Author Archive


Floating music

Posted by: | Comments (3)

We had the radio on very low this afternoon — a makeshift substitute for the soothing sound of an imaginary Alpine brook — when I realized I was hearing an extremely beautiful aria that I hadn’t heard in ages.  (For the record: “Mi par d’udir ancora” from Bizet’s “The Pearl Fishers,” though I don’t know who was singing.  I’ll gladly settle for Beniamino Gigli, though, just to keep it in mind.)  Here is the link:

Lino also hadn’t heard it in ages, but it immediately brought back some happy, and very specific, memories of a hot summer evening when he was a little boy.  I want you to be listening to this seductive barcarole — though perhaps it was more lovely at a slightly less funereal tempo — as you imagine this scene:

“I was standing by the Rialto Bridge with my sisters on the evening of Ferragosto (August 15),” he told me.”  (If you’ve never been in Venice on August 15, it means “hot.”)  “And the galleggiante was coming slowly up the Grand Canal and there were the chorus and musicians from La Fenice playing, and this is what they were singing.  And there were hundreds of boats following along behind, rowed by just everybody.”

The galleggiante (literally “floating”) was a platform made of two peatas lashed together, perhaps towed, perhaps rowed, he doesn’t remember.  Here is a picture of a peata, which was used for everyday work of massive dimensions till the Fifties, at least.  

A gazebo-like dome had been constructed on which little lights were shining — I’ll pause while you adjust your mind to the very idea — and the summer-night music was wafting up along the canal as the boats drifted by.

An image of the rotunda “galleggiante” designed by architect Vincenzo Scamozzi for the ceremonial boat procession celebrating the coronation of the dogaressa Morosina Morosini Grimani in 1595. The boats following this extraordinary construction were mostly more expensive and glamorous than the ones that were being rowed behind Bizet on that summer evening in the late Forties.  But those people weren’t trying to show off.

The mere thought of such an event brings a “knot to my throat,” as they say here.  Evening promenades were nothing new in Venice — over the centuries they were often indulged in by Venetians of all ranks and stations seeking a breath of cooler air in the sultry summer nights. There were even boats designed for these nocturnal perambulations, such as the gondola da fresco, the mussin (there is one still to be seen occasionally), and the pupparino.  Even today, if someone asks me how I stand the summer heat here, I say “We go out on the water, that’s how.”

If music in the Grand Canal seems like the best idea ever, I would concur.  A group of women have organized a somewhat similar event over the past few years, but although I haven’t participated, I have the impression that it wasn’t very much like the evening Lino remembers.  For one thing, Venetians (few as they are nowadays) tend to go to the mountains in August.  But I can tell you that if I’d been there with him, I’d never have forgotten it either.

Categories : History, Venetian-ness
Comments (3)

Seppie and friends

Posted by: | Comments (0)

No matter how bundled up these little pixies still may be, they say SPRING to me.

We went shopping this morning. Nothing dramatic, nothing involving jewels or cashmere or lambskin.  Just checking out the fish at the Pescheria this morning, and we struck paydirt twice.

One, we nabbed the first seppie of the season, a moment we’d been waiting for.  They cost more than I’d have wanted to spend (as almost everything does), but we brought them home and Lino is dealing with their destiny as I write.

We couldn’t resist them — or rather, we didn’t resist most of them, except for the bigger one in the foreground, second from left, covered in sticky ink. The young man casually threw it into the paper in his hand along with two of the others, and I said, “I don’t want that one.” He said, “They’re all the same size.” I said, “I don’t care, I don’t want it.” He said, “They’re all the same size.” Lino said, “She doesn’t want it, put it back,” and so he did. What did size have to do with the fact that it was DEMONSTRABLY older — and with fish, that doesn’t mean wiser — than the others? ( And by the way, it was not the same size, it was bigger.) I realize that every hour that passed, the young man would have found it more of a challenge to casually throw it in with somebody else’s order, but I don’t care. We got the good ones.

Two, we ran into two friends of his, which is always what one hopes when wandering the market.  M and C used to work at the Aeronavali with Lino, beginning as boys together (16 years old, more or less).  They did a little catching-up, mainly about wildfowl hunting (M’s passion since boyhood, but he has relinquished his weapons due to increasing bureaucracy), fishing (still at it, like Lino), and some random remarks about nothing.  Nothing is a very large and rich subject, and people can talk about it for quite some time.

I already knew M by name and by occasional sightings; I knew that he had been Lino’s favorite partner when they used to compete on pupparinos in the “interaziendali” races organized between different working groups (a team from the Gazzettino, say, and the ACTV, and other happy bands of working brothers).  “He was a wonderful proviere” (rowing in the bow) — “he had a beautiful stroke, it just lifted the boat up and then I’d carry it forward.”  Perhaps this makes more sense in Italian.  Anyway, the perfect pair.

They also ran into each other out fishing, or at work with whatever catch they brought in to give away.  “I’d have sole,” Lino said, “but M didn’t fish for sole, he went out for shrimp.  So he’d ask me how much I wanted for my sole, and I’d say ‘You’re kidding, right?’  So we’d just trade.  He loved sole.” Today M bought some sole, but it wasn’t for him.  “It’s for my cat,” he said.  “I also got some sardoni for me.”  (Engraulis encrasicolus, or European anchovy).

Lino thought that was funny.  “Give the sardoni to the cat, and you eat the sole!” he said.

“Nah…the cat won’t eat sardoni….”

Seppie ink trickling out from beneath the ice at the neighborhood fish vendor.  It’s like a moment from some horror movie as you approach the closed door, rendered less horrible by its lack of human characteristics.  But this is a tragic waste of precious ink.  Maybe it was the creature’s last attempt at self-defense. Or somebody was just careless with his squashy fingers as he rang up the sale.

M worked “inside” at the airport on the Lido, where construction was going on; Lino worked outside, on repairs and maintenance.  A young widow with a son set her sights on the even younger M, and the two married and have lived peacefully ever after, with the addition of a few daughters.  She was happy for M to be training and racing, which many wives are not. Many a modest racer has been forced to give it up because the wife wants him at home.  “At home,” if I understand Lino’s tone of voice, means something like “chained to the wall.”

C, however, was another case.  No fishing, no hunting; always to be seen with his father for company.  When his father died he latched onto M, and it may not need to be said that he never married.  “But he always said ugly things about M’s wife,” Lino recalled with some distaste.  M is a good guy and there was no known reason for anyone to say anything bad about her, either.  Except maybe (I hypothesized) he might have made a move on her which was rebuffed.  “I’ve thought that for years,” Lino replied.

When Lino left the company after some 37 years of service, C became head of the squad, a promotion that would have gone to Lino, but never mind, there it is.

I’m sure Lino could have told me more, but one can’t be writing Russian novels every day.  It’s enough to get the highlights, which when they concern people you’ve known since you were 16 can be plenty high enough.

An instant later, they were gone. Two instants after that, they were back. Then they were gone. I never knew pigeons could be so fussy.

Spring is now arriving at a brisk trot. Pussy willows at the market.

A very little peach tree beginning to bloom on the vegetable boat. Peaches never seem to be forthcoming, but the flowers are wonderful.


Categories : Fish
Comments (0)

Another little link…

Posted by: | Comments (2)

This is a typical view of LinoWorld, otherwise known as Venice.

…in the chain, if you will, connecting Venetians to each other.  Or to Lino, anyway.

In my post about going to the movies in the old days here, I mentioned Lino’s recollection of the man who stood at the entrance to the cinema Santa Margherita making and selling taffy.

In today’s episode, we were on the 5.1 vaporetto this morning traveling from the “Guglie” to the “Giardini.”  Boarding behind us, and sitting in front of us, was a tall, unkempt man in that unmappable region between 70 years old and expiration.  He was talking continually to the elderly lady with him in that peculiarly annoying voice that can’t be called LOUD but which everybody on the boat can hear.  Or rather, cannot avoid hearing.

After a few stops, they get off.  Lino says, “You know who that was?” I don’t bother replying, but wait.

“That was the son of the man who sold the taffy in front of the cinema Santa Margherita.”

The story never ends, it just keeps adding chapters.


Categories : Venetian-ness
Comments (2)

Ashes and lamentation

Posted by: | Comments (3)

Just kidding.  Lamentations seem no longer to apply to the spiritual life; if you feel a lamentation coming on, it’s usually related to politics or family members, certainly not to yourself.

But Ash Wednesday (“le ceneri“) is still a crucial day in the Christian calendar, and even though people have become very lax about denying themselves meat today, the day remains a vestigial holiday for the butchers.  Those few that remain.  Those even fewer who maintain the Old Ways.  Of course, the public can still buy all the meat it wants at the supermarkets, so closing the butcher shop is by now just a symbol.  But a good one, if you have turned your thoughts toward penance, even for just a minute.

Of course, there’s that famous gap between the letter and the spirit of the law, and I’d like to share an amazing menu for your consideration.  It was displayed in an expensive restaurant in Udine right across the street from the Patriarchal Palace and adjoining church, and I supposed that the proprietors might be wanting to look good for the patriarch even though the rank of patriarch is no more, and the archbishop lives a 15-minute walk away.

I have never seen a menu created and advertised as being for Ash Wednesday (I thought bread and water pretty much covered the nutritional options, or at least week-old beans and a frightening lettuce from the back of the fridge).  The idea of promoting a day of renunciation with items as listed — EVEN THOUGH THEY DO NOT BREAK ANY RULES (except in spirit) — seems totally in keeping with the zeitgeist, and times being what they are.  I mean, there isn’t any clause saying you’re only allowed to eat horrible food.  I THINK the notion is that you shouldn’t be wallowing in your food fixations for one little 24-hour cycle in the entire year. But then I think: If the owners were inclined to give such a gracious nod to contrition, they might at least have lowered the prices. Why should the customer always be the one to repent when the bill comes?

The restaurant is named “Allegria,” or “gaiety” or “jollification.”  Bear that in mind as you read on.  From the top: The antipastos: Steamed mussels and clams with pepper; herring; creamy stockfish; mixed fish antipasto; “rati” (for which I am still seeking the definition, though at merely 2.50 euros it can’t be anything astonishing).  First courses: Chickpea and octopus soup; spaghetti with clams; “tuffoli” (a pasta somewhat like rigatoni, but shorter) with codfish, small tomatoes and taggiasche olives; barley and beans, a typical dish of the Friuli region, in which the city resides. Second courses: Stockfish in the style of Vicenza; small medallion of turbot with braised vegetables; cuttlefish confit with artichokes; red “rosa of Gorizia” radicchio with anchovies and aged Montasio cheese; “lidric cul poc” is an extremely prized type of wild radicchio with hard-boiled eggs.  Dessert: (I’m sorry, what?  You get dessert on Ash Wednesday?) “Bonet” of hazelnut with crunchy things, usually amaretto cookies.  A “bonet” is a typical Piedmont confection like a very firm creme caramel; marinated pineapple (I’m guessing in some sort of fabulous liqueur) with coconut gelato.  I’ll tell you what: If you have lunch here you’re going to have plenty to talk to your confessor about.  Go look up “gluttony” and see if there’s a loophole for the day of the ashes.  I myself will be going off shortly to confess the sin of envy.

“Wednesday Closed: Ashes” — this sign behind the lamb chops and veal roast looks like it’s announcing a party.  Parties were yesterday, buddyroe.  You’re supposed to be serious today.

And sing a few verses of “I’ll be seeing you, in all the old familiar places” to the frittelle. (I’ll be looking at the moon, but I’ll be seeing frittelle…..). They’re the demon poster children of Ash Wednesday combining so many things you can’t have anymore. You know, everything worth living for, which is code for “fat and sugar.”  Technically speaking.  I’m sure there’s a loophole somewhere.

I discovered this little hieroglyphic of happiness in a small campo. Let not the wholesome spirit of spiritual discipline (sounds better than “giving up for”) distract us from the beautiful things that didn’t get the memo about deprivation.

Ditto this cat, in deep meditation and Vitamin D absorption.  Satisfied with the simple things in life.  Perhaps dreaming of finding a rat on a boat someday.

Ditto the first few violets of the spring, also benefiting from the sun. They’re not thinking about anything, which is what makes them so wonderful, in addition to being beautiful, making perfume and being good to eat when candied.

One violet, complete with morning shadow. Things are looking up.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Categories : Food
Comments (3)