It's already the end of July and I cannot help thinking how fast time goes. Only a week ago we were on holidays in beautiful Naples and today is our last day of vacation. The weather is strange in Venice, the forecast keeps promising rain but there is no sign of it, instead the sky is of a harsh bright light and the wind inexistent.
This afternoon we have to settle a couple of things before going back to our usual routine, but the morning is all for us. I wanted to get the last taste of Naples, so I asked Vito to go see the Pulcinella frescos by Tiepolo at Ca' Rezzonico. After our usual coffee break in Rosa Salva, we headed towards Dorsoduro, crossing the Accademia bridge and carefully avoiding the zattere (which in summer are like the desert: with no shade).
Ca' Rezzonico is another beautiful museum that, compared to the Doges Palace, is not much visited, but I have always loved it. It's one of the favourite museums of Venetian children, who come here just to look at the big turtles in the fountain at the bottom of the entrance staircase. I used to do it too when I was a kid and my poor mother would take me here almost every weekend. I got to see the turtles and she got to see the small paintings by Pietro Longhi, her all times favourites.
Today this Palazzo is dedicated to the 18th century Venice and, if you allow me make a suggestion, a wonderful place to see. Refresh your mind from the heat with a drink in their bar overlooking the Grand canal and then embark a small journey into the Venetian life of the 1700s. We went straight to see the Mondo Novo frescos by Tiepolo, originally painted for his private house in Zianigo, then removed from there to be sold and finally brought back to Venice.
A Venetian who described perfectly well the essence of these unique and, in a way, estranging figures is Tiziano Scarpa, in his essay published in the Gondola Days magazine, available online and distributed for free at the San Toma' gondola station. This inebriated world may not be easy to understand immediately, but it's definitely intriguing and cannot leave you indifferent.
Then, like all Venetians, we played looking at Canaletto's paintings and seeing what has changed and what has remained the same. This particular painting depicts the hospital, once Scuola Grande San Marco, from the bridge in F.te Nove and the squero (boatyard) you see is one of the few original ones remaining in Venice.
The small painting by Pietro Longhi have always been important for me, I used to spend afternoons with my mother joking about the strange things the scenes represented and admiring the elegant dresses of the nobility, but -as a child- my favourite was the Exhibition of the Rhinoceros. Today, instead, I cannot help laughing thinking that things haven't actually changed that much and that I still make polenta like this pretty maid who is boldly looking at the seemingly shy boy.
Before proceeding with our day, we found a last link with our Neapolitan holiday in this beautiful veiled Madonna. In Naples we had visited the outstanding Veiled Christ in the Cappella Sansevero and when we saw this bust in Ca' Rezzonico the association was obvious, so we looked on the internet and learned that the Veiled Christ had originally been assigned to Antonio Corradini, author of the Madonna in front of us, but he died in 1752, so the Veiled Christ was sculpted by Giuseppe Sammartino in 1753. How curious!
When our stomachs started making embarrassing noises we left and went to have a drink at Cantina Arnaldi, a few minutes from Campo Santa Margherita. Katia, the manager, deserves a post all about her, so I'll come back in September (she'll be closed for holidays in August), but anyway this is a great wine bar and eatery in the Santa Croce neighbourhood and we never fail to stop by when are in the area. Just to give you an idea, she keeps a very interesting selection of wine, beer and spirits and all the cheese and cold cuts are natural and taste amazing (my husband comes here just for the salame made by Katia's aunt!).
We took our time and chatted away, without realising it was starting to get a bit late so, on our way back, we made a last stop at Al Portego, five minutes from Santa Maria Formosa (where we live). Food, finally! We were so lucky we even managed to sit down. The tables are, in fact, reserved for the restaurant, if you just want a cicchetto or something fast there are two small tables outside or a barrel inside, but if it's busy (and it's often busy) you just eat standing.
The offer of cicchetti is very generous and inviting, everyday they prepare a risotto or a lasagna and today Vito had their aubergine parmigiana. So good. Not exactly dietetic...but delicious! At home I usually grill the aubergines to make a lighter version of this dish, but here they were rigorously fried and covered with tomato and mozzarella.
I had 4 (+2 later) small stewed meatballs, one fondo di carciofo (heart of the artichoke), some grilled endive and a little bit of aubergines al funghetto (cooked in the pan with oil and a lot of garlic), all accompanied with bread. Tasty and filling. For this, half a litre of house wine and a glass of water we spent less than 20 euros... very good! A perfect ending for our holiday!
We spent the rest of the afternoon at home and went out for the aperitif only around 7 pm. We didn't go very far, we simply sat down at Zanzibar, in Santa Maria Formosa, sipping a beer and relaxing. Zanzibar is very popular in summer and whenever we come here we meet people we know, the bar itself is tiny, but from spring to late autumn there is outdoor seating and it's the ideal place to relax.
You know, the high costs that the managers of restaurants and bars have to deal with in Venice obliges them to increase the prices and focus on food (in the sense of opening restaurants rather than bars, because it's more profitable - and I don't feel like blaming them), so between 7:30 and 10:30/11 pm it's actually difficult to find a bar where you can sit down simply for a drink without having to dine, while Zanzibar is the typical bar of the neighbourhood, serving spritz, beer, soft drinks and very simple toasted sandwiches and panini. I love natural wine and gourmet restaurants, but sometimes nothing is better than simply enjoying life drinking a cold Panaché (combination of light beer and tonic water) and having a good laugh discussing silly things.
Unfortunately our glasses became empty quite soon, with the awareness that this was the final moment of peace for a while. But you, who are here on vacation and have nothing but free time, should do these things for me, I am sure you will enjoy them just as much if not more!