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

Friday, January 29, 2010

My Italian Mammogram

The other day during my weekly Italian lesson, we got into another discussion on the topic of differences between the US and here. I had recently had my first mammogram in Italy, and boy was that a different experience! It occurred to me that I had not mentioned it here yet, so here goes.

I've received a notice in the mail with an appointment date and time for my routine mammogram, courtesy of the Italian national health system. I needed my dictionary to plow through the letter, but I was able to make out that I was to go at 5pm on a particular day to an office in the San Basilio neighborhood. It also said if I needed a different appointment I could call and change it. The date and time worked out for me, so I put it on my calendar.

On the appointed date, I set off with the letter in my hand thinking I can easily find the place I was supposed to go to. Ok, chalk up another one for Venice, I cannot find this address. I walk up and down the street where I believe I should be, but cannot find anything that matches the address printed on this letter. I stopped to ask to the woman at the local vegetable stall, thinking, she is local, she must know where the office for mammograms is located. She had no recognition of what I was asking for, even after I pulled out the appointment letter for her to read. Then the vegetable man pipes up (in Italian, mind you). "Oh... you want the mammografia. It's there, over that bridge, then go down the street a little bit, on the left. "

How he knew where it was but she didn't have a clue, I don't know. But, I was grateful someone could help. After thanking them both, I head over the bridge. Isn't this so typical of Venice? "Oh, yes, just over that bridge ...." And what is really funny is that most days I find myself as the direction giver for tourists who have lost their way in this veritable maze of a city. This day it's me who needs assistance!

Over the bridge, down the street a little bit, and to the left. I do that, and find only two fairly large vans in a little parking lot type spot, the kind of vans that reminded me of a mobile library or blood bank. Here's an AHA moment.. it's a mobile mammography laboratory! Isn't this ingenious??? There is a young woman outside one of them, smoking. I show her my appointment letter and she instructs me to go inside. We went in. There is a little desk area set up with a laptop, which she uses to enter my information. When she finished, she instructed me to go into the next van. I can do that.

In the next van, there is a tiny "undressing" room, with a notice on the wall which says to take off all your clothing down to the waist and wait until you are called. This is pretty standard fare for mammograms. I look around, there are NO disposable gowns, no non-disposable gowns, no gowns of any type. It occurs to me that we are going "alfresco" for this one. Oh boy. This is very standard fare for Italy. Recently when I had to go for xrays, I discovered no gowns. Here, we have it again. OK. So I got myself ready and waited.

A few minutes later, I heard a man call my name. I had always had a female technician in the US whenever I had mammograms done. So here I have a strange man, I am naked to the waist, and he is going to have to position my boobs this way and that for these x-rays. I hesitated for a moment, just couldnt make my legs walk to get out of the dressing room and into the exam room. I had to talk myself into it. I just grit my teeth and got through it.

All of us who have experienced a mammogram know it is, what shall I say, a tiny bit painful ? I must admit though, of all the people I have ever gotten this exam from, this male technician was the most gentle of them all. So there was an up-side to the whole event.

I have knee surgery coming up soon, I really have to get used to this "no gown" thing!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Today marks 2 years in Venice.... due anni a Venezia!

That's right, two years ago today I arrived in Venice with 4 suitcases, a huge dog crate, and my dog Sam. Mike, who I hadn't seen in 10 days, was waiting right outside baggage claim at Marco Polo airport for us, and what a welcome sight he was! This wasn't the usual arrival for us, this was not a 3 or 4 week vacation. This was for forever, ....or so we hoped.

Looking back, I have no idea where these two years have flown by to. Every single day I get up still amazed that we are here to begin with, and still so enamored with this place.

We've accomplished all the big items that were necessary for our long term stay here by the end of the first year. It took that long. Way longer than we ever expected, but very thankfully behind us. Nothing worthwhile ever comes easy. I'll never forget that! We're now intimately familiar with the Questura in Marghera, and the Anagrafe office,and a few other offices at city hall. One would think that after having had to endure all of the hardships I've been through, all of the hoop-jumping I've done for things that seemed so simple yet became so difficult, that perhaps we would have been very willing to pack up those 4 suitcases and hightail it out of here. Oh hell no!!! All that crapola just made me that much more determined to see this through.

With the difficult stuff behind us, our goals are alittle bit simpler these days.... learn the language, make new friends.

Tonight we celebrate. Now we are really "living the dream" ---every single day.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Campo Santa Margherita

If you have been reading my blogs, you know by now that we not only live close to Campo Santa Margherita, but also that it's become like a second home to us. This is where we buy our fish regularly from the fish vendors who have stalls here Tuesday thru Saturday. It's where we buy our vegetables and fruit when we don't have time to plan a trip to the Rialto Market, it's where we walk the dogs, it's where we hang our for coffee or a glass of Prosecco. We even have our weekly Italian lessons at a caffe in this campo.

In the heart of the Dorsoduro sestiere you will find Campo Santa Margherita, one of the largest campos in Venice. Campo, by the way, is the Italian word for field. The campos, for me, are like the heart of each little neighborhood. Santa Margherita also has the most lively night life, with caffes staying open till around 2am most nights. Just about everything else in Venice is closed up by 11 pm.

Right smack in the middle of the Campo Santa Margherita is this water fountain. There are water fountains throughout the city, in campo after campo, with the best fresh - and free- drinking water. I always carry a bottle with me and fill up when I am out walking. But only this one has the mermaid carved on it. I like to think the mermaid is on it as a symbol of our friendly fish mongers.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Yesterday's find

I've tried to keep my little digital camera in my purse at all times, just for occassions like this. Yesterday on our walk, Mike took a slight detour to snap this photo. We've been looking for this spot, but somehow always seem to miss it. Now it's been found! If you are a Katherine Hepburn fan, or a follower of movies having anything remotely to do with Venice, you probably recognize this location.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

My Italian Hairdresser

I realized today that I have an appointment on Saturday with Simone, my hairdresser. Remembering my last appointment has me laughing all over again, and I'm anticipating what Saturday's visit will be like already. Simone has been the subject of a previous blog, but I can't help talking about him again.

During my last appointment, I got a color and cut. Yes, it's true, I color my hair. I'm just not ready to go grey, won't even be thinking about that. Anyway, Simone is a master at hair color! Since I am still not speaking a ton of Italian (I'm improving, but not there yet), our conversation is limited. He always has some new technique to put highlights in or some such thing, I have no idea what he does, I just leave everything to him. And he is always delighted with the results, as am I.

I also am completely in awe of the way Simone cuts hair. He snips away on your wet head of hair, then steps back, says "Basta!" (No more!). Then he breaks out into a huge smile. Again, as with the the color, I leave things to him. I'm always really happy when I leave his studio because of the magic he creates!

Simone is always after me to just leave my hair go naturally curly, something I have fought my whole life. I've given in to him, I'm not sure why. Perhaps it's because everywhere you look there is a curly headed Italian woman, I fit right in! So, most of the time, I allow him to let me leave his studio with a head full of curls. This time, after he finished cutting, I begged him to blow dry it out straight, which he did. And at the end, he said the funniest thing. He asked how I liked it, which of course, I did. Then he says, in his best English with his great accent.... "The color is good,yes? .....but..... for the curly hair, it would be beautiful".

I have a strong suspicion I will be leaving his studio with curly hair on Saturday !

Saturday, January 16, 2010

We've hit the two year anniversary!!!!!

Yesterday was the two year anniversary of the arrival of Mike and his dog Leopold in Venice. Where did that time fly by to????? It seems like only yesterday, to be honest. So, in honor of this fabulous occassion, we went out dinner to celebrate.

I had in my head I wanted to go to Osteria da Toni's again. We'd been there when the weather was warm and I had the some of the best Spaghetti con Vongole (Spaghetti with clams) I'd ever had. It's not only a favorite of mine, it's a Venetian traditional dish. So, we got bundled up and walked over to da Toni's, only to discover they were closed. Around this time of year, that's not so unusual. Many of the restaurants and shops either close for an extended holiday or to do yearly maintenance and remodeling, while the tourist season is so slow.

Our backup plan if da Toni didn't work out was to go to Campo San Barnaba and try to get into one of our favorites there. Lucky for us Quattro Feri had an available table at 8pm. My preference in restaurants here is the small ones, with authentic cooking and have an older ambiance to them. These are my favorites. Quattro Feri never disappoints us! They even have a daily hand written menu! We started with, of course, some prosecco for me,and white wine for Mike. The rest of the meal was shared appetizer of Scampi al Saor, Spaghetti con vongole for me and a lasagna with fish and asparagus for Mike.

The Scampi al Soar was the best!!! This is also a Venetian traditional dish. Most often you will find Sardines in saor, but the recipe is the same. It's got onions, raisins, pine nuts, and is sort of a sweet and sour taste. I know, doesn't sound great, but be adventurous and you are in for a real treat! It's delicious, and if you are ever in Venice, you must try this.

After dinner, we made a stop around the corner to visit with i ragazze (the boys) at Imagina Cafe and top off the night with another glass of prosecco. Great night!

Now I am already looking forward to January 25, which is the 2 year anniversary of my arrival with my dog Sam.

Wherever you are out there, come on and join me in a toast to many more glorious years!

Monday, January 11, 2010

My new US passport has arrived.... it's a miracle!!!

I am a happy -- and very surprised-- woman. Yes, I am jumping for joy!!!!! My new passport has been delivered by mail today. And regular mail, at that. This is a long story, but one that has to be told. We should all grab a cup of tea to help us get through this one!!!!

Sadly, I suffered the loss of my passport less than 2 weeks after I moved to Venice, back early February 2008. You always hear horror stories about people being ripped off in the train stations, and here it happened to me. In the blink of an eye, my wallet including all my money, my credit cards and identification, my passport, and a brand new Blackberry were lifted from my purse, in the Florence train station. I've traveled safely in Europe for years, and still this happened to me. There are no words that can describe how violated you feel when you are the victim. But worse, there is then the realization that you have no money, not one dime on you. I had no return train ticket, and no means to purchase one. I didn't even have the ability to call my husband. Fortunately, I had relatives meeting me at the station who were incredibly supportive through the whole ordeal. We had to make the police report, call the US consulate in Florence to report the stolen passport, call to my US bank and credit card companies. Everything was replaceable, but what a pain in the butt. Through the whole ordeal I had visions of me having to put a scarf over my head and kneel down to beg for money in the train station in order to get home. Now that was a real nightmare.

I got through the first phase of the process, making all the calls. Next I had to get replacement documents and credit cards, including my passport. I needed to go back to Florence. I really didn't want to set foot anywhere near that train station again anytime soon, but, in order to get the replacement passport, that was required. Nothing is ever easy.

I called the Consulate in Florence to ask what their open hours are, they told me 9-12. That's all they told me. The next monday I got on the train headed back to Florence, took a cab to the Consulate, and discovered they were closed, for Presidents Day. We're in Italy, who celebrates Presidents Day??? This trip was a bust. I went back to Venice.

It turns out you just can't walk into the US consulate anyway, even if you were standing right at the front door, you have to make an appointment. The website says that people from Venice are supposed to go to the Milan consulate. So, instead of going to the closest consulate, the one that is only 2 hours away, I was supposed to go double the distance. I called the Florence consulate and explained what I wanted. They agreed to give me an appointment in Florence instead. Thank you, God.

On the appointed day I arrived in Florence by train, then took a taxi cab to the Consulate. Again. And got turned away for being early. They won't even let you wait outside in front of the building. The guard showed me where a caffe was down the street and told me to come back 5 minutes before my scheduled time.

I did as directed. I went for a cup of tea, and returned at the correct time. My name was cross checked on a clip board, I was let inside the huge front door. Hmmm... this is a bit like getting in to see the Wizard of Oz. My purse and coat went through the x ray machine, I also walked through the machine, and my cell phone was put in a drawer. I was ushered into a waiting area and given forms to fill in. I had everything I had been instructed to bring- 100 dollars in US currency, the police report, a photocopy of my passport (thank goodness I had this), and 2 recent passport size photos. Take a note: If you are over here and this happens to you, make sure you tell someone at the photos store exactly what you want the photos for. US Passport photos are a different size than European passport photos.

The process was painless once I got to the woman behind the thick plexiglass window. She examined all my papers, and told me to sit down and wait again. A few minutes later, a different consulate official came to the window, called my name, had me sign a form, raise my right hand and swear to something. I was given a temporary passport good for 12 months, and an instruction sheet for how to obtain a permanent passport.

To get the permanent passport, you need to return to the Consulate, with the temporary passport and the instruction sheet, anytime before the expiration date on the temporary passport. I heaved a sigh of relief, got myself back to the Florence train station, and put the whole ordeal out of my head, thinking I will deal with the permanent passport some other time. I just wanted this to disappear for awhile.

I had much bigger fish to fry, managing all the legal stuff required for my citizenship, which took months and months. I knew that my US passport expired in February 2009, and had that date in the back of my mind. In December of 2008, my daughter came to visit and we went to Florence. I called the Consulate to see if I could get an appointment while we were there. No. It was the holidays. I made a mental note to call back right after the holidays, as I would need to get this task done before end of February.

In January, our house sold in Baltimore. I needed to get back to the USA pronto to get the house emptied and do the settlement. And this brought up passport issues again. GRRRRR. I thought I could travel on my brand new Italian passport, but upon calling the US Consulate in Florence, I discovered I needed my US passport in order to enter or leave US territory. My temporary passport would expire before I would be done with my business in the US, so I had a huge dilemma. I ended up having to get special permission from the Consulate General in Florence to re-issue another temporary passport. And yes, another trip back to Florence. And another 100 dollars in US currency.

I went back to see the wizard, and this time walked out with a second temporary passport. Not their normal protocol, but they were cutting me some slack. I didn't argue.

I've been back from the US almost a year. You've probably already guessed that I put getting my replacement passport WAYYYY on the back burner until now. Yup. Guess what I found out during all the time that had transpired. Low and behold, all this time there has been a US Consulate office right here in Venice. It's been here for 4 years, and my, oh my, they handle replacement passports. I was bound and determined I was NOT returning to Florence to get this completed this time.

In mid- December, I did some additional research on the US Consulate website and found the email address for this Venice office. I emailed the same day, and got back a response that said to call them. I called, got voicemail. I made 4 phone calls, left messages, and eventually later that day I did get a return phone call. Wow. There actually is a real live US Consulate representative in Venice. I made an appointment for the next week. I gathered the list of things required: the temporary passport- check, the receipt for the 100 dollars US I'd already paid- check, the information document I had been given by the Florence Consulate - check, a stamped self-addressed envelope- check , and 2 current passport photos. They have a photo machine in the office, so for 10 Euros I can get those done on site.

The US Consulate office for Venice is located at the airport, down near the water taxi stands. I took the bus from Piazzale Roma to the airport, walked down to the docks, rang the bell at the Consulate office, and was buzzed in. No x ray machines, no big doors or hoopla waiting for the wizard this time. The woman behind the desk was pleasant, cheerful and very helpful. She took all my stuff, and told me I should probably have my passport no later than January 11. I asked - should I come pick it up?? No need, it will come in the mail. Are you sure? I have had a devil of a time getting things like books, packages, Christmas cards even delivered in any timely manner in the regular Italian mail. She assured me everything would be fine.

Darned if I didn't get an email from the Milan Consulate office last week informing me that my passport was ready. And today it arrived in my mailbox.

This whole experience has been a cross between Mission: Impossible and easing on down the yellow brick road to see the Wizard. There certainly was no "easing" going on anywhere along my path!!! Having lived through this, I am positive I will need the 10 years break before this passport expires and I attempt to tackle this one again. By that time I hope they have a system where they insert some kind of chip under the skin in my arm. Yes, I vote for that. How much could that hurt?

Friday, January 8, 2010

Packing up our first Venetian Christmas

I dutifully waited until AFTER January 6 to take down our Christmas tree, as is the Italian tradition. It came down today.

We certainly had some new experiences this holiday season, learned a few things along the way, and had a few surprises.

1) We had to struggle to get ourselves out of the mindset that we HAD to have a real tree or it wouldn't be Christmas. The fake tree was purchased, it went up like a dream, and looked great. We discovered that we actually liked not having to water the tree, or clean up the dropped pine needles all over the place.

2) Italian ornament hooks ROCK!! Perhaps these same gadgets were in the markets in the USA this year, I don't know. But I fell in love with the ones in the stores here. They are green plastic, and come in rows on a form, so you have to "pop" them out. I'm converted. I hope I never see another metal ornament hook for the rest of my life.

3) Italian Christmas tree lights are expensive.. way more expensive than the strands I used to run into Walmart and pick up every year when one of our old ones didn't work right. We had to purchase new lights this year. I didn't even bother to ship over our old ones, knowing that the electrical plugs and currency wouldn't be right.

4) Surprise #1 - When we had our little shipment of household goods shipped over in April, two boxes of Christmas stuff were included. One of those boxes contained my favorite ornaments. We never even opened the Christmas stuff up on arrival day, so we opened the box with great trepidation, expecting the worst. Besides our wine glasses, this probably was the most fragile stuff we shipped. Miraculously, there were only a few casualties. Bravo, Echo World Transport!! You guys are the best!! To have a few of our favorite family ornaments with us here means the world to us.

5) Christmas here is not the huge commercialized event it is in America. We appreciated that immensely. It goes hand in hand with our whole "downsizing" and simplifying our lives theme. Our main objective in moving here was to find our lives again, to get rid of all the extraneous "stuff" of life, and live a truly meaningful existence.

Christmas was certainly downsized for us this year. Instead of decorating the entire house inside and out, we opted for just the Christmas tree and my Santa collection. Instead of pointsettas everywhere, we had only 2. And instead of lots of Christmas cookies (which we might have made if I had been able to find any holiday cookie cutters here- Surprise # 2), we ate Panettone and loved it.

We've learned to downsize in just about every way you can imagine. You are just forced to do it for the simple reason that you don't have much space to store things. Christmas was just one more experience, proving to ourselves that we could do it. If anyone out there is struggling over trying to clean out, organize, simplify, downsize....if I could do it, anyone can. YES, YOU CAN!

Thursday, January 7, 2010


It occurred to me the other day that we have some big dates in January- the anniversaries of our arrivals in Venice, and also the anniversary of the day I got my dog Sam, in the first week of January 13 years ago. If you have read my blogs before, you might know that I've written about our other dog Leopold a few times. Today is Sam's day.

Sam, also known as Sammy, or Sam E.Cruse, came into my life on January 5th, 1998. I had moved my daughters and myself out of our marital home into a rented townhouse and began my separation from my husband on November 17, 1997. In the weeks that followed, nothing was easy. I didn't feel safe at all, so I decided I should get a dog. In the 17 years that we were married, we never had a dog, because my husband was essentially afraid of most dogs.

My girls and I went to the local shelter on January 2. We had our hearts set on a cute dalmatian. We put our names on a list indicating we wanted her, if her owner didn't come to claim her. Wouldn't you know it, later that same day I got a call from the shelter. A couple days later we returned, eager to find a dog. As we went into the shelter, I remember telling the girls we would only look at any dogs whose time was up. The shelter only kept dogs 7 days. You could tell by the little card outside each pen how long the dog had been there. I also told them we were coming home with a dog that day, one that was medium to large size, no poodles for us.

There were exactly three dogs at the shelter that day who had no more time. One was a pitbull. Nope. Then there was a male shepherd named Max. We took him into the room where you can get acquainted and play with the dogs, whereupon Max peed on my daughter Megan's shoe. She wanted no part of him any longer, no matter how hard I tried to coax her into giving him a break. Ok. We walked to the pen of the last dog who was available to adopt that day. He was a medium sized black and tan dog, mixed breed.Probably had some shepherd and some lab in him. He had a collar, but no one knew his name, no tags on him, and no one had called to claim him. Poor thing was cowering in the back of the pen, but he willingly came with us into the play room. It didn't take us more than a few minutes with him to decide we would take him home. We didn't have very many options, and frankly, neither did he. Looking back, I know it was a lucky day for both of us.

I knew that he needed me as much as I needed him. He and I made a silent pact to do this together. He got in the car, rode home happily in the back seat with a smile, and became part of our family that day. The girls named him Sam E. Cruse, Sammy for short. Poor guy had to contend with 4 cats already at home, but he managed them just fine. Our vet, after Sam's first examination, told me he figured he was about 18 months old. He was house trained, well behaved, seemed happy, that was good enough for me.

Sam's one fatal flaw, if he were to have one, was that he would RUN if he got out the door without a leash on him. And I mean RUN! I always worried he'd be hit by a car, so if he did get out, we all went on a manhunt for him. We always found him. And we became diligent about watching where he was if the door was open a crack. I figure that's how Sam ended up at the shelter to begin with. He went out an open door.

Because of Sam's running, I built a fence around our Baltimore house. Yup, I built the fence. It took me a whole 3 months in the spring of 2003., but that fence is another blog. Suffice it to say it was a personal triumph. Except for an odd occassion where a gate was accidentally left open, that fence kept Sam safe.

Sam is bright beyond imagination. I've had dogs my whole life growing up, and I had never been fortunate enough to have one quite like Sam. He understands everything, and can actually reason. I've watched him tie knots in his leash by using his paws and his teeth. Sam knows the names of all of his toys. If you ask him to bring you a particular toy, he will go right for it and bring it to you. And he can bring in the mail. How he knows to do these things, I have no idea, cause we certainly haven't taught him any of that. When we lived in Baltimore, one day when I came home from work I noticed all the mail in a pile in the middle of the living room floor. What the heck? And the next day the same thing. Then the mailman shed some light on the situation. He caught me the next day, running up, asking how my dog was? Sam?? Yes, the big one. (By that time we also had Leopold). He explained that he had experienced Sam when he delivered the mail. Sam would take each envelope gently from him as he pushed it in the slot, then come back for the next. He'd never seen anything like it, and just got a kick out of it. So that's how the mail ended up in the living room! When we sold our house last February, I was back in Baltimore for a few weeks. The mailman saw me, and asked about Sam.

Sam only barks when he needs to, to let you know something isn't right. And that's been rare. He doesn't bark at other dogs, birds, cats, people, cars. He's pretty much silent. And he asks for absolutely nothing. He never begs for food, never asks for one blasted thing. I call him my non-dog. He acts almost invisible, but we know he's there.

Sam has also been the world's best "older brother" for Leopold. We got Leo when he was about 8 weeks old, he's been around Sam his whole life. Leo also does not bark unless there's a reason. I'm convinced that's because of Sam. Leo is quite the personality, so we've got Sam to thank for keeping Leo in line around the house.

When we moved to Venice, one of our biggest concerns was how we would move the dogs here with us. We could not have done this adventure without having our dogs with us. I was particularly concerned about Sam, as he was already up in years. We did lots of research on relocating dogs, and made what we felt were the best choices we could. We chose Lufthansa because they had so much experience with animals, and we felt comfortable with all the information they gave us. Sam and I flew over together, he in his large crate in the hold. I will be forever grateful to Lufthansa for taking such good care of him, and for making sure I knew every step of the way that Sam was doing ok.

Sam loves Venice, has since his very first day. He's molto contento sitting at a caffe with me doing some people watching. If he missed Baltimore, you'd never know it. I do think he misses cars though. Sam loves a good ride in the car. I don't think he likes boats as much.

Sam will be 15 this year in July. We've had 13 and a half great years together, and I'm hoping for more. A few months ago he was sick for the first time ever. That gave me a heck of a scare. The vet thought it was serious, but miraculously Sam has recovered and has shown no signs of letting up. He's greyer around the nose, and moving alittle slower up the stairs, but still out running and playing.

At the moment, he's taking his morning snooze next to me on his bed. Life is good.

The blog I promised last nite

Last nite, neither one of us felt like cooking, and we had pretty much exhausted left overs, so we ventured out to one of our favorite places for a little bit to eat around 8:30 pm.

We love this little spot, and we feel like locals when we're here. There's nothing better than walking in and hearing a "Ciao!" from behind the bar directed at us. As usual, our platter of meats, cheeses, assorted vegetables and olives was perfect.

After the meal, we strolled across the campo to one of our other favorites, Imagina Caffe to say hello to the boys there. Last night, Marco and Andrea were the only ones working. Before the holidays, Andrea and I had a conversation about one of the bottles on the shelf above the bar, something that was a bright blue. It was blue curacao. I said I'd never tasted it, and he promised to make me a drink next time I wanted it. I'm not a big drinker at all. In fact, you probably would put me in the category of non-drinker, that's how many times I ever have a drink. And Andreas, as well as all the boys at Imagina, know this well. They bring me my tea every day, exactly the way I like it.

Last night I was feeling a bit adventurous, the night was young, so I asked Andreas to make that drink he promised with the blue stuff. Immediately he and Marco got huge smiles on their faces. They decided to make me something called a Blue Lagoon. Oh yeah, they know I am the tea drinker! And then the fun began. The two of them were like an operating team. Marco would say something to Andrea, then we'd see Andrea reach for a bottle and hand it off to Marco. Then another, then we heard "Ice" (in Italian, of course), and watched Andrea hand over a glass of ice. Then " Limone". Mike and I were laughing our heads off, joking that they probably had to go find a recipe book from the back room for this. What a team they were!! Next came the shaking, ala Tom Cruise in Cocktail! And finally, voila, there is Marco pouring out this lovely blue drink. He brings it over on a tray, and just smiles his big smile. Andrea, behind the counter, yells over " Forte!". I understood.. it was a strong drink. Ha, for the tea drinker!

Surprisingly, the drink was good. There's not a whole lot of drinks I can actually get down, but this one was good. I had such a good time watching the drink making process, I told the boys I was going to blog about them the next day, and that led to a conversation about the word blog in Italian. Was it a verb and a noun? In English, we would say, he blogs, meaning he writes in his blog. If it's used as a verb in Italian, how is that conjugated? Io blogo, tu blogi, lui/lei bloge, noi blogiamo...... You can see where this conversation was going! And you can tell we are REALLY trying to learn Italian! Andrea informed us that it is not used as a verb, instead you would say Io scrivo sul blog... I write in the blog. As promised, Io scrivo.

And my blog today would be remiss without this photo of the boys of Imagina Caffe, unfortunately minus Stefano. Marco's on the left, Andreas on the right, Domenico in the middle. Should you ever find yourself in Venice, I highly recommend you visit these guys in Dorsoduro, on Rio Canal.

Thanks, Andreas and Marco, I did not have a headache this morning either! Io scrivo.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

More from today.... FRITELLE's

As I walked home from the Befana race, my route took me from the Rialto through San Polo. Because Venice was not particularly crowded today, I took a "main street", something I rarely do, but today, I was suitably rewarded... I spotted a sign on the window of Pasticceria Rizzardini announcing Fritelle Veneziana. Now, if you have ever been to Venice before and have found this heavenly spot, you know, as I do, that it is near impossible to resist going in here on a normal day. But today.... oh sweet Jesus, Fritelle have arrived! I was IN!!!

The topic of my blog today is Fritelle's, but I must give a shameless plug for Pasticceria Rizzardini. You can find them at Campiello dei Meloni, in San Polo. They've been there since 1742. Here's their front window today:

And this is their side window. See why I try to avoid walking by here most days???

But back to Fritelle's.....

Fritelle are, oh my, how do I begin to describe them?? Fluffy little pillows of the most wonderful taste you can imagine? They are sort of donut, sort of fry bread, very close to Zeppoli's. If you are an Italian kid who grew up in New Jersey, you know Zeppoli's. These little buggers are a few steps above Zeppoli's.
Sadly for me, Fritelle are a Venetian tradition that only make their appearance in the bakeries during Carnevale, or a little before it. And they disappear about a week after Carnevale is over. They are made plain, or stuffed with an assortment of fillings, along with raisins and pine nuts. In the photo above, from right to left, are Veneziana (no filling), Zabaigone, and Crema. My personal favorite, not available today, is Ricotta. What fillings are available depend upon which bakery you go to.

Here's a shot of the inside of my Zabagione filled one, just before being devoured. I have saved another for after dinner. Sweets are my weakness, always have been. I admit it. My friend Vicki has decided that what we really need is a dessert calendar, not a monthly calendar. Mine would be something like this ... Panettone (end of November to beginning of January), Fritelle (end of January to mid Feb), Columbina and Casata Siciliana (Easter season), and then gelato and scroppino from May to October.

Fritelle are out a little early this year, I wasn't expecting them until end of the month. Panettone are just about finished up for the season, in fact I was just lamenting that I probably had my last one this week. So....what a great surprise today!

Witches in Venice- photos from the race today

I'd been waiting all week for La Regatta delle Befane, and wouldn't you know it, I got up late today! I threw clothes on, and did a silent little prayer as I hobbled to P. Roma in the hopes of catching a vaporetto. My poor arthritic knees have been killing me for several days, there is no way I could have walked to the Rialto in time to catch anything of the race. On big race days, all boat traffic is stopped on the Grand Canal, but I figured this wouldn't be the case today. I figured right. I caught the #2 and got off at the Rialto stop, just across the canal from the "reviewing stand" for the race. Fortunately, I didn't miss it entirely, but I did miss the actual race in progress, I arrived just as it ended.

There was a small crowd gathered, and sure enough, there was a big stocking hung from the Rialto bridge, just as I had read about. I was sad there wasn't a huge crowd, but on the other hand, this is to be expected. Venice isn't only sinking, it's shrinking. With full time residents officially under 59,000 now, it's no wonder the attendance at many of these traditional events declines year by year. This is the 32nd annual Befana's regatta, and although it was small, it was exciting to me just the same.

This boat of lovely witches is carrying a cauldron of hot chocolate to the other side of the canal, and behind them, on the foot of the Rialto bridge, is a chorus singing traditional Venetian songs! I made my way up and over the bridge to find that hot chocolate!

When I got to the other side, I was close to the reviewing stand, and there were the Befana's! These two smiling gondoliers had just rowed the course, and were now getting ready to leave. I caught them and asked for "una fotografia, per favore". Cute, aren't they??

This boat is one used in the regatta, with the witches broom in the front. It's not a regular gondola. This boat is a sandola, with a more squared off front and back, however it is rowed in the traditional Venetian manner, standing up.

After the race, all of the Befana's took the stocking down from the Rialto bridge, and carried it back down the Fondamenta del Vin. This is great- one of the Befana's (see the guy on the right?) was taking a photo on his phone of the others!

They have the huge stocking loaded up onto a larger boat, and are preparing to take it back to storage, over to the Salt Warehouse on the Zattere.

I love this one.... no more words needed.

Away they go, rowing down the Grand Canal. Ciao, Befana's... until next year!!!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

La Regatta delle Befane, The Witches Race January 6, 2010

I got up this morning thinking this would be the perfect day to take down the Christmas decorations and get them all packed away. I still had my morning tea, and a few other miscellanous tasks to handle before I got started on that project though. And, wouldn't you know it, one of those little pesky tasks completely changed my thoughts about Christmas decorations. Here's how it all transpired....

In the back of my head I knew that the Befana regatta in Venice was supposed to be held on January 6 every year. I'd missed it somehow last year, but had no intention of missing it this year. With my morning tea in hand, I did a google search for La Befana.

La Befana is a witch. She has a long crooked nose, wears a tattered shawl with colorful patches on it, and rides a broomstick.

January 6, the 12th day of Christmas,is an important holiday in Italy. It's the day the wise men were supposed to have arrived at the manger bearing their gifts. This day, the Feast of the Epiphany, marks the end of the Christmas holiday season in Italy. There is a legend that says the Wise Men stopped at the home of an old woman to ask directions to the manger, they invited her along, but she declined. Later, she saw a great light in the sky and decided to go join the Wise Men. She got lost, and never arrived.

Children all over Italy hang their stockings and wait for La Befana on the 11th night, January 5th. She brings chocolates and little presents to all the children who have been good, and coal (carbone) to the bad ones. There is even a special song for the occassion-

La Befana Song

La Befana comes at night
with her shoes all tattered and torn
She comes dressed in the Roman way
Long live La Befana!

January 6th, Epiphany, also marks the end of the holiday season, meaning children go back to school and parents go back to work! Sales also start in all the stores.

In Venice, festivities on January 6 include a very special regatta, La Regatta delle Befane-- the Witches Race. This year is the 32nd annual regatta. Gondoliers dress up in costumes as La Befana and have a race on the Grand Canal. Large stockings are hung as decorations from the Rialto Bridge, and refreshments of chocolates, mulled wine, hot chocolate and tea are served to all before the race begins. At 9:30 am, the race crews will depart from the Salt Warehouse at the Bucintoro club on the Zattere for the Grand Canal. The race starts at 11 am at San Toma and finish at the Rialto bridge.

And how did this change my plans for taking down the Christmas decorations??? I discovered it's Italian tradition to leave Christmas trees up until after January 6. That works for me! I have plans to be at the Befana regatta on the 6th. My tree will just have to wait!

La Befana Song

La Befana comes at night

with her shoes all tattered and torn

She comes dressed in the Roman way

Long live the Befana!

Friday, January 1, 2010

La cena di trentuno - New Year's Eve dinner

There are a few more days of "big eating" in Italy than we are used to during the traditional holiday season. You have Christmas eve, Christmas, Santo Stefano day (day after Christmas), then New Year's eve dinner (la cena di trentuno) and Capo d'Anno which is New Year's Day.

Last year we spent New Year's Eve eating at home, then walked to St. Mark's square to join in the huge celebration there and watch fireworks. This year we had an invitation from friends in Mestre to eat dinner and welcome the start of 2010 with them.

I'm not sure I would have managed the whole St. Mark's event anyway, as I'd had major pain in my knee all week, in fact I was barely moving. We accepted this invitation to dinner thinking I'd be ok, but as the day wore on it became more questionable whether I'd be able to even walk anywhere. We got ourselves prepared, I took my pain medication, and we walked to Piazzale Roma where we were scheduled to meet Paolo, who was picking us up at 8:30pm. More Aqua Alta was predicted for 11:30 pm, so we carried our water boots with us, just in case we had to trudge through water on our way home. When we heard the sirens go off around 8pm,. we were both glad we had not made plans to go to St. Marks, which surely would be knee deep in water at midnight.

Piazzale Roma was a traffic nightmare, as there were tons of people being picked up tonight. It didn't help that the polizia were all over the place either. When Paolo pulled up, we got into the car as rapidly as possible. Given my knee situation, this was less than gracefully done.

We arrived at Paolo and Renata's apartment in Mestre in a few minutes. Paolo parked the car in the underground garage, and we went upstairs in the elevator. We don't see many elevators in the old buildings in Venice. I know my knee was doing a happy dance that we got to ride instead of walk up several flights of stairs. Shortly after the two other couples arrived, there were introductions, and we began the first course, the appetizers, in the kitchen.

First there were prosecco toasts, then the appetizers began. There was an unbelieveable assortment of appetizers, but Renata always goes way over the top with food. We got seated for the primi piatti (first course)- two different seafood dishes, one lobster, one shrimp. A lovely scroppino followed this, which I would have been happy enough to call dessert and be done with it. Everything was fabulous and I was stuffed.

Wait.. there's more. The secondo piatti of baccala and polenta was served. Yummy. And then the SECOND secondo came out- orate (a white fish, poached) and vegetables. We had no idea how we could fit this all in.

About this time, it was midnight. We first got instructions that in Venice, at midnight on New Year's Eve, the men wish each other Auguri - best wishes, but NOT the women. That's pretty different than the American tradition of everyone kissing each other at midnight. We did the countdown, which was pretty funny, we had a couple of commedians in the group, and then with a 9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 we ushered in the new year. Outside, fireworks were going off in the streets, and we could actually see the ones going off in Venice in the distance.

And then, desserts. Panettone, one of my all time favorite's, but this time it had been stuffed with a fabulous creamy filling. A few minutes later we were served an almond torte, nuts, fruit and torrone. I thought we would all pop. But we weren't done yet. Out came the grappa, and whisky, and a few of Paolo's signature funny stories and jokes.

One of the other couples, Renata and Giulia, who live in Mestre volunteered to bring us home to Piazzale Rome. Fortunately there was no high water waiting for us!

One more great experience to close out an incredible year.