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

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Seppia Nero aka. Cuttlefish

Seppia Nero. Yes, it's one very ugly creature.

Every day, at the Rialto Fish Market, and also at local fish monger's stalls in more remote parts of Venice, you will see Seppia Nero in a variety of sizes. And it's on every restaurant's menu every day for lunch and dinner. Several traditional Venetian dishes are made with the seppia, however it's probably the meal least chosen by tourists. Can you blame them, it's loaded with black sauce, for God's sake!

Being curious, I consulted Wikipedia for details, and discovered the Seppia Nero is in the same class as Octopus and squid, they are among the most intelligent of invertebrates, and have one of the largest brain-to-body size ratios of all invertebrates. Wow, I'm impressed. They surely don't look smart to me. I'm going to be looking at these guys in a whole new light from now on.

What I do know, is that once you can get past how nasty they look, they taste great! You'll see these in several Venetian dishes, such as Risotto with seppia nero, Spaghetti with seppia nero
Seppia nero with polenta, to name a few.

I even recently had a lasagna with seppia nero, which was beyond my wildest imagination, and by far the best lasagna I have ever eaten.

Yes, I sound like the spoke's person for Seppia's, I know. I've been converted, I admit it. I've even been enticing people into trying it for themselves. Not many people take me up on it, however, just the other day Mike and Anna from Colorado, who were here in Venice earlier in the month, sent me a few photos of their trip. They took me up on a restaurant recommendation, and ventured out on a limb to try Spaghetti with Seppia Nero, and even sent me the evidence!

Here's Mike, complete with black sauce all over his mouth, enjoying his dinner at Osteria al Diavolo e L'Aqua Sante on Calle della Madonna at the Rialto. They loved it! Thanks for the photo, guys! I'm proud of you!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Had a breakthrough this morning!!!!

So far today has been absolutely glorious, and it's taken me completely by surprise. Truth be told, I was geared up for the worst, as my first mission this morning was to go to the bank. The bank here is always my undoing. Something that you think would be so easy just isn't here, because of the language barrier.

Yes, I've been studying Italian. But as much studying as I've done still doesn't make me fluent, or even close to fluent. I understand well, also read and write fairly well, but the my own conversation is frustratingly not so hot.

So, today at the bank, I decided to speak only in Italian. Even if I had no idea what was going on, I was going to try to muddle through. The gods were smiling down on me, because the whole transaction happened smoothly, and I even got a "Buona giornata" as I was leaving.

Having had such a positive experience, combined with it being an absolutely gorgeous morning, I decided I would head to the Rialto to pick up some things for dinner. I hopped on the #1 vaporetto at Piazzale Roma, and got a seat at the front of the boat even. There is nothing better than to be going down the Grand Canal on a beautiful sunny day, on the front of a boat. Thank you, God.

At the Rialto Mercato stop, I left the vaporetto, heading first to the fish market. After taking a quick look around, I decided on some fresh tuna, at the stall of one of the fish mongers over on the side of the street, one I've shopped at before. I asked for what I wanted, and we even had a little discussion on how big a piece I needed. He sliced off a piece, showed me, weighed it, and then told me what the bill was. I decided I also wanted some shrimp. At the end he even did a little math for me adding the two together to get a new total, all in Italian!

Next stop was the vegetable stall next door. I asked for mixed greens, cucumber, tomatoes, zuccini flowers, lemons and red pepper. Of course, they do this one item at a time when you are shopping at the outdoor market. After each item, the vendor will ask "Dopo?", meaning, what do you want next. As I was finishing up, the woman behind the vegetables asked me where I was from. I decided to continue my conversation in my halting, embarrassing Italian, I explained I was American,and now Italian, living here in Venice. She smiled and told me to come back often, so we could practice speaking more! Made my day!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

A visit to Orsoni, a manufacturer of glass and gold mosaics in Cannaregio

Sometimes, wonderful things happen to you when you least expect them. I've learned during my last two years here in Venice to be more open to these moments, and to truly enjoy every second of them when they do happen.

Quite unexpectedly just a couple of weeks ago, I received an email from a woman named Joann telling me she had put a link to my blog about the Artichoke Festival on the Orsoni Smalti facebook page, and she invited me to come tour the Orsoni furnace. Not knowing what the Orsoni furnace was, I checked them out on Facebook and Google. I discovered Orsoni is where glass and gold mosaics are made, at a 19th century furnace using methods handed down over the centuries. Don't you just love the internet? It turns out, this chance occurrance opened a new door for me that day.

Gorgeous mosaics are common in Venice. Just take a walk down to the Basilica of San Marco. I hadn't ever considered what it took to MAKE the mosaics before, and now I had someone offering me a chance to go look and learn. I couldn't wait, and contacted Joann to go ahead and set up a meeting.

The following week I got on the 41 vaporetto from Piazzale Roma, disembarked at Guglie in Cannaregio, and with their address written on a piece of paper clutched in my hand, I set off to find the Orsoni furnace. After making a turn at Sotoportego dei Vedei, and then onto Calle de Vedei, I soon located the place.

The door is marked with a gold mosaic name plaque- Orsoni. This must be it. My heart is skipping a beat as I prepare to ring the bell, but wait... .this isn't it. My paper says 1045A, and this is 1045. The sign above the bell says Domus Orsoni. Not what I am looking for. I continue down the street, thinking 1045A must be here somewhere.

Ahhh.. here it is...and my heart drops just alittle bit, only because that fabulous gold mosaic sign was so inviting. 1045A is a very different door than the one just up the street. This one is one you would easily walk right by. Hmm...., typical of Venice, actually. I knew that often behind very unassuming doors there is something incredible to see. And, I was not disappointed. I rang the doorbell of 1045A, and was invited in by a man wearing blue jeans and a white T-shirt, clearly his work outfit. He pointed the way to another doorway on the other side of building when I told him I had an appointment to meet Mirta.

I could see the factory was on the right side of the entry way, and I was itching to see what went on there, but he directed me to the left, down the garden path, so off I went. I had to pass through a lovely little garden as I found my way to the doorway he was pointing to.

The garden is a little oasis of tranquility, and surprises. On the wall I spotted gold mosaics in frames, a column covered in glass tile pieces which turned it into a piece of art, and even the flower planter sported colorful pieces of glass. Every where I looked I could sense a bit of magic in the air. I could only imagine even more magic as I awaited Mirta.

I was introduced to Mirta, and off we went through the factory. Unfortunately, the day I was there, the furnaces were shut down for repairs. She explained that one week out of every 5 or 6, the furnace had to be closed, and it took a few days for the temperatures to get back up for production work. In my mind I was thinking already I have an excuse to return!

Crucibles used to hold the liquid glass in the furnace line the entry way. To me, they are like art in themselves.

The following week I returned to Orsoni, when the furnaces were working. They were in the process of making gold mosaics this week. This is even more unbelievable than making the glass tiles! First, huge glass bubbles are blown (see photo above), in the color glass to be used for the mosaic. On this day, it was purple. These bubbles are incredibly thin glass. The bubbles are broken into small squares, about 3 x 3 inches. Then, a square of gold leaf is affixed to each square of purple glass. I was in awe watching the woman who does the laying on of the gold leaf this task, as this is delicate, meticulous work. After, more glass is poured around each purple square. After cooling, these are broken into mosaic tiles. The majority of this work, including all the breaking into small square tiles is all done by hand. It's mind-boggling, and fascinating! Unfortunately, I was not able to take photos in the furnace area, or where the women were cutting tiles. I wish I could have videotaped the entire thing, as my words and photos just don't do this justice.

Next we toured the color library, a large room with rows and rows of cubby holes filled with glass tiles of every color and gradation of shades you can imagine. Thousands of them. The tiles are stored by color, shade, and batch number. I learned about how the large tiles are made, how they are cut down into squares, and then into smalti (smaller tile pieces), how people can buy both large uncut tiles and also smaller pre-cut ones, and also how matching of color pieces are done if an artist needs more tiles of a particular color. I had a very difficult time leaving the color library room.

Back in the office building, I had time in the gallery room, where there is a mini-exhibition of fabulous mosaic work, and this portrait of the founder, Angelo Orsoni.

The photo above is part of the sample board Angelo Orsoni took with him to the Great Exhibition in Paris in 1889.
Our last stop is upstairs in the classroom. Fortunately for me, during both visits to Orsoni, there was a class going on. The first time, students were learning how to make Filati, long thin strands of glass, which are then broken into tiny pieces for use in mosaic art pieces. The work these students were doing was unbelievable!!! This week the students were creating with smalti, the smaller tiles. Again, what I watched them do was breathtaking.

They were all gracious enough to share what they were working on, and allow me to take photos.

Special thanks to each and everyone of the Orsoni family- Joann, Mirta, Lianna, Antonella, all the staff , and students. This is such a magical place!
Orsoni holds a series of classes from beginner to master level, see their website for more details - http://www.orsoni.com/.
Also, recently opened is Domus Orsoni, a fabulous little bed and breakfast in Cannaregio, located right at the foundry. It's quiet, peaceful, idyllic surroundings. It's like finding a bit of heaven in Venice, if that were possible!! For more information see their website http://www.domusorsoni.it/.

As I write this, I am already planning to attend a class over the winter, and have some ideas for a first mosaic project in mind!

The Vogalonga 2010- getting ready

Each year, in May, boaters from around the world converge on Venice to participate in the Vogalonga, a 30km race from San Marco, around the lagoon islands, and back down the Grand Canal to end at St. Mark's square. I am lucky enough to live in the area of where the boaters all travel on their way to where they must queue up for the beginning of the race, so I just stand on the top of the closest bridge and get a great view of all the excitement below.

There are over 1600 boats entered this year, all of the rowing variety, from one man to multiple man boats. I'm not a rower, but wish I were. I'm particularly in awe of all the people rowing in the Venetian style, standing up.

What a beautiful day for a rowing event on the Grand Canal!

A little more Johnny Depp in Venice

The Vajoliroja, Johnny Depp's yacht, moored on the Zattere in Venice for about a week while he was wrapping up shooting on the film "The Tourist". While I was out for a walk early one Sunday morning with my dog Sam, the whole area was completely void of tourists, or locals, for that matter. Only a boat sighting, no Captain Jack Sparrow.

Johnny Depp in Venice

Ok, so I am sure by now everyone has heard that Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie were in Venice for about 3 months filming "The Tourist". I'm not a huge follower of celebrities, as a general rule, and even though I am a HUGE Johnny Depp fan, I did not go out on any stalkings when he was in town. However, on one of his very last days in town, when they were doing some re-takes of scenes in St. Mark's square, I miraculously got about 20 feet from Johnny Depp. The photos were taken by my husband Mike. Wouldn't you know it, I was not able to get off one decent shot?? Seems like every time I snapped, there were bodies shoving in front of me. But, I did actually see the man, up close and personal. The only thing that could possibly have been better is if he were in full Captain Jack Sparrow costume!!