Archive for Nature

Jul
16

Cutting up

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In case you might wonder why the Austrians filled in this canal, I was told by a knowledgeable source that when they had their stables in what is now the Giardini, they created this modest stretch of street in order to be able to promenade on horseback, in a miniature version of the promenades in the Bois de Boulogne (or whatever Austrian park corresponds to it).  Which is why the bridge at the end of the street is a simple arch, without steps.

In case you might wonder why the Austrians filled in this canal, I was told by a knowledgeable source that they built stables in what is now the Giardini, and created this modest stretch of street in order to be able to promenade on horseback, performing a miniature version of the promenades in the Bois de Boulogne or the Vienna Prater. Which is why the bridge at the end of the street is a simple arch, without steps.

The horse- (and stroller- and shopping-cart- and skateboard-) - friendly bridge.

The horse- (and stroller- and shopping-cart- and skateboard-) friendly bridge.

 

A few days ago a powerful storm passed through, strewing rain and wind everywhere (though it stopped short of throwing hail, I’m glad to say, nor did any tiles go frisbeeing off roofs — my own ballpark-way of measuring the ratio between windspeed and danger).

But I forgot about trees.  We discovered the following morning that these can also be useful, potentially life-threatening, indicators of wind.

The viale Garibaldi (not to be confused with via Garibaldi) is the shady length of filled-in canal which stretches 785 feet (239 m) from the aforementioned street to the Giardini vaporetto stop.  During the summer its enclosing rows of lime trees provide the most heavenly shade, and there is always some breeze.  The benches, especially during the heat of the day, are almost always occupied by people who are either eating or sleeping, which leads Lino to refer to this space as either the refectory or the dormitory.

A view of the church of San Giuseppe di Castello, by Antonio Canaletto.  The church in the foreground was torn down, houses built in its place, the canal in the foreground filled in to create viale Garibaldi, and limetrees planted along its borders.  In other words, this view is painted from the perspective of a person standing on what was to become the viale Garibaldi.  (www.canalettogallery.org)

A view of the church of San Giuseppe di Castello (in background), by Antonio Canaletto. The church in the foreground was torn down as part of Napoleon’s Let’s-Make-Venice-More-Beautiful campaign, houses built in its place, the canal in the foreground filled in, and limetrees planted along its borders. In other words, this view is painted from the perspective of a person standing on what was to become the viale Garibaldi. (www.canalettogallery.org)

We weren’t surprised to discover that a tree had been blown down, but I was surprised to see what damage it had wrought.  Lime trees bless us briefly with the most heavenly perfume each spring when the flowers bloom, but evidently their root system is not adapted to the conditions here.  By “conditions” I don’t mean the possibility of wind, which exists everywhere, but the likelihood of wet and shallow subsoil.  Even if it doesn’t rain for weeks and the leaves all turn brown, I am convinced that the aforementioned former canal (which continues to flow through a large pipe beneath the gravel) maintains some level of moisture which disturbs the balance between horizontal and vertical.  If I’d ever studied physics, I’d know what to call this. I suppose “topheavy” will have to do meanwhile.

Lime trees, or linden, have carried sacred significance for millennia for Slavs, Germans, and Greeks.  I respect the leaves’ purported healing properties also.  But I have learned that while it’s a great thing to wander among them at blossomtime, you’d better keep away when the wind rises.

Keeping as close to houses as you can manage, in case any rooftiles decide to join the party.

The firemen had quickly gotten to work removing this fallen giant, which must have been spectacular blocking the entire road.  Happily, the spectacle of damage to humans or houses was nowhere to be seen.

The firemen had quickly gotten to work removing this fallen giant, which must have been spectacular blocking the entire road. Happily, the spectacle of damage to humans or houses was nowhere to be seen.

I don't normally think of the tops of trees as being especially dangerous, but clearly the weight of the tree was enough to smash the clearly frail wooden fence, and not-so-frail stone bench.  That was impressive.

I don’t normally think of the tops of trees as being especially dangerous, but clearly the weight of the tree was enough to smash the frail wooden fence, and not-so-frail stone bench. That was impressive.

For anyone who wanted to read this tree's palm according to the rings, this was the perfect chance.  However, the plant's life story now has no future to predict, except for what happens next...

For anyone who wanted to read this tree’s palm according to the rings, this was the perfect chance. However, the plant’s life story now has no future to predict, except for what happens next…

Off to the mulching mill of Valhalla on Monday.

Off to the mulching mill of Valhalla on Monday.

Later that same day, toward evening, busted-up tree was to be found, in all its leafy glory, a few steps from our hovel.  Were they the same bits, moved to a better pick-up point?  Different bits?  Different tree?  Suddenly dissected trees seemed to be everywhere.  Till even later that evening, when we returned from elsewhere and it was all gone. Perhaps taken somewhere for constructing leafy bowers for Phyllida or the Faerie Queene.

Later that same day, toward evening, busted-up tree was to be found, in all its leafy glory, a few steps from our hovel. Were they the same bits, moved to a better pick-up point? Different bits? Different tree? Suddenly dissected trees seemed to be everywhere. Till even later that evening, when we returned from elsewhere and it was all gone. Perhaps taken somewhere for constructing leafy bowers for Phyllida or the Faerie Queene.

 

 
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Jun
19

Fishing for compliments

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The other day G. hauled home an estimated 20 kilos (20 pounds) of gilthead bream, and a surprise.

The other day G. hauled home an estimated  10 kilos (22 pounds) of gilthead bream, and an interloper which Lino immediately spied.

Our upstairs neighbor, G.S., now retired, finally has all the time he wants to go fishing.  I understand that this is the dream of many men, and he is living it to the full.

He sits in his boat on some expanse of water — naturally he will never tell us where, and Lino, a fisherman himself, will never ask.  He sets up three fishing rods, and with what appears to be superhuman talent always brings home something.  Often, many somethings.  Which he sometimes shares with us.

First, he passes our kitchen window, which is usually open except in the depths of winter.  He may call a friendly greeting, or Lino may already have heard him tying up his boat.  So G. will pause, and Lino will indulge in what seems to me to be lots of time discussing the day’s conditions, catch, and other occult particulars of the angler’s art.  Lino never fished with a rod (he prefers the leister, or what I simply call a “trident” even though it has many more than three prongs).  But he knows as much as anyone about the lagoon environment and the customs of its finny fauna. So they confer for as long as they feel like it, then G. goes around the corner and upstairs.

He estimated the catch weighed about ten kilos (22 pounds). And I don't think he came home because he'd caught every fish that was out there. I like a person who knows when enough is enough.

For quite a while, he would sometimes reappear (three flights of stairs, twice — what a guy) and plop a plastic bag of some of his fish onto the windowsill. And not just any fish.  Gilthead bream (orata, or Sparus aurata), sea bass, seppie, and assorted companions who made the wrong decision by thinking “Gosh, if the bream bit, it must be good. I think I’ll try it.”

He would briefly and modestly accept our praise and thanks.  Like anyone who does something really well, he considers most compliments to be mere statements of the obvious. I once complimented the wife of a trattoria-owner in our old neighborhood on her fried meatballs.  “They’re the best meatballs in Venice,” I said, thinking I’d give her pleasure. “I know,” she replied.  And that was it.  Once I recovered from the sensation of having missed a step going down the stairs, I realized that she couldn’t honestly have said anything else.  If she didn’t know how good they were, who would?

Back to G.

Matters have taken a new turn. He comes home, he passes the window, he shows Lino the catch, they talk, he goes upstairs.  Normal.  But the other evening, after a few minutes, we heard him call.  Then a plastic bag tied to a string mysteriously appeared, descending from above, framed in the doorway.

People still sometimes let down baskets to pull up whatever they need (everybody’s got flights of stairs), and more than sometimes they let down their bags of garbage and leave them hanging on a long cord for the garbage collector to retrieve.  (Except they won’t be doing that tomorrow, because the garbage people are going to be on strike.  Gad.)

I suppose if we lived on the third floor and he on the ground, he’d call for us to let down a basket, bag, tray, some kind of receptacle, and we’d pull up the fish, sometimes still thrashing. His generosity means that we now eat fabulous fish at least once a week.  But it’s beginning to be hard to keep up with him.  When somebody gives you eight or ten bream, which is one of the most valued fish in the Venetian culinary repertoire, you feel joy and gratitude and bursts of self-congratulatory health.  But you can’t eat eight or ten at one go, and the freezer is beginning to murmur in a discontented sort of way, probably beginning to consider staging a mutiny of the bounty.

But we have put our hand to the plow, as the Good Book hath it, and, as advised, we are not looking back.  If fresh fish is to be our fate, we will just keep on accepting it.

The magical bag silently appears, containing the interloper.

The magical bag silently appears, containing the interloper.

A little cagnoletto (Mustelus mustelus, or palombo, in Italian, or common smooth-hound in English).  It's a modest little shark and once you have eviscerated it -- you'll want to throw all that away immediately, the smell is pretty strong -- and skinned it, which is another major project, the flesh when boiled makes a delectable broth, and the fish itself has a very delicate flavor.  It's not unusual to see these in the fish market, but in restaurants they only appear as part of fish soup.  If ever.

A cagnoleto (Mustelus mustelus, or palombo, in Italian, or common smooth-hound in English). It’s a modest little shark and once you have eviscerated it — you’ll want to throw all that away immediately, the smell is pretty strong — and skinned it, which is another major project, the flesh when boiled makes a delectable broth, and the fish itself has a very delicate flavor. They can also be fried, or grilled, and I’ve just discovered an interesting recipe for cooking them in a tomato/anchovy sauce.  It’s not unusual to see these in the fish market, but in restaurants they usually appear, if ever, as part of fish soup.

Some days earlier, this was his gift: three gilthead, a suro, and a pesce persico, which is normally a freshwater fish but which not infrequently wanders out of a river and into the lagoon..

Some days earlier, this was his gift: three bream, a long slim suro, and a brownish pesce persico, normally a freshwater fish but which not infrequently wanders out of a river and into the lagoon.

The suro (Trachurus trachurus, or European horse mackerel) has the most enchanting colors, so subtle as to defeat my little camera.  As you can see, they're less fatty than the usual mackerel.

The suro (Trachurus trachurus, or European horse mackerel) has the most enchanting colors, so subtle as to defeat my little camera. As you can see, they’re less fatty than the usual mackerel.

The pesce persico (Tinca tinca, or tench) doesn't loom particularly  large in Venetian cooking -- it doesn't loom large, period -- but anything that's in the lagoon is fair game.  And as you see, the lagoon is crammed with fish.

The pesce persico (Tinca tinca, or tench) doesn’t loom particularly large in Venetian cooking — it doesn’t loom large, period — but anything that’s in the lagoon is fair game. And as you see, the lagoon is crammed with fish.

Categories : Fish, Uncategorized
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Mar
20

Springing ahead

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Although we certainly can’t complain about the winter we haven’t had — all the cold and snow were re-routed to other parts of the world — spring is still exerting the old rousing-the-bear-from-hibernation force around the neighborhood.

So I festivate the equinox with a string of springy pictures, in no particular order, because I have the sensation that everything is happening pretty much in unison, like the Rockettes.  This wonderful, too-brief phase comes down to essentially two things: Fish and flowers.

The past few days have seen the slaughter of the seppie -- anybody with a boat and some free time seems have gone out to snag as much as they can of what the tide was bringing in.  Our neighbor came home one day with 25 kilos (55 pounds) of the little monsters.  He gave us some, which were better than anything we could have bought.

The past few days have seen the slaughter of the seppie — anybody with a boat and some free time seems have gone out to snag as much as they can of what the tide was bringing in. Our neighbor came home one day with 25 kilos (55 pounds) of the little monsters. He gave us some, which were better than anything we could have bought.

But you don't have to have a boat in order to do major damage to the incoming horde of tentacled delicacies.  There's a veritable perp walk of fishermen along the fondamenta.

But you don’t have to have a boat in order to do major damage to the incoming horde of tentacled delicacies. There’s quite a detachment of fishermen strung along the fondamenta.

Which is not to say that what's been on sale in the fish market has been anything less than top-notoch. Or as this vendor's sign expressed it: "Marvelous."  With a marvelous low price to match.  If you see seppie like this

In the past few days, the seppie in the fish market have rarely been anything less than top-notch. Or as this vendor’s sign expressed it: “Marvelous.” With a marvelous low price to match. If you see seppie like this, it’s a venial sin not to buy them. If they don’t look like this, you should skip them and buy something else. Note the lack of black ink smeared all over them.  The makeup is applied when the seppie aren’t as beautiful — I mean fresh — as this.

These are go', a type of goby that makes a fantastic risotto.  Actually, we may be among the few people left who use them for that purpose; they're never on any menu that I'm acquainted with. "Quando la rosa mette spin', xe bon el go' e el passarin."  When the rose begins to bloom (i.e., put out its thorns -- just go with it), the go' and the passarini, or turbot, are good."  Lino has taken more passarini out of the lagoon than you could believe, but they're hardly ever in the fish market anymore.  People like sole and salmon from exotic faraway places.

These are go’, a type of goby that makes a fantastic risotto. Actually, we may be among the few people left who use them for that purpose; they’re never on any menu that I’m acquainted with. “Quando la rosa mete spin’, xe bon el go’ e el passarin.” When the rose begins to bloom (i.e., put out its thorns — just go with it), the go’ and the passarini are good. Lino has taken more passarini, or European flounder (Platichthys flesus), out of the lagoon than you could ever count, but they’re hardly ever in the fish market anymore. People like things like sole and salmon from exotic faraway places.

Let's talk clams.  You can certainly go clamming in the depth of winter, but your fingrs freeze so you can't even feel the clams anymore.  But on a day like this, the sun, the water, the world all seem to conspire to make a few hours on the falling, then rising, tide, just the perfect thing to do. Note Lino's net bag -- it's an excellent tool for rinsing the muddy little bivalves.

Let’s talk clams. You can certainly go clamming in the depth of winter, but your fingers freeze so you can’t even feel the clams anymore. But on a day like this the sun, the water, the world all seem to conspire to make a few hours clamming during the falling, then rising, tide, just the perfect thing to do.

Note Lino's net bag -- the perfect tool for rinsing the muddy little bivalves. A bucket also works, but this is better.

Note Lino’s net bag — the perfect tool for rinsing the muddy little bivalves. He puts them in a bucket full of lagoon water later to make them finish expelling their internal grit.

Lino takes them the old-fashioned way -- one at a time.

Lino takes them the old-fashioned way — one at a time.

There were a few people out who had the same idea.  Good thing they kept their distance -- clammers are like any other fishermen. They hate to have other fishermen climbing over them.

There were a few people out who had the same idea. Good thing they kept their distance. Clammers are like any other fishermen — they hate to have other fishermen climbing over them.

The plant life was looking fine, too.  These trees have leaves that are practically singing.

The plant life was looking fine, too. These trees have leaves that are practically singing.

The vegetable boat people planted a tiny peach tree in a pot on their prow, and it has begun to put forth tiny peach blossoms.  If they ever harvest tiny peaches, I'll let you know -- otherwise, the memory of these little blooms will be enough for me.

The vegetable-boat people planted a tiny peach tree in a pot on their prow, and it has begun to put forth tiny peach blossoms. If they ever harvest tiny peaches, I’ll let you know — otherwise, the memory of these little blooms will be enough for me.

Forsythia, in some hardy gardener's hardy garden.

Forsythia, in some hardy gardener’s hardy garden.

A plum tree, slightly  behind some of the others I've seen, probably because the sun doesn't shine very much on this part of the street.

A plum tree, slightly behind some of the others I’ve seen, probably because the sun doesn’t shine very much on this part of the street.

Wisteria getting ready to burst.

Wisteria getting ready to burst.

Cabbages also have to flower.

Cabbages also have to flower.

I don't know what they are, but that's not stopping them.

I don’t know what they are, but that’s not stopping them.

Green leaves like this are no less lovely than the flowers.  In fact, I'm not sure these leaves know they're not flowers.

Leaves that are this green are no less lovely than the flowers. In fact, I’m not sure these leaves know they’re not flowers.

Toward 5:00 PM the light begins to warm up in a particularly spring-like way.

Toward 5:00 PM the light begins to warm up in a particularly spring-like way. If there’s any moment lovelier than the dawn, it would be this interlude on the verge of sunset.

 

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Feb
28

Spring sneaks forward

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Small tree but flourishing with blossoms.  I'm sure the tree doesn't know it's small.

A small tree but flowering with all its heart. I’m sure the tree doesn’t know it’s small.

Veteran readers are all too aware of my passion for watching for the First Signs of things — mostly from the natural world. Yes, confetti counts.

Venice has had a totally boring winter.  It hasn’t even really been winter.  The temperature may have gone just barely  below zero once or twice, but it would have been at night and I didn’t notice. We could practically have turned off the heat (thereby foiling the vampires of the gas company who suck whatever financial blood we manage to build up). But that would have encouraged mold and the smell of damp.

For the record, there was acqua alta a few times, but it wasn’t dramatically high, nor dramatically frequent.

I do feel sorry for everyone who has had to endure the apocalyptic winter which has struck much of the US and Europe  But for us here, it’s been some fog, some rain, some more rain, a little more fog, and that’s about it.

Therefore it was only a small surprise to discover that the demure little plum tree (Prunus domestica) near the Giardini decided it was time to bloom.  It’s pretty unusual to see blooms in late February, but there they were. Early?  Late?  Blossoms don’t tend to pay attention to that. There have been violets on the lawn at the Morosini Naval School for a week already.

I hope that March doesn’t play one of its amusing little meteorological tricks on the flowers and leaves.  Whatever this season could be called, it’s time for it to move on and make room for another season to have a chance.  Perhaps the plum blossoms are just one of nature’s ways of hinting that it’s time for winter to go home.

 

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Categories : Nature
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