Campiella della Pazienza, Venice, May 25, 2011—YOU MAY HAVE NOTICED, though probably not since it's such a trivial matter, a change in the dateline above. It involves a curiosity of our apartment's location, which, since it probably stands for a general peculiarity of this curious city, may be worth describing.
The fact is, it's hard to tell exactly where we are. According to Google Earth, I'm sitting at 45°26'39" North, 12°19'14" East, and the image looks dead on the money to me. Describing the location in any other terms, though, is a tricky matter. I thought at first we were on the Rio della Crea, a blind canal that runs northerly from the Rio di Bursello, which flanks the railroad terminal on the north, toward the Canale di Cannaregio. That would make the street we walk to our front door — actually a pedestrian street, of course — the Fondamenta della Crea.
Our apartment is one of a dozen or so in a relatively new building (2007, I think) in a gated complex, a condiviso, I think they're called. L____ found it on the Internet, I'm not sure how, and rented it from a man called Fabiano, who appears to own it and at least one other, next door. Our front door is on a narrow footpath between two identical buildings, each containing a number of apartments identical, I suppose, to ours: short front hall, bathroom with tub and washing machine to the left, big room dead ahead with its kitchen, sofabed, television cabinet-armoire, and dining table and chairs; also a staircase leading to the bedroom upstairs with its king-sized bed and ample bathroom (shower, no tub).
But it's the cancello, the main gate, that gives access to the apartment. On the map you'd think it was at the end of the Calle della Misericordia, but that street takes a bend back to the Calle Priuli di Cavallletti which you might as well have taken in the first place, the first street after the train station as you walk into the city. At the end of the Priuli di C. you come to a wooden bridge over the Rio della Crea, take it, turn right, and walk to the end of the Fondamenta; then, to the left, you find the cancello.
As the crow flies we're quite close to the much more attractive Canale di Cannaregio, the broad canal that twas Venice's driveway until the railroad came to town: but the cancello in that direction is locked. Frustrating.
Until yesterday, when Fabiano came for his money, and explained a few things. I asked about the back cancello, and he looked at me carefully. He saw a responsible man, apparently, or perhaps merely an old one unlikely to raise hell, and gave me another key. You must be very quiet when you go in, the cancello can be noise when he closes, neighbor sleeps. Yesterday noon, then, after Fabiano left, we could put this to the test and explore our neighborhood as if the train station didn't exist — and, more to the point, the Lista di Spagna, the broad pedestrian street-cum-plaza crowded with tourists, hand-trucks, gimcrack stands, dubious restaurants and bars, and those fellows who try to sell you a flourescent green ball made of something that goes splat when you throw it forcefully onto the pavement, then regroups itself into a ball again, expressing the futility of action.
I turned out we were on the Campiello della Pazienza, as I'd originally thought when exploring the area a month ago, vicariously, on Google Earth. If only the Rio della Crea had not been filled in for its last forty yards or so, forming the Rio Terrà della Crea, we would be on our own little island, the fine three=arched Ponte Tre Archi anchoring its northwest corner, the Fondamenta di San Giobbo its front door.
"Fondamenta" is Italian, or at least Venetian, for "quay." Elsewhere in Italy you live on a "lungo" if next a river: the Lungadige, say, or Lungarno, or Lungotevere: here it's the "fondamenta" or, if in a classier district, the "riva." Our little island is not classy. There are no fancy houses, no Gothic arched windows, no marble wellheads. The buildings are blocky apartment buildings from, I'd say, mid-20th century, or these new low ones, row-type buildings with tiled roofs. All are stucco'd, of course. From the stone- or concrete-paved street the impression's rather hard and desolate. There's little street activity: few passersby, fewer cats, rarely a dog. One's not on the street unless one's going somewhere: home, or leaving home.
Our apartment's lit by skylights, fancy new Velux ones with remote controls working their panes, shutters, roller blinds, and ventilating slots (very difficult to remember the configurations). Through them comes the local sounds: the cooking of pigeons, quacking of unseen and unidentified waterfowl, something sounding suspiciously like chickens, mewing of cats (never a dog barking), songbirds. Now and then a neighbor working his skylight. Occasionally the sound of a large object being hoisted, or moved, or perhaps dropped: these are working canals, with depots and docks.
The quarter's not fancy, but it's attractive and even serene. Yesterday's little walk to lunch, on the Fondamenta di S. Giobbo, took us into the Calle della Cereria, where we found geraniums and petunias in boxes decorating the stucco façades of these workingclass condivisi, and in once case a garden behind an eye-high stucco wall, beautiful double white oleanders and single red ones mounding up at the corner. Across the way, in a little nook next another wall, discarded, an iron decoration, about as big as me, representing a shooting star, leaning up against the wall.
We spent a month in Venice ten years ago, with two granddaughters and two friends, in a two-bedroom-plus apartment at the other, eastern end of the Cannaregio, much nearer the Rialto. That was a profoundly impressive month. I took a lot of notes and wrote an extensive journal, and we accumulated a few maps and guidebooks. Alas, all that disappeared the day after we left Venice, when our car was broken into and a number of items taken. (I'd forgotten this detail a couple of weeks ago, when I looked for that journal and those notes, all over the house, unsuccessfully: it was only when I re-read the e-mail "dispatches" I'd sent from that visit ten years ago, fortunately preserved on my computer and printed out to bring along as reading matter, that I encountered a description of the robbery.)
Among those impressive experiences, of course, were the restaurants, the eating in general. That was before I'd begun my other blog, Eating Every Day, where I record such things now. Again, I'd fortunately recorded a few of these restaurants in the dispatches, but I'd made some mistakes. Yesterday we went to dalla Marisa for lunch, partly to confirm my suspicion that I was wrong to attribute a meal to it ten years ago, partly to try it out, as it's been highly recommended.
It's one of at least three restaurants with tables on the Fondamenta running along the south side of the Canale di Cannaregio. Marisa may or may not be the woman who hosted; or she may be the cook; or she may no longer be involved, or even for all I know on this happy earth. In any case lunch was not impressive, as you'll read over at Eating Every Day. Dinner may be much better, but we're unlikely to find out.
What was impressive, I thought, was the area. It's at the end of the world, or at least the end of the Cannaregio. At the end of the Fondamenta di S. Giobbe you stand on the edge of the island looking north toward the distant airport on the mainland; to the right somewhere, hidden by buildings on the other bank, the islands of S. Michele and Burano. The air is maritime, salty, breezy, delicious. There's a fair amount of boat traffic, even at noon when most things have stopped for the midday meal.
Boats tie up next to the quay your table's on, a few yards away — you could get up and step onto their decks in just a few paces. Boatsmen steer their boats with their rumps, standing backward straddling the tiller, nonchalantly cruising down-canal toward town. One calls out to a man walking past our restaurant: Mario! Stasera, a Giorgio! Alle otto! and you make a mental note to join them at Mario's this evening at eight, then reflect that you don't know Mario, or where he'll be.
There's something about walking toward the end of something, I tell F____, and she nods gravely in her way, slightly setting her lips in a memorably beautiful, meaningful, serious expression of awareness and understanding beyond her eighteen years. There's something pleasing about it, but also a little sad. I'm sorry if this sounds like a pendant to yesterday's meditation on the sweet sadness of Awareness of Large Scale; something puts me into this mood, perhaps Venice, perhaps merely Aging.
We stand silently on the edge of the island, the three of us, and watch an airplane, nearly invisible in the distance, touch down at Marco Polo airport, a few miles away. It's an improbably delicate blue, this airplane, with a white tail, descending with an uncanny grace and stateliness, one of the few moving objects in view, confirming the beauty and truth of this intersection of human activity with the timelessness of the lagoon and its islands, islands now almost entirely covered with structures and activity of human manufacture yet calm and measured in that activity.
Across the way there's a new building, or at least a new façade on an old building; it's linked by a curious arch containing a curious ring to a slightly older new façade on another, higher, equally symmetrical building. The smaller building sports two of those characteristically Venetian chimney-pots, these in metal and not chimney-pots at all but sizable smokestacks. Symmetry, design, color, placement — all convey an awareness of history, history as recorded in architecture and human activity; and an awareness of ecology, by which I mean the balance of human concerns and "values" and those of the natural setting, the lagoon, its marshes, its waters; and an awareness of economy, the traffic of freight, tourism, shipping, fishing; the transportation of agricultural and industrial products; the endless business of work (as slow and relaxed as possible), eating, conversation, meeting and parting, activity and contemplation. These are among the rewards of my Venice today, ordinary Venice, quite away from basilicas and Bellinis.
• Online photos from Venice this month