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

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Santa Claus is coming to town...( by way of the Babbo Natale regatta in Venice yesterday)

How to make an ordinary day extraordinary? Take ten minutes to watch about 50 Venetians participating in one of the cities newer traditions, the annual Babbo Natale regatta.  Despite fog and spitting rain, these stalwart rowers donned their Babbo Natale (Santa Claus) outfits and raced the course between San Zaccaria and Ca'Foscari down the Grand Canal yesterday. 

I took up a post just the  San Zaccaria vaporetto stop, knowing I wouldn't be able to see any more than all the racers queuing up and taking off. It was enough to put a big smile on my face and start my day off right. 

 This rower changed up their outfit a little bit  by adding a reindeer hat (FYI- reindeer in Italian is la renna)
 The boat with the pink flag on the end is the local Pink Lioness group, an organization who row in support of Breast cancer research and cures.
 This is still pre-race, and although hard to distinquish in my photo, this woman is taking a last minute phone call, probably from the North Pole!
 Elves, reindeer and Santas, oh my!

The race official giving the signal to begin racing.

 While standing around waiting for the regatta to kick off, this boat was just off to my right, decorated to the hilt for Natale.

It's been a week of preparation for the holidays.  Besides getting our tree up, apartment decorated, last minute gifts purchased and meals planned, my preparations included beefing up my Italian vocabulary related to Christmas and studying about Christmas traditions in Italy.

Here's some useful Italian vocabulary, if like me, you are learning too!

Buone Feste - Happy Holidays
Buon Natale - Merry Christmas
Felice Anno Nuovo - Happy New Year
Stella di Natale - Poinsettia
Babbo Natale - Santa Claus
la renna - reindeer
la slitta - sleigh
il presepe - nativity scene
il presepe vivante - living nativity scene
il pupazzo di neve - snowman
il fiocco di neve - snowflake
il regalo - present
l'albero di Natale - Christmas tree
la vigilia di Natale - Christmas eve
luci di Natale - Christmas lights

This is, believe it or not, the top of a torte in the window of one of my favorite bakeries ( pasticceria) in Castello. Too pretty to eat!

Here's a version of the classic Christmas song, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, performed in Venetian dialect by one of my favorite local groups, Ska-J.

Buon Natale! Buone Feste!

Monday, December 16, 2013

December "Firsts"

So far this month, I've had several firsts. No, I'm not talking about the first day of December.

1)...there was the first panettone of the 2013 season

Panettone is a cross between a bread and a cake, more bread-like though, and comes in two standard versions - classico (with raisins and candied fruit) or without. My personal favorite is with the fruit. Every grocery sells a large selection of brands, and each pastry shop makes them. It wouldn't be Christmas without panettone.

2)  - My first sighting of Babbo Natale

Babbo Natale ( otherwise known as Santa ) doesn't come down the chimney here in Venice like he would in the United States. No, he climbs in through a window. This time of year you will see Babbo Natale make his appearance on balconies and the iron work surrounding windows. This guy is the first one I've spotted.  Just might go on my annual Babbo Natale hunt in a few days to see how many I can find in my neighborhood.

3) - the first Acqua Bassa 

Acqua Bassa is "low" water, meaning a very unusual low tide. Typically it's this time of year we are all on the look out for the high water, Acqua Alta. Instead, over the last few days we've seen very low water in the canals. It's always strange to see so many steps visible on days like these. Not what we're used to at all

4- first sighting of fur coats out for the season

It's officially winter, and that means the fur coats are out in force. They are worn to go to the market every morning, to walk the dog, or even to take out the trash. Everyone wears them. In every color, style, and length imaginable.

5- My first close up photo of this bird, probably an egret. 

I first spotted this guy in the vicinity of the Ca'Rezzonico vaporetto stop over the summer months. Every time I tried to snap a photo, he flew away.  The other day, he was perched on a pole at the Sant'Elena vaporetto, and let me get just a few feet from him, enough to get a few pictures.


What "firsts" have you had recently?  Share them with me, please. Can't wait to compare notes. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Nothing but blue skies, from now on.

After three days of nebbia, nebbia and more nebbia  (fog), going from grey skies to this clear blue sky was like getting a fantastic very unexpected gift.    

The clear sky and warmer temperatures were an invitation to get out for a long walk, with camera, of course. At mid-day, the light was just right for some incredible reflections in the canals. These first three are from the Castello district, the remaining from around Cannaregio, ending in the Ghetto.  Days like today make me wish I had even the tiniest bit of talent for painting with watercolors. 

(Special thanks to Irving Berlin for his song, Blue Skies. I've been humming it all day.)

Friday, December 13, 2013

Venice in fog December 13, 2013

Grazie Mille to Philippe Apatie for this video.

No additional words are necessary.  I hope you enjoy this short view into the mystery of a foggy day in Venice. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

A foggy day in Venice

If you have never been to Venice in winter before, these photos will give you a little taste of what a winter day can be like:  fog so thick you can't see anything in front of your face.  It's days like this that you can feel mystery in the air. You can just imagine people wearing dark flowing capes disappearing down long narrow calles. It's quintessential Venice. 

 To the right of this shot, you should be able to see some of Sant'Elena's trees. Can't see a thing!

 In this shot, you should be able to see all the trees of Giardini just in the middle of the photo, but you can't see a one. Like it never even existed.

 I have no idea how vaporetto drivers cope on days like this. I know they have radar. Still, I'd be a nervous wreck.  I didn't see one of the smaller motoscafi ( lines 6, 5.1, 5.2, 4.1, 4.2) all day long, I think they were cancelled because of zero visibility.

 Beautiful foggy view on the Grand Canal

 This photo was taken about 2 pm. That's the sun trying to make an appearance. 

Kind of spooky. Venice in the haze.

Like I said, this kind of weather brings out Venice's  mysterious moods. Made me want to run buy a cape. Maybe tomorrow!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Christmas trees, Venice style

(photo thanks to the FB group Infolirica operalibera)

 One of my favorite memories of Christmas in my "old life"  (pre-Venice days) was the annual picking out of the Christmas tree, strapping it to the top of the car, getting it home, setting it up and  decorating. Some years we cut our tree down at a tree farm. I've even had a few years when the pets knocked the whole thing down a few times and it took tying the tree to the ceiling to get it to stay upright.  That, dear readers, was nothing compared to what it takes to get the Christmas tree here in Venice.

If you wanted a live tree, the first task is to even find a place selling them. They don't have the Lions Club or Boy Scouts tree stands on every street corner.  La Serra, the greenhouse, in Castello down near the Giardini has a few. Very small ones that fit on a tabletop, or ones maybe 4 feet high that are pretty scrawny. But alive, roots and all. I don't think anything like a cut, live tree exists anywhere around here, at least I have not seen them ever. Maybe they do out on the mainland.

Besides the task of getting  a tree back to your apartment once you have bought it, you also have to consider  how you will get rid of it once the holiday is over.  Last year after Christmas someone planted their little tree in the park here in Sant'Elena. It promptly died.

Over on the Strada Nuova there is a small stand selling trees also. Same variety as those at La Serra.  I also saw some last week at Ikea in Padua, very similar sizes.  Of course, if you were buying one at Ikea a car would be required. Whenever I go to Ikea, it takes first a  train,  then a bus and finally a boat ride loaded down with all my purchases in a shopping cart to get back to Venice.  I could never manage a tree, even a 4 foot one.    

The guys in the photo above are lucky enough to have a boat to get their tree from point A to point B.  I don't have a boat, so that wouldn't work for me either.  Our first year over here, we didn't do a tree at all, because the logistics were just beyond us.  The second year, we found ourselves missing a tree so much that we hauled ourselves by bus to the mainland, bought a large fake tree in a box, and had the fun of hauling the huge box back to Venice on a dolley.  Thank goodness we only had to do that once! That was the first fake tree of my life, so you can imagine the kind of heart wrenching decision making that went into that purchase. Chalk it up to one more change this new life required.

So, while I wish for a live tree and will probably always wish for one, I don't think twice about it anymore. When it's Christmas,  Mike makes a trip downstairs to our storage area, hauls the fake tree box up to the second floor (that's 3rd floor for all my friends in the US), and puts it  together.  Voila, instant tree.  It's tall, which is great cause we have really tall ceilings.  And it's full, with lots and lots of fake branches. Also good, cause I've never been a big fan of those Charlie Brown Christmas trees.

Trees at La Serra, about 4-5 feet tall, roots and all.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A typical November day in Venice

I thought I'd share with you a little bit of a typical November day in one of the world's most beautiful cities.

November is the month when we're most likely to get high water. Everyone's heard lots about Venice's Acqua Alta, right?  Here's a photo to help remind you (not taken today, obviously, they are not bundled up in coats carrying umbrellas. It's pouring rain here today too.)

For the last few days, we locals have been receiving email messages and texts from the comune (city hall) alerting us to the forecasted height of high water. It's been a code Orange the last 24 hours, with 125 cm of high water predicted for 11:00 am today.  At the lowest point in the city, St. Mark's square, that means the water would be about at the top of my boots, which are almost knee level on me.

Here's the latest bulletin from city hall, sent this morning.  You can see we're in for a little more aqua alta both tomorrow and the next day. Bulletins such as this have become a normal part of my life in this time of the year, in fact, they have been hitting my inbox once every couple hours in the last 24 hours.

                                      Bollettino della marea a Venezia

Another part of our normal existence here in Venice through the winter months is the sound of the Aqua Alta sirens.  This morning, we heard 3 tones, alerting us the water would be around 130 cm. In the video below it is the highest alert, 4 tones. The video is from a day not quite a year ago.  Just wanted you all to have a taste of what we live with.

Hope everyone stays dry today!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

San Martino Day

Tomorrow, November 11 is Festa di San Martino, a traditional Venetian festival, and one of my favorites. According to the legend, Saint Martin (before becoming a saint), helped a poor cold beggar by giving the beggar half of his cloak to keep him warm.  St. Martin is remembered for his kindnesses to the poor.  The half of the cloak retained by Saint Martin became a famous relic.
Across Europe you will find various ways St. Martin's day is celebrated, including eating goose,eating roasted chestnuts and also drinking new wine.

Here in Venice, it's remembered more with special sweets.  All the bakeries in town bake a very unique cookie just for this holiday, a cookie in the shape of a horse with St Martin on it's back. The horse is decorated with elaborate candies and chocolates all over it.

In addition, on November 11, children all over the city dress in a red capes and crowns, and travel in small groups through their communiites banging on pots and pans, singing a little tune about St. Martin. (wish I could sing it for you, but I can't. Sorry.) The children stop at local shops, where they receive candies and treats. Very similar to Halloween, actually.

Each year I look forward to seeing the arrival of the horse cookies in the shop windows of all the local bakeries. They can range in sized from small, just a few inches high, to huge, nearly 2 feet tall, each with incredibly fancy decorations of various colored icings and candies stuck to the cookie.  It's like having a Christmas stocking full of stuff all on just one cookie!

My sad San Martino day cookie did not make it home from the bakery intact this year.  Here it is-complete with broken legs and head! Still beautiful though.

Happy San Martino Day to all!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

First (significant) Aqua Alta of the season

Here's a photo of the street in front of Ca Zenobio in Dorsoduro at about 10:30 this morning, almost an hour BEFORE peak tide.  If there was this much water way out in this section of Dorsoduro, then there most certainly was some ankle deep water in St. Mark's square.  I received notices on my phone earlier in the morning from the comune (city hall) that the water would be 105-110 cm around 11:30 am, which means the sirens did go off 3 hours before peak tide for the first time this season.

I did not hear the sirens this morning- because we had left Venice at 6:45 am on our way to the Questura in Marghera, for another session of dealing with the Italian government.  Mike's Carta di Soggiorno, the document which allows him to remain in Italy legally indefinitely because he is the spouse of an Italian citizen, needed to be renewed, which meant we needed a trip to the Questura. Even though the document is good forever, there is a little bit of fine print on there that says if you use the document for identification, it must be renewed every 5 years.  The Italian medical system requires this document for identification, so , in order to have Mike's medical card (Tessera Sanitaria) renewed, we also had to have his Carta renewed.

If you read my blog, you might be familiar by now with my being the Queen of Procrastination. And here's when procrastination comes to bite me in the rear end!  Technically we should have changed our residence with the city hall months ago, however I had had such a vicious go round with Veritas, the Water company, that I couldn't stand the thought of any more bureaucratic issues, and I let changing of the residence slide. And forgot about it. Until the end of September when it occured to me that we needed that to do these other renews that were coming due in November.  Long story short, the residence process was completed in October.  I expected the new certificates to be mailed to us, but they never came.  We had to go to the Anagrafe office yesterday to request them. This was a very simple process, for which we paid 16. 54 Euros each.

With those in hand, we had everything necessary to go to the  Questura to renew the Carta di Soggiorno. I had researched all over the internet to determine what documents were needed. All I came up with from reading 3 different sites was we needed  new photos and proof of residence.  OK, we had those things. At 6:57 we boarded the #6 vaporetto to Piazzale Roma.  At Piazzale Roma we got on the 6/ bus to Marghera. By 8:05 we were in the line-up outside the Questura. Slowly the line moved up until it was our turn.

You have to understand how the Questura operates. Here's the process. First, everyone lines up like cattle outside. Then, one by one, you tell the guard at the entrance booth what you are there for.  He does a brief review of your documents to make sure you have everything, then he hands you a number.  Then you go inside the main building. And wait. And wait. And wait until your number is called. There may be hundreds of other people in there, all waiting for their turn to give over their permesso documents, in hopes of getting approved at some point in time. It can take hours for your turn. Today at the guard desk, we were handed a yellow ticket with the number 88 on it. And the guard gave us the unfortunate news that we needed a 16.00 Euro marco bollo, which we did not know we needed, and obviously, did not have.  (A marco bollo is a little sticker you get from a Tabacci shop that is used to pay a government fee, like applying for documents)

Mike and I went into the main building, and quickly determined that # 21 was the current person being served. Hmm. We were # 88. After a very quick discussion, we both agreed  there was time enough for me to go out on the street to try to find a Tabacci shop to get this marco bollo we needed.  I marched myself back out to the main street, and turned  to my right. A short way down the street was a coffee shop. I stopped in, and inquired if there was a Tabacci nearby. The girl there said to go back in the opposite direction, there was a Tabacci not too far away.  She was right, one was about 150 meters down the street. I not only bought the marco bollo, but had a macciato and a pastry as well, then walked back to the Questura.

For an American expat, it is totally weird to be in the Questura, in this room of a few hundred other immigrants, of whom you are the only American. I've been to the Questura 3, maybe 4 times now, and every time it's the same. We are the sole Americans in the place. Just is always a weird feeling.

I was probably back inside only 10 minutes when a man came out of a doorway and called "Yellow 26".  No one responded. Then "Yellow 86".  No one responded. Then "Yellow 88".  Hey! That's us!
The guy calling numbers escorted us to a desk at the back of the room. We handed over documents one by one- Mike's original Carta di Soggiorno, the new residence certificates, his photos, the marco bollo and my Carta d'Identita (an official identification card that says I am an Italian citizen). He asked for bank statements so we could prove how we supported ourselves here. I said we didn't have that document with us.  No problem, he told me I could just write out a statement and sign it.  Done. In about 5 minutes, the whole thing was done. He stamped the top documents, and handed one over to Mike. We were told to return the first week in February to pick up the completed Carta. Yes, the stamp! You know you are in like flint when the stamp is stamped.  I wanted to jump up and do the happy dance. The stamp! Oh, thank you, God, he used the stamp!

There was one last thing. Mike had to go to another room to get fingerprints done, and we had to return a signed stamped document from the fingerprint guy back to the man we dealt with at the desk. Finished in about an hour, total.  Unbelievable. We were prepared for the worst, to be there all morning. Mike had even brought  bananas and some cookies in his backpack, and his Kindle. I had also brought something to occupy my time ( paper and pen so I could write for a few hours, figuring this would be a great time to get some words written for my NaNoWriMo novel).  We were shocked we were out of there quickly. Shocked and over joyed. We were high 5-ing each other on our way back to the bus stop. We weren't exactly done with the Questura yet, we'd have to go back in February one last time, but this was huge progress, definitely deserving a few high 5's!

We decided that since we were finished so early, we had plenty of time to go to the health department office in Dorsoduro, not far from Campo San Barnaba, to get Mike's Tessera renewed, now that we had a temporary new Carta in our hot little hands.  As the bus pulled into Piazzale Roma, it was just about 10:30 am, and it dawned on us that we most likely would hit some Aqua Alta.  Mike wanted to just go on home and leave the Tessera for tomorrow. I made a case for getting it done today. We did it today.

We experienced the first of the high water at Ca Zenobia ( see the photo above).  People walking down that side of the street were in it up to their ankle bones.  We stayed dry on the opposite side of the street. We could not avoid a teeny tiny little bit of it on the street in front of Giustinian (the medical building), but only got the soles of our shoes in it, no real problem.

We did everything we could at the medical office - they would only do one part of the process, for the actual new plastic card we would have to return again in February, with the offical new Carta in hand, then they would issue a new card. But there is another document that allows Mike to visit the dr. and get prescriptions, which they did process this morning. Also high 5 worthy.

Leaving this building, we wanted to head over to Campo Santa Margherita, but knew we'd hit high water there, so decided to stop for a bite to eat on the Zattere, then take the boat home.  We were able to sit in the sun, enjoying a perfect spot, while the water was rising in front of us.  We managed to dodge all the high water by doing some wave hopping right on the waterfront, until we had to turn and walk onto the vaporetto dock. That's where we ran into problems and could not avoid getting our shoes wet. We ALMOST did it, almost stayed completely dry!

The good news is we are done with government stuff until February. This is very good news, trust me.
What did we learn from today? Always ask first if you need a marco bollo.

Monday, November 4, 2013

A day to remember

November 4, 1966 is a day Venetians, and Venice, will never forget.  I thought I'd share this little video to give you an idea of what it was like, if you have not already seen photos from 1966.

We had a little bit of Aqua Alta today, and tomorrow the forecast is 105 centimeters.  Just a dribble compared to this day in 1966!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Happy November!

It's November already!!!  We've been having some absolutely gorgeous Indian summer type days here in Venice this week. Sunny, warm, just fabulous. It's a perfect way to kick off what I hope will be a very interesting month for me.

I have LOTS on the table, hopefully not too much for me to manage to accomplish. I want to warn you that my November posts here on the blog might seem a little odd to you, in that they probably will not have much to do with Venice this month.  I've taken on a challenge to write a 50,000 word novel during the month. It's NaNoWriMO (National Novel Writing Month), if you have heard of it before.  I've signed up to do it, and will be posting my status along the way here. It helps to keep me accountable. 

I did the challenge for the first time in July, during the summer "Camp" version.  I did actually finished my book at 54,000 words, and surprised even myself.  My project in July was a memoir ( I turned my blog into a book! It's still in pretty rough draft form, I've been letting it sit for a while before I tackle the task of revising. More on that project to come!) This month's project is something much lighter, a chic-lit romance.  That's all I'm going to say about it, other than to add that no, it does not take place in Venice.  

Today being day 1 of the challenge was a good day, I wrote 1861 words.  Good for a first day for me, even a few hundred words more than I had expected to get done. Hopefully I can keep up the daily word count. 

In addition to doing NaNoWriMo, I am also studying Italian with a vengence. Every day for the last two months I've been spending two hours reading, writing and speaking, with lots of vocabulary building and a fair amount of work on several verb tenses, in particular the imperfetto, which still drives me batty. I swear, I will be fluent in Italian one of these years! 

Last but not least, I've kept my word on another of my 2013 resolutions- I not only took a rowing lesson, but I have joined the rowing club on Giudecca and will be taking more lessons there.  I think it's going to take some determination and perserverance, but a year from now, I expect to see me rowing around a few canals in Venice. 

So, friends, keep me in your thoughts and stick with me during this month of NaNoWriMo. I'm excited about what lies ahead.  

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

28th Venice Marathon October 27, 2013

Quite a bit of fog greeted us Sunday morning, and I knew right away it might be a blessing in disguise for the 28th running of the Venice Marathon. Last October on race day we had Aqua Alta. Not so good for the participants. This day seemed a bit more optimistic, weather-wise. I'd been excited for race day for a couple of weeks already, ever since I watched construction teams erecting the temporary bridges over the 13 bridges along the course in the city of Venice.

People who wander around Venice this time of year have the notion that the ramps are for the assistance of handicapped people, and comment how nice this is to have. What a great help in toting luggage up and down the bridges. I am quick to remind them this is not permanent, and is only intended for the Marathon runners to make the up and down of bridges easier. None-the-less, the arrival of the ramps starts to get me in the mood.

In previous years, I've taken up a position at the San Basilio vaporetto stop, in Dorsoduro, which is one of the first good vantage point to catch the racers coming into Venice. After watching the first set of very fast runners, I'd wander down to Nico's, grab a table and a cup of tea and spend a few hours cheering on the rest of the runners as they made their way down the Zattere.

This year, I chose something a little different. Since I now live so close to Giardini, where the finish line is, I thought it might be very interesting to see the race from a new perspective. Also, my hairdresser, Simone, had been training to run the Marathon for the first time ever this year, and he had suggested I catch him at the finish line. So, that was my plan.  Unfortunately, poor Simone suffered an injury to his left knee 2 weeks ago during a training run that was going to sideline him this year.

I calculated, based on previous race times, that it should take the fastest runners about 2 hours to reach Giardini. I set off a little before 11 am, taking the #1 vaporetto to Giardini.  I knew that the finish line was going to be right after Via Garibaldi, so my plan was to exit the vaporetto and walk up the street to that spot.  The #1 was making regular stops, except for the San Marco Vallresso stop which was closed all day to allow the runners to come over the temporary bridge and run into St. Mark's square.

My great plan was stymied before I got very far!  Once I disembarked from the boat, the entire street to my left leading from Viale Garibaldi up the waterfront was blocked off- for the race, of course. I had to walk up Viale Garibaldi and then up Via Garibaldi to reach the waterfront. I figured by the time I got there any good spots along the racecourse would be occupied already. Not to be daunted, I made my way to the Riva.

Someone up there was looking down on me because there was a small opening along the barricade at the bottom of the last bridge the runners would run over, just yards from the official finish line.
I grabbed my position.  I was in a great spot, and also close to the race announcer who was doing a play-by-play commentary, sort of.  He was announcing what the official race time at each kilometer break , for example at 35 kilometers, at 37.5 kilometers, at 40 kilometers.  From him, I knew exactly when the "elite" men's group, comprised of the first 5 runners, had crossed over the Ponte di Liberta into Venice.  He announced the positions of these first 5, so I knew the Kenyans were in front, and an Italian runner was in 4th place coming over the bridge.  His running commentary made the short wait a bit more entertaining, especially as the men were running over the Grand Canal and into St. Mark's square.  This announcer was issuing his commentary in Italian, German and English, but his comments in English kept a grin on my face. He'd say things like " Lalli, the Italian runner, is in 4th position. Would we like him to move up?? Yes, People!"

Right after the men exited St. Mark's and were making their way down the Riva degli Schiavoni, the announcer reported that one of the racers from Kenya had developed some sort of problem and was now walking. He'd lost his early lead, sadly. The announcer got the crowd going, yelling, "Masai, Masai, come on!, We're with you. Come on , Masai!" , as well as encouraging everyone to cheer for Andrea Lalli, the Italian runner in this elite men's group.

The first two men off the last bridge in front of me were Kenyans, with Machichim in first place. Third place went to Andrea Lalli. Fourth was Masai, doing a slow run/limp, with another Kenyan runner in fifth.  Unfortunately, between the last bridge where I was, and the official finish line, Masai lost his 4th place finish to the man behind him who loped past him. Two hours and 9 minutes to run 26 miles!  I have no idea how they do it.  One of the reasons I love watching this marathon so much is the fact that I will never be running anything like this. I'm lucky if I can do a slow run down the street anymore, what with my arthritic knees!
    First place finisher, Machichim from Kenya

Third place to Andrea Lalli of Italy

Forza *in Italian means force, strength, power, or  spirit)  is often yelled at soccer matches and other events to encourage the participants. Just as we were waiting for the runners to hit this last bridge, the ship FORZA passed my vantage point. Certainly apropo. 

After the first wave of elite men completed the race, there is a bit of a lull waiting until the remaining several thousands of runners make their way towards the finish line.  I met Mike for a bite of lunch on Via Garibaldi, then headed up for Rialto by vaporetto. The boat went under the temporary bridge, I caught sight of several runners on their way over the Grand Canal. Many of them were stopping to take photos! I can imagine this is quite an unusual race course, and a unique opportunity to run over one of the most famous canals in the world.

Runners crossing the temporary bridge between Dogana Point and San Marco

My next year plan is already in swirling in my head.... thinking about volunteering to be along the race course, hopefully on the Zattere.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

It's Acqua Alta time, it's Acqua Alta time.....

Just last week I noticed that the walkways (passerelle) had been brought out of storage and placed strategically around the city, in anticipation of the first Acqua Alta (high water) of the season.

I just checked the weather forecast for tomorrow and guess what!!  Tonight around 12:30 am and again tomorrow around 12:30 pm we're going to get to use those platforms.  Although the forecast is only predicting 105 cm in Venice which means it will only be in the lower areas of the city, it will certainly be in St. Mark's square and Rialto.  Get the boots out everyone!  Happy Acqua Alta season to all!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Yesterdays mission ---accomplished.

(This photo has nothing to do with the topic of this blog, other than the fact that I snapped it on the way to my mission yesterday, and it made me happy)

Procrastination is my middle name. I think I've admitted to it somewhere in my blog before. I ought to join a 12-step program for it- Procrastinators, Anonymous. Is there such a program at Betty Ford?? Yesterday, procrastination came and bit me on the rear end yet again. You think I would have learned by now, but no....

The thing I procrastinate about most here in Venice is dealing with the Italian government. If I have to do anything... ANYTHING..where I have to brush elbows, shoulders, fingertips even, with the Italian government in any way, I am going to put it off until there is absolutely no putting it off any longer. Well, guess what, yesterday was that day. There was no way around it, I had to go deal with them. It takes all the will power in the world for me to gear up for it. I can predict it will end in no good. My stomach starts to churn, my nerves kick in, I'm just a royal mess. And this is quite unlike me. Normally, I don't take crap from anyone. On this side of the Atlantic I have been conditioned to be a bit less assertive. Maybe that's a bit more cooperative. Docile even. Whatever it will take to get through with the least amount of agony.

I spent the entire first year of our lives here in Italy dealing with the Italian governement. Days and days and days of horrendously painful experiences going head to head with some clerk at some sportello   (counter - you know the ones like at the Department of Motor Vehicles in the US?) at some agency in some city somewhere in Italy. Venice, Bologna, south of Bologna, the whole region of Liguria- I was there. None of them were very happy experiences. And as a result- my dealings with any Italian agency become an occassion for me to put my middle name into practice. I procrastinate.

Yesterday I had to pay a visit to the Anagrafe office near Rialto. The Anagrafe is the Italian version of the Department of Vital Records in most states in the US.  I had the forms I needed all filled out, I thought I was ready, and set off nice and early for what I predicted would be a long morning. Happily, the office was almost empty when I arrived. Me, another girl, and an elderly couple already in place at Sportello numero 7.  I took my number and took a seat. With it being so empty, I thought this wouldn't require much waiting. Wrong. The little old couple were still at Sportello numero 7 over 35 minutes after I took my seat. I also needed Sportello 7, and so did the other girl a few seats over. Patience, Karen. Just find some patience. Too bad I never learned to whistle!

I kept myself busy scanning the internet (yes, thanks be to God, there was internet reception inside the building).  Finally, it was my turn.  I take my spot in front of the glass divider at Sportello numero 7, hand over my forms, and make sure I tell the guy on the other side right off the bat that I don't speak Italian fluently, but if he speaks slowly, I will understand him. Right, that didn't click because he started rattling off at warp speed as he proceeded to review all the fields I had filled in on the form. Blah, blah, blah, yes, hmm, ok... and what are the other names of the people who live in the apartment with you?  I pointed out that I had that information already filled in. Two of us.  Yes, but who else?  No one else. More people- who are they?  After several rounds back and forth, I finally got him to understand that it was only just us two- my husband and I. Ok. Fine. He asks me to hand over the identification documents for my husband, which I don't have on me. Bingo!  I knew this would happen!!!

This is the same rouse they use every time. They make sure they withhold some detail - something you need to do or have with you. When you get up to that Sportello thinking everything it's going to be smooth sailing, that you have everything possible--WHAM! They tell you something you didn't do, which requires you to go home and return another day.  Not this time. I make sure I clearly understand the documents he is asking for, get on the phone to Mike, tell him to make copies and hop on the next boat to Rialto.  I turn to the guy behind the glass divider, smile, and tell him my husband will arrive Subito (right away). I won't need to return another day.  He says Good. When he comes, you don't need to take another number. Just come to the window.

I knew it would take Mike about 30 minutes to get from Sant'Elena to the Anagrafe office, so I took the opportunity to go have myself a cup of tea at a nearby caffe in Campo San Luca.  While I sat in the caffe I had time to reflect on my adventure so far, and compared it to those of 5 years ago. Five years ago I would have turned tail and slunk out of that office so fast you wouldn't have seen me go if you blinked your eye for a nanosecond. Five years ago I would have been stammering, pointing, showing the guy a piece of paper with my Google translated questions and answers on it. Not today. I was speaking Italian, I didn't slink anywhere. I know the score at this point was still City Hall -1, Karen 0, but the day wasn't over yet and I was ready to go for Round 2.

While waiting, I also had a conversation with a lovely couple from Norway who were seated next to me. Had I ever been to Norway, they asked. No, but we have friends there. We have friends there! Listen to me!  Yes, I can say we have friends in Norway now. Venice has done this for me. I can tell you with 100% certainty that had I still been living in Baltimore I would never have made friends who live in Norway. I now have friends around the globe, in fact.  I spent the rest of my time waiting for Mike to show up reflecting on the many ways my life has changed since getting on a plane to Venice in 2008 and not looking back.

Mike arrived with the necessary copies in hand. Yes. Round 2. We go back into the office and stand near Sportello numero 7.  The guy behind the glass divider has been replaced by a woman, but she nods in our direction and mouths that we should wait a little bit. She handles one more customer quickly then motions us over.  She takes the copies of Mike's identification, then looks up and says I need copies of your Codice Fiscale and Karen's Carta d'Identita (like a tax id number and my Italian identification card). Well, we have the originals with us. No, she needs a photocopy of all of them. Why didn't Guy #1 tell us this the first time?  I bit my tougue and kept that question to myself.  She gave directions to a place in Campo San Luca where copies could be obtained quickly, sent Mike on the errand and motioned me to take a seat to wait.  No new number needed.

Ten minutes later, Mike returns with the photocopies. Two minutes after that we were back at the Sportello. One more minute and we had a printed out receipt and were out of there!

We headed over to Campo Santa Margherita to run a few errands and grab a quick lunch.  I sent Mike to our local fish monger Paolo to buy shrimp and mussels while I headed into Punto, the local grocery store for the few items I needed, with plans to meet up at the caffe to eat.  Shopping completed, I walked across the campo towards our meeting spot. Rosella, Paolo the fishmongers mother who also works at the stall, gives me a wave, and yells to me "I have your shrimp all cleaned for you!".   I did a detour over to Rosella, paid her, retrieved my package and went to meet my husband for lunch. I am loving life. Does it get any better than this???

Over lunch, Mike and I replayed the morning, noting how different it went compared to what we would have done several years ago. This mornings transaction would have turned into a 3 trip event before we had a receipt in our hands. It might have even required hauling a friend along to do some talking for us. Not this time. We stuck it out, managed it all in one swoop and kept our cool.

We even shared a laugh about the guy asking for all the rest of the names of the people who lived with us in the apartment, not believing it was only us two.  I suggested to Mike that I probably should have listed 27 Bangladeshi who throw those annoying blue lights up into the sky in St. Mark's square.  If you have been to Venice recently, you know those guys too. It would have been fun to see the expression on that Anagrafe guy's face!

We did it!!! Rowing like a Venetian- finalemente!!

I've been saying for over a year now that I wanted to learn how to row in Venetian style. Every time I see a small boat of rowers in the canal, something in me says I should try it. Every time I attend a Venetian festival where people are all in boats in the canals, I find myself wishing I were IN a boat instead of on the sideline watching the boats.  A few weeks ago, I finally did it.

My friend Sally, a British expat with similar desires to give rowing a try, and I got the guts up to schedule a rowing lesson with Jane, also an expat, from Australia, who after 20 some years of rowing in Venice started teaching others and formed an organization, Row Venice.  Bright and early on September 17, I got myself dressed warmly and on the vaporetto headed over to our meeting location in Cannaregio. Halfway there my phone rang- it was Jane telling me the weather conditions were not good for a beginning rower that morning- winds were too strong. Disappointed, I headed back home.  By the end of the day all three of us had put our schedules together and arrived on a suitable reschedule date, September 25.

September 25 dawned with gorgeous skies and fairly nice temperatures. Hmmm.. the gods had been good to me by forcing a delay it seemed. Again I donned something appropriate for rowing and set off for Cannaregio. Excited. Nervous. A little bit scared even, but ready.

Jane came down the canal rowing a traditional Venetian boat, the batela coda di gambero (or, Shrimps-tail). She tied off the boat, jumped onto the fondamenta and began giving us some basic instruction on rowing technique. Next thing I know, we were in the boat, Jane, Sally and I, rowing down the canal.  Sally and I took turns in the front of the boat rowing prua  with Jane on the back, rowing the poppa.  Before we knew it were out in the open lagoon, where Sally and I had our own experiences on the back of the boat.

Sally was a natural. Me, on the other hand, had a bit of a learning curve. Nonetheless, I loved every minute of it. Being in a small boat rowing down the back canals of Venice filled me with emotions I don't have words for yet today, more than a week after the experience. There is something uniquely magical about Venetian canals. And to be out in the lagoon.... oh my god, I cannot wait to be out there again.

Sally and I compared notes the following morning. We both agreed we felt aches in our shoulders and arms we didn't quite expect. But that didn't put off our resolve to do more rowing. Next up- membership in a rowing club and continuing lessons.

I've often wondered if perhaps I was a Venetian in another life. After being on the water with an oar in my hand, I wondered it even more. Could it be possible?

Note: Grazie to Jane of Row Venice (http://rowvenice.org/), and to my intrepid partner, Sally.