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Report 1936: Our Month in Italy - Spring 2011
By Boleskine from NJ, Spring 2011
Page 12 of 30: Sabato 7 Maggio 2011 - Seeing Shannon
Rio Frescada in Dorsoduro behind La Scuola San Rocco
At first glance it appears to be slightly overcast, but by the time we are dressed and are walking up to Ciak's, it is bright and sunny and balmy. The first thing we do, even before hitting Ciak's is go to buy bread. Because tomorrow is a Sunday, and there will be no fresh bread - in fact the local shop is not even open. They often run out of rolls and other items early in the day on Saturday. I buy four ossi (hard rolls) and a chunk of a French baguette that has nuts in it. I also buy another bottle of water; although it has been not been terribly hot, it has been warm enough that we are drinking more water than usual.
We sit outside and munch our kiefers and read the IHT. We see Lelia Passi having a coffee with a man, but they appear to be talking business, and since we do not know the man at all, I do not want to intrude. Later she comes over to us to say hello. We tell her how beautiful the garden looks, and she seems pleased. On previous visits, we had seen her working in it almost every day.
Signore Mazzon, from the leather goods shop and the art shop man are talking in the center of the campiello; that way they can watch for any customers and still be outside to enjoy the day. When Signore Mazzon returns to his shop, he smiles and us and says, "Ben arrivati." It is such a small thing but it makes me feel happy all day. Martin had promised me a new pocketbook for my birthday, but so far I have seen nothing in his windows that would work for me.
Orange is a very popular color this year and also a bright lime green; neither would go with either my wardrobe or my personality. They also are showing a lot of huge bags, and I want a small but not a tiny one. I still have two and a half weeks to look. Only later does it occur to me I should have asked Signore Mazzon to make one of the bags I did like, but that were in brown and blue colors I already have, in a different color. Two weeks would have been enough time, but when I think of it we are down to a few days. Of course, with the exchange rate, the cost of anything skyrockets. I indulge in two espressi before we walk over to Dorsoduro.
We walk through the Campo San Toma and pass the Scuola dei Calegheri with its bas relief sculpted by Pietro Lombardo. It depicts San Marco healing Anianus, a cobbler. This was supposed to have happened in Alexandria in AD 42, while San Marco was serving as its first bishop. Anianus had been seriously injured while repairing the Saint's shoes, and was subsequently healed by him. After he suffered martyrdom twenty-five years later, San Marco became the Patron Saint of Cobblers. The Scuola has stood in Campo since 1446. In the past it frequently had small art shows, but now it seems to be used as a library and for meetings.
We stop in at Ottico Caporin just to wave a greeting, but the lovely young woman with long blonde hair comes over to say hello. The store isn't busy at the moment so we talk for quite a while. Her English is superb, and she is utterly charming all the more so because she raves so about the photos of David and Eva Sofia.
Next we go to the small food shop across the calle and buy mortadella, finocchicino (a salami from Toscana), and Sopresa, another salami but this one is Venetian. Martin wants some Asaigio fresco, and I buy a goat cheese that comes wrapped in grass. We buy "uno etto" (100 grams) of everything. On the way home I realize we probably should have bought mustard or some other condiment, but as it turns out the cheese is so fresh and the meat so moist and flavorful, we need nothing extra for wonderful sandwiches.
Shannon rings me on my telefonino. She has arrived in Venice and is settled in her digs in Castello. We arrange for her to stop by later in the afternoon. I finish the Sunday puzzle; it is always a strange feeling to be a day ahead. Even though at home the magazine section containing the Sunday puzzles arrives with the Saturday paper. I never tackle it until Sunday unless we are not going to be home on Sunday, but in Venice I always do it on Saturday.
With the puzzle completed, I start to answer e-mail but I am having problems sending what I write - things disappear, but then I receive a message saying they have not been sent. The problem is when that happens I cannot find them nor can I find the original. I know they are there someplace, and I think the problem is I am trying to keep too much in the "active" mail file, but it is unnerving to have something I have written just disappear even though I am e-mailing everything I write home so it should all be there waiting for me.
Shannon arrives and looks wonderful. We are trying to figure out how long it has been since we have seen one another. It doesn't seem possible it has been since Chow! Venice first came out in 2003, and Martin and I were in San Diego, but we cannot pinpoint another time or place. Afterwards I remember there was at least one occasion when we saw her at a Slowtrav get together (GTG) in NYC. Despite the time lapse between visits, being with Shannon is such fun and so easy it is almost as though we saw each other last week.
I had expected Venice to be mobbed this weekend. The weather is gorgeous; the Pope is coming to town, and it is spring, but though it is crowded it is not the total insanity I had anticipated. Not that I am complaining; I like having room to walk, being able to find a table at a restaurant and a space at the railing on the vaporettos.
Martin notices a sign printed in English on the Palazzo Garzoni across the canal from our windows. It is on a long white banner hanging over the side where they are still working. It reads, "We apologize for hiding Palazzo Garzoni Moro. Venice Water front will soon be restored."
Shannon had told us that the Clock Tower is also completely unscaffolded as is the Basilica but that the Campanile is cordoned off with an ugly fence. Poor Venice fights an unending battle to stay whole. We can see bits of crumbled stone in the great hall of our building. They seem to have crumbled from the base of the walls which must have been damaged by the severe acqua alta in 2009 and perhaps more recent ones as well. We notice other small areas of damage all around Venice.
Tonight we will have dinner at Antica Birraria al Corte in San Polo. We talk about walking up early and sitting in the campo for a while, but there seem to be fewer benches than there used to be. We cross the bridge over the San Polo Canal marveling as we walk that it is still immaculate and graffiti free. In a city in which graffiti seems to be scrawled on every possible surface how do they keep this one bridge so pristine? Is it scrubbed regularly, patrolled by the residents or for some reason does it not appeal to graffiti artists.
The other night for the first time, while walking through the huge Campo San Polo, I had an eerie experience. I felt as though I could sense the bull fights that were supposed to have been held here. It was a fleeting sensation of the roaring crowd, the heat and steaming breath of the animals and the smell of blood, fear and excitement, or maybe I was picking up on the last moments of the Medici who was assassinated there as he left the great church.
Today in the sunshine there are no grisly images or sensations just a large busy campo. There is a large well head in the center, and many interesting buildings around it. Once again I think there used to be more benches on which we could sit and enjoy the sun, the campo and the passersby but tonight we are heading for the restaurant anyway.
There is a small pharmacy in the campo to which we often go. It dates from the 19th century and has a bas relief of a column and a half which is also the name it supposedly goes by. Apparently there were once two columns, but another pharmacy in Venice claimed the name 'Alle Due Colonne" The other one was in San Canciano; an ordinance of 1586 required the San Polo pharmacy to change its name so the owner cut one of the columns in half and changed the name to "Alla Colonne e mezza."
The Campanile for the church of San Polo stands across from the church itself and has at its base two carved lions. One is fighting a serpent or perhaps a dragon with a snakelike head while the other holds a human head. The legend is that they are a reference to Francesco Bussone and the punishment inflicted on him in 1432. Referred to as Il Carmagnola, he was suspected of having betrayed the Venetians and was imprisoned and hanged. He fled to Venice, after leaving the service of the Duke of Milan, and in 1427, he led the Venetian army to a great victory at Macalo but because he was generous to those taken prisoner, some of Venice's powerful became suspicious of him. In 1432 after some reverses of fortune including a defeat in 1431, Il Carmagnola was recalled to Venice. He made a triumphal entrance into the city but the next day was arrested, imprisoned and executed.
Other sources say that the head held in the lion's mouth is not Il Carmagnola but rather Doge Marino Falier who was accused of betraying Venice in the 14th century. In either event, disappointing the Venetians let alone being suspected of betraying them was not good for one's health.
At the Birraria, we are seated inside as we had requested. We decide to begin by splitting a pizza; it worked really well as an opening course the other night. Tonight we go for the Barbarigo, which should be mozzarella, porchetta and eggplant. I ask for the mozzarella to be "di buffalo" and perhaps this confuses our server because we receive a delicious pizza with wonderful rich mozzarella di buffalo and beautifully grilled melanzana but not a shred of pork. It is so good as it is that it isn't worth complaining about. Martin orders the grilled "young rooster", which comes with both polenta and potatoes, which Martin shares with me since my very delicious filet to di buffalo, cooked perfectly rare "per un lupo" as requested comes with only a tiny mound of greens. After the half pizza neither of us needs more carbs, but it is nice to have a few nibbles of something to alternate with the meat.
I finish with a grappa - prima uve - invecchiata - which goes down smoothly. Digestives are very helpful too (and perhaps for) aging internal parts. Before leaving we make a reservation for next Thursday for a (GTG) with Shannon and a few others who will be going on her GrapeHops tour. There will be 8-10 of us, and they have me write my name and the number of people in the book myself so if there is any cock up it is on me. I should point out this is my interpretation of their asking me to write the number of people, and my name in the proper space; it is just as likely that with the hustle and bustle of a Saturday night crowd, they wanted to get it right.
We leave and walk across the huge campo; the footing is tricky because of the old fitted stones, but it is one of my favorite places in Venice. We cross the bridge and walk down the Calle Saoneri murmuring "This used to be" for about half the shops along the way.
We half expect Calypso, the beautiful little Schnauzer, who had been playing in the garden when we left to be waiting for us so Martin could throw his piece of marble for him to chase and bring back to be thrown again. The beautiful black dog actually would stop several feet away from Martin and toss him the stone with a flick of his head. He had seemed delighted Martin had been willing to play this game when we were on our way to dinner, but he must be in for the night as, a few minutes later, we are too.
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