Archive for June, 2010
As you probably know, today is St. Peter’s feast day. And in this neighborhood, it really means something.
I’ll bypass the cadenzas about the saint himself, though he has always been my favorite mainly because for most of his life there was nothing so saintly about him, except the part about his asking Jesus to cure his sick mother-in-law. That was cool. But then again, she must have been a saint as well. Imagine having Peter as your son-in-law. (Story about St. Peter’s mother in the next post).
The great thing about him is that before he became the Rock upon which the church was to be founded, he was just a working fisherman, which meant he probably smelled like fish — do they have algae in the Sea of Galilee? He probably smelled like that too — and I’m sure he had chilblains and smashed fingernails and feet that were more like hooves. If you want proof, I mention that he’s the go-to saint for people with foot problems.
More to the point, he had one superb quality and that was, as they say in Venice, that “What he had in his heart, he had in his mouth.” Impulsive, a little clueless sometimes, but spectacularly sincere and frankly never afraid to just put himself out there. (Pause for sound of many, many chips falling where they may.)
Why I like him so much now isn’t merely all the above, but because he is the patron saint of the former cathedral of Venice, the church of San Pietro di Castello, which is just over the canal from our little hovel. And each year they put on one heck of a festa in his honor.
Like most festas, there is music, and food, and dogs and old folks and little babies and a big mass, and etc. But this one also has three regatas, the mass is celebrated byno less than the auxiliary bishop (the patriarch can’t ever be bothered to come to these things), and the party goes on for five solid days, by which I mean nights, too.
What does this mean for us? Well, it means not only five days of the fabulous aroma of charcoal-scorched ribs wafting around the area, and not only five nights of inconceivably loud music audible from way over here, but five nights of all the festa-goers coming and going till 2:00 or even 3:00 in the morning. The main street to the church is right outside our bedroom window and of course our windows are open. Happy people going home always shout, I don’t know why.
So while Peter may be the patron saint of locksmiths (hint: he carries the keys to the kingdom) and butchers and cobblers (feet again) and other trades, including fishermen and netmakers and, naturally, the Papacy, for my money he is also the patron saint, at least in our neighborhood, of the deaf, the insomniac, the overtired and overstimulated (technically he’s the go-to saint for cases of frenzy, but people here like frenzy), and also the occasional Russian drunk.
The latter is a newcomer to the list, but at 4:00 AM last night whoever he was was wandering the streets, which had finally achieved slumber, calling out forlornly for Marco. Surprising how far your voice can carry at that hour.
I have no idea if he ever found him, but I’m really sorry that his friend wasn’t named Peter. That would have been so perfect I might actually have gotten up to help him look.
Maybe next year.
You may have heard — or maybe you’re hearing it now — that several Venetian spring months were sparkled-up by the presence of Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie, here filming “The Tourist.” (Stuntman Vladimir Tevlovski was also here. Just thought I’ve give him a shout-out.)
But naturally the excitement was generally focused on The Jolie and also Brad Pitt, who seems to have come along to drink and eat things and get photographed around town with the kids. And perhaps to keep an eye on her and Johnny Depp, if some unkind comments are to be believed.
I’ve lived most of my life in cities where there are more celebrities than plumbers. And usually Venetians aren’t too easy to impress, even with the annual Film Festival and other big events that so excite reporters and editors. This “Hey buddy, you’re blocking the entrance” attitude is just another of the many similarities between Venice and New York, and just another reason why I love it here.
Hoping to illustrate the reason for Venetians’ general indifference to stars (“So who is that?” “It’s Al Pacino!” “It’s Heath Ledger!” “It’s Daniel Craig!” “Oh……”) I thought I’d add here the number of films which have been shot in Venice over the 100-some years that cinema has existed. But a complete list evidently has never been made. Listers tend to name only their favorites, which is a little annoying. Anyway, it’s a lot. Since I’ve been here I’ve seen at least six in progress, which isn’t all that many.
But in a bar/cafe/pizzeria behind the trees in the generally nondescript area known as Sant’ Elena, at least one barista hasn’t made any effort to be blase’.
The other morning I noticed that somebody had set up a little shrine to a moment of elation which will probably endure till the last person who knows who Brad Pitt was has been cremated and forgotten.
I don’t mean to pound this topic into the mud like a piling or anything, but I just thought I’d mention two more flavors that make Venice real to the old gustatory organs. By which I mean things I eat here that I haven’t really found (or taken seriously) elsewhere:
Snails, or bovoleti (boh-voh-EH-ti). Think escargots, with absolutely no pretensions — the polar opposite of pretensions. And absolutely no taste, either, which is why they are boiled, then thrown in a bowl with an overload of sliced fresh garlic and olive oil. Snails are merely an excuse to eat oil and garlic, in my view. It couldn’t possibly be for their nutritional value. Or their texture, either. (The garlic helps you get past that, too. Those old-time hungry people thought of everything.)
Bovoleti show up in late spring and are sold by fishmongers; odd, considering that your snail is a land creature, happier clinging to some plant stem in a field somewhere. They’re on sale until after the feast of the Redentore (third Sunday in July).
In fact, that festival is their moment of glory, if snails can be said to have one, because there they demonstrate their other sterling quality, as entertainment. Eating them gives you something to do while you’re waiting for the fireworks. Slippery little shell in one hand, toothpick in the other, the point is to snag and pull out the bit of whatever you’d call that material that used to be alive, and eat it. The waters of the Giudecca Canal can be speckled with these shells, tossed overboard by oily-fingered people who are beginning to run out of conversation.
The other special item would be fondi, or artichoke bottoms. Perhaps you didn’t realize that an artichoke has a bottom, but usually there is somebody near a fruit and vegetable stand who has been assigned a mountain of big tough artichokes and told to cut off all those leathery outer leaves and other useless bits (which is most of the artichoke) with a knife as sharp as a billhook, then carve a neat disk from what remains.
Simmer slowly in — you know what’s coming — oil and garlic, throw some minced parsley over them, and there you have your daily thistle.
Bit of useless information: You may discover that in Venice there are two words for artichoke used interchangeably: carciofo and articioco. Carciofo (kar-CHAWF-oh) is the standard word, but across northern Italy, from Friuli to Liguria, you’ll find variations on articioco (ar-tee-CHOKE-oh). Such as: articjoc, articioc, articioch, and articiocc. Both carciofo and articioco ultimately derive from Arabic; carciofo from kharshuf, and articioco probably from the Old Spanish alcachofa, which in turn came from Arabic.
Sometimes words are almost more delectable to me than the thing they represent. But I’ll stop here. Must. Go. Eat.
I have taken some cruises, let me state for the record. What follows is not a screed against cruises. Sometimes a screed isn’t even necessary.
As I have mentioned elsewhere, cruises are one of Venice’s main sources of income — not from the paltry trinkets that the passengers may buy as they wander the streets on shore leave, or from the soggy sandwiches or slices of cold pizza they may eat while sitting on a bridge, but from the tax levied on each passenger of about 100 euros each.
Today I only want to share with you the sheer — there must be a word — sheerness of the sight which greeted me as I reached the end of via Garibaldi this morning.
We knew yesterday evening that a cruise ship, as occasionally happens, was destined to be moored at the Riva dei Sette Martiri, because the wire fence that serves as a minimal sort of barrier had already been set up.
What I hadn’t really noticed last night was that the fence stretched the entire length of the Riva, which I now know is about 970 feet, give or take. Because the ship that is tied up there is officially 965 feet long and, by the look of it, about three miles high.
Cruise ships come in and out of Venice virtually every day from April to October (plus a little bit on each end). On weekends it’s the March of the Pachyderms when as many as seven arrive in the morning and depart that evening, a turnaround system that would dazzle the Ferrari pit crew.
My impression, standing by this behemoth, was that this is the largest thing afloat that isn’t an iceberg. But the facts are otherwise (fancy way of saying I was wrong). In fact, I must be really easy to impress, considering how far down the list (34th) of behemoths she ranks.
The “Queen Victoria”‘s stats are: 965 feet long and carries 2,000 passengers.
The “Oasis of the Seas,” which has yet to grace Venice with her presence, God forbid, measures 1,181 feet and carries 5,400 passengers.
I’ve seen plenty of ships which are essentially the same size as the Queen Vic: the “Norwegian Gem” (965 feet), MSC “Musica” (964), “Costa Serena” (952), and the “Ruby Princess” (951). So I really shouldn’t have been so stunned — it’s just that the others moor in the maritime zone and I only see them underway at some moderate distance from the shore. Walking past the “Queen Victoria” is like walking past the Great Wall of China.
And then I got to thinking. It carries 2,000 passengers and about 1,000 crew (I like that ratio, by the way). And it’s got so much square footage that I don’t want to stop to figure it out, amusing as that might be.
All I was thinking is this: The proportions are essentially ludicrous, in the same way that it’s ludicrous that a vehicle has been invented (a car) which weighs 2,000 pounds in order to carry me, which weighs 125. Now we have this leviathan of the seas carrying a mere 2,000 passengers, which probably means that each one rates 4,500 square feet all his or her own.
Or look at it this way: All 2,000 of those paying guests, none of whom is any larger than the crumblike humans in the photographs, are the only thing keeping this mutant mammoth alive. If it weren’t for the assortment of tiny plantigrade mammals I saw descending the gangway in the rain, this colossus would just starve and die.
The idea that something so big could be so vulnerable is nothing new. Other behemoths come to mind, such as the Temple of the Jaguar Priest at Tikal, or the Hill Complex of Great Zimbabwe. But we keep building them all the same. Maybe it makes us feel slightly less crumblike.