Author Archive

Aug
19

Anger management

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This is how a gondolino is supposed to look.

This is how a gondolino is supposed to look.  These men and this boat have no connection to the story below.

Just when I had concluded that there was nothing different or interesting to say about Venice, just when I thought life here was going to continue to grind deeper and deeper into its rut (same old problems, same old remarks, same old endless cycle of birth and rebirth), comes a blast of rage from person or persons yet to be identified.

Whoever they were, they trashed 7 of the gondolinos belonging to the city, discovered just today on the last day of the gondolino eliminations for the Regata Storica.  The “Storica,” as you know, is the ultimate race, and it is conducted aboard the gondolinos.  There is a total of 9, plus the reserve boat.  Three boats, which were in another place and therefore escaped the axe murderer(s), weren’t much to work with for the eliminations today, but the nine two-man crews were divided into three sets of three, and extra time was eaten up with the removing and re-installing of the forcolas of each rower at each change.  The mayor has tweeted that the boats will be repaired in time for the race on Sept. 4.  Five boatyards have thrown themselves into the work.

Photos taken from remieracasteo.blogspot.it.

Photos taken from remieracasteo.blogspot.it.

9.jpg gondolino USE

10.jpg gondolino USE

 

8.jpg gondolino

Who would do such a thing?  Plenty of police are working to find out.  But who would WANT to do it? Who indeed? It might be disaffected office-seekers, or environmentalists protesting deforestation, or people who want Jodie Foster to fall in love with them, or anything.

There has been tension in the rowing world recently, it’s true.  But until all the dust has settled, and been left there as long as I usually leave it anywhere, and then finally Pledged away, I’m not going to start theorizing.

I can mention, however, that a sense of anarchy stretching beyond the world of rowing seems to be threatening what ought to be well-earned somnolence in the city.  Tourists keep trying to swim in the Grand Canal.  A New Zealander, one of the crew of a yacht in port, got drunk a few nights ago, jumped off the Rialto Bridge, and landed right on the windshield of a water taxi passing below. The mariner is in the hospital in very bad condition, and the taxi is also in the shop.

Here is a recent video from Roberta Chiarotto, on her Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/roberta.chiarotto/videos/10209231322756467/

We see some young people in their bathing suits in Campo San Vio, heading for a refreshing dip.  The voice of the Venetian woman reprimanding them, in English and German, basically says “This isn’t Disneyland, it’s a city.  You can’t do this.”  For those (like Lino) who remember swimming in the canals as little tykes — naked, learning to swim tied to their mother’s washboard — may I say that there was less dangerous traffic then, and by the way, they were merely little tykes.  Healthy full-grown hominids who are not in their own back yards should be aware, if only dimly, of the appropriateness of some behavior. If in doubt, I’d suggest “Don’t.”

What amazes me is how tranquilly these visitors receive this unwelcome news, and how unconvinced they look. And they’re not an isolated case; a few weeks ago, five young French tourists took the plunge in the Grand Canal in front of City Hall, no less.  I won’t continue this list, because however many times I might mention it, I still can’t believe it.  And it seems to have no effect.

Once again driven to distraction, some exasperated resident recently snapped, posting a sign near Campo San Martin:

Needs no translation. It was removed not long afterward but a local shopkeeper did say he could understand it. The bridges are often full of people wandering at random, stopping, taking pictures... None of which is a hanging offense, but their obliviousness to anyone but themselves must have some fancy scientific name. The point isn't that they're tourists, it's that they're not aware that they're in somebody else's city. Of course you can argue that Venice belongs to the world, but I invite you to defend that idea at certain points in the city all summer long. And at other times, too.

Needs no translation. It was removed not long afterward, but a local shopkeeper did say he could understand it. The bridges are often full of people wandering at random, stopping, taking pictures… None of which is a hanging offense, but their obliviousness to anyone but themselves must have some fancy scientific name. The point isn’t that they’re tourists, it’s that they’re not aware that they’re in somebody else’s city. Of course you can argue that Venice belongs to the world, but that doesn’t mean the world has to come and stand on your bridge.

On a more serious but equally anarchic note, two nights ago there was a nearly fatal collision in the lagoon (that’s good news, considering that at least once a summer there is a completely fatal collision to report).  A motorboat being driven at high speed — that’s redundant, pretty much all motorboats are driven at high speed in the lagoon — ran right straight into a passing water taxi. The motorboat sank, the ambulance came, the two young men are in the hospital and the girl escaped unharmed. The high-spirited young folks had been zooming along with no lights on their boat, lights which are not only required by law but which common sense reveals would have at least given the taxi driver some hint as to their imminent arrival.

My point is that a great deal of anarchy can be tolerated, for many reasons, as long as nothing happens, which is what everybody is counting on.  And then something happens.  Like ramming a taxi.

Consequences can be so unpleasant.  And they follow deeds with such annoying persistence.

Categories : Venetian-ness
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Aug
07

Brain flutterings

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There is a brief period in later summer when the wetlands are carpeted with a form of heather commonly called "erica" (Calluna vulgaris). It should not be picked. But if for some reason it were to be picked, it stays beautiful as a dried flower for almost forever. I've been told. This photo was made a week ago, but I know the blooms are gone by now.

There is a brief period in later summer when the wetlands are carpeted with a form of heather known as “sea lavender,” or Limonium vulgare.  (I haven’t yet found a local name for this.) It should not be picked. But if for some reason it were to be picked, it stays beautiful as a dried flower for almost forever. I’ve been told. This photo was made a week ago, but I know the blooms have faded, or fallen, by now.  This picture is here only to set a mood of some sort — it has nothing to do with what follows.

Some of you might have watched the opening ceremony of the Olympics in Rio last Friday.  I liked it a lot, for many reasons, but that’s not the point.  If you didn’t like it, we can still be friends.

But I think we can agree that it had more than five moving parts, which is the maximum (I’ve just decided) that I can keep track of, much less control.  So may I give a huge shout-out to the director and executive producer, Marco Balich?  I’d have done it anyway, but guess what? He’s Venetian.

I suppose I shouldn’t be all that impressed; I discover that he directed the opening and closing of the Winter Olympics in Torino (2006) and the closing of the London Olympics (2012).  Also aspects of the Olympics in Beijing and Sochi.  He spent, all told, three years working on this five-hour extravaganza — two years designing, and one year living in Rio. But he was also, I now dimly recall, the director of Carnival in 2008.

And here’s what he had to say: “Designing the opening of the Games was simpler than the Carnival of Venice.”  He said he was joking.

“An event like the Olympics requires a complex preparatory phase, of negotiations, bureaucracy, long stretches of time and also the unforeseeable.  But I have to say that in Rio we found better conditions than anyone could imagine.”

The journalist interviewing him mentioned the “completely Brazilian placid resignation that perhaps greatly resembles the Venetian.”  I don’t remember having noticed any particularly PLACID resignation.  Though if we had the samba maybe nobody would care.

From a man accustomed to working with millions — I refer to money, as well as humans — that’s a very nice thing to hear.  So if he wants to joke about how hard it is to organize in Venice, never mind, because everyone knows that working on your home turf is not only hard, but usually an Olympic-level exercise in ingratitude.

And speaking of money, the Gazzettino of today reports that in one year, the Guardia di Finanza at the airport has recovered 15 million euros in cash which were outward bound, by means of a thousand assorted passengers.  The article says the cash was hidden in “the most unusual places — the heels of shoes, and in bras.”  Not ever having had more than the allowed 10,000 euros in cash to carry from point A to B, I’m probably not an expert on the subject. But I still would have considered shoes and bras to be the very first place to look, even if I didn’t have a beagle backing me up.  I guess I must be smarter than the people who got caught.

A few small cultivators on the Vignole sell their daily harvest at the Trattoria alla Vignole. Looking at the bins, a question formed in my brain. What's the point of writing "cipolle"? Or "pomodoro"? Or "patate"? If I were illiterate, or literate only in some distant language such as Tamil, this label would serve no purpose at all. All I really need to see is the price per kilo, as noted. I think anybody looking at the object would know what it was, call it what you will.

A few small cultivators on the Vignole sell their daily harvest at the Trattoria alla Vignole.  As I looked at the bins, a question formed in my brain. What’s the point of writing “cipolle”? Or “pomodoro”? Or “patate”? If I were illiterate, or literate only in some distant language such as Tamil, this label would serve no purpose at all. All I really need to see is the price per kilo, as noted. I think anybody looking at the object would know what it was, call it what you will.

It just strikes me as -- perhaps not odd -- but surprisingly superfluous. Unless they were put there for vocabulary drill by some enterprising (and hungry, and thrifty) teacher.

It just strikes me as — perhaps not odd — but surprisingly superfluous. Unless they were put there for vocabulary drill by some enterprising (and hungry, and thrifty) teacher.

And while I'm on the subject of unnecessary and inexplicable things, there is this phenomenon, which is not as rare as it should be (by which I mean: non-existent). A German couple happily deposits themselves in the outside seats on the vaporetto, and help themselves to a seat for their luggage. The most polite question I would have asked, if I'd felt like bracing myself for the reply, would have been: "Did you buy a ticket for those bags? Because there are plenty of people standing behind you who would almost certainly like to be sitting there." I know the space is tiny to non-existent, no one needs to tell me that. I merely ask why that entitles someone to use more for themselves just because they got there first.

And while I’m on the subject of unnecessary and inexplicable things, there is this phenomenon, which is not as rare as it should be (by which I mean: non-existent). A German couple happily deposits themselves in the outside seats on the vaporetto, and help themselves to a seat for their luggage. The most polite question I would have asked, if I’d felt like bracing myself for the reply, would have been: “Did you buy a ticket for those bags? Because there are plenty of people standing behind you who would almost certainly like to be sitting there.” I know that space is tiny to non-existent, no one needs to tell me that. I merely ask why that entitles someone to use more for themselves just because they got there first.

I conclude as I began: This picture is here just because I like it. I do not romantized these ladies -- their not-so-distant forebears (and perhaps they too) were notorious for family-destroying gossip. But I'm going to forget that for the moment.

I conclude as I began: This picture is here just because I like it. I do not romanticize these ladies — their not-so-distant forebears (and perhaps they too) were notorious for family-destroying gossip. But I’m going to forget that for the moment.  There are just too few of them left for me to cavil.

Categories : Venetian-ness
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Jul
18

Lagooning

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I’m aware that a month has passed since my last post — I plead the Summer Defense.  Heat, mental depletion, and lots of stuff to do with the energy I don’t have.

Did I ever mention that we have no air conditioning in our hovel?  Our first, second, and only line of defense is the lagoon, into which we have gone frequently.

Some evidence follows, just to reconnect with the outside world (my readers), even if I have no deep wisdom, or deep anything, to impart.  I’ve had to give up talking about Venice itself for a while because living here is like living in freaking “Groundhog Day.”  And when I begin to bore myself, it’s time for a big, big pause.

To start things off in a lively way was the unusually powerful "scirocal," or southeast wind, which roared through Venice for a while the other day. This was a refreshing change, as long as you didn't have to be on the water in any craft smaller than an aircraft carrier.

To start things off in a lively way was the unusually powerful “scirocal,” or southeast wind, which roared through Venice for a while the other day. This was a refreshing change, as long as you didn’t have to be on the water in any craft smaller than an aircraft carrier.

Case in point: Not aircraft carriers.

Case in point: Not aircraft carriers.  Lino and I have found ourselves having to traverse water in this sort of weather in a boat with oars.  One remembers only fragments of the experience due to the ungodly concentration such a traverse requires.

Much better -- going out at dawn (5:30, for the record) at LOOOOOOW tide. There must be clams out there and we're going to find them.

Much better — going out at dawn (5:30, for the record) at LOOOOOOW tide. There must be clams out there and we’re going to find them.

Or, to be more precise, Lino is going to find them.

What I mean is that Lino is going to find them.  He’s so good at it.

My job -- for which I have hired myself -- is to admire the view. By now it's no secret that I adore the lagoon at an exceptional low tide. It's like sneaking into somebody's house.

My job — for which I have hired myself — is to admire the view. By now it’s no secret that I adore the lagoon at an exceptional low tide. It’s like sneaking into somebody’s house.

Having found exactly zero clams in Place A, we rowed around to Place B, where the quest continued. I especially like this area because there's so much variety in the sediment. Among other reasons.

Having found exactly zero clams in Place A, we rowed around to Place B, where the quest continued. I especially like this area because there’s so much variety in the sediment. Among other reasons.

The mushy green area in the center of the picture is eelgrass. When the tide is high (and it's on its way right now) it floats like tresses.

The mushy green area in the center of the picture is eelgrass. When the tide is high (and it’s on its way right now) it floats like tresses.

Just pull the boat up and go exploring. Remember that the tide is going to begin rising before long, potentially floating your vehicle away.

Just pull the boat up and go exploring. Remember that the tide is going to begin rising before long, potentially floating your vehicle away.

Lino came across the first sea urchin I've ever seen in the lagoon (I've seen them on rocks). Happily, he did not discover it with his bare foot. People eat them, but it seemed pointless to take just one home, so we released it back into its habitat. Far from our bare feet.

Lino came across the first sea urchin I’ve ever seen in the lagoon (I’ve seen them on rocks). Happily, he did not discover it with his bare foot. People eat them, but it seemed pointless to take just one home, so we released it back into its habitat. Far from our bare feet.

Speaking of eating -- as one does -- we came across a few dauntless sea snails making a meal of a crab. Whatever birds passed by either couldn't manage it, didn't like it, or were driven away by the snails.

Speaking of eating — as one does — we came across a few dauntless sea snails making a meal of a crab. Whatever birds walked by either couldn’t manage it, didn’t like it, or were driven away by the snails.  And left only their footprints.

Lino went ut armed with a net bag to bring home the clams. But all he was finding were sea snails. Which were doomed.

Lino went out armed with a net bag to bring home the clams. But all he was finding were “noni,” or sea snails (Bolinus brandaris). Which were doomed.

Speaking of snails, however, it's turn about in the ferocious world of the lagoon. Lino loves them and there were so many lying around there was no reason not to bring home a mess of them. I use the word deliberately. On the bow, two Belon oysters. Those I really like, but there again, taking only two seemed a little melancholy. Back they went.

Which he displayed, briefly, on the bow, along with two Belon oysters (Ostrea edulis).  The lagoon is full of them but nobody is — inexplicably — interested in them anymore. I really like them, but there again, taking only two seemed a little too apex-predator for us. So after being booked and photographed, back they went.

Ditto for this little newcomer, called a TK. I've heard Lino mention them, but this was my first sighting. Immortalized, and returned to the primordial homeland.

Ditto for this little newcomer, a type of clam called a “longone” (Tapes aureus).  Not to be confused with “cape lunghe” (Solen marginatus).  I’ve heard Lino mention them, but this was my first sighting. Immortalized, and returned to the primordial homeland.

Another newcomer to my album: TKTK.

Another newcomer to my album: Vongola verace  (Tapes decussatus) — the shell slightly smashed by something, but still looking good.  You can recognize them by the darkish (or sometimes whitish) band around the flattish outer edge of the shell (among other distinguishing traits).  These are the native “caparossoli,” which are the acknowledged kings of the molluskian world, but if you don’t know what they look like you might be fooled by some other clam on the menu, presented — how may I put this? — under false pretenses.

Lots of half-buried fan mussels (Atrina fragilis) swathed in eelgrass, like Mollusk-henge.

Lots of half-buried fan mussels (Atrina fragilis) swathed in eelgrass, strewn about like Mollusk-henge.

When the water is high, you try not to row over them. In case you find out too late that the water's not quite high enough.

When the water is high, you try not to row over them —  you can find out too late that the water’s not quite high enough when you hear a little scrape or crunch under the boat.  Not good.

Rising tide is also nice.

Rising tide is also nice.

How can I put this?  We found just about everything except clams.  But we had a great time visiting the neighborhood.

Categories : Water
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Jun
13

Gelato on the brain

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"Crema Classica" is just about ready. Stand by with your pointing' trowels to start gorging.

“Crema Classica” is just about ready. Stand by with your pointing trowels ready to start gorging.

And when its done he scrapes it out of the churn with a long spoon and scrapes it into the container which is headed for the display case. Does it look bland? I'll tell you what: It isn't.

And when it’s done he scrapes it out of the freezer-churn with a long spoon and scrapes it into the container which is headed for the display case. Does it look bland? I’ll tell you what: It isn’t.

This must be the place.

This must be the place: Soban Gelateria, 23 Piazza Gramsci, Valenza, Italy.

I have spent the last few months immersed –now there’s a thrilling thought — in gelato. Specifically, in the artisanal gelato made by Andrea Soban in Valenza, Italy.

Guess what?  It’s simpler, and also harder, than you might think. Simpler in the sense of ingredients and procedure, and harder because, like playing a Bach fugue, you can’t just up and do it one day when the mood strikes you.  And don’t think that even professionals always (or ever) reach this empyreal level.  Those images above represent a literal lifetime of effort.

As it happens, though, we can leave it to him to deal with the details.  Anyone who can make it to Valenza can enter this parallel universe where everything conspires to make you happy.

The following photos are not intended as a manual on how make sublime gelato (I’ve left out a few things, such as “equipment” and “expertise”) but to show the attention to detail and the quality of ingredients Andrea lavishes on his ephemeral creations.  In fact, he’s always one day behind the gelato staring at you from the display case; ordering the milk and cream, making the mixture and leaving it in the pasteurizer overnight to “mature” means that what he freezes today he actually brewed up yesterday.

I wish he lived next door.  Life would be so much better.

Of course he's smiling. He's making gelato.

Of course he’s smiling. He’s making gelato.

Fresh whole milk goes into the pasteurizer where it will await its companions.

Followed by fresh cream. more or less 10W-40 weight. (Made up.)

Followed by fresh cream. more or less 10W-40 weight. (Made up.)

Separating eggs by hand. The yolks act as an emulsifer, the whites are often destined for a sorbetto.

Separating eggs by hand. The yolks act as an emulsifier in gelato, the whites are often destined for sorbetto.

There is the machinery, but nothing beats fingers and brain for even the simplest tasks.

There is the machinery, but nothing beats fingers and brain for even the simplest tasks.

Yolks beaten, into the mixture they go.

Yolks beaten, into the mixture they go.

Peeling ten lemons, followed by oranges.

Peeling ten lemons, followed by oranges.

Fat vanilla beans on the right, thin, shrivelly little beans from Tahiti on the left, which are, despite being thin and shrivelly, the most highly prized vanilla beans on the market.

Fat vanilla beans from Madagascar on the right.  The skinny little beans from Tahiti on the left are, despite being thin and shrivelly, the most highly prized vanilla beans on the market.

His forebears from the Zoldo Valley in the Veneto Region were the first to bring gelato down from the rich and powerful and offer it to ordinary people. These gelato-makers spent the summer in northern Europe making their simple concoctions (freezing by hand) and selling them from pushcarts like the man shown here, the grandfather of the owners of “Gelateria Zoldana” in Treviso.

The families from Zoldo also worked in gelaterie abroad. Here is the Arnoldo family working in Vienna in 1934.

The families from Zoldo also worked in gelaterie abroad. Here is the Arnoldo family working in Vienna in 1934.

The ice-cream-freezing machine was invented by Nancy Johnson in Philadelphia in the 1840s. This system, in various sizes (this is a quart) was what all gelato-makers used till mechanization came at the end of the 19th/beginning of the 20th centuries.

The ice-cream-freezing machine was invented by Nancy Johnson in Philadelphia in the 1840s. This system, in various sizes (this is a quart) was what all gelato-makers used till mechanization came at the end of the 19th/beginning of the 20th centuries.

And speaking of differences, these are two pistachio pastes from the same producer. The darker one was sent as a sample; as soon as Andrea tasted it, the old product was benched.

Sugar! Or, to be precise, sucrose! Because there are some 100 sugars he could choose from.

Sugar! Or, to be precise, sucrose! Because there are some 100 sugars he could choose from.

Carob flour, a natural stabilizer.

Carob flour, a natural stabilizer.

So you leave it overnight and then put it in the freezer/churn and after just a little while you've got frozen rapture. You just have to keep doing it with all the different flavorings that your people want, as partially shown above.

Here we see how it all turns out.  After the mixture (with any added flavorings) is left overnight, then put into the freezer/churn, after just a little while you’ve got frozen rapture. Notice that each container has its own spatula.  No rinsing one lone scoop all day long here.

The point of it all: Eager crowds craving more.

The point of it all: Eager crowds craving more.

These men work in an office an hour away from Valenza, but have to come to town on business about once a week. How too bad is that? (The man on the right has been coming to Soban since the shop opened 40 years ago. Start 'em early is the best philosophy....).

These men work in an office an hour away from Valenza, but have to come to town on business about once a week. (How too bad is that?).  The man on the right has been coming to Soban since the shop opened 40 years ago. Start ’em early is the best philosophy.

This was dinner: A pound of gelato. Selling by weight means you can organize a sort of tasting menu. Clockwise from left

This was my dinner: A pound of gelato. If five scoops seems like a lot, it wasn’t. It wasn’t even enough.  Counterlockwise from left:  Brachetto (a wine from Piemonte) sorbetto, zabaione, mandarino sorbetto, chocolate (from Venezuela) sorbetto, vanilla cream.  My only regret: Not having bought two pounds.  A big shout-out to Andrea’s brother, Stefano, who mans the helm at the shop in Alessandria — carrying on the family tradition in a big way in another town.

Perhaps this image doesn't call for any explanation. There's so much I could say, but "Yikes!" probably covers it.

But all gelato is not created equal.  Perhaps this image doesn’t call for any explanation. This is the gelateria from hell.

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Categories : Food
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