Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Pizza, politics and pick-pockets…

L'ora dello Spritz...Aperol o Campari?
Dorosoduro’s Campo Santa Margherita is the spot to be on a warm, starlit pre-summer evening in Venice; and last night the hustle and bustle of people filling the popular meeting place showed no exception to that rule.
In and around Venice, a before dinner get together is known as l’ora dello Spritz or Spritz Hour—the local equivalent of Happy Hour. Lifting a glass—complete only if topped off with a large green olive or an orange twist and often both—has become a ritual which is as much a part of Venetian life as sipping a morning cappuccino at the corner bar or stopping in at the local bakery before noon to make sure you get your pick of the day’s freshly baked bread.
Last night I shared my spritz experience with a wonderful group of American expats who—if I quickly pull together an average—have each lived in Venice for more than a decade. After two hours of political chatter—yes we do still care about what happens in our homeland— and thirst quenching that left our brains stimulated and the bottoms of our drinking tumblers red or orange depending on the choice of Campari or Aperol, we left the bar’s jasmine scented garden, shook each other’s hands, double-cheek kissed and shouted Italian and English salutations into the cool night air. Some headed home, one went to the gym, and a smaller group of us answered the not-so-quiet rumble in our stomachs by strolling into the heart of the campo and occupying a table in one of the half-a-dozen al fresco dining trattorie that frame the area.
We were cordially greeted by the restaurant staff, ordered our meal and continued a more intimate conversation about our lives, hobbies and professions making the pleasant discovery that our small dinner group consisted of a combination of wonderful teachers and writers.  Before long we were once again sipping drinks, cutting into artichoke and cheese pizza and satisfying our taste buds with the respectable Italian version of an American Club Sandwich.
Rarely at a loss for words, I did my share of talking, yet what I enjoyed most of all was listening to my new friends. I sat back to contemplate the unrelated events that had touched each of our lives and had brought us to Venice; I liked the idea that these same circumstances were giving us the opprotunity to forge new friendships which otherwise might have been missed had life placed us elsewhere.
The evening rushed ahead and our thoughts turned to trains to catch, early morning appointments, and my husband who was waiting for me in St. Mark’s square after a long day at work. The conto came and as we all reached for our wallets the joy that had wrapped its arms around our lovely evening vanished.  We were given a swift shove back to the unpleasant side of reality when one of our friends discovered that while we were enjoying each other’s company, someone else had unzipped her purse, reached inside and stolen her wallet; apparently it was one of the two men who had been seated at the table behind us, and had opened and closed their menus only to quickly leave without ordering.
What to do...except make the fact known to the restaurant owner and report it to the Carabinieri? That done my dear friend had to face the tiresome task of cancelling credit cards, reporting her stolen identification and local transportation passes, and try to overcome the gut wrenching displeasure of having been robbed.
I’d like to believe that these things can’t happen in this beautiful city; but they do. The genuine sense of security and ownership that one quickly feels when in Venice can betray the visitor as well as the resident. The feeling of being part of a neighborhood is exactly what makes it easy for the work of pick-pockets to go unnoticed.  My comments are not meant to frighten or criticize, but instead are meant to remind all that in the majority of touristic cities in Italy and around the world this is not only the high tourist season but also the time of year when pick-pockets do their best business. On the street, in crowds, on the vaporetti and especially while seated in cafés, restaurants and bars keep your purse zipped and in front of you or your wallet and cash in your front pocket. You’ll keep the bad guys a little more honest, and save yourself from remembering a lovely evening in a beautiful campo as an unpleasant experience.


  1. Thanks for posting your cautionary tale, Marie. It's maybe even more important to be careful in Venice, where the relative lack of crime can lull you into feeling so safe. Thanks also for your kind words on my blog—and even if I don't always comment here, I also enjoy all of your posts. Finally—aperol per me, per piacere!

  2. What a sad way to end what had been a lovely get together. I echo what Alexa has said. We can tend to become complacent in our beloved Venice. I'll try to be more aware next visit!

    Per me, con Compari, per favore!

  3. I was so sorry to read this, but sadly this a fact of life where ever we live around the world and one we need to be reminded of now and again. So easy when in such a group to relax just a little to much and be caught unaware. :(

  4. oh no! way to put a damper on what sounded like a lovely evening.

    I never ever hang my bag out of sight, I bought a purse hanger and always have it right next to me, with no opening exposed!

    I hope your friend didn't have anything irreplaceable in her wallet!

  5. Hello, Elisa. Thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment. After this disturbing end to a lovely evening I got to thinking that the portable purse hangers you mentioned--I see them in so many store windows around town, some trimmed with Murano glass--would make great Holiday gifts! Don't you agree?

  6. Sorry about the way the evening ended, but so happy to be able to share time with you all. Looking forward to seeing you again in Venice one of these days.

  7. Sorry about the way the evening ended. But so happy to have been able to spend time with you and enjoy that lovely evening in Campo Santa Margherita.
    Back in New York now--but Venice is always in my heart. Hope to see you again.

  8. Hi, Julianne. Thank you for your comments, and yes it was an enjoyable evening, even if it ended the way it did. All the best to you in New York, and I look forward to seeing you again soon in Venice!

  9. What a sad thing, to have such a lovely evening in Venice spoiled like that. Shame on those men, and on all pickpockets everywhere.

    Since having my handbag (purse) lifted from a supermarket trolley some years ago, I now wear mine across my chest and in front of me, even when dining al fresco. If I can't, it is in front of me on the ground with the handle wrapped around one leg. Untrusting? Cosa ti fa dire così?

  10. Jay at the Depp Effect,

    Thank you for stopping by! Yes, it is a good idea to keep your purse within view.

    I took a look at your blog, one I've stumbled across in the past, so I'm very happy to see you here. I too am a huge Johnny Depp fan. Just think, he was almost a fellow Venetian (Veneto) resident...oh well! We'll just have to be happy when he comes to the Film Festival, or makes another movie in town!