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

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Christmas pranzo with friends

My friend Marie sent me this photo of all of us around the table, except for her daughter Giorgia who was snapping the picture. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to post it here, as our Christmas pranzo was so enjoyable.

We had the pleasure of being invited to share the traditional Christmas lunch at the home of Marie and Roberto, and their family. Their daughters, as well as his father and mother,were also be present. You couldn't have asked for a better day-- great food, great company, and even a little bit of good old American college football on TV.

We ate and ate and ate-- first appetizers with prosecco. Next we got seated at the table for the first course - a magnificent homemade pumpkin soup. Pumpkin (Zucca) is a very local food, and we have had it served in many ways. This soup was to die for, and I will have to ask for the recipe.

Next came the main event. The tacchino (turkey), may just have been one of the best I have ever tasted. Marie described a new cooking techique passed to her by another friend, which requires covering the turkey with cheesecloth and basting it every 20 min with wine and herbs. I would have liked to have seen this, as there is no cheesecloth to be had in these parts. Marie had Roberto go to the farmacia to buy alot of gauze! The gauze worked!!

Along with the tacchino we had stuffed mushrooms, roasted fennel, creamed onions, mashed potatoes, stuffing and gravy. This probably sounds like a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner! Well, since Marie an American who has lived here for 20 some years, that wouldn't be too far from the truth. However, this was definitely Christmas, and a lovely mix of both American and Italian traditions.

When we could barely move and had finished up seconds, Roberto made scroppino, which we all devoured. I had thought that scroppino was usually a summer treat, but was delighted to discover that it is used year round. I love this stuff. It's a lemon sorbet mixed with prosecco and some vodka or gin. Yummmm.

Still the dolci yet to come.. lots of panettone, cookies, brownies, chocolates and torrone.

It was a perfect afternoon. Roberto's parents Luigi and Sonia were a delight to meet- more native Venetians. We also totally enjoyed getting to know Roberto and Marie's girls, and their friends who dropped in after dinner. Clearly our Italian skills are improving as we were able to understand about 80% of the day's conversation.


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Yesterday's adventure ---- la caldaia (the boiler)

La Caldaia. If you have never seen one of these gadgets, let me introduce you to it. It's in every kitchen, it's the magic appliance that heats your hot water - on demand (well sort of on demand, you do have to wait for the hot water to run through the pipes and get to you, so if you are opening the hot water faucet you wait a while until the water runs hot.) La caldaia also provides the hot water necessary for your heating. And yes, it is on the wall. Ours developed some problems recently, it's been dripping water, and not retaining water in the tank. Clearly it needed repairs, so we contacted our "padrone", the owners of the apartment. I love that word "padrone". It's so Godfather-like. He came over to take a look, and told us he'd call us later so he could schedule a repairman when we would be at home. Within hours we got a call. The appointment was scheduled. 8:30 am the next day.

I was the one who would be home at the time, so I prepared my Italian statements in advance in case I had to tell the repairman what was wrong. We've learned that most people outside of the hotel and tourist industry do not speak anything but Italian, and here, it's even worse. Everyone speaks the Venetian dialect. I did a quick little prayer to the saint who's in charge of broken Caldaia's, with the hope that I would NOT have to do any explanations. I double checked my sentences using Google Translate. Oh my god, what would I do without this! I declared myself ready. I was able to go to sleep that night without this hanging over my head.

At about 8:45 am the doorbell rang. I pushed the button upstairs that unlocks the front door, and I heard the repairman enter. Other apartments here have a great system where you can actually talk to the person at the door first using a speaker system, but ours doesn't have that. That's another story!

My preparations came in handy. I did have to explain our problems (maybe I used the wrong saint??) and the guy set to work in the kitchen. I left him alone. Before long, he was asking me to show him the thermostat. Fortunately, I understand pretty well, and was able to direct him to the right place on the wall with no problems. A little bit later, he came asking for where something or other was, and I had no clue what he wanted. It took a little bit of back and forth before I understood that he was looking for an exhaust to the outside of the house. We both searched the kitchen, even pulled out the stove from the wall, but didn't find what he was looking for. Finally we tried pulling a cabinet away from the wall, and there it was. I hope that helped, cause I left the kitchen again.

About an hour later, he was finished doing whatever he was doing. In Italian he proceeds to tell me that we should not turn this one dial higher than where he had set it, otherwise if it was set any higher, pressure would build up in the tank and it would cause the dripping again. I'm not saavy on this kind of stuff, so I just nodded my head and thanked him.

When Mike came home a few hours later, I did the replay of the transaction for him. He's got alot more knowledge of how things work-- but he didn't buy the explanation about why not to set the water temperature any higher. That dial controlled the water temp, and what if we wanted hotter water??? Fortuantely, it seemed as if the water was getting hot enough, so we were ok on that. But.. by this time, we discovered that la caldaia was still dripping. Much less than before, but still dripping.

Guess I will be preparing another set of sentences for the return of the Caldaia guy!!!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Buon Natale....and lots of Aqua Alta

Buon Natale a tutti!! (Merry Christmas to all!). See- my Italian lessons are paying off!

This year we put up our first Christmas tree in Venice. We finally broke down and purchased a fake tree. We've always had a real tree, some years even two of them. Venice, however, is not an easy city for live trees. In fact, our Italian tutor explained to us that most of Italy uses fake trees. If you buy a live tree, you would typically plant it after the holiday in your garden. Since not too many people have gardens, there aren't many live trees. Real trees already cut don't seem to exist here at all. There are no cut Christmas tree stands on every street corner like we are used to in the US. Egg nog isn't readily available here, either, by the way!!

We contemplated finding a live tree, even a small one, however we'd have to haul it across Venice, then also deal with how to discard the tree once the holidays were over. It all seemed way too much work. So, we made our way to the Panorama in Marghera by bus, purchased an acceptable fake tree and some Italian lights to put on it, and hauled it home. Constructing the tree was a breeze; in fact, way less work than we ever expected. We actually had fun! We even hung lights on our balcony. No one decorates the houses here like we are used to in the U.S. No Santas and reindeer on the rooftops, no lights surrounding every door and window, not even wreaths on the doors. About the only exterior decoration we see is a Babbo Natale (Santa Claus) hanging outside a window or on a balcony.

Most of our friends and family in the United States are enjoying a very White Christmas after this past week's blizzard. My mom tells me more is predicted for today.

We did have some snow on Saturday (photos in my last post), about 4 inches, which lasted maybe a day on the ground. However, we've had Aqua Alta every day this week. Really high water! I wish I had photos to post, unfortunately these all occurred during the night, so the water had receeded by morning, at least in our neighborhood.

There's a siren warning system when Aqua Alta (high water) is going to happen, which gives you a bit of time to prepare. About 3 hours before peak tide, the sirens go off all over the city. There's one long loud blast, sort of like an air-raid siren, followed by a series of tones. The series of tones indicate about how high the water will be. Just the first tone indicates it will be about 6-8 inches high, on up to 4 tones, which signifies water over 140 cm (thats's about 4 1/2 feet). Every night this week the water has been between 130-144 cm high, in the lowest parts of the city, about 2 feet high back where we live in Santa Croce.

When the sirens go off, you scurry around to make sure things are elevated and won't get soaked, and also make sure you know where your boots are! We've had water come in the foyer every time, it seeps in under the front door. It takes a little getting used to, for sure.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all !!!!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Snow.Yesterday . .Venice, December 19, 2009

Venice typically doesn't get much snow, and we like it like that! Alot. No more shoveling, and certainly no more driving in winter snow storms for us. We were here on vacation about 4-5 years ago in March when a large snowstorm swooped in overnight dumping about 4 inches on the city. That, we were told then, was the most anyone had seen in 10 years. Well, we've just seen it again. Yesterday, starting early in the morning, a thick heavy snow started falling, and fell for several hours, leaving a lovely 4 inches of snow all over the city.

To make things more interesting, somewhere around 8 am we heard the Aqua Alta sirens.. level 2. That meant we would see between 6-8 inches of water on the streets. I had a few errands to run but didn't give too much thought to the water, thinking most of that would be in the St. Mark's area. It was VERY cold and windy here, and still snowing, so I bundled up, putting on my fleece lined snow boots. My first stop was going to be the pharmacy two canals over, not far from the Carmini church, over in Dorsoduro.

I left the house, and took my normal route to the pharmacy. I turned right, down the street, then left up and over the first bridge... ooops... there's a street full of water, not snow.

I have on snow boots which have zippers for closures. I'm in trouble, water will get in through those zippers. Thinking quickly, I reverse over the bridge and proceed down the street to the next bridge, which brings me to a street that is between two rows of houses, not along a canal. I should be safer here, at least less water. This plan worked nicely, I encountered no water, just snow. Not only was there snow, there was a snowman!!!!

Continuing down this street, I was water-free, until I got to the end ,where it intersects with the Fondamenta. Now I am screwed. There is water, water, water everywhere, in both directions, and I must turn right to reach the pharmacy. I didn't make two steps before I felt a little water seeping through the zipper of my boots. I was hoping the water wouldn't be that high. Hmmmm.. Water 1, Karen 0.

I thought maybe, just maybe, the other side of the street might have less water, and if I could get across there, I could walk to the end of the street, then cross back over to wind up at the pharmacy. I took a quick look across the canal..... no such luck. The water was even higher over on that side. See the woman with the yellow boots? At least she was smart and wore boots made for water, not snow.

I just bit the bullet. I walked down the rest of the street and into the pharmacy, knowing I would just have soaking wet feet. I completed my business after a nice little conversation with the pharmacist, then turned around and walked right back out into the water. And here is where I made mistake number two. Instead of giving up the notion of going anywhere else this morning and just reversing my route and head home, I decided to head to the Rialto, by way of Campo Santa Margharita.

I slogged through even deeper water, crossed over the bridge to the campo in front of the Carmini, and discovered the entire little campo was under water. My feet were completely wet by now, I just kept going. As I made the turn at the side of the church heading into Santa Margharita, I was hit be even higher water. This is unbelievable. If only I had worn my water boots, I would have been dry, but cold. Now I was wet and cold. Not a good combination at all.

I got to the middle of Campo Santa Margharita before I stopped, pulled out my cellulare and called Mike. He had gone out to take photos, most likely headed to St. Mark's Square. Well, well, well. He answered the phone, he was already back at home!!!! He hadn't gotten far out of the neighborhood himself and called it quits. I couldn't even convince him to come back out for a coffee at our favorite caffe. That made my decision for me. I headed home myself, but first stopped for a few minutes to chat with the woman at our favorite fish monger, who was busy selling fish, despite the bitter cold temperatures.

My route home from Campo Santa Margharita is a simple one, and fortunately, it was water-free. All snow the whole way back. As soon as I got in the apartment I pulled off the wet boots, soaking socks, and pants. I turned the boots as inside out as I could, and put them near the radiator. Today the insides are still not dry yet. Maybe tomorrow!

Lesson learned: No matter what, wear the high water boots.

Blog Hiatus

I've received several emails recently asking "What happened to your blog??? and more importantly... how are you doing???" Thanks for jerking me back to attention!!! I've been entirely negligent, allowing everyday life to swallow me up. But.. it's everyday life here that is so important to write about, as each day has been, and continues to be an incredible adventure.

Recent months have found us literally knee deep in some pretty serious knee pain, studying Italian daily, meeting and making new friends, doing alittle bit of "out of Venice" travel and even going solo in Venice for 10 days while Mike did a visit with his family in the US.

So... this is an early New Year's resolution to be more diligent about catching up, and getting back on a regular schedule with my blog-scapades.