Archive for Harry’s Bar

Feb
03

And speaking of animals

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I suddenly realized that when I was proposing the going-away party for the boy — clothes, but possibly also food, because he must be really hungry by now — I didn’t mention the frog.

That was an oversight. So here’s the plan.

First, the frog would be freed.

Second, he would be given a large pile of small- and medium-sized rocks to throw at the boy.

Third, he would be given a hundred things his heart might desire, from the unlisted phone numbers of Charles Ray (sculptor) and Francois Pinault (collector), to his own private estate with tennis court and helipad in the Great Moss Swamp, to a date with every winner of the Miss Humanity of the Netherlands pageant.  And a huge party at the Waldorf-Astoria for freed dolphins, liberated dancing bears, wounded hedgehogs, rehabilitated slow lorises, and birds whose owners accidentally left their cages open.  He’ll also have his own smorgasbord with all the beetles, grasshoppers, spiders, and Purina Frog Chow he’ll ever want.  And a trampoline.  And a pony.

Lino spotted this gull because of his little identification anklet. Maybe he’s in the bird atlas by now, with a number if not a name.

While we’re on the subject of animals, here’s something you might find interesting.  More than 240 species of birds spend at least some, if not all, of their time in the Venetian lagoon and immediate vicinity.

An article in the Gazzettino announced this fact along with the notice of the publication of a new atlas of birds, the result of five years of data-gathering. For the record, the title is “Uccelli di laguna e di citta’ – L’atlante ornitologico del comune di Venezia 2006-2011,” written by Mauro Bon and Emanuele Stival, ornithologists of the Museum of Natural History, published by Marsilio.

Of these birds, 142 species come only for the winter, 115 come to nest, and about 60 are migrating. If you stop and read that over again, I think you’ll be respectfully amazed.  In fact, the lagoon is at a crucial point on a major north-south flyway, and is one of the largest lagoons left in Europe. It’s far from being just scenery.

Even though I’ve never seen them, I now have learned that there is a Hungarian royal seagull which arrives in the fall, and spends the winter in the Giardini Reali between the Piazza San Marco and the lagoon. And there is an extremely rare black-legged kittiwake that comes from England.

The Little Egret, which is abundant in the lagoon, doesn’t mind looking for a bite wherever the chances seem good, though they seem to be happier pecking through the shallows when the tide is low. There is a tree near the Vignole which at twilight in the summer is almost completely white with the egrets who’ve come to perch there for the night.

I was already interested in birds because rowing around the lagoon at all hours and in all seasons means that you see plenty of them.  For one thing, they’re everywhere.  For another, they’re generally easier to see than fish.

Some of the birds I’ve come to recognize are as much as part of Venice as canals and tourists. The svasso (grebe) and tuffetto (little grebe), only appear in the winter. The cormorants, mallards, seagulls, egrets and herons are here all year. I’ve already gone on too long about my passion for blackbirds (a few months per year), and I’ve never bothered to mention pigeons because there’s nothing worth saying about them.  They are the roaches of the avian world; they’ll be here pecking around and crooning after the last nuclear device explodes. I am prepared for hostile letters from pigeon-feeders.

There is one kingfisher who I watch for as we row behind the Vignole; all you can see is a flash of iridescent blue-green flitting through the trees and over the water. I wish he’d hold still somewhere just for a minute, but he’s not interested in being admired.

In the plush summer nights we almost always hear a solitary owl called a soleta (civetta in Italian), somewhere high in the trees in the Public Gardens.  He or she makes a soft one-tone hoot, repeated pensively at perfectly regular intervals.  It’s like a metronome, far away. It goes on for hours.  It’s very comforting.

A young Little Gull, photographed in Northumberland. Maybe he’s thinking about his Venetian vacation.

For two days not long ago we were startled to see a fluffy young gull we’d never seen before, standing on the fondamenta gazing out at the lagoon. Determined research revealed that it is a Little Gull. We haven’t seen it since.

And one magical winter day a trio of swans flew over us.  You hardly ever see the wild swans, but here were three, flying so low that I could see their long necks undulating slightly and hear a curious murmur from their throats.

Many of these birds depend on organisms and elements in the lagoon wetlands which exist because of, or are replenished by, acqua alta.  If so many people who never leave the city didn’t get so worked up about having to put on boots, the water could continue to provide for lots of creatures who like being here too.  Maybe your tourist or trinket-seller doesn’t care about the birds, but the birds probably don’t care about the Doge’s Palace and Harry’s Bar. Just saying.

A luscious look at acqua alta in the lagoon. A soaking marshy islet looks even better to a bird than it does to me.

This is the single grey heron I’ve seen here, always fishing between Sant’ Andrea and Sant’ Erasmo.

And of course the indefatigable seagulls. They look more attractive out here than plodding along the fondamentas ripping open plastic bags and strewing the garbage all around. Lino says nobody ever saw gulls in the canals, much less on the streets, when he was a boy. The same with cormorants, who we sometimes see fishing in our canal.

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Jan
02

Venetian New Year’s Eve

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Fireworks anywhere look great, even if they're not over Venice.

Fireworks anywhere look great, even if they're not over Venice.

If you had been here, you could have done any or all of the following to celebrate the Night of Saint Silvester, as it is also known here.

You could have ingested a festive dinner at Harry’s Bar for a trifling 500 euros ($662) per person. It was marked down at the last minute from 1,200 euros ($1,590) because times are hard. I’m not sure how much profit they made at that price considering that the menu covered champagne, caviar, truffle ravioli, tournedos and so forth.  Maybe they downgraded from Beluga to Sevruga. That’s what we’ve certainly done.

And yet, the transcendent Arrigo Cipriani, owner, scion, and namesake of this legendary establishment, has not only made it sound as if he has slashed prices more drastically than a tire/mattress/car salesman, he also made it known that in spite of the hard times, almost all the tables were already taken, so you had to book fast. I guess I understand that.  Make it sound like a sale and people automatically think they’re saving money.

firework-d2asAfter you had reveled in your Lucullan repast, you could have gone around the corner to the Piazza San Marco not only to watch the fireworks but create your own (metaphorically speaking) by throwing in your osculatory lot with all the other couples thronging the piazza who have been primed by weeks of publicity to come here to kiss each other at midnight.

It’s the third year that this experience has been offered and it was an immediate success; it is now referred to as a tradition. Four thousand lips beating as one.

Two years ago a family from Milan lost their golden retriever in the crush and the city was plastered with their appeals for months, complete with photo (was her name Molly?  Lucy?). Eventually she was found, which kind of surprised me, but not how long it took. Considering how many dogs there are here, she must have been having the best time of her life.

Then there will be the homemade explosives set off around town. Usually here they aren’t big or dangerous enough to blow away arms and put out eyes and all the rest of what happens in Naples and other places addicted to New Year’s ordnance.

Speaking of things going crash and boom, Lino remembers when people here still marked midnight by throwing out the window everything they wanted to get rid of. “Everything!” he repeated when I asked for examples. Dishes.  Glasses.  Chairs.  Toilets.  (I did not make that up.)  He says that people  in Rome and Naples still do it.  I’m making a note of it on my “Not To-Do” list.  Right next to my note that says “Wear black fishnet stockings, hard hat.”

Otherwise, though, he says that, until the Seventies, New Year’s Eve wasn’t regarded as an event to celebrate in any particular way here. “At midnight, all the ships in the port blew their horns.  Otherwise, people just went to bed like any other night.” Making their own pyrotechnics.

Wherever you were, I hope your celebrations were just what you wanted, no less, and certainly no more.

Happy New Year!

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