Monthly Archives: October 2010

A side trip to Barcelona – Day 3

The next day was a cooking day and my treat. We went some stores to buy the food we needed to make paella. I helped. I saw this cooked corn in one store, which I don’t remember seeing in California.
The supermarket had a wonderful fish section. I couldn’t stop taking pictures because of the beautiful display. We  bought some of this beautiful sepia.
and some shrimp.
We bought mussels, clams  and rabbit too. I liked the way the meats were arranged when you weren’t buying them from a butcher.
And the eggplant glistened.
We also stopped at a bakery because I wanted to buy his mother some pastries. Still. She is so cute the way she indulges herself and then smiles shyly. These are the treats I brought home.
Here is the progress on our paella. Josep Maria did most of the cooking and directed me on the help he needed. He cooked the shrimp, sepia, and rabbit first and put them aside in a dish.
Next I sliced the peppers and cleaned the mussels. And had some wine.
I boiled the clams and mussels until the shell opened. Then I discarded one of the shells. This was surprisingly fun.
Next everything except the shelled fish went into water,  flavored with broth and the water from cooking the fish. Then  rice was poured into the water.
The shellfish was placed all around the top.
While we were waiting for the rice to cook, I took some pictures of the view from their dining room. In the distance you can see the sea.
Here is the finished dish on the stove.
and here it is on my plate.
Both the paella and the pastries were tasty and a big hit with Josep Maria’s mother.


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A side trip to Barcelona – Day 2

The next day we set out again for a walk. I remembered the wonderful sidewalks of Barcelona. Each city seems to have a different pattern. Many years ago on very sunny January I took a photo from my apartment window 3 flights up looking down on a street sweeper with a long, long shadow on a sidewalk like this. When I showed it to him later, he complained that you couldn’t see his face! Here is the sidewalk I remembered.
Here is a close up.
Here is some wonderful architecture near Josep Maria’s apartment. It is a hospital. He thanked me for noticing it and making such a big deal about it. He passes it every day and doesn’t think twice about it.
This time we went in the direction of the beach. It was a beautiful Monday afternoon by the time we got there, so we took off our shoes and walked a long time along the water. We sat down and enjoyed the late sunshine. Then we noticed some cement chairs that looked very comfortable because of their curved shape, so we sat there awhile. We both commented on how nice it was to sit in the sun. I told him about “dolce far niente” and asked him if he ever went to the beach on a Monday afternoon. He laughed and said no.
As we passed a railing at the beach, I saw many locks attached to one of the wires. I had seen this in on a bridge in Venice and wondered why they were there, but had no one to ask. Josep Maria said they were put there by lovers showing undying love.
We walked back to the old part of town and enjoyed the crowds. I know that sounds strange, but the strolling crowds on an early evening were nice. We went inside the old cathedral and sat for awhile.
I wanted to bring a pastry home for his mother, and we thought we had found the perfect thing. Instead, we mistook a crepe for a pastry. She had already poured the batter  before we discovered our error. There was nothing to do but eat it (with whipped cream and chocolate sauce) and buy a pastry later.
I had mentioned to his mother that I remembered her chicken croquettas and how good they were. When we got home that night, she had made them for us.

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A side trip to Barcelona – Day 1

First of all, I apologize for not posting anything to my blog for so long. I didn’t have my computer in Barcelona and when I got back to Venice, I only had a few days left. Now I’m in Florence with no Internet coverage at my flat. I was finally able to get an account at the Oblate Library and I can use the Internet for 3 hours a day. When my 3 hours is up today, I’ll bring my computer to the OK Bar and finish. I’ll be back in California within the week and will add more then. I have so much more to say and so little time and opportunity!!

It’s now over 2 hours later and I have just finished uploading the last of the photos on this first blog posting. The connection is slow and many photos were not accepted at the first try. I will go to the OK Bar to see if it is faster there. If not, I’ll finish next week when I get home.

I got a cheap flight from Treviso airport (near Venice) to Barcelona for 4 days on Ryanair to visit some old friends I knew when I lived there and taught English many years ago. It was raining when I left Venice. I had no checked luggage and one small carry-on. Period. No purse. This for me was a major feat. Our flight was supposed to leave at 10 pm. We were not able to board until 11 pm. As soon as everyone was seated and the door was closed, they announced that we had to wait for another 50 minutes more before taking off because France wouldn’t let us cross their airspace until that time. They announced it in English first, and my seat mates, who spoke Spanish, looked surprised at my sudden grumbling reaction. I heard the rest of the grumbling as they announced it in the various languages. They couldn’t serve us anything during that time, even though some people asked for water.

I should have enjoyed that quiet 50 minutes. In fact, most people slept, since it was so late. I sat in the front row and was privvy to all the flight attendant activities and conversations. They even commented that there were only 2 reading lights on. As soon as we could take off, however, they turned on all the bright lights and held us captive for their commercials for the 1.5 hour flight. Just like the commercials on TV, the volume was turned up for each of the various pitches in at least 3 languages: safety features, food (nothing was free), lotto scratch cards, phone cards, perfumes and gifts, and food again. After each pitch, the flight attendants would report to the head woman how many they had sold. She kept a tally sheet and entered everything in a hand held computer. As she entered, she tore up the tally sheets. They were the bulk of the garbage, since people didn’t order much food. Instead of being there to make the passengers comfortable, our flight attendants were there to sell us stuff. They seemed to earn bonus points for the things they sold. We arrived just before 2 am, instead of before midnight. No trains or buses were running by then, so we had an expensive taxi ride home, which no longer made it a cheap flight.
It was fun to see my friend, Josep Maria, his sister, Esther, and their mother, who is now 90 years old. I had been at their house in May of 1975 when I found out that my father had died. (I had had a strange feeling that I needed to call home that evening, and that was the news I got.) Even though it was late when we got home from the airport, we talked for a long time and Josep Maria showed me the “altar” his mother had made of family pictures. An ex-girlfriend in the picture of her grandson was hidden by the picture in front. Both of them showed me this configuration. I had to use my Spanish with his mother, and surprisingly, it all came back. Maybe because I have been studying Italian all year. I was even able to talk to people in shops and make myself understood. A very nice feeling.
The next morning his mother greeted me and we all had breakfast together. Their apartment is on the third floor, which in Spain is really on the 5th floor, and has a view of the city and the Mediterranean Sea. It was bright and warm and sunny. Something about the weather brought back memories of living and working in Spain. I taught English as a Foreign Language at the Institute of North American Studies for 4 years. Esther called and said she would be there to pick up her mother in 45 minutes. No one seemed to rush, even though his mother was still in her bathrobe. We even went to the bank to get some cash. Josep Maria had lost his wallet in the taxi the night before.
A few hours later Esther arrived to pick up her mother to take her to visit a relative outside of the city. We had a chance to visit briefly and take some pictures. She used to have long, curly, red hair. Now it is straight and brownish red. Mine is curly now and used to be straight. We marveled at this. Here are some pictures.
This is Josep Maria.
Here he is with his sister, Esther, and their mother.
Here is a picture of Esther and me.
Here is a picture of the two of us in the 70s that he had in one of his father’s albums.
And here is a picture of Esther and me on that same day.
And here is a picture of their parents. I hadn’t noticed before seeing this how much Esther looks like her mother.
Josep Maria and I took the underground to the old part of the city and walked and walked. We had lunch, which was about half the price of food in Venice and very good. There were a few things I remembered that I wanted to see. The first was a street in the Barrio Gottico called Calle De Petritxol (peh-traw-sholl). Here is a picture of the street sign, which I remember.
It was in Catalan, the language of Barcelona, but when I lived there, everything had to be in Castillian Spanish, because of the dictator, Franco. Here are some typical Spanish tiles on the same wall.
There is a restaurant (creamery) on this same street which serves something no one either Gabriana nor I tell seems to believe. A plato de nata. Yes, a plate of whipped cream. Here is a picture to prove that they STILL serve this!!
This does not taste like a topping for something else. It is the main event. (I took Gabriana to Barcelona when she was 13.)
The first day we were walking around was Sunday, so many of the stores were closed. I had to just enjoy the street and not all of the stores. Here is the store front of one of my favorite stores, When you buy something there, they put your purchase in a cloth bag with their name on it.
I was surprised to see the Spanish version of the anti-aiming device I saw in Venice.
Josep Maria wanted to show me the synagogue in the old part of town. It was closed, but we had some interesting conversations with other people who were there to see it. There was a tiny door that you had to bend over to get in and it looked like there were apartments on top. Unless you knew it was a synagogue, you would have passed right by it. At the beginning of the street, there were plaques on the wall in Hebrew and Spanish. I noticed some graffiti over the Spanish, but it really came out when I tried to take a picture.
Here is a closeup of the plaque.
Here is a plaza with interesting brick work. It reminded me of the huge plaza in Siena that I saw last year.
As we were walking back home (we walked over 20,000 steps that day) we saw some women taking a picture of what was behind us. We turned around and I grabbed my iPhone camera. Even with that, I was satisfied with the image I got.


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Here’s an interesting balcony

You can tell that they just kept adding more and more. It’s probably not done yet.

I’ve just figured out how to add posts from my iPhone. I’m going to Barcelona tonight and will be back in Venice on Thursday. If I can get wifi I’ll send some short posts. if not, see you next week.

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You’re invited to a wedding in Venice

Elisa invited me to her niece Giovanna’s wedding, which took place at city hall in Venice last Saturday. She met me at 11:30 at the Rialto vaporetto stop for Line 1. She had run into her nephew, Marco, on the way there. Marco had on a whole new outfit and looked spiffy. He said he was graduating soon and decided to get the outfit early. Elisa looked lovely and she told me that I looked smart in my new skirt and boots.  It was fun to have the occasion to dress up. For all of us.

We walked down the street a bit until they started recognizing people from their family.  Everyone stood outside in front of city hall, greeting each other. Elisa introduced me to everyone we met. A large crowd had gathered. Giovanna’s father and her bridegroom, Nicolo, were there.  I noticed Marco had added a tie to his ensemble, which he said had required some assistance from his father.

A few minutes later a water taxi pulled up and various friends of Giovanna got out. There was a slight acqua alta, so the tables and other walkways were there for everyone to move about. When Giovanna stepped out of the taxi, everyone applauded.  Here is a picture of her making her way off the water taxi and into the crowd. You can see the tables set out to avoid the water.

She went right to Nicolo and they had a big kiss. Here she is with Nicolo standing on the tables and greeting the crowd.

Then she moved around and greeted everyone. Here she is greeting a friend who had come from England. Her brother is behind her. (I guess the tie came later!)

Here is a shot of her I liked with the sun lighting up her beautiful dress.

Here is a picture of her greeting some friends and family. Elisa is in the middle with a white scarf and glasses.

Elisa introduced me to her and I was able to offer my congratulations. The greetings took place away from the water, so we were okay.

Here is the mother of the bride.

Here she is with her father and brother. You can see the Grand Canal behind them.

They look a  little happier here. Lots of nerves on the wedding day.

And even time for a little joke.

Some last minute adjusting.

The wedding was scheduled for noon, so we waited for the previous wedding party to leave before we went in. We gathered upstairs in an official looking room with chairs in rows and along the sides. Giovanna and her groom and their witnesses sat in the front row. The person officiating the wedding was Nicolo’s aunt.  She wore a green, white, and red sash to show her official status.

We all stood up during the ceremony while Nicolo’s aunt read the official paper that they later signed. There were lots of side remarks and laughter during this reading, which was nice and made it so personal.

Here is Giovanna signing the papers.

And Nicolo signing.

Here is a picture of Giovanna and Elisa.

Afterwards they went out on the balcony of the room which overlooked the Grand Canal and had a few pictures taken. The photographer was also a member of the family.

Here is the view looking toward the Rialto Bridge.

Here is the view in the other direction.

When they moved inside Elisa and I went out on the balcony too. Lots of people were having their pictures taken here, so we did too.

I noticed a strange looking gondola circling around in front. It wasn’t black and the gondolier wasn’t wearing the usual outfit. There were 2 cushions on it.

The next part was throwing rice at the couple and at each other, as it turns out.

As things progressed, I saw that the gondola and gondolier were part of the wedding party.  Here he is waiting at the dock.

Nicolo, Giovanna, Marco, and the photographer got into the gondola, which seemed to me to be dangerously tipping, and went for a ride, ending up at the reception.

They had a water taxi for people who wanted to ride. As we were leaving I saw that the cycle was continuing. Here was the next bride leaving the water taxi and walking to her waiting groom.

Elisa and some of the others set out on foot. I said goodbye in front of one of my favorite restaurants and they went on to the party. When I saw her a few days later she said the party had lasted until 6 pm and that more than 100 people were there. Not all of them had come to the wedding.

I felt very honored to be included in such a personal family event.


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Come along on some of my wanderings

I have a lot of things saved up to share with you. So come along. I’ll do the walking and you can just enjoy. My pedometer read 21,389 steps two days ago!

I’ve heard some funny bits of conversation while I’ve been here.

Earlier this week I took a lovely ride on the vaporetto to Lido and was waiting for my friend, Iva, at the station. A mother and her child got off the vaporetto and started walking toward the street ahead. The child yelled (in English) “Mama, look! They have streets now! It’s not Venice anymore!”

A few weeks ago after it rained, there were puddles on the streets. A grandmother and her granddaughter approached one and the little girl got giddy. As she approached the puddle her grandmother shouted,  “Non andare mezzo del acqua! Non andare mezzo del acqua!”(Don’t walk in the middle of the water.) The little girl did not hesitate and stamped right through the puddle.

I read a description of acqua alta that really fits. Someone was saying that acqua alta isn’t a sudden flood, like some people think. The water doesn’t just rush from out of nowhere. It’s like a bathtub slowly overfilling.

An image that sticks in my mind from Bologna: A guy riding a bicycle with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, singing.

A cannonball was shot at this church on August 6, 1849 and is still lodged in the wall, and marked with the date. A peace treaty was signed on that day, but I don’t know how the cannonball relates to that.

I thought it was interesting to see how supplies were brought in a boat and loaded into this storeroom. It looks like a handy operation.

When I was waiting at the vaporetto stop I saw a sad sign. Someone had gone to a lot of trouble to create a nice ad for babysitting, and no one had even torn off one of the slips with the phone number. When Iva arrived, I showed it to her and we thought about tearing one off so when the person came by to check, she would feel better about her effort. We didn’t do it. We didnt’ want to give her false hope.

As we were going along the walkway from the vaporetto stop to Iva’s school, we saw something that looked out of place. For three reasons. This was a really fancy hotel. Best Western? Italy?

I guess it shouldn’t have surprised me. I saw one near Piazza San Marco a few days before.

I was trying to find Piazza San Marco and I was glad to see that someone had left bread crumbs.

And more:

When I got within sight, I decided it wasn’t worth it.

I know I’ve made a big deal about how fresh Grom gelato is and how interesting Alaska gelato is. In my wanderings, and maybe because I was missing the taste of peanuts, I saw this gelato place and ordered and was NOT disappointed. I have retraced my steps several times since so I can find it easily when the peanut craving returns.  It’s on a tiny street off Campo San Bartolomeo, opposite one of my favorite stores, Promod. It didn’t taste like peanut butter, but another kind of wonderful mixture of peanuts.

When acqua alta comes, people say to be careful of the salt water. If you are wearing regular shoes, the salt can ruin them. My boots got soaked in the rain, but that was just annoying, not disastrous. This is the way that people protect their wooden doors.

This guy was grazing in the garden of Palazzo Albrizzi, where I have gone several times with Elisa and her friends to hear some wonderful free concerts.

I had seen these in the window one night when I was searching for an open bakery for bread and didn’t have time to stop. I went back a few days later and purchased this giant confection called Baci in Gondola, kisses in a gondola. I put my cellphone in the picture so you could see how large this was. It was meringue with chocolate between the two parts.

I went to the island of Giudecca one day a few weeks ago and had lunch at a restaurant overlooking the Giudecca canal. I had heard about someone who had created a houseboat out of a vaporetto, so after lunch I started searching. I finally found it at the far end of the large Rio del Ponte Longo. I could see that it was a boat on the #2 line, since they kept some signage on the boat. It was so charming. I hung out a little while in case they came home so I could ask to see the inside. No luck. Here are some pictures.

On the way back to the vaporetto (after the houseboat that I saw, I’d much rather ride on it) I saw a man “working at home.” It gave a new meaning to the concept. And since people don’t have garages, he was working right in the street. You might have noticed by now that almost ALL the houses in Venice have these green shutters. It was nice to see that they could be given new life.

I’ve seen the sign below all over town. Always handwritten and with a bit of variation. They are telling everyone that they have received this year’s torbolin wine. It’s so refreshing to see the excitement of the wine merchants and the obvious anticipation of their customers. And it didn’t occur to anyone to make a fancy sign on a computer and put it out each year.

I saw these shoes in the window of a shop and noted that all were sleek. There were none of the giant sports shoes we are so fond of in America. I think I’ll go in the next time I see a window like this and try on a pair. I wonder if they are comfortable.


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When you are lost here, the world knows it, and other results of no cars in Venice!

I’ve been thinking about Venice and why I find it so interesting. So here are some observations. I have never seen a place with so many people 1) lost and consulting maps, 2) looking up (and out) in awe, 3) taking non-stop photos, and 4) arguing about the right way to get where they are going. This last is more intense when suitcases are involved. It gets worse the more people there are. I really cringed when I saw 6 people with suitcases trying to find their hotel in Cannaregio and each had a different idea about how to go about it. It was hot that day and they were suffering and a bit of yelling took place.

Maybe the first observation above is because there are no cars to hide in when you are consulting your maps. When you are lost, the world knows it. It makes everyone a little humble. The lack of cars is what makes such a difference about this city. I’m ignoring the people who have boats and take care of business by boat, but they are not in the majority.

Whenever you have to go anywhere to meet anyone or work or buy something or eat out, you are going to be in the street. Rain or shine. So the streets are filled almost no matter what time of day or night. There are fewer people at night because lots of tourists stay elsewhere, but the street would be filled if I went out right now at 11:20 pm on a Monday night. There aren’t many TV channels and I get the idea that people don’t like TV much here. Except for sports. I also feel very safe walking alone at night. Several times I have remembered something I wanted to get after saying goodnight to a friend and taking off alone to do so.

I think the lack of cars is also an equalizer. No one gets to show off because of their fancy cars. So there aren’t the accompanying attitudes that go with showing off. People who love their cars and motorcycles and can’t picture life without them would probably live elsewhere. Yes, people can keep cars at the parking lot at the entrance to this city, but their driving affectations are done elsewhere.

And old people are out and about too. I remember something that really impressed me my first day here last year. I saw four old men walking along talking and laughing together in the street. It was delightful. I couldn’t ever remember seeing that at home. Old people just seem to fade away. If they can’t drive or get someone to drive for them, they’re stuck, unless they live in a senior residence. Then this past summer I went to a high school reunion and laughed when I saw many more than four old men walking along, talking and laughing together. But you get the idea.

And people look good here, but it is not a high fashion town like Milan or Florence. I see some very put-together people, but it is not overbearing and you don’t feel like you have to prepare for the runway when you run out for a snack. I will never forget the picture I published in my blog last year of identical twin older ladies dressed identically (and fashionably) walking in the street in Milan. Let’s see if I can find it….Yes. Here it is.

I actually found it charming to see them, but here it is more relaxed.

Today I found something that really tickled me and seems very Venetian. I had read in a blog that Yvonne, one of the readers of Venice Daily Photo, shared with me, that there was a new supermarket in Cannaregio with reasonable prices. I am getting a little tired of the Billa and the crowds. Many of the customers and clerks seem cranky and impatient and very willing to set you straight when you make what they consider to be an “error.” I found myself putting off trips there. So I was excited to hear about something else, in addition to the open air markets. The problem was that there is not really anything much to indicate its presence. It has been open for a month. Can you picture all the “Grand Opening” hoopla that would take place elsewhere? Here is what I saw to indicate that the store was here.

Here is a close up. The sign also says that it is open on Sundays.

The sign indicates the store is down the dark alley. Nothing on the way down looks promising. There is no sign on the door, which looks like the door in my flat to the bathroom, with stained glass paper over the glass. But it is the only choice. You open this strange “stained glass” door and up pops a regular supermarket. Nice clerks, no crowds, good prices. No line at the check out counter. And even a weighing machine for the bread, which you get out of this dispenser.

I’m not sure what they are waiting for to get more customers, but I am happy to have found this new treasure!


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