A Trip Through the Veneto, Friuli, and the Emilia-Romagna
Massimo, from our locanda, arranged the visit by water taxi. As he greeted us at our locanda door I noticed the engaging little dog bustling around his feet, darting through the legs of all the passersby with great aplomb. Looking like a cross between a Jack Russell Terrier and a midget seal, he was quite the sight.
“You have a nice dog, Massimo.”
--Massimo, puzzled, looks down. “That’s not my dog, Signore.”
“Oh, but he acts as if he were your dog. Or rather, that you were his person, perhaps.”
--“He acts as he will, Signore. But he is not my dog,” says Massimo, with a curiously expressive flip of his hand off to one side, and a half-shrug.
“He must like you though, since he follows you around. And he appears to pay very close attention to you.”
--“Ah, yes. He came one day, and I happened to be going to a MacDonald’s, so I bought for him a hamburger. Since then he stays with me and accompanies me when I go to my meals. Sometimes, when it rains, he asks to come into my apartment. But he is not my dog, you see.”
“Yes, I see. He is not your dog. Quite obvious.”
--“Yes. Now we must go to the water taxi.” Massimo made a smirching kissy sound with his lips and waved his hand to the dog that was not his, who immediately trotted over to his side when Massimo strolled away.
When we reached the water taxi, Massimo called us over to the side and huddled with us, speaking privately. The dog that was not his pattered over to smell what may have been a dead fish or some such.
--“When you reach Murano, Signore, you must understand. We are Venetians, you see. We have either been occupied by or have dealt with the Romans, the Goths, the Turks, the Slavs, the Levantines and Arabs, the Austrians, the Germans, everyone. We have either conquered them, or they us, or both at different times. So we are traders. When the man at Murano makes you an offer, he will say ‘One thousand Euros for this.’ So you must say, ‘No, Five Hundred Euros, no more!’ Then you and he can discuss this for a while. But never accept what he first says. This is not an insult to us, you must know. This is the way we are. If you are so foolish as to take the first offer, we will of course accept the money, but you deprive us of the bargaining, which we expect. This, for us, is our way, and part of what invigorates us. The man at Murano will not feel badly if you bargain.”
We bought, of course, for it is almost impossible not to buy at Murano. Not for the haggling and the pressure to buy, but because the pieces are so beautiful and the artisan’s pride shows through certain pieces so clearly that you feel you are purchasing a small piece of their soul, and therefore acquiring a bargain even if it is not. And the maneuvering is fun.
The man at Murano, Ricardo, who was of the fifth generation of one of the four families who had established the Vetrerie, the glass factory, was delighted to be showing his glass to us, and delighted that we treasured it enough to buy it, and delighted to bargain with us, for then he could further respect us for being intelligent as well as appreciative of his art.
As we left Ricardo recommended two restaurants, gave us directions, told us the names of the owners, advised us on what to order and instructed us to tell the owner we were friends of his and should get “Ricardo’s price,” not the price for tourists! And this is the beauty of Venice, when the provider profits, and the buyer profits, and both are happy and content. Then you go to lunch.
Then across the lagoon and up the Grand Canal and back to San Marco, and the cathedral, and a walk to l’Accademia and the Peggy Guggenheim. Along the way we come to understand that Venice is, as much as any city has been, ever, a city of music. There are street musicians. There are cafes on the various piazzi who have trios and quartets and quintets and sestets, mostly based on strings, to entertain the languid patrons. There are various and sundry orchestras throughout the city on a nightly basis in the summer, celebrating music. The chiesi have their doors open in the evening so the music can spill out into the streets. When the hour strikes, the various belltowers carol out point and counterpoint, as if each was playing to and with the other in the soft air above the city.
The Guggenheim was overrated, although the walk through the city was not. Max Ernst may have been avant-garde, but he was also a terribly modest and limited painter, and Peggy liked the dark things for the most part. Perhaps that is why he was her second husband. Even the Kandinsky and the Klee were not of the vibrance that typified them. Only the Calder showed the exuberance and vitality inside the villa.
Ah, but on the outside, with the Picasso-like sculpture on the canal of the boy on the horse with arms spread and erection in full glory and the horse smirking as only a horse can, or the juxtaposition of the grand pallazzi, the Venetian seahorses and the pyramid of orange metal on the aged and pitted marble terrace with the sunlit water lapping just beneath, all under the celebrated Venetian Light.
A short break in the room, then inexorably out to the streets and alleys and canals and the endlessly milling people, the constant movement and babble, the flowing of colors and sounds and smells, feeling the amazing textures and contrasts of this place. The gruesome and tragic turn fascinating and romantic when you realize you have just stepped on the Ponti dei Sospiri and can see the smooth depression rubbed in the marble of the first step from the countless millions of feet that have stepped just there at that point. And how many of those feet were dragging and reluctant, you wonder, as people now take pictures of each other on this bridge of romance, emitting altogether different sighs. The fantastic and the mundane sit in equal glamour when a sleek black lacquered gondola glides by, with a young couple dazzled by the gondolier as his voice rings out like a clear chime while he effortlessly dips the paddle just so to swerve around a putrid garbage boat reeking of the effluvium of the stylish ristorante perched over the canal.
Restless, we move on past the grand palaces with their pitted facades and the mooring posts that seem so solid but oddly show their bottoms hollowed and eaten away to the spindly core when the boats pass and disturb the milky green water.
We stop at a canal-side ristorante to duck away from the pitter of rain and shelter under the canopy, again close to the throbbing Rialto, to sit and dine and watch the boat traffic go by, the clogged vaporetti, the polished and shiny water taxis, gleaming like wood-lacquered echoes of The Great Gatsby, the rusted work barges, the cigarette boats of the nouveaux riche and the stolid and dowdy boats of the old and tattily elegant rich.
But it is the worst of Venice we have ducked into, this tourist trap without soul or substance, with waiters shilling people off the streets and squabbling amongst each other to provide tasteless food for high prices for heedless people. We decide to order a glass of wine, as little as we can for the pleasure of watching the flow of spectacle, a pittance of Pinot Grigio, then we are off to a more hospitable place. We come across, in some conjunction of alleys somewhere, the Aquila Nera, purportedly founded in the 1500s and still possessing charisma in its little hidden corner of streets that don’t quite meet.
They have a good wine list, so we carefully peruse it and make our selection: A bottle of Refosco. The waiter returns shortly and tells us, “I am sorry, Sir, but the bottle of Refosco is missing.” We look at each other, but neither shows a quiver, and neither says a thing. Let us try this again: A bottle then of Marzemino, per favore. Again the waiter returns, this time visibly embarrassed, to tell us, “That bottle is also missing, Sir. Perhaps something else?” The next bottle, a Cabernet Franc, for we like the Francs of the Veneto and Friuli, is not missing, and so we have it. Perhaps for the next person it will join the other missing bottles from the good wine list of the Aquila Nera?
Finally, footsore and tired but not weary, we shuffle through the streets to our locanda and listen to the city quieten itself through the night, and think of all the things we did not see or feel in our time in Venice.
We are off the next day, on the vaporetto past the train station to the Piazzale Roma, with its link to terra firma, to the justly derided Mestre, and on to Padova and the Colli Euganei.