Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Venice Part A (Trofie Wife Perspective)

Martello has pledged to share his reflections of our whirlwind trip to Venice, but since his time is limited (and mine, abundant), I figured that I would give you all a little taste of our visit to this lovely city due east.

Now, the most amazing aspect of the entire trip (which occurred nearly two weekends ago) is that Martello and Trofie Wife managed to make the 7:15 a.m. train to Milano. As most readers are fully aware, early rising is not our thing, but with the Architectural Biennale calling, and the threat of weekend overtime the following week hovering over us, we made it happen. Upon arrival in Milano (upon slow, rickety, regional rail), we transferred to a faster moving Intercity train that pulled into Venice’s St. Lucia station around 2 p.m. After purchasing Venice’s equivalent of an unlimited Metrocard, we attempted to find our hotel in the Cannaregio sestiere, so that we could deposit our bags before making our way to the exhibit. We walked up and down the street, trying to find the house number that had given us (we had had a lot of trouble booking a hotel at midnight, seven hours prior to our departure, but managed, at the last minute, to find a cheap, clean-looking one). It wasn’t a good sign when a nearby shop vendor did not recognize the name of our hotel. Yet, recalling another image from the Web site, Trofie Wife suggested that they return to the hotel situated next to where their hotel was supposed to be in order to seek clues. Low and behold, pinned to the wall above the adjacent alleyway (no wider than 2 ½ feet), Martello and Trofie Wife spotted a wrinkled sign with a hand-drawn arrow, indicating that the hotel was down the alley, just past the pile of canine excrement. (Note: at least five times during the course of the trip Trofie Wife asked Martello (who had commandeered the camera) to take a picture of this sign and alley. (Interjects Martello: “You definitely asked me fewer than five times.”) Martello kept postponing the shot, and evidently, we left Venice without the picture. So you’ll just have to conjure up a sketchy alley in your imagination.)

After making our way to the “penthouse” of this tiny hotel, we walked in the direction of the Arsenale (over in the Castello sestiere), where a portion of the Biennale exhibit was being housed. We stopped for an excellent caff√® along the way and passed a bunch of great stores to which we hoped to return. Though pressed for time, we had to pause and marvel at the grandeur of St. Mark’s Basilica and the Piazza Ducale, which we knew we would not be able to tour that weekend but vowed to return to before the hordes of summer tourists descended. We explored the Bienniale until they kicked us out of the bookshop well past the 6 p.m. close. Martello will likely discuss the exhibits in greater technical and aesthetic detail, but Trofie Wife will merely add that there were a great many clever, socially-conscious pieces that caught her attention such that she was not dying of boredom. After close, we failed while attempting to locate a hot chocolate place that specialized in a non-lactose version, but after having another Venetian hot chocolate later in the evening, realized that it wasn’t too great a loss.

One big downside to Venice is that it’s very Anglophone friendly, which means if you’re already struggling with Italian and resisting speaking it, you can pretty much get away with not uttering a word of it during your journey. Despite our best efforts, we ended up at a very touristy restaurant in the San Stefano area where we at least found some decent grilled fish. Our waiter insisted on English, and we were seated next to two other American couples (Boston and North Carolina). Though the overall English exposure set back Trofie Wife’s Italian at least a week, it was nice to eavesdrop on the couples’ cross conversation and hear voices from home discussing the election outcome, economic crisis, and their own Italian adventures (one couple was on their way to Tuscany to harvest and press olive oil on their friend’s land!).

After dinner, we found some excellent, cheap gelato, window shopped while dodging knock-off handbag dealers (Chinatown, 42nd Street, Venice….they’re everywhere!), and magically made it through a long boat ride on Venice’s public transit system without Trofie Wife’s dinner making a reappearance! We returned to our “penthouse” (which was actually a really good, clean deal) to enjoy an American-regulation sized shower, which did have abundant hot water for a spell, though Martello used more than his fair share! Trofie Wife continued binging on English while watching a BBC special on the Obama victory, followed by the weather forecast (British accents are just lovely, no matter what they’re saying!)

For the second day in a row, Martello and Trofie Wife managed to heed the call of the alarm clock and shuttle to breakfast and the train station (for return tickets) prior to trying to maximize their morning and early afternoon. We headed to the Jewish ghetto, which was actually the first of its kind in Europe. The tour was very interesting. We were able to see the interiors of three of the five Venetian shuls: two Ashkenazi (one was German, the other French; they couldn’t get along in one building, so the French moved next door! Oy!) and the Spanish Sephardic. Supposedly for security purposes, we couldn’t view the two synagogues that were in operation, the Levantine Sephardic and the Italian (we’ll have to get to an Italian synagogue at some point, though, and see just what they do that gives them claim to their own style!).

We had fun purchasing books in the museum gift shop and adding to our collection of mezuzot at the Judaica shop (we’re really being optimistic that we will return to an apartment in the States that has more than one door!). Most exciting for Martello was his acquisition of a kosher salami sandwich! Upon leaving the ghetto, we first headed to the Rizzoli candy shop for some nougat, then to the Dorsoduro sestire to do a little glass bead shopping. We probably lingered a bit too long, but left with some beautiful items.

Our foolhardiness regarding time continued as we commenced a long boat ride back to the Bienniale site. Sadly for Martello, we picked the wrong portion to see first (the Arsenale, which we toured on Saturday, was actually the smaller gallery), so we had only 30 minutes to view the bulk of this major exhibit. Drill sergeant Trofie Wife managed to get Martello and the camera out of the galleries just a few minutes behind schedule (after not one, but two gift shop stops for books that could have been purchased in one fell swoop had Martello been paying attention) but, alas, we fell victim to another long boat ride (interestingly enough, on the #1, Red Line boat, which, by its name, color coding, and speed (or lack thereof) bore an eerie resemblance to New York’s 1 train) and subsequently missed our train home. We managed to hop on another train back to Milano, but then the fun began. I promised to let Martello tell this portion of the story—even if it means that it will arrive in time to be a stocking stuffer or the content of the dreidel pot. But just know that this tale involves labor unrest, “delightful” detours, and popcorn made with MSG.

In closing, Trofie Wife would like to take a moment to give a big shout out to Venice’s public toilet system. Now, some people might complain about having to pay 1 euro to use the bathroom. But Trofie Wife says, if such a fee guarantees a clean, available (no lines, at least in November) place to go when you really need to, then fantastic. Each place has attendants on hand to show you where the sinks are and help you figure out which button to push to exit. Furthermore, by having paid for your stall, there’s little guilt involved should you need to rent it for a wee bit longer. Trofie Wife hopes that by the time she and Martello return to New York, the long-promised pay toilets will finally be installed around the city, so she will not be forced to walk nearly 20 blocks from Rockefeller Center to Lord & Taylor for a bathroom at the height of the holiday shopping season.

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

1 comment:

eldrhammer said...

1)First I must tell you that i am indeed blown awaaay that you two made a 7:15 am departure time...
2)almost as blown away as i was to learn that the next day you were still able to 'heed' the wake up call of your alarm clock.
3)Dan, it is seriously a shame that Robyn only reminded you 5 times to take the photo of the crumpled up directional sign next to the pile of 'canine excrement'. Just think, had you taken 5 pictures of that still life with poop you could have marked the changes it underwent over time, and the way the light cast its shadows overhead during different times of day...haystacks step aside!
4)Still, while you may have missed such an excrete opportunity, You did somewhat redeem yourself by taking that fantastic shot of Robyn looking overwhelmed amidst all those chocolates and goodies. indeed. great photo!