The Faces and Doors of Venice

Venice may very well be my favorite city in Italy. I am certain countless other undiscovered gems are waiting to vie for top-tier status, but for now Venice remains firmly entrenched in first place. Even though I have visited Venice at least a dozen times, I still marvel at how much of the city remains shrouded in mystery. I am convinced this city never will completely reveal herself to me, which probably makes me love her even more. Secrets lurk in the labyrinth of alleyways throughout the city.

When I visit Venice I do my best to avoid the main tourist thoroughfares, especially areas like Piazza San Marco and the Rialto –even though those areas have much to offer. Instead, I steer directly into the less frequented, residential areas of Venice, Often, the most foreboding alleyways are the ones that draw me in the most. It’s probably a good thing that I haven’t watched the classic movie Don’t Look Now for several years, otherwise I wouldn’t be so bold.

What I have discovered in my wanderings through the more shadowy areas of Venice is a wealth of faces and motifs adorning the doors of Venice. On my most recent trip I endeavored to begin capturing these beautifully rendered door knockers, door pulls, and bells. I would love to build a catalog of these and research the symbolism, history and philosophy behind their creation. Even more, I would love to see the dwellings and people behind these doors, to see how they might correlate – or not.

Take this as Chapter One in a story that is just beginning to unfold for me…

 

 

Aperol Spritz – Signature Drink of Venice

The Aperol Spritz is THE Signature Drink of Venice

The Aperol Spritz is THE Signature Drink of Venice

We just returned from Venice where I officially I initiated my love affair with the Aperol Spritz, the signature drink of Venice. Ever since I overdosed on gin and tonics in my early twenties, I have avoided any type of cocktail that has the slightest bitter taste. I had tried an Aperol Spritz several years ago, without being impressed and without wanting to repeat the experience. Perhaps it was just bad timing and the wrong conditions. Fast forward to a suffocatingly hot and humid June day in Venice, when my mouth was screaming for something to revive me and to quench my thirst. This time, the Aperol Spritz was magical, and now I am a devotee. I probably shouldn’t confess this, but between the two of us, Simone and I consumed probably fifteen of these beauties during our three-and-a-half day stay in Venice.

If you’re not having an Aperol Spritz, along with cicchetti (small bites or a Venetian type of “tapas”), then you’re not getting into the swing of Venetian life. Making a meal of these small bites while enjoying a Spritz is quick and easy.

Aperol Ready for Mixing and Consuming

Aperol Ready for Mixing and Consuming

An Aperol Spritz is made of three parts Prosecco, two parts Aperol, and one part fizzy water. Add a slice of orange or lemon, and your ready to go. Normally you can find a Spritz for 3-4 euro, but expect to pay much more if you choose to sit in a popular tourist spot.

My New Favorite Tee Shirt from Elitre Concept Store in Venice

My New Favorite Tee Shirt from Elitre Concept Store in Venice

I returned from Venice with my witty new Spritz tee-shirt, which I found in the Elitre Concept Store. The store has two locations – one in the Dorsoduro, and the other close to the Rialto Bridge. Federica, who owns and runs the store, has curated the store selection with uniquely fashionable and fun items. You’ll find many items there to temp your whimsy.

 

 

A Study in Blue – Painting by Jed

Watercolor of "A Study in Blue"

A Study in Blue – Private Collection

A Study in Blue is one of my favorite watercolors. I completed this years ago after a wonderfully inspiring trip to the island of Burano, near Venice. If you haven’t been there, do yourself a favor and plan an excursion. I have no idea when and how the people on this island began painting their homes such “happy” colors, but I never tire of going there. In fact, I have a trip planned there in early June. I hope to board an early vaporetto so as to arrive, witness, and capture (with my faithful camera), the village coming to life. I am especially fascinated with what happens in the windows, as is evidenced by this painting.

This particular painting was honored with the prestigious Gold Award (Best in Show) in the Georgia Watercolor Society’s 20th Annual National Exhibition.

For this and other paintings and photography, check out my online gallery.

Lace Making – Watercolor by Jed

Lace Making - Watercolor by Jed

Lace Making – Watercolor by Jed

As many of you already know, I have been working on a series of smaller watercolors capturing scenes of everyday life in Italy. “Lace Making” is one of my most recent, and captures one of the many women from the island of Burano working outside their homes, and along the canals of the village. You reach Burano via a vaporetto ride from Venice. Unfortunately it is often overlooked and overshadowed by the island of Murano, which attracts hordes of visitors in search Murano glass. Burano is one of the “happiest” places I’ve visited. When the vaporetto pulls into port, you are greeted with a spectacular palette of homes painted in the brightest and most unexpected colors. If you come to Venice, be sure to schedule time to visit this wonderful island. While many people characterize it as a colorful fishing village, it also is a haven of lace-making artisans hard at work – like the woman featured in this watercolor “study”.

For this and other paintings and photography, check out my online gallery.

Trastevere’s Antica Caciara delivers heavenly, fresh ricotta…and more.

Ricotta di Pecora - fresh sheep's milk ricotta

Ricotta di Pecora – fresh sheep’s milk ricotta

I’m going to gush. Fair warning.

Trastevere’s Antica Caciara is paradise on earth when it comes to gourmet cheese and cured meats. “Caciara” is an Italian word meaning “confusion, bedlam, hubbub, muddle; mess, disorder.” The experience inside this shop is full of energy – energy from customers queueing up to make sure they don’t miss out on the fresh sheep’s milk ricotta prominently displayed in one of the front windows. And, you’d better grab some when you see they have it, because it will definitely make you want to slap someone out of enthusiasm once you taste it. I can’t believe it’s less than five euro a kilo. No wonder it flies out the door.

Antica Caciara is the absolute best place for cheese, prepared meats and baccala.

Antica Caciara is the absolute best place for cheese, prepared meats and baccala.

But, there’s more, loads more – a vast assortment of artisanal cheeses, and every variety of cured meat you could hope for. At one entrance you practically have to shoulder your way past a huge display of guanciale, which is made from pork cheek or jowl, and is an essential ingredient (a preferred cut over traditional pancetta) in Bucatini all’Amatriciana. In case you don’t know, Bucatini all’Amatriciana is one of Rome’s hallmark dishes, originating just outside of the city in the town Amatice in the Sabine Hills.

When I go to Antica Caciara, which is often, I load up on ricotta, a special spicy salame, and a salame with fennel. The people who run the shop couldn’t be more gentile. They recognize me now, and they always greet me warmly. What a great business to be delivering a big slice of culinary paradise to eager customers. If you’re in Rome’s Trastevere neighborhood, be sure to check it out, especially if you want to fill your bag for a gourmet picnic, and then head up the hill to see Bramante’s Tempietto, and one of the most spectacular panoramic views of Rome.

A profuse display of guanciale, an essential ingredient in Bucantini Amatriciana

A profuse display of guanciale, an essential ingredient in Bucantini Amatriciana

Baccala - Another staple in la cucina Romana

Baccala – Another staple in la cucina Romana

A Seagull’s View of Venice – Photo by Jed

A seagull's perspective of the high waters in Venice.

A seagull’s perspective of the high waters in Venice.

Just a little over a month ago we were in Venice during two days of very challenging rain, wind and high waters. While the weather didn’t make getting around the city easy, the conditions provided me a different perspective on the city. Not only in Venice, but in other cities in Italy, I’ve been asking myself, “How does a bird experience its surroundings?” So, I played around with this. In this image, taken in Piazza San Marco, I risked dropping my camera into the flood waters. And, given that this is Venice and the city has a reputation for not having the most sanitary water accumulating in public places, I also risked taking an onerous biological sample back with me to Rome. Thankfully my grip on the camera was solid.

Here you see the result of my “playing around”. I love how the seagull is the focal point, in a way that doesn’t dominate the photo. The Doge’s Palace and its reflection provide the framework. I plan to explore the birds eye view in future photography pursuits. So, as always, stay tuned!

A surprisingly inspiring bus ride on a rainy morning in Rome.

A rainy early morning on the 3B in Testaccio, Rome.

A rainy morning on the 3B in Testaccio, Rome.

Thursday morning, March 4, 2014. Beauty can show up in the most unexpected ways when you open your eyes and step aside from your normal perspectives.

I woke up this morning…reluctantly. Outside was cold, steady rain. I’m a sunshine man. I live to see the sun, and I usually pout internally when the sun is in hiding, and when I have to face inconvenient weather elements. Still, I roused myself, took a shower, had a strong coffee, bundled up and headed out to catch my bus to my intensive Italian language class. I couldn’t shrug off the class, because I paid handsomely for the course (worth every euro), and I didn’t want to lose my bearings in the middle of a very important segment on pronoun placements when using imperative verb forms.

My normal commuting strategy for less-than-ideal weather is to pop in my ear buds, navigate my Iphone to YouTube or ITunes, and shut out the world until I arrive at my destination. But, today, I was more keenly aware of this inclination and made a different choice. I purposely packed away my ear buds and made a conscious decision to pay attention to the world around me. I put my Iphone in readiness as a camera.

I looked everywhere, observing how the citizens of Rome were dealing with the weather. I first scanned the landscape inside the bus, and then my gaze move outside. And, I discovered that the rainy window on my left was presenting me with a different perspective on the world. So, as we approached the subsequent bus stops, I started clicking ways. Here you see the results – a pretty significant departure from my usual photographic style. With only slight color enhancements, these images are basically un-retouched. I love how they capture the mood and essence of the morning and the weather, and how they feel more like paintings than photographs.

I’m experimenting and playing. I can hear the voice of my Momma Liz urging me to play, to color outside of the lines of normal convention…and to not be afraid to fail. Thanks Mom, you still reside within me and inspire me.

While this post is primarily about art and creativity, today’s experience is helping me to relax the tenacious grip I have on the steering wheel of life. I’m learning to let go of a mountain of conditioning and preconceived notions of how life is supposed to show up, and to quit trying to control everything. Life has a funny way of taking you to places and experiences that can be pretty damn amazing if you just get out of the way.

 

A quick and simple shot through the rainy window on my daily bus ride.

A quick and simple shot through the rainy window on my daily bus ride.

Art and magic is everywhere. A rainy buswindow adds a beautiful filter for the world outside.

Art and magic is everywhere. A rainy bus window provides a beautiful filter for the world outside.

High Waters in Venice – An Even More Surreal Experience Than Usual

Life marches on even during higher than normal flooding in Venice.

Life marches on even during higher than normal flooding in Venice.

Trash cans overflowing with the carcasses of maimed and massacred umbrellas.
Vendors making a killing on selling yet more umbrellas because the lifespan of said umbrellas have been abbreviated by powerful gusts of icy, rainy wind. (What a great business model).
Vendors also making a killing on:
A. Makeshift boot-like coverings (usually bright orange or sky blue).
B. Over-the-calf rubber boots as a sure-fire solution after above-mentioned makeshift boots have become torn or eroded because of the high salt content of the water. (Again, what a great business model).
Sirens going off twice a day (much like the bomb raid sirens in London during WWII) warning of rising waters. (Don’t ignore these warnings or your window of opportunity to respond and plan accordingly).
Raised platforms elevating locals and tourists above the murky and smelly high waters.
“Dams” constructed at the doors of most establishments.

These are just a few of the memories etched into my brain after our 2 1/2 day “jaunt” during the period of high waters in Venice.

I’ve been to Venice so many times I actually can find my way around the city without a map. I don’t say this to brag, just to say I’m not a complete novice when it comes to the city. I’ve visited Venice during different times of the year – and I thought I’d “seen it all”, until this most recent 2 1/2 day trip. I’ve dealt with periods of high waters, not letting such conditions impede my explorations of the many nooks and crannies of the city – especially the more off-the-beaten-path gems of Venice. But, this trip presented new challenges and new extremes.

Read More

My Latest Italian Food Find – Agriturismo di Ivan

My new front runner of culinary delights is "Gnocchi di polenta", a discovery we made while visiting friends in Udine.

My new front runner of Italian culinary delights is “Gnocchi di polenta”, a discovery we made while visiting friends in Udine.

Thursday, February 5.

Today we visited friends in Udine, a two-hour train ride northeast of Venice. We left behind powerful, gusty winds, rain mixed with snow, and rising waters. I was happy to be inside the warm train, speeding out-of-town until the waters receded. Little did I know that our journey north would lead to the best dish I’ve had yet here in Italy.

Our friends took us to Agriturismo di Ivan, about 20 minutes outside of Udine, deep in the countryside. This restaurant was heavily populated with locals and workmen. I felt as though I was slipping into a place largely unfrequented by tourists. In fact I felt as though I stood out quite blatantly.

Everything was rustic, and cozy. A mature fire was close by, and low, warm lighting made this a place where I wanted to linger well after the meal.

The menu was simple and incredibly inexpensive. I spied several items of interest. Our friends pointed out a specialty of the house, a gnocchi of polenta with smoked ricotta and speck (a type of ham) and insisted we try it. I shelved my usual low carb restrictions and jumped onboard. This turned out to be one of the wisest culinary decisions I’ve ever made.

I guess I was expecting typical gnocchi shapes, just made with corn flour. Instead, these gnocchi looked like little polenta “cubes” doused with shavings of the smoked ricotta and chunks of speck. I took my first bites and became speechless. I was so engrossed in this new culinary experience that my chatty left brain shut down. I just ate…and ate. I’ll be thinking about this dish for a long time, and a trip back to this area, just to partake of this polenta gnocchi, will be well worth it.

Agriturismo di Ivan, about 20 minutes outside of Udine, in Friuli Venezia Giulia

Agriturismo di Ivan, about 20 minutes outside of Udine, in Friuli Venezia Giulia

This in no way should indicate that Agriturismo di Ivan is a one-trick pony. The cheeses and prepared meats will knock your socks off. The table wines are tasty, and the other pasta dishes, secondi and contorni (particularly the spinach in butter) are delicious.

We’re back on the train to Venice and to yet another fine dining experience at a favorite restaurant there – Osteria Anice Stellato.

Stepping into an Italian Pedestrian Crossing? Proceed with Caution.

If you’re considering stepping into an Italian pedestrian crossing. Be afraid. Be very afraid…especially if you are in Rome.

Beware of blithely stepping into an Italian pedestrian crossing...you might be courting disaster.

Beware of blithely stepping into an Italian pedestrian crossing…you might be courting disaster.

Back in the States I could step into a cross walk with reasonable assurance that oncoming traffic would stop. Sure, I still had to be alert to the signs of hurried drivers who were loath to stop and wait for me to cross, but I found that to be pretty infrequent.

It’s not a great situation pretty much all over Italy, and Rome is the poster child for poor behavior and an overwhelming lack of adherence to the rights of pedestrians.

Beppe Severgnini, in a recent article (Google-translated into English with this link) in the Corriere la sera, quotes some pretty damn scary statistics:

“It is a disease that does not want to heal. In Rome: only 30% of motorists respect the pedestrian traffic lights and only 15% will stop in front of the strips”

I urge you to read this article and to prepare yourself for this unfortunate fact of life. Hopefully it will change, but I’m not willing to risk it. If you decide to assert your right of way in the pedestrian cross walk, you are inviting a game of chicken. Don’t do it unless you see clear signs of a driver slowing down and stopping.

The only places I see drivers in Rome “behaving” is when a police officer is in close proximity to the cross walks. And then, it is only done begrudgingly. Maybe it’s just overly developed paranoia on my part, but when I’m making a crossing, many of the looks I see through appear steely….only made more menacing when the driver is wearing sunglasses.

Beppe Severgnini has become my go-to expert on life and attitudes in Italy. Being a native Italian, he has the credentials to make some pretty astute observations about situations such as these. Read more about him here, and I suggest you consider reading his books and following his articles. He will be a great source of perspective as you build a life in Italy.

Disclaimer: These are my opinions and they, in no way, should be a substitute for your own research and experience.

Page 5 of 6« First...23456