Saturday, July 7, 2007

Three days, three islands

A gorgeous sunrise water taxi ride to the airport made it only slightly easier to leave Venice. My month in one of the most gorgeous cities on earth was everything and more I thought and hoped it would be.

Two smooth flights later, I was in NYC being picked up at JFK by cousins David and Heidi and off to their home in Brooklyn (okay, so maybe it’s not technically an island and I’ve taken a little poetic license with the final post on this blog – big deal). We three and their friend Chef Kate went out to dinner at a great Thai restaurant called Nana in the Park Slope/Brooklyn Heights area that has exploded with great new restaurants in the past couple of years. It was fabulous and, to be honest, a taste treat after a month of Venetian food.

Back to the airport less than 24 hours after I’d arrived. But not before everyone’s favorite NYC breakfast – orange juice, coffee, bagels, lox, cream cheese, onions, tomatoes, and my personal favorite, whitefish salad. Yummmmmmmmmmmmmmm!

Two smooth flights later (and a bit of sleep, to boot) and I was greeted with smiles from friends David and Geri. Less than 30 minutes later, home again, home again jiggity jig.

I know how lucky I am to live in such a wondrous place. It always makes coming home from vacation easy. This time, though, I didn’t feel quite as happy and relieved as I usually do on touchdown. Dreams of Venice

Random thoughts and the debunking of myths

Let’s debunk some myths first, shall we?

Myth #1: Venice is unbearably hot during the summer months and the lagoon stinks. Venice is hot during the summer, lots of places are hot during the summer and we never once smelled anything foul at all coming from the lagoon or anywhere else.

Myth #2: Venice is unbearably crowded with tourists during the summer months. Piazza San Marco and the Riva along the Grand Canal is unbearably crowded with tourists during the summer months. The rest of the city is not.

Myth #3: Venice is one of the few – if not the only – place in Italy where you can get bad food. First of all, I have a feeling if you try really hard you can get a bad meal anywhere. In 28 days, I had a total of three or four pretty lousy dinners, maybe one or two not-so-great lunches and not one bad breakfast. More important, we had numerous great and a few truly amazing meals.

Moving on to “random thoughts”…

-if you think cell phone use is ubiquitous in this country, you ain’t seen nothin’ ‘til you get to Italy – from kids to grandmas and grandpas, everyone is on his/her cell phone ALL THE TIME, which includes the people who pilot the boats and row the gondolas making the waterways a very interesting place to be

-Venetian men sing and talk to themselves a lot – Wanda was the first to take note of this

-there are a lot – a LOT! – of dogs in Venice and their owners love them very much and take them everywhere

-if you have the “subway gene,” you will automatically master the vaporetto system; if you don’t, it might take a little while to figure it out

-if you can’t or don’t want to walk up and down a lot – a LOT! – of steps, Venice is not a good choice for you – there are very few elevators in and you will need to negotiate a lot of bridges to move around and really enjoy the city

-Venetians – all Italians, really – are the most stylish people in the world – from kids to grandmas and grandpas, they just look great all the time – Chris calls them “walking works of art”

-Venetians take recycling seriously – they recycle everything because they live on Islands and understand the value of their resources – da ya think we could learn something from them??

-and finally, lest there was any doubt, Orange IS the new Black.


Wednesday, July 4, 2007

And now it's time to say...

...arrivederci to La Serenissima.

We had one last morning at the Biennale in the Giardini, one last spritz and cicchetti lunch at Vecio Forner, and shall have one last dinner at a new restaurant - Vini da Gigio - in a new neighborhood - the far northern reaches of Cannaregio.

It has been grand, artistic, delicious, more than I ever dreamed and I shall have stories to tell and photos to share for a long, long time to come.

Grazie mille, mi amici, e ciao ciao ciao.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Another perfect dinner... Alle Testiere. Tiny soft shell crabs quick-fried with olive oil and vinegar, monkfish smothered in saor, eggplant and ricotta ravioli with swordfish, shrimp in spicy tomato-cinnamon sauce, grilled filet of sea bass, panna cotta, fig torta. White wine, red wine, white wine, red wine, dessert wine. Three times in four weeks - each dinner as good as the one before. Amazing service and a place as cute and friendly as if it was in your own neighborhood, wherever that neighborhood happens to be. It's hard to leave. It will be fantastic to go back, whenever that might be.

Sorry, no food photos, no photos of the restaurant. So, a serene Venetian scene instead. Buona notte...

Next to last

I seem to be counting everything down - cappuccini, meals, Biennale installations, walks by Le Forcole - everything.

This morning was the final visit to Biennale "collateral" exhibits and fortunately, Scotland, Latin America (Territorios), Armenia, and the third of three Australian installations were all either in or on the grounds of Palazzo Zenobia, very near to home. All interesting in their own way - Armenia deals with war, Latin America deals with territories - in every sense of that word - and making them one's own, Scotland is represented by six artists, all extremely different, and Valhalla - the final Australian installation - is, for me, the most groundbreaking of today's bunch. I've posted two photos down below - one is the exterior and the other the interior.

We also took in a fascinating exhibit of wooden interactive machines/models of some of Leonardo da Vinci's inventions, reproduced from his own drawings. Installed at the Church of San Barnaba, the setting (once again) is an interesting part of the experience. I've posted a photo at the left.

Strike two at VizioVirtu - and this time the chocolate maker was standing outside the shop. I suggested she update the information on her website which says the shop is open all day. Perhaps the midday heat is too much for her little creations. We shall not make another special trip, I'm afraid.

Nap time. Then dinner (next to last) at Alle Testiere.


La Fenice p.s.

I almost forgot to mention a fabulous exhibit of black and white photos by William Claxton that is also at La Fenice for the next two months. The installation of "Photography is Jazz for the eye" is a great juxtaposition of eras and musical forms. The portraits are from the 50s and 60s and include Charley Parker, Duke Ellington, Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, and many, many more. They are exhibited on music stands throughout what are called the Sale Apollinee, a series of five rooms used during "intervals" by the audience members in the first three tiers of boxes.

The Phoenix rises...twice

A busy day yesterday - Gill, unfortunately has a bit of a bug so after a little nursing from the Contessa, he went farmacia shopping. He's a trooper and hasn't really let it slow him down. While he did that, I had an informative and inspiring chat with Severio Pastor, the forcole carver, and his young apprentice. I'm writing a sidebar to my Biennale story for The Honolulu Advertiser about them. Their carving is as much art as anything I've seen in the Biennale exhibitions.

The other highlight of the day was most definitely the audio tour of La Fenice, Venice's storied opera house that has twice survived devastating fires. The name, which means The Phoenix, could not be more appropriate. The 1200-seat main theater is a masterpiece of extremely decorative Rococo style. It also takes the comfort of both performers and audience members into consideration. Constructed mostly of wood including the floor, the acoustics are excellent. The velvet covered seats "on the floor" and in the five tiers of boxes are lovely and quiet and each has an air vent beneath. Not only does it keep the audience member cool in summer and warm in winter, it eliminates the need for large vents that are notoriously noisy and interfere with the music. No photography is allowed inside La Fenice but I've posted a photo of the main entrance to the left.

I'm sorry to report that dinner last night was a major mis-step. Recommended very highly by the agent from whom I rented the apartment, it was a very "local" place but we were served the "tourist" dinner. At least it was fairly inexpensive. Enough said...

Onward to today's adventures. Will take in a few last Biennale installations - hard to believe I've been here almost a full month, have not seen it all and will leave having not seen it all. I think I'll probably be back for another (I hope). I'm very much looking forward to dinner tonight - a third visit to Alle Testiere - and I know Gill is going to love it. And I think we better go back to VizioVirtu for some chocolate today, too.


Sunday, July 1, 2007

Last "going" ('til me)

A couple of Biennale installations yesterday - fantastic, big oil paintings in a beautiful church setting is Argentina's entry - "I am Winter Itself." And a "collateral" event - a video installation on three screens, each placed on an altar in a tiny church was absolutely extraordinary. Entitled "Ocean without a Shore," the artist is Bill Viola.

We bid "arrivederci" to Wanda this morning after a divine and very Venetian seafood dinner out on the Zattere fronting the Giudeca Canal last night
under a big, full orange Venetian moon - doesn't get much better, I think. The restaurant is called Riviera; the food was delicious, the service excellent, a perfect way to send Wanda off.

It was a quiet morning here at Palazzetto da Schio and this afternoon, Gill and I ventured out by vaporetto to Rialto and wended our way back down to Dorsoduro via San Marco through lots of little streets and alleyways and shops (yes, shops). The photo to the left is one of the wonderfully typical "sights of Venice" we encountered today.

We just finished dinner in the garden - fresh greens, grilled raddichio, pasta with sundried and heirloom tomatoes, zucchini, and basil from the garden. Vino, of course...

My time here is winding down. I have lots of impressions, anecdotes, thoughts to post and I promise to get to all of them as quickly as I can.

Ciao, mi amici...

Friday, June 29, 2007

Last "coming"

A quick word to let everyone know that Gill arrived safe and sound from Amsterdam (via London) at about 7:00 p.m., just in time for dinner in the garden - lovely. We three - Wanda, Gill, and I - have all day and evening tomorrow (lots of food, for sure) - Wanda departs on Sunday. And i cannot believe I have less than a week left. Lots to tell between now and then. Buona notte.

To market, to market...

Yes, I've been here before and now I've been here for more than three weeks and today was the first time I went to Rialto Market to actually shop. Come on, I waited 'til Wanda got here. Gill arrives later today so there was no better excuse to shop for ingredients for a home-cooked dinner, which we three will enjoy in the garden this evening. I will take photos and post them.

The "official" market is a covered pavilion of fishmongers (I've posted a photo from across the canal to the left of this post) and numerous fruit and vegetable stands adjacent. It operates from Tuesday through Saturday from (roughly) 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and it's best, obviously, to get there early. There are also specialty meat, poultry, and cheese shops in close proximity. First, we spocked it all out and then were happy to find that just a few steps away Drogheria Moscari was already open. I'm told there used to be dozens of these kinds of shop in Venice; this is the only one left. They sell hundreds of different wines, spices, nuts, fruit mustards, sauces, jams, a foodie's dream store. We had a ball there and they were very, very nice. I've put a photo of one of their windows down below. At the market, we got all the fixings for a big pupu platter, a big salad, fresh herbs for the pasta and some fruit. Glorious food!

Home again, home again, jiggity jig...time to think about prepping dinner.

Women rule...continued

I have met, chatted with, and "done business" with five notable women here, four in one day - yesterday. I'm guessing they are all in their 30s and 40s and all in business for themselves. A treat to experience in still male business-dominated Italy.

On Murano, after looking at I don't know how many glass studios I met Roberta (I'm sorry I don't know her last name) at her new shop, Manin 56. Of everything I looked at in all those studios, I chose one of her original designs as my big splurge purchase of this trip - six gorgeous glasses. Many of you will have the pleasure of drinking from them shortly. She was very, very proud to tell me about this new venture of hers.

First up yesterday, Serena Viavello who has just purchased a very beautiful shop specializing in silk clothing, shoes, and handbags by several designers. She, too, proudly talked about her new business. (Yes, I bought a pair of shoes, so sue me.)

Mariangela Penzo has no confectioners in her family history but the film "Chocolat" awakened a passion in her that she has pursued since. She went to school in France and two-and-a-half years ago opened VizioVirtu and it is already generally acknowledged as Venice's finest chocolate shop. She and her shop have received a great deal of media coverage, a subject that always interests me. And Juliette Binoche, the star of "Chocolat," attended the opening. Although she doesn't speak much English, she was very gracious and we, obviously, had much common ground. It was the second time I'd been to her shop, her chocolates are divine and I shall doubtless visit again before I leave.

A funky little shop called Novecento filled with antiques, curiosities, one-of-a-kind items, caught my attention on a long walk home. The owner is Nicoletta (again, no last name, sorry) and she was busy re-arranging displays and fretting about how disorganized she is. She is a tall beauty and I was happy to chat with her - she had MANY questions about Hawai'i - and to make a few small purchases. She could not find her scotch tape dispenser which caused her great anxiety. I tried to reassure her that it was fine, nothing really needed to be wrapped and she seemed so grateful she gave me a little discount on my purchases and also gave me as a gift a beautiful, handmade Venetian fabric bag with silk lining which is specifically used to carry bread. I left feeling I had made an acquaintance I might someday be able to renew.

And finally, Claudia Canestrelli who owns and operates a perfectly charming antique shop that I have passed several times a day since I've been here. She is the third generation owner of the shop (her grandfather and mother before her) and we talked about how difficult it is to keep small family businesses alive and well in this day and age. She has two sisters who are not interested in antiques and a 12-year-old daughter who she hopes will be. She spoke about how Venice has changed and is changing and the terms she used are ones that we use all the time to describe what is happening in our own Islands.

Alora. Women do rule, si?

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Women rule...

...even in Venice. I've posted a link with this same title about Venice's first-ever woman gondolieri...I've got a terrific post about some fantastic women I've met here - but it's time for dinner and my eyes need a rest. Will get this up as quickly as I can, if not tonight, tomorrow for sure. For now, enjoy Alexandra's story...

Caution - Student Driver

You know how you feel when you see those words on the back of a car traveling along Ka'ahumanu Avenue? Well, imagine being on a vaporetto in the middle of the Grand Canal where there are no lanes, no rules, no fear. We had that experience coming back from Murano earlier in the week. At first, it was a little disconcerting - the guy needed two, three, four tries to pull into the first couple of stops. But he finally got into his groove and by the time we reached Dorsoduro, he was able to make it in one go. I must say everyone, Venetians especially, was very forgiving and sympathetic - hey, the only way to learn is to do it, right? - and cheered for him when he finally got it down. Bravo!

More art, more food, more food, more art, more, more, more

Are you so tired of reading about art and food, food and art, food and art, art and food?

I'll be brief - Wanda went to an exhibit of Sargent's landscapes of Venice yesterday morning at Museo Correr (in Piazza San Marco) while I made my way to Ca' Pesaro which houses the Museum of Modern Art and the Museum of Oriental Art (their term). I loved the modern collection - focus on the turn of the century up to the 1960s/70s, heavy on Venetians with some great work by other European painters and sculptors. Another joyful Calder, a Klimt, a couple of Mattisses, one fantastic Bonnard (a much overlooked impressionist whom I happen to like very much), and a Vedova in a completely different style than the others I've seen here.

The "Oriental"
art is one nobleman's collection and to be frank, it's poorly displayed and there's just too much of it - weaponry, fabrics, ceramics and porcelain, more weaponry - to really be able to take it all in, especially in a reasonable amount of time. I did enjoy the huge assortment of netsuke.

On to food. We had reservations at Naranzaria, a hip little place in the same area as Bancogiro. It was Marcia's last night in Venice and we were so looking forward to dining outside. But there was that thunderstorm I mentioned yesterday but the food was so good and, as I also mentioned, the light after the rain stopped was so magical, inside was okay. Just off the Rialto market is a small campo of very hip restaurants with young chefs/owners reminiscent of NYC's Meatpacking District when IT was first dotted with hip restaurants with young chefs/owners. Fun, very fun.

'Nuff ready...I've got a couple of other things I want to write about which I'll do in separate posts.


The early bird...

...gets a close-up view of how wine and beer is delivered to the cafe at Ca' Pesaro, the Modern and Asian art musuem. By boat (duh!), obviously. The museum is conveniently located on a tiny canal (or rio as they are called) so the boat pulls right up to the "guardrail," one guy gets out and climbs over it - in this case the older of the two, late 40s I'd say, incredibly handsome and with a very strong upper body. The younger - early 20s I'd say, "husky" - stays on the boat and TOSSES full cases of bottles of wine and bottled beer to the other who stacks them on the handcart. TOSSES! And they can smoke and talk on their cell phones while they do it. I wold have liked to have taken photos or even a little video but it's considered rude so you'll just have to take my word for it.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Little things

We had a thunder/lightning storm earlier this evening - so cool! We couldn't dine outside as we'd planned but the light after the storm passed 'til well after 10:00 p.m. was so beautiful eating indoors was hardly a sacrifice. (Of course, I didn't have my camera - sorry.) A great dinner, by the way, at Narazaria near the Rialto market. More about that tomorrow along with the "day in art."

Here's a nice little story. As much as I love dining out, I love getting a glimpse into the kitchen even more. We had dinner at Alle Testiere again last evening and the desserts were so remarkable, especially the panna cotta, I was sure they must have a pastry chef I'd like to meet. When I asked, the owner laughed and told me the kitchen was too small. The restaurant is tiny - 24 seats and a service bar. I asked if I could see the kitchen. He laughed again and told me to go right ahead. The chef was standing in the doorway, the sous chef was working the cold station. The chef was standing in the doorway 'cause there's barely enough room for two bodies in the kitchen. "The tour," said Chef in broken English with a smile. It cannot be more than 30 or 40 square feet. My friend and excellent chef Joyce Solis always says, "If you can cook, you can cook anywhere on any equipment." Last night, I realized (again) how true that really is. Alle Testiere puts out exceptional food, two full seatings, five nights a week. Great things often emerge from small spaces.

Okay, enough of the cookies - a new photo of a typical little Venetian canal.

On the run

Quickly, this morning, 'cause there's more art to be seen and more food to be eaten...

Marcia got back to Venice on Monday after a week in Paris and a road trip through Southern France and Italy. She's happy to be back and we're happy to have her. We all three dined at a Agli Alboretti Monday evening. Gorgeous garden setting, innovative (a la Ferran Adria-ish) menu, stunning tabletops (glassware, plates, cutlery), snoooooooty staff, and food that was good but uneven. We still had a good time.

More Biennale installations yesterday - Aotearoa (a second time for me, first for Wanda), Portuagal (Wanda's heritage), and Singapore housed just across the Accademia Bridge in the magnificent Instituto Veneto di Scienze Lettere ed Arti. The work is by four impressive Singaporan artists and the direct contrast to the style of the building making it even more interesting for viewers.

Back to Cantinone Gia Schiavi for more of their amazing cichetti and then a restful afternoon (see Chris, I CAN far niente!).

We went back to Alle Testiere for our second visit - even better than the first and had a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

Along the way, Marcia snagged the best shoes seen in Venice so far.

I'm leaving the photo of the cookies up...for obvious reasons!


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Clear as glass

Another little neighbor island jaunt yesterday - this time to Murano, known around the world for it's stunning glass. It is what one would expect - charming in its residential neighborhoods, fornace (furnace) chimneys competing with church steeples for domination of the sky, main thoroughfares filled with day-tripping tourists looking for "genuine" Murano glass souvenirs. Among the kitsch, there are designer showrooms with works of art both utilitarian and purely ornamental. Many of these designers come from glass-making families that go back centuries with names like Vennini and Seguso.

The Museo del Vetro (Glass Museum) is definitely worth a visit with examples of glass-making dating from the 1st Century A.D. to the present. Can you imagine paper thin drinking cups and toilette bottles surviving - many intact - for more than 2000 years?! Absolutely incredible. Examples of every technique and every technological advance fill the showcases - all very nicely displayed. I am partial to contemporary design and so lingered in the final sala which has a rich selection of work from the mid-20th Century on; many pieces were displayed in past Biennale. I've posted a link to the museum site.

Interestingly, my best little experience on Murano came not in a glass factory but at a very different kind of oven. On our way into the center of town Wanda had noticed a incredibly delicious shop window filled with big, homemade, typical Venetian baked goods. On our way back to the vaporetto - very hot and dog-tired - she insisted we stop for meringue as big as your head and assorted other goodies. The tutu at the counter was darling and as we turned to leave, I saw a gentleman - obviously her husband - standing in the doorway to the paneterria (bakery). He must have noticed my keen interest because he invited me to the "inner sanctum." A spotlessly clean, well-equipped, obviously very well-used bakery and I was in heaven - Chef Cheech, I wish you had been here! His name is Signore Marcato and he has manned his ovens for 51 years. His father before him and his father before him were bakers, too. And now his son is the one who comes in at the crack of dawn. I asked for a job, really, I did. He laughed and laughed and then said we could switch places - he'd come and bake in Hawai'i and I could stay and bake in Murano. Sounds like a plan to me. Signore's absolutely delicious handiwork to the left; the Baker and Bella down below with the rest of the photos.


Monday, June 25, 2007

A couple from Colorado walks into a bar...

...actually, they were already in the bar, Harry's Bar. For those unfamiliar, Harry's Bar is famous for being Ernest Hemingway's hangout in Venice, for inventing that delicious drink known as the Bellini (white peach nectar blended with Prosecco - Italy's sparkling wine), and for being, well, Harry's. It's just one of those places. It's owned an operated by the Cipriani family, Italian restaurateurs/hoteliers with properties around the world. It is a "must-stop" on millions of tourists' lists every year. I can only imagine how weary the white-jacketed waiters/bartenders must be of answering every inane question asked and dealing with, frankly, every attention-deprived jerk who makes a bigger jerk of himself at Harry's. So for every charming story - see "...three girls walk into a bar" posted ten days or so ago - there is one of these.

A middle-aged couple from Colorado who have done some traveling, not particularly savvy or worldly, taking a gazillion photos (it's a small bar, folks), telling the waiter stories in which he has less than zero interest. His name is "Harry" - what a coincidence, it's such an odd name, after all - and "he looks just like Hemingway" - according to his lovely wife, so shouldn't the drinks be "on the house?" She wants a Bellini (of course she does!) and he wants a martini which the two of them describe to the waiter for, I swear this is true, at least three or four minutes to be absolutely SURE it's made just the way he likes it. And no, the drinks, signora, are not on the house, the waiter chuckles sweetly. We were seated TABLES AWAY on the OTHER SIDE OF THE BAR from this pair so how do I know all this?? I know all this because this woman's voice could be heard by all except perhaps a few hearing impaired people at the vaporetto stop down the Riva.

A lovely British couple had the misfortune of being seated next to Mr. and Mrs. Colorado and were immediately engaged in a conversation about travel, baseball, soccer, the Queen, Hemingway, Bellinis, the history of Harry's, and on and on and on, all at this same extraordinary decibel level. The waiters/bartenders at Harry's have to contend with people poking their videocameras in, walking in and walking out after looking at the menu, and various and sundry other "Harry's Violations." But once you're a paying customer, you are treated as a paying customer. And so there was no way any of the white-jacketed ones were going to do anything about this woman. Believe me, several of them and I exchanged eye rolls. You have no idea - or maybe most of you do have some idea - of how much I wanted to go over to her and very nicely say:

"Ma'am, this bar is filled with people who are on their honeymoon, have saved for years for this trip, who come to escape the crowds outside and have a quiet drink. You have managed to single-handedly ruin that experience for everyone here. YOU are one of the reasons Americans are so poorly thought of around the globe. Enjoy your Bellini."

P.S. So as not to leave a bad taste in anyone's mouth about Harry's Bar - which truly is one of the delights of Venice - I've put up a photo of our Bellinis down with the other photos. Salute!

Sunday in the garden at the Guggenheim

First let me say it is not as easy as one would think to find a cappuccino on Sunday morning. But we prevailed. And then gathered with the rest of the crowd outside the gates of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection waiting for them to swing open. I had visited this marvelous collection in 2005 and was anxious to go back for a second look. I was delighted and also disappointed.

A formidable collection of 20th Century art is housed in a beautiful palazzo on the Grand Canal that was Peggy Guggenheim's home here as well as spilling over into another building separated from the main house by a fantastic sculpture garden, probably my favorite part of the property. (The photo at the left is the first piece you encounter and I've put up a link to the collection's official website.)

I love the artists represented in this collection - Picasso, Braque, Kandinsky, Klee, Mondrian, Magritte, Jackson Pollack - and am particularly drawn to the sculptors. "Maiastra" and "Bird in Space" by Constantin Brancusi are simply breathtaking. Giacometti and Marini are here, too. And the Alexander Calder mobiles are positively joyous. I was very much looking forward to seeing again the incredible headboard he created for Guggenheim. This is where the disappointment set it.

It is Biennale time and so the palazzo, which last time I was here was very obviously a home with an art collection in it, has been turned over to two installations, one
by Matthew Barney, the other by Joseph Beuys - collectively called "all in the present must be transformed." Both Wanda and I were completely baffled by them even after having read all the literature and frankly, we didn't like them enough to work at it any harder.

There was delight, though, in two other small Biennale-related installations - a magnificent sculpture by Anish Kapoor, the second I've seen here and I shall learn more about this artist, and a series of monotypes by Emilio Vadova, a favorite son who died just last year.

Later in the afternoon, Wanda's first vaporetto ride and a walk - along with the throngs - through Piazza San Marco and the Basilica itself. And yes, Harry's again. Hey, this is Wanda's first trip to Venice and as you know, a Bellini at Harry's is required. I have another Harry's story for you, not nearly so charming as the first. I'll post it soon.

Today we are off on a little "neighbor island" adventure to the glass island of Murano.


Sunday, June 24, 2007

Mangia, mangia

Quickly, before we leave on today's excursion, I though, you should see one of Chris' photos. This is one of the home-cooked dinners we had in our garden. Spaghetti and meatballs, insalata caprese, and, of course, a nice bottle of Soave (from the region). "From the region" is very important...

All's well that ends well...

Wanda arrived safe and sound - exactly 24 hours after she was due here. To her immense credit, she had a smile on her face and was immediately taken with Venice. No residual effects from her very, very, very long journey.

She unpacked, we took a stroll/tour through the 'hood - including a long walk on the Zattere to the market to stock up on Prosecco (2.90 Euro - about $4.00 - for GOOD Prosecco) and then on to a lovely and quite innovative dinner.

Lineadombra is at the very end of the Zattere closest to our apt. We dined leisurely on the terrace, and I'm so happy to have been able to introduce her to this wonderful city in this way.

By the way, a correction - she has indeed been overseas - many time to Britain. It is her first trip to "the continent" and a non-English speaking country.

We have a busy day planned - so ciao ciao

Friday, June 22, 2007

Wanda has left the building!

She made it onto an evening flight (NY time) out of JFK and will be here tomorrow (this) afternoon. Yippee!!!!!


My dear friend Wanda is in the midst of one of those nightmare travel scenarios. Too long a story to tell - suffice to say she is, as of this moment, still in NYC (perhaps even still at JFK). Please everyone, send good thoughts her way so that she gets out on a flight tonight. And bless my dear cousins Heidi and David for being in contact with her and offering her a comfortable and comforting place to stay. She/we have planned so long for this adventure together I must assume I will see her tomorrow afternoon.

My plan was to have breakfast, run some errands and then go to the airport to greet Wanda. Instead, I did some marketing - there's a lovely fruit and vegetable and fish market right in San Vio (moments away) every Tuesday and Friday - and then ventured out to new areas. More in a moment...

I've had an opportunity to spend a bit of time with Contessa Anna da Schio who owns this palazzetto. Her family has been in this region since - get ready for this - the year 1000. Is that amazing?? The family purchased this house in the - get ready again - 16th Century. Her brother was born upstairs. Her father was a landowner - her brother now grows grapes and makes wine on the family land and her mother still lives in the country near here. She lives, of course, in the piano nobile which is very beautiful. I hope to hear more of her story in the next two weeks.

And a word about the gentlemen at Le Forcole before I forge on. Thanks to the fact that Chris wanted some postcards, we finally went in and chatted with both Severio Pastor and his young apprentice. Severio has been carving forcole for 32 years and has only one apprentice at a time. This young man - of Venetian heritage and very, very blond - has been with him for two and a half years. When I asked how much longer he had to go, Severio answered for him - "25 years!" Everyone laughed but I have a feeling it may not be far from true. Neither the teacher nor the student has carving in his family but it is clear they love their work with all their hearts. When I told Severio I live in Hawai'i, he immediately asked if we fear rising ocean levels the way the Venetians do. Ah, Island people have a camaraderie like no others. We talked about global warming, "acqua alta" ("high water") which is a daily concern in Venice, and his art. I'm hoping to work up the nerve to ask if I can write a short story about his apprentice whose name, I'm ashamed to say, I don't yet know. I do walk by the studio at least three or four times a day and am always greeted with a very friendly, "ciao ciao." By the way, there are a total of THREE CARVERS in all of Venice that sculpt forcole. I am now acquainted with two of them.

People say that one of the joys of Venice is wandering and getting lost. The city is, after all, a series of islands so eventually you reach the water - yes, that island thing again... What I have found daily - first with Marcia and then with Chris - is that you can follow the map to the best of your ability but at some point you give it up to the universe/whomever and you always find what you're looking for.

First, I was determined to find a wine/cichetti bar (cichetti are the Venetian equivalent of tapas) which was unanimously recommended. Cantinone Gia Schiavi is very near to here and as marvelous as all the reviews. I loved having a glass of wine at 11:00 in the morning (!!) and the cichetti - I chose pistachio mousse and sweet squash puree on top of soft cheese - were so delicious I can't wait to go back.

I was also determined to find Vizio Virtu, Venice's premier chocolatier. I am, of course, extremely biased in favor of my family's own JoMart chocolates, but having said this, Vizio Virtu is a little gem of a shop with very interesting flavors - I shall soon try the Sigmund Freud which is flavored with tobacco. I should tell you I walked and walked and walked and asked and asked and asked trying to find this place. I finally gave up and then, of course, walked right to it on the way to the vaporetto.

Same thing happened with another Biennale installation, the Ukrainian Pavilion ("A Poem about and Inland Sea") at Palazzo Papadopoli. No coincidence, I'm sure, that the most blue-collar, working class exhibit is installed in the most ornate of the palazzi I've seen so far. Yes, I have photos - I need to "work" on them and will post.

I have a confession to make. I've learned how to work the satellite TV and I'm watching CNN, BBC World, and CNBC Europe. So sue me...

Buona notte...

P.S. I'm putting up a photo down below of either the last or one of the last gondola workshops in the city at San Trovaso.

Comings and Goings

Well, it's Friday morning (6/22) so it appears I'm a bit behind here, doesn't it?

Wednesday was Chris' last full day in Venice and he wanted to spend the morning with San Marco leaving me to take in a whole slew of what the official Biennale program calls " Participating Countries in Town." These are installations - mostly at palazzi some at other beautiful and appropriate buildings scattered all over the city. They're small, manageable, and as amazing as the exhibits at the Giardini and Arsenale.

Just across the Accademia Bridge is a fabulous cluster of these installations. The photo at the left is from one of the two artists representing Cyprus. I hope you can tell it's huge and it took my breath away when I approached it from the corridor.

The former Eastern bloc countries continue to astound - Albania and most notably in this group Estonia which can only be described as chilling.

Little Luxembourg is proudly represented by an artist named Jill Mercedes whose series of "rooms" requires not only imagination but participation on the part of the viewer.

And Australian artist Susan Norrie exhibits a series of videos called Havoc about a devastating volcanic eruption and subsequent mudslide in Indonesia - spellbinding.

Later in the afternoon Chris and I happened onto the New Zealand installation, literally, just around the corner. It is a series of video screens suspended from the ceiling of a large waterfront building - you need to lay down on mattresses on the floor to view them. They project 21st Century Maori art in both pictures and sound and the experience is absolutely indescribable. This is one to which I will certainly return.

A word about dinner - strolling around the area of the Rialto Market we seemed to have hit the mother lode of notable restaurants. Makes sense, right?! And we chose well, a delicious dinner at a small place called Bancogiro - sitting out near the water, small plates of "new" Venetian cuisine, perfect for Chris' last supper of this trip.

He departed Thursday morning - a little sad to see him go...
It did leave me a day for mundane tasks, laundry, etc. in anticipation of Wanda's arrival today - I thought. Unfortunately, she ran into some flight problems at JFK so her arrival here is up in the air (sorry about that!). I was so looking forward to meeting her at the airport and gliding back through the lagoon with her on her first overseas trip. And so, I am left to my own devices for one more day (hopefully no more than that) and it's time to plan.

Ciao ciao

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A day on the neighbor islands

A lovely day for a trip to the "neighbor islands" of Torcello and Burano.
Forty-five minutes from the crowds of Venice is Torcello where all that remains are 20 residents, a few restaurants, and Chiesa di Santa Maria Assunta, the oldest building in the Venetian lagoon, the campanile and a museum. The photo to the left is the basilica's campanile. (Chris climbed it, I assuredly did not!) Peaceful, quiet, filled with history and a treasure trove of archeological finds.

And then to Burano, famous for its lace but for me, the attraction was the story of the vividly colored houses, painted in this particular manner so that fishermen could find their own homes when they returned from the sea. Although a little too "touristy," in general, for my taste, the house facades are, indeed, joyful beyond description. Perhaps the few photos I'm posting at the bottom of the page will give you at least some idea.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Domenica e Lunedi comings and goings

Dolce far niente - "the sweet art of doing nothing" is the rough translation and no sooner had Chris used the term than I read it, too, in Thomas Mann's "Death in Venice." So instead of rushing around from early morning 'til night every single day, we're more relaxed. We've been having breakfast and dinner at home - dinner in the palazzetto's lovely garden - now that we're familiar with the neighborhood's markets. I do enjoy cooking very much, especially in a well-equipped, well-stocked kitchen.

We did get back to the Biennale on Sunday - a several-hour journey through the Arsenale with Chris including two nation pavilions right on the grounds I had missed before - Hong Kong and the Republic of Georgia. Both extremely interesting and thought-provoking. And the "performance art" portion of this amazing festival has begun - a "body" floating on an air mattress in the lagoon at the Arsenale surrounded by funereal flowers and funereal music was a tad disconcerting at first and then became just part of the art.

A walk on the Riva in the midst of the madding crowds and then, happily, home to Dorsoduro.

An even later start today and a walk through a new sestiere for us - Castello. "Mask-makers row" displays some astounding creations, and The Helenic Institute of Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Studies in Venice Icon Museum (Chris loves icons!) such a stark contrast to all the contemporary art we've been experiencing. Yet another stop at Harry's Bar - what can I say, we love those Bellinis! - and home again.

Dolce far niente - at least part of the time.

P.S. No matter how I tried to crop and adjust the photo of the three adorable Miami girls we met at Harry's Bar on Saturday, I just couldn't get it right. So I've moved them to the photo gallery and posted a very interesting look at the
Camapile in Piazza San Marco to the left of this entry.


Sunday, June 17, 2007

Le Quattro Stagione redux

When we walked by Chiesa San Vidal yesterday afternoon and saw that Interpreti Veneziana would again play their thrilling Four Seasons concert later that evening, I knew that Chris would just love it. And he did. I enjoyed it as much as when Marcia and I saw it last week. "Thrilling" really is the only word for it.

Le Forcole

In Italian a forcola is an oar lock, most specifically for a gondola or other long, narrow vessel that navigates the tiny canals of Venice. We are lucky enough to have Venice's master forcola sculptor, Saverio Pastor, on our very street. We have been admiring the forcole in his workshop and window displays as well as his young apprentice! We shall stop in and meet him this week. I've put up a link to his website - it's both beautiful and fascinating.

Three girls walk into a bar...

So we get to Harry's Bar and who should be sitting directly ahead of us at the very back table but Steven Tyler and a bunch of hangers-on (oh, I mean friends). He's holding court but the crowd at Harry's knows better than to stare. Moments after we've ordered our Bellinis, three adorable young women (see them in the photo at left) practically squeal with glee when they are seated directly to the left of the rock star and his entourage. How WILL they contain themselves, we wonder??!!
The Tyler train leaves the station shortly thereafter and we learn the three fans are from Miami, on their first visit to Venice, a respite after four tough and back-breaking years of high school. They are still glowing, saying all the things you'd expect teenagers to say after seeing a superstar in an other-than-concert-context, one immediately called her mother on her cell phone and exclaimed, "Mom, you are not going to BELIEVE what just happened..." Word soon spread. Two more young women - this pair looked to be in their 20s - sat down at the bar only to be told by one of the white-jacketed waiters that not only had they just missed seeing Steven Tyler but he (the waiter) taunted them with an autographed Harry's postcard. Then a table of four "mothers" came in and the tale was recounted to them by the two at the bar. Meanwhile, back at the Miami table, the girls - who had ordered that "famous drink from Harry's we've been hearing about from everyone everywhere" - are re-telling/re-living other celebrity sightings of their young lives. Ah, the days of innocence. So...the price of a Bellini at Harry's Bar? 15 Euros. The price of a Bellini glass from Harry's Bar? 25 Euros. Seeing three adorable young American women have a Venetian experience they'll tell their grandchildren about? priceless.

Art of the day

There are nation pavilions all over this city with "official" Biennale exhibits;there are also "collateral" exhibits and events. Yesterday, we took in two of the latter.

Robert de Niro, Sr. was as good an artist as his famous son is an actor. I had seen a bit of his work over the years in NYC, including menu covers he created for Tribeca Grill. There is a wonderful exhibit of right now in the Casa d'Aste in San Marco. A delicious assortment of bright, colorful paintings, pastels and charcoal drawings show his range and considerable talent. I've placed an example with the rest of the photos at the bottom of the posts.

We were so looking forward to Artempo,Where Time Becomes Art, an exhibit of ancient and modern treasures at the grand and gorgeous Palazzo Fortuny, also in San Marco. Most of the work is very interesting and quite thought-provoking and the idea of mixing ancient and modern in each individual installation is at least somewhat original. But the place is so dark you can hardly find your way let alone enjoy viewing works of art, the "art cops" are out in force here, and the air is thick with snobbery. Still, there are a couple of clean, well-lighted spaces along the way where the Marcel Duchamps, for example, can be enjoyed and a spectacular sculpture by Anish Kapoor which made it almost worth the price of admission.

Like a kid in a candy store x 2

Those of you who know me well know I believe "you gotta have a wine guy, a bread guy, etc.," and I quickly found all of these in this lovely neighborhood including my favorite, Sergio, the cheese and meat guy. What has eluded me, if you can believe, is a pasta guy. After dinner Friday night, Chris spotted a market across the street from the restaurant with lots of pasta on display. When we returned Saturday morning, we found we had actually hit the mother lode. Rizzo Pane does indeed sell dozens of varieties of pasta - including Cipriani's signature brand! - and risottos. They also stock everything else you could possibly want/need for your palazzetto fridge, including GREAT FRESH BREAD - yippee!!! It's like a miniature Balducci's and it's my new favorite neighborhood place, except, of course, for Sergio's cheese and meat place. Home-cooked breakfasts and dinners in our little garden are downright delightful...

Chris is the "paper guy." So later in the afternoon, it was his turn when we found Il Papiro - three rooms filled with gorgeous papers, notebooks, notecards, calendars, bookmarks, diaries, and on and on.

Happy campers, both.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Back to Food (and maybe another word or two about the Biennale)

Let me say a couple of quick words about the Biennale before I get back to food. I've put up a link to the "official" New York Times review of the show. I do not consider myself an art afficionado by any stretch of the imagination but surely as observers we all know what moves us to tears, to laughter, to joy, to despair. Mostly, I agree with the reviewer's opinions of individual works - except for the Korean Pavilion which moved me only to want to leave it as quickly as possible. I have been dreaming of a trip to the Venice Biennale for as long as I can the sheer volume of extraordinary modern art in this spectacularly ancient city. The point is perhaps the more Biennales under one's belt, the less awe and wonder. Enough said about the review...
Last word today about the show - I have left up the photo of Felix Gonzalez-Torres' stunning circles because I think they are beautiful and lend an air of calm to the page.

Let's eat!
So there's Da Fiore, Fiore, Osteria Da Fiore, Trattoria Da Fiore - it's very confusing. (I think at least two or three of those are the same restaurant.) Da Fiore is arguably the best and most expensive restaurant in Venice and it's just not what this trip is about for me. However, a stroll over the Accademia Bridge last evening revealed Trattoria Da Fiore and sometimes you just know a place is going to be wonderful. This one is. The best spritz - it actually WAS fizzy! - I've had so far followed by a Caprese salad of sugar-sweet cherry and grape tomatoes, little balls of melt-in-your-mouth buffalo mozzarella, with just the right amount of olive oil, fresh herbs, tiny ribbons of basil and crunchy sea salt. Unbelievable! A flavorful and beautiful lasagnette of ricotta and spinach with two tiny mounds of wilted and then quickly-fried spinach leaves, and a GIGANTIC, thinly-pounded veal cutlet with a lighter-than-air battered crust served with delicious french fries (of all things). The cheesecake was not like any cheesecake I've ever tasted. And to be honest, I'm still pretty much stumped for a way to describe it (something that Chris finds downright startling). It wasn't cold, it was very dense, it had a bit of chocolate in it and was served with a bit of chocolate sauce on the plate and dusted with powdered sugar. It was very tasty, not sweet at all, and the only thing I can think of is that the ratio of cheese to flour is very different than in most cheesecakes. I shall certainly talk to Chef Cheech about this when I get home.
Okay, a word about tiramisu and then we're off to the market. If you think that stuff we get in the U.S. is tiramisu? Uh-uh...tiramisu must be traditionally Venetian (yes, I will find out for sure) because it is on every dessert menu in this city and it's fantastic everywhere. It is most always served layered in a bowl - the way it should be - and even becomes a luscious gelato flavor in the right hands.
The market calls...Ciao (which, by the way I learned yesterday is a Venetian word...)

Friday, June 15, 2007

Back to the Biennale (yes, again...)

Chris being the artist that he is, we, of course, headed back to the Giardini first thing this a.m. - and we JUST got home - is seven hours of art too much for anyone? Probably. The more familiar you become with something the more get from it or at least the you SHOULD, right? I found myself still favoring the same pieces/artists/installations, only more so. To the left is a photo of American artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres' spectacular marble circles at the entrance to the U.S. Pavilion. They are concave so rain water has pooled in them - by design. They are the largest sculptures made from single pieces of Carrera marble in many centuries. Stunning. Time for a glass of vino. Ciao.

Il ghetto

The word ghetto - which is Venetian in origin - means iron foundry. Until 1390, Venice's could be found on a tiny island in the sestiere of Canareggio. In 1516, the city's 5000 Jews were confined to that same small area and would remain there for more than 250 years when they were liberated by, of all people, Napoleon. It ended up incidentally, they were actually safer confined than they were free. The original inhabitants were mostly Ashkenazim from Germany. They were joined later by Sephardim escaping Spain and Portugal, and finally by Levantine Jews from the Ottoman Empire.
In spite of overcrowded conditions, this population managed to build five synagogues - all of which remain today. The three oldest which retain many of their original features are, of course, in the most fragile condition and are used only for special occasions - weddings, bar mitzvahs (can you imagine, especially if you could trace your family history back to Venice, having a ceremony in a 16th Century synagogue??!!). The two newer are used for both Friday night and Saturday morning services each week. (Photography is prohibited, thus no photo posted.)
Today, the Jewish population of Venice is just 320 and our guide explained that with such a small number it is difficult to keep up schools and other necessary facilities but they do their best. They do have historically magnificent synagogues in which to worship.
You can google "Jewish Ghetto in Venice" to learn more. It is a truly fascinating story.

On a completely other note, Marcia left for Paris this afternoon - it was such fun to share with her the first week filled with adventures! And, she'll be baaaaack... for three days at the end of the month. A couple of hours after her departure, Chris arrived. The last time we saw each other was two years ago, in this very place. Fun to be back here together and I'm sure he won't mind me saying that's he was very happy to leave Naples.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The word of the day is ART

I truly do not know where to begin. I spent the day at the Arsenale and was more astounded with every step. Fifty-seven artists are represented in the main exhibit space, then there's the African Pavilion, then there's the Italian Pavilion, then Turkey, then China which is represented by four women artists in one of the most extraordinary installations I've ever seen. Their work is displayed among huge, old, rusted shipping containers and other maritime equipment. I have photos of this - look for them at the bottom of this post.
The theme, appropriately for this former naval space, is war, war and more war. Not all of it, of course, but it is the theme that revealed itself early on. World War II, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, the Middle East - all front and center. I will have to absorb all of this and then try to put it into words for you as best I can. I think the photos will do a better job of that so you may have to wait 'til I get home and Gill helps me post a gallery for you. For now...look left and to the bottom of this post.
Oh, and did I mention there are still DOZENS (DOZENS) of additional "collateral" installations all over the city?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Back to the Biennale and a little Vivaldi

Back to the Biennale for the rest of the Giardini installations, most notably the Italian Pavilion which is really a full-sized museum. Work by artists from many countries are represented, invited by the host city. The photo to the left is an example of what the Eastern European countries are showing this year. It's title is "Angel." I feel so fortunate to have enough time to visit again and again - it would otherwise be overwhelming. I'm glad, too, that I'll be able to help friends enjoy it, I hope, even more than they would otherwise. Oddly, there were no crowds at all while just a few minutes' walk away, Piazza San Marco was teeming with tourists.
And tonight, for a change of pace and an extraordinary treat, a concert at Chiesa San Vidal, a lovely church just across the Accademia Bridge. The Interpreti Veneziana is a group of eight young men who obviously LOVE what they do. The first half of the concert was "Le Quattro Stagioni" (The Four Seasons) and what better place to hear it than Vivaldi's hometown. These young men played new life into spring, summer, fall and winter. The second half featured works by Corelli and Pergolesi - all glorious.
On to the Biennale's other main venue, the Arsenale, tomorrow. I am most looking forward to the African work.

More food, more art

First, I've posted a new link to the latest NY times article about the Biennale.
Back to pastry/dolci (I'll get back to art in a minute, hold your horses!) Didovich - an institution (that means it's old) - is considered by some the very best pastry shop in Venice. We set out early Monday morning - in a light rain which could not deter us in our quest - and walked around and around and around it 'til we realized it was it. No sign, nothing to indicate it is what it is except for the incredible edibles, a child-like drawing stuck to the wall with scotch tape that had part of the name on it and the swirling yet obviously hand-painted "D"s on the glass doors. Need I say a small and extremely unpretentious place - Gill, I was picturing Venice's answer to Gilli's and it is the opposite. Savories (not TOO savory) and sweets (not TOO sweet) are mind-bogglingly good. As is the cappuccino (I'm going to stop writing about cappuccino as of this post.)
Back to art. In spring of 2006, French industrialist/businessman Francois Rinault bought the historic Palazzo Grassi as a place to stage exhibitions of his remarkable contemporary art collection - he had tried for years to accomplish thisgoal in his native France with no success. Venice welcomed him with mostly open arms. His first show featured Richard Serra, Jeff Koons, and those kinds of names. For the Biennale - although not connected to the Biennale which they make abundantly clear when you enter - he is featuring the work of 17 young artists (yes, all from his own, personal collection as the staff makes clear) in a show called "Sequence 1." The Palazzo is spectacular - it was restored by a Japanese architect who is now working with Rinault on another exhibition space here. The staff is stuffy, snobby, "art cops." And the show, for me, was mostly dull and disappointing. As if there wasn't enough art at the "official" Biennale venues - but, as I say, the building made the trip worthwhile.
We happened upon a very hip little place for dinner - between San Marco and Rialto - called Osteria Enoteca San Marco. Great wine list (duh!) and simple, fresh, well-prepared food.
We're all caught's gray again this morning - we talked yesterday about going to Murano today - we'll see...haven't even had a "you-know-what" yet...
Ciao, mi amici

The reason I came

The 52nd International Art Exhibition - The Venice Biennale - opened officially on Sunday morning at 10:00 a.m. and we were there. This year's theme is "Think with the Senses - Feel with the Mind. Art in the Present Tense." Thrilling, fascinating, and thought-provoking are the best words I have to describe what I've seen and experienced so far. Finally, it's all about the art.
This year, 77 countries are represented at the two main venues - the Giardini, Venice's lush and green public gardens which are transformed into the most important contemporary art exhibition in the world every two years, the Arsenale, the former military ship-building facility which this year houses, along with much more, a major African exhibit, the first time Africa has participated - and at numerous palazzos throughout the city. I have only just had a taste - delicious.
The show is manageable - well-laid out in individual nation pavilions, the attendees also representing the nations of the world are polite, the rest rooms are clean, Illy Caffe passes out free espresso shots all day and free cups of water are there for the taking, too. There are no "art cops" - it is a civilized experience clearly designed so that viewers get the very most out of their visits. Chris, Wanda, and Gill - you are in for an incredible treat.
Highlights for me so far have been Spain - Gill, wait 'til you see it - Russia and, I must say, the U.S. pavilion does our home country proud. The work is all by one artist, Felix Gonzalez-Torres who, unfortunately died of AIDS while still in his 30s. I believe he is one of a very few artists ever to have been represented at the Biennale posthumously.
The new photo - posted to the left - is by Antonio Bruceno. He is Venezuelan and his photos of native people leave you breathless.

Monday, June 11, 2007

The end of the electrical conversion story, the trail to Tonolo, and Ai (No!) Gondiliere

So the moral of the converter/adapter/surge protector story is, it's 2007, folks, and most electronics are "travel-ready" with the appropriate adapter. Everything works just fine with a simple piece of $4.95 hardware.

Saturday and the trail to Tonolo. Two patisserie/dolci shops stood out from all the rest in my foodie research and we found Tonolo - on the border of our sestier, Dorsoduro, and the next one north, San Polo, in time for breakfast Saturday morning. Yes, of course it was worth the haul - delicious cookies, buttery pastries, and, of course, stand-out cappuccino.

Also gave us the opportunity to check out Campo di Santa Margherita's Saturday market filled with fresh fish, fruit, vegetables, flowers, and wild teens!

Right in our own neighborhood, pricey ristorante Ai Gondiliere had come highly recommended. Unfortunately, as we all know, expensive doesn't necessarily translate into "great" and in this case it was downright disappointing. They try - with nice little touches like a glass of Prosecco as soon as we were seated, crudite presented in a water goblet, each carrot and celery stick standing up straight as a soldier nestled into crushed ice, a ramekin of fantastic mustard - local, I'm guessing - topped with olive oil that tasted oh so delizioso on the bread and the vegetables, and a little dessert sampler of shot glasses of chocolate mousse, white chocolate-covered ganache bon-bons and dark chocolate-covered orange peel. But the meal itself was completely uninspired in both flavors and presentation.

Moving right along - the Biennale is open!!

Lights out

So it's 10:30 Friday night and it's time to try out all the adapters and converters and two-pronged round plugs and three-pronged round plugs and surge protectors and, and, and...the computer is working just fine but Marcia notices it's not getting power and the battery is running dangerously low. So we move it to every outlet in the apartment umbilicaled to its expensive Office Max converter/adapter and surge protector and it's still not getting any power and we try each plug/device separately 'til I plug the surge protector into the surge protector in her bedroom and...yep, ALL the lights go out. This palazzetto is centuries old and although the Contessa has walked us through almost every eventuality, blowing a fuse was not among them. Desperately looking for fuse boxes, breaker boxes, emergency power sources all the while praying this blackout didn't affect the piano nobile I finally - somehow - found the breaker box and got the power back on. It was definitely time to GO TO BED.

Sunday, June 10, 2007


A quick note - I'm posting additional photos - you'll find them at the bottom of the page...enjoy!

A Comedy of Errors 2

I know, I know, I owe you "foodie" stuff. But first let me say we just got back from opening day at the Biennale - I cannot even believe I'm writing those words! - and it is more than I ever imagined. And I've only just started to see what the art world has brought to Venice. I've posted a new link to Randy Kennedy's blog - he's the arts writer for The New York Times who's been here covering the show.
Okay, back to the "comedy" -
For my foodie friends - first night dinner at Alle Testiere was perfect. We were late, they held the table although they only have about 24 seats. They offer a true market-based menu; the owner - Luca - tells you what they've got and you order. We had a light and amazingly delicious tiny shrimp and pear salad with pink grapefruit sections, fresh and oven-dried cherry tomatoes, served over fresh, delicate greens. Pasta course - ricotta and zucchini ravioli with strips of zucchini and oven-dried tomatoes. Next I had unbelievable monkfish - two pieces each wrapped in prosciutto - and served with a rainbow of fresh vegetables brunoise. Marcia had a filet of lagoon sole - absolutely delicious. Tiramisu - the real thing, in a bowl, light and luscious - and a gorgeous lemon apricot cake for dessert. As I said, perfect.
Time for bed - as a matter of fact, way past time for bed. With a prayer for a big green suitcase to show up in the morning.
Friday a.m. - they found my bag. Yippee - now all I had to do was wait around for the call about when they'd actually deliver it. Well, that's why god made cell phones, isn't it?
I found a note in the living room from Marcia saying she'd gone to find cappuccino and food. I wanted that, too. I called and she told me where to find her. I'd been meaning to tell her about the fabulous breakfast buffet at La Rivista, the little restaurant at Ca' Pisani where I'd stayed in '05 - remember Chris??!! As I followed her directions, I realized that's exactly where she was. That first cappuccino is always so ono!
Take a walk around the neighborhood and get oriented. Wait for the call. Wait for the call. No call. Lunchtime.
A real find in the San Vio section of Dorsoduro - Osteria Vescio Forner - our first spritz and our first experience with cichetti - the Venetian version of tapas - definitely the way to go. Oven-dried tomatoes stuffed with tuna, crostini, silky polenta with grilled tomato and spinach, corn-meal coated and fried green olives on a stick, a spinach and ricotta "patty" coated and cooked in a similar manner. Unreal. And hanging just over the bar where we sat, a poster by our favorite illustrator/guest columnist in the NY Times, Maira Kalman (see photo to the left)...
Home again, home again...yes, to wait for the bag. While I'm waiting, let's get this computer thing handled. I called Contessa Anna, the lovely lady who owns this palazzetto and she told me to come up and she'd sign me on. As I walked up the stairs to the piano nobile, she got the call. My bag was on its way - molto bene!!
Okay, then. Get unpacked, put on some clean clothes and let's get ourselves out to dinner! Il Refolo in Santa Croce on a little piazza beside a tiny canal came highly recommended and looked perfect. Except, of course, we didn't have reservations and every table - and then some - was spoken for. But our timing was impeccable. As we got the bad news a couple vacated the ONE high table with two bar stools just outside the door. "Could we sit here?" I asked. "For a drink, yes," the young waitress replied. "How about for dinner?" She asked the owner, a very savvy restaurateur, and not only did they let us eat at this table, they set it with the same linen tablecloth they use on all their tables. Classy, classy, classy. Later in the evening they'd haul out a honkin' big piece of plywood from god knows where to accompany a huge party for which there was no room on the piazza, either - like I said, a savvy restaurateur. More spritzes - you can never have enough - salads - both of us in need of live food - and a killer pizza with eggplant, anchovy, zucchini flowers and mozzarella - simple is often best. Oh, they SPLIT THE PIZZA IN THE KITCHEN - no, we didn't ask them to do it - and it was presented as beautifully as any fancy food would have been. Did I mention this guy is a really savvy restaurateur??
Had enough to eat? I'm ending this here - I know I still have to catch you up about Saturday and about Biennale opening day and I will...I'm going to see if I can figure out how to get several new photos up to illustrate this post.
Ciao, mi amici...

Saturday, June 9, 2007

A Comedy of Errors 1

Okay, mi amici...this is going to take a while so sit back and relax. In fact, let's call this installment one 'cause it's going to take me a while to get caught up...

All four flights (it's halfway around the world, you know) were smooth and uneventful (on the way from NYC to Rome I got to listen to the life story of a very nice woman from Long-gisland who went to high school with Rosie O'Donnell) so much so that I actually slept on each of them and arrived in gray, drizzly Venice not much worse for the wear on Thursday afternoon, about 2:00 local time.

And bag! I was surprisingly calm, had every piece of information they needed and figured the good news was I wouldn't have to lug the thing from the airport - by boat and then over cobbled streets and bridges - into Venice.

Marcia was waiting (our cell phones worked perfectly) - she had arrived earlier via Lufthansa - those Germans never lose a bag - and we decided to spring for a water taxi - the most expensive way to get from the airport into the city. Ha!!! Not even a one-inch stack of Euros will get you a water taxi when the press is in town for Biennale previews. So, on to the Alilaguna - the transport that runs from the airport into town. It's now about 3:00 p.m. What we didn't figure out, however, was that Alilaguna means "all around the lagoon" (DUH!) and so about an hour and a half later (after a wait of more than half an hour for the right Alilaguna standing elbow to elbow with a huge crowd on what is best described as a floating, rocking holding pen) we disembark at Zattere, drag the bags over three bridges, no make that four bridges, and come face to fact with our truly lovely palazzetto. It's in on a tiny canal in a very beautiful residential neighborhood, just around the corner from the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, etc.

It's now 6 something, we have 7:00 dinner reservations at a place across town which we still have to find on a map and then figure out a route and but first we have paperwork to do - the apt. version of hotel check-in. Keep in mind, please, we have been travelling for about 48 hours.

The apt. is quite large - especially the two bedrooms - very comfortable with an incredibly well-equipped kitchen (Wanda!), good water pressure (very important) and it was easy to instantly feel "here." Yes, I'll post pictures at some point...

Okay...I'm done for now - will be back to you as soon as I can with dinner details from Ristorante Alle Testiere, the rest of the story...and photos.


Wednesday, June 6, 2007

So 4:30 in the morning is much too early to arrive anywhere, especially L.A. - but there I was. Starbucks wasn't even open yet!

Moments before boarding, the celebrity march began. Having never watched "Grey's Anatomy," I'm not sure if Patrick Dempsey is McSteamy or McDreamy or Doctor Demento but there he was in serious need of an espresso, a shower, a shave, and a hairbrush would have been good, too. Yuck.

On the other hand, political consultant James Carville is much taller, much thinner and, dare I say, much better looking in person than he is on CNN or CBS or NBC or wherever else he pundits.

Smooth sailing to JFK and here I am in the Alitalia's Business Class Lounge which might as well be in Rome 'cause I think I'm the only one here reading the New York Times. There's a soccer game on the big, flat screen TV - Italian and LIT (I'm guessing that's Lithuania, does Lithuania even field a soccer team??) - and listening to/watching the Italian men - young and old - cheer and jeer at every play.

Time for an time I write will be from beautiful Venice.

Ciao, mi amici...

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Leavin' on a jet plane...

My bags are packed (mostly), I'm ready to go (just about)...
Still need to get in one last workout at the gym (will it REALLY matter?!).
Then home for the final final preparations.
A ride down the hill compliments of the Kula Cab Company (aka friend Gill), a quick dinner, and on to the airport.
Scheduled to arrive in Venice on Thursday afternoon (yes, it is a LONG haul from out here in the middle of the Pacific) and will post as soon as I'm settled in and then often as I can.

Friday, June 1, 2007

It's June...four days to go

Buon giorno, buon giorno...
To prepare you for our trip, here are a couple of links (look left, look up) - one to the official Biennale site and the other to a fabulous article published in the Sunday NY Times about artist Sigmar Polke's preparations for the show. Enjoy...

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Counting Down

Aloha all...just five days to Venice. I thought a blog would be a very cool way to keep in touch with everyone and let you all experience the Biennale, albeit vicariously. I'll do my best to post something every day. Ciao...