Feb
18

Carnival afterthoughts

By

Here is a picture of the world yesterday, when frolic and carousal were the purpose of life:

Frittelle are so yesterday.  We wandered into a pastry shop near the Rialto and discovered "mamelukes," which have totally overthrown every other Carnival delicacy in my world.  The mamelukes, as you know, were a military caste in medieval Egypt, and flourished from the 9th to the 19th centuries, which is an extremely respectable run.  Because of southern Italy's unfortunate first-hand experiences with Saracens, "mammalucho" has long since become a term for a something of a dimwit.  In this case, however, the term refers to these seductive little bits of sweetness.  I'd have bought the whole tray if I'd known how much I was going to like them.

Frittelle are so last year. We wandered into a pastry shop near the Rialto and discovered “mamelukes,” which have totally overthrown every other Carnival delicacy in my world. The mamelukes, as you know, were a military caste in medieval Egypt, and flourished from the 9th to the 19th centuries. Because of southern Italy’s unfortunate first-hand experiences with Saracens, “mammalucho” has long since become a term you might use to refer to somebody who is a little slow of wit. In this case, however, the term refers to these seductive little four-inch-long bits of sweetness. I’d have bought the whole tray if I’d known how much I was going to like them.

Where frittelle are primarily fried dough, these are primarily I don't know what.  Bits of candied fruit, obviously, but there's a minimum of matrix.  I don't usually promote places (though I love to promote things, such as this), but you should know that these are created at the Pasticceria Targa at the address I so cleverly left visible in this photo.  That was not on purpose, but I guess it was meant to be.  I doubt that they'll be there before next year's Carnival, but this will give you something to look forward to.

Where frittelle are primarily fried dough, these are primarily I don’t know what. Bits of candied fruit, obviously, but there’s a minimum of matrix. I don’t usually promote places (though I love to promote things, such as this), but you should know that these are created at the Pasticceria Targa at number 1050 on the Ruga del Ravano.  I doubt that they’ll be there before next year’s Carnival, but this will give you something to look forward to.

Lino was telling me about Carnival when he was a lad — or rather, not-Carnival.

“Who celebrated Carnival?” he asked in his characteristically rhetorical way.  “It was right after the war and nobody had anything to eat.  Everybody was just trying to survive.”

There’s another reason why there was no costumed jollification before Lent.  “The government forbade you to wear a mask,” he said.  Why?  “For fear of reprisals.  There was a lot of settling of scores from the war.” He means civilian scores, struggles between Fascists and Socialists on the home front.

“I had two uncles — I can’t remember their names right now,” he went on.  “They were really vocal Socialists, and every time the Duce came to Venice, they were put in prison.”  Ostensibly for their own protection, but more probably to keep whatever peace could be kept while company was visiting.

But prison didn’t have to be involved in these domestic conflicts.  Mussolini’s squads of paramilitary “Blackshirts” (officially known as the Voluntary Militia for National Security) were notorious for taking political dissidents and forcing them to drink large quantities of castor oil.  That experience would certainly leave a memory that would call for redress.

“And the Ponte brothers,” he went on.  “You remember Bruno Ponte, he worked at the airport with me. My older brother, who was a Socialist, told me that when the brothers went home at night, they walked backwards to their front door, holding machine guns, so nobody would shoot them in the back.”

Carnival?  You mean, let’s all dress up like Mozart and walk around the Piazza San Marco so people can take our picture? I’d say people weren’t really in the mood.

Now we have to say a word about today, Ash Wednesday.  You might be aware that it is a day of abstinence and penitence, which used to involve a number of practices, most of which no longer survive.

The major custom (apart from going to Mass and having ashes sprinkled on your head) was to abstain from eating meat today.  Only fish.  Or maybe nothing, if anybody were to feel extremely penitent.

Therefore it has long been the custom for the butcher shops to be closed on Ash Wednesday.  A cynical person might interpret that as “They might as well, if they’re not going to have any business.”  But in any case, the tradition is still observed in our little lobe of Venice and, I’m guessing/hoping, elsewhere.

Butcher shops, though, are in a steep decline, so this valuable reminder of at least one day a year when they’re not standing there ready to provide T-bone steak is probably going to disappear eventually.  After all, the supermarkets are all open and are merrily selling meat of every sort, including tripe.

"Wednesday closed.  The ashes."  So either stock up now, or design your fishy menu.  Or buy pizza.  r whatever people do when they want to show how independent they are.

“Wednesday closed. The ashes.” So either stock up now, or go buy fish. Or pizza or hummus or tofu or whatever people eat when they want to show how independent they are.  “No meat today?  Fine.  I’ll just eat a couple of grilled scamorzas.”

I see I started with food and I’m ending with food.  Maybe this abstinence thing is beginning to affect my brain.  I mean, stomach.

 

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Categories : Food

Comments

  1. Anna says:

    Lino’s anecdotes are gold, I hope the journalist takes note and stores these gems.

  2. Ambra Sancin
    Twitter: ambradambra
    says:

    Those mammaluchi look so good, I’d almost be tempted to come to Venice during Carnevale time – which I swore I’d never do. I haven’t heard that word for many years … I seem to remember my parents and their friends (all from Trieste) using it many years ago to describe people they didn’t particularly like.

  3. Andrea says:

    Sempre grande Erla, ho vissuto a Venezia per 46 anni e giuro non ho mai sentito parlare di questi dolci di carnevale anche la forma e’ abbastanza interessante , comunque buon lavoro e stammi bene , ciao

    • Erla Zwingle says:

      I “mammaluchi” sono una novita’ anche per me e il mio marito veneziano, credo che el scaleter abbia inventato questo dolce. Oppure e’ una ricetta talmente vecchia e fuori uso che nessuno la ricorda piu’. Ho cercato la ricetta tramite google e ho trovato niente. Probabilmente dovrei chiedere piu’ informazione dall’ inventore, la prossima volta che sono in zona. Grazie dei complimenti!

  4. Old Jacques says:

    Make sure you make it back before Easter, as Pasticceria Targa has some of the best “Colombine di Pasqua” that I have ever tasted. Delicious. I don’t think I have ever tasted anything bad from their shop.