La Dolce Vita (Travelogue, part 3)

October 2003

Buon giorno,

We arrived in Italy a week ago, after a grand train ride through the Austrian mountains.  Past ski towns with chalets, dense forests with thin, tall alpines, thick fog and beautiful landscapes.

Venice was amazing.  “A living museum,” says Paul.  “A feast for the eyes, as well as the stomach,” say I. What’s my favorite food after Mum & Dad’s cooking? Italian!  Oh, the oodles and oodles of noodles! Paul salivates with the gelato. The smell of espresso and vino.  Yum, yum, yum! Pizza has a paper thin base. Interestingly enough, if you order a pizza with multiple toppings, they are not sprinkled all over. For instance, my vegetarian pizza had a section of red bell peppers, another of mushrooms, another of onions and another of artichoke hearts.

Venice is a crazy maze, where it’s okay to get lost. There are endless passages leading to campos (squares) with the requisite statues and fountains. Some streets so narrow that only one person can pass, some so narrow that Paul could not stretch his arms.  He also had to keep ducking his head through the archways. Countless shrines to saints and Mary adorned with flowers tucked away in corners, over archways, next to windows or built into the bricks. The crumbling edifaces hide lovely interiors, esp. along the Grand Canal.  We took the vaperetto tour and could see into the “palaces” that line the canal.  Vast paintings on the inside of someone’s living room. A mosaic on the ceiling. Chandeliers (sp?) hanging overhead.

Most noticeable is the complete absence of cars and bikes.  It’s a great change and one that we quickly adapted to. If you don’t feel like walking, you take the water bus (vaperetto) or gondola taxi (tragetto). Cheap and efficient, not to mention fun. Also, it’s quite funny to observe a nautical traffic jam, although I suppose it’s not funny if you’re in one.

The Venetians are inordinately fond of lap-toy dogs, and they take them everywhere: restaurants, cafes, shops, bars. They are truly a part of the family, not just a pet.

The Venetians are v. chic, dressed head to toe in the latest fashions for the youth and tailored suits for the more mature.  You can definitely point out the tourists by the jeans and faded clothing.  No fancy, pointed leather shoes for me.  So, to fit in and be chic, how about a $3000 Roberta di Camerino alligator purse or a $850+ Gucci bag?  No? Not in the budget this year?  Not to worry! You can always buy a leather knock-off starting at $45 from the numerous African immigrant vendors.  But, you’d better make that purchase quickly because you never know when there’ll be a police bust and you’re going to be left standing as your purchase is whisked away. In our brief stay, we saw three of these busts.  The police run down the street and the vendors take off, leaving behind the merchandise or sometimes attempting to run with a few bags.  We got the skinny from a local who explained that there are only a certain number of permits for street sales.  Most of the vendors are not on the official list.

Speaking of police, they seem to have a nice life. There’s little violent crime in Venice, and the police, when not chasing illegal bag sellers, amble about checking out the girls, smoking cigarettes, chatting with the merchants, sitting and sipping coffee.  Not only that, but they get to wear a smart-looking, pseudo-military style outfit.

Of course, what is Venice without a gondola ride?  Since a gondola has a very special meaning for us, we took a moonlit ride through the quiet, non-stinky canals of inner Venice.  Just us, the gentle lap of the water, the moonshine, and occasional narration from Roberto, our gondolier.  He pointed out Marco Polo’s  and Casanova’s houses.

Before I describe Cinque Terra, our current stop, I must write about our bathroom in Venice.  Italian bathrooms (toilet and shower and bidet) are extremely compact.  So, compact that not more than one person can fit. Ours was 5 feet long, 4 feet wide and about 6 feet 9 inches high. Paul could just about manage to fit. The sink slid from one end of the wall to the other, so that you can move it out of the way.  The shower is not separate from the rest of the room.  It is a shower head and a curtain that you pull along the rail to cover the sink, bidet and toilet so they don’t get wet while you shower.  Truly space-efficient.

Now, onto Cinque Terra, part of the Italian Riviera.  It is truly difficult to describe with accuracy in print how happy I am to be back here.  You would have to see my face and hear my tone to really understand. The Mediterranean is one of the most beautiful, breath-taking, wonderful places on God’s great earth.  It is the cure for all the ills that come with life in urban USA.  The sea is aqua marine by the coast, so clear you can see right through, and becomes a deep turquoise further out to sea.  Clean air, warm skies, friendly people who appreciate life for all of its simple grace. Sitting at the edge of the ocean, soaking in the sun, listening to the seagulls, the call of the fishermen, the waves as they hit the shore–all of it simple and peaceful, relaxing. There are no tourist sights here, no cathedrals, no museums, no agendas, nothing to do but appreciate the wonder of it all. We hiked for just over 2 hours along the cliffs, stopping to observe nature. Local seafood has been our staple, with the best fish we’ve ever had.  Even anchovies, cooked with capers and lemon, are delicious.  Not salty and harsh like back home, but flavorful and delicate. Pesto with pasta. Good wine.  Amazing tiramisu. It truly is la dolce vita.

We leave in a couple of days for Rosenheim, near Munich, into the hospitality of our friend, Martin.

Wishing you well.
Margharita e Paulo

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