19 January 2008

What I do all day

So many of you have asked how I spend my time here. It goes something like this…

Cellphone alarm rings at 6:00 a.m., but I’m almost always half-awake anyway because the only time I can see CNN is 5:00 a.m. And even then it’s only bits and pieces of news and events, often interrupted by those oh-so-critical horoscope updates that Venetians love.

First thing I do is start the coffee. While I wait for “Diavolo Brikka” to hiss and bubble up, I open the shutters and stick my head out the window: weather check! Then I mix up my morning drug and head back to bed. I turn on some music that’s embedded with undetectable tones said to encourage meditation and focus, and maybe they do. Anyway, it’s a good moment to take a look at my day and be grateful for the great gift of being here at all, let alone under such amazingly carefree circumstances. Church bells in my neighborhood start ringing at ten minutes to 7:00. Calle dei Fuseri is already buzzing by then.

Maybe I boot up the laptop and check my email or publish a blog post; maybe not. Depends on the quality of the wireless reception and/or how much I wish to connect with the world. No offense, but sometimes I don’t want to think about any of you out there, nor anyone around here. (I do remember to be grateful that I’m not shivering in the Piscina, though!)

Maybe I grudgingly put in 20, 30 minutes of Pilates. Or, if it’s warm enough and I’m not in a terribly pigra (“lazy”) mood, I haul my cookies over to Accademia Bridge – my “Stairmaster with a view.” There I make four to six round trips over the bridge because even though I’m delighted with the results of The Venice Diet, I could use a little more junk in my trunk, and this is easier and more fun than doing squat-thrusts. Other days I just hang out on the bridge with my thermos and watch the traffic for a while. On nasty days I might go out to a café or bar for a second latte and a quick scan of Il Gazzettino, or just stay home and bury myself in my duvet, thinking, “I really should be studying my Rosetta Stone lessons…” (but I never do – they’re worthless).

After grapefruit juice and yogurt, errands call and they must be completed before everything closes up for lunch. I go get groceries, run over to Rialto, buy flowers, bread, or produce, haunt the hardware store, stop at the post office, purchase my monthly vaporetto ticket, replenish my cellphone and internet time, visit the cobbler, the coffee roaster, or the wine vendor, pick up household, personal, and studio supplies, drop off my recycling, go to the mercato on Lido (Tuesdays) or Sacca Fisola (Fridays), and the like. This is normal, everyday stuff, common to any life. But it’s a great pleasure to plan my route and see it through, and some days it even includes a nice little boat ride. Also, nowadays I almost always bump into somebody I know: “Ciao! Ciao!!” Nothing makes me feel more like I belong here.

Along the way I usually stop in a favorite spot or two for some treat – a small sweet, a particularly good snack, or an ombra, a “shadow” of wine. If the timing is right, I might even have lunch. If I happen to stumble upon a new place that looks interesting, all the better! I am something of an expert now on the subject of where to eat. Lately I’ve been choosing to try some very odd things, all of which have turned out to be delicious. Still haven’t tackled the crostina with a slab of snow-white lard, though.

In Venice, a day’s possibilities are endless. Mine is usually spent in one of two ways, or a little of both: doing some artwork or studying my adopted home. Sometimes it’s my studio work that causes me to take a turn through town, like when I want to get water from the Grand Canal or I need poster scraps. (I will tell you more about my studio life in another post.)

I have begun to organize information on Venice’s sights and curiosities, restaurants and shops, foods, wines, and sources, legends and lore, routes and shortcuts – all with an eye toward the possible development of a private concierge business. So far I’ve done this rather haphazardly, I admit. I read about something, and then I go see it, taking as much time as I need to feel familiar with it. Occasionally my quest will take me into a new neighborhood. But at this point I believe I have been on nearly every street in Venice that isn’t gated. (How many Venetians can say that?!)

Often, though, I’m just another tourist, happily wandering the streets and (of course) looking up. I visit a museum exhibition or sit in a church, pop into little shops and galleries, peek into open workshop doors, snoop alleyways and gardens, take scads of pictures, dig through antiques, try on crazy secondhand clothes and really, really expensive shoes, stop for hot chocolate, a crispy arancino, a Chantilly puff, or a cinnamon gelato, chat with fellow visitors and merchants, anything that strikes my fancy.

In fact, I’m a little bit sad that I know the city so well now. My discoveries are fewer and farther between, and I catch myself being blasé about things that used to thrill me. On the other hand, I know very well now how to get around town, where and when to shortcut, and just how long it will take me to get from here to wherever. (But come the crowds of Carnevale, I might not be such a smart-aleck in that department!)

As the day winds down, if I’m out and about, I like to stop for a glass of wine, maybe a couple of cicheti (bar snacks), among Venetians enjoying their version of happy hour. I have a few spots of which I am very fond. I’m always so pleased to be recognized, occasionally even called by name (“Norm!”), and welcomed back to these places. If I have been at home working all day, I still try to get myself out for this very fun tradition.

Evenings are less glamorous than you might think in such an exotic and mysterious city. Sometimes there are cultural events to attend, even free theatre and music. And I permit myself the occasional out-for-dinner splurge. (No, I am not lonely eating by myself in a restaurant – why am I always asked that? I just talk with the people around me. Some nice connections and possible client relationships have developed from this practice.) If the right person asks, I accept a date for an aperitivo and a passeggiata (typical Venetian pastime – a drink and a walk), a casual dinner, or an after-hours cocktail. But most often, I cook at home, and sometimes I invite a friend or two over to join me. (I also like to have guests in for lunch, but the people I know here work and don’t usually have time for this luxury.) Other times my cucina is chiuso and I just raid the fridge because I want to compose a post for the blog, do something in the studio, or go out “lion hunting.” Now and again, I have even run about town and played the role of a spy. After all, this is the place where spying was raised to an art form! (But I really gotta get a wig for this activity!)

My evening might also include some very mundane stuff like doing the laundry (which entails some dreary ironing, because there’s no dryer here!) and watching “tee-voo.” The former is a drag; the latter is a total hoot! Most of what’s aired here is loud, annoying home shopping promos and game shows, punctuated by horoscope advice, oddly political PSAs, cheesy soft porn and near-naked phone sex, endless soccer, incredibly repetitious news reports, and old and new American dramas, movies, and Scrubs, all dubbed in Italian. (Subtitles would help me more in my quest to learn the language!) I have seen Italian Shakespeare in Love, Dances With Wolves, Robin Hood, The Great Escape, Swordfish, Look Who’s Talking I and II, and Some Like It Hot. And I often catch Italian Cold Case, The Practice, Criminal Minds, CSI, Law & Order SVU, Desperate Housewives, and Sex and the City. I am embarrassed to report that MTV or its competitor All Music are almost always on when I’m at home – background noise. But “‘s’all good.” I also report that I have been doing a lot of private dancing to relieve stress and let off steam. That translates into aerobic activity and that translates into physical and emotional changes of the best kind. I just hope my neighbors aren’t watching me through their shutters!

Nights? Either I’m crashed out by 11:00 or I’m a vampire, burning the midnight oil in my workspace, saying, “I gotta get to bed… right after I finish doing this...” (I don’t like being a vampire because I know it will cost me part of my next day, and time in Venice should never be wasted. I’m really going to try to break that habit.) If I’m still awake at midnight, I can hear the Marangona, the senior bell of the campanile in Piazza San Marco, tolling day’s end.

That’s my life here. Is it what you imagined?