Venice in JanuaryBy
Days — and I suppose nights — can become as routine (fancy way of saying “monotonous”) here in the most-beautiful-city-in-the-world as they can in Tick Bite, North Carolina, or wherever the daily round has worn a groove into your Day Planner, however gorgeous the surroundings may be.
I love January here for many reasons, and one of the big ones is that nobody else seems to. Which is to say that almost all the tourists are dormant somewhere, with the kids in school and the budget busted by Christmas and Crisis, and dark coming on early and so on.
Exhibit A: The #1 vaporetto on the Grand Canal last Friday morning. In a month or so, Carnival will be here, and if you can find a way to force yourself into the crush on every vehicle in the city then I admire your spinal cord, or your love of your fellow man, or your skill with a flooring chisel or Irish shovel, or whatever. I would gladly supply a photograph of this inescapable fact of life here, but I never use the vaporettos during Carnival, except maybe at dawn.
And not long after that, the Tourist Season will be declared open, and the vaporettos will become troop transports loaded with brigades of touristic infantry loaded with all their battle gear — suitcases, duffel bags, backpacks, strollers, children and dogs. If there were a way for them to bring their pet guppy to Venice, people would do that too.
So this scene, which may look to you like just a lot of plastic seats, is a Thing of Beauty because those seats are empty. This vision is so rare and wonderful that it’s almost worth getting on the #1 to go nowhere for no reason just so you can savor it, like a 1997 Brunello di Montalcino, but for a lot less money.
This time of year doesn’t call to mind mere metaphors involving food and drink. The real thing is at hand.
Last Saturday I was in a big supermarket on the Lido and came upon this heavenly vision of something wonderful about Carnival, the quintessential Carnival pastry. You can get the same items in pastry shops, naturally, for more money, naturally, but the important thing is, they’re here. The galani have returned, like the migrating monarch butterflies landing in Milwaukee.
As you see, there is freedom of expression in naming this delicacy, whether baked or fried. “Galani,” “crostoli,” (CROSS-toh-lee) and “chiacchiere” (KYAK-er-eh) all translate as “irresistible and addictive slices of fat and sugar.” Historically, you are allowed to begin eating these any time after Epiphany, right up to Ash Wednesday. Some culturally degraded but economically advanced vendors continue to sell them during Lent, but they must be related to the C.D. but E.A. vendors who sell Carnival masks and hats all year long. There is something odd about seeing teenagers wearing big plush multi-colored harlequin hats in August, but hey. It’s no odder than seeing people selling them. Venice must be the city where selling was invented.
As for the galani, I resist buying them. But it’s entirely possible that I will give in at some point and spend an afternoon making a batch of these crunchy morsels. I did it last year for the first time and boy, was that a mistake. We ate them all in two days. True, I could make just half a batch, but that seems unpleasantly intelligent. Why eat only three pieces of something that’s bad for you?
Don’t answer that. It was a rhetorical question.