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Report 1936: Our Month in Italy - Spring 2011
By Boleskine from NJ, Spring 2011
Page 13 of 30: Domenica 8 Maggio 2011 - Il Papa a Venezia
Il Papa on the way from San Marco to Santa Maria della Salute
We wake up before 8:30, but decide it is too early to get up since we cannot go for coffee until after 10:00. We have no trouble going back to sleep, and when we wake up again we are really ready to roll and are dressed and out of the house quickly.
Francesco is working at Ciak's this morning. I have only seen him once or twice since we've been back; the last time we were here he was working in a different branch of Ciak's on the mainland. I had not realized that not only was he married but he had two daughters - one nine and one five; he looks very young - at least to me. He has a great sense of humor and can be really funny. I think if my Italian were better I'd catch even more of his subtle and whimsical jokes. He and Dino, perhaps because they speak English well are always very interested in US current events, politics and what Americans think and feel about certain world events.
I have a second cup of espresso because it is Mother's Day. I often have a second one, but today Martin asks me in that particular way, "Would I like a second cup of espresso since it is Mother's Day?" When I translate Martin's question for Francesco, he and Rosie both find it very funny. We notice there can be a minute difference in how much espresso is in any given cup; Martin prefers the smaller amount for the more intense flavor; I prefer the extra 1/4 inch for the extra swallow.
We walk across to the new branch of Vizio Virtu and buy two tiny desserts for a second Mother's Day treat. Martin chooses a Baba au Rhum and I pick a nocciola con lampone (hazelnut and raspberry). Each one is 1.5, which makes them nearly $2.00 apiece. It is no wonder they have boxes on hand that are just perfect for two pieces. Then we walk home to wait for the Pope to sail past our windows.
It is a beautiful day, and we consider carrying chairs out onto the dock, but the dock is quite small, and I am rather clumsy, and I don't think the police, who are patrolling the Grand Canal, would be happy about dredging me out of the canal. Actually I think it would be Il Vigili del Fuoco who would be fishing me out, but I bet they have better things to do as well. It can also get really hot out on the dock because the overhang of the building keeps you shielded from the wind, and you are directly in the sun, which is even hotter when it is reflected back from the water. A chair next to one of our canal side windows works perfectly for me.
Last night the church bells rang and rang - more than I have ever heard them even on Christmas or New Year's Eve; I think it must have been when the Pope arrived at San Marco, and again when he concluded his public appearance there.
The bells were glorious. There is a scene in an Inspector Lewis in which Hathaway states - I won't go into the complicated plot device that leads to his speech - that he loves the bells of Oxford and the regularity with which they ring to mark the passing hours. I love the bells of Venice but in large part for what is to me their irregular ringing. I'm sure the residents know what to expect when, but I never know whether it will be a single toll or a tintinnabulation, a single church or ringing from campaniles all over the city. Like the water whose sound ranges from a susurrus to a splash to a smack, the bells range from a clang to a chime to a cascade to a carillon, but I never know when to expect what. It is, for me, part of the enchantment.
The outdoor mass is being held near the intersection of the Cannaregio Canal and the Grand Canal and it is scheduled to end at noon. I figure it will be 1:00 at the earliest before Il Papa's acquacade makes it here. Lots of rowers are out; I don't know if it is their regular Sunday morning workout, or if they are going to San Marco or to the Cannaregio Canal to await the Pope. Some of the former Palazzi which are now hotels have gold and white Papal banners hanging on their balconies and many of the gondolas and the traghetti sport small versions of the papal flag.
I can hear helicopters overhead, but don't actually see them. At 12:00 all traffic on the canal is stopped; an occasional water taxi or pleasure boat passes; but they are few and far between. Some carry official looking people; others don't look official, but they are allowed to pass-perhaps they belong to locals who must go that way to reach their homes.
There is a police boat just past the San Angelo pontile, and it stops most of the boats and then sends them off on a side canal but on occasion lets them through. I wouldn't even attempt to figure out the reasons for this - permits? Payments? Personnel? Who knows?
Slowly the number of people on the traghetto stand, the vaporetto platform and looking out of windows and standing on balconies begins to grow, but it is never anywhere near as many as I've seen for the vogalonga. Last night we saw the Pope on TV and he looked robust and vigorous as he spoke in San Marco so I expect to see a white haired, white clad figure waving as he passes the palazzi lining the Canal.
When the procession finally begins, various police boats and some small boats as well as larger craft manned by the Civil Protection squad precede it. Then there comes a line of water taxis with what I presume are church and city dignitaries. I spot the purple cap of an archbishop in one boat; he receives cheers and waves.
Finally the boat carrying Pope Benedict XVI appears. It is the aquatic version of the Popemobile. There are high clear plastic sides, but it appears to be open on top. In the center is what looks like a large wooden throne, and I can just make out a small white clad figure slumped on this. The Pope doesn't appear to be waving although my eyes may not be good enough to see it. He almost appears to be sleeping, but perhaps after conducting a mass and then people yell and sitting down in the warm sun, he actually did doze off. I know I might.
Some of the onlookers cheer as the procession sails by, but for the most part it is quiet. It is not so much a procession as a passage from one location to another. More water taxis with official and ordinary looking people pass; there are also some boats that seem to be carrying press or media members and lots and lots of security boats.
Long after the Pope is out of sight around La Volta, there are still police, carabinieri, civil protezione and other boats following and I can hear the nonstop whirring of helicopter blades overhead; we even catch sight of one or two. All in all except for the fact that Il Papa just sailed past my window, a fact that obviously means a lot more to some than to others, this leg of his trip is pretty much a nonevent, but I am still glad I sat by the window to watch. Maybe at home with the computer I can enlarge the photos or enhance them so the tiny white clad figure will actually be recognizable as the Pope.
I go back to reading Judi Dench's book on my iPad, and listen to Thelonious Monk. Around 2:00 when the Canal traffic has returned to normal, we have lunch: our left over salami and mortadella, cheese, and bread - two "ossi" and the French nut bread. We decide to save our Vizo Virtu goodies until later in the afternoon so as to allow the strong flavors of the salamis to leave our palates.
I go back to reading, and Martin puts on Joshua Bell playing Leonard Bernstein. In one of those meaningless coincidences that nonetheless always appeals to me as Joshua Bell is playing, I am reading a passage in "And Furthermore" in which Dame Judi talks about making a film about a violinist in which Joshua Bell dubbed the violin playing for the actor who portrayed the violinist. Sometimes it takes so little to make me happy.
James and Gerarda call to wish me a Happy Mother's Day. It is good to hear their voices; when everyone was younger we used to call home often, but now between e-mail, and everyone's being adults living on his or her own, we rarely call. If we do call, our children are rarely home to receive it. James was born on Mother's Day in 1963, but this year his birthday will fall on a Thursday.
Shortly after they call, Dan calls to say Happy Mother's Day as well. They both ask if we are going out for a lavish Mother's Day dinner, and we tell them the same thing. We had really thought Venice would be mobbed with people coming to see the Pope so we planned to go to a nice but small modest local place in order to avoid the vaporettos, which we had expected to be packed. I don't think the vaporettos are any more crowded than on any Sunday in May, but it will still be a wonderful day.
We eat our little treats. Martin says his reminds him of what a Baba au Rhum really tastes like. Mine manages to be smooth a creamy, light and fluffy and slightly crunchy all in three tiny bites. It is definitely an, Oh my God! dolce.
By late afternoon all four of our children have phoned, in chronological order, purely by chance to say Happy Mother's Day. I am one happy Mamma. I even get to speak to David and Eva Sofia as well as Lorena and Gerarda. Luckily all the calls have been completed when we hear a maddeningly loud and incessant din of helicopters overhead. The Pope is going to Santa Maria della Salute in a small open boat. I know it is not the Bucintoro - the Doge's boat - because I have seen that and this one is much smaller. Someone says it was the boat meant for the Dogeressa, but the problem with overhearing anything is that you never know if it is true or not.
Pope Benedict XVI is much more visible in this little boat, rowed by costumed gondoliers and surrounded by gondolas and other craft. We realize that when we went to the museum at the Punta della Dogana, part of the work, they had been doing was erecting the platform that would enable the Pope to step easily from the small low boat onto the terra firma. The Cardinal of Venice is is with him as are several other clergy including a number of archbishops. He is completely surrounded so it is impossible to see how he makes the transition from boat to land, but he walks up the long flight of steps to La Salute quite spryly, leaning only slightly on an aide's arm, and clearly making the climb under his own steam. Once he is inside, the helicopters go away - until he comes back out, but that is not for very long. Inside, thanks to television, we can hear him give a short speech and see him talk to several people who are being individually presented to him.
When he comes back outside, the Pope kisses a few babies and children and then is whisked into a water taxi manned by highly decorated naval types and he sails away. It has grown quite cold and windy, and his white hair is really blowing in the wind. I rather enjoy that; it made him seem very human.
When we walk over to Dorsoduro for dinner, it is not only windy, it is chilly. No wonder Il Papa chose to pass up his "throne" in the rear of the water taxi to sit inside. I prefer it to very hot weather, but it certainly feels more like March than May.
Ca' Foscari al Canton is a small local place that caters to tourists without being a tourist trap. The menu is printed in several languages, but the place is bright and cheerful, and the young Egyptian man who owns and runs it is friendly and charming and a very hard worker. I don't think he stops moving for an instant the whole time we are there.
There are about 22 people in the room we are in, with just a few empty tables; there is a second room that also looks quite full. The kitchen keeps the food flowing and while it is not haute cuisine, it is tasty, reasonably priced home cooking that won't rupture your budget and which we truly enjoy.
Martin begins with lasagna which he says is wonderfully rich with a generous amount of cheese. My fettuccine with gamberi and zucchini is a little light on the gamberi, but the sauce is excellent and the zucchini is a fresh bright green and lightly cooked not gray or mushy as it can be in pasta. Our quarter carafe of the house wine is a Tocai from Friuli, and it goes extremely well with our pasta.
For our secondo, we both choose the bracciole di maiale with French fries. We ask for no salt, and it is delivered that way. The meat is nicely cooked and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice compensates for the absence of salt. The fries are perfectly cooked so they are crisp and piping hot. My insalta mista has the obligatory shredded carrot and tomato slices, but a really lovely assortment of greens. I do pass on any dressing since neither the oil nor the vinegar looks as though it would improve nature's bounty.
We skip dessert, but are given two small glasses of an excellent limoncello always a pleasant way to end a meal. We walk home commenting again on how chilly it is for May, but I avoid complaining. I'd rather have this than 90 degrees, high humidity or pouring rain. I just hope the wind doesn't blow my sunshine away; it has been so gloriously sunny and bright every day. Can our luck possibly hold for another two weeks?
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