Sunday, July 17, 2011

Il Redentore...a night you might want to add to your bucket list.

I don’t want to make this post about the history of La Festa del Redentore—the Feast of the Redeemer—other than to say that it is a deeply felt Venetian holiday held every year on the third Saturday & Sunday in July to commemorate the end of a terrible plague in 1576. For more you can click on the Wikipedia link at the end of the post. Instead, I’m going to attempt to retrace my magical evening and bring you along.

Il Redentore 2011 a View from "Maria"
It all began when I found out that my husband—many of you have learned through my blog that he is a gondolier—wasn’t scheduled to work this year on the night of Il Redentore. I quickly—and not so subtly—began to hint: Amore…wouldn’t it be nice to go see the fireworks in the gondola? Mind you we have done this many times in the past, but since his work schedule must take precedence I haven’t witnessed this spectacular show for at least four, or maybe even five years now.  Being in the midst of his very busy season and not particularly anxious to battle a crowd of one or two-hundred thousand people on his day off, he hemmed and hawed before conceding with a shrug of his shoulders and a proclamation of happy wife, happy life.

Reflecting Redentore
Our evening was blessed right from the start: The rain clouds that had been hovering above in the late afternoon had gone elsewhere and left us with a balmy summer evening; a rarity in a town where high humidity commands the weather front. We took the short train ride from our countryside neighborhood to the Santa Lucia train station in Venice, and were accompanied by two dear friends who were excited to see Maria moored just a bridge away from the station. In order to avoid the crowds my husband had made a special trip to town in the morning, yes on his day off, to row his beloved gondola from the traghetto in St. Mark’s square and leave her at the traghetto in front of the train station; making it easy for my lady-friend and I to step off the train in high-heeled sandals that we would normally avoid wearing to Venice, but were happy to slip on knowing we only had to take a few steps to our gondola.

The Grand Canal was bustling with activity: Vaporetti, water-taxis, gondolas and private motor boats splashed by and were filled to the brim with spectators headed to find their space among the crowd in the Piazza or along the St. Mark’s basin waterway. But another three hours would have to pass before the fireworks began, and we had a dinner detour to make.

We left the Grand Canal and turned down the lesser travelled labyrinth of inner waterways that crisscross the Canareggio neighborhood. After a couple of twists and turns and lots of oohing and awing at sights one only seems to discover from the angle of a gondola we approached my favorite restaurant in town: Osteria L’Orto dei Mori—the Moors’ Vegetable Garden Inn. Micael, partner-owner and highly qualified sommelier, greeted us canal side, but before escorting us to our linen clothed table in the middle of Campo dei Mori he jumped onto his nearby docked motorboat and tossed a couple of rubber boat fenders to my husband to tie along the side of Maria to protect her from the rugged marble and stone foundation. That done we followed Micael into the quiet neighborhood campo named for four 13th century statues. The Moors (though some historians say their dress is Greek) stand guard on the sides and corner of the building that is now the home of this fine osteria and which just so happens to abut an even more famous building; the Venetian Renaissance—16th century—painter Jacopo Comin’s former residence, commonly known as Tintoretto’s home. Though Venice is an open-air museum it still surprises me when I find three hundred years of history within a few square meters!

Once seated at our table, and while sipping our aperitivo of prosecco—the elegance of the evening called for us to stray from Spritz and turn to the bubbly—we listened as Micael made suggestions and began to serve delicate plate after plate of appetizers, pasta, gnocchi and fresh seafood; all prepared by Lorenzo, founding partner and co-owner of L’Orto dei Mori, whom I consider to be one of the finest chefs in Venice. Again, I won’t go into detail about their exquisite and well prepared menu, but please trust me; you should certainly try this fine restaurant on your next trip to Venice.  

Light in the Lagoon
The good company, fine food, and in all honesty a little too much wine, made us lose track of the time. So when we realized that within minutes the fireworks would begin we jumped back in the gondola and headed toward St. Mark’s square.

My husband was making good time when we entered the Grand Canal, only this time we were the only ones there. Now for those who have never been to Venice, this might be a bit difficult to imagine and I’ll try to do the scene justice; for those who have visited Venice you understand what a rare experience this is. There were no vaporetti, motor boats or water-taxis making waves, or noise, there wasn’t even another gondola; just Maria quietly slicing through the reflection of grand palaces. We were all alone, and had one of the most beautiful spots in the world all to ourselves. It was a magical moment and we realized, right then and there, that we were living an unrepeatable experience.  

Then boom! Our attention was jolted from the surreal surroundings and up toward the sky where just beyond the Rialto Bridge flashes of red, white and green towered above Venice in a tribute to Italy’s 150th anniversary of unification; the show had begun. My husband rowed faster and soon Maria was slipping beneath the Bridge of Sighs and out into St. Mark’s basin where we joined thousands of others by tilting our heads up to admire the splendor of Venice silhouetted by a glittering display of light.  

Osteria L’Orto dei Mori:

Monday, July 11, 2011

You know it's summertime in Italy when...

      ….you stroll into a sunbaked campo and spot a group of gray-haired women sitting in the shade snapping the tips off freshly picked string beans and listening to the sound of Enrico Caruso billow through the curtains of a nearby window.

….after dinner your neighborhood gelateria has a blockbuster-like line out the front door.

….colorful preprinted fill-in-the-date cards with the words Chiuso per Ferie da….a…. (Closed for Vacation from….to…..) pop-up in storefront windows all across town.

….big-rig trucks disappear from the autostrada and cruise ships appear at the port.

….clusters of green fruit drip from the vine patiently waiting to be sweetened into red or gold.

….the fresh basil in your garden begs to become pesto.  

….even those who have never heard of pilates, yoga or Technogym brave their bathing suits and enjoy the sun, sand ‘n sea.

….the real definition for hot fashion strays from Paris Hilton’s use of the word and goes back to the classic linen sundress, an elegant handheld fan and a broad-brimmed straw hat.

….the locals leave the cities to the tourists and head to their beach or mountain homes.

….you gladly share the name of your favorite restaurant in town and make a list of things-to-do for vacationing family and friends because you want them to love the magic of Italy as much as you do!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Top Ten Reasons to Celebrate Independence Day in Italy!

1.      You make grandma’s famous potato salad and no one scolds you for using mayonnaise instead of olive oil.

2.      You give a little history lesson to your neighbor after he sees you putting up the American flag and asks if the U.S. is playing Italy in a soccer match.

3.      Your Italian friends concede when you say “as a republic my country is older than yours”.

4.      You finally find some use for all those little American-flag toothpicks you bought on your last trip home.

5.      You pick up a six-pack of Budweiser instead of the more fashionable Peroni just because it’s Made in the U.S.A.

6.      You convince your local greengrocer that corn was meant to be eaten on-the-cob.

7.      You prove to your Italian friends that hamburgers and hot dogs can be yummy slow-food, too!

8.      No one dares to argue when you turn-up the volume on Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A.!

9.      Your Italian friends make you smile with a Happy 4th of July greeting sent via Facebook

10.   Because you’re proud to be an American even if you live abroad!

Happy 4th of July!!!
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