Farewell Venice, Bonjour Paris

 
After a good night’s sleep and a nice complimentary breakfast at Hotel Campiello, I took care of some errands Thursday morning. If you want to see the Venetians, the actual Italians who live in Venice, you will find them out early in the morning, going to work, going to the market, and avoiding the still-snoozing tourists. You get a better opportunity to listen to their unique Italian dialect and see them undiluted by the cultural stew of the visiting hordes.
 
At midday I ventured off into the Dosodoro neighborhood, where I’d never been before. This is an area to the east of the Grand Canal, behind the Accademia museum and, apparently home to a large student population. I trekked to Campo San Margherita and found the Pier-Dickens Inn, an Italian "pub" with an impressive array of pizzas. I ordered Quattro Stagione, a pie with four sectors, covered in turn with ham, artichokes, and mushrooms. The crust was paper thin and delightfully chewy in the middle and crunchy at the edges. It was an excellent pizza, accompanied by some house red vino, and well worth the walk.
 
On the way I passed something you don’t see anywhere else: a market boat in the canal, loaded with fruits and veges and selling to those on the dock (see picture). Perhaps Giant and Safeway should consider it?
 
After lunch, I headed south for the Biennale of Venice Exposition, an every-other-year arts festival. Sadly, the film portion ended a few weeks ago, which I why I missed staying with George Clooney at his palacio this year. Instead, I spent a few hours walking around the huge Arsenal building and its modern art display. My gosh, there was some weird stuff. Europe appears to be more deeply affected than the U.S. by the last few decades of war. There were many works that covered aspects of conflicts in Yugoslavia, Africa, and the Middle East. The most gruesome: a continuous film of a 10-year old vigorously practicing his soccer skills in a rubble-strewn yard in Belgrade, with blown-out buildings in the background, studiously kicking, flicking, and manuevering a human skull instead of a soccer ball.
 
Other lovely works included collections of newspaper war headlines, razor wire sculpture, and a large-scale map of the U.S., made up entirely of 3×5 cards, each with the hand-drawn face of an American soldier who has died in Iraq, with each card located in the deceased’s home town. That last one really gave you some pause. Like a lot of modern art, there were a lot of works that made you think, "Hey, I could have done that" and "That’s art"?
 
I was watching the vaporetto "conductor" yesterday and thinking about U.S. and Italian differences. The conductor tosses a rope onto a cleat at each dock as the boat approaches and ties it off; the boat captain uses the tension of this rope, the current, and his engine to temporarily hold the vaporetto against the dock for boarding. The conductor opens a simple sliding gate, held in place by a metal notch at one end when closed, to allow riders to board and disembark. It’s a simple process and no more complicated than it needs to be. How would this play in the U.S. I wondered… well, first there are the OSHA regulations, then goverment’s tendency to over-engineer everything. You get the idea: it would never work as easily or cheaply. Italians: 1 U.S.: 0
 
However, today when walking down the shoreline to the Biennale I was came upon a huge pedestrian bottleneck at one of the foot bridges that cross side canals. When I got to the bridge, I found that vendors had laid their wares out on the bridge, narrowing it down to a few feet wide. These "vendors", several of whom I talked with, are from Senegal and they are unlicensed (which angers the retail shop owners). They lay a sheet on the ground and on it lay out knock-off belts and handbags. As night falls they can be quite aggressive in pursuing potential customers. They’re part of organized gangs of these sellers (I happened to see a gang and its leader in action in Florence last year) and they use cell phones to stay one step ahead of the polizi. They can scoop up their sheet and wares into a trash bag in seconds and then lay them out again nearly as quickly when the cabinieri (patrolling cops) pass. It appears that they can block public walkways, ignore licenses, interfere with regular commerce, and harass tourists at will. In the U.S., I imagine a similar effort on say, the Mall in D.C., would be met with a much different level of police zeal: arrests, internment, and eventual deportations. U.S.:  1, Italy: 0.
 
After a quick, late afternoon break, I took my chances at Vino! Vino! again and this time I was seated because I went fairly early when they weren’t very busy. To be honest, the food was just so-so (except the roasted potatoes which were heavy with olive oil and rosemary and were out of this world). As a finale, they didn’t take credit cards (as Chow Venice said they did) and it was just dumb luck that I had enough Euors in my pocket to pay the bill.
 
I’m writing this from my hotel room in Paris, having made the vaporetto, bus, and plane journey here without incident in about 8 hours, doot-to-door. Thank God for aisle seats on airliner exit rows. I’ve managed to land such a seat twice now and the added legroom is fabulous. So, tomorrow I’ll be prowling the town, so stay tuned.
 
By the way, tonight France, the host country in the Rugby World Cup, plays Ireland. If France loses, they’re out of the competition, which says the newspaper, would be a "national catastrophe". Bars are gearing up and fans from both countries in jerseys and face paint are roaming the streets. I await the post-game carnage!
 
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