It does not even bear thinking about that there are only two full days left in our Venetian stay. I have been expressing my discontent with the shortness of our sojourn here in St Mark's city. Mary suggested, with uncharacteristic sarcasm, that perhaps we should have spent all three months of the Euro2008 tour here.
Not that I have been unhappy with the rest of the trip; to the contrary, I have been enjoying myself immensely. But Venice is special and I simply cannot get enough of it. The city is made up of hundreds of islands, and (it seems) thousand of canals and bridges. Despite a determined, diligent effort, I feel as if I've barely begun my exploration. As I've noted elsewhere, we've had the pleasure of visiting Venice three times in the past 12 months, but the more we are here, the more I want to be here, permanently. Maybe there is an opening on the AMAV, driving a garbage boat or sweeping piazzas. Or helping to ring the bells at massima acqua alta.
I mention this because, after consulting a tide table, I discovered that an even higher acqua alta was due today. Once again the Euro2008 Acqua Alta team sprung into action. During my daily peregrinations, I had discovered that acqua alta bridges had been set up in the Campo San Moise, so I slipped down there for a few photos before pressing on to the Piazza San Marco. The tide was quite a bit higher than yesterday. I had taken the step of donning my sandals with my shorts this morning, so I was able to walk out into the water to get the good photos. The water lapped around my knees in some spots, but it wasn't unbearably cold. I received a number of admiring glances for my acqua alta outfit. I have been feeling quite odd racing around Venice in shorts this week, but unfortunately, that's just about all I have in my suitcase. Readers with long memories will recall that most of this expedition has been spent under the sweat inducing sun. I don't have an appropriate winter ensemble.
Anyway, as I waded around in the water, those photographers who were stranded on the higher margins of the Piazzo San Marco kicked themselves for not tossing a pair of shorts into their suitcases. The water was high enough to come over the seawall, waves from the lagoon threading between the black gondolas and breaking into the Piazza. Quite a spectacle. I suppose it grows tiresome for those who live here (blessed folk), but we sure have been enjoying it.
I peel off with my camera and head back toward Rialto, walking up a back route through the Campo San Angelo. The water is so high that the gondoliers are having trouble threading their gondolas beneath the bridges. Actually, the gondolas go under without any problem, but the gondoliers have to practically lay down on the stern to squeeze under the low arches. The larger boats, like the water taxis and the UPS delivery boat cannot get under, so some of the routes through the city become inaccessible and Venice reverts to an earlier way of life.
I must confess that one of the things I love dearly about the city is the near total absence of petroleum-powered vehicles. With the exception of the boats, the rest of the city moves on foot. Goods are delivered by men with stripped down wheelbarrows, cleverly designed to allow them to climb the steps on the bridges. A set of smaller casters protrudes before the two main wheels of the cart. When the delivery men reach a set of steps, they place the casters two steps up and then roll forward until the main wheels are on the first step. Lift the casters to the net step, roll forward, place the main wheels. The men ratchet their carts up and down the steps with ease, solving the problem of staired bridges with typical Venetian ingenuity.
No cars, no buses, and no Vespa motorscooters, the bane of other Italian city. Just the unbroken silence of slow water drifting through the canals, the splash of the gondolier's single oar, and his cry as he nears a corner, singing out a warning to approaching traffic. Off the well-trod routes, in the back canals of the city, silence is the rule, a serene peace that I find particularly seductive.
I trade the back routes of the city for Venice's main arterial as evening approaches. The Grand Canal is constant movement, with water buses, taxis, and delivery boats cutting the great green S. The churn of props slaps up a chop, waves rebounding off the Istrian stone walls of the great Palazzos. Here is the buzz, the tramp of tourist feet, the constant flash of cameras punctuating the gathering gloom.
I have been drawn to the Canal by Rialto Bridge. This famous Venetian icon, first erected as a wooden bridge in 1175, is one of only three bridges spanning the Grand Canal, and easily Venice's second most popular attraction. The great white span, rebuilt in Istrian marble in 1588, connects the fish market with the northern neighborhoods of the city. It is also devilishly difficult to find a good location to photograph it; most of the immediate neighborhood is occupied by private hotel docks and water taxi and bus stops.
To find just the right spot, I spend time checking out every calli that seems to lead to the Grand Canal from our neighborhood. At last I am rewarded with a small boat landing that offers a lovely view of the bridge. There is a trade off to be made in trying to bag a picture. Some yobboes have stroked graffiti over the metal doors that guard the span's shops from vandals, so this tends to poison a morning shot. That leaves the evening when all manner of people are hanging off the bridge. Given the choice, I settle for evening.
Shots tucked safely away on my camera's memory card, I head back to the flat where I rally the troops for dinner. We have decided to try an osteria recommended by Paolo, our landlord. He claimed that this particular eatery offered real Venetian fare at modest prices. Sounded like our kind of place, so after poring over the maps for a spell, we headed off.
The osteria was to the northeast of us, and as we worked our way through a labyrinth of calli, we realized that once again chance had brought us to an area we had never seen before. I suspect that this is still true of much of Venice, but it is still surprising to find somewhere we had not even suspected of existing. Somewhat problematically, our directions consisted only of a dot on a map, and once we reached the approximate position of the osteria, we were a little unsure of how to proceed. We wandered tight, cramped alleys, pulling up short at canals or dead end stone walls. Finally we bumped into an old man, pulling a shopping cart, who seemed to be telling us that our current course was closed. When Mary asked him the name of our osteria, he nodded and motioned for us to follow. Three turns and a few steps later we were in front of a clean, well-lit osteria. Nothing like local knowledge.
Mary and I both decided to try eating the set menu of two courses and a salad. Normally we eat like American tourists, just ordering a single course rather than a primo piatto, secondo piatto, and a selection of dolci (desserts), coffees, and after dinner liquors. Tonight we wanted to be a bit different in this highly-recommended Venetian establishment, so we splurged. Mary had a vegetable soup as her first course while I enjoyed fusilli amatriciana. When it came to our second plate, the waitress had tried to explain that the “chicken” dish wasn't actually chicken but something “like chicken.” Mary didn't want to experiment with “chicken-like” substances, so she ordered fish. I had the pork. She knew she'd made a mistake when our plates arrived. I had incredibly thin and tender pork slices, while she had a white, fish paste substance.
Mary took one bite and announced that she was not going to be able to eat her dinner. I took pity on her and traded my delectable pork for the fish paste. Basically, it tasted like the Rialto fish market smells―not exactly disgusting, but definitely an acquired taste. To her credit, once I'd finished the fish paste, Mary returned my original plate, with about half the pork still remaining, The girls had settled for a hamburger and fries (Ann) and plain spaghetti with no sauce (Grace). I can't explain why Grace likes sauce-less pasta. Worse than fish paste in my view.
I would give the authentic Venetian osteria a thumbs up. There were only a couple of customers, and indeed they only had about six tables. It definitely seemed more a labor of love than a burgeoning business; one of those great places that only the locals know about. Another advantage to becoming a local.