Venice - 2009

I depart for Venice

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Front of St Mark’s

The journey started with a ride to Miami with Mike and Murphy Brown.  When I arrived at the airport and checked in I found that my small roller was too heavy to take on the plane and had to check it.  Of course, it had all my electronic gear in it in addition to my prescriptions, contact lens stuff and other things I would need in case my luggage got lost.  Luckily I had a Whole Foods bag in the roller so that I could take out all the things that I did not want to lose.  Unfortunately, I did not take a plastic bag that had the French phone and its cords and manual in it but luckily it and the rest of my things made it to Venice intact.   At least I did not get charged for checking a second bag or for excess weight.  

When I sat down at the gate for my Swiss Air flight, I sat next to an Italian woman from Turin.  She had been in Miami visiting an old friend and unfortunately had missed her Lufthansa flight (guess Lufthansa must connect with Torino).  I knew she was Italian because I heard her talking in Italian to a couple next to her.  We talked a bit and I did understand most of what she said.  Good for me.

Arrival in Venice

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

First breakfast on my apartment terrace

I arrived in Venice and, after retrieving my luggage, I felt somewhat like a bag lady -- two rollers (one large and one small), a tote bag and my Hobo shoulder bag.   There are several ways to get from Marco Polo airport on the mainland to the island city of Venice, but with all my bags I decided to pay to take a water taxi (un motoscafo).  It cost 105 euro but at that point I didn’t care.  There is a lesson to be learned here -- take no more than you can comfortably carry on your own.  Of course, I did have the burden of school supplies, dictionaries, guidebooks and clothes for a follow-up trip directly afterward, but I will seriously have to rethink what I bring the next time.

The ride was a bit bouncy when we hit cross waves from other motoscafi coming from another direction but in the end it was a fun and refreshing ride.  I think we took the Cannaregio canal from the airport and cut to the Grand Canal before taking two smaller canals (possibly Rio Nuovo from Piazzale Roma to Rio dei Carmini -- rio is the word for a small canal).  Anna, the owner of my rental apartment, was waiting for me on the Carmini bridge.  The motoscafo driver went under the bridge and “parked” on the wrong side so Anna asked him to make a U-turn to drop my bags on the other side in front of the entry to the Palazzo Foscarini (which incidentally is the name of the old palazzo and the apartment that I am renting in it.)  Anna’s mom, Nicoletta, lives in the same building.  Anna explained the workings of the apartment to me and then left.

My first order of business was to buy a “Carta Venezia” that allowed me to take the vaporetti like a cittadina (citizen) of Venice.  Anna called the ACTV  transportation office at Piazzale Roma to see if they were open and also to inquire exactly what ticket would be the most economical for me.  It turned out that with the Carta Venezia (for which I needed a passport photo and 40 Euros for the card (tessara) plus 28 euro), I could get a monthly ticket that would allow me to jump on and off the vaporetti including those that went out to the islands (isole) of Murano, Burano and Torcello among others.  This compares to the one time fare of 6.50 euro for 60 minutes with no return trips (and already by the end of that afternoon I had taken two trips).  

P. Foscarini from C. dei Carmini

My apartment building from Campo dei Carmini

It’s an easy walk to the Piazzale Roma from the apartment but of course to complicate things, I forgot the passport photo the first time I went.  Of course, that allowed me to find the ACTV office.  The second time, I went into the office and stood in line only to find that I had to take a number.  There was a machine that had buttons for the operations 1 through 4 – the first being for theatre tickets, the 2nd for having the clerk at another window fill out the form I needed -- she took the passport photo and 40 Euros -- then the 3rd was for the monthly ticket of 28 Euros.  Of course, at first I had no idea that I had to take a number (Rick Steve’s book only warned me that I needed a passport photo).  Finally another person who was waiting told me what I needed to do.  I was lucky that there were no other persons waiting with numbers.  The lady filled out my form and then informed me that I had to see her colleague for the monthly ticket.  Of course, I just moved to the next window without realizing that I again needed a number (remember this the next time you think American bureaucracy is complicated!).  By the time I tried for the number the machine had closed down to avoid having too many people waiting past quitting time.  I stood in line anyway, behind a young Veneziana (Venetian woman) and talked with her a bit while waiting.  Finally, I got my ticket – an electronic card that is good until 2012 (although one would have to buy another 28 euro monthly fare).  

I love these lights

It was time to jump on the vaporetto down the Grande Canale to get to Piazza San Marco.  I took the No. 2 vaporetto which was the faster one, taking pictures all along the way.  Finally I arrived at S. Marco, taking more pictures and then sat down to have a drink (a Prosecco which is Italian champagne) to celebrate my arrival in Venice.  As far as the photos of San Marco cathedral, what really fascinated me (other than the magnificent buildings) were the Venetian street lamps which have translucent pink glasses on the lamps.  They reminded me of the pink walls in the Forget’s apartment in Milan.

                                               Steet lamp in Piazzo San Marco - I love these!

P.  San Marco is totally touristic but something that one must do.  I wanted to have my Prosecco at the most famous café – Caffe’ Florian -- but the view of St. Mark’s from there was obscured by some scaffolding.  Instead I went to Caffe’ Quadri for my drink and listened to the quartet of jazz musicians (for a price of course).  My intention afterwards was to walk to a place for dinner, going over the Accademia Bridge.  However, it was getting late and I didn’t want to take the time – so hopped on the vaporetto to my stop, Ca’ Rezonnico and walked through Campo San Barnaba, onto Calle Lunga S. Barnaba to the “Alla Bitta” Trattoria.  This is a “meat only” restaurant (a rarity in this island city) where I had some house wine (they take out a bottle and count how much of it you drink – in my case 4 euro for two glasses).  I had one of the house specialties, a pasta dish (really small, manageable portions like one is supposed to serve).  The dish consisted of tagliatelle pasta with some chopped onions, a little canned tomato sauce, mixed into some beef cut very finely with some cinnamon added.  It was probably the best pasta dish I have had in a long time considering I am not a fan of red sauce.  This one was very light, just enough to warm the meat in.  From there I walked home again through Campo S. Barnaba, across a little bridge and into Rio Terra Canale which joins up with Campo S. Margherita and so through Campo dei Carmini and “home”.

It was about 11 pm by the time I got into bed and read a little.  I was probably overtired because I kept waking up (I was also still running on adrenalin).  I heard a couple of mosquitoes (zanzare) during the night so put in one of those plug-in things and didn’t wake up with any bites.  The following day when I met Anna’s mother, Nicoletta, for some minor repairs needed to be done in the shower (drain was running slow so they put some type of Drano product in it), she told me that I shouldn’t open the windows at sundown because that was when the mosquitoes were the most active but that it was okay to open the windows once the sun went down.  We will test the theory tonight.

Exploring Dorsoduro Quarter

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Canal leading from the Zattere discovered on my first fast walk

      Woke up at around 5 a.m. today and it was just starting to get light.  I tried to sleep a bit more but finally got up at 5:40 and started to read a bit – I still felt tired from the previous day and couldn’t really summon the courage to get out of bed.  However after about 10-15 minutes, I decided to get up and get ready to explore a “trail” for fast-walking.  I had previously noticed an area called Zattere (Fondamenata Zattere) on the map and it looked like a long straight route that went along the Giudecca Canal.  It was not too hard to get to from my apartment and proved a great place for my daily walks.  As I was walking I noticed a street called Calle Trevisan that would take me back up to Campo San Barnaba and thus would make a kind of circle.  Unfortunately as I was coming back along the Zattere, I turned at another street that I think was also called the same thing.  This one, however, led off F. Zattere al Gesuati (quay of the Jesuits) instead of just plain old F. Zattere.   When I got to the Accademia Bridge, I knew that I had gone the wrong way so doubled back and found the correct street. 

      After a shower and breakfast of whole wheat melba-type toasts, low fat margarine, and Italian caffe’ made in the typical stove-top Italian coffee maker, I took my computer and went to check out the school (which I had located on my fast walk back to the apartment).  It really is convenient.  They let me use their wifi, programming in the code for the entire time I will be here and I checked my emails, sending one to Mike about some of the things I had been doing.  I returned the computer to the apartment and then went to have a quick sandwich at a café on Campo Santa Margherita then took the vaporetto from the Ca’ Rezzonico to Rialto Bridge in order to begin a walk in the Brunetti’s Venice guidebook (although before arriving there saw a neat mask shop which used to be an antiques store where Katharine Hepburn filmed a scene from the film, Summertime, where afterwards she fell into the canal).  The walk was the #2 one through the Rialto market, passing several famous baccari (Venetian bars for snacks and a quick ombra (small glass of wine).  I visited Osteria Sora al Ponte which sits on a small bridge at the end of the Rialto Market.  It was closed, however, until this Friday but was in a nice place which was worthy of a picture.  After that I hunted for another one of Brunetti’s favorites (and a well known Venetian baccaro) Do Mori (also featured in the public television show “No Reservations”).  It is quite interesting with its atmosphere of old copper pots hanging from the ceiling and even a couple of wine kegs that say Do Mori.  I took some pictures, met a French couple in the baccaro and talked with them for a bit although had to do it in English because I couldn’t get out whole sentences of French which always happens when I am studying Italian. 

Pots at Do Mari-what were they for

      I continued on walking by, among other places, Brunetti’s favorite flower shop, Biancat but before I found it, I saw another mask shop, this one with a great monkey mask made out of papier-mâché and fabric – took a photo of it because I may want to buy it.  Both mask places that I saw will ship the masks.   

      I took some lovely photos along the way and finally arrived back in C. S. Margherita where I went to the grocery store for some small things for dinner (mozzarella, tomato, and a basil plant (which is now sitting on my terrace.  This made a great dinner with some strawberries I got in the outdoor market on the Margherita square.  I returned with tired feet which now feel less sore (will take some ibuprofen before bed since I had foot and leg cramps last night).  

                                                               Hanging pots and chichetti at Do Mori

Exploring Burano and Murano

Friday, May 15, 2009

Bicycle in front of colorful Burano home

Today was a day designated for exploring Burano and perhaps Murano.  I was going to start off by going to the Rialto Market (Mercato) by taking a vaporetto on the Grand Canal from Ca’ Rezzonico to Rialto.  However, after waiting at least 20 minutes or more I sensed something was wrong and asked an apparent Italian if he had been waiting long.  He said “yes” and went to see what was going on.  His first thought was “Uno sciopero” (a strike) and he was right.  It was apparently something that few people had heard about in advance and was supposed to last for 24 hours. 

      I could have easily decided not to go to Burano except that I had reserved for lunch at a famous trattoria, Da Romano and I really wanted to go and had no way to call them to tell them that I wouldn’t be there.  My Italian “friend” thought that if I took the traghetto (gondola’s which make trips across the Grand Canal at a number of points along its length) that I could walk to Fondamenta Nuove from where I could probably get a vaporetto to the islands (on the principal that since they are islands, a strike cannot be allowed to strand people who don’t have their own boats).  However, it was not that easy. 

Making Goh fish risotto at Da Romano

      I thought that in the USA I had been smart to buy what appeared to be a very detailed map of each of the 6 sections (sestieri) of the main part of Venice.  Unfortunately I did not realize that they didn’t always join up all the streets so parts of the maps were left out.  And since I did not have a full map of Venice with me, I did not realize that the signs saying “Direction Rialto” were the direction I was supposed to take after getting off the traghetto.  I wandered around, trying to use the map I had, asking directions (I found one lady in Campo San Luca who tried to direct me to Campo San Bartolomeo, right near the Rialto Bridge.  Unfortunately even though I understood what she was saying in Italian, the directions were so many and so complex that I had no hope of remembering them.)  Finally along the way I met an American couple from Iowa who had an extra map that they gave me.  We walked for a while, thinking we were going toward San Bartolomeo until I realized that we were on the other side of a covered walkway (or galleria) just next to Piazza San Marco.  Their map had a highlighted area that showed the direction to F. Nuove and soon I actually started seeing signs indicating the direction (even though I couldn’t find many of the streets on my newly acquired map).  I finally arrived and it appeared in fact that the connections between the islands and the main city of Venice were operating, but at reduced numbers and times.  I had started out from my apartment at 8:30 am with my idea of going to Rialto.  My reservation was at 12:30 pm at Da Romano in Piazza Galuppi.  I ended up being 30 minutes late.  Of course, they knew of the strike by then and, and since most people could not really make their way out to the island either, Da Romano kept my table available.  

      It was definitely worth the effort.  The trattoria is a lovely space with framed art on the walls that numerous artists over the years have bartered for their meals.  The trattoria has been in the same family for 5 generations.  I met 4th generation “Papa” Luigi S and spoke with him. He saw my copy of a Donna Leon book and asked if I knew that his trattoria had been featured in one of the stories (I did – it was in the book “A Sea of Troubles”.)  I also told Luigi that I had come to his trattoria because I saw it featured on a public television program.  He said that he was surprised how many Americans learned of his trattoria from that program.  I told him that the program quoted him as saying that his trattoria prepared “una cucina eroica” which he explained meant simple dishes with simple ingredients maintained generation by generation.  One of the specialties is Risotto al Romano, a fish risotto made with broth of the Goh fish, a fish that is normally inedible on its own with very little flesh and many bones.  However, it makes a great broth in which to cook the risotto rice.  It has to be mixed in a very special way because if it is not, it can turn into something very bad tasting.  One of the ways that the mixing is accomplished is to toss the rice mixture up in the air from the pan (sort of in the manner that pizza dough is tossed).  Luigi invited me to take a picture of the operation if someone else ordered the risotto.  Someone did and I got a great picture after which Luigi had his son, Lucca, and a couple of the kitchen staff take a picture with me in the kitchen.  It was quite an event and a very great lunch.  Afterward I went around taking some pictures of the picturesque, colorful houses of Burano and then headed back to the vaporetto.  I luckily got one that went to F. Nuove without having to change at Murano (as I did on the way out).  This time I found my way relatively easily back to my apartment where I decided that I would collapse for a while.  Perhaps I will start listening to “Madame Butterfly” to prepare myself for my next adventure a week from this Sunday at La Fenice Theatre. 

I finally visit the Rialto Market

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Flower vendor amid her colorful flowers.

Last night I blew the electricity when I connected the automatic tea maker.  Even the phone went out so I had to bite the bullet and try to reach Anna on my French cell phone.  I did and she told me how to correct the problem.  She also said to throw out the automatic pot and that she would bring me a new one.  I found it on my inside doorstep when I arrived back at the apartment this afternoon. 

      Today I finally got to the Rialto market in time to take some photos of the place and also to buy some things for my dinner tonight.  I went to La Baita, Brunetti’s favorite cheese store on Ruga degli Orefici and Ruga Vecchia S. Giovanni.  It was closed when I went the other day and since there is no sign (other than the paper that is wrapped around your purchases) there would be no way a non-Venetian would know about it as Donna Leon says in her books.  I got some parmigiano and jambon da Parma.  In another place in the market, I saw some melons that looked good so bought one of those.  Voila – my dinner tonight.  After I made my purchases, it was close to lunch time and so I went to Do Mori and had some cichietti.  From there I started walking back toward home with the intention of buying the fabric covered animal masks I had seen of the monkey and the fox.  I got them purchased but had trouble getting the gal to agree to mail them in a way that would allow me to track the package.  She said that she could wrap them and then I could go to the Post Office in Campo San Polo and explain what I needed (and then I would probably pay less for the mailing than she would charge me).  The box she wrapped everything in look a bit fragile so I hope that the masks make it to Chicago (Note:  They did!).  

      After this little adventure, I returned to the apartment, deposited my food in the fridge and then took the vaporetto again to go to Piazza San Marco to see the Basilica.  (By this time I am on my 9th ride -- the monthly ticket is turning out to be a good option for me.)   I went inside the cathedral which is rather a disappointment because it is badly lit.  However, I did get up to the Loggia dei Cavalli, four bronze horses on the outside balcony of San Marco.  The horses on the outside are copies with the originals being inside the cathedral’s museum.  Too bad I couldn’t take a picture of the originals as posed all together they are really amazing looking.  But I did buy a post card.  I also visited the Treasury of the cathedral (okay but not amazing) and something called the Pala d’Oro, a 14th century gold altar piece that was okay but it was also badly lit.  I imagine that the altar that it once covered is the one under which the body of St. Mark lies. 

 Bronze horses on the Loggia of St. Mark's Cathedral

By this time it was almost too late to see the Doge’s Palace and I was running out of steam so I started walking back to the apartment.  While walking I discovered an interesting thing – I went through Campo San Stefano which I had been through on my wanderings trying to find the Fondamenta Nuove the day before.  Boy was I lost that day.  This campo was right near the Accademia Bridge and in a completely different direction than I wanted to go on Friday.  However, it worked out fine today.  From the Accademia stop, I took the vaporetto for one stop to Ca’ Rezzonico.  I returned home to get my computer to see if I could sit in a café outside the school and receive the wifi signal.  It worked but unfortunately there was too much light, making it difficult to see the computer screen.  I will try again tomorrow evening.  I was able to answer a couple of emails however. 

      Tomorrow I am planning to ride the Grand Canal from Piazzale Roma again so that I can follow Rick Steve’s tour of the Canal.  And incidentally I will first go to the train station because I still don’t have my train ticket for Florence and I hope that I can buy it on Sunday so that I will have that out of the way. 

Errands & window shopping

Sunday, May 17

Antique fabric covers these paper mache masks of animals

I slept in a little bit on Sunday but decided that I had to wash some of my clothes.  This necessitated me going out to buy washing powder.  In this way I discovered (by asking a neighbor named Mirco whom I met coming out of my building) the Billa Supermarket on the Zattere which is much bigger than the one in Campo Santa Margherita.  I bought the soap powder and some other things and then came home to wash the clothes.  It was then that I found out that righty tighty left loosey (an old sailing rhyme which reminds one how to open and close a boat’s water intakes) works in Italy too since I ran a whole cycle of 32 minutes (the short cycle) without any water coming into the drum since the water was turned off to the machine.  I corrected this and then started again.  All this fuss with the washing meant that I did not leave the apartment until much later than anticipated.   

      Before I did my Grand Canal thing, I needed to buy my ticket to go to Florence.  I tried reading the train schedule affixed to the wall in the train station but without success – since I could find no reference to the station in Venice – Santa Lucia.  I went into the station’s railway info office and found out that was because the listings are only for Mestre on the mainland and only deal with the end destinations.  Anyway, I got the numbers of the necessary trains I could choose from and tried to buy a ticket from one of the automatic ticket machines but it sent me to the ticket window instead.  I succeeded in buying my ticket (by the way all these questions were in Italian – so I felt that I was doing rather well with the language).  I walked back to Piazzale Roma to get on the vaporetto at the first stop in order to get a good seat.  I spent the next 30 to 45 minutes snapping more pictures of the buildings on the grand canal. 

The ultimate in waterfront properties

     Upon arrival at Piazza San Marco I tried to get a picture of the Bridge of Sighs behind the Doge Palace.  Unfortunately the facades next to it were covered in a kind of scaffolding so the picture is not a great one.  From there I decided to try the famous Bellini at Harry’s Bar.  While the drink was good, I do not recommend going there.  The place is nothing special and it’s really expensive for what it is.  For the same price (17 Euros) it makes more sense to sit in Piazza San Marco at I Quadri or one of the other cafes -- at least you get the music for the cost of your drink! 

      I walked back from San Marco, looking at the shops while I went along.  Venice is much like Paris in that there are so many little shops.  The windows are always interesting whether they be flowers, food, paper, or masks, or shoes, clothes, books – I came across one book store that seemed to deal mainly in environmental gardening.  It continues to be fun to window shop in Europe.   There are so many nice things.  I would love to have space to put all the things that I am attracted to.  Unfortunately I can only feast my eyes or we would have to buy several houses just to fit all the stuff.  Coming home I crossed the Accademia Bridge and found my way back to the apartment (other times I just hopped on the vaporetto so that I could follow my usual way home.) 

      I met Anna, my landlord, and her mom Nicoletta and Nicoletta’s boyfriend for a drink in C. S. Margherita.  We had a nice talk mostly in Italian. 

School visit of San Croce area

Monday, May 18, 2009

Reflections in a canal in the Santa Croce Sestiere

School started today.  My test included only a verbal interview with one of the teachers.  She placed me in the Level 4 class.  I have met several of my classmates in both the grammar and the conversation portions. Here it seems more usual that the same students stay together and then the teacher comes into the classroom.  This is more convenient since one can leave ones books, etc. in the classroom while taking a break.  I seem to be the only American although there might be others.  Since there are 5 levels there are probably around 60 students in the various classes.  In my class there is Klaus (a German guy), Laura (Argentinian living in NY), Mona (Norwegian), Anca (sp”?-German), Pedra (Dutch girl), Franck (Dutch guy), and Gudrun (German lady).  There are also two Japanese girls, one named Naomi and I don’t at this point know the other one's name.  There is also a French guy whose name I don’t know at this point.  He will be going to Hawaii for an English course after this class.  The grammar teacher is Gregorio and the Conversation teacher is Rosanna. 

      Monday night we met another male teacher, Andrea, in Campo San Giacomo dell’Orio in the San Croce district for a night walk.  San Croce is the oldest section of Venice and there are many early and later Gothic palazzos there.  The earlier gothic just have pointed arched windows while the later gothic has these same type windows but also lozenge-like open shapes with crosses in their middle.  Prior to meeting the class, I went to dinner at a restaurant that serves great pizza and has a garden.  I was a little concerned because a group of about 30 plus kids arrived with their teachers or something for some kind of party.  But the teachers kept them reasonably quiet and the garden was large enough that I could sit far away from them.  It was a quite pleasant dinner and I brought my homework (little that it was) and a book and spent a pleasant evening.   


Trattoria Al Nono in Santa Croce

    On the walk we went through a lot of narrow walkways and I probably would not have done this myself – It would have been so easy to get lost.  The only problem with the evening was that the vaporetti do not run very frequently at 11:00 pm so I had to wait (and it turned out I was at the wrong dock with a number of other people) to take the number 1 back to Ca’Rezzonico.  I was a bit concerned about being out that late at night and walking home.  However, there were quite a few people out and the way from the Ca’ Rezzonico stop was well lit.  It was worth being that late to see views from the Grande Canale of some of the interiors of the palazzos lit up in the evening.  One place looked as though the room inside was big enough for a ballroom.

A vanishing art 

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Creating a racing oarlock (forcella) in one of the last remaining artisan studios of this type in Venice.

As a result of my late night I set my alarm for 7:30 am and got ready to go to class.  The day was expected to be very hot and so I partially closed the shutters at my apartment so it was not as hot in here as it would have been otherwise.  However, the visit that we did with the school at the workshop of one of the two remaining artisans creating oar locks (forcelle) and oars (rami) for gondolas was very hot.  The visit lasted about an hour and while I may have been inclined to ask more questions (I did ask about the smaller, gold oarlocks on the tourist gondolas and found out that these would typically be for marriages), I was really in a hurry to get out of there. (I later realized that what I had thought of as oarlocks from their position on the gondola which would be in a position we are used to for a rowboat, were actually some sort of decoration.  Even the gondolas for tourists have the kind of oarlock that this guy creates although less for competition than for every day working.)  I am afraid that the heat made me pay less attention to what the guy was saying which was unfortunate.  I do remember that he makes the oar locks for competitions and traditional races.  There are several positions in the oar locks which are tall structures to allow the boatmen to stand while oaring.  There are positions for going forward, backward, stopping, etc.  And the way that the gondolier rows on only one side is that he never lifts the oar out of the water but after making a motion to go forward he kind of flutters the oar in an arc through the water to keep it going straight.  I think that we did something like this when canoeing. 

oarlocks on a gondola-on way to Ple Roma 2

Golden decoration on tourist gondola

      After leaving the oarlock guy, I had intended to go for a walk around Castello but was much too hot so decided to come home and promptly got lost.  I did find my way back though thanks to my rather detailed map.  The difficulty was to find the names of the streets I was on as they are not always marked and then to see if the same name was indicated somewhere on my map.  I finally found my way to Campo San Barnaba (all ways seem to lead there) and from there it was an easy walk home.  Because of the heat and the fact of being up so late the night before, I took a nap – I understand now why people in hot countries do siestas. 

Tour of Castello then a film

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Cat houses outside San Lorenzo Church - actually for housing the local feral cats.

School continues to go along fine and I think I am in the right class.  The teachers handle grouping the students for study groups very well.  After class I did a little work on the internet and then came home and dropped off my computer and books so that I could take a walk around the area of Castello.  Again, I followed the guidebook based on the books of Donna Leon and thus saw some areas that tourists don’t usually get to and took a lot of neat pictures.  Of course, Commissario Brunetti is fictional but that didn’t stop me from taking pictures of his favorite restaurant in Castello and having a fresh squeezed orange juice at the café he frequents (now under a different name but at the same place).  I took a picture of the Questura (or police station) just for the fun of it and also the Church of San Lorenzo which in the books always seems to be under restoration. In front of the churches there is a group of little houses which are for the “wild” cats that the Venetians once imported to help control the mouse and rat population in the city.  This makes for a funny thought – cat houses in front of a church! 

   Favorite trattoria of Commisero Brunetti in Castello 

     Later I met Karen, whose blog I read while doing research on Venice.  She and her husband Michael are originally from the Baltimore area.  Her mother was born in Italy and so Karen has the right to dual-citizenship.  However, the Italians make it very hard to get it and she had to practically jump through hoops to make it happen.  Her interest in doing so was because she and Michael wanted to make a change in their stressful US lives and move to Venice.  After about 5 years of visiting the city for a month at a time, they decided to see if they could create a private tour business.  Of course, to open a business they had to have the right to stay here, hence Karen’s quest for her citizenship.  They are here with their two dogs and found a house to rent not far from my rental apartment.  The house has a garden so that the dogs have a place to run and play.  Karen suggested that we might get together for dinner at their house so I do hope that I have an opportunity to see it. 

      After coming back and doing some homework, I went back to the school for an evening showing of the Roberto Benigni movie, La Tigre e La Neve.  It is a film about a guy (Roberto as Atillo) who is divorced but who still loves his wife to distraction.  He is a poet and teaches at a university with much animation when he conducts a class.  As far as his wife is concerned, he is a pest who shows up wherever she goes (I got the impression that she is some kind of journalist or someone who travels to strange countries for her work.)  The time of the film is March 2003 – the time that the second Gulf war started.  Atillo gets a call from his friend Faud (played by the French actor Jean Reno) that Atillo's wife Vittoria has been injured in Bagdad.  It appears that she might die.  Atillo rushes to Bagdad (an accomplishment that no one can believe because there are no longer flights from Italy to Iraq – In fact he passes himself off as a doctor to the Italian Red Cross and gets to Iraq that way).  The rest of the story involves him finding medicine and equipment to keep Vittoria alive until her brain aneurism can cure itself.  He never tells her that it was him who saved her but at the end of the film she realizes that it was him because he is wearing the necklace she had with her when arriving in Iraq.  A looter tried to steal it from her in the hospital and the doctor there counseled Atillo to keep it for her.  It is a beautiful film, perhaps a bit critical of the US’s starting of the war but that is only secondary to the story. 

A Venetian dinner

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Ca’ d”Oro, one of the most beautiful palazzi on the Grande Canale.

The day dawned very early as we had a school trip to the Rialto Market with Marina (who showed up with her dog Gruffo which made me happy since I missed my springer spaniel, Murphy Brown).  I walked to Rialto from my apartment and it took only 15 minutes when I thought it would take much longer.  I must be getting better at finding my way through some areas of the city.

      In addition to pointing out the various delicious things in the market, she told us a bit of history about it including the Rialto Bridge.  Apparently there has been a sort of bridge there since about the mid 1100’s.  The first bridges were wooden and eventually a drawbridge was created to allow the sailing ships to come through.  However, after one of these bridges collapsed under the combined weight of bystanders trying to watch the wedding procession of the Marquis of Ferrara (1444) the Doge (Duke) commanded that a stronger bridge be built and a competition was held.  Even Michelangelo entered the competition which was won by Antonio da Ponte (which translates to Anthony of the Bridge).  It was completed in 1592, four years after construction was started and has lasted until now even with all the tourists that crowd it every day. 

 Class visit of Rialto Market in early morning with Marina    

Visiting the Rialto Market so early, one avoids the crowds of tourists for which many of the stalls have changed from selling things needed in daily life to cheap souvenirs, many of them not even made in Italy.  In her books, Donna Leon has Brunetti bemoaning this fact and one can understand his complaints while trying to get through the market area a little later in the morning.  After Marina left us around 8:30 am, I walked  back to Campo Santa Margherita with Laura, the Argentinean lady who lives in New York.  After a stop at my apartment to pick up my books, I arrived at school about 9:05 am shortly after Laura.   

      Class again went well and afterwards I had lunch at home, did some homework and then took a little walk.  I am to meet the Venetian couple (Adriana and Bruno) for dinner whom I met at Corkscrew Swamp in Naples, Florida.  I have been invited to dinner at their home which is a real honor.  I bought a little African violet plant as a house gift. 

     Adriana used to work as an English teacher and Is now retired but has a very young way about her.  Bruno’s family owned a fish restaurant/deli business near Rialto Bridge.  (Adriana told me that someone else runs it now – but I’m not sure if she meant that it had been sold or whether Bruno just had people managing it for the family.) 

      They live in the Cannaregio area which is across the Grand Canal from the Dorsoduro sestiere where my apartment is.  It is a nice apartment.  We had a great dinner with two types of baccala’ (salted cod), one just plain and the other with anchovies and garlic.  Anchovies are not my favorite thing, but I took a little of both and was surprised to like both of them.  Next we had a risotto that had various “frutti di mare”.  It was very good too.  The final course served with mixed salad were two fish – branzino and dorato (like French dorade, I think).  Both were very good.  Like all good European meals nothing was served in an overwhelming quantity which allows one to enjoy a lot of different things during the meal.  A dessert of fruit salad followed with a bit of strawberry ice cream like no other I have ever tasted (this must have been what strawberry ice cream used to taste like -- it was so good!) and white wine (with many glasses of water drunk in between glasses) made for a very good meal.  It is interesting to note that both Adriana and Bruno, once they drank one glass of wine “straight”, seemed to put water in their glasses to mix with the wine.  I guess this is a way to minimize the effects of the wine.  I took their lead and did the same thing. 

      The evening ended around 10 pm when I noticed that it was late and I had school the next day.  Adriana walked me to the Ca’ d’Oro vaporetto stop and along the way suggested the possibility of her guiding me on a walk of the Cannaregio Jewish Ghetto area the following week.  Unfortunately, we got our signals crossed and never did hook up again although we have continued to correspond through email. 

Le Grandi Scuole

Friday, May 22, 2009

Early morning sun on the Grand Canal

It was the last day of school for some.  We worked on picking out words from a song like Mike and I did at our former French language school.  Then during the conversation part of the course (after correcting an exercise in prepositions for which I now have more notes – maybe one of these days I will learn the accursed things), we played a game which Rosanna said came from a book.  She promised to give me a copy of the cover so that I could find it for use in my Italian class in the States.  It was a sort of board game where you tossed a dice and moved playing pieces on the board.   One would land on a number with a letter.  The letters corresponded to the words:  Rispondere, Descrivere, and Communicare.  Each of the cards had a certain situation written on it and the person who picked the card had to speak about what the card said.  This was a great way to get conversations started. 

      At the end of the school day there was a little going-away party on the balcony at the school.  They served prosecco’s and spritz’s (the 1st a type of champagne one finds in Italy – this one from the Veneto region and the other drink a typical Venetian cocktail – a bit of prosecco, Amerol or Campari, and topped off with fizzy water which allows one to make it as strong or as weak as one likes). 

Old man singing in Campo San Rocco

      After the little party I did a bit of shopping at the supermarket for things I had run out of and then took a walk to see the Scuola Grande di San Rocca with a white marble Renaissance façade going a bit toward the Baroque.  The Scuola houses one of the greatest concentrations of paintings by Tintoretto that are almost too much to digest – there are more than 50 of them and Tintoretto spent 23 years of his life painting them. 

      The Grandi Scuole in Venice served the city in an era when the welfare state did not exist.  Scuola is the Italian word for school but the Grandi Scuole are much more than that.  The Grandi Scuole served as community and religious centers and their lay members formed a “confraternita” (brotherhood) under a patron saint.  Apart from dealing with religious things, they dealt with such matters as financial assistance to the families of members fallen on hard times.  There were six “Grandi Scuole” and probably about 400 smaller ones for the city’s workers’ and artisan’s guilds.  Each had his own patron saint.  These “scuole” were neighborhood clubs, welfare centers, and rallying point for many religious events.  They were going strong into the early 19th century when Napoleon’s administrators suppressed them.  Many of their precious art works and artifacts were lost to plundering by the French at that time.  Only a few of the Grandi Scuole still exist today (and still have many of their artworks).  San Rocco is one of them (it should be noted that there is a liaison with San Rocco in Venice and St. Roch in Paris.)  He is the same saint, born in 1295 and died in 1327.  At the age of 20 he began wandering through southern France and Italy, helping plague victims.  After he died, his body was moved (1485) to Venice as a kind of plague-prevention measure – one can never be too careful when it comes to the plague! 

      After this visit I made a trip to Campo San Polo to see if the post office was open in order to buy a small box to ship my Venice guidebooks and various other things back to the USA to help lessen the weight in my suitcases.  It was closed so I guess that means a trip there tomorrow.  I came home, did a little laundry (there is a nice breeze even though it is hot outside so the clothes should dry rather quickly).   I guess I will make some dinner soon then maybe go out a little later when it gets dark and see if I can get my computer to work outside of the school again.

Venice continues to amaze me

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Detail of the Golden Staircase in Palazzo Ducale

It has been really hot here and unfortunately Anna forgot to show me how the air conditioning worked.  I did eventually find the gadget that controlled the A/C (in fact I think Anna did show it to me but I was probably too jet-lagged and excited to be in Venice again to remember.)

      The heat is affecting my brain.   I can’t really remember what I did Saturday.  Luckily my pictures tell the story.  First I decided to take some pictures of my apartment so I could show them to Mike and whoever else might be interested.  Before that I went for a fast walk and then returned drenched in sweat.  My plan for today was to go to the Palazzo Ducale (home of the Venetian Doges or Dukes).  Following Rick Steves’ advice, I went to the Museum Correr to buy my ticket and decided to buy the combination ticket that would allow me, not only to get into the Ducal Palace and but also several other museums.  At a cost of 18 euro it seemed a good bargain.  So, after viewing the Ducal Palace, I had some lunch (a vegetarian omelet) at a small Osteria called Cavatappi in the San Marco area and then visited the Correr Museum, which was a former palazzo.  It has a wonderful grand staircase and a number of interesting rooms and objects (paintings too but I find that they are all a little heavy for my taste.) 

      At 5 pm I had a Tandem encounter with a guy from Treviso who was in Venice using the library to study for his Cambridge English exam.  He has already graduated university and works in a government position as an accountant.  The Cambridge exam, he hopes, will help him advance in his work life.  His name is Stefano.  He is shortish, has black hair and a bit of a small beard in the middle of his chin (with the same for a thin mustache).  His English is quite good but he makes the same errors as I do in Italian – prepositions.  We talked for an hour splitting the time fairly equally between the two languages.  He said that he could meet again on Wednesday and I told him I would check my school schedule to see if that was possible (it was and I emailed him that we could meet, as suggested , at 4:00 at the same café where we talked Saturday). 

      Later that night I met Naomi (Japanese), Dorothy (Danish) and Klaus (German) in Campo San Barnaba and we went for dinner to a restaurant called San Trovaso.   It has a terrace and we dined on typical Venetian food for 30 euro.  It was fun and we (being all of different nationalities) talked only in Italian. 

      Sunday was occupied with picking up my opera ticket for Madama Butterfly at about 10:30 am and then from there going to the San Stai vaporetto stop to go to a museum not too far from it.  As most museums, this one was in a former noble home and has a collection of paintings of the family, furniture and costumes of the 17th century.  The main attraction was seeing a home of the minor nobility. 

      Afterwards, I went back to the apartment to get ready for the opera.  I decided not to wear the dressy jacket I had brought with me because it was so hot.  I just wore a short sleeve sweater with my nice black pants and tossed a cardigan over my shoulder “a la Balancine”, put my opera glasses in my purse and off I went to La Fenice (I had scouted out the way in the morning so had no problem getting there a few minutes before 3 pm for the 3:30 performance.)  My box seat was not as good as I thought it would be because there was rather a tight angle to see the stage but the guy sitting next to me (from Vincenza the place where Kevin Farley once lived) let me “scootch” my seat more to the left so I had a better view. 

At first I was a bit disappointed in the staging as it was very stark modern Japanese (large moveable screens to symbolize the screens in Japanese houses  -- I was hoping for something more decorative).  The costumes of the women were rather plain (I guess I was expecting elaborate kimonos) but then I remembered that in the Buddhist religion, brides wear red for the wedding and the woman that played Madame Butterfly (Cio Cio San) did, in fact, wear a rather plain red kimono.  Again I was a bit disappointed because I was expecting (from the description of the character in the libretto) a young, lithe M. Butterfly – Of course, the opera singer was a rather more solid woman as opera singers tend to be.  However, all disappointment dissolved when she began to sing.  The famous aria in the second act was stupendous and the only time that everyone actually clapped for a single song.  I was so happy to have had the opportunity to do something so typically Italian as seeing an opera and at the famous La Fenice it was doubly wonderful.  The theatre is smaller than I would have thought, at least in circumference although there are a good many levels (probably about 7 – all boxes except the 

    Inside Teatro La Fenice

orchestra floor.  The leader of the orchestra was really energetic – it was interesting watching him before the curtain went up when the orchestra was playing the overture.  After the opera, I wound my way back to the apartment (actually taking the vaporetto back from the Guglio stop -- two away from mine at Ca’ Rezzonico).  As it was still very hot, I “vegged out” the rest of the day, reading.  A small storm came up – there was some lightning and thunder – only a little bit of rain but a lot of wind so I had to close the shutters which had the effect of making it hot in the apartment – I still did not know how to operate the A/C at that point. 

      I woke up on Monday morning before my alarm because I smelled someone brewing coffee sometime before 6 am.  I got ready, had breakfast and then went to the post office to get a box to send my Venice guidebooks and other things to Chicago so I would not have to carry them.  Then off to school and the computer room to check out what was happening. 

      For the second week of class I was again in Level 4 which is okay with me.  Only one of my former classmates, Mona a Norwegian, is in the class with me, Klaus and Naomi having gone on to Level 5.  There are about 9 people in total in the class from France, the US (2 others besides me), Switzerland, Sweden, and I don’t remember where else.  Class was okay – we worked on some conversation and also did an exercise in the past tense.  The evening activity was a drinks party at the Peggy Guggenheim Museum.  For 7 euro, every Monday there is a get together there and apparently all the young people in Venice know about it since the place was certainly crowded with more people coming in when I left at 7:30 pm.  The collection of modern art is interesting from my point of view since I don’t really like Modern, but all the prominent artists of the modern era were represented:  Kandinsky, Pollack, Picasso, Modigliani, Klee, etc.  It must have been something to sit in that fabulous palazzo with friends the like of Ezra Pound enjoying the art and the breezes from the Grand Canal.  There is quite a substantial garden for Venice and I imagine it was quite nice to be in with its cooling trees during the summer. 

Cannaregio’s Jewish ghetto

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Laundry hanging over Rio del Ghetto Nuovo

Today Klaus and Naomi transferred back from the Level 5 class to Level 4.  They both said that it was too hard.  However, another one or two people also came to the class so that made us 13.  It seems to work, though, with this school because we work in groups so have time to talk among ourselves and the teacher wanders the room correcting our mistakes or helping us to find words for a concept. 

      After school, internet time and lunch, I left the house to go to continue my walk in Cannaregio which I stopped near the Ca’ d’Oro the other day.  I must have walked for at least 3 ½ hours.  I used Brunetti’s book and saw a number of interesting things including a          bas-relief of an Arab leading his camel.  It was on the front of a Palazzo that the Venetians have nicknamed House of the Camel.  The walk in Cannaregio was warm as a lot of it was along Fondamenta’s that were in the sun.  I saw the area where I first came in from the lagoon from the airport.  It was good to get a better sense of place. 

Palazzo del Cammello-Turbaned merchant leads his camel 

Cannaregio houses the world’s first Ghetto where the Jews were welcomed when the rest of Europe did not want them.  The area was called Ghetto after the industry that was in the area at the time (ghetto was Italian for slag and there was a slag storage area on the island) and so was born the word Ghetto.  (An alternate derivation is from the Italian borghetto, diminutive of borgo or borough.) The Jewish Ghetto at the time was very small and since until Napoleon released them to go further afield in Venice, the Jews could only build upwards, and so the area has some of the higher and older houses in Venice.  Unfortunately I got lost while going there.  I missed my turn.  By the time I realized where I was, I had almost walked to the train station.  I turned around and retraced my steps and kind of went in the “back door” of the Ghetto.  By the time I got there, I was pretty tired.  I had intended to walk back from Rialto but decided instead to take the vaporetto back to Ca’ Rezzonico so that I could start doing homework, making dinner, etc. 

Boys playing soccer in Old Jewish Ghetto - note upper wooden structure

Italian/Eng. Dictionary CD 

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Another interesting area between Rialto and Campo Santa Margherita

Today was a relatively easy day at school.  We worked on correcting the exercise on the past tense.  I got the first exercise 100% but the second gave me trouble – funny we were doing the same thing (inserting verbs in passato prossimo, imperfetto and trapassato prossimo but I made a bunch of mistakes).  I guess I still have some way to go with this particular grammatical point. 

      I met again with Stefano, the young accountant who is studying for his Cambridge English exam.  We discussed a bit what he does which is work as a functionary for the Veneto region.  He works with the monies they pay out for various services, like buying books for students or contracting to have roads built in the region.  We also discussed the economic crisis in the USA.  It was interesting to hear the prospective of a European.  The first thing that he noted is that the way the banks had been lending money in the USA was something that couldn’t happen in Italy because in order to borrow money he would have to have some assets to put as a down payment against the loan for a house.  (In light of the current economic crisis in Europe and Italy, I certainly would like to revisit this discussion with Stefano.)   It was our last meeting (unfortunately we were only able to meet twice).  We agreed that I would try to correct his article that he had to write (I assume a practice article and that he must write the real one at the exam itself) by email.  We also agreed to keep in touch and to help each other with our writing skills and also so that we could keep contact in case I ever visit Venice again or he visit Chicago or Florida. 

Calligraphy shop in Calle dei Saoneri between Rialto and Campo Santa Margherita


After our meeting, I decided to take a walk from Campo Santa Margherita toward Rialto.  I really enjoyed window shopping along the way and by following the signs to Rialto didn’t get lost (at least on the way out – but I made one wrong turn on the way back where I had to go back about a street to take the correct strada.)  One of the stores I remember passing in other walks was what appeared to be a rather large book store.  I decided to go in and saw that most of the books were Italian.  However I did finally manage to find an Italian/English dictionary with a CD-rom disk.  I weighed the idea of trying to order the book and CD from the publisher in Milan but decided that it would cost more that way and I had no control over what they would charge me to ship it.  Since I had already bought a box to ship my Venice guides and any other excess books to the States, I decided to buy it and ship it myself.  I was having some second thoughts but when I talked with Mike this evening, he agreed that it was a good idea.  Tomorrow I will take the box to the main post office, then come back and do my packing.  Thursday evening I have plans to have dinner with Klaus and perhaps two others at La Bitta the restaurant I found near Campo San Barnaba that has the great meat pasta dish. 

My last day in Venice

Friday, May 29, 2009

Reflections in a canal taken from Ca’ Dona Bridge in San Croce sestiere

Dinner Thursday night was a lot of fun.  I was happy that the restaurant did not disappoint my school friends.  I spent the afternoon of Thursday saying good bye to the Dorsoduro area around my apartment and getting my things packed.  I have to leave immediately after class in order to catch my train which will be leaving around 3 pm today.  In class we received our certificates of completion, said good bye and then I was off to my apartment which was 5 minutes away.

        I kept the business card of the water taxi driver that I used coming from the Marco Polo airport.  Since I wanted to make sure that my reservation would be understood, I called from the school just in case I needed a translator to make sure everything was properly arranged.  Not to worry.  The guy understood me and was there waiting at the edge of the canal outside my door.  I had reserved the apartment through Saturday but since Mike and I were renting our villa in Tuscany from Saturday, I left early to join him in Florence.

        We arrived in plenty of time at the Santa Lucia train station in Venice and I boarded my train.  My seat was in the first carriage right near the front.  Trouble was I had to haul my suitcases all the way to the front as there was not a door from the platform onto the front of the carriage.  I could have left the suitcases in the back but I was worried that they might get stolen on the voyage from Venice to Florence.  They were certainly cumbersome and another reason not to take so much luggage the next time.

        Upon arrival in Florence, I had a bit of trouble getting them off the train (actually people were in a hurry to get on since the train continued on to Rome) so a guy on the platform at the front of the line pulled my suitcases off.  From there it was just a little bit of a roll to get outside the station to a taxi stand and then our Florence hotel next to Ponte Vecchio Bridge.  My Venetian adventure was over but a Tuscan one was about to begin.

Church of the Rendentore-Giudecca Island (actually viewed early one morning on one of my fast walks) -- a fitting end to this journal! © Shanley Enterprises 2012