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

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Festa di San Giacomo dell'Orio

One of my favorite summer time activities is to attend the festa's sponsored by local communities to raise money for their neighborhood church.  It gives me a chance to really feel like a local, and experience the locals out at their best- and no one does it quite like the community at Campo San Giacomo dell'Orio.

The festa this year runs from July 14 to July 23. I had put it on my calendar earlier in the month to be sure I wouldn't miss it.  I shouldn't have worried, because my hairdresser Simone always gives me the list of things going on around town he thinks I should definitely not miss.  And sure enough, he reminded me the other day about this one coming up!

Mike and I walked over on Friday evening to eat dinner in the campo, cooked by the neighbors out on big grills. They had chicken, sausage, beef, ribs and vegetables grilling. How could anyone resist those smells! Mike chose grilled chicken and polenta, I had bigoli in salsa (spaghetti with anchovy and onion).

Every evening during the week long festa there is a band playing at the bandstand at the far end of the campo.  I noticed from the schedule that one of my favorite local groups, Furio and  Ska J, would be performing on the 19th.   We made plans to return on Tuesday July 19.

All day long yesterday (the 19th), I looked forward to being able to sit out under the sky at Campo San Giacomon dell'Orio, to enjoy some food, great music, and get another dose of the locals out in their natural habitat.  It's another reminder that no matter how long I am here, I will never be considered a local, but I don't mind that anymore.

When we arrived at the campo, the line of people waiting to order their dinner snaked all the way through the campo. This is great for the church coffers, unfortunately we didn't want to wait that long. Instead we chose to eat at Taverna Capitan Uncio in the campo.  Doing this allowed us to get a table and seating very close to the bandstand, and I could also have some of my favorite pizza.  Karen was a happy girl!

The band's equipment was already set up on the bandstand by the time we sat down.  As we ate, the band members were coming and going, making sure everything was in place. Shortly before 9pm, we noticed all of the guys in the band, dressed in shorts and T shirts, pick up garment bags from the bandstand and off they went. A few minutes later, they all returned in black suits and white shirts, except for Furio, the lead singer, who donned a pink shirt instead.  At exactly 9pm, the band started playing.  The lines waiting for grilled food were still long, but we had just about finished eating and were getting ready to enjoy some drinks and dessert, and music.

A few sprinkles had been coming down intermittently during dinner. At the same time the band began,  the rain started to come down more. There was no avoiding getting wet now. Our table was not under cover.   The owner of the restaurant, a little woman dressed in a white chef's outfit, ran out to help people pull their tables back under cover. She told us to go sit at a larger table while she wrestled with our smaller table by herself. She refused to move anything off the table, she just yanked it harder and harder. Wouldn't you know it, the water glasses all tipped over, spilling water everywhere. She yelled:  "VAFANCULLO!!!!.     (Translation:  Go F-K yourself)  I just about peed my pants lauging.

A few minutes later, I received a text message from my friend Louisa informing me of her arrival and location on the other side of the bandstand. God bless cell phones and text messaging. Without these, I would never have located them in that crowd!  I herded Lousia, her daughter Poppy, and Poppy's friend Izzy back to our table. The girls decided they wanted some gelato,so raced off around the corner. And then the skies opened up. Furio and band mates were frantically covering all their equipment with tarps. They stood around for a few minutes waiting to determine if the downpour would let up. Unfortunately for all of  us, it didn't.  For the next 30 minutes the band ran back and forth, packing up and removing equipment in the pouring rain. We were dry, under the restaurant's umbrella.  We made plans for how we would evacuate and make our way home.

We were laughing about needing umbrella salesmen.  Normally, the second a drop of rain falls out of the sky there are hundreds of guys out in the streets hawking 5 Euro umbrellas.  If ever we needed them, it was last nite!  And- like magic- our prayers were answered, one of these umbrella guys appeared at our table.  We quickly purchased 3 of them. We knew they would only last about 5 minutes, it's always the case, but we felt better having them, none the less.

Louisa opened her umbrella as she and the girls stood up to leave. Sure enough, the umbrella was already busted. One of the spokes was not connected to the fabric, it was sadly sticking out all on it's own. Another round of laughter. Oh yes, this is  exactly what we expected on a night like this.  We said our goodbyes. Louisa and the girls made their way barefoot to the San Stae vaporetto dock, while Mike and I turned in the other direction headed for Piazzale Roma.  I got only to the other side of the church, maybe about 10 meters from the safety of the restaurant awning, when my umbrella collapsed. It just wouldn't stay up. I ended up with this little tiny bit of umbrella shaft, maybe 10 inches at most. I looked like I was wearing a big flat yellow bonnet on my head.  On top of that, there was standing water on every street, contributing to soaked shoes  and water wicking up our pant legs to about mid-calf level.  The umbrella didn't do much good. It was all good for a great laugh, though.

Upon arriving home and drying out a bit, I couldn't resist watching a couple of You-tube clips, I wanted to get a bit of  Furio and Ska-J that I missed out on.  Furio, the long haired guy in the video, lives near we do. We we see him around the neighborhood often. So, dear readers,  have a little dose of one of my favorite local Venetian groups on me. Enjoy!

This song- So Figo, is from the group's latest album.  The next one, Santa Marta, is one of their earliest hits.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Festa del Redentore 2011 - Part 1

Festa del Redentore is one of the most important festivals for Venetians, my hairdresser Simone reminded me yesterday. Every year since  1577, Venice has been holding the Festa del Redentore to commemorate the end of the Plague.  Venice lost one third of it's population during these devastating disease years. To keep a promise the Venetians made asking God to end the plage, Venetians built the Church of the Redentore on Giudecca Island. Still to this day, Venetians celebrate on the third weekend of July.  In earlier days, people tied boats together to make a temporary bridge and walk across the Giudecca Canal to attend a special mass  on the  festival's opening evening. Today, the city constructs a temporary pontoon bridge which opens at 7pm on the Saturday night of the Festival weekend.  When the gates are opened, people flock across the bridge on foot. People are also lined up along both sides of the Giudecca canal, and on boats in the canal.

 I snapped this photo at about 5:00 pm this evening.  The bridge is empty, but ready for 7:00 pm!

 Along the banks of the Giudecca canal this afternoon, several large party boats were getting ready for the big events later this evening. I also saw about 10 smaller party boats loading up with people over at Piazzale Roma, getting ready to go take their position in the Giudecca canal. Everyone will be eating on the boats, partying and having a good time as they wait for the fireworks to begin around midnight. In my opinion, nobody does fireworks quite like the Italians do.
Along the sidewalks on both sides of the Giudecca canal (this photo is on the Zattere side) lanterns are strung.  Restaurants decorate their patios with colorful streamers and lanterns. Families and large groups of friends set up tables on the banks of the canal or camp out on the sidewalk. There's lots of eating,drinking, dancing and merriment as everyone waits for the fireworks to commence at 11:30 pm.   It's one non-stop party along the Giudecca this weekend. 

We've walked across the bridge along with thousands of others the past 2 years, taking up a position in front of the Redentore Church to watch the fireworks.  This year, we've been invited to watch them from an apartment on Giudecca.  We'll avoid the huge crowds and be 3 flights up.  I'll hope to snap some great photos from here. I think it will be bedlam trying to get home!!!  

Starting around 11:30 pm are several beach parties over on the Lido which will last until morning.  On this weekend, teenagers are allowed to sleep/camp out on the beaches also. 

Tomorrow afternoon there are boat regattas in Giudecca canal.  The schedule is as follows:

At 4 pm, the first race is for young rowers in puparini (type of small rowing boat), teams of 2.
At 4:45, the second race is for all other racers in puparini, teams of 2
At 5:30, the last race of the day is in gondolas, teams of  2 gondoliers rowing.  

  Let the Festa begin!  More to follow tomorrow....

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

It's another simple pleasure day...

The day isn't over yet, but I've already experienced my simple pleasures.  Two of them. I won't be greedy and hold out for three again today. Two is just fine by me.

Simple pleasure Numero Uno:

First thing this morning I had to get up and go deal with the people at the Vodaphone store at Rialto. I dread this.  I will do everything possible to avoid dealing with them because the experience is always so horrendous.  My Italian isn't good enough to get me through the ordeal, and there isn't anyone there who speaks much English either. My solution is to avoid it. Unfortunately,  today there was no way I could get around it, so I got up my nerve and hopped on the Vaporetto, expecting the worst. Vodaphone is the company we have our cell phone and internet service contracts with.

It must be my lucky day. Upon entering the store, a clerk walking by asked me what I needed. When I told him I had to pay a bill (all in Italian), he told me not to take a number or get in a queue. Wow!!! I bucked the Vodaphone queue???  This is going to be good. He then called over another clerk and told me to go upstairs with Carlo who would help me out. I followed Carlo upstairs and proceeded to explain to him what my problem was. I normally pay directly from my bank, blah blah blah, and now I need to have my phone turned back on, please.  My whole speech was conducted in Italian. At the end of all that, I asked him if he spoke English because my Italian is not so good.  Carlo smiled and answered back, " We'll speak in Italian, you are doing just fine. My English is worse than your Italian. "  After spending about 40 minutes on the phone with some other Vodaphone support person, Carlo turned to me and explained I must to go to the post office, make a payment, then call Vodaphone and give them the code number for my payment. Even though I had made a deposit at the bank, I must pay this bill separately at the post office. Ok.   Grazie, Carlo, and off I went.

Stop number two was the post office. Mission accomplished there. Next, I needed to call Vodaphone. Now I was going to be in trouble.  Whenever I have to call any voice menu system that's in Italian, I can never understand a single thing that is being said. And because it is all automated, I can't ask anyone to please speak slower for me.  Today, I navigated the entire Vodaphone voice mail system without any assistance. Did it all myself, and bing, bang, boom, my phone has been reactivated.  I am in Seventh heaven!  Thank you, God.

Simple pleasure Numero Duo:  Earlier this afternoon, I received a the following email, subject "Big News":

Hi Karen,
I wanted you to be one of the first to hear that my daughter Allegra and I are now officially Italian!!!  Luigi sent me the email this morning telling me that the NY Italian consulate had sent the certificate needed!  The whole process took just a little over 2 months -- amazing!
Thank you again for encouraging me through the process and for writing about it in your blog.  I felt completely prepared for everything, which made the experience completely enjoyable.  In fact, a friend of mine will be coming to Castel San Pietro in October to apply for citizenship and is very excited now that he knows it can all happen very quickly.  
I may be flying into Venice at the end of August, so if you're in town, perhaps we can meet for a glass of wine to celebrate before I head off to Bologna.  I would love that!
Thanks again and a big American hug for all your help!

I'm celebrating tonight for my two new fellow Italians. When Antonia was planning how to get her dual citizenship, she emailed me.  When she finally came over to Bologna to start her citizenship process with Luigi (the same immigration lawyer I had used), she stopped off in Venice where we met face to face for the first time.  I know how fantastic it feels to finally hear that it's all done, that you are finally officially Italian.  To be honest, I am so joyful to know that my experiences have encouraged others to do the same.

So - there are my two simple pleasures of the day! Life doesn't get much better, does it? .  I sure am one lucky Italian!!!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Handicap accessibility for the Ponte della Costituzione

When the new glass bridge, Ponte della Costituzione, opened in September 2009, the fact that it was not handicapped accessible quickly became a huge controversy.  Free vaporetto service was offered between Piazzale Roma and the train station to handicapped travelers in an attempt to remedy the situation.  Not long afterward, the bridge began to be retrofitted to transport the handicapped across the bridge. 

I've been watching the construction for months, eager to be able to blog about it.  For a long time, all I could see was a red pod-like contraption sitting at the base of the bridge on the train station side of the canal.  There was construction going on, slowly, on the edge of the right side of the bridge, but it was hidden from view behind a large cloth cover.  Being able to see this pod made me very curious about how this would all work. I envisioned this pod being moved across the outer edge of the bridge, hanging over the water, but quickly discounted that. Couldn't be, I thought. 

In the last week, I've been able to catch some good photos of the new handicap system on the bridge as the work gets closer to completion. Still no announcements about an opening date, but I sense it's not too far off now.  

The pod starts out on the ground, where I imagine they will load a handicapped person with wheelchair into the contraption. It will obviously require an operator who will elevate the pod up to the bridge level. Once there, it will traverse along the outside of the right side of the bridge, over the open water across to the other side. Once on the Piazzale Roma side, the operator will lower the pod to the ground where the passenger will be able to disembark.   I've made the assumption that an operator will be required to run this gadget. I don't imagine any person unfamiliar with this would be able to enter the pod and figure out how to raise/lower it, or get it across the bridge.  I'll be curious to learn if my assumptions are correct. I'll find out soon enough. 

Here are a few of my photos from the other day.  They must have been testing out the raising/lowering of the pod. I'd never seen it off the ground before.  

Maybe it's just me, but I just don't see many handicapped travelers arriving in Venice for the first time being brave enough to travel across this bridge, hanging over the Grand Canal.  Can't wait to see how this all turns out. 

Fiori di Zucca

One of the things I love most about this time of the year is the appearance of fiori di zucca (pumpkin flowers) in the markets.  I remember my mother cooking these when I was a kid!  Upon moving here to Venice I was thrilled to find pumpkin flowers readily available. I love them.  My mom used to make them by frying them up in a little olive oil.  Mike and I do them a little bit differently. We stuff them with goat cheese mixed with chopped green onions or sun-dried tomatoes, then fry them up. 

 These are really easy to make. Buy a bunch of pumpkin or zucchini flowers. Either kind will work. Gently pull out the inside parts of the flowers,rinse them out carefully, and pat dry with a paper towel.  If you are going to stuff them, mix up some goat cheese, chopped green onion or sun-dried tomatoes, an egg, a bit of ground nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste.  Stuff each flower with a large spoon full of the cheese mixture.  Roll each stuffed flower in egg (beaten), then lightly in flour. Fry in hot olive oil for a minute or two per side. Remove from the oil and drain on a paper towel before serving.

 This is a delightful appetizer.  Easy to make, simply delicious to eat.  Buon appetito!

Monday, July 11, 2011

More simple pleasures....

Yesterday, despite the high temperatures - 87 F that felt like 101- I experienced not  one, but three, simple pleasures, I couldn't wait to share here.  

First, I managed to eat lunch at one of my favorite little osteria's near the Rialto.  Just a wonderful serendipitous moment where I happened to be at the right place at the right time.  I love how the planets align for me like that- on occassion.  My lasagna con pesce (with fish) was divine- but the icing on the cake was the kiss on both cheeks I received from the owner as I was about to leave, followed by his cheery "Ciao, Amore!".  

Why was this so great?  I just felt like I had somehow slipped - finally- under that imaginary barrier. This man extending his salutation to me without solitiation on my part made me feel accepted, no longer the stranger, the outsider.  This is special.

Later in the day, I stopped for a cold drink at Imagina, one of our local caffe's in Campo Santa Margherita. While sitting outside sipping my Coca-light, I read the local paper, Il Gazzettino. There was a whole page article on recent happenings in the campo, a topic we've been following as it unfolds over the last week or so. There have been some recent changes in regulations regarding hours of operation for certain shops- the pizza shop, gelateria and kebob place have to be closed by 11 each night.  The problem is all the noise and trash in the campo made by the late-night party-ers.  But- the local beer joints can stay open.  Hardly seems fair to me that the gelato guy can't continue to be open, and is loosing some good business.  His customers aren't the ones drinking and being loud.  Also, the local police have been cracking down on the establishments in the campo about their outside tables.  The businesses need special licenses to have tables outside. Apparently they have applied to the city for the permits, but they have not yet been approved.  In the meantime, the tables have been put in the campo.  And the police are out assessing fines for this infraction- lots of them.  The bigger problem is that without the tables outside during warm weather, these new little establishments will be out of business in a month.  

Well, anyway, the article in the newspaper interested me, so I struggled through translating it.  I had a question about whether this situation impacted Imagina, where I was at the moment.  Stefano, one of the barista's, and I got into a great conversation about the article, and this whole predicament in Campo Santa Margherita.  The whole conversation was conducted in Italian!!!!   Simple pleasure  Numero Due (number 2)!!!  

And, last but not least- Simple pleasure #3.  Last night I took a few minutes to check out a fellow blogger's blog.  The day before, I spent a few hours with a family from New Zealand, showing them around some of my favorite spots in Venice. Their 9 year old son, Joseph, is writing a blog about his travels as a homework assignment. They are on a big trip, visiting several countries.  Somewhere during our time together the day before, Joseph mentioned they were planning a gondola ride the next morning. I suggested  he ask the gondolier if he could  try rowing. Sometimes, depending on the gondolier, they just might let you.  I can't help sharing this photo from Joseph's blog.  What do you think, did Joseph enjoy Venice yesterday???

Reading Joseph's blog was the perfect ending for my day. Grazie, Joseph!  You definitely made my day!

Monday, July 4, 2011

A blog post coincidence

Earlier today I wrote a blog about what happens when Aqua Alta gets inside your apartment.  After posting my entry, I went out walking, ended up in St. Mark' s square around 3pm, and guess what I saw?  You guessed it- Aqua Alta today just outside the church entrance.

Living with Aqua Alta

People ask me about Aqua Alta every day.

I find that my explanations of this phenomenon don't seem to do it justice. Unless you experience it yourself, you just can't get the full impact of it.  Where do I begin-- it's magical. There's nothing like it I've ever seen. The water coming up into the streets seems to draw you into it. You have this overwhelming feeling that you want to get in it. Pull off the shoes, roll  up the pants legs, and slosh through it.

But-- I've discovered there's a not-so-fun part of Aqua Alta.  Long after the water has drained back off the streets and we're all back on dry land, the damp left on the ground floor of all the houses is something we have to deal with on a day to day basis.  I'd heard the term "rising damp" used in the Cassanova movie (with Heath Ledger and Jeremy Irons).  Now I know exactly what that means.

Here's a few photos of our foyer walls, and the damage done by "rising damp" after this winter's bout of Aqua Alta. There is no stopping the paint peeling off or the plaster underneath the paint just disintegrating and flaking off onto the floor.

Because we are renters, we don't do the maintenance of the walls in the foyer (ingresso, in Italian) ourselves. We contact our landlord - il Padrone- and let him know the walls are in much needed repair, yes, AGAIN.  He doesn't particularly like having to do this, but he agrees to call his handyman Daniele.  The landlord, who has very little command of English, says to me "Daniele is-a good-a boy".  (Can you just hear him saying that??).  I laugh. I've met Daniele.  Truth be told, Daniele is my age.  Daniele is a nice man. 

Daniele arrived about a week later. He rang the bell, and I went down to show him what needed to be done.  His reaction was something along these lines: " Ey-Yay-Yay!!! ".  He looked closer at the walls, then told me that what was needed was a muratore -- a professional wall guy.  I told him to just do his best. Patch up what he could and we'd be good with it, it was the landlord's problem, not mine. I just wanted the big holes fixed up.  Daniele worked for a few hours, having patched what he could. He rang the bell as he was leaving, to tell me he'd return in a week to paint. 

A week later, Daniele came as planned. The patch work has now been completed.  Grazie, Daniele. We look better, but not perfect. And we're ready for another winter of Aqua Alta. 

Yes, Daniele is-a good-a boy!