Getting lost and finding the way

So if you walk away from the city center. Just stroll along towards Arsenale. No, not on the quay where the Vaporettos are, where you can see San Giorgio with its rounded dome. Not where you still can see The Bell Tower at Saint Marks square. But inside and cutting through the small alleys, maybe ending up on a dead end. Your nose close to a high brick wall with no openings, doors or windows. That’s Arsenale and behind the wall is the main basin where once hundreds of ships were built to maintain the Venetian domination of the Mediterranean.

Continue walking and maybe you’ll end up at Via Garibaldi. The one and only Via in Venice, named after the big hero who brought together Italy and created the Nation… At least that’s what they teach us.

Bridge over to San Pietro VeniceYou follow the Via Garibaldi to the end and there is the canal, that used to continue all the way down to the Riva dei Sette Martiri before they covered it up and made a stone pavement on top. Like many other Calli in Venice, it became a street from being the sea.

Continue alongside the canal and end up at a very long bridge over to San Pietro.

Here you should visit the Basilica di San Pietro di Castello. This is where the first bishop was installed in the 8th century and it’s the first church ever built in Venice.

Here you can get lost without running into any problem. It’s a very small island and the canal around it is wide. Besides, there are only two bridges, one to come and the other to go away again.

Where to eat in VeniceNow, if you get hungry you have two options. Walk back to Via Garibaldi, where you have a choice of places to eat, from very local cheap eateries to exclusive gourmet restaurants. Or you could continue walking, admiring the absolute absence of the touristic city we’re used to. Here everything is authentic.

If you’re lucky you suddenly find yourself in a small Campo. Actually, it’s not even a Campo but just a wider street; Calle Volto Ruga Vecchia. There you can admire the little boys playing football or the little girls also playing football. In the summer every kid in Venice plays football, it seems.

Look to your right and you’ll see a few tables in the square. And behind them, two windows and a door. That’s the Trattoria alla Nuova Speranza, New Hope. Just walk in and sit down and immediately the waiter will ask you what you want. maybe without even giving you the menu. If you come in winter they’ll have few things to chose from… Pasta al ragu, Pasta al Nero di seppia, Bigoli in salsa and you choose one of those. Then you ask for a carafe of white and some water.

Where to eat in Venice ItalyAfter that, you look around and notice that the tourists are gone. Here you are among the locals. And the English is gone, just like the Italian. Because this is the real Venice, where the real people live. And they speak the Venetian dialect which is very different from Italian. When the waiter comes with your wine and later with your food, you notice that the olive oil is in an old beer bottle. Then you relax. Listening to the sturdy sound of the strange language and enjoying the peace of mind that you get from a simple pasta dish and something to drink.

And you start to wonder about the name… A new hope, like the Star Wars film. Or like maybe there could be a chance for Venice to live on. Despite the millions of visitors, she could continue to be a healthy and functional city, where people actually live, love, work, grow and every now and then eat a plate of Bigoli with a glass of white wine.

The Malta Incident

Without entering a political discussion, but acknowledging the delicacy of the matter, I just want to put some light on one single aspect of what is happening right now outside the Italian peninsula. One thing that has a close connection to Venice. The Malta Incident.

And I don’t want to enter a discussion about immigrants, right or wrong, who should accept them, how many and if they’re an asset to western countries or just a nuisance. That is not the aim of this website. But there is something else, a brand new side of the argument… And it has changed dramatically in just a few years.

The 22nd of December 2018 the ship Sea Watch 3, run by the nonprofit organization with the same name, picked up 32 refugees off the Libyan coast following a distress call. They then headed for Malta being the closest safe port. There they were not allowed to go into Valletta but had to anchor in international waters, 24 nautical miles off the coast.

The Maltese IncidentOn January the 2nd a storm was approaching the Maltese waters and the ship’s safety was at danger. And this is the pointSea Watch 3 was allowed to come closer to the island to take shelter but was still not allowed to enter the harbor.

On January the 9th the ship was finally allowed to approach the Maltese land to disembark the migrants after a deal was struck with other European countries about where to send them.

Another German ship the Professor Albrecht Penk, run by another NGO the See-eye, picked up 17 migrants on December 29th also off the Libyan coast. They also were left outside Malta until the 9th of January. And they too were not allowed to enter Valletta during the storm at the beginning of the month.

I’m not taking a stand for or against Malta accepting migrants from Libya saved from small inflatable boats. Malta cannot accept all the victims of the lucrative trafficking business. It’s not about that.

There are international laws, declarations, treaties, and the UNCLOS, United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. And they all state the same thing more or less. At sea, you are obligated to help others in distress. You have to do what you can to assist other ships if they call you. This is not an option, it’s not something that can be decided by the captain. It’s a duty.

The Maltese IncidentThe sea is a hostile environment. As beautiful and welcoming it can be on a summers day at the beach with the sun and the breeze and the cute little waves… As frightening and terrifying it turns when the waves are so high that you can’t see the horizon anymore, the sky is dark as if it was night and the rain hits you like nails in your face. This is why we have all those rules about behavior at sea. To help each other and save lives.

Then the UNCLOS together with all the other sea laws are nothing more than rewritings of an ancient code, a way to survive in a habitat for which we are not adapted. Because we are not meant to be out on the oceans. Man is an animal of the Savannah, the Jungle, the Mountains and maybe even the Ice and Snow… But not the sea. In the water, we die.

First, we drown. Then if we survive the first minutes we still die after a while from the cold. In 40° F, you live less than 30 minutes, and even if you fall overboard in the summer, you will freeze to death in less than 8 hours. Then there is the storm, the high waves, the darkness, and the shark attacks.

No, the survival on the high seas is a matter not to be taken lightly.

And that’s the reason why we help each other.

Like we have always done. A sailor knows about the threats and he knows that without the solidarity on the sea, be it in times of peace or war, the oceans cannot be conquered. It’s the basis on which all is built.

But now all that is changing. In the Mediterranean, these ancient rules are now being dismissed. Not by the sailors, because they still know what it would mean. No, the change in direction is made by politicians and…. their voters. The ones that do not rely on the big waters for their livelihood. I claim that if what happened outside Malta would have happened 20 or even 10 years ago, there would have been a storm of protests, an uprising. But now… Now it makes sense to most people.

And what happened at Malta are just two examples of many.

Saving people at sea now isn’t obvious anymore, but subject to negotiations between politicians in various European countries near and far.

What has all this got to do with Venice?

Well, until the latter half of the 20th century, swimming was not a knowledge of every man and woman. In the middle ages, almost nobody knew how to swim, not even the sailors. And he knew that if he fell into the water he had to be saved by the others. And normally he was. Because the code told them so.

The Maltese IncidentIf the Venetian trade ship hit a storm outside Crete, the captain knew that he could seek shelter in the nearest harbor, because the code told him that no one would refuse a boat in distress. And if he picked up a castaway on the way he could leave him at the closest safe port. Maybe there he would then be prosecuted or thrown to the lions… But a ship in need couldn’t be left offshore, and a man saved from the sharks couldn’t be refused to enter the town from the sea. That was the law.

Without these contracts, I personally doubt Venice would ever have become Venice. Nobody would have gone far from home on adventurous journeys if the danger for life and property had been that great.

And I doubt even America would ever have become America if the insecurity about the trip over the Atlantic had been that great. I don’t think many people from Europe would have sold everything they had, invested all their money in a ticket for the crossing if they weren’t confident that the harbor on the other side would accept them. If they couldn’t count on help from other ships and distant ports if weather condition changed, or if some other disaster occurred.

If the abortion of international rules of conduct in marine environments happened a thousand years ago, we here would still be a very small village on the sandbanks in the Venetian lagoon, and the US would perhaps still write invitations to the European farmers offering them free land and a new perspective to populate the vast emptiness.

La Frittella Veneziana

Every February, or sometimes in March, for a few weeks Venice becomes a playground for adults. The city is invaded by hoards of party-animals filling the narrow paths to such an extent that the local police has to limit the Calli to one way traffic only. About this phenomena, the thoughts vary a lot. From those who say it’s just a lot of noise and drunk people dirtying La Serenissima, to those who love it and take out their holiday to match the period of the Carnival. If you like it or not, there’s still one thing that we all can agree upon. One aspect of Il Carnevale that conquers all and sets every disapproval aside… And that’s La Frittella or La Frito’a as it’s called in dialect.

The wonderful Pastry of Venice La FrittellaLa Frittella is a wonderful pastry that’s served in this period and only in this period. It’s full and heavy and if it’s made in the correct way it has that perfect balance of sweet and rural aroma, characteristics which have made it famous in all the world. It’s the Queen of all the wonderful Venetian dishes and it has no equal in its simplicity and its excellence.

The recipe is quite simple. Eggs, flour, butter, and milk. Throw it all in a bowl and add some raisins, some pine nuts, a little vanilla and a pinch of salt. And of course, yeast. Then you form roles, an inch or a little more in diameter, deep fry them, and you’re done. Now even if this seems simple enough, you will find a huge variety of taste and quality. First of all, many have fillings. Custard, Eggnog… Nutella and sometimes you can find even stranger things inside them. So to add to the great difference in baking perfection from one pastry shop to another, you also have to judge the content, the stuff inside.

The conclusion is that it’s better to study the Frittella in a scientific way and try it in as many different places as possible, in one pastry shop after the other. That’s what I do.

The word, Frittella, doesn’t actually imply something special. It means it’s fried or deep fried, fritto, no more no less. And this word can get you anything from sweets big as a dinner plate to something not sweet at all, depending on where you are. But the Venetian Frittella is by far the most famous.

The origin dates as far back as in the Roman empire, and maybe even further. Although back then it probably was quite different. The Romans had a sweet called Frictilia, which is something similar. Anyway, in Venice, they have always done them. It was a simple but exquisite pastry and it became immensely popular.

In the 14 century, the Republic confirmed the official recipe of the Frittella, the one and only way to cook it. Today that document is deposited in Rome, in the Casantense Library. And it’s the oldest written gastronomic document from the Republic of Venice existing today.

In the 17th century, the bakers specialized in baking the Frittella, created a Guild. There were 70 of them and they divided the city between them, in restricted areas, and inheriting the trade from father to son, cutting everyone else out. They often fried them outside, in oil, lard or in butter, and they were sold immediately.

In the 18th century, it was declared Official Pastry of the Republic of Venice.

There are two reasons why they even exist and why they’re made in this, particular way.

The first has to do with the ingredients. Flour, eggs, milk, sugar, well that’s what more or less anyone has a lot of. And they had it also back in the middle ages. Plus the fact that in this period there was an abundance of lard. The pigs were traditionally slaughtered in winter. Before Lent, which starts forty days before Easter, there was a period of surplus, which ended with Shrove Tuesday. You were supposed to eat meat, pork and all kinds of derivatives as well as for example Frittelle. And these were very often fried in Lard.

The word Carnevale probably comes from the Latin words Carnem and Levare, Meat and Remove, indicating the eating in excess the week before Lent. In fact, even today the Carnival in Venice finishes with the Shrove Tuesday.

So the second reason is right there, with the week before Lent, the Shrovetide. The Carnival week, or weeks, was eating-time. And there’s no better way to fill up with calories than eating Frittelle.

The best time to visit Venice

There are two periods of the year when Venice is a little less crowded. It’s November and it’s January. Every now and then people ask me about when to come to Venice.

  • When’s the best time to visit Venice, La Serenissima? I was thinking about July, what do you think?

Over the city of VeniceWell, this is what I think.

Don’t come in July. The summer months can be so full of people that you’ll have difficulties even move around. The streets are jam-packed, the restaurants are crowded and people tend to be a little less patient and kind.

On top of that, you have the heat. Venice is not as hot as southern Italy… Or Turkey or Greece. But while Turkey, Greece, Puglia, and Sicily have the breeze coming in from the sea, at least by the coast. Venice is inside a Lagoon and there’s not much wind. While in southern Italy the air is dry and warm, in Venice it gets wet and hot. The subjective temperature exceeds the one further south. No, I wouldn’t recommend the summer.

Autumn and Spring are nice. Not so hot, but it’s still crowded.

Piazza San MarcoTo me… and to a lot of us who live here all year round, the best time is right now. January. Ok, it’s cold and sometimes it’s windy and right out freezing. But you have space, and that’s something rare in Venice. In the evenings you can walk over San Marco and you’re almost all alone. In the mornings you can step down to the waterfront and you see only two or three boats far away.

Ponte dell'AccademiaThe Accademia bridge is almost empty, while in summer it takes you five minutes to cross. On the Vaporetto, you can even find a seat and sit down. When you enter the local bar the barman will chat for a minute or two while serving you your Cafè macchiato.

And the air is fresh and easy to breath. On those special days when the low sun just about reaches over the roofs and finds its way down to the Calle. When the sky is so blue it almost hurts your eyes. When the lagoon isn’t gray like in summer but white as the snowy mountains up north.

That’s the best time of all to visit Venice.

Romeo and Juliette

under water boat veniceThis morning I found this boat.

Is it sunk because of the heavy rains? Or was it the high water? Sometimes boats are moored with fixed lines that are too short, so when the tide rises a lot… and I mean a lot, the lines hold the boat down on one side until the water can enter over the gunwale.

. Or has the old feud between the Castellani and the Nicolotti families awaken?

These two families dominated Venice for hundreds of years. And they eventually divided Venice into two parts: The Castellani ruled the northern and eastern parts, Castello (…obviously), San Marco and Cannaregio. The Nicolotti held the southwest, Dorsoduro, San Polo, and Santa Chiara. And they couldn‘t get along. They even dressed differently to be able to distinguish friend from foe.

chiesa di san trovasoThe church of San Trovaso who was situated where the two territories met, was equipped with two main entrances. And to this day it remains a double gated church. So fierce was the hate and hostility between them that they couldn’t even go to mass without quarreling.

The Origin.

It is supposed that the feud had it’s origin as far back as the rivalry between the two cities Jesolo and Eraclea before Venice even had become Venice. And they kept it up for many hundreds of years. One couldn’t do business with the other side. Nor could he socialize or often even talk to them. Love and passion was a big no-no.

the fist bridgeAt the Fist Bridge, Ponte dei Pugni there were organized fights. At first, maybe people just met and brawled but as years went by the battle became more organized.

First, they had to decide where to meet. There were other bridges where these battles where held so you needed to know which one. There’s another one close to Campo di Santa Fosca at Canareggio. Then the canal had to be cleaned from pointy or sharp objects. Then time and participants were decided.

The Fight.

At the evening of the fight, the two teams gathered at each side. One after the other they went up on top of the bridge and tried to beat the opponent. The idea was to simply throw him in the canal. That’s why it was so important that the water was clean, to avoid injuries. When one fighter was defeated the next took his place until one team had won. Unfortunately very often it didn’t stop there. After the athletes were all thrown into the water, the audience and all kinds of hooligans and troublemakers went up and then maybe it wasn’t such a clean fight anymore. Sometimes the fists weren’t enough and knives and other more serious weapons took their place.

I needn’t say this became an increasingly big problem for the authorities. The hostility between the two communities tended to increase from these events rather than diminish, even though the reason they where held was to offer an outburst of the tension building up between the two fractions. So after a series of laws and regulations aiming to limit the effects they finally came to an end in 1705 when all fistfights on bridges where banned.

love black and whiteThis story is even more interesting when you consider that Luigi da Porto, who wrote Romeo and Juliet on whom Shakespeare based his novel, was born in Vicenza and lived all his life in the Venetian orbit. Possibly he took much of his narrative from the reality he had right in front of him and then placed the story in Verona, to disguise it from powerful neighbors and friends.

Then again… who knows what a writer from the 16th century was thinking…