Italy - A Vacation in Venice

Italy - A Vacation in Venice

Date sent: Sat, 26 Apr 1997
From: Mark Bready
Bright warm days and cool nights set the stage for one of the most memorable trips that I have taken. After a few pleasant days in Barcelona, a short hop across the Mediterranean, during which I saw the high Alps rising from the French Rivera, and the north of Italy with its lakes, and later the rice growing flatlands, we landed at the Venice airport. The descent gave us a clear view of the shallow lagoon with channels dredged and marked for boats which ply between the outer islands and the center of Venice. The Piazza San Marco was clearly visible with the sun shining on the gold mosaics of the cathedral of San Marco, and it was punctuated by the campanile shrouded in scaffolding while undergoing repairs.

We were still on tour, and our guide, Romana, met and welcomed us at the airport. She had interrupted her skiing holiday at Cortina with her boyfriend, to be with us and take us to our hotel, the Sofetel. A pretty Venetian, she was sunburned from her interrupted holiday, and her high spirits were infectious to the geriatric travelers, some of whom were visiting Venice for the first time. She was a perfect tour guide, recommending interesting restaurants and entertainment.

When the tour left after three days, four of us who had extended our stay in Venice for four more days, moved to the Pensione Calcina, situated near the Academia, facing the Guidecca canal, a section called the Zattere.

The location was perfect, one stop of the vaporetto was a block away, and another, at the ponte Academia was a five minute walk. The vaporetto is a boat, the equivalent of a city bus, which plies the canals, stopping every few blocks to pick up and discharge passengers. Others voyaging longer distances between various islands, create a transportation network that is cheap and efficient. For about 18 dollars, an unlimited three day pass is available.

In addition to the Cathedral of San Marco, there are dozens of major and minor churches, each one containing important works of art. Near the pensione where we moved after the tour, is the Gesuiti, a church with beautifully preserved ceilings by Tiepolo. One of his paintings, in a side chapel, is currently at the Metropolitan Museum (3/97).

At the Scuola Di San Giovanni Di Evangalista, I went to a concert of 18th century music. As the strains of Vivaldi bounced off the baroque decorations, a circle of dark portraits on all sides of the hall gazed down on the spectators. The music took on an added dimension in this exotic setting.

A visit to the Giudecca gave me the opportunity to visit to the Redentore, a church designed by Palladio. The interior is graceful, and on the high alter are bronzes by Campagna. The next island east, Isola S. Giogorio Maggiori, is home to a church by the same name. Rebuilt by Palladio between 1585 and 1580, and completed by Scamozzi in 1610 its island setting shows the fine architecture to great advantage. Illuminated at night it is plainly visible from the Piazza San Marco.

There is a fine tower with an elevator. At the top there is an excellent view of the Doge Palace in one direction, and the Lido in the other. It also looks up the Grand Canal, with its bustling traffic of vaporetti and work boats with occasional gondolas sticking their prows into the fray.

Everywhere the light on the water casts dancing reflections on the buildings and under the bridges. This is one of the unique memories of la Serinessema.

There was time to visit the outer islands of San Michele, Murano, Burano, and Torchello. San Michele, the closest island, is the cemetery. Most of the tombs are above ground. There are flowers everywhere. Some are fresh but most are plastic. There is such limited space there, there is a limit to the time bodies are left. Most bodies are moved to a ossuary on the mainland after ten years, only the very rich and famous were left undisturbed. Stravinsky and Diageliff, also Ezra Pound have not suffered the indignity of being transported to another resting place. Very few interments take place these days. People are buried on the mainland.

Murano is the glass manufacturing island, with demonstrations of glass making at the many furnaces. Showrooms are everywhere. Many allow spectators to watch as various objects are skillfully executed by various artisans. Legend has it there were so many fires caused by the furnaces, it was decreed all glass-making activity be confined to this one island.

Burano, a little farther out toward the airport is a charming small town. Houses are painted in bright colors, there is a leaning tower, not quite as famous as the one in Pizza. Picturesque in the way Carmel or New Hope or Provincetown is. Torcello, the farthest that I got from San Marco, is rural with vines and farm animals. The outermost islands were more popular in the past than they are now. During the plague, many people moved away. Mosquitoes must be another problem since the islands are surrounded by swamps.

The cuisine of Venice is remarkable and unique. Their treatment of the abundant seafood is perfect. Frita mista, consisting of perfectly fried, but not greasy, squid, shrimp, tiny sardines, mussels and clams is one of their outstanding dishes. Another is calves liver in the Venetian style. Small pieces of calves liver are lightly sautéed with onions, herbs and wine, and served with polenta. I try to remember the names of my favorite restaurants. Taverna San Trovoso, an old favorite of mine, was as good as I remember it. One of their specialties is gnocchi al quatro fromaggi, potato dumplings with a sauce of 4 cheeses. The Madonna, a seafood restaurant, was recommended by Romana, our tour guide. There I had a Venetian specialty, risotto al frutta di mare, short grain rice with sea food. Creamy with bits of various fruits of the sea, it is an outstanding starter. Montines, in the Academia quarter is known by all Venetians, but few tourists. At lunch it is crowded with local business men.

The flight home from Venice to Milan and then on to Newark, started early in the morning. To save the vexation of taking the vaporetto to the Piazzelli Roma, and the bus to the airport, we treated ourselves to a water taxi for eighty dollars. These are old Chris Craft, wooden speedboats that I remember from Hollywood movies of the 30's and 40's. The flight home was in a new aircraft, a 767. The flight was on time.

hmb 4/97

Mark Bready

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