A light rain is falling in Venice today. Just a mist that makes you get the umbrella out and then feel dumb carrying it. Until you see the passing wet heads and wonder why they didn't think to bring an umbrella.
Maybe it's the rain, or maybe the cruise ships have left (there's a sight: the juxtaposition of those mammoth ships and the lower Venetian skyline), or maybe the tourist season is just winding down, but activities are undeniably tamped down today. Walking down narrow lanes is easy, no dodging or elbowing, no choking crowds. Shop owners stand in their doorways, trolling for end-of-season customers, 20-50% sale signs are up, and the gondoliers sit idle. Venice heading into Winter repose?
The Nigerians who sell knock-offs are forced to stand, hooded black sentinels in this rain, holding their goods in their hands and arms – no sheet laid out on the ground as their shop window now. Perhaps the law has changed since my last visit – I don't recall seeing their spreads the last few good days, either, and there seem fewer of them than in years past; end of season or a sign of the Euro economic crisis? Hard to say.
The seats at Florian's and the other battling orchestra cafes on St. Mark's Plaza are empty in this weather, but the staffs in their tuxes squeegee water off the tables periodically anyway, idiot tourists still feed the hated pigeons (those “rats with wings”, as any former Manhattanite knows them to be), and the orchestras continue to play. No acqua alta (high water, when the storm drains back up at high tide) yet but the temporary walkways, stacked and ready, sit in the rain.
I have been thwarted in my quest to eat a highly-rated lunch at Taverna del Campiello Remer – after quite a bit of work finding it, trudging around narrow streets in the Cannaregio area, above the Rialto Bridge, I found it closed. Couldn't tell if that was just for today or permanently. Their web site is still up, at least.
So, I turned my wet feet back toward the Academia Bridge and the Dorsoduro area. With so little time here I have to make each meal count, which takes me to the Taverna San Trovaso. I found this gem through the wonderful Chow Venice book and have made it a regular stop ever since. This is a casual-dress tablecloth restaurant, with separate rooms upstairs for large groups and smaller ones downstairs. I noticed today that the small room I was in had copper air ducting running its length, so business must be good. The staff here is friendly and accomodating.
My lunch consisted of insalata mista (mixed salad), fresh bread, and penne pasta with tomato sauce, bacon, and onion, accompanied by a carafe of their nicely-chilled house cabernet. Everything was fresh and tasty and a delight to eat. As I dug into this feast, I reflected on the trouble Americans often have in European restaraunts: failure to understand the rhythm of the meal and the service. Here eating is not a sport or a fast-food prelude to whatever comes next; no, it's a time to sit and savor, enjoy, and relax. With that in mind, for example, it's only natural that the waiter will let you sit in peace for 10-15 minutes after finishing your meal before inquiring if you need anything else. This is where Americans often get antsy and claim the service is bad. “Check, bring the check, where's the check”? But the waiter thinks it would be rude to rush you, so he does not.
Many visitors are also suprised, when the check comes, to find the coperto charge on it. These two euros cover the cost of that basket of bread you received, and are obligatory. Even with it, my lovely hour-and-a-half lunch cost me only 20 euros, with tip, and it was worth every penny.
Watching others, I was reminded as I ate of my manners. My dear departed mother would probaby find some fault these days, as these things have gotten more casual in the world in general and in my practice. Does it really matter? Yes, it does. In the 1980s, I dated a beautiful chef who had trained in Paris and Rome. Our romance was in its early days when she came to my place to cook for me. I remember that her company and the meal were terrific, but I remember more clearly that for some reason she complimented me for keeping my left hand quietly in my lap throughout the meal! Two thoughts flashed through my mind then: “How lucky I am to be in love with a woman who appreciates the finer things”; and “Thanks, Mom, for telling me to get my elbow off the table so often”! Good advice then, good advice now.