Morning was a great time for beating the crowds at the Accademia Gallery, St. Mark’s Basilica, and the Guggenheim Collection yesterday, as I did. The art was very interesting and the architecture amazing. I’m not a huge medieval art fan but it’s fascinating to see the artists working with 3-D perspective and often large-scale works.
Venice, as mentioned earlier, has no vehicles. Even bicycles are banned, which I guess makes growing up here tough on a kid. As a matter of fact, the population is shrinking and aging and the government subsidizes rents to encourage people to stay in Venice. The water buses are the equivalent of a subway system and very convenient once you get the hang of it. It’s interesting to watch the pas de deux between the boat captain jockeying the throttle and the conductor with his deck line when docking at a stop; but it’s all very smooth, born no doubt out of long experience.
The area around the Rialto Bridge is just the worst, most touristy place in Venice (worse, I think, than St. Mark’s). You may know that one of my pet peeves is people who stop dead in the mouth of an escalator and, sadly, that spirit is alive and well here in Venice. People just stop in the middle of bridges, sidewalks, wherever, alone and in groups, with suitcases, boxes, dogs, and decide to consult their maps, take their pictures, enjoy the view, etc. The resulting pedestrian traffic clog is just amazing.
I spent the afternoon wandering and got well away from the tourist areas. Venice is an island, after all, so it’s impossible to really get lost but it was great to just roam without a care. The weather was great, another 75-degree day with clear, clear blue skies. I had lunch in a neighborhood cafe with no name and my flawless Italian fooled the locals for .001 seconds. Luckily, the locals were friendly and welcoming and the sandwich was excellent (there’s nothing like having to choke down lousy food so as not to offend the locals).
What do I now have in common with Hemingway, Chaplin, Capote, Byron, and Welles? After a brief late afternoon rest, I dressed for dinner and headed out to Harry’s Bar, which all of the above and many other glitterati have frequented. It’s small and expensive but the bartender uses unorthodox and highly entertaining techniques. I had my requisite one cocktail (a tiny martini served in an oversized shot glass for 14 euros), took in the abience (white dinner jacketed staff vs. good awful attired tourists) and headed off for dinner.
My thanks to my friends Joanie and Chuck Tooley of Montana for their recommendation of the restaurant Al Peoceto Risorto, where I had dinner. Located west of the Rialto Bridge, adjacent to the fresh food market, I had a great meal there. One thing about Italian food: restaurants serve meals made with the best ingredients the chef could find that day, not with the leftover stuff from the weekend. The results are that each bite deserves attention and focus and is really wonderful. My test of an Italian kitchen is to order a pasta course of pasta aglia olio (basic pasta with garlic and oil). If you can’t make that correctly, you’re lost. Last night’s dish included a touch of chili and was perfecto. Veal Scallopine with Lemon Sauce, a mixed salad and, of course, bread completed my meal. I finished off with a flan-like confection that was heaven. The vaporetto ride home in the dark with all the lights reflecting off the Grand Canal was lovely.
I have concurred that Venice just might dethrone Paris as my choice for the world’s most romantic city. The ambience is just right for romance. For example, everyone holds hands here: husbands and wives, husbands and someone else’s wife, couples, women, mothers and daughters.
I’ll do some more wandering today and hope for another good meal tonight. Tomorrow, I’ll bid a reluctant farewell to Venice and head by high-speed Eurostar train to Florence with it’s promise of great art. It will seem odd getting back to a place where there are cars. Venice has been a marvelous experience and I hope you’ll stay with me as I head south! Ciao for now…