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

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Voga a Silenzio (Rowing in Silence)

The weather was gorgeous yesterday, just perfect for a late afternoon row.  I hadn't rowed in three weeks- some due to travel, some due to bad weather.  I was itching to get out on the water. And, more than just wanting to row, I needed to row. We're now in training for the Vogalonga, a 32 km row around the islands to be held on May 24.

At the last minute I received a message reminding me to show up at the boat house 30 minutes early, there was to be an emergency meeting. I had a hunch what this meeting was all about. One of our members had been in the hospital for the last week, and I suspected we were going to be told something about her status.

Even though we were all pretty sure there would be some bad news, I can assure you, we were not ready for the news we got.  It was the worst we could have imagined. This poor woman, who is fairly young to begin with- and remember she has already suffered through breast cancer-has just been diagnosed with one of the worst types of cancer you could have, and the prognosis is not good. Not good at all.   We're sitting in an enormous salt warehouse, centuries old, with no windows, and you could have heard a pin drop. There was a mix of silence, tears, sniffles and then the long wails of grief stricken friends, as the realization hit.

The meeting was called to a close, with a final word to treat the situation delicately, for the poor woman's sake who was having to process this herself, and- to go do our row.  Trust me, none of us were in a mood to row,  no matter how gorgeous the afternoon was.  I glanced around the room, taking in the faces of this group of women who now have come to mean the world to me. I don't think I've ever  been as  moved as I was yesterday witnessing this collective sadness.

Somehow, we mustered up the will to go out and row. We left the salt warehouse without words, hugging one another, giving support to those that were taking the news the hardest. Still without words, we loaded up into the boat.  The entire row was in silence, which is very out of character for this chatty bunch. Normally our helmsman spends a good bit of his time yelling " Silenzio". Yesterday, no commands were necessary.  We were all lost in our own thoughts as we rowed over the Giudecca Canal, through the narrow canals of Giudecca island, and out to the lagoon. For an hour and a half we rowed, almost as one, strokes in perfect synchronization, gliding silently through the water.

There is something very magical about being in the waters surrounding Venice, with no noise at all other than the sound of your paddle slicing the water. For a brief time, you are at one with the universe.

My thoughts were this:   I've received yet another confirmation that life is short. There are no guarantees on how many tomorrows's we'll have.  That's what made me move to Italy in the first place. This is what makes me know I'm in the right place, living a quiet, simple life, focusing on what is truely important at this time in my life. Days are not to be squandered, I need to make each one count.

And that's my message to you - make each day count.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Happy Birthday, Venice

Tanti Auguri (Best wishes), Venice!  1594 years ago, on March 25, 421, Venice was founded.  

The flag of Venice waves proudly with the winged lion, the symbol of Venice, in the center and six "ribbons" of fabric flying along side it, one ribbon representing each of the  six districts (sestiere) of Venice. 

One other little tidbit about Venice's founding- the first settlement was at Rialto, at Campo San Giacometto. It's said people chose this spot because of the higher banks here, and the name became "Rialto" for sort of short cut version of  "Rivo Alto" or high banks. 

Those two facts should help you out should you ever find yourself playing the Venice version of Trivial Pursuit. 


Friday, March 13, 2015

Postcard from Puglia

Ciao tutti!

We're in beautiful Alberobello, in the Puglia region of Italy, for the week.  Internet connection is sparse, so I'll take a minute while I can to just send a brief "Ciao" and a few photos.

Alberobello, located in  the heart of wine, olive oil and cheese production area of Puglia, is known for the unusual stone homes, called " trulli".

Wanting to "experience" this quaint location, we rented a trullo for the week.  Despite rain and cold for most of the week, we've been out exploring every day. Loving Alberobello !

A presto,

Saturday, February 21, 2015

There's a new kid in town

 Just a quick note on what you can expect to see (and not see) after this weekend.

50 Billa grocery stores  had been purchased by Conad, another Italian retail store, and the switch-over is scheduled to be completed over the weekend, with stores reopening on Monday, February 23, under the new name.

There's been no word at all as to whether all of the Billa stores in the area are included in this group of 50, and no word on whether Conad will have the same hours as Billa.  (I hope so!) Monday morning when I discover more, I'll update this post.  Just about the only information has been these big posters in the vaporetto stops, and a sign in the Billa stores announcing that you need to use up any store points you have before the change over occurs.

So- if you are returning to Venice anytime in the near future after having been away for some time, be prepared to be greeted by the new kid in town: Conad.

A Venetian traffic stop

Yesterday, while rowing down the Grand Canal in our dragon boat, we were pulled over by the local police.  Yes, you read that right. The Lionesses were pulled over, just before reaching the Rialto Bridge. I'll get to all the gory details in a sec.

Before last summer, any sightings of police on any canals was  rare, very rare.  Now, since a very tragic boating accident in which a German tourist lost his life, there are new regulations and a greater police presence. These regulations, on both speed and when and where certain types of boats can be on the Grand Canal, are directed towards delivery boats, water taxis, vaporettos and gondolas.   However, a  week ago the city has issued yet another boating regulation, a  ban on small rowing/paddle boats in the Grand Canal as well as several smaller canals in the city.  Effective March 1, no dragon boats, kayaks, canoes or paddle boats will be allowed on any of  the named canals. Niente. Nada. None. Basta. 

There was a meeting this past Monday between the city and one of the boating associations to request  the  ruling be rescinded. The result:  nothing will be changed. 

This map  shows all the routes included in the ban ( canals  marked in red and pink).  This also  limits the ability to row from one area of the city to the other, without rowing out in open waters. This gives the ban an even bigger sting, and it's going to be a tough pill to swallow for small paddlers like us.

And so, with March 1 just around the corner,  we Lionesses have only a few more days to enjoy our practice/exercise rows out on our beloved Grand Canal. There is something magical about being out there in a small boat. It's an entirely different experience, one I have a tough time putting into words.  I feel almost a part of the water, instead of a spectator looking down at it. Magical. Just magical.  

 We expected to be rowing on Wednesday, however at the last minute high winds curtailed our exercise plans. Yesterday the day began with thick fog.  We fully expected our row to be cancelled yet again. With luck, the fog lifted by mid afternoon. Almost gleefully, we put the boat into the water, loaded up and turned expectantly to our timoniere (helmsman), Francesco, wondering what he had planned for the day.  He grinned, "The Grand Canal, of course!"

We're rowing along, silently for a change (usually the lionesses are chatterboxes, requiring Francesco to be yelling "Silenzio!").  I think each of us were a bit lost in our own thoughts, savoring every moment of what will be one of our last rows in this magnificent canal. 

As we approach Rialto, we notice a the team of policemen in their new post alongside the canal are waving us over. We look around, thinking they must surely mean another boat behind us.  No, they mean us. Francesco complies, maneuvering the dragon boat alongside the pier.  The policeman bends down to speak to us all,  explaining calmly that there is a new law in place effective March 1, after which dragon boats are banned from certain canals, including the Grand Canal.  If we were found rowing after March 1, we will be fined.  Aha. He'd  pulled us over to give us a traffic warning. 

What ensued next should  have been enough to cause that policeman to run for the hills, and refuse that duty post in the future.  He should have known better, should have left well enough alone and let this group of Venetian women just keep on rowing, but no, he had to place nice cop and pull us over to issue a warning.  Everyone in the boat, with the exception of Francesco and myself, started yelling at the top of their lungs all at the same time. This is what Venetian women do, of course.  Me, I know better.  I'm an American by blood, and we Americans know to keep our mouth shut when a policeman pulls you over. "Yes, Sir, here's my drivers license and registration, what seems to be the problem, Sir? ".  That's how we're trained to handle any police interaction. These Venetians?? Oh, no. 

Here's how this situation went down. These women (most of them over 60), lashed into this young man like he was their son. I bet they would have smacked him alongside the head if we weren't so far down in the boat. Several of them were trying to stand up waving their hands as they yelled, but realized the boat was wobbling, so sat back down again. Thank God!

The yelling continued and continued. I heard a raft of stuff:   We want this law changed. Can you get it straightened out? It's not fair. We're Venetians, we should be able to row in the Grand Canal. This is shit. We're going to protest at City Hall. No, we're going to STORM City Hall!!   (And this is just the calm stuff). Just imagine a bunch of irate ladies going for the jugular vein. I think they expected that cop would grant them special dispensation right there on the spot.  

With what little shreds of dignity he had left, he tried to explain he was only delivering the message, making sure they all were aware of the law, and sadly, there was nothing he could do to change it.  "Bye ladies, have a nice day." 

We pushed off, continuing our row, but the lionesses were not very silent. Francesco was smart in not giving the "Silenzio" command at that point in time.

Me?  Yes, I was silent. I wasn't about to mouth off to any cop. I quietly observed the whole event, getting yet another lesson in just how differently life happens over here. 

Ohhh, the girls were hot under the collar after that.  They proceeded to yell at the next gondolier who passed, telling him all about the cop pulling them over and how unfair the whole new law thing is. Fortunately, for him, he agreed with them. He would have been taking his life into his own hands if he hadn't!

So what happens with this ban next?  There is a petition floating around locally and on Facebook, I hear there will be a protest at city hall schduled soon. In the meantime, I'm hopefully for two more days of rowing on the Grand Canal before the dreaded deadline, if the weather gods are kind to us on Wednesday and Friday. And praying for no more alterations with the local police. 

Friday, February 13, 2015

Costumes, Costumes, Costumes!

We are now in full Carnevale mode here, LOTS of tourists on the streets, LOTS of activities going on day and night.  The best time to catch some gorgeous costumes is in the mornings, between 8-10 am at St. Mark's square and the Doges Palace.  The level of detail on some of  these costumes is beyond belief!  I hope you feel like you are right there with me as I snapped these photos!

I had to start with this one - the Plague Doctor costume and mask (il Medico dell'Peste), one of the oldest masks used in Venice dating back to the plague of the 1500's.

Here's a perfect example of the level of detail to these costumes. Check the eyes on this model- they are wearing some interesting contact lenses. 

Another close up so you can appreciate the detail of these costumes. Look carefully at the peacock ring this model in the peacock outfit is wearing. 

Pierrot! It wouldn't be Carnevale without spotting Pierrot. 

Have you booked your tickets to Carnevale 2016 yet? 

Ciao tutti!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Festa della Marie- Carnevale 2015

The Festa della Marie, one of the main Carnevale events, is a re-enactment of an old traditional ceremony  took place yesterday, February 7 in Venice. 

As far back as the 9th century, Venetians blessed all the marriages that took place during the year at a ceremony on February 2, the day of the Purification of Mary. This ceremony took place at the cathedral of San Pietro in Castello. Also blessed were the marriages of 12 girls from poorer local families, who were each given a dowry from a wealthy family of the city and outfitted with jewels from the treasury of St. Mark's. The generic name of "Marie" was bestowed on each of these 12 girls. 

In 973, during this celebration, a band of pirates kidnapped the girls, absconding both the girls and all the jewels. Outraged, locals took off after the pirates, managed to find them, recovering the gems and returning the girls to safety. The Festa della Marie was created to thank the Virgin for her intercession in saving the girls and to commemorate the victory over the pirates.

Each year the 12 girls would be dressed and adorned in jewels for this parade from San Pietro in Castello. Eventually the real girls were replaced by wooden plaques, know as Marie de tola or Marie di legno. Another nickname for the wooden Maries was Marione.  These were cheaper- no dowry needed. Smaller versions of the Mariones were called Marionettes- yes, this is where the word Marionette stems from. 

In 1349, the Republic of Venice enacted a law prohibiting throwing fruit and other objects at the Mariones during this parade. Thirty years later, in 1379, the entire Festa was abolished.

Today in Venice, the Festa della Marie is a re-enactment of this traditional celebration commemorating the victory over the pirates in 973. A few weeks prior to Carnevale, a pageant is held during which  twelve local young women are selected by a panel of judges.  These girls, the "Maries" attend all of the important Carnevale  balls and events, representing the city. During the days of Carnevale, the local citizens may vote on their favorite girl, with the winner being  the " Marie" of the year. In recent years, whoever the winning Marie is becomes the Angel who will descend from the Campanile to the far end of Piazza San Marco during the Flight of the Angel the next year. 

So, now we have a little understanding about what the whole Festa della Marie is about. Let's get on with the parade!

 The 12 Maries  leaving the Telecom building near Rialto on their way to San Pietro in Castello for the beginning of the Festa della Marie parade.
 Each of the girls are wearing stunning gowns created by Pietro Longhi, one of Venice's talented costume designers.

While the parade makes its way from San Pietro towards San Marco, locals in Castello await the entourage at Via Garibaldi.   This happy band of singers belting out traditional Venetian tunes kept the crowd entertained during the wait.

Flag throwers lead the entourage. 

The 12 Maries ( and wooden Mariones ) are introduced to the public.

After a toast to the Maries, the parade assembles again, ready to carry the Maries to the Doge at St.Mark's square.

The Marie's entourage includes groups dressed in historic garb from neighboring cities, such as Trieste, Verona an  Conegliano.

Each girl is lifted onto a litter, carried by young gondoliers and other litter bearers. 

The wooden Marie de tola's bring up the rear of the real Marie's. 

You know what they say about Location, location, location?  I've watched the Festa della Marie numerous times from dead center in St. Mark's square. I've watched it from along the Riva degli Schiavoni, the main street leading from Via Garibaldi in Castello to St. Mark's Square.  I have to tell you, for me, there isn't a better spot to enjoy this Carnevale event than to be right on Via Garibaldi where the Marie's make a stop to be introduced to the local citizens.   It's here in Castello where today you find Venetians living. And here is where they celebrated their Carnevale yesterday, not the Carnevale of 100,000 tourists jammed into Piazza San Marco.  There weren't more than a few hundred spectators at this end of Venice yesterday, but the numbers didn't matter. It was the spirit that was important. Location, location, location.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

A very tiny Carnevale fun fact

Carnevale 2015 officially began last weekend with the Festa Veneziana- a two day fun festival designed for locals, scheduled before the masses of tourists from all over the world descend upon Venice for the big events.

Not much Carnevale transpired  in the days between Festa Veneziana and today, kind of the lull before the storm - and that's a good thing because  all of Venice spent the week battling what seemed like endless acqua alta (high water), rain and high winds. Between now and February 17, Venice will be teeming with tourists, many donning elaborate costumes and masks participating in both masquerade balls and daily costume contests in St. Mark's Square.  

When you think of Carnevale, thoughts usually turn to masks, costumes, elegant balls and parades.  I thought I'd focus on something much smaller, almost inconsequential, but yet fundamental to Carnevale. Confetti. 

You cannot escape confetti during Carnevale.  It is one of the harbingers of the season. When I begin to see a bit of it in the streets, usually beginning around 3 weeks before, I know it won't be long before Carnevale is here.  And before long, all the streets are covered with it.


Confetti can be purchased in every Tabacci shop for around 1 Euro per bag. Any self-respecting Venetian child wouldn't be caught dead without their own supply, at the ready to be thrown at friends, parents, nonna and nonno, dogs, strangers.  Well, at  anyone or anything, it doesn't really matter. The stuff  just has to be thrown. 

Batman and big sister are armed with bags of the stuff, and Mom is even carrying a back-up supply  when theirs run out. 

Its one of those little things that just make you happy when you see it. You just can't help yourself. 

I see confetti every year, stuck in cracks all over Venice from January to March. I don't know why this year was any different, but for some reason  I started to wonder about confetti. Who thought up confetti in the first place?  Wikipedia, the font of all knowledge, provided answers. I thought I'd share some fun facts with you.

 All over northern Italy as far back as the middle ages, crowds threw things at Carnevale parades.  Things like balls of mud, eggs, coins and fruit. Earliest documentation of this tradition is traced to Milan in the 14th century. In 1597 throwing objects at Carnevale events was banned by the Governor of Milan, Juan Fernandez de Velasco (just in case you get this question during a game of Trivial Pursuit).  The tradition was revived during the 1700's, however the eggs and mud balls were replaced with candy coated coriander seeds. Coriander was a common plant in this region at the time.  And- just so you know- Coriandoli (the Italian word for Coriander) is what confetti is called in Italy.

So how did we go from candies to paper pieces? In 1875 Enrico Mangili, a Milanese businessman, started selling paper discs to throw at Carnevale.  At this time, Milan was a large manufacturer of silk. Mangili collected the small punched paper circles that were the leftovers from paper sheets used by silkworm breeders as cage bedding, and sold them- at a profit, of course! Mangili's paper confetti made a pretty big hit, being less harmful, more fun, and a lot less expensive than the other objects being used at the time.  It didn't take long before paper confetti became the object of choice all over Northern Italy. And there you have it- the birth of paper confetti.

One more little tidbit- the word Confetti is used in Italian, but it refers to candy coated Jordan almonds, which also used to be thrown at Carnevale, but today are more commonly given out at weddings, baptisms and graduations.

So there you have it- a little fun fact about Carnevale, and two new words to add to your Italian vocabulary : Coriandoli and Confetti.

Admit it,  it does make you smile, doesn't it?