Friday, December 22, 2017

Christmas Market And Music

Greetings, and Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays to you!

Another short blog posting!
We visited Vienna a weekend ago, took in the Christmas market, and walked to find some interesting sites.  I wanted to show you something that many people miss, as they either do not follow classical music or know that in the Vienna cemetery the people of Vienna have placed the burial sites of all of their famous composers,  Beethoven to Brahms to the Strauss family and more, they are all there together in once place.  What I did notice and want to mention is that when you are in Vienna you will find that the tourist industry and the city really push Mozart's  name.  You can buy t shirts, mugs, pens, napkins, chocolates, etc., all with Mozart's  name on them.  Mozart's house is a big item to see.  Beethoven lived in several different places in Vienna, but you won't see much about this.  What I did see was a big difference in people's actions towards the two composers.  You will see this in the photos I am including here.

Mozart is buried here

Mozart has just a few flowers at his tombstone.  Beethoven has a blanket of many flowers left by many many people.  Perhaps Vienna is missing something?

I could joke that they are still making up for the poor showing of people at the funeral for Mozart and his procession to the cemetery.  When Beethoven died the people had realized their big mistake on showing respect and the city was shut down for the day.

The two composers were as different as night and day!  Both had a gift, that we don't see often.  Mozart came away from hearing the special music of the Vatican that was protected from being stolen, he wrote it from memory days after.  Beethoven stretched music far beyond what it was, and thank goodness he began to use the brass section and percussion to full advantage.  His 9th Symphony is wonderful to hear, and I got to hear it while being on stage as a performer on trombone.  I can tell you that when the choir stood up behind the orchestra and began singing, the hairs on the back of my neck stood at attention.  It was a real thrill.  If you have never heard the 9th Symphony, take a listen.  Stick with it all the way to the end because it gets better and better. Beethoven planned it that way.  Then be glad you heard it, because he never did.  He was completely deaf when he wrote it.
At the grand performance he  was standing by the conductor to guide the tempos of the various movements, and when it was finished he was afraid to face the audience because it might be regarded as a failure.  Beethoven was in ill health and knew it would be one of his last compositions.  The conductor turned him around and he saw the audience standing and applauding like a sports team just won the big game.   We all know that feeling, right?
Maybe this is the reason Beethoven gets all the flowers.
If you are in Vienna, plan a few hours to visit that huge cemetery.
Not to take away from the Christmas Market, here are two photos.
I wish you a safe holiday.  Ciao!
Food, Drinks and More

This Will Become A Watercolor Soon

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Starbucks Milano News

Sad news for Starbucks fans!  Another year will pass before the lines grow outside of the new Starbucks in Milano.  The latest information is that it will open in 2018.  If my calculations are correct, this will be a total of two years of renovating a building and furnishing it with the usual Starbucks furniture.  Devotees must be getting very uptight about the delay.  Collectors of those countrified coffee cups have dusted their shelf in anticipation.  Do you know that those cups grow in value and are traded on Ebay?  This whole trading thing began with baseball cards decades ago.  A minor exageration.

When we were in Spain we noticed that they used toilets which are the same in America.   Nothing like making things look “corporate style”.  How can it take so long to refurbish an old building?  I think it was previously the post office in Milano.  Whoever owns the franchise to that Starbucks must be beating his/her head on the wall in frustration.  Wheelbarrows of euros, gone.   Things take a lot longer in Italy.  I just purchased a new car in Padova, and it took longer than a week to drive it off the premises.  In America it would have been an hour and a half.   

I guess they bring the toilets over on a boat?  Maybe the boat has been blocked by the EU?   Maybe the Russians?  Someone has to take the blame.   

This has been a short blog.  News has been minimal.  Ciao!

If you would like to read more news on this grand opening, here are two links you can check out.  Just copy and paste.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

What Are Venetians Eating This Week

Buon Giorno!
It has been awhile since the last posting.  I have been very busy painting watercolors almost every day, as I am planning an exhibition  in a few months.
This will be a short read for you.  There are two things on my mind.  I want to mention a dish served in Venezia, which is common to the people who live in the Veneto.  When I was a kid, my mother served this dish about once a month, and I hated it so much that I put a mountain of ketchup on it to survive the meal.  She didn’t really know how to cook it like the people here do.  That dish is liver and onions, commonly know here as fegato alla Veneziana.
featured with soft polenta

When we have guests from abroad, I always encourage them to try it.  I tell them if they don’t like it they can have what I have ordered, that way they won’t miss a chance to taste a regional dish.  
This weekend I ordered it in a restaurant in the hills called Colli Euganei, south of Padova.  One can find many good places for dining in these hills. There are many people from Germany that come here for the hot mineral pools, spa and hot mud treatments offered by a great number of hotels there.   Of course, they get hungry and venture away from the hotel food.  I think there are so many restaurants there that we could eat every night at a new one for many months and never run out of restaurants.  Almost all feature regional food, I can think of only one that features German cuisine and only  3 Asian.  
The taste of fegato alla veneziana is quite light, and they slice the meat thinly, which I think helps the flavor.  You won’t need ketchup.  The sauce is made from the juices of the meat, and it always seems to taste the same here no matter which restaurant makes it.  I suggest to you if you come to the Veneto to try it.  
My second item is a short discussion of the characteristics of Italians.  One of the more maddening things about them is when they have to line up.  You will find that they do not seem to know how to line up single file, in fact, I think they kind of resent lining up.  They seem to enjoy breaking what would be a rule in most countries, similar to when Italians come to a stop sign.  They won’t stop unless they have to miss a collision.  

Last weekend we were at the Venice Airport, and the announcement is made to line up for boarding.   We wanted to get a jump on things so we were already in a line behind about 25 others.  This was not a straight line, but you could tell it was a line formed for boarding.  People started coming and some were lining up behind us, but the majority of them began taking cuts, and standing at the side but closer to the attendant than us.  I stood there, always shocked at the blatant behavior, and I hope that they would turn and look behind them.  I am waiting to give them the stare, a visual that would tell them they are taking advantage of everyone who has tried to line up.  They NEVER look back.  They never look to the side.  But what really gets me is that they act like it is normal to just crowd in, and not line up.  BTW, this behavior can be seen in other occasions, bus stations, post office and even sometimes at my doctor’s office.    You begin to think that they have never considered standing in line.  
However on the way home, at the Barcelona airport, these same Italian folks made a  line, single file when the announcement was made.  Not one person took cuts, or tried to sneak in ahead of others.  It was very orderly.  I told my Italian wife, that I could not believe what we were seeing.  She was also a bit shocked to see such orderliness.   When you come to Italy for a visit, watch how the lines form and see if you experience the same thing.  Good luck, or buona fortuna, as they say here.

How they line up.....Have a smile on me.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Not Bricks, Nor Sticks, But Straw

You Ever Wonder Who Made These
And Where Did They Come From?
Those Romantic Chianti Bottles
Italy is filled with amazing mini adventures.  This weekend we left the Veneto, entered the Province of Ferrara and drove south towards Ravenna.   We would stay overnight at an agritourismo and do some minor bird watching.  The area around the Po River is known for such.  We were also going to take in a Goya exhibition in a nearby village.  While there the owner of the agritourismo told us about an herb museum in the nearby village of Villanova di Bagnacavallo and we decided to check it out.  This was the tip of the day!

Hats, etc!

It was not an herb museum but a straw….. a bit of everything made out of straw museum.  Walking room to room through the past, viewing baskets, shoes, hats, implements, rugs, made me stop to consider how plastic has replaced this old method.  We should have rejected plastic.  Soon to come, I hope.  
Harvesting Items


There was a video of how the Po River had flooded and made basically a swamp out of a huge amount of farm land.  Now tamed, the ground is responsible for producing some of Italy’s best produce.  We also learned that the people in times past made straw things that were exported and were valued as being “in style”.   I was amazed at how many things were produced by weaving straw.   What a fine museum this village has made to show their heritage. 

No Trying It Out!

Several times during the year they offer a weekend to learn from the older residents how to make a basket.  80 Euros gets you all the items you need to make your basket  plus plenty of stories from the past.
Some of the baskets have very intricate designs, they all seem to be a bit different; however, I think a student will end up with a basic design at the end of the weekend.  

Various Items
All The Straw Is
Different Design

In the same building you can find a restaurant that features, as atmosphere, undies from the past hanging overhead.  Hundreds of white undies, mens and womens, many with embroidered initials hang above.  Who would have thought?  They also have old implements for cooking and making coffee.  Of course you get the guided tour if they are not too busy.  Be sure and ask to see the outdoor thatched roofed buildings which have interesting items from the past.

Home Made Nails
Shown in Thatch Roof Buildings
In the past 8 years in Italy,  I have seen a lot of museums.    This one I would actually place in the top 10 on my list.  It actually was exceptional in the grouping of items, and how they displayed them.,  They have included a lot of history, well explained on the walls.  We are going back to learn how to make a basket and learn more about this small village that once was so important to Italy.   BTW, the food is exceptional in this area.  

More about this area in the next two blog postings, one on the farm stay and one on a Goya exhibit.


Monday, September 11, 2017

Directions To Nowhere

Perhaps you know Karl Pilkington, a worldly maladjusted man on tv, who was forced to visit famous places all over the world.   I have had my own frustrating Pilkinton experiences, discouraging me to be disheartened and frustrated.   There have been many incidences where I wanted to throw up my hands and raise a white flag in desperation.  

One of the first of these episodes occured when I was first in Padova, completely lost, and in need of directions to an internet shop.   This became a fishing expedition to find someone who could give me exact directions.  My immediate plan was to seek someone on the street who looked like he or she would know where to find  internet shop.  All the people I asked  seemed to know a place, and after speaking to each one, I followed their directions.  Back and forth I walked through Padova, but each time finding that the previous person’s directions led me on a wild goose chase.  After never finding what I was seekiing,  I began to perceive that Italians don’t like to admit that, either they do not know where I wanted to go, or they are really lousy in giving directions.  

Finally I eventually ended up back where I started at the big market in the center of Padova.  I decided to ask a taxi driver to help me.  He, in turn, consulted another taxi driver, and eventually  a group of taxi drivers gathered and using Italian hand gestures and loud conversation they came to a conclusion.  The first driver then motioned for me to get into his car, and I, being tired from walking, crawled into his tiny Italian made car.  
We drove through the city, and after 10 minutes I began wondering if I was being taken on a long ride to unload my wallet.  Blocks went by as I realized I was getting further from the center.  Surely there was an internet shop in the center, why were we driving away?  
The driver stopped in front of a sporting goods store.  He pointed for me to go inside.  Out of frustration I suggested a few ideas in English, which he did not understand!  But what the heck, I paid some euros, got out and went inside the store.  You can imagine the  sporting good clerks  when I told them that the taxi brought me to their shop and told me that there was internet to use there.  You can also imagine how I felt!

That day Italy lost that romantic place in my mind.   I never did use the internet that day.  It was a low point in my life in Italy, but it was also my first day to learn survival tactics in asking directions.  Here is what I have learned.

First, when speaking in English to an Italian who understands English, I always ask, “Please point, as the bird flies, where I will end up.”  By getting them to point with their finger, I usually have better success in ending up where I want to go.  You see, you are not only battling directions that could be a bit off, but you are also up against streets that are crooked, and with changed names every block.

I have had Italians point to the right, while saying go left, which is frustrating, but I also find that many times they do not know the place you are seeking but will refused to admit it.  They will actually blather on, pointing and gesticulating as if they know exactly  the place I am seeking.  This is a serious problem in the basic make up of Italians.  And they do this to each other, which is quite hilarious.  

Bad Directions But Great Pasta
In case you are planning a visit I have made a list of phrases to help you survive your adventure.   At the very least you can point to the phrase and then fill in where you want to go.  

Buona Fortuna!  Good luck!

Scusa, dov’è  -– Excuse me, where is … ?
mi sono perso  — I am lost
punta nella direzione in cui e’  — point in the direction where it is
girare a destra – turn right
girare a sinistra – turn left
andare dritto – go straight on
attraversare la strada – cross the street
strada —street
angolo — corner
a piedi 50 metri —walk 50 meters
poi — then
va a 40 metri — you go 40 meters
trove  — find
guarda —look

Scusa, c’è  ______  qui vicino? – Excuse me, is there a (bancomat) near here?


Tuesday, September 5, 2017

A Casual Discussion of the Characteristics of Italians

No Movies Here, We Must Drive to Padova
We went into Padova to see the new movie Dunkirk.  They have a few times when they have a bargain showing and we take advantage of that.  We also use the free parking under the theatre, but it takes some expert driving as whomever planned the parking never considered the turns one has to make to get in and out.  They are really tight.   American sized cars would get stuck, probably resulting in a for sale sign and keys left in the ignition

The outside of the theatre looks a bit messy as the cement job never received a finishing touch.  Inside it is also total cement.   Darkened by time and all the rain in the winter, it looks like a slum building.   This kind of fits in here as Padova has a lot of  structures built in the 1400's.  People like Galileo and da Vinci were here, for instance.

They have a counter that sells popcorn and the usual drinks and snacks.  I have seen only a few people buying this kind of thing.  It is not Italian to eat during a movie.  I have never seen anyone eating popcorn during a movie, except myself.  I tried to be sneaky and quiet when sticking my hand into the box to get the popcorn, but I could see that I was disturbing people around me when they would glance to see where that scraping noise was coming from.   Italians don't do take away much, including buying something to eat and then walking around with it while you window shop.  At pizza take away places, no one sits there and eats their pizza.  I did this once, and I got a lot of people giving me the eye.   I have learned to check on things now before I make a complete fool of myself.

The soft chairs in this theatre were comfy  complete with  a ring for drinks.  They have moderned up!  Hats off to the owner!  One other theatre that we have used has the smallest chairs!  They are much smaller than any aircraft chairs, much more fitted for a 10 year old kid.  We don't go there anymore.   This is too bad as next door there is an American Burger Joint that has good burgers.  That would make for a real good night out.

One night a week, usually on Wednesday they feature the movies in English, but one would have to go at 9:00 pm.  Since we live a bit far from the theatre, this is not something we have taken advantage of.    My old age is showing here, too.

Movies with lot of action are best for me as I can follow what is being said.  I can process most of the Italian when it comes in a few sentences.  However, when there is a lot of machine gun conversation I struggle.  My wife gets jabbed in the ribs for help.  Sometimes I get lucky and she gives me some assistance.    My Italian friends encourage me to watch movies in Italian at home during the day.  I wish I had the time.  (I am too busy being retired.)

We saw Dunkirk, and I would give it 5 stars.  They made the action part look incredibly real, much like Private Ryan on the beach on D Day.  If you have a chance, go see it, as they really tried to keep it historically correct.  The only thing I could criticise is that the whole process of Dunkirk took many days and the movie made it seem like it was much shorter.  I think they could have shown the small rescue boats going back and forth more than once.  Also it would have been impossible to find the number of German bombers and fighter planes that would be needed to make it as it was.  They did the best with what they had to use.  Wouldn't it have been great to be rich at the end of the war and gather up all the planes, jeeps, cars, and war items, then later rent them out to movie studios for a pile of cash?

Most cinemas are closed during the daytime in Padova.  I think back to life in the states where you could watch anything from late morning to after midnight.  This is not the custom in Italy.    Even if the theatre was open early, no one would go.  Just a few Americans sitting alone in the dark.  Maybe this is partly due to the fact that many Italians work 6 days a week.  Maybe the expense?

One other thing I must mention is that when you buy a ticket, you are assigned a seat.  Nobody wanders around and takes whatever seat they want.  This was strange to me at first.  I remember my two sons wandering down to the first row to see the action.  I also remember a few dropped empty soda cans rolling down from row 50.  No smuggling allowed!

I like going to the movie.  When I was a kid in the 50's  we had what they called a kiddie show on Saturday mornings.  25 cents got you a seat for two movies, usually cowboy westerns and some cartoons.  My parents got a real break for only a quarter, while I saw a lot of Roy Rodgers and Dale Evans with their horses, Trigger and Buttermilk.  Trigger is now stuffed in the Roy Rodger Museum, I am not sure about ol' Buttermilk.  When I see horsemeat for sale here in Padova, I always reflect back to Buttermilk,..... that and Francis the Mule (they have donkey stew here).  Kids would sit in the balcony and then flatten their popcorn boxes and frisbee them during intermission.   Those would fly  a good 25 meters.  If you sat in the lower section you never turned around to look back!  I never frisbeed.

We also never honked our horn when the film broke at the drive in.  We did honk when the guy running the projector went to sleep during intermission and didn't start the projector on time.  I always wish my father had added a spot light on our car so we could play spotty during intermission.  I kind of miss the old days.   Just think what people miss out on these days.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Finding The Small Things

Lots of Langos Choices
This past August, while travelling from the bottom of Poland to the bottom of Turkey I came across interesting things that added a little fun into the trip.   I would like to show you a few of them.
Walking along the Danube River in Budapest we had intentions of eating breakfast in the big market.  We were informed that there we could find the   Hungarian breakfast specialty called Langos, which is a large piece of fried bread (like Navajo fried bread)  with various toppings.  We were told that Hungarians like Langos, served with sour cream, garlic and cheese.    Other various toppings included mushrooms, hot spiced tomato sauce, and cheese.  This is very different from our Italian breakfast or even American.   You cannot eat it all.

On the main floor of the market people shop for vegetables and meats.  This market has some of the best looking vegetables in Europe.  Tomatoes, perfectly ripe, cabbages, corn,  broccoli and cucumbers.  We found this bin of cucumbers interesting as it held examples of what you see here.  This looks a lot like 5 cucumbers grown together.

While eating our first Hungarian dinner we saw several tables where people were squirting fizzy water from large bottles.  We had to try that!  It had a fresher taste than what we get in Italy, and from then on, we had to have this on our table.  I was also happy to see that this miniature water dispenser cost less than what we would pay for bottled fizzy water in Italy.
They have good beer in Hungary, but this seemed to take the edge off the heat of the day.  Plus it was kind of fun to push the top down and fill our glasses.

A bowl of pinkish soup was delivered to the table next to us and we were curious and decided to try it.  It was very good, and apparently it is based on beets.   At every restaurant we found someone eating this soup, so I think I can safely say that this is something Hungarians like very much.  We also tried a soup called fruit soup, which was served cold and had a nice fruity taste.

 In Turkey, while sitting in a barber chair, I saw this round red container with a guy's beard covered with soap.  My barber buddy, Umit, thought it funny that I wanted this as a souvenir.  I just think it interesting that this is how a barber in Turkey gets his foamy.  Plus the picture looks like it came from the 50's.
You can see a glass of hot tea behind it, which most shop owners in Turkey offer their customers.  We like this tea as it is a bit sweet and not bitter, and brought home 2 kilos.

They know beer and burgers
Last year in Antalya, Turkey we discovered near our hotel a burger joint called Beer Zone.  It turned out that they made a great burger, much better than the ones we can find in Italy.  In fact, I feel they are much better than most burgers in the states.  The meat was 100 per cent beef, made from the best parts of the cow, not the left overs, and the bun was toasted.  The burgers were delivered in a paper covering that made sure the burger did not fall apart while eating.  Beer Zone has toppings of the usual ketchup, mustard and mayo, plus hot sauces like habanero, etc.  They actually have a bottle of ketchup for every table, rather than the cheap tiny plastic tear apart container of ketchup were are force to use in Italy.  They have a lot of signs about beer, one of them you see here.
Our favorite restaurant at the beach in Cirali, Turkey serves this balloon bread.  I asked our waiter, Umit, how it was baked to make the huge bubble, and they said it was the high temperature.  This goes good with the hummus and/or garlic yogurt served as appetizers.
I can make fried bread balloon up like this when making sopapillas, but it is more difficult to obtain this bubble of air in my oven.    I would need a pizza oven.
Travel changes when one gets older.   You begin to enjoy the little things.  I have to admit to you that I have seen enough castles and lodgings of the rich people of the past, enough museums, and enough famous sites that now I like finding these small things along the way.  I really enjoy sitting and people watching, watching the residents go about their day, for instance.  I use my painting of watercolors as a way to slow down and just enjoy the day.   40 Countries in 70 years.  It has been good!

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Memorial To Past Events

Look closely 
Out with the old doesn’t quite work sometimes.  As in Olympics, for instance.  The citizens pay for great stadiums, dormitories, and all the structures that it takes to present the olympics.  Lately is has been found that the events did not make enough income to pay for building them.  When the olympics finish,  the area is deserted.  
You probably were not born yet, so you have to rely on an old person like me to tell you the story.  Italy hosted the Winter Olympics back in 1956 in Cortina.

Participating were Thirty-two nations which competed in the four sports and twenty-four events.   The Soviet Union made its first appearance in the Winter Olympics and  won more medals than any nation.  Since television in places like Germany and Scandinavia did not have the technology to show the events live, people there had to rely on Communist television sources, a big plus for the Soviets.

I was a kid then and had no clue of this.  Pretty much all I remember is the big ski jump and watching those men slooshing down and jumping off that structure.  I could not imagine how any person could have the courage to do that.   One mistake and you are toast!  

We were driving past Cortina a few years ago and suddenly I saw that ski jump on the right side of the road, sitting peacefully in a meadow like setting.  I looked harder and could see that parts were missing,  No one was going to be using that for practice.  It just sits there as a reminder of the past.  Knowing Italy as I do now, how they recycle things, I wondered why they haven’t torn it down and used the lumber.  
I have read where this Olympics was paid for mostly by private means, not by the citizens who paid only for refurbishing the structures.  I am not sure this is how it is done today.  It should be.  

Coming up, Kradow, Budapest and Turkey.


Monday, July 17, 2017

12,000 steps around the city of Venice

The first time I saw Venice I arrived by canal and I could not believe all those people  walking back and forth, up and down the bridges along the waterfront   The appearance was of an ant colony.  I had never thought to see Disneyland size crowds, a silly naive idea of what I expected.   When the cruise boats unload, it is greatly overwhelming.   (In fact, the townspeople of Venice have protested against the cruise boats, even going to the lengths of swimming and boating in their path to stop them in protest.)  

St. Mark's 
From the boat dock you walk  towards St. Mark’s Square bulging with  lines of people waiting to get into the many famous structures.   You will see people who have brought bread and seeds to feed the pigeons.  The result of this is that those flocks of pigeons get excited and in retaliation show their respect by relieving their little digestive systems on tourists as they fly over.   (Beware!)

You stop and  just gaze at the beauty of the front of St. Mark’s Church.  It’s covered in paintings of gold.  Next to the church is the famous tower, Campanile di San Marco,  which has been copied so many times all over northern Italy.  You can also find it out of Italy, for instance,  the city of Denver has a smaller one, which used to be the tallest building back when I was a kid.   Called the  Daniel and Fisher tower, it opened in 1910, is now towered over by tall buildings of Denver.  The original, in Venice, was  rebuilt after the collapse in 1912.   No one was actually hurt in the collapse as it was early in the morning.  You can safely go to the top of the new one  for an exceptional view.   

Campanile di San Marco in Back
When in the piazza I especially like to look up at the rooftop on the building on the left side of St. Marks.  There are two actual sized men of bronze called "Mori"  who use hammers to strike the bells for time.  There are plenty more things to see here and you want to take your time and have a camera.  Come back when it is dark for more great photos. 

I recommend not sitting at one of the St. Mark's piazza side restaurants or bars as they are quite expensive.   If you feel real snooty you can visit the  famous Harry’s Bar,  which is nearby on the waterfront.  They have a dress code making sure no low life types get in.  I didn’t make the cut as I had on some nice bermuda shorts.   I am the first to admit I am a low life.  The place was empty, maybe for the same reason, or maybe because of the high prices you pay to have the experience of embibing where Hemingway hung out.  

One thing I might mention.  If you visit the museum called the Accademia you will see some paintings that were made after St. Mark’s body was brought to Venice.  A close look at the procession and the many people who were there and were placed in the painting, you will see that there were NO pigeons. My belief is that they were on the dining table.    Venetians did not eat a lot of steak, then and even now.
In my local supermarket I can find quail, rabbit, donkey and horse meat which might be strange to a tourist, especially one from the US.  

A famous view used by many
artists who painted in
You do know the story of bringing St. Mark’s body to Venice, don’t you?  The Venetian rulers saw that other cities were getting the tourist trade with all the people making a pilgrimage to see famous relics, such as a piece of the cross of Jesus, or the tooth of a saint, or hair of the Mother of Mary.   There were so many pilgrims wandering all over Europe to see these relics, thus to  relieve their sins.   The Venetian rulers put their heads together and conjured up the big idea of sailing down to Egypt and kidnapping the body of St. Mark during the night.  They had the boats and the navy and they controlled the seas so, no problem.  A sneaky plan had them arriving during the night by boat and  grab the disciple’s body, and carry it their flotilla.   (This should be made into a movie, if it already has not.)   A faster boat was sent ahead to announce the big hornswoggle (a word you don’t see much anymore).   You can imagine the big hoohaw this stirred up and the sizeable plans made for the arrival of the big catch.  Everyone was dreaming to line their pockets with tourist cash.  Plans were made for a big procession with all the flourish, costumes, music and the important people of the time.   Nothing was left out.  The bigger, the better, what a great advertisement this would make for them.   Pilgrims and  tourists!  You can see this in the paintings in the Academia.  This is where the pigeons come in or don’t come in.  Look!...   No pigeons…Dinner Table.         My personal opinion is that the tourists became the pigeons, but that is another story.

The white is mozarella, with artichokes,
spicy meat and mushrooms
I want to mention pizza.  I know that you are probably used to a pile of stuff on top, a thick crust, and plenty  of cheese.  What you need to know is that Italian pizza is a very thin crust, and a lot fewer additions.   No pineapple, sorry for you weird folks who go for that.  You also won’t be able to eat much of it by hand as it will be floppy and make a mess.  We use forks and knives here.  It won’t be covered with mushrooms, the crust is visible through the sauce.  There is no such thing like a Chicago deep dish pizza.  Italians prefer to taste each ingredient one at a time.   Some of my friends here don’t like mixing things, this means one or at the most two items on top.  My jazz piano playing pal likes to just put  only sliced zucchini on top, or have a basic margarita pizza.   He gets a lot of razzing from me on this.   I miss my old ways sometimes.

Pizzas are called names that all Italians know.  The menus will have them listed by these, but  will list  what will be put on them.  Forget about ordering “pepperoni and mushroom”.  You will have to find the name of one that has that on the menu.   (Pepperoni is not a meat here, it is a bell pepper)
Mozzarella is a luscious white soft cheese, placed on the pizza near the end of its cooking.  Mozzarella cheese in Italy  is not the hard, stretchable kind, a cheese that you could bounce off the floor.  And real mozzarella, called bufala, oh, how amazing, how soft, and creamy.  No teeth needed, just taste buds.  You will never look the same at hard mozzarella again.  Pizzas come with a bit of a blackened burn on the rim.   Don’t think they forgot your pizza and served it to you anyway because you are gullible tourist.  That wood fired oven is plenty hot, no one complains of a little black scorch mark.  

Here is a handy breakdown of some of the items so you can make a good choice.  
funghi…. mushrooms, pomodorro…..sliced tomato, pancetta…..bacon, salamino piccante… meat, salsiccia….sausage, gamberetti…small shrimp, prisciutto crudo…..sliced cured pork, melanzane….eggplant, pattatine fritte….french fries, porcini…a kind of mushroom, pepperoni….sliced red bellpepper, cipolla…. onion,  acciughe….anchovies, capperi….capers, radicchio….purple cabbage, carciofi….artichoke pieces, cavallo…horse meat, speck… smoked priusciutto, tonno…. tuna, wurstel… hot dog, fagioli….beans, sorpressa…salami, chiodini…. small and slimy mushrooms, salami piccante… spicy meat, salmone…salmon, stracchino… a better than Philadelphia cheese,  Scamorza… smoked cheese from Sicily, acciughe… anchovies, zucca….zuchinni.

Everybody gets their own because pizzas are one person sized.  Almost always, there is no small, medium, large or huge sizes.  One size fits all.  Expect to pay in Venice about 8 to 9 euros each.  It is one of the cheaper foods to buy.  

I hope you noticed that pepperoni is not a meat in Italy, and that Italians have a choice of beans, hot dog, french fries, horse meat, and slimy mushrooms (order funghi freschi to get fresh ones)  Look around and see what they are eating, always interesting.   You will see people eating fries on a pizza, seriously!

Italians are firm on believing that the way grandma does it, is how it should be done, no tweaking of the recipe allowed.  Spaghetti has little sauce, it is all about the pasta for them.   Sauce will not be spicy in the north of Italy.   There are white sauces, developed here in the north because they had fewer tomatoes available than people in the south. 

Menus will probably feature some English.  Most waiters have gone to school to learn their trade and the course work include  foreign languages.  This will help you and remember no tipping here.  They are paid a living wage, have health care, and a retirement through their job, unlike the U.S.  

Don't Miss The Bridge of Sighs
The last view for condemned prisoners
through those windows above
The further from St. Mark’s you get the better the prices.  Never sit down to eat your  breakfast roll and coffee in a bar.  They charge you to sit.  Stand up at the bar like an Italian. Be Italian.  You will feel crowded, this is the custom, the way of life.   We sat down once as we were very tired, two cappuccinos and two rolls, 10 euros!  In comparison, in my village I pay 1 euro for a coffee americano.  Venice is expensive.  Stand up!  

Try to relax and realize that the high prices keep the city afloat, they have trash, sewer, electricity, police (in boats) fire (in boats) and all the administration of a regular city but on water.  You are in a living and breathing Disneyland.  A million visitors leave a lot of trash, it isn’t cleaned up for free.   Also, the winter is not a good tourist season, so to make it through the year their prices are high like all resort areas over the world.    It is worth it because your visit to Venice is like walking and boating through a living museum.  Yes, walking, as there are lots of walk ways between the canals, and bridges to go up and over.  We usually walk at least 12,000 steps easy, even with a boat ride back to the train station.  You need good shoes, leave the sandals and the thongs in the suitcase!

Some other honorable mentions, a church in Venice that has the tomb of Gabrielli, a famous composer known to all music majors and especially brass players.
You can even walk on top of the old guy.  I love playing his music, it is always so energetic, happy and logical.  His brother was also in Venice, but is not buried in the city.  Igor Stravinsky is buried here on another island.  His burial site is quite understated in comparison to his gift to music, sad to say.  

The pavement in the St. George church across the canal from Venice is interesting in that it is an optical illusion.  The Venetian Hotel in Vegas copied this pattern.  Try to visit this church and take the elevator ride to the top of the steeple for a great view.

It is a totally flat floor

Lastly, try to visit the market in the early morning.  It will be closed in the afternoon.  The vendors do not mind  too much being photographed, and the sea gulls put on a show in the fish market.  You are going to see items there that you have never seen before, so don’t miss it.  


Thursday, July 6, 2017

What is on the plate in Venice?

 Liver and  onions!  My mother made this dish at least once a month, always remarking that it is “good” for us.  Basically I rated it  as bad as eating dog food, so I buried it in a pile of ketchup.  Things change, my taste for food changed and I was challenged  to see liver and onions on menus in Venice.  Not like mom’s!  I had to find out more, and discovered that this is a dish featured in Venice, a favorite among Venetians.  It is now frequently what I order when we do a day visit to Venice.  You should give it a try.

Bigoli is a larger type of spaghetti, usually home made by restaurants in the Veneto.  You can find it in Venice, usually with wild boar (chingiale), or in the hills south of Venice with donkey (Musso) .  If you order biggoli, expect it to be filling.  You may not need a second course.  Give a hard look in the markets and you might find bigoli to take home as a souvenir.  Our guests always get a package of this from us.  Nothing like taking the taste of Venice home with you.

Pasta with Sepia Black
Teeth black after
Spaghetti and onions….There is a quaint restaurant we visit in Venice, called Il Millione.  They make lots of different kinds of pasta dishes, but the one we go back for is bigoli with onions, spaghetti alla cipolla.  When I first saw it on the menu, I skipped over to the next item, but then my wife told me that this is a specialty, so I tried it.   The smoothness of the sauce and the flavor can’t be  beat.   They make their own pasta which makes it especially smooth.  BTW never expect spaghetti and meatballs in the Veneto.  This is an American tweaked dish.  If you see this on the menu, sneak out  and find another restaurant.

Take Home Tourist Pasta
Sarde in Saor is basically small fried sardines marinated in a vinegar with onions.  You will  find this and other types of small fish in Venetian restaurants.  The one we sometimes visit is called  Trattoria alla Rivetta.

A Type of Clam, Quite Good
But It Looks Like Worms
We found Rivetta by watching where the gondoliers go for pranzo (lunch).  Figuring that if they go there, they must know something we should check out.   (Like finding good pie would be where the truckers stop.)  Seating is tight, and usually when you wait for a table you can look into a countertop display of appetizers.  Venetians frequently just order from this display and not from the menu.  You will see why when you check out the shelves of items that Venetians love.   Beware of the prices of these appetizers, once we sat near a table of 4 people  and they were more than adequate eaters, their bill was 252 euros!  I think they tried every  single thing available, with 3 bottles of vino.  Kaching!!!

Not My Favorite
Breads of the Veneto.  Don’t expect much.  The majority of bread  brought to the table is unlike Tuscan bread, the type found in good Italian restaurants in the  states.  The bread here, if you break it open is almost powdery and loaded with air.  Your table will be covered with crumbs, and  when you taste it, there is hardly any taste.  It is okay manners to place your broken bread on the  table cloth.  Also, those of you who are used to the waiter providing a plate of oil, flavored with something like chili sauce, vinegar, truffle, or….Don’t expect this in Italy.  It’s strictly an American thing, this sopping of bread, in flavored oil.

People in northern Italy seem to like their grilled meat over cooked a bit.   Many of my Italian friends are happy to see  pieces of meat charred.  Most places grill meat until it is fairly dry.  Making beef a choice, you must tell the waiter you want it al sangue (rare).  A good waiter spotting you as a foreigner will probably ask you how you want your meat cooked.   Remember they are paid a living wage and are not dependant on tips, most of them have been trained in school to do their job.  You should not have to ask them if they are expert on wine, for instance.  You should not have to tell them to bring the food out slowly and not rush things.  If you have read my previous blogs you know that Italians can sit for 2 1/2 during a meal.  They even get up and walk around to stretch before returning to the table.  

A good steak, is called fiorentina, after the famous Tuscan white cows.  This cut will be sold in a restaurant by the weight.  Those white  cows, are eye candy now, if you see them at all when you drive through the Tuscan hills.  Those so called fiorentina cuts are mostly brought to Italy from Spain.  They won’t tell you this in the restaurant, why mess up a legend.  Restaurants in the Veneto will sometimes feature Argentinian or Irish beef.  My butcher sometimes has beef from Nebraska, and once had buffalo from the U.S.  All at a surprisingly low price!  

Please, Let Me Find More Of This!
Wine.  This was a complete surprise for me, moving from the states.  In the past I looked for wine from Montalcino, or any area in Tuscany.  I hardly ever saw  wine from the Veneto, and when I did, mostly pinot griggio or soave, I found it to be not very good.  The reason, I believe, is that they send wine out of country that is not the best.  When we go back to the U.S. we see a lot of Italian wine in restaurants that are found on the 3 euro shelf at our market.  Now that I have lived in the Veneto for almost 9 years I have tasted many great wines.  The hills south of Padova (Euganea) are volcanic, and they have some great wines.  A second  area is the area near Verona called Soave.  In fact, the best wine we ever had was from this area.  Some British friends were with us, when we took a chance and ordered it.  It turned out to be  huge!    Completely discovered by accident in a small restaurant high on a hill.   The Brits think I am a wine expert now.  NOT!  Actually, I hope that the wines of the Veneto remain undiscovered by the vast majority of wine lovers out of country.  You can figure out the reason for this.  

A shopping tip:  If you want to take wine home as a souvenir in your checked bag, visit a super market where you will find good  wine at a lower  price than a wine seller.  
One of the most famous canals has a webcam complete with sound.   View this webcam at:

Weather:  It will continue to be hot with increasing temperatures through August.  Today it was 89 and in the next few days will approach 99.  This is why Italians take a beach vacation in August.  Until next time…