Friday, March 29, 2013

Venice, continued

Brooding Venice cracked a smile today. It wasn't a full blown cheek to cheek smile, but it was a nudge in that direction.

Right around our breakfast...

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...the rain stops and, just as promised, we even have a few hours where a faint ray of sunshine tries to poke through.

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So I walk. Diane and I decided to go solo again. My pace cannot let up just yet and you should not really compromise when you are so far apart on your goals for the day. [This is my fourth trip to Europe with Diane: she and I are the perfect match exactly because we know that we don't always have to match.]

And so here's my ramble. First, the left bank -- which actually is the right bank (looking at it from the station, for example), but with the overtones of the Parisian left:

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Then, over the Accademia Bridge to the 'main bank' and San Marco.

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It's when I stand and watch the crowds on this most perfect communal space that I remember my first trip to Venice. I was with my dad, my mom and my sister and we were returning, via Venice of all things, permanently (I thought) to Poland. My dad had just finished his incredible run at the UN (incredible because, among other things, he was such a young ambassador -- barely 34 when he began his term). We were heading home. Done with the west. But before we said goodbye to it all, we stopped in Venice.

I hated it. Smelly, I thought.

But I loved San Marco Square. I think if you really let the miracle of this city to enter your soul, you cannot help but love at least portions of the place.

My dad was a curious sort of  traveler. When I left home (following his lead, I did things young -- I moved out at 18), he became almost competitive: I went to Iceland to see the northern lights. Well now, he went to Israel. I went to Finland to work on a farm. He topped me (in his way of thinking) with Korea. But when I quietly (and wistfully) said I was going around the world, through Afghanistan, Pakistan and India -- he said "no!" And since in those years he controlled my passport, I had to humbly step back.

Though in subsequent years, I have traveled to Venice in all sorts of combinations -- with parents again, with husband, daughters, with Ed, and now with Diane, for most of my trips here I've been alone. Venice, to me, invites solitude. She is often surly and so she accepts your moods if they lean that way too. And she offers dark corners where you can be alone and think dark thoughts if that is your inclination. And then, when you're done, you can alight on the Grand Canal and all is well again! Or, with luck, a streak of light will cast beautiful reflections on the more quiet waters and there you have it -- you've run through three moods in succession and no one will comment or care.

Today I'm less gloomy than yesterday but not as ungloomy as I was five days ago, back on that summit of Comer in Gargnano. Still, Venice is patient. It's as if she understands my sadness and also my anger at all that I could not make happen for all those daughter years, especially adult daughter years -- the city listens and doesn't bat an eye. As if to say -- yes, I've seen all permutations of this saga played and replayed, I've seen it all, you're telling me nothing new.

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After walking to high heaven and back, I decided to take the boat to the island of Murano. Before the weather and life and death messed with the details of our trip, I had booked a lunch at the Osteria Acqua Stanca there. I had read about it in the New York Times just a few months ago and it seemed so perfect. Less so in the bleak weather and with my bleak mood and so I cancelled. But now I am curious again and so I catch the ferry over to this island of glass blowers and simple but colorful houses lining the waterways.

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The Osteria is a joy. It's the food, it's the owners, it's everything. I order one of my favorites -- a salad of raw baby artichokes and this one comes with poached shrimp, so there's that added taste value. I follow it with spaghetti with squid ink. Rare is the time that I will pass through these waters and not order something with squid ink.

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I congratulate them on the stellar article and for a minute I detect shades of a pout on the face of one of the proprietors. Such publicity is a great thing, but it is also a responsibility and a burden. So far, they had fed the locals. Now, they have the Hotel Cipriani calling and asking for a table for ten. Then canceling when the rich decide they want to eat elsewhere. The cook is reeling from these suddenly quite different demands.

Me, I think they'll not only manage, but come out to be one of the food destinations for those who care about fresh and honest. Take my artichoke salad: I ask her -- what's the secret? She frowns. You got it at the wrong time! One month later and you would have our artichokes instead of the ones from Tuscany! Ours have the same bite, but they also have this delicate sweetness... I vow to come back someday in May.

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You would think that I will have had my fill of food. But Diane and I agree that we should not leave Venice without having a final goodbye meal together here. Forget about recommendations, reviews, deliberations about what's best, or what's not so good. Point us to a place close to our hotel that has fresh foods and serves a bustling crowd!

We eat at Osteria Moncenigo just a few lanes away and it is perfect for us. I eat their sardines and then the blank ink cuttle fish one last time and I think this is so fine, so very fine. And for a minute I don't think about anything else.

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It's raining when we walk home. A steady, quiet rain. Not unpretty, in a Venice sort of way, but still, very wet.

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Tomorrow we return to Milan.