On the day we left Venice there were seven cruise ships (7!) docked at the Porto di Venezia, a short walk from the apartment Jerry and I were renting. The ships had names:
The Happy Dolphin,
names that conspire to transport you away from the reality of being on a boat with thousands, all clamoring to get out and onto the slender, temporal islands of Venice.
The ships are massive: towering white behemoths out of all proportion to the delicate scale of the city.
Their wake dredges the canals; the backwash erodes the ancient walls and wooden foundations of the city. You watch them move slowly, mirage-like, across your line of vision, blotting out the serene landscape as they go.
They are part of the reason Venice is sinking and ironically, grudgingly, the reason it still floats.
The number of tourists the boats steadily disgorge make up part of the 20 million that visit Venice every year, keeping it relevant despite its rising cost of living and scarcity of jobs.
Venice is (roughly) only twice the size of Central Park and has a population of 270,000, give or take.
Tourism is not a reason to not visit Venice. You just have to have a strategy: choose a good time to go, and stay away from Piazza San Marco (and do read John Berendt’s book, City of Falling Angels, first).
We went at the end of September, figuring it would be the tail-end of the tourist season, but we were wrong. One hotel keeper I spoke to told me that there really isn't a "season" any longer. Tourists come all summer long (she said with a little repugnance), and they continue to come in autumn because it’s not so hot. But the city is inundated at Christmas time, too, then again for Carnivale in February, for Easter in April--and then it’s summer again.
There’s little down time for Venice—you just have to deal.
And we did. It was wonderful. I would go back today if I had the chance.
Venice is what the word awesome was meant to describe. Everywhere you look you see a Renaissance tableau, familiar in a sense, but realizing that this is the real thing makes you giddy. Landscapes of spires and ancient stone, palaces, velvet and old wood, shimmering water—these scenes surround and follow you wherever you go.
It dawns on you gradually, this absence of motor sounds. Walk a little way away from one of the large canals and all is quiet, hushed, conversations are intimate, everyone is whispering secrets.
We walked a lot. The weather was perfect.
We mostly stumbled upon things-- a concert of Vivaldi in the beautiful Chiesa San Vidal;
a Roshashana Service in progress in the Venetian Ghetto which included the blowing of the shofar;
Gran Teatro La Fenice (the opera house which burned down in 1996 which we had read about in great detail in Berendt’s book); and the pluperfect fifteenth-century church, Santa Maria dei Miracoli, a miracle in marble thanks to the painstaking 10-year restoration by Save Venice.
We bought 3-day passes for the vaporetti and were able to take these water shuttle boats anywhere, getting on and off as often as we pleased. On one cloudless warm day, we took a vaporetto all the way to the island of Torcello, sailing out past the Lido, past Murano and Burano.
Torcello is the tiny island out in the lagoon, reached after an hour’s vaporetto ride, including several transfers.
The island’s main attraction is the seventh century cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, the oldest building remaining in all of Venice. Inside are golden Bysantine mosaics which tell the story of the ancient Eastern Church. Photos are not allowed, as the young guards remind us repeatedly each time another visitor points a camera—“No photo… No photo,” comes the weary reprimand, and I wonder how many times a day this poor student has to repeat this.
On Torcello, we ate lunch at a surprisingly large but mostly empty, beautiful restaurant called Ristorante Villa ‘600. I didn’t ask what the ‘600 meant; maybe that was the seating capacity. It had an expansive lush lawn for weddings and events, a large open-air dining room, and a patio. We ate on the patio, in the warm, autumn sun.
local fish that is readily available from the Adriatic. We did, too.
One of the items I noticed listed on many of the restaurant menus in Venice was Baccala Mantecato. I had never had baccala--that leathery-looking, completely unappealing package of dried cod you see occasionally in the market. But since it kept showing up in Venice I figured it must be a local specialty and worth trying. I’m so glad I did because it’s delicious; a fantastic appetizer. It’s prepared as a sort of spread for crusty bread, or on top of a slice of grilled polenta. It’s light and fluffy, very white, and very flavorful. Paired with a young Tocai Friulano, it makes a perfect small meal.
Here is a recipe for it, with thanks to dishdujourmagazine.com, followed by a few more of photos taken with my "smart" phone.
½ lb. skinned, boneless salted cod
4 cups milk
1 chopped clove garlic
1 cup evoo
¼ cup cleaned, chopped Italian parsley, stems removed
Soak the fish in cold water for 48 hours in refrigerator. Every 6 hours drain and change the water to remove the salt. After the first day, cut up the fish into small chunks.
After the chunks of fish have been soaked, drained and dried completely bring the milk to a boil and add the fish. Once the fish has been added lower the heat, cover the pot and cook for 20 minutes.
Using a slotted spoon, remove the fish from the milk, but don’t discard the mild, and place fish into a colander to drain.
Place the fish into a large mixing bowl, add the garlic and most of the parsley. Using a hand held mixer on high speed, thoroughly blend ingredients. While continuing to mix, drizzle in the olive oil until the texture is a white creamy paste. Add salt and pepper to taste. Continue to mix on high speed adding as much of the milk as needed to attain a creamy and fluffy texture. Garnish with the remaining parsley and serve at room temperature.