03 September 2008

You can’t swim?

Venetians have an expression: E chi no sa nuar?
“Is there anyone who does not know how to swim?”

Live here for even a short time and you will know exactly what this means: Venetians view themselves and their watery world as the center of the Universe, and if you don’t do things the same way they do, well, then you certainly should. Given a city built on poles sunk into mud in the middle of a tidal basin with as many canals as streets, yes indeed, what kind of fool doesn’t know how to swim?!

What kind of fool doesn’t bathe his fried sardines, sautéed onions, raisins, and pine nuts in hot, sugared vinegar and call it sarde al saor?

(OK, this is a bad example because that very weird-sounding concoction, originally created to satisfy food-starved seamen, is quite delicious. It’s warming in wintertime and cooling in summer. The hungrier you are, the tastier it is!)

What kind of fool doesn’t add a dash of grappa to his cup of espresso on an icy, bone-chilling day and justify it by calling it caffè corretto?

(OK, so… another bad example. The result really is “corrected coffee.” It warms right to the toes, believe me. I feel restored just thinking of it.)

What kind of fool doesn’t take most or all of August off for vacation, when it’s miserably hot and the hordes of annoying tourists are at their swarming worst? And what kind of fool doesn’t do the same in January, when it’s miserably cold and there are almost no tourists at all?

(Actually, both of those ideas seem sensible to me. And I can’t recall any job I ever had in which I accrued two whole months of vacation time.)

What kind of fool doesn’t get up early everyday to sweep and scrub the street in front of his business establishment before trade begins?

(Hmm… now this is a darn good idea, and one that probably saves Venice tons of tax euros. We’ve all been admonished to “keep our own side of the street clean,” right? It would appear La Serenissima’s residents are actually doing it.)

What kind of fool doesn’t close up shop for a couple hours at midday and go home to have a good, hot lunch with his family or a sweet, brief encounter with his beloved?

(Well, I like this plan pretty well, too. I should be so lucky!)

What kind of fool doesn’t take a break from work around 6:00 o’clock or so and take a walk down to the local watering hole for a glass of wine and a pleasant little chat with all his friends?

(I’m sure you already know how I feel about this habit. It’s the best part of being here!)

You know what? Maybe these Venetians really are onto something. Maybe the rest of us should be doing it their way. At least I already know how to swim.