Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Flight of Fancy

In the morning, the campi between San Giacomo dall'Orio and Rialto whisper with quiet local activity. There's the bump of a push-cart on the steps of a bridge, a slurrish shout-out, always in dialect. Fruit vendors and cafe owners are the first ones, more than ready for the waves of tourists that break upon the city at 10 sharp.

The Sagra continues, I think it lasts a week. Maybe less. Each day the rows of wooden tables are unstacked and hosed down, the plastic outhouses cleaned out by a limby old man. The string lights still stretch from church tower to treetop, and the row of white tents still has a vague perfume of sausage and polenta.

A carrier boat pulls up to to the nearby canal steps and unloads a couple hundred crates of Beck's. Yesterday's shipment lies in chips and pieces over the cobbled pavement, some held together by the red label.

At the gelateria near Anna and Juliana's place, they have the weirdest, most outlandish flavors. Basil, peach, licorice, to name a few. A Japanese guy in front of me asked if he could have a taste of the coconut. The gelato man shrugged. "Why? It tastes like coconut."

The next morning, I walked the streets for the last time with Venetian keys jingling in my pocket. At 11:13 I dropped them into an empty jam jar on Juliana's shelf.

Alessia had told me she worked at the airport. I found her at a wine-tasting kiosk, sans those fabulous new glasses of hers. Instead she wore an orange lanyard around her neck. She said she'd offer me a drink before my flight, but she wasn't allowed to open any bottles until her boss arrived.

Lufthansa is steady, efficient, German. On-board refreshments include any kind of drink and a snappy choco-hazelnut bar. It's a step past British Airways, all they give you is a twinkyish ham-roll for breakfast. Alitalia I've never tried, but my intuition, ahem, stereotypography, makes me feel like the CEO puts more funding into in-flight dinners than on-time arrivals.

Dinner on my transatlantic flight rolled around, first on silver trays, then in our stomachs. The baby kicking the back of my seat in time with "Frere Jacques" did not make things easier. But it stopped long enough for me to ask the flight attendant if wine came with dinner. "Yes, and it costs 6 dollars," she said. "Oh," I responded. "So wine doesn't come with dinner." With a confused expression, she assured me that it did. "Not for me, it doesn't," I laughed. She knelt and asked me if I preferred red or white.

That seemed an appropriate end to those adventures.
If you have any inquiries, so do I.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Last batch of photos

Treviso, Veneto

Treviso's little-known treasure: the Boob Fountain. Literally, "Fontana delle Tette."

Watching the Redentore fireworks in Venice

Sagra in the Campo di San Giacomo dall'Orio

Traditional Venetian food worth 30 minutes and an elbow in the gut

Monday, July 26, 2010

Venice this go-around

Evenings are quiet, laid back. A stroll along the quieter canals, a sip of a sweet spritz in the shadow of a familiar campo. The sun sets at last on the pitched roofs of the campanile. Dinner's not a big deal, it's a plate of mixed cicchetti, a tapas-like affair of fried seafood, meatballs, tomato, something like that.

And you bump elbows with friends so easily. By chance. This town is so small, so tight that you can't help but run across the people you know, few though they may be.

Sitting on the steps of the train station before Brandolin took the train back to Treviso, two carabinieri approached. In slurred, accented Italian they asked for our documents, hands open, gesturing impatiently against their blue uniforms. My American citizenship unsettled them, and they flipped my drivers license over and over, looking for something, always hoping to find it on the other side.

Alice returns home from the mountains with shopping bags filled with wood, with paper, pens and exacto-knives for her architectural thesis. In the single-bulbed light of the kitchen she knocks down some calculations on an oversized calculator before constructing a maze of ruler-straight lines on paper.

To the drill of a construction site, to the clink of plates and tiny espresso cups, the bump and roll of carts over bridges, the people walk. They walk with purpose in sharp suits and bright silk ties and shiny shoes; they walk frailly, with a cane, or two, stopping for a rest at the uneven street corner; they walk under pressure, weighed down by a heavy camper's backpack and the need to catch an 8:00 train; they walk elegantly, with calm, hands behind their backs, swaying back and forth with a glance at each decorated storefront, an ear open for the nearest bell tower's chime. They walk carelessly, bumping their shopping bags against strangers' legs and poking themselves in the eyes with their sunglasses. Everyone walks in awe, wrinkles of disbelief on their foreheads -- it's almost too overwhelming, the volume of crenelated and tiled marble on such raw and chewed-away, soggy wooden supports.

But this Venice is normal; this go-around, the Venice that I see is normal and calm. It is normal, it is calm, and yet it is absolutely exceptional. I feel the flux of the crowds in my blood, in my lungs; I feel the range of prices and the qualities of products, the taste of fruit and fish, the silences and uproars of empty churches and crowded squares.

Culture shock.

Sunday, July 25, 2010


Sunshine tops the crenelated brick walls in Campo S. Simon Grande. I leaned back on a wooden bench next to a Korean couple to watch it all go by on the grand canal. Trash, trash boats, private taxies, vaporetti loaded with suitcases and their owners.

The freight boats had a little bit of a thrill out in the canals on Friday night. Ah, the Redentore. Instead of fruits and vegetables they carried shirtless twenty-somethings, rack after rack of beer and hours upon hours of electronica music. Now, paint-chipped and sun-stained, they took up their old life, usually under the command of some kind of balding, browned old man in a fisherman's vest.

Less famous is the feast of San Giacomo, which appropriately takes place in the campo of the same name. Not by chance, I'm guessing. The Sagra is what they call it. I shuffled shoulder-by-shoulder through a thick crowd of hungry Veneziani toward the barbecue kiosk's counter. I leaned over, taking in a healthy dose of greasy, salty smoke. The grillers and waitresses drank a beer between orders, smiled at the hassled customers, balancing plates of sausage, chicken, and white polenta. On top of that we ordered a dish of bigoi in salsa, a kind of pasta in fish sauce, and two plates of the saltiest fries I've ever washed down with a Beck's.

The whole night, the locals stacked beer cans next to their kids' legos. They talked, gesticulated under the festive string-lights which their children blew bubbles and a band of 40-somethings sang out in an only half-comprehensible Venetian dialect.

Two tables down , I recognized this girl by her hairdo. It was swirled and flipped up in the back, a little frizzy in the summer air, and held in place elegantly by a pair of chopsticks (she studies Chinese). Next to her, a girl I swear I saw earlier that day as I rattled my suitcase over the cobblestones, up and down the olympic-sized Ponte degli Scalzi. Her new glasses were a graduation gift, obsidian-colored and wide-lensed. I exchanged a quick word and a friendly kiss with each of them. Then the streetlights were extinguished, and that sent us home.


Friday, July 23, 2010


I'm back in the states but the story continues.

Jesolo Beach was calm, yellow umbrella-d, spattered with German tourists dripping Gelato and beer onto the sand. It was dirty, I'm talking about the water littered with trash, but mostly dark and seaweedy. It was warm, the sky was hot, the air was wet, the water was bubbly with the sun on the surface.

The Feast of the Redentore pumps more blood, more life, into Venice. With that comes more tourists, more cigarette butts dropped on the ground, still burning, more discarded water bottles. With that come the boats, meant for fruits and vegetables, but this time, overloaded with people. They circle the canals, charged up with speakers blaring electronica. There are the oddly familiar faces from all sides of the same world, some bright, some sunburned, some jetlagged, some lost behind a folded map. These people. Their clothes are wilted, welted over with sweat in the least flattering places: breasts, armpits, the small of the back.

Along the Zattere docks were hundreds of boats, lined with tables, chairs, amplifiers playing traditional Veneto music, and crowds of eating, drinking, dancing, swearing Veneti enjoying themselves despite the unbearable humidity.

The sun had gone down by 9. But the cobbly paths along the waterfront were lit by strings of bobbly yellow lanterns. Blankets and towels stretched down the fondamenta, covered in people holding beer bottles and bags of chips from the local grocery store.

The fireworks soared up from the church of the Redeemer like red and green plumes of ink. They rolled in bright gold across the canal and exploded over the heads of those lucky enough to have reserved a boat for the feast. The fire shuttled up directly above us, flashed and crashed over the rows of craned necks and bare arms -- and then, dust and paper, bits and pieces of firework packaging, drifted onto our shoulders, our heads, while the next wave wailed skyward.

There was only one train returning to Treviso: 2:42 am. A sweaty, thirsty, worn-out crowd of all ages swayed back and forth in the station, eyes half-open, waiting for the platform number announcement. At 2:39, it came. And the sunken limbs sprung to life, the faces lit up with panic, determination to be on that train. It was an instantaneous transportation lottery.

The next morning I awoke to a swirl of debris and upturned chairs and potted plants. A storm had swept the Veneto, dragging branches, stripping leaves off trees and flipping over trash cans. But the water continued to trickle down the roadside acqueduct; the campanile still stood tall over the sleepy town of Villorba.


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Alla Trevigiana

I expected a swift pick-up at the airport in Treviso, and a simple drop-off. Where? That would be my friend's grandmother's house. She was on vacation, you see. It's a pretty random and complicated-sounding story, right?

Anyway, I knew it was Signor Fuser when he walked in, hands behind his back, yellow polo. He passed through the automatic doors, checked the arrival times, and then he figured the kid with the black duffel and overloaded backpack was that American guy he was supposed to find.

But no quick pick-up/drop-off deal did I receive; in twenty minutes we were in a buzzing Trevigian restaurant before a hot pizza and a cold beer. "I'm glad Helene has this calm, relaxed American friend," he said. "She's always in a hurry, doing a thousand things at once." Good thing I passed the test, right?

After a zippy tour around the grandmother's house in Villorba with Signora Fuser, I sat down with both parents for a glass of bubbly water. It fizzed more than usual. Later in the kitchen, I couldn't remember which glass was mine, so I took the Speedy Gonzalez one. The water was little help against the humidity; it seemed like the religious icons, pictures of the Pope, were all going to melt and slide down the walls. On the TV, almost too modern for such an old-fashioned place, a news story about a mountain festival is accompanied by Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire."

By day, the fish market in Treviso is, well, a fish market. The workers hose down the wooden platform before row after row of fish on ice. By night, it's loaded with aluminum tables, chairs, young people, and later on, empty cans and bottles.

There's a fountain not many people know about in Treviso, fortunately Helene knew about it. It's called "The Boob Fountain." I don't have to explain much, but just so you know, there's a hilarious picture coming up.

Helene took me to the local pool in Treviso. It was surrounded by little cypress trees, and the tiles on the bottom were wide and smooth. Pool rules said you had to wear a different pair of flip-flops in the pool area. And everyone had to wear a swim cap. Mine was a flashy shade of neon red. Picture that, now.

At dinner they set little candles, citronella, afloat in a dish of water. All to ward off the mosquitoes, which spiraled above the fish and tomatoes. Marcello, Helene's father, smiled as he cracked open a heavy bottle of Valdobbiadene prosecco, the best. In the humid garden, it tasted like summer.

A calm sort of nightlife wraps its way up and down the city's ancient walls. Drink-stand deals sprinkle the fringes of the historic center. At still more aluminum tables, girls bat their eyes and grind their heels into the gravel while the boys lean against the crumbly bricks.

Took a trip to Veneto Designer Outlets. Like Tanger, or whatever you know like that... you know, like a kind of consumer's Disneyworld. Here, we got crenelated stucco walls and bell towers in the Venetian style. It was wild, I tell you. Wild!


Monday, July 19, 2010

Last Hits Florence, First Hits Germany

Sunset was divine. Piazzale Michelangelo.

No, it wasn't mine, or a friends. But you can't exactly blame me.

Celebrating the 4th of July in Lucca.

Frankfurt, city of books and banks.

Vineland in the Rheinland.

The old hits the new head-on in down-town Frankfurt.