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Sep
01

true grit

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This is a tiny example of the material which can be found strewn about in ever-larger remnants according to the amount of wind, and the mood it’s in.  If it has come unstuck because of rain, no matter. It will sit there till it becomes dry and the next windwaft will bring it to your door. Or open window.

You might not intuit this, considering all that water around Venice, but this is an extremely dusty city.  Like any reasonable person I hate dusting, so that might explain my objections to the imperceptible but constant zephyrs of scuz.  Everybody outside Venice gets all worked up about the water, but the only thing we’re missing here is the simoom.

A few evenings ago the weather took a sudden turn from the clear and hot to the dark-gray and cold, a maneuver that was neatly accomplished by a blast of wind.  I felt the temperature suddenly drop and a tiny but ominous breeze passed across my over-heated shoulders and neck. Reef the fo’c’sle and belay the cabinboy!  I raced to shut the windward windows but before I could get to them the aforementioned wind had hurtled through the bedroom bearing invisible (I guess) but extremely tangible clouds of Venetian dust, sand, and general grit.

Sorry to ruin the magic, but the romantic city of canals is made of decomposing bricks, crumbling plaster, flaking paint, eroding stone, and disintegrating mortar and stucco, all of which produces everything from powdery dust to assorted chips, granules, motes, particles, and even the occasional scruple.  This medley had been flung across the bedroom floor, chests of drawers, the bed, and — shudder — the pillows.  The books I can ignore, but just passing my hand over the once-crisp top sheet was like stroking a grimy park bench under a desiccated purging-buckthorn tree.  The only positive thing about this is that, by now, it did not surprise me.  I experience more environment-fatigue when the weather’s dry than when the tide is rising.

There is no solution; the stuff comes in even when the windows are latched, just in a smaller amount.  I don’t know that anyone has ever thought of inventing dust-proof windows — maybe they have them in Timbuktu.  If they have, I’m sure they would cost a lot, when you add in shipping and customs costs.  Meanwhile, gnashing my teeth is free.

The bottle cap is just passing through.

Bricks seem dangerously prone to returning to their primal state. That’s why people cover them with plaster. Which also loses its grip.

it may be that the city will have returned to its primordial mud before it sinks beneath the waves. I don’t know how I feel about that, except at least then I wouldn’t have to dust the bed.

 

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Mar
21

Seppie and friends

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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.

 

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Mar
15

Signals of spring

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One of the many wonderful things about spring is that nobody can start it or stop it.  That’s why the earliest signs are always the most eloquent.  Here’s a glimpse of the past few days, in more or less chronological order:

The fish are returning to the lagoon from their winter spent wherever they go, and one of the first to arrive are the seppie, complete with ink. This was clearly not the destination this seppia had been imagining on his way up the Adriatic.

Another day, another victim. The seppie are coming into the lagoon to spawn. Just after the feast of the Redentore (third Sunday in July), which is the way the Venetians date the event, the eggs hatch, and everybody's out along the fondamente fishing for the baby seppie. Around about the Feast of the Dead ("i morti," Nov. 2), the "fraima" commences, which is the annual migration of the fish out of the lagoon and back to sea. However, a few seem to linger, because in late December there comes a day which is the first really cold day of the winter. I've experienced it several times, it seems to favor St. Stephen's Day, Dec. 26. When the cold hits, it's very likely that some seppie (squatting in somebody's summer home?) come to the surface. If you can stand the cold water, you can even catch them with your hands. They're kind of stunned by the cold.

Another day, another victim. More black drops from an indignant seppia.  The seppie are coming into the lagoon to spawn. Just after the feast of the Redentore (third Sunday in July) — feast days are still a standard measure of time here –the eggs hatch, and everybody’s out along the fondamente fishing for the baby seppie. Around about the Feast of the Dead (“i morti,” Nov. 2), the “fraima” commences, which is the annual migration of the fish out of the lagoon and back to sea. However, a few tend to linger, and in late December there comes the first really cold day of the winter. I’ve experienced it several times; the moment seems to favor St. Stephen’s Day, Dec. 26. When the cold hits, it’s very likely that some seppie who’ve stayed behind (squatting in somebody’s summer home?) drift to the surface. I think they’re stunned by the cold, but I don’t know that for a fact.  I do know that if you can stand the cold water, you can even catch them with your hands.  They move pretty slowly.

I grew up in Ithaca, New York, where it snows from October to April (more or less). At a certain imperceptible signal the city is swathed in forsythia, so of course I took it totally for granted. Now I watch this corner every spring for this burst of glory. It's not nostalgia, exactly. I'd love this even if I'd grown up in Rochester (lilacs).

I grew up in Ithaca, New York, where it snows from October to April (more or less). At a certain imperceptible signal the city is swathed in forsythia, and being young I took it totally for granted and didn’t firmly grasp how thrilling it was. Now that I live in a city not known for any particular flower, I watch this corner every spring for this burst of glory. It’s not nostalgia, exactly. I’d love this even if I’d grown up in Rochester (lilacs).

This plum tree -- specifically "baracocoli" -- is a little behind the blooming curve. Its cousin near the Giardini vaporetto stop is already finished with flowering.

This plum tree — specifically “baracocoli” — is a little behind the blooming curve. Its cousin near the Giardini vaporetto stop is already finished with flowering.

There’s an old saying — which probably means that only old people say it now: “Quando la rosa mete spin, xe bon el go’ e el passarin.” When the rose puts forth its thorns, the go’ and the passarin are good. The two lagoon fish — gobies and European flounder (Gobius ophiocephalus Pallas and Platichthys flesus) — are in season, or starting to be. This rosebush is already on  its way to producing amazing  flowers, and the fish are also going to be excellent.

Peach blossoms from Sicily. Not Venetian but I've only ever seen them here so I'm adding them to the local squadron of spring.

Peach blossoms from Sicily. Not Venetian but I’ve only ever seen them here so I’m adding them to the local squadron of spring.

Fish, check. Flowers, check. And of course the tourists also begin to hatch, bloom, whatever the right word might be. Winter was nice, but now they're baaaaaack.

Fish, check. Flowers, check. And of course the tourists also begin to hatch, bloom, reproduce, whatever the right word might be. Do they also come here to spawn?  Are these early visitors the ones responsible for the millions we see in the summer?

I know it's a free country, but I can never understand why they're HERE. There's virtually nothing in this neighborhood to lure a routist with its siren song. I realize that when the Biennale is open, they spill over into the rest of the world. But now? Are they lost?

I know it’s a free country, but I can never understand why they’re HERE. There’s virtually nothing in this neighborhood to lure a tourist with its siren song. When the Biennale is open, they inevitably spill over into the rest of the area. But now? Are they lost?

IMG_0776 blog spring

Easter is imminent, and as predictably as the seppie or the much-sung swallows of Capistrano, the window of Mascari becomes an orgy of chocolate eggs. You see this and you cannot deny that all is right, if not with the world, at least with this window.

 

 

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Jun
08

Springing and summering along

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For the past few days there have been extremely low tides, June being the second period in the year (after January) in which this phenomenon occurs.  As normal as it may be, I always feel strangely happy to see the underpinnings of the lagoon as such close quarters.

For the past few days there have been extremely low tides, June being the second period in the year (after January) in which this phenomenon occurs. All this area would normally be covered with water, to some depth, however modest. While it doesn’t surprise me anymore, I still feel strangely happy to see the underpinnings of the lagoon as such close quarters.

The next morning we rowed along the edge of this exposed prairie.  I noticed a yellow motorboat sitting definitively on the ground; its owner, somewhere nearby, was obviously counting on having lots of time to dig clams before the tide came to float his boat away.

We rowed along the edge of this exposed prairie. I noticed a yellow motorboat sitting definitively on the ground; its owner, somewhere nearby, was obviously counting on having plenty of time to dig clams before the tide came to float his boat away.

The next morning we rowed along the edge of the huge prairie, in the middle of which a yellow motorboat was definitively sitting.  Its owner was obviously counting on having plenty of time to dig clams before the tide rose enough to float him away.

As you see.

Next Sunday Venetians will go to the polls to vote in a runoff election for the new mayor.  Yes, a year has passed since the Good Ship Venice ran aground and was put under a temporary administrator who managed to get her off the rocks and pump the bilge, but who had no power to plot the new course.

Whichever of the two candidates wins will then proceed to dive — a graceful swan? armstand back 3 somersault 2 1/2 twist tuck? — into a mar di lacrime, or “sea of tears,” as they put it here.  To continue the liquidy metaphor, our brains have been soaked in campaign promises, which, now that I think of it, would be a good way to learn some basic Italian.  The phrases are so simple, and so repetitive.

Washing one’s brain has one good thing about it — it might remove the mental stains splattered by the politicians in the course of what they consider a typical day.  An example: Giancarlo Galan, former governor of the Veneto Region, has spent much of the past year on house arrest for taking bribes and other forms of corruption, jail time served in his luxurious villa on the mainland.  Does he feel remorse? Certainly he would feel it if he thought he’d done anything wrong.  But as he doesn’t, he’s ready to return to Parliament as soon as his stint is finished.  Yes: Convicted felons get to go back to work for the government.

My only defense is to run away.  I flee to the lagoon and I make no apology.  Technically, the season is still spring, but the sun wants to get going on summer right away and has made an excellent start.  Temperatures in the low nineties (F) or low thirties (C).  Hot, by any scale.  Breeze.  No clouds.  Dream weather for going to the beach or — my personal favorite, as everyone knows — drying laundry.

It’s also ideal weather for fleeing.  Here are some things I’ve noticed over the past week or so.

Low tide makes hunting for canestrelli, or scallops, somewhat easier, even though they are extremely well camouflaged by a shell color which totally mimics the sandy bottom.  Lino managed a tidy little haul, which he proceeded to bread and fry the same evening.  Delectable.

Low tide makes hunting for canestrelli, or scallops (Aequipecten opercularis) relatively easy, even though they are extremely well camouflaged by a shell color which totally mimics the sandy  bottom. Lino managed a tidy little haul, which he proceeded to bread and fry the same evening. Delectable.

An inch of water is enough to keep the eelgrass moving in one direction with the falling tide, like tresses of some wort.  And a few denizens appear on the surface, like this tiny crab.  Crabs are a good sign; where there are crabs, there will also be plenty of other fish who nosh on them.  When you pull in a net, it's normal to see some half-gnawed little crabs.  and if you go fishing for eels, soft-shell crabs ("moeche") are the perfect bait.

An inch of water is enough to keep the eelgrass moving in one direction with the tide, like tresses. And a few denizens appear on the surface, like this tiny crab. Crabs are a good sign; where there are crabs, there will also be plenty of fish who nosh on them. When you pull in a net, it’s normal to see some half-gnawed crabs. and if you go fishing for eels, soft-shell crabs (“moeche”) are the perfect bait.

Unhappily, this female moeca is now defunct, awaiting either some adventurous nosher, or mere disintegration.

Unhappily, this female moeca is now defunct, awaiting either some adventurous nosher or mere disintegration.

We pulled our boat onto the dryish grassland to investigate what appear to be megaliths (or miniliths) from the Evora complex, but which we knew were exposed fan mussels (Pinna nobilis).

A good example; they burrow in the sediment and open their shells slightly to consume whatever food might have come by.

A good example; they burrow in the sediment and open their shells slightly to consume whatever food might drift by.

What really intrigued me, though, were the few mounds of spongy material here and there.  Lino knew immediately that they were the eggs of sea snails ("garusoli," or "noni").  And this mound was far from dormant.  Most of the creatures were showing some signs of life, and one was atop the mound, evidently laying more.

What really intrigued me, though, were the several mounds of spongy material here and there. Lino knew immediately that they were the eggs of sea snails (“garusoli,” or “noni”). And this mound was far from dormant. Most of the creatures were showing some signs of life, and one was atop the mound, evidently laying more.

As you may perhaps see here.

As you may perhaps see here.

There's even a fan mussel nearby.  I don't see that it can be much use, but maybe it's waiting to eat something.  Nature, red in tooth and shell.

There’s even a fan mussel nearby. I don’t see that it can be much use, but maybe it’s waiting to eat something. Nature, red in tooth and shell.

The rising tide approaches, beginning to submerge all these wonders.

The rising tide approaches, beginning to submerge all these wonders.

And has begun to lift our boat.  Time to continue on our trip to Sant' Erasmo to buy vegetables.

And has begun to lift our boat. Time to continue on our trip to Sant’ Erasmo to buy vegetables and check the progress of the season ashore.

For one brief interlude, the tamarisks, artichokes and poppies were all in bloom.

For one brief interlude, the tamarisks, artichokes and poppies were all in bloom.

Although tamarisks produce what may be the least interesting flowers yet, they do have their own strange appeal.  Especially when they begin to dry up and blow away, covering the nearby water with pale beige mats of old blossom.

Although tamarisks produce what may be among the least interesting flowers, they do have their own strange appeal. Especially when they begin to dry up and blow away, covering the nearby water with pale beige mats of old blossom.

This is a small tree producing the even smaller plum known locally as “suchete.” For reasons I can’t explain, the Venetian word for zucchine is also “suchete.” Be careful when you’re looking up recipes.

A chickens and her chicks.  What could be more springlike than this?

A chicken and her chicks. What could be more springlike than this?

Unless it's the duckling next door.

Unless it’s the duckling next door.

Here's to blossoming everything.

Here’s to blossoming everything.

 

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