San Pietro di Castello was, for centuries, the seat of the archbishopic of Venice. That's right... it wasn't Saint Mark's, smack dab in the center of town. Instead, it was stuck way out here in what was the boonies at the time; the government of Venice's not-so-subtle hint at how central they wanted the Church to be in local affairs! (It's not even on the map of central Venice listed in the sidebar! San Pietro would be off to the right...)
These days, it's one of the parishes which still has a vibrant Venetian community at its heart. And every year at the end of June, around the feast day of Saints Peter and Paul, the parish goes all out to celebrate: there's the obligatory food tent, offering such classic Italian fair fare (so to speak) as grilled sausages and spare ribs, as well as Venetian classics like grilled fresh sardines and mixed fried fish... there's the annual official commemorative T-shirt... there's the standard art show of local painters and photographers (like Stefano de Grandis, whose work was the inspiration for this year's poster)... there's the flea market to raise money for charity... not to mention the special daily events! Everybody in the neighborhood (and then some!) turns out, together with their aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins, dogs and babies (like the random, but thoroughly adorable, one at right).
Now, every single year, I try looking these local festivities up on the web, hoping against hope that they've finally published a schedule of events there. Finally, finally, they've gone and done it! You can catch the schedule of events here!
Honestly, if you're looking for a big budget and fireworks, this is not the festival for you... But if you want a humble, but festive, slice of Venetian life, you can't miss the festa de San Piero! (I never do!!)
While there are streetnames in Venice taken from stories of legendary encounters with devils (more about that later...) this isn't one of them! It's near the Arsenal, the famous shipyard of the vast Venetian fleet, which Dante had seen and used to describe his version of Hell, in Canto XXI of the Inferno (as you can see in this translation by Longfellow...)
But the city was also devout, and still carries the mark of this religious heritage. In a city of just a few square miles, there were over 70 parishes, and countless monasteries, convents, and devotional confraternities of lay people. Here is in fact just one of four "Calli del Paradiso," or alleys "of Heaven." This one in the sestiere of Castello has a particularly sweet history... Story goes that this fifteenth-century Gothic arch was built when the daughter of the owner of the house on one corner married the son of the other, and they commissioned this archway showing the Madonna sheltering both the newlyweds under her cloak to celebrate the occasion, not to mention to link their two properties together!
(And this image shows the other side of the arch which faces the "Bridge of Heaven.")
As for its name, it may come from the fact that apparently this calle would traditionally go all out to deck its walls with lanterns and decorations for all the major religious holidays.
(Last, but not least, being a good Catholic city... there's Purgatory too!)Categories: Venice
What purpose would these footprints serve? Actually, they were the starting corners, like in a boxing ring, for a peculiar Venetian pasttime, "Battles of the Bridges." You can read more about them at this website and in a study of them written by historian Robert Davis entitled, The War of the Fists: Popular Culture and Public Violence in Late Renaissance Venice. My favorite tidbit of trivia from these tales is that, for a while, fistfighting became so synonymous in Venice with bridges that if two guys wanted to go at it in a campo (the Venetian equivalent of a piazza), they might apparently even build a makeshift bridge on dry land first, just to have a suitable place to whoop each other off of!
Finding an address in Venice is a lot like trying to find an address in Manhattan... the mailing address alone isn't going to tell you a heck of a lot. In Venice, the city's divided into six "quarters" (it makes more sense in Italian, "sestieri" instead of "quartieri"), and--thanks to the Austrians about a hundred years ago--each has consecutive street numbers reaching about five or six thousand. But, like in Manhattan, to actually FIND the place, you need to know not only the number, but the name of the street (and likely also the specific sestiere).
Why? Because Venice is essentially a medieval city, where practically nobody ever formally named the streets... Instead, they acquired their names from the way people referred to them, as in, "You know, the street in Santa Croce where the blacksmith is..." and, over time, that street would simply become known, in this example, as the street "del Fabbro." And, needless to say, there wasn't just one blacksmith in Venice, or one baker, or one shoemaker, for that matter. So, there are dozens of alleyways with the same name here in town. Hence, the two address systems. But, also as a result, streetnames in Venice tell you an awful lot about the rich history of the place.
Streetnames here are stenciled on painted white panels throughout the city. The locals call them "ninzioletti" (in Venetian, the "l" is silent), or "little bed sheets." (Oddly enough, there's apparently also another translation in old Venetian which is slightly less attractive...) Anyway, there are plenty of resources which give you histories of these names, some reliable, others more or less anecdotal. I, for one, have always wanted to make a collection of the stranger ninzioletti, so here you go...
"Rio Tera' degli Assassini" (in sestiere San Marco):
Anywhere in the city you see "Rio Tera'" it means "rio interrato" in Venetian, or a canal that was subsequently filled in to make a walkway. "Degli Assassini" is what it looks like... "of the assassins." It just goes to show that there were a lot of unsavory corners of the city in centuries past (while there are very few of them now). Maybe at the time they should have gone and left it a canal. (FYI... nowadays, there's a marvelous half-price bookstore there!)
More ninzioletti to come...
Categories: WeirdScience, Humor, Dogs&Cats
The news item about the Americans swimming in the Grand Canal reminded me of a nearly lost sight in Venice that I went in search of again today. Not far from the newly-reconstructed Fenice Opera House, overlooking the intersections of the canals Rio Menuo and Rio della Verona (in the alleyway Ramo Primo dei Calegari, I believe it is), there's this old sign which you can barely read. In faded letters, it says, "Divieto di Nuoto!" or, in Italian, "No Swimming!"
It's hard to imagine a time when Italians would have had to be instructed not to, but my Venetian father-in-law has talked about swimming in Venice when he was a child. Then again, about 10 years ago, I saw one Venetian child push another into a canal (and, needless to say, promptly run away), and parents were on the spot immediately, getting him out of the water and stripping and scrubbing him down. I'll have to find out when Venetians stopped swimming in their own canals...
Categories: Italy, WeirdScience
Saw this sign on a rather beaten-up compact car on the Lido the other day. Apparently, the English equivalent would be: "For Sale. A Real Deal. Make me an offer." But in Italian, the last phrase is instead, "The price is symbolic." (I wonder... do you get it for free if you can prove the car isn't real either?)
Categories: Italy, Language
After seeing that cartoon, I was inspired to try to find the photocopy of a comment book we used to keep behind the information desk at a legendary, but unfortunately now-defunct, independent bookstore in Atlanta, one of my better summer jobs. Thought I'd type it in and share what I've managed to find so far in order to save it for posterity... Enjoy!
"Do you know where your books are?"
"Is this information for customers?"
"I've never been to your bookstore before. Do we have to buy books, or can we check them out?"
"I've never been in your store before. Are your books on shelves?"
"After I buy these books, what do I do with them?"
"I'd like to return these books now. I've finished them."
"I'm looking for a book, but I don't know if it's fiction or non-fiction. It's called Interview with a Vampire."
Q: "I'd like to make a return."
A: "Okay, please just fill out this form and sign under 'customer.'"
Q: "But I'm not a customer."
A: "Why not?"
Q: "Because I'm not buying anything."
"Can you tell me where to find Utopia?"
"Do you have Dickens in Old English?"
"Oxford University Press isn't affiliated with Oxford University, is it?"
"It's a 4-book trilogy..."
"Do you have the dictionary on tape?"
Q: "Do you have anything on how to crunk a car?"
A: "Crunk a car?"
Q: "Yes, my car won't crunk. It's an '86 Ford Tempo."
A: "Well, you could try looking with the repair manuals..."
Q: "Can you look up 'crunk' in that computer?"
Q: "Do you still have that tape?"
A: "What tape are you looking for?"
Q: "Joseph Campbell."
A: "Yes, we do have copies of that."
Q: "I'd like three."
A: "Volume three?"
Q: "No, numbers 2, 4, 5, and 6."
Q: "Do you have a videotape that will teach me to write better?"
A: "I don't think so. You'd probably do better with one of the books in the Speech & Writing section."
Q: "No, I don't have time for a book."
Q: "Ok, the book you're looking for would be in the Medicine section in the next room on the far wall."
A: "Is that also where the stamp albums would be?"
"Do you have 'Love and Time to Color' by the man who wrote this book?" [100 Years of Solitude] and "Do you have 'Love in the Time of Cleopatra'?"
Q: "I have a spastic colon. Do you have first aid for a spastic colon?"
A: "Um, I don't know... What would first aid for a spastic colon entail?"
Q: "Now, that's a personal question!" [Customer storms out.]
"Do you have Illusions by Jonathan Livingston Seagull?"
"Special orders, may I help you?"
(On telephone) "Yes, I talked with you the other day about... Oh, never mind, here it is." (Hangs up.)
Q: "May I borrow your ladder?"
A: "Well, no... but I can get a book down from overstock for you if you need it."
Q: "I have to see what's up there first."
A: "Have you checked to see if a copy is down on the shelf first?"
Q: "No. Aren't all the Occult books up there?"
"Do you have 'People Are Funny in the Head' by Celestine Sibley?"
"I'm looking for a Chitlin car manual."
"Do you have any books on Black Anus cows?"
"Where is your nonfiction?"
"Do you special order paperbacks?"
"Do you have any books on genital heart defects?"
"Where do I find books on Golden Retrievers... like, dogs?"
"Do you have the book 'Basic Beating'? I think it's by Allen Ginsberg."
"I'd like to order a book, please. The title is Citizens. That's the plural of 'citizen.'"
Q: "When are Lewis Grizzard's two new books due out?"
A: "Well, I'm not sure..."
Q: "They said April, so will you have them this month?" [March]
A: "We'll probably not get them until April then."
Q: "That's odd."
Q: "Do you have the Power of Myth by Joseph Camel?"
A: "One hump or two?"
Q: (On phone) "I heard your bookstore was open every day. Is that correct?"
Q: "Does that mean Wednesday, too?"
A: "Yes, of course."
Q: "Well, most doctors are off on Wednesday..."
"Do you have 'The Wizard of Floss' by Baum?"
Q: "I'm looking for 'Ambushed at the Race Track.'"
A: "You mean Ambush at Osirak?"
Q: "Is Osirak a race track?"
A: "I think it's a city in Iran."
Q: "So, they do have race tracks in Iran! I thought the Ayatollah would have gotten rid of those by now..."
Q: (On phone) "Is Alice Walker still there for the book signing?"
A: "Yes, she'll be here for a couple more minutes..."
Q: "Well, could you please put her on the phone?"
"Is this where you order books that are out of print but are still being printed?"
"Do you have 'Idiots of the Confederacy' by Dunne?" [They meant Confederacy of Dunces by Toole.]
"I'm looking for a book on cooking with filo pastry. Would it be in the cooking section?"
Q: "So, when will that book be out?"
A: "Sometime after the first of the year."
"We are open 365 days a year."
"Does that mean Sunday?"
Q: "What are your weekend hours?"
A: "9 a.m. through 2 a.m."
Q: "You mean you're only open for 5 hours?!"
Q: "I can't tell who works here and who are the customers..."
A: "Oh, it's easy! The employees are the ones in the red vests." [Actually, we wore blue...]
Q: "I'm looking for a global map of the world."
A: "Do you mean a wall map?"
Q: "No, a global map of the world."
A: "Oh, you mean a globe."
Q: "No, a global map of the world. It's round and on a stand."
A: "Yes, we have those."
Q: "Well, I want one of the world."
And last, but not least...
Q: "Did you get that hole in the bathroom fixed?"
Q: "Did you ever get complaints about it?"
Q: "So you got it fixed?"
Q: "Too bad. I liked it."
Categories: Books, Humor
Our neighborhood in Maine, from the new satellite feature of Google Maps.
And in Venice, you can see Saint Mark's Square on the far left, and Via Garibaldi (our neighborhood) jutting away from the waterfront (nearly parallel with the bottom of the frame) on the right.
Categories: Food, Humor
Categories: Italy, Humor
"Giant Popsicle Melts, Floods NYC Park" (from Yahoo News)
I was going to comment "only in America," but apparently we were trying to outdo the Dutch (who, perhaps not surprisingly, once had one 21 feet long...)
Plus, a wryer version of same from the NYT (Free, but registration required. Oddly enough, however, Boing Boing reports that the Times has apparently endorsed the service which allows you to bypass the whole registration process, called Bugmenot).Categories: Humor, Food
(Personally, these days I tend to like to utilize the rss compiler functions at my.yahoo.com.)
Hope that's helpful! :)
Ah, but cheese is another matter! Wasn't Charles de Gaulle supposed to have said, "How can you govern a country with over 246 kinds of cheese?" Italy, for one, surely has way more. Perhaps that goes a long way toward explaining Italian government?! (The idea being, of course, that each one of these cheeses didn't originate in a factory which simply decided to produce a new flavor, but rather that they were themselves the products of other long-standing, deep-rooted, age-old local traditions. Must be quite the challenge to govern in such a situation!!)
So, here's an ongoing record of some of the strange and wonderful Italian cheeses I recommend! These are often very difficult to find in the U.S., but--although I've never tried their service--it turns out that www.igourmet.com carries a good number of them! (In fact, I enclose their descriptions and ordering links for the cheeses here!)
First of all, my current hands-down favorite: La Burrata!"Burrata is a sack of mozzarella filled with buttery cream. It has recently become a 'hot' gourmet item in places like New York City and Beverly Hills. Extremely hard to find because of its very short shelf life, Burrata must be flown in from Italy the day after it is made then quickly sold to consumers and eaten right away. A rare delicacy from Italy's Puglia region, it is wrapped in asfodelo leaves, which indicate the freshness of the cheese! As long as the outer wrapping stays green, the cheese within is still fresh. Serve Burrata like you would Mozzarella di Bufala: paired with fresh tomato, onion, olive oil, cracked black pepper and basil leaves. Cut into Burrata and watch its creamy liquid center ooze all over your plate. Enjoy Burrata with special company, as it is a treasure to be shared."
Other great picks from the Tre-Venezie region...
(My husband's favorite!) "Montasio is a pasture-terraced mountain located to the northeast of Venice in the Friuli-Venezia region of Italy. The cheese Montasio was originally made by the monks who occupied the monastery that owned those pastures in the thirteenth century. Today, the cheese is a DOC cheese, which means its properties and production are protected by law. Montasio can now be made legally in all of Friuli- Venezia Giulia and parts of Veneto. Made in large wheels, the flavor of this cheese is nutty, and slightly fruity. Since the mountain milk from which Montasio is made is high in butterfat, the cheese has a richer flavor with hints of butterscotch."
"This stunning wine soaked pecorino caciotta hails from Tuscany. The cheese is formed and aged to full ripeness in Tuscany, then brought to Antonio Carpenedo and his sons, cheese merchants and owners of La Casearia in Treviso near Venice. It is here the finishing touches are made to produce this special cheese. La Casearia is located in the Marca Trevigiana area, famous for its food and wine. This Tuscan sheep’s milk cheese is dipped in local Cabernet marc. The rich and flavorful taste of Pecorino mixes very well with the characteristics of Cabernet wine. This aromatic cheese ages and evolves elegantly into a delicate wine infused prize. Pecorino Ubriaco is typically eaten as a table cheese, served with the edible rind."
"Piave cheese is named after the river Piave, whose source is found at Mount Peralba in Val Visdende, in the northernmost part of the province of Belluno, Italy. A winding course brings the river toward the bottom of the valley, until it reaches the plain at the foot of the prealpi venete mountains in the province of Treviso. Piave cheese is born from the cheese making traditions of the land surrounding the ancient river, in which the curd is cooked and the cheese is aged until it is hard. The area surrounding the river is also where the milk is collected to produce Piave. The cheese has an intense, full-bodied flavor that increases with age and makes this cheese absolutely unique. This Piave variety is Mezzano, which means it is aged between for six months. We also offer a Vecchia variety which is aged for one year."
"Our Spilimbergo is produced exclusively in Italy's Friuli region. It is a 'Carnia' type cheese, a typical local cow's milk cheese made in the Friuli mountains. Made with fresh mountain cow's milk, its rind is smooth and regular. The interior is light colored but becomes slightly darker as it ages. Our Stagionato variety is aged for 6 months, giving it a compact texture with small eye formation. Spilimbergo's flavor is best described as savory, reminiscent of Parmigiano Reggiano and Swiss Gruyere."
And a couple of other miscellaneous treats I picked up at the market cheese stall this past week:
"Strachitunt was first created in the Valtaleggio region of Italy in the late 1800's and was enjoyed there until World War II, after which its commercial production ceased entirely. Our supplier revived its recipe and began making the cheese again in 2002. We herald the fact that this once glorious cheese is once again being made according to the traditional methods, maintaining all of its original characteristics. Handcrafted from unpasteurized local milk taken only from Bruna Alpina cows that live at an altitude of 900 meters, it is aged in limestone caves in Valtaleggio for over two months. Strachitunt has a complicated manufacture, in that it must be produced with both morning and evening milk, creating a layered cheese with two distinct textures - one soft and one firmer. Natural blue, gray, and green molds streak throughout its interior, giving Strachitunt its characteristic aroma and sweet yet tangy flavor."
"Manouri is a traditional ancient Greek cheese that is made from the whey of feta, blended with sheep's milk cream. In addition to being used in the traditional Greek delicacy spanakopita, this rindless log-shaped cheese is an exceptionally delicious eating cheese. With a moist, soft texture, Manouri is at first soft and buttery, followed by a uniquely lemony aftertaste."
Hope you can run into them and enjoy them wherever you are!
(More to come!!)
Illegal, nothing! As the newspaper story continued, the waters of the Grand Canal are "fetid" and "as polluted with chemicals and bacteria as you can imagine" (translation mine). Now, it's not really at all as bad as Love Canal, but it's certainly not clean, by any stretch of the imagination! (After all, while most Venetian buildings have septic tanks which accumulate solid waste, grey water often goes directly into the canals, to be flushed away at the lagoon's next change of tide!) During one of my many odd jobs, I once took a group of Romanian high school students around Venice, and they wanted to see really nothing other than the crypt of the Indiana Jones' library that had been a church (which, by the way, doesn't really exist!) Their last day, for fun, I took them for a quick ferry ride in a gondola across the Grand Canal. And, smack dab in the middle, one kid reached in and grabbed a handful of water and drank it! I was so shocked that I started shouting at him in Italian to spit it out... but, problem was, he didn't speak Italian! By the time I realized it was the wrong language and switched back to English, he'd already swallowed it. I was thankful that it was my last day leading them around, cuz I'd have hated to have seen the aftermath! :)
So, be warned... there's water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink (or swim in!!!!)
As many people know, there are no automobiles (or roads for that matter!) in Venice. Americans might then assume that all Venetians use gondolas as they would cars. (Especially when you see the photo of a glimpse of "Gondola Rush Hour" in the late afternoon, as they ready for the evening serenade on the Grand Canal...) What many people don't know, however, is there are, as my husband puts it, "land Venetians" and "water Venetians." My husband is one of the former, who walks and takes public transport to where he needs to go in the city. It used to be said, in fact, that Venetians typically rode in a gondola only on two occasions, those of their weddings and of their own funerals. Had I only been married in Venice, I might well have been tempted to go for the wedding gondola myself. Except that my husband said at the time that he wouldn't be caught dead in one! (From which I can only guess means that the funeral gondola would be out of the question, too!)
Anyway, as you can see, ceremonial gondolas are more classy than the usual thing--including not one but two gondoliers, decked out in their formal whites, and fresh lilies adorning the bow--as you can see in this phone-photo of the gondola arrival of a Venetian bride at the church this past weekend. (Please pardon the low resolution... I like to think that the camera phone creates kind of an "impressionist," not to mention anonymous, effect for unexpected photos taken on the fly!)
"Cortina D'Ampezzo [in the Veneto region, Italy]. The efforts of recovery and cleanup of 'adamsite,' a chemical warfare material, were concluded yesterday. [Thursday] was the last day of work for the soldiers who were cleaning up the mountain pass of Cimabanche, where the toxic irritant, which had been used during the First World War, was found..."
(For more information about 'adamsite," see the following Encyclopedia Brittanica article).
"'We're talking about material already highly degraded,' explained Lieutenant Gaetano Rumella. '...It's a situation very different from that we've found in past years when, precisely in this zone... many tons of adamsite still in excellent condition were found and removed.' 'Here, we can relive the battles of a past era, re-read that page of history,' explained General [Maurizo] Pallone, 'when adamsite was ignited to create a[n irritating, tear-gas] smokescreen that winds would push against the enemy lines. We find a lot of remains from these battles, like rusted barbed wire and shrapnel among black mounds of burned material.'"
(From the June 17th Belluno edition of Il Gazzettino).
When you haven't had a modern war in your own backyard, it's easy to forget that those who have will continue to find weapons, still dangerous, both conventional and otherwise, for decades to come!
The Rogers Multiple Intelligences Test (via Quizfarm.com)
"You scored as Intrapersonal & Verbal/Linguistic. You have highly developed auditory skills, enjoy reading and writing and telling stories, and are good at getting your point across. You learn best by saying and hearing words. You prefer your own inner world, you like to be alone, and you are aware of your own strengths, weaknesses, and feelings. You learn best by engaging in independent study projects rather than working on group projects. People like you include poets, authors, speakers, attorneys, politicians, lecturers and teachers; entrepreneurs, philosophers and psychologists.
The Keys to Your Heart
You are attracted to obedience and warmth.
In love, you feel the most alive when your lover is creative and never lets you feel bored.
You'd like to your lover to think you are loyal and faithful... that you'll never change.
You would be forced to break up with someone who was ruthless, cold-blooded, and sarcastic.
Your ideal relationship is lasting. You want a relationship that looks to the future... one you can grow with.
Your risk of cheating is zero. You care about society and morality. You would never break a commitment.
You think of marriage as something precious. You'll treasure marriage and treat it as sacred.
In this moment, you think of love as something you thirst for. You'll do anything for love, but you won't fall for it easily.
One danger of writing about another culture is to seemingly belittle it by fixating on the incomprehensible. How many films and books have been written about "those wacky Mediterraneans," for example? Still, these moments can be enlightening! As Robert Darton, a brilliant cultural historian, writes in The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History, "anthropologists have found that the best points of entry in an attempt to penetrate an alien culture can be those where it seems to be the most opaque. When you realize that you are not getting something--a joke, a proverb, a ceremony--that is particularly meaningful to the natives, you can see where to grasp a foreign system of meaning in order to unravel it."
What does it all mean?? Do Italians presuppose more or less control than Americans over getting sick? Who knows? I suspect, however, that Americans would believe that their best weapons against illnesses like colds would be largely super-technological, while the Italians I know would believe that they should just shut the window... Who's to say who's right??
It's been over 10 years since I started coming to Venice, Italy and 5 since I moved to Maine to teach history at a "small leading Catholic liberal arts college." And I freely admit, I may well understand both places less every day. But, as you'll see, for better or for worse, I at least never stop grappling to understand here, there, or myself in between...
Hence, this blog. (My brain's full, so the rest has to go somewhere.)
Thanks for your kind attention!
Best wishes! Michelle
Categories: Blogs, Venice, Italy, Maine&NewEngland