31 October 2007
I was afraid I would miss my favorite holiday during my stay here, but I worried needlessly. Ever the world’s merchants, Venetians have taken the cue from U.S. costumers and confectioners, and tapped into the earning potential of the Hallows’ Eve festivities. They offered plenty of big orange pumpkins for my jack-o-lanterns. And just look at this example of the shop window displays they have conjured. You would swear you’re in midtown New York.
I’m not convinced that they really understand the holiday’s origins, though. For that matter, neither do most Americans, in spite of having made it the second largest spending event on the commercial calendar. (Contact me, Americans or Venetians, to enroll in my very informative class, “A Broad but Brief History of Hallowe’en.”)
Anyway, I can’t wait to see what the Venetian kids will do in the way of dress-up and trick-or-treating. I myself will be visiting “Il Vampiro” at Pleasure Café. He knows me only as “La Strega.” Sure wish I had my Miss October costume with me!
(Jeff, I’ve been thinking of you so much. Good Samhain Tidings to you! No bonfire for me this year… )
30 October 2007
Where else would I be on Devil’s Night but at the Devil’s bridge?
Maybe only Detroit kids know about this little would-be juvenile delinquents’ holiday. Time to toss the rotten eggs, soap-scribble the neighbors’ windows, let the air out of tires, and festoon the trees with toilet paper! (And if any of that happens here in Venice tonight, I want the Carabinieri to know it was absolutely NOT me!)
27 October 2007
A couple years ago I shared a flight from Venice to JFK and then a cab ride into Manhattan with Massimo, one of the proprietors of Enoteca San Marco. He was saying he’d like to live in New York someday. I told him I was dreaming of a life as a Venetian – cooking fresh fish from Rialto, buying my wine from the vendors’ demijohns, taking part in all the wonderful festivals, learning to row a sandolo, finding shortcuts to avoid the annoying tourist routes… My eyes were becoming misty as I rambled on. (Cue the Vivaldi tape…)
“Maybe,” Massimo said, “you just want to try hanging your laundry out over the street.”
He was right.
But my apartment is in a chic shopping district where that sort of thing simply isn’t done. It’s also a bit stark – not much in the way of color or decoration. So I came up with this solution for both problems: I stretched a faux laundry line in my bedroom. Now I (and the occasional guest) can enjoy seeing my lingerie flutter in the breeze without the risk of shocking my neighbors on Calle de Fuseri. I change the “wash” whenever I want a new theme or color scheme. It’s not exactly an art installation, but it’s very pretty. (Sorry, no picture this time, kids. Decency clause and all that.)
So, what’s hanging on the line today? You’ll have to come over and see!
24 October 2007
What’s for dinner on a cool autumn evening in Venice?
Forget Prince Spaghetti Day! Consider this glistening risotto flavored with melted onion bits, buttery William pear chunks, and creamy taleggio cheese. Add a tiny, oven-dried pear slice just to make it pretty. It’s absolute perfection with a salad of spicy greens and toasty walnuts. Have just a bite of extra-dark chocolate for dessert. Then go to bed feeling very rich indeed.
(I got this luscious recipe from a Venetian friend, “M” – Thanks again!)
22 October 2007
Venice is a place of mysteries and secrets, superstitions and ghost stories. Labyrinth-like streets wind around and crisscross, and a shop or bar you enjoyed yesterday cannot be found today. You see your friend ahead in the calle, so you hurry to catch up to him, turn the corner, and find… an empty campo. In the absence of mechanical noise, voices can be heard above you, just behind you, or right beside you when no one is present at all. A route you know very well in daylight becomes confusing and ominous at twilight when all the familiar shop windows are shuttered. Entire buildings can disappear into the mist, or seem to float in it, groundless and ethereal.
In September when the days were still summery, I visited Lido many times. I would walk the beach and search for seashells for a while, then settle down on an old, windworn wooden jetty that stretched out into the sea. This was a makeshift lifeguard post so there was always plenty of lively activity – sunbathers coming and going, children romping in the shallow waves, radio music, laughter and horseplay. Near this post there was a nice, wide platform with little guardrails all around it, and it was very pleasant to be facedown on it with the sun on my back and the sea breeze lifting my hair. I would peek through the spaces between the grey, salt-crusted planks to watch the green water below rushing back and forth.
Beach season is behind us now, which is fine with me. I prefer to visit when the crowds have subsided anyway. Saturday there was a nip in the air, even the threat of rain, so I thought I would go out and sit on the old jetty for a little while, to enjoy the poetic seaside atmosphere in solitude. But…
When I got there, the jetty had vanished. I could not find a trace of it.
16 October 2007
I’ve bored many of you with my anecdote about an old Venetian gentleman who caught me filching old poster fragments on Zattere one bitterly cold January day and dubbed me “the little sister of Mimmo Rotella.” I knew nothing at all about this Italian collage artist whose favored material was poster scraps. But shortly afterward and by sheer accident, I became very well-acquainted with his work. Now I admire him greatly, especially his very large installations.
From time to time, one or two of his smaller works turn up in a Venetian gallery. (I have a pleasant little fantasy that he sends them here for me, to encourage me to keep at my own studio work. So I take his direction. After all, what kind of a little sister would I be if I didn’t continue to carry the banner of the master poster-snatcher?) I thought you might like to see this one, currently up for sale – his “Marilyn.”
11 October 2007
Tuesday morning I finally made my way to the weekly mercato on Lido, in search of some basic bed linens. It’s a bit of a hike to get there, but if you do, the rewards are many. I snooped everything offered – clothing and underclothing, shoes and slippers, household goods, carpets, secondhand furniture, baskets, woodenwares, pots and pans, smallwares, sewing notions and buttons, ribbons and trims, fabrics, linens and curtains, tools, crafting needs, beads, produce, cheeses, eggs, candies, jams and honeys, breads, nuts, dried fruits and vegetables, olives, herbs and spices, even rotisserie chickens!, all at good prices.
A few readers will be glad to learn I came across a stash of inexpensive glass vases. I bought a tall one for just 4 euros. I plan to use it to copy a pricey lantern I saw in a posh San Polo shop last week.
But the day’s biggest reward is pictured here – mandarini cinesi. Translucent, candied whole Chinese mandarins, each about the size of a large marble. Bite into one of these: it begins like a jelly candy, but quickly reveals itself to be a complete piece of real fruit, all textures intact, intensely flavored and deeply aromatic with a familiar, bitter-citrus pinch at its finish.
Venetian candy specialists at Marchini sell me something similar – a candied clementine only slightly larger than this, dipped in dark chocolate – for the equivalent of nearly three bucks. I won’t even mention what Fauchon charges for same, minus chocolate, back in New York. I got six of these babies for about a buck and a half! I’m amazed I had enough self-control to get a picture of the last three! (And yes, I nicked those pretty leaves from a bush in a neglected garden on my way home from the mercato. Let’s call it “pruning.”)
09 October 2007
05 October 2007
This week I’ve been setting up my new apartment, particularly the kitchen. Here you see one of the things I wanted most: a Bialetti espressomaker, nicknamed “Brikka” and special because it has something that other pots do not, namely a clever little valve that coaxes the luscious creamy foam (schiuma) out of the coffee. This foam sets the professionally-brewed cup of espresso apart from that made by the amateur barista in the home kitchen. Imagine how much I wanted to own this thing!
Well… I believe I have invited a demon into my home. “Diavolo Brikka” is torturous to take apart, impossible to clean, then very tricky to fill and seal up properly. Place it on the flame and it begins to make noises that are only heard deep in the bowels of the Inferno. It puffs. It hisses. It spits boiling water at me. It whooshes out bursts of scalding steam. It whistles and growls, then emits a low-pitched, bloodcurdling squeal. It threatens to blow up right in my face. I wonder if I should call an exorcist, or just turn off the fire and run…
And just at that moment the magical valve whispers a little sigh, then bubbles up and dribbles out the most intense, black-as-the-Devil espresso, ringed with – just as promised – a lovely, caramel-colored halo of fragrant, creamy foam. It is absolute perfection.
I greedily drink it up, grateful that I won’t face the demon again for 24 more hours.
04 October 2007
When I opened my window this morning, there was a little nip in the air. And there on my windowsill was… a perfect, red autumn leaf! But from where?! Trees are not common in this city built on petrified poles instead of nurturing soil. If I lived near I Giardini or a campo with a scattering of trees, I could understand. But my new apartment is in the most urban part of the city, halfway between Rialto and San Marco. Is it possible there is an unseen roof garden above me where a tree is now in the full flame of autumn color? Here is yet more evidence of La Serenissima’s many secrets, as well as a sweet reminder that my favorite season is now underway.
It’s difficult not to think of Central Park today…