We've moved from Baltimore, Maryland USA to Venice, Italy in pursuit of living our dream!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Il Postino - the postman cometh.....or not

At the back of our orto is a gigantic old apricot (albicocca) tree which had been unfortunately, dormant since we've moved in. This year it decided to make up for it in spades. We had more apricots than we could eat, give or throw away. Mike decided he'd try his hand at apricot jam (marmalatta), and successfully made several batches of the stuff. We're set for apricot marmalatta until next year. (Watch, our tree will decide to go back to sleep again for a few years again!)

Our tomato (pomodoro) crop was also prolific this year, so Mike canned stewed tomatoes. 

Recently I eyed a crate of black figs (fichi neri) at the  market. There was NO WAY I was getting by them.  Three kilos of those beauties came home with me for a batch of fig marmalatta. 

 They are beauties, aren't they?  

 Those 3 kilos became 10 pints of glorious fig jam!

What I've neglected to tell you about all of our summer canning adventures is that we didn't own a canning pot. And now we're getting to the crux of this blog. You know that humongous pot you put the jars into to boil?  We'd been doing the boiling part of the process by putting 2-3 jars at a time into our largest pot, boiling and repeating until we'd done all the jars. Tedious. Mike and I both came to the conclusion it was time to purchase a canning pot.  I looked all over Venice. Didn't find one. I might have been able to find one somewhere in Mestre, however I just didn't want to spend the time hauling there and back. 

My fall back is always to search the internet. I found just what wanted on Ebay. It was a no-brainer. I ordered, and paid extra shipping from the USA to make sure it was delivered safely.  All I needed to do was sit back and wait for the delivery guys. Sweet. 

Yes- this thing! Remember your grandmother always had one?  Now I have one too!

Ebay was great about sending emails with tracking status. I knew when my pot had left the warehouse, I knew it had made it to customs in Europe, and I knew an approximate date it would be delivered to my doorstep. On Thursday, I received an email late in the day informing me that the delivery guy had been to the house, but no one was home.  Odd, I thought, that he didn't leave a card or note informing me that they'd been here and instructions for re-delivery.  I called the shipping company and finally managed to arrange for him to return the following day.  (The voice mail systems of all Italian companies need some help. I'm forever lost in menu system hell, but with some courage and perseverance I managed to get what I needed done.

Friday we waited at home all day long. About 5pm I phoned the shipping company again. They told me the guy had been at the house at 2:10 pm but no one was home.  Strange. I know Mike and I were there all day long, purposely waiting for this canning pot. And weird again that no note was left on the door. The guy clearly never came in the first place. The woman from the delivery company explained they would not make another attempt to bring it to the house, instead it  would be sent to the local post office. I should wait until Tuesday, then go collect it from the post office at San Marco. I reiterated "San Marco, right? "  "Si".  I clearly understood that part.

I ended up hauling my grocery cart (carello) to the San Marco post office on Wednesday morning.
And had to haul right through ...this.  Water. Now I love a good photo op as much as the next person, but I don't particularly love acqua alta when I have to haul a big box strapped to my carello.

At the post office, the guy at the counter handling dispensing of deliveries asked me for the tracking number. I had only what was emailed me by Ebay. No, not that. He wanted the number the delivery company used. Don't have it. They didn't leave me anything. By the look on his face I knew he wasn't happy with me. Could he possibly locate my package by my name?  I handed him my passport. He grumbled a little, but went off to the backroom passport in hand. 

He came back to the counter with my passport in hand, and no big box.  Nothing here for you, signoria. Try at Rialto. 

So. I hauled myself and my carello from St. Mark's to the post office at Rialto and prepared myself for round 2.  When it was my turn at the sportello, I again explained that I only had the tracking number Ebay had sent me in an email message. No. Not that number. Ok. Could you locate it by my name, here's my passport.  He looked at my passport and looked back at me. Nothing here for that name. Are you sure?  Yes. And then he dismissed me with the hand signal that means "Go away".  As I was collecting up my purse he opened up a blue folder to show me that there was nothing logged in with my name on it, when low and behold he sees my name on the list. AHA!  They do have my package.  

Then he looks up at me, smiles, and says "Signora, you should trust us. "  What?  Didn't he just shoo me away after declaring there was no package for me?  

He trots off to the back room and returns with a small package. It has my name on it, but it obviously is not a canning pot. It in fact was for me, a book, that had not been delivered to my house ever, and I had never received any delivery notice telling me to pick it up at the post office. I was overjoyed to receive my book.  The guy mistakenly thought  my signs of happiness were meant for him.  Again he gave me the "shoo" hand signal.  

I asked if he could double check because I was supposed to pick up a big box,  I even showed him a photo of the canning pot.  No, nothing else for you here. Shoo, shoo.  As I am picking up my purse, the guy does exactly the same thing. He opens up the blue folder containing his package log, and low and behold, he finds a second entry with my name on it.  "Yes!  We have a package for you, Signora"
He smiles and trots off to find my box. When he returned, with my very large brown box, he says  again, "See- You should trust us."  

Me being me, I wanted to explain the absurdity of that. Instead I flashed a huge smile, thanked him profusely and let him think he had done the greatest favor for me of my life. 

And then I proceeded to do what he wanted in the first place. Shoo. Shoo.  
I wrapped all my bungee cords around my huge box and wheeled out into acqua alta again. 

We are now the very happy owners of one extra large canning pot, which we have already inaugurated.  Our orto is overflowing with hot peppers just itching to be turned into Hot Pepper Jelly.

Just part of our hot pepper crop this season.  I think there are a few more batches of hot pepper jelly to be made!

  Our hot pepper jelly just out of the pot this afternoon

Despite the hassle, I am sure that the next time I need/want something I will  just order it online and suffer with having to deal with the post office, as much as I detest it. After all, I am supposed to trust them, right? 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

How I learned Italian medical terms...or .. More fun and games with the Italian medical system AGAIN!

One of my favorite lions in Venice, on  the Scuola Grande di San Marco, has nothing to do with the contents of my blog today, but since he graces the front of our wonderful hospital, I thought I ought to use it. I am writing about something medically related, after all.

In a recent blog, I wrote about having to make several trips to the hospital on the Lido, and that my orthopedic surgeon there was retiring at the end of June.  Since then, I've had to have a series of injections in my other knee. As there is no one replacing my dear Dott. F at Lido, I had to see a different doctor at the Giustinian building in Dorsoduro.  If you are a long-time follower of my blog, you may recall one of my wonderful adventures being lost in the basement of the Giustinian building. I have avoided this particular building ever since!  Unfortunately, I had no choice this time, so back to Giustinian I went.

The first injection went off without a hitch. I felt a little better about having to go to Giustinian.  The second visit was a complete bust. I went at my appointed time, sat in the waiting room, and waited, and waited, and waited. Finally I tracked down a nurse. She looked at my appointment papers, motioned for me to sit, and ran off. When she returned, she asked me to follow her. Down a maze of halls we went, I had no idea what was going on. We finally got to an office where another woman was behind the desk. She looked up at me and said " We called you but you never answered. The doctor (Dott. D.) isn't here today."  We went back and forth, it turns out she called but never left a message. She wanted to know why I didn't pick up the phone. I was busy at the time, I told her. I wanted to know why she didn't leave a message.  Her response?  "No one here in Venice ever listens to voice mail, so we don't bother doing it."  Seriously.  Bottom line, we had to reschedule the visit.

The second injection- when it actually happened- also went smoothly. While I was there, I asked the doctor to take a look at my hand, which had a lump at one of the joints on my fingers.  I asked him if there was something I could do for the arthritis in my hand, which seemed to be getting worse lately.  Dott. D. took one look and said, "Signora, this isn't arthritis. You have a tumor. " Next he asked, "You are American, yes? "  Yes.  He instructed  me to stay on the examining  table. He went  to his desk, did something on the computer and  told me to come have a look.  I thought he was going to show me information about this tumor, maybe some photos so I could have a better understanding of what it was.  Instead, he had a document displayed on his screen, written in English and asked me to translate it for him.

I wanted to laugh out loud.  He's asked me to translate a Letter of Recognition, sent to him by the US Army in recognition of his service in Afghanistan assisting an American medical team. It was filled with medical terms. I study Italian,  I'm  at  upper Intermediate level but  I'm certainly no translator. Oh, what the heck, I  took a crack at it.  As I translated line by line from English to Italian, he typed my words on the computer. Every once in awhile he'd look up and say "Hmmm.. I don't like this word here. Do you have another instead of that ?"  I got out my phone which has a dictionary on it and looked up the word.  I'd give him a choice of one or two synonyms and he'd choose the one he liked, and off we'd go again until we got to the end of the letter.  Dott D.  was happy with the result, and I'd had one more weird medical experience to write about.

But we're not done yet. I asked him about Afghanistan. He said it was the worst 3 months he'd ever spent in his life. He was doing surgery on casualties there along with an American team of doctors.  Next, he got on the phone and scheduled an appointment for me to have this tumor removed. He said he had connections at Mestre and could get me in right away, but he couldn't do that at the hospital in Venice, so I should go to Mestre.  I said, "I hate going to Mestre. " He said, "Go to Mestre, we'll do it there." I think my translating got me a little connection.  He wrote out the appointment and off I went. Thanks, Dott. D.

Today was my apppointment at Mestre.  Honestly, I hate to go to Mestre. I had to take a boat to Piazzale Roma, then the 24 H bus to the new hospital out there. I was thankful to actually have arrived at the right place. Anything else that might happen would be gravy. The only other time I'd been to that hospital was in an ambulance through the emergency entrance, so I was totally unfamiliar with what the rest of the place looks like. This hospital is enormous!  After much hunting and pecking my way through the place, I located a secretary who took a look at the letter Dott. D. had given me and pointed me to an office.

Trying my hardest to remain optimistic, I just had a sinking feeling that the day was going to turn south. I waited my turn in the waiting room.   When my name was called, I was surprised to discover that my doctor was NOT the doctor in the room with me.  I fully expected Dott.D. had scheduled the appointment on a day he was working at that hospital. Surprise, surprise.  This new doctor took a look at my letter, looked up at me and said, "Dott D.  Of course."  That should have tipped me off right there.  He asked for the x-rays.  I told him Dott D. hadn't send me for any x-rays.  He reached for my hand, took a closer look, then looked up and said, "No, I'm not cutting without x-rays".  Then he asks, "Why are you here? Why didn't you just go to the hospital in Venice? "  Hmmm. "Well, Dott. D sent me here."
He responds, " Mestrini come here. Venetians stay in Venice.  Doesn't make sense for you to come here.  You can come back here if you want, but I think you should just go to Venice for the x-rays and see the surgeon there."

Coming out of the hospital I discovered there is a train that goes  right to the Venice Santa Lucia station. You could call that the fun part of my day. I bought a ticket for 1.25 Euro ( had to use my credit card since the ticket machine wouldn't take cash), hopped on the train, and got back to Santa Lucia in under 20 minutes. Sweet.  Since I'm not going back to the Mestre hospital I won't be using this handy route, but it seemed like something I ought to know about.

The train ride gave me a little time to ponder my situation. Makes a lot of sense to have x-rays. But my Dottore D. didn't need them. No, he'd been to Afghanistan. He can probably do heart surgery without x-rays.

Tomorrow I am making the x-ray appointment. In Venice. Even if I get sent back to Dott. D for the actual surgery, I'll feel a little more at ease I have them.  You never know,  someone might even look at them.

And why is it some of my best adventures involve the Italian medical system?  I'd like an answer to that.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Blogging from the beach (Warning, this may contain sand)

Trying something new today. I've been spending a lot of time "fuori" (outside /away) from the house lately, and thought I'd attempt a bit of blogging on the run using my iPad. 

If this works well enough for me, it may well be the answer to one of the issues I've struggled with all summer. How to find enough time to keep up with writing. Heck, I haven't been able to find enough time to get to the beach even. Wouldn't it be heaven if I can connect the two? I'd even suffer with some sand on the iPad screen now and then! 

The Blogger app on the iPad is pretty bare bones. i can post photos, and have only bold or italics for text enhancement. No other fonts or font sizes to choose from... but... Bare bones from the beach or on the go could be just what this girl needs.  

Stay tuned for more from capanna 169 - my beach home on the Lido.  Right now I have one other little technological problem to resolve. Must email myself some photos that are on my smartphone so I have access to them here on the iPad. 

Ciao tutti! 

Friday, July 17, 2015

Redentore 2015 -How to enjoy it like a local

What do you do after the plague decimates your city?  You throw a huge party!  And Venice, the hostess with the most-est,  has been hosting the best post-Plague party ever every year since 1592.

Festa del Redentore 2015 kicks off Saturday night.  This is a big, big deal here in Venice. The plague years hit Venice hard back in 1575 (and again in 1630), and Venetians will never forget it. In fact, every year since the Redentore church first opened it's doors  Venetians have held a special celebration to give thanks for the end of this devastating plague. 

Back then, the Doge and Senators would be the first to walk across a temporary bridge constructed of barges, crossing from the Zattere in Dorsoduro to the Giudecca side of the Giudecca canal to attend a special mass. 

                        (photo thanks to Hermann Ceriello, FB group Venezia ieri e oggi)

Today, the same procession takes place, only the bridge of barges has been replaced by a pontoon bridge constructed across the Giudecca canal.  

In order to join in the celebration and enjoy it like a local, here's some hopefully helpful information and a few tips.

1. The pontoon bridge opens at 7 pm on Saturday night (July 18) after a special brief ceremony is conducted by the Mayor of Venice, the Patriarch of Venice and several other invited dignitaries.  As soon as this ceremony concludes, masses of people will make the pilgrimage across this special bridge to begin attending mass at the Church of the Redentore, and also to take up the their positions along the canal to watch the fireworks later.

Tip:  If you want to see the ceremony and be one of the first across the bridge, plan to arrive at the Zattere side of the bridge early, around 6:30. Note- and this is important- the bridge is CLOSED to all traffic at around 11pm, and remains closed until the fireworks end. So- if you plan to over to the Giudecca side, get there earlier. That also means if you are on the Giudecca side, you are staying there until all of the fireworks are over and the bridge is opened up again. It helps to know what you are getting into before you start. 

2. Beginning around 7pm, local families will begin eating dinner along both sides of the Giudecca canal, and also on the St. Mark's side from in front of the Doge's Palace along the Riva degli Schiavoni  on down to the Giardini. They typically stake out their favorite spot the day before, and either leave chairs and tables there or mark off their space with masking tape.  Reserving space works on the honor system, but you better believe everyone respects each other!

Tip: Do like the locals do, and have your dinner canal side. Just be sure to NOT take up a spot already reserved.  Pack a picnic for yourself. Shop at one of the local grocery stores (Conad on the Zattere or Punto in Campo Santa Margherita are great choices).  Hit their deli section and buy some already made Venetian specialties.  Best choices to eat like a local-  Baccala and Sarde in Saor (fried sardines in marinated onions).  Some cold pasta salad would be a good choice and for desert, you must, absolutely MUST have watermelon.  It's tradition.  Tuck a bottle or two of wine or prosecco into your bag and you are all set.   

3. Fireworks- some of the BEST fireworks known to man - begin just before midnight. No matter where you are sitting (or standing), it's going to be a great show. After the fireworks, the mass exit begins. Be prepared for this and you will enjoy your Redentore experience much better. There will be upwards to 200,000 people at the fireworks, and the majority of them will be headed to the train station or Piazzale Roma at about the same time, clogging all the streets.  It could take you an hour and a half to get back to your hotel, so just plan on it.

Tip: Wait until some of the crowd leaves before you attempt getting back to your hotel. If you want to make your exit easy, DON'T choose to sit on the Giudecca side of the canal. There is a major bottleneck getting back over that pontoon bridge after the fireworks are over. 

4. Mass is held in the Redentore church every hour beginning right after the bridge opens, and ending just before the fireworks begin.  Sunday morning several masses are also held.

Tip:  Do like the Venetians and attend mass, or at least go in and light a candle. 

Sunday there are several boat races held in the Giudecca canal, culminating with the race for gondoliers at 5:30 pm.

Our new mayor has announced bars and shops may remain open until 2pm on Saturday night, and,  after several years of downplaying the Redentore celebration due to dwindling funds in the city's coffers, he plans to return this year's celebrations to what it had been in years past.  This most likely will mean even more people will be coming in to the city for the events, and more party boats in the lagoon. This could also mean bigger fireworks. One can only hope.

I'm ready for Redentore 2015. We, too, will  be dining canal side right here in Castello with friends who were born, grew up, and still live  in this neighborhood. My contribution to the picnic is a torte di ricotta (very much like a cheesecake), which currently is cooling on the top of the stove.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Secondo me....

It's the dog days of summer here in Venice. I'm talking HOT. VERY HOT. And humid. As much as I love beach time, it's been almost too hot for that too. I've been spending time indoors, trying to keep as cool as possible, doing lots of reading instead.

Last night the electricity in our building went out twice. My friend Jill around the corner from us told me it went out 3 times in her building.  I'm convinced this little "brown-out" was a sly message from our electric company: they wanted us all to do without the AC for a while.  I have news for them. It's hot, I'm keeping on the AC.  Supposedly this heat wave will last another week or so. I'm planning on a few more brown-outs along the way.

I've decided I'm going to try something new on here on the blog. I'm going to start a new feature I'm calling "Secondo me"  (English translation - in my opinion), where I'm going to share some of my favorite little tips and secrets. So here goes...

Secondo me.....

If you ask most Venetians for a favorite restaurant recommendation, you can be sure the name they give you is maybe their second or third favorite. They are very reluctant to give away their favorite, because they don't want it to be overrun with tourists. This quasi-Venetian has taken on that same trait in recent years. But... I'm tossing caution to the wind here because recently a few new restaurants and bars around town have blown my socks off. These guys deserve to succeed and I am happy, happy, happy to pass along my highest accolades.

Today I'm singing the praises of Trattoria da Jonny, a new little place in Campo della Gate in Castello. (Michelle, if you are reading this, that's right! Just across Ponte dei Scudi!).  A few months ago we noticed renovation work going on in earnest inside a tiny little place on the corner of this campo that had been closed tighter than a drum for years. We were curious, and very hopeful this wouldn't turn into a tourist trinket shop, which is about the only things we see springing up left and right. The gods were with us on this one.  Mid-May a new restaurant opened it doors in the campo, including lovely tables and chairs outside.

The first week they were open we stopped by for dinner. Mike chose the roast duck, I tried the spaghetti con seppie nero. Both scrumptiously prepared, and beautifully presented. This place got high marks for everything, from ambiance to service to table wine, it has it all. We met the owner, Jonny;  Hugo, the chef; and the waiter Joe.  Ever since that day whenever I pass by the place, Joe gives me one of his huge smiles and a happy "Ciao!"

Monday, after a long hot morning in and around Venice, I decided a good lunch was in order. I phoned Mike and invited him to meet me at da Jonny's.  This time we started with an octopus salad to share. I can't believe I forgot to snap a photo!  It is the best octopus we'd ever had!  

Next up, a rombo for Mike and frito misto for me. 

I had to end the meal with the tortina di ciccolata.  Molten on the inside, to die for. I'm already planning my next meal here- just the octopus salad and the tortina.  Buonissimo!

So, friends, when in Venice, secondo me  RUN, don't walk, to Trattoria da Jonny. Tell them I sent you. 

Trattoria da Jonny, Campo della Gate, Castello 3210  +39 041 296 0065
Reservations would be a good idea. They are small, and have  loyal local patrons already. 

Friday, June 12, 2015

Another visit to the doctor, or an ape in Venice

Yes, there is a hospital in Venice.  It's even possible you may have walked by this building, stopped to take photos and never knew you were snapping a shot of the  Ospedale Civile.  This magnificent marble facade on the front of the Scuola Grande di San Marco is home to some of Venice's grandest lions. And inside the doorway is the home of Venice's medical department, including the Emergency Ward.  This is where I normally go when I have an appointment with my Orthopedic surgeon.  Notice I wrote normally.

Scuola Grande di San Marco, in Campo San Giovanni e Paolo

A few months ago I experienced some unusual pains in my left knee, the one that already has a titanium joint. Sensing something weird was going on, I made an appointment with the Orthopedic doctor. The earliest appointment I could get was not at Ospedale Civile. I'd have to go over to the Lido instead.  

Getting myself to Ospedale al Mare was a whole new experience. Vaporetto to Lido, then the bus to Piazzale Rava (Piazzale what??? Lido is way out of my comfort zone, I had no idea where or what this is).  After asking a few questions at the bus stop, I was assured I was headed in the right direction.  Where should I get off?  I should have known.  Just follow the crowd. Everyone headed to Piazzale Rava is going to Ospedale al Mare.

 Ospedale al Mare, at Piazzale Rava, Lido

The Ospedale complex at Lido is huge, and mostly unusable- old, in ruins.  This far end of it has been  getting some restoration, in fact a brand new radiography department has just opened. Now you can go to Ospedale al Mare for blood work and x-rays, among other things.

I've been out to Ospedale al Mare three times since that first appointment,  including yesterday. I'm a pro by now. And, I have to say, I really like this place. It's fairly easy to get to, and far less crowded than it is at Ospedale Civile. I get in and out of there in way less time than it normally takes to visit the specialist.  And the Orthopedic doctor is one I really like.  I'd been to him several years before when he used to have an office in Dorsoduro.  And, as he recently pointed out, he and I share the same birthday. Not the reason I like him, but it is another factor in the plus column! All things considered, having to go to Ospedale al Mare is a win-win. 

Yesterday I had to return to the dr. for "controllo", which in English is equivalent to a follow up visit. He was going to take a look at the current x-rays and make a diagnosis as to what is causing the pains in my knee.  Thankfully, the verdict was not the dire prediction he had made on my first visit. He was talking a whole new knee replacement then. Fortunately, it is not the joint. Yahoo. Happy Dance time.  He prescribed physical therapy over at FateBeneFratelli. (if you've read some of my earlier posts, you might recall this place).  Ok, thanks, Dr. I'll take that!

Before leaving his office, I mentioned that I need to have another series of Hyaluronic acid injections in my other knee.  He reminded me that he is retiring at the end of this month, that won't be possible.  "Yes, I remember you are retiring, Dr., but can't I make an appointment anyway. Won't there be another doctor here? "  He laughed.   Non so and non mi interessa! "I don't know and I don't care."
I totally get his point. He's counting days to retirement. I wouldn't care either!  Then he adds, "Look, in a while, after a few weeks, just call my house.  You can come after 6pm and I can give you the injections there. You live close to the Lido, that will work fine. But not in July. I'm spending time with my grandson at the beach. "

I'm pretty sure I won't be interrupting his long deserved retirement by popping in for those shots. But...who knows. If I have to go back to Ospedale Civile and can't get an appointment any time soon, I just might. 

Happy retirement, Dr!  I will miss this guy! 

Oh, and there's one more thing I really like about the trip to Ospedale al Mare.  There are these little sidewalk shacks/cafes along the street where the bus drops off and picks up.  Perfect for a coffee (or spritz for all you spritz drinkers) and a cornetto.

Oops. Make that two more things I really like. I get to see an ape or two while I'm out there. Ape. A-P-E. Ah-pey.  The Piaggio Ape is this tiny little truck you see all over Italy, even here on the Lido.  The name ape, which in Italian means bee, refers to the work ethic of this little gem.    I want one.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

La Contessa and Me

Beach season kicked off May 24 on the Lido, but I unfortunately did not get the chance to enjoy the beach until this week.  Once again, I have a share in a summer cabana (capanna ) at a private beach, and I've made a promise to myself I WILL use it more than I did last summer!

I'll never forget the first time I tried to find the beach where my capanna is located at last summer. I had to take the vaporetto over to Lido, then hop on a bus going towards Chioggia.  My beach isn't too far down from the main street (Granviale S. Maria Elisabetta), but a bit too far for a walk on a hot day. I wasn't entirely sure I was on the correct bus, so I asked a woman already on the bus if this was the right one if I wanted to go to the Consorzio beach.  This woman was elegant, typical Italian. Classy, everything perfect- perfect clothes, perfect jewelry, perfect makeup, perfect blond hair. She was Gina Lollobrigida and Sophia Loren-like. I asked the question, she politely responded "Yes".  I immediately nicknamed her "La Contessa".

Later that morning I noticed La Contessa was sitting on a towel not far from where I had set up my beach chair.  I wondered  what La Contessa's story was. My mind was inventing all sorts of glorious stories for her.

A few other times during the summer I noticed she was at the beach the same time I was, and always had her towel spread out near me.  After the beach closed for the season, I never saw La Contessa again, although it was clear she was Venetian.  I'm  always walking all over Venice but our paths didn't cross again. Until three days ago.

This week,  I've returned to the beach.  I'm a morning beach person. I love to get there early before the crowds so I have the beach to myself.  Monday morning I arrived at the beach later than I would have liked, around 10.  I found my way to our capanna, introduced myself to the few capanna-mates who were already in attendance, and went inside to drop off some things before heading down to the water with my chair.  Inside our capanna was...La Contessa!  We said hello to each other, after which she  commented, "Sei Americana."  (You are American).  It wasn't a question. My accent gives me away every day.  I recognized her, I doubt she recognized me.  I took my chair on down to the water.

 I was at the beach a bit earlier on Tuesday morning. La Contessa and I arrived about the same time. She laid her towel out. I set my chair up. We said "Buongiorno" to each other.  The few times I've seen La Contessa, I've noticed she has a routine. She lays the towel out, gets her stuff organized, ties a lovely sarong around her neck or waist, grabs her cigarettes then goes for a stroll down the beach walking at the waters edge.  A while later she returns, chats with several people, smokes another cigarette, then spends some time sitting on her towel. When she's smoking, the cigarette hangs from her mouth. Even with a cigarette dangling from her lips like truck driver,  she's classy.  What a dame!

Tuesday just before La Contessa left the beach she yelled over a "Buongiorno" to me.  I was flabbergasted to get noticed by her, and to have such a pleasantry extended. I waved and yelled "Buona giornata" in return.

On my way home I made plans to write a blog about La Contessa. In my mind I was imagining what her Venetian life was like, what old Venetian family she might be a descendant of.
Life took over on Tuesday, and I never got that blog written.

This morning as I made my way over to the Lido I was already plotting about a summer of blog posts, starting with the one about La Contessa.  I arrived a bit later than I had expected this morning because, with my head full of ideas, I completely missed the right boat over to the Lido!  I mistakenly ended up on a boat headed towards Murano instead.  When I finally got to the beach, La Contessa was already on her towel.  She and I have very similar beach habits. We are both there early before the crowds. We both leave somewhere between 11-12. That's probably the only similarity anyone could ever find between the pair of us.

I set my chair up, got myself situated, and just as I opened my book to read La Contessa yelled over a "Buongiorno".  I looked up. She was talking to me.  A Venetian talking to me is not normal in my world, so I tried not to look too stupified. She said something else, which I couldn't hear at all. She walked over to me and asked if I wanted to take a passeggiata (walk) with her? Si!!  Absolutely Si!

Hopefully my elation didn't make me look too much like a fool. I wanted to do a happy dance. I wanted to fist pump in the air. In my seven years in Venice, I have dreamed of even a little thing like a walk with a native.  It just doesn't happen.  There seems to be an imaginary line drawn between Venetians and everyone else.  It isn't just me who has experienced this.  But all these years I've wished for a little tiny local experience. And today it happened. La Contessa asked me.... ME... to take her daily passeggiata with her. Are you kidding me?  I wouldn't have missed this for the world.

As we started walking, I  apologized first for not speaking Italian well.  I explained that I study Italian, have been for several years, but still am not fluent. She just said "No, you are doing fine. "  She had loads of questions. Evidently she was as curious about me as I had been about her.  Where was I from in America? Why was I  in Venice?  and on and on and on.

Upon learning that my name is Karen, she decided she would just call me Karina- with a K. She has a granddaughter named Carina.  I'm good with that.  She liked, loved,  that I love Venice. She smiled a huge smile, telling me she's Venetian, it's in her blood, but we both love this city. We walked. She smoked, that cigarette dangling from her mouth the whole way. We talked. Then she invited me to stop for coffee with her. She introduced me to one of her favorite cafes along the beach. We kept talking. About the upcoming election for the new mayor. About Venice's problems. About our husbands and our children. About where we shop. About some of her favorite buildings in Venice. About our shared love for the beach early in the morning. She insists she will teach me Venetian over the summer. By the way, La Contessa doesn't speak English. I did this whole wacky wonderful Italian conversation with no English. This is EXACTLY what I have been working so hard for these last 8 months of studying and lessons.

We wandered back to our beach and took up our respective spots.  A bit later, La Contessa yelled over a "Buongiorno, Karina. A domani" as she packed up her towel.

I've dreamed of the possibility of an experience like this morning, but had given up dreaming that dream a few years ago. Today that dream came true.

I cannot wait to see what else awaits me this summer!

La Contessa has a name. Paola. She'll  remain La Contessa to me.

La Contessa

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Not quite all quiet on the southern front

Did you notice my title is a little take off on the famous "All Quiet on the Western Front" ?  I really wanted to use Western in my title too, however, I'm writing about events on the south lagoon here, so I had to do a slight modification.

The other day a friend of mine emailed me with a request to see more posts about my rowing adventures. It was perfect timing, cause we'd had a doozie of an experience just a day before!

Ever since the interim mayor passed a new law banning dragon boats from the Grand Canal, we've had to do all of our rowing in the south lagoon.  Before his brilliant move, we did a fair amount of our practices in the central part of Venice on the canals of the  Dorsoduro and San Polo districts, as well as the Grand Canal.  To get to the south lagoon, we have to cross the Giudecca Canal.  It's not fun.  This canal is used by all the big cruise ships, the car ferries going back and forth between Lido and Tronchetto, and all the bigger boats hauling tourists between Tronchetto and San Marco. The canal is full of boats going willy nilly, so lots of waves. Big ones. We're out there bobbing around like a cork! Trying to cut across this canal is not easy, it's always the worst part of our practices.

Once we get over to Giudecca, things get much easier. We do a quick row down a canal to cut through to the south lagoon. Once in the lagoon, we usually row out to either San Servolo or San Clemente islands, and then do lots of sprints between the bricole.  Bricole are the poles marking the channel (see photo below for an example).  Boats have to stay inside the channel markers where the water is deep enough. Outside of the channel markers the lagoon can be quite shallow.

Usually, rowing in the lagoon is a very peaceful, calming experience (unless it's sprint time, that is).  I have come to love being out on the lagoon. I've also come to love the rowing, itself. When I first started, I was terrible at it.  Now, the movement is second nature. I get in the boat and my arms seem to just know the position they are supposed to be in to properly hold the oar, and to keep in time with my team mates.  We're a well oiled machine, each in sync with the other.  And that is a beautiful thing. 

Friday, we had a moment that was not so beautiful.  We were rowing along nicely when out of no where, the lionesses at the front of the boat started screaming, and frantically rowing backwards. Those of us in the rear of the boat had no clue what was going on, but we sure felt the effects of it as the boat tipped to the right almost dumping us all into the water, and then it tipped even more to the opposite direction. I thought for sure we were going overboard. We all did. Nothing like this had ever happened before, I had no idea what was going on or why.  It took a few minutes to get settled, and we then saw what the problem was.  The two rowers in the first seat noticed two bricole that were rotted and broken off, only barely visible at the water level because of the height of the tides at the time. We almost hit them. If they hadn't seen them and back paddled quickly, we all would have been in the water. Fortunately, we all were wearing life vests.  I swim, so it wouldn't have been a problem, however there are a couple of lionesses who don't swim.  

Happily, most of our rows are non-eventful!

(The culprit!)

Today's row was without incident. We rowed completely around San Clemente island, a first for us. Usually we row to it, then turn around and row back. You can see from my photo below how clear the water is. It's quite shallow, I can touch the bottom of the lagoon with my paddle.

We were quite excited today, as this was the day our brand new salvagente arrived.  Salvagente- here's your new Italian vocabulary word for the day! Salvagente is what you call a life jacket or life preserver.  Salva gente - literally save people.  Here are the lionesses in them.  Wow, what a difference these make. Our other salvagente were quite bulky and uncomfortable. These new ones are cut very differently under the arms. Their design fits so much better, making rowing a lot easier. We are pretty happy lionesses. Simple pleasures!  And we probably needed those salvagente today. Crossing the Giudecca canal in both directions was trecherous.  Going across, we took on more water than we ever had before. We had to stop and bail out. I wasn't in the boat 5 minutes before a wave hit me and I was completely soaked from head to toe.  Our feet were covered with water by the time we hit the other side of the canal.  On the way back, a tour boat refused to give way to us, even though the "rules of the road" say all motorized boats must give way to any rowing boat.  The guy knew it, but wouldn't stop. We almost hit him. There was quite a bit of loud, nasty words exchanged between our helmsman and that driver.

After each row,  the dragon boat gets washed, dried, and stored in one of the old Salt warehouses at the Bucintoro boat club. Then I make my way to the vaporetto at La Salute.  The short walk to the vaporetto is absolutely joyful now that the weather has gotten warmer. The local  kids are out playing in the campo around the corner from the boat house. Today the boys had a game of soccer going on,

The girls were giving their sidewalk chalk a work out,

 and the priest was giving an outdoor mass for the rest of the kids.  It's a side of Venice  I just love to see.

And, around the last corner as I made my way to La Salute, today I was serenaded by these two  who were happily playing on this little dock over the canal.

So, there you have it. A bit of my rowing adventures. Not quite all quiet on the southern front, but still all good. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

New transportation woes in Venice

In recent months the local news has been filled with articles concerning Venice's increasing transportation difficulties, including more large cruise ships, vaporettos crowded with tourists, and even new limits on kayaks, canoes and dragon boats. Yes, even dragon boats, so I've been directly impacted by the new regulations our temporary mayor put in place mid-April. Fortunately, those stringent rules have been modified a bit, so soon we'll be rowing back on the Grand Canal.

The other day I witnessed yet another traffic issue. I thought surely this would make headline news the next morning.  Our interim mayor needs to get on this problem before it gets completely out of hand.

Double parking in Venice.   (It was in front of a toy store, I can totally understand the necessity.)

Sunday, April 19, 2015

My new transportation

I've surprised myself once again, I've gone and done something I didn't think I would ever do. 

I have been content to use my feet to get me from Point A to Point B -and sometimes C most days, supplementing with the vaporetto depending on where I need to get to. Until we moved to Sant'Elena, I rarely ever went over to the Lido. And if I did, I walked once I arrived there. 

This year I find myself on the Lido often. If I need to go to a grocery store, it's actually easier to do it there at the large Coop or the new Conad store (formerly Billa, which, for the record, I miss terribly).  I make it a weekly ritual on Tuesday mornings to go to the mercatino there, and now I've added on Friday mornings as well. Some of our new favorite restaurants are there.  And it won't be long before the beaches are open again for the season. 

Recently at lunch with some friends, who all live on the Lido, I was asked if I kept a bicycle there. No, I don't have one.  One of the women immediately suggested that she give me her old one, which was sitting in the garage now that she had a new one, and her husband was urging her to get rid of it. The only problem was it had a flat tire. I didn't think that was an issue, I was happy to figure out how to get the tire fixed.  I didn't even need to do that, she took it to her local bike shop for me! She'd warned me it was old, and had lots of rust. In my opinion that would be just perfect for the Lido and me! 

The next week we made arrangements for me to come over and pick it up from the bike shop. For 9 euros I had a brand new inner tube, filled with air, and a lovely set of new wheels for me.  
This baby has a bell, 2 baskets, a mirror, a light, a brand new seat, and a fender!  And it's blue, my favorite color even.  I have hit the lottery on this one! 

The bike came home to Sant'Elena so I could have Mike adjust the seat for me. 

I've purchased a brand new bike lock, I'm ready to take it back over to the Lido where it will take up residence in one of the several bike lots in and around the area by the vaporetto stop. My bike will fit right in with it's neighbors- old rusty beach bikes, just perfect for getting around when I want to explore the seawalls along Malamocco or make a trip to the mercatino, or pedal on down to the spiaggia ( beach).  The only thing I need to do is break a bottle of prosecco over the handle bars to christen it!

It's been years since I've biked much, I must admit I'm a bit leery, but with practice I am confident I'll be fine.  I'll be just like Miss Gulch in the Wizard of Oz , except I'll be sporting a huge smile.