Venice Finale

Last night I saw the terrific Virtuosi di Venzia performance (stock photo at left): an eight-person chamber orchestra, supporting a tenor and a soprano as they sang a dozen arias from Vivaldi, Handel, Puccini, and Verdi. All performed in a de-comissioned, 15th Century, private chapel (capacity: 180). Last time I saw this, I sat dead center in the front row, with the singers just 10 feet from me; last night I sat in the last row (still only 100 feet away), and it made no difference: the acoustics were wonderful and the singing amazing. After a performance like this you understand why people cry at operas. The bonus is that this performance costs about 10% of a ticket to the La Fenice Opera House down the street, from which the moon-lighting musicians and singers originate.

The sun has returned today, my last day in Venice, and I spent the morning hanging around the Rialto Bridge, scoping out Christmas presents, downing a capuccino, and taking in the watercraft rodeo around the bridge in the central canal. It's a quintessential view of Venice and amazing that there are no boat collisions.

At lunchtime, I made my way back to the Taverna Campiello Remer (which, it turns out, is closed on Wednesdays) and I'm glad I did. This hard-to-find taverna is charming, rustic, and inexpensive. The friendly, multi-lingual staff explained their (very unusual) lunch buffet, which included 14 plates of buffet items, from marinated roasted chicken to macaroni with shrimp. The buffet, plus a pasta course, 1/4-litre of wine, water, dessert (cinnamon cake or baked pears with chocolate drizzel), and coffee was just 20EU! Excellent food and great ambiance with many locals eating there, too. And, judging from the grand piano, guitar, and cello in the corner, the evening meals, with music, are probably also wonderful. If you're coming to Venice, put this taverna on your list.

On the way back to my hotel, I stopped in at the nearby Trattoria ala Rivetta, where I have been having an afternoon bicchiere of red wine with the owner, Stefano, for many years. I recognize him, of course, but if he doesn't always recognize me (after a two year absence), he's kind enough not to let on. This tiny restaurant is a gondolier hangout, with excellent food, and you can get a small glass of wine for 1EU and stand around outside the door or in the entryway enjoying it. I usually manage to arrive just after the lunch rush has ended so there's time to chat and not be in the way. The restaurant has a place in my heart because I'm sure (though there's absolutely no proof) that it's somehow associated with the family of my old Country & Western dancing partner, Lynda Revetta, who passed away a few years ago. Oddly, Stefano continues to insist that Willie & Waylon would be inappropriate dining background music. Go figure.

This is one policy that distinguishes many European restaurants from ours: if you stand at the counter to order and consume something, it often costs less than if you sit down and order it through a waiter. This is a sensible plan for those in a hurry or who just want a small bite or drink and are OK with standing. The price differential is usually in the range of 1-3EU, so it's significant.

I'll be taking a short nap after writing this in preparation for visiting Harry's Bar, with its devastating Martinis. This is the original Harry's, the famous bar created by the famous Cipriani family, and reputedly where the Bellini (Proseco and pureed white peaches) was invented. If you don't know it, see their story here. Haven't had a Bellini? Everyone has to have at least one! But don't even think about making it without pureed white peaches. Harry's is where Ernest Hemmingway, Charlie Chaplin, Orson Welles, Hitchcock, and other members of the gliterati hung out, so it has a certain historical cache. In addition, the tux-wearing bartenders are a hoot – stylish, funny, suave, and really good at what they do. They almost make you forget you're paying 18.50EU for a tiny (but potent) martini.

The actual bar at Harry's is tiny, just six seats, and I have been lucky over the years to either find an available stool when I arrive or not wait too long for one. The people I've met there have also been interesting: last year it was a really nice older couple from Rio, who's son was attending school in Chicago, and who were here on their private yacht. I know I'm a little too old to be adopted but suggesting it to them crossed my mind. Well, as I said, it's always fun at Harry's.

[ Added the next morning: Something is seriously wrong in Venice. When I arrived at Harry's, not only were four of six bar stools empty (and remained that way) but several tables were unoccupied and there was no line to get it! This is something I've not seen in 8 years and a very disturbing sign of the times. The dour but eloquent bar tender gave me his take on it: people no longer seem to value the syle and legacy of the era that birthed Harry's (1930s-40s) and monster cruise ships flood the town with tourists but insist they all return by 6:00pm, killing the evening trade. His remedy? Everyone needs to watch Casa Blanca a few more times. My attentiveness to his pouring out his heart earned me an additional free Martini I really did not need but could hardly politely refuse. ]

Tomorrow (or today, depending on when I post this) I'll be bidding dear Venice farewell early, cruising away in the AliLaguna boat to the Marco Polo airport for my flight to Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. It has been wondeful to be here again, and I think everyone should visit La Serrenisima at least once. Consult with me before you go. Tomorrow: Vive la France and pass the cheese!

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