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Report 1936: Our Month in Italy - Spring 2011
By Boleskine from NJ, Spring 2011
Page 19 of 30: Sabato 14 Maggio 2011 - "Eat, Drink Man Woman" Meets "Big Night"
The Frari Campanile
Once again a hazy early morning sky turns into a bright blue sky strewn with feathery white clouds. We read the paper at Ciak's, but for some reason Martin finds the chair he is on uncomfortable, and we do not stay as long as usual. I think I could sit in the Campiello all day sipping espresso and people watching, but I've found myself in uncomfortable chairs often enough to be sympathetic.
Sarah and Brian go out to have ten trip passes loaded onto their iMob cards. We had learned our old ten trip ticket carnets, which we had so carefully saved for three years do not work on the new system and we had to replace them. We had ours put on at one of the ticket booths at Piazzale Roma, but they hope they can do it using the machines on the vaporetto platforms. They learn the machines are just for "topping off;" the first time a carnet is loaded onto your iMob, you need to do it at a ticket booth either at Piazzale Roma or Tronchetto.
Going the "back" way, it is not a very long walk from our apartment to the Piazzale Roma, and they are soon back with fully loaded cards. Sarah has a huge bouquet of yellow and peach and apricot roses as a belated Mother's Day gift from herself and her brothers. Any time I get flowers I am delighted, and these are not only a surprise, they are unusual colors and really beautiful. I don't dispute her generosity, but she did give me that gorgeous necklace and I can't help but wonder if her brothers know anything about the flowers. Once we get them in water, I start setting out foods for lunch. The morning has just vanished.
We have some left over cold meats and cheese, and two rolls left from yesterday plus the four new ones I had bought this morning, two tomatoes, some salad greens and fruit - pears, watermelon and strawberries. Once I wash everything and cut up or arranged it on plates, we sit down for a "cold collation." I know I keep repeating myself but it is such a delight to eat at our long table that is parallel to the windows so we can watch the canal while we indulge.
Sarah cleans everything up and then she and Brian go off for a nap. Martin dozes off while reading, and I read The Fifth Witness on my iPad via Kindle. We are really enjoying the Kindle app on our iPad in no small part because the apartment does not have good reading lights so if the room is not filled with sunshine, reading can be a strain on the eyes. The Kindle with its lighted pages makes reading easy in any light or lack thereof.
Although a lovely breeze is blowing through the windows, Sarah and Brian had said it was extremely hot in the sun, and that is all it takes to discourage us from an afternoon outing. The vaporettos are a mixture of packed alternating with almost completely empty. If I could be assured a seat in the rear, I'd be up for a vaporetto ride, but I know we'd wind up on a packed one whenever we go anywhere by vaporetto; we almost always do find ourselves surrounded by passengers. The days of having one's private gondolieri seem very appealing although I am not at all sure I would be in the class that enjoyed that luxury.
A large tour group is waiting to take the traghetto across from San Angelo to San Toma. We can see the tour director arranging everyone into groups; she reminds me of a choreographer or perhaps a football coach. I wonder if size or weight is a factor in her decision or if it is random. Each time the traghetto returns, she waves the next batch down the stairs. She urges them to hurry with her hands and body language and probably her voice as well. Those left behind stand quietly waiting their turn. When the classes of school children do this, they wave and yell as though those in the traghetto were setting forth on an ocean voyage.
Since it is Saturday, there are almost no work boats but lots of gondolas and water taxis and pleasure boats. We see a brown and white beagle playing Master and Commander standing on the bow of a small brown and white boat. I wonder if they matched the dog to the boat or vice versa.
We see lots of families: Mom, Dad and one or two children, often with a dog out for the Venetian equivalent of a weekend drive. The Venetian dogs are not only well behaved they all seem to be happy and proud to be out on the water. The only times they look sad is when they ride on the vaporettos and must be muzzled. Well, I wouldn't like that either. We have had no parties next door at the Pisani Moretta this spring, nor have we seen a single bride either in a gondola or a water taxi. This is a big change from past visits when there had been a party almost every night next door, and when we often saw brides especially on Saturdays.
A blue and white Polizia Locale boat is heading towards the Piazzale Roma at the same time a navy red and white Caribinieri boat is heading towards San Marco. They do not acknowledge one another in any way. Is it just not cool to wave to officers in another branch, or do they actually not like one another. A gondola hovers outside our window; I can hear the gondolier talking and see him gesturing to different buildings, but the noise from the passing power boats drown out his words. I love to hear them talk about the buildings in our area although most of the talk is about the Pisani Moretta; our Palazzo is usually dismissed with the word, "Privato."
Another gondolieri passes turning in at the San Angelo stand; the one in front of our window asks the other gondolieri a question; receives an answer in Venetian and then translates it for his passengers. I can hear the Venetian but not understand it, and I cannot hear the translation at all. I am so nosy; I'd love to know what he asked. A very zippy silver boat with red lightning bolts all over it passes; it has a very pointy bow and looks James Bondish and as though it should be flying over the water. Of course, with the more strictly enforced speed limits on the Canal they probably would not get very far if they tried to speed; there are police boats of many different sorts constantly patrolling the water. It seems to be a very peaceful May Saturday in Venice with no one challenging the speed limits.
One of my favorite sights during the afternoon is a very young dog, with a shaggy oyster colored coat who has yet to learn boat etiquette. He keeps clambering up on the bow, the stern, the sides of the small boat; as fast as his owner pulls him down, he wriggles free and finds another area to explore. The young man trying to handle the boat is very distracted, but manages to keep his four-footed companion on board, and the boat from crashing into any others.
In the late afternoon I finally see a water taxi decorated for a wedding with a man dressed all in white standing in the back. A little while later a long dark green launch filled with passengers in formal dress passes - possibly they are the guests going to the wedding. We have heard that there is an Indian wedding taking place this weekend with something like 800 guests all flown in just for the occasion Might I have just seen the groom? Do Indians wear white to weddings; I thought Hindus associated white with death - of course the man might not be Hindu, might not be Indian and might not be the groom.
We walk down to the vaporetto stop and meet our "across the hall" neighbor on the way. We see her more in the neighborhood than in the building. On the vaporetto, we find Marie Teresa, who is only crossing to San Angelo. She tells us about a restaurant that is down towards Campo Manin; if there is time we will try to find it one day. She says they have excellent risotto, which is one of my favorite foods.
The way we are ushered into Fontego dei Pescatori always makes us feel special. We are seated at the same table that we occupied on our last visit. We really like this table because we have no one extremely close to us so it feels a bit "privato." We are offered Prosecco while we read the menu. Then Lolo suggests we try the raw fish as an opener; he throws one suggestion after another at us until we happily put ourselves in his hands to bring us what he thinks we will enjoy as long as tuna tartare is included. The tuna tartare is fabulous at al Fontego.
We begin with individual plates of tuna tartare accompanied by a raspberry, blueberry, blackberry and a little orange fruit similar to a persimmon except it is berry sized. The tuna is drizzled with olive oil and just a few drops of 40 year old balsamic vinegar. Lolo gives us each a drop on our "fist." We turn the knuckles turned outward, and the drop goes in the little crevice where the thumb curls round the fingers to taste the vinegar all on its own. We lick our fists clean.
The tuna is followed by "The Clock," which is an assortment of raw fish. There are prawns, more tuna, this time cut sashimi style, San Pietro, soglia, branzino,a tiny scallop complete with coral, tiger prawns, tuna cut into chunks tartare style again, cuttle fish and two others that I am forgetting. We agree that although San Pietro is a favorite of ours - all four of us - it is one of our least favorites raw. The various prawns and shrimp receive mixed reviews from raves to "not a favorite," and the soglia, sole, is a surprise sensation. We all love the tuna in every form.
Then we are brought second plates of cooked fish that include cooked spider crab, a langoustine type of crustacean, a scallop, a red snapper sort of mousse, bacala mantecato and sarde in soar, which has always terrified me and which I have gone to great lengths to avoid. It is heavenly with sweet onions, pignoli nuts, raisins and somewhere in there a sardine which tastes nothing like the smelly fish critters in tins. Martin likes it too, but he will eat canned sardines; however, he is afraid of the onions even though they are very mild and have been "cooked" in the same pickling liquid as the fish. I love the bacala mantecato and so does Martin, but Sarah and Brian seem less enthusiastic. We all rave about the spider crab and the other crustaceans and shell fish.
Next we are served grilled scallops with white wine and lemon juice and mussels that have breading and are somewhat reminiscent of clams casino, if clams casino were served in heaven. With all this we drink a Soave.
We switch to a Ribolla for our next course, which is taglialini with spider crab for Martin, and a seafood risotto for Sarah, Brian and me. Martin raves about his pasta. We all enjoy the risotto, but agree that the seafood is the star rather than the rice - not a negative just a different emphasis. Usually risotto is all about the rice. The seafood in the risotto is amazingly fresh and tender not at all over cooked as it easily can be.
We are sated; pieno come un uove. Martin and I ask for grappa and Sarah and Brian have a moscato di soave. Then when we are about to leave, Lolo appears with a bottle and four glasses and offers us a moscato rosso. It is another “Oh My God!” moment. The nose is gorgeous, on the palate you can taste the flavor is of every berry you can think of with the finish having the very slight tart tang of the grape skins. Wow! What a conclusion to a magnificent meal.
Sarah and Brian walk home so they can look for the billiards hall Nan told Brian about when we all met for dinner at the Birraria. It is near Campo dei Apostoli. Martin and I walk to the vaporetto stop. The Ca d'Oro is open to the public tonight - free admittance for all. It looks spectacular all aglow. I am tempted, but we see the floor is already wet and covered with puddles from the rising water, and klutz that I am I do worry about slipping, and we are sated with wonderful food and wine.
We have a long wait for the vaporetto but are entertained by a young man playing his accordion; he gets some applause but not any money. The vaporetto is riding very low in the water which is odd because the water is quite high. The floor of the Ca d'Oro had had puddles all over it, and the Rialto is under water - at least in some areas. The conductor's strong arm helps me with the giant step up to the platform at San Toma, and then we amble home raving to one another about the fabulous meal we just ate. I have to laugh when I think that until about 15 years ago I wouldn't even eat fish; now I have enjoyed an entire feast of fish most of it raw. I am certainly glad my taste buds grew up.
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