouraged pleasure cruisers. Even the vaporettos are not very full. In the past, on May Day, Venice has been insanely crowded with calles, vaporettos, shops and restaurants all packed with people clamoring for service, but in those years, maybe May first fell on a day closer to the weekend. Wednesday puts May Day smack dab in the middle of the week and much harder to stretch into a real holiday away from home.

We walk up to Sabbie and Nebbie a little before 7:00; the shop is usually open until 7:30 so I should have time to shop before going to al Paradiso for dinner, especially since I have a list of what I want and for whom in my pocketbook. I only need to seek out two small made-in Italy gifts for friends who are Italophiles above all else, and, unless someone purchased it this afternoon, I have decided to buy the heavenly gray pleated shoulder bag.

Shoulda, woulda, coulda gone earlier. Today Maria Teresa is closing early to meet some friends for drinks. She kindly offers to reopen, but we can see she has already locked down the cash register and turned off the power so we tell her we will buy twice as much on our next visit, and walk to the vaporetto. We are all going to the SanToma Pontile, but Marie Teresa walks like a Venetian, and, at best, I walk like an old American woman more often it is like a giant tortoise so she catches a vaporetto before we get there.

We get off at San Silvestro, and walk to al Paradiso. In the Campo San Silvestro, we see a young black Lab chasing a bright red ball that matches his collar. The Campo is dark, with the shrouded church looming darkly over the center, and very few lights on in any of the buildings. The rain dark sky adds to the sense of gloom; the contrast of the red collar on the black dog and the red ball on the wet paving stones is dramatic and brings a smile to my face. Even though it is still drizzling lightly, my fingers itch for my camera.

We pass the church which looks like a ghost church it is so enshrouded in plastic and wood and come to a restaurant on the far edge of the Campo that is often empty but it is busy this evening. We've never tried it because we always feel if we are going as far as that place, we might as well walk another minute and be at al Paradiso, where we know the food will be divine.

Al Paradiso is also very busy. Giordano seats us inside tonight. We have come to dine on his excellent risotto for Nostra cena ultima. Martin begins with Pilgrim scallops and cherry tomatoes, and I opt for the tuna carpaccio something I love and have not had yet this trip. The tuna is exceptional, sliced into almost translucent slices and covered with herbs then drizzled with olive oil. I scarf it down wondering why I have not ordered it before.

The risotto almost defies description. Perfectly cooked, it is luscious with champagne, grapefruit and tiny pink and white shrimp, and dramatically topped with a giant prawn. Although listed as a primo, it is rich, satisfying and generous enough to be a secondo. It is one of my all time favorite dishes with its near perfect blending of textures and flavors from the sea and the earth.

We are too full for dessert so we bid Giordano good night and say we hope to return, if not next year then in 2015. We make the short distance into the vaporetto into a slow walk knowing each step is taking us closer to the moment of departure. We have but a short wait for a vaporetto home; tonight would gladly have waited much longer. The water seems especially black tonight and the magnificent chandeliers of the Palazzo Papadopolo can be seen glistening in the windows and again in the water. I tell myself to drink it all in with every sense. I don't want to just look with my eyes, but to listen to the sounds of the water as the vaporetto glides through it and thumps against the pontile at San Angelo and again at San Toma, the creak of the ropes as they strain to hold the boat stead, and the slide and clink sound as the gate opens and closes. I try to smell Venice - the slightly tangy briny water smells, the floral aromas from the wisteria and early roses and the occasional cooking smell wafting from an open window. With my hands I feel the cool railing as I lean out over the edge of the vaporetto trying to see all I can see in the dark night with my limited vision and with my feet I can feel the boat as it moves with the current and rocks or shifts when it crosses the ripples made by a passing craft. In my mouth I can taste the last esse di Buranelle that I had taken in my hand from the plate on our table and popped into my mouth as we boarded the vaporetto - something sweet with which to remember our last night.

As usual we wait until those rushing to the Piazzale Roma hurry off the boat and down the walkways to the first calle. Then we walk more slowly; I caress the moored gondole with my eyes and gaze one more time up and down the canal, savoring the dark waters sparkling here and there with lights from the buildings that line the canal. As we cross the bridge over the Rio di San Toma, we pause to direct a group to the ferrovia and then make the last walk down our long calle. Tomorrow it will be one way only.

Martin wants to go to sleep right away. I protest that I am not tired yet, and it is our last night. I want to stay up and sit at the window and watch even if it is just lights on the water, but since I prefer to shower first, I go to take my shower. Before getting into bed, I take a last look out the window, and then still feeling wide awake, I slip under the covers. I never even hear Martin get into bed.


Rialto Bridge


10+ Posts
Giovedi 2 Maggio 2013 Ciao Venezia! Ciao! Ciao! Ciao!

We had planned to get up at 7:15, but are both awake at 6:00, and we are already on a vaporetto at the time we had thought we would leave the house. We are luckily enough to get seats for the long ride from San Toma to Piazzale Roma on a # 1. From there it will be a land taxi to Marco Polo and then the start of a long and hopefully boring and uneventful trip home.

As we glide down the canal past a slowly awakening Venice, I think about how much time we have been lucky enough to spend in Venice over the last fifteen years, and how many things have changed during that time. On this trip, we found ourselves saying the words "used to be," time and time again.

We were walking in Dorsoduro on the Calle San Pantalon just past the Crosera, and one of us commented, "This used to be the pasta shop run by those three tiny old women. Remember how they all appeared to be dusty white as though they were permanently coated with flour." I was so glad I understood Italian because they did not speak English, but they would give instructions in Italian on exactly how long to cook the different fresh pastas they made by hand every day. Suddenly one day they were gone - the store was closed, and there was no sign of the three floured women. I always wondered if they somehow made themselves into gnocchi or tortelloni and disappeared into someone's shopping bag.

"This was where we used to buy almost all our fresh produce." For years we'd walk to a small shop across from the Frari which offered gorgeous fruits and vegetables at reasonable prices. I'd wait my turn and then select the produce I wanted at first by pointing, but eventually by asking for everything in Italian. Sometimes I'd buy produce I did not really need just for the fun of saying the names in Italian. While I waited and then was waited on, Martin would walk to the Bancomat near San Pantalon. He would usually arrive just in time to pay and carry the heavy bags home. One day I told the owner, "Lavoriamo insieme. Io compro e lui paga."

That comment got a big laugh and that made me very happy. Despite being a small stand, the prices were comparable to those at the Rialto. When the owner told me he was closing his shop, he said his daughters had both married and had children, and he wanted time to be a "nonno." On subsequent trips we used to pass him occasionally walking in a calle, and he always greeted us with a smile and a Buon Giorno, but we have not seen him recently.

On the Calle dei Saoneri, the words, "This used to be" were said repeatedly. We said it about the butcher shop where we bought all our meat, and where I learned so much Italian simply by listening to the customers order and chat with Gianni, about meat, their families, or the weather while I waited my turn.

On the other side of same the calle, there used to the tiny coffee shop where another Gianni and his wife served wonderful espresso, croissants and krapfen - doughnuts - and other home baked dolci. He kept the shop open for a few years after his wife died, but then closed it and moved out of Venice. He was always so kind and helpful; he would patiently answer all our questions about Venice and its traditions. We loved his cozy little place with classical music playing on the radio and room for no more than half a dozen customers at a time.

A few doors down there used to be the shop called, " A Vetri di Lume di Amado." The man who owned it, Amado, I always assumed, would sit behind the counter making incredible animals, flowers, fruits and vegetables out of glass. Over the years I bought many flowers, vegetables, fruits, birds, cats, dogs, horses and other animals from him, but I was never drawn to any of the very realistic insects he designed. In a case on the wall, he had a herd of glass horses that he had made. Somehow he managed despite their fragility to convey not just the grace and beauty but the power and excitement of a galloping herd of flesh and blood horses.

On the right as we would walk back towards the Rio Ter di Nomboli, there used to be a print shop with prints of Venetian scenes and reproductions of famous paintings. There was one print of the area around the traghetto and vaporetto stop at San Toma that always tempted me, but I never purchased it. The shop had been there forever so I could always buy it the next time. Now the shop is gone as is the Hair Techart Salon with its two hairdressers, Salvo and Mikki, who had the most fabulously outrageous and creative windows in Venice. They moved to Tuscany or so I was told. Sarah had them do her hair once, and I always thought maybe someday I would too, but they are far away.

At the head of our calle there used to be a hardware store. The man who owned it spoke no English, and when my Italian was not sufficient, we simply brought in the light bulb or drawer knob or whatever we needed to replace or repair, and he would do the job or sell us the piece we needed. At night we would see him walking the tiny dog who kept him company all day long. After he became too ill to work, two other men ran the store for a while, but then it changed completely and what used to be a hardware store was selling lingerie. Of course that shop used to sell lingerie; it now sells clothing and accessories such as pocketbooks and belts.

At the corner of Rio Ter dei Nomboli, there used to be a shop selling lighting fixtures - now it is filled with souvenirs and postcards. There also used to be a furriers across from Bar Nomboli. One year for my birthday Martin bought me a fur hat in that store; now it is another type of shop. I think it is the one selling small models of gondole, ferri and the like.

There also used to be, just past Il Bar Nomboli, a tiny store with the most cluttered windows I have ever seen; it too has vanished.

Over the bridge in the Campiello San Toma, Il Nido del Cicogne used to sell gorgeous and outrageously priced children's clothing, which probably no one but a grandparent could afford. The clothing especially for little girls I used to take photographs of the windows. I have heard they relocated near San Marco where there are more likely to be wealthy tourists.

Across the campiello, before the last shop in the row became the new branch of Vizio/Vitu - the one selling non-chocolate treats - it used to be a travel agency, and before that it used to be something else, but I can no longer remember what it was.

In the Campo San Toma, the large corner store that used to be a shop for reupholstering and repairing antique furniture is now a men's clothing store despite the fact that there is another men's clothing store just across the campo. There used to be another furniture repair and upholstery place in the campo, but that has been gone for years.

Everywhere we went we would find ourselves saying "used to be"; there is no doubt Venice is changing. Even the most elegant Bancomat ever that used to be near the Accademia is now gone. I think there is a very ordinary one inside the outer door to the bank which is presumably a safer location.

Rumor has it that the Chinese and Bangladesh "mafias" are buying up shops and restaurants and using them as fronts for other businesses. Hotels are supposedly being bought by the Russian mafia. Dio mio, can't the Italians even own the word "mafia" anymore?

There are lots of new hotels that used to be palazzi. Across the canal from us we have two: The Hotel San Angelo was, I think, the Palazzo Sant Angelo and is marked 20th century on most maps, but the Hotel Manin was once the Palazzo Baroco and dates from the 19th century. There is another new hotel in what I think was the Casa Perducci, just beyond the Rialto Bridge. The Casa dates from the 15th Century, but the hotel might actually be the building just before it. That edifice is the 19th century Palazzo Ruzzini and is just across the Rio del Fondaco dei Tedeschi from the central Post Office, which is housed in the Fondaco dei Tedeschi. The Facade of the Fondaco used be adorned with frescoes by Titian and Giorgione, but they faded long before I ever saw Venice.

Near the Ca d'Oro there are several new hotels - the ones in the Palazzo Morosini Sagredo and the Palazzo Giustinian Pesaro look very upscale. On the other side of the Canal, the small hotel next to our neighbor, Il Palazzo Pisani Moretta, closed several years ago, but a new hotel has taken over the space. There are others nearer the train station, and small new B and Bs seem to be hidden down every calle and in the corners of every campo.

I remember standing on the bridge over the Rio San Polo - crossing it was effortless in those days - and catching my first glimpse of men dressed as the Befana preparing for the races on Epifania. When she saw our mystified faces a kind passer-by stopped and explained who they were and what they were doing.

A few years later, I remember watching the race from a balcony of a building described only as a 19th century residence - apparently it did not qualify as a palazzo - but it gave us a priceless view of the finish at the Rialto Bridge. I remember watching fireworks from our dock, and sunsets from our windows and from vaporettos and gazing up at the "blue window" while sitting on the Giudecca Canal. I recall visiting the oldest rowing club in Venice - the Bucintoro after the Befana race for Pasta Fagioli and wine, and I remember climbing ever so many stairs to the roof top apartment of friends to see the New Year in with Prosecco.

I remember racing out to the Giardini on a vaporetto to watch the procession out to the lagoon for La Sensa. Once the parade of boats including the Bucintoro filled with dignitaries glided by, we jumped onto another vaporetto and rode out to the Lido. Then we ran along the promenade overlooking the water until we caught up to the Bucintoro and watched the Mayor of Venice - in lieu of any living Doges - throw a ring into the water symbolizing and reaffirming Venice's "marriage" to the sea.

I remember sitting at our living room windows and standing on our dock watching the amazing assortment of boats and people rowing in the Voga Lunga. I remember seeing movies made and I recall vividly the night that one side of the Rialto Bridge was in darkness and the other side in broad daylight thanks to the powerful "lamps" the movie crew was using. I remember seeing brides in wedding gondolas, and party guests with masks arriving next door in gondolas, and protests of all sorts by gondoliers, and people in privately owned boats of every size and shape for a myriad of causes. I remember hearing "Volare", "O Sole Mio," and "Ciao Venezia" sung dozens of times a day. I remember seeing the water cover the steps of the San Angelo traghetto and seeing the little motoscafi that usually went along the Cannaregio Canal on the Grand Canal because the water was too high for them to fit under the bridges on their usual route. I remember the year we had to take a water taxi to the airport from the vaporetto stop - technically illegal - because our dock was completely under water.

I remember the magic of snow in Venice, the thrill of lightning, tumultuous rain storms, the pink champagne light missed on this trip filled with too much gray and I even remember seeing rainbows. I remember.


Fondaco dei Turchi


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