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Monday, January 01, 2007

Venice, Part I

We're back! And we had a spectacular vacation. I have so much to write about I'm going to do so in several installments -- just like in ye Victorian era when novels were published serial-style in the newspapers. Only I won't go on for quite as long (see Dickens, Charles). I am also writing separate posts on the food itself, so if I mention a restaurant without commenting on the food, worry not. I'll return to the restaurant in a later post.

As I mentioned before, the first leg of the trip was one long birthday party for our friend, Monroe. He rented out a pensione and invited anyone who could make it. We were joined by the most interesting people, of course, these being Monroe's friends. Everyone from MoMA board members to a physicist, artists and a linguist, and all excellent company. Thanks Monroe -- and Aunt Ruth!

I took a gamble with our travel arrangements and had us arrive in Geneva (since that's where the last leg of our trip was) and take the first train down to Venice. It actually went quite smoothly -- what better activity when jet-lagged but to snooze on a train? There is a train station right at the airport and the train to Venice left just two hours after our arrival. We had time to collect our bags and buy some sandwiches.

Between cat naps I would peek out the window to catch glimpses of the Swiss/Italian Alps with their sweet little villages.

The naps made up for our harrowing flight. Jasper broke out in hives -- all over his arms, back, and face! Maybe it was a reaction to MSG in his Thai lunch a couple days earlier, I don't know. But just when all the passengers were falling asleep (it was an overnight flight) he started screaming in agony. We were saved, though. The flight attendant had some anti-itch ointment that soothed poor Jasper's welts. Don't I love Swiss pharmaceuticals. And it wasn't the last time we were saved by Swiss pharmaceuticals, but that part comes much later.

We hit a snag just after our transfer from Milan when a train ahead of us crashed. There was a 2 1/2 hour delay as the trains were rerouted. Well, that just gave us more time to nap. We arrived in Venice at 11:30 p.m. to the dazzling sight of Venice at night at Christmas -- lights ablaze and shimmering off the water's surface. It was a spectacular entry!

We were welcomed at the very comfortable Pensione Guerrato -- and here I must give this place a hearty recommendation. The accommodations and staff are lovely. And the proprietors, Roberto and Piero (brothers-in-law), are experts at recommending everything from itineraries to restaurants, being Venetians by generations. (By the way, a pensione is like an American inn. They typically serve breakfast in a dining area each morning and have some, but not all, of the same services as a hotel. No TV, etc., but you don't come to Venice to watch TV!) The pensione is perfectly located right in the middle of Venice, near the Rialto bridge and markets. If you ever get to Venice -- and you really must -- this is a great place to stay.

Plus they put their keys on these charming tassels. You must stay there for this reason alone!

When we finally stumbled out of our rooms the following morning we joined Monroe and our fellow travelers in the Ghetto, what was the Jewish island (literally) in Venice, to tour the synagogues there. What was particularly interesting about these rooms was the way compromises were reached between cultures. Jewish immigrants to Venice were allowed only a few trades (mostly money lending), so they employed Christian craftsmen to build their houses of worship. Jewish tradition forbade painted images, the Venetian specialty, so in one synagogue they agreed on painted scenes from the Torah in landscapes, without human or animal forms. Imagine telling those stories through landscape alone!

Incidentally, the word ghetto originated in Venice. When Jewish settlers moved to the area it was previously the site of a foundry, or getto. German Jews pronounced this word with a hard "g" and there you have it. Another interesting note -- because the work of man is always imperfect there is always some small, intentional imperfection in each synagogue.

After our tour we retired to our rooms. Lane went exploring and found a wine shop that sold "bulk" wine from a barrel. Really! He came back with a large water bottle filled with a pretty decent red for about 2 Eros. Venice -- and many other cities in Europe -- may be horribly expensive, the wine everywhere is so cheap and good.

Thusly refreshed we set out for an opening Galleria Michela Rizzo (one of the artists, Barry X Ball, is exhibiting there during the Biennale). On our way we passed through a small parrish Christmas celebration. There was an elder gentleman in a worn Santa costume, an accordian player, and suddenly we were accosted by Venetians offering us the most delectable Christmas sweet bread imaginable. It was so warm and soft, and the music so adorable, I just about started crying in my bread. We were also offered Coke and orange soda.

The opening was fun -- same sort of fashionable people we see in New York gallery openings. Afterwards we went out for dinner with the help of Christina, a guide one of our fellow guests had met during a previous trip to Venice. It was a classic Venetian dinner, everything your average American tourist could want, with sparkling conversation winding late into the evening while little Jasper ran all over the restaurant, to the amusement of staff (phew, they like kids in Venice!).

Christina then led us on a late-night tour of Venice, including the basin aglow and the charming Scala Contarini del Bovolo (bovolo means snail) tower, a funny winding staircase in a small square. We came home and fell into our beds, stuffed body and soul. But this was just the beginning.

Signs of other Brooklynites -- this menorah is a gift from the Brooklyn Lubavitch community.


Anonymous said...

Awesome! Glad you are all back safely and that you had a great time. Can't wait to hear more! I love Venice. Please tell me you ate some gelato?

Swizzies said...

Hey A - Loving reading about your travels, and thanks for all the photos!!

I love the be-tasselled keys, too - almost every hotel (even large business ones) I've stayed in in Italy does them that way. My favorite are the very large heavy tassels with a huge brass skeleton key on. The entire thing must weigh half a kilo. :-) The Germans and Swiss accomplish much the same thing (ie, not taking the key out with you, but leaving it at the desk on your way out), but with a much more prosaic metal weight thingy. I defy them all by carrying it around in my GREAT HUGE bags. ;-)

XO from the swizzies...

Anonymous said...

Oh what a wonderful post. I am so looking forward to reading the rest of these.